Finally, longest night came. While the people of the village held their wild celebrations of laughter and song and vigils to welcome the night, she and Tomas slipped away into the approaching darkness. They walked up the river until it reached the lake, calm and lapping gently under the light of a full moon.
He took her hand. "This is it."
She nodded. "Are you certain you wish to go?"
He squeezed her hand, and his warmth simmered through her. "You really have to stop asking that, you know. If you ask me again, I might have to kiss you just so you can't speak."
She laughed. "Are you certain you wish to go?"
He grabbed her and kissed her, but she playfully shoved him away. "Fine. I will stop asking." She looked up into the sky. The time didn't feel quite right yet, not the way it had when she crossed this way. That time she had just known when to look down into the lake, known when she would see the gate open up. "I do not think it is time yet," she offered as she began to sit on a rock beside the lake.
He had stepped closer to the water and suddenly sucked in his breath. "No, it's time. I can see it." He took a deeper breath. "Your world is so stark, so beautiful." When he turned to look back at her, his eyes shone. "Like you." He stepped closer, bringing his toe nearer the water. "Come." He beckoned. "Let's not wait anymore."
She stood again. Something was wrong. She stepped toward him. "Wait!" she cried. He stopped, his feet just beside the water.
He turned back and quirked his brow. "What's wrong?"
"Where is it? I cannot see it." She stared frantically down into the water.
He pointed. "Right there, right there beside those rocks."
She stared, squinted. "No. I cannot see it."
He stepped back from the water, looking uncertain for the first time. He pointed again, but she shook her head. Her heart pumped wildly.
"What if . . . What if your people were right? You can only go one way."
She took his hand and pulled him still farther back. "I cannot see the gate. I can never go back." Her pale skin paled even further as she continued to shake her head. "I could have lost you," she whispered. "You could have stepped into my world and been gone forever."
He turned to face her then, reaching out to put his hand on her cheek.
She pulled her hand from his grasp, stepping away from him. Her eyes were wide as the realization crashed through her, burning in seconds through all the drifts of joy that had built in her soul. "I am so very sorry. I was foolish, more even than I was in coming here." She drew back. "I am so sorry," she whispered. Then she turned and crashed headlong through the jungle, heedless of its dangers, only knowing she had to get away from the taunting lake. Its waters lapping against the shore sounded far too much like laughter that she would never see its gate again. She would never be comfortable again. And she had almost sacrificed Tomas to discover it.