“Uh, I told them about a month ago—” And suddenly, her strange behaviour toward Mike made so much sense, “—But, I was talking about your real mum.”

I looked at the ring. “Did she get to see it?”

He laughed. “Of course. She practically had us betrothed from the day you were born, Ara.”

The soft smile I gave felt nice across my mouth; I liked smiling, especially for my mum. “Well, it’s easily the most immaculate ring I’ve ever seen, Mike. I can’t believe you designed this—for me.”

“Well, you’re my beautiful rose.” He laughed then—at himself, I think. “Look at me, Mike the poet.”

“I like poetry. I’ve always been a sucker for a romantic.” I placed my cup on the nightstand next to Mike’s.

I moved to the cold side of the bed, letting him slip beneath my covers, coming to rest my cheek against his ultra warm chest. He felt so different from David; he was bulkier, warmer, and the sound of his heart beating in his chest brought a kind of fear to my own—knowing it could break or stop beating by the smallest, stupidest mistakes. But the humanness of Mike made me feel oddly safe in a way I hadn’t always felt with David. I was comfortable with him—we matched. Mike was my human match.

Mike’s arms relaxed heavily around me, like wearing a bead-filled doorstop as a hug. “Are you excited about the ball?” he asked.

“Mm-hm.” I nodded, drifting away to the sound of his deep, constant breath.

This would be my life from now on, and I had to admit, after all the pain, after all the loss and loneliness, it finally felt like I could breathe.

A semi-conscious dream stole my eyes to the images in the back of my mind; I rolled my face up once more to smile at Mike, see what he thought of my dream, but he couldn’t see it, and while that was reassuring in a way, it also made me feel a little…lonely.

I slipped back into my dream, walking down a long aisle toward my destiny—toward Mike. I tried so hard to picture David there in Mike’s place but I couldn’t. It was Mike. It had always been Mike.

As I stood beside him, I pulled the red rose from my bouquet and gave it to him.

“You don’t need this anymore, Ara.” He kissed my lips and let the rose fall to the floor. “Every part of your heat belongs to me now.”

I watched the red petals hit the ground, then looked up into his smile. “From this day on—for always,” I said.

He nodded, reaching for me, and as I rolled my face into his hand, I jumped back with the cold shock of electricity through my cheek, waking to the feel of icy skin and a familiar sweet scent hiding under the shadows of dawn. “David?” I whispered.

I jumped out from the warmth of Mike’s arms and ran for the window, stopping dead, seeing a yellow rose on the windowsill. My ruby ring suddenly felt heavy—almost as if I was wearing the pain in my soul; I picked up the cold, thornless blossom and pressed it to my nose, spotting my iPod on the sill underneath it. Our lives, every inch of our journey had been mapped out in song on that device—from the first time I saw him and fell in love with him, through the days of wondering if he loved me, to the heartache of knowing he only loved me enough to leave me for my own good, and finally, to losing him. It would do me no good to listen to that playlist again, even though I knew that’s what David wanted. But I just couldn’t live my life in the past anymore. I had to find a way to move forward.

The street below was desolate and quiet, no sign of David having been or gone. The dawn sky looked cold and grey, like the world was readying itself for rain, and all the streets were empty, the lights still on along the footpath, while a soft red glow outlined the mountains to the east.

I looked over at Mike, sleeping peacefully, and drew in the sweet pear scent of the rose once more. Then, as I went to press the Home button on my iPod, noticed a new playlist there, titled “Ara”. It only had one song, so I stuffed my earphones in and pressed play; I could move forward tomorrow. Today, I just wanted to be closer to David by thinking about him—pain or none.

A delicate piano told a sad story, making my heart ache in the first bar. I pushed open my window, leaning on the frame as the words began; I’d never heard this song before. I knew David liked John Mayer, but he’d never even said which song was his favourite. I wondered why he put this one on my iPod and no other song. And then I listened more carefully to the words, relating instantly to the feeling; falling asleep thinking about the one you love—your heart so broken because they’re gone. You dream, for a moment, that they’re right beside you—that everything in the world is finally all right. But the warmth of their hand, the clear memory of their smile dissipates suddenly, destroyed by waking. It almost makes you want to sleep for the rest of your life so you can be together.

I checked the title of the song again, smiling. Appropriate. “Dreaming With A Broken Heart.”

Tiny bumps of chill dotted my belly with the kiss of a cool breeze, and the sun touched the earth just over the horizon, warming everything around me; the treetops became pink and gold, and orange leaves floated softly down to the ground, like autumn snow.

I pinched three of the yellow petals from the stem of the rose and held them out over the lip of the window frame; one for my heart; one for my soul; one for eternity. They all belonged to David. Each and every bit of me would always be his—no matter what my dreams may tell me.

When the wind swept past my window again, I flicked the petals into the day; they floated up into the air, making circles on the breeze, following the autumn leaves to the old oak tree in the garden, finally resting, with one last kiss from the wind, right on the seat of the swing.

“I love you, David. Forever,” I whispered into the nothing, reluctantly shutting my window on the stormy wind. A tear rolled down my cheek as I looked up to the sky and saw one, single star sparkling out above the waking world, almost like it was David watching over me.

“Make a wish.” Strong arms wrapped my waist from behind.

“Well, I’ll make one for you, then.” He squeezed me tighter, then crossed his heart.

“Can’t tell you. It won’t come true.” He pressed his hands to my waist and turned me around, slowly plucking my earphones from my ears. “Why are you crying, baby girl?”

I sniffed back the runny liquid in my nose. “So much has happened. Everything’s changing for me now, Mike. Sometimes, I feel like I’m losing control of it all—like it just goes too fast.”

“It does go fast, princess,” he said; I looked down. “But, that’s why you’ve got to make the most of every day. To love whole-heartedly—” he kissed my forehead, “—to laugh at stupid jokes—” he kissed my nose, “—and to find the good in every moment; happy or sad or difficult.” He pulled back for a second as he moved in to kiss my lips and added one more thing, “And I’m going to be here to do it all with you. For the rest of our lives.”

My phone forced me to get up off my back, leave my comfy pillow behind and wander across to my desk. “Hello?”

“Um. I need you to do me a favour.”

“Sure. Anything,” I said, peeling the curtain back with my fingertip, looking down over the evening.

“I…I kind of need you to tell Spencer I can’t go to the ball.”

“What!” I screeched. “Why can’t you go—and why can’t you tell Spence yourself?”

“He…well…I was kind of going to get you to tell him I have laryngitis.”

“I didn’t want to tell him I can’t go. I just…I think I might cry.”

“Em, I don’t get it. Why aren’t you going?”

“I haven’t got a dress, Ara.” She started crying. “And I don’t even have anything old in my wardrobe. My mom cleaned everything out a few months ago and donated it all to charity.”

“I only have this ugly red thing that I wore when I was twelve. And I can’t go to the ball in a dress that short, either. I’ll look like a hussy.”

“Ara?” Sam said, popping his head around the wall.

“Hang on, Em.” I looked over at Sam, covering the mouthpiece of the phone. “What are you doing in my wardrobe?”

He stepped into my room, grinning. “I got a date tonight.”

“Yeah. Can I use it or not?”

He walked off, starting up the hairdryer in the bathroom, but didn’t shut the door.

I walked into my wardrobe and glared at Sam through the bathroom mirror. “I told you to shut this door.”

“Argh!” I slammed it behind me and stormed out of my wardrobe, but a flash of blue fabric on the hook caught my eye, and as I thought back to the night David forced me to accept that dress, an epiphany hit me like a rock in the head. “Oh my God. Em!”

“Come over. Right now. I have a dress for you.”

She didn’t even get to say anything. I hung up the phone and ran downstairs to wait for her, opening the door seven minutes later to a solemn-looking Emily.

I gave her a hug, and she smiled as she pulled away—but not at me.

“Hey, girls,” Mike said, sitting on the stairs behind me.

“Hi, Mike,” Emily said, her cheeks going pink.

“You back for another shaking?” he joked.

“I’ll pass,” she said sheepishly. “You know, you look kind of different when you’re not mad with worry.”

Mike laughed. “Yeah, guess it’s easier to see my face when I’m not towering over you, badgering for information on missing girls.” He cast a raised brow my way.

Emily giggled. “It was okay. You didn’t actually shake me.”

“Okay, enough small talk.” I grabbed Em’s hand. “Come see your dress.”

Mike laughed as we rushed past him, then slammed my bedroom door behind us.

“Can't go far with my eyes closed,” she said.

I left her by my bed while I ran to the wardrobe to get the green dress, and came back, holding it against my body. “Okay. You can look.”

Emily’s eyes lit up and her mouth popped open as she ran toward me—well, to the dress. “Oh, my God, Ara. This is perfect. Where did you get this?”

“Of course, dummy, that’s why I asked you over. Here.” I handed her the dress and directed her to my wardrobe. “I hope it fits.”

“It looks like it will,” she said, her voice muffled under a shirt or something.

“Yeah, we’re the same size, so it should be fine.”

“I can’t thank you enough for this, Ara. I just haven’t found anything I love enough to wear, but I think this—” She stepped out and her beauty struck me. “Might do?”

“Emily?” I couldn’t help but to rush over and hug her. “How perfect is this on you—oh my God!”

She readjusted the shoestring strap on her shoulder and spun slowly to show the low back, scooping down just past the purple cotton undies she had on today, while the shimmering emerald green hugged her curves, making her skin look like liquid satin.

“I hate you, you know.” I sighed enviously, folding my arms. “It never looked that good on me.”

“Aw, I’m sorry, Ara. But I do love it,” she said.

“Yes, you can. I want you to have it. It was—” I shook my head, looking for the right words “—meant for you.”

“Thank you.” She reached out; I hugged her again. “I’m so glad we’re friends.”

“Me too. Come on—” I took her hand, leading her to the door, “—we have to show Mike.”

“Wait.” She pulled back a little. “Are...are you sure it looks good? I mean—”

“Em. It’s great. Stop worrying.” I stuck my head around the corner. “Mike?”

“Yeah?” He flashed a really sexy grin, stopping just as he was headed down the stairs.

When I pulled Emily around the corner, Mike tilted his head to one side. “Wow. Yeah, that’s a great dress. Do a spin,” he said, twirling his finger in the air. Emily spun around. “I don’t know, Ara. Perhaps I’m marrying the wrong girl.”

Emily’s head whipped up; she looked at me, her mouth falling open. “Marrying? Did he say marrying?”

I shot a death glare at Mike. “Um, yeah. We’re…Mike asked me to marry him,” I said, fraying my fingers to show my ring.