Cast a Pale Shadow - By Barbara Scott
"Once upon a time," Nicholas whispered, so close his lips brushed the cold alabaster of her ear, "there was a sleeping princess who waited for the kiss of her true love to awaken her from her long, lonely sleep." He stretched himself out beside her, the chill of her body drawing away his warmth even through their clothes. He would see the soft, dark, warmth of her eyes again. She would open them to him. He would find the magic in her, in both of them this time.
With a light sweep of his fingertips -- he could not bear to touch the pale stone of her forehead for fear the ice would reach in to pierce his soul -- he lifted the tumbled wisps of her hair away from her eyes. He waited for the moment she flickered them open, when she would see it was he Nicholas who performed the miracle and love him all the more for it. She had failed to give him the miracle he asked, but he would not fail her. They would have another chance.
Her perfect stillness nearly daunted him even while he envied her for it. Wasn't utter peace what he had wanted? She had attained it so effortlessly, while he was left alone and wanting, and it filled him with resentment and fear. Perhaps it would never be possible for him and, in slipping away as she had, she had demonstrated her despair of him, her lack of trust.
"I can't live without you," she said softly in her tear-filled whisper.
"I wouldn't ask it of you," he promised. But he realized now she had not understood what he truly asked of her. He couldn't let himself believe her failure was deliberate. A misunderstanding. Yes, a tragic misunderstanding. That was all.
Her lips were slightly parted and nearly as pale as her ashen cheeks. Nicholas brushed his own tears until his fingertips were wet with them, tracing her mouth with their moistness. He tasted the saltiness of them as he kissed her, thinking of magic and miracles and wishes and love. But nothing happened. Her stillness was impenetrable. Her eyes refused to open. She was gone, and he could not reach her.
Tenderly, he straightened her crisp, white collar and smoothed the bright red wool of her favorite skirt, then folded the quilt around her, tucking it up and around her shiny black shoes, the ones she loved with the heels she could barely walk in. He tied the first rope at her knees and the second at her hips. Her cold, little fingers were stiffening slightly as he folded her hands, one over the other across her chest.
Too late, he remembered the ring he had bought her and never gave her, never had time to. A vision of her bright, loving eyes brimming with tears as they might have been when she saw it for the first time staggered him back to sag in the cracked, leather armchair where she had sat on his lap so many times. He would never see her again. He would never again hear her sweet laughter when he whispered in her ear. He would never again feel the tender heat of her surrounding him, taking him with her as she plummeted over the brink of her waterfall of stars, as she called it.
Forcing himself to rise, Nicholas searched the drawers of the painted chest they both shared until he found the ring, still in its blue velvet box, still in its white paper bag. It had two tiny rubies, her birthstone and his.
"We are almost cosmic twins, did you know that? Only three days and two years apart," she murmured with delight when he told her his birth date. Lifting the ring from its satin nest, he breathed on it and polished it against his jeans before placing it on her third finger, left hand.
"Until death do us part, Cynthia. But it wasn't supposed to part us. Why couldn't you take me with you?" He rested his forehead against her hands until he felt their ice numb his heart.
Finally, there was nothing to do but fold the corner of the quilt over her face and tie another rope at her shoulders. Just enough twilight remained for him to complete his task without a lantern. Nicholas gathered his precious bundle in his arms and left the silent, empty cabin, winding his way through the trees until he reached the grave he had prepared.
Gently, he lay Cynthia at the edge, then