Sam watched Lily as she approached, inching her way between the encroaching shrubs, pushing away a lock of hair and beginning to smile at him. Her golden eyes twinkled.
"I knew I'd find you here," she whispered.
Sam's stomach clutched at the sound of her voice and he moved out of the shadows to grasp her hand.
"I love you, Sam."
Unable to speak, Sam reached one arm behind her hair and pulled her in to rest her head on his shoulder. Her long brown hair cascaded over his arms. Sam looked up and ---
Daniel Hausmann jumped at the sound of the school's seventh period bell. Disoriented for a second, he glanced down at the culminating love scene he had been writing to end his story, and then back up into the lightest brown eyes he'd ever seen. So light, in fact, that they were almost golden, like his character Lily's eyes. Danny blinked and then smiled. He suddenly felt like his name should be Sam, and that this girl was his Lily. She was a perfect brunette, tall enough and built just like Danny had always imagined Lily. Had he created her in a moment of literary delusion, or was she real?
"Excuse me," she asked politely, pushing her way through the crowded hallway. Danny stared after her.
Every time he saw her after that his eyes missed the more blonde tones to her hair and the almost hazel nature of her eyes. All he saw was Lily.
Weeks passed in which their only interaction was a stilted good morning. Danny was half sure that he was in love with her. Everything he saw her do was perfect. She was exceptional at running track, and had a singing voice that was amazing beyond belief. She always seemed to be kind to everybody she met.
One Wednesday found Danny running through the hallways towards the chemistry room, where he had forgotten his planner. Inside, Mrs. Coulter had left the class alone for a moment during a quiz. Lily was leaning over her desk, conversing with a dark redheaded boy in front of her. Danny blinked twice, his heart jumping at the mere sight of her, and then he quickly turned away and exited the classroom.
At lunch, Danny sat with two of his closest friends, Katie and Zach. When Lily entered the cafeteria, Katie made an irritated kind of snort.
"Jamie told me that Cassandra failed another English quiz. I think you've got to try to fail those things, honestly…"
"She was cheating off Brandon in Chemistry this morning," Zach put it, frowning as Lily sat, smiling, at a table full of boys. Danny only followed the conversation with one ear. He had seen Lily sit at a table close to his and it made him hyperaware of her close proximity. He took out his notebook and began to finish off the latest scene in his story, musing on Lily.
In Danny's author's mind, Sam loved Lily because she was so precious; she was a loyal friend and always managed to come above her faults. He loved his Lily just the same. She was so good, and so genuine. In his head he held dozens of conversations with her, each deeper and more emotionally touching than the next. In his head, she loved him as much as he loved her. He continued to write his story about Sam and Lily, continued to flesh out their wild romance and prefect their dialogue. Writing was his passion, his escape from reality, his ability to create reality. He wished he could meet someone who really understood him, who knew him more than the average person who could list his statistics on a slip of paper. Danny yearned to really be known, for someone else to read his writing and say, "I hear you, I understand."
Lily was that person. He was certain.
Every drive home from school was fraught with the sad knowledge that today, he had not spoken to her. Today he had been too afraid to ask her. He lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, seeing her beauty, holding her close, staring into her eyes and kissing her on the forehead, running along the darkened beach, laughing, her hair flying out behind her, collecting months of memories that had never happened. He said he loved her a thousand times and reveled in her requited love as he sat with her on the roof of his house.
Whenever Danny made eye contact with her, he was sure that she felt as much as he did in those two short seconds. When they passed in a hallway he was certain that her side glance at him said more than she could voice about how she felt towards him. He began to plan his schedule around the times that he knew he would pass by her. Seeing her even for a few moments was an indispensable part of his day.
At the exchange between periods three and four, Danny knew that he would pass her by the locker rooms, and he tried to hurry from his English class because he knew that she moved quickly. On his way there, he met Zach's girlfriend, Susannah. She was in tears.
"Danny!" She clutched on to him and sobbed into the shoulder of his shirt.
"Susannah? Susannah, what's wrong?" He was sure he had never seen her cry before. Susannah was a tough girl. He awkwardly attempted to stroke her hair as he inched her towards the side of the hallway, where he leaned her against a wall.
"Susannah?" He bent down to look her in the eye. "What happened?"
Susannah looked up at him through mascara-bleeding eyelashes. "Zach and I had a fight. I don't know how to deal with him anymore. Really, I don't."
Danny sighed. This wouldn't be the first time. He swung an arm around her and they walked slowly down the now-emptying hallway.
"What did you guys fight about?"
"You know that girl, Cassandra? She's in the drama club with Zach?
"No, I'm not sure. Is she the blonde one?"
Susannah sighed. "No, no, she's brunette. It doesn't matter. Oh, it's so stupid! She keeps flirting with him and he keeps reciprocating. I tell him it bothers me but he just shrugs me off! Why doesn't he understand why it hurts me?"
Danny considered his words before he spoke. "Zach doesn't always pick up on social ques. You know how he can be. You're hyper-sensitive to things like this because of what happened with Mark. You need to give Zach space and time to realize this."
Susannah nudged him, her tears ceasing.
"Danny, why are you so good at stuff like this?"
He shrugged. "I'm a writer. I like to think that I understand more than the average person. I think dating an author is probably a great exercise in self-discovery."
"So modest, aren't we?"
He didn't respond, and Susannah laughed, which had been Danny's main objective.
They splintered off towards their classes and Danny wondered where Lily had been and how close he had been to seeing her. He shrugged it off. He could always rely on the change between seventh and eight period.
"Danny, are you okay?"
"What?" He looked around for the source of the voice. Zach's face swam into view.
"Way to space out, Danny."
"Oh, sorry…" Danny tried to clear his head. He and Lily had been having the most wonderful conversation. He had been so close to asking her out.
"What's wrong with you lately?"
"Nothing, I promise."
"Snap back to reality, man."
Danny's gut jolted. "Reality is an illusion." He stood and made his way to the door. He knew the bell was about to ring. At the sound, he was gone.
When he reached the locker room where he always saw her, Lily was leaning casually against the door, flicking at something with her nails. Danny slowed to a snail's pace, wanting to watch her forever. She made no effort to move, and as the hallway slowly cleared of students, Danny found himself too mesmerized to leave her presence. He had to talk to her. He was so sure of what she would say.
He approached her slowly, feeling the anticipation climb up his chest. She was his dream girl, his only love, his perfection… his Lily.
"What are you doing?"
Danny nearly had a heart attack. She had spoken to him. He stared into her golden eyes with his own blue ones and tried to form a sentence. You are so beautiful…
"What are you doing?" She repeated.
Danny opened his mouth and then closed it, feeling useless.
She sighed. "I'm waiting for Simon. What are you doing here?"
"Who's Simon?" Danny's voice sounded rough. Lily, Lily, Lily. Lily, I love you. Lily, never let me go. Lily…
"Simon." She was getting irritated with him. "Simon, you know. Simon Jacob. If you're not here for Simon then you'd better leave, now."
Lily jumped at the sound of footsteps and pushed him away from her. "Get away unless you're here for Simon!" She disappeared into the dark classroom and Danny was too stunned to move, because she had actually touched him. His Lily had touched him! His arm tingled and he closed his eyes. His heart squeezed. Lily… Lily… She loved him. She had to.
The distant footsteps got louder, and Danny began to move away, not wanting to be questioned for being out of class. He moved into the nearest boy's locker room and sank onto the floor, replaying the entire conversation in his mind half a million times. What was that twinkle in her eye as she spoke to him? Was it just him or had she glanced at his lips a few times? And that had to have been a blush working its way up her neck.
Danny remembered the lilting timbre of her voice. He was sure he could listen to her for hours. He tried to recall everything she had said to him.
Simon Jacob. Why did the name ring a bell?
Danny knew that there was a Simon Jacob who was involved in drug dealings within the school, but there was no way Lily would be involved with someone like him. He guessed that there were two Simon Jacobs walking around the high school. Danny thought about his conversation with Lily for the next week, analyzing every facial expression and hand movement. He was completely in love with her. But they were going to graduate soon. What should he do? What would their plans be? They could only continue together.
That night, Danny sat at his desk, his head in his palm, staring at the lines of an empty notebook, dreaming of her.
"I can't imagine what it was like before I met you," she said.
"Neither can I," Danny replied. "There was nothing that mattered to me before I knew you. I mean that sincerely."
"I always wanted to date an author. They're so poignant. So romantic and loving. They really understand how I feel. I want to see the world through your author's eyes, Danny. I want to know you."
Danny slowly penned words on the soft white. He had planned to write the beginning of the closing chapter of Sam and Lily's story, but he was inspired to something else.
If I can close my eyes and create a new world, I have manipulated reality.
You give me the right to dream and to be dreamt.
I would dream you for the rest of my life if you'd only give me a chance. Give me your hand. Stay with me. Wake with me. Dream with me.
Exactly a week later, Danny saw Lily leaning up against the same doorway. She was waiting for him!
Lily looked up confusedly and then frowned when she saw him.
"You again? What do you want?"
Danny stared, distracted by her eyes.
"Listen. Hey! What's your deal?" Lily waved a hand in front of his eyes. "Quit staring at me like that. And my name's not Lily."
Danny only registered this last comment, and it shook him.
"But you're Lily," he said dumbly, not understanding the stark face of reality as it crushed his illusion.
"I'm not Lily. What's wrong with you? My name is Cassandra, and if Simon doesn't make this deal because he sees you here I'm going to be in a lot of debt to a lot of scary guys, all right? So just move along now."
Danny, dazed with emotional shock, took hold of her arm for support and she brushed him away, glaring.
"Get off of me! Who do you think you are?"
"Leave me alone!" Cassandra pushed him away and once again disappeared into the darkened classroom.
Danny felt betrayed. Cassandra? No! She was his Lily! Danny's world twirled and cracked and all there was before him was an empty hallway and a white, dull, angry reality. He threw his arms out, closed his eyes, and spun around in a million circles, each one smaller than the rest, begging himself to fall into his old reality to recreate his real world. Lily, he said to himself. Lily, Lily, Lily, Lily, Lily. You don't belong in ink and paper. You don't belong to Sam. You are real, you are warm. Lily! Lily!
Danny opened his eyes once more and saw nothing but the same empty hallway. What had he done? Where had he lost himself? He looked down at his notebook and thought of the story encapsulated inside, the romance, the love, the trueness of Sam and Lily. Was it really to be no more?
The bell rang and the chapter was finally closed. The last word was written and the back cover was smoothed over the final page. Danny dropped his notebook and turned away, looking into the hallway, trying to see into the future. He slowly walked, feeling in his fingers the urge to write and not suppressing it, but merely allowing it to flow. He imagined her perfect form for the last time before he buried her memory forever. Reality is not an illusion. You are the illusion, Cassandra. You are my illusion.