Gavril stood with his hands in his pockets, gazing out the window. His dark eyes focused on the large oak half a mile away. The tree stood against the wind like an ancient statue, its leaves so fragile, its trunk and branches hard as boulders. He could have stood there for an hour watching the solitary oak struggle to stand.

"Gavril." He did not turn when the familiar voice announced his name. He turned his eyes to the dreary afternoon sky, analyzing the figure of each grey cloud. Clearing his throat, he cast a lingering glance to the oak and then turned his back to the window. His posture uncharacteristically tilted with the weight of a year's burden.

"Leah is calling for you," said Daniel, still standing in the doorway of the library. Gavril nodded, took his hands from his pockets, and started for the door. Daniel blocked his path with two long strides. Gavril blinked mechanically and said nothing, waiting for the protest to end. Daniel attempted to speak and failed three times before a sound left his lips.

"I don't think this is wise," the younger man stated. Gavril's jaw clenched. The vein at his temple pulsed soundly. He labored two deep breaths. Gavril understood Daniel's need to protect Leah. His role as her elder brother gave him the right. Still, it took an unnecessary effort for Gavril to control his vacillating temper.

"The day we married, I made a lifetime of promises to her. Leah asked only one thing of me, and so I made one last promise. This is not about me, or you; this is about her. Now, step aside." Although his voice conveyed nothing of his emotions, the gleam in Gavril's eyes spoke louder than his voice would allow. Daniel hesitated for a moment, and then submitted. Gavril abandoned the library, but as he crossed the threshold, he heard Daniel once more.

"Will she make it?"

The softest tremor of a smile etched at his lips. Gavril corrected his posture, loosened his shoulders, and inclined his chin. There was a deep sorrow in his voice as he spoke.


Gavril entered the old bedroom without a word. He shivered as he looked at her delicate body; she was barely there. Leah lay on the bed in her violet silk dress, her hands clasped over her stomach. Her eyes were closed and her hair fell in soft curls around her shoulders. Her once rosy lips were dry and nearly purple. He drew closer and she stirred, much to his relief.

"Gavril?" He found it troubling how quiet, how small, her voice seemed to his ears.

"Yes, my love. I'm right here." Gavril sat on the edge of their bed, taking her small hand. It was so cold. Her eyes opened to tiny slits and she gave the slightest smile. He felt the ache of her beauty to the center of his bones. Oh, how he ached.

"I'm ready." Gavril smiled and stood from the bed. His arms slipped under her and he lifted Leah in his arms with ease. Her body was the weight of a flower in his palm. He fought the tremor in his throat and looked down at her sweet face. The most content smile spread across her lips, her eyes closed and her head resting against his firm shoulder.

Gavril wasted no time. His strides were long and smooth throughout the house. He kept his chin high, his posture strong. He ignored every curious set of eyes in the foyer as he waited for the butler to open the door. The house had never been so quiet. As he left the house and descended the front steps, Gavril heard the mangled cry of Leah's mother. In his arms, Leah cringed. He held her tighter.

Gavril carried her four miles against the violent wind. He walked past the old oak, the dirt road. He walked through thorns and sharp brush. He walked with unusual strength, never stopping for a single breath.

When they finally reached the tree, Gavril felt his chest growing hollow. "Open your eyes, sweetheart," he whispered tenderly. Leah blinked and stared at the willow tree. Her grin was bright and her eyes wet. He sat her down with care, and then held her in his lap. "Our place, it's so beautiful, Gavril," she murmured, her lips brushing against his collarbone.

Gavril felt weak as he remembered every memory under their willow. Their first date, their first kiss, the night he proposed, it was here. When they got married, when they made love for the first time, it was here. Their love was here.

"I remember," he told her. "Twenty short years." Gavril felt her tears on his shoulder. Hooking his finger under her chin, he tilted her face to his. "I love you, Leah."

The sun dipped between heaven and earth, lighting the sky with brilliant shades of pink, purple, and orange. She smiled, her lips trembling. "I love you," she whispered.

Their lips mingled for the length of years, bringing color to her cheeks. Sweet honey tempted his tongue with a passion only two familiar souls could share. Warmth flowed to her lips with the simple touch, until they burned with such intensity that the lovers parted. Gazing down at his love, Gavril dreamed the kiss had taken them twenty years back to this very place. In that moment, with her eyes resting, her lips parted just so, and her cheeks pinched with little specks of rose, Gavril saw the young girl he had lost his heart to. Her porcelain flesh glowed with the light of the vanishing sun. She was the vision of life itself. Her tender face seemed more alive now than ever before. He dreamed that his kiss had provided for Leah the healing touch.

Her lashes flickered. The desire awakened between the lovers' lips now tinged her face with grey and purple. Gavril's chin trembled at the sight and he felt himself sinking into the grass. Her fingers slipped from his as he heard her sigh. Gavril choked, struggling to breathe, and the sun vanished under the earth. The world remained in silence as his screams shook the heavens. He wept without surrender until the morning light beamed down through the curtain of the willow.

© Copyright 2011 by Taylor Sikes