I rolled off Ava, breathing hard from my exertions, and turned away from her to lie on my side. I know Ava thinks of our sex as making love, but for me it’s simply a physical release.
She touched my back and spoke breathlessly, “I love you Zan.”
I didn’t answer her. I never did. I didn’t want to lie to her or give her false hope.
I don’t love her and I never would. I didn’t love her in our other life either, and nothing had changed since then.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike Ava or hate her. She is beautiful and kind, my best friend, and the sex is good. I just don’t love her.
I don’t remember everything from my other life but I do remember her, our relationship.
It’s not like my parents forced me to marry her or anything. They were very patient with me, hoping I could find a wife to love.
I had always felt that there was someone out there for me, someone I would love with all of my heart and soul, who would love me just as fiercely. That’s what I’ve wanted for as far back as I can remember.
I started dreaming about her when I was simply a child. I never really saw what she looked like, but I could feel the beauty of her soul, her kindness, her strength, the power of the connection between us. She was my perfect match, my soul mate, and I spent years searching for her.
I just knew how it would be when we finally met. We would recognize each other instantly, be drawn together by the undeniable force between us. No words would be necessary, I would simply take her hand and we would never be parted.
Years went by and I looked for her everywhere, and continued to dream about her at night. In my dreams we were together and perfectly happy, and I became more impatient to find her.
I must have been introduced to every eligible woman on the five planets in my search; beautiful women, intelligent women, powerful women, but I never found the woman I was looking for. And as more and more time passed I began to think that it was only a dream. Maybe I wasn’t destined to find love, I wasn’t destined to find my dream girl, not in that life anyway.
If it had simply been my choice I would have kept looking, but I was the heir to the throne. I had duties, I was expected to marry and produce a son of my own who would inherit the kingdom. And as I grew older I became even more conscious of my responsibilities.
When my father died I knew I had run out of time.
I had to put away my fantasies of the perfect woman, my soul mate, my dream girl. It was time for me to choose a wife.
I threw a huge party inviting all of the aristocracy and the most powerful families. I knew they would all bring their nieces, sisters, daughters; any available females in their families, hoping to catch my eye.
When I think back, it seems so cold and calculated, and perhaps it was but I really didn’t care. If I couldn’t find my love then what did it matter who I married?
I saw Ava for the first time the day of the party. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, but I knew immediately that she wasn’t the one.
My friend Larek thought I refused to talk to her because I was shy, but the real reason was I still held on to a shred of hope my dream girl would be at the party that night.
I had fantasized about it again and again. She would be standing aside, looking for me as I was looking for her. Our eyes would meet across the room and instantly we would both know we were destined to love one another.
I would ask her to dance so I could take her in my arms, and we would circle around the room, getting lost in each other. Eventually we would slip outside and I would take her to my favorite spot near the ocean. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from touching her, reaching up to stroke her soft skin before pressing my lips to hers. The kiss would be sweet and explosive and perfect, and after that we would always be together.
I started the evening with renewed hope, eagerly searching each face in the crowd. My dream girl had to be there, it was my last chance at happiness. But with each hour that passed I grew more disappointed and desperate.
That was when Larek came to me with Ava, making the introductions cheerfully.
I almost laughed.
Of course I had never told Larek or anyone else about my dream girl, but to think he was trying to offer this beautiful child to me as a replacement for my soul mate was ludicrous. What did I care for smiles and golden curls when my heart was dead?
Ava was the daughter of an influential Earl and she had just come of age. She was beautiful and young and charming, and I felt nothing for her.
I felt nothing at all.
I had literally reached rock bottom. I had finally admitted to myself that my dream girl wasn’t at the party. Maybe she didn’t exist at all, only in my mind. My hope that I would find her was completely gone, and I was devastated.
Perhaps Ava could sense that, or perhaps she was just being kind, but she stayed and talked to me.
We sat in a quiet corner and talked for hours about our lives, our families, our hopes and dreams, about nothing. I ignored everyone else, refusing all offers to dance or join other conversations. It felt good to have someone to talk to, a friend, someone who understood.
Ava was sweet and kind, but still so much of a child, and she must have misinterpreted my exclusive interest in her. With the arrogance and confidence of her youth and beauty she leaned into me whispering in my ear, “I love you Zan. It was love at first sight.”
I reached out to touch her cheek, and placed a chaste kiss on her lips. I meant it to be kind, a simple kiss but nothing more. But as our lips met a thousand thoughts assailed me, of duty and honor, of dashed hopes and dreams, of waiting for something that might never happen, waiting for someone who would never come. And that is when I decided I would marry Ava.
She wasn’t my dream girl, she wasn’t my soul mate, and she never would be. I would never love her but she would be a good friend and companion.
So I coldly, calculatedly married her, and made her my Queen.
Never once in our marriage did I offer her words of love, and she never asked for them. Perhaps she was so in love with me that it didn’t matter to her, or perhaps she didn’t want to know the truth. Perhaps she hoped that her patience and love would eventually make me love her.
We were good together, good friends, even good lovers, but I never forgot my dream girl. I still saw her in my dreams, and in my heart I mourned for her and what could have been.
After we emerged from the pods on Earth, my dream girl was my first memory from my other life. Not my mother or father, my sister, my wife, but the girl I had fantasized about for years.
It was about two years after we came out of the pods, a day just like any other. But when I went to sleep that night I saw her in my dreams for the first time.
She was a small girl, exactly my age, with long brown hair and a quick smile. I felt a rush of instant recognition, but it wasn’t until years later that I remembered how I knew her.
But after that my dream girl came to me almost every night. We would play games, chasing each other, laughing, sharing everything. Sometimes I would give her small gifts, a flower, a picture I drew just to see her smile.
I loved her with the fierceness of childhood, but I never told anyone else. She was my secret, my sanctuary.
And as I grew so did she. The beautiful, vivacious girl grew into an even more beautiful young woman, and as we aged, so did my feelings for her. I loved her with all of my heart and soul.
I looked forward to seeing her in my dreams each night. I just wanted to be with her, to touch her soft cheek, to smell her hair, to hear her laugh. I wanted to kiss her and eventually be with her too, but it was about so much more than that. I wanted to share my life with her, to join our hearts and souls.
Of course by then the four of us had been told of our past, our purpose. I knew I had been married to Ava and that we were expected to go back and save our planet, but none of that seemed to matter next to the girl from my dreams.
I looked for her everywhere, in every face I passed on the street, and even though it seemed impossible that I would find her I didn’t give up.
It was a night in September that changed everything. The date is burned into my mind because it turned my world upside down. It was the day I lost hope, lost everything.
September 19th, 1999.
It was Sunday and the day started out like any other.
Rath and I had gone to get a pizza, and I was looking forward to watching the ball game. We sat on the couch and I chugged down my Coke and reached for another, when I was suddenly a burning pain ripped through my stomach.
I dropped to the floor doubled over, clutching my hand to my gut. I could barely breathe it hurt so much.
A feeling of intense fear surged through me, but it wasn’t fear of what was happening to me, it was something else. I was filled with an intense sensation of horror, desperation and loss.
Suddenly I saw my dream girl. She was younger than I had ever seen her before, and wearing a red dress with cupcakes on it. Somehow I knew that she was in kindergarten and her mother had made the dress, and even though she didn’t like it she wore it to please her mother.
Vaguely I wondered if I was dying.
I had heard that your life flashed before your eyes when you were dying, and my dream girl had been so much a part of my life that it seemed perfectly natural I would see her.
And then just as suddenly as it started, the pain was gone.
I must have blacked out for a moment. When I opened my eyes I felt dizzy and disoriented. It was like the world was really far away, and it gradually started to return in pieces.
I realized I was lying on the floor and I heard a voice from the TV announcing the grand opening of an electronics store. As my vision started to clear, Rath’s leather pants and boots were the first things that came into focus. He was kneeling next to me, shaking me.
“Zan, come on man, wake up,” he said with a touch of panic in his voice.
I shakily started to rise and Rath helped me to the couch.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. “I had this pain in my gut and then it was just gone.”
I could tell he was shaken by my answer, but he tried to laugh it off.
“Well it’s no wonder man,” he joked, “you ate that pastrami sandwich and a whole bag of chips earlier, and now pizza and spicy chicken wings. You’re such a pig.”
I laughed too, to relieve the tension, but I knew it wasn’t my snacking that had caused the collapse.
We watched the game, and the rest of the day passed peacefully enough. Neither of us mentioned my illness again, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering what had happened. And when I went to sleep that night I finally got some answers, but not the ones I wanted.
My dream started out like many others I’d had, sitting in this bizarre alien-themed diner watching my dream girl. She was a waitress and she wore this little blue form-fitting dress that had fueled many of my fantasies.
My eyes followed her closely as she moved around the tables delivering food and talking to customers. She was so beautiful, so perfect.
Suddenly there were shouts and two men struggled for a gun. I ducked, along with everyone else just as the gun went off, and then the two men ran out.
I was thinking it was lucky no one had gotten shot when I saw someone on the floor.
I recognized the shoes almost immediately. It was my dream girl!
Leaping out of the booth I sprinted the few steps and fell to my knees next to her. She’d been shot! And there was so much blood!
I was so scared, more scared than I had ever been, and I put a shaking hand to her wound. It was hard to connect with her, almost impossible, and I could feel her life force slipping away.
Time seemed to stop around us and the world faded into the background. I couldn’t hear anything and all I could see was her beautiful face. The only thought I had was that she couldn’t die. I knew I wouldn’t survive without her.
That’s the closest I’ve ever come to praying in my life; begging, pleading anyone, God, the universe, whomever, to help me save her life.
As I finally connected with her the flashes came instantly.
I saw my dream girl in the red dress with the cupcakes that I had seen earlier when I’d been sick. She was twirling around, holding out the skirt, and she looked so sweet.
But then my vision changed.
I saw myself in my other life for the first time.
I was on a beach, walking slowly next to a red ocean. Three moons hung in the night sky, and a light, warm breeze was blowing. I had a feeling of perfect happiness and contentment, and it was because my dream girl was at my side.
Walking hand-in-hand, we talked softly. I could feel the warmth of her body and the purity of her soul, and I was so happy I had finally found her.
We had only met that night but I had known instantly she was the one I had been looking for. I recognized something in her, and she saw the same in me.
I turned to her, reaching out to touch her beautiful face. Her skin was so soft and she looked up into my eyes. I had the overwhelming urge to kiss her, and I leaned in to taste her sweet lips.
But my lips met only air and my eyes snapped open to see that she was gone.
Instead of the beach, I was standing in the ballroom of my palace, and the truth came rushing back to me. I had been fantasizing about my dream girl again, but no matter how much I wanted her, she wasn’t real.
My heart plummeted. I was at the party I had organized in order to find a wife, and I had hoped against hope I would find my dream girl tonight. But she wasn’t at the party. I had to admit to myself that she didn’t really exist at all.
I came awake instantly, and my tears started a moment later.
The girl I had dreamed about my whole life, who I loved with all my heart and soul was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I had made her up in my other life and the memory had been carried into my new life.
She wasn’t looking for me, waiting for me. She truly didn’t exist.
I felt the loss of my love as if she had died suddenly. It’s like my very soul was ripped in two and I couldn’t breathe. .
How could something so beautiful, so perfect only be a dream?
My world was falling apart around me. Everything I had ever believed in was a lie. So much of my life had been based around her that I truly didn’t know who I was anymore.
I didn’t even try to stop my tears. A pain slashed through my heart and mind and I knew it would never stop. How could it, when the cure didn’t exist?
All my life I had been waiting for a dream; a perfect, beautiful dream that I loved with all of my heart and soul.
Sobs of anguish escaped me. How was I going to live without her?
That’s when Ava came to me.
She must have heard my sobs, or maybe she is tuned in to my pain. But she slid in bed with me and wrapped her arms around me.
“What’s wrong Zan?” she asked softly. “Are you sick again?”
I didn’t answer her. How could I?
How could I tell this girl who used to be my wife that I was crying because I’d lost the one person I loved?
Ava loved me, she’d made no secret of it, and she wanted desperately for me to love her in return. I had never been cruel to her, never told her I didn’t want her, but I had been careful to keep my distance. I’d never let Ava close to me and I’d never let her touch me. I couldn’t get involved with her because I had been waiting to find my love.
But I had been waiting in vain. Love didn’t exist for me.
So I cried and let Ava hold me.
Her hands smoothed over my face, wiping my tears away, and still I cried.
She pressed her lips to my forehead. “Shhh,” she soothed. “It will be okay.”
But nothing would ever be okay for me again, and my tears intensified.
Then she pressed her lips gently to mine, and I was so devastated that I didn’t react at all.
Ava must have taken my inaction for consent or acceptance and kissed me again. Her hands traced my jaw as she breathed my name. “Zan.”
She leaned in for a third kiss. “I love you Zan.”
I had so much pain inside, but at the same time I felt so numb. I let Ava kiss me again and again. It wasn’t unpleasant, and I began to wonder if her love would be enough to fill my emptiness, if her love would heal me.
When she kissed me again, I kissed her back. If felt wrong, but I didn’t stop.
I kissed her again and again and when her hands tugged at my clothes I didn’t stop her. Soon we were both naked and I entered her willing body as she begged me to do. It was the ultimate betrayal of my love and I cried even harder as my heart died a little more.
As I thrust into Ava my thoughts were only for my dream girl. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to use Ava’s body to forget her, but it didn’t work.
I saw my love’s body and face flushed with passion beneath me. I saw her eyes looking into mine, shining with love. I heard her voice crying out my name as I pushed her over the edge, declaring her eternal love.
But my vision cleared as my body released. I moved away and turned my back, unable to look at hair and eyes the wrong color.
Ava embraced me from behind, again declaring her love.
I didn’t reply but cried silently, simply letting the tears roll down my cheeks.
I had betrayed myself and my love, but what did it matter? She wasn’t real. My love for her was some kind of illness and I had taken the first step at putting it behind me.
After that I was with Ava, just as she wanted me to be. But no matter how much she loved me the pain and emptiness inside never lessened.
If she knew I was unhappy she never said a word. Perhaps she was the same in this life as in the other, preferring not to know what was in my heart.
I accepted her as a companion and lover, and maybe that was enough for her. But as in my other life, I could never forget my dream girl.
As the months passed I still saw her in my dreams almost every night, and I lived a sort of surreal alternate life with her there. I dreamed after she was shot I healed her and she learned my true nature. We tried to remain friends, but our feelings were too intense, and gradually we grew closer eventually giving in to our emotions. Our first kiss was so sweet, so passionate, and I was certain she loved me with her entire heart and soul.
My dream relationship was everything I wanted, and maybe over time I started to feel guilty. Maybe somewhere in my mind I knew it was wrong to love a dream more than my wife, and maybe that’s why I dreamed that I pushed my love away.
In my dream it was some convoluted excuse that we didn’t belong together because we were different. I regretted it as soon as it was done but I tried to stay away from her.
Tried, but failed.
I couldn’t keep my feelings inside and eventually they broke free.
I went to the restaurant where she worked because I couldn’t stay away. She moved into the back room and I followed her, unable to let her out of my sight. I tried to hold back, to take things between us slowly, but she must have felt my intensity because she flirted and teased.
Finally I couldn’t deny my feelings any more and I took her in my arms, reclaiming what was mine.
And ironically that is when I realized the truth.
It was one of the best days of my life, and one of the worst.
The four of us had been told about our past and our destiny, and we knew about the other set of clones that were sent to Earth. But only I was entrusted with the whole truth. As the leader only I knew that the others were the true Royal Four, not us. I was the replacement King if something were to happen to the real one.
And that knowledge finally made me understand.
My dream girl was real. Everything I had seen in my dreams was real; growing up with her, admiring her from afar, the shooting, our friendship, and finally our love. It was all real, but it wasn’t me. It was my clone. It was the real King.
We were both made from the same man, and he had dreamed of her his whole life on Antar, that’s how we knew her. But it wasn’t the original Zan who was meant to be with her, it was my clone, the real King. It was Max.
By luck or destiny he was the one who had been placed in the town where she would live.
He had saved her, he was with her. She loved him, not me. Just like everything else he had inherited with the title and the throne, our dream girl belonged to him.
And that is why everything had seemed so surreal when I dreamed about her, so unlike me. I had assumed it was because it was a dream, but it was because it wasn’t me. It was him in my dreams. Somehow he and I were connected and I had been receiving his thoughts, memories and dreams. I had been vicariously living his life.
I was insanely jealous but I didn’t begrudge him her love. How could I? It would be like denying myself. And if I had found her first, I would have claimed her.
But she belonged to him, and now that I realized the truth I couldn’t stand to know what was happening between them. I didn’t want to know how their relationship was progressing. I couldn’t stand the thought of him kissing and caressing her, making love to her, and I consciously made the effort to block him from my mind.
And it worked. I didn’t see them together anymore, didn’t feel his feelings for her, and I was glad. I still dreamed about her, but now they were my dreams, and for a while I was okay.
I tried to concentrate on my life, my family and Ava. I tried to be content, I tried to live without her.
But as the months passed I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I thought about her more and more and spent less and less time with Ava. I stopped sleeping with Ava, stopped hanging out with her, preferring my fantasies of my true love.
Even everyday things about my dream girl were fascinating to me. I imagined her going to work and school, hanging out with her friends, or just studying. I wondered how her life had changed now that she was in a new grade at school. I wondered how she spent her free time, what movies and music she liked, what her hopes and dreams were.
I was completely obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and wondering what was actually happening in her life. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and gave in to the temptation to learn about her.
I locked myself in my room for some privacy, and lay back on the bed. I took a deep breath, telling myself I was ready for anything. Slowly I let down the block in my mind just a little, and all of the months of Max’s heartache came rushing through.
It was almost overwhelming to experience all he had been through. I couldn’t see the details of everything that had happened but one thing was very clear in my mind. When Max had learned of his true destiny, our dream girl had felt it was the right thing to leave him, and in the following months she had continued to push him away.
They weren’t together any more, and for the first time since I had discovered she was real, I felt hope.
Maybe she was right. Maybe she and Max weren’t meant to be together because he had important work to do.
Maybe she had never been destined to be with him at all. Maybe I remembered her so clearly because she was meant to be with me.
“Yo Zan!” Rath bellowed from the other room. “Let’s get some dinner!”
Food? I asked myself. What did I care about food when my dream girl was waiting for me?
But my stomach protested, growling loudly and I got off my ass and grabbed my backpack, following the others up through the subway.
I was almost giddy as we emerged onto the street. I had imagined and dreamed about her so much but for the first time actually being with her was possible.
I helped the others heist a fruit stand, but as they did most of the work my mind was far away. It was in Roswell to be precise.
I was ready to go rushing to my dream girl, but I knew I had to take it slow. I had to figure out what to do, how to approach her.
Lonnie and Rath grabbed the cash and some food and we were off.
I was silent as we walked down the street, my thoughts still preoccupied. I knew it would take time for my dream girl to accept me, and grow to love me. I didn’t want her to see me as simply another version of Max, I wanted her to see me for myself.
I didn’t even care that Lonnie stopped to flirt with the guys. I barely heard the line of bullshit she and Rath gave them before taking their ball.
I smiled as we continued. A plan had started to take shape in my mind, and it seemed like every step I took brought me one step closer to my love.
Rath’s words cut into my thoughts. “They contacted us again last night. Same invite. We gotta tell 'em something.”
Of course I was aware they’d contacted us again, but now that I knew the truth about my dream girl I was seeing the situation in a whole different light. I knew what I would do about the summit, but I decided to mess with Rath. “Tell 'em no.”
Lonnie spoke up. “Yo, you sayin' we ain't going to the summit?”
I couldn’t help smiling as I answered. “That's what I'm saying.”
“Yo, that's messed up, duke,” Rath bitched. “This is the only time we've ever been contacted.”
I shrugged, happier than I had ever been in my life. What did I care about Antar when my whole life was in New Mexico? “Whatever,” I said. “That's it.”
Ava joined the others, complaining. “We tell 'em no, they won't ask again.”
“Tell 'em hell no,” I said, yanking her chain too.
Rath stepped in front of me, challenging me. “What is up with you, man? I'm tired of you. I'll go by myself!”
He had been flexing against me a lot lately, testing my strength, but he didn’t stand a chance and he knew it. I let him see I knew it too. “They don't want the number two,” I said softly. “They want the royal four.”
“Why don't we go and see what they gotta say?” Rath bitched. “Why don't we go and get the answers?”
I looked at him incredulously. Was he really that desperate to go back to a planet he barely remembered? I raised my voice, trying to make him see sense. “What if it's a setup?”
“No,” Rath shouted, “it's not a setup! They need us!”
Now he was really pissing me off, questioning my judgment. I might not be as tall as him but I have all the power. I met his eyes. “I'm the man. Don't forget.”
Rath looked like he might challenge me again, but Lonnie saved his ass by speaking up. “Yo, guys. It's been a mad long day. Let's just chill.”
Rath stayed in my face a moment longer before backing down with a grin. “Yeah. You the man.”
We continued down the street and I debated if I should tell them the ugly truth. The invitation wasn’t for us at all, it was for the real royals. I had been stalling in answering, hoping Max would step up. Then I wouldn’t have to tell Ava, Rath and Lonnie that we weren’t who they thought were we, but only the backups.
I was getting angrier by the minute. I had kept that knowledge from them to protect them, but my silence was causing Rath to dispute my ability to lead. I was watching their backs and all they did was argue and bitch.
Maybe I wouldn’t tell them anything at all, ungrateful scrubs. What did I care about summits and Antar and who was a real royal? Maybe I would just take off.
I could go down to Roswell myself and tell old Maxie that his royal ass was required at the summit. After he left, I’d have my dream girl to myself and the rest of them could just figure it out themselves.
I had a real chance at happiness for the first time in two lifetimes and I wasn’t going to let anything or any one get in the way. So fuck them all. I was going to go after my dream.
I smiled as I walked a little faster. I could almost smell the fresh scent of my dream girl’s hair, feel the softness of her skin, taste her sweet lips. Finally I would get to see her, to be in her presence, feel the beauty of her soul.
Nothing else mattered.
It would be difficult for her at first, I knew that. She would still be mourning Max, but I would be there for her, be her best friend, a shoulder to cry on. Someone she could talk to. Someone she could count on.
And I would be patient.
I wouldn’t push her into anything, but I would let her know that I wanted her and I had no intension of leaving. Ever.
I would wait for her forever.
The feeling of hands on my back surprised me and I tumbled into the street. For a split second I thought Rath was playing around, or maybe he had finally decided to really challenge me, but then I saw the headlights.
The truck was close, and perhaps I would have had time to get out of the way but I was just so damned shocked. Rath, and undoubtedly his co-conspirator, my sister, had found another way out. Instead of challenging me directly, the cowards were assassinating me.
That’s when I realized they must have already cut a deal with Khivar. They were desperate to get back to Antar, more desperate than I had realized. And they were incredibly stupid if they really thought Khivar would honor any deal.
It seemed to take forever for the wheels to reach me, but I was frozen in place, unable to do anything but watch. And this time my life really did flash before my eyes.
Of course the only parts I cared about were of my dream girl.
But while I was glad that she was the last thing I would see, I was also incredibly angry. I had been so close to finally being with her and now because of Lonnie and Rath’s greed it had all been stripped away from me.
I let Max’s memories of his time with her fill my senses. Through his eyes I looked at her beautiful face, and with his hands I touched her soft skin and hair. With his lips I kissed her again and again until I was completely surrounded by her taste and smell. His mind opened to invite her inside, and her essence, her soul enveloped me.
For a handful of seconds I was perfectly, completely happy.
The wheels finally hit me, forcing all the breath from my lungs as they crushed my body. With my last breath I spoke her name aloud for the first time. “Liz.”
I felt the life literally pouring out of me and knew I only had moments left.
I don’t know that much about religion, or what kind of afterlife I would be going to, but I did know one thing. Wherever I was, and no matter how long I was there, I would be waiting.
Waiting for her.