It was nearly impossible. Although physically relaxed, I couldn't stifle the mental fireworks exploding, it seemed, everywhere.
Ross could hardly suppress his mental chuckle and I was almost blinded so that I could hardly see into the serene paradise I could sense beyond the excitement.
‘Help,' I thought in distress.
‘'Kay. Give me a minute.' Ross composed himself and entered my mind.
All at once, a deathly hush settled over my entire consciousness.
‘Wow, is this really me?' Ross was thinking. The thought wasn't addressed to me but I heard it anyway.
‘What else could it be?' my thoughts murmured to themselves.
What was it? The tranquillity of his thoughts that trickled like a stream in a beautiful forest? The knowledge that something - something big - was going to happen because of him? The need, perhaps, to prove to Ross that I could be exactly what he wanted me to be?
Or perhaps it was just him - his essence, his aura of love and protection and comfort? Subtly and unwittingly he told my mind it was safe. He emanated warmth and fondness like I had just told him I didn't feel special.
My sheer captivation by Ross, my sheer love for him, could produce this startling effect.
My thoughts were silent until Ross ‘spoke' again.
‘Let down all your barriers for me and stay calm,' he thought.
‘Of course,' I thought-replied, relaxing my mind totally.
When Ross passed through the centre, towards the deepest part of me, I felt as though I might faint.
‘Did I ever tell you your mind is like a cave of diamonds?' he asked.
Oh, I could die from pleasure!
‘I want to live here,' he mumbled, awestruck.
It was like he was seeing my mind truly for the first time. He felt that sort of wonder.
Almost tragically, he murmured ‘I never paid this much attention. I was blinded by the passion. Oh, serenity is beautiful.'
‘Yes,' I whispered.
I felt his mind descend and found myself seeing, through his mind's eye, my soul.
Oh, the intimacy was agonisingly delightful! I could feel his presence vibrating near the centre of my love for him - envisage his physical form illuminated by light.
And then the orb disappeared. I could still feel him down there, gazing in joy and amazement, but he had shielded what he was seeing from me.
‘What?' My thoughts turned questioning.
‘I'm going to surprise you,' Ross thought to me.
Oh. I became joyous and love-filled again. The atmosphere was so cosy that I almost fell asleep. But I held on tightly to consciousness, waiting for a mental touch that would open my eyes to a stronger love, to an intimacy never before imagined by lovers.
And then it came. A mental brush as light as a feather's touch that shook me to the core. My mind exploded with delight. And I felt like I was drowning in love.
Ross's touch had lasted a second. I could feel his nervousness. His thoughts seemed to be trembling - I could sense something powerful happening to him. Sense but not feel... The effect of the soul touch was astonishingly subtle.
‘Again?' Ross whispered.
‘Yes,' I ‘breathed'.
This time, it was more like a caress. I could feel Ross's gentleness and tenderness as he prolonged the contact between his mind and my soul. But the care he was taking had no impact on the effect produced. I felt like there was an earthquake going on inside me. And a tsunami-like wave of stronger love and greater pleasure swept over me, rendering me dazed and incapable of coherent thought.
Peculiarly, prolonged exposure to Ross (as he continued to stroke me softly) caused me to enter his thoughts. He couldn't shield things from me any longer and it felt like I was him.
I felt his love and wonder (the full feelings, expanded, as he absorbed them), I felt it as he too was overcome with pleasure, I felt exactly how he was doing this to me - he had extended hi thoughts to touch the orb that was my essence - and I saw everything that he did through his mind's eye.
My soul was almost blinding and it radiated a beautiful pink and orange glow. It filled Ross's mind with my favourite images: sunset, the stars at night, turquoise waters, a cloudless sky, the vast meadows we frequented, and Ross himself, standing in the dark conservatory the night of my seventeenth birthday...
My soul gave to him countless memories - not just of events but sensations too. Last Christmas, this summer (and Ross re-saw my dream based on his discovery of the message of my soul) and just my general view of him.
Around Ross, I could feel the numbness of my own mind. Apparently Ross hadn't been aware of it because in a second a thought went out of ‘Rosa?' and he sounded startled. I felt him become anxious - it appeared he hadn't noticed that I was in his mind.
‘Where has she got to? Is she all right?' were the questions around me.
‘I'm here,' I replied.
‘AH!' I couldn't help but laugh at the fright I'd given him.
‘Rosa,' he gasped as he recovered himself; ‘it's not funny.' But even as he thought this, he was beginning to laugh so I didn't stop.
Interestingly, he never once stopped stroking my soul I remained in his mind the whole time.
‘You know, I never noticed you,' he thought. ‘How bizarre.'
I gave a mental shrug.
‘You were too focused on my soul to concentrate on this part of me,' I teased.
‘You know that really doesn't work,' Ross thought, ‘seeing as you're in my mind. I can tell you myself that I'm naturally more inclined to focus on your soul rather than my thoughts.'
I mentally stuck my tongue out. Ross returned the gesture.
But then, quite seriously, he thought ‘I love this. Don't you?'
‘Yes,' I answered. ‘It's so surreal yet so fantastic.'
Ross mentally yawned. ‘I think your soul's a bit hypnotic,' he murmured sleepily.
‘Aw,' I thought. ‘Poor sleepy Ross.'
Suddenly, there was a twinge of sadness. I wondered if I'd upset him with my teasing comment but then I realised that my soul was sending Ross images of Jack.
Embarrassed, I apologised.
Ross thought nothing upon receiving this. Instead, he watched the montage of pictures, saw the fun Jack and I had had together and felt my immense affection for his best friend.
‘Ross, stop,' I thought quietly.
Without a thought, he withdrew his mind a little. I returned to my mind and instantly missed Ross's.
‘Jack,' Ross thought quietly.
My mind was filled with pictures, memories and emotions - all related to Ross's best friend.
I then realised he was going to probe.
‘No!' I thought. ‘Ross, don't! If there are things you want to talk about, I'd be happy to discuss them with you. You don't need to probe me - all that will do is hurt you.'
I cleared my mind.
‘Okay,' Ross murmured. ‘D'you still love him?'
‘As a brother, as a close friend. Nothing more.'
He hesitated as he asked ‘Do you prefer ... me?'
‘Yes,' I answered certainly. ‘You're my kingfisher.' My tone was warm, gentle. I could feel that Ross felt comforted.
‘Do you think he has a rose-dove too?' he whispered.
‘I don't think there's anyone else more deserving in the world,' I thought sincerely.
Ross gave a mental sigh of relief. I caught him thinking quietly ‘If Rosa believes it, I will too.'
I tried to hide the fact I was flattered because the reason my mind was giving was ‘Just because I think it, doesn't mean it's a reflection on reality' which would have destroyed Ross's hope.
Unfortunately, Ross did hear it and the next second, I felt sharp pain from his mind.
‘I'm sorry,' I thought, cringing. ‘I'm sure Jack's a kingfisher - I'm sure of it.'
But the damage was done.
Keeping a small wall around the edge of his thoughts, Ross murmured ‘Yeah, probably.'
There was no conviction in his tone.
My mind was flooded with pain. Sadness, distress and sympathy mingled to cause one great feeling of negativity, intensified by my anger at myself for not letting myself be an idealist.
‘Let it go, Rosa,' Ross thought quietly.
‘I can't,' I told him. ‘I hurt you!'
‘Don't be silly. I love you.'
‘Lovers hurt each other more,' I pointed out.
‘Come on, it's okay.' He tried to send mental comfort but it was tainted with sorrow.
I flinched as I felt it.
‘Let's open our eyes now,' he thought gently. ‘We'll feel better after a hug.'
‘Okay,' I thought despondently.
I opened my eyes and blinked to adjust to physical light.
Ross was still nuzzling into my neck.
"Stay like that," I whispered, putting my arms around him.
He sighed contentedly.
"I love you," I told him. "More than anything in the world. And the last thing I want to do is cause you to feel guilt or sadness." I paused so he could respond.
He didn't say anything. Through the link that still existed between us, I felt him relaxing at the sound of my voice. He drank in my words as if they were the most beautiful music. The pain was fading quickly, replaced by love and happiness.
‘More,' he thought in my pause. ‘Tell me sweet things of love and joy - fill my ears with your feelings and my mind with your affection. Don't stop until I say you can. Only the words of my beloved rose-dove can make everything okay."
"Okay, darling," I said softly. "Well then, I love you like my soul. I'd like to think that together we shine - shine as brightly and as beautifully as the moon and the stars..."
"You're the brightest," Ross interrupted, mumbling into me.
"I disagree," I told him. "Anyway, our love can melt mountains. Together we can swim the oceans, soar like an eagle and dance like leaves in the wind. We will never be complete without each other - we belong together."
"I belong to you, you mean," Ross murmured.
And suddenly I felt possessive of the boy - no, not teenager - resting in my arms. For some reason, I had suddenly thought of the younger Ross I had seen last year. The one who needed protecting - the one I had let down.
"Yes," I said; "you're mine."
Ross was startled by the strength of my words - they had almost had a kind of ferocity to them.
Puzzled, he repeated "I'm yours."
I could feel him wondering if this was some sort of game - usually, I told him that it was the other way around, that I belonged to him. He was surprised and confused but he didn't object to possessiveness on my part. I could feel his contentment underneath the other feelings, its flow steady and unbroken.
I kissed his hair, a little roughly. I felt Ross tense slightly. He relaxed again but kissed my neck, more passion in the action than before when he'd first settled into this position. My breath caught in my throat.
Ross lifted his head like a seal resurfacing for air. He looked into my eyes, a very serious expression on his face, before kissing me in a way that made my heart pound and my spine tingle.
Even afterwards, Ross's gaze was intense, and under it, I felt excited yet nervous.
A knock on the door made us both turn to look. Jack stood there, smiling as ever.
"Lunch is ready. Rosa, your dad called to say that he wanted you back at six but Mum told him you can stay for dinner. So the latest you can stay is eight."
I beamed. "Brilliant. Thanks Jack."
I stood up and turned towards Ross, smiling happily. I heard Jack go downstairs as my kingfisher rose to his feet.
He took my waist in his hands. He still looked serious. I could almost taste the passion of the next kiss he gave me before he leant in. At the last moment before out lips touched, he murmured "Even eight hours seems a long time." Then, time froze.