By Eleanor Wood
Lily set the plastic box beside the door even though Omri had never entered that way and never would. Leaving it on the table was too painful. She’d still been angry when she’d thrown everything in, but now the borrowed music and familiar clothes only rubbed salt on her torn heart.
She had sobbed her way through a whole box of tissues last night, but she was determined not to cry in front of him. She made some ginger tea and sat beside the window to wait. He said he’d collect his things (and drop off hers) today, but ‘today’ could be any time before tomorrow. They’d never managed to coordinate time, slippery and unpredictable as it was.
So she tormented herself with memories and questions she couldn’t answer.
“Is there... someone else?” she had asked. “Someone easier to be with?”
“Lily. No.” His sorrowful eyes met hers. “I love you. No one else.”
“Then why, Omri?” She fought the lump squeezing her throat. “We’ve managed more than a year. A year!”
He looked away from her. “And what then? What’s next for us? We’ve agreed living together isn’t an option. What kind of future does that allow us?”
“You could live here!” It was a feeble protest and she knew it. “It’s much simpler for you. You can journey back and forth as often as you like.”
“Just because I don’t get sick doesn’t mean it’s simple! I’m about to lose my job. My friends have given up making plans with me because I never show up on time. My family doesn’t understand at all. Moving here would devastate my mum.” His voice broke. “I have to make a choice, Lil. I can’t keep doing this.”
She had turned away from him then. She turned her memory away now.
They’d visited the mountains a few months ago and spent two whole weeks with no one but each other. It was bliss. For the first time, she could pretend they were a normal couple with a life together. They cooked and ate and hiked and swam and made love and talked late into the night. They’d stood, staring up at the stars together, his arms around her waist.
“Can’t we just save this moment, like in a computer sim, and come back here whenever we like?”
She smiled. “We call them computer ‘games’.”
“I know.” He laughed into her hair. “But we’re not playing at this, are we?”
She turned to face him, suddenly earnest. “No. And I know it’s crazy and impossible, but I’m so glad I found you. I mean... what we have, it’s incredible, isn’t it? Just the odds of us finding each other...”
“Yet we did,” he finished. “Like our distance was a challenge from the universe, daring us to be together.”
She laughed. “You can be so over the top sometimes.”
He grinned and kissed her.
Her tea was almost cold and her face was wet with tears again. She grabbed the fresh box of tissues and blew her nose. Omri was her soulmate. Wasn’t he? She longed for their impossible gap to close and knew it couldn’t. He was right, and she hated him for it. She could brave the gut-wrenching nausea and go back with him, but she’d have to leave her life behind. She could lose Omri, or she could lose everything else. A challenge from the universe, he had said. More like a torment.
A rush of air announced his sudden arrival. She turned to see the vortex opening, bright light and a clap of pressure in her ears as colours blurred and space rent open to let him through. Omri stepped into her apartment, his red hair roughed up in the wind. The strange fabric of his clothes maintained their shape as the air was sucked past him and the vortex closed with a snap. Lily yawned to unpop her ears.
He placed her returned belongings on the table.
“Yours are by the door,” she said.
He regarded her with such sadness that she turned her gaze back to the window before her eyes could fill up again. He went to the door and retrieved his box. She heard him rummaging in it.
“Lily... keep this.”
“What?” She turned back to see him holding the RiftOpener he had given her on their one-month anniversary. She shook her head. “No. What’s the use of it now?”
He fought tears of his own as he looked at the remote control-shaped object in his hand. “You might need it. You never know. I’m not...” he seemed to struggle. “I don’t want to lose you forever, Lil. I don’t want to close that vortex knowing you can never open it if you need to. Even if you never use this, it’d make things easier knowing you had it.”
She didn’t trust her voice for several moments. “Omri, you’re ending things. Not me. I don’t want to lose you at all. But if it’s over, it’s over. You can’t keep me in some kind of limbo.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Besides, that’s your world’s tech. It doesn’t belong here.”
“It belongs with you. I gave it to you.”
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. “Please, just take your things and go.”
He stood there for another moment. She kept her eyes shut as he opened the vortex again. Kept them shut as the portal whooshed closed, leaving her alone. Kept them shut against the shuddering sobs that assailed her.
Long minutes later, she opened them. She wiped away her tears to face the box of items he had returned.
Beside it, on the table, lay the RiftOpener. Omri’s parting gift.
Lily smiled through her heartbreak.
About the Author
Eleanor Wood has been writing since childhood, although she no longer staples her stories’ pages together into little books complete with hand-drawn cover illustrations. She’s also a qualified proofreader and copy editor in order to realise her utopian (pipe)dream of perfect grammar and punctuation for all. She lives on the south coast of England with her husband, two dogs, a multitude of tropical fish, and a ready supply of vegetable juice.
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