He couldn’t remember much of his childhood, but then, when you’ve lived for as long as he had, he reasoned that such things couldn’t be helped.
He still remembered flashes of his youth—sunlit summer afternoons beneath the trees, the smell of the sun-warmed grass and the sound of the wind whispering through the grass. He still remembered the sound of the warm spring rains he’d been caught in, in his youth. He still remembered the smell of the freshly-cut hay, and the way it itched in his clothes as he drove the pitchfork into it, and tossed it.
He remembered the warmth and the love in her smile, and the vision of her lying beside him, with hay in her hair and love in her eyes as they held his own.
More than anything else in his life, he remembered the love he always saw in her unforgettable eyes.
He didn’t know there was anything special about him, not then. No, back then he was just a boy, young, stubborn, perhaps a little arrogant, but young. So very, very young.
And he remembered being hopelessly in love with that young girl with love in her eyes and hay in her hair.
As they’d grown older, and the years passed, he began to feel it, though he didn’t realize what it was he was feeling at the time. On the outside, there was nothing peculiar about him—no sign that set him apart from anyone else.
But he felt it. Though he kept it quietly to himself, quietly wondering whether he was going crazy, or letting his imagination get the better of him.
Her hair grew longer as they grew older together, passing their lives together, and with each passing day he loved her even more than he had the day before.
And then, one day, she was gone, and he found himself alone in the world once again.
And now that he’d known what life was with her in it, he felt his aloneness much more keenly now that she was gone.
The rain was never the same as it fell on him, leaving him with bittersweet memories of all the times they’d danced and laughed in the rain, and all the kisses they’d shared beneath it.
As the years passed, he wondered what he’d done to deserve this—to be left to wander the world in the wake of everything they’d shared—to continue on in such a way, knowing he’d never see her again. That he’d never touch her again, never hold her or hear her musical laughter.
To know that he’d never again see her beautiful face light up with her smile, or see the love in her eyes as they held his own.
However hard he tried as the years passed, he couldn’t bring himself to understand why he continued to live on without her, or why he seemed to be destined to outlive anyone and everyone he ever knew.
As the world around him began to change, at first he was blind to it—too caught up in his grief to notice it.
His bones began to ache as he got older, and as the years passed, the cold and the damp began to sink in when winter came, reminding him of just how many winters he’d known. And every year, he looked forward to the spring more and more.
But not the summers. Oh no. Summertime always reminded him of her. When the air grew hot and wavered in the heat, he would always remember the summers they passed together when they were young.
Try as he might, though he couldn’t look forward to them anymore, he could never quite bring himself to hate the summers. Not when they were so vibrant with her memory.
He lived out his life in a solitary way, becoming mostly a recluse because it was easier for him to be alone than to become close with people only to lose them as the years passed, leaving him largely unchanged.
He felt it as the years passed, though at first, he didn’t realize what it was he was feeling.
He was waiting for something, though he didn’t know it. Not then.
Passing the years, and waiting.
And hoping that he wouldn’t have to wait for a time when time ceased to exist.
The day came, ages later, when from across the world, she was born.
He felt the first beat of her heart as though it were his own. He felt the first breath she took as though it were his first breath. And as she opened her eyes for the first time, he closed his own eyes, thanking the heavens that the time had finally come, that they would walk the earth together as they once had, so very long ago.
Ages had come and ages had gone, and in all those centuries, he had awaited her return.
As she grew older, he felt it in his heart from the other side of the world, feeling her every dream, her every happiness, every rage and every heartbreak. He felt her strength grow with each passing day, even as he felt her deepening loneliness, the very loneliness she’d known so many ages before when she’d first come to him—a lovely, lonely young woman on his doorstep in the rain, her eyes longing for someone to know her, to love her and to accept her for who and what she was, and to never let her be lonely again.
To never leave her alone again.
As he felt her draw near to her 30th year, he began to make preparations to go to her, and to make himself known to her at long last.
It would not be an easy journey. In all his years, he had seen many miraculous things come to pass, and yet he had never been able to become used to travel by air, preferring still to travel by ship, or when possible, by train or car.
Cars, at least, reminded him of carriages, of buggies. These things were far from new to him.
Feeling her heart, her soul reaching out to him from across the great expanse of distance that now stood between them, he began the long journey that would bring him to her door.
Finally, he found himself standing on her doorstep, and lifting his arm with effort, he knocked, his head hanging as he waited for her to answer the door, his aged body bent and weary after all his long years, his beard nearly reaching his waist after so much time gone.
He lifted his eyes first, then his head as the door opened, and he felt his heart skip as though it hadn’t aged as he found himself looking into the very eyes he had long remembered, finding that he hadn’t forgotten the exact shade of blue that they were.
“Can I help you?” she asked, her gentle voice breaking the dam behind his heart, and flooding his mind with thousands of memories of all the times he’d spent with her, spoken with her and laughed with her in the ages long gone.
“Do you.. know me?” he asked in a tired, weary voice that cracked beneath his age, and the arduous journey he’d just undergone, watching her eyes as he asked it.
She cocked her head as he spoke, her forehead creasing as though there was something in his voice that caught her attention, and she looked into his eyes more closely as he stepped forward into the glow of the porch light, as though searching for something as she tried to figure out what it was about him that seemed so familiar.
“I have lived through all the ages of this world… waiting for you to return to me,” he said, looking into her blue eyes.
Looking up into his bright, crystal clear cerulean blue eyes, the young woman felt something inside her pulling her to him, even as it nagged at her.
Suddenly, as she searched his eyes, she found it, hidden there, deep within his clear blue eyes.
A sparkle, a glint that not even his advanced age had taken away from him.
It was as though the last missing puzzle pieces were falling into place as it came to her.
“Nathaniel,” she breathed with a suddenly bright smile, searching his eyes for any form of recognition there as tears made her eyes glisten.
To her surprise, a bright smile crossed his aging lips as he heard his name fall from her lips, and it twinkled in his ageless eyes.
“I thought you were a fantasy,” she whispered, tears in her voice as their eyes held, “A dream I had—“ she continued, lifting her hand to press her fingertips to her lips as she fought tears at the thought that he was standing before her.
“Was I old, in this dream of yours?” he asked her.
“No,” she said, her forehead creasing at the memory as her voice cracked beneath the weight of such strong emotion, “You were young. So very young. And so was I.”
“Have you been here?” she asked him, searching his eyes curiously from so close, “All this time?”
“Yes,” he said, his voice tired as he watched her eyes.
“All these years?” she creased her forehead at the idea.
“Yes,” he allowed.
“Did you know I was here?” she asked him, her voice hushed.
“Yes,” he allowed, watching her eyes.
“Why didn’t you come to me–?” she broke off, her eyes pained and wondering at the thought as she regarded him.
“I had to wait until you were ready to see me,” he offered, and as he offered her his quietly shy and awkward smile, the one she’d long remembered, suddenly she saw the younger version of him standing before her in her mind’s eye. “It wasn’t an easy feat, Rachel,” he said, searching her eyes, “The last 30 years have been the longest of my life.”
“31,” she teased with a quietly playful smile, making him laugh despite himself, making her heart flutter to see the same sparkle in his eyes that she’d long remembered.
“I can’t believe you remembered me, after all this time,” she shook her head gently, incredulous, her eyes glistening with tears at the thought.
“My fondest memories in my life are of you, and the time we had together,” he said quietly, a warm smile crossing his lips.
“So are mine,” she said, smiling though her eyes were wet.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, seeing the tears in her eyes as she regarded him beneath the glow of the porch light.
“I never thought I’d see you like this,” she whispered, and he heard her voice crack through her tears, “Everyone was telling me you were just a dream I had—“ her breathing hitched at the thought, “That you were never real—“
She stopped as he stepped forward again, lifting her eyes to meet his level gaze.
“You were never a dream, were you?” she asked him, her forehead creasing as their eyes held.
“There were times throughout the course of my life that I thought that’s what you were,” he offered, lifting his hand to her, and, moving her eyes to his hand, Rachel felt her heart flutter as she realized his hand was trembling slightly as he reached for her. “A dream I had,” he continued, brushing the backs of his fingertips whisperingly across her cheek before he withdrew them, as though suddenly realizing he’d reached for her in the first place. “Then, at long last, I felt your heart beat for the first time,” he allowed as his hand fell to his side again, a smile crossing his aged lips and the sparkle returning to his blue eyes as their eyes held, “I felt you take your first breath, and in that moment, I knew what it was I’d been waiting for all these years,” he broke off, and her heart fluttered as she saw the quiet hope in his beautiful eyes, making her swallow hard.
“And what was that?” she managed to ask him, not sure she even breathed as she searched his eyes with her own.
“I’ve waited all the ages of this world for the chance to look into your eyes again,” he allowed, giving her a gentle smile as he held her gaze, “To have you look into mine again.”
“Why?” she asked, her eyes pained and wondering at the thought as she searched his eyes. “Why would you wait for me, all this time?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper in the wake of all of his thoughtful words.
“You were my heart, Rachel,” he offered with the same smile, searching her eyes, “My soul. You always were.”
“And you were mine,” she returned, and he saw a tear spill down over her cheek suddenly as their eyes held.
“Will you come with me?” he asked her, searching her eyes.
“Yes,” she answered with a soft smile.
“I didn’t tell you where we’re going,” he laughed softly, his eyes amused at the thought.
She smiled simply.
“You’ve waited all this time for me,” she said, searching his gaze, her smile all warmth, and the love he’d long remembered, “I’d follow you anywhere.”