"Do you know what I did for you? The changes I made, the waiting chamber I built in the center of my heart?"

He didn’t answer, but I could tell that he was listening. His breathing grew shallow when I finished speaking.

He stared into the far distance, to a hill, a stand of trees that masked the horizon. He watched the morning sky as if he hoped someone else would walk out of the forest. Someone different, younger, stronger. Someone with gold dust in her fingers and magic in her voice.

He glanced in my direction, as if noticing me for the first time.

"You shouldn't have waited for me," he said. "When I didn’t come back, you should have known that my plans had changed, that I didn’t have room for you."

"Room for me?"

He nodded and sighed.

"How many have you asked?"

He gazed back toward green shadows. "More than I can count," he answered.

"And they all said yes, they all came to you willingly."

He smiled, a perfect grin, a moment of heaven on earth. "They always come willingly."

"But you don't want me. Not now."

A deep breath. "No."

"Did you want me then, when you asked for me?"

"I don't know," he said. "I didn't want anyone else to have you."

"And now no one wants me."

He smiled.

"This pleases you?"

In the far distance green shadows moved and shifted. A slender figure pushed its way through sienna trees, leaves whispering. Someone was coming, a woman.

"Did you ask her to come?"

He shook his head. "I didn't have to ask. They know I am here. I am always here."

"Does she know that you don't really want her, that this is all part of a game, that there is no purpose, only pretense—"

He stood up. "I do want her. It's no game. It's my life." He waved and walked toward the other woman, the woodland female. He took her hand and they paused in the sunlight, gazing into each other's eyes.

I wanted to call out a warning. Maybe this one could be saved, spared the torment that was surely coming.

But I didn't.

Instead I sat back down on the wooden chair. Crossed my legs and shaded my face from the sun.

I would wait, I decided. Until he grew tired of this new woman. It could be minutes, it could be months. But eventually he would cast this one aside. It would be a betrayal, a broken heart, a lost beginning. It would be the end of her universe, the start of her private hell.

And then she would end up here. Back at the beginning. Wondering if all hope was gone, if there would ever be anyone for her. She would walk that same path of shadow and dappled light until she paused here, just like I did, in this clearing of fragrant pine.

She would sit beside me in one of these plain wooden chairs and stare into the woods, wondering, hoping that he would reappear, that he would come back searching for her.

But he wouldn’t come back, at least not for her.

And for the first time in years, I would not be alone.

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