LAST chapter. (Since I didn't get to post a chapter yesterday, and since the last chapter was pretty short and actionless anyway, I decided to post both of these at once.) Once again, thanks sooo much to all of you readers for your support and encouragement! Hope you like it!
Mort sat in front of his computer, an empty Word document in front of him. He watched the little cursor stick blink on, off. On, off. He didn't know why he was even sitting here; he had absolutely no intention of being productive, today or ever again. She was gone. He was free, sane, finally, but it didn't matter, it just meant he could very sanely count off the days until he died in this house. On, off. On…
It was growing dark outside, he noticed. The computer screen, with its backlit glow, seemed brighter than before. He rubbed his eyes, watching glowing green and orange cursors blink in patterns behind his eyelids. Maybe he should eat. Was he hungry? Not really, but he might as well eat. He hadn't eaten since…
There was a knock at the door. Three raps, brisk but soft. He froze. Only one person knocked exactly that way. And that was the one person he could be sure would never, ever set foot in this house again.
He got up cautiously, as if he was approaching a deer or a rabbit, as though sudden movements would scare the person at the door away. He eased himself down the stairs one at a time. When he had descended far enough, he could see a yellow cab waiting across the street. The car was still running, its driver obviously expecting the passenger to get back inside. He reached the ground floor and stood uncertainly before the door, feeling the floor press up on him through the soles of his shoes. Although almost a full minute had passed since the raps on the door, no further knocks came. The knocker was either standing silently and waiting, or had given up and gone away.
He stood, stared at the doorknob, then at his hand, as if hoping they would move of their own accord. But they both stayed motionless. No one was there to open the door but him.
So he took a breath, put out his hand, twisted, pulled. And in the sliver between the door and the wall, he saw silky black hair. He pulled more. Now there were big, tired-looking brown eyes, creamy skin that looked a little bruised, and a thin, careful smile. Marah. She was there, all of her, every perfect and delicate inch.
"Hi," he said, since that was all he could think of.
"Hi, Mort," she said softly.
He thought of inviting her in, since that was what etiquette said you were supposed to do for someone standing on your doorstep, whether or not you had driven her out of the house in a violent, schizophrenic rage the day before. But he glanced at the taxi, unsure.
She saw where he was looking. Then she looked at him. Without warning she put a hand on his face, letting her fingertips trail down his cheek and along the line of his jaw. Their eyes met and held. She seemed to be searching for something.
"It's only you, isn't it," she said, her voice only a murmur.
Something in his heart stirred, very faint. If his wildest dream came true, if she could understand… he quickly suppressed the thought. It was impossible. "Just me," he answered, barely moving his lips. And then, "I've done terrible things."
"You've been through a fight."
"Yes," he said. "But I won."
"For good?" she asked, her eyes looking into his even more intensely.
"Forever." He paused, suppressing the hope as long as he could. Then it burst out of him. "Because of you."
And like a miracle, she nodded. "I remember. What you told me, last night."
Finally he dared to reach up and cover her hand on his cheek with his own, feeling her skin like corn silk, like flower petals… like the best thing of all, just warm, living, breathing skin. "And do you remember this?" He stepped forward very slowly, very gently, just enough to kiss her forehead as lightly as a breeze.
Then he stepped back, looking at her, questioning. His face was almost pleading, but it was not desperate—his look was calm, as though he was expecting tragedy but had long since learned never to expect better. Without a word, she took his hand, squeezed it, and turned away. She walked back to the cab. He watched her, wanting to die.
But she walked not to the passenger side door, but to the driver's rolled-down window. The driver listened, nodded. "Eleven-fifty," he said in a bored voice.
Mort began walking slowly down his front steps.
Marah reached into her wallet and pulled out a single bill. "Keep the change," she said, "I'm in a good mood."
Mort's pace quickened.
The driver tipped his hat appreciatively and reached down , shifted gears. He began backing out of the driveway. Marah turned around, her cheeks glowing, her eyes wet and shining, her smile radiant. Mort was running now, and she broke into a run as well. They met halfway down the driveway, with arms thrown around each other, laughter and tears.
"God, forgive me," Mort said, his voice strangled with emotion. "Forgive me, Marah."
Her answer was to reach up and kiss him, long and full while he cradled her in his arms. He reveled in these feelings and touches and senses that he thought he'd lost forever. And he remembered words from long ago, words from the past that had been dug up, burned, and given new meaning: "All that really matters is the ending. And this one… this one's perfect."