Kirsten Nichol gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Her long blonde hair fell in waves around her face, softening her slightly angular jaw—her one true flaw, and she knew it, too. Oh, well. Grace Kelly had had a flawed jaw as well, and it certainly hadn't hurt her any. The dress was perfect: Cream-colored silk, princess-seamed, almost-strapless gown with a silk chiffon neck to "hold it up," as Katharine Nichol had cheerfully suggested. Today was the day. She was twenty-two years old—oh, God, was that too young?—hopelessly in love—but she'd thought she'd loved Jimmy; what if something better was coming along?—and as ready as she'd ever be in her life—she'd never be ready to be married; she knew it…

A knock came at the door.

"You'd better not be Sandy," she warned. A familiar voice said, "I'm not."

"Jimmy," she said with a smile as he walked in. He looked incredible in his tuxedo; his hair was shorter than it had been when they were dating, and his muscles were more developed. Jimmy Cooper wasn't seventeen anymore, just as she wasn't, and it showed.

"You look beautiful," he said. She did, too. He could barely breathe looking at her tiny, perfect body; her sweet, expressive face; her long, silky waves as they fell gently against the chiffon-encased shoulders. "Congratulations. Sandy's a lucky man."

"Oh, Jimmy," she said with a laugh. "I'd give you a hug but I'm terrified of messing up my dress." He smiled. What he wouldn't give to have heard her yelling, "You'd better not be Jimmy!" Because that would have meant it was he whom she couldn't see twenty-four hours, let alone one, before the wedding.

"Seriously, Kiks. You're gorgeous."

"Even better than my prom dress?" she asked with a grin. Well, if she was going to bring up their prom…

"Even better than your prom dress," he confirmed. It was certainly hard to beat the prom dress. The wine-colored taffeta had been gorgeous, though it hadn't held a candle to the woman in it. "Hey, where's your dad? I've been looking for him." A dark look flashed against Kirsten's face.

"He's not coming. There was a monsoon," she said dryly. "Trust Caleb Nichol to miss his own daughter's wedding. He won't go to Hailey's either, bet on it."

"She's twelve! He'll be retired by the time she's ready to get married."

"Yeah, and dead. He'll die, just so that he doesn't have to go. Daddy hates weddings." They laughed together, and Jimmy hesitantly gave his ex-girlfriend's had a squeeze.

"Kiks…Kirsten?" he asked. She turned to look at him curiously. He never called her by her given name; it was too formal. Jimmy Cooper never called anyone by his or her given name: Kirsten was "Kiks," Hailey was "Hailstorm," his sister Marissa was known only as "Riss."


"Do you want me to do it?"

"Do what?"

"You know…walk you down the aisle. Give you away."

"You're not my father, Jimmy."

"No, but I am the reason your dress is off-white," he reminded her with a roguish smile, which she returned, remembering. "I mean, if you don't want me to, it's no big deal. I just thought I'd ask. I love you, Kiks, and I'd be happy to do it for you."

"It's okay, Jimmy," she said with a smile. "I'll do it myself." She gave him a painstakingly careful kiss on the cheek, but she still managed to leave lip marks on it. Jimmy closed his eyes.

"Don't marry him," he said suddenly. "Run away with me. Marry me. You'll be so much happier. You and I…we were meant to be. Jimmy Cooper and Kirsten Nichol, that's how it's always been. Four years of your life you were going to be Kirsten Cooper, four of the pivotal years of your life you and I were in love, and Sandy's only had two." She didn't say anything, so he went on. "I mean, Sandy's a great guy, but he doesn't know you like I know you. He doesn't know where you come from, where you've been. I'll bet he doesn't like your family; I'll bet you don't like his. My parents love you…I love you…Kirsten, please." She shook her head.

"Jimmy…" said Kirsten softly. "That part of our lives is over. Yes, four years…four great years…four years of our youth, of our pasts. I'm going to marry Sandy. I love Sandy; it's all going to work out. Besides, what about that girl?"

"What girl?"

"You told my mom you were bringing a girl." Jimmy waved his hand aside.

"Julie Macabre. She's nothing special. I only asked her because there's no way I'd've had the strength to go to your wedding alone. I mean, I like her, but she's…she's not you. I always thought I'd go to your wedding with you. I could leave her and never think about her again if I had you."

"Jimmy Cooper, don't say that."

"I mean it, Kiks, I love you. I've always loved you. I love you I love you I love you."

"Jimmy," she said softly, and he knew it was over.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't've said that. I know brides get nervous and I had no right making you more nervous."

"I'm not nervous. Don't worry about it."

"Well, can I at least give Kirsten Nichol her last kiss before Sandy makes her Kirsten Cohen?" Kirsten Cohen. She liked the sound of the name. But she nodded anyway, and Jimmy leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips.

"Good luck, Kiks, and be happy. You deserve it." He left the room, and Kirsten sighed. Good-bye Jimmy, please don't let this be a mistake.

Her heart pounded as she walked toward him. Good Lord, but she loved him so much. She missed her dad; she wanted to be on his arm; she didn't want to be alone. Maybe she should've taken Jimmy up on his offer. No, reminded her brain. She saw him on the bride's side of the church, smiling fondly at her as the auburn-haired, green-eyed girl at his side forced a smile. Poor Julie…was her last name really Macabre? Then she was there and Sandy was there and it didn't really matter.

"I, Kirsten…take thee, Sandy…to have and to hold…" She could barely hear her own voice, but she could hear her heart thundering in her chest. Could a person die from being too happy?

Jimmy could barely stand it. Her smile was so big he swore they could see it on the East Coast. She was so happy, she was so beautiful, she was so gone, she was so never-his-again. He turned to Julie. She was beautiful, too, and really, really hot, even if right now all he wanted to look at were long, thin legs and soft blonde hair and delicate, perfect, classic features. She put her hand on his thigh.

"It's ok, James," she said. James. She called him "James." She'd call him "Jimmy" if he asked, but she didn't really know yet.

"Hey, beautiful bride," he said, falsely smiling. She knew it wasn't a real smile, but she let it go. "Mrs. Cohen."

"Hey, Jimmy."

"Will you dance with me, Kiks?" Back to "Kiks." This was his way of trying take it all back, the morning of impassioned declarations of love.

"Sure." His hands wrapped around her waist and stopped at the same places they always did. Her arms came up around his neck and she rubbed his shoulder blades, just as she always did. Her blonde head found its spot on his shoulder. Jimmy couldn't help thinking of how beautiful their babies would be, as long as they looked like her. Blonde babies with Kirsten's blue eyes and Kirsten's nose and Kirsten's mouth and Kirsten's tiny frame…his genes were inconsequential. He was blond; he was slender; he would blend in. Please, Kiks, don't be married, don't be Mrs. Sandy Cohen, not yet, not ever…

Lying in my bed I hear the clock tick and think of you

Caught up in circles confusion is nothing new

Flashback—warm nights—almost left behind

Suitcase of memories, time after—

"I love you Kiks," he murmured, quietly so that she wouldn't hear him. She did, but she didn't say anything. She knew that he didn't want to hear her quiet, "I love you too, Jimmy."

He closed his eyes and listened to the song. Every time he'd heard it, he'd thought of her. Now, turning in circles, feeling her body pressed against him, her hair tickling his chin, he knew that "Time After Time" would forever mean Kirsten to him. The song ended too soon, and Sandy and Julie were at their sides. She was gone—their dance was over—she was going back to Sandy's arms to be his beautiful, radiant bride again.

"James, you barely said a word to me all evening," said Julie as she closed the door to Jimmy's apartment behind her. "It's been two years. You need to get over her." He whirled around so quickly that she caught her breath. He almost wanted to hit her, but she was so beautiful that he couldn't do it.

"Julie…you don't understand…how much I loved her. How much I can't help loving her." She faced him without flinching. She was so beautiful, so hot. Her long, reddish-brown hair was hanging around her exotically, fascinatingly attractive face. The killer body with the drop-dead curves wore a short, strappy dark green dress that only made him hotter for her. She was a strong person, too, passionate and fiery and he did find her likeable. And Kirsten wasn't an option anymore; Kirsten was probably getting nailed as he stood there looking at Julie. It physically hurt as he stood there for a moment, eyes closed, imagining him touching her in all the spots on her body that they'd discovered together. He hated to think of anyone else touching her body the way he had, just as he hated anyone else's touching his body. He'd had a few girls since they'd broken up, but every time they got to that, he flashed back to his first time. He had loved her so much, and that had made it perfect. He could still see her blue eyes smiling, assuring him that he'd lived up to her expectations, even if he hadn't. And every time he was with a girl now, he'd open his eyes and it wouldn't be her and it wouldn't be good enough. Julie was kissing his chest now. He needed to get laid. He couldn't look at her.

"Open your eyes, James," she commanded, and he did. The hair was darker and thicker. The body was curvier and more muscular. The lips were fuller and the nose—

"I'm not Kirsten Nichol," said Julie firmly. "I'm never going to be Kirsten Nichol. She's married, James. There is no Kirsten Nichol anymore. You're never, ever, ever going to have sex with Kirsten Nichol again. And if you can't handle anyone else, you're going to live a very sad, lonely, unsatisfying life." Her kisses on his body grew increasingly rough just as her words did, but the physical hurt was arousing. Her lips broke away and Jimmy realized he wanted more.

"But I'm here, and I want you, and I know you want me. Physically, anyway. You have got to get past this girl. Now look at me. Do you want me?" He nodded. "No, I mean, do you want me? Because I'm not going to let you close your eyes and imagine I'm her. If we're going to fuck, James Cooper, we're going to do it with each other and leave Kirsten Nichol in the past."