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Nicole and Nathan sat in an up-scale Italian restaurant. The remnants of their meal still lay on the table.

"That was pretty good."
"Yes it was."
"Ben doing okay?"
"He's doing great. He really likes that new girlfriend of his, Katie. Apparently they really have the hots for each other. I know he never liked being alone. It's great that he has somebody."
"It sounds pretty good."
"It is. Before too long they'll probably move in together somewhere. Of course he'll probably drive her half-crazy working most of the day on that laptop of his. But I'm sure she'll learn to live with it. Like I said they really seem to be getting along. Wouldn't that be great if he could finally settle down?"
"Yeah. Maybe he's finally met his match. Maybe she'll be the one to tame him."
"Oh, I don't know about that!" She laughed. "I'm not sure anyone could tame him. I think he'll always be a wild one."
"One of the great things about our relationship is his support. I was always nervous that he wouldn't approve but I'm glad he has. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that his sister would be a woman I would fall in love with. He's a great friend, a really nice guy. You're both alike in character. I'm glad he likes our relationship and I really like his relationship. It seems we're mutually supportive."
"I know he thinks you're a great guy for his sister. He was always complaining about my boyfriends in high school and college. But he's always said he approves of you for me. I think he's just grateful I didn't end up with a bad boy."
"A bad boy? I'll have you know, young lady, that I can be a very bad boy!"
"Don't I know it!"
They came together in a passionate kiss. Their hearts were as greatly intertwined as their lips...

Later that night they lay in her bed, gazing at each other. Something about their silence, especially hers, made the night more solemn but infinitely more precious. Moonbeams shone down on them from the second story window, bathing them in an eerie but soothing light. Both of the hearts in the room beat slowly and softly. They held hands in the only physical connection between them, but it was enough. He loved the feel of her cool hands in his warm ones. He burned hot and he needed the relief her cool body provided.

She started to sing in her hauntingly beautiful voice, one of his favorites.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."
He closed his eyes slowly. As sometimes happened when she sang this particular song to him his mind turned to memories of his mother, while Nicole's voice remained. He thought about the times when he was about five and would go with his mother to the lake to feed the ducks. She always held his hand on the way to and back from the lake. They never spoke during these trips but they didn't need to. She always brought two loaves of wheat bread to feed the ducks with in a bag from the grocery store where she bought them. The ducks were always mightily pleased to see them and ran at breakneck speeds. They fought amongst themselves for the slices and ripped them to shreds before eating them.

"...You make me happy when skies are gray..."
The feeding of the ducks always remained mother and child's sole refuge from the tyranny of the mother's husband, the child's father. Bruises, scars and other marks on the mother and child told the story of the family. But it was a story no one except the three of them knew. Mother and child seldom were allowed to leave the house and dear breadwinner always made sure they were properly attired on those few occasions. They both were certain that discovery of abuse was punishable by death.

"...You'll never know dear, how much I love you..."
The worst day of Nathan's life had been his mother's funeral at the age of ten. That was the day that a large part of him that the abuse hadn't extinguished died. He had known of love only because of her and love was no more. At the time of her death he had loved his mother absolutely and hated his father absolutely too. He had felt certain he would never know love again. But some years later he had gotten partway there by something he had never known before: friendship.

"...Please don't take my sunshine away..."
With each line her voice had gotten softer and by the time she had gotten to the fourth he had been lulled to sleep. She knew he had fallen asleep by the change in his breathing. Watching him sleep was one of her greatest pleasures. When he tossed and turned, moaned, or smiled in his sleep she wondered of what he dreamed. She hoped greatly that it was of something good. But she feared differently sometimes. Tonight she had no doubts but his dreams went to the pleasant.

-

A few days later Nicole called Nathan's cell phone a second time. Again there was no answer. Worried now she thought about him. Surely he wasn't in any danger. He wasn't foolhardy or an extreme risk-taker. Yet there was always the chance that something still might have happened. She didn't know what his home phone number was and knew that he rarely answered it. It was not in the phone book. She finally decided that the best option was to visit his apartment. He had told her that he lived in an apartment in the downtown district on Shafer Street. From what he had told her it was a brown two-story apartment building.

She drove there quickly, slightly over the speed limit. Finally she saw the apartment building on the side of the street. Pulling into the parking lot she began to feel a bit better. After a bit of searching she saw his Jeep Grand Cherokee. Nicole went to the office that was still lit and asked for his apartment number, which the man willingly gave her. His apartment was on the second floor. As she approached the unit she saw a light was on. She went to the door but before knocking looked through a gap in the curtains. It was perhaps lucky she did. Nathan was talking to someone. Ominously she saw that no one else occupied the apartment. He was gesturing with his hands and looked sorrowful. Then he stopped talking and looked at what appeared to be an urn sitting on a ledge above his television.

Wondering what was going through his mind she stepped back a step from the window. Whatever was going on it looked private. Although she was worried about him she decided not to go in. She needed to think about things and try to understand what might be going on. She was still worried about him but thought that there must be some explanation that would reveal itself before too long. She would need to talk to him.

-

She spotted his Jeep down on the beach and drove towards it. She got out of her car, noticing that he was holding something. Smiling radiantly at him she walked slowly towards him. As she came close she saw that he was holding a urn.

"I came by to visit you yesterday and I saw you through the window. I'm sorry but I just had to see you, talk to you. And then I saw you..."
"I know. When you left that message on my phone I knew what must have happened. I didn't mean to startle or scare you. But I was doing what I needed to do: you need to know that. Let me tell you a story."
"O.K."

"My best friend in high school was Mark Dokes. We were always partying, having fun, and living it up. He had a sister named Megan and they were the only family both of them had. They were as close as you can get. They went through the foster system for years (like me), always together, God help anyone who tried to separate them. Just being around them you knew how much they cared about each other.

When we were 18 in our last year of high school she died in a terrible car accident. It wasn’t anybody’s fault and he knew it: the other person’s truck slid on some ice and hit her car head on. The guy wasn’t even drunk or speeding. I knew right away what losing Megan had done to Mark: it destroyed him. He never acted the same ever again. Always depressed, never smiling or laughing or enjoying life. A couple weeks later he came over to my apartment more bleak than I had ever seen him. He told me he’d thought about his sister and what she had wanted him to do but he couldn’t. She had always asked to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered in the ocean. He hadn’t even been able to go to the funeral home and pick up her ashes. They were still there. He asked me to pick up the ashes and do for her what he couldn’t. Two days later I got the call: he'd killed himself. I was devastated and shocked.

I picked up the ashes and put them on the edge of the mirror. I was planning on doing what Mark had asked me to do but I just couldn't. One day I was thinking about how bad things had gotten, how I'd lost my best friend and now I was just plain lost. It started to get really, really bad when I first heard it. At first I thought I'd gone crazy. "It's all right," this female voice said. At first I didn't recognize it but then I did: it was Megan. Something about hearing her voice just made me feel calm, and her voice seemed to soothe me. At the same time it made me think that it felt like I still had someone close to me. And we started talking. She talked to me about us and Mark, and how things might be different but she was here for me. Finally it didn't seem crazy to me or stupid or weird. Instead it was just what I needed. From then on whenever I was in my apartment and I needed someone to talk to she was there. Any idea I had had of disposing of her ashes had disappeared.

But this last time when we talked, when you saw us, it felt like we had reached some conclusion. She told me that you were an amazing woman and that I didn't need her anymore. That you were there for me the way she had been. And I knew she was right. "Goodbye, my friend," she said. And I never heard anything from her again, not that I expected to. She had given me what I needed and it might have hurt me for her to start things up again.

I know it might seem scary to you. But I know that it all happened in my head. I know she couldn't talk to me from beyond the grave. But it helped all the same. And when it reached it's end I knew it was because I didn't need to talk to her anymore. That we could have satisfaction and let her rest in peace. I just hope I didn't scare you."

Nicole gently squeezed his hand.

"You didn't. I knew there had to be a reason for what was going on. I was a little startled but I knew you were all right. I admit I felt a little hurt that you had a secret from me. But I always knew you would never want to hurt me and if you were keeping a secret there had to be a good reason."

He smiled at her. "I'm really glad you're here. I think Megan would be happy that you're here to share in this with me. I know you would have liked each other and I really regret that you never got a chance to meet. But I guess it's meaningful that the two women who have been taking care of me have finally met."

Nicole held the bottom of the urn while Nathan took off the top. They held the urn together and tipped it until it's contents slowly slid into the ocean. They set the urn down and Nicole took Nathan's hand in hers again. He smiled at her and squeezed her hand. Together they looked at the gorgeous sunset. They watched until long after the sun had set. Slowly the tide had taken Megan out to sea, slowly Nathan had let go of her forever.

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