"Do you remember your first kiss, Harry?"
"Was it nice?"
"It was a bit of a fumble."
"Boys always remember it that way. They get caught up in the minutiae."
"And girls don't?"
"Girls—women—remember sensations, Harry. We remember the intent and the effort."
"Really? So a guy can be a really awful kisser, but you won't mind much as long as his heart is in it?"
She laughs. "Not quite. We expect you to get better, but we're willing to wait a little while for you to get there. We don't expect perfection. Not the first time."
There is a tremor behind her words, an echo that intrudes. Like a shadow passing overhead, something between you and the sun, but when you look into the sky, it is clear and hot and empty.
"How many times, then?"
"On the boy?"
"On the girl. Some of us will wait longer than others."
"Because you see potential? What if the guy never realizes it?"
"How can you be sure?"
"We vanish, Harry. Some faster than others, but we all do."
"And how does that make us realize our potential?"
"You should kiss me."
"Why? You aren't going to vanish. You're not even the slightest bit transparent."
"You should still kiss me."
"I think that is slightly beyond the boundaries of our relationship."
"Harry, you've done much more to me in my dreams."
"You've kissed me, Harry, and fucked me as well."
"No, I have not."
"Oh, Harry, have I frightened you? Is this memory not the way you remember it? Time isn't linear, my dear, sweet Harry, not in this place. The future has a way of bleeding in the past, through the holes—"
"I've never been inappropriate with you, Nora."
She laughs, and this laugh is not an echo of her earlier amusement. "I'm thinking of a number, Harry. Can you guess what it is? Can you guess what it signifies?"
"More than one?"
"More than twenty, actually. But less than one hundred. Is that enough of a hint for you?"
She smiles and, like the Cheshire Cat of Alice's dream, becomes transparent. "Yes, Harry, that many."