Last chapter. I've enjoyed doing this one and hope you've enjoyed it too. If you have, leave a review. If you haven't, what the heck are you doing reading the 8th part of it - you should have given up on it by now! Thanks for reading.
"I think you should sit down," said Mitchell, resting a hand on Kieran's arm.
Kieran shook it off, staring Mitchell down. "Don't tell me to sit down. I want to know what's going on. I demand to know what's going on."
The three housemates exchanged uneasy glances. George's said as clear as day, 'not me, I just met him' and Mitchell's managed to convey 'you're much better at this sort of thing than I am'. Annie sighed. It looked like it was down to her; she supposed she did know Rosie better than the others.
"Mitchell met Rosie in the hospital, Kieran," said Annie softly. "When she died, Rosie didn't fully pass over and we found her and brought her here to keep her safe. We've been looking after her till we could find how to help her through to the afterlife. She's a ghost, Kieran."
"A ghost?" Kieran sat heavily down on the sofa, the three others bracing themselves for disbelief, shock, distress – almost anything but what followed. A slow smile spread over Kieran's face. "But that's marvellous; she can come with me." He beamed, showing white, even teeth. "I can't hurt her any more and I can look after her. We can be together always. I can have my little girl back."
"Kieran, no," Mitchell stepped forward, alarmed. "It may seem the ideal solution now, but think about it. Think about the way we live – about the way you know your life will be now – and ask yourself if that's any way for an eight year old to be living. She will be eight years old for ever. People won't be able to see her, but they'll be able to see you, and eventually they will ask why you don't age. You'll have to keep moving from place to place and she'll have nothing: no school, no friends. And you won't be able to hide what you are from her for an eternity. Annie says she has her suspicions about me and she's only been here two or three days. Kieran, life isn't easy when you're a vampire, you can't take care of a kid too."
There was a shocked gasp from the man in front him and all eyes turned to the staircase. Rosie slowly descended, face stricken and contorted with the effort of holding back tears.
"Daddy?" She crept towards Annie and clung to the top of her leg, Annie stroking her hair to comfort her. "I heard your voice upstairs, when you shouted."
"Rosie, darling," Kieran reached out to her but stopped when she recoiled from him, holding tighter to Annie, her eyes round and fearful. "Oh my God. Don't be scared, Rosie, it's Daddy."
"You're a vampire. I heard Mitchell say it. Like on Young Dracula and stuff. You are, aren't you? And so are you." She turned wide blue eyes to Mitchell. "I knew you were something scary." Mitchell looked back silently, wishing he knew what to say to make this easier for her; figuring he was best saying nothing at all. "I could feel there was something strange about you when I met you. You felt like he did when he came to visit the last time. When he hurt me." Her fingers unconsciously went to the part of her arm that she had shown Annie.
Kieran choked back a sob. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I just...I couldn't help myself. You just... I..." His voice tailed away as his daughter stayed concealed behind Annie's leg, the other ghost's hand resting protectively on her head.
"I think you both need some time to get used to this," Annie murmured, looking to Mitchell for support, but even he with his decades of experience had nothing like this to fall back on for help.
"Vampires don't have to be bad, darling," continued Kieran, ignoring Annie's attempts to defuse things. "I can still be your Daddy. I can still look after you."
"A vampire's life is full of secrets, Kieran. This is only the first of many. You can't even think about keeping her with you or it will get worse and worse." Mitchell's voice was filled with urgency. "There are so many things I haven't even told these guys and they are the best friends I've ever had."
"I know," Rosie nodded, ignoring Mitchell's interruption, "Mitchell has helped Annie look after me. I don't think he likes me very much, but he's looked after me anyway. He's not a bad person, I don't think." She looked shyly up at him, disarming him – he hadn't expected that verdict from Moaning Myrtle.
"You don't know me too well yet, kid," mumbled Mitchell, lapsing back into silence at a savage glance from Annie. "What?" he mouthed at her, as she rolled her eyes back at him. And again, "What?" towards George who was looking at him in disbelief.
"Something really bad happened to me, Rosie," Kieran squatted close to her, getting down to her level and talking eye to eye to her. "Something very bad indeed and I didn't ask for it to happen. But I never stopped loving you and Mummy. I'd never have left you if I could have helped it; I wanted to come home, but I just couldn't."
"But you hurt me," she whispered, teardrops welling in her eyes. This time Annie didn't think she meant the bruising to her arm but something much deeper than that.
"I'm sorry," Kieran barely breathed, tears starting to fall down his cheeks. "Oh baby, you don't know how sorry I am. I would have told you if I could, but I couldn't. I promise I couldn't. It was easier if I just left you and mummy alone to forget about me."
"But you left us. You just left us and you didn't say goodbye. You didn't tell us why or anything. And mummy misses you. If you could have told us something, instead of just disappearing. At least I know now, but are you ever going to tell Mummy? She won't even have me with her now." Rosie's voice finally failed as she thought of her mother all alone, and the bitter tears started to fall.
"Oh darling," and as Kieran moved towards her once more, she went to him, arms outstretched. If he winced slightly as he realised how insubstantial she was none of them commented on it, and they all tried carefully to look anywhere else than at the father and daughter reconciliation unfolding beside them.
"Look," said George breathlessly and on the wall behind them, near the chimney breast, a white door had appeared. Light seeped from round the edges and there on the door they could see the plaque: Rosie's Room.
"I needed to know why you went, Daddy," she sniffed, "why you left us without saying goodbye. I can go now. Annie's told me about my door and now I can be properly dead and when you and Mummy die we can all be together again: Annie says so."
Kieran was staring at the door in horror. "No! Rosie, don't!" He tried to hold her tightly, to squeeze her to him, but even now she seemed less material somehow, as if she was getting ready to go. "We can be together. I'll look after you, I promise. Only don't go – I can't bear to lose you."
"You haven't lost me, Daddy. You just got me back. We'd never have seen each other again, but this way we got to say goodbye properly." Her eyes brightened. "I want to go. Really I do. I've seen Annie and she's sad a lot of the time. Lonely too. I don't want to end up like that, Daddy. Please let me go."
Annie ushered George and Mitchell through to the kitchen, leaving Kieran and Rosie deep in conversation, her blonde head close to his darker one, as the door hung next to them, light creeping round its edges - a foreboding presence in their midst. Annie turned to say gently, "Don't leave it too long will you, Rosie? I left mine like that once and by the time I came back it had gone. Don't leave yourself in limbo, if you do want to go."
George and Mitchell sat glumly at the table while Annie bustled about in her own special way. Occasionally she would glance over at the door, wondering what was going on in the room beyond. For a while they could hear the low hum of conversation next door, then a few snatches of louder, more emotional voices and then Rosie appeared in the doorway.
She wanted to say goodbye to them before leaving. She hugged each of them, even Mitchell, and clung to Annie as if her heart would break. The bravado slipping, she was once again a very small and very scared little girl, but she walked through the door bravely, pausing only to smile at Annie and wave weakly to Kieran. For a moment, Annie thought she'd turn, run back to them; that she and Kieran could work something out. Maybe Rosie could stay with them and he could visit at weekends? Mitchell and George wouldn't mind. Would they?
But Rosie bit her lip and walked into the light. For a moment she was silhouetted in the doorway, and then the door swung shut and closed with a gentle click.
At the funeral at All Saint's a few days later, Christina sat in a wheelchair watching as a small coffin was lowered into the ground. She was desperately weak and pale, but she had insisted on attending and her parents were beside her, making sure she was comfortable, that the blanket over her knees was just so, that she wasn't overtiring herself. Kieran's parents were there too. Of course they should be, Christina had insisted – they were Rosie's grandparents and even if Kieran had vanished again – no more visits to the hospital - they needed to be there to say goodbye. They couldn't help their son's behaviour; they were grieving too.
George had joined the mourners, discreetly standing to the back of the ranks of friends and relatives who had turned out to celebrate a young life lost. A few of her classmates were there, solemn as they came to grips with their first experience of death. Her headmistress and a few past teachers too, since it was still the holidays.
Annie was beside George, unseen, but crying raw, desperate tears. She had become so fond of the little girl – had harboured faint hopes that she could stay, become a fourth housemate, be company for her. Sad and lonely, Rosie had said, and that description ate away at her. Was that how she had seemed to Rosie? Did she seem that way to George and Mitchell too? She hoped not, but she wondered if she would be as accepting of her door, if it ever came again. A part of her longed for it – for an end to it all. How would she ever cope with the decades and decades that Mitchell had endured?
Mitchell stood by the wall, watching from outside the graveyard, unable to set foot on consecrated ground and uncomfortable even with what he was seeing and hearing from a distance. The figure beside him was shrouded in a big coat, trying not to be recognised by parents and in-laws, absorbed in his own private grief and also barred by his nature from the graveyard where his only child was being buried.
When the service was over and Christina had dissolved into tears, her mother holding her tightly in her sorrow, Mitchell laid an understanding hand on Kieran's sleeve. "Time to go, before anyone spots you. Come on," and he led the man back to where his Volvo was parked along the lane from the church.
Kieran stumbled alongside him, half numb with shock. He had struggled to come to terms with Rosie leaving him, but the little girl had been as determined in death as she had been in life and she had gently but firmly got her own way.
Kieran took one last look back to the graveside and scanned the hearse and the black ceremonial cars which were being loaded with family and friends, off to a wake that he couldn't attend. One last look at the parents who were struggling to deal with their son's desertion: with his disappearance. He slipped into the passenger seat.
George and Annie joined them shortly, sliding into the back of the car, Annie still mopping tears from her cheeks and George looking glum. "It was beautiful, mate, could you hear any of it?" George asked.
"A little," replied Kieran. "Not all of it, but enough. Thanks."
"Where will you go?" asked Mitchell. They had offered him a place to stay for a while, until he got on his feet, but he had refused. "I don't know. Back to Belgium, maybe. The temptation to see Christina would be less if I was far away."
He had arrived back at ICU a couple of hours after Rosie had left, the nurses looking sidelong at him, as if expecting him to start throwing up at any second. It hadn't been norovirus, he assured them; the cleaner guy had way over-reacted. He was fine; maybe a dodgy burger or something? They tried to keep him out but he was insistent – couldn't they see he was fine? Norovirus would have laid him flat for days.
Maybe there was something in the theory that if people weren't charismatic before they became vampires that they became that way afterwards, as the nurses were worn down, and eventually allowed him in dressed in scrubs and gloves. "So much as a cough and you're out of here," he'd been warned.
Kieran had recounted the whole tale to Christina, from beginning to end, omitting nothing. He had bared his soul, assuming he even had one left. She had stirred in her sleep when he got to the part about his transformation into a vampire and again when he had cried about leaving; about how he thought it was best for all of them; about how sorry, how truly sorry he was that it had come to this.
"It's nice that you come and talk to her," one of the nurses on duty had beamed. Not Emilia, nor even Vicky. He didn't have the heart to make a note of the name on her badge; he wouldn't be back. "She's conscious some of the time now, you know - lucid, even. She might well be hearing what you are telling her."
"Will she remember?" he had asked, and the nurse had shrugged and left.
As he bent to whisper in her ear the name of a restaurant in Brussels where an Englishman down on his luck could earn a few Euros of an evening, he was sure her eyes flickered open for a moment and the hint of a smile crossed her face. Maybe she would come looking for him. Maybe she'd not even remember he had been there. But either way, he had kept his last promise to Rosie.