So here is the Epilogue. It may not answer all of your questions. But I hope you find the ending fulfilling and sweet, while kind of keeping within the tone of the story.
I will dearly miss this story and these characters. It's hard to pull myself away from the "Accompaniment" world and start a new writing project. It's so great to hear that you all have enjoyed these characters, too.
Thank you all! Read and Review!
It was early, and she wasn't awake yet.
He did this about once a week. He went into the bathroom, closed the door, and stared into the mirror without his false face.
His good false face - made of plastic, acrylic, and silicone. The mask gave him a nose and rounded cheekbones, along with the appearance of eyes that were not sunken in. It gave him a full upper lip.
Admittedly, most of the clinical staff were not the worst of the human race. They had realized his defects were congenital, so he had never bothered with the car accident story. Most of them had seen their share of gore. Gunshot wounds that maimed and blinded. Facial cancers where little could be saved. So he was treated more like a science or art project and less like a freak. There was one older woman with bright red hair, some sort of medical assistant, who continuously called him, "Sweetie." He wanted to inform her of all his crimes just to make her shut up. But—
But he stayed quiet.
They had touched him and measured him, then coated his horrible face with a material used to make the mold. There had been multiple fittings. At some points, it had taken all of his willpower to not run out of the examining room or injure someone. Only the knowledge that Christine was sitting nearby, patiently reading a book, kept him calm.
Now he had a false face that he attached with a special glue. The mask would probably have to be replaced every several years, but it was still the best prosthetic he'd ever owned. People still gave him second glances in public, but they moved on quickly. Only children would sometimes state, "His face is funny."
Still, he came into the bathroom once a week to look for improvements in his real face. "Why won't this fix itself?" he growled to himself.
He'd wanted to propose to her without wearing any mask. But not with the image that still stared back at him in the mirror.
"Fix yourself, you ugly thing!" he snapped at his reflection.
He hadn't closed the door all the way that spring morning. So she woke up and caught him muttering to himself in the mirror. He saw her behind him and grappled for the false face. "What are you doing?" she asked, blinking in the lights.
"Considering a career in modeling." She tilted her head. "Seeing if I look like a human being," he admitted.
"You look like a human to me," she replied, stepping beside him. She wrapped her lavender robe more tightly around her torso. Sometimes the high ceilings in the house made it colder; he'd have to correct that.
"There is still surgery," he said. "I have several recommendations. We could go to New York. And just - do this."
"If that makes you happy, then you should."
"I simply wanted to look good for you."
"Erik." Her lip curved upward. "I want to be smart for you." She pointed to her head. "But we're both getting better."
"You are smart!" he exclaimed.
"I am healing. But I still have times where I can't…see clearly. Or do certain things. You know what I mean."
He did. Her speech had returned, little by little. She no longer forgot words to the point where it embarrassed her. Christine had relearned many facts about the world and recovered some memories. A picture of her mother and her father sat prominently on their mantelpiece, and she frequently and fondly spoke of them. She could hold conversations and understand puns, along with other intricacies of the English language. And her beautiful voice! He heard that often now. In their spacious music room, they practiced her singing at least three times a week. He loved the clarity in her eyes when she could focus on the music.
But her navigation skills were poor. She could not leave the house by herself without becoming confused. A passing car or change in the weather would throw her off. Driving certainly wasn't in her near future. She would still fade out at times, so he didn't leave her alone for long. When he did need to go out for brief periods, he made sure that the stove was off and that nothing required her immediate attention.
They had agreed that she would begin online courses and at least complete an interdisciplinary degree. That would give her a foundation for the future. Christine also decided that, even if she hadn't received her degree in music therapy, she could volunteer within the field. She could sing for people in nursing homes, hospitals, and even institutions. It made her feel very good, she said, to see them smile at the sound of her voice. He offered her much more - to put her on real stages with large, adoring audiences. But, for now, she only wanted tranquility and simplicity.
And that was fine with him.
He stared at her in the bathroom mirror, admiring her.
"We'll keep healing," she said, stroking his hand. "But I love your face no matter what, Erik."
"You tolerate it," he corrected. "You don't mind it."
"No. It was the first thing I…I recog-recognized when I came back from-"
"When I came back that night, I didn't know anything. My head was empty. Until your face. And then I remembered you. So I love it. I love you." She gently tugged on his hand. "It's early. You should come back to bed."
And he'd been so stupid, he realized. Holding off on proposing until he looked better. He'd considered doing it at Christmastime, their first Christmas together. The new house hadn't been ready yet, so they'd spent the holiday quietly in the mountains. He'd paid the owners of the property to decorate the home for the season. They had a large, green tree with shining silver and gold ornamental balls. Red stockings with white fluff had been strung across the fireplace. Snow globes on the table. A wreath with crimson berries on the door. Candy canes, frosted cookies, and other treats available in the kitchen. Eggnog in the refrigerator.
His last memory of celebrating Christmas was Irene putting up a droopy little tree and gifting him with board games and new shirts. She had tried to make it nice—until the thing zapped out all the lights and ruined the day.
So this scene in the mountains seemed a bit over the top to him. But Christine covered her mouth with both hands upon seeing it. She softly gasped.
He'd given her an early gift. A fluffy Siamese kitten with a tan body and nearly black face, a red ribbon loosely tied on his neck, trotted out of the kitchen. Christine broke down into tears.
"What is wrong?" he'd asked, panicking a little. "Do you want another type of cat? Do you not like that one?"
She'd picked up the kitten, buried her face into its fur, and continued to sob. Then she laughed. "I'm just so happy," she'd replied between sniffles. "Thank you, Erik! This is perfect!"
So he'd done well. But he hadn't been able to take the damned mask off and propose.
They'd moved into the new house several months later. Red brick and two stories. Five bedrooms. Arched windows. Pointed roofs with gables. White pillars near the entryway. The ends of the home curved slightly into a semi-circle, like two arms encircling the property and deeming it all his. A back porch for both sunshine and privacy. They'd slowly begun adding furniture. A couple of black leather sofas. A grand piano, of course. Cushioned breakfast stools. Shelves where she could put her prized knickknacks.
And even in that small paradise, he'd held off proposing, waiting for his damned face to heal.
After their conversation in the bathroom, he couldn't wait any longer. One evening, after the warmest day of the year so far, he brought her into the music room. The large windows gave them a view of an orange sunset. He sat her down on their plush cream-colored sofa. He would often play the piano while she napped there. Christine brushed a strand of hair from her face. "Are you going to play?" she asked.
"No. Well, yes. Perhaps later. But I wished to….Well. You do not have to say 'yes' yet." He was terrible at this. "I hope you will not say 'no.'" A strangled laugh escaped his thin lips. "But I simply wanted to give you something. Because…because I love you so dearly that I will go mad if I do not…do this now."
"Erik?" She leaned forward. Her eyes widened.
He took a black velvet box from his pocket and opened it. A simple gold ring with a little diamond. After taking it and slipping it onto her finger, Christine nearly strangled him with a tight embrace. "I thought you were waiting for me to be better. And that's why you didn't," she admitted.
"What? No! I was waiting for myself to be better." He gestured to his face.
"Erik! That's so-"
"I know. But you know, I—"
"I will marry you!" She pressed her lips to his cheek and his neck. Grinning, she drew back. "That is what you were going to ask me, right?"
"Of course. Yes. I just…I couldn't handle you saying 'no.'" He felt like a ridiculous coward. But she kissed his fears away.
There were some days, like that one, when everything was so perfect that he nearly forgot the rest of his life. It was as though he'd been born less than a year ago.
And then there were still days, well….Several nights after he'd proposed, they went to dinner at a seafood restaurant. A darker place with a lit up lobster tank and anchors and fishing nets decorating the walls. The false face allowed him to eat comfortably. He still reserved private tables and avoided crowded restaurants, but there'd been no incidents. As they left the restaurant, a warm wind picked up, blowing her hair and sundress. He steadied his hat and mask as he led her toward the car.
Christine's arms dropped to her sides, and she stared forward with wide, terrified eyes.
"What is wrong?" he asked. Her mouth fell open, but she didn't respond. "Darling, what on earth is the matter?"
Christine stumbled forward like a zombie, her eyes focused. Even when he touched her arm, she didn't react to him.
"Christine, look at me. What is wrong?" But then he heard them. Chimes. He immediately knew they were not of a supernatural nature. Yet she thought- "Christine. It is not what you think. Wind chimes. That is all." But she couldn't hear him. She nearly walked into oncoming traffic. He grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him as an SUV barreled by. He led her toward the sound, needing her to understand. They were dangling from the roof of an adjoining antique store. Silver cylinders tinkling in the wind. "Darling, look. This is it. This is all you hear." He touched them, making them louder. She cringed. He stilled them so that they quieted.
She blinked. "Oh!" A soft sob. "Erik. I am so sorry. I thought - I was….Oh, Erik…." He caught her before she fainted and carried her to the car. She remained conscious in his arms, staring up at him with a sadness that hurt his chest.
"Don't be sorry. You are just fine. It was understandable." His heart beat slowed. Christine was quiet as he drove her home. He made her a cup of hot tea, and she stared out the window. Her ring sparkled in the dim lighting. The kitten hopped up beside her, and Christine absentmindedly stroked his fur.
"Are you well?" he asked, taking a seat beside his lovely…fiancée. How peaceful it was to think of that.
"Yeah." She sipped her tea.
"You must not think on this evening too much."
"I won't. I'm okay." She scratched the kitten beneath his chin, her eyes a little distant. "It's just….When I had my…what I thought was my sickness in high school. Well, my dad became really over careful with me. He was worried all the time. He'd call the school and my friends' houses to make sure I was okay. I wanted to be…indep…independent."
He shifted uncomfortably. "Do you think that Erik does the same? Am I overbearing? Darling, you nearly walked in front of a car. I could not-"
"No, no. No, Erik. You did right. It's not that. I just…it's hard because I wanted to be…independent all those years. I tried so hard to be. And now, after all that, I can't completely be. It's not possible."
"You will continue to get better. And then perhaps you can be more independent."
She looked down and bit her bottom lip. "I don't think so. I'll be better. I can talk and read, and I'll be okay. But I'm starting to accept that I'll never be...I'll need someone to watch over me most of the time. For when I lose my grip on what's real. And I could be like this forever."
"We do not know that yet. And, if that is so, you will have someone," he replied. "And I am beyond delighted to be that individual. I want to spend every minute with you. How is that for overbearing?" His heart was heavy, but he kept his voice light. His words were true.
She rested her head on his shoulder. "I know, Erik. I love you so much. Sometimes I still feel like I hold you back a little." Before he could protest, she continued, "I know you don't see it like that. But - Well. I do want the best for you. Even if you just want to go on a hike in the mountains. Anything like that, where you'd have to leave for a while."
He hesitated as he stroked her hair. Because while he didn't give a damn about hiking, there was a somewhat distressing conversation that he needed to have with her. "Christine."
"What's wrong?" She raised her head.
"It is nothing," he said. "I mean, I do not want to upset you."
"Tell me. Do you want to go somewhere? You should." Her fingers brushed against his cheek. "You spent so many years unable to enjoy anything. You should enjoy everything!"
"No. It is not that. If I go anywhere interesting, you will be by my side. That is the only way I will enjoy traveling the world." He gathered her hands into his and kissed them. Hesitantly, he continued, "I plan and hope to live a very long time. I never thought I'd say that. But as long as you are here, I wish to live forever. Yet I do want to have a plan for you in case of - Not even something horribly tragic. Any sort of emergency where I might be called away. If my past were to creep up on me. I would want you to have a safe place. I would not want you to go somewhere that you did not wish to be."
"I know," she murmured. "I don't want to think about it."
"But I have. I've thought about where I could go. Like if you want to get surgery and have to be gone for a few weeks." She hesitated and glanced down. "You won't like the answer."
He softly laughed. "Chagny? I had already thought of him. He would-"
"No, Erik." She smiled. "He is dating someone. He has an…um…internship. He sounded good when we last talked. Happier. He's doing well. And I am not his responsibility."
"Maddy." He inwardly cringed. They still talked on the phone, sometimes once a week. In fact, Christine had just told her about the engagement. "If she wants to. She's invited me to her house many times. Both of us."
He abruptly stood, his hands behind his back. "I see."
"It doesn't have to be her. But I don't know many other people. So."
"I simply do not trust her with you." She might abandon you.
"She's changed, Erik," Christine said, also standing. "People can change, right?"
He flinched. "That is not fair."
"It doesn't have to be her," she said. "But not poor Raoul. He needs to be free to move on."
He sighed and nodded. She was right. There weren't many options. Not Megan. They didn't talk often now, as Christine was worried about his safety. Not other coworkers and friends and relatives; she wasn't close enough to them. Not Lorenzo—too far away and still not trustworthy.
She lay with her back against his bare chest that night, her hair tickling his skin. One of his arms was curled around her. In the gentle afterglow, he finally forced himself to say, "You may take her up on a visit. And we will see."
She turned her head toward him. "Will you come?"
"I will go with you to Florida, but I will not be her guest. I will not see her, but I will be near. Is that fair?"
She kissed him. "That is fair. Thank you."
Two months later, he took her down there. It was hot and unbearably sticky, and his mask felt itchy against his flesh. Still, he tucked himself away in a cool, dark hotel room and worked on his compositions. Christine spent parts of the sunny days with Maddy. And then returned to him for the nights and evenings. They would walk along the sandy beaches, watching the waves. And people making fools of themselves as they attempted to surf. She gathered sea shells.
"Is everything well?" he asked her. "With them?"
"Yes. They're both nice. Peter is funny. He can cook pretty well. And they have these great dogs! Cocker Spaniels. Maddy has a pretty garden; maybe we could have one back home. But, yes, it's going well."
"That is…good." He didn't know if he was pleased or disappointed.
"Can I go shopping with Maddy tomorrow? I promise I won't get lost."
"Yes. Of course you may. I know shopping with Erik is not the most exciting of occasions."
She laughed and nudged him with her shoulder. "All you want to buy is black for you and yellow and pink for me!"
"Yes. Well, that is how it must be."
"Next time, you get yellow and pink clothes. I get black!" She grinned at him. "And tomorrow—you and I will go to Disney World!" The look of horror on his face made her laugh. "Just kidding, Erik."
"Hysterical." Half the creatures at that amusement park would not survive his visit, he was sure. Still, her happiness delighted him. And despite the circumstances, he enjoyed the trip. She seemed to do well in an unfamiliar location, which would bode well for future travel. He did want to take her to Europe eventually, tour the old castles with her. That was something they could both enjoy.
The day before they left, before he escaped without incident, she came up to him hesitantly. "Erik?"
"Maddy and Peter invited you for dinner tonight. They really want you to come." He didn't respond. "Will you?"
"That sounds terrible."
"Please? It'd mean a lot."
He turned away and continued to adjust his shirt sleeves. "Has she treated you kindly?"
"Yes. She's very nice to me." Christine took his hand and rubbed her thumb over the back of it. "I know you don't want to hear this. But…but I think one reason she likes me is that I'm the closest she can get to you. She wants to see you." A pause. "Come tonight. And if they are not good to you, we'll never see them again. I promise."
He grunted "It is going to be just…uncomfortable. And pointless. Chitchat. And I—"
"But if you're going to trust them with me, don't you want to see their home?" She knew the right things to say. He groaned. "Five minutes. Just say 'hi'?"
"Fine. Fine. We will do this wretched thing."
"We'll leave at any time you want," she said. "I promise."
Later that night, he stared at himself in the mirror before they departed. False face perfectly in place. A black suit that did not fit too loosely over his thin frame. Who cared what they thought of him? Perhaps he did a little, and that annoyed the hell out of him. She wore a blue and white checkered sundress that tied around her neck and fitted her waist perfectly. She was too beautiful. He could think of other activities he'd rather be doing that night and told her this in terms that were not vague.
She blushed. "We will do that again, too, Erik."
When they drove up to the two-story white stucco home that evening, the front blinds were cracked open. Someone was watching them arrive and doing a poor job of hiding it. He rolled his eyes. He did not want to be here. His stomach was slowly sinking with a feeling of disdain.
The yard was well landscaped with thick grass and a few palm trees. Peter greeted them at the front door, wearing white golf shorts and a navy polo shirt. Sandals and a digital watch. He was of medium build and height with a full head of grey hair. He looked like—everything that Madeleine had probably wanted when she'd escaped to here. The perfect picture of upper middle class normalcy.
"Hey, Christine! Glad you came." Peter patted her shoulder as she passed. It was entirely innocent but still made him glare slightly. Old habits died hard. "And Erik! Finally." Peter looked him up and down, his gaze finally pausing on his masked face. "Heard so much about you."
"Have you?" he dully inquired. Christine watched him, her eyes pleading for civility. "Well, Christine wished to come. So we are here."
"We've really enjoyed meeting her." Peter led them inside. Madeleine stood back, wringing a white dish towel in her slender hands. Her eyes were concerned, and her lips were pressed together. Perhaps she regretted her invitation. Did she fear he would step into this tropical heaven and destroy everything she'd built over the last forty years? Unaware, Peter continued, "Christine said you designed your house. You're doing it for others now, too. That right?"
"Yes." He began to nervously run his fingers together, unused to idle chatter. "They saw our home. And wished for similar designs."
"Fascinating! Now that I'm retired, I'd really like to work on mine. But I'm not great with those kinds of projects. Maddy can tell you about me hammering my thumb into the wall a couple months ago. Black and blue. Right, dear?"
"Yeah," Madeleine softly replied. "He did do that." Christine softly laughed. There was an awkward silence that he certainly made no effort to fill. Most of his life had been one long awkward silence, really….
"And you make your own music?" Peter finally continued.
"What kind? Oh, sorry. Can I get you something to drink? A beer? Soda?"
"No. Thank you."
"All right. Anyway, what kind of music?"
"Classical," said Christine. "Mixed with other things. Like jazz. And instrumentals. It's wonderful!"
"Wow! Maddy! All this time you never told me about him? My wife keeps her secrets well. Jesus Christ." Peter was half-kidding and didn't see the forlorn look pass over Madeleine's face. "I didn't know a thing. Well, it's good to meet you. Let me show you what I've got cooking over here. Got steaks. Hotdogs. But good hotdogs! Not that cheap stuff from the store. Some chicken for Maddy—"
Peter was oblivious to all of it. And that was for the best. Life had obviously come easily to him. A career. A happy marriage. As a result, Peter had no chip on his shoulder. No reason to dig up secrets or make idiotic assumptions or compete. He talked about his grill and sports excessively. But there were worse crimes. And Peter was kind to Christine. That was really what mattered, why they had come here at all.
During dinner, Peter said, "So you were both in a nasty car accident, I heard. Must have been scary as heck. Being in a foreign country."
"Yes," said Christine, picking at her sour cream smothered baked potato. "But we're getting better."
"Good. Well, you just let us know if you ever need anything. Medical. Legal. We know some good people."
"Thank you," Christine replied. She glanced at him. He gave her the hint of a wry smile; she returned it. He felt the warmth of intimacy at that moment, at sharing all these little secrets, no matter how dark they were. Then Christine and Madeleine took over the conversation. They talked of spring clothing. And Christine apparently wanted bangs. She told them of her volunteer work, singing, and they seemed interested in that. And her future schooling. In an emergency, they would be good to her. He felt this.
Madeleine asked him if he wanted more salad. If he needed more to drink. "No," he always said. He was fine. And he thought he would escape that dinner without more awkward dialog. Peter had settled on the couch with a baseball game, his feet propped up and another beer in hand. He headed for the front door. Christine stepped into the bathroom, so he stood alone in the darkened entryway, very ready to leave. A dog came up to him, so he scratched its ears.
And she came up behind him. He didn't acknowledge her until she spoke. "I was so happy to hear the news. Are you going to have a wedding?"
"We will have a quiet ceremony. Nothing elaborate. That is what she wanted." He still didn't look at her. Where was Christine?
"She looks much better than the last time I saw her. Healthier. And she can communicate well. I know you two take will care of each other."
"Do you think you'll…have children?"
He flinched and said with slight aggravation, "I don't know. How is that your concern?" He couldn't help but whisper, "Ah. Are you worried there might be a repeat?"
"No! No, I didn't even think of that. Erik. No." A brief silence before she added, "If you do, I just…I just wondered if you'd let me see them."
He grunted. "You really care that much?"
"Of course I do."
He shrugged. "I guess that is up to her. You see, Madeleine, I don't know you. I still don't care if I know you. But she needs people in her life. So if you are kind to her, you will likely see us. And, if you are not, we will disappear. That is how this works."
"Of course I'll be kind to her. I…love Christine."
"It's very easy to love her," he softly agreed. "She is-" He could not continue; he was not going to choke up in front of this woman. Another silence.
A hand touched his shoulder. "Thank you for coming tonight. It really meant a lot."
Before he could pull away, Madeleine released him. The pressure lingered. Christine came to his side. She and Madeleine hugged. Peter stood and bid them goodbye-"Great to meet you both! Take care! Come back whenever you want!"
And then they got out of there.
"They invited us for Christmas," said Christine as they climbed into the car.
"That is up to you," he said, holding back a grunt of irritation.
"We'll see. Our last Christmas was wonderful. Just us in the mountains. But—I would like to come back here someday, Erik. If that's okay."
"You will," he said. "You did well here."
In fact, she'd seemed so happy in Florida that he worried she might be despondent when he took her back. But-
"Home!" she cried out when they arrived, dropping her suitcase and running into the house. She spun around and fell on the sofa, legs in the air. The kitten hopped up beside her, and Christine gave him a kiss on his fuzzy head. They'd paid an older woman who lived down the road to take care of the creature for a week.
"Back here with only your grouchy Erik?" he softly asked. "And that little beast." He pointed at the cat.
"I love it here! This is heaven." She reached for him, and he came to her.
And sometimes he nearly did forget….
Several days before they planned to get married, he had a nightmare of being underground. Of endless torture and despair. Of where he'd be right now if not for her. It was a short dream but still horrifying. He awoke with a gasp and sat up, confronted by their spacious bedroom.
Her seashells sat on the dresser. A music box. Pictures of landscapes on the walls. Darkened mountains. Storm clouds over the green plains. A city at night. He kissed her head. Then he slowly climbed out of bed and went to their office. To a small silver file cabinet that they kept locked and hidden behind a desk. He opened the drawer and dug through the papers. Finally, he found it.
The Talking Corpse Chained to the Wall
There it was. Entirely real. His hands trembled as he read through it. How could this have been real?
Some things cannot be explained.
Perhaps that bothered him the most. He was of high intelligence and possessed many gifts. And still he did not know what had happened to him, what was out there lurking in dark corners where human eyes couldn't see. He did not understand. He stood and walked to the music room. He stared out the large window for several minutes, the diary entry dangling from his hand.
She came in and spoke behind him. "I still listen, too. We always will, I guess."
Her words startled him. They didn't speak of this often. "Yes. But I forget sometimes. That existence. It's fading." He held up the entry. "I had a dream, and I had to make sure."
She stared at him for a long moment. Lights from a car passed over them, causing the shadows to shift. Then she took a seat on the sofa and gestured to the spot next to her. He sat, and she embraced him. "Maybe you're supposed to forget," she murmured, stroking his dark hair. That, unlike his nose, had come in. He loved when she ran her hands through it. "Maybe that's what happens. Raoul is forgetting; I can tell when we talk. Maddy is, too."
"Do you forget?" he asked, leaning back.
"No." She shrugged. "But I think I'm supposed to remember that. To listen. Just in case."
His heart skipped a beat. "If you heard something, you would not chase it, right? You have done enough—"
"No. Of course not. But it's my job to be aware. To protect us. And…and our family, if we have one."
"Then I will never forget. It will not be your burden to bear alone."
"Thank you, Erik." She did sound relieved. "But…but you don't need to remember like this." She gently took the diary entry from him. "Don't torture yourself with this."
"How will I remember then?" he asked as they clasped hands. "If the memories are fading. And there is such joy. How?"
She smiled. "Remember that we fought a monster. And we won. Will you remember that?"
"Yes. I will never forget that." She leaned in to give him a slow kiss. Touch was still so magnificently important to them both. From the gentle to the healing to the frantic and fervent. They could never get enough of it.
They stared into the darkness outside for a few moments longer. She folded up the diary entry and locked it back in the cabinet. They went to bed.
But, true to her word, she always listened.
She listened on their wedding day. With a short white veil hanging from her golden hair, Christine glanced behind them and into the distance. He stood beside her on the top porch step, watching as she closed her eyes. A warm breezed tousled her hair and the lacy veil. Still, she listened. Until he picked up his beautiful new bride, carried her inside, and didn't let her go for the rest of the night.
And Christine listened when she first held their baby daughter.
She had desperately wanted to be a mother. But she'd feared that her mental weaknesses would make her an inept parent - if she drifted into space or had a panic attack when she was supposed to be watching the baby. The entire situation had made him nervously ill. He fretted about his past and own idiosyncrasies, and they'd had several arguments. But, after coming to terms with how much she desired a child, he'd had to make it work. He would not let that regret weigh upon her, another sacrifice. Another loss. If necessary, they could hire trustworthy help. And his work allowed him to be home most of the time.
After their daughter was born, he could never regret the decision. The child had Christine's nose and smile.
Still, they both feared that if—if the creature could return, it might choose to exact revenge on their offspring. What better way to devastate them?
The first night at home, Christine cradled the baby and closed her eyes, verifying that nothing lurked around them. She listened. Then she opened her lids and smiled, obviously feeling secure. Her fingers brushed against the infant's smooth red cheek. "She has your eyes. Look at her, Erik."
He spent an entire night guarding the front door.
"Everything is fine," Christine finally said. "We're safe. We can go to bed now. We'd better get some sleep before she wakes up again."
"I am waiting for them."
"Boys," he gravely replied. "Boyfriends," he darkly added.
Christine snorted. "Well, you'll have at least another fifteen years before they get here."
"Fifteen?! It had damned well better be forty!"
But none showed up that night, so he finally went to bed. In truth, he had been watching for anything abnormal, for any clawed hand that might reach out from the shadows and steal all this away. He had so much to protect now, so much to lose.
She listened the longest when they had their son three years later. Her brow furrowed, and she concentrated so intensely that he feared she would hurt herself. Her eyes were squeezed closed as she clutched the boy in her arms. Their daughter bounced up and down beside Christine, begging to view her little brother.
"Anything?" he asked, his heart skipping a beat. He watched the infant's blue eyes to see if they focused on anything that wasn't there. He watched the tilt of the baby's head, ensuring that their son wasn't listening to a voice that did not come from his parents.
"No." Christine opened her eyes. "We are safe. There's nothing here."
But she never stopped listening. She guarded them. And he took care of her.
If she were gone for too long, lost in her private mental space…lost in thoughts and memories and dreams and nightmares, he would take her hand. He would say, "Return to us, my love. You belong here now."
And Christine would always open her eyes and come back to them. She never faded out for very long. Too many people loved her.
A cat at his feet. A flickering fireplace. The lingering scent of dinner. He treasured the nights on the couch - when three warm, breathing, sleeping angels curled up against him.
No wonder it was so hard for him to remember the past. But he did. For her sake, he never forgot.
Even as all was safe. And all was quiet.
And they could always say with perfect certainty-