He was an annoyance in her life.
He was always there, lurking in the shadows.
Loitering in the alleys.
Two tables away on her dates.
Grinning at her from the next compartment down on a train.
She hated him, he knew, but at the same time she relied on him.
If he suddenly didn't appear one day she would worry.
She would pretend that she hadn't when he eventually turned up again.
She would glare at him and tell him to go stalk someone else, but underneath the hostility he would feel her relief.
Just like now.
She was on another date with some jerk.
She only did it to annoy him.
She knew that eventually he would be sitting at the table opposite her.
She knew that eventually she would admit her long lasting love.
He knew that eventually she would get over her stubbornness and go out with him.
Once was all it would take.
Then she'd be his, forever.
In a planned attack on her defences he sauntered past her table and said,
"Say, darling, when you come home later get some toilet paper will you? We've run out.
Oh! And some more condoms… we've had a good run lately."
He finished with a wink then turned the corner, grinning happily to himself.
Then he heard it.
He still remembered the first time she'd used his name – they'd been on a subway and she'd gotten really agitated with him and said it by accident.
She'd refused to look at him after that for days.
She'd lost the moment her lips had formed the two syllables.
Not like this time though.
This time she meant it.
And she was mad.
"Kohen! Would you leave me alone already?
I don't want you!
I don't need you!
You need to stop stalking me!"
He turned around abruptly and stepped out so he could see her again, her red hair blazing in the soft orange customary restaurant light.
He tilted his head back slightly, inviting her to continue.
"At first it was weird, now it's goddamn freaky!
You need to cut it out!
I will never be with you.
From the moment you followed me home that first time.
From that exact moment you lost your chances."
Kohen nodded slightly, acknowledging her anger.
It was a big step for her.
He leant against the wall and frowned slightly, holding eye contact with her.
His dark blue eyes wouldn't let her look anywhere else.
He smiled slightly, a tiny twitch of his mouth.
He doubted anyone else would notice, but she would.
She knew everything about him.
He'd been around her long enough for that to be certain.
"Ari." He said, softly. His deep voice reaching her only just.
"Ari, why are you so stubborn?
You shouldn't worry so.
Enjoy your date.
I'll see you later.
Forever, Ari, forever."
Then for the first time he turned and walked away from her.
Straight out the door and down the street.
She freaked out and ran to the door, watching him go.
Then she returned to her date who was looking peeved and confused.
"Who the fuck was that?
You told me you were single!"
"I am single!
Kohen is what you'd call a friendly stalker.
He thinks he's in love with me.
He follows me everywhere.
Every single day of the week.
It's been three years now.
Except now he's gone.
He's never done that before – just left." She looked worried.
Her date shook his head and said
"You should get a restraining order out on him."
"Why?" Ari said, confused.
"Umm, maybe because THE ASS IS STALKING YOU!"
"But he's never hurt me.
Only ever helped.
A guy was attacking me one night outside a night-club.
I was out of it.
Couldn't have fought off a fly in that state.
Anyway, Kohen got rid of him.
Then he took me home.
And took care of me.
Then he left and never mentioned it again." She said, lost in thought.
Ari didn't see the disappointed look on her date's face.
He could see straight through the little performance she'd just put on.
This girl was not single.
She was well and truly taken.
By the man she was looking for anxiously out the window.
By her stalker.
She just hadn't realised it.
"Look, Ari, it's not that you aren't a great girl,
But I think it isn't going to work between us.
It just isn't meant to be."
"What? No…" she said in a confused tone. Another man not even wanting a second date.
"Ari. You are taken.
No, don't deny it.
Look at yourself – you can't stop looking for him out the door and window.
You're hooked well and truly.
Go find him.
Tell him, by the sound of it, he's been waiting long enough.
A guy won't wait around forever, even one as determined as what he seems to be."
With that her date stood and leant down, brushing a kiss across her cheek.
Then he left.
Just like the others.
Why did Kohen ruin everything?
Kohen was worried about her.
He'd left her on her own.
In a city which could never be trusted to keep those you love safe.
But he'd done it for the first time in three years, voluntarily left her alone.
He hopped on the train home and wondered what he should do.
She'd made herself perfectly clear. She didn't want him.
He didn't want to give up on her.
He knew he'd never forget her.
But could he keep doing this?
Could he keep sacrificing his own life to follow her everywhere?
Some people would think it strange that he'd be willing to do that.
Some people thought it weird that she still hadn't put out a restraining order on him.
Kohen sighed to himself. It was tiring, doing what he did.
She thought he didn't work, how could he when he spent all day following her?
But he did.
He was a freelance writer.
Not just any writer though.
A historical romance writer to be precise.
He spent every moment when he was hanging around outside her work or house writing romance stories for other people.
It wasn't the most satisfying work but as long as he churned out a remotely decent novel every few months he earned enough to keep up his strange lifestyle.
She arrived home to see the bus stop where Kohen normally perched empty.
She woke the next morning and it was still empty.
She walked up and down the apartment all morning, going out of her way to pass the window in the kitchen looking out into the street.
She hadn't realised what a familiar, comfortable sight he'd become, sitting there scowling at his laptop or reading a book.
Sometimes he'd be typing furiously, not even bothering to look up for hour on end.
He was always there, he stayed till after she went to bed and arrived before she woke.
Ari knew though, that he didn't sleep there.
He was always fresh and clean in the mornings with new clothes on.
Sometimes he would walk close enough that she could smell his cologne.
Sometimes she would only catch a glimpse of him across a crowded street.
Sometimes she would not see him at all, but she always knew he was there.
Right now she could sense he wasn't. At what stage had she become attuned to his presence?
Ari realised as she checked the window again, that what mood Kohen was in dictated hers.
If he was typing and scribbling intensely in his notebook, no doubt she would have a productive day at work. She could always see him out the window of her office - on warm days sprawled out on the grass or on rainy days tucked into a corner of the gazebo keeping warm.
The other girls at work had noticed him there every day. After a while they had connected him to Ari.
Then they went out of their way to flirt and try to break him.
He turned them down with polite, disinterested answers, though on cold days he did accept the hot coffee they offered.
He turned them down with a shake of his head and a glance in Ari's direction.
She was the only one for him.
Just past midday, in the middle of making a sandwich for herself, Ari's doorbell rang.
She wasn't expecting anyone but it wasn't unusual for a friend to drop by unannounced.
It wasn't unusual for her female friends to swing by with binoculars so they could perve on Kohen.
It wasn't unusual for her male friends to come over to lecture her about stalkers and drop off restraining order application forms.
They went in the shredder.
"Who is it?" She called through the door - her cheap apartment came with hi-tech security.
"It's Kohen." His voice echoed in the silence.
She thought she could hear a heavy, bone-deep tiredness in it.
She stayed quiet.
"Open the door Ari. I need to talk to you for once and possibly for all."
"I don't think I should." Ari was shaking - this was it.
He was leaving her.
Three years of constant companionship in a warped kind of way and he was leaving her.
Somewhat irrationally she believed if she didn't talk to him, he couldn't tell her he was leaving.
"Just open the damn door. Do me one favour and open it." There was an annoyed edge to his voice now.
This was not play time.
Ari flipped the lock and slid the chair out then she walked backwards into the lounge room.
A few seconds later the handle turned and Kohen entered.
It wasn't the first time he'd been in there, but it was the first time she remembered him in there.
He looked right, slouched against her kitchen bench.
He looked at home in his faded jeans and black t-shirt.
He looked like hers.
"What do you want?" She whispered, overcome by her own thoughts.
"You know what I want. How could you not?
Are you so stupid?
I want you.
You're all I've ever wanted.
You're the only girl in the whole world I will want for the rest of my life."
"You don't even know me!
Hanging outside my house and work doesn't count!" Ari exclaimed in frustration.
"You don't know yourself, Ari.
I just came here to tell you that this is it.
I can't take it anymore.
You don't want me, obviously.
For three years you've been my everything and I've been your nothing.
For three years I've sacrificed everything - my life.
And all for nothing. ALL FOR NOTHING!" He finished in a yell. His handsome face was haggard with pain. With longing.
He had lost all hope now.
It was ironic that, just days from the time she had shown him more than a cold shoulder and an indifferent gaze he should lose hope.
"It didn't have to be this way, you know." He said quietly.
His dark hair flopped in his eyes.
He didn't bother to flick it away.
He was tired and couldn't be bothered.
He was tired and lost.
He was spent.
"I know. I know it didn't." Ari replied.
She could barely recognise him. The shadows in his eyes were new, strange and painful.
They tore at her heart, at her insecurities.
They tore at everything that kept her all these years from throwing herself at him.
After a few heart-wrenching minutes he straightened and walked away.
Just like that.
There was no fanfare.
There were no tears.
There was no farewell kiss.
There was just the sound of her heart beating and the sound of him walking away.
She watched him go, watched him as he got lost among the crowd.
Then, when she could no longer see him.
No longer feel him, she whispered his name the way he wanted to hear it for three long years.
"You stalked her? For three years?"
Kohen grinned, remembering back to that bittersweet time.
"Yeah, I thought it would win her. It didn't."
"You're a crazy bastard, you know that?" His friend laughed, shook his head and signalled the barmaid for another round.
"I know." Kohen replied, pushing his unruly hair from his eyes.
She went pale as she looked across the room.
The bar was next to empty.
There was a few old men hunched over their beers.
There was a classy looking woman flirting with some dirty workmen.
And there was two young, good looking men laughing over their beers.
One was wearing a suit, he was sophisticated and slick. Probably a lawyer, she decided.
The other was wearing blue jeans, black converse and a white t-shirt.
He was smiling.
He was laughing.
He was free.
He was two years older and two years beyond her, but he was there.
"Kohen..." She whispered.
Ari dared not move. She wanted him to see her so badly.
She wanted him to lean against her kitchen counter like he belonged there.
She wanted him to see her and declare his love once more, as he had done two years previously.
But she dared not move in case he noticed her.
"Do you miss her?"
"Like hell." Kohen whispered.
"You have no idea. This girl, she was, is, everything to me.
She was all I wanted, needed.
She was beautiful and fierce.
She was gentle and kind.
She was so flawed and so perfect.
She was everything.
I miss her every day.
I have to stop myself from going to her place still." Kohen paused and laughed bitterly.
"I am such a fuck up.
Still pining after this pipe-dream girl two years later when I didn't so much as have a decent conversation with her to begin with!"
"Kohen..." She whispered again and then turned to leave.
Something made him look up.
He would have said fate if he believed in it.
He would have said hope if he had any.
But whatever made him do it, he saw her.
He saw her lips form his name.
He saw the pain written on her face.
He saw the things he wanted to see so badly.
He saw longing, so much longing.
A mirror image of himself.
"Oh my god." He said, not taking his eyes off her.
His friend frowned and turned to see what Kohen was looking at.
"Is that her? It's her, isn't it...
Jesus. Fancy that.
The first time you so much as utter her name in two years and she's here.
Fuck me. You are either the unluckiest bastard in the world or, judging by the look on her face, the luckiest one."
Kohen could barely hear him.
All he could hear was blurred and distorted, like someone had turned the sound right down to a tinny hum.
The only thing he could see was her standing there in jeans and a tank top.
She was staring at him too.
Like her eyes were starving without him.
His certainly had.
Then she started forward.
She flowed around people, not taking her eyes off his face.
Her hair was glowing. It was short now, Kohen noted as he drank in her appearance. A pixie kind of cut which made her high cheek bones stand out.
It was gorgeous, but Kohen always thought she was gorgeous.
He always had and he knew now that he always would.
Two years without her had almost killed him.
He got through it though.
Now she was here, walking towards him.
He didn't know if he would survive this.
It all was happening so slowly, a second seemed like a minute.
He lost sight of her for a moment when a group of girls walked in front of her.
He strained his head to the side to catch her again.
He didn't even notice that he was now standing.
His friend had given up trying to catch Kohen's attention.
Nothing but Ari could have his attention now.
Finally she was there in front of him.
Standing there in all her glory.
She was breathing heavily, like she'd run a marathon, not just walked across the room.
Distantly Kohen noted he was also.
"Kohen..." She whispered again.
Testing the name in her mouth.
Liking the way it tasted.
"Oh Jesus." He said, keeping his arms at his sides, wanting so much to wrap them around her.
"Kohen. I was wrong.
I was so wrong." She started then he heard her choke up.
She swallowed and continued.
"I never should have...
I lied, Kohen.
I lied to you, to myself, to everyone.
I do want you.
I do need you, so much.
I miss you.
Every day, every moment is so empty without you there.
Every day I think of you and I want to kill myself for being so stupid.
It was three years and I don't even know your last name."
She stopped talking to brush the tears from her cheeks.
Her body was leaning into him.
Into the warmth she'd never, ever felt but imagined every night for two years.
In the back of Kohen's mind he recognised this was the moment he'd waited for for three years. Then he'd given up hope but it was here again.
Not in the way he imagined it.
In his mind he'd worn her down with his quick wit, there would be lots of yelling and screaming then angry, frustrated kissing.
Kissing that would set the world on fire.
He'd never imagined it like this.
Never imagined it as a chance encounter in a bar after hope was lost.
Never imagined the tears running down her cheeks or the soft red of her hair in the dull, dirty lights of the pub.
She was looking up at him, raw hope changing to desperation as the minutes ticked by without him saying a word.
With every fibre of his being he wanted to grab her and kiss her with all his might.
It was all he ever wanted to do.
Now he could and he wasn't.
He watched as her head dropped and her eyes left his, slipping to the dirty floor.
He watched as her shoulders hunched and then turned away from him.
He watched as she took the first step away from him, back out of his life.
Kohen yelped and jumped as his friends hand connected with the back of his head.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?
You just finished raving about this girl and now you're letting her walk away?
Jesus H. Christ! Stop her you idiot!"
This harsh treatment snapped Kohen out of his daze and he bolted after her.
She was halfway across the room now.
She was moving like she was made of lead.
Every step an effort worth almost more than living.
Kohen leapt forward and grabbed her arm.
"Ari, oh my god, Ari.
I never stopped wanting you.
I never stopped thinking about you, even if I couldn't see you anymore.
Don't cry for me Ari, I never wanted you to cry!" He uttered, pulling her toward him.
"Kohen!" She gasped before her lips connected with his own.
This was the moment Kohen lost his mind.
There was nothing but the feel of her against him.
The feel of her lips, as desperate as his own, moving against his.
Her tongue tasting his and her hands all over his body.
Kohen groaned and ran his hand through her short hair and pulled her closer against him.
Dimly he noted they were in a very public place but at the same time he just wanted to rip their clothes off so there was nothing between them.
He wanted skin on skin.
He wanted to taste all of her.
He wanted her now and he could tell she felt the same.
He'd been waiting five years for this.
He couldn't get more desperate than he was now.
"Get a room would you?" A random bellowed at them, causing them to break apart, panting heavily.
He rested his forehead against Ari's.
"I waited for you." He murmured. "I never forgot you."
She whispered back "I know.
I'm sorry it took me so long.
Do you want to go back to your friend?"
Kohen stood back from her and looked across at his friend who was watching carefully while entertaining his pretty blonde girlfriend who had been late to get there.
He raised his beer at Kohen and nodded.
What had been a dinner for three was losing a member.
Kohen smiled briefly and looked back down at the girl who held his heart in her hands.
"No, he'll survive without me."
"Good. We have a lot of catching up to do."
Then she took his hand and lead him to her car.
They arrived at her apartment and he looked around.
It was the same basically.
Things had gone, things had arrived.
One new addition was a small framed photo on the kitchen counter.
It was him looking over his shoulder smiling through a crowd of people.
He didn't remember the photo being taken.
Kohen moved across the room and picked it up.
"I took that one.
I took it during the second year of you following me.
I don't know why I took it, but I framed it because it was the only thing I had left of you.
All I had to show for three years of sharing my life with you was one photograph.
I was such an idiot."
Kohen replaced the photo and looked up at her.
"Yeah. You were."
Then he leant down and kissed her slowly, tenderly.
"You are mine Ari.
I always said it.
I always meant it.
Say you'll be mine forever..."
"Forever. We'll be each others' forever."
She felt his smile as she pressed her lips to his.