It was a gray late autumn day. Cold fog had rolled in off the water in the early morning and lingered in the afternoon, freezing mist to bare branches and a few stubbornly clinging leaves. In the distance, a lone dog could be heard barking.
Two men stood on a lonely hill in long coats and scarves, looking down onto a small grave marker amid a field of others. One man, slightly shorter and more muscular than his companion, bent to brush a few dead leaves off of the base.
The inscription in the stone read:
Emily Elizabeth Eames
Her dates of birth and of death had her at just over five years when she had died – nearly a decade past.
"She was beautiful," Arthur said.
Eames' fingers brushed the top of the headstone, then curled almost as if he feared to touch. He stood again, looking down on the grave with the weight of long years of guilt lining his face.
"She was the light of my life," he said, quietly.
Arthur said nothing, offering his comfort silently, and after a moment Eames went on.
"Her mother and I were only a fling. I was seventeen and trying to sort myself out with what I wanted, who I was. When she became pregnant..." he shrugged. "I told myself I could fit in. Be a good husband, a father... work a job in the factory like my father, and his father before him."
He smiled, despite himself. "I can't imagine you working a steady nine to five."
Eames shook his head. "No. In the end I couldn't be any of those things." He went silent, lost in his own thoughts, and the air seemed become more chill. Arthur ignored it, and when Eames spoke again his breath was visible in the air. "I started taking small jobs on the side. Petty theft, you know. I fucked around behind her mother's back a bit with my mates, but looking back, I think she was doing the same. Neither of us were happy. We fought all the time." He paused again and although his voice remained level, a tear slipped down his cheek and caught briefly in his stubble before falling. "The only thing good between us was Emily."
"What happened?" Arthur asked.
"A job went cock up, and someone sold me out." Eames stared at the tiny gravestone without seeing. "I sent Em upstairs to hide when I realized they were coming for me, but she must have heard..."
Arthur didn't have to imagine what had happened next – he had seen it replayed in part in front of him. "They're hurting him!" she had said, "Let him go!"
"They wanted to teach me a lesson," Eames said, his voice frozen in bitterness. "I think the idea was to set it up to look like a murder-suicide. My mates showed up to stop them from..." He stopped, swallowing. "But she was already dead."
Arthur said nothing, but placed a hand on his shoulder. Silent in his sympathy.
More tears slid down Eames' cheeks. He didn't brush them away. "What I wouldn't give," he whispered, "for it to have been me instead."
"She's at rest now," Arthur said, pulling him in. Eames' forehead came to rest on his shoulder, his body shaking in silent sobs. "She's done what she stayed here to do – Eames, she's not in any more pain. She's moved on."
And it was true. He hadn't seen the girl in the yellow dress, or felt a hint of her presence since that day, six weeks ago, when she had helped save both of their lives.
Surrounding them both were a small crowd of waiting people: some looking on with anger, some with sadness. Arthur ignored them all, and when Eames was ready they walked out of the small graveyard together, hand in hand. The dead could wait. Today, it was Arthur's job to help the living.
~ Fin ~