Gretel continued around the back of the cottage, shaking the dirt from the roots of the dead plants before tossing them into her growing pile of sticks and twigs. She found herself humming a familiar tune and she relaxed into her work, enjoying the fresh air and brisk sunshine. She listened to the chattering of the chipmunks overhead and the birds calling to one another in the forest.
It was then that she realized that she didn’t hear Hansel’s ax any longer. She leaned back on her heels, waiting for the familiar thump. Nothing. Standing up, Gretel brushed her apron clean and walked around to the front of the cottage. Empty. Her heart quickened slightly. She walked to the front door of the cottage and opened it. Squinting into the darkness she called his name. Silence. Anxiety began to course through her. Settle down. He’s around her somewhere, she told herself. It’s just because of what happened yesterday that you’re so easily worried. You have to trust him.
She heard the shed door bang shut and she whirled around. Hansel walked out of the old shed drying is face with his kerchief, the ax leaned against the wood pile. Gretel let out the deep breath she’d been holding, feeling foolish. She mustered a weak smile as he walked closer. In one hand he carried his pruning sheers.
“I didn’t know where you were,” she mumbled and wiped her hands on her apron, too embarrassed to meet his eye. “I’m about finished cleaning out the flower beds.”
“Great. I can add some the branches of that old barberry. And then we’ll plant these.” Out of his pocket, he pulled the burlap bundle and offered her a cautious smile. Gretel stiffened, nodded once and walked back to her pile of dead plants and flowers.