Well, here is the last vignette. A big thanks to all who have stayed with me through "When All is Lost" and "Amongst the Living." These characters have become like family, and it's a little sad to let go of them. The vignettes have probably been one of the biggest challenges to write, and I'm so happy that you guys have enjoyed them.
To those who are reading "Martyr," I'll try to update within the next couple of weeks. To those who aren't, I thank you for all your support throughout these vignettes.
And thanks to my wonderful friend and beta MadLizzy, who truly improves the quality of everything I write.
Read and Review!!!
It wasn't long before Eva began to sense that something was different. Christine could see it in her daughter's eyes from a fairly early age. When they went to the park, zoo, or other family-friendly place, Eva would watch other people with intense interest. Or, more specifically, she would watch the fathers.
Christine vaguely remembered being intrigued by mothers at a young age, observing the mysterious women comfort crying children or help their daughters pick out clothing. Her father always said that her mother was still watching over them both from heaven. Of course, as Christine became older, she'd understood the concept of death. Many children had similar experiences, whether their parents were deceased or separated.
Still, Eva's situation was a bit more complicated. She had a father. And he was physically present in her life. He just never came out into public with her. Christine delayed giving her an explanation until a day arrived when it became…necessary.
She and a four-year-old Eva were sitting under an autumn-colored tree with a patchwork quilt beneath them. Christine was reading a magazine, a cool breeze whipping against her face. Eva had been watching several crows hop around and peck for worms; she was probably waiting for one of them to say 'nevermore.' Her attention soon turned to a family of four eating a picnic lunch.
Christine glanced up just in time to see Eva tiptoe over to them. She arose and quickly followed as Eva approached the father, never quite knowing where these situations would lead.
The man had dark blond hair and glasses perched on a longer-than-average nose. "Well, hello there," he said with a smile. "Aren't you cute?"
"Hi there, sweety. Would you like a cookie?" asked the mother. She looked at Christine. "Can she have a cookie?"
"Um. Sure," Christine replied. "Thank you."
But Eva wasn't interested in the chocolate chip cookie. She stood there and continued to stare at the man with a blank expression. Then, Eva reached out and half-grabbed, half-slapped his long nose.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, lurching back in pain.
"Eva!" Christine shouted in horror. She ran over and scooped her daughter up. "Eva! No! You know not to hit people!" Eva burst into tears. "I am so sorry about that," Christine continued. "I can't believe…she's never done that to anyone."
"It's all right," he said with a chuckle as he continued to rub his nose. "No harm done." His wife and two sons were mashing their lips together and trying not to laugh. "It is kind of big, huh?"
"No, it's not," babbled Christine. "Your nose is just fine. She shouldn't have done that. I am so sorry." Feeling ridiculous, she ran off with a crying Eva on her shoulder. After grabbing her magazine and the quilt, Christine carried Eva to the car and snapped her into the safety seat. Eva continued to sob as Christine climbed behind the steering wheel and took several deep breaths. When they both finally calmed down, Christine asked, "Why did you do that? You know better. You know to keep your hands to yourself."
Eva mumbled something between sniffles that Christine couldn't make out.
"It didn't…come off," Eva repeated.
"His nose…didn't come off."
Christine sighed. "Well, of course it didn't. It's like yours and mine. Your nose doesn't come off, does it?"
"No. But he's a boy," Eva protested.
"Oh…. Just because your father has a different face doesn't mean all boys…or men do. Can you understand that, sweetheart? Most men have faces like us. Okay?"
"Yeah…." Eva was staring out the window, her eyes glistening. "Mommy?"
"Can only dads…with noses come out? And mine can't?"
"No. Yes. I mean, no. I…." Christine hesitated. "Eva, your father doesn't want to come out during the day. It's because people have been very mean to him because of his face. He was hurt very badly by people. That's why he doesn't come out with us."
"Why are they mean?"
"I don't know, honey. Some people are bad. And some people just don't understand."
"But he could go with me. And if people be mean, I'll say…'stop it!'"
Christine felt her eyes tear up. "I wish it were that simple. But your father went through so much that…it would be very difficult for him to meet other people now. Sometimes things aren't fixed that easily."
"Why?" A pained expression was forming on her little face.
"Because sometimes…sometimes when people have very bad things happen to them, they can't forget. But you know what, Eva? We're all so happy together in our house, and that's wonderful. Even after everything, he loves both of us very much. And he writes beautiful songs and teaches you so many things. That's what you should be happy about."
"Yeah…." Eva paused. "And he comes out at nighttime."
Christine smiled. "Yeah. He does. He'll come out with us at night sometimes."
Christine was worried that Eva might say something upsetting to Erik when they came home, even if she had good intentions. But Eva merely grabbed one of her coloring books and climbed up beside him on the sofa. Erik patted her head and allowed her to color beside him while he worked. She would glance at him every so often, a slightly wiser glint in her dark eyes.
When Eva turned five, Christine began the process of socializing her. They continued to home school her, and Christine had ordered some advanced learning material off the Internet. Still, Eva needed interaction, and Christine finally enrolled her into a children's music class.
At first, Erik was disgusted. "They will teach her incorrectly," he complained. "She will be ruined for music."
"It's only for a couple of months," Christine replied. "If it's ruining any of our teaching, we'll pull her out. Maybe we'll stick her in dance class." He muttered and grumbled but did nothing to prevent Eva from attending.
On Eva's first day, Christine was permitted to stay during the hour and keep an eye on her. Or rather an ear on her. Eva was shy at first, curling her arms up against her stomach and watching the other children with wary curiosity. Finally, another little girl shared a miniature drum set with her, and Eva took it with a grateful smile. She only made one reference to her father all day. "My dad sings really good."
Christine allowed Eva to go by herself over the next few weeks. Erik was grouchy at first, sitting on the couch with a scowl and drumming his fingers on the armrest. If it had been nighttime, he probably would have followed his daughter to class. Christine sat down beside him and patted his leg. "Everything is fine."
"They are likely brainwashing her."
"Eva's too smart to be brainwashed. We'll be lucky if she doesn't say something condescending."
"I hope she does," he declared. "They should be well aware of their inferiority."
Christine rolled her eyes. "You know," she seductively began. "Time without Eva means more time with your wife."
"Indeed?" He reached for one of the educational books on electricity. "I shall read to you then."
She glared at him until he kissed her. If there were any changes in Erik brought about by Eva, one of them was a gentler sense of humor. He was still sarcastic, but his comments weren't quite as …uncomfortably dark as they had been. At the beginning of their marriage, he'd frequently make 'jokes' that involved killing someone. And even though she believed he was kidding…well…it still put Christine on edge. Since Eva, though, he'd developed a sense of humor that didn't involve morbidity.
Usually. When he wasn't mad at someone. Or as long as someone wasn't jogging too close to his property.
Erik relaxed, and they managed to enjoy their afternoon together.
As Christine feared, Eva was a little advanced in her class. "I know all the notes," she stated several weeks later. "I know everything the teacher says."
"Do you want to quit and find another class?" asked Christine. "We could try putting you in a music class with older kids. Would you like that?"
"No," Eva replied. "I like knowing more. And I like Hannah and Lauren. And…I like two boys." She giggled and paused. "Is that okay?"
"At your age, yes," Christine replied with a laugh. Just until they try to kill each other over you. "But maybe you shouldn't share it with your father."
Even if Eva wasn't learning anything, Christine kept her in the class for the social interaction. A class with older kids might be more stimulating, but Eva would have a harder time making friends.
Christine continued to be cautious when it came to Eva telling other people about her family. She thought it was better not to demand Eva stay quiet about Erik; Christine didn't want Eva to be ashamed or to think there was something wrong with her father. So she just gently encouraged privacy and kept an eye out for any problems.
One evening, Christine casually asked, "Do you tell the other kids in your class about your dad?"
"I say he can play music," Eva said, curling up on her pillow with a white stuffed rabbit.
"Do you tell them that he looks different?"
"No," she softly replied.
Christine smiled. "Your father would be very happy that you don't tell them about his face."
"I don't want anyone to be mean to him…like you said."
"Me neither," said Christine, giving her a one-armed hug.
"Is everyone mean to him?"
"No. There are nice people. But sometimes it's very hard to tell if someone is going to be mean or nice."
"Hannah is nice." Eva paused. "Can she come to my house?"
Christine's heart skipped a beat. "Probably not, angel. Remember how we talked about your father not wanting to meet other people? He only wants you and me in this house, okay?"
"Okay. But can I go to her house? Her dad is a fireman."
"You might be able to do that," she replied. "But let's still not tell Hannah that your father has a different face. Tell you what. If you ever really, really want to talk about it with anyone, ask me first, okay? Is that a deal? You'll tell Mommy first?"
"Yeah! And you can make sure they won't hurt him. No one can be mean."
"That's right." She kissed Eva's forehead. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
Christine departed with a sense of peace.
Years ago, she had wondered if she and Erik could completely assimilate into society. But there had already been too much damage done—too much pain and too many scars. Eva could take her place amongst the living, though. She was going to be okay.
"Boys are yucky," Eva declared upon emerging from her class the next day. "One tried to steal my hat. And Lauren said they have cooties." She dusted off her purple sunhat as though it might be infested.
"Well, your father will be happy to hear that." Christine paused. "Better yet, let's still not talk about boys in front of him at all."
Eva giggled. "Yeah. He calls them…vile…morons." She paused. "What is a…vile moron?"
"Something you should never call people," Christine replied. At least when Erik cursed in front of Eva, he did it in French.
When they arrived home, Eva became quieter. She was always more reserved around Erik, and Christine guessed it was both out of respect and slight caution. Erik had never come close to laying a hand upon either of them, but he would occasionally still yell or growl in a frightening voice. It was likely that Eva sensed she had to be more careful with her father than she did with her mother.
"Did you enjoy your music lesson?" Erik asked as she sat beside him.
"Did you learn anything you did not know?"
Erik bristled. "And what is that?"
"Hannah taught me to…roll my eyes so they're gone. Like this." Eva concentrated and then managed to roll her eyeballs back so that only the whites showed. "See?"
"Oh Lord." Christine shook her head.
Erik chuckled. "Good. At least it was a useful lesson and did nothing to affect your musical abilities."
"Can you do it?"
"No," Erik replied. "And I believe I have enough facial attributes to frighten people without doing so." Eva stared at him in silent confusion, and he softly sighed and changed the subject. "Tonight we will see something different. I shall show you a lunar eclipse."
Eva bounced up and down. "Like in the book?"
"Yeah. I want to!"
Eva was easy to please when it came to Erik; she only wanted his attention. It was good for Erik because he didn't have to exert large amounts of effort into gaining her affections. He could simply be loved.
Erik stepped out with Eva that night, and she grabbed his hand, never seeming to notice how cold his skin was compared to her own. Her other hand held a small telescope. Erik turned to Christine. "Do you wish to join us?"
"I'll be right behind you," Christine replied, wiping off the last dinner dish.
"Mommy, come see the eps!"
"Eclipse," Erik corrected as they headed out the door. He'd never been one to find child-speak cute. "It is a lunar eclipse."
Christine soon followed them outside and smiled at the sight of them under the stars, both their heads tilted upward. She came to stand beside them, and Erik took her hand, entwining their fingers together. Somewhere between light and dark they thrived.
They thrived in the penumbra.
Some might say that he had committed questionable acts in his lifetime.
But one crime of which he was never guilty was taking her for granted.
Of course, he no longer went into convulsions when she kissed and touched him. Just as the worst years of his life had shaped him, so had the best. He'd received thousands of kisses upon each inch of his anatomy. Her scent…the soft curves of her body…the feel of her hands travelling up and down his scarred back after lovemaking were now all familiar. He had come to expect physical affection and was able to reciprocate it with ease.
But never once did he forget that he would have been long ago dead without her. He never pretended that he could have made it by himself, and the sight of her still sent a wave of calm over him in his darker hours. Christine remained his joy, peace, and sanity.
He had grown fond of the gentle predictability. He knew he would wake up to his wife at his side every morning, breathing gently on his neck with one arm wrapped around his torso. He knew Eva would run up to him with one of her books every evening with a hopeful smile. He knew he would sit maskless across from both of them at the dinner table every day amidst soft conversation, neither one taking notice of the strange way he ate.
Although, lately, he had noticed Eva glancing at his face. It wasn't with fear or disgust; she seemed to be in thought. Still, it perturbed him. After Eva was in bed and Christine returned to the living room, he asked, "Have you begun to tell her things of me? She stares at me, and I do not know the reason."
Christine hesitated as she took a seat beside him, running one of her hands through Cordie's fur. The cat softly purred. "Sometimes. She's beginning to notice things. She wanted to know why you don't go out with her."
"I do not want her pity."
"Erik, she's still young. It's going to take time for her to sort it all out. And I don't think it's pity. She's just…a little confused. But she'll be fine as long as you spend time with her."
"Ah. Well…." He supposed there was no way around certain issues. If Eva had never noticed her father had a less than desirable face, he would have been concerned about her intelligence. "It is as it is."
Christine grinned. "You'll be happy to know that she's decided boys are icky."
"And I trust you feel the same way?"
"Oh yes. Boys are very icky," she playfully replied.
"That they are."
Christine laughed and looked toward the back door. "Let's go out on the porch swing. It's so nice tonight."
Without a word, he arose and followed her outside and into the night. The swing had pleased Christine greatly over the last few years. They'd sat on it together for hours.
She collapsed onto the cushion with a happy sigh and stared into the distance. He took a seat beside her. The swing slowly rocked back and forth, and he heard her humming gently beneath her breath. After a moment, she said, "Erik? I think I may want to sing again in the next few years. In public, I mean. They're looking for singers at one of the new theaters…."
"I wish you to sing if it pleases you. So long as you come home to me every night."
"Well, I'd kind of like to come home with you most nights," she replied. "I mean, you don't have to see every performance, and I know you like your house, and--"
"I will come see you as often as possible. And Eva can witness her mother's splendor."
She smiled. "Yeah. I think Eva might enjoy the music, as long as I'm not away from her too often. And it might bring in a little money."
"Only if it pleases you." Money had not become a problem. His investments were continuing to do well. In case they failed, he had several new compositions that could be sent out under various names. He never wanted Christine to again feel as though she had to work.
She turned to the side and wrapped both arms around his waist, melding herself against him.
Some parts of his life could not be reshaped. He would never be surrounded by friends at a dinner party. He would never attend parent cookouts with Eva. But he had no desire for either. He would live the rest of his years quietly and surrounded by the only two people in the world whom he loved. And the two females in his life seemed content with what he was able to give them. If they ever wanted more, he would try with all of his being to make them happy.
Christine had closed her eyes, her cheek leaning against his shoulder. "My wife is tired," he stated. My wife. He would never grow tired of saying those words.
"Mm," she sighed. "Let's stay out here all night."
He flicked an insect off her arm. "The mosquitoes will dine if we do that. They seem to prefer you to me. And can you really blame them?"
She jumped up and brushed herself off with her hands. He chuckled. His Christine had survived kidnapping, hit men, and childbirth. Yet insects still made her squirm.
He stood. Placing a hand on her cheek, he leaned down and kissed her. She tilted her head upward and stood on her toes, wrapping her arms around his neck and bringing herself closer…as though she needed him. She needed him.
"Let's go inside," she said after he pulled back, the porch light making her eyes sparkle.
Christine took his hand and led him back inside. The door shut, and the light was turned off.
And he was alive. Erik was alive.