“I hope we meet in another life, one where we never have to part like this.”
Althaea can feel a gentle touch on her cheek, and a voice on the verge of tears, words laced with the sweet sorrow of parting. Warmth that all at once feels comforting and painful rises in her chest. It’s all so vague and distorted, like an old picture or a static-plagued radio. And still, like the light, earthy smell of the grass after the falling rain, it persists, formless but still tangible.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty!” Fuzzit’s voice abruptly cuts through Althaea’s hazy dream, pulling her back to reality.
“You slept through the bell, how did you do that?” Valir asks, partially as a joke.
“I… uh…” Althaea looks around, seeing some of their classmates begin to leave while her mind’s still barely coming back into focus.
Elio sits down on the seat next to Althaea, offering her some bottled water. “Pulled another all-nighter?”
“Huh? Yeah— yeah, that…” Althaea mumbles out.
“You let us know if you need help with anything, okay?” Elio pats her back, leaving the water on her desk.
“Yeah, I’ll tell you if ever…” She smiles at him.
“Guys!” Their attention turns to Darrack, coming in from outside the classroom. “Practice was canceled today.”
“Great! Arcade? Whole squad?” Fuzzit’s eyes light up at the prospect of an opportunity. The rest of them overlap each other, but they all say something to the general tune of agreement.
“Althaea?” Darrack asks.
She shakes her head. “Oh, uh, I’ll pass. Maybe I’ll finish some stuff in the library…”
“Fair enough,” Valir nods in understanding.
“I’ve got someone to meet, actually. Wouldn’t wanna keep them waiting…” Althaea starts to pack things up and go.
“Someone to see?” Valir raises an eyebrow.
“What, like Elio and Sarkas?” Fuzzit joins in on the teasing. Elio covers his face with his hands to hide his blush.
Althaea begins blushing herself as she frantically shakes her head.“Huh? Um, no, that’s it not it--”
“Yet,” Fuzzit grins.
“Shut uuuuup!” Althaea whines.
“Two lovebirds with one stone,” Darrack notes, amused.
The response Althaea would’ve wanted to give instead comes out as a strangled yelp in embarrassment. She’s a lot of things; apparently, subtle isn’t one of them.
“If you’re not gonna come with, then see ya later, I guess,” Fuzzit’s the first to leave.
“See-- See you…” Althaea stiffly waves.
Valir drags a still-flustered Elio along with him as they leave the classroom.
“Valir… I think we broke him,” Fuzzit jokes on the way out.
“Just switch him off, then switch him on again, he’ll live,” Valir playfully dismisses.
The library has always been Althaea’s comfort place, and just walking on the way there is enough to put her at ease. It helps that the weather today is relatively gentle for a spring day, the sun overhead turning the sky a lovely shade of blue, and the nearby plants blooming with life as their flowers paint a bright, colorful display out of the surrounding scenery.
Stopping a moment to feed some of the street cats, she takes a sip out of the bottled water Elio gave her earlier. Just still her nerves and stay hydrated.
“Got distracted?” A familiar voice asks. Althaea would recognize that biker jacket and long hair anywhere.
“Huh? Oh, Lionel! Yeah, kinda,” Althaea chuckles.
“On the way to the library, right?”
She undusts her skirt, before standing back up. “Yeah, just as planned.”
“Alright. Then let’s go, while there’s still just a few people there.”
Bottled water still in her hand, Althaea follows Lionel to the library. In the colorful display of early spring, their walk together is a peaceful silence.
How many times has it been, that they meet like this? And only now does Althaea get that feeling. That feeling of timelessness around Lionel, like the world doesn’t exist beyond the bounds of the library walls. That feeling like there’s flowers blooming in her heart, a feeling that almost suffocates her yet brings this warmth and life she can’t fully understand.
“Hey, you’re kinda spacing out,” Lionel comments. “Something the matter?”
Althaea rubs her eyes. “I… I didn’t sleep well last night…”
“Need a break?” There’s a sense of worry in his voice, subtle but noticeable, even from her sleep-deprived delirium.
“No, it’s-- it’s not that…” Althaea looks away, one of her fingers entangled in her hair.
“If you say so,” Lionel dismisses, apparently unconvinced but not pushing any further. For a while, as they quietly work away at textbook problems and churning out partially dishonest question-prompted reflections, every so often Althaea finds herself starting on this helpless dance of glances.
“I'm in love with you.”
“Please feel the same.”
“What do you think about me?”
Words melt in the space between them that she wants to close but never could, as she’s trapped in their timelessness together.
“Huh?! I’m sorry, what were you--”
“No, no just-- it’s fine,” He shakes his head, and Althaea swears she could see the beginnings of a blush on his face. “You’ve been… really out of it lately. What keeps you up so late anyway?”
Once again, she begins twirling a finger in her hair. “It’s… it’s weird…”
“Go on, ‘weird’ has never stopped you before,” Lionel prods, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Ugh,” Althaea looks away, feeling like whatever she has to say is dying, like her voice jumped just jumped out of her throat. Still, she tries to fight it to get her thoughts through. “It’s… it’s this weird dream I’ve been getting.”
“You know what? Let’s walk while we talk about this,” Lionel suggests. “Maybe getting some air should help.”
“Alright…” She responds, for lack of a better idea while they get up to leave the library.
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.