“Are you sure you have to go?” she asked, her brown hair blowing softly across her face as she looked at him bathed in the glowing light of sunset.
He gave her one of his signature smiles, heartbreaking and beautiful all at once. “I’m afraid so.”
“Where will you go?” Worry laced her tone, but he noticed the tear crawling down her cheek, trying to make its way to the waves beneath their feet.
“I don’t know. Wherever I’m needed, I suppose.” The waves moved the sand under him, but not his resolve. Time travelling is his life’s purpose, and for that reason, he would be a sail to its wind, going where it needed him to go.
“So, this is goodbye?” Her eyes were full of hope as she wished the moment was a bad dream or an alternate reality. Anything that didn’t include him leaving.
But hope was not on her side. She could read the answer on his face before he said, “It is.” He held her hands firmly in between their bodies as if every unsaid word could be spoken with three squeezes. She swore he was trying to memorize her, with his eyes running up and down her face. “But I’ll never forget you, or the time we had together.”
“Good,” she said, “Because I won’t be forgetting you any time soon.” Her smile broke his heart; it was stitched together with the lingering sense of hope and the tears that he knew would soon fall.
If his track record was any indication, he was horrible at goodbyes. So, before he could stop himself, his lips caught hers in a kiss so sweet, he knew that coming down from the high would be brutal. His hand cupped her cheek as one of hers gripped his back, holding him to her, even if it was just for a moment longer. When the kiss ended, their hands lingered. “Goodbye,” he said, watching his hand separate from hers as he backed away, one step at a time.
“Goodbye,” she said, but deep down in the bottom of her heart, she knew there was nothing good about it. She stood there long after he left, hanging onto their last moments together as the sun hid beneath the horizon.
He never expected it to be easy, but he never thought it would be this hard. Since he was a kid, he had always known that his life’s purpose was joining the fight for time, to protect the timeline from those with their own agendas. But never had his thoughts lingered so far outside the game. For so long, his life had been an arrow pointed one way: onward, to the next target event and the next set of people trying to change history. When did moving forward start to feel so wrong?
“Hey, time to get up,” exclaimed his friend with a couple of quick taps on the steel of the bed frame above him. “We need to get ready; you can dream later.”
“Sorry, Aaron,” he replied absentmindedly, trying to shove the feeling back down where it came from. “Who are we protecting this time?”
“The Wright brothers, 1903. Apparently, someone else wants to be credited for creating the first airplane.” His friend was snide as he quickly moved from the bed and out the door, but his eyes lingered on the picture trapped beneath Aaron’s mattress. It was full of entangled limbs and happy smiles on the same beach as that fateful last day. A moment or two passed before he followed, trying to clear the face haunting his mind.
Every day, she woke from dreams of him. But each time, as her arm reached out across the mattress, the blankets were untouched, and the bed was cold. Once upon a time, her life was not in a state of recurring emptiness. Her days formed a cycle of working, staring at strangers, and dreaming of his eyes. Wash, rinse, repeat.
“Sarah!” her friend shouted. Hands snapped in front of her eyes as she refocused. “If you could stop starring at the back of that guy’s head, I’m trying to talk to you.”
“Sorry,” she blushed, embarrassment invading her cheeks. “What were you saying?”
Her friend huffed in response but reached for her anyway. “Sarah, can you be in the present with me for just a few minutes?”
“I can probably do that,” she replied, but her voice was small and uncertain, like a child stuck in the dark, unsure when the light will return to her world. Since he left, she has been acting like someone died; in a way, someone did.
When she was alone, her nights were often spent looking at the only things she had to remind her they were real: pictures, movie subs, and prizes from the fair where they’d laughed so hard, and ate so much cotton candy they tasted it on each other’s lips long after it was gone. It was there that they had found a photo booth to take the dumbest photos of themselves. Now, the memories were what she held onto. Anything to remind her that once, he hadn’t just existed in her dreams.
In the moments before he woke, she was in his arms. He could faintly hear her laugh before the alarm clock went off beside him, stirring him back into reality. Just as quickly as she was there, she vanished. Through everything, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. His heart pulled him towards her, back to somewhere other than wherever he was. He was always moving, always travelling, but somehow, his heart remained in the same place. Towards the end of their time together, when it felt like time was slipping through their fingers way too fast, he remembered mentioning the stars. He said, no matter where he was, they would be looking at the same specks of light. It was cheesy and only half true, but it was enough to gain a semblance of a smile from her. As he looked up in the darkness of the sky, he could only wonder what she was doing right now. Was she happy, or looking up at the stars?
Her eyes scanned the crowded ballroom as she looked for a familiar face. Her friend had convinced her to come to this fancy work function instead of moping around her apartment, but now, she was nowhere to be found. Instead, she found the back of a familiar-looking head and moved towards them. His hair was longer and messier than it had been a few months ago, but he could be here, right?
The tip of her finger touched his shoulder as he turned around; only, it wasn’t him. She could feel her heart sinking with the hope that had made it float. “Oh, sorry,” she told the handsome stranger.
“It’s really no problem,” he said, a happy look in his green eyes. But they weren’t the brown ones that haunted her mind.
She smiled, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Sorry again,” she repeated, moving past him and towards the window to look at the stars. If she couldn’t be with him, at least she could find comfort in the familiar twilight.
Beyond the large window, there was a roofless balcony. It was a welcome escape from the party full of strangers and a place to gaze at will. Quickly enough, she found the door outside and pushed into the night air. But just as fast, she figured out she was not alone. Maybe it was her friend, taking a break from the party? Only, that wasn’t who she found. But they were no stranger either.
“Jake?” Her voice was small and full of disbelief as she watched him turn around.
“Oh, hey.” A smile played on his lips as he looked like an actor out of a movie on the big screen, but nothing compared to the look in his eyes. The windows to his soul looked somewhere between pensive and focused. “I was thinking about you.”
“Shouldn’t you be protecting time somewhere?”
“Maybe,” he laughed. “But since I’ve been away, I realized something out.”
“What?” she asked quietly, a fearful kind of wonder blossoming inside her heart.
He takes a step towards her, then two, landing in front of her as he takes her hand lightly. “Where I’m supposed to be.”
She swore she almost saw stars in his eyes as he looked at her, and the look took her back to before he left, to the feelings she thought she buried well enough. “And where is that?”
When he leaned in, he could hear her breath catch. “Turns out there is no better place, or better time, than right here.”
“But what about your life’s purpose?” she asked. Part of her thought this was all too good to be true; she was never supposed to see him again. He had told her protecting time was a thankless job that puts a target on people’s backs, and for that reason it requires anonymity.
“I realized there’s no good time for love,” he smiled, “But we need to take it when it comes our way. There is too big a cost for defying your heart.”
The softest of smiles formed on her face as she looked at him, taking him in. The way his eyes were trained on hers, and how the dim glow of the party made him look like a figure out of a dream. “I’m really glad you’re back, Jake.”
“Me too,” he said, right before his lips touched hers.