Her legs are tangled between the sheets and her lover's and she thinks, I never expected to be here.
Or perhaps, more simply, not like this. Not in these bodies, not in this time.
There's an itch beneath her skin. The only thing she can hear is their joined breathing and she fights the urge to jump out of bed.
There's a murmur near her ear, whispering, "Go back to sleep, Gwen." The fingers on her hip press into her skin, just a little, enough to settle her nerves and she remembers why they're here.
Gwen shuts her eyes against the quiet and the dark. She feels warm and loved.
It happens like this:
She is alive. This time, the days feel hazy and summer-heavy. She is sheltered and normal and it's a relief. She remembers small things, glimpses, and thinks that one day, she'll write a story about her dreams, about the princess of the moon and the prince of the earth and raining fire and chaos.
For now, she is young and long-limbed and wide-eyed. She is nineteen and goes to college in her small Midwestern town and she has a future ahead of her. She studies Journalism and religion and mythology. She has friends and sometimes boyfriends and parents who love her.
Gwendolen is happy. She didn't expect to be.
Then one day, she's sitting in a coffee shop with her books and, in her absentminded daze, she spills her drink on the girl at the next table. There's a hasty apology and grabbing paper napkins and she's patting down the girl's wool skirt, already offering to pay for dry cleaning.
The girl smiles at her, waves off her apology, and suddenly, she's caught by familiar dark blue eyes.
For a moment, she can't breathe. She hears screaming and crying and whispered adorations and laughter and a kingdom burning.
"I'm Cass," the girl says. "We're in the same History of South Asian Religions class."
Her name is really Casiel, she discovers later. A daughter of a deacon a few towns over, Cass majors in theology even though she wants to be a nurse. Really, Cass admits, she wants more than anything to be a doctor, a pediatrician, and when Gwen asks her why she doesn't pursue it, Cass shrugs with a small, sad smile. It may be the sixties and a brand new world, but her father would never allow it. It was enough that he'd let her go to college at all.
Gwen's heart aches for her. She leaves medical books she borrowed from the library around their small apartment and Cass just laughs.
It's not until they've been living together for seven months that Gwen realizes what Cass means to her
Two months later, she graduates. She gets a job offer for a paper in a big city three hours east. She packs her things and moves away. She promises Cass she'll call as much as she can.
Cass, a year from graduating, just smiles and tells her that she shouldn't spend her paychecks on phone bills.
Four months later, Gwen is writing an article on the death of the president and Cass calls and says that her brother's joined the Army. The moment the finished article hits her editor's desk, Gwen is in her '61 LeSabre and speeding back to her hometown.
Cass still lives in their old apartment. Gwen lets herself in with the spare key and curls next to Cass on the sofa and lets her cry on her Macy's blouse.
That night, she kisses Cass for the first time.
In her dreams, she can see the Earth hanging heavy in the sky from her balcony. Her room in swathed in white luxury. The only color is a vase of long-stemmed roses, blood red and full. Even during the day hours, she sees millions of stars winking in the inky black of the sky but all she cares about is the Earth.
She meets a man with dark hair, clothed in lush fabrics and armor. She loves him with all of her heart.
When she looks into his eyes, she sees Cass.
Their second apartment together is larger than the first, with big bay windows and a breakfast nook. Between the two of them, Gwen the reporter and Cass the school teacher, they make enough money to splurge on a TV set for their living room.
They love in secret. Gwen's parents are modern-minded and accept that she wants a career of her own. Cass's parents ask her if she's met a nice man at the end of every phone call.
When Cass hangs up, Gwen pulls her to their bed and kisses her until the sadness leaves her eyes.
At night, in the safety of the darkness, she buries her face in Cass's neck and thinks how much easier it is to love in her dreams.
On Gwen's twenty-fifth birthday, Cass takes Gwen out to a fancy restaurant in Springfield. In a different city, they relish the anonymity and hold hands in public. They walk together in a city park, standing too close with their pinkies linked, and they smile stupidly at each other.
Over a dinner of too-expensive wine and seafood, Cass gives Gwen a ringbox. Inside is a small, heart-shaped diamond set in a simple gold band.
Later that night, Cass kisses the ring where it sits on Gwen's left ring finger, Gwen gasping beneath her.
The next day, Gwen buys a thin chain to wear in public, her ring hanging lightly between her breasts, just above her heart. Every night, Cass slips the ring from the chain and puts it back on her left hand.
When Martin Luther King Jr is murdered, they're on vacation in Atlanta. The city of his birth mourns and they mourn with it. They hold each other in the quiet of their hotel room and watch the news and are deaf to the rioting in the streets twenty floors below.
They return home, more tired and weary than when they left, and spend hours together in bed, just breathing.
In five weeks, when Cass's parents find out about their relationship, Gwen remembers Atlanta and thinks about how hard fighting injustice must be in the quiet pauses between the screaming. When Cass vehemently defends Gwen to the parents she loves, Gwen is struck silent by her beauty and thinks that it's worth it.
She gathers Cass in her arms and tells Cass's parents that she hopes that one day they'll see how much she loves their daughter and that they will always be welcome in their home.
Then Gwen puts Cass in the passenger's seat of their new '68 Coupe de Ville and they leave.
That night, Gwen dreams of death.
In March of 1973, there's a car accident.
Gwen was in their new house, tending the rose garden in their backyard. Cass was on her way back from the grocery store.
There's a call from the hospital when Gwen begins wondering what might be taking Cass so long.
The next two days are a blur.
By the end of the week, Gwen is standing in front of a shiny white headstone, numb. Cass's mother stands between the two plots holding her husband and her daughter. Behind her, Cass's brother, Marcus, stands with his wife and son. When the rest of the crowd is gone, he puts his hand on Gwen's shoulder and looks at her with red, swollen eyes.
Gwen finds herself sitting on the bed in Marcus' guest bedroom that night.
She stares at the ring on her finger the entire night.
When the robbery takes place four years later, Gwen is unashamedly relieved.
She is alive.
She is young and long-limbed and wide-eyed.
She has also just failed a test.
On her way back home, she's consumed with thoughts of no dinner and no allowance for a month and she tosses the crumpled test over her shoulder in frustration.
There's a startled, angry noise behind her. She turns and is caught by deep blue eyes.
She stares at the young man and thinks, Cass.