Ten years later
I blinked as I awoke, the blossom grove coming into clear view. I could feel the bright sun on my face, smell the richness of the blossom leaves filling my lungs.
I took a deep breath and lifted my head. The dark sky towered above, a sky filled with lights. One thousand Chinese lanterns, sent years ago, floating in the air, perfectly fixed in place.
Sitting up, I searched the grove to check that every blossom was in full bloom. It was. But then it always was. Beauty lasted forever here.
As did she.
The sound of gentle singing came from the entrance to the grove and my heart began to race. I pushed to my feet and waited with bated breath for her to appear.
And then she did.
My body filled with light as she came around the corner, her hands lifting to brush gently against the full trees. I watched as she smiled at the blooms. Then I watched as she noticed me in the center of the grove. I watched as a huge smile spread on her lips.
“Rune!” she called in excitement and ran straight to me.
Smiling back, I lifted her in my arms as she wrapped her arms around my neck. “I’ve missed you!” she whispered into my ear and I held her just that little bit closer. “I’ve missed you so, so much!”
Pulling back to drink in her beautiful face, I whispered, “I’ve missed you too, baby.”
A blush set on Poppy’s cheeks, her deep dimples completely on show. Reaching down, I took her hand in mine. Poppy sighed as I did, then she drifted her gaze to me. I looked at my hand in hers. My seventeen-year-old hand. I was always seventeen when I came here in my dreams. Just as Poppy had always wished.
We were exactly as we were.
Poppy lifted up onto her tiptoes, pulling my focus to her once more. Placing my hand on her cheek, I leaned down and brought her lips to mine. Poppy sighed against my mouth and I kissed her deeply. I kissed her softly. I didn’t ever want to let her go.
When I finally pulled back, Poppy’s eyes fluttered open. I smiled as she guided us to sit under our favorite tree. When we sat down, I held her in my arms, her back pressed against my chest. Brushing her hair off her neck, I pressed light kisses all along her sweet skin. When I was here, when she was in my arms, I touched her as much as I could, I kissed her … I held her knowing soon I’d have to leave.
Poppy sighed in happiness. When I looked up, I saw her watching the bright lanterns in the sky. I knew she did this a lot. These lanterns made her happy. These lanterns were our kisses, gifted just for her.
Settling against me, Poppy asked, “How are my sisters, Rune? How’s Alton? My parents and yours?”
I held her tighter. “They’re all good, baby. Your sisters and parents are happy. And Alt, he’s perfect. He’s got a girlfriend he loves more than life and his baseball is going good. My parents are great too. Everyone is okay.”
“That’s good,” Poppy replied happily.
Then she grew silent.
I frowned. In my dreams Poppy always asked me about my work—all the places I’d visited and how many of my pictures had recently been published, had helped save the world. But tonight she didn’t. She stayed contentedly in my arms. She felt more at peace, if that was possible.
Poppy shifted where she sat, then asked curiously, “Have you ever regretted never finding someone else to love, Rune? Have you ever regretted, in all this time, never kissing anyone else but me? Never loving anyone else? Never filling the jar I gave you?”
“No,” I replied honestly. “And I have loved, baby. I love my family. I love my work. I love my friends and all the people that I’ve met on my adventures. I have a good and happy life, Poppymin. And I love, and I have loved with a full heart … you, baby. I’ve never stopped loving you. You were enough to last a lifetime.” I sighed. “And my jar was filled … it was filled along with yours. There were no more kisses to be collected.”
Turning Poppy’s face to look at me, my hand under her chin, I said, “These lips are yours, Poppymin. I promised them to you years ago; nothing’s changed.”
Poppy’s face broke into a contented smile and she whispered, “Just as these lips are yours, Rune. They were always yours and yours alone.”
As I shifted on the soft ground, as I placed a palm on the floor, I suddenly realized that the grass beneath me felt more real than any of my visits before. When I came to Poppy in my dreams, the grove always felt like I was in a dream. I felt the grass but not the blades, I felt the breeze but not the temperature, I felt the trees but not the bark.
As I lifted my head, tonight, in this dream, I felt the warm breeze cross over my face. I could feel it, as real as I did when I was awake. I felt the grass beneath my hands, the blades and the roughness of the dirt. And as I leaned down to kiss Poppy’s shoulder, I felt the warmth of her skin on my lips, saw her skin bump in its wake.
Feeling Poppy’s intense gaze on me, I looked up to see her watching me with wide, expectant eyes.
Then it hit me.
I realized why all of this felt so real. My heart beat faster in my chest. Because if it was real … if I had judged this correctly…
“Poppymin?” I asked and took a deep breath. “This isn’t a dream … is it?”
Poppy shifted to kneel before me and placed her gentle hands on my cheeks. “No, baby,” she whispered and searched my eyes.
“How?” I whispered in confusion.
Poppy’s gaze softened. “It was quick and it was peaceful, Rune. Your family are okay; they are happy you’re in a better place. You lived a short but full life. A good life, the one I always dreamed you would have.”
I froze, then I asked, “You mean…?”
“Yes, baby,” Poppy replied. “You’ve come home. You’ve come home to me.”
A huge smile spread across my lips, and a flood of pure happiness washed over me. Unable to resist, I crashed my lips to Poppy’s waiting mouth. The minute I tasted her sweet taste on my lips, a deep peace filled me from within. Pulling back, I pressed my forehead to hers.
“I get to stay here with you? Forever?” I asked, praying it was true.
“Yes,” Poppy answered gently, and I could hear the complete serenity in her voice. “Our next adventure.”
This was real.
It was real.
I kissed her again, slow and soft. Poppy’s eyes remained closed afterward, then as a blush spread on her beautiful dimpled cheeks, she whispered, “A forever kiss with my Rune … in our blossom grove … when he finally came home.”
Then she added, “… and my heart almost burst.”
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