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Archive for August, 2013

      She stood before him, clutching a well-loved teddy bear to her chest. Her brown eyes peered at him just over the bear’s now mostly matted ears. He met her stare, trying to match her serious face but unable to rid the smile from the corners of his eyes. Eventually she lowered the bear to reveal a button nose and what his mother used to call “pinching cheeks.”

      “I need a Once Upon a Time. Do you know how to do those?” She whispered, resting her chin on the bear’s head.

      “Oh, I love a good Once Upon a Time! Would you like to sit with me and I’ll tell you one?” He replied, patting the space on the couch next to him and very glad for the distraction.  He’d come to this party against his will, knew no one here aside from his sister, and this small girl was the first to approach him all night. She stood for another minute, once looking back at the crowd behind her. She looked at the space next to him, shook her head and sat down on the floor at his feet.  A few more minutes were spent painstakingly arranging the bear into a sitting position next to her.

      “Ok,” she said at last, looking up at him with the same serious stare, “we’re ready.”

      He cleared his throat importantly and began “Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a princess. She was not the most beautiful princess in the land. Oh sure, this princess had pretty hair and nice eyes, she just wasn’t quite as pretty as some of the other princesses and maidens.  This princess had something much more valuable than beauty. She was clever.”

      The story tumbled, unrehearsed, out of him.  In the beginning he listened as he talked, gauging her reactions and editing the story as he went. Soon, though, he simply settled back and let the words come. He was as surprised as the girl when the trolls attacked the castle and just as relieved when the clever princess came up with a way to trick them.  As the tale was nearing the end he noticed that the room around him was quiet.  Voices were hushed and crystal glasses held still. The girl was no longer alone at his feet; a few other children had joined her and several adults sat with them. Still more gathered around, forming a tight semicircle.  Midnight came and went unnoticed, somewhere around the time of the dragon wars, and when they reached Happily Ever After it was well into the new year. 

      The crowd clapped happily and exclaimed their surprise at the time. Belated shouts of Happy New Year resounded and the party picked up where it had left off. The other children disappeared back into the woodwork from which they’d crawled at the start of the story.  Only the girl remained, her bear now resting on her lap and the serious stare relaxed into a contented dreaminess he envied in children. 

      “Thank you, that was the best Once Upon a Time.” She stood up and climbed onto the couch next to him and planted a tiny kiss on his cheek. The childhood scent of lavender shampoo and sugar cookies allowed the smile to crawl out from his eyes and light up his face.

      “I’m glad you liked it. I hope Mr. Bear did, too.”

      “He did.  Say goodnight, Teddy” she said, waving the bear’s paw at him just before she turned and headed for the stairs.

      “Excellent story, thanks for saving her from a room full of boring adults!” The woman he recognized as the hostess and the girl’s mother stood before him. They’d met once, a friend of his sister’s. Was she the single mom he was supposed to meet tonight or was that someone else? The thought drained the last bit of energy from him.

      “Actually, she saved me from the room of boring adults,” he replied as he walked past her and out of the house. Princesses, trolls and dragons kept him company on his walk home.

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They walked down 71st street headed toward Central Park.  His limp hand rested in her firm grip as she gently pulled him along. Last night had been another long one, he didn’t see the reason to get out of bed at all today but she insisted and his fear of losing her trumped all others. She was saying something; he turned at looked at her and saw the beginning of fear crawling into her eyes. He braced himself, sure that this was finally it. She was going to say she was leaving him. He shook his head, trying to focus on her words when he heard two loud bangs. People began to scream and someone yelled “get down!” He was reaching out to push her out of the way when he felt punched. He clutched his chest and fell backward in one motion, striking his head on the concrete. Blood poured out of the dime-sized hole, seeping between his fingers. Disembodied faces floated over him, mouths moving quickly but there was no sound until his grey eyes found a pair of sea glass greens and his free hand instinctively reached out for hers. With contact sounds came rushing back and bodies returned to their proper places among the faces but he only looked at her.

 “I had no idea,” he said breathlessly. “Life is draining out of me. I had so much…I never knew…”

“Shh…I’m here,” she said in that practiced calm while placing one delicate finger over his lips. The sea glass eyes filled with water as she took in the reality of this situation. This time the crisis was not imagined. Tears tumbled down her cheeks but her voice remained steady. “I saw the life in you when you couldn’t, it was always there.” She placed her hand over his and intertwined their fingers. The blood washed through them both as she leaned over him.

“I feel it now, so much hope and joy…I stole it all from you…” his voice collapsed into a sob and she rested her forehead on his. They stayed this way feeling his heartbeats slowing and listening to the sirens and screams around them.

“Borrowed, not stolen.” She whispered at last, her breath warm on his cooling skin. “You only borrowed hope until you found your own. I told you I’d be here when you did. I just wish it wasn’t this way.”

“I should have found it sooner, you showed me every day. Why couldn’t I see?” His voice was barely audible now and she did not reply. There was nothing left to say. Her tears covered his face and his blood soaked through her shirt on onto her chest. In this they exchanged their last—this time her fear and uncertainty for his life and peace.

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Did I ever tell you how you saved me? Could you have known all along? I don’t think so. I guess you could have known, you always surprised me with how much you knew, but on this…it’s so hard to tell. I suppose that doesn’t matter now. What matters is how gently you caught me before I even realized I was falling. You wrapped me in stories; novels, essays, classics and contemporary. Sometimes, my favorite times, your own stories. Of course I wasn’t done falling, not even close. Hell, I’m still not. Every time I think I’ve hit bottom it turns out just to be a cloud and I burst through; my own soul thundering and raining down in so many pieces. And yet you were there in the beginning. You saw me drift of course, stumble and fall before I even knew I’d taken a misstep. So each time I remember that, at least once, someone noticed.

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