Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Epilogue: Three Months Later (We've Gone Full Circle)

Happy Birthday!

well hey there stranger.

today's the big day, isn't it?

it is. thanks for remembering.
I take it you got home safely?
It's been a while since you've been online.

Oh, yeah. Sorry. Been super, super busy.
Work stuff.

i know how that goes!



what happened that night?
or maybe I should ask what happened that week?

don't worry about it. what's done is done.

but what was done?

nothing. please don't worry about it.

don't worry about it?
you were the best part of that week

that wasn't hard to do

then what?

your dad had just died
you weren't here to see me. you were here for his funeral.
i was just a distraction

no, you weren't

if I was so special, why didn't you put up a fight?
you just walked off at the first obstacle
if you're so heartbroken, then why's it taken three months for you to contact me?

I thought "no" meant "no?"


How am I supposed to know the difference?

it seems to me that if you really want something, you're not going to let a two letter word get in the way.

Holy hell.
Can I forward this to all the convicted rapists in the world and let them know that not only do you forgive them but you understand and support their position?

Please do because that's exactly what I'm talking about.
Look. I'm fine with the way things are.

I just want to know what happened. One minute you were hot and heavy, the next you're giving me the cold shoulder. You have no idea how depressing it is to be the guy who relates to a Katy Perry song.

I needed to know.

Know what?

I needed to know how into me you were.
I needed to know that you were kissing me because it was the only thing you could do to express how you felt about me.
I needed to know that when you held me it was because you never wanted to let me go.
I needed to know that you would fight for me.
But I get it. I really do. When I lost my dad I needed to know there was a reason for all this. But I'd settle for feeling good again.
If that's what you needed, then I'm glad I was able to help.
Honestly, I really didn't expect more than that. I mean, you are your father's son and your brother's brother.
I needed to know if what we were doing was just for now or if we actually were building something.

It had been two days.

We didn't have time. You had to get back home. So I had to demand an answer.

Don't apologize.

I feel bad.

I'm the dumb one for not realizing it was a test.

Don't look at it that way.
Who knows what the future may bring?

Maybe my brother'll die and we'll get to make out again!

don't say that!
but maybe. ;)

If I ever get the chance again, I'll fight for you.

I'll see it when I believe it.


I'll *believe* it when I *see* it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Kind of Week Has It Been

"What's next?"

The question hung in the air more awkwardly than Russell was expecting. He had thought it would be the perfect, smooth segue into confessions of love, lust, desire, and dreams. He had hoped Ainsley would turn to him with her big blue eyes and say something deep and throaty like, "you tell me."

Instead, silence.

Ainsley watched the sun slink behind the hills of Happy Valley, waving good-bye to the day in large swaths of pink and orange. There was a sad look in her eye that Russell didn't understand. He wanted to ask her about it, to find out where it came from and see if there was anything he could do to fix it, but instead he just leaned against the rail and watched the sunset with her. As the sun slipped from view, Ainsley cleared her throat.

"When's your flight?" she asked.

Russell shook his head. This isn't the conversation he wanted to have. But he answered her question. "Eleven," he said.

"Then that's what's next." Ainsley's voice was cold and matter-of-fact.

"It doesn't have to be what's next." Russell offered.

"But it is," she shot back. "We could stand here and talk and pretend like you're not flying back to California tomorrow but it won't change the fact that tomorrow morning, at eleven o'clock, you're flying back to California."

There was finality in her voice. Russell recognized it. She was shutting down all potential, denying any hope, and doing everything else she had to do to protect herself from the inevitable. He wanted to fight that. He wanted to keep hope alive. He wanted to kiss all her fears away but more than anything . . . he wanted to protect her. He wanted to know she was happy, even if that meant he could never see her happy. Ainsley was so amazing and Russell didn't want to do anything to change that.

So instead of prying, pleading, or making promises he knew he couldn't keep, he kissed her one last time. He kissed on the top of the head and walked away. He looked back only once, as he climbed into his car, to see if she was watching him go.

She wasn't. She couldn't. Even she had wanted to, she couldn't see through her tears. She listened to him start his car. She heard him slam his car door shut. Then she listened as he drove away. Only then would she allow herself to turn around.

Russell was gone and Ainsley was alone.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Russell The Eugoogoolizer

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a bird in the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good!

There wasn't a dry eye in the sanctuary as Penny Parker finished singing "For Good." Everyone knew of Jonathan Iles' unapologetic love for Broadway musicals. It was only fitting that one of his favorite students said good-bye to him with his favorite song from his favorite musical. What broke everyone's heart was Jessica's inability to hide the fact that she absolutely meant every single word she sang. She wasn't singing from her heart. She was singing with her entire being.

Russell sat behind her, marveling at her form and her voice. She might be Happy Valley's best kept secret. Then he turned his eyes out to the congregation. The church was packed -- literally standing room only. It was the most awe-inspiring and humbling thing Russell had ever seen. There was absolutely no question that his dad was loved.

Russell had never heard a single negative word about his father. He has his own opinion and experience, but anyone he ever met who knew his father would just rave about him. Russell suspected that if there was anyone out there who didn't like his father, they secretly deeply respected him.

Every eye was on Russell. The sanctuary had fallen awkwardly silent. Penny had left the stage and it was Russell's turn to stand behind the pulpit. But he wasn't moving. He was just sitting there. Someone cleared their throat and Russell snapped to attention. He lept to his feet and took his place.

Russell stood behind the big, oak pulpit and pulled his notes out of his Bible. He straightened them, touched them, flipped through them, and then looked out over the congregation. He made eye contact with Ainsley, who smiled encouragingly back at him. He gave her a weak smile and rubbed his clean-shaven chin as he prayed for the strength to do what must be done. Russell cleared his throat, looked over the room, and then folded his notes shut.

"I was . . . I was going to start with a joke about being asked to give my father's eugoogoly, but now that I stand here before you . . . a Zoolander reference just doesn't seem right. It, uh . . . Well . . . My dad was a good man. He knew each and every one of you by name. Those of you whose names he couldn't remember were given nicknames that he could. He loved his job and, honestly, he loved every one of you. Even the troublemakers. He wouldn't trade you for anything. Just knowing that he's . . . um . . . Just the idea that my dad's not going to be . . . here . . . anymore . . . makes Happy Valley just a little bit less happy. The idea of Happy Valley seems darker, gloomier and . . ."

Russell shook his head. There were no other words to say. The more he said, the less strength his words had. He forced himself to smile one last time.

"Here's to my dad. The greatest man I'll ever know."

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The Happy Valley Community Theatre Props and Costuming Department was much more impressive than Russell would have ever imagined. When Ainsley said that's where they were going, he pictured a closet stuffed with old and discarded Halloween costumes. Instead he found himself standing in an honest-to-goodness props and costuming department. There were aisles of costumes, neatly organized, categorized, and labeled. Above the racks of costumes were shelves of clearly-labeled prop boxes. It stunk of sweat and shattered dreams, but it was very impressive to look at.

On the far side of the room, music started and Ainsley came bounding down one of the aisles. She was so excited that she couldn't control herself. Her fists were balled up and swirling around her face.

"Where should we begin?"

Russell laughed. "What's the vision?"

"Famous Females." Ainsley said throwing her jazz hands up like fireworks. A little calmer, she amended, "from history or Hollywood."

"Okay," nodded Russell, looking around expansive room, daunted not only by the room's size, but how completely filled it was. "You have any ideas? To start us off with?"

"I'd love to do a Scarlett O'Hara. I was also thinking about Rosie the Riveter and Audrey Hepburn."

Russell unslung his camera and set it on a near-by chair. "Alright. You start down in 1861. I'll begin in 1961 and we'll meet in the middle."

"Ooh, start in 1983!" Ainsley pointed. "Somebody said there's an awesome Princess Leia in here somewhere."

"Yes ma'am!"

Russell and Ainsley parted ways, going to opposite ends of the same aisle. Hangers clinked as they began rummaging through the costumes. Ainsley would shoot Russell glances every now and again, but Russell never noticed. He was having trouble focusing. His brain was trying to be in six different places at once and since it couldn't physically do that, it ran around in circles inside his head, never staying still for more than a moment.

The funeral's tomorrow. What am I doing here if the funeral's tomorrow? I should be at home. I should be writing Dad's eulogy -- why would they ask me to give the eulogy? What am I supposed to say? What do they want from me? The only thing I know for absolute certain is that Dad would not like all of this attention. He would be so embarrassed . . .

Russell turned away from the Madonna monstrosity in his hand and gave Ainsley a sideways glance. He ran his eyes up and down her.

My goodness. Ainsley is gorgeous. She's always been gorgeous. But my goodness she's gorgeous. Those hips, those lips, those eyes! And that voice! Oh, I forgot how much I loved that Georgia accent. It's like a soft pur, it's like peach fuzz caught in the first rays of sunrise . . .

Ainsley squealed with excitement. "Found Scarlett!" She proudly displayed a big, flowing green dress that looked like it had been stolen off the set of Gone With The Wind. "It even has the crinoline!"

"Great!" He said with no clue what crinoline was, but with the sudden realization that this storage room smelled like his childhood. Specifically, it smelled like every single antique store his mother ever dragged him through. He wasn't bitter, though. It was because of his mother's voracious appetite for Americana that he was introduced to comic books. And if it wasn't for comic books, he'd never have been introduced to the glowing green awesomeness that is Green Lantern.

Then again, he had to admit, it's because of comic books I have to put up with Batman fans.

Then Russell found Princess Leia. She was tucked between a Footloose tuxedo and a slew of various-sized denim jackets. It wasn't the Princess Leia Russell had been hoping for. It wasn't the gold bikini. It was Hoth Leia. It was still very cool and dorktastic, but nothing beats gold bikini Leia.

"Found Leia!" Russell called.

Ainsley came running down with the aisle excitedly, dragging the Scarlett O'Hara dress behind her. "Yay!" Then she saw the outfit. "Oh. That Leia."

"That's just what I said."

"Oh well," she shrugged and snatched the costume away.

"What is this for?"

Ainsley shrugged, "Facebook?"

Belle and Sebastian's "Write About Love" started on the radio and Russell began to wonder how his brother was doing. He must not have been hiding his worry like he thought he was, because Ainsley tilted her head to the side and asked, "you okay?"

"Yeah, I . . ." Russell wanted to lie. He wanted to move away from the topic as quickly as he could, but instead he heard himself admit, "I was just thinking about Sean. This song made me think of him."

"Do all hipster love songs make you think about your brother or is it this one in particular?" Ainsley tried to make him smile.

"Any Belle and Sebastian," he explained, "Sean introduced me to them."

Ainsley tilted her head back, silently saying, "ah."

"I'm worried about him. We haven't talked in over a month. I mean, we're not super close anymore, not like when I still lived at home, but -- you know -- we still talk. But ever since . . . Dad . . . He's not answering his phone, he doesn't respond to my texts or my pokes or my Tweets or . . . anything. I just hope he's alright."

"I'm sure he is." Ainsley soothed, rubbing Russell's arm. "Sean's a lot of things: Stupid, irresponsible, unreliable, selfish, uh . . ."

"Charming, concerned, worried, funny . . . impulsive . . ."

"Impulsive." Ainsley agreed. "But not stupid."

"You just said he was stupid."

"Yeah, but not stupid-stupid. He's not going to . . . you know . . . do something."

If Ainsley meant what Russell thought she meant, he agreed with her.

"He's just, you know, ex-boyfriend stupid."

It was Russell's turn to go, "ah." Which he followed with a small laugh. "I've missed you."

"Missed me?" Ainsley laughed. "We've never hung out before. Only via Sean."

"Yeah, I know." Russell admitted. "But we've become friends since then. It might only be through Facebook and various instant messaging programs but . . . have you ever been homesick for a place you've never been to before?"

Ainsley thought about it for a moment and then nodded. "Ireland."

"I've been to Ireland." Russell bragged. "I've lived in Ireland."

"Yeah, and I still hate you for that." Ainsley shot back playfully. "But, yeah. I don't know what it is. I can't really explain it, but, yeah. Homesick is a good word for it."

"That's how I feel about you."

It was such blunt honesty that neither of them really knew how to react to this knowledge. Questions began swirling in Ainsley's mind and Russell started trying to figure out ways to explain himself.

"I feel like you're the friend I never had. I always liked you. I thought you were cool. I mean, you clearly have horrible taste in men, but I was thankful for that because if you hadn't been dating my brother, then I never would have met you. And I enjoyed hanging out with you -- with him. And I love the photo shoot we did. It's some of my best work because you made it so easy -- which is kind of frustrating because sometimes I look at those pictures and I think anyone could have taken them. They're beautiful because they're of you. Then I left Happy Valley for stupid California and that's when we become friends -- which I'm thankful for, don't get me wrong. I'll take you however I can get you. But I wish you were out there with me."

"Or you were here with me?"

Russell smiled. He didn't notice if she had stepped closer to him or if he had stepped closer to her, but he did know they were much closer than they were when this conversation began.

"I don't want to leave. The funeral's tomorrow and I'm supposed to be wingin' it back west the next day. If I leave, then I only get to see your status updates. I don't want to leave. Not ever. Never-ever."

It felt like the right moment to kiss her. Russell wanted to kiss her. He wanted to feel the small of her back in one hand, cradle her head in the other, and plant a kiss on her lips that would rival The Princess Bride's kiss. But what would come of such a kiss? What could come of such a declaration of love? In two days' time, he would still have to leave her. Ainsley could feel it too and she was not surprised.

After a year of casual online flirting, she knew that if they were to ever meet in person again, a moment like this was bound to happen. The future of their relationship hinged on this moment. If they didn't kiss, then the flirting would stop. They would comment on each other's updates less and less. Then, one day, she would see pictures of him with some other girl and she would know that she missed her opportunity. She would undoubtedly spend the rest of her life wondering "what if?" But if they did kiss then . . . then what?

The palpable silence had gone on just a second too long. Ainsley opened her mouth to say something, to address the situation, but before she could say anything, Russell swooped in and mashed his lips against hers. The force of the kiss startled both of them and Russell jerks back reflexively.


"You don't ever apologize for first kisses." Ainsley smiled and tip-toed up for their second kiss.

Russell looked into her eyes and watched as she slowly closed them. He kissed her again. Softly this time. He just brushed her lips with his. He cradled her head with one hand and placed his other at the small of her back. He didn't know how Guinness (or William Goldman for that matter) would rate this kiss, but in Russell Iles' Book of Fantastic Kisses, it was Number One.

Leona Lewis moaned "Bleeding Love" as Russell pressed Ainsley against the Dickensian costumes. They buckled and swayed, and Ainsley gasped. But when the costumes supported their weight, they laughed and went right back at it.

"Mmm." Ainsley grunted dissatisfactorily as she ruffled Russell's beard with her fingertips. "Not a fan of this. If we're going to keep doing this, you're going to have to shave."

"What?" Russell cocked a questioning eyebrow. "Now?"

"No," Ainsley conceded. "But soon. If we're going to keep snogging."

"Oh, I love it that you use the word snog."

And for fifteen minutes, as Russell and Ainsley made out in the Happy Valley Community Theatre Props and Costuming Department, everything in the world seemed right. Everything seemed to happen for a reason. Everything was going to be alright.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Quiet Drive

Russell slept the entire way back from the airport. He hadn't meant to, nor was that ever the plan. It was as if the gravitational pull inside Ainsley's car was somehow stronger than the pull outside her car. As soon as sat down in the passenger seat, as soon as he buckled his seatbelt, he couldn't keep his eyes open. His neck went limp and he had the hardest time keeping his head upright and his eyes open.

Ainsley, driving him away from the airport and towards his parents' house, looked over at him and smiled. She had hoped to talk to him. She wanted to know how he was feeling and if there was anything she could to do to help. She had wanted to gossip about his younger brother Sean and the marriage he very nearly wrecked. She wanted him to know how much she's appreciated their friendship and how much she wished he lived on this side of the United States.

Russell had wanted to tell Ainsley about his mid-flight adventure, about the Venusian plot and how he and Corbin had foiled it. He had wanted to ask her -- if it was alright with her -- what had been the most meaningful thing said at her father's funeral. He was going to be delivering the eulogy at his father's in a few short days and had no idea what to say. He wanted to hear her voice but most of all, he wanted to make her laugh. Of all the things he remembered most about Ainsley, it had been her laugh. He had once ranked it as the All-Time Best Laugh Ever and he wanted to see if the rank still held up. But instead he slept.

On the radio, DHT was telling Ainsley to "Listen To Your Heart." Ainsley reached over, turned the music down, and then reclined Russell's seat. He smiled, murmured something, and kept sleeping. Ainsley kept driving, humming softly to the music.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Déjà vu

Déjà vu was a feeling Sean had never had before – but he recognized it instantly. He had seen enough movies and had heard enough friends describe it that as soon as the sensation swept over him, he heard himself say, “whoa, déjà vu.”

Of course he knew he had never lived this moment before. He was doing number thirty-seven on the list of things he swore he would never do: Attend alumni weekend. It had only been six years since he escaped high school. He had absolutely no business attending alumni weekend. Yet here he was.

It was exactly what he thought it was going to be: Insincere smiles followed by insincere hugs and people pretending to be interested in the answer to the question, “so what have you been up to?”

Yet here he was: Sitting in an over-crowded, hot and humid indoor pool – not in the pool, mind you. That would have been much more comfortable. No, he was sitting on the top row of a set of bleachers overlooking the pool, waiting for one of many races to begin. It was an evening of “alumni versus current students,” the sort of event that no matter how poorly someone did, they still walked away a winner. It was for prosperity, it was for meager bragging rights, it was to assuage the aging egos of men and women who graduated twenty years ago. Sean counted it as a grave life failure on his part that he didn’t have anything better to do on a Saturday night than watch winners lose and losers win.

I had this dream. Sean suddenly realized. The night the air conditioner crapped out.

Sean wished he was dreaming now. The dream had begun with him fumbling with a pack of cigarettes, having “decided to take up smoking,” and it with him making out with Hailey Tucker – well, not quite. The dream had ended with him and her in an abandoned class room. His lips had just barely touched hers when he had inexplicably woken up. Try as he might, he had not been able to return to that dream.

“In Lane Number One,” said a plump little man Sean recognized as the new principal of the high school, “swimming for the students, is Craig Wilkins!”

Polite applause. One of Craig’s friends sounds an air horn.

“In Lane Number Two,” said the plump little principal, “swimming for the alumni, is Hailey Tucker!”

Sean sat up. No way. But there she was, waving politely to the polite applause and smiling that radiant smile that Sean had fallen in love with their senior year. She looked different than she had in his dream. In his dream, she had still been a high school senior. Here, now, she was six years older. She was older, leaner. She looked good.

Knowing there was no way this night was going to end the same way his dream had promised to end, Sean climbed down the bleachers and exited the gym. The night was balmy, but cool in comparison to the greenhouse where the pool was located. Having made his daring escape, Sean was confronted by the grim reality that he still had no plans for the evening. Happy Valley had a lot of things – “options” was not one of them.

The gym exploded with excitement and Sean knew the race had begun. He momentarily thought about going back inside – but for what purpose? To watch his past race his future? To listen to his future tell his past condescending jokes? No. Thank-you. The nothing outside was better than the something inside.

A door opened and out bounded Hailey Tucker. Sean froze. Hailey looked up at him with her big blue eyes. She smiled at him as she wrung her out her hair. Her hair wasn’t as curly as Sean remembered it. It was just as blond, though.

“Sean Iles, is that you?” her voice was uniquely strong and soft at the same time. It was the kind of voice that never prepared you for what was coming next. In the next breath she could just as easily joke with you, mock you, compliment you, scold you, or dismiss you.

Sean smiled back at her. “It is,” is all he could think to say.

She shook her feet like a cat, sending raindrops everywhere. “What are you doing out here?”

Sean shook his head, wishing he had an answer. “Waiting for you?”

Hailey stopped as she tried to decipher what Sean had meant. Realizing she had no idea, she laughed.

“And what are you doing out here?” Sean countered. His heart skipped a beat as he remembered asking the same question three nights ago.

“Having a victory smoke.” Hailey said, reaching into a purse Sean had not noticed. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Sean.

Sean shook his head, stopped, reconsidered, and then nodded. “I’ve been thinking about taking up smoking, actually.”

“Oh yeah?” Hailey plucked a cigarette out of the pack with her lips. “You really shouldn’t,” she said as she lit her cigarette and then passed the lighter to Sean. “They’re awful for you.”

“Oh yeah?” Sean said, trying to remember how Brad Pitt lit his cigarette in Fight Club. “What about you? Miss Olympic Swimmer?”

“That’s Misses Olympic Swimmer, and I’ve been smoking since eighth grade.”

“Misses?” Sean repeated.

Hailey held up her left hand and thumbed her ring finger. There was no ring there. Realizing this, Hailey shrugged, “well I don’t want to lose it in the pool.”

Sean’s head was buzzing. He was light-headed and his heart was racing. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“John Moore.”

“So you’re Hailey Moore now.”

“Did you know John?”

Sean shook his head.

“He graduated a couple years before us.”

Sean shook his head again. “I think I’ve heard the name, though.”

“What about you?” Hailey nodded. “What have you been up to?”

She crossed one arm over her waist and propped her other arm on it. She tucked one of her feet behind the other and stood there, more or less balancing on one foot as she smoked. Standing there, still dripping and only wearing her blue Olympic one-piece, Sean wondered if she was cold. She was gorgeous, he knew that. But he wondered if she was cold.

Sean coughed. “Nothing.”

“Must be nice.” Hailey said to the stars as she flicked ash away.

“Meh,” Sean shrugged. “Took a year of generals and realized ‘I have no idea what I want to do or who I want to be. So why waste thousands of dollars trying to figure it out? Once I have some answers, I’ll go back – if I need to.”

“Shit!” Hailey jumped. “What time is it?”

Sean pulled out his cell phone. “Nine-thirty.”

“Shit!” Hailey flicked her cigarette. “I’m supposed to meet Chris. You wanna come?”


“To meet Chris.”


“Just in the gym. C’mon.” Hailey grabbed Sean’s hand, causing his heart to skip another beat. He flicked his cigarette away and let himself be led back up the stairs, through the indoor pool, and to the rest room door. Hailey pointed to the men’s door as she nodded towards the women’s. “I’ll meet you on the other side.”

The other side of the restrooms dumped you into the gymnasium. Sean was a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by gymnasts tumbling this way and that. He never felt right inside a gym. He always felt awkward, obvious, and overly aware of all his body’s movement. He imagined the jocks and other trained athletes could spot him from across the gym by just the way he walked. He could hear them laughing at him.

Hailey was already there, standing in the middle of one of the tumbling mats, talking to a six feet of muscle named Chris. Chris, Sean knew.

Chris had been the captain of the basketball team and had been the school’s star gymnast. Cirque Du Soleil” everyone had said until graduation weekend, when Chris thought he’d do one last slam dunk while everyone was setting up in the gym. He slipped, dislocated his shoulder, and broke his forearm in two places. Now he only has seventy-five percent mobility in his right arm and changes old ladies’ oil at Express Oil not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Sean wondered what Chris was doing with the gymnasts. Perhaps reliving former glories. Sean didn’t care. He just wanted Hailey’s attention back. But she was moving around the gym now, smiling, laughing, and hugging people. With every hug, Sean felt a little more forgotten. He saw the fun she was having and was about to turn to go when Hailey bounced over to him.

“Don’t you love gym mats?” She bounced in place. “They’re squishy.”

“Well,” said Sean, “it was nice seeing you again . . .”

Hailey stopped bouncing. “Are you leaving?”

Sean shrugged, looking over Hailey’s shoulder to the gymnasts.

“Oh,” Hailey understood, “I just needed to say ‘hi,’ we can go now.”

“Go where?”

Hailey seemed to think about it for a moment. Then, summoning up her courage, she took Sean by the hand and led him out of the gym. Sean didn’t ask any questions. There was something strange in the air. Something about Hailey had changed. He didn’t dare even think the word, for fear that if he assigned an adjective to it, it would break the spell.

Sean remembered this hall. It connected classrooms and at the end of it was the coach’s office. He was used to seeing it bathed in fluorescent light. Tonight the only light came from three windows and the moon that shone through them.

“Do you remember the Warm Fuzzy Board?” Hailey asked, walking through a splash of moonlight. Sean stared at the blue X on Hailey’s back and the skin that poked through it. The moon highlighted teeny-tiny hairs on her back.

“Uh,” Sean swallowed saliva to wet his tongue. “Yeah.”

“You sent me a note once,” she said, checking a door and finding it locked. “It said, ‘your smile could melt an iceberg.’”

The voice inside Sean’s head groaned. He remembered writing that and he remembered how amazing it had sounded in his head when he had written it. He had wanted to flirt with her in a non-committal sort of way. If she had taken it in a bad way, he could have shrugged it off as a compliment meant solely to brighten her day.

“Do you remember writing that?”

Another splash of moonlight found Sean staring at Hailey’s legs. She had strong swimmer’s legs. They were toned and smooth, like a marble goddess’. A few stubborn drops of water still clung to them and Sean could not fault those drops of water.

“Yeah,” Sean had to admit.

Hailey twisted a doorknob and the door it belonged to swung away from her. Even in the darkness, Sean could tell Hailey was smiling. She led him into the empty classroom and Sean knew he was dreaming. He head the door click shut behind him and he turned around to see Hailey slowly walking towards him, an elfish smile across her lips.

“That’s not why we’re here. Well, sorta. I mean, that little note . . . I had hoped it was going to be the first of many instead of . . . well, the only. Instead, I never got another note from you. You wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.”

This was a dream. Sean knew it. He was going to wake up now.

“Why?” Hailey whispered. She was standing so close to Sean he could feel her warmth.

Knowing he was going to wake up now, Sean admitted, “because I liked you way too much.”

Somehow, she stepped closer. Sean prepared himself to wake up from what was going to become the most aggravating reoccurring dream of his life. Hailey’s small, soft hand touched Sean’s cheek and he didn’t wake up. He felt himself wrap his arm around her waist and pull her in tight. Her wet swimsuit began soaking through Sean’s t-shirt.

Sean didn’t wake up and so he stopped caring. He smiled and she smiled. He pinched her lips with his. He could taste her. He could smell her. He could feel her heartbeat in his own chest. One hand was on the small of her back and the other was caressing her cheek.

He knew she was married. But they were alone and she wanted him.

And he wasn’t dreaming.