The park was almost empty as Laurie hurried along the cobblestone path. A couple sat on a bench, heads together, oblivious to the world. An old man with a cane stood on the stone bridge spanning the brook, staring into the water as if looking for answers to life's mysteries. A woman walked quickly along the path in the opposite direction, pulling a reluctant terrier behind her.
Laurie held her breath as she reached her destination. Was she too late?
"I was beginning to wonder if you was gonna show up, missy."
Letting her breath out slowly, Laurie looked up at the old caretaker. "You, more than anyone, know how much I live for this."
A smile crackled across the old face. "Aye, you be one of the special few, that's for sure. Hop on up, missy."
With an answer grin, Laurie jumped nimbly up onto the platform, touching smooth carved heads as she circled around to her favourite, the most life-like of the horses, the dappled grey. She seated herself sideways on his back and held on to the post securing him to the carousel.
Soft music filled the air as the carousel began to move, not the harsh, blaring sound of the calliope, but something softer, gentler. Laurie's grip on the post tightened as the carousel spun faster and faster; her eyes closed and she leaned back as the magic filled her.
At last the carousel began to slow, but her eyes stayed closed.
"Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove." The words caressed her neck from behind in a breath of warm air.
"Tristan." His name came out as a sigh and Laurie turned her head to receive his kiss.
"Come, I have a picnic awaiting us." He took her hand, pulling her off the horse and into his arms for a quick embrace before leading her away.
"Impatient are we?" A very unladylike giggle slipped out before she could prevent it.
He grinned over his shoulder at her. "Our time together is so limited, I don't want to waste a second of it."
There was a blanket spread out by the brook, a picnic basket waiting for them and a bottle of wine chilling in the water. They ate and laughed and made love and as they lay entwined together after Laurie felt she'd never been so happy, nor would she be again. A sigh escaped.
"What is it, my love?"
"I wish I could stay like this forever."
He held her close and buried his face in her hair. "As do I, love. As do I."
Later, when they were dressed again and the picnic things put away, he walked her back to the carousel.
"Did you know that the carousel was originally a combat preparation exercise and game played by the Turkish and Arab horsemen late in the twelfth century?"
"No, I didn't." Laurie smiled up at him. "Your point being?"
"My point being, I want you to know that if fighting is what it takes to keep you here with me, I will fight any battle to do so."
"Oh, Tristan." Tears pricked at her eyes and she held him close. "We'll find a way. There has to be a way."
"You'd better go," he said, reluctantly loosening his hold. "Already I can feel you fading."
Laurie shivered, remembering the time when she thought by ignoring the pull of the carousel she could remain. The carousel pulled her back into her world anyway, and it had taken her days to recover.
He stood on the ground beside the platform, eyes locked on hers as the carousel began to move.
"I'll be back!" she called out to him. "Just as soon as I'm able."
"And I'll be here, waiting." His voice was fading but she heard him add, "I will wait forever for you."
"There's something that needs saying," the caretaker told her when she dismounted.
He looked away, towards the trees and then at the ground before looking at her again. Laurie felt a chill of unease curling in her belly.
"The city has decided to shut down the carousel. Too old fashioned, they say. Kids aren't interested in such a tame ride."
"What are you saying?" The unease blossomed into fear at the solemn look on his face.
"There be only enough time left for a handful of rides. "
"No!" A terrible grief filled her. "It can't be true."She gripped his arms as tears spilled down her face. "There has to be something I can do, some way of sending me across forever."
"It's only your spirit that crosses through the portal, not your body. I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."
Laurie let go of his arms and took a step back. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? You must have known what was going to happen to the carousel for weeks now."
He looked at her sadly. "I thought you already knew."
"The caretaker said it's only my spirit that crosses over," Laurie said, as she lay in Tristan's arms. "Does that mean you're a spirit too?"
"In a sense. I crossed over many, many years ago."
"I died, my love. At least my body died in the earthly realm. My spirit remained here."
"And you've spent all this time alone?"
He sighed and sat up, pulling her up beside him. "Love is nothing, if not honest, and I need to tell you that I was not always alone. I have had visitors, from time to time, but," he put a hand under her chin to turn her face up to his, "None have I shared myself with as I have you. And none hold my heart, save you."
She melted into his embrace and he eased her back down to the blanket again. But her thoughts were not entirely on their love making.
Clutching a small vial in her hand, Laurie hurried along the cobblestone path to the carousel. The caretaker was waiting for her, sorrow lining his face.
"This be your last ride," he told her sadly. "They're dismantling the carousel tomorrow."
"At least I have a chance to say goodbye," Laurie said. In more ways than one. Impulsively she hugged the old man. "Thank you for being such a good friend."
He stared at her in surprise, and a little concern, as she released him and jumped nimbly up on the carousel platform.
"Now let's get this show on the road! The moon is full, it's Valentine's Day, and my true love awaits."
Shaking his head, the old man started up the carousel. As the horses began to move he saw her raise a hand to her mouth, swallowing something she held. He might have been able to stop her, might have stopped the carousel and called 911, but he did none of those things. Instead, a smile crossed his face as the magic of the carousel took her away.
It was different this time. No, she was different. Laurie didn't dare get her hopes up so soon.
"Tristin? Where are you?"
Had her planned worked a little too well? Had she been spirited away to some other realm instead? No, there he was, hurrying towards her.
"It's been weeks! I thought I'd never see you again." He held her in a bone crushing embrace. "I didn't even get a chance to say a proper goodbye."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. There were things I needed to do. But I'm here now."
He kissed as though he could drink her down, and then led her to their spot by the brook where they made love with a fierce passion, and then again with a gentle desperation.
"I want you to promise me something," he said as they lay basking in the dappled sunlight.
"That you will find someone on the other side, someone who will make you happy. And children . . . you should have children."
Laurie rolled over onto her side, propping herself up on one elbow so she could look down at him. "And what about you?"
He still refused to meet her eyes. "I will continue on as I have, there is no other choice."
"Tristin, do you love me?"
He sat up suddenly, nearly bowling her over. "What kind of question is that? You know I do! You are my heart and soul."
"Good." She sat up to face him. "I just wanted to be sure. Eternity is too long to spend with each other if you're not sure."
" What have you done?" His voice came out in a whisper.
"What had to be done." She took his face in her hands so she could stare into his eyes. "You once said, "Come live with me and be my love." Life without love would be no life at all. It was my choice to make, and I chose you."
He could see the truth in her eyes. With an inarticulate cry he gathered her into his arms, holding on as though he'd never let her go. His face was buried in her hair and she heard words like love and sacrifice and eternity, before he loosened his grip enough to kiss her fiercely.
"This world is amazing, and I finally get to show it to you," he said, pulling back. "I don't know where to start."
"Well," Laurie said, laying back down on the blanket. "I believe you also mentioned something about "we will all the pleasures prove." I'd say that would be a good place to start."
And prove it they did.
** The poem quoted is The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, by Christopher Marlowe and can be found Here.