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In your dreams there is a man that loves you. 

You have never been a particularly pious woman. Your mother was: from a young age she would take you and your sister to the service every Sunday, and you would sit in that white building, full to the brim of sunlight streaming through the murals depicting a gentle and loving God. Dust particles would sparkle like glitter in the light and you would look at him – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, the priest would intone – and think: 

God is not merciful. God is not kind. God cares not for humanity. 

You are ten the first time the thoughts come. Serah’s candy sticky fingers find yours in the small space between the two of you and she holds your hand, almost as if she knows the way your mind is straying, for the entirety of the one hour and fifteen minutes. 

The service ends. You emerge into your small town, jostled on all sides by fellow churchgoers, and squint at the sun. Your hand comes up to shade at your eyes, and the sky above you is so clear that it is almost blinding. 

Serah’s hand slips from yours in the crowd. 

There is a hollowness inside you. 

(there is—  

a man—  

that loves you—)  

.  

.  

You grow up and realize that you want more out of life: more than the small town you were born in, with its sole church on the corner and only one train station and stores that close their doors to you with the tolling of five o’clock. You set out for Paris as many of the youth do. A university takes you in on a part time position as you pursue a degree in general studies, helping run events taking place on campus. One day a man comes to offer a series of special lectures and crowds follow him, some enamored and others holding signs of protest. Your interest is piqued and with a quick Google search of his name, his history is laid out before you: a researcher, barely any older than you, with two PhDs under his belt. A leader in scientific breakthroughs – something about genetic modification in utero to ensure a child is born healthy. Disease will soon be a thing of the past, his sponsors and supporters claim. 

He is going against God; he is playing God, his opposition fiercely argues. And yet others praise him for being a man of science at such a young age, a leader to herald in a new age of technology and medicine. Of doing what even a supposed God has chosen not to. 

“If there is a God,” the man is quoted in one article you come across, “Would he not have meant for us to discover this in time, when humanity was ready to take the next step forward?” 

You do not see him on campus that week. A year passes, and his name follows you like a shadow: his research is curing cancers. Alzheimer’s. Under his umbrella of discoveries, the scientific community flourishes. 

He comes back to your campus and he has sea green eyes and silver hair and a beautiful face, and he does not speak a lick of French. You do not speak English, but somehow you are left to be his guide to the university this time around, and somehow you make due. When he looks at you, you feel lighter under his steady gaze and charming smile. You can see why people, previous opposition included, are slowly coming around to his ideals. 

Your sister calls you and tells you that your mother has fallen sick. You take the first train home the following morning and a girl with bubblegum-pink hair leans against an open door with you as the train picks up passengers at a station, quietly people watching. You think of the researcher at the university, no doubt on stage at this very moment and convincing his audience of the promises the future holds. 

The girl beside you has an Australian accent tinging her French and a bright smile when she asks you where you’re headed. 

“Home,” you tell her. Her sunny smile wavers; a cloud drifts across the sun. You can hear a train on the tracks next to you approaching. 

“I’m sorry,” she says, and she moves faster than you can blink. Her hands make contact with your chest and suddenly you’re lying on the tracks, the train whistle at your ears. 

“There is no home,” the girl whispers and there are tears in her eyes and then— 

Everything ends. 

In your dreams there is a man that loves you— 

and sometimes you wake up frightened. 

You have never been a particularly pious woman. Your mother was: from a young age she would take you and your sister to the service every Sunday, and you would sit in that aging building, full to the brim of sunlight streaming through the murals depicting a gentle and merciful God. Dust particles would sparkle like crystals in the light and you would look at him – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, the priest would intone – and think: 

God is not merciful. God is not kind. God cares not for humanity. 

You are ten the first time the thoughts come. Serah’s candy sticky fingers find yours in the small space between the two of you and she holds your hand, almost as if she knows the way your mind is straying, for the entirety of the one hour and fifteen minutes. 

The service ends. You emerge into your small town, jostled on all sides by fellow churchgoers, and squint at the sun. Your hand comes up to shade at your eyes, and the sky above you is so clear that it is almost blinding. 

Serah’s hand slips from yours in the crowd. 

There is a hollowness inside you. 

.

  .  

(there is a man—

  there is—  

a—)  

.  

.  

Your quiet countryside town has been experiencing discomfort lately. Political opinions about the new French president and government have made their way even here. Petty crimes happen as the townsfolk argue and begin to scowl at their neighbors instead of smiling. When you graduate your high school you leave for Paris, intent on entering university, and become security detail instead. You’re not sure how it happens, but it does and so you follow that path. Several years pass; you have an apartment in the city, and your sister and your mother visit every month or so. Serah is considering moving and rooming with you, even. The job pays well, you are comfortable, and the radio in your car croons softly: 

“This life is but a passing dream…”

That day your boss hands you an assignment for the month and his brow furrows. “This guy’s pretty controversial, so keep an eye out,” he instructs. When you meet the client, you’re struck with some amusement: a scientist, who bumbles his French when he meets you and an awkward, crooked smile. You watch him give a presentation on stage and find yourself impressed with the charisma he exudes. He talks with his hands, passion in his voice as he describes his research into curing disease, curing cancer, bringing humanity forward into the future. On his way to his dressing room afterwards he manages to ask you out for coffee and you hesitantly agree, taken aback by his beauty and his gentle smile when he focuses all his attention solely on you. 

In your break room as you ready a cup of coffee, one of your coworkers assigned to someone else from the team is there. She taps her cigarette out the window. 

“Interesting stuff,” she comments as the coffee pot gurgles. Her wild black hair escapes its ponytail and she makes a half-hearted attempt to brush it back. “What do you think?” 

“I think he made some good points,” you allow after a moment of consideration. The woman makes a small noise in the back of her throat, her sharp chin jutting down as she observes you. 

“What a pity,” she murmurs and suddenly there is a gun in her hand and pain numbing its way through the delicate flesh of your chest. 

You think you hear her footsteps approach you, sounding as if she is walking on sand and her voice, disappearing into the darkness taking you— 

“That none of this is real.”  

.  

.  

In your dreams there is a man that loves you— 

and every night you wake up screaming. 

You never were a pious woman. You wonder if you should be, what with the way things are going – but then again, it is much too late to ask for forgiveness. You left your small country town at a young age to get away from the rising crime rate and to try to move Serah to Paris. Your mother had been shot in a drive by long ago and now it is only your sister in that house, all alone and resolute about finishing her education. You work in security and are pretty damn good at it – hell, you were even assigned to the team watching the President, once. University was never something you achieved but you figure that that’s just fine: you have a job, and a place to call your own, and your sister is moving in next week. Life’s 

but a passing dream

 Good.

 

(there is a man—  

there is—  

no—)  

.  

.  

In this very moment you can remember very clearly, down to the page number and paragraph, where it says in the employee handbook that intimate relations with clients are strictly forbidden. 

You can’t bring yourself to care. 

The man with his hands down your business slacks is a researcher of some sort, a controversial one from what little you’ve bothered to gather. Genetics, engineering, memory manipulation – things that some of the masses cry are invading the realm of God. If he’s as good of a scientist as he is of a kisser then you would not be surprised at the enormous cries of blasphemy and support he receives from both sides. 

He presses you against the wall until you think your bones will crack, his hands now bruising their shape into the curve of your waist. 

“I never did catch your name,” he murmurs against the skin of your neck and the bite he leaves positively stings. You decide right then and there that you are a masochist for moaning in response, for wanting more of his mouth and his hands to leave marks all over you. His silver hair under your fingers reflects in the bright light of the hallway, miraculously empty at this time of day. When he glances up at you, both shy and roguish all at once, his eyes make you think of the bottle glass you had collected on the beach as a child: polished green and smooth, fitting perfectly into the palm of your hand. 

You smirk and accompany it with a tilt of your hips against his. “Claire Farron.” 

The man – and you don’t know his name either, not on a personal level, just from his files your boss handed to you – groans in response. “Well, Claire,” he murmurs against your lips, bruising kisses against your mouth and cheek, “Right now, you are all mine.” 

Your body sings in response to him and his words the way it never did those first few times you attended church and heard of God. He takes you hard and fast against the barren wall, his eyes tenderly on yours with a desire that makes you cry out his name when you come. 

“All mine,” he whispers, turning his face into the curve of your neck. The grin you can feel pressing into you is burning with satisfaction. 

All of a sudden you feel like crying. 

(there is—  

only—)  

.  

.  

In your apartment when you come home stands a girl who you first think is Serah. She turns her head at the sound of your front door banging shut behind you and you freeze, because the figure before you is not Serah but instead you, the you from years ago when you were still a child angry after the death of your mother and the state of your small world. 

“What a fool you are,” the you-girl speaks in your childish voice, remembered only on VHS tapes, and rebalances the strange sword contraption she is holding in her hand. Her pink hair curls against her cheek as she tilts her head, lips pouting.

“When will you finally learn, Claire?” 

You do not have the chance to ask her what she means. 

.

.

In your dreams there is a man that loves you— 

and he is no man at all, and he is all wrong, and when he winds his arms around you and presses you close, you wonder if the knife grasped in your hands is meant for him. 

.

.

(there is—

only—

God.)