I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER

by Paulette Frasier

 

Chapter One

Catherine sat on the bed. She was at a loss. How was she going to make it? What was she going to do now? The sadness enveloped her. She hugged herself. She remembered the last time she felt his arms around her.

He gently kissed her lips. The morning sun had just crested the sky. He knew that he had to leave. He stood over her as she lay in the bed. They had just finished the night making love. She fell asleep in his arms. This was the first time he gave in to love and succumbed to her siren calls. She asked him to stay. He declined. He had a big job to finish today.

“I will return to you tonight, my Catherine. Then I will finish what you started.”

Now, he was gone. Caught in a landslide. Buried under mountains of rock and soil. The tears began to fall. She really had nothing now. No one calling to her on the other side of the river. No one praying for her safe return. She put her head down. Jamie came in with a tray. She turned away. She had no desire for food. Jamie set the tray down. She sat on the bed next to Catherine. She put her arms around the woman.

“Catherine, you need to eat. William sent this meal to you. He told me to tell you to eat it all.”

Catherine shook her head no. “I cannot eat, Jamie. I cannot.”

“You must. Do I have to go get Mary or Father? Are you ill?”

“No, please, I just want to be alone.”

Jamie stood up, looked at Catherine, and left. She headed for below. She was going to get Mary.

Catherine picked up the book of poetry from her table. She slowly opened it. She turned to the poem by ee cummings. She read.

“Somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond any experience,

Your eyes have their silence.”

Inside her head, she could hear Vincent’s gravelly voice reading the words. She could feel his arms around her as he read the words to her. She laid down on the bed and let the tears come. They came hard and fast.

Mary entered the room just in time. She walked over to Catherine and put her arms around her. “Just cry, Catherine, just cry.”  She put her head on the back of the woman and let her cry. She felt her own eyes welling up with tears. It tore her apart to see this wonderful young woman in so much pain.

Father limped in finally. He touched Mary, who moved so he could get where she had just been. Father gently touched the woman. Catherine rolled over and Father took her into his arms. There were no words. Nothing he could say would take away the pain Catherine felt.

Chapter Two

Mouse had just finished making the fire. Everyone stood around it. They each held a paper or an envelope. Devin held the paper lantern. Large Chinese letters were written on the lantern by Chin.

Father stood with his arm around Catherine. Catherine leaned on him. It was very hard for her. This was the goodbye ceremony for her beloved Vincent. She looked at the ground. She held onto her envelope. She wore Vincent’s favorite gown. It was the gown she had worn on their first anniversary. She had planned on wearing it on their wedding day. Now there would be no wedding.

Father told her to take Vincent’s name. She would later go above and change her name to Catherine Chandler Wells. Father held a private wedding ceremony in his study last night. He put the date in the Community Ledger. She would forever be called “The wife of Vincent Wells.”

Father gave her the ring that he was holding for Vincent. Vincent had Mouse make it three days before he was killed. Mouse gave it to Father, telling him to hold it for Vincent. Vincent never knew the ring was finished. Father placed the ring on Catherine’s ring finger and kissed her hand.

“Welcome to the family, my dear Catherine, wife of my son.”

Father cried. This made Catherine cry. They stayed that way for a minute hugging and crying.

Chapter Three

Three months later, the group gathered at the Mirror Pool. They were having a memorial for Vincent. Catherine stood beside Devin. The tears fell from her eyes. She could not believe that Vincent was no longer with her.

Father began the ceremony. The ceremony that was taking the place of her wedding.

“There is a time for life,

There is a time for death.

There is a time for love.

This is the time when we send love to one of our loved ones.

Vincent Wells was a tiny baby when he came to me. I raised him to become an incredible man. He protected us, loved us. We will miss him. No longer will we see the large, cloaked man walking through our halls.

Tonight, we are sending him our messages of love.”

He placed his letter into the fire. One by one the tunnel people placed their letters into the fire. Devin walked over to the fire; he placed his letter into the fire after kissing it. He turned to Catherine. She was the last one to put her letter into the fire. He took Catherine by the hand and led her to the fire. She put her envelope to her lips and gently kissed it.

“I love you, Vincent, I will always love you.”

Devin held the paper lantern over the fire. The heat of the fire sent the lantern up through the hole in the ceiling. The lantern floated up into the heavens.

She dropped the letter into the fire. The ashes rose from the fire and floated upward through the hole in the cavern. The ashes traveled up to the starry night.  Catherine put her face into Devin’s chest and sobbed. He held her until there were no more tears.

Father looked at the tunnel people. “Let us go to the Great Hall and eat. William had prepared many of Vincent’s favorite dishes in honor of him.”

They slowly walked out of the cavern. Catherine stayed behind. Devin stayed with her. Together they watched the fire die. They left and headed toward the Great Hall.  Father stood up when he saw them walk through the door. He beckoned them to come to him. Catherine sat beside him, and Devin sat next to Catherine. Mary sat on the other side of Father.

Kipper brought Catherine’s meal to her. Samantha placed a plate in front of Devin. She smiled at him. He smiled back. This made Samantha’s day. She had a crush on Devin. Kipper stood in front of Catherine. He loved her. He finally looked at her.

“If you wait until I am eighteen, Catherine, I will gladly marry you and take the place of loving you and protecting you.”

Catherine looked at Kipper. She took his hand and kissed it.  “No, Kipper, you must find your own true love and marry her. I will be too old to marry you. Thank you. If I was younger, I would surely take you up on your offer.”

Kipper smiled.  He turned and walked away. Father smiled looking downward.

Catherine began to move the food around on her plate. Father was accustomed to her doing this. Many times, Vincent would reprimand her. Telling her to eat. He could hear him stating, “My Catherine eat, moving the food around does not constitute nourishment.”

Catherine looked at Father. With a tear in her eyes, she began to take small bites of food.

After the meal, Catherine went to the chamber that belonged to Vincent. She had been sleeping here. She walked over to the bed and sat on it. Suddenly, she felt a wave of nausea move over her. She ran to the toilet chamber. She bent over the toilet and vomited. She sat on the floor. Mary came in, hearing Catherine she rushed to the toilet chamber to find Catherine sitting on the floor. She helped her up and led her to the bed. She shook her head.

“Catherine, are you okay?”

“I do not know, Mary, I just felt sick. I just made it to the toilet.”

“Oh.”

Catherine laid down on the bed. Mary looked at her. She looked different to Mary. Mary smiled. She knew that look. She touched Catherine. “Catherine, have you had your period this month?”

Catherine had to think. “Mary, I have not had my period this month. As a matter of fact, I have not had it for two months. I am not very regular, so I did not worry.”

“I will be right back.”

Mary came back with a pregnancy test. She handed it to Catherine. “Shall we find out now?”

Catherine took the test to the toilet chamber. She returned smiling.

Mary smiled; she already knew. Catherine looked at the elderly woman.

“I am pregnant. I am having Vincent’s baby.” She hugged Mary. She began to cry.

Mary and Catherine went to tell Father the news. Father looked at the two women as they walked into the chamber. “What is it now?’

“Father, I am pregnant. Vincent has given me a child.”

Father looked at his daughter-in-law. He had tears in his eyes.

Chapter Four

The months went by. Catherine grew large as her pregnancy progressed. Peter and Father hovered over until she demanded that they leave her alone. Mary became her largest advocate. She kept the two doctors from prodding and probing her. Each night she talked to the baby as she rubbed her tummy. Little did she know but the baby was listening because like his father he was an empath. He knew who his father was.

The day came when it was time to deliver. Catherine woke up in a start. The first pain hit her with force. The pains became every five minutes. They increased in intensity and length. Father and Peter were worried. They hovered as the hours ticked away. The pains finally became two minutes apart. It was time to push. Catherine pushed as hard as she could. She moved her head from side to side.

“No more, please, no more.”

Devin stepped in and grabbed her hand. “Okay Chandler, my brother is not here to encourage you. But I am. Let’s go now. Push!”

Catherine screamed. The baby slid out with zest. Father caught the wee babe. He looked at Catherine. Catherine screamed again. Another baby slipped out. Peter caught this one. Father looked at Catherine.

“Catherine, you have a son and a daughter.” He took the boy over to the table to examine him. He was the picture of his father. He opened his eyes. His eyes did not have the glazed grey of newborns. His eyes were silver grey just like his mother’s.

Peter checked the girl. She opened her eyes. Her eyes were the deep blue of her father’s. She also had her father’s golden hair.

Father took the boy to his mother. She opened the blanket. She looked at the small replica of her husband. The baby looked at her with intense eyes. She kissed his cheek. “Hello, baby, I am your mommy.”

The baby looked into her eyes and smiled. Catherine looked at Father. “Father, he looks just like his father.”

Father nodded. Peter walked over with the girl. Catherine laid the boy on the bed in front of her. Peter handed her the girl. She looked at her daughter and cried. She was a tiny replica of herself but with Vincent’s intense blue eyes. She also smiled at her mother. Catherine kissed her on the forehead. The boy began to whimper.

She laid the girl down and picked up the boy. She bared her breast and offered it to the boy. He latched on with zest and suckled. She rubbed his hair as he nursed. Occasionally she touched the baby girl. When the boy had enough, she burped him and laid him down. She picked up the girl and put her to the other breast. She was a little slower at latching on. She began to suck gently. Catherine looked at Mary.

“Mary, she is so dainty. Look at her.”

Mary looked at the baby girl.  Peter and Father were grinning like two cats after eating prize mice.

The day came for the naming ceremony. Peter, Father, Mary, and Catherine stood at the table. Devin was beside Jamie near the babies. The hall was full. Catherine’s friends, Jenny and Nancy were there. Diana and Joe were also there. Diana was large with child. She was seated at the first table. Father stood up and Peter stood beside him.

Father spoke.

“We welcome these babies with love,

So, they may learn to love.

We welcome these babies with gifts,

So, they may learn generosity.

We welcome these babies with a name.”

He turned toward Catherine.

Catherine picked up the boy first.  “I name my son Vincent Jacob Chandler Wells.”

She handed the boy to Peter. She picked up the girl. “I name my daughter, Eleanor Mary Chandler Wells.”

The tunnel folk applauded. People began to place gifts on the table. The food and drinks flowed throughout the night.  Catherine moved to the upstairs room to nurse the twins. Jenny and Nancy were with her. They chatted as Catherine nursed.  Jenny was very uncomfortable. Catherine knew what was going on. She knew Jenny.  “Jenny, what is the matter with you? You are so fidgety.”

“Cathy, I need to tell you and Nancy what is going on.”

Catherine leaned into Jenny. “I think I am pregnant.”

Catherine laughed. “Oh, my goodness. Jenny, I had no idea you were seeing anybody.”

“Please do not laugh at me. Cathy.”

“Okay, come clean, Jen.”

Nancy pinched her. “Okay, I have been with Devin. He and I are in love.”

This time Catherine let out a huge laugh. “Jenny, Devin is a wanderlust. He never stays still.”

“I know that is why I do not want to say anything.”

“Jenny, you cannot keep this to yourself. Devin has a right to know.”

“I know. I planned on telling him tonight.”

“Well, you need to tell him. He will make a wonderful father. You should see him with the twins. He has stepped in as a father to them.” She lowered her face. The tears began to flow.

Nancy and Jenny rushed to her. “Please, Cathy do not be sad. We know you miss Vincent.”

Erik entered the room. He walked over to Catherine. She had just finished feeding Eleanor. She picked up Jacob and began to nurse him.

“Catherine; may I hold Ellie? I hope that you won’t be angry with me if I call her Ellie.”

Catherine nodded. Erik picked Ellie up and walked over to the empty seat. He gently kissed her forehead. Ellie smiled at him. He looked up. “She smiled at me.”

He looked at the baby girl. “Do not worry, Ellie. I will be your and Jacob’s big brother. I will protect you.”

Ellie reached up to touch his cheek. He looked at the back of her hand. He saw the small heart shaped mark on her wrist. He looked at Catherine in amazement.

“Catherine, she has the same birthmark as my sister. Look at this small heart on her wrist.”

Catherine had long ago noticed the small mark. She just assumed it was a message from Vincent. Now she knew that it was a message from Ellie.

Chapter Five

This day was particularly hard for Catherine. It was the anniversary of her meeting Vincent. She cried on and off throughout the day. Mary, seeing how sad she was, offered to keep the twins. At five months, they were very active. Today, they could sense their mother’s sadness and were subdued.

Catherine picked up the special red and white candle Rebecca made for her. She dressed in Vincent’s favorite gown and left. She traveled through the catacombs. Mouse followed her. He did not let her know he was following her. He knew where she was headed. She finally got to the cave where the cave-in that killed Vincent occurred. Mouse left her alone once he knew she was safe. He would not be far.

She sat on the ground and took out the candle; she lit it with her lighter. She turned off her flashlight. She watched the candle burn. It left a strange silhouette on the wall of the cave. She let the tears come silently.

“Oh, Vincent, my love. I miss you. Our babies are growing so big. Jacob is just like you. I call him Jacob because I cannot bear to say your name all the time without crying. Little Eleanor is so small and dainty. She has your mouth and your smile. Both are teething. They both have your fangs.  Jacob is an exact replica of you. I wish you were here to teach him the things he will need to know. I love you, Vincent. I miss your strong arms around me. I try to be strong. I hang on because our children need me. Vincent, my love, rest easy until we meet again.”

She put her head down and cried. She cried hard tears for herself and for her children. Behind her the beast stood silently. He has been granted the gift of coming to see her. He was told not to touch her. She felt a presence behind her. She turned and saw nothing. The being faded away.

She got up. That is when she saw it. A small crystal rose lying on the ground. She was sure it had not been there before. She picked it up and rubbed it between her fingers. She smiled.  “Thank you, my love. Until next year. I love you always.”

She walked out of the cave. The beast came out of the shadows and faded away.

Chapter Six

Today was the twins’ eighteenth birthday. Jacob was the exact replica of his father. He had all of Vincent’s mannerisms. Ellie was dainty and small like her mother. She was beautiful. She had the facial features of her father. It gave her an exotic look. Both children were amazing and well loved in the tunnels.

Catherine had purchased a brownstone. She stayed there a lot. She opened a law office and often helped anyone who needed legal help. She charged the ones who could afford it. Anyone else was pro bono. The house had a threshold to the tunnels. The twins were often above. Catherine made sure they had both her world and their father’s world available to them.

This day, the tunnel community was preparing a big party for their favorite children. Catherine had two gifts on her desk. She took great care in choosing the gifts for her children.

D.J. came running in. “Hey, Aunt Catherine. Where are my two cousins?”

Catherine hugged the replica of Devin. “Upstairs in their rooms – go.”

She patted him on the butt.

“Aunt Catherine, I am too big for those hits on the butt. Give it a rest.”

Catherine laughed at her nephew.

The twins came downstairs with their cousin. They walked to their mother, and each kissed her cheeks.

“Happy birthday, my darlings.”

“Mother, you must promise me not to make a fuss today and please no tears.”

Jacob spoke sounding very much like his father. He was the exact replica of Vincent. He had all of his father’s mannerisms and strength.

Ellie was small like her mother. She had a quiet voice and her father’s intelligence. Catherine looked at her children. A tear fell from her eye. Ellie, always in tune with her mother, hugged her.  “Mommy do not cry. You must be happy today.”

Catherine kissed her daughter. “I will try. I just miss your father.”

Jacob hugged his mother. “Mother, do you not know? Father is always with you. With us. Please do not be sad.”

DJ came in. “Aunt Catherine, Mom and Dad are on their way here.”

“Okay. I will start breakfast.” She headed for the kitchen.  She began preparing breakfast.

Jenny and Devin walked in. Devin kissed his sister-in-law. Jenny sat at the table.

“Hurry up, Cat, I am hungry.”

Catherine laughed. “Jen, you are always hungry. She put the plate of eggs in front of her. Catherine sipped her coffee as she watched her family dig into the food.

Devin looked at her and shook his head.  “Chandler, do I have to say the words? Okay, my Catherine, stop moving the food around. It does not constitute nourishment.”

Catherine laughed and began to pick at her food, taking in small bites.

Chapter Seven

The party was in full swing. Catherine stood against the wall and watched her children mingle with the community. Along the wall were tables of all the twins’ favorite foods. In the center stood a large cake. Catherine knew what the cake was. A three-tier cake made of devil’s food with buttercream icing. The twins, like their father, loved anything chocolate. The gifts were piled up on the table. Catherine saved her gifts until she had the chance to be with her kids alone.

Devin walked over to her. He kissed her cheek. “Chandler, why the sad look?”

“Devin, I wonder what Vincent would think of his children today.”

“I think that he would be proud of them and of you. You have raised two wonderful children. You have given them all that they possibly could have.”

“Ellie is leaving for college in two weeks. Jacob will be studying on the computer. I managed to enroll him in an online college. I told the dean that he would not be able to show his face as he was suffering from a rare genetic disorder that disfigured his face. With a sizable contribution, they accepted him. He will attend the online classes without showing his face.”

“Chandler, you are wonderful. Rich and beautiful only touch the surface of you. My brother was lucky.”

She hit him on the arm. Smiling, she kissed his cheek. “Let us go over and join the twins in their birthday cake ceremony.”

When they finally got home, she called the twins into the study. She handed them their presents.

Ellie opened hers first. She took out the necklace. A tear fell from her mother’s eyes. “Eleanor, your father gave me that necklace on our first anniversary. It is your time to have it.”

Ellie kissed her mom. “Thank you, Mom, I will cherish it.”

Jacob opened his gift. His father’s favorite fountain pen.  Jacob fingered the pen. He rolled through his large claw-like hands. The pen, a Namiki Emperor fountain pen. Vincent’s name was inscribed on the barrel of the pen. Jacob looked at his mother. “Mother, are you sure you want me to have Father’s pen?”

Catherine nodded. “It is time you had it. You are so much like your father. I am sure he would have given it to you anyway if he were alive.”

He kissed his mother. He had one more thing to talk with his mother about. “Mother, I want to talk to you alone.”

Ellie stood up,  “I was leaving anyway, brother. I am to meet Kipper at the Mirror Pool.”

She left. Catherine sat in the large recliner. Jacob walked over to her.

“Mother, I have something to tell you. I am in love with Samantha. I know she is a couple years older than me, but I love her just the same. I want to marry her. Not now but after I graduate college.”

“Okay, my baby. I will talk to Samantha. Does your sister know?”

“Of course, Mother, you know we are connected. We know everything about each other.”

Later, that night, as Catherine sat in her bed, she talked to Vincent. “My darling, our babies are grown now. You should see them. They are so wonderful. Ellie is going to Columbia and Jacob is attending online college. He is so much like you. Sometimes, I feel you are here with me. I look at him and see so much of you in him. Thank you, Vincent, for those two. I could not have gone on without them.”

She laid down and fell fast asleep. She dreamed. She dreamt of Vincent holding her. They were at the Mystery Falls, in their special cave. He was making slow love to her. He was whispering into her ears. They joined in the dance that lovers do. The climax was fast and hard. She woke up in a start. She felt the climax go through her body. She sat up and put her face into her hands. She cried.

Chapter Eight

Catherine sat in her favorite chair in the study. She was reading the latest edition of her daughter’s latest novel. Ellie had become one of the world’s most famous authors. Her novels jumped to the top of New York Times Best Seller List as soon as they were out.

Jacob was now the leader of the Tunnels. He was so much like his father. He listened and offered suggestions when needed. He was the protector of the tunnels, even though it was no longer needed. The tunnels had an elaborate security system designed by Mouse’s son Vincent. 

Times had changed. Jacob was able to walk in the sunlight. People no longer were afraid of him.  He was no longer an anomaly. His son, Isaac, very much like his father was able to play and walk above.

Catherine sat in her chair and talked to her husband as she often did. Her daughter never married, but Jacob had given her three grandchildren. Isaac, the oldest, just like his father, Catherine, the middle child, and finally Joseph, the youngest.

Joseph spent a lot of his time with his grandmother. He came running into the room. He climbed on her lap. “Gran, can you tell me a story? Tell me about Grandfather.  Was he really strong?”

“Why, yes, he was strong. But he was gentle.  He used to read to me, all the classics. We spent a lot of time at the Mystery Falls.”

“Gran, did you love him?”

“Very much.”

“Gran, how did he die?”

“He was mending a tunnel and got caught in a landslide. His body was never recovered.”

“Gran?”

“Yes.”

“I love you. Please do not ever leave me.”

“I will one day, everybody must. I will join your grandfather. It does not mean that I do not love you; that is just the way it is.”

The boy kissed his grandmother and laid his head on her chest. They stayed that way for a while.

Samantha entered the study. She lifted her son off his grandmother’s lap and put him on the sofa. She sat on the arm of the chair and put her arm around Catherine. Catherine leaned into her.  “Catherine, would you like some tea? I just made a pot.”

Catherine nodded. Samantha got up to get the tea. Catherine looked around. She was happy. She was proud of her family. She closed her eyes and laid her head back. Suddenly she was in a meadow. She began walking.

“My Catherine!”

She turned and saw Vincent standing there.

“I have been waiting. Come to me.”

She ran into his arms.

Samantha brought the tea back. She looked at Catherine. Catherine’s head was bowed. Samantha touched Catherine and knew that she was gone.

TRACES

One month after the events of “The Outsiders”…

With a mechanical-like reflex, Vincent put another spoonful of the contents in the bowl in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without tasting. It was chicken and white bean chili, one of William’s best, and it might as well have been ashes. The conversation levels in the dining hall had almost returned to normal – almost.

It had been one month. One month since Cullen had led a crew to dispose of the bodies in the Abyss. One month since the feral child had been spotted running towards an exit tunnel like the forces of Hell were after him and not looking back. One month since Randolph, and Matthew, and Simon had been laid to rest. One month since Frannie had not said a word as her mother wept over Matthew’s bier, and had simply held her mother as she watched her father be placed in the catacombs. One month since Frannie had stopped speaking. To anyone.

One month since the Council meeting where Father made a point of looking at the floor as he cleared his throat and talked about how they had all grown too dependent on Vincent and needed new security measures. One month since the ways changed. One month since he had told Catherine to go away.

She hadn’t, of course. After leaving him alone in his chamber, she returned Above to call the other Helpers to give the all clear to return the other groups of children and to lock her gun back in its safe. She’d come back down to bring him a tray of supper he hadn’t touched, gone to scrub  the food storage chamber walls, went to Ang’s to replace all the lost food, and spent the rest of the evening resettling Mary in her chamber. Mary crying hot tears of shame for being so foolish and Catherine biting her tongue and replacing the quilt on the bed.

She had stayed the night in Lena’s chamber, Lena too terrified to sleep lest the Outsiders somehow crawl back out of the Abyss to take her baby away. Catherine had soothed her into lying down to just try to close her eyes for a little bit, promising to watch over Cate, and exhaustion soon took Lena into slumber. Catherine was too tired and angry and everything to sleep so she watched Cate peacefully sleep in her crib. Oh, baby girl, I thought you had the luck in a million to be born in a world where things like this don’t happen, I’m so sorry, little one.

The next day she’d brought him a breakfast tray he wasn’t going to touch either but an instinctive urge to never waste food made him choke down a few bites of toast with tea. He looked at her then, exhausted, in rumpled clothes. He wanted to hold her, he wanted to hold her until the pain that bit and scratched and flicked and fluttered around in him like a trapped bird stopped.

He looked away. “When are they holding the ceremonies for Randolph, Matthew, and Simon?”

They had attended the ceremony in the catacombs, they had stood by the Mirror Pool and burned their letters in turn, Vincent noticing Simon’s widower Jason dropping in a photo that curled before he could see the image. Catherine and Vincent had talked stiffly of safe subjects like the children needing new boots, and he had seen her Below a few times since then. But he had not gone to her balcony.

He could still see the traces of the graffiti in the food storage chamber. Zach avoided the tunnels where he’d stumbled across Randolph, and was starting to carry his backpack with him everywhere. He was going to run away if they weren’t careful. If I can’t convince him something like that will never happen again. If I can’t lie to him that it will never happen again, that is. And the food in his mouth turned to glue and he pushed the bowl away.

His afternoon classes passed uneventfully. The children were still careful around him. He read June Jordan to his teenage poetry class and felt like there was a sheet of glass between him and one of his favorite poets. He talked to his composition class about narrative and how Brigit O’Donnell had used personal testimony to create a macro view of the situation in Northern Ireland in her latest essay that had been published in the magazine sent down by Peter. Brooke had asked several thoughtful questions and he had given answers, though as the class shuffled away he couldn’t remember a single word he had said.

The day dipped into evening and then night. Vincent sat at his desk to plan tomorrow’s classes and the pen felt like a snake in his hand. He dropped it and stood, throwing his cape on and striding towards Catherine’s basement.

Catherine heard the soft sigh of fabric against the balcony’s wall that meant Vincent. She carefully walked to the balcony doors and opened them. He stood there looking at her. She was in a peach silk robe over a slip of black satin, flowers all over the robe like laughter, and her feet bare. She watched him without reproach, without asking why he’d stayed away so long. The air between them was heavy like things are when they’re sorrowful. Or holy. He knelt at her feet; she did not move away. He wrapped his arms around her waist; she did not flinch. He pressed his face into her stomach and began to weep. She gently placed her hands on his hair and murmured words of comfort. And somewhere deep inside him he could feel the glass shattering into glitter, and a bird flying away until it was only a pinpoint of white against an endless black sky.

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