"Why do you speak like that, huh?" Malcolm demanded. He pushed Stephanie in the shoulder. Stephanie stumbled back, her gaze fixed on the floor. Tears welled in her eyes, but she didn't dare wipe them away. He would only jeer at her and call her a cry-baby.
"Huh? What's the matter? Why can't you speak?"
He pushed her again. Stephanie fell to the floor. Her bottom lip began to tremble.
"You no understand?" Malcolm spoke humiliatingly slowly, adding over exaggerated hand gestures to ridicule the poor girl further. Tears spilled over the edge of her bottom lashes.
Unexpectedly, a shout came from across the playground.
"Hey! You leave her alone Malcolm, or I'm telling Mrs Dawson!"
Malcolm looked panicked for a fleeting moment before he quickly dashed away in the opposite direction. Stephanie wiped her eyes and looked up. A boy with kind eyes was peering into her face. He offered her his hand and helped her off the floor.
"Are you okay?" asked the boy. Stephanie didn't answer. She only sniffed and wiped her nose.
"I'm Dexter. I'm in class Two Yellow and I'll be seven years old on the fourth of October."
Stephanie peered back at the boy who was looking at her with inquisitive hazel eyes.
"Do you want me to look away while you have a little cry? I don't like it when people look at me crying."
Cautiously, Stephanie nodded. Dexter politely averted his eyes as if she was getting changed.
"Tell me when you're finished," he added.
So Dexter waited patiently, standing there like the best friend Stephanie so desperately needed. Stephanie's cries were soft and sad, like those of a stray kitten's, but they eventually dried up. When she was finished, she gave her eyes a final wipe and placed her hand in Dexter's.
He looked back at her and smiled. "Do you feel better now?"
Stephanie silently nodded.
"What's your name?"
Stephanie said nothing. Dexter cocked his head.
"You're kind of shy, aren't you?"
Again, no reply from, the girl. "We can go to the liberry if you want. No one goes there at lunch times."
Stephanie didn't say anything, so Dexter took this as a blatant yes. He led her by and hand to the quiet room, and in return was given the first few words he would hear her speak.
"Stephanie," Stephanie said, pointing a finger to her chest. "Malcolm laugh at me because I talk like French."
"That's a dumb reason to laugh at someone," Dexter replied, scratching his head. "But just to make sure it doesn't happen again..."
He hopped off the chair and grabbed the first book he saw.
"Here, I'll teach you to speak like I do. I speak English fluently, so I'll be the best teacher ever. I'll read these words, and you repeat after me. Ready?"
And so began a project between the two. Over the school year, Stephanie gradually lost her French accent, and Malcolm never bothered her again. At the end of year 2, she won the award of Most Improved Student, and shyly gave Dexter a kiss on the cheek for being the best teacher ever he had promised he would be.
Three years later, Stephanie and Dexter were walking through the woods with their arms full of sticks. Each of their houses were on opposite sides of the woods, and they were trying to decide where the place exactly in the middle was to build their mud hut.
"What about here, Dex?" Stephanie called, gesturing to a hollow underneath some tree roots.
"Perfect," Dexter replied, dropping his sticks by his feet. "We'll start with the sides, then we can put the roof on top afterwards."
Stephanie nodded with agreement. The two ten year olds spent the whole afternoon constructing a rickety, mud-packed, three-foot-high hut. The children huddled inside and grinned at each other.
"This is the best hut in the world," Dexter declared proudly, scraping his cheek against the not yet dry wall, smearing mud across his face.
"There's a hole," Stephanie noticed, pointing to a gap in between the wooden sticks.
"I've got an idea," Dexter said, crawling back out. "I saw a branch earlier that would cover it perfectly."
Dexter retraced his steps with Stephanie hot on his heels until he came to a large branch which was on the other side of a fence. He started to duck his head to climb through but Stephanie stopped him.
"Don't, Dexter. Look, that's barb dyer there. Papa told me it can easily cut you," she warned, her eyebrows bunched downwards with seriousness. Dexter shrugged her off.
"It's okay Stephanie, I've done this hundreds of times before," he warded off her protests and hopped through the gap, scraping his thigh on the way through. He glanced down once he was on the other side and rubbed his leg.
He ignored the scratch and picked up the branch. "Here, I'm going to throw it to you so I can climb back through, okay?"
Stephanie shook her head, starting to back away. She wasn't quite fast enough.
"One, two, three."
Dexter threw the branch, and Stephanie's hands remained limp by her sides as it smacked her in the face. Dexter shot back under the fence, scratching his back, and rushed to Stephanie's side.
"Oh my goodness! Are you okay, Steph?" he asked, falling to her side. Stephanie nodded, though her face hurt quite a lot. "I thought you said you were ready?" Dexter said, rubbing her arm. Stephanie shrugged.
"Well, I think you'll be okay. You're not bleeding."
He leaned forwards and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "There, that'll make it better."
Stephanie told him she'd had enough of playing mud huts that day, and the two returned home shortly afterwards.
For the next two weeks, Dexter checked every day that Stephanie's face was okay - even after her bruise had cleared. She kept reassuring him that she was fine, and that it wasn't his fault - even though it sort of was.
But Dexter suddenly noticed that he himself was getting poorly. He couldn't move his jaw very much, and his neck hurt him whenever he turned his head. He sometimes felt hot, and sometimes felt cold. He told his mum, but she didn't pay him much attention.
Jane, Dexter's mum, was a very busy woman; she ran a beauty salon business. Being so occupied all the time, she didn't think much of Dexter's mild complaints. She hadn't noticed a difference in his appetite - he had never eaten much, and put the fever down to a cold.
"I think you're alright, sweetie. You probably just caught a cold or a bug going round," Jane told Dexter, giving him a little pat on the back. He shrugged.
Then he went back to playing Lego and he didn't mention feeling unwell again, so Jane dismissed the idea that anything was seriously wrong with him.
Two days later, however, Dexter staggered to his mum's office and told her, "Mum, I can't breathe properly."
And this was when Jane finally noticed something wasn't right. She rushed him to A&E, where Dexter was admitted into hospital and finally diagnosed with tetanus - a disease caused by bacteria living mainly in soil entering the body via a puncture wound or laceration. In Dexter's case, it was caused by playing in the mud all day, and scratching himself on the barbed wire fence afterwards. Dexter had missed his booster injections because Jane had been so busy with her business, and his father didn't take care of him - he was a man who hadn't stuck around to see Dexter through his childhood.
As he lay in the flat, too-clean bed with a drip in his hand and a mask over his mouth and nose, Dexter only knew that he must have been very poorly to have to stay in hospital.
The best part, however, was that Stephanie came to see him every day he was there. She gave him a different painting she'd made each day, and a kiss on the cheek to help him feel better. Eventually, Dexter was discharged from hospital.
"It's all thanks to you that I got better," he told Stephanie shyly. "Your paintings and your get-better kisses were the best medicine I've ever had."
Aged fifteen, Stephanie had started going out with a boy called Harry from two years above at school. That left Dexter alone and desperately - yet secretly - wanting Stephanie for himself. He knew he could never be with anyone else. It had to be her.
The two were sitting by their still-standing mud hut in the woods on a Saturday afternoon.
"Can you come over for dinner, Steph?" Dexter asked pleadingly, patting on some more mud to keep the old thing from collapsing.
"I'm sorry, I'm going out with Harry tonight, Dex. We're going to the abandoned construction site with some of his friends."
Dexter pushed past the uncomfortable knot in his belly. "That's a dangerous place to go."
"We'll be alright. Harry said he's been there before," Stephanie reassured him.
"You can't go with him, Stephanie. You're way too good for him; he doesn't deserve someone like you."
"Okay Dexter. You need to get over this whole jealousy thing. It was kind of cute at first, but now it's starting to bug me," Stephanie replied, her lip curling a little bit.
"But you can't go with him!" Dexter objected.
"Why not?" Stephanie rounded on him, her face a picture of anger. "Huh?"
Because I love you. Dexter found the words sticking in his throat.
"He's only with you because of your looks," he growled instead. Stephanie's cold, grey eyes narrowed with fury.
"I can't believe you, Dexter! I thought you of all people would be happy for me! I thought you would want me to be happy!"
"He just wants to get into your pants!" Dexter countered. "How can I be happy about that?"
Stephanie let go a wordless shout of frustration.
"You know what you are, Dexter? You're a selfish, jealous git with no concern for anyone but yourself! I hate you!"
Stephanie kicked up dirt as she pushed herself away from him, stumbling back through the woods to her house. She took off at a furious pace. Enraged, Dexter let her grow farther away from him. He sat back, seething at how naive she was being. Why couldn't she just listen to him? But he was even angrier at himself - for not telling her how he truly felt about her.
That evening, Dexter excused himself from dinner with his mum, and ascended the stairs to his bedroom. He was sulking - he knew that better than anyone else. He couldn't bring himself to feel sorry about what he'd said earlier, because he'd actually meant it. He hadn't meant to upset Stephanie, of course. He'd never want to make her upset. But he had.
Sighing, Dexter lay himself down on the bed with his arms behind his head, breathing deeply. He had almost fallen asleep when he heard his phone ring. He glanced at the screen. Sleepily, he answered it.
"Dexter? It's Steph. I ... I ..."
Her voice trailed off into nothing and Dexter felt alert.
"Stephanie, what's wrong? Are you okay? Where are you?"
"I ... I'm at the construction site. Will you..."
Dexter heard her choke back a sob. He was instantly on his feet, heart pounding.
"Come get me?"
"Of course, Steph. I'm on my way right now."
Dexter paused mid stride. Her voice was so feeble and beaten down it tugged on his heart painfully.
"Don't tell your mum, please? She'll only tell my parents - and I ... I don't want them to know."
"I won't tell a soul, Stephanie."
Stephanie and Harry were alone in one of the stark rooms of the abandoned construction site. Harry and his friends had brought in a mattress and some bottles of alcohol a few days before.
"You're so beautiful, babe," Harry whispered to Stephanie, stroking her thigh. Stephanie blushed, even in the darkness alleviated only by a single lamp light. His hand started to climb higher, inching underneath her dress.
"It's okay, Stephy, you'll enjoy it."
Stephanie pressed her lips together, her skin crawling at his touch. She tried to pull away, but he held her tight.
"Please, stop, Harry. I don't want to."
His hand pressed against her inner thigh, his other hand resting against her breast.
Harry forced his lips against hers to shut her up. His fingers inched under the elastic band of her pants. But suddenly, Stephanie pulled back and flung an open hand against Harry's handsome face. Slap.
Stephanie gasped. Harry stared back at her with eyes as wide as a fish's, completely stunned.
As quickly as she had hit him, Stephanie shot out of the room as fast as her legs would carry her, too afraid to see what Harry would do to her. She stumbled out of the building and ran on down the road until she got to a large oak tree and scampered behind it, out of sight.
She collapsed to her knees, shaking. Sobs tore through her chest, escaping like a wild animal's cry out of her mouth. Once she'd calmed down a little, Stephanie took out her mobile phone and rang the only person she knew she could count on.
He was there within twenty minutes - out of breath from walking all the way. He couldn't ask for a lift from his mum without telling her why¸ Stephanie realised, and the buses don't run this late. He walked all that way. For me.
Dexter stood an arm's length away from her, looking at her with those inquisitive hazel eyes. He didn't say anything.
"Dex..." Stephanie whispered, and was unable to hold back from collapsing into his strong arms, crying into his jacket. "It happened - Harry ... he ... he did what you said he would. You were right. Everything you said was right."
"Did he hurt you?"
Stephanie shook her head. "No."
"Are you sure?"
Stephanie's head nodded against his neck. Dexter tightened his arms around her instinctively. "Shh..." he hushed her gently, rocking her in his embrace, pressing his cheek against her soft hair. "You'll be alright."
She waited for the I told you so from him, or You should have listened to me. Stephanie prepared herself, but it didn't come. Dexter said nothing. She knew that he had the right to do so. Hell, she even deserved it. But nothing of the sort left his mouth. He didn't look at her like she was the stupidest idiot on the planet. He only looked at her with tenderness and concern. He held her tight, and in that moment, Stephanie knew that she was in love with this boy.
"Let's get you home."
Two years passed which consisted of both people hiding their growing feelings for one another due to the fear of the other not feeling the same way. Glances were stolen when one thought the other wasn't looking. Hours were spent debating whether or not to just come out with the truth. But each time either was close, doubt influenced their minds stronger than their heart's desire. Neither Dexter nor Stephanie had the courage to tell the other about the love that swelled in their chests each time one looked at the other.
So life went on. Dexter started seeing someone else, and Stephanie quickly followed suit; she didn't want to feel alone. But the relationships were meaningless - empty kisses and distant 'I love you's. They meant nothing.
It was just before the summer when tragedy struck both Stephanie and Dexter, and both were at an all time low in their short lives.
Dexter had received a letter from the university he had applied for at the beginning of the year that he had been pinning all his hopes on since September. It was his big shot - he would get through on a scholarship since he knew his mum's job wouldn't pay for it. He would get a great job afterwards and be able to help out with the bills. He'd be ridiculously successful and buy anything he wanted. But more importantly, he'd buy Stephanie anything she wanted. When he was rich and successful, she'd love him for sure.
But he hadn't got in. They hadn't accepted him. He knew he shouldn't have got his hopes up so high - but he had, and now he was falling.
On top of that, he was dealing with trying to keep a lid on his emotions about the incident that occurred the other night. He had been walking back late from his girlfriend's house when he passed a bar. It had just closed, and there were a handful of angry drunks bashing on the door. They all looked at Dexter like hawks as he passed them. After getting a good block away, they started to follow him. Thinking he was being paranoid, Dexter took several extra turns he needn't have taken, and had all doubt removed when the drunks followed him. They were big guys - beards, broad shoulders, biker's gear. Dexter was trying not to shake. He broke into a run. Wrong move. The men chased after him. They split up and cut him off. They had him surrounded. Dexter didn't dare resist when they started in on him with their fists. He didn't want to give them more reason to hit him. After endless flying punches, heavy booted kicks and thumps all over his body, the drunks left him a crumpled heap on the empty street.
It took Dexter awhile to stop shaking, and an even longer while to get himself on his feet. He assessed the damage. Nothing was broken - miraculously. But they'd taken his phone. And his wallet. And the skin from across his cheek. And in return they'd given him the worst fear he'd ever felt in all his life. Dread sat heavy in his stomach and terror riddled his bones so they shook. It made his heart pound like a desperate bird's wings - frenzied and wild. His brain was completely scrambled; he couldn't string together a single coherent thought. He managed to stagger home and get in without his mum noticing until tomorrow. He fobbed off her questions with lame answers and tried to pretend everything was fine. But on the inside, he was scared shitless.
As for Stephanie, she felt as though a bomb had been carelessly dropped on her life. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Terminal. Her stomach was sore with tumours. Stephanie's parents had arrived home late from the hospital, and had sat her down at the kitchen table and told her straight up what was going on. They'd given her a year - maximum. It was brutal. Like a slap in the face. Careless, vicious, spiteful ... yet Stephanie could not bring herself to feel anything. Her mind became as flat as a pebble's. Words washed right over, none getting absorbed. She was in shock. She didn't know what to feel, or how to feel, or what she should be feeling for that matter.
She excused herself to her bedroom, and sat for two whole hours doing nothing. She tried to digest the information, tried to get her head around it. It didn't feel real. She had always heard stories like this - friends of friends of friends ... Never had she thought it would be her. How could it be her? She had a normal life. She had normal parents. Except now she didn't. How could something like this have happened? How?
Eventually, she realised that she needed to be held and comforted. She needed her English-teaching, bruise-kissing, rape-saving hero.
She needed Dexter.
"Stephanie," Dexter gasped as he opened the front door. They hadn't seen much of each other since they'd both been in relationships and gone their separate ways. Both regarded each other carefully.
He stepped aside to let her in. She smiled fleetingly before he shut the door.
"Are you alright?" Dexter asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. There was a long silence. The look in Steph's grey eyes was so sad Dexter felt like he was falling into two dark holes.
Stephanie shook her head. Dexter pursed his lips.
And neither said anything else. They could both read each other like a book, even after the time they'd spent apart. Now was not the time for speaking. They were both beaten down and didn't need pitiful words of comfort that would never suffice.
Dexter opened his arms. Stephanie looked up into his troubled hazel eyes shimmering with emotion, and stepped into his embrace. She buried her head into his shoulder and breathed in his smell. His beautiful smell that she'd known since she was six. Safe, strong arms wrapped around her. She started trembling.
Dexter's nose gently nudged Stephanie's temple so she looked up. Their eyes locked. So much had not been said - yet that look said it all. The intensity burned like a fire. Gently and slowly, so as not to frighten her off, Dexter leaned down and pressed his lips to Stephanie's. Stephanie gasped. Undeterred, Dexter persisted with the kiss. And Stephanie responded. Her lips were as soft as rose petals. She was being as gentle and delicate as he was being with her.
Stephanie suddenly felt every pent up emotion begin to build in her. Sorrow. Anger. Fright. Confusion. Reality. All of it, everything she was feeling, was translated into pushing her lips against Dexter's, forcing her way into his mouth with her tongue.
Surprised, Dexter took it - and gave more back. This was the first opportunity to show Stephanie how much she meant to him, and he wasn't throwing it away. His hands cradled her skull, the soft texture of her dark hair making it that much more real.
Stephanie's hands roamed across Dexter's smooth, firm chest. She felt his hands pulling at her top, asking permission. She paused.
"She's out," Dexter breathlessly gasped. Stephanie nodded, and lifted her top over her head. Dexter took a moment to really look at her.
"You're so beautiful."
Stephanie suddenly looked at the floor shyly. Dexter leant down and their lips collided once more, noses bumping together. Stephanie felt her way up Dexter's shirt, smoothing her palms over his torso.
"I want you," she whispered. Dexter pulled away, heaving for air. His eyebrows were knitted together. He understood.
"Are you sure?"
"Have you done it before?" he asked. Stephanie shook her head.
He pressed butterfly kisses all along her collarbone to her throat. He paused at her ear to whisper the words he had yearned to say for two long years.
"I love you."
Stephanie's throat swelled up with tears.
"Oh Dex, I love you too..."
In the hours that followed, Stephanie and Dexter lay side by side in Dexter's double bed, wearing nothing but their skins. Their hands were entwined together between them and their noses were only centimetres apart on the pillow.
Every word that both had been holding back before now tumbled forwards in a clumsy mess.
Dexter was first. He explained how he didn't get into the university he had wanted to. He told Stephanie about the night he had been jumped, and that now he always had to be busy doing something or he would begin to shake with fear.
Hesitantly, Stephanie told Dexter about her mother. She told him how she felt empty, and that worried her. She didn't know what to feel, or how to react. How did you react something as devastating as cancer?
Afterwards, both Dexter and Stephanie felt better. Of course, what had been done could not be undone, but their emotions were relieved simply by the fact that they were no longer alone.
Over the following week, Stephanie broke up with her boyfriend, Dexter with his girlfriend, and they finally got together after two years of waiting. Everyone could see how beautifully they matched together. If ever there were soulmates, it was Dexter and Stephanie.
There came a time, however, when - after being so unfortunately mugged again in the same street - Dexter decided to take a different type of action. He phoned up Stephanie on a Sunday afternoon.
"Hi gorgeous. Listen, there's something I need to tell you. Yeah, now. Can you meet me in the town square in half an hour? Yeah. Thanks baby. I'll see you then. I love you too. Bye."
Dexter disconnected his phone and breathed out a long sigh. This was it. He threw on his shoes and black coat, and headed out the door. He caught a bus into town and immediately set about looking for Steph among the high stone arches that surrounded the square. It didn't take a long time; the place was fairly empty.
"Hey Dex," Stephanie greeted him. She gave him a quick kiss.
"What's this thing you wanted to talk about?" she asked, idly combing her fingers through her brown hair. Dexter took a deep breath for courage.
"Steph, I ... I've decided to ... to join the army."
Stephanie's twirling fingertips stopped.
"I've decided to join the army," Dexter repeated, as much for his benefit as Stephanie's. "I'm sick of being pushed around all the time," he explained, thinking solely of the times he had been mugged. "If something like that happens when I'm with you, I'd never forgive myself if I couldn't protect you.
"And I want you ... I mean, I think you should spend time with your mum instead of me ... I mean - I can wait for you. I'll be here for you at the end. I don't want to distract you from what's really important in your life.
"And I want to do it for England - for my country. My uncle was in the army. He showed me his medals when I was little, and he'd never been more proud of anything before. I want to have that pride, Steph. I want to do something that'd make you proud...
"And I wanted ... I was really hoping ... I mean ... I know it's old-fashioned and kind of stupid but ... would you be my sweetheart while I went away?"
After gushing out all that he had to say, Dexter fell silent and waited for Stephanie to respond. Her face was still - so still that Dexter had to say her name twice before she reacted.
"When do you leave?" she asked quietly, not quite looking him in the eye.
"Tomorrow morning. My train is at eleven o'clock."
"How dare you," she whispered, her face suddenly twisting into one of pure rage and anger. Her grey eyes flashed dangerously.
"Steph?" Dexter said confusedly, eyes growing wide with her reaction.
"How dare you!" Stephanie repeated, voice climbing higher in pitch. "You think you can just leave me like this? When I most need everything in my life to be normal, to be like it ever was ... this is when you choose to leave me? People die in the army you know!"
Her hands pushed against Dexter's chest forcefully. He stumbled back, feeling lost and hurt.
"How could you, Dexter? I need you now more than ever, and you're just leaving?"
She pushed his shoulder again then turned away from him, hiding her face in her hands. Her shoulders were shaking.
Dexter placed his hand on her arm, but she shoved him off angrily.
"Get away from me Dexter!"
Dexter began to feel his blood turning. "I thought you were the only one I could count on being proud of me, Steph," he snapped. All that thought and consideration he'd put into making this decision ... the hours he had spent mulling over the possibilities ... and Stephanie had just shot him down.
"Don't you think I don't want what's best?"
"Best for who, Dexter? You or me?" Stephanie argued, tears threatening to pour over the rims of her eyes.
"I don't want to hear it, Dex. Just leave," Stephanie interrupted, turning away again. Dexter stood there with his fists clenched, not at all ready to let the matter go at all.
Dexter had never heard Stephanie use that tone of voice in the whole ten odd years they had known each other. He stepped back.
"Eleven o'clock, Stephanie," he whispered. And he walked away.
That night, Stephanie sat with her mother in front of the television. Her mother spoke little English, so Stephanie conversed with her in French.
"Yes, my darling?"
Josephine pressed a kiss to her daughter's head.
"Dexter has joined the army."
"Oh really? Good for him."
"He wants me to be his sweetheart," Stephanie shyly added. Josephine had a high opinion of Dexter - ever since he helped her learn English - but Stephanie hadn't told her she'd slept with him. With a jolt, she realised that she should tell her mother. How much longer was she going to be around?
From now on, no more secrets, Stephanie decided.
"And do you want to be?" she asked. Stephanie shrugged, but she knew in her mind she did.
"We ... we slept together."
Josephine raised her eyebrows. Her lips pursed slightly, but she didn't look disapproving - only surprised. "Do you love him Stephanie? Really love him?"
Stephanie tried to conceal a blush, but she knew her mother could see. Her mother knew her inside out.
"I don't know..."
"Yes you do know, my sweet," Josephine objected, squeezing her hand.
"But he said ... he said he's going to leave - tomorrow morning."
Josephine breathed out a sigh. "And you're angry with him because he's leaving you?"
Stephanie's silence said it all. She wondered how her mother could read her so easily.
"If he loves you like you love him, he'll be waiting to catch you at the end."
A silent tear rolled down Stephanie's cheek. Her mother's last sentence hit her with truthfulness and sorrow.
"Maman, I just don't know what to do..."
Dexter stood alone at the station. His mother had work this morning, so he'd said goodbye earlier. He glanced up at the timing board hanging by the side. Two minutes. He swallowed down the uncomfortable lump in his throat. He felt awful about how he'd left things with Steph yesterday. He'd hardly had a wink's sleep last night.
If Stephanie didn't turn up this morning, he didn't know how he'd survive boot camp. With every second that passed, his future looked more and more bleak. The stone grew heavier in his stomach.
"Please mind the gap. Train approaching."
Dexter exhaled as though he'd been punched. His arms felt weak as he hoisted his rucksack higher. He took a last glance around the empty platform with the last hope that she would be there. No luck. An empty space opened in his heart. She didn't come...
Dexter breathed deeply as tears pricked his eyes. He picked up his heavy feet and headed towards the train as it drew to a stop.
"Dexter! Dexter wait!"
Dexter's head snapped up as he heard his name being called. That voice...
"Dexter!" Stephanie yelled, flying around the corner and colliding into Dexter. He stumbled backwards with the force.
"Steph," he breathed, a grin beginning to spread from ear to ear. "Oh Steph you came..."
"Dexter, I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry for what I said."
"It doesn't matter, Steph. But God you came..."
"Of course I did! And I will, Dex - I will be your sweetheart," Stephanie rushed, face red from the exertion of running all the way. She placed her hands around the back of Dexter's head and pulled him towards her. Dexter gave a little sound of shock as she pressed her lips into his.
The sound of train doors opening sounded behind them.
"Steph, I have to go," Dexter gasped against her lips. Stephanie looked into his gorgeous hazel eyes and gave him a long, final kiss, forcing the taste of his lips into her memory forever.
"I love you," she whispered. "I love you to the ends of the earth and back."
Beep, beep, beep. The warning sound went for the last stragglers to get on the train. Dexter felt Stephanie press something into his hand as he turned and sprinted to catch the train, yelling, "I love you too, Stephanie! I love you!"
He made the train just before the doors closed. He stood by the window and waved for all he was worth, watching as he grew farther and farther away from his love.
Stephanie followed the train as fast as her feet would let her, blowing kisses at Dexter until she reached the end of the platform. She stood for awhile to catch her breath. She'd made it. She raised her head to the sky and sent a thankful prayer to whoever was listening.
Dexter found a seat and sat down heavily. He suddenly noticed something Steph had shoved in his hand; an envelope. Frowning, he opened it.
It was a photograph of him and Stephanie in front of their mud hut from when they were kids. He turned it over in his hands. A message was written across in Stephanie's neat French handwriting.
I will always be your sweetheart, Dex. I'll be waiting only for you.
Yours forever and ever