A gift of love came to LillyAnne. It came wrapped in an envelope of time like a sweet Valentine left in a nearly forgotten mailbox. It would be perfect, all that she could ask for—until time ran out.
LillyAnne had lived on the outskirts of town for fifty-three years in the same small house. She was a child of eight when she arrived with her parents. Tragedy struck when she was twelve, leaving both her parents invalided—and the rest of her childhood purloined by years of caring for them. When they died, LillyAnne’s only skill set was Caring.
So she did.
As the years streamed by, she nursed invalids in their homes, drove Meals on Wheels and read to the elderly at both of the convalescence hospitals in the area. LillyAnne poured out her love and care until it seemed she had emptied the well of its supply. After expending all she had to help others find the strength to go on, her reserve played out. After helping her patients not lose hope, and to still believe in dreams, she had none of her own.
Often she was asked, in various ways, why she didn’t have a husband. Was she dating anyone? Each time, the questions made LillyAnne feel strange, like a sense of déjà vu. Like the shadow of a person in her mind, for just a tiny second, looking at her. For some reason, her answer was always the same. “Love came long ago and didn’t stay.” She refused to explain, mostly because she didn’t know exactly why she repeatedly said that. Eventually, people stopped asking.
By the end of several decades of being there for so many others during the day, LillyAnne was too tired to realize that dreams did not come to her at night, anymore. Sleep, it seemed, was just a dark space into which she folded her tired body and gave up until another dreary dawn pulled dull, dusty plumes of light through her window—and her out of bed.
Finally, a year ago, LillyAnne withdrew to a stingy retirement, living on a pension that only promised a deeper impecunious reality as time skipped passed. Each year took its slice of spirit until only crumbs of her vitality littered her waking hours.
Lonely and feeling ill by the end of each day, LillyAnne often thought of not bothering to see the next.
Until last night.
Last night, a dream found her dark space and stayed with her until dawn splashed through her window. Bright, warm light cascaded in. It hurt her eyes with its radiant urgency. Get up. Get up, LillyAnne.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes, but the dream stayed. It lay before her like a book of secrets concealed out of sequence at the back of the library, now found open for her to read. Or, read again. Because the dream was a memory—many memories, in fact, of happiness, joy, sunshine, and…love. Deep love—the kind that fills all the empty spaces in one’s existence and fulfills every human desire for companionship, acceptance, complete communion with another and with all life.
She scrambled out of bed. Her body didn’t hurt. Pain didn’t slice through her hands as she fumbled with her clothing. What was happening? What was she to do?
LillyAnne looked for her shoes. She had to go somewhere. But where? “Oh!” she said and stepped to her window. The little copse of trees behind the house. “Yes! He’s there. He…”
She frowned and moved back. Realization poked into her consciousness like a rusty nail. The dream also held another memory—one that evoked a single emotion. Sadness. She thought of all the times that someone asked about her single lifestyle. The answer: Love came long ago and didn’t stay.
And didn’t stay.
An ache bloomed across her hands. Pain twisted around her spine. LillyAnne rubbed her hands together and slumped down on the edge of her bed. She took a deep breath and let both of the memories, the love, and the loss settle over her. All her life she had compartmentalized her feelings. Happy when she was helping others—sad when she was by herself.
Now, the emotions entwined each other. For the first time, LillyAnne remembered the exaltation of love and the deep despair when love left her. No, this wasn’t the first time, she thought. I’ve been through this many times.
“Many times,” she whispered and recalled one extraordinary experience after another. Each followed by loss and abandonment. She put her head in her hands. “Oh, my god. Who is he? How, and why did I not remember all of this?”
A loud sound grabbed her attention. A dog was barking in the back yard. She stepped again to the window. Her heart jumped its beat, and a smile broke through the deep creases on either side of her mouth that guarded against such a thing. “Rascal!”
The large shepherd mix barked again and jumped around in a circle. “Oh, Rascal. Where did you come from?”
He barked again and trotted off toward the trees. LillyAnne turned and went through her house to the back door. She took the four steps down into the overgrown yard without the aid of the handrail and scanned the area. “Rascal! Where are you?”
A flash of a fluffy tail at the edge of the trees provided the answer. She started to run.
When she entered the stand of trees and shrubby growth that delineated her property, she didn’t hesitate. She followed the sound of Rascal’s playful barks until she stopped at the edge of a pond. Rascal was sitting on the other side, staring at her through a thin glowing surface. It was like looking into a snow globe.
LillyAnne put a hand over her heart. Her shoulders shook as she held back sobs of joy at the sight. “Oh…I remember. I remember.” Then she gasped when a glowing apparition materialized next to the dog. It was a little girl with red pigtails. The girl walked around the pond, smiling. LillyAnne waved, called out, and started to walk forward. “Sam! Samantha!”
The girl waved back and quickened her pace, but as she did so, she changed into a young boy, a teenager with dark hair and a handsome face. LillyAnne stopped. “What? Oh my gosh. Is it you, Thomas?”
In answer, the young man started to jog. He rounded the pond and headed toward LillyAnne. When he arrived before her and stopped, she saw that he was no longer a teen. He was a grown man. He smiled and said, “Hello LillyAnne. I…we’ve all been waiting.”
“Thomas! What's happening?”
His soft laugh and the look in his eyes so familiar made LillyAnne catch her breath and sway. Thomas moved out of the glow, and as he reached her side, he encased her in an embrace. The simple magic of touch opened the doors to all the feelings that LillyAnne had denied herself. She accepted the embrace, relished in the warmth and promise it held.
She allowed herself to be comforted and cared for as she experienced in the little woods with her friends, in stark contrast to her lonely existence as an only child, living on the periphery of a world her parents created. In that world, there was only room for two. Unnoticed by the adults in her life, LillyAnne wandered into the thicket behind the house and found there a friend—a friend by the pond named Samantha. For two months, they played and shared. But it came to an end. Samantha left when LillyAnne started school.
LillyAnne pulled away from Thomas’ embrace and looked into his eyes. “I remember everything, now. I remember my friend leaving me and how sad I was. My heart was broken then, and many more times after—by you.”
She stepped back and looked at the pond and its shimmering encasement. “But until now, I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t recall all the wonderful things that happened to me here in this little forest. Wonderful, happy times with Sam and Rascal and then with Thomas—who is what? A younger version of you? And every time it all came to an end, and I suffered. I suffered so.”
LillyAnne put her arms out to the side. “Why?” She glanced at the pond again and then all around. “Please explain this place. Is it even real? Am I hallucinating?” She dropped her arms to her sides. “What am I saying? Which world is the fake one? This, or,” she turned and looked in the direction of her house, “the other one, where I’ve been living alone all my life?”
“We wish you never to be alone. We only want you to be happy.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“The portal is only open for a short time.”
“What are you talking about?”
Thomas took her hand and gently pulled her into the glow surrounding the pond. “Every two years I come through a shift in space and time that allows access to this portal. That shift is transitory. The time we have together is variable, but always the access will close.”
As Thomas led her around the pond, he continued to try and explain the anomaly that made passage between his world and hers possible. But LillyAnne barely understood his words. From the moment they stepped through the veil of soft light, she was captivated. The little forest sparkled in filtered light, and the earthy smells filled her senses. His hand held hers, and his voice held her heart, which was on the verge of breaking with the weight of her feelings.
“Why did I not remember you, or the others?”
“You were so sad. It hurt to leave you suffering each time.”
“You took my memories.”
He sat on the grass under a tree. “Here, sit next to me.” When she did, he continued. “Then you stopped coming to the trees. You were a young woman when last we were together.”
For several moments, LillyAnne stared at Thomas until she understood. “I was taking care of people who needed help. I lived at their houses.”
“Now you are older.”
LillyAnne put her hands to her face then smoothed gray tendrils of hair away from her eyes. “Yes, I am an old woman, now.”
“You are the same. You are LillyAnne, the same friend as before.”
“But you haven’t aged. You still look to be in your twenties. Please tell me who you are.”
As LillyAnne gazed at him, he changed. Lines showed on his face, his hair turned gray. She raised a hand to her mouth and whispered, “Oh, my…”
Thomas smiled. “Don’t be frightened.”
“I…I’m not but how did you do that?” she asked. Thomas didn’t reply. He just looked into her eyes and waited. A thought came to her. “Where is Rascal, and Sam?”
“They are for you.”
“What do you mean, ‘for me’?”
“They are what you needed at the time.”
LillyAnne sighed and stood up. “I don’t understand. Please just tell me.”
He stood and took her hands. “I. I have always been what you needed to be happy. Humans need happiness.”
Tears pooled in LillyAnne’s eyes. “You are all of them, aren’t you?”
“Well, then you all left me.”
Thomas’ eyes turned sad. “I couldn’t stay. This planet is only a waypoint to gather a resource before a jump to another portal beyond this galaxy.”
“What resource? For heaven’s sake, what galaxy!”
Thomas reached over and wiped a tear from below LillyAnne’s eye. He looked at it and then at her. He smiled and with his finger, pointed to the pond. “Water.”
With a smile, he answered. “Yes. Where I’m from, we need water. Humans don’t know, yet, how to unlock the energy in a single drop of water.”
“This is crazy and so confusing.”
Come, I’ll explain all the things you are wondering about. We have time.”
She hesitated. “How much time?”
“We have several weeks of earth time if you like. Or,” he stopped and put his hands on either side of her face, “we can leave now.”
LillyAnne pulled back. “No, you always leave me. Now that I can remember, I …Wait a minute. Each time I saw you did I remember what had happened before?”
He shook his head.
“So, actually, I never remembered the pain of being left behind. Well, by you, anyway,” she added.
Again he shook his head, and again he took her hands. “I spared you by making you forget.”
“But you denied me the memory of being loved all these years.”
“I am sorry for that.”
“Well, why do I remember this time? Why are you different? You never talked to me about other galaxies and, and…water fuel.”
“This time is different.”
Abruptly, Thomas took her in his arms. “Because this time you must come with me. It breaks the rules. It is tricky to take another being through the portal, but time has shown me the answer to the problem. It is a very simple solution.”
“Go with you?” she asked nestled against his chest. “Wait,” she said as she pushed away. “Go where, and…how?”
“You must come with me through the portal. LillyAnne, you will die two months from now if you don’t.”
“Yes. Either you will die by the sickness inside you, or by your own hand. This must not happen.”
LillyAnne didn’t fight what he said because she knew both scenarios to be true. “I wasn’t afraid of death. I thought about facilitating it as I see you already know. But now,” she paused and put a hand on his arm, “I want to live.”
“Does that signify that you will go with me?”
“Through a time-travel portal, or whatever, to someplace across the stars with someone who only appears every two years and can erase my memory?” She looked down at her tennis shoes for a heartbeat, maybe two. She looked up. “Of course.”
Thomas chuckled and folded her in his arms again. For several moments they stood there lost in thought. Finally, he said, “It is not without risk.”
Together they walked to the edge of the pond. “You said you know a way, that you found a simple solution.”
“I believe I have, yes. But, to make sure that my assumptions are correct, you need to know me as I am and not the expressions of earth lifeforms that I fashioned from your thoughts.”
“O-kay,” she said and waited. Thomas just stared at the reflective surface of the pond.
“Thomas, are you afraid to show me who you are? Because you needn’t be.”
“I feel your love for me now, LillyAnne.”
She smiled and answered, “Yes, Thomas--whoever you are.”
Suddenly, the small grove started to shimmer, a heavy pressure force the air out of her chest, and her vision failed. Wind whipped past and then hit from the other side. A strange vibration under her feet moved up through her body then a sharp humming hit her ears. LillyAnne gasped for air and put her hands over her face. The wind increased, and she tried to call out, but she had no air in her lungs. Just when she started to black out, the wind stopped as if a huge lid clamped down on the small area. She fell to her knees. Finally, she could breathe. Finally, she could see. And what she saw filled her with awe just short of fear.
The little thicket was cast in shadows and standing where Thomas had been was a human-like being, with large eyes, a pale face that tapered down past prominent cheekbones and a small oval mouth to the chin. Where ears should be were small fins that lightly vibrated. He wore some sort of uniform, very plain tunic and pants with a strap across the front of his chest. Small lights flashed on it as if it were a thin computer of some sort. What she could see of the rest of his body was not so dissimilar to a human, except for the hands. They were large, and the fingers were long and odd looking.
It was a stunning sight, but the most shocking aspect of the real Thomas was that his body had a faint halo of some sort. He glowed, like the snow globe that had encased the pond and had been a place of love and friendship in her youth.
She stood and continued to stare at him and what was behind him. In the darkened grove, a metal object hovered off the ground. It was about the size of a large SUV, but smooth and even to a layperson’s eye it was aerodynamic and built to travel—off-planet.
A touch on her arm drew LillyAnne’s focus. The haloed Thomas was looking at her. His eyes were so different, but she knew they held the same magic that had always been there. The same acceptance and trust that had been in Rascal’s and Sam’s and the young Thomas’ eyes were there in this otherworldly being.
LillyAnne took a deep breath. “Thomas, you are so beautiful.” She walked forward and looked into his eyes, waiting. He nodded his head and made a strange sound. Surprised, she laughed and said, “I love you, too.”
He uttered another odd noise and then she heard his words as clear as day in her head, “Then my assumptions are correct. We can go together.”
Before LillyAnne could ask, Thomas continued telepathically, “If we are to both travel through the space-time continuum in my craft, we need to occupy the same space, so we pass through at the same time. Because we connect in the ways of love, our subatomic energy is entangled. Across three galaxies, I have felt your thoughts, and though you didn’t think you remembered me, I always knew when you answered questions about your life. You said, ‘Love came long ago and didn’t stay.’”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She couldn’t think what to say to that. Deep in her subconscious, she’d always known him.
“Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes, Thomas. I’ve been ready since I was eight years old.”
In minutes they were inside the craft laying in a horizontal position. LillyAnne watched as he tapped the lights on his chest strap with his fingers like he was playing a flute or something. He stopped and held his hand out in front of his face. Marks, or writing of some kind, glowed on his skin.
He rolled toward her. “I will hold you now.”
LillyAnne rolled toward him, and they embraced. After a second or two, Thomas looked at his hand again. “Good. You barely increase the mass of the craft.”
“What does that mean?”
“We are truly entangled. Of one heart, with one beat.”
A slight hum ran through the vessel. “In a few seconds, we will leave. Be very still and do not speak.”
She closed her eyes and smiled when she heard the last not-spoken words on planet earth she would ever hear. “From now on, LillyAnne, of Pond Portal-Earth-10~44683~5, there will be no more broken hearts.”