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Dreaming Hearts
Katrina Hayes 2005

The idea in this story is very similar to The Gift of the Magi [shorter version here]. In a very, very broad way of thinking ^_^ they're both about giving up what's most important to you because you were in love with someone.

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Five years. Five years, six months, eighteen days. That's how long John has lived without knowing his father. True, he doesn't know he doesn't know his father. But I know. I'm painfully aware... every day. Because I have lived six years, one month and twenty-three days without Marcus.

I miss him so much. But I'll never see him again. That's how it has to be. He can't know -- we had talked of marriage, but knew it would never really be possible, for us. I had dreamed of a lifetime of wandering, three years in China teaching English, a pair of years in Africa in the Peace Corps, five years somewhere on the West Coast, four more somewhere on the East... he dreamed of being settled, owning his own business, raising his kids in a stable home in some small town ideal for families. We knew we couldn't get married, because neither of us could bear to think that we'd force the other to give up their dreams.

That's why I can't see him again. He probably thinks I'm giving tours through the Vatican or something at the moment. He's probably about to open a second branch for his company. I wonder what he's in. Maybe landscaping, and plants. He always did enjoy the green stuff. I wonder what he's named his kids. How they're doing.

What his wife's like.

That's why I can't see him again. So he can remember me as I was, but only in the back of his mind. So he can keep building on his dreams.

-----

It's been more than six years since I last saw Rebecca. It was one of those hazy late July evenings, we were standing between our cars in the parking lot of the movie theater. I was kissing her goodbye... I didn't realize for the last time.

"Reb, I want to marry you."

She looked down, put her forehead against my shoulder. "I know. I want to marry you too... but..."

"Rebecca, look at me," she obliged, "I would follow you anywhere."

"I know..." she looked down again, "and I'd be perfectly willing to stay with you right here. That's..."

"That's why we can't." We'd had this conversation before.

"Marcus, I'm going to leave tomorrow."

The conversation, however, had never gone like that. But that was that. The end of it all.

She looked up again, and I kissed her like it was the last time. Like there was no tomorrow.

Because there wasn't.

I can only hope she's happy. That she's uncovering centuries-old manuscripts in basements in France or making history in villages heretofore untouched by modernity.

I'm sure she's doing that. I'm sure she's sure I'm doing just wonderfully, she probably thinks I finally opened that Garden Supply Store... I'd wanted to for so long. And then she left...

What would be the point?

I wonder if she'll ever go back to Burketsville, try to look me up. I doubt it, she's moved on and didn't seem eager to look back, but even if she did... I couldn't stay. I'm not there anymore, she wouldn't find me. Which would be a good thing. She can't see me as I am now... I'd much rather she remember me as I was.

I know I'll never find her again, and I know I don't really want to see her, much as I'd love to, because then she'd see me...

-----

I'd known I would have to leave, sometime, for both our sakes. I didn't know when. But I also knew I wouldn't be leaving for a lifetime of travel and adventure. Because I didn't want to, anymore. Without him, everything would've seemed so empty.

It still does. But at least I have John. Who is looking more and more like his father every day. Who I adore. I don't know if his two younger sisters... half-sisters... notice. If they have yet. If they will. I try to treat them all the same. A five-year-old, a three-year-old, one just past three months. So I can't treat them all the same. I try. I won't play favorites. But when I see that face... sometimes it's so hard. Sometimes I wonder if I made the wrong decision. But I don't think I'd be able to keep living if I hadn't.

If I hadn't gone off birth control. Three months later, the pregnancy test was finally positive. It was what I'd been waiting for. But too, it was agonizing. Because I'd told myself I would leave, then. Because I couldn't... because I wanted Marcus to believe that he'd made me happy, that I was living my dreams. That's all we had. If we couldn't make each other happy, at least we could let each other be happy. Life wasn't fair to us. We just had to do what we could.

I moved to a little place half an hour southwest of New York City. Not too busy, but close enough to the city that it would never be boring. An ideal place to raise a family...

I met Keith within a month. He didn't mind that I was already pregnant. That was all that really mattered. But he's a nice guy. Moved down from the City a couple weeks before John was born; everyone thought he was John's father. We didn't tell them differently. We're the only two people in the world who know. Marcus doesn't know...

All Keith needed to know was that I never wanted to see Marcus again. I mean, I'd love to, but I can't see him. Not like this. I just told Kieth... no, I never wanted to see Marc again. I said it. We were married when John was two months old. When I hadn't seen Marcus in nine months and twelve days.

I gave him two daughters and the rest of my life. He gave me something to live for, even if he didn't quite realize what that was... a real life for Marcus' and my son.

I don't have my dreams, and I don't have Marcus. But at least I have the memory of those few short years when I did have them.

-----

I didn't ask where she was going. I told myself it would be better if I didn't know. She'd only've been there a couple years, anyway. It wouldn't help me, now. But I would have followed her. It would have broken her heart, to see me like this.

I haven't been able to stay anywhere for more than a couple years since I lost her. Places become too familiar, everything starts to remind me of her, and how she's never seen this, never been here, never tried that.

Sometimes I'll meet another girl, and I'll fool myself into thinking that I might finally get over Rebecca, will finally be able to settle down, move on, like I know she has. That will last a few weeks, months at best, before I can't stand fooling myself like that anymore. Before I have to move on again.

Six years of being blown around in the wind, wanting to see her again, hoping I won't. I don't understand how she could have wanted to live like this. I know, if I'd been with her, I wouldn't've cared. But at least she thinks I'm living my dream.

I'm not. All I know is that no matter what I accomplished, it would've meant nothing without Rebecca. I don't have my dream, and I don't have her. But at least I have the memory of the time when I had both...

-----

Marcus' wandering eventually took him to New York City. He found himself in a pub, because he needed a drink, and he'd always loved pubs.

Since the birth of her first daughter, Rebecca had found herself often needing drinks, and she'd always needed to get away from Keith's... not-Marcusness, so she often went up to the city for a couple hours or three. Often dropped in somewhere. Often found herself in a particular Irish pub, that reminded her, enough, of Marcus. And that was what she needed. Enough.

It would seem surreal, for the once-lovers to reunite in such a place. To reunite at all, really. But of course, they weren't reunited.

He sat at one end of the bar, wearily glancing down at his drink every so often, but mostly looking around the pub. Out of habit more than expecting to actually see her. Because Rebecca never drank, and because after years of running from her ghost, he knew he'd never find her. It was only another ghost he saw, that figure slumped at the other end, staring so intently at her own drink, nose only inches from it, that it seemed she was about to drown in it. It was only another ghost -- this miserable looking woman; no, it was a ghost, reminding him why he was running. That ghost was how she would've looked if she had stayed with him, remained chained, given up her dreams for love.

She sat at the other end, wearily glancing around the pub every so often, but mostly staring at her drink. The drink was what she came here for, and to nurse her memories of Marcus. Seeing John every day sometimes eased the pain, watching him grow up, but it hurt so much, too, because she knew he'd never know his real father, any more than she would ever see Marcus again. She often thought she saw someone like him out of the corner of her eye in this pub, especially after taking a few drinks, and this time couldn't possibly be any different. The figure at the other end, looking around the pub as if he were waiting for someone who was running half an hour or an hour late and didn't really expect to show up anymore -- a miserable looking man; no, it was just a product of her longing and the alcohol, reminding her why she was drinking. The man she saw was how he would've looked if he had wandered with her, remained unrooted, given up his dreams for love.