It was growing dark but she sat there still, stubbornly, stupidly. Waiting under the apple tree the same way she sat there every day in August, convinced this was when he would return.
There had been years when she had sworn she wouldn’t be here, and she would book airplane tickets for holidays on the other side of the world; only to cancel it all at the last moment.
She had tried many times to remove the bracelet, five years had passed when she tried the first time and she was heart sick, lonely, and knew that the bracelet bound her to him. She couldn’t fall in love with another, had no interest in other men and she knew she would never be free of him while she wore it; she would never forget. Just like Tante Marie. She had died eight years ago and the bracelet had disappeared as her life left her, the magic drifting away as though its spirit had been set free too. The bracelet could not be broken though and she had a scar on her wrist to prove it, it had been the last time she had tried.
There were differences though; the things that kept a flame of hope alive, the things that drove her to sit here, day after day, night after night, every August, with her heart returning to that day, to that question. “Do you trust me?”
Never trust the fae.
But he had promised. “... I will find a way, I swear it. I will find a way and I will come for you and you will wait. You will wait for me.”
She told herself it was because of him, because he was keeping his promise, that when she looked in the mirror she saw a woman younger than her years. Oh, she had aged but she was almost forty five and looked more like thirty five. It had to be him... didn’t it?
Tante Marie had told her own tale, not so very different from her own, a young heart charmed by magic and beauty but her lover had never returned. She had aged as people do, and until the day Chloe arrived with her own bracelet, she had never seen the magic glowing over her skin... but Chloe did.
It had to mean something?
She got to her feet and stretched, sighing over another day when he hadn’t come. Would she still be sitting here waiting in another twenty years? She leaned back against the apple tree, looking up at a sky full of stars, just the same as all those years ago.
They hadn’t changed.
She turned, intending to go indoors when there was a sensation that made her skin prickle and a sweet smell perfumed the air, mingling with the night scented stocks that grew near the house. She clung to the apple tree, heart pounding, too afraid to turn around.
The voice was low, tentative, and achingly familiar even after so long. She held her breath, afraid if she moved or spoke the spell would be broken and she would wake up and find it had been a dream after all... it wouldn’t be the first time.
“Chloe, my love?”
She swallowed a sob that threatened to escape and managed to say his name, barely more than a whisper. “Brokk?”
She felt his hands slide around her waist and he turned her around, so she was facing him. “Yes, I’m here.”
Her eyes fell upon him, stunned, incredulous and she gasped as she saw that he was just as he had been, he hadn’t aged a day and her heart sank. With a trembling hand she reached into her pocket for the little golden damsel fly and held it out to him. “Let it go, it was too cruel, please let it go.”
He took it carefully from her hand and she watched as it flickered to life, and flew away for good.
She lifted her wrist, the one that bore the bracelet, and held it out to him. “It was too cruel,” she repeated.
He took her hand and held it to his mouth, kissing the palm and holding it against his cheek, his eyes closed. “I know, I know and I’m so sorry but it was no different for me... I swear it.”
She took her hand from his grasp. “Twenty five years, Brokk, I have waited and waited... you were gone too long!”
“I came as soon as it was possible, the laws have not yet changed but... but I begged the Prince and he said if you want to come, he will protect us. I have made a home for us, Chloe... for you. You were never far from my thoughts.”
“Oh.” Her chest felt tight, it was too much to take in. She had imagined this scene so many times over the years and she had wavered between ranting and raging at him and falling at his feet. As it was she was simply stunned. She looked at his beautiful face, still as youthful and perfect as the day they had met and felt her heart turn. “I’m forty five, Brokk, you left it too long. Look at you, you’re so young and I...” She swallowed too heart sick to speak any more and his face fell.
“We age very slowly in my world, I... I know I don’t look like the kind of man who should be with a woman like you but I promise I will do everything I can to make you happy, to make up for what I did.”
She looked at him, confused. “But Brokk, I’m so much older than you now, doesn’t it bother you?”
He frowned and then laughed out loud. “Chloe, I was older than you are now when we met.” He stepped closer and drew her into his arms. “I am far older than you can imagine and I find you more beautiful now than I did then. You captured me with your pretty face and your fierce heart, you made me lose my own heart in return but now I fear I shall lose my soul too.” His hand held here face gently. “Say you will come with me,” he pleaded. She looked into wide brown eyes filled with anxiety and felt a tear slide down her cheek. He wiped it away with his thumb. “Please, Chloe, forgive me and I swear I will make it up to you. In my land your life will be long like mine, we have so many more years ahead; soon this will seem like the blink of an eye compared to our time together.”
His eyes grew more fearful the longer she stayed silent but she couldn’t speak, couldn’t find the words, so in the end she just kissed him. She felt his arms wrap around her and felt the vice that had clamped shut around her heart all those year ago release.
He had come back, he had kept his promise.
He let her go and gestured to the gateway that was still shimmering, the curtain between the worlds open. “The Prince is waiting for us, Chloe, he holds the gate open but if you are going to come, you must come now... please, please, my love.”
She felt a tremour of fear standing at the gate and clung to his hand. What if they were wrong, it had only been one day after all...
“Are you going to give up on me, after all this time?”
She looked up at him, watching her like his heart had stopped beating, and took a deep breath. “Non.”
He laughed, gathering her up and spinning her around in his arms. “Thank the gods!” he exclaimed before grabbing her hand and running with her to the gateway. She hesitated at the opening, stopping for a moment to look around the garden at the gnarled old apple tree and he squeezed her hand. “You’re sure? No regrets?”
She shook her head and the colourful beads danced at her ears. “I have nothing to regret anymore,” she said simply, and they stepped through the gates.