A/N: The contest had three quotations to choose from, one of which had to be used as the first sentence of the story. I chose the line from Langston Hughes's "Harlem," although I portray a very different interpretation of it in this.

Bittersweet Edge

What happens to a dream deferred? I ponder this question as I lie in my bed, tremors running through my body, and pearls of perspiration are visible on the surface of my worn, sorrowful visage. I can do nothing but stare at the spot upon which she had once lain herself. With a whimper of defeat, I begin to cry, hoping that it would not come back to torment me again.

I could still see her strikingly beautiful face in my mind's eye, as though imprinted in my memory forever. Those soft, seawater eyes that looked at me with such love and affection. Those lips that curved into the smile that reminded me I was still alive. What was that? Was it - no, it wasn't. At least, I don't think it was. No. I almost heard her voice then, that pacifying flow of comfort when she told me she loved me, when I could reach out and feel her whisper-soft skin radiating with desire. And then she would kiss me, and with tender fervor, I would return the kiss. Oh, how I yearn for the days when the nectar of her devotion was fresh and entrancing. I bend forward, and gingerly smell the area she once occupied, and a new sense of misery wells up within my chest as I reminisce of the time that she would sleep beside me, and I her, eternally fixated in our own warmth. Her presence seems to linger, dancing around me, her doting, intensely passionate company. A weak laugh escapes my lungs, worn from unwanted breathing. I don't understand why. I knew it, knew that she was too wonderful, too exquisite to last.

Watching her slowly die in front of me, knowing that I could do nothing, seemed to kill me gradually, too. What was I to do, when her life began to unravel before my eyes? Could I have helped her? I couldn't. I couldn't do anything but gaze at her feeble form on the bed, as though I were a spectator of her death, as the leukemia worsened to the point of helplessness, and not I, not the doctors or surgeons or nurses, not anyone could prevent her imminent demise. Chemotherapy did nothing, nor did the radiation. Just made her worse. Just made her suffer more, made me suffer to see her go through it. The bone marrow transplant only caused more complications. Eventually, the cancer was put in remission – but by then, the problems caused by it were beyond repair. How I remember Doctor Milligan coming from the silence of the room and announcing to me her death.

But there – no, right there, in the distance – yes, far off. A vague shape. Minutes seem to pass, it gets closer. And then she's beside me again, and I am able to reach out and touch her, kiss her, hold her, savor her. I can laugh again. I can feel again. She revives my senses, my emotions, my thoughts, my memories. Everything is right again, how it should be, how life should be, perfect, and her resplendence seems to show ever more brilliantly. The feeling of this is inexplicable – ethereal, for all that I can do is to relish it, experiencing the delight once more, and pray that it never leaves, never abandons me to my desolate mind. And then I wake.

I chuckle sadly again, for no apparent reason.

What is this? What is this dream? Some would call it that. Some would enjoy it. I don't. I consider it a nightmare. But what defines whether it is either? I know. Having endured this many a time, I suppose it's a transition—that transition between imaginary and reality, unreal and real, sleep and consciousness. But which do I spend more time in? Reality, of course, the harsh, cruel actuality in which I'm forced to live, the one that is more important. So that shift, from fantasy to tangibility, which should it be? A good dream to a bad dream? Or the other way around? Why, if I only spend a small amount of time in a horrible dream, why should it matter, if I'm just going to wake up, to reality, to what matters? It's nothing. It's just something that happens. But that irrepressible force from the most uplifting state of being to the resentful? That welcoming sensation, so tantalizing, to change to such a revolting truth? No, that isn't what I want. That is the true nightmare. Unlike a terrible dream, the true nightmare is so desirable that it is undesirable, unfathomably teasing in its nature; thus it recurs, because the mind thirsts after such, yet regrets it.

So what does happen to a dream deferred, this true nightmare delayed? Upon waking, it just lies dormant, for another chance, for another time, for me to fall asleep again so that it can prey upon my defenseless mind. Is there any way to stop this, to hinder this nightmare? Yes, I suppose there is: staying forever in a dream, never waking to reality.

But I can't sleep forever.