Thirty-five and a quarter.
The first month I walked on eggshells, but after two months I realized I was listening with dread for a voice that wasn’t there. I was actually starting to enjoy myself when Laura arrived with Katie. After a five hour nap on the plane, she was bursting with energy when they arrived at seven in the morning, but Laura was exhausted.
“I’ll watch Katie,” I told her, grinning. “Get some rest.”
Laura kissed us both, and I took Katie out for breakfast.
“Mama says you go to school for stories,” Katie said, swinging her legs beneath the bench. Every other swing, she managed to kick my shin, but I tried to ignore it. “She says you know all kinds of old stories about funny things.”
I pressed my lips together and wished I’d thought to bring some kind of coloring book or something. While I was more than happy to talk about my work with adults, I was uncomfortably aware of the fact that being told stories on the same topics had started a good portion of my problems as a child.
“She said if I asked, you’d tell me some,” Katie said, reaching for her water glass. I narrowly prevented it from spilling all over the table when she tipped it too far. I wanted to curse Laura.
“Do you have any imaginary friends, Katie?”
“A make-believe friend. Someone no one else can see or hear but you.”
“Like George?” she asked.
“My dog. He’s big and purple and he lets me ride on his back.”
“Just like George,” I said. “But you didn’t bring him with you on the plane, did you?”
“No,” she said. “Mama said I’m not allowed to bring him places. He’s only allowed at home and in the backyard.”
“How about you tell me a story about George?” I said.
It wouldn’t be the end of it, with Laura prompting her, but it bought me a little bit of time. For the rest of the meal, Katie told me about all the games she played with George in the backyard and I encouraged her. A dog was harmless. A god was something else altogether.
I dreamed about the house burning, and my mother. The same dream I’d always had, but this time Eric was there too. I woke panting, my pillow damp with tears, and stared at the ceiling. I hadn’t had that nightmare in so long. Not since I’d stopped spending my days in bed and gone back to school.
Eric shouldn’t have been there. We’d buried him properly, not cremated him the way we had my mother. My heart still raced and my palms were sweating. I wiped them off on the sheets and took deep, even breaths. It had been so much easier to shake off the nightmares when I was younger, but I refused to think about why.
Laura and Katie had cornered me that day, on the black sand beach in Vik. We were driving around the Ring Road, spending the nights at farms along the way. My faculty advisor had been trying to get me to sight see since I’d arrived and was all too willing to give me the time off for this trip. I could appreciate why, after today. Standing on the black beach with the waves pounding against the shore, surrounded by rock and rich green mosses, was like hovering at the edge of the world. And it was exactly that reason I hadn’t wanted to come.
Iceland felt like a place where gods could exist. Even more so when Laura had me reciting the myths and staring into Katie’s wide and believing eyes.
Donar. The name slipped through my thoughts more easily in the dark, while my body ached with the pain of my nightmares. I had done everything I could not to think of him since Eric’s funeral, but I had seen him so clearly this afternoon as I told Katie the stories my mother had once told me. I imagined his footsteps in the sand, the shadow of his body against the rock face, and the longing I’d fought so hard against for so long rose up from my heart, thick and bittersweet at the back of my throat.
He felt too real here. Like I might turn a corner and find him waiting for me, solid and warm. And for the first time in years, I wanted him to be.
Katie stood before an old fashioned loom with a woman dressed as a Viking. She looked over her shoulder at me and grinned. Eriksstadir, the reconstructed longhouse of Erik the Red, was our last stop before we returned to Reykjavik. You couldn’t throw a stone in Iceland without hitting a vista worth staring at, and we’d stopped at more than a dozen in the last week, following the other tourists. Waterfalls, old volcanic craters, glaciers, lakes, and the historic Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament met for almost a thousand years and the mid-Atlantic ridge had formed a rift in the rock.
Each night I spent thinking of Donar, dreaming of his hand on my cheek, his arms around my waist, the familiar sound of his voice, laughing in my ear. Telling the stories had reminded me too much of him and opened a door I couldn’t close. But he hadn’t appeared or spoken to me, and I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong about Iceland, after all. Maybe a trip to Norway was in order, or Denmark, or Germany.
My heart thundered but I didn’t turn, afraid that if I did he wouldn’t be there. I didn’t want to see his watercolor outline, or the blurred smudges of his body where he should have been muscle and sinew and bone. I kept my eyes on Katie instead. Whatever she saw, her eyes were a perfect pair of full moons.
“Why Germany?” he asked, a ripple of laughter in his voice.
He pulled me gently around until I stared at his chest. He was immense. Tall and broad, and filling my vision completely. But I couldn't look at his face. I didn’t want the illusion to shatter. I wanted to believe for one more moment that he was real and solid.
“Because you call yourself Donar, not Thor. It’s Germanic, not Norse.”
“Oh, that. I just didn’t want people to think you were crazy when you were small, praying to some pagan god. Mrs. Philips would have had you hauled before a priest if you’d been muttering about Thor.” His hand covered my cheek, his fingers threading into my hair, and a gentle pressure brought my chin up. “Won’t you look at me?”
A coarse chin on a strong jaw, covered in stubble. His nose was fine and long, but for the scar tissue that made a bump on the bridge where it had been broken. Probably more than once. And blue eyes. They were so blue you could fall into them and swim forever. The corners crinkled with a smile, and he guided my hand to his face. My fingers trailed over the stubble, skated across his lips, traced the outline of his ear. Solid and warm, he still made my skin tingle with his touch.
He laughed. The sound was infectious and I felt myself begin to smile in return. The hand that had pressed against my cheek slipped down along my throat to my shoulder. “I’ve always been real, Anna. You just forgot how to believe it, for a little while.”
“Was it always that simple?”
“It's as simple as you'd like, now. If you want me, I'm yours.”
“Just like that.” I traced the curve of his jaw, and his lips found my palm along with his teeth. The bite was so soft that it tickled, but he caught me by the wrist before I could pull my hand away, and his eyes, those blue eyes that I had known all my life, stared into mine.
“Just like this,” he said, his lips caressing my fingertips.
I couldn't breathe for the way my heart tripped. “I want you.”
His lips met mine before I finished the words, and my knees no longer held me up. He caught me around the waist, his arms crushing the breath that was left from my lungs and his free hand wrapped in my hair, twisting it like a rope around his wrist. I would have given him all of me then, in the mossy grass with everyone watching, but he pulled back just enough to let us both breathe.
I gasped, my hand against my heart. He laughed low in his throat, tucking my head beneath his chin. I closed my eyes, pressing my face into the cloth of his shirt and breathing in the scent of rain and ozone and good clean earth.
He was everything I had imagined, everything I had remembered, everything I had wanted without knowing it. I lifted my head and kissed him again, until the other tourists started whistling and making cat-calls.
Because he was there.
And everyone could see him.
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