Holly ran in the misty, early morning, through the woods on the edge of Storybrooke. She was at home here in the forest, feeling the ground under her trainers and the soft caress of leaves and branches against her arms and legs as she followed the old deer trail to the lake.
There wasn't any point to her run today- usually she ran with Red for exercise (the girl was fast as a wolf when she wanted to be and set a wicked pace), but today was just for the sheer joy of breathing in the green air beneath the trees and feeling the sun on her skin.
She reached the lake, which sparkled a dark, clear blue, and put her hands on her knees to catch her breath for a moment before she stepped into the clearing. Looking around, she seemed to be the only one there, but some days she could almost hear the grand willow humming along to the tune on the wind. She walked over, slinging off her light backpack, and took her favorite seat on a root, leaning against the stalwart trunk. It was almost as if the tree were happy to see her as well, the way its branches fluttered.
It was so nice to get away from all the drama in town nowadays, anyway. A newcomer had breezed in—the first she could remember-, and had Regina practically in fits. And strange things were happening. Even the forest felt changed; as if it had woken up and started living again. She didn't know what to think of Emma. She'd only seen her in Granny's once or twice, but she seemed nice enough, when she wasn't harassing the Sheriff or being surly. And Mary Margaret had taken her under her wing, so she had to be a good egg. It was all much too self-serious, anyway. There were better things to do, and she was glad her job as a park ranger kept her away from town fairly often.
She closed her eyes, listening to the gentle waves lapping at the shore... and the scuffling of her backpack? She looked over to catch a fat raccoon cheerfully rifling through her bag. It froze almost comically as it realised it was caught, looking at her with big, guilty eyes. She had to laugh, and reached for her backpack cautiously. Raccoons in daytime usually meant rabies, but this fellow looked healthy enough. He backed up only a few steps, as if to concede that he was wrong, but still hoping for a hand-out.
"Are you hungry?"
He stared back at her, almost seeming to nod.
"All right, I think I have some biscuits, if you promise not to steal the rest."
The raccoon took a tentative step forward on his tiny paws, chirruping a response that sounded like he agreed. She searched through her bag, and came up with a granola bar.
"Not quite a cookie, but it's good anyway. All natural. Almonds," she said, opening the crinkly cellophane and holding the crunchy bar out. The raccoon sniffed experimentally, then very gently took it out of her hand, scurrying a distance away before devouring his prize. He washed his paws in the lake and ran towards the forest, pausing to look back at her. She smiled and waved, and he darted off.
When Holly came back the next day, he appeared again, but this time she was ready with crackers. They fell into something of a friendship: Holly would bring a snack for the little raccoon, and he'd pretend to be uninterested until she looked the other way. He was whip-smart, too. She'd bring a ball and they'd roll it back and forth for a while before he would slip off into the forest.
Today was different, though. He was waiting for her under the willow, and he had something in his paws, something blue and shiny.
He held it out to her, chirruping hopefully.
She took it gingerly, studying the object as the raccoon rummaged through her bag and came out with full cheeks and a pawful of crackers. It was a turquoise necklace with a shell in the center. It looked clean enough, the silver metal shone brightly in the sunlight. She'd seen something like this in Mr. Gold's pawn shop, but the little raccoon couldn't have...
"Where did you get this?"
Holly could have sworn that he shrugged.
"My mother had one just like it." She slipped the necklace on, and peered into the lake to catch her reflection. It didn't go at all with her running gear, but it fit her more than they did. It suited her like the forest did.
The raccoon chittered in response, and she looked back at him with a smile.
"You need a name, don't you?"
A real, honest-to-God nod from a raccoon.
"How about Sherlock? You're a smart little guy."
He seemed quite displeased, with his fur standing up.
"Okay, okay. I get it. How about Jack?"
That seemed worse.
"Jeez. Okay. Let me think." She seemed to remember when she was growing up, she had a little stuffed raccoon named Meeko. She loved it dearly, but couldn't remember where it had gone.
He seemed best pleased by that, chirruping happily, and she laughed too.
"Meeko it is, then. I'm Holly. It's nice to officially meet you."
Happy New Year, Esther! May it be full of new friends and experiences!