“Let me go,” I begged, leaning forward.
“No. I won’t let you go until you talk to me. Why’d you leave like that?”
I stared at him, the confusion in his dark eyes. “What did you expect me to do? You practically told them I would defeat the king by myself.”
“Not alone, with our help.”
I shot him that look again. “Do you think that makes it better? I don’t know how to fight. I know how to win the game, not kill an evil king. Those are two very different things and you know it. You can’t just sign me up for your rebellion without asking. All I care about right now is getting home, getting out of this game.”
“Isn't that all life is though, a game? Aren't we all just trying to find a way through each level?”
“Yes, this is a just a game, one that I need to get out of.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. But, Alex, listen, this may just be a game to you, but it’s our lives. Don't let the fear of being the hero keep you from doing what's right.”
“But this isn’t real. None of this is real.”
“What’s more real that the things you can touch and feel?” He reached out and pressed his lips to my hand. "The things that touch you."
“But - "
“Stop fighting and listen. Not to me, but to yourself. You've been fighting a rebellion long before you entered Dreamscape. Are you going to give up now when you are so close to the end?”
“I have to. There's no other choice. You can’t put your hope in me.” I turned around so he wouldn’t see the tears streaking my cheeks.
“We do, why can’t you?” He grabbed my wrists and turned me around. “You are more than just a hero. You are our only chance.”
“Let me go. It was one thing going along to get your papers, but this," I pointed to the tavern. "I am not a hero, not really. I can't save your kingdom. I didn’t ask for any of this. I am tired of people expecting me to do things without asking.”
“Then what do you want?”
“I want to go home. I’m sorry for ever giving you the idea that I could do more. But them,” I pointed back to the tavern. “They need a real hero. That is you, or your men. At some point, I have to drop the charade before someone gets hurt. I am not a hero, I’m just pretending to be one. I might wear the costume, but that’s all it is. I won’t let that boy, or any of them put their faith in a charade, not when they need someone real.”
“It’s not like that, we need you. You’re more than you realize.”
“I’m nothing here. This isn’t real. You’re not real,” I screamed, pushing him away. “I can’t pretend anymore.”
His eyes hardened. “I had hoped I’d mean more to you by now. I can understand you’re afraid, but I don’t understand how you can be so self-absorbed. You can’t just blow us off telling me that we’re a game. What do you think happens when you’re not here? Do you think we disappear?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered, staring at him.
“Let me tell you, we don’t. This is not a game. This is a rebellion to reclaim our heritage, our queen. I don’t know why you were sent as our hero. You certainly don’t act like one. And honestly, if you can’t find a way to put someone ahead of yourself, I don’t know what good you’d be. This is the hope of our future, not a childhood game to be played for fun. I’m done humoring you. You want to go home - go home. I’ll take you to the highway tomorrow morning.”
“Now you’re not being fair. You're twisting my words to make me look bad.”
“Goldy, I don't need to twist anything to do that.”
I slapped him, and then balled my fist to my mouth, cringing as I waited for his reaction.
He rubbed his cheek and turned back to me with a crooked grin. I held my breath as he came closer. “Did that feel real enough for you? What about this?” He reached behind me and pulled me near.
My protests stopped as his lips covered mine. My heart jumped, stirring my earlier feelings to their boiling point. My knees weakened, my lips softened against his, and my mind quieted to everything except the hammering of my heart. I grabbed his sleeves, pulling him closer, feeling my greediness resurface. And then he pulled back, and unhooked my hands from his sleeves.
“Was that real enough for you?” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and retreated back into the dusty town.
I watched him leave, feeling a pang of longing with every step he took. My chest heaved, refusing to hold anything but my shattered heart.
“Yes,” I whispered, feeling the linger of his lips, and the burn of regret.
- Copyright Kirstin Pulioff 2014