“Do you ever wonder if there’s anything else out there? A place other than this where other people are?”
They were sitting on the little hill they had claimed so long ago. The perfect place for the two of them to go to be alone and talk or not talk as they saw fit. Eloise’s nose wrinkled at Deryn’s question. He’d been asking a lot of those lately. The kind she didn’t like. The kind that hinted at something more, something different, something that wasn’t perfect.
“No, I don’t,” she said with an unhappy huff of breath. “Why would I? I’m perfectly content right here in this place that is everything I want.” She cocked her head to the side and gave him a questioning look. “Why do you keep asking me things like that? Are you not happy here with me? Is this place not good enough? Am I not good enough?”
Deryn sighed and shook his head. “No, it’s not that, Eloise. It’s just…don’t you ever get tired of it?”
She frowned. “Tired of what?”
“Everything.” He motioned at the ground, the sky, everything she supposed, and this made her unhappy. “The color, the buildings, the grass, all of it. It’s too…make believe. Like sticky sweet sugar that’s melted in the sun. It..It isn’t real, Eloise.”
Now she was angry. “Well, if you hate it so much, why don’t you leave?” She was tired of his questions. Of his pondering. She had brought him to this place in order to share it. She wanted him to be here. Wanted to be with him. But that was such a long time ago. He had been happy here with her then. They’d created places together, the park, the playground, shops and eateries. She’d done it all for him. Somewhere down the line things changed and he began to bring up things called reality and the real world. Tch. Didn’t he know nothing else existed outside this place? He wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for her.
He stood from his place beside her, catching her attention, drawing it away from that place within to focus on him. It was always like that. She was beginning to hate it.
Deryn sighed and looked down at the beautiful golden haired girl who fit in so perfectly with the too bright colors in this fairy tale world of hers. He didn’t really belong here in the first place. He was just a figment of her imagination, created from the image of someone she loved long ago. Someone who hadn’t followed her in spite of the millions of promises that he would, even if it was to the ends of the earth and beyond if that was her wish.
“I think I should, Eloise,” he said quietly. Instantly, her eyes were on him, wide with fear and doubt.
“What do you mean, Deryn? You can’t leave. You promised you wouldn’t.”
He closed his eyes at the tears glimmering in hers. She wouldn’t let them fall. Not until he was gone. Her voice was thick from the effort of keeping them in check.
“I have to, Eloise. I don’t belong here. Not really. My place is somewhere else. Somewhere you refuse to believe in. Somewhere you can’t follow.”
“No,” she said desperately, coming to her feet, fingers tightening in the folds of her dress. “No, Deryn, don’t. Don’t leave me, please. You do belong here, because you belong with me. I love you. I do.”
He smiled at her softly and reached out to brush her hair back from her face and kissed her one final time. “You’ll forget me soon enough.”
“No! No, Deryn, please!”
Eloise watched him go, watched him fade from existence with every step he took, farther and farther away from her. From this place that was theirs. Finally, she let the tears fall until they drenched her face and made her throat raw. She didn’t stop crying even when she looked around the little hill covered with its flowers and butterflies and found it was completely devoid of color and life.
Her eyes widened and she gasped through a sob. Quickly, she tore off in the direction of the garden where they’d planted their favorite flowers. She was out of breath when she got there and her sides ached from running. There was still color here, but just barely. She reached out with shaking fingers to touch the blooms. Her fingertips came away covered in thick, sticky color.
On wobbly legs she left the garden and walked along the streets to see that most everywhere else was fading away, too. Would they all just fade into nothing, she wondered? A horrible, horrible thought occurred to her then. If her world was dying…did that also mean she too would die? All because he had rejected her reality, her love, her everything. This was all his fault.
A flash of memory from something long ago, long before she came to this place, blinded her and she sank to her knees from the force, the brightness. The colors were pale and washed out. There was someone looking down at her, his features etched in worry. His eyes were empty, but they hadn’t always been. How she knew this, she wasn’t sure.
He reminded her of…of…someone. She tried to remember his name. He was the one who had caused all this, why couldn’t she remember him? She looked down at the sidewalk and saw the colors faded and smudged and the tears started again. She cupped her face in her hands and cried until it hurt to breathe.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Never like this.
“You said you would never leave me,” she sobbed.
I leaned down to caress her face, sweep back her bangs from her forehead and press a kiss to her pale skin. “I know. I promised.” Absently I wondered just what was going on in her mind to cause this outburst. She had been just fine yesterday until I began talking to her, then she became almost violent. Her pretty little angel face mottled red and her eyes filled with fury. She had to be sedated, thus the reason I was in her room with her. Just in case she woke up and had a fit again.
Still, she didn’t wake, lost in her dream reality as she was, I didn’t really expect her to. She rarely did. And those rare times she did decide to play in the real world, it was like she was an empty shell, going from one place to another as though pushed by the breeze. She didn’t interact with the other patients, never conversed with the orderlies. The only person she would really look at was me and I hated it. Hated that she associated me with that person in her head. Hated that she refused to live in the real world with me. That she chose to love a figment of her imagination over a living, breathing, flesh and blood male.
“You’re a liar! I hate you!” she screamed, startling me, because she was so passionate. It was like her whole body, her whole self, was hurling the accusation and the pain at me, bathing me in it, slathering my body in her anger and hurt, and I felt it everywhere. I was practically covered in malice. In betrayal. I could almost feel the black, black blood from her heart that I’d metaphorically ripped to shreds dripping off me in sticky rivulets to pool at my feet. A part of me wondered what it tasted like, wanted to know what it felt like to have a part of her—any part—locked somewhere within myself to keep forever.
I looked down at my unblemished hand and saw it coated with her blood, her life force and I rubbed my fingers together, surprised to feel them hot and sticky. I blinked, trying to refocus and get myself out of that place that pulled at me, seduced me with dark promises and beautiful lies, only to discover my fingers really were coated in blood. I panicked for a moment, sweat popping out along my brow, prickling my scalp and making me shiver until I realized it was coming from a wound just above my wrist where she’d apparently gouged me with her nails without me realizing. Funny, that, considering her nails were blunt; practically cut to the quick to keep her from harming herself.
I shook my head and moved from where I’d been hovering over the bed, needing to focus on something else, anything else, as long as it wasn’t her and the turbulent thoughts she brought to the forefront of my mind. I took a deep breath and glanced over my shoulder at her form in the bed. She hadn’t moved, was still curled so tightly in on herself, still had her hands balled into tight fists by her face, and her shoulders were still shaking violently with silent sobs.
I released the breath I’d taken with a ragged sigh. This had to stop. Nothing was progressing for her, she would always be lost in that mystical place inside her head and nothing I did, nothing I tried, would bring her out of it. I knew from the minute I’d brought her here with the hope that she could be helped that it wouldn’t, but it had been my only hope then. Now it was time for me to move on, move forward, not focus all of myself on her. I told myself I wasn’t running away, not really.
Feeling weightless and heavy at the same time I walked over to the bed and leaned down again, dusting her wet cheek with a kiss. It was the closest thing to saying goodbye that I could make myself do that wouldn’t weigh me down with regret. Not that she would really know I was gone. I would, though, and that was enough to make my stomach twist in knots. I was breaking a promise—something I’d never done before. But it was either that or waste away with worry over wondering if this beautiful girl would ever resurface from her imaginary world. Pinning all my hopes on maybe’s and possibles.
I left then, and didn’t dare look back. She was still a shuddering mess on the bed. Gaunt. Pale. Frenzied. Psychotic. Alone.
The door clicked shut, but not before I heard her call one final time, voice raw and thick from crying, “You said you would never leave me.”
I guess I lied.
Her once colorful world was slowly turning gray. Beautiful brilliance bleeding out, the colors swirling in a mess all around her, sticking to the bottoms of her shoes, making them slick. She imagined it to be a bit like blood. Maybe her blood. He’d cut her heart out with his lies and mistrust so it might as well be.
She sighed softly and stepped around a particularly deep pool of colored goop. The places she shared happy moments with him were losing their colors the fastest. The little hill with its myriad flowers was now dark and bleak and cold like steel. Perhaps because that’s were she handed him her heart; just gave it over with a bright smile and a hesitant kiss. It felt like death.
She blinked and wiped away a stray tear as she continued on, observing the destruction of her perfect world with a heavy heart. She wasn’t really aware of where she was headed until she got there and then she looked around as though surprised she was even there to begin with. Here the colors were ever vibrant. They practically glowed they were so alive. It made sense, of course. Here was where everything began. The First Place. It was what had convinced her to stay. It was perfect even though it was made up of only a lake, a forest, and a tiny little cottage way on the other side, nestled amongst a grove of peach trees.
Of course, she thought with a little smile. Everything else had come into being when he showed up, but this place…this place was solely hers. It would never fade away. Not ever. She grinned and hurried down to the lake’s shore, a merry laugh tickling its way from her throat. She immersed herself in the warm, liquid embrace of the water, uncaring of the baby blue sundress she wore. It would dry. When she became tired of playing in the water she went to her cottage where everything was done up in pale pinks and peaches and ecru, and exchanged the baby blue sundress for one of lavender and white.
Sighing happily, she parted the curtains in her bedroom to gaze out at the forest beyond. The sun was setting and lent the place a magical hue. It reminded her of the way reading a good fairy tale felt. But something was wrong. There was something out there, hiding just beyond the first few trees. Frowning, she pulled the curtains closed. No one else should know of this place. Not even he had known. She stepped outside to find out who this person was and how they’d gotten here, but was stopped in her tracks on the little gravel path, her breath sticking in her throat because the stranger was just there, right in front of her.
“W-who are you?” she asked, taking a step back, one hand setting softly at the base of her neck.
The stranger, a male, was a head taller than her, with black hair and delicate features. His eyes were almost feline. The smooth curve of his mouth slid into a devious smirk. “You tell me. After all, you made me.”
Her eyes widened and she swallowed hard, her mouth feeling bone dry. “I did?”
He nodded, taking a step closer. “Of course you did. You needed someone to share this place with and here I am. But you have to give me a name and make me a part of everything here or else I’ll fade away and you’ll be alone again.” He reached out and brushed his fingertips along the curve of her jaw. “You’re too pretty to be alone.”
She shivered from his touch, from his voice, the very air around him. Blinking up at him, she said, “Very well. You shall be called Killian, because you’re pretty enough to be a girl.”
She expected him to wrinkle his nose in distaste, it’s what she would have done, but instead he smiled graciously and dipped his head in a nod. “Thank you,” he whispered.
She smiled at him and invited him inside where she prepared them both a cup of hot tea before bed.
“Show me more of your perfect world tomorrow.” He didn’t ask. She hadn’t expected him to.
“Of course,” she said with a small grin. He smiled back and snuggled down on the couch to sleep. She watched him for a time before deciding it would be alright to keep him. They were complete opposites it seemed. He was cold and calculated and she was warm and carefree. Together, they were perfect.
(c) Brianna Somersham