Just Once - Page 24

Learns of . . . oh! Art did a mental double-take as one particular fact of reality took on personal significance. Before we separate, we could change that if it's a problem, you know. Heck, for that matter we could make your father change his mind about . . . well, anything really!

Annika just smiled. No . . . we couldn't.

You're right, damn it! Art swore. Neither one of us would be comfortable with that, but . . .

Arthur, Annika interjected as a way to shush him. This is the way it has to be. I want you to remember always that it was a glory to be like this with you, even if it could only be just once. She squeezed his hand one last time, then opened her fingers. Goodbye.

Not goodbye, Art vowed. Just until we meet again . . . somehow.

Annika's smile became sad at that, but she nodded, giving Art the strength he needed to release her hand before he did something stupid.

The shock of finding himself alone in his own head and, well . . . himself, once more, was almost too much for Art. By the time he'd sorted out the basics of just being “Art” again and found his feet, literally and figuratively, Annika had already redressed and was leading the unresisting Captain toward his fate.

Feeling not just lost, but insignificant, Art wanted to say something, anything, before Annika was out of sight, but it was like the fist he felt around his heart had reached up to clench his throat as well. Desperately he reached his hand out toward her back and hoped with all his might that somehow she would just know everything he couldn't bring himself to say.

She did, he realized . . . but she never once looked back, not from cruelty, he further realized . . . but because she didn't want Art to see her tears. Once she was gone, as much as it hurt, Art found a reason to be grateful for being alone once more.

Some moments in a man's life, particularly the tearful ones, he'd prefer there be no witnesses.

This was definitely one of those moments.


Page 24

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