A/N: A few people requested a follow-up chapter to my one-shot and I felt a sudden wave of inspiration.
"I wanted to go on sitting there, not talking, not listening to the others, keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In a little while it would be different, there would come tomorrow, and the next day and another year. And we would be changed perhaps, never sitting qite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die, the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched."
Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca.
There was a strange hush over the house that summer, and strange groans and creaks developed in the floorboards and hinges. The effect was disquieting; it seemed as if the house was preparing itself for some great event. Sometimes, at night, when the smell of jasmine and the thick heat made sleep impossible, I felt as if the house were coming alive: as it the odd straining noise was some attempt at breaking free.
But sometimes, when I sat in the old rocking chair next to the bed we shared, I would watch Chuck's chest rise and fall and wonder whether the house was falling apart in sympathy. I leant forward in the hair, examining the greying hair of his chest, which peaked out from his pyjama top. It was pointless, of course. You could never tell from the outside, but slowly and undeniably, the loose hold Chuck Bass had on life was slipping away.
I had taken to watching him during these restless nights in this groaning house. There was some solace in the rise-and-fall of his breath, and the moon glint off the two rings he wore: the one that marked his marriage to Blair in its proper place, and the one I gave him in a less vaulted spot on his rights hand. He had taken to fiddling with it during these long summer days, as we all gathered in this house in which he had chosen to pass his final days.
The day we arrived in this house, I sat with Eric on the porch and watched Chuck potter around the garden that Blair had tended, and where they still had their invisible dalliances to this day. I never joined him there: the way I never asked him where he went on the anniversary of her death. These little mercies I granted him gladly.
"How did he take the news?" Eric asked, toying with a desultory scone before taking a sip of the bitter coffee Chuck insisted on drinking.
"Obnoxiously," I intoned with a slight smile.
Eric snorted. "That sounds about right."
I cocked my head to the side, fancying that I could see his lips moving slightly as he pondered the rhododendrons.
"You know," I said carefully. "He's almost…impatient."
It was possible to be honest this way, with Eric – when it was just the two of us.
"You think he's…" Eric searched for the words, before he fell silent. Following the vector of his eyes, I saw he was looking at my wedding ring.
"Do I think he's hoping that he'll see her soon?" I asked wryly.
"You've always been a little too quick on the uptake for my tastes."
Once more I considered the way he moved around the garden, as if he were impatiently waiting for some big event, as if it were the night before graduation, or mere minutes before the end of an interminable wedding toast.
"I don't think he's letting himself even hope for it," I mused. "But how could he not? I mean doesn't everyone think about what will happen to them on the other side of the great…whatever?"
"Very eloquent." Eric swallowed dryly, losing his appetite. "You know…I'm about as jaded as they come. But, if there was ever a pair that could manage to find their way to each other…" He paused. "I can never understand the way you just don't let it bother you."
As Chuck crossed over from the flowers and moved towards us, I stood up, brushing the crumbs from my skirt and trying to think of a way to approach him that wouldn't provoke him to growl "I'm not an invalid." In these moments, when my tongue was tied and my hands wrung my skirt – in the moments when I couldn't make heads or tails of him: those were the moments when I felt her close to me, shaking her head at my shortcomings, pressing her hand to my shoulder and pushing me towards him.
She was always the more daring of the two of us. And he was coming towards her, as fast as he could.
The nights were getting worse. It was undeniable. He was dreaming of her; it was written on his sleeping face that always looked so young when he was unconscious. Leaning forward in my rocking-chair, I waited for the inevitable signal.
He moved his face towards the vast expanse of the bed I refused to sleep in these days. Each day, I gave him a new excuse about how I had fallen asleep on the couch. But the fact of the matter was that at night, I sometimes fancied I could see her, perched on the edge of the bed, running her hand over his fevered brow, before kissing him.
"Soon," she'd whisper.
"Blair," he'd respond, before lifting a sleeping arm as if to catch hold of her before she disappeared once more.
Five years of marriage: five years borrowed from the life she should have spent with him. It was no more than a blink against their twenty-five – and the childish days before when they had fooled themselves into thinking that they could belong to anyone but each other. But I had stolen them from her, and for that she kept me from the bed they had once shared.
I had struck a deal with her, the day I married Chuck. I would keep him safe for her until the day she could pull back the invisible veil and take his hand in hers.
I made the same promise.
Elizabeth was the first to arrive with a box under her arm and red-rimmed eyes. She was the very picture of Blair, and for that reason Chuck loved her just a little more fiercely than his other children. But, even this recollection was hard for him. Far easier to sit with Henry and see only Blair's blurred edges.
We waited at the door for her to climb out of her Prius (never one for limos, much to her parents' chagrin) and climb the long path to the house that had been decorated by Blair. He dropped my hand at the sight of her – ran down the path and clutched her tightly. She braved these moments with good humour: with the play of conflicting emotions as his heart tightened and the recollections hit him in the face.
"Daddy," she said simply, adjusting her box before shooting a glance over her shoulder. It was then that we noticed another figure, negotiating the path with the hard mouth of someone unused to being outdoors. "Grandma wanted to see you. I hope that's okay."
For a moment, Chuck and Eleanor stared at each. It was always this way between them. For the longest time, they would search each other's faces, as if in a recognition that transcended the physical. Of all those who had known Blair, Chuck and Eleanor still had the haunted look of loss in their eyes and stamped across their features.
With a startling solemnity, Chuck offered Eleanor his arm, accompanying her to the door. As always when she saw me, her lips pursed – the only sign that she had seen me at all.
He had told Eleanor about the wedding himself, putting on his best cufflinks. To this day, I have no idea what passed between them, only that he had returned with red eyes and what looked like a red welt on his cheek. He refused to let me tend to his war wound.
"Nothing that I don't deserve."
But, for some strange reason she came to our wedding. She sat in the front row, staring at me with eagle eyes. As always when she looked at me, I felt too dowdy, too dumpy to be in front of people.
At the reception, I made the mistake of approaching her – thanking her for coming. Finally, with all the awkwardness of a young girl from Illinois trying to speak to the adults, I assured her that I was not trying to take Blair's place.
"My dear," she said, giving me the first of what would become her default disdainful glares. "Do not mistake my attendance here as some kind of peace offering. Charles knows exactly how I feel about this wedding. So you should know that the only reason I'm here is to remind him that he made vows to my daughter first." She paused, an almost malicious glint in her exhausted eyes. For an insane moment, I wanted to embrace the haughty woman who clearly despised me. "And do you know what he said?"
I nodded, and for a moment she seemed to reassess me. She had not known then, of the countless hours Chuck and I had spent discussing Blair, until I fancied that he wouldn't be able to think of anything more to say. But always, a new aspect occurred to him. She filled his mind, and he considered every moment they had spent together in exhaustive detail.
He spoke, and I listened. I listened and my scientific mind kept track of every contour until I fancied I had lived those memories.
When he married Blair, he refused to let go of her all night. He touched her white dress as if he couldn't believe what had been gifted to him by fate. Nate had stood up with him, of course.
"It was intense," he said, scratching his wide honest face. He had gotten better at sharing these stories with me. Although he still didn't understand why I was so interested. "They were real pains about it too. We had this whole plan about how they wouldn't see each other before the wedding – Eric, Serena, and all of us, we planned it. And they pretended to play along with it."
My husband had told me only part of the story, about how he and Blair had stolen moments away from the bridal party. About, how she had pressed her face into his shoulder and whispered, "I can't wait to be your wife."
"Quickie marriage in Vegas, then?"
"I can think of other quickies we could be having right now." One minute a romantic, the next a minx.
Of course, Nate didn't know about those stolen moments in dust-filled rooms in the grand house they had rented in Connecticut. All he knew was that when he left Chuck to sleep the night before the wedding, he returned in the morning to find Chuck and Blair asleep in each other's arms.
"We had sentries, posted at the door" he commented, smiling at the memory. "I still have no idea how they managed to pull it off."
"Love finds a way," I said thoughtfully. "In this case, possibly through a window."
"Blair?" Nate laughed aloud. "Climb through a window? Are you insane?"
At those moments, I was almost jealous of the off-hand way they would refer to her. So careless with their memories, so perfect in their recollections. I always felt as if I were ten steps behind them, despite my close attention.
At his wedding to Blair Chuck made this vow:
Anything I know about love, I learned from you. But one thing I do know is that I carry your heart. I carry it with me, in my own. I am never without it. I carry your heart in my heart. Everywhere I go, you go.
He would have followed her anywhere. Until her plane crashed into the icy ocean and he had nowhere to follow her to anymore.
At our wedding, I wore blue and in his speech, Chuck thanked me for my kindness. Love comes in different forms, I know. But then, there are the loves that cannot be kept apart, even by the stars.
"Well," Eleanor said stiffly. "Don't forget that he meant it. Even I can see, he meant it."
I understood, now, why she stayed so nearby all these years. Neither of them would ever fill the space that Blair had left in the universe. They clung to each other the way the stars do as greater forces strive to pull them apart. Elizabeth's box was full of old pictures of Chuck and Blair. For a while, we all looked at the baby photos and the certificates that Elizabeth and Henry had brought home to their proud parents.
Eleanor and Chuck passed them between each other all night – long after Elizabeth had gone to bed and I had retired to my writing in the study.
They stayed awake all night, even as their eyes burned. They would not sleep until they looked at every photo. The strange superstitions of the bereaved have never made sense to me. But then, I'm not a poet. And I don't inspire poetry.
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).
Every marriage is different. I've never been comfortable with grand displays of romance. I'm someone who enjoys the affection of a shared newspaper or an early morning walk. My husband has given me jewellery, of course. But, he knows that anything too ostentatious would embarrass me.
In our house in New York, Blair's jewellery and clothes remain in the master bedroom, which she and Chuck once shared.
Three years after Blair's death, on the night of Elizabeth's engagement party, Chuck emerged from that dark, still room, with a beautiful diamond necklace. Without a word, he placed it around her neck. Then, kissing her once on the cheek, he left the room. She touched the diamonds, before shooting me a look.
"This was the first necklace that he ever gave mum," she said softly.
"It's beautiful," I said.
"It was more beautiful on her."
I looked at Elizabeth's pale shoulders in her elegant strapless black dress. I had learned by now not to give members of the Bass family those meaningless platitudes. They were too proud for that. Even good-natured, mischievous Henry would freeze up at any attempt at coddling. Instead, I offered her a smile and passed her the lipstick.
The day after the engagement party, while the rest of the house slept, I went into that room that Chuck had disappeared into. I usually avoided it, feeling an uncanny sense of intrusion whenever I opened the door and felt the rush of air escaping. It was superstition, I knew, but each time the door opened, I felt as if something escaped. Standing in the room, looking at the untouched mementoes of the life Blair had once lived.
I had promised myself that I would take only one look, before returning to those parts of the house that didn't feel out-of-bounds. Until I noticed a wristwatch sitting on the table; a man's wristwatch. As if this little detail had caused an irrepressible change in perception, more details appeared before my eyes: an engraved cigarette holder, a scarf draped over the back of the chair, and even a pair of cufflinks. Feeling slightly short of breath, I walked to the closet.
In the dewy morning light, it was suddenly clear to me. This room was not merely a mausoleum for the memory of Blair. Running my hands over the beautiful suits and ties that lined one half of the walk-in closet, I realized that Chuck had also left behind his exuberant old life in this dusty room. He had left all of his possessions with hers. He had shed his old life like an article of clothing.
Perhaps I had always sensed it. But, a part of me felt extraordinary melancholy at the sight of a life left entirely behind. It seemed almost cowardly, the way he had turned his back on these memories.
It was not until I gracefully stubbed my toe on the old wooden chest that I found them. There was something about the dark, carved wood that told me this was a newer addition to the room. Sinking to my knees I lifted the lid.
"What did you find?" my sister asked when I related the story. Despite her misgivings about the marriage, she had become acutely interested in my stories of the "old days."
"Paper," I said, my hand shaking slightly so that my tea spilled into my saucer.
"No…I mean…letters. Hundreds of letters."
She leaned forward eagerly. "Did you read them?"
"No. I mean. I opened one. And that's when I realized it."
"You're really not telling this story very well," she complained, still nursing a hangover from the previous night's activities.
She couldn't have understood how it felt; I didn't really understand it. I had heard stories of the grand, romantic love of Chuck and Blair, and it had been this fascination that had first drawn me to him. But, it was only now that I realized the truth of the matter. Not that he would never get over her: he had warned me of that.
"It was full of letters that he's written to her," I said finally. "Every day. Letters about the children, or angry letters – asking how she could leave him – or letters begging her to forgive him for…me. Basically, he's written her love letters. Every day since she died."
She reached for my hand over the table. "You knew it would be this way. You told me so yourself."
"I know. And I'm not upset. It just…" I looked out the window of the café we had chosen to discuss this morbid topic. "It makes you think, doesn't it? How unfair it is that love like that can just be taken away."
"But that's the thing, isn't it? Chuck's too stubborn to let it be taken away. He's holding onto it, no matter what anyone says."
There is still one person who can make my husband laugh, but it takes the arrival of his son, Henry, holding a bottle of whiskey – the Macallan Fire and Rare Collection from 1939.
Henry may be Chuck's carbon copy, but he is also an extraordinarily responsible husband, and a very kind man. From the moment he arrives, he bolsters his family – most particularly, the very shaken Elizabeth – and fills the household with laughter. It is rarely valued, the gift of making people happy by your mere presence. But, in moments like this, I thank god for Henry and the way he understands how to make his father loosen his top button and laugh.
They sit in the living room and drink the most expensive bottle of scotch that money can buy, without even thinking about saving some for later. That is the one benefit of a death bed visit: there is no point saving the bottle. Not that Henry has ever been the type to save the bottle.
I paused at the door, drawn to the sound of Chuck speaking with such enthusiasm. They are sharing business exploits and youthful indiscretions and for a moment, I imagine that this must have been how it was when they were younger, and Blair sat on the couch with them, with her legs over Chuck's lap. Elizabeth and Henry both report being deeply embarrassed by the cavalier affection that their parents showed each other. They say that now with a deep sense of regret, wishing more than anything that their parents could still embarrass them at their school plays and birthday parties.
But soon enough, even Henry and Chuck turned to more solemn matters. "Why did Grandma Eleanor come up to see you?"
Chuck snorted. "She was probably disappointed she didn't get to kill me herself, so she wanted to be a witness at least."
"Dad." That's the thing about Henry: he disarmed people with his humour, but he possessed the uncanny ability to draw out those hidden thoughts that people scarcely want to say out loud.
"All those diet pills and vodkas have managed to convince your grandmother that your mother is hanging around, waiting for me to kick it."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure," Chuck admitted. "But she told me that no matter what her personal opinion of me was – and trust me, there were expletives involved – she knew that if there was a life-after-death or something, that nothing would stop Blair coming here. For me."
"Is that what you think?"
I could imagine the way his hand would spread over his forehead, as if the thought of it had given him a splitting headache. I had seen the gesture only twice before, and it had always been accompanied by mentions of Blair.
"I don't know," he said, in a somewhat guilty voice, as if he could scarcely believe he was confessing this. "I guess we'll see soon enough."
The words that he refused to say settled in the top corner of the room, like a moth. I hope so. But it was in my husband's every gesture. He had been patient for his children's sake. He had offered Henry guidance, had offered Elizabeth his arm at parties. He smiled and coddled and welcomed the small pink faces of Henry's children with the appropriate awe and happiness. But his children knew as well as the rest of us that a part of him had been waiting for this day to come: so that he needn't feel guilty about his impatience.
"More scotch?" Henry asked softly.
"Have we met?"
As I walked down the hall, I fancied I could see Blair slip through the crack of the door and join her boys in the living room.
We took our turns falling apart; that seems to me to be what families do.
I found Henry in the pool house with a golf club, smashing each of the windows. When our eyes met, his chest was heaving and his usually immaculate clothes were in disarray. He looked around wildly, as if he was searching for an invisible crowd. But there was only me, wide eyed at the sight of his unravelling.
"He's not even…He's not fucking trying to hide…He's not trying to stop it…Can't he…I mean we're not done with him. Isn't that…Doesn't that count for anything?"
"You and Elizabeth are the only reason he's lasted this long."
Henry leant on his golf club, the rage slipping away from him and a sheepish embarrassment taking its place. "You helped," he said grudgingly, running a hand through his dark hair.
I took his comment, folded it up and placed it carefully next to my heart.
When Serena and Nate arrived, Elizabeth dissolved into tears, hiding her face and hurrying from the room. Chuck made to follow her, but Serena put a soft hand on his forearm.
"Let me," she said gently.
Chuck gestured widely, allowing her to follow after Elizabeth. As Nate greeted me with his usual warm kiss on the cheek and bone-crushing hug, Chuck watched us with a smirk on his face. I had asked Serena about Nate's friendship with my husband, not quite making sense of what drew two such different men to each other. She had shaken her head and told me that I couldn't hope to understand. When they were sixteen, Blair had told them that they were part of something special, and in due course they had become something special. It was that simple.
I found Serena and Nate engaged in a whispered conversation that evening, in the hours when the sun sets the leaves on fire. Serena was wrapped in a shawl, despite the summer warmth. Looking up and down the hall, rubbing her elbows, she shook her head at Nate: still the picture of good health, still beautiful even as his hair became undeniably grey.
"I'm telling you, Nate," she whispered. "Sometimes I see her in this house."
"It's just your memories."
"But I mean…if she were going to make an appearance…"
Nate frowned, before reaching out to cease her hand's methodical rub. "Have you been drinking Eleanor's Kool-Aid?"
They laughed, but as the rounded the corner in search of Chuck, the strange creaking noise seemed to increase in volume, causing Nate to jump.
Each night, the same words. I waited for them, if for no other reason than they assured me that my husband was still alive for his late-night dalliances with his wife.
They settled in the kitchen, Nate, Serena and Chuck. Chuck had taken to sleeping during the day, but found himself taken over by a sudden wakefulness during the midnight hours.
"Are you scared?" Serena asked Chuck as they nibbled on whatever was leftover from dinner.
Chuck shot her a strange look. "What on earth do I have to be scared of?"
There was a long pause.
"He's Chuck Bass," Nate quipped, easing the tension and undoubtedly earning a few dinner rolls aimed for his head.
"There's something wrong with us – all of us," Serena said, shaking her head. "We shouldn't be laughing."
"Laugh or cry," Chuck said simply. "What's coming is coming."
"You may be a morbid asshole," Nate said fondly. "But I am going to miss you so much, man. I can't even believe that this is goodbye."
"It's the end of the Non-Judging Breakfast Club," Serena said mournfully.
What happened next was so uncharacteristic of Chuck that I couldn't help but peak into the room, feeling a thrill of voyeurism at the sight of three quarters of the Non-Judging Breakfast Club toasting the passing of another of their cohort.
With a determined look on his face, Chuck reached out and took Nate's hand and placed it on top of Serena's. "There. That's the Non-Judging Breakfast Club."
For a while, Nate stared at his hand over Serena's. Both of them had worn wedding rings – in Serena's case, three different times – but it didn't really matter. By placing his hand in hers, Chuck had guaranteed that Blair's vision lived on.
Standing up, he offered them another one of his smirks. "I'll catch you guys in the next life."
When he came into hallway, he found me standing there guiltily, eavesdropping. With a wry smile, he offered me his hand and led me back upstairs.
With that simple salute, I'll catch you in the next life, Chuck slipped into a feverish sleep. For three days he writhed and babbled, until a stillness overtook him and the rasping sound of his breath entering and leaving his lungs was all that could be heard.
Every scheme, every jealousy, every petty disappointment, and moment of savage loss: all of it came down to the in-out of a rasping breath.
But every moment of love, every moment of fatherly affection, and every promise kept with dignity lingered in the faces of all those loved ones who gathered around his bed, for no other reason than they loved him too much to allow him to die alone.
They all thought me morbid, writing down the story of the woman who I had never even met, whose plane had crashed into cold waters long before I had known Chuck Bass. But I had never seen it that way. The hole that Blair had left in the lives of everyone in this room, and most of all Chuck, was a sign of hope.
Chuck and Blair's story may have ended in loss and separation, but it was only possible to tell it in a series of love letters.
When it happened, it happened suddenly.
Chuck's breath hitched, and he lifted slightly from the pillow, his eyes open for the first time in days.
"Daddy?" Elizabeth whispered.
But Chuck's eyes were elsewhere: focused on the point before his face, where the air was opening up to show the vision of whatever it was that followed this life. Perhaps it was the mental trick of a body shutting down, but Chuck's face broke out into a luminous smile.
"I see her," he said, his voice choked with tears. "I see her."
It may have been the treasured memory of a mind shutting down, but all I know for sure is that Chuck Bass died with a smile on his face and one word on his lips.
 "I carry your heart with me" by Edward Estlin Cummings.