“These days chivalry seems largely dead. There are one or two of us who fight to keep it alive though. Is Hayden one such guy?”
Abandoned in the Woods
Have you ever just known something was going to happen? Be it your intuition jangling, your nerves on edge or just a feeling of uncertainty. You just know something is wrong at that moment.
That was how Hayden felt as he drove home from work one night in late April. At twenty-two, he was a hard-working panel beater who always stayed late to get jobs done.
Hayden usually drove with his soft rock music on loud. This night as he headed toward the city through the dark countryside, he grew uneasy. The road wended through an old woodland. As his headlights illuminated the trees, he leant forward and switched off the music. Slowing, he gripped the steering wheel and tried to calm himself.
“Nothing’s going on. What’s the matter with you? You idiot!” He chastised himself for taking what he felt was a self-made horror trip.
A lorry rumbled by in the opposite direction. Then something flashed into existence in front of the car.
Hayden slammed on the brakes.
The car’s tyres shrieked as it thundered to a stop.
Rocking back in the seat, Hayden watched a badger lope off the road and disappear into the undergrowth. “Bloody hell!” He sighed while taking deep breaths and trying to control himself. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he restarted the car and proceeded along the wooded road.
Not a minute passed before he saw it. Bare skin almost glowing in the headlights. A feminine shoulder disappearing into the woods. “What the —” for the second time in as many minutes Hayden stopped the car. He just knew something was wrong with what he’d seen.
Grabbing a torch from the glove compartment, he alighted from the car. The road was quiet so he was able to cross to where he’d seen the shoulder.
Rhododendrons grew beneath the linden, silver birch and oak trees here.
“Where’d you go?” Hayden beamed his torch over the foliage. There was a gap into the woods. There in the earthy ground was a set of bare footprints. Hayden followed. “Hello! I saw you from the road. Do you need help?” he called.
An owl shrieked overhead.
Sticks broke under feet.
Hayden followed the sound. Swinging his torch, he passed the light over an almost naked back and long, silky, hazelnut-brown hair.
Only the smallest amount of powder-blue and white material that was her underwear protected the young lady’s modesty as she ducked behind another bush with a terrified whimper.
“Hey, my name’s Hayden. There’s no reason to be scared. I stopped to help you,” Hayden said in his friendliest voice.
“Please, leave me alone!” she replied. Her voice shaking with fear and cold in equal measure.
Hayden thought for a moment. He knew he couldn’t leave her alone like this. Somehow, he had to gain her trust and help her. “Hey, don’t go anywhere, okay? I’m going back to my car to get you something to wear.”
Hearing no reply, Hayden hastened back to his car. Fortunately, he always kept a spare hoodie in the boot. Retrieving it, he ducked back into the woods and return to the bushes. “You still here. I have a hoodie for you.”
“Please, don’t hurt me!”
“I promise you, I’ll never do that.” Hayden glanced about with his torch. “I’m Going to hook the hoodie on that tree branch there. Then I’ll walk back over here and turn around, okay?”
Hayden walked past the bush to the tree. He caught a glimpse of the young lady cowering in the foliage but kept his gaze away from her. Hanging the hoodie on the branch, he turned away from her to walk back. “There you go. It’s all yours. May I know your name?”
“I’m Aspen. Thank you for the hoodie.”
Hayden heard her creep out from the bush and walk to the tree. Fighting every desire to look at her, he kept himself facing the opposite direction “Nice to meet you, Aspen. And you’re welcome,” he told her over the sound of the garment gracing her skin, followed by a zip being pulled reached his ears.
“You can face me, now,” Aspen said. Her voice still trembling.
Hayden turned and smiled. Aspen stood with one bare foot on the other. Swaying slightly as she hugged herself into the hoodie. Her soft hair covered one eye giving her a bashful look. “Hi!”
“Hello …” Aspen’s face took on a deep blush.
“Please, don’t be embarrassed. I can’t imagine you being here wearing just underwear is your fault.”
Aspen shook her head as a tear ran down her cheek.
“I didn’t think so. Can you tell me what happened?” Hayden had feared the worst from the moment he saw her bare shoulder in the headlight. He so hoped she wasn’t a victim of some evil creep.
“My friends and I took a trip to the beach. It was warmer for the first time today. We wanted to take advantage. I always felt I could trust the boys. I …” Aspen’s voice broke as she began to sob.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to look after you I promise.”
“T-thank you. The boys stole my clothes as I was changing back out of my swimsuit. They promised to give them back when we got home. Instead, they shoved me out of the car into the woods and drove away. My — my friends left me out here. Almost naked and at the mercy of horrible people.”
“I’m sorry but those are no friends. Friends would never do that to each other.” Hayden felt a fury welling within him. If those so-called friends appeared he didn’t know how we could avoid smacking them each in the mouth. “What will you allow me to do to help you?”
“What you mean?”
“Well, I’ll happily drive you home. I understand if you don’t wish to go in my car with me though. So, I can give you my phone. You can either call a family member to fetch you. Or call the police for help if you prefer. In those cases, I’m happy to wait with and protect you until somebody arrives.” Hayden gave a little smile and bowed like a knight. “The choice, milady, is yours.”
To his delight, Aspen giggled at his antics. She became serious in a hurry though, “I don’t want to cause my family any trouble. I don’t want the police to know either. You promise not to do anything, I let you drive me home?”
“I promise to chauffeur you like a true gentleman. Here …” Hayden took out his mobile phone. He unlocked it and pulled up the phone call options. He typed in the number for the emergency services and held it out. “There, you take this and if you even think I’m going do anything, you hit that call button. How does that sound?”
“Great, thank you.” Aspen walked to him and accepted the phone.
“No, thank you for trusting me.” Hayden began to lead the way. Always ensuring he kept a respectful distance away from her. “At least this way we don’t have to spend all night in the woods. And I would have you know. I wasn’t going to leave you here alone.”
Aspen smiled at him as they reached the road. “I believe that, thanks.”
“Where to, milady?” Hayden asked once they were settled in the car. He engaged the heating for her and looked expectant.
Aspen gave the address as she put her seatbelt on. “Do you know where that is?”
“Not quite, but Mrs Satnav does.” Hayden typed the address into his dashboard-mounted satellite navigation system. He placed his hands on his car keys and panicked. “Oh, no!”
“What? Please tell me everything’s, okay.” Aspen said with a fretful look his way.
“It’s fine. I’m going to need a little bit more trust though. You see when I turn on the ignition, the cars going to automatically lock all its doors. I promise to let you out the minute you ask and when we get to your address. You okay with that?”
Aspen nodded. “That’s fine. Thank you for warning me?”
“Phew, you’re welcome.” Hayden smiled as he started the car. Those door locks clicked on allowing him to feel a slight drop in Aspen’s demeanour. “Right, let’s get you home safe.” wasting no more time he set off down the road again.
Aspen remained silent of the drive. She kept her fingers hovering over the call button. Ready for the moment she might need to call the emergency services for help.
Hayden didn’t blame her for not completely trusting him. Twenty-five tense minutes of rumbling tyres over tarmac saw Hayden parking outside her home. “Here we are, milady.”
“Thank you for keeping your promise and being a nice guy.” Aspen gave him a grateful look.
“Some of us blokes have to be decent gentlemen.” Hayden climbed from the car and walked around to the passenger side. Opening the door for Aspen, he stepped back respectful.
Aspen gingerly climbed out on account of her bare feet being sore from walking over rough ground all evening. Turning to face him, she placed a hand on the zip of the hoodie.
“No, don’t take that off. You keep it until you have your clothes to put on. You can always return it to Benny’s Garage in Aylsham another day.”
Aspen released the zip and smoothed her hair over her shoulder. “A gentleman to the very end.” She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. Smiling as she gained the pavement.
Hayden’s breath caught in his throat. The kiss had been like an energising battery filling him with strong feelings for her. “You’re welcome,” he said with a sigh as he closed the door behind her. Hayden climbed behind the wheel of his car and waited until she disappeared indoors. Only then did he drive away and head for home knowing she was safe.
Almost three weeks later, Aspen arrived at the garage. She returned the hoody and took Hayden to lunch. A reward that made his chivalry that night worthwhile.
Have a great day!