“Misa,” Ajah grumbled as she struggled with the zipper. “Hold still.”
Misa inhaled a deep breath and held it while Ajah continued fighting with the obstinate fastener. “You volunteered to help,” Misa reminded her best friend.
“I did. I’m excited for you. You and Doran have been friends for as long as any of us can remember.” She giggled before continuing. “Now you can be friends.”
“There’s still two months before Matrice,” Misa’s cheeks grew hot as she responded to her friend’s comment. “Tonight is only Fesztiv.”
It’s important to note in Astridia, regardless of your region, marriage comes with a great ordeal of pomp and circumstance. This not only serves as a means of courtship between the two about to be married, it acts as a platform for families to bond and discuss business and serves as a clear communication to the couple they are welcome to seek support from close family and friends.
After a proposal is accepted, there is two months until matrice— known on Earth as marriage— and an event is held each weekend, the first being Fesztiv which is an elaborate feast.
Ajah finished zipping the back of Misa’s strapless blue dress, chosen by her mother and ostracized by her dad for being, “so damn short the guests wouldn’t have to strain too hard to see everything if she as much as bent at the knee.” Her mom laughed before putting her foot down and, per usual, got her way by arguing that Misa was a beautiful young woman and should be enjoying her youth.
To her surprise, Misa actually loved the dress and her feeling toward it didn’t change as she glanced out her balcony’s window and gazed at the twinkling lights icing the trees and lacing themselves around the garden’s trellis.
The first car pulled up and a distant cousin got out and gave her keys to the valet before continuing up the decorated path. Misa’s stomach flipped and she turned to Ajah. “I’ll meet you downstairs. I need a minute.”
Ajah shrugged an okay and shimmied on downstairs in hopes that Terron had finally arrived. Ajah’s family was in agriculture and Terron’s worked in law. The two knew, in practicality, they couldn’t be together. The fact failed to stop them from embracing any opportunity to interact. Secretly, Misa pitied whoever married her best friend, because she knew Ajah would never really move on from Terron and why the two families allowed the girls to continue meeting, Misa didn’t understand. She eavesdropped on her mom speaking with other women in private about the scandal.
To Misa, it was dumb. Why couldn’t her friend be with whoever made her happy? Why couldn’t Misa?
Even if her love was as fabricated as the silver-eyed, sand-haired concoction she’d dreamed up over the years, she could be content in her own mind. She’d never actually spoken to Soras. He was more like a figment wound in warm breeze, a spark of something that she felt should’ve been, but wasn’t.
She continued down the hall and entered an empty bedroom. For an ephemeral moment, Soras filled the empty space until Misa bent and grasped the edge of a wooden dresser to keep from falling.
A woodsy scent filled the room. “Fair warning, Great-Aunt Ceyne is here and swears she’s going to pop you with her cane if you don’t get downstairs soon.”
Misa turned and found herself face-to-face with a new Doran; she’d never seen a cleaned-up version of him. His messy black hair was smoothed back and gelled and after all the years they’d ran through the fields and played hide-and-seek, a realization smacked her harder than Great-Aunt Ceyne could’ve with her cane— Doran, with his baby-smooth skin, wasn’t just good looking; he was hot. In the dim lights of the spare room, his eyes were a swirl of caramel and chocolate against the traditional black and white suit that was completed by a tux.
Their eyes locked together and refused to part. “I-I was—” Misa began, but before she finished, Doran’s hand was on the small of her back and he pulled her to him until their bodies were closer than they’d ever been. His mint breath lingered and the sudden thought that if she opened her mouth, hers would be sickening, caused her to stiffen.
“Are you uncomfortable?” Doran’s right eyebrow lowered.
Thinking about her potentially horrendous breath, Misa glanced down. “No,” she whispered.
“Then, what is it? Is this too much too soon?” His expression continued to grow tense.
She wasn’t going to tell him in the otherwise empty room with his strong hand holding her, while their eyes absorbed one another that the trivial possibility of shameful breath would be the cause of her retreat. Instead, she cleared her throat and said she needed to use the restroom before they joined the night’s festivities.
Doran, who found himself an equal mix of relieved and irritated, waited in the long hall wondering how her lips would feel when they finally met his. More important, was the question of when? She loved him as a friend; he knew that, but wondered if her affection could grow over time to meet his.
Years prior, she confided in him about Soras and the crazy blend of emotions she experienced when she thought about her creation. The first few times she mentioned it, Doran listened with interest and pondered Misa’s knack for creativity, but the more she spoke of Soras, the greater her preoccupation seemed. That concerned Doran; perhaps, Misa would begin to believe that Soras was real.
Someone tapped his shoulder and he turned. “Ready?”
He nodded. “As I’ll ever be.” Probably more so than you, he finished in his thoughts. Her shoulders made an elaborate up and down movement and Doran knew Misa didn’t want to be there. That thought sliced him as they walked down the hall and stood at the top of the stairs where they overlooked groups of familiar faces all engaged in conversation and laughter that flowed above the music. He leaned over and whispered to Misa. “If we hurry, we can get to the food without making a scene.”
She held back a giggle and he grabbed her hand as they both rushed down the stairs and weaved through a group of guests who were engaged in laughter until they reached the buffet table, unseen. “You’re good,” she admitted to an already gloating Doran.
“I recall being pretty good at hide-and-seek too,” he taunted.
She nudged him. “Hey, I remember winning a few times.”
“Oh, yeah?” he challenged back, strategically moving closer to her.
It must’ve worked because she inched toward him until her breath was on his neck. That was the second time he’d been ready to kiss her and the second time it’d been interrupted. The group they managed to dodge early turned to dote on the young couple. Their interest was enough to garner the attention of the rest of the guests.
Misa’s dad came forward and raised his glass. “A toast…” he started, but Misa’s attention had been drawn elsewhere.
Misa stared into Soras’ salt-gray eyes. “I can’t marry him,” she cried as she was drawn into Sora’s strong arms. He’d never seemed so real.
He held her tighter, “Shhh.” Misa sobbed harder until Soras took her face in his hands. “He genuinely cares for you.”
“He’s my best friend, but you… you’re— I don’t know. God, you’re not even real!”
Soras ran his hand down her arm until he reached her hand and his fingers locked with hers. “I’m very real,” he promised, “I just can’t be there, with you.”
Misa looked at him with an expression mixed with resentment and anger. “No,” she began, “I created you.”
Soras let out a quick chuckle and kissed her forehead. “Something’s happening and I don’t know what it is, but it’s not right.” His words faded with his body and Misa was left, alone.
“…Misa? Hey… uhh…” A familiar hand waved in front of her face. “Hello?”
When her eyes met Doran’s, they were gleaming, but not with happiness. Her cheeks reddened. “No!” she screamed to the horror of the guests. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
Before Doran or anyone else could respond she turned and ran. After a moment’s pause, he followed after her. He searched in the darkness until he found her leaning against a tree by the side of the drive. He cleared his throat. “Misa?” he asked, sheepishly.
“Go away, Doran. You got what you want.”
He sighed and stood in front of her. “No, I can’t make you happy.” He paused for a while and hesitantly finished. “But, I know where you might get answers,” he admitted.
The last remark got Misa’s attention and she wiped a tear off her cheek and yawned from the exhaustion of nerves and frustration. “What?”
“When you started telling me about Soras, I didn’t think much of it. Weird? Yeah. Concerning? No. You continued to talk about him and the more you told me, the more I started thinking you believed yourself,” he explained. “I did some research and I know a guy who might have answers, but we should go now.”
Misa’s forehead crinkled. “Right now?”
Doran nodded. “Yeah, before more people find you and start demanding explanations. It’d be easier if we left and came back in a day.”
“How?” Misa’s stomach turned at the thought of having to rationalize taking off with Doran to her parents.
“I don’t know.” He put his hand on hers. “Do you want answers, or not?”
“I do.” Misa wanted to know more about Soras. Was she losing her mind? Or was he real and somewhere in Astridia?
Her and Doran walked to his car without saying a word. Once they were on the way, Doran gave her a better explanation. “His name’s Sabik and he has an intriguing story. When he was younger, he worked in science and technology and built quite a following when he invented a translation device…”
“Oh?” Misa wasn’t sure where he was going with everything.
“Yeah, it translated Achai into other languages… like languages not spoken in Astridia. It proved the existence of other dimensions. It put him in a unique situation,” Doran finished.
“You think Soras is from another dimension?” She wasn’t ready to accept that type of answer.
“Not necessarily, but I see how the thought of him eats at you. I think if anyone might have a scientific explanation, it’d be Sabik. Although, he retired a long time ago after his wife passed away.”
Misa appreciated Doran’s dedication to her Soras dilemma, but wasn’t sure that Sabik could help. She yawned and closed her eyes from exhaustion.
“Hey, wake up. We’re here.” Doran tapped Misa’s shoulder gently to avoid scaring her.
She stretched and yawned. “Huh?” she mumbled.
“We’re at Sabik’s.”
“Oh,” she stared out Doran’s window at a ranch-style home settled in between two other houses of similar design. “Doran, this is weird. He doesn’t even know we’re coming. I feel stupid,” she complained.
“It’s worth a try. Right?”
She shrugged as he opened the door and got out. He waited for her to catch up with him before he continued up the sidewalk. As they neared the porch, a curtain swayed and the door opened before either of them had a chance to knock.
An elderly man stood before them. He was tall and thin with wisps of hair on either side of his bald head. His eyes, though, were a deep cerulean blue, perhaps the only feature still attractive about him. He raised his eyebrows. “Are you two lost?”
Misa wasn’t sure what to say and Doran spoke up. “Sabik?”
“You need to eat?” the man leaned closer to them.
“No. Are you Sabik?”
Sabik studied the boy’s lips as Doran spoke louder and slower. “I suppose I am,” he answered. “You kids aren’t from the news, are you? I don’t do interviews these days.”
“We’re not, but we do have a question. I’m hoping you can help her.” Doran motioned to Misa who gave a short smile.
“Fur?” the older man scowled. “You aren’t into anything illegal, are you?”
Doran shook his head. “No. We have a question,” he reexplained.
“I have an idea. Why don’t you two come on inside so I can get my ears straight,” Sabik offered. Mira and Doran nodded in response and followed him into his home. “Want something to drink?”
“No, we’re fine,” Misa answered looking around the room at frame after frame of a younger, extremely handsome Sabik with jet black hair and flashy blue eyes. He was so happy in every photo of him and some woman that Misa’s heart flipped a little. Would she ever be that lucky with Doran?
“You’re nine?” he scrutinized her. “You sure don’t look nine.” He turned back to a countertop and began fumbling with a couple small devices he attached to his ears and adjusted. “There, good as new.” They stared at him for some time. “Don’t mind me. I whipped these babies up years ago. Right before I lost Meissa, my hearing started to go and I made up my mind I wasn’t going to miss one word from those enchanting lips of hers.” Sabik shook himself from the memory. “Now that I can hear ya, what do you kids need?”
“Answers.” Doran spoke up. “And you may have them.”
“I’m listening,” Sabik motioned for him to continue as he slowly took a seat in the blue recliner.
Doran looked to Misa to explain. She hesitantly spoke. “Years back I made up this guy named Soras.”
Sabik blinked. “Okay…”
“He feels real. It’s like I travel to a different place or something. He’s real even though I know he’s not.” Misa stumbled to explain her bizarre meetings with Soras. “He consumes every part of me…” she hesitated, knowing a continued explanation would hurt Doran.
Sabik sat quietly with his hands folded and stared at the carpeted floor. Misa’s explanation forced him back to a time when he was young and met Meissa. “Soras, you say? Does he look the same each time? Same features and all that?”
“Yes. Actually, every time I see him, he becomes clearer. In the beginning, everything was shadows. Yesterday night, he touched my face and his hand was warm and soft.” She shivered at the memory of her fabricated lover.
“It’s a progression, then,” Sabik remarked.
“What does it mean?” Doran had been standing in the background half-relieved at the possibility of answers and saddened by how Misa’s eyes brightened as she spoke of Soras.
“They were called Anchors. They existed on each plane to keep out interdimensional travelers known as The Ones Who Walk in Shadows, or TOWiS. This was all long ago and Anchors no longer exist, nor does interdimensional travel.” The man winced as his memories stirred. “I cannot say what phenomenon you are experiencing young lady, but I can tell you with confidence your body remains in Astridia.”
Doran shrugged. “So, what gives?”
“I told you, Doran, there’s no explanation,” Misa sighed. She knew it’d be a long shot, but traveling with Doran seemed like a better option than trying to talk her way through the spectacle she made at the party.
Sabik stood and shuffled to a shelf of books. He took his time thumbing through some pages and muttering incomprehensibly to himself as he did. Finally, he placed a book back and sat down in the chair once again. “There’s an explanation, but it’s not one you’re going to like. When we battled TOWis, I learned more than a man ever needed to know about the surreal.” Misa and Doran leaned in and waited for more, but Sabik only chuckled. “I’m not going to go into details. That’s another story for a different time. I think your souls are fighting to stay together.”
Misa shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“When our bodies pass on, our souls travel to Ashzaria where they remain with their mates until the Oracle sends them to another life. The cycle continues until our souls max out their ethereal energy or fall into a deficit. The Oracle oversees that soulmates continue in the same planes, not necessarily at the same time. The rule is that they must exist in the same dimension.”
Misa looked on in disbelief. To her, Sabik’s explanation was the mere ramblings of a senile man, but Doran pushed to find out more. “What happens if they don’t?”
Sabik adjusted his wristwatch. “I don’t know, really.” He looked at a doubtful Misa. “But if your souls are fighting hard to stay together, it can’t be anything good.”
The rhythmic tick of a wall clock was the only sound in the small living room as each one of them pondered Sabik’s reply until the chimes from the timepiece jolted them from their thoughts.
Misa jumped up. “I need to get out of here.” With that, she charged out the front door and Doran could hardly keep up as he said a quick goodbye to Sabik and followed after her.
He found her in a small park hunched over and crying. Without a word being spoken, he pulled her to his strong, warm body and held her and refused to let go until she was ready.