So this was death.
Death wasn’t that bad.
It wasn’t what Faye had expected. First of all, she was wet. She knew babies were born wet and covered in blood, but she never imagined death would feel like being dropped into a carnival dunking booth. Also, death felt very alive to her. Alive and corporeal. She wiggled her fingers, her toes. She filled her lungs with cool night air and exhaled. Clearly she did have a body in this afterlife, whatever it was, even if it didn’t quite fit her the way she remembered her body fitting.
Maybe she wasn’t dead after all.
When she at last dared to open her eyes she saw that strange white light again. In all the stories about dying she’d heard or read, there was a white light, and it was outside a window. She hadn’t heard about the window in the near-death experiences stories. A tunnel, yes, but no windows. And there was a bed, definitely, and she lay on it. The bed sat by a wall across from the window. Through the window—open and without a screen—Faye could see the light flashing from the top of the lighthouse. It blinked out, then flashed on, blinked out, flashed on. She counted the seconds between darkness and light.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.
So Faye was not dead. At least she was fairly sure she wasn’t. Was she dreaming? If so, she would wake up eventually. But if this was a dream, it seemed an unusually vivid one. Still it was the best explanation she had for why she could see and hear and smell and touch and feel. She could feel her heart running wild in her chest. She could feel the clinging of her wet hair to her cool skin. At some point while walking on the Bride Island beach she must have lain down to rest and fallen asleep. She’d dreamed she drowned in the ocean, and now she was dreaming she’d woken up in someone’s house next to the lighthouse. Lucid dreaming? She tried to will herself to levitate off the bed. If she was dreaming she could fly. She’d done that a time or two in dreams past. But she remained on the bed, feeling alive and awake and earthbound. Faye turned her attention back to the light. Again it flashed and winked out of existence. Seven seconds later it flashed back into life. She kept staring at it, hoping it would reveal itself to be a helicopter searching for her or the reflection from the spotlight off a coast guard cutter. But she didn’t hear the blades of a helicopter beating the air or the sound of a ship passing close by. She heard the ocean only and her own breathing.
In the darkness she heard a small sound. A flick and a sizzle, the distinct sound of a match being struck and flaring into life. A glowing flame no bigger than a moth fluttered into existence, and she watched as it moved to a wick and became a brighter light. A glass shade was brought down over the flame, the wick adjusted with a small knob.
“A hurricane lamp,” she said, and her voice sounded off to her. Not off-key, merely off. It was her voice, only throatier, as if she’d been ill or screaming for hours at a concert. “I haven’t seen one of those in years. My great-grandmother had one in her house in Portsmouth…”
The light illuminated a man’s torso. His shirt was open, and she saw a broad chest and a hard bare stomach dusted with a line of dark hair that disappeared into a loose-fitting pair of brown trousers. Faye blinked, confused but not displeased by the path this dream was taking. She followed the progress of the light as it floated across the room to where she lay on the bed. It wasn’t her bed at the Church Street house or the bed she’d slept in with Hagen during their marriage. This was an old-fashioned cannonball bed, a full size if that, covered in a crazy patchwork quilt of every pattern and color known to man.
“Where am I?”
“Did you hit your head when you fell off the dock? You’re home, love.”
Faye recognized the voice. Of course she did. She would have known that voice across the sea or in a storm, in heaven or in hell or wherever she was… She knew that voice.
At once she sat up in bed and reached out, gripping and grabbing and grasping at the source of the voice. Yes, she was dreaming, of course she was, but she didn’t care. If she could have Will alive again in her dreams, she would sleep forever. Waking be damned.
The bed shifted as he sat at her side, and Faye threw her arms around him. She couldn’t get enough of him.
“Tighter,” she said as his arms encircled her and pulled her hard against him.
“You’re all right, lass. You’re all right. You were on the dock and a nasty, big wave got you. But I got you back. I got you back, sweet girl. You’re safe now. You’re fine.”
“I’m not,” she said, gasping and wheezing in her shock and relief. “I thought you were dead. You were dead for so long.”
“Bad dream. That’s all.” He cupped the back of her head, rocked her against him like a child. “I’m here and so are you. But you have to stay off the end of the pier. You know the water gets choppy there.”
“I’ll stop,” she promised, not knowing what she was promising but willing to promise him the sun and the moon and every beat of her heart as long as he didn’t let her go. His lips brushed her forehead, and his chin stubble scratched her cheek. It was Will, and he was alive and real. She would have known that voice and those arms and that stubble and that kiss anywhere in any time and for all time.
“I had to get you out of your wet clothes. I’m sorry,” he said, as if her own husband weren’t allowed to see her naked. The shirt she wore was white and heavy cotton, too large for her by far. One of his shirts? But she never remembered Will wearing a shirt this style.
“You were gone, and I missed you so much,” she said, crying against his strong shoulder, her chest heaving with the force of her sobs. “You don’t know how much I missed you.”
“Hush now,” he said, patting her back. “You’ll make yourself sick crying like this--and all over a dream. Getting knocked off the pier isn’t much fun. I thought I’d lost you when that wave hit. You’re the one who was nearly fish food tonight, not me.”
She clung to his body, absorbed his heat, inhaled his scent, salt water and sweat. His hair was wet and lay in messy rust-colored waves over his forehead. She rubbed his chest and neck, needing to feel the solidity of him, the realness, the flesh and bone of him. His heart beat under her palms, steady and hard, even as her nervous hands fluttered like butterflies. Faye looked up and into Will’s light brown eyes. They gleamed like copper in the lamplight. He had a few wrinkles around his eyes that she’d never noticed before. He looked older in this dream. Thirty-two? Thirty-five at most? She smiled wider. The stupid man was even more handsome with crow’s feet than he was without them. How unfair.
“You grew a beard,” she said, laughing and crying and smiling and gasping all at once. She touched his face, caressed his cheeks. “Is it the playoffs already?”
“You did hit your head, didn’t you?” He ran his hand over her hair gently. “Did you lose time? I’ve had the beard ever since you got here.”
“Yes, I lost time. So much time. Years,” she said, playing along, afraid if she contradicted him the dream would evaporate. And she had lost time; it was true. Four years of her life that she should have spent with him. She brought his mouth to hers and kissed him.
The kiss seemed to startle him—he grabbed her by the upper arms and held her away.
“What?” she asked, panting.
“You kissed me,” he said.
“Is that bad?”
His eyes were wide with shock. “Yes, and you know it.”
“But I don’t know it,” Faye said. “Why can’t I kiss you?”
“More reasons than I can count.”
“What reasons?” Could this dream be any stranger? Why would she dream of her husband and then dream he wouldn’t kiss her?
“I…” He looked at her in the bed, at the V in the shirt and her bare legs against his thigh. “I knew them a minute ago.”
“Kiss me, and maybe you’ll think of them,” Faye said.
“Good idea,” he said and kissed her.
The kiss was undeniably Will’s. Playful when he nipped her bottom lip with his teeth. Passionate when he waited for her smile to press his tongue into her mouth. Intense when he gave her no mercy as he kissed her and kissed her until her whole body ached and tingled and she could hardly breathe and didn’t want to. But who needed to breathe when she had Will? Who needed anything at all?
“I swear I thought I’d lost you tonight,” he rasped into her ear. His arms encircled her, and she’d never felt so safe. Lost her? She’d never been so found. “You took the heart right out of me. Don’t scare me like that again.”
“Never,” she said. She had no idea what she was saying, because she would say anything to keep him kissing her. The war? What war? She didn’t ask because she didn’t care. It was a dream, wasn’t it? How could she think of war when she’d never felt such peace?
He kissed her from her mouth to her ear and up and down her neck. He kissed her like he’d been waiting years for this kiss and had planned it in advance so that when the time came, it would be perfect. And it was perfect.
But it wasn’t enough. Faye reached between their bodies, seeking out the top button of his pants. He inhaled sharply and pulled back.
“Whoa, there, love.” He captured her hands again. “That is more than kissing there. And you’ve had a hard night.”
“I want a hard you,” she said.
He held her by the upper arms and looked at her face, studied it as if seeking an injury or recognition.
“What has gotten into you?” he asked, laughing nervously at her ardor. Was this a game? Was he playing hard to get? Did people in dreams do that?
“I thought you were dead,” she said. “And you aren’t.”
“You’re the one who fell off the dock tonight.”
She touched his face again, caressed his cheeks and delighting in the softness of his beard and the little lines around his eyes. He was breathing hard and shallowly, like he always did when aroused. But he looked scared, too, nervous. Why would her Will be nervous to make love to her?
He pushed a lock of wet hair off her face. What could she say to convince him?
“I love you,” she said.
Faye nodded. “All this time I loved you.” It was true. She’d never fallen out of love with him. The dead can’t love the living but the living can love the dead, and that was the greatest tragedy of her life.
“You love me?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
He looked away to the corner of the room, his brow furrowed, his hands clenched into fists as if he was trying to hold himself back from touching her again.
“Don’t you love me, too?” Faye asked.
He pressed his lips to her forehead and his body vibrated with the shuddering breath he took.
“Will…” she said, pleading. She would wake any minute, any second. They had no time to lose.
“Will I what?” he asked.
The question puzzled her.
“Faith? What’s the matter?” he asked. Faye narrowed her eyes at him, slid back on the bed a few inches to put some distance between her and him. He looked at her, confused, and she saw he had a scar on his rib cage, reddish-pink and about six inches long. Will had no such scars. No scars and no beard and no crow’s feet.
For all that he looked like Will…Faye had the sudden sinking sensation that he wasn’t Will at all.
She remembered something. Another name. A familiar face but another name.
“Carrick,” she said.
Faye clamped a hand over her mouth, silencing a scream.