It’s starting to get late, with the sun starting to set and the sky a vivid mix of pinks and oranges, almost like a watercolor painting. On the river walkway beneath the flowering trees, Althaea and Lionel are undisturbed in their quiet hideaway from the world around them.
“I hope we meet in another life, one where we never have to part like this,” Althaea repeats from her dreams. “Everything else feels so… hazy, but that’s always the one thing that manages to come through clearly. It’s like I heard it before and— I can’t understand! Ugh, this doesn’t make sense…”
“You’re right, it doesn’t,” Lionel deadpans, hands shoved into his pockets. “But, uh… dreams are weird. ‘Cause… I’ve been getting something like that and… it’s weird for me too.”
“It was… someone… crying. Pleading me not to go. I felt warmth in my hands and… It all felt so clear and familiar. That never used to happen before,” Lionel’s eyes go dart from here to there, from Althaea to their surroundings, while he scratches his head. It’s clear he doesn’t quite understand it himself and she can’t blame him; neither can she.
For a moment, Althaea covers her mouth with her hand, desperately trying to will herself to regain some measure of composure. It is here that she finds herself facing a near-impossible crossroads. She wants to confess, to spill her heart out at long last and lay it all out for Lionel to see. That much is for certain.
"But what if he doesn’t feel the same way?"
"They’re dreams, how does that even make sense?"
"No, I’m not prepared!"
Sweating bullets and a heart going a mile a minute, She’s not even sure she physically could, however badly she wants to.
“Hey, uh… I… Gods. A-Althaea…?” Lionel shyly asks, voice cracking. Althaea’s mind runs with endless answers to, “What could this mean?”
Lionel stretches out a hand. “Can you--” He starts coughing.
“What-- Why? Huh?!” She can barely even process what he’s trying to get at, already struggling to stay on top of the raging hurricane of her own thoughts.
“I just… I don’t know. I’m just-- I need help figuring things out,” He sheepishly requests of her.
“O...kay…?” Althaea stretches out her hand as they keep walking.
“This is nice,” Althaea thinks to herself. As nervous as she still is, with Lionel holding her hand, her heart at least stops threatening to burst out of her chest. She holds just a bit tighter, enjoying the way her hand fits into his.
“...This is nice…” She eventually voices out, glancing at Lionel. His eyes widen. Could it be the realization he was looking for?
“This… reminds me of that dream… How warm it felt…” Lionel trails off.
She’s not ready for any of this. Not ready for the sudden feeling of Lionel easing into this moment they’re sharing together. Not ready for the feeling of Lionel gently tightening his grip on her hand like she had done with his.
Not ready for the leap of faith she finds herself making.
“Lionel? I… I-- I really need to get something off my chest…”
“What… is it…?”
“That voice in my dreams it… It sounded like yours and I-I don’t know if it’s you or not but I know that it made me feel warm just like yours and… and… IT WAS LIKE HOW I FEEL AROUND YOU!”
Silence. Shock is written all over Lionel’s face. Suspense. The unspoken plea in Althaea’s mind for the earth to open up and swallow her whole. Yet against her own fears and rationality, she continues in a desperate attempt to fill in the empty space.“You… you get it right? R-Right?! I… I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU! AND-- AND I WAS SO SCARED TO TELL YOU SINCE YOU MIGHT NOT FEEL THE SAME--”
Each passing second is a second too long. There is the feeling of timelessness in the anxiety that floods her mind like water rushing out of a broken dam. Anticipation is but a cruelly thin line between hope and despair as she waits for him to finally say something, anything.
“Althaea, I… holding your hand... felt like the one in my dream and...” Now Lionel’s holding onto her with both his hands. There’s no more backing out, physically or mentally. The look in his eyes threatens to pierce into the core of her very being. “For so long, I… I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to take that risk, but now, I can’t wait anymore… I’m in love with you. You saw me in my darkest point but, no, you didn’t turn away… You were there, always, and-- I don’t know how to tell you what realizing that made me feel.”
Timelessness takes on an entirely different meaning as Lionel finally gives his answer.
She’ll never forget the way Lionel looks, just like this, the flowers and leaves of early spring their picture frame. The feeling of her world becoming brighter than the finest diamond. The lightness in the air that feels like heaven itself. The feeling of Lionel’s arms circling her waist as he lifts her into the air. The feeling of his lips against hers. Her first kiss, an honor Lionel alone can claim, whatever happens from here. The unspoken understanding they hold in that moment; side by side, never to part.
Althaea will never forget.