ROUND ONE - THE DREAMER
She senses Ryan as soon as he leaves the house. The peacefulness
of the night fades with every step he takes in her direction. She
forces herself to remain relaxed, to act surprised when he arrives.
No matter how many logical indicators she could point out: the creaky
gate hinge, the crunch of gravel under his shoes, his panting breath
or the whisper of the denim of his jeans, he would still stare at her
with that awful mixture of
disappointment, suspicion and fear.
Blowing out a heavy sigh, she wriggles away from the edge of the cliff so that only her bare feet dangle out in the open air. She has no intention of ever slipping over the side, but he worries and shares those worries with her doctor, her mother, her manicurist and anyone else who would listen. She's learned what triggers their concern and has managed to go seven months without an intervention.
There's something off about him, tonight. His steps are heavier, more determined. No doubt he'll have one of those tiny white pills waiting in the palm of his hand. She'll take it without protest, pop it into her mouth making sure to hold it against her cheek while she swallows theatrically. When he's distracted, she'll spit it out into the sea to dissolve like all the others. If he ever catches on to her little trick there'll certainly be hell to pay.
She resents the approval in his eyes when she takes the pill. Has grown to hate the condescension always present in his tone. It's a good thing you're such a good writer, Lil. You wouldn't survive a month in the real world! He laughs as if he's just told a funny joke, but all she wants to do is grab his shoulders and shake him until his eyes cross. Wants to gather him and everyone else in to a room and set them all straight.
Their memories are selective. They've forgotten that for the first eighteen years of her life she did just fine in the real world. She passed all her classes with perfect grades, loved physics and calculus, argued ideal forms of government so passionately even McCarthy would've turned Red, played volleyball and softball and spent weekends at the animal shelter. She had friends and dreams and potential.
Maybe a little too much potential. Or maybe just the wrong kind. It doesn't matter. The end result is the same. Poor crazy Lillian. She's heard the whispered speculations. They've managed to get the place right but the reason completely wrong. No drunken frat boy or "dark sinister man" could do anything to destroy her so thoroughly. Not like he did.
After a year in college spent focused on dissections, proofs and equations, she readily accepted a belated graduation trip to Ireland. She'd flitted around Dublin enjoying the pubs and the history until she'd ran across a dust-covered book of myths in the back of an old bookstore. She'd only intended to flip through it at night when the silence was too hard to handle, but it quickly became an obsession. She had to read more, learn more and see the magical places mentioned.
Maybe that's where she made her mistake. She should have bypassed the leather-bound book and chosen the travel guide instead. They say that ignorance is bliss and she can certainly testify to that.
Kiernan Donal. A powerful, commanding sidhe prince according to the books. There were entire chapters dedicated to tales of his adventures and tricks. The authors tried to warn the unsuspecting about his changeable moods and contempt for humans. They hadn't warned about his seductive allure or how devastating he could be. In every way possible.
Most days she's quite certain she hates him. He showed her a magnificent world full of wonder and enchantment then took it away. Forced her back into this dull, mundane world where everything seems so gray, flat and painful. Her mind constantly wanders back to her brief visit to the otherworld. Sometimes she'll zone out for days on end. Upon her return to reality, she'll pick up her laptop and pound out page after page after page, refusing to eat or sleep until every last word is there in black and white. It's the only connection to that magic, to him, she has left. Fortunately there is a market for the fantastical writings of one marginally insane woman.
It's been five years and she hasn't stopped summoning him. Screams his name until her throat is hoarse. Whispers it into her tear-soaked pillowcase. There is no response. Never has been. Either he can't hear her or he's as cruel as the stories say. She's leaning towards the latter.
As the footsteps grow closer, she tilts her head back for one long, last look at the stars and tries to chase away any thoughts of Kiernan. Ryan doesn't understand. Not that she's tried to explain. She shouldn't have to. He's the one who moved into her cottage, at her mother's insistence, and has taken on the role of best friend turned nursemaid. He'd like to be more. She can see the longing in his eyes. Even if she wasn't already taken, tainted, it wouldn't work. He makes a better friend than he would lover.
She closes her eyes when she feels him stop beside her. She wants nothing more than to be left alone but that's not Ryan's fault. He's doing his best to be her friend, to draw her out of this destructive spiral. She forces her lips to curve upward into a smile and injects a cheerful tone into her voice. "Hello, Ryan."
Something heavy drops down around her shoulders. It is softer than anything she has in the cottage and smells so familiar it brings tears to her eyes. Kiernan. Every part of her wants to open her eyes and drink him in, but she's too afraid of being disappointed. Of finding only Ryan there and saying something that would hurt his feelings.
There is a faint rustle of cloth and grass as someone settles next to her on the cliff. It can't be Ryan. The silence between them has always been thick and awkward but this is warm and comfortable with a hint of delicious tension. One eyelid flutters open and catches a glimpse of dark hair she knows will feel silky smooth under her fingertips. Definitely not California-blond spiky-headed Ryan.
"It is not proper to venture outside in your nightclothes. Especially when there is a chill in the air."
Well, that figures. His first words after five years are a scolding. There's no way this is another one of her hallucinations. The reunions she dream of involve swelling music, passionate embraces and fervent avowals of love. She reluctantly opens both eyes and wraps the edges of his cloak around her hands.
"Why should you care?" She intended for it to be a defiant challenge but it comes out more like a petulant whimper.
"Does it matter why? It should suffice that I do."
It doesn't. But if that's all she's going to get, she'll take it. For now.