Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chapter 27 - October Morning

Jeremy woke up with a crick in his neck. Sleeping in his car was even less comfortable than sleeping in the park, but it was beginning to get cold enough that he was glad he hadn't lost his car just yet.

The car contained everything he owned. Well, technically he still owned the stuff in the storage locker, but the owner had put his own lock on the door since Jeremy quit paying the rent in August. Sooner or later, he'd cut Jeremy's own lock off and sell the stuff inside. Jeremy didn't remember how long he had before that happened, when he could come up with all the back rent and reclaim his stuff. It didn't really matter, since he didn't have the money anyway.

He still had $100 in the bank. He had started hoarding his money and quit paying things early on. He felt as long as he had money in the bank, he hadn't really hit rock bottom. That money could have bought two more months' rent on his storage locker, but then it would have been gone.

With money, he could still be part of the world. He could get a day pass at the YMCA and get a shower to prepare himself for a job interview. He could take his clothes to the Laundromat, too. He had been very, very careful with his money since he got down to $500. He had let his apartment go, he had let the storage locker go -- after cramming as much stuff as possible into his car -- he had let his car insurance go, which meant that he wouldn't be able to license his car in February when the plates came due, but he figured he'd probably end up having it towed by then anyway -- he'd run out of money to buy gas and it would sit in one place too long.

He got out of the car and stretched. He checked his cellphone -- he'd probably lose this soon, because he hadn't paid for it this month and didn't intend to. He wasn't sure how much of a grace period he had before they cut him off. He was hoping he might get a job before that happened. That was the only reason he still kept it. He lied to prospective employers -- he told them he didn't have a cellphone, and that he was out most days looking for jobs, so he asked them to leave a message. He turned on the phone a few times each day to check to see if there were any messages. There hardly ever were.

When the battery was almost dead, he would drive around in his car long enough to charge it up. He didn't know how much longer he'd be able to afford the gas to do that, though.

He was getting very close to the end of being able to even to pretend to maintain a normal life. Pretty soon, he'd just be one more guy hanging out around the homeless shelter. He had already started resorting to panhandling, trying to keep from having to use the dwindling stash of money in his bank account. He had actually been amazed how easy it was, once he got over the humiliation of being reduced to it. In fact, he probably could make a lot of money that way, if he put his mind to it.

He was still hoping to find a real job. So far, he hadn't gotten one. He hadn't even had an interview in a month except the ones that he got from the state employment office, and those were useless. He had begun to suspect that none of the supposed openings was really open, that they were just covering up the fact that they were hiring people they'd already decided to hire by going through the motions of posting and interviewing people, just to keep up the appearance of being an equal opportunity employer.

There were no messages on his cellphone, which was no big surprise. He'd checked it last night about 6:00, and it was only just 9:00 a.m. now. He turned the phone back off.

He got his backpack out of his trunk. He kept his laptop in it, his last possession that actually was worth money. When he finally ran out of money in the bank account, he'd sell it. Should be worth a hundred or two.
He walked over to the park. He liked the park. He dreaded oncoming winter, knowing that to survive he'd almost certainly have to go downtown, where the shelters were. When he ran out of money altogether, when his car was gone the way of his apartment and most of his possessions, when the temperature outside got below 20 degrees, he would have to spend at least some nights indoors somewhere, and the shelters downtown were the only place he was likely to find a place. He would probably have no money by then, so he wouldn't be able to take the bus back and forth.

Winter would almost certainly mean the end to his daily trips to the park.
Maybe it would be a blessing in disguise. Maybe he would begin to get over her if he didn't keep coming here every day. He shook his head. He didn't want to get over her. He didn't want to forget her. He wanted to come here every day and think of her.

He stopped. Far in the distance, sitting on the stone by the doorway, the stone she had been sitting on the first time he saw her, was . . . could it be? All he could see from this distance was a figure in black. He began to run.

By the time he got close, he saw that he was mistaken. Whoever it was, she looked nothing like Liliana. Tianalamara. Whoever she was.

This woman had dull brown hair, the color of dead leaves. Her face was plain, her figure nothing special. She was ordinary. Forgettable. Nothing special.

He had slowed as he approached, but momentum took him up to her side. She watched him as he approached, watching him with curious interest. Unlike most people he came close to these days, she regarded him with a friendly smile. He was used to frowns, and even more used to people studiously staring in some other direction, pointedly avoiding making contact with him, trying to pretend they didn't see him.

She wasn't like that, and it warmed his heart.

"Sorry," he said, by way of explanation, "I thought you were someone else."

"Who did you think I was?"

"Oh, um, just . . . a girl I knew. Silly of me, though. She wouldn't have been here this time of day."

"Why not?"

He stopped. He had never told anyone about Liliana/Tianalamara, not since early on, before he'd begun to realize her nature. He was sure that if he tried to tell someone, they'd think he was crazy. But here was a complete stranger, asking a question that begged him to explain the whole weird thing, and who cared what she thought?

He sighed. "It's a long story."

She drew her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around her legs. It stung his heart, because it was a gesture he'd often seen Tianalamara make, when she was Liliana and she came to him.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said. "I like stories. Why don't you tell me all about it?"

He didn't know how to begin. He stammered a bit, then laughed bitterly.

"What's so funny?"

"Me. I can't even figure out how to start."

"Why is that funny?"

"Because for a while, up until a short time ago, I was a real storyteller. People paid me for stories, and they flowed out of me like water. Now I can't even find a way to start to tell my own story."

"Well, start with the girl you thought I was."

"Yes. Well, her name was Liliana. Actually, that wasn't her name, but that was what she told me to call her, and the whole time I knew her that was the only name I had for her, until the very end -- but this is the beginning. At first, all I knew was that she was beautiful, and unlike every other beautiful woman I'd ever met in my entire life, she was actually interested in me."

He told her the story, in fits and starts. He could have done a better job writing it. Or maybe he couldn't. He hadn't tried writing true things. He just didn't know whether or not he could still do that. Maybe he should try.

Anyway, she seemed attentive, so he told her the story. She didn't even interrupt him or seem skeptical at all when he talked about discovering that his lover was not human, but a creature out of faerie.

He kept going, through the visit to faerie, the obsession with returning there, the final, dreadful, nearly fatal mistake, his last night with Liliana, his terrible loss. He told her everything, except Liliana's real name.

"So then what happened?"

"I'm not really sure. I couldn't write anymore. I'm not sure whether it was because she inspired me or if my gift was always that some part of me was somehow in tune with that other world, that world that provides so many of our stories, and she just helped me focus it, and now I've been cut off from it altogether. . . I don't know. Anyway, I can't write. I keep trying. Of all the things I've given up since then, my apartment, my possessions, I've managed to keep my laptop, and I keep trying, but it's no use."

Her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she reached out a comforting hand to him. "Oh, Jeremy," she said, "I'm so sorry."

"Thanks, I--"

He suddenly realized he hadn't introduced himself. He didn't know who she was. And he hadn't told her his name.

"Who are you?" he demanded, suddenly suspicious.

She smiled sadly. "Who do you think I am?"

"I don't know. Who are you?"

She just stared at him, still smiling.

"I don't know. Really."

"You really don't know me, Jeremy? You know me better than any mortal alive, any mortal who has ever lived. You even know my real name."

His mind reeled. "Tianalamara?" he whispered.

She nodded.

"But . . . But . . . You don' look anything like her!"

She laughed. "What you saw before was my glamour. My magic, if you will. This is my real form."

"But . . . I don't understand. How can you be here?"

"King Oberon has set a spell on you that keeps all magical creatures and subjects of his realm from coming close to you."


"Well, I am no longer a subject of King Oberon and Queen Titania."

"What? How can that be?"

She shook her head. "How is not important. It was . . . difficult. But I have renounced my life, my magic and my glamour. I am a mortal now, like you. And so I can come to you, but I cannot appear as I did before."

She looked down at herself and grimaced. "I know that I am not as attractive in this form as the one that bewitched you." She looked up at him and bit her lower lip. "And bewitched is what I did to you, and if you hate me for it, I cannot say that I could blame you. Either way, if you want me to go away, I will. I cannot go back to faerie, but I will leave you alone, if that is your wish."

Jeremy was dazed, his mind still working at trying to catch up. This stranger was . . . Tianalamara? Could it be?

The idea that the Liliana he knew was the product of illusion and magic was not all that surprising, really. But this woman bore not even a passing resemblance to her.

"Wait. You said . . . you mean you've given up your home, your . . . everything? For me?"

She nodded. "I wished to . . . make amends. To help you. To see you again. To try to undo at least a little of the wrong I've done you."

"That's . . . that's . . ." he couldn't even conceive of what she had given up. She was a magical creature who lived in a wonderful world, she was someone who had been around for -- what was it, hundreds of years? And who would be around for . . . "Wait. What about . . . aren't you immortal?"

"I was."

"You gave up eternal life for me?"

"I don't know."


"We faerie folk don't die of age, but we can be killed, so I may not have lived much longer anyway. No one knows what may happen from day to day. But more than that, you mortals . . . we do not know what happens when you die in this world, but we do not believe that your being comes to an end. My people, like yours, have different theories of what happens. Whatever is the case, I will now share that fate. So I do not know. Perhaps I will live forever, in some sense, because perhaps you do as well. But as to the kind of life I would have had as one of the fey, yes. I have forsaken that."

"I can't believe . . . do you love me that much? Truly?"

She smiled. "Yes, Jeremy. I do love you. Enough to do this just to visit you. To tell you not to kill yourself out of grief for me. If you will have me, I will be here with you. If not, I will go, even though I cannot go back to my home, and find my way in your world on my own. But I could not bear to watch you wasting away."

Jeremy shook his head. "I can't believe this. I . . ." He hung his head. "I don't think I could have done this for you," he admitted.

She laughed. "But you are doing this, Jeremy, in your own way, and not even for the chance to see me, but just out of grief for the loss of me."

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? Look at you."

"Oh. No. I mean, it's like I told . . . well, you, but I didn't know it was you at the time. I can't write. I lost my job, you know about that, I was still with you. I've been trying to find another job, but . . ."

She shook her head, grabbed him and suddenly kissed him.

He felt a shock run through his body. Suddenly all his doubts were resolved. She didn't look like the Liliana he had known, but as soon as their lips me he knew she was indeed Tianalamara.

"You're fooling yourself," she said. "You've been in grief, and in shock. You can find a job. You can even write, even if you have been cut off from faerie. You can write stories that are true. You can write things that are not stories, articles for magazines or newspapers or textbooks. You can teach. You can do a hundred things."

He laughed. "You make it sound so easy."

"It can be easy. You are a very bright and talented man. You have the capacity to do almost anything you set your mind to."

He laughed again. He almost believed her. He still had money in the bank. He could still take a shower at the YMCA and go interview for a job. Maybe he could even write, if he quit trying to make up stories.

He looked around. The crisp autumn air made everything look clear and bright, almost like the heightened reality of faerie. The trees were still mostly green, and the ones starting to turn gave promise of the colorful weeks soon to come. The woman at his side was not exotically beautiful, not a fanciful creature from a magical world, but she loved him more than he could even imagine, and had sacrificed everything she had or was for him.

Life was good. Today was going to be a very, very good day.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Chapter 26 - Jeremy's Salvation?

Ashley Cooper didn't understand what the black-haired woman was trying to tell her.

"Wait. You say this guy Jeremy is the guy at the library who helped me with my history paper and my biology presentation?"

"Yes, and you found him attractive, yes?"

"What? Who told you that?"

"No one told me. I saw it."

"You must be crazy. He's old. He must be thirty."

"He's twenty-seven."

"And I'm sixteen. Is he some kind of sicko?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Is he sick?"

"Yes, he's very ill. He needs help."

"You said it. And who are you, his partner in crime?"

"Who I am is not important. What's important is that Jeremy is in terrible trouble and he needs your help. He's going to die if someone doesn't help him."

"Die? That's terrible. But . . . What . . . I mean, what are you talking about?"

Tianalamara sighed. This wasn't going as well as she'd hoped. Tracking down the girl was easy enough, but it was a bit disconcerting to find that she was as young as she was, still living at home with her parents, still attending something apparently called "high school" most of the day. Still, she was an adult female, biologically speaking. She should be sufficient for the purpose. But Tianalamara wasn't making herself understood.

"Jeremy has lost the will to live. He . . . it's complicated, but it involves a hopeless love, a woman that he knows he will never see again, and yet believes that he cannot get over. He can be saved only by the love of a good woman."

"Ohhh-kaaaay," said the girl, stretching both halves of the word out to emphasize the skeptical look on her face. "And what exactly do you expect me to do about it?"

"I was hoping you would go to him and care for him and help him find a reason to live again."

Ashley backed away, her hackles rising. When this strange woman had accosted her on the sidewalk a few minutes ago, she had thought her odd. Now she figured she was seriously deranged. She reached into her purse and put her hand reassuringly around her can of mace.

"Look, lady, I don't know who you are or where you think you know me from, but I think you'd better just go bother somebody else."

"No, please, Ashley. Don't be afraid."

"And that's another thing. How do you even know my name? I've never seen you before. Who are you?"

Since that had been her first question when Tianamara had first accosted her and called her by name, that made three times.

She could just ignore it. She had broken the law already telling Jeremy her name. She would be willing to do anything to save him. But she could tell this girl wasn't going to be of any use anyway.

Furious, she turned and walked away, leaving Ashley gawking at her.

* * *

"It didn't work."

"What didn't work, dear?"

"The girl. I found a girl who had been attracted to Jeremy, but she wouldn't help."

"Well, I did say that women like that were rare."

"But it's not fair!" wailed Tianalamara. "He doesn't deserve this."

"Good and bad come to the deserving and the undeserving, Tianalamara. You know that it is so. Life is not fair, and never has been."

Tianalamara buried her head in her mother's lap and sobbed. Her mother stroked her hair soothingly. "There, there. It will pass, love. In a year, or two, or ten, the pain will lessen, and eventually you'll forget all about him."

Never, thought Tianalamara, but she didn't say anything. She knew she would never forget. She would never let herself forget. She would never take another human lover, in memory of what she had done to Jeremy.

There just had to be some way to save him.

What she really wanted was to find some way around King Oberon's prohibition, some way to get to Jeremy, to tell him to forget her, to tell him that he was important, even if he couldn't write those wonderful stories, that just because he was himself, a good man, a smart man, a man who cared for others, he was worthwhile and needed in the world. If only she could . . .

* * *

"And why do you wish to see the Queen?"

"Well, just . . . to talk to her."

The Queen's appointment secretary, who was a tall, stick-like gentleman who bore a passing resemblance to a praying mantis, looked down at her from his considerable height and frowned.

"You don't make an appointment with the Queen just to chat, miss. She is very busy dealing with important matters. She sets aside time each week for her subjects to petition her over grievances, or to ask her favor in some matter, or for other such business as may arise, but you can't make an appointment just to talk to her. You must have a reason."

"Well, I . . . it involves a . . . punishment visited on a friend, and I would like to ask Queen Titania if she might . . . intercede with King Oberon--"

"Tut-tut. The Queen does not interfere with the King's Justice."

"Oh, please! You don't know what this means to me! Even if you're right, even if she says no, please let me speak to her, so I know that I've done everything I can!"

Perhaps her very visible pain moved him, or perhaps he could see that she would continue to take up his time until he either gave her what she wanted or went to the trouble of having her forcibly removed from the premises, but the appointment secretary gave in and set her up for a week from Tuesday.

It was an agony waiting for the day to arrive. She checked the scrying pool every day, fearful that she would find that she was too late, that Jeremy had already succumbed to hunger or some dreadful malady before she could have her meeting with the queen.

Finally, the day arrived. She stood in a long line of supplicants, each of whom were granted fifteen minutes audience with the queen. Some of them ended up staying longer, which made her hopeful, because she wasn't sure fifteen minutes was enough to make her case. Apparently, the sovereign could be moved enough to grant a longer time if one caught her attention quickly.

She had worked and worked on what she would say when the moment arrived, but when she was ushered into the room where Titania held her audiences, she found herself struck dumb. The queen reclined on a couch, more beautiful than Tianalamara had ever seen her, relaxed and at ease. She gestured, to the little stool beside her, and Tianalamara went to it and sat.

"Yes?" said Titania. "You wanted to see me?"

"I . . . er . . . It's my . . . my lover, Jeremy Morrison. You knew him as Hugh."

"Ah, yes, the unfortunate human who trespassed on our realm."

"He didn't mean to!"

"Didn't mean to what? Didn't mean to come here?"

"No, didn't mean to trespass. He didn't know."

"I'm afraid that ignorance of that law has never been an excuse, as you well know. Mortals who come here by invitation are tolerated. Those who come on their own meet a terrible fate. But wasn't he spared? Didn't Lord Oberon grant him a pardon?"

"Well, yes, but . . . you see, he has become enamored of me. He feels he cannot live without me. And because of King Oberon's decree that no one from our world can visit him, he is wasting away."

Titania regarded her contemplatively. "It's Liliana, isn't it? Aren't you known among the mortals as Lhiannan Sidhe, the fairy lover whose attention brings both poetic inspiration and physical deterioration unto death? Isn't what your young paramour going through the logical consequence of having fallen in love with you, regardless of King Oberon's command?"

Tianalamara nodded, miserable. "Yes, I have done so in the past, but Jeremy's plight has touched my heart as no other lover ever has. I would save him if I can. Please, Queen Titania, is there not some way you can intercede with King Oberon, will he not allow me to go to Jeremy and try to convince him to forget me?"

Titania smiled. "I do not think that seeing you in all your glamour would be the way to get him to forget you." She held up a hand to forestall any protest. "Besides, it is not just Oberon's command you must obey. He has put a spell on this man that prevents any magical creature from coming closer than two furlongs -- far enough that even if he could see you, he could not be sure that it was you. King Oberon could not grant your wish without lifting the spell, which I suspect he would be loathe to do."

Tianalamara's heart sank. "What can I do?"

Titania shrugged. "I truly wish I could intercede on your behalf. My inclination always is to further the cause of love, even though it may not seem to be the wisest course. But I do not see a happy ending for your story, Liliana, nor a way for you to spend another last night with your paramour. Perhaps it would have been better if he'd been hunted after all."

"No. Don't say that." Her hand flew to her mouth, horrified that she had just ordered her Queen to silence. "I'm sorry! I didn't think! I'm sorry!" She fell from the stool to her knees, and then prostrated herself full length upon the floor, her hands together before her supplicating forgiveness.

Titania, whose eyes had widened and had drawn herself up to a sitting position, softened, and even laughed. "Ah, child. Your misery is your punishment, and I could not mete out more if I desired it. Go and try to find whatever comfort you can. I cannot help you."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Chapter 25 - Tianalamara

Tianalamara, who was known to all but a select few as Liliana, leaned over the scrying pool and breathed on its tranquil surface. Her breath rippled the water ever so slightly, and when the tiny wavelets died the clear surface of the water dissolved into a vision of the fountain pond at Tower Grove Park, and Jeremy seated on the bench-like stone just "inside" the door to the nonexistent building the ruins pretended to represent, staring through the door at the fountain, or perhaps toward his remembrance of faerie.

He was very thin. He looked as if he hadn't eaten in days. His hair was unwashed, and he had an unkempt beard. He raised a hand to rub the side of his face, and she saw that it trembled slightly.

Silently, she began to cry, tears flowing down her cheeks and falling into the pool, rippling the water and disturbing the vision.

She felt foolish to be crying. She hadn't cried in over 700 years, and never over a human lover. But she felt a deeper loss than she had ever known, a longing for him she did not even know was possible.

Her mother didn't understand.

"He's going to die, mother."

"Who's going to die?"

"Jeremy. Hugh. You know."

"Aye, they do that, his kind."

"No, I mean he's going to die soon. Before his time. Miserable and alone. And it's my fault."

Her mother looked at her strangely. "And isn't that what they all have done, the men you've taken as lovers?"

Well, yes, it was. That was the problem. She had been careless and thoughtless and heartless and ruthless, human poets had written devastating poems about the cruelty of her love. Loving her had always been a death sentence, her lovers burning with a brighter flame than they had ever known but all too quickly extinguished.

She had never thought about it. Had never considered the fairness or unfairness of the situation, whether the gifts she gave them were worth the price they paid. Many of them had realized early on the kind of bargain they were making, and entered into it with open eyes. Others were so besotted with her by the time they realized the danger that they were hopeless to resist. A few had actually turned away from her and went back to living ordinary and rather dull, but significantly longer, lives.

She had never cared, one way or the other. As her mother said, they were all mortal, all doomed to die in what seemed to her a short time anyway. What difference did it make if they lost a few decades? After all, the time they had with her was richer and deeper, lived far more intensely, and touched by magic from another world.

Many men would willingly bargain away their lives for what she had given Jeremy. Many had bargained so, and many others who had never known they were making the bargain had fallen for her fatal charm and went down into darkness the way Jeremy was doing. Why now did it bother her?

Her mother had asked the same question, and she hadn't had an answer, but after a long silence, her mother answered for her.

"By Our Lady, you've fallen in love with him!"

She opened her mouth to deny it, but found that she couldn't. Why else had she told him her true name, that night in the dungeon? Why else did she spend every moment that she could spying on him? Why else did it tear her heart out to see him deteriorating, moving inexorably toward his final dissolution?

She was in love.

With a mortal.

Such a thing just wasn't possible. The fey make mortals fall in love with them, not the other way around. She should be using the scrying pool to choose her next --

She realized suddenly that she had been about to say "victim." She had never thought of her lovers as victims before. But she realized suddenly that she would never be able to think of them as anything else.

"How can I save him," she beseeched her mother.

"Save him? Why on earth would you want to do that?"

She wailed and her mother softened. "Och, child, I was only teasing you, I know why you want to save him. Still, you need to think about it. What if you do save him, and he does not die just yet. Still, he will die, and still you will not be able to go to him and love him as you wish. King Oberon has forbidden all of us from having any contact with him."

"I know," she said miserably. "I don't know what I want. But what I want doesn't matter. I mean, it matters to me, but that's just my selfish desire. I'm more concerned with saving Jeremy. Even if I can't have him, I don't want him to suffer because of me."

Her mother nodded. "Ah, child, I wish I could help you. I know that if he had another lover, if you had taken him away from someone, and if she forgave him, and if she gave up her own life, not to die for him, but to devote herself to caring for him and winning him back to the living, then he could be saved. But such a selfless woman is rare indeed, and I believe you said that Jeremy was a single man when you found him."

"Aye. But . . . could any woman do this for him, even if she had not been a lover before?"

Her mother smiled. "Well, yes, but consider. What woman is likely to do this for a man she does not already love? And what woman is likely to come to love him as he is?"

There was that. Jeremy was far less attractive than he had been when he caught her attention, and she chose him partly because she'd long ago tired of those perfectly carved faces and figures that usually covered empty personalities that even with her presence and charm filled out only marginally. She could tell Jeremy was a man of substance, and so he had proved to be. But now he was like a candle that had melted almost all the way down to the candlestick. There was little left to love about him.

Yet still she loved him, and was determined to help him. She remembered he had contact with a woman just after she had come into his life, a woman she had smelled on him one night, though she believed his insistence that the contact was casual. Her senses were far more efficient than a human's, and she'd smelled everyone he'd ever come in contact with, and while this woman's scent lingered more than most it was not the scent of sex or even arousal on his part, but she'd thought she detected something like such from her.

Casting a simple spell on her scrying pool, she cast back to the day in question and watched Jeremy arrive at work, and go through his day. Then she focused on a young woman who must be the one, and found to her surprise an earlier encounter with Jeremy, about the time she had first entered into his life.

She followed the woman forward in time, and found that she had asked about him at the library a few weeks after he had left. Better and better. Perhaps this young woman might be persuaded to be the means of Jeremy's salvation.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter 24 - Alone

Jeremy went home and slept all day, got up and forced himself to pop something in the microwave and eat it. He tried to write, but the only thing he could think of to write about was a sonnet to Liliana -- Tianalamara -- and he just dissolved into tears when he tried, so he went back to bed.

The next day was a bit better, but after spending the whole day writing, with only a short break for lunch, he realized that what he'd written was garbage.

This wasn't all that unusual. His usual practice was to reread what he'd written every ten pages or so, and often he would trash most of it and start back over from six or eight pages back. It wasn't unusual for him to spend four hours working and produce two pages, having typed the equivalent of a dozen or more if he'd actually been working on a typewriter producing pages as he typed.

But usually he'd have at least something to show for a day. Today, none of it was any good. It was all garbage.

He wasn't even sure this story was a good idea.

He needed to get out. He headed for the park, hoping against hope to find her there waiting for him, but of course she wasn't. He sat down on the stone she'd been sitting on when he first saw her, and tried to sort out his feelings.

He didn't even know what to call her in his head. She had always been Liliana to him, but now he knew her real name was Tianalamara. He wondered if she'd told him her real name only because he'd seemed so dense at not understanding her hint that she was sure he was going to die. So why not?

On the other hand, although supposedly true names could give one power over otherwordly creatures, it didn't matter much if he never saw her again. If he couldn't use it to summon her, what good was it.

Or could he use it to summon her?

He stood before the doorway, looked around. No one was in sight. He reached out for the door as if waiting to grasp the hands of someone coming through it.

"Tianalamara, come to me!" he pleaded. Then he said it again, this time ordering. Then he said it once more, pleading again and almost wailing.

Nothing happened.

"Well, what did you expect," Jeremy asked himself. Whatever compulsion might come from a mortal calling your name was sure to be trumped by the King of All Faerie forbidding you to go to him.

He walked home dejectedly and made himself some supper. He really didn't feel like eating, and ended up throwing most of it out. Then he went to bed.

The next morning he did some paperwork for his new writing career. He had to write three new cover letters and print out new clean copies of the three stories on nice paper for stories that had been rejected. He took them to the post office to mail them out, and did some shopping.

He was still depressed, and still somewhat in shock. He couldn't quite get used to the idea that Liliana wasn't going to be back in a few days.

Tianalamara. Tianalamara wasn't going to be back. He'd just found out her name, and now he would never even get to call her by it.

He suddenly broke down crying in the middle of the grocery store. He abandoned his cart and went to the front of the store, where there were benches for people to sit on. He sat down and tried to collect himself.

"Are you all right?" someone asked. He looked up, and for a split second Liliana's form and face superimposed itself on the form and face of the young woman who had come up to him. But it was just a woman with dark hair. A nice woman, apparently, a look of concern on her face.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'll be all right. I just . . . I just lost my . . . girlfriend." That was as good a word as any, he decided.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, assuming, as he'd known she would, that he meant she had died. "When did she . . ."

We can't even say the word, Jeremy thought. We're all so afraid of it.

"Just yesterday."

"Oh, my goodness. Well, you certainly have every reason to feel like crying, then. Is there anything I can do?"

"No. I'll . . . I'll be all right. It actually helps, knowing there are nice people in the world like you willing to come up and ask if they can help a stranger."

"Well, I'm just doing what anyone would do."

No, you're not, thought Jeremy, but he didn't say anything.

It did touch his heart, and he even wondered who she was and if she was single and whether or not he could ever have a girlfriend like her, if he ever got over Liliana.

But he doubted if he ever would.

He told her he was fine, she could go. She stayed a moment, giving him a chance to change his mind, then left him alone. He went back and found that his cart was gone -- probably the store employees had reshelved his stuff by now, so he ended up just going home without buying anything.

He tried to write a sonnet. He wrote fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme worked. The octet/sestet framework solid, but the poem didn't begin to describe how he felt. It was too analytical. It just lay there on the page, like a dead thing, emotionless and bereft of any spark of feeling.

He tried another, but gave up in frustration halfway through. He decided he was still in no condition to write after what had happened to him -- and who could blame him -- and tried to read, but nothing he picked up held his attention. He was restless. Discontent.

He went for a walk. Again, he went by the fountain park, even though he wouldn't have been likely to run into Lili--Tianalamara this soon after a visit even if nothing had happened.

Tianalamara. Tianalamara. Tianalamara. He kept repeating her name like a mantra. He thought of it as mentally calling her. He thought that maybe if he called her enough, she would somehow come to him. No, it's not that he thought that, exactly -- he wasn't being rational and reasonable enough to label what was going on inside his head "thought." He just found himself compelled to call her, usually mentally, occasionally aloud, when he was alone and he thought no one could hear him.

"Tianalamara. Please come to me. I need you."

Days turned into weeks and still he wasn't writing anything worth sending out. All the stories that he'd written sold or were rejected, all the rejected ones were sent out again, and March warmed into April, and still he had not written a single story that he felt measured up to what he'd written while he was with Tianalamara, whom he'd known as Liliana.

He'd always known she was something of a muse for him, that her presence in his life had been the spark that started him toward his new career. But he hadn't contemplated the reverse, that without her he'd be unable to write.

He started sending out the stories he was managing to finish, even though he himself thought they were inferior and unlikely to be published. He sent them to the lower tier magazines that didn't pay as much, hoping they'd be more desperate.

His money was dwindling now. He still had money in the bank, still had some time before homelessness was seriously looming on his horizon, but while his first few weeks of joblessness saw increases in his bank account, that was no longer true, and what was worse he no longer had a backlog of stories at magazines waiting for approval. He hadn't sent anything new for almost a month, just forwarding on a few rejected stories to new markets. Now he was sending again, but even if these inferior stories sold it would be weeks before he saw money from them.

And he wasn't writing anymore. Oh, sure, he was writing, in the sense that he was sitting down to his laptop or his notepad and putting words on paper. But he wasn't doing it with the feverish intensity he had once had. Aside from the fact that his writing wasn't as good, he wasn't doing nearly as much of it.

Six weeks after his brush with death, he finally accepted that he would never see Tianalamara again. He knew that his dreams of making a living as a writer were probably gone as well. He began to seriously look for a job -- any job. He found that the job market had tightened considerably since the last time he had looked. Back then, if you had a college degree, you were pretty much assured of getting a job somewhere. Maybe not as good a job as you thought you deserved, maybe not a very high paying job, but some kind of job somewhere.

No longer. Most places he applied at didn't even bother calling him back to let him know he didn't get the job. Places he asked at that hadn't advertised positions often told him that they'd recently downsized, and they saw no possibility for openings anytime in the near future. They could put his resume on file, but . . .
It was depressing, and it was worrying. Eventually, his money would run out, and then what would he do?

Spring warmed into summer. Still unemployed, still not writing anything good, Jeremy had seen his percentage of acceptance first time out drop considerably, along with the size of the checks. Buying high quality paper and paying for postage was now a serious concern. How much longer could he keep doing this?

In July, he realized he'd have to either give up his car or his apartment. Giving up his car would seriously limit his mobility, and his ability to get a job, in a city known for its crappy mass transit system. But insurance and gas were eating him alive.

On the other hand, he could sleep in his car, but he couldn't drive to work in his apartment. He looked into the costs of a storage locker and a post office box and found that he could do both of them for less than $100 a month and so, reluctantly, he gave up his apartment.

He kept going to the fountain pond every day, even though he knew that Tianamara wouldn't be there, would never be there again. He couldn't help himself. He always went there, and he always looked through the door to the fountain in the middle of the pond, and called her name. Sometimes he shouted it so loudly that people around him stared at him as if he were crazy.

He realized quickly that the worst thing about being homeless was not being able to take a shower. He did his best to wash up in public restrooms, but he knew that he must smell. People started treating him differently. He would walk into a place to apply for a job and he could tell from the reaction of the receptionist that he had no chance there.

He quit making the insurance payments on his car. He didn't drive it much anymore. He just moved it from parking place to parking place from day to day to keep it from being ticketed. He spent most of his time in the park. He slept there most nights. It was hot, but it was cooler in the park than anywhere except inside an air conditioned house.

He was distinctly aware that his life was spiraling downward out of control, that if he continued in this cycle he would soon be one of those half-crazed panhandlers he used to ignore on his way in and out of the library everyday. He didn't want to end up like that, and he knew that was the direction he was headed, but he saw no way to turn his life in another direction.

Tianalamara was gone. He couldn't live without her.

"I need you," he told her every night as he fell asleep under the pitiful handful of stars visible in the city sky. "Please. Tianalamara. Come to me."

Chapter 23 - Trouble

He landed hard on the earth. It was dark, too dark to see. He was lying on the ground somewhere. One hand was on bare earth the other in grass, so where he was, it wasn't the other side of the stone doorway by the pond. Even if he hand't made it to the pond, he would have landed on the concrete walkway that went around it and filled the space between the steps on the other side of the door and the edge of the pond.

A voice came out of the darkness. It was Liliana, and she sounded very sad. "Oh, Jeremy. What have you done? I don't know if I can help you now."

"Liliana?" He still couldn't see anything, really, but he was beginning to make out the grass in front of his face. His eyes were adjusting, and he could see that he was not in total darkness. He rolled over onto his back, and was stunned by the vast expanse of stars above him.

He had thought there were lots of stars before, but that had been a full moon night. Tonight the moon was new, there was no moon, nothing but darkness and stars. And so many stars! Even growing up in the country, he had never seen stars like this. He was dazzled, and it was only with some difficulty he could pull his attention away from the wondrous lights in the sky to realize that Liliana was talking to him urgently.

"Get up! Get up! You must go back!"

"What? I just got here!" Jeremy protested, nonetheless rising to his feet, but slowly, reluctantly. He was reluctant, precisely because he knew she was right, and that she would, rightly, insist, and that he would soon be back in his own world, and he wanted this moment -- this moment that was, as she had said, all we ever have -- to last as long as possible.

"Jeremy, you must go, now! Before--"

Suddenly there was a tremendous rush of wind, a flash of light accompanied immediately by the loudest burst of thunder Jeremy had ever heard and suddenly a whole crowd of faerie folks stood around them, including Liliana's family, King Oberon and Queen Titania. Suddenly it wasn't dark anymore, and Jeremy realized that all of the faerie folks, including Liliana, glowed slightly, with an uneartly pale gleam like phosphorescent rocks. Most of them had only slight glows, Liliana's was barely noticeable. But Oberon and Titania lit up the trees and hillside around them.
King Oberon spoke. "Mortal, you are no longer a guest here. You are a trespasser, an interloper. Do you know what happens to trespassers in my domain?"

Jeremy shook his head, too terrified to speak.

"They become my sport. Don't think because of my headware that I am one of the prey. I am a hunter, and tomorrow my hounds and I will hunt you, chasing you through these woods until you fall, exhausted, and my hounds tear you to pieces and I carve out your heart to take as my special prize."

Jeremy's blood froze in his veins. "But. But." He couldn't do more than stutter those words.

"Take him away."

Four dwarfs came over and each grabbed one of Jeremy's arms or legs and lifted him off the ground. They took him away, as he yelled "Wait! Wait! I didn't mean . . . I didn't know! It's not fair! You can't just . . . Wait!"

"Where are they taking him?" asked Liliana.

"To the dungeon in the hillside," answered Oberon. "Where he will lie awake tonight contemplating his fate until the dawn comes and the hunt begins."

"My lord," said Liliana, "I ask leave to stay beside him this night."


This surprised everyone. Even Queen Titania, who said, "But Lord Oberon, it is customary among our people that a condemned man be allowed a final night with his paramour. Is this not the Kingdom of Romance?"

"Yes, my Queen, but I suspect trickery here. He is mortal, and has no glamour or magic of his own, but if she is allowed into his cell, she will seek to aid him in some way."

"No, my lord. I wish only to spend one last night with him, to give him such comfort and solace as I can before he departs from the lands of the living and journeys to the night shore. I give my word that I will give him no glamour or magic, nor any other device or take any action to aid him in his plight. I only ask that he be allowed my presence and my words to comfort him. Truly."

Oberon appeared to mull this over. He seemed to sense a trap of some kind, because he took a long time deciding, but finally said, "I cannot see any way your words could be twisted to allow you to help him, so I can only warn you that if you do not keep your vow your punishment will be to share his. If you do ought to aid him, you will be stripped of your glamour, turned into a mortal, and hunted alongside him on the morrow. Do you understand?"

She bowed low. "I understand, King Oberon. You are wise and just. I will not forswear what I have spoken."

* * *

The dungeon in the hillside was a hole dug into the side of the hill and fitted with a door. It had no windows except a small one in the door, which was barred with heavy iron bars. On a night this dark, there was almost no light at all coming in the window, and the place seemed like a cave deep in the earth, save Jeremy could, just barely, see his surroundings a bit. He was chained by an iron band around his left wrist to a ring set into a part of the wall that was solid rock. The chain was long enough to allow him considerable freedom of movement. He could walk around a bit, sit with his back against the wall, or lie down, but he couldn't reach the door. There was neither bed nor any other furniture.

He had only been there a short while when he heard the noise of keys jingling and the door opened. Liliana rushed to him, and they held each other tightly as the door clanged shut behind her.

"Liliana! What are you doing here? Are you . . . " he couldn't even voice the awful thought of her sharing his fate.

"No. Among our people a condemned man has the chance to spend one last night with his lover, if he has one. So I am here for you."

"I don't suppose you can get me out of this."

She shook her head. "Even if I was willing to break our own laws and take a chance on sharing your fate, the fact is that what magic I have probably couldn't help you. You are held by cold iron, over which I have no power and can't even touch without pain."

"Then how can your people be holding me like this?"

"Your jailers are dwarves. They alone among the fey have power over iron. They can mine it and smelt it, make useful things of it. That is why of old they had the most traffic with men. Because we can't use such things, we can't abide it. But they could trade with men for things of value." She shook her head. "But none of that is important. What's important is that I wish I had never . . ." she broke into tears. "This is all my fault."

He held her close and stroked her hair. "There, there. It's not your fault. I brought it on myself. All of my problems are always my own doing. You didn't make me come. You even tried to stop me."

She nodded through her tears, "Yes, but I lured you in the first place. I watched you and wanted you and came into your world hoping to catch your eye. If I hadn't set my sights on you you wouldn't be here now."

He was startled. "You set your sights on me? You chose me deliberately, came to my world just to meet me?"

She nodded, miserable. "I'm sorry."

He laughed. "Wow. I never . . . I would never have thought someone would have . . . gone out of her way just for me like that. I . . . I'm flattered. I really . . . I don't know what to say."

She looked up at him, confused. "Wait. You're happy that I did this to you?"

He shook his head and waved his hand. "You didn't do this to me. You chose me and you came to me and you've given me a wonderful life these last few months, more wonderful than any previous time in my life. Well, sure, there have been some bad times too, and I've been frustrated by your absences and wished we could be together more, but on the whole I've been happier than I've ever been. And this," he waved his hand again. "This isn't your doing. Sure, if I hadn't met you, it wouldn't have happened. But it's not your fault."

He held her again, gave her a big bear hug and she shouted in sudden pain and jumped back.

"What is it?"

"The manacle. The band on your wrist. It hurts me to touch it."

"Oh. Sorry. I don't think I can get them to take it off."

"No, she agreed. We'll have to be careful."

She urged him to lie down on the floor, and lay down next to him.

She spoke very quietly, so that only he could hear her.

"I had to swear not to help you to be allowed to come to you, but I want you to remember our time here together, the last time we were in this land."

"You mean Midwinter Night?"

She nodded. "I cannot tell you more than that you should remember that night. It will give you comfort."

He understood from the intensity of her tone that she was talking about something more than comfort in remembering happier times together. But what?
Jeremy tried to remember what happened that night. He couldn't remember anything that could help him now. He shook his head and shrugged. "I don't understand."

"Keep thinking. Mayhap it will come to you. Meantime, the guards will be expecting us to lie together, so we shouldn't disappoint them. Is there anything that we have never done that you would like to do? For if you do not remember what I hope you remember, you will never have another chance."

"I . . . what?"

"I am here to make love to you one last time," she explained patiently. "That is our custom. That is why I've been allowed to come. If we don't make love, they'll be suspicious. So make love to me, Jeremy."

It was awkward and clumsy and physically not very satisfying, but knowing that he would very probably die in just a few hours lent it an urgency that heightened both the tension and awkwardness but also the pleasure and release at the end. He cried out as he came, and she cried out as well, and collapsed on top of him, not even caring that her arm was burnt where it landed on his manacle.

"My true name is Tianalamara," she whispered in his ear. "I don't want you to die without knowing it."

After they made love, they sat quietly together. Jeremy tried and tried to remember what anyone did or said that would give him a clue to how he might escape this prison. Did someone say something about cold iron? Did someone say something about hunting? Did someone say something about locks and how to pick them?

Nothing. There wasn't anything that happened that night that shed any light on his current predicament, as far as he could see.

"Can you give me a hint?" he asked.

"I already have."

"I mean another one."

She shrugged. "I can offer you only words of comfort, according to my vow. I can only say again: remember Midwinter Night."

He thought a bit. "I have a question," he said finally.


"Why did you tell me your last name was Dougal?"

"It means 'dark stranger.' Which is what I was. Am."

"Dark? Your skin is as pale as the moon."

"My hair. Dark hair. Also my . . . I bring darkness into men's lives. As I would have done yours eventually, I'm sure. And as I have for certain now, albeit not in any way that could have been forseen."

Jeremy didn't like to think about the fact that he wasn't Liliana's first lover, but of course she was probably hundreds of years old and had probably had many men like him over the years.

"That's why I had you call yourself 'Hugh' when you were here. 'Hugh' means guest, and I wanted to remind everyone that you were a guest, and could not be harmed."

"Ah." Something about that last phrase, "could not be harmed," teased at Jeremy's brain, but he couldn't quite make it turn into something meaningful.

They held each other and didn't talk. Just her presence did, indeed, give some comfort to Jeremy, miserable though he was.

Dawn came and the cell grew light. The jingling of keys came again and the door opened, and a dwarf came in and released Jeremy from the manacle, then motioned for him to follow and left the cell. Jeremy and Liliana came out together, holding each other so closely they resembled a four-legged body with two heads and no arms.

"Hugh-that-is-not-a-guest come forward," said Oberon.

Jeremy stepped away from Liliana. No, Tianalamara, he thought to himself.

"You will be given twenty minutes head start before I release the dogs. Do you have anything to say before I send you into the forest?"

Jeremy's brain raced.

"King Oberon?" it was Liliana.

Oberon frowned. "Yes?"

"I wanted to thank you again for allowing me to spend the night with my lover before he becomes prey for your hunt. You were as gracious as you were the night of the Midwinter party at my father's house."

Jeremy knew she wasn't making idle chatter. She was telling him that Oberon's presence at her father's house was what she had been trying to remind him of.

". . . could not be harmed." Of course! Oberon was already committed not to harm him when he'd bumped into him, which meant --

"Wait!" shouted Jeremy. "I claim King Oberon's pardon! He granted it on Midwinter Night! I claim it now!"

There was a complete and utter silence throughout the realm of faerie. Not a bird chirped. Not an insect hummed.

Finally, Oberon sighed and shook his head, and the surrounding onlookers let out the collective breath they had been holding.

"Yes, I did grant you my pardon, mortal. So I suppose I won't be hunting this morn after all. But even so, my pardon has a price, and there must be consequences for your rash act."

Jeremy stood waiting, wondering how bad it was going to be.

"First, you will not come back to this land. I do not mean you are forbidden. I mean it will become impossible. Even if someone conjures you a gate, it will not work for you. You will go through it yet remain in your own world. You will no longer dream, or if you dream, it will be only of mundane things, a day at work, a trip to the store, nothing fanciful, for fanciful dreams come from visits here by the mind when the body is sleeping.

"You will never come here, and no one here will be allowed to come to you. You will never see your lover again. Not just as a punishment that for her sake you violated our laws, but because you are banished from any contact with faerie whatsoever.

"You will live, but your life will be much less satisfying and interesting than it has been. Just as my day will now be less satisfying and interesting because I do not have you to hunt. Now begone!"
Oberon waved his hand, and before Jeremy could do more than reach out to Liliana, before he could even remember that her name wasn't Liliana, but Tianalamara, the whole crowd around him and the hillside and everything vanished, and he was standing by himself, reaching out to someone who wasn't there, in the middle of Tower Grove Park, a few hundred yards from the fountain park.

Liliana. Tianalamara. She had saved his life.

He would never see her again?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Chapter 22 - Making a Mistake

The month of February went by quickly. It seemed it had barely started when Jeremy turned around and it was almost time to worry about coming up with rent for March.
He wasn't doing too badly. He'd sold three more stories, one of them for over $600. He'd also had two poems accepted for publication, but one paid ten copies of the magazine and the other paid $25.

The big plus was getting $750 back on his tax refund -- more than he'd expected because he was able to write off the expenses he'd had as a writer even though he hadn't had any income yet until this year. He didn't know he could do that until he started looking at the forms and the instructions. He was really just looking into what he needed to be thinking about for this year, for the tax forms he'd fill out for next year, but he found that as long as you make money three years out of five you can write off expenses on a business, even if you have no income from the business at all.

That didn't really make sense to Jeremy, but he wasn't going to question it. He could take off all the postage he'd paid, and he estimated the cost of the paper and ink cartridges. He realized that he really needed to start buying writing supplies separately and keep the receipts. If he ever got audited, he'd probably end up having to pay something. He needed to keep better records.

The tax money gave him a false sense of security. He was trying to be frugal, but he wasn't worrying about money nearly as much as he should have. He was still going to St. Louis Bread Co. for a mocha latte twice a week, which was better than every morning but wasn't a sensible use of his dwindling funds. He justified it to himself because they had free wireless internet he was able to access from his laptop, but the justification was weak for two reasons: he could just as easily sit in a booth with a cup of ordinary coffee for half the price, and even more importantly, even though he kept meaning to, he hadn't yet canceled up his own DSL connection, so he could access the Internet at home anytime he wanted.

His relationship with Liliana was on solid ground, except that he kept bugging her about visiting her home again. "Not necessarily your house, and your mom and dad and sister -- though certainly I have nothing against going there and seeing them. But I mean, you know, your home. That place. Whatever it's called -- which I won't ask."

She did smile at that, but shook her head. "I cannot just take you whenever I choose. There is a matter of both permission and possibility. There are only certain times when the door will open to . . . people from your world. Most of the time they literally cannot come through, no matter if the door seems open. If the time had not been right, you would have caught a glimpse of what was on the other side of the door, but when you tried to follow me through you would have found yourself alone on the other side of the door right here, on the walkway next to the pond."

"When will the next right time be?"

"I do not know! Jeremy, please! You must understand that even if the time is right, you must have permission. It is not allowed for your folk to even know about my world, even the knowledge that it exists is hidden from you under the guise of children's tales and madness, and very few are ever allowed to pierce the veil and see the truth in those silly stories and lunatic ravings. To cross over without leave is very dangerous."

"How dangerous?"

"It could mean your death."

Well, it didn't get much more dangerous than that, and that shut Jeremy up for a time. But the idea latched on and itched, like a tick pulled off ineptly, leaving the head behind. He couldn't give up on the notion of seeing faerie again.

"What about the Vernal Equinox?" he said one day.


"You said only certain times. The night you took me was the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, that your people call Midwinter Night even though my people consider the beginning of Winter, not the middle. Anyway, the first day of spring -- by our reckoning, although I guess that's probably Midspring to you -- is one of the two days when the night is exactly as long as the day. Is that one of the times when a normal person can go through the door?"

She sighed. "Jeremy, you must leave this alone." To his alarmed look, she said soothingly, "No, it's not one of the things that you can lose my by asking three times, but it is something that you cannot have just by wanting, and there's a good chance that it will never happen. You cannot will it. You can only wait and see and maybe if will happen. Maybe it will not. If I can take you there, I will. But please, don't let yourself dwell on it. It is affecting your health, I think."

Something certainly was affecting Jeremy's health. The first fifteen pounds he'd lost since meeting Liliana he put down to all the walking he was doing, and he was happy about it. Like most 21st Century Americans, he'd been overweight. But he had to admit that lately he'd gone too far over on the other side. He should be eating more, maybe exercising more than just walking to build up muscle. Something besides sitting at his laptop guzzling caffeine laced beverages and writing. He hardly even stopped to eat, and he knew it was indeed affecting his health. He'd had a cough and the sniffles most of the month, and he couldn't go to the doctor because he didn't have health insurance. But he didn't often get sick, and he knew that part of his problem right now was probably a weakened immune system, due to the combination of not eating right and stress.

And stress was probably why he wasn't eating right. As soon as he got enough ahead to feel good about his new life path, he was sure everything would be better. He still had money in the bank -- indeed, he had more money in the bank right now than he had when he'd been fired. How many people did he know that had done that their first month unemployed?

He was doing OK. Everything was going to be just fine. He just needed to relax and let it sink in that he was a writer now, and a moderately successful one, and not just some unemployed guy half a step away from being homeless.

Everything was going to be fine.

* * *

The first time he noticed Liliana leave in the middle of the night -- technically early morning -- he was surprised that she slipped out of bed, got dressed and quietly let herself out the door. Somehow he'd always assumed she magically dissolved herself into a puddle of moonlight or something. That had been a while back, and he hadn't thought much of it.

It was a fluke that he had seen her. Some noise outside, probably, had woken him. He was only half awake, really, and amazed at how silent she was. A few weeks later, he deliberately waited, pretending to be asleep, and watched her through almost-closed eyelids and she silently dressed herself. He was kind of happy in a way to know that she was a little less magical, a little closer to mundane reality, than he had supposed.

But lately, as he became more and more obsessed with visiting faerie, he began to think about the fact that, if she remained solid enough that she had to sneak out of his house, she was probably returning to the park and doing that magical spell to go back to her own world.

And one night, toward the end of February, he decided to follow her. He pretended to be asleep, and after she left he quickly got dressed. He waited a minute or two, not wanting to be close enough behind her for her to see him. After all, he knew where she was going.

Either he waited longer than he thought or Liliana moved far faster than he realized, because when he caught up to her in the park, she was nearing the end of her incantation, and the doorway was already shimmering. He was still twenty feet away, and he started to run, wanting to catch her before she left, to beg her to take him with her, to do or say something.

She heard him, he guessed -- or read his mind, perhaps, or just felt his presence -- because she turned suddenly, and said "Jeremy Morrison, this is no place for you. Go home."

"I can't. I want to go with you."

"You cannot."

"Why not?"

"Because you belong here, and I belong there."

"But I love you."

She reached out and tenderly stroked his face. "I know, Jeremy. I have grown fond of you as well, but I must leave now."

"When will I see you again?"

She grew solemn. "That's twice you've asked me that, and I told you the first time that I cannot answer. Not because it is forbidden, but because I do not know. Each time I leave you, I do not know if I will ever see you again."

"Really? I thought it was just me that felt that way!"

"You feel that way because it is true. Tomorrow is not written, and none may ever know what it brings. The time we have together is always all the time we will ever have together, and if we are lucky enough to meet again, then that time will be all we have. The past is dead, and the future is uncertain. There is only now."

"I don't want you to leave."

"I have to go. You shouldn't have followed me here."


"I have to go." The doorway was shimmering again, preparing to close. Liliana turned and rushed through the door, leaving Jeremy all alone.

Suddenly, without thinking, Jeremy propelled himself toward the door, with a leap that would carry him into the pond if he didn't make it into faerie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chapter 21 - The Day After

Jeremy had $2,000 in the bank. That was enough for four months' rent -- assuming he had other money coming in for food and gas and utilities. He hadn't cashed the second story check yet, but it was only $200. He had two more paychecks coming from the library, but one of them would be for only two days.

He had to find another job. Quickly.

Or did he? Maybe he should just trust that his writing would bring in enough money. Maybe he wouldn't be able to live as well as he had been -- no more mocha latte's from Starbucks, eat out less and cook more. But he could do it. One story had gotten him a whole month's rent. He had several more out there he was waiting to hear about.

"And what if you get sick?" he asked himself. Losing his job at the library meant losing his health insurance. He couldn't even go to the doctor now -- he didn't even know what doctors charge people without insurance. $50 for an office visit? $100? Whatever it was, it would probably wipe him out.

"Well, I just won't get sick," he told himself.

It probably would be a good idea to try to get a job of some kind, somewhere. Even part time. Something he could rely on if things got rough.

He put together a resume. He really hadn't done much since college except work in the library, and it wasn't a very good preparation for doing anything else but work in libraries. He also dreaded answering the question that he knew would come if he got interviewed, "and why did you leave the library?"

"Well, gee, I got sacked."


He sat and stared at his resume, trying to will it into something formidable that would cause employers to jump up and say, "Why, I must give that young man a call right now!"

But of course he didn't have a resume like that because he didn't have a life like that, he wasn't the kind of person that employers would fall all over themselves to hire. And in the short term -- trying to find a job in a month or two -- he'd be lucky to get work at a fast food restaurant.

Actually, he remembered the last time he was jobless, and getting a job at a fast food restaurant was probably next to impossible. They assumed people like him were just looking for a stopgap to tide them over until they found a better job, and they generally didn't want that. They wanted young kids who would work weird hours and be happy with working only ten or twenty hours a week because they were living at home and it was extra money or older folks with no education or job skills and no chance of doing anything else with their lives who'd give them forty hours a week for the next ten years. There really wasn't any room for anybody else in the fast food world, it seemed.

Bartender? He'd been a bartender once before. He had left it off of his resume, but maybe he shouldn't have. Not that bartending jobs were usually hired by way of a resume anyway. Could he ever remember how to make all those drinks? Did he still have his bartending book? He could look it over and brush up.

Mostly, he sat around feeling sorry for himself and making vague plans to do something but never actually accomplishing much. He did get his resume updated -- and he made the library job sound pretty good, and made it appear that he'd done better there than he really had, without actually lying. It really was true that he'd had increased responsibility -- but so did everyone who worked there, pretty much. It was just part of the job. It took a long time to really learn how to handle the public, for instance, how to read people and understand what they wanted even when they weren't good at asking for it.

He had been getting really good at that.

And now it was gone.

Jeremy burst into tears again, feeling angry with himself for being such a baby, such a wimp. He was glad Liliana wasn't here to see him like this. But if Liliana was here, if he could just hold her, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
He grew angry with her for not being there. She should be here to commiserate with him! He picked up his laptop and was about to hurl it across the room when he suddenly came to his senses. There was probably nothing that he owned in the entire world right now that was as precious to him as that laptop. He couldn't afford to break it.

He decided to channel his anger into poetry. For the first time, he wrote poems to Liliana that were truly angry and bitter, lashing out at her for abandoning him when he needed her. He would later realize on reflection that they weren't entirely fair, but in rewriting them he left them that way, because the emotion he was feeling wasn't about fairness. It was about need and the huge gaping hole left in his life by losing his job and not having his girlfriend around to help him through it and how awful he felt and how difficult it really was to be a human being in love with a creature out of faerie, even if she was real enough to hold. You couldn't hold her if she wasn't there.

He got so caught up in writing, and in being angry with Liliana, that he didn't take his usual walk to the park at eight o'clock or so, but looked up at the clock to see it was nearly midnight. He had a sudden pang of guilt for having forgotten her, but it was quickly supressed in favor of a "Good, I hope she waited for me. Serve her right to see how it feels for once." But it was hopeless to try to maintain that attitude. He was too dependent on her, and he knew it. He threw on clothes -- he'd never even bothered to dress today -- and walked over to the park, hoping she was there, hoping she was angry with him for being late and yelled at him so he could feel perfectly justified in yelling right back.

She wasn't there. He tried to be angry with her for not being there, but he didn't know if she hadn't shown up or if he had missed her because she had given up on him, and he felt like he couldn't get mad at her for not being there if it was his fault they hadn't gotten together.

He trudged home disconsolate. He had ruined everything today. He'd thrown away his job, possibly pissed off Liliana -- and if he had, would he ever see her again? What a loser. Things couldn't possibly get much worse, he decided. Almost immediately, he cursed himself for the thought -- that's just what the universe wants you to think, he thought, so it can hit you with a double-whammy.

He actually began contemplating horrible things that might happen to him now for having thought that things couldn't get worse, but his one bit of luck today was that none of them materialized.

Indeed, he actually discovered that perhaps the universe had decided to smile on him after all. For when he returned home, Liliana was there waiting for him. She hadn't come alone to his apartment like this in some time, and when she did she always showed up naked, in his bed, but tonight she was sitting demurely on the couch, still clothed in the same black dress she always wore, the necklace he bought her gleaming in the moonlight coming in from the window. He hadn't turned the lights on yet, just walked in the door and saw her across the room.

"I'm sorry, Jeremy. I wish there was something I could do."

"You know?"

She nodded. "I cannot come to you by day. I can stay sometimes when I am here, especially in winter when the days are short and often dark and gray. But I could not come to you today, though I wanted to."

It was enough. It was more than enough. He forgave her fully, ran to her and swept her up into his arms. He let the sonnets stand, later, as an honest testament to his own feelings, but wrote other, remorseful sonnets apologizing for having berated her in such fashion.

She did indeed stay with him the next day, and the day was indeed dark and gray, and they stayed inside and didn't leave the whole time. She cooked him breakfast, and he cooked her lunch, and they ordered in a pizza for dinner, and made love, and she read while he wrote, and Jeremy allowed himself to imagine that they could live like this forever, happy together almost like a normal couple. Maybe even get married. Maybe even . . .

Could Liliana bear his children? Was it even possible? And if they didn't want that to happen right away, should they be taking precautions? He'd used condoms religiously early on, a member of the generation that grew up with AIDS the idea of condomless sex was as illicit as the idea of shooting heroin -- sure, there was a bit of enticement to the illicitness, but the negatives seemed to far outweigh the positives. But she had asked him why, and he had tried to explain to her, and she had laughed and assured him that he wasn't going to catch any diseases from her, and somehow he believed her, and he had to admit that it was far better without them.

But he hadn't even thought about her getting pregnant. He assumed that she would take care of that. If she'd been human, he'd of assumed she was on the pill. As it was, he just assumed that she either was unable to get pregnant or could decide to when the time came.

Maybe it was something he should ask her, but he wasn't sure how. Or when. Or if he could even work up the courage to bring it up.
He shook his head, and looked back down at the story he'd been trying to write, which he'd broken off as his reverie took over his mind and he stared off into space.
"If I have a child by you, it would not be your child," she said gently.

He looked up, startled. "What?"

She smiled sadly. "I told you, Jeremy. All women read minds. Even your human women, though not all of them are good at it. I know what you were thinking, and I know too how your world and mine interact, and I say to you that you should not even allow the idea of settling down to live with me as man and wife to enter into your head. It cannot happen. My kind take from your kind, and while we give something in return, we cannot give you family, hearth, or home. If I were to bear your child, I would be lost to you forever, as would the child as well. Even human females who bear the child of one or our males soon loses the little one -- to crib death, perhaps, or one day the child just vanishes. But he is not really dead, nor kidnapped by a madman. He's been returned to his people, where he belongs."

"I wish I belonged there."

"Aye, most of your kind who see the other side do feel that way, and perhaps I was remiss to take you there."

"Is there any way I could go there? To live, I mean? With you?"

"Ah, Jeremy. Best not be considering happy endings that have been forbidden. Hold me close while you have me, and be happy for the time we have. It's brief enough. What may come may come, and come what may we will always have this moment, to warm us through cold nights and ease our minds when they are troubled."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Chapter 20 - Transitions

A few days after the new year, Jeremy received his first-ever check for a piece of fiction he'd written. He'd had stories published before in small magazines -- fanzines, really -- which paid in copies of the magazine to show off and distribute to friends. But this was real money.

And it was real money, a check for $480 - almost as much money as Jeremy made in a week. More money than he'd ever seen in a paycheck, thanks to taxes. He threw himself into writing, spending long hours at it every night. Inevitably, one day the second week of January, he stumbled around so sleepily one morning that he ended up being late for work.

It actually wasn't the first time he was late. Despite his vow to be early every morning -- which he broke often, but which did usually keep him coming in at least on time -- Cecilia had let pass silently two occasions on which he had walked in a minute or two after eight o'clock. Today, she couldn't have ignored it even if she wanted to, as he came in nearly twenty minutes late.

"Jeremy, you're late," was all she said.

"I know. I'm sorry. I --"

"I don't even want to hear it," she said, holding up her hand to stop his excuse.
Later in the day she called him into the conference room. She slid a piece of paper across the desk.

"What's this?"

"It's an acknowledgment that you came in late today after a warning and that you're aware that as a consequence you'll be suspended for a day."

Jeremy's eyes narrowed. "What if I refuse to sign it?"

"Then I'll have to fire you."

Jeremy's eyes widen, but Cecilia just nodded to indicate that yes, he had heard her correctly.

He signed the paper.

"I wish you had picked a better time. We're already shorthanded tomorrow. Francine is still sick."

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding as miserable as he felt. "Maybe I could come in tomorrow and take off another day for the suspension."
Cecilia thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. "I think we're both better off if we get this over with. Please, Jeremy. You have to stop doing this."

"I know."

"I'm afraid you're going to be docked a quarter-hour pay for today, too."

They sat a moment in silence, then Cecilia said, "Well, I guess we'd better get back to work," and left.

Jeremy followed shortly after. He felt miserable, tired and not wanting to be there but also guilty at putting everyone under the gun tomorrow working with two people out. And at the same time feeling put upon, unfairly singled out for punishment for something that happened to everyone once in a while. He hadn't been late in two months!

So after work he went home and wrote a story about a guy who gets fired from his job and decides to go back and kill his supervisor and as many other people he can take out before they come and get him. The character was nothing at all like Jeremy, a beer-drinking redneck in his late 40s with a wife and two kids and a gun collection that would make the NRA proud, and the job and supervisor were similarly dissimilar.

The story is told from mister disgruntled former employee's point of view, and without actually quoting thoughts manages to get the reader inside the head of this guy, which is a very uncomfortable place to be, not just because he's crazy and full of rage, but because he's so ordinary, and Jeremy hoped the reader would begin to feel that the guy really had been screwed over, and if his reaction was a little over the top -- OK, way over the top and obviously unacceptable behavior, to say the least -- nonetheless they could almost understand how he felt and why he ends up doing what he's doing.

Except he doesn't do it. On his way to work, he stops at a convenience store to fill up his tank, because he's almost out of gas. And he goes inside to get a cup of coffee to steady his nerves. And a guy comes in and points a gun at the cashier and says "Gimme all your money."

The cashier gives the robber all the money in the register, but the guy insists that he open the safe.

"I can't, man. Only the manager can do that."

"Open the goddamn safe, motherfucker, or I'll blow your fucking brains out."

And mister disgruntled finds himself holding his gun pointed at the robber, saying, "drop the gun and step away from the counter." And the robber instead turns and points the gun at him, and they both shoot.

He wakes up in a hospital. He's a big hero. The cashier told the police -- and TV news -- that he'd have been dead if it hadn't been for the good samaritan who stopped the robbery. Everybody wants to talk to him. Everybody wants to be his friend. One of the reporters always tracked down the fact that he just lost his job, and viewers have started raising money for him and two different men who own companies have left messages about the possibility of employing him.

So he's lying there in the hospital bed and he realizes that he was crazy. He's glad that he didn't kill his coworkers and end his life in a blaze of terror.
But on the other hand, if he hadn't planned to do that stuff, none of this would have happened. So is he a good guy? Or a bad guy? How does he live with the knowledge of what he really had planned that day when people tell him what a hero he is?

Jeremy wrote the whole thing in one long night of more-or-less continuous writing, stopping only to eat and go to the bathroom. He finally finished about 10 a.m. -- and fully realized the irony that by now he'd be at work if he hadn't been suspended from his job.

He wondered how much longer he'd be working at the library anyway. If he could make $500 just from one story, he should be able to make more money writing than he made at the library.

He saved the story, printed up a copy to read later, and went to bed. He set his alarm for 2:00 p.m. -- he'd just sleep a few hours, then get up for a while and try to go to bed at a more-or-less normal hour that night.

But when he got up at two, he had another idea for another story.

* * *

On his nightly walks to the park, on the nights when Liliana wasn't there, Jeremy often stood in front of the stone doorway and looked out at the fountain and tried to remember exactly what Liliana had said and how she moved her hands. He wanted to be able to do the spell himself, to go into her world. He wanted to surprise her with a visit for once, to be able to decide when he wanted to see her instead of just waiting for her to decide she wanted to see him.

It wasn't that he was dissatisfied, he told himself. It was just that it was such a wonderful place. It was the realm that was the basis for fantasy novels and fairy tales, he knew, but it didn't seem unreal. Indeed, it seemed more real than the real world, which seemed dull and colorless ever since he had come back.

Most of the stories that he wrote involved that touch of strange that had become so much a part of his own life that he no longer even thought of it as "fantasy." Ghosts, elves, magic in various forms, creatures who shouldn't exist. He never wrote about anything he actually knew to be true -- he only wrote about Liliana in the series of sonnets he had dedicated to her, which was now up to three dozen -- but he had a sneaking suspicion that many of the things he made up weren't made up at all. Ghosts, for instance. He had never seen a ghost, and if you had asked him a year ago he'd have said that although he wasn't at all sure that ghosts didn't exist, he thought most supposed hauntings were bogus and that he was leaning toward unbelief rather than belief.

Today, it was rather the opposite. He still believed that many -- perhaps most -- supposedly true stories about ghosts were either misunderstandings of perfectly ordinary phenomena or simply made up tales to get attention. And he wasn't absolutely sure that ghosts did exist. But he was definitely leaning in the direction of believing that there was probably something out there that at least resembled the common idea of what a ghost was, whether it was actually the troubled soul of someone who'd died and was unable to transition properly to the next world or not.

He was almost certain that there were unicorns. And he had a pretty good idea where he might find one, if he could only figure out how to open the door.

He got another check -- a smaller one this time -- and then two rejections in a row. Suddenly the idea that he could just quit his job and be a writer didn't seem to be quite so simple.

And just as he was realizing that, the unthinkable happened. He stayed up until 4:00 a.m. writing a story, somehow went to bed without setting his alarm, and woke up to the phone ringing at 8:45 a.m.

"Hello?" Jeremy answered, still half asleep and not fully realizing the full meaning of the time displayed on the clock."

"Where are you?" it was Cecilia.

What a stupid question, Jeremy thought. She'd called him at home.

"I . . . um. I can be there in an hour."

"Don't bother."

There was a long silence. Jeremy was fully awake now. He didn't want to believe he'd heard what he'd just heard.

"You mean . . . ?"

"Jeremy, you were suspended less than a month ago. Not even three weeks ago. Even if it wasn't six months, if it was two or three, I could argue for another suspension, a longer one perhaps, but as it is . . ."

As it is, he was fired. That was that. He'd really screwed himself up this time.

"Oh, my God," he moaned.

"I'm sorry," said Cecilia, sounding distraught herself. Then she seemed to gather herself together, because her voice became very clear and cold. "You brought it on yourself, Jeremy."

She hung up the phone. He sat there in bed, holding the empty receiver. He wanted to cry.

He wanted to tell Liliana what had happened. But he didn't even know when he would see her again. She couldn't be there to comfort him, to support him. What good was she? Why did he have to fall in love with someone who couldn't do anything for him except give him sex?

And the stories, he reminded himself. You know it's because of her that you have the stories.

Yeah, well, I'm going to need better ones and more of them. Cause now they're all I've got.

Chapter 19 - December's End

What Jeremy saw the next morning was Liliana, lying in bed next to him. She had never spent the night before, and he had just about convinced himself that she couldn't exist in his world during the daylight. But there she was, sleeping peacefully.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek, and she woke up and smiled at him. "Good morning," she said.

"I'm full of questions," he said. "But I won't ask any of them. I'll just enjoy the fact that you are here."

"You're learning," she said.

He went to work with a spring in his step, happier than he'd been in a long, long time. He caught himself whistling and humming several times during the day. He laughed at himself. He rarely shushed anyone, and the library he worked at didn't have a policy of silence, but he still thought it was pretty funny that he was so going against the stereotype of a librarian as to actually be whistling in the library.

When he got home, Liliana was still there, and she had cleaned his entire apartment. She'd even washed the silverware. He thought of asking her how, but then he saw the heavy latex gloves lying next to the sink. He had bought them for doing some paint stripping on some old furniture he'd bought at a yard sale that he'd intended to refinish. He wondered where she had found them -- he'd forgotten he even had them, and had no idea where they had been.

They made love that night as if it was the first time. No, far better than the first time because their bodies knew each other, knew what felt good and what felt better and how they fit together best. Jeremy discovered that he had only imagined he had known ecstasy before. This night was more than he could ever have wished for. He thought it was the beginning of a long succession of wonderful nights, that now Liliana had moved in with him and would be with him forever.

But when he woke up in the morning, she was gone again, and he didn't see her after that for more than a week.

At first, he thought they had merely lapsed back into their old routine, that he had misjudged her overnight stay, but he would surely see her in three or four days. When five days passed and she had not showed up, either at the park or in his apartment, he began to worry.

Would he ever see her again? Was he someone she had merely played with, and now would abandon? What did he know about her, except that she was not really human and had relatives who were decidedly less so and lived in a world of beauty where time flowed differently?

Christmas came and went and he didn't even notice. His mother called him Christmas day, wondering where he was, and he realized he'd never even told her that he'd planned to have Christmas up here with Liliana, and of course that plan had never made much sense in the first place, because how can you plan anything when your plans depend on someone whose very essence is undependability. And he couldn't really explain any of this to his mother anyway, so he was surly, and then immediately sorry about it, and the whole exchange wasn't very satisfactory for either of them.

New Year's Eve was approaching, and the only notice Jeremy gave it was the sour realization that it looked like he'd spend another New Year's Eve without someone to kiss at midnight after all.

Yet still he went to the park every night. Still he walked around the pond, hoping to see her, hoping since she wasn't at the park that she'd be in his apartment when he got home. And every night he got home to a cold and empty apartment that seemed colder someone for the emptiness.

But then, on New Year's Eve, there she was. Waiting for him in the park.

His heart leapt. He was overjoyed to see her. But he was annoyed, too. He remembered what her sister had said, and realized there was a certain amount of truth in it. He was angry at the way Liliana came and went from his life, at the fact that he not only had no control but not even any knowledge of when she would or wouldn't be around.

She smiled and held out her arms, but he didn't rush to her. She stood there, arms out, and the smile faded from her face and she looked uncertain.

"Aren't you glad to see me?" she asked, her voice sounding on the edge of breaking into tears.

He relented and went to her and hugged her. "Of course I am. But I must admit I'm a little hurt and angry that you keep disappearing from my life and I never know whether or not I'll see you again and you just are gone for days and days and then suddenly show up again and . . . well, it's hard to take."

She squeezed him. "I'm sorry that I've hurt you," she said. But he noticed that she didn't promise not to do it anymore.

They walked to his apartment with their arms around each other, but they were quiet. In the past, they had chatted along the way about this or that, Jeremy's day at work or something interesting in the park that Liliana had seen while waiting for Jeremy. Tonight, neither of them spoke. There was a wall between them, Jeremy felt, even though they were touching and hugging each other.

He knew his words had created the wall between them. No, he suddenly thought, it had been her actions that had caused his words, after all. He wasn't going to take the blame for this.

They got to his apartment and sat on the couch, still quiet.

"What are we going to do about this?" Jeremy finally said.

"About what?"

"It's tearing me up to have you come and go like this. You don't even leave me a note saying when you'll see me again. You just leave. I really thought . . ."


He sighed. "I thought the last time when you stayed the night and were still here the next day that you were going to stay for good, that you wouldn't be coming and going anymore. And then suddenly you were gone. And not only that, but you've been gone for longer than you've ever been since I first met you. I've always seen you within three or four days but it's been a week -- more than a week. I don't know how much more of this I can take."

"I see."

She sighed, stared off into space a moment. She straightened up, folded her hands in her lap. "Would you rather have my sister?"


"My sister. Would you rather have her here instead of me? She would allow you to control her, insofar as she was able, come and go as you pleased, and if she could not obey your commands, she would let you punish her, give your anger a vent that some men find arousing in itself."

"I don't want your sister," Jeremy said miserably.

"Or is it me you'd like to punish as my sister suggested that you punish her. Oh, yes, I know what she said to you. She couldn't wait to repeat it to me, and I knew that sooner or later it would come up, because once a man has had her voice whisper in his ear he can't forget her words, no matter how he tries."

"This has nothing to do with your sister. It's about us. Before I ever met your sister this bothered me. It bothers me more now because I thought we were past it, and because the wait has been longer than ever this time. That's all. It has nothing to do with her."

Or did it? He couldn't deny that her sister's voice had been insistent in his ear, had in fact aroused him and influenced his thinking, that he had, in fact, just two days ago fantasized about punishing Liliana, when she finally did show up -- if she showed up, which of course two days ago he hadn't been quite certain that she would.

"Jeremy, I cannot stay with you always. I have to come and go. I do not know myself when I can see you again, nor can I get a message to you in between times. You must accept what we have or send me away."

He reached out for her and she came into his arms. He held her tightly, afraid that if he let her go she'd vanish into the night, knowing that sooner or later, she would indeed do just that, again and again and again, and that each time she'd break his heart, and there was nothing he could do to stop it, because he wanted her and needed her too much to send her away.

At midnight, they kissed, the first time Jeremy had ever kissed a girl at midnight when he'd believed there really was a chance he'd spend the rest of the year with her -- the only other times had been girls he'd met at parties who were as lonely as he was. This time was special, this time was magical, and Jeremy whispered to her just before the kiss that he wanted to be kissing her next New Year's Eve and the next and the next.

And that was how the year ended, with Jeremy happy, but knowing that his happiness was a transitory thing that would come and go with Liliana. He was worried about it, knew that it wasn't wise to be so dependent on her. But he was not wholly in control of himself, and could not help but be in love with her.

He knew that she would be gone again soon, either tomorrow morning or the next day or the next, and that he would be sad and angry and frustrated until she came back, and he knew also that it might transpire that some day she would not come back, and he would be bereft and unable to cope with her absence. It would be sensible to make a clean break with her now, to be glad for what he already had and savor the experience and get back to the real world and real women, now that he was over the hump of having rid himself of his troublesome virginity.
But instead he held her close, and kissed her like there was no tomorrow, and told her he would love her always, and promised never to send her away, and to always wait for her, no matter what.