It was Thursday again.
But Thursday had long since lost its meaning to George. It had, over the years, become a day like any other day, whether it be Sunday, Tuesday, or even Friday.
Today he had gone into town, like so many years ago, and with the same purpose; to sell his paintings and sketches. And he still had some shaky, sloppy sketches under his arm, but he returned with his portfolio lighter than it had been before. He was dressed the same, the October weather still brisk and chilly.
But he was no longer a young man. His youth had run away a long time ago, with the girl he had met fifty years ago. Even then, he had started to lose the claim to youth. Age had come slowly, gradually, first with his hair, then his skin, and then his inner body, to his joints and mind, until age had taken him completely into its waiting arms.
He had embraced it, resigning to its inevitability. He knew, unlike so many others, that he would get his youth again soon enough. Still, there were nights when he found himself wishing he could go back to the days when his hands would not tremble, when he could paint with ease for hours and never worry about his joints.
He stepped off the bus, at the corner of the two streets his house was nestled in. He walked slowly, calmly to his house, a small whitewashed cottage he had bought years ago, the product of years of painting. He had long since left London and Finchley behind, his flat house soundly demolished with the rest of his poor artist's life. He loved his small house, the first real piece of property he had ever owned.
He sighed as he approached the steps up to the door. They were a small feat compared to the stairs he had to climb up to get to his room, but they always were such a painful precursor. He inhaled deeply as he braced himself, pulling himself up each step, his legs heavy. He fumbled with the keys in his pocket, before finding the correct one and slowly opening the door.
The door creaked into silence, no pet or person to greet him. He had lived for years as he always had: alone. He had never been bothered by it, accepting the silence as a friend long ago. He had dated a few women, but each of them never lasted long. Some said he only had eyes for the golden girl of his paintings, known only as Lucy.
Whether he did or not ,though, remained a mystery. He never told the world who Lucy was, even as he became the darling of the art world. Only a few knew or recognized the girl so prominently featured in his work, a girl who was at once an ethereal being and a regal queen.
He set his battered, old portfolio down on the table, heaving a great sigh. It had grown heavier and heavier in his arms over the years. He rubbed his left arm, sore and prickling from the effort.
What I need is some tea, he thought, walking to the cupboards and pulling out a dull copper kettle. He filled it with water and set it on the stove, turning the knob. He had long since converted to an electric stove, ever since he had developed a slight tremor. Today it seemed especially bothersome, as he splashed water all about the counters.
"Oh, bother," he cursed under his breath, wiping up the water. He pulled out a tea bag, setting it next to his cup. He looked out the kitchen window, the sun low and orange in the sky. He thought back to the golden day he had long ago with the sisters, the memory bittersweet in his mind.
For years after that day, George had spent his time painting pictures of that girl and the strange land she described, never naming it, only calling it 'Lucy's land." When asked why he would never reveal the name, he would simply reply that he didn't have the liberty to do so. It was Lucy's land, and only she could reveal the name.
Of course, this would raise question from everyone who she was. But George would never say who she was, either. Just that she would reveal herself to everyone when their time would come, further adding to the mystery surrounding him.
George laughed at the thought of being mysterious. In his mind he was nothing more than straightforward, as easy to read as the alphabet. But in the art world he was a dark figure, a recluse who drew bright pictures of a mythical land and had an imagination even Lewis Carroll would be envious of.
But the public are such fools, George laughed. He had declined a few simple questions, yet that was enough to make him a gloriously enigmatic figure.
His kettle whistled, shrill scrapes breaking his thoughts. He pulled it off, pouring it slowly, carefully into his cup. A few splashes ended up outside his cup, though he had managed to get most of it in. He dropped his tea bag in, letting the bag stew. He rubbed his arm, trying to get rid of the persistent pain.
He had lost his luster over the years with his age, but he didn't mind. There was little to tether him to earth. The promise of Lucy had always been in his mind, and had become more tantalizing than ever. He had no family left, officially – Aunt Shannon had died years ago, five years after his Lucy's departure. Shannon had died of a stroke, quickly and quietly in her sleep. He had arranged her funeral and affairs, sold most of her possessions and was left none of her fortune. She had passed from life as she had lived it; restrained and unremarkable, not sensational lest the neighbors would talk.
He picked up his cup, taking a small sip, lest he burn himself. It was strong, warm slipping down his throat. He walked over to his portfolio, flipping through the few sketches left. They weren't good, but certainly better than the ones he had first given Mr. Maler all those years ago. He sighed, noting another person who had gone and left him with one less tether.
Maler's Art Gallery no longer existed, gone for some thirty years. Mr. Maler had died some ten years after Lucy's fateful trips, leaving his gallery to a younger colleague. The colleague was a good man, to be sure, who knew the business well and had good intentions. Nevertheless, he eventually sold the gallery after twenty years as head, the small gallery long since floundering. George had, at that point, gained enough notoriety to not bother with a gallery, yet he still found himself sad at the thought of his second home empty and forgotten.
He closed the portfolio, took his tea and journey to the stairs, knowing it would be a long, long journey up them. He gritted his teeth and bared it, vowing for the twentieth time that week to move downstairs.
Five minutes later, he crossed the last step, his legs heavy and his arm even sorer than before. He felt exhaustion consume his body, his arm sore and slack. He pushed his door open and staggered to his arm chair, ready to settle in for the night.
The sun was now just a faint reminder on the hill, shadows covering his room. He set his teacup down on the nightstand, pulled a blanket over his trembling, cold body, and closed his eyes. He rested them, knowing that it would be a while before he would really go to sleep.
He must have fallen asleep, as he found himself waking up to the sounds of two women talking.
Damned followers, how did they get in here? he cursed, feeling his eyes slowly open. His eyes were blurred, cloudy with sleep. He saw a bright, yellow spot before him, and he wondered if it was the sun, and he had already slept through the night.
"About time you woke up," a familiar voice greeted him. George rubbed his eyes, his hands steady. He felt his heart leap at the sight before him.
"Lucy! And Susan," he said, turning to the dark-haired woman on his right. "Oh, am I dreaming?"
"Far from it," Susan replied, smiling. She was younger, younger than he ever remembered her. Lucy looked as she had all those years ago, her yellow coat pulled tight about her. The two stood before him, bright against the dim early morning light.
"Oh, Susan, I never forgot what you said. I just met your son, James, today. He misses you terribly," George babbled.
"Good. I knew I picked the right man to be his godfather," Susan said. "How are he and Karen doing?"
"Wonderfully. Apparently little Peter's engaged."
"I don't think he's so little anymore," Lucy joked. The two sisters laughed, as George sat, taking the two in. They were every bit as regal and lovely as before. He could have sat there forever, talking with just the two of them.
"Are you ready, George?" Susan asked, stepping towards him. He swallowed, knowing all too well what she meant. He looked towards Lucy, a comforting smile on her face. He would have followed her to the end of days. He nodded.
The two sisters held out their hands, helping him up. He felt steady, limber, painless for the first time in years. He looked about the room, at his old Narnian paintings, and at a small portrait of Lucy, looking every bit like her. He turned back to the genuine girl, and took her outstretched hand. She took Susan's, too, and headed to the door.
They walked, one step at a time, down the stairs, quick and easy. Susan reached out and opened the front door, their only obstacle. Before them was the stretch of road, long and empty all the way towards the horizon. At the end was the sun, rising bright and lovely before them.
They took their first steps, trepid at first, them more sure, as they walked away. George felt a wave of strange wave wash over him, as he realized it would be the last he would ever see of Earth. He wanted one last look, one look of the only world he had seen before. He tried to turn around, to catch one last glimpse, but Lucy pulled him forward.
"Don't look behind," she said, soft yet firm. "You'll miss what's up ahead."
And together they walked away, into the sun, where the shadows were chased away, and there was only light.
Wow. I cannot believe it's over. As it stands, this is my longest completed work of writing, and I'm so glad to have such a great response to it.
Thanks to everyone who has looked at this story over the past year, and for being so patient for updates. Seriously, just even seeing that people were reading it made me happy. Thanks also to anyone who has subscribed or favorited my story, as well. It was a little encouragement that meant so much. And thanks, of course, to the many people who reviewed this story. Special thanks to Miniver, who has left lovely reviews from the beginning, and EWCOM and where the wind blows, for being such constant reviewers. (I think EWCOM has reviewed every chapter of the story).
And last, but certainly not least, thank you to my betas, crazyelf22 and Jeff. You guys have helped me so much over the past year, giving encouragement and good opinions, and helping fix some flaws in the story. I really, really can't thank you enough.
I have a few things on the back-burner right now, including a Christmas one-shot, a cross-over piece, and a long work involving Polly. Hopefully I'll be steadily posting over the next few months. In the meantime, I plan to read and review some more fic. Also, I have put together an appendix to this story on my Live Journal. It's full of extras, like character sketches and rough drafts of certain scenes, and other odds and ends. The link is: http: / bottleofsmoke19. livejournal. com/8614. html (except remove the spaces, and add an extra backslash after 'http:'), or the link can be found on my profile.
Once again, thank you to everyone who has seen this story along for the past year. It's mean a ton to me. Til next time,