Stars shining bright above you

Night breezes seem to whisper I love you

Birds singing in the sycamores trees

Dream and little dream of me

She isn't all that surprised, in the moments before their lips touch. In fact, she's itching for it, like a pet itches for a head scratch. It was enough that he'd burned a hole in his wallet for a decent suit and a high-class restaurant. But he'd gone beyond when he allowed the school pest to cry on his shoulder and let her stay with them for the rest of the night with no complaint. He need not have topped it off with his heartfelt poem. He may have already had her. But in the moments before their lips touch, it's never been more clear that this is where she is supposed to be.

Their lips touch. It is warm and kind and undemanding, just as she suspected, just as he had dreamed of.

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The summer belongs to them. He writes letters at least two pages long, detailing his part-time job and his studies and the imprint of her lips on his. She responds with postcards and quick entries about Africa's sights, the self-discoveries she's made, and how much she misses seeing his flip up glasses. The one time she comes to visit, for three days, he visits her with a dozen flowers. She doesn't talk about his new glasses, and he doesn't talk about her locked hair. She teaches him a few phrases before cooking him and her family a meal she learned abroad. It's earthy and piping hot, but better than anyone expected. After washing the dishes, she takes him by his hand and pulls him out the door before he can say, "Goodbye Mrs H!" They slow dance in the park, singing under their breaths in giggles.

Their lips touch again and again. To her, his lips are soft and pleasant, the same as the firs time. To him, she tastes like sauces and scents from another world that he knows nothing about.

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He convinces her to stick around for one more year. "And then you can. . .sell street meat if you want to!" His puppy eyes are at an all-time high, so she hears herself agree before her brain can object. He lets her study in his apartment, tutors her for free, tells her a wack joke every lunch hour at the Pit to keep her spirits up. . .

And one night, when they are snowed in and freezing in his apartment, she curls into his chest with a purr and nibbles at his ear. He whispers her name, she kisses him fiercely, he rolls her onto her back. He is thoughtful and patient, adorning every inch of skin with equal tenderness. She trembles , stings and quivers until she comes undone beneath him, and he follows quickly with his fist between his teeth. It's not the first time he tells her he loves her. But it's the first time she says it back. An she does love him. She just hates her life.

Their lips touch. She feels hope; he feels fear.

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She can't make it to the end of the year. She can't get along with Jaleesa or Freddie or Kim or Whitley (like she ever could). She is getting angry at the teachers she once loved and revered. Her parents are appalled at her snappiness. Theo hasn't come to visit in so long.

She's alienating the people who care about her the most, all except for Dwayne, who takes her jabs and storms with the tolerance of a parent, albeit an increasingly irritated one. Sometimes she gives him this look, like she doesn't love him. Sometimes he wonders if he deserves it; so much of her light has dimmed this year, to the point where she is almost unrecognizable, in these moments when she's mad at him. Sometimes, she cuts too deep with her words and realizes it too late when he falls silent and walks into his bedroom. She claps a hand over her mouth and shakes with unshed tears waiting for just the right amount of time to knock on his door and make it up to him. He always forgives her. And that tainted look in his eyes starts to linger a little longer every time.

Their lips touch. Briefly. So sweetly. So scared.

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Outside Gilbert Hall, on the steps where they had dance a year ago, they stand now, leaning against each other, two dependent pillars. It is a painful way to hug the one you love goodbye.

She is going back to Africa in two weeks. There is an eccentric artist who wants her as his stylist. She doesn't know when she'll be back.

He's starting to accept the idea that se won't come back. He's watched her pack for the trip, pulling out clothes she had shoved back into her closet in favor of gray plaid. He's watched her face light up the way it used to when he first met her. He's wondered why he couldn't be enough to keep her floating carefree in the wind. He's come to the conclusion that she just needed too much. Or something different. It hurts to work the math out. X equals either one. Either one equals losing her.

Leaning against her outside of GIlbert Hall is a precious moment for him. He remembers who he was, who she was, who they were, and he misses them so fucking much. And yet, he knows he'd rather have this pain of goodbye than the pain of never having said hello.

She looks up at him, cradling his face in her hands. SHe promises him she will come back to him. Maybe she'll get an apartment near the school, or should she set up housing in Japan when he gets his job at Kineshewa? He wants to laugh. It's nice of her to try.

"I. . ." love you. Will miss you. Hope you find what I couldn't give.

He cleared his throat. "I gotta get back. Take care, Denise." He thinks about kissing her lips once more. He settles for her forehead and backs away from their embrace.

"No, don't!"

"I gotta get back to the apartment, I haven't finished-"

"Dwayne. Please stay."

He could have had a flashback to the last time she said those three words. Instead, he hears them in their new form-pleading, loving, desperate. She's not curvy checked and soft-voiced anymore. She sharpened, in mind and body. She knows what she doesn't want, which amplifies what she does. She's taking chances without his guidance, without anyone's guidance.

But she still wants him.

"You want me to stay?"

She nods, grabbing the front of his shirt. "Stay."

There is no "Dream a little Dream Of Me" playing in the background. No white suit and long dress to sugarcoat the moment. It's just a skinny boy in flip-up glasses and a short girl with locs to her back. The honeymoon is over. The easy part is long gone. The love is still there.

He leans forward. She sighs.

Their lips touch. It feels different, tastes different, may not be enough in the long run. But it's enough for now.

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you

But in your dreams whatever they be

Dream a little dream of me