The world was on fire and no one could save me but you.I held the lighter up high over the bed in my left hand and spun it until it flickered with a steady burn and hiss, blinding me from the dark.
Happy forty-three, Preacher.
I said it quietly and I felt the cool trail of tears sliding down my face into my ears from my eyes. Flat on my back I kept the lighter wavering tall above me. Lochlan took it out of my hand and pulled me up.
Sure. Not like I'm sleeping. I look at the clock and it's 3:42 in the morning. Everything is quiet. He pulls on his yesterday-clothes and I do the same and he takes my hand. Let's go.
When we get outside to the backyard he drops my hand and heads down to the patio, dragging an Adirondack chair out, away from the others. He then motions for me to take a seat in it so I do. He says to wait there and I do as he disappears.
There's the ocean and the sky and a place Jake won't ever see because he never made it to his birthday and is forever locked at thirty-six even though my mind tries to future-age him every chance it gets. It tries to keep him in the picture. It tries to never let him go.
The rain is coming steadily now and I wonder if I've been banished from my own bed for my perpetual insolence and reverse-loyalty. But then Lochlan is back with his fire.
His precious fire.
In between eating the fire and doing tricks for me, he tells a story. Sometimes the fire is in the story, and sometimes it's a distraction from the story. Sometimes I am astounded and afraid for him and sometimes I feel proud that he works hard to keep such a singular set of skills so fresh.
But more than that the story is one I have heard before, but never told quite like this. It's about a princess and an angel that comes down from heaven to help her but only briefly because he must go back. She doesn't listen. She thinks it's forever and then can't understand where he went so she spends the rest of her life looking for him until a helpful court jester in the kingdom tells her kindly that he isn't coming back. When she cries he distracts her with a poem and some magic and then invites her to a dance. She accepts, surprised she didn't really see him before even though he has been there all along. She remembers him from long ago and she remembers her fondness for him too.
They lived happily ever after in Lochlan's story as the rain weighed down his flames and threatened to rob him of heat and light, as it crushed his curls to his head and flooded my heart and made the ocean and the house invisible as he shouted out the lines as he wrote them in his head.
And I listened as hard as I could.
When he was finished he put down his tools, taking a few minutes to clean up the gear and then he came over to my chair. He took my hands and pulled me to my feet, kissing the top of my head, now with plastered-down hair as well, leading me back inside, up the steps in the dark and we stripped off our wet clothes and got back into bed, the smell of white gas permeating everything, where he said he's only got one thing left that he needs to steal in his life and if I'd help him with it then we could have our Happily Ever After without further delay.
He pointed to my heart. He pushed right through flesh and bone and emotional trip wire and psychological electric fence and he said he would take it. He said maybe he has already. He looked for confirmation, hints or maybe just promises dissolved by rain. And then he waited for my response.
(Oh God. I HATE cliffhangers too. I'm sorry but it has to be done.)