A startled gasp in a small, dark room. The sheets drenched with sweat and sleeplessness.
He heard the crash of waves, far-off and distant. Soon accompanying that was a strong wind, blowing about above him. Aside from that, there was no other noise, no other telltale sign of where he was. He nudged a hand and grabbed at grass; it felt soft and passing under his touch.
"You certainly left things a mess." The djinni's words rang in his ears, the last words he heard in that place. "Although I guess the kid wouldn't have done much better."
He finally opened his eyes and forced himself to sit up. Green stretched on—green, lush fields. The sky was clear and white, soft, gentle; he looked up at it in curiosity. It was not a sky he knew.
The cliff before him overlooked the ocean. He caught a whiff of salt on the air and its unfamiliarity. He breathed it in deep, savoring it, how clean it was, how smooth. He closed his eyes and focused on that alien freshness, how powerful and vicious as it froze the tears on his cheeks.
He raised a hand and touched the wet with his fingertips, bringing it back to study it. He squinted, his eyes clouding. His hand dropped and he slouched over, crying fully now, just as the boy had done. Everything spilt out, the guilt, the resentment, the secret anger, almost as if the clearness surrounding him was purging his body clean.
Time passed and soon his tears dried out, leaving him breathless and tired. He clutched at the grass and then fell over onto his side. Now he truly was dead. He closed his eyes and rested.
The grass rustled behind him. Tenderly a hand landed on his shoulder and shook him. "Excuse me? Hey, are you all right?"
He opened his eyes and turned to the voice; standing above him was a young woman, fair-skinned, her summer dress bright with red, a straw basket hanging on her slim arm. Her dark hair was long and smooth, cradling around her neck. A mole decorated the side of her nose.
A relieved smile unconsciously touched on her lips. "Oh, you're awake. Are you all right?"
He only stared into her eyes, mouth slightly agape. She furrowed her brow. "Did you hear me? Hey—"
He reached up suddenly and gingerly caressed her cheek, studying not only her face but also his hand. Immediately a blush flooded her face and she slapped his hand away.
"What are you doing?" she asked. "I'm only trying to see if you're all right!"
"I'm—fine," he said, sitting up straight. "I just had to be sure that… you were real."
"Oh?" She sighed and flattened out her dress. "Are you satisfied?"
He nodded quietly and stood up, turning to the sea. She narrowed her eyes at him worriedly. "You're quite strange," she said. "What were you doing out here, anyway?"
"I was—" He shook his head. "I was putting it behind me."
"Putting what behind you?"
He ignored her and glanced down at the basket, full of delicious red apples. "You were gathering fruit?" he asked.
She hoisted the basket up and frowned. "I always go and collect from Mr. Richard's orchard on they're ripe enough." Impulsively she reached down and snatched one up.
"You live nearby?"
"Of course," she answered, taking a bite from the fruit. "The village is just up over the hill. I was taking a little walk, and that's when I saw you lying there. I thought you were dead!"
He smiled at her. "I'm very much alive, I assure you." He gestured beyond her. "Do you—do you think you could take me to your village? I'm not exactly sure where I am."
"You're not sure where you are?" She frowned again. "Are you positive you're all right?"
"Of course, Kitty," he replied quickly, surprising them both.
"Kitty?" She simply stared at him in bewilderment. "No one—no one but my father and brother would call me that." She stepped toward him. "How did you—?"
"I knew a girl nicknamed Kitty once," he said. "You look very much like her. I just made a mistake." He touched his forehead awkwardly. "I'm not thinking very straight right now. I apologize."
He smiled. "But if that's true, am I right in assuming you're Kathleen?"
"Yes," she confirmed hesitantly. "Kathleen Burroughs." She held out a shaky hand. "And you are—?"
"My name is Nathaniel," he said, shaking her hand firmly.
"Nathaniel," she repeated, as if testing the name. "Well, it certainly is a strange pleasure to meet you, Nathaniel." She noticed his smile and motioned back. "We can go now. It's about time I was getting back, anyway."
"Alright." She turned and started off, but Nathaniel paused and glanced back over his shoulder toward the sea, as if saying goodbye.