Disclaimer: Not my world, not my characters. I just love writing about them.
My first finished story, reviews welcome.
As they walked down the hospital hallway, Lucy watched Emerson from the corner of her eye. She had been trying to talk to him, to get him to open up to her since waking up from the coma, but he was as solid a wall for her as for everyone else.
"Emerson," she said, "I know I have to live on the island, but it's getting... lonely. I miss the talks we had. Could we go for a walk some evening, on the piers like we used to?"
He shook his head. "No. As long as you're a target it would be much too dangerous. But," he added, softening a little as her looked at her, "can I suggest a compromise? My apartment complex is fairly secure. I could pick us up some takeout. It would be... much less exposed, but it would get you off the island."
She smiled. "That sounds lovely. Now let's see if we can get some use out of that key.
It was days before they got their date. After finding that map in the cave, Emerson insisted that she not leave the island until they had more information about the 63s who might be nearby. No one trusted the doctor they found, so he was being treated like an inmate, only with more frequent interrogations. Everyone on their tiny task force plus some unwitting help from SFPD was kept hopping trying to find the 63s who were supposed to be nearby. It quickly became evident that many of them had not yet returned. She thought he had forgotten about his offer, until he showed up at her office at the end of a day, holding her coat. He looked a little more anxious and a little less surly than usual and she smiled. Still likes to surprise me, that's good. Maybe I can get him to talk to me after all.
"I'm glad you remembered," she said as she shuttled things off her desk. "I'm not sure I could face another MRE." Lucy tried to stay lighthearted, hoping for a pleasant evening.
Emerson smiled briefly, but then turned serious again. "It may be a long drive. I'll need to be sure we aren't being followed. It's been quiet for a few days now, but they may just be lying low." He handed her the coat, and she wondered if she was about to find the man she loved or find that he was gone.
After a circuitous drive, they pulled up to a tall apartment complex with an underground garage. Emerson swiped a pass and the guard in the booth waved as he drove in. They parked, and walked towards the bank of elevators, Emerson carrying the bags of food that had been waiting in the car. Lucy heard other footsteps and Emerson pulled her sharply around a concrete support. A man walked by, towards the elevators, and Emerson waited for him to get on one before they continued. They took an elevator to Floor 6, and then he led her to the stairs where they walked up another two flights. She thought about making a joke about possibly excessive caution, but one look at his face told her now was not the time. The main hallway on the 8th floor was deserted and soon he had unlocked his apartment door. He motioned for her to stay at the door, drew his gun, and disappeared inside. A minute later he was back, holstering the gun. "It's clear, you can come in."
She stepped in and looked around. The apartment was sparsely furnished, and most of what there was looked barely used. She struggled to find something to say. "It's a... nice apartment. Very... uncluttered." She took off her coat and found a hook to hang it from.
"I spend most of my time working. Not much of a chance to make any clutter," he said. "Why don't you have a seat, I'll put the food out." He cracked a smile and added, "I think you'll like it."
She sat demurely on the couch and looked around more. Some of those years that she'd missed had been spent here, maybe she could learn something about him from it. No pictures on the wall, no plants. A couch, a bookcase. Oh, what are the books? She stretched a bit to try to see the titles... Hmm, interesting. And what are those textbooks on the bottom... She jumped when he cleared his throat behind her.
"Dinner is served," he said.
"Oh! Sorry, I was just interested to see what you've been reading. You seem to have branched out quite a lot."
"I find learning the language helps with understanding the ideas. Language can shape the brain in surprising ways."
Ah, language textbooks! And the all thought of the books was driven away as she smelled dinner. "Lee's! They're still open? It smells amazing!"
"Yes, I thought you'd like it. I hope I remembered your favorite – ginger tofu stir-fry and the mushroom fried rice?"
"Perfectly. From processed vegetable lasagna to Lee's - you certainly know how to treat a girl."
A couple of hours later, Lucy was chasing a few fragments around her plate and listening to Emerson talk about Yi Hwang and Neo-Confucian philosophy. He'd seemed a bit rusty on conversation at first, but she had a nearly endless supply of leading question and patience. There was still an undercurrent of awkwardness and anxiety at the table, though. Any time there was a lull in the conversation, she would find him watching her with that worried look on his face.
When even the last of the crumbs had disappeared, Lucy suggested a move to the living room, and Emerson went for it. She sat near the middle of the couch, but instead of sitting close to her, he took the far end. The evening had been mildly successful so far, from her point of view. He'd been carrying on a non-work-related conversation, mostly. On the other hand, he seemed to be avoiding any kind of first move. The dinner and the talk had been her idea and now he wouldn't even sit next to her. What is going on here? I know he cares about what happens to me, but maybe... over 50 years he just stopped loving me? I never even asked him if there was anyone else... no wedding ring... 50 years is plenty of time for him to be a widower by now. All of that flashed through her head as she realized that he was not going to sit close to her.
"Emerson, I have to admit to another motive to fishing for your company, "she began. He looked a bit startled, and then... was that guilty? "You've been so closed to me since I... showed up. We used to share thoughts, feelings, dreams. Up until tonight, all you've talked about recently is work. I like working with you, but what is going on with you? What's been going on with you since I..." She trailed off, not wanting to say "since I left."
He wasn't looking at her anymore, he was looking at the carpet. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then shut it again. He stared at the carpet some more, and took a deep breath. She decided to continue being patient with him, but she didn't have much longer to wait. Another failed attempt at speaking and he suddenly stood up. "I have some things for you," he said, and disappeared.
Things? What things? He was gone for a minute or two and returned with a cardboard box. "They're... the personal things I found in your office. All the work went in the main storage with everybody else's, but this... I just didn't want these to stay there." He looked at the box for a long moment, put it down on the couch next to her and returned to staring at the floor from his end.
What could possibly be in this box that's making him so grim? She lifted the lid gingerly and peeked inside. A scarf she remembered was sitting on top, folded neatly. A cardigan she'd kept for chilly days. A picture frame with a picture of a young Emerson looking sharp in his uniform. She glanced up at the older Emerson, but he was still looking at the carpet... guiltily? At the bottom of the box there were a couple of souvenir paperweights that had been on her desk and... a tiny box that didn't look familiar. She picked up the lid, and understood.
"Emerson," she said, softly, gently. "There's something else in this box. Something I didn't leave."
Still staring at the floor, his voice suddenly full of all those years of loneliness (and something that might be guilt?) he said, "I bought that for you two days before you disappeared. I was still working up the nerve." She looked down at the engagement ring with its tiny diamond that must have cost so much of a rookie cop's wages in 1963, and back up at Emerson. His eyes were shut tight, but he didn't seem done.
"I used to try to get rid of it. Every year, on the anniversary of your disappearance." He took a deep breath. "I would take it down to the docks and try to... to throw it in. I was so angry! At myself for not giving it to you while I had the chance, and not being able to find you. At whoever took you away."
"And... angry at me?" she asked in a low voice. He looked at her now and she almost flinched from his eyes. They were the eyes of the Emerson she remembered, the Emerson she loved, but she'd never seen them like this before. She could see regret, fear, shame (it was shame that had looked like guilt, she thought) and she felt terribly sorry for dragging him through this.
"...Yes," he whispered, "Angry at you, too, for not coming back to me, for... leaving me." She reached out and covered his hand with her own. After taking another deep breath, he continued.
"At first I didn't throw it away because I thought, if I found you I still wanted to give it to you. But, the year I turned 40 I was going to try moving on. I took it to the piers and I told myself that you were gone, that I would never see you again. I was just going to drop it in, walk away, and forget, but I couldn't. After that, it was more about forgetting than anger, but I could never forget.
"When I saw you again, I was so... stunned I didn't think of it right away. It hadn't been a ring to me for years, it was just a talisman in a yearly ritual. A couple of days later, when you were still busy with Dr. Beauregard, I dug it out of the box. I looked at it, and then I looked at my hand, holding it." He looked down at his hand, and hers. "It struck me then, how long 50 years is and what those years did to me. And I thought of how you'd been looking at me, like you didn't recognize me and like you didn't believe I was who I said. I knew I couldn't... couldn't... I knew I had to put it away again." He looked into her eyes again and this time there was only sadness in his. "I'm sorry, Lucy. I'm sorry I'm a different man. You were taken away from your old life and I know you need to make a new one. I want you to have the ring anyway, not as... think of it as a souvenir from 50 years ago. I don't want it here when that anniversary comes around again. Please, will you take it with you?"
She'd wanted him to be open with her, she'd asked him what had gone on with him after she left. Her heart was twisted in her chest from hearing his answer. No wonder he'd closed her out. He'd lived with regret and anger for 50 years and had tried to protect her from the results. But he was still her Emerson, she could be strong enough. First, she needed him to understand.
"I will take it home with me, if that's what you want. Will you do something for me?" she asked, knowing that she had already asked more than she should from him tonight.
The ghost of a smile appeared on his face. "Anything."
She scooted closer to him on the couch. "Kiss me, "she said. She hoped that she could show him that his fears about being too old and too bitter were unfounded.
He froze briefly, then leaned in when she squeezed his hand. If she had any remaining doubts about his feelings, they vanished in the kiss. His lips were soft, and when she responded to the kiss, he brought a hand up to touch her cheek. He pulled away too soon for her taste, and looked dazed. "Lucy, - "
"Shhh. I forgive you for being angry at me, and all I need to make my new life is you. I went to work one evening and missed 50 years of your life. I thought you were a stranger, but I never want to miss another day, not another hour, now that I've found you again."
He still looked dazed. She reached over to the cardboard box and picked out the ring box. She held it out to him, and said "I believe you were interrupted by a mysterious disappearance. Why don't you get on with it?"
He blinked at the box and back at her. He picked up the box, spinning it in his hand.
"You said you regretted not asking," she said, "and if you still regret it, that can be easily solved." Still holding the box and never taking his eyes from hers, he moved from sitting on the couch to down on one knee on the floor. He tried to speak, then cleared his throat.
"Lucille, will you marry me?"
She'd meant to be serious about it, to show him that she wasn't toying with him; instead, she couldn't help smiling. He was bruised and battered but he had survived. "Yes," she said simply, and held her hand out to him.
He very gently slid the ring on her finger, and then caught her hand tightly and squeezed it. "Did I tell you once that I'd never met anyone else like you?" he said hoarsely, "In all those years, I have still never met anyone else like you." He smiled, a real smile, and kissed her again.