"It can't be over between us, all the signs were there for you to finally be the right one for me," Keri insisted.
"What signs?" Keith asked.
Keri stared into his shadowy face. Clinging tatters of mist drifted across it, obliterating his eyes for one moment, his mouth the next moment. The fog was cool and clammy on her skin in the dismal mist.
"The signs," said Keri. "You know, the signs." But, suddenly, she couldn't think of even one.
He turned his back on her, and began to fade into the distance.
"Keith, come back!" Keri said. "I'll remember them, I know I will. It'll make a difference!"
But Keith continued to shrink into the fog. Soon he was only a dark patch in the distance, amid the wisps of lonely swirling mist.
Keri was left in silence. A silent world of emptiness and chill.
"Keith..." she whimpered, "come back, I need you...." Only silence.
Keri heard her heart beating against her chest.
"Keith." she whispered, tears trailing down her cheeks. Her knees went weak, and she sank to the ground. "Don't leave me, I need you, don't leave me."
"Straighten up, Keri," came a voice behind her.
"What--who?" Keri asked, and slowly turning her head.
It was clearer where he stood, almost as though the sun was ready to break through the mist that was strangely falling away from him.
"Please, stand up," Jeremy said again. Something about the tone of his voice, oddly authoritative yet gentle at the same time, made Keri gather her strength and stand.
"Come here," Jeremy said, and held out his hand.
"Keith left me," Keri sobbed, but found herself drawing nearer to Jeremy. He seemed spectral as she stared at his outstretched hand, his comforting hand, as she stepped toward him. When she reached him, she took his hand, and he pulled her close.
A jolt of something indescribable, joy mixed with peace and an incredible calmness pulsed through her at Jeremy's touch. He held her hand tighter, pulling her closer, and Keri began to quiver as she found herself face to face with Jeremy, gazing into wonderful eyes radiating a calm assurance and wisdom she had never before encountered. Heat raced through her and her legs became weak.
Jeremy's eyes glimmered. It paralyzed her to stare into them. Those eyes seemed to search into hers, gently probing, as though trying to connect with her soul. Keri became lightheaded, intoxicated, the poison of Keith's rejection now drained away.
"You're going to be all right now," Jeremy said, and his voice seemed to roll like thunder and yet felt a breathy whisper at the same time. It echoed as he continued, and suddenly the fog parted and a warming blaze of sun fell across them.
"I'll stay with you," said Jeremy. "You don't have to be afraid anymore. You can finally be yourself."
Those words flowed through Keri in cascades of relief. Finally, finally she felt it. She couldn't quite grasp what it all meant, but a weight had lifted.
"Thank you, thank you, Jeremy," Keri said, gulping in great breaths of air. "What would I do without you? You're the one I need, you're the one I was meant for all along."
At those words, Jeremy smiled. Keri's eyes strayed toward his lips, and lingered there. His mouth smiled, his eyes smiled, and Keri was sure his heart smiled, too.
And so did she. Keri let go of his hand, and slowly wrapped her arms around his neck. He put his arms around her shoulders and drew her tighter to him. When they fully connected, the warmth of their touch was explosive, and Keri could scarcely control herself. She closed her eyes and suddenly, tantalizingly, his lips were pressed against hers. She gasped inwardly as the warmth and movement of his kiss sent shivers down her spine and into her toes. At first Jeremy's kiss was sweet and gentle, but as it became more urgent, its passion leached all of the strength from Keri's limbs until she was practically hanging limp in his embrace.
All she could think was--how did he learn to kiss like this? Was it the way it was supposed to be when two people were genuinely... in love?
No--it couldn't be! Jeremy was just her dear friend, like a brother, really.
"Aunt Keri, get up!" said a wee voice far, far away. "You promised to play opera lady with me this morning."
"What?" Keri moaned.
There was a soft shaking on her shoulders. "Aunt Keri, Keri, get up, sleepyhead! Take the pillow off your face."
Reality crawled back to Keri in a lazy wave. Jeremy's embrace vanished, and the scene dissipated into fragments as Keri awoke, reluctantly pulling herself from the dream. Only a dream.
"Jutht a minute, Kate," Keri mumbled. "Have thum patienth."
"What?" Katie asked. "You sound weird."
"It'th the pirrow on ma face," Keri said, rising slowly as she removed the pillow. "I like ta thleep like dat."
Keri noticed the oddity just as Katie's eyes bulged at her.
"What's wrong with your face?" Katie cried.
Keri's hand flew to the right side of her face, which felt heavy and numb. It seemed dragged down, contorted. She could barely see out of her right eye.
"There's drool coming out of your mouth, just like Rover's," said Katie. "I think your pillow got too heavy! It melted your face!"
Keri tried to gasp, but her mouth would not work correctly. It seemed weights were pulling her lip down on the right side, making it lopsided.
Dear Lord... had she had a stroke?
She flung off her blankets, twisted to the side of her bed, and sat up. It seemed her right arm worked fine, as well as her leg. And she could think clearly. But the horrified look on her niece's face confirmed the frightening fact that something was drastically wrong.
"I'm going to get Mom," said Katie as Keri pulled herself off the bed and rose, testing her legs.
"Mom!" Katie bellowed.
She ignored her niece and, after finding her legs quite sturdy, raced into the bathroom. Her heart pounded as she flicked on the light and looked into the mirror.
Her hands rose to her face in horror.
The mirror was warped, it had to be! Or water was on it, or something, anything!
She did not look like a monster!