She liked to go for walks in the forest near her house in the country.

She also spent time playing in the barn where her brown and white spotted horse sought shelter from bad weather.

The barn was full of animal stalls no longer used, and an upper loft where nobody could see her, reached by a ladder made of wood. When she unlatched and swung open the small window in the upper center of the barn-top, she could see for miles across the green countryside.

Her favorite hiding place was in the hay barn, an outbuilding made of metal, and full of fescue cut from fields adjacent the farm. She was almost a teenager, and strong enough now to move the hay bales around, making secret rooms and forts hidden from the entrance. Sometimes she would bring a book, and quietly read by herself for hours in a cave made of hay.

Living so far away from civilization had caused her to grow comfortable with her silent, solo self. She no longer had the desire to be around other kids or people. Whether this was a form of learned helplessness – a coping mechanism to deal with forced solitude – or a natural preference, she was no longer certain. But she was okay with herself, by herself. It was peaceful, and nobody hurt her when she was alone.

Today she walked down the path that led into the forest. She loved it in the forest; the sounds of squirrels scratching around in the trees, and birds singing careless songs. She would often climb up into a favorite tree and watch nature making music all around her.

There was a dump in the forest, used by farmers from all around, where she would sometimes ferret around, looking for other people’s treasures. It was there she found the seventies copy of The Joy of Sex, full of hairy, hippie-looking people in embarrassing poses that repulsed her. She hoped that when her time for romance finally arrived, it would look nothing like the pictures contained in that moldy old book.

Sometimes she would find the tracks of what were probably large dogs, that she liked to tell herself were from mountain lions, if only to make the peaceful forest feel dangerous and exciting for a moment. She wondered what she would do if she ever encountered a big cat on one of her nature walks.

Today she was feeling sleepy. The late afternoon air was thick and syrupy. The sun was bright, the stream she walked along was trickling quietly, and the warmth of the summer day made her eyes grow heavy. Rather than go all the way back to the house to nap, she decided to lie down in a patch of soft clover she spotted underneath some trees.

She stared at the clouds for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep.

She was startled out of sleep by what felt like claws on her legs. Terrified, she opened her eyes to see what it might be.

Standing on her legs was a wild rabbit.

Agouti brown, with glossy, dark eyes, the rabbit stared back at her in surprise. She held very still, so as not to frighten the small creature, as they looked at each other silently for a moment.

Deciding she was no threat, the rabbit casually hopped off of her legs and continued munching clover nearby.

She looked back up at the sky, feeling blessed and happy to be alive, quietly existing among other animals like herself.

She was not alone.