He startled her as he came around the bend, emerging from the small copse of trees like a wraith emerging from a deep shadow. She stopped walking and stared at him, her heartbeat quickening in fright.
But as he stepped into the light of the street lamp that stood only a few feet behind her, she realized his face was familiar.
"Hayden?" she asked hesitantly, the incredulity and utter shock at his being there evident in her voice.
"Hey, Kisa," he said, a slight smile turning up the corners of his mouth. There was a familiar light in his brown eyes that warmed her heart in the remembering. They had not been close friends; even so, seeing him filled her with a sense of relief. Ever since leaving home, she had been lonely, having not previously known anyone here before she moved. Her world had completely changed in the space of a few short weeks, and now she felt so alone.
In that moment, she realized she didn't care that he hadn't been a very close friend; she was just happy to see an old familiar face.
As if on cue, he took one step closer to her and lifted his arms, holding them out to her. Her eyes widened.
"I heard you needed a hug."
Her shock doubled. "From whom?" Her voice wasn't much more than a whisper.
That light came into his gentle eyes again, the same boyish grin to his lips. "I think you know."
She could only stand there, frozen in astonishment and confusion.
He didn't wait long for her to recover... only a few seconds, really. He finished the remaining steps that separated them and enfolded her in his strong arms. The embrace was warm, gentle, comforting. It brought a strange sense of peace to her soul that, until that moment, she hadn't consciously realized was missing. He was a good head taller than her, so she had to turn her face and rest it against his chest in order to breathe. It felt right, the way her head nestled against his chest just below his collarbone.
He didn't let go for a long time, and just stood there in the uncertain light of the street lamp, holding her. Eventually she softened, relaxing her tensed muscles, and let out a little sigh of surrender. Her arms left her sides and she hugged him back, her fists clutching at his shirt, her face buried deep in his jacket. Later she would wonder why it was so easy to let down her guard with someone she hadn't even known very well, but in that moment she was just immensely grateful for his presence. She breathed deeply and smelled his familiar scent, all her senses now filled with him and the memories of her past.
A single tear shone in the corner of her left eye.
"Thank you," she whispered into the fabric of his jacket. "Thank you, Hayden."
He only smiled, closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of her hair.