by Sina Mashek

He bounded down the stairs with clenched fists. He was unsure what or whom to be angry with. He wasn't even sure why he was angry to begin with. After all, he had been the one to bring up the subject. He was the one that, somewhere inside, felt some deep need o share his darkest secrets with her. So he had told her something that only two other people knew, about himself, and regretted it immediately, for fear of what she would think. There was a mixture of disgust and confusion alongside the genuine sadness in her eyes. That is what caused him to storm off.

He had gone into the basement to think. He paced back and forth as his mind raced at what she had said before. "What's a girl gotta do to get kissed around here?" He rolled the words in his mind like a small vessel on a stormy sea. Was that what he was most angry about? That she had put that out there as if it was something she had expected him to act on? Was it his own stupidity? What would he do? Or rather, could he do anything about it? He just wanted to forget it, to stick to his commitments and try to pretend she had never uttered those words. Perhaps he would call her on it, he thought. He could march right back up the wooden stairs and find a way to make her regret what she had said. But perhaps that was too harsh, for those words may not even have been meant to be an attack at him. The last option he thought of was just doing nothing. Just go back to minding his own business, remind himself that they were great friends and nothing more. But then, he would always wonder. He would be plagued by the what ifs.

Minutes passed like days in his mind. He could suddenly see clearer the dust covering the tops of boxes in the warehouse. Little streams of light peeked in through the cracks in the back door, dust particles dancing back and forth in the small beams. He could smell the acrid scent of chemicals filling his nostrils. Even his sense of touch was heightened, his hearing finely tuned, his whole body humming like a machine. He made his way up the stairs, knowing what he was going to do.

Even as he climbed the stairs his legs were carrying him faster than he had intended. She was standing there at the top of the stairs, her eyes widening. He could see fear and confusion in her eyes, and perhaps a small part of longing. He spanned the distance between them quickly, his arms reaching for her.

He reached for her and took her face in his hands. He gently drew her nearer to him but their bodies met in a rush.

And then.

His lips were on hers. Her body tensed in shock and surprise but surprise gave way quickly as she kissed him back. Her mouth opened to his as their tongues danced back and forth, heat rising between them. His hands were everywhere at once, hers holding him tight to her. He passionately cupped her breast and then thought better of it, not wanting to ruin the moment. They kissed for an eternity, like nothing else in the world mattered. And then they stood there holding each other, not sure what to say, not sure anything needed to be said.

As he held her close, he whispered the words his heart had wanted him to say for months. "I love you Sarah." He buried his smile in her neck, surprised that he had been able to say anything at all. He didn't want to be just great friends anymore, and he was still afraid of what she might say.
She pushed away from him after a moment and looked straight into his eyes, her expression puzzled, but not unkind. "I thought you would never say it," she half-whispered plainly, then grinned and kissed him again, slowly and tenderly. She broke away from him and took his hands in hers, and focused her gaze upon their intermixed hands.

"I love you too, Tyler." She smiled shyly, still looking at their hands. He watched her with mild surprise; he had not expected to hear those words from her. What was left of the anger melted away when her head rose and his eyes met with hers, causing a smile to twitch at the corner of his mouth. He didn't know what to say; she was more beautiful in this moment, than he had ever remembered seeing her. Even more beautiful than when she had been his prom date, in her sleek black dress and her auburn hair artfully tied up. Until now, he had thought that she could never be more beautiful than that. This was different, though, he thought. He could see the beauty of her heart, mind and soul, as well as body. He felt dizzy. As he went to move past her, she let one of his hands go but firmly held on to the other. He brought them over to the old oak kitchen table and quickly took a seat. She took the seat across from him, slightly puzzled.

"What's wrong?" She asked in a soft but concerned tone.

"Nothing. I just..." He trailed off and looked at her helplessly.

"Just what?"

"I'm sorry for getting angry. I don't know what I was thinking when I told you those things." He sighed and looked down to the table. He slowly followed the lines of the wood grain. He couldn't bring himself to look at her.

"It's okay. Talking about your past like that has to be hard, especially when there are other things going on that you feel you have no control over."

Without saying anything, he stood up and pushed his chair in, then leaned on the back of it, grasping at the top. He let out another, bigger, sigh, then smiled. "You're a gem, Sarah."
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The days had begun to go by much more swiftly when spring arrived. Tyler and Sarah shared much of their time in the company of the other, often in silence. She would read her books while he painted. He would cook dinner while she was in taking a bath. Neither of them thought anything of the fact that they had stepped across the boundary from roommates to lovers. The only time they seemed to be apart was while she was attending her college classes and whenever he was called out to a job. She had always wanted to get back into school as she was tired of being a waitress at the truck stop diner not too far from the duplex they lived in.

"But you can't do that!" She exclaimed as she looked at him wide-eyed over the breakfast Tyler had just served them. It was her favorite: bacon and eggs with hash browns. He had learned how to cook her favorite breakfast so well that he often would not make it for her except on special occasions, which frustrated her. Sarah always thought he liked frustrating her.

Tyler scooped up a large chunk of hash and thoughtfully munched on it.  "Yes I can," he said after chasing the hash with a gulp of milk. "And I think I will! You deserve to go to college, it's part of your dream life, right?" He smiled that loving smile at her. The one that told her no matter how much she fought, he was going to do what he wanted.

Sarah poked at her food with her fork, not really interested in eating anymore. Before she could say anything, a faint cracking noise was heard, followed shortly by a sickening thud. She stared in disbelief as Tyler's eyes bulged and lost focus. He slumped forward before he slid sideways and crumpled to the floor. Blood poured from his side and his breathing was ragged through his clenched jaw. She just stared at him, refusing to acknowledge anything that she was seeing. This can't be real, she thought over and over. I need to wake up. Tears welled up and fell to her rosy cheeks. Her hands clenched her chest and she began to sob.

Everything afterward was a blur to Sarah. Police and medics arrived, but she hadn't moved. She was laying on the floor next to Tyler, her arms wrapped around his neck. She was covered in his blood, but she didn't notice. She kept kissing his face and lips, calling for him, asking him to wake up. She didn't know if he was dead, but her emotions took control and had her assuming as much. It took both of the police officers to pull her off of Tyler's body so the medics could patch him and put him on a stretcher. No matter what they said, they could not calm her aching soul.
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"So that's it then? That's all I get to see of my Sarah? After all that?" Tyler was red-faced and angry. He felt again as he did the day he had told Sarah he loved her. There didn't seem to be anywhere to push his anger out. He looked around with wild eyes. His breathing was hot and ragged and his chest heaved in and out like an angered bull.

"You will see her again. In time, you will see all things." The voice boomed from everywhere and nowhere at once. The answer only enraged Tyler more.

"I did not want to go. I was happy there with her!" He yelled and swore in his frustration.
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It had been six weeks since Tyler had been pronounced dead on arrival. In that time she and her best friend Marla had packed up the entire apartment. Sarah didn't have to fight the landlord to release her of her contract, for which she was thankful. Marla moved her into her own place. It was cramped with both of them, and what could not fit was put into dry storage. Sarah would not let Marla throw even the smallest item away, if it had belonged to Tyler.

With much effort and support from Marla, Sarah managed to pass all but one of her classes. Without her classes to occupy her mind, she had started to spend all of her time trying to track down Tyler's family. No matter how hard she looked for them, she could not find them. It was as if they had never been around at all. Even the house his mother lived in showed no signs of her ever having lived there and the present owner had insisted that his family had lived in that very house for fifteen years.

Sarah felt ultimately alone, like a star bereft of orbiting planets.

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The suffocating openness consumed Tyler. He floated through the cloudy gray nothingness that was his home. He had tried to forget this place while he had made a life down with Sarah. It had almost entirely disappeared from his thoughts, and would have had he not known the day would have come when he would be brought back to his own realm. His heart ached a constant throb that had not lessened since the day he departed from Sarah's presence. He felt that he could just fall into many pieces and melt away, though the rational part of his mind scoffed at such emotional melancholy. Others like him passed by without any notice of him or his actions; he could see them, but unless he wanted them to see him, they would not.

Tyler brooded deep within, his resolve strengthening on one thought. He knew what he had to do and knew that nothing would stop him. He needed to be with Sarah. It didn't matter how, he just did. She challenged every notion he had of existing, of being happy. She gave him a desire to live fully, but in his very core, he knew he could not. He had already lived his time. He knew this, but could not accept it. He had been able to set foot on the ground a second time, why couldn't he a third?
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Years seemed to leap past her, or just simply never show up. It didn't matter much to Sarah anymore. She continued on a path that was provided to her by Tyler. She graduated college with honors and had become a notable and well-regarded psychologist. She was living not just for herself, but for the man she would never be with again. Everything she did was laced with her thoughts and memories of Tyler, from when they met at the early age of five until his death.

Sarah went through several years of therapy at the behest of Marla, whom she still lived with. Marla and her had bought a house on the upscale part of town, and Marla quickly set to work in building herself a family. Sarah more or less became Marla's live-in maid, more out of choice than anything. Sarah longed for a family of her own, but could not bring herself to go out and find someone. To her, it felt like she would betray her heart if she attempted to commit herself to another man. Her therapist told her she should move on, as did all of her studies and research while in school. She couldn't even think of it. Her heart was permanently sore and with every beat, seemed to call out his name.

Nothing she could do seemed to be able to permanently quell her feelings for Tyler. Dating was misery to her and she oft would avoid. From time to time Marla would try to set her up on a date, and she would oblige, but only because she didn't want to hurt their friendship. Marla never would understand her completely. That thought often depressed Sarah.
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Sarah opened her eyes and was startled to find Tyler laying in her bed next to her, smiling fondly at her. He was gently caressing her cheek and shoulder.

"Tyler, is that really you?"

"What do you mean, love? Of course it's really me. I haven't gone anywhere." He leaned over and kissed her full on the lips as he rested his hand on her shoulder. "What's up? You looked like you were having a terrible dream." He watched her expectantly and with a reassuring smile.

Tears started to well up in Sarah's eyes as she stared at him in total confusion. She went to say something but it came out a jumbled mess of half-words as she started to cry uncontrollably. Tyler slid his hand from her shoulder to her back and scooped her into his arms as he rolled backward on to his pillow. He held her close and whispered to her that everything was okay.  After a little while, Sarah managed to calm down enough to look up at Tyler and partially smile. She felt so stupid for crying like this. He was here, holding her, wasn't he? It was all just a bad dream, she told herself. It's over, just enjoy the fact that you have him.

She pulled herself closer to Tyler and propped herself up on one elbow, then kissed his jawline. He closed his eyes and tilted his head backward some while smiling. With a slight smile, she trailed her right hand down his chest and slid it under the blankets. He let his head fall back more as his lips parted, slowly letting his breath out, at the touch of Sarah's firm but gentle fingers upon his raising member. She grasped it in her hands and moved slowly, intently watching his face. She slowly massaged him while she kissed his neck a few times before suddenly biting him. It was enough to startle, but not upset Tyler; it had caused the reaction she was hoping for.

Tyler's eyes shot open and he pushed toward Sarah with a devilish grin, until he was on top of her. Her grip tightened as she was laid out on her back. He smothered her with a flurry of kisses along her chest and neck and she let out a giggle while she squirmed under him. He grabbed her free arm and pinned it above her head and fumbled about for her other arm, but she would not budge. Her hand only squeezed tighter the more he attempted to free himself. Her giggle became laced with a devious tone as she stroked him harder and wiggled her body up against his. His breathing had become rather ragged, his eyes expressing an otherwise wild, untamed instinct. He tried to kiss her on the lips.

"No!" She said, laughing as she turned her head to one side. He bit her on the most tender spot on her neck and stayed there. He growled and she laughed even more, pressing her body against his as much as he was doing the same to her. She let go of him just long enough to grab at his hip, but he was faster; a moment later and he had both of her hands pinned above her head. She laughed and squirmed as he grinned down at her, his face close to hers. She looked up at him with pleading eyes.

He gave her a very cocky look and with a matter-of-fact tone, said "I've got you now, lover! There's no way you can..." She cut him off with a rough, passionate kiss, turning his words into mumbles, then small groans as he kissed her back with the force she had been craving. His strength momentarily faltered and she slipped her hands out of his and promptly raked his back from top to bottom. His eyes lit with fire anew and he quickly moved to grab her legs, but she threw them around his waist and squeezed.

She gave him a sweetly defiant smile. "No way I can get away, huh? I think that you've underestimated me, good sir. Am I viewed as such an unworthy opponent?" She moved her body in a way that was very familiar to him. He kissed her fully on the lips as their tongues danced and tickled at the other's lips as he cupped her face in one of his hands. With a gentle forward motion, he entered her. She looked up at him, eyes wide, lips slightly parted as she took in a sharp breath.
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Sarah's eyes shot open. It was still dark in her room. She sat up and felt slightly disoriented. The gentle breeze coming through her open window whispered across her damp body; she was sweating like she had a fever and her muscles were tender. Her eyes closed as she yawned. As she breathed in from her yawn, she paused. There was a faint smell of Tyler surrounding her, as if he had been right there, in her room. She opened her eyes to her dark and familiar room, then sighed. Grabbing a handful of blanket, she tossed them aside and slid out of bed and walked toward the window. The cool, spring night wind rolled across her gently, as a lover's blown kiss. She could feel Tyler in everything, so very keenly, and it unsettled her. Her sadness and longing were not present and she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, finally, after seventeen years. A loving smile played at her lips as she imagined Tyler standing outside the window, his silhouette framed and glowing from the light of the large, full moon.

As Sarah went to clamber back into bed, she felt a hunger for Tyler's skin against hers. She thoughtfully drew the blankets back over her legs and propped her pillow up behind her, then leaned back, eyes closed. Why is it that she felt as if Tyler had been right next to her? She breathed in deep, and let out a large sigh. She smiled as she thought about her beloved man, as she soaked in the feeling of his presence. She was at peace, finally. Her heart yearned for his love, her body for his. That, she knew, would never go away, but she was at peace. She knew he was with her. She had always known, but always wanted for more. For what was.

Tears welled up in her closed eyes and silently trickled down her cheeks. "I will be with you again, one day," she whispered as she began to sob, her heart suddenly very heavy. She slid down between the sheets and silently cried herself to sleep.
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As Marla's children grew, so Sarah healed. Over the years, she learned to see Tyler in everything from the knitting of her crocheted goods to the meals she made for Marla and her family. She still missed him, to be sure, but life was less dreary. Death's veil had been removed from her eyes and she was once again able to do things she once associated with Tyler. Though she was feeling better, she spent the next several years living with Marla, even long after her children had moved out. Marla's husband had left her for some hot young thing just before their youngest shipped across the country for college. It was Sarah's turn to be there for Marla the way Marla had been there for her.

"I am always with you, Sarah, my shining star. Though you have lost me in body, you have never lost me; I am in your spirit, in the air, under the very ground you walk upon. I love you. Nothing can ever separate us; we are as intermixed as two seedling trees that grew up close to each other."