Sunday Short – Where they fear to tread

She lay across from him on the ivory sheets, her skin glowing with the soft sheen of perspiration. A wide, happy smile lit up her face.

“Sera,” he murmured, his fingers tangling in her short auburn curls.

“Michael,” she replied cheekily, as her lips dipped to his mouth.

He could taste the salt on her lips, from the seaside visit they’d made in the afternoon. It had been a perfect day, frolicing in the water, eating fresh fish and seasoned chips in the cool breeze of afternoon. Later, he’d enjoyed exploring, tasting the salt on her skin.

For a moment, she lay, contented in the crook of his arm, as he gazed down on her, the colour of his green eyes shifting unconsciously. Her brown eyes raised to his, the warmth and happiness seasoning them a rich chocolate.

She rolled away from him, and his fingers skimmed over the delightful curves. Warm fingers intertwined with his.

“Let’s wander under the stars,” she implored, her entire body beseeching him. “It is too beautiful a night to waste.”

Michael humoured her. After all, these last weeks with her in his life had been some of the happiest, the most content he could remember. The fun was infectious. It was in her laugh, her smile. But what most intrigued him were her eyes, so full of emotion, flickering and flitting there to the gentle features.

When dressed, they ventured into the cool night air, their skin dewy in the half darkness. Above their heads, the stars sparkled, romantic lights for their path. Giggling, Sera led Michael on. They came to a cliff top, the soft sounds of the waves at rocks at its base lulling.

She pulled him to the grass, and lay her head on his stomach. Enchanting pools of darkness, they glimmered up at him.

“Tell me about your life Michael.”

Such an open-ended question. He laughed down at her, smoothing the wild hair that blew softly into her face.

“I was a country boy. Grew up on a small farm not to far from here. Did ok at school, I suppose. Got me to my job as an engineer, so I can’t complain.”

“What is it you like about engineering?”

He smiled. “Pieces that fit together, that work to create something greater; a dream, a plan, a vision.”

“A bit like us?” she smiled.

“A bit like us,” he replied, ruffling her hair.

“Who did you first love?”

“My mum!” he joked. “In all seriousness, a girl named Tash. She had blonde hair and was a laugh. But she wasn’t the one for me. We didn’t have enough to talk about. But we loved each other, until it ended bitterly.”

Sera noticed the pain, creasing his face inwards, and moved on. “What’s your Mum like?”

“What is this? 20 questions? The Spanish Inquisition?”

She climbed up and straddled him. “I might have a little Spanish in me…”

He opened his mouth to retort, but a finger was placed firmly on his lips. “None of that. Tell me about your Mum.”

“She was a single mother, my dad died in a car accident when I was two. She raised me alone, teaching at the local school, tutoring neighbour’s children in music after school. She was a thin, tall woman, with big expressive eyes and long brown hair. Always with a hug, and some little piece of knowledge.”

“Do you miss her?”

He looked at her strangely. “How did you know she was gone?”

“I’m not who you think I am Michael. Do you believe that adage that there is a reason or a season for which people come into your life?”

Raising an eyebrow at her, he gently shook his head. She smiled, not a trace of judgement or dismissal of his view.

“I didn’t think you would,” she sighed. “But it’s going to make this bit harder for you to take…”

“I was assigned you. To watch over you, to guide you to the next path,” she gently explained.

“The next path?” Michael asked confused, before he cottoned on and started to scramble backwards. “Nuh… no…. I don’t want to go over that cliff, I’m not interested in your cult…”

Sera smiled and stood up, allowing him to move backward. He stood, facing her, heart hammering in his chest, frightened. She walked slowly towards him, and wrapped her arms around him.

“Don’t be afraid Michael. I won’t hurt you. You believe that don’t you?”

With her hand slipping up his shirt to rest over his heart, he looked at her, this girl who he’d been falling in love with. It seemed a little mad right now, but she had never hurt him. He relaxed in her arms. She took his hand, moved it to her waist, took his other hand and started dancing with him.

Above them, the stars drifted as she explained, “I am what the afterlife calls a guide. I lead people to where they’re meant to be.”

“But I am not the one who decides. I just work here.”

A gentle smile, and she cupped his face in her hand. “But the one who decides knows that your time is up.”

“It will be quick and painless. Your heart will speed up, into what doctors call a fibrillation. But I will be here, and I will be here to hold your hand.”

Sera looked into the eyes of her beloved. The tears shining in them tore her heart open.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I fell for you. And I don’t want this to happen either. But there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

A tear ran down his cheek. “When?”

“Almost now,” she said. “It will hurt, for a second. But then it will be over, as if it never happened.”

“I’m not ready,” he replied, his green eyes wide.

She smiled so sadly, his heart hurt for her for a moment. “No one ever is.”

“Let me hold you,” she ventured softly, her mouth against the nape of his neck. “Let me be here.”

He nodded, drawing closer into her, imprinting the smell of her on his memory. Then, through him came a surge like electricity, tingling painfully throughout his entire body. Tightly, she held him, to protect him. With one last cry, the pain fled as quickly as it began.

He could not move. Gently, Sera lay him to ground and stood above him. She glowed golden, in colour the like he’d never experienced before. Beside her, the stars paled against her shimmer.

That big smile he adored, the one she’d saved for him, flashed onto her face.

“So, the new way begins Michael,” she said cheekily, reaching down her hand. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

He reached out his hand, and took hers, surprisingly warm, in his own.

A shooting star streaked across the sky, for the briefest moment, showing up the prone body of a young man on a lonely clifftop.

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