The bustling Super K-Mart shimmered with stereotypical customers, milling through the aisles like mice in a maze. In that case, I must have been the piece of cheese they were scuttling for – the cashier. It was only through me that they could leave the store with their items, legally at least. I considered myself vitally important, perhaps even in a position of power. I had the will to say, "No, you cannot buy that!", and they would have no choice but to obey. Of course, I would surely be fired for committing such an action, which is probably why I've never done it.

"Excuse me, young lady!" An angry alpha mouse perched at my register, a basket load of purchases hastily scattered over the entire span of the belt.

"I'm sorry m'am, I zoned out there for a moment." My forged apology did nothing, however, because the woman just sighed and glared out from under her shaggy brown hairdo with disapproval. Inside I rolled my eyes, but outside, I relentlessly picked up her first item and rolled it across the scanner. Practically within an instant, her eyes leaped to the screen, monitoring the exact price of each item. Sigh. She was a price stalker. One of those people who would get you fired for overcharging them five cents. A bargain vulture.

"That was supposed to be 10 off!" Her outraged cries exploded in my face, and I shivered with exasperation. Sometimes this job was too much. Sometimes, this life was even too much. Looking at the screen, I could see the price of the item was $2.00. Honestly, who cares about 10? I'd give her the 20 cents out of my own pocket just to shut her up! There were things more important than money in this world – like, for example, life.

Five minutes and 10 phone calls later, I received my next customer. A full-head-of-hair-thirty-something man in a casual business outfit trudged down the aisle, cell phone clasped to one ear, and a loaf of white bread clutched under his arm. He held a look of resolve in his hassled face, as if totally disregarding my presence.

"How are you today?" His voice challenged my reasoning, and almost made me feel sorry for judging him so prematurely. It felt good to have someone actually acknowledge me in this frantic and materialistic world. This world, to which, sometimes I felt I did not belong. I found myself to make an easy reply.

"Good! Thanks, and how are you?" I put on a fake smile, and a look of curiosity fled into his full and shapely lips. Damn it. He had been talking to whoever was on the phone, not me! Disgustedly, I dropped my grin and let my eyes litter to the belt. People like that deserved a death – painful and slow, probably involving hydrochloric acid. Why did they always need to start talking on the cell phone just as they reached the checkout? Was there some sort of "no charge deal" that phone companies applied if you made calls from a register? Couldn't they ever just concede recognition to me? It made me feel so isolated and alone. Sigh.

I rang up the bread and not so casually tossed it in a bag. The man could have cared less, however; he was in mid-cycle with a seemingly invisible colleague.

"Your total is $5.67," I muttered, wondering why it was so expensive for just a loaf of bread. Of course, the man didn't care; he just slid his credit card and turned his back to me. The total could have been $356.70, and I'm sure he still wouldn't have noticed. That's how it is with those business-type people – although I'm sure they make so much money it doesn't even matter what they spend.

The machine spurred out his receipt, and he grabbed it hurriedly out of my outstretched hands. Then, in one swift motion, he lifted the bag from the stall and was ten feet away from my register, all while still talking on the phone. What a fool! Someday he'd realize that hurrying around everywhere only took you in circles. In fact, I hoped that he'd had one of those mid-life crises and realize that his entire life had been a waste spent tediously through the plagues of the workplace.

My next customer was a little less extreme than the last two. In fact, she was the complete opposite. She looked old, ancient even, but she couldn't have been more than 40. It was as if time had stolen her years before their due, like a bank robber pilfers the savings of hundreds of innocent individuals. Her pallid skin fell limp on her face, abstracted with the tedious lining of wrinkle upon wrinkle. Her lips sagged dimly, chapped and hollow and cold. Her hair had transformed into that salt and pepper look, streaming with streaks of translucent silver. It was only her oddly shaded fuchsia and hazel eyes that gave any hint of recognition of youth – for they seemed to glow with a vibrant purity. She depressed me even more than the previous two customers combined.

"Hello, dear," Her ragged face lit up with joy, and I couldn't help but smile in a gentle way.

"Hi there. How are you today?" For once, I wasn't trying to be fake, it came naturally. That usually happened whenever people were nice to me, which wasn't very often.

"Oh, not so bad." Her face kind of shuttered at this point, and I realized that she was masking the truth. Not that it was any of my business in the first place, but I almost felt the need to know what was wrong in her life. I felt obligated in a way to assist.

I rang up all of her items with a decent pace, not as slow as at the end of my shift, but not as fast as at the beginning either. When I was done, I hit the total button, and announced to her sad face that it was $32.50.

"Ok," she mumbled, and a look of concern crossed her face. She reached into her purse and pulled out a food stamps card, which was wrinkled and creased with age.

Of course. She was one of those underprivileged people that I always felt bad about categorizing. It always seemed like they just had enough in their account to pay for their purchases. Secretly, I'd like to help them out, but outwardly, I never showed such emotion.

Luckily, she slid her card, and the transaction went through. As I handed her a few of her bags, I couldn't help but notice the tattered state of her clothing. Gosh, these kinds of people depressed me. I took pity on their souls. And I took pity on my own soul for doing nothing to aid them.

As she walked out of sight, the discontent for life I had been perilously holding back forced its way upon the surface of my brain, ready again to feed upon my weary heart. I once again felt the cold and hard depression that had seized me in its grasp the last few months. The odd, out-of-place, sensation overtook me, as if I was not supposed to be here. The problem was, I didn't know where I was supposed to be. Nowhere, not even my own home, gave me a sentiment of completion. I was lost, lost in a material world of earthworms cut in half – still scuttling around and multiplying carelessly. I was the lone earthworm, the one that hadn't been cut in half, the one that remained a complete whole in a globe of butchering. Sigh. At least I didn't have to really eat dirt.

"Excuse me." The voice came from behind me, and was not like that of the lady I had served a mere 20 minutes ago. Not at all. It was colder, harsher, more focused on a stronger intent. I turned to face the source of the disturbance, puzzled, yet somewhat intrigued. What I came to face was not at all what I expected.

A shockingly handsome man in his 20's glared back at me. He sprouted a medium brown rag of hair that hung shyly around his fairly chiseled face. His eyes radiated a stunning combination of maroon and lilac and chestnut all at the same time, as if they had been painted by an artist with no sense of color. They seemed to stare right through me, as if parting through my skin and bone to reach into the depths of my concealed essence. Slowly, I littered down the rest of his face, letting myself absorb it's unusual texture. His nose parted in the midline of his features, perfectly molded into a slightly curved bulb. It led elegantly down into the contour of his shapely lips, which fell full and smooth from the center of his mouth.

I tried forcing myself into automatic customer greeting mode, but I could not budge. Something about him made me freeze, made me quiver with anticipation. Something about him was different. He seemed to glow, to pulsate, to palpitate with a tainted aura that lurked with… with intoxication. He was unlike anyone I'd ever seen before. Or perhaps… what was even more odd… it was as if I knew him. Knew him better than I knew myself. Yet I could not place him.

"Good day. I was wondering whether you would be willing to take into your care the purchasing of my item." His eloquence was astounding. No one talked like that. No one… Yet…

I snapped myself from my thoughts, and ordered myself to take charge. I still had a job to do, after all.

"Of course, sir," I muttered, still not entirely sure of myself.

"Thank you, my darling. I just have the one purchase, right there." He indicated a small, metallic cube, lying right next to the scanner. Curiously, I let my fingers drop over the silver device and slid it above the scanner. There was no familiar "BEEP!", so I lifted the object into the air in order to search for the bar code.

Usually, I don't really analyze what a customer is buying, but right now I had no choice. The object I was holding in my hand was something I had never before seen. It was solid and heavy, unnaturally heavy for its compact size. It sparkled with a radiance unknown by the brightest diamond, filling my eyes with an aberrant light. And better yet, its surface was smooth. Smooth as ice. Only smoother. Sleeker. Softer.

"I'm sorry sir… I… I don't think this is a K-Mart product? Where exactly did you find this…?" My voice wavered off at the end, unsure of where I was really heading. He just pinched his cheek muscles into a childish grin, one that nearly caused my heart to skip a beat, and I couldn't help but shiver.

"Yes, I'm quite certain it is, my darling. Just peer closer." His voice was so sweet, so sincere, and I could not help but obey. I examined closer into the swirling silver abyss, which seemed to leap out at me in chromatic fury. In fact… no. But… yes! Yes, it was! It was leaping out at me! Moonlight and winter love flowed into my optical nerves, stimulating my brain to the point of explosion. My heart quickly fluttered, and I could no loner push my lungs to breathe. Time and reality lost all meaning, and I abandoned consciousness.

I awoke with a faint pulsating in my ear. Not a loud or cruel beat, but a gentle tremor that rang quietly. It took me only a few seconds to realize that it was the thudding of my own heart, raw against my chest. With this realization came the larger one of the moments previous events. Man. Hot. Silver. Cube. Gone…

As if reveling under the weight of a 50 pound barbell, my eyelids were slow to open. They seemed to creek with anticipation, and watered slightly as a dim light assailed my ravished pupils. The images that crept into my mind were somewhat surprising.

Since I was laying on my back, the first thing that caught my vision was the ceiling. It seemed to hang low, and was composed of what appeared to be slate gray stone. It was creased with several open sores, creating a rough and exposed texture as well as several faint cracks in its surface.

"That can't be good," I muttered to myself, trying to break the silence that delivered to me the sentiment of deafness and also proved wary of my sanity.

"No. It can't." The unknown voice chilled me, literally sending spurts of liquid ice through my spinal canal. Until that point, I had not really been aware of the situation I was in. I had just been imagining I was in an exotic place, but had not calculated the danger that could result from it. Because of that, I now felt the adrenaline kick into my system, alerting each and every cell in my body to stay wakeful.

Cautiously, I sat up from my flat position, ready to run, to flee, to defend at any moment. I was a strong person, and when the time came for it, I would kill to save my life.

However, as a new world of images crossed my eyes, I was once again distracted by bafflement. For, there, nearly 10 feet from me, stood… the bargain vulture?

Indeed it was. The same woman I had checked out God knows how long ago was standing there, right in front of me, sporting the same ridiculous mom jeans and loose flowered blouse as before. Before my mind could even grasp the imperativeness of the situation, it changed. Just like that. And suddenly, before me now was… rushing business guy?

But it was. And it made no sense. But it was him, and there he was, conversing on the phone just as before, his mind completely separated from where his body rested. Then he too departed, just as quickly as he had dissolved. In his place came, of course, food stamps lady.

By now I was more than a little creeped out. In fact, I was petrified. Frozen like an ice sculpture to my seat on the cold stone floor. I was just not used to disappearing to the middle of some cave, then seeing random people pop out before my eyes. But before I could even again begin to calculate what any of this meant, a last and final shift occurred.

The man now stood in front of me, powerful and erect and robust. He seemed to fill the small space with his energy, contaminating each and every atom in the room with his presence. And then it hit me – hit me like a head on crash into a telephone pole. The man… was a combination of the last three.

I could see it now, could see all the similarities I had failed to grasp before. He wore the same tangled mess of brown hair as the picky lady. He sported the same inflated lips as the rushing man. He sparkled with the same inimitable eyes as the poor woman. He was a complete carbon copy of the three put together. And I was seeing it for the first time just now.

"Greetings to you, my newly excavated friend. Welcome to your new home. I hope it has received you grandly." Received me grandly? What the heck was he talking about? If not for the complete eeriness and instability of the situation, I'm pretty sure I would have blurted out a firing of questions. But his gaze held me, and I could not bring myself to even blink.

"You seem… out of place. Unlike your usual exuberant self. Is there anything you would like to question me about?" Sophistication, strong and true, filtered through his words, and it gave me the courage to pursue his offer.

"Yyess…" My voice was weak and thin, a quality I was not familiar with. I swallowed and tried again. "Yes. I… Where am I? Who are you? And why am I here?" Those were the main puzzles entering my mind, and the only ones I was strong enough to utter out loud. The man smirked, beautifully, perfectly, morbidly, and I felt a twinge of regret for ever feeling attracted to him. A sinking anchor plunged into my stomach, and I realized that perhaps I did not want to know the answers to my questions.

"Yes. I assumed naturally those would be the main enigmas that you would express. Let me explain, for a proper introduction is in order. My name is Nathaniel Broudsworth. I was born in 1478, in a small village near the outskirts of England. Ever since my childhood, I was known to be 'different'. It was obvious I did not follow the same guidelines as the rest of this earthly realm. I could change appearance. Take on the form of another at random, completely mask my complexion. I was a shape shifter. With such great power, I soon came to realize that I did not thrive in my homeland. It was just not the proper place for such an elevated being. So, in all optimism, I transferred my life here – to the undiscovered and isolated continent of North America. I could not survive in any established society – so I would live as an outcast in my own contentment. But all did not go as planned. I felt the cravings for human contact. I was lonely. Alone. Depressed. So I began a search. The ultimate investigation. The hunt in cold blood for a spouse. For it was love I desired, love I required to endure. And so I have been searching in vain for 300 years. It has been an unending pursuit that has left me in only doubt and madness. That is… until now…"

He paused he, echoing off as if leaving me to ponder his analysis. But I could not think, could not ponder. None of it was real, none of it could be. It just…

"So you see…" He continued on, ready to state the obvious. "It is you. My search at last is complete. For… I have found in you something which I have never before perceived. You glow with a light that is unheard of in this human abyss. It's as if… you're an angel. Sent from some heaven that I am just now beginning to find and believe in. You don't belong in that world. You are too precious, too exuberant, too vindicated. You belong to me. In my arms, for as long as this world will last. I can protect you from their touch, from their acidic hold on your freedom. I can, and I will. For I love you."

Blood boiled in my temples. I could not fathom, could not comprehend, could not even seize any of what had just occurred. All I could focus on was his massaging voice, his inviting eyes. Everything else blurred and shimmered away, and I was carried again to the chant that was his soliloquy.

"Although it may not seem like I know you, I do. I have been watching you for a very long time. And I love everything about you. I love your sarcastic humor, your dashing wit. It surfaces a feeling inside I have not endured for many years – happiness. Laughter. Do you know how good it is to laugh after centuries of holding a stern frown? I love your understanding of the world. You have a gift, you know this? You are aged far beyond your years in wisdom, yet still carry your gift of innocence. I love your gentle sympathy. The pity and compassion is there, but not overwhelming. Just enough for you yourself to know, and to assist as you will. I love your resolve. I love your strength. I love your creamy flesh, your auburn hair, your pallid cyan and olive eyes. I… love… you."

His confession was complete. He paused here, as if allowing me to absorb this exuding knowledge.

Moments passed, moments in which the empty stone cavern hung with silence. Life seemed put on hold, and a bath of desperation clogged the air. Finally, it could stay no longer, and he uttered a plea.

"I… I… just need to know. How you feel about all of this. What… do you have to say?" It took me a full minute to comprehend the meaning of this statement. He had just handed me the baton. He needed a reply. An answer.

I let my eyes fall shut loosely, and swallowed hard. His speech had affected me, that was sure. I was suffering an emotion I had never before experienced. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was not sadness, nor hate, not happiness, or even pity. It was something… something new, something fresh, something I had never before known. Nameless. But I could not let it stray me from the words I had to say.

"I… I'm not exactly sure what to say," I paused. These next words were already causing a stinging in my chest, for I knew how much it would hurt him. "I mean… I… can't… I don't… love you. I don't even know you! I'm sorry." As I had expected, his gaze, which had until then been eyeing me ever so gently, fell to the hard cavern floor. We held this remorseful pose for several minutes, until his carriage rose and he spoke again.

"No. No. Can't you see? Of course you know me. You know me better than I do! For I am everyone you have ever known! I can be anyone you choose. I am that which you think I am. Your customers, the ones that shop at your store. I am them. I am the part of them which you crave. Yes, you know there is something about them that keeps you working there. I am that side of them."

He… he was right. At least… about the Kmart customers. There was a side to them that they didn't show, a side of them that was the reason I still obtained my job. This side was what kept me there. It was the side I wanted to break through to, the side I yearned so desperately to help – even if just to make their moment a happier one. For it was trapped inside, trapped deep inside the empty hull of a human being. It… it was their souls. I wanted to salvage their souls. And… he was them. He was their souls. A metaphor for virtue. All soul. Pure, untouched by the blemishing hands of human nature. He was that which I had searched for unknowingly.

"Can you begin to see? Can you begin to feel the connection between us? My love, my darling, savor the aroma of the air!" He was right. Right beyond the rightness of right. There was a connection between us, one that was forged through the grounds of essence. We were two people, he outcast and degraded from this world; and I, out of place and depressed by my surroundings. And we were meant for each other. Suddenly I could put a name to the feeling that had over swept me earlier. It was, plain and simply, love. A love that was deeper than any passion or lust I had before endured. It was… true. True love. A once in a lifetime affair.

"You're right." My love gave me confidence, confidence and strength and vigor. "You're right beyond doubt. I can see that now. I can see so much clearer now. Everything fits. We are meant for each other, you and I. And… and…" I paused here, not for doubt or uncertainness, but for effect, for accuracy. "I love you."

The profundity of those three simple words I had just uttered rang true in the overt silence. I loved him. Even though we had just met… I felt as if I had known him a thousand years. He had opened something inside of me that I could feel and touch, but never held to key to. That something was my soul, peeping out through the corners of my worldly flesh, but always afraid to illustrate itself in true form. He had showed me my soul. And for that, love was the least I could give to him.

Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing. The only thing I could see was his eyes, clear and crisp and majestic in the clouded light. Everything else fell away, unimportant, discarded. All that mattered now was him.

A connection held us, a connection strong, a connection true. Light seemed to pulsate between our eyes, a binding force conjured in true passion. His soul… his heart… it was mine. All mine. Just as I had entrusted my own soul to him, he upheld the bargain. And I savored it. I savored every waking breath of his ancient essence.

"My love… Oh, how odd it is to hear those words sprouting from my own tongue. Yet it is so. My love. You." His voice was noble. Contented. Blissful.

And then he moved for the first time since I had proclaimed my love. It startled me; I had almost expected us to stand there forever as stone statues, stone gargoyles locked in an epic love story. His walk was graceful, cat-like, as if he were floating instead of using his legs to power each step. His upper torso barely seemed to twitch, suspended perfectly in the air as if he were standing still. This walk excited me even more, and I began to wonder if there was anything about him that wasn't perfect.

For the first time as well, I noticed his clothing. He dressed himself proper, that was sure, for he sported a pair of black dress slacks, a vertically striped blue and white button shirt, and a perfectly ironed black jacket that matched the pants. It was a newer style of dress, a casual look for young adults unwilling to go the whole way, but on him it somehow appeared timeless. Quite simply, it was stunning. Just like his face.

He stopped his brisk pace a few feet from where I was standing, and paused to gaze once more into my eyes. God, how beautiful were his eyes? It seemed every time I looked at them, they pulsated a different vibrant hue. Now they glittered midnight blue and frosted chestnut, two colors that ordinarily would not seem significant together but prospered with him. Kind of like him and I. He the blue and I the chestnut. Two different colors, from two different worlds, forming to make a new color, a new stream of light on the color wheel. Forming to make their own new world. Him and I. Blue and chestnut.

"Let me embrace you now. For we shall be one and the same from this time forth. Just let me touch your vibrant flesh, let me feel your vindicating warmth, let me brush my own lips against yours!"

Then he reached out his caressing hand to brush my bare arm.

It was as if an untainted stream of electricity pulsated through my human flesh. A shock, intensified by our love for each other. It was not painful; no, more a cause of pleasure than of pain. It was almost like turning on the water too hot in the shower; at first it scalds, but then in a moment it is an ecstasy. Liquid lightning spread from his fingertips, igniting me.

He pulled his hand away slowly, and the shock faded from my arm, numbness filling its place.

"That was intense…" My unfiltered words surprised me, for I had considered myself mute with shock. Apparently not. I was no longer afraid of his presence; instead, it seemed to warm me, to invite me. He opened me up to a world which I had previously thought not worthy of breathing in.

"Indeed." His grin filled my eyes, and I could not help but reflect it with my own smile. Two lovers, smiling together in near darkness, wittingly gleeful at every small thing they could discover about each other. It was a powerful moment. Powerful in my mind, and powerful for the sake of humanity. True love did not exist in the world anymore, and we were a cause to salvage it.

Cautiously, yet with the utmost power, he reached his hand out again, this time not to my arm, but to my own hand. His fingers paused for a moment, outstretched and long and flexible, waiting to see if I would accept their offer. I did, of course, graciously, and yielded my hand to his.

The sting was not as apparent this time; in fact, it was a simple and subdued flame in our palms. I looked down to observe the joining of our two extremities, and noticed that it somehow looked right. His hand seemed to be exactly the right size for mine. Slightly larger fingers perfectly curved around the crescent of my palm. It all seemed right. A piece of the puzzle complete. Perfectly matched and perfectly molded.

When I looked back up from the picturesque scene, his face was mere inches form mine. It caused my breath to halt in my throat, quiver, then collapse back into my willing lungs. He was truly amazing.

Up close, there were even more miracles to spy upon. His lips, so full and patient, rested soft and pink on his mouth. His skin was flawless, unmarked by any of the blemishes of young adulthood. His breath, light against my cheek, humid and cool at the same time. But, most of all, his eyes. His eyes shimmered in a spectrum of hues. It seemed that nearly every color in existence was contained in the myriad that was his iris. Purples, reds, blues, greens, yellows… every color contained on Van Gogh's pallet. These colors seemed to swirl in vortex formation around his pupils, which dilated as black eclipses.

"Your eyes…" was all I could mutter. I would definitely never be able to get used to this – and it made me smirk, smirk with a happiness that was going to define the rest of my life.

"Yes. They are… should one say, every eye color in the world. They are the only part of myself that reveals my natural ambiguity." He smiled with a smile that made his eyes glow several shades lighter, transforming the rainbow once again. "But enough of me. Right now, all I care about is you." And slowly, ever so slowly, his face inched closer to mine, until I could count each individual eyelash sprouting from his lid in perfect arches. I had never before felt such a connection between myself and another person before, for it was as if we were one. One in mind, one in body. One in life.

"I've finally found you…" He muttered deeply. Then he pressed his luscious lips against my dry but full ones.

Instantly, a wave of emotion struck, nearly knocking me to my knees. It was worse than the touching, worse in perhaps a bad way, for now it seemed actual damage had occurred and not just heady sensation. Images flew through my scattered mind, images of life and death and starlight and forests and people and knives, and I could not help but stutter backward away from him, breaking our connection.

None of the things I was seeing would formulate into a coherent picture, and slowly, without the fuel of Nathaniel's lips, it faded into nothingness. I was left alone in my head once again, leaning there in the stone cavern, trying to compose myself. I could hear Nathaniel muttering softly a few feet away from me, seemingly disturbed. Though my eyes spun with glorious lights, I could make out his hunched figure, distorted and disfigured in pain. He must have experienced the same thing I did.

"Nathaniel?" I called, realizing it was the first time I had said his name aloud. It sounded good on my tongue.

"No!" he called back, and his sharp tone surprised me. "No! This isn't right! None… none of this… is right…"

His sudden burst of emotion instantly cleared my head, and I felt adrenaline begin to take its toll. He wasn't making any sense!

"What's wrong?" I asked, trepidation conquering my voice. Of course, the kiss had hurt, but it wasn't that bad… I mean, I could get used to it. The touching effect had lessened the second time, so why shouldn't the kissing? Perhaps we could try again, just to be sure. Unless… it hurt him more than me?

"No, no, no!" He was angry now, I could tell. His voice had become husky and loud, and it frightened me even more. "This can't continue. Oh my good and gracious God! No… you're… no! Goodbye!"

And with that last word echoing in my mind, I felt myself lose sight of gravity and fall into a deep abyss.

The high pitched sound of a magnetic strip being deactivated brought me back to life, awakening me from the blackness I had plunged into. I was not sure what had happened, where I was, or most importantly… what had happened to Nathaniel. Only one thing could I calculate – the electronic beep I had just heard could not have come from the desolate and electricity-starved atmosphere of the cave. Scared, unaware, and unable to block out the extreme loneliness that now overcame me, I opened my eyes.

It took me a moment to calculate things, to get my brain to begin processing after the rapid fire succession it had just received. But when my eyes finally focused, the sight they beheld contributed even more to the battering of my brain.

Kmart. In front of me rested my register, sturdy old number nine, the light of the monitor glowing like a passageway to hell. I was… back. At Kmart.

I jumped up instantly from the bag kiosk where I had been sitting and landed on my feet, smacking my arm on one of the bag holders as I did. But that did not concern me. None of this did. The only thing I could think about was Nathaniel. Where… Where…?

"Miranda, were you just… sleeping?" My eyes filled wide with shock, pupils dilated, as the voice of my manager chirped behind me. But I didn't care what she thought! I didn't care about this world at all. I didn't belong here. All I needed was Nathaniel. My missing piece. The key to my soul.

"Miranda. Hello? Were you sleeping?" No! I could not deal with her, I had to find him! The only problem was, he could be anyone… anywhere. Wait. Did she just say…?

A sudden tremor flirted down my spinal cord as I finally turned to face her. New thoughts had transpired into my head, thoughts that I did not want to consider at all, but could not discard.

Her face was upturned in a flare of disapproval, matching brown eyes and hair narrowed.

"Sleeping?" I uttered, wanting to understand, to know.

"Yes." She seemed anxious to explain her charge. "I saw the whole thing. After that last customer, you sat down on the kiosk and closed your eyes. Then as I started over here, you got up. You know there is no sleeping on the job!"

I flinched, not because of her tone, but because of the knowledge she had just transferred to me. I had never left the store. I had never been to a mystical stone cavern. I had been here all along.

"You were only sitting there for about a minute, but your eyes were still closed, and that is not allowed!"

Only a minute. The scene which was so freshly imprinted in my brain had lasted far longer than that. There was no way… it wasn't real. It was a dream. Nathaniel, my true love, did not exist. A fabrication conjured by the neediness of my own mind.

"I'm sorry, Peggy," I answered, trying to fill the void, the schism that was tearing me apart. My words were more for myself than her sake. "I… I just had a really late night last night. I was studying for my bio test. It was a once in a lifetime thing, I promise."

She studied me, as if trying to decide if I was telling the truth. I could honestly care less if she believed me, I just needed her to go away. Finally, she lowered her scrutinizing eyebrows and spoke.

"Alright. You're a good worker, Miranda, so I won't report you this time, ok? Just don't let it happen again. School and work shouldn't mix."

I sighed, not out of relief but out of complete desperation.

"I won't. Thank you."

"Alright. You have a customer, so get back to work." Glancing over my back, I could see she was correct. With steps that reminded me of a child's first perilous hobbling, I moved to my register and began the tedious process. Pick up. Ring. Bag. Pick up. Ring. Bag. Usually, this process filled me with extreme boredom and complete lethargy. But now, now I felt each electronic beep within my chest. A tearing that would never be replaced. Scars embedded deep within my core.

With my mind free and turned on automatic, thoughts tumbled out of the box I had been trying to shove them in for later. Dream. A dream. It was all a dream. But how could it be? He was so real, the whole entire thing was so real. Never before had I conjured up such a vivid fantasy. Even in my present depression and apathy for life, I had never even thought a thought so imaginative. I was just not that creative of a person. There seemed no way I could dream up a perfect guy for me… at least not under these pretenses. But it had to have been. I had never left the store, Peggy had seen me here the whole time. It was all just a damaging hallucination.

"Thanks for shopping at Kmart." My voice was weak and thin, suffering from the tribulation of imaginary heartbreak.

Nathaniel was no more. No, even worse, he had never been.