Sean Kennedy watched the full moon rise behind the trees, sending slivers of light through the branches to shine like searchlights on the water. The lake was nearly still, with only a few ripples raised by the light breeze. The faint, shimmery light highlighted his dusky mood, enhancing the solitude of his surroundings.
The lake was situated in an isolated corner of a park not a half-hour’s drive from Sean's home, and he only came to sit by its shores when he was feeling lonely. Sean sat here a lot. He couldn’t explain why he did it. He couldn’t remember that it had ever made him feel better, and any reasonable person would argue that the melancholy atmosphere was more likely to make him feel worse. For some reason, though, he often found himself drawn back here, watching that same full moon rise behind those same trees. The Moon always seemed to be full when he was here. Sean credited that to an actively romantic imagination, staging the past with the most evocative mise en scéne. Watching the water now, when the moon was in fact full, he knew how effective that little extra detail could be.
Sean had to admit that anyone watching his life from the outside would be puzzled at his morose attitude. He had plenty of friends and family, and had even had a few romantic relationships as well (none of them having ended well, or he wouldn’t have been here, but many people shared that story). There were those he loved, and many he was close to, but none of them seemed to be quite . . . enough. There was a gap, an empty spot in his existence. Some place where something was supposed to go. But what? Or who? And how was he supposed to fill that hole when he didn’t even know what was supposed to fit into it?
The moon rose above the highest of the treetops. Now unobstructed, its light flooded the lake and the vegetation on the shore, turning darkness into silvery glow. Sean felt himself and his surroundings bathed in the moonshine, an ordinary park and an ordinary man transfigured into something otherworldly. Sean looked down at himself and was mildly surprised to find the same figure he saw every day of his life. But the moonlight did not leave him completely unchanged. The reflected glow washed out his imperfections and flaws, and nearly washed out his humanity. He felt as though the glow was coming as much from him as from the orb in the sky. He felt transformed into a being of glory and grace, even though underneath that light he remained the same person he always was. A spot on his left ring finger caught the light particularly well, and for a moment it looked as though the moonshine were reflecting off a band of silver encircling it. Goosebumps raised on his skin. A lock of hair fell across his cheek, and he raised a hand to brush it away, only to find another hand already there.
He turned. Beside him sat a young woman, unnoticed until now, though Sean did not think that he could have missed her arrival. She was tall and lithe, and her bearing conveyed a sense of rightness and grace. Her skin was very fair, almost translucent, contrasting sharply with the jet-black hair that streamed over her shoulders. Through that hair peeked two ears that ended in just the slightest suggestion of an elegant point. Her features were angular, their sharpness tempered by a tender smile. And her eyes were the brightest green, so bright they seemed to shine in the moonlight. Sean’s breath caught in his throat, but then the tension and surprise faded from him, and he smiled contentedly.
“Hello, my love,” he said, and leaned in for a kiss.
Afterwards, they lay on the grass, snuggled naked together in sleepy warmth. The woman was curled up next to Sean, her head on his chest, with her fingers tracing patterns over the skin of his arms and his torso. Sean held her tightly, as he always did, knowing this moment would end too soon, and wishing that maybe this time he could hold her firmly enough to keep her at his side.
The woman raised her head to look at him, her eyes uncommonly solemn.
“Do you regret this?” she asked, her low, musical voice not hiding a tremor.
“What we just did?” Sean replied, trying to raise her spirits. “Believe me, that’s the very last thing on my list of potential regrets.”
“No, I didn’t mean that,” she said. Her faint smile showed that she appreciated the jest, but she wouldn’t be deterred by it. “Do you regret me? Do you regret taking a wife you can only be with when the full moon reflects upon the water? A wife you are cursed to forget when we are apart?” Her voice and her face betrayed a real concern, so Sean put aside his joking manner. He raised himself up on one elbow, wanting to look full into her face to show her his sincerity.
“No, I don’t,” he said, matching her serious tone. “When we are together, I don’t regret it for a second. I love you, no one else. It’s only when I’m with you that I’m fully aware of what the word ‘love’ even means. And I’ll take a few stolen hours with the woman I truly love over a lifetime with her first runner-up any day.”
A smile flickered across her features, but could not dispel the worry in her voice. “I fear you hold it against me. I fear that I have left you with only half a life. I fear that whatever I may offer you is not enough to repay what you have given up.”
“Never think it,” Sean said. He took her hand and held it to his lips, then his heart. “I chose this life. I chose you. I knew what I was getting into. My time with you is worth more to me than every moment of my life without you. You bewitched me, my love. Your faery magic captured my heart and now I can never let you go.”
“There was no magic involved and you know it,” she replied, trying to sound serious but betrayed by a giggle.
“That’s what you think,” Sean said, “but you cast a spell over me as surely as if you had commanded it. I can only be left to wonder how any man, both mortal and faery, could not be your captive.”
“Many pursued me, but none caught me until you. And I am caught, Sean, as surely as you.”
“Do you regret that?” Sean asked, fearing that he had discovered what was truly on her mind. “Do you regret taking a mortal for a husband? My life is just a speck next to yours. It would destroy me to lose you, even if I couldn't remember it, but you knew from the beginning that you would eventually lose me. How can you bear to think of that?”
“It is nothing that others have not faced before me. I have spoken with many faery women whose mortal husbands are long dead. Few of them regret the decision.”
“But do you?” Sean asked, noticing with alarm that she had not answered his question. For a moment or two, the only reply he got was a mournful sigh as she pulled herself even more tightly to him. She turned her head down, her eyes hidden from his own, and replied in a heavy voice.
“Sometimes. Sometimes I do. Not because I doubt you are worth the sacrifice. But I wonder what you are doing without me. Without even the memory of me. I fret over your dalliances and your women. Maybe I should be pleased that you have some comfort in our times apart, but I am too selfish to be so generous.” Sean briefly closed his own eyes in sorrow, then, tilting up her chin, looked deep into his wife’s unearthly gaze.
“Never blame yourself for those feelings,” he said firmly. “It’s not selfishness to want me for yourself, or to hurt when you know I am with another. Even though I am ignorant at the time, such betrayal is a horrible thing to do to the one you love.” Sean's breath caught in his throat, blocked by the lump that was forming there. “I’m so very sorry for all that I have done to you in my forgetfulness. I only have one regret concerning you: that my choice to be with you has brought you pain. I am the selfish one. Please forgive me.” He ran a strand of night-black hair through his hand, brushing her neck in the process. She caught her hand in his, and brushed it gently with her lips.
“My love, there is nothing to forgive,” she said. “You are not to blame.”
Sean could not accept absolution so easily. “Those other women . . .” he continued. “They’ve always felt empty to me. Deep down, I knew there was something missing.” He placed her hand over his heart. “I’m only complete when I’m with you.”
“I understand, Sean. I feel the same. That is why I chose the way I did.” Her lips curled in a shy smile, though it could not completely dispel the haunting in her eyes. “Let us leave this talk of fear and regret behind. I want to enjoy my time with my husband while I can. My foolish worries have stolen enough of it.”
The faery woman raised her hand to Sean’s face, her touch as delicate as leaves on water, wind on grass. A silent, unnecessary apology. Sean could not hold her fears against her, nor begrudge the time taken to console her. Despite her assurances, he keenly felt the imbalance of their situation. For her sake, he wished that when they were apart, she could forget him as much as he forgot her.
Sean hated the magic that kept them apart, hated that the men of her race feared mortal men so much that they would so punish their women who loved them. He forced his hatred down. To dwell on it was to steal from them both the few moments they had together. Much time had already been lost, no matter the necessity. He could never be sure of when they would be together again. Sean leaned over to answer his wife's touch with his own, to be with her as fully as possible for the time they had left.
Overhead, the moon moved behind the oncoming clouds, and she was gone.