Numbers embrace her like a lover. Down her legs. Across her arms. She lets them fly across the sky with a million specks of space dust. One, two, three...

What happens when you reach 1,000? She reaches that destination but she doesn't understand it. Never truly understood why she'd counted to begin with. The array of digits always made sense even though the formulas could be confusing. The number of stars in the sky was usually consistent. Three on bad nights. Thirty two on good nights.

More than she could stand when they calculated them, together.

The grass blades (945,067 in that particular patch) tickled her even from underneath her clothes, long, curly brown hair framing her face in an array of brown. She tried to count the strands once. She lost count and sank to her knees, crying. He found her there in the middle of the floor and told her that they would always be there, and she could try again another day. She smiled? Not quite; but she couldn't help but laugh when he told her that she'd shed a hundred tears too many -

then corrected him by saying: "147, actually..."

He wove his (five) fingers into her own, listening to the crickets sing beyond the courtyard walls, turning his head every now and then to burn a smile into her memory. "Do you love me?"

"How many times do I have to tell you until you believe me?"

"At least 1,000...."

"Fine. I love you." (856)

"I love you, too." (856)

Then she watched the words float into the sky and into the stars she couldn't seem to take in that evening. There must have been a million.


The coffee shop is humming with the voices of (twenty five) customers, bustling in and out of the establishment like bees in a hive, delivering nectar, filling a polygon, and flying off for more. The whipped cream swirls into the beverage like a volcano spilling over it's plastic foundation. When she smiles at his entrance, it's not because he's polished up in his army gear to see her off, but because he forgot to straighten his collar in his hurry.

It wouldn't be the first time he'd done that.

He places a kiss on her lips from over the counter, straightening his collar and loving how her green apron brought out her eyes, Star bucks regulation or not. She loved it because it made her feel like she was part of Americana, a piece of a system. Systems were based on numbers. She loved those. They were important.

"How do I look?"

She squinted her eyes and smiled. "You look ready."

"I'll be back in two weeks."

"Fourteen days."

He leaned on the counter, arms folded, eyes glinting with mischievous fire. "20, 160 minutes."

The number made her smile with the enthusiasm of the Cheshire Cat gone quite mad. Parting her lips slightly, the odor of cappuccinos clinging to her outfit, she declared: "282, 240 seconds." with the pride she only showed when she knew, for a fact, that she'd beat him once again. He pulled away from the counter the instant she said that. Sweet Jesus. Look at that grin widen. You could fit a tugboat in there.

"I surrender."

"You'd better. Want some coffee?"

"Yeah. Regular."

"Tall, grande, or venti. The tall is 12 ounces, if you want that..."

"Jesus Christ, woman. Just give me the damn coffee!"

Her eyes rolled backwards as her smile remained, teasing, testing, and somehow immortal as the machine hissed it's contents into the cup. "Spoil sport."

She handed him the container and he gave her a kiss goodbye, probably the last one for.... a while. The minutes could be easily calculated. She had a lot of those, it seemed. Even more when he was gone.

"Don't forget about me while you're off." She cautioned him. Not a request, but a command.

"You? Please. Where am I going to find another girl like you?"

"Well...." damn that grin, it appeared again, and she began to tick the possibilities off her fingers, as if she had that many, eyes cast to the ceiling. "There are 192 countries in the world. Now, I'm sure that there are quite a few lonely girls in at least one of them..."

He folded his hand over hers, pressing her digits down, forcing her retreat. "Ah, but I'm only going to one of those countries. Not all 192 of them."

"But I..."

"Shh." he placed a finger to her lips to silence her, then another kiss to replace his flesh. "I love you." (900)

"I love you, too." (900)

"I'll be back in two weeks."

She laughed, watching him flood out the door in his freshly pressed army uniform. "You said that already."


Two weeks pass and she receives the following phone call:

"Hello?"

"What? Dear God! Hello! I've been worried sick about you."

His voice is a wreck of disappointment that he wasn't looking forward to regretting. Shocking, right? "Listen, hun... I won't be back tonight."

"Tomorrow?"

"No."

"The next day?" She calculates the minutes again. Such precision. It's a good thing. It's important.

"I'm sorry."

"When?" her voice rattles now, shaking like a million glass beads clattering across a tile floor, irrigated yet still systematic.

"... A month, if things go over well."

She falls silent. The world deafens. The hours are weapons of mass destruction. "Tomorrow's my birthday."

"I know, baby. I'm sorry. Have a good time, and I promise we'll celebrate as soon as I get back. I'll buy you an abacus or something You only have one twenty third birthday."

"Oh, shut it." The laughter in her voice betrays it's meaning. He laughs too as he continues...

"I love you." (999)

"Yeah. I love you, too." (999)

Click.


How many roadside bombs went off?

It could have been one hundred for all she knew.

It didn't change the memorial service as she laid a bouquet of flowers (she didn't count how many) on his grave, the sun burning holes into her black dress, eyes weary from the drainage of an ocean (another approximation) down her arms, across her legs, through the cracks of her bedroom floor. 'I'm sorry for your loss' only goes so far. It won't bring him back. She knows because she heard it so many times. How many? No one knows.... how many times it was said is not important.

She can't even smile as she murmurs her religious reply in response to the engraving, the grayness of the letters filling her eyes with a more than strewn sentiment.

I love you. (1,000) Believe it.


A/N: This story was written in honor of a good friend of my younger sister's, Jason Marshall. Happy Birthday, man. This one's for you.