Author's Note: This piece is my personal "What if?" story about Chris finding the blank piece of paper twelve years after The Pact ended. As you'll see, Chris is thirty and he's getting married. But he's having some insecurities . . . I hope you like; and please review!
The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, Act I
A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her...but she can never forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account.
W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965), The Moon and Sixpence
Looking back, Chris had wondered many insane things which he'd never thought about until now, a day before his wedding. Why of all days did he have to come down with a bad head cold? Why did everything have to be so damn perfect? How come he couldn't say "I do" with certainty in his voice? How come he was incapable of sleeping a full eight hours undisturbed by troublesome dreams for over seven months?
"Can't we just elope?" He breathed into his sweetheart's ear the week before, when they were politely informed by the country club that it would cost them an extra twenty dollars a head to serve beef nagamaki and California rolls for appetizers.
Akiko had smiled at Chris and explained that if her parents caught wind of a rumor that an elopement was in the works, they'd call Chris from their home in San Francisco and force their daughter to translate all the Japanese obscenities they were throwing at Chris.
In a little less than eighteen hours, Chris thought. All of this will be over, and we'll be headed for our honeymoon in Bermuda. At least, I hope so . . .
"Try to sleep," his mother- Gus Harte- had coaxed him, gently pushing him towards his old room.
But Chris couldn't sleep. His body felt fatigued, but his mind was on fast-forward. Akiko was getting a manicure with Mrs. Okuda, her mother, in town; Mr. Okuda and James Harte were probably walking outside trying to escape Gus and Kate arguing with the wedding planner; and the telephone was ringing nonstop.
Frustrated, Chris locked the door, and slumped over his desk- which was almost as old as he was. He was scared to check his account- who knew what "funny" e-mail his friends from Princeton might have sent him? So, Chris emptied the drawers and cabinets and pulled out old computer software, swimming medals from high school and college, term papers, and photographs of him and Kate. He tossed all that crap on floor and began to gather it, when he noticed something thin and pale trapped between the drawer and the shelf beneath.
He carefully freed it from it's confinement and it was only in the light from his bedroom window that Chris knew what it was. He wondered why he'd kept it for all this time. He shouldn't have cared; but he couldn't doubt the power this one tiny piece of paper had.
Seven months ago, when he had first proposed to Akiko, he began having strange dreams in which he would hear a voice he hadn't heard since November 7th, 1997. Emily Gold's voice was resounding within his brain and with it, his own . . .
"Don't you understand what you're doing to me?"
"I'm not doing it to you. I'm doing it for me."
"What is the difference?"
He would awaken with cold sweat on his brow, looking around feverously for her. For Em. He hadn't forgotten about Emily, how could he when she had, by her suicide, maimed him for life? When he applied for college he was a year behind his classmates, Chris would never forget how during interviews and filling out applications he would sweat whenever he'd be asked whether or not he'd been convicted or sent to prison. When, as a young, budding diplomat he had been denied an internship because his seven-month stay in prison had gone on his permanent record. How uncomfortable he'd feel if one of his friends made a joke about "the riff-raff" in the Grafton County jail or any kind of penitentiary.
He had thought he had forgiven her, slightly, when things began to look up: him scoring his well-paid job in the US consulate in Japan, him meeting Akiko- an UN translator, his engagement . . .
"You used to say you'd do anything for me."
The day he proposed to her, he had told Akiko about Em. He didn't want to live a lie, and he didn't want to deceive her. He was bracing himself for her to mail his ring back to him and never hear from her again. But she called him later that night. "I really want this to work, dear," She said seriously. "I love you."
That night he was very tempted to tell her, "We belong to each other." But he couldn't. He remembered the last young woman he told that to every single day. He didn't want to be bound to Akiko; not after what had happened to Emily.
Chris had no serious relationships in college; he supposed that he was damaged goods. He was concerned that he'd drive a girl to suicide by unintentionally impregnating her or just doing something nondescript. But Akiko was different, she was more passionate than he was. In their relationship, he was a rock, and she was the ocean that would keep the rock afloat and gently care for him.
Chris unfolded the paper. It's only a piece of paper . . . He was about to take the paper to the living room to burn it when he felt a cold, angry presence behind him. Thinking it was only Akiko furious with what the manicurist had done to her, he turned around jauntily. What was there nearly caused him to faint for the fourth time in his life.
She was wearing his old sweatshirt over her jeans and sneakers, her hair was braided down her back, and she was also wearing a look of the utmost fury. Chris then noticed that his sweatshirt was splattered with blood.
"So," came Emily's voice from the strange apparition. "You're getting married?!"
Chris was struggling to catch his breath, it was like Emily had both hand around his windpipe and was slowly killing him. He just gulped stupidly.
"I thought we belonged together. You and I. Do you not remember all those times we shared? How you always wanted me? You were so willing to please me, even in death." She sneered at Chris, who only now was able to speak.
"Go away, Emily! Wherever you were before, go back."
He could see her disappearing and reappearing all over the room. Then he heard her taunting voice in his ear, "When you love someone you put their needs before your own, no matter what. When one has a bond like what we had, they can't escape that. I thank you for what you've done . . ."
Hadn't he thought those exact words whenever he was questioning his involvement in her suicide? Hadn't she played the victim more times than he could count just to win him over?
"Done for whom? To whom?" Chris shot back. "When you committed suicide, you brought me down with you. Only catch was I was the one jailed, abused, spat at. I suffered, but I had the strength to get on with my life. Look at you, too chicken, too proud to tell me the truth-"
He had said the wrong thing. Emily eyes flashed menacingly. She wasn't solid but, when she furiously punched the air the lamp on the bedside table crashed. "Who was too chicken to push the trigger, eh? It was only until my hand touched yours that you did it."
Chris winced but glared at her. "I loved you so much, and you knew it. But you never gave me the choice- I was bound by pity, by guilt, by shame."
"I was doing what was best-" She growled back.
"For whom, Em? Don't you get it? I wasted more than half a year in jail, and I was damn lucky I didn't get thirty-to-life. That's all I have to say to you."
But Emily stood before him and glared. Her eyes had the same feverous glint to them like they did whenever she discussed her suicide. "If you had followed me Chris everything would be alright. There would be no change to either of us. Don't you see? We would have been forever young." She pointed to the hole just below her ear, and unrolled her sleeve showing him what she had carved there. "I loved you that much."
"Love? Love cannot exist unless both parties are willing to reciprocate That's something you never learned, Em, as brilliant as you were. Also," he smiled sadly. "Didn't anyone tell you that you won't be able to love others unless you love yourself."
Emily turned to the window and gazed at her old home.
Chris murmured, "Go back, Emily. Remember long ago how you let me figure out by myself that there was nothing truly wonderful about that cheerleader, Donna DeFelice? You loved me even then." He closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears. "Let me move on. It'll work for both of us, trust me."
He felt a soft breeze near his cheek; he could've sworn Emily had kissed him good-bye. He turned his head, in hopes of kissing her one last time. He made contact with someone's lips. Then he opened his eyes and jerked back in shock: both Emily and the paper that was clenched in his fist had gone. Akiko instead had her arms wrapped around his middle and was gently kissing him.
His fiancée laughed, "Goodness! You look like you've seen a ghost. Are you ok?" She picked up the lamp and looked at the mess of papers on the floor. "I thought you were napping. Looks like your room was burgled."
They were facing the Gold's old house. Chris pulled Akiko away and led her downstairs. They both knew that house's history, but it didn't do to dwell on the past.
At the rehearsal that evening, when the minister asked Christopher to respond to his vows, for the first time Chris said, "I will" with such certainty and joy that he couldn't hold back a laugh. Everyone looked at him curiously; Chris could only guess at what Mr. Okuda would be saying about his son-in-law to his wife that night, but Chris could've cared less.
It was more than just two words to him. Chris was saying "I will" to a lot of things . . .
I will love Akiko better than I loved Emily.
I will not allow my past to determine my future
I will move on with my life.