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."
"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."
"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.