PILE OF ASHES
By the time you read this, I will be a pile of ashes.
The flames will consume my body, just as the devil
consumed my spirit.
I had lived a good life, but I faltered in death.
I have killed. I have fed off the blood of innocents.
My humanity long lost, I do not ask forgiveness,
for I do not deserve it.
There is no one to contact; there is no one looking.
There is nothing left.
All I wanted was to say goodbye. It is the only
civil offering, aside from my true death, that I have
left to give.
o O o O o o O o O o o O o O o o O o O o
Gasping, I sit up in bed, suddenly and painfully wide awake. I had that dream again, the one I can't really remember. The one I have been completely blocked from figuring out. Bits and pieces fade too quickly, trying to remember is like sand slipping through my fingers.
The dream wakes me every other Wednesday at precisely 6:43PM. Being a flight attendant, I almost always work the Honolulu red-eye back to L.A. every other week, so my days get a little reversed and my sleep schedule completely jacked. By the time I right it, I'm heading back from Hawaii again.
Today, I wake with a vague memory of fire. It almost makes sense, as I'm covered in sweat. I wonder briefly if the air conditioning is on the fritz, but as soon as the thought crosses my mind, I hear it kick on again.
Stretching long and twisting onto my back, I roll to face the window. The sun is starting to dip below the horizon, and I figure I may as well get up as I've been sleeping for fourteen hours.
One of these days, I'll build up enough seniority to get a better pick of the schedule. Or maybe I'll catch Lauren in the bathroom with a co-pilot for the third time and have my iPhone ready to record. Then, I'll be head flight attendant because she'll beg me not to tell, and she'll take all my overnights for a while.
Regardless, that's not the case, so I drag myself into my closet to dig out my workout clothes and hurriedly dress for my daily run. I tie an old bandanna of my dad's around my head, not in the mood to deal with my hair, ignoring the pang of grief I feel at the reminder he's been gone almost seven years now. It's gotten easier, but I don't think you're supposed to fully recover from losing your parents. My mom's still around, but given the amount of time I actually saw her growing up, it's hard to say she's ever really been around.
Once I'm outside on the pavement, I wake up a bit more; the breeze coming in off the water is only slightly cool yet feels really nice. I pop my earbuds in and set off, merging easily into the sparse foot and bike traffic along the boardwalk.
As each foot hits the ground below me, my mind begins to spin, picking and fussing blindly with the fibers of my dream in attempt to uncover a clue to it's meaning. All I have to go on is the panic and sense of failure I'm left with upon waking, the faint scent of sea water and burnt embers lingering in my nose.
I can't shake the sense of unease and I know the feeling will fade, yet I can't help but feel I'm getting closer to figuring it out.
Slipping into a zone, I cease to really see the world, a haze of smoke swirls in front of my eyes instead. It's thick with plumes of black threading through like veins in marble. A face begins to emerge, and I may have just stopped breathing. My momentum slows, my feet stilling, my arms hang limply at my sides, though my heart is pumping frantically.
Cheekbones, full lips, strong chin … and wide, tortured eyes. Curls begin to become visible, falling haphazardly over his forehead, when suddenly the vision is severed by someone slamming into me, knocking me to the ground. Full of apologies and excuses, he helps me up, but I hear very little of what he says. His honey-blond curly hair seems to echo the details I was about to uncover, and I stare unabashedly, examining his face.
Revealing crooked teeth tacked with braces in a goofy smile, his voice cracks as he asks me something — probably if I'm all right, but I can't answer. His eyes are wide and look a little familiar, though something is wrong. I gasp as I feel a massive puzzle piece snap into place.
His irises are red. Like blood.
Perhaps the collision knocked the memory loose, but it sends a jolt of off-kilter panic through my body and I have to move. Immediately, I spin away and run towards home, shouts and calls of concern from the boy unheard.
Despite my attempts to put pieces together and derive any sort of resolution, my efforts are fruitless. It seems the mystery will unravel at its own pace, and not mine. So, I wait.
The rest of the week passes uneventfully. Sleep gives up no more clues, no more insight, and as usual, the urgency and unease fade into the background.
But his eyes linger, clinging to me like a second skin, tugging at my heart in the strangest, most foreign of ways.
Bright, vermilion red irises. Strangely enough, it isn't alarming, even though it reminds me of something from a horror movie. How could someone — or something? — dangerous look so hopeless? So resigned? So … dead?
I have no idea who he is, but I am mesmerized. His eyes become a constant presence in the back of my mind, sinking into my bones, my soul. He haunts me this way, constantly pulling at my mind, my skin, almost desperate for my attention. I'm consumed and silenced, holing away in my flat, alone. Before I can blink, I'm back on my Sunday morning flight to Maui.
Once we arrive and I check in to my hotel room, I try to sleep, but end up staring out the windows at the sky. Watching the clouds float by, I track the sun as it arcs across the horizon. The day comes and goes without movement.
My body is alight with anticipation of another chance at the dream, but when sleep does take me, it is shallow and dreamless.
Tuesday evening arrives, but my flight is canceled due to repairs. Panic floods me when I get the call, but I soon realize it doesn't matter. I must have expected that everything must be the same for me to dream that dream, but I'm mostly positive that it doesn't.
I spend the evening wandering the beach near the hotel, trying to exorcise the anticipation and unease, but with every step, every press of sand through my toes, it grows stronger. I take to wringing my hands á la Lady Macbeth, nervous energy thrumming in my veins.
After a while, I realize I'm pacing, wearing a gorge into a short span of darkening sand, the sun slipping beneath the waters.
Darkening sand. Dark sand. The sand is black. The fire, the water … the fire is on a beach, a beach with black sand.
My attention snaps up, my eyes rolling quickly over the lowly undulating waves, glistening with a fiery sunset. Following the water out, I lock my eyes on Kahoolawe. It's an uninhabited island, not open to tourists. The beaches there are made up of black sand.
Moments later, I'm tracking sand across the marble floor of the lobby as I head straight for the night manager. For the number of years I've been on this schedule, Carlisle Cullen has consistently been kind and overtly helpful, taking me under his wing, in a way. He is a friend, and as I only admit to myself, a bit of a father figure — or at least a fix for when I'm out here, alone, and really missing my dad.
As I approach, he looks up, his golden eyes smiling at me. "Alice," he chuckles, no doubt noticing my wild-eyed, probably a little disheveled and desperate appearance. "What on earth can I do for you?"
"Carlisle, I need to get to Kahoolawe," I tell him.
"Yes, I heard you," he interrupts, "but I can't for the life of me imagine why you need to go there. You know you need permiss—"
I know this already, but I can't wait through his lecture. "Yeah, yeah, I know, but I need to …. I just need to check something out, okay? I can't really explain and I can't wait for a grant from the council. I have to go alone, or at least search alone. Can you help me or not? Do I have to swim there?"
His eyes go wide, but there is warmth in them. "Honey, what is going on? This isn't like you."
For some reason, the comment irks me. "If you can't help, just say so," I growl, catching the attention of the concierge at the next desk.
"Can I help, Mr. Cullen?" he asks, walking over.
"No, Mike, but thank you. Actually, check with Jessica, I think she needed some help with the Educators' Welcome Luncheon," Carlisle assures him, waving him off. Once Mike is gone, Carlisle leans on his elbows and glares at me. "I didn't say I wouldn't — or couldn't — help. You just worry me, that's all."
"I promise it's not anything dangerous," I lie, not knowing what could happen, but reasonably sound in the assumption I'll be okay. "Someone needs my help, Carlisle."
That cinches it. He sighs, that happy-sad look of 'I give up' a father gives his kids when he gives in. Picking up the phone, he dials an extension and speaks quickly and lowly into the receiver — I can barely hear or understand it. I blink a few times, wondering if I'm just tired, if the adrenaline has receded, leaving me foggy and exhausted.
Carlisle hands me a piece of paper with a phone number and name written in his small, neat script. "Nine a.m., call. He'll get you there."
Ridiculously gleeful, I bounce on my toes and jump up to kiss his cheek. "Thank you," I gush. "So much."
Back in my room, I lay out a tank and capris for the morning, knowing the last thing I'll want to think about is what to wear. I shower quickly and crawl into bed, my body heavy and sluggish. To my surprise and delight, I fall asleep nearly as soon as my head hits the pillow.
I wake in a cold sweat, nerves alight. The sun is bright, so I check the clock. It's quarter till noon.
Flinging the sheets back, I fly out of bed and grab my phone. It takes me three tries to dial the number.
"Emmett," he answers gruffly. Sounds like he may have been asleep.
"This is Alice. Carlisle called yo—"
"Yeah. Right. Thought we were doing this at nine?"
"I—well, yeah, but I overslept," I answer, embarrassed but also somewhat distracted. I dreamed vividly last night, and all of the details suddenly inundate me, eclipsing the sound of Emmett's voice.
I see his face, his crimson irises potent with resolve, sorrow. His hands. He's writing a letter. "By the time you read this …"
"YO! Charlie's Angel!" The voice on the other end of the line shouts.
I wince, my ear throbbing. "Sorry, yeah, listen, can you still get me to—"
"Well, like I was saying, I told Carlisle nine tonight. It'd be better if it were dark," he explains, the bottom dropping out of my plan. My stomach flips.
"But … I can't wait that long!" I tell him, freaking out, and I'm sure that's coming across loud and clear. As I rattle out in a frenzy, I see him from behind a wall of flames. My next words shift from frenzy to a wail. "It'll be too late! You have to. I'm ready now. Can you please? I'll pay you double what … whatever I was supposed to pay you."
I realize I don't know how much this'll cost, but I'll give him all the cash I have. Hell, I'll knock over an ATM if I need to.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Nancy Drew," Emmett bellows, trying to slow me down. "I just said it was better. Relax! I'll take you now, I just gotta grab a coffee, and I'll pick you up out front, okay? Black off-road Jeep. Ten minutes."
Dropping the phone into my tote bag, I fall back to sitting on the mattress and slip back into the dream. I see the entire letter, a guilty confession and goodbye signed "JLW."
This is wrong. It can't happen. Oh, please, let me make it in time!
I rush to the sink to brush my teeth, waving an apathetic hand at the mirror after taking in the view of my hair, randomly spiky, damp, and sleep-tousled. Wiping my face with the last clean towel, I drop it before snatching my bag off the bed and hurrying out the door.
The elevator takes too long to arrive, so I speed down the nine flights of stairs, just so I can keep moving.
A hulking black Jeep sits in front of the door, a bear of a man sitting in the driver's seat picking at his nails with an old switchblade that looks just like one my grandpa used to have.
Not waiting for the invitation, I hop in the passenger seat. "Emmett? I'm Alice. Let's haul ass."
He turns slowly, a smile deepening the dimples in his cheeks as he winks from behind his sunglasses. "You got it, Babydoll." His voice is strangely mischievous, but not intimidating, despite his size.
The ride is fast, a little rough, but wordless. Thirty-five minutes later, we're in a small sideboard boat taking the long way around Kahoolawe, fighting a choppy sea. I restlessly point this out to him several times. He ignores me all but the last when he replies lowly, his sweatshirt's hood hiding his face as he talks out to the water.
"Easier to avoid the attention of the Coast Guard and any of that kind of hullabaloo," he barks in what I think might be his version of an "inside voice."
"Hullabaloo?" I repeat with a giggle. For the first time in days, I'm thrilled to be able to genuinely lighten up for a moment. "What are you, ninety?"
"Shut up," he mutters self-consciously.
That's the extent of conversation until we pull the tiny boat ashore. I drop my flip-flops in the boat, leaving my bag next to them.
Emmett easily agrees to waiting there while I "do whatever you gotta do, Tiny."
I shelf the surprise and chalk it up to a tiny bit of luck as I take off running. I weave through trees, jump rocks, occasionally tripping over seaweed and such debris washed up by the tide. I realize quickly I've overestimated my fitness level, as I quickly become winded, stopping once to catch my breath. I had also discounted the distance between beaches on the island, beginning to fear I'd never make it.
Then, my nose twitches, itching with the hint of an acrid scent. I freeze, stock still as I inhale sharply, intent on confirming the discovery.
I can smell it clearly and panic, scrambling across the black grit beneath my feet, hurtling my body forward with no grace or form. Time slows, my sight blurring as I push myself, hoping blindly I'm not too late. I round a patch of trees, the smoke becomes visible, rising profusely from the massive pyre. No person is anywhere near, from what I can see.
Acutely sifting visually through the flames and mounds of kindling and wood, I zero in on shapes. Fingers, toes, limbs … No.
My body collapses ten yards from the smoldering cinder and ash. Whether it was my choice, my loss of will, or my body giving up, I do not know. The heat blasts at my face, and I close my eyes, gasping and coughing from stolen oxygen. Tears breach my lashes, spilling over my cheeks. I don't bother to wipe them, as I know they will just keep coming.
My breath is quick and panting, my chest pained, as though someone is standing on my sternum. I openly sob then, for everything I feel, for everything he lost.
I failed him. All he wanted was hope, and I failed.
"I'm sorry," I mutter, the words barely intelligible from beneath my guilt. "I'm so sorry, JLW."
Suddenly, I feel a presence at my back. I stand slowly, at first thinking I'm going to be arrested for being here, accused of having an "unlicensed bonfire."
"Why would you be sorry?"
The voice is smooth and low, and my skin prickles as if I was caught in an arctic breeze. I rush to stand and spin, but when I do, he's not there.
"What are you doing here?"
I turn again, slower this time, and he stands a few yards to my right in the haven of shade, a few steps shy of the trees. All at once, I feel every cell in my body has turned on. Every moment in my life has brought me here, for him.
"I—I thought …" I stammer, not sure where to begin. He's looking at me very strangely as my eyes comb every inch of him, always circling back to his face. He still looks sad, but I can also feel it as though it's my own. There's something else pushing the melancholy out of frame, though. I think it's relief, but also confusion. I shake my head as if to clear my thoughts.
"I thought I was too late," I say finally, my eyes now unable to leave his. Red. So red.
"Too late?" he repeats, slowly, a faint southern drawl evident.
"I got your letter," I explain, my voice and arms pitching around, making me sound frantic. "I … I couldn't let you … I …"
The glimmer of a smile flickers on his face, and I'm surprised again when I feel amusement warm me from within. It forces a grin to erupt amidst my tears.
"Are you here to save me, ma'am?" he asks, the word 'save' abrasive to my ears. He's cynical, and he doesn't believe me. He's mocking me.
All at once, I feel stupid and childish, embarrassed and puny. My own smile vanishes, a tornado of humiliation swallowing me as memories of schoolyard taunts are revived.
I was a very theatrical kid, and even at early ages, tended to dive deeply and headfirst into taboo and occult subjects. And yes, I occasionally had dreams that were … telling. My mother called me "Wednesday Addams" as if it were funny, but it held much more contempt than bemused affection.
The trip down that dark memory lane leaves no doubt in my mind why I left that shithole of a small, bible-belt town after my dad died. He always loved me, accepted me regardless of my quirks. Once he was gone, I got gone, too.
An exasperated sigh yanks me from the past and back to the present. I can taste his regret above the salt in the breeze.
"I apologize, ma'am," he tell me, slightly bowing. An actual gentleman. "I didn't intend to hurt your feelings, but I … I'm just confused as to how you even knew I'd be here."
"More accurately, why I care?" I correct, offering the truth on a platter. He smiles tightly in confirmation, but I know he is genuinely confounded by my presence. "I got your letter."
His eyes go wide, and his shock almost bowls me over. Instantly, I sense his hackles raise, his defenses high. "I haven't sent any letter," he croaks.
My cheeks pinking, I realize I have to own up to my premonitions. "Yet," I admit, somewhat sheepishly. I see his eyes narrow sharply, and I hurriedly continue. "I've been … I've had many …"
I'm back to feeling foolish and silly, my fingers tugging aimlessly at the hem of my shirt.
"I have dreams," I confess with as much confidence as I can muster. "Well, one in particular. Every couple weeks, same time … it's always you. Your letter, your …" I pause, several different words caught in my throat at the thought. " … intention."
My hand swings out toward the cluster of flames. He moves closer, but it's at an alarmingly fast speed; I see little of his actual movement. Now directly in front of me, his presence is almost overwhelming. The sun is behind him, so his face is in shadow, but there are prisms of light surrounding him as though he'd been caught in a shower of diamond dust. I stumble backward, slightly overcome by the heat of the blaze … and by him.
"Sit," he orders gently, motioning to a spot back over in the shade.
Moving farther from the fire and the tide, I obey his request and settle down on my knees. He doesn't sit close to me, leaving at least four or five feet between us. I want to tease him, ask him if he thinks I have cooties, but the situation is still fragile. I settle for a smirk, but he ignores it.
"The letter … I didn't … What …?" He keeps stopping himself, ultimately reaching into his pocket and pulling out a neatly folded paper. Opening it, he looks it over for a moment before holding it up, facing me. "How did you know about this?"
I frown slightly. "I told you," I insist. "I've been dreaming of you for—" I cut myself off, frustrated. I don't yet want to admit the extent of my preoccupation with him, but I'm not sure what happens now. "The how doesn't matter. What matters is I'm here."
A sharp sensation burns just below my ribs, the kind of emotional pang that can level you. I teeter forward onto the support of one hand, the other pressing at the pain. I can't quite fathom how I'm experiencing his reactions, but I know for sure they're his. I look up to see the paper crumple in his fist.
"What does it say?" His voice is strained, rough, like he doesn't really want to ask. His eyes drop away from mine. An ache builds in my stomach, and I want to reach out or crawl over and sit in his lap. The notion both frightens and bolsters me.
Inhaling deeply, the tickle of the nearby fire singes my throat slightly, but I seem to welcome the sensation. I turn to look at the flames licking at the sky as it continues to burn, and disappear in it for a moment. My sight goes hazy as I retreat inside, recalling the dream clearly, now that it is wholly mine.
"By the time you read this," I begin, a sadness both his and my own lurching up my throat with each word, "I will be a pile of ashes. The flames will …"
"... consume my body as the devil has consumed …"
"STOP!" The harsh and pleading demand echoes, darting through the trees and returning to circle us like a icy cocoon.
My bubble of recollection bursts and I'm fully aware of myself again. I swallow the rest of the speech painfully, the words trying to get out while I force them back in. A coughing fit ensues, and I can't discern whether it's the shifting of the breeze pushing the smoke my way or the roughness of his letter retreating back to the recesses in my memory.
Calming my lungs with a few shallow breaths, I decide I have a question. "Who was that?" I ask, my eyes once again looking for the shapes within the embers. Slowly, I bring my attention back to his face. His eyes are locked on me, but soft again. Guilty.
"The one who took my humanity," he whispers, shifting his gaze to watch the fire consume them. "She took my life, my humanity, my heart … and burned them all to a pile of ash. Finally, I can return the favor ..."
"Vampire?" I ask meekly, trampling over the sense of pity and jealousy and outrage that surges through me. I have no proof behind my inquiry, only the suspicion.
His eyes snap to mine again. "Sounds almost innocent compared to the monsters we really are … were."
"Why don't I believe you?" Honestly, I don't feel as though I am in the presence of a monster. I have been near and amongst bad people a few times in my life, and the air just changes, my skin, my bones, my soul … it's tangible. With this man, I sense only loss and resignation.
"You are naive," he mutters, shaking his head almost imperceptibly.
The accusation makes me angry and I think he feels it, for his eyes widen in surprise.
"That's just an excuse for you to dismiss me," I snap. "But I'm here, and I care. And I don't want you to follow her."
I watch his head tilt to one side as he considers me. "What's your name?"
It's my turn to be caught off guard. "Oh, um, wow. Totally disregarded names," I admit, laughing awkwardly. "Mary Alice Brandon. I go by Alice."
"You are something, Miss Brandon," he tells me, and I glare until he corrects. "Alice."
A thrill zips through me when he says my name, the girly foolishness riding its coattails. "And yours?" I ask through the fog of a blush.
His lips tilt crooked, taking my world with it. I don't know how or why he affects me so deeply, but I don't want it to stop. It's enchanting, all-consuming, and terrifying, the allure and warning of a deadly but euphoric addiction.
"Jasper Lee Whitlock, ma'am," he answers finally, mimicking a tip of his imaginary hat.
"Jasper," I repeat quietly. I swear I hear a sharp intake of breath, but when I look up to see his face, he's turned away.
It's silent for a while, and he remains still, the world moving on around him. I watch him for a while, trying to absorb him, everything. Eventually, he turns his head to watch me. A flux of different emotions roll off of him, confusing and elating me.
Resentment. Elation. Guilt. Sorrow. Heartbreak. Mirth. Desperation.
The one feeling I'm desperate to find at home in his heart eludes me, eludes him.
"All right, Miss Alice, I'll bite," he says, a smirk cresting at his joke. "Why?"
I swallow hard. I don't know if I can answer that question. "Why what?"
He knows I'm deflecting. "Why are you here? Why try to help, let alone save, something like me?"
Cold washes over my skin from head to toe. I'm losing. He's still here, but I'm losing.
"I don't know why," I spit out in a panic. "But I feel it. I'm supposed to be here. WHY else would I dream about you all these years? Why would I see this fire, your letter, your eyes, your face, your lips …" I trail off as his eyebrows fall, creasing his forehead. Does he feel sorry for me?
Sighing, I unload the truth. "I could never remember it. Every time I would wake up, the same time, the same day of the week. Today. Wednesday. Six forty-three in the evening. Every detail would slip away, leaving me with nothing but a bad feeling, or the smell of burning in my nose.
"Then, a couple weeks ago, it started to click. Little by little, I could see things, hear them. Then you … I saw you and I remembered …" My voice cracked, and I sucked in a breath as if I'd seen the earth cracked open before me. "Oh, God … it's so much more! So much further back! Oh … I remember! I was seven …"
I feel his alarm, his fear permeating the memory long buried.
"I saw you," I tell him, but telling myself as well. I stand, my feet dragging through the sand toward him. "In the trees, you were watching us. We'd gone to … yeah, we were visiting my dad's family in Texas, and we went to the cemetery where Sam Houston is buried? In Huntsville? You were there."
Before I can get any closer, he disappears. I fall forward, the weight of the realization that he has been a part of me so much more than in the last few years of hidden dreams. Everything crashes together, jagged fissures of disjointed memories and bad dreams and loss and disorder fusing together again.
His red eyes gleamed through the thick blanket of green leaves as I stared, watching him curiously as he watched me.
My mother wouldn't listen when I told her about the man with red eyes, so I kept tugging at her skirt and yelling, 'Momma!' until she got so angry, she slapped me.
Daddy picked me up, hissing at her to calm down as he tried to get me to stop crying.
"I remember." His voice sounds from behind.
Twisting around, I find him looking directly into the fire, tossing a huge tree limb into the burning mass. The flames are taller, so much so they throw shadows all over him. A disquieting darkness consumes him, and my heart drops to my feet.
"I should've run, but you looked right into my eyes and smiled," he says, his lips curling like a reflex. "I was caught. I wanted to be caught, for something to just … break. Then your momma got mad and … I snapped out of it and left."
My legs feel wobbly as I try to stand, but I manage to stay upright. He won't look away from the fire, his body slowly pushing forward toward the flames. My entire being seems to reach for him, trying to feel him. He's calm. An odd sense of peace swims around him, and it scares me.
"Jasper," I call out to him, extending my hand. My voice is obviously panicked and ridiculous. "Please … just don't. Please don't?"
In the milliseconds between, I wonder what I'm doing here; why I was destined to be here. I've done nothing with my life but run, keep moving, fly, hide, skip from rock to rock … how would I help him? How could I save anyone? The panic vibrates my muscles and I'm shaking, painfully convulsing in wait for a sign, a clue. I thought it had all snapped into place, but now it's up to him.
I'm the one who needs him. Is he going to save me?
"I don't know what I'm asking for, Jasper, but please … leave the fire, leave the past. I'll help you, but you can … you can save me," I whimper, my shoulders lifting in a shrug. "I may not have answers, but … if you …"
The dancing orange and blue heat taunts me, the wicked line between the two paths my life can take, right now. I take a leap.
"I will follow right behind you," I promise, my body stilling, rooting in the sand.
He snaps his head to look at me, anger and indignation slamming into me, but I hold firm. "That's not fair," he hisses. "You don't know—"
"I don't care!" I whine. "Give me one day, Jasper."
The more I say his name, the more I feel his suicidal resolve weakening. My breaths pick up.
"One day, Jasper. Just one. You're not sure about this, Jasper," I tell him. "Not anymore. Please."
Reaching farther out, I wiggle my fingers and move step one closer, my eyes watering from the heat kicking out of the reinvigorated blaze. Or maybe I'm crying.
Finally, he turns his body, his eyes taking in the whole of me. His lips part as a breath of relief bursts from his lungs in a whoosh, as though he would cry, though I see no tears.
There's so much I don't know, but in my gut, there's nothing but certainty. Unwavering confidence in my offer. I have to trust it.
I know he's hesitant, but I nearly giggle when he steps toward me. I've never felt more victorious. My heart beats faster when I look in his eyes, a contagion of fantastical and formidable magic overwhelming my senses.
As he finally wraps his long, cool fingers around mine, the sun lands on his skin, throwing off shards of shimmering colors like clouds of shattering glass. Another step forward and he is engulfed in a wave of breathtaking light. I gasp in awe of the absolute beauty, smiling through my falling tears.
Immediately, I feel his blanket of comfort wrapping around me, sinking through and forever becoming part of me. I am flooded with relief and joy and love and pure contentment when I realize what I feel radiating from him.