This story was written for DevinTheFabulous as part of the second AHS Exchange over at ahs_exchange. As usual, lots of to jandjsalmon for beta-reading.
- 1 -
I woke up blank-minded to the sound of screaming. Not just regular screaming but some all-out inhumane howls of terror, Marilyn Burns style. I tried to block it out but it kept on going and going, that gut-wrenching sound.
Shut up, I wanted to shout, I can't think with you bawling like that, but my body would not fully cooperate. It felt sluggish and heavy, rooted to the floor, with no notion of time or place. It took an abnormal effort just to lift my eyelids. A ceiling appeared over my head, bland and unrecognizable. Even my field of view seemed narrow and blurry. Instantly, I became torn between sheer terror and irritation.
"You awake?" a sullen voice asked in the periphery of my vision. The next moment, a frowning boy was towering over me. It took a moment to place his face because of the distracting stain between his eyes, dark red and dirty looking. I blinked, clinging to concentrate, until a vague recollection occurred. Kyle Greenwell. Senior year football star. It was hard to recognize him without his trademark winning smile. And all things considered, that thing between his eyes, it didn't look a stain at all.
Before I could process that little epiphany, he offered his hand and I managed to extend an arm long enough for him to grab it. The moment I sat up, I felt something running down my shirt, warm and unpleasant. I looked down to find a gaping hole at the center of my chest.
"Shit, oh, shit," I gasped, tugging at the hem to get a better view.
"Yeah," Kyle concurred.
I met Tate Langdon on my first day at Westfield. I'd had no intention to play nice and make new friends, however adamantly my mother insisted I would. She was feeling guilty for making me move across the country on a whim, in a desperate bid to salvage her marriage, and I was determined to milk it for all it was worth. I'd already managed to get a new discman and an entire wardrobe out of it. I was confident that if I looked sufficiently miserable, consistently and applicatively enough, I would get a car for my sixteenth birthday. I didn't have anywhere to go in particular, but I sure liked the idea of owning my own wheels.
I had resolved to be invisible and harmless, an anonymous, broody wallflower lost in a crowd of shiny happy California teens. That was the plan, anyway. A plan I managed to mess up dramatically in a matter of hours by engaging in a bodily fight with some hysterical bitch who couldn't bear the sight of my smoking on the school grounds. It was a matter of principle, really. I had to fight for my right to make whatever adolescent mistake I saw fit, to the death if necessary.
To my dismay, that little stint didn't go entirely unnoticed.
"Nice showdown," Tate remarked as he sat opposite me, uninvited, at an otherwise deserted table in the cafeteria. "Is this how you make friends on the East coast?"
I raised my head from by book, intending to demand to be left in peace, but his impish smirk had me rethink.
"Aren't you gonna ask me to leave you alone?" he asked mildly, his voice somewhere between curious and bored, as he picked a French fry from my untouched plate.
"Wouldn't that be counterproductive to getting you out of my way?
"Smart, too," he grinned. "I like that in a belligerent loner."
Instead of huffing in exasperation, as I would have had this line been tossed at me from anyone else, I found myself smiling back. I could hardly justify it to myself.
I wasn't used to attract that kind of attention, or any kind of attention, from handsome, arrogant strangers. At the wise old age of fifteen-and-a-half, I'd never even had a second date in my life. The only guys to ever ask me out back home had been garden variety nerds and socially impaired brainiacs.
Tate was nothing like that. For one, he was gorgeous. However superficial and lame, it was something you couldn't not notice about him. He was charismatic, appealing, and obviously quite bright, but there was an edge of danger lurking beneath his angelic features that I found endlessly enticing right from those first moments.
From that day on, Tate and I were inseparable. I soon found there was a darkness to him, and underlying dissatisfaction that somehow mirrored mine. It was a while until I realized I had misjudged the depth of his.
I pressed a shaky finger to the wound and gasped again. It wasn't just blood. I was used to blood. I didn't make me fret one little bit. But what stained my fingers was plain revolting. I kept pressing and found I could feel things I shouldn't be able to feel, bones and gory stuff that belonged to the inside. I let out a long moan, childish and humiliating. For a moment there, I felt a brief twinge of sympathy for the Scream Queen that was still giving it her best, her ragged voice echoing in the room
It didn't hurt. Why didn't it hurt? It couldn't not hurt. Not when I could grab my own ribs and what was underneath, too.
"Is this a dream?" I asked to no one in particular.
"Do you remember anything?" Kyle huffed impatiently.
I racked my brain but nothing came to mind beside blurry darkness. For what I could recall, that day had been like any other day. I'd had breakfast with my parents, sat through an excruciatingly dull double period AP science class before hitting the books to study for my upcoming history test. After that, it was all dark fog.
"The library," I said, and Kyle chuckled humorlessly.
"What was your first clue?" he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm. He kicked against something metallic and a hardcover came flying past me, missing my head by a couple of inches.
Frankly, Kyle was starting to piss me off. I may not have had a complete grasp of the situation, but coming to only to find the inside of my chest was spilling out of me definitely qualified as the shittiest thing that had ever happened to me. Sure, we didn't hang out in the same circles and weren't anywhere near to the friend zone, but would it have killed him to act just a little less assholishly?
"Do you remember?" I inquired as curtly as I could manage in my addled state.
"None of us do," a female voice supplied. A blonde Goth chick half sat, half-dropped next to me. I remembered her. She'd bummed a smoke from me a couple of times, acted nice enough about it. Just another vaguely rebellious rich white kid trying and failing to stand out in a crowd. I turned to look at her squarely, my mouth dropping open in shock let out a little scream. Someone else was having a really bad day.
A part of her head seemed to be missing on the left side of her face, leaving a good chunk of her brain clearly visible where her skull had been blown off. It was nothing like Kyle's good clean wound. It was grotesque, obscene.
"Shit," I said again, staring at her missing temple. "We're dead."
That first day, after school, Tate offered to walk me home, as we'd found we lived in the same neighborhood. Him in an imposing mansion of a house he shared with his mother and sister, and I in a far less impressive two-story building that served as both lodging and a practice for my dad, just a few streets down for him. The conversation was so easy; I was reluctant to let it die down. In the end, I walked him back to his ridiculously fancy home, and he accompanied me right back again, telling me fascinatingly gruesome tales of all the creepy shit that had taken place in his house over time, killings and suicides, criminal arsons and unexplained disappearances. Murder house, he called it. I was entranced.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asked conversationally.
"Like, clanking chains and oooh-ing in the dark?" I chuckled. "I don't think so."
"No, more like... wandering souls? Stuck in limbo?"
I shrugged noncommittally, unwilling to irk him in case he felt strongly about the issue. "No responsibility, no consequences, no being called on your bullshit. Where do I sign?"
It became something we did, day after day, grasping for each other's company just a moment longer, ten more minutes, another five, neither of us wanting to be the one to let go.
On our first proper date, a couple of weeks later, he took me to the beach and we shared our detestation of the world over the sound of crashing waves. When night fell and the air cooled down, he wrapped his plaid shirt around my shoulders and kissed me under the darkening sky. It was my first real kiss and as first kiss went, it was as perfect as it got.
I knew the memory would stay with me forever, the feel of his warm fingers against the nape of my neck, the faint smell of cigarette smoke and pot mixed with a hint of cologne, the glint in his dark eyes as we broke apart to share a secret smile.
As Tate and I walked home hand in hand, I thought to myself I'd never been so happy in my life.
It was three months to the day before he shot me in the chest with an assault rifle.
"We're not dead! Don't you fucking say that!"
"They're gonna patch us up. Help will be here soon. We're conscious, that's good, right? We're gonna pull through. We have to."
"I can't hear the sirens. Can you? There should be sirens."
"Oh my God, she's right! We're dead. Aren't we?"
"Are we in Hell?"
"No. No way. I'm not going to Hell."
"Maybe they don't know where we are. We should make noise or something. Let them know we're stuck here."
"I can't go to Hell. I've always done everything right!"
"I can't hear anything. It's never that quiet around here. Something's not right."
"That's because we're-"
"Don't you fucking say it!"
"Her boyfriend. Her fucking creep of a boyfriend did this it."
And suddenly, I remembered.
- 2 -
It was funny to me, somehow, that even in death I ended up being a complete outcast. I'd been lonely before, felt ostracized, isolated and misunderstood often enough, but nothing could have prepared me to this claustrophobic wretchedness. Locked in a box with a bunch of teenagers who openly hated my guts. Which might be slightly overstated since most of the time, they settled for ignoring me. I rarely ever provoked them and only did when I'd reached terminal boredom, since I wasn't as well-versed on street fighting as what my Westfield reputation hinted at. I certainly couldn't take on five morons with nothing to lose, but it was an okay way to kill an afternoon.
Going to high school, you never expect to have to walk those hallways again after graduation. That is until you find yourself haunting your own little corner of the place. The library doors didn't open. You could break the lock, take apart the handle, it didn't do a thing. As for the windows, breaking them to pass through took you back to your starting point. It was so much more than being merely locked in a cell. The library became our everything. The whole world had been reduced to a cell.
When you find yourself in this situation, I guess you go a little crazy. I know I did. The moment I realized escape wasn't an option, I moved on to the next logical thing: slashed my wrists and stabbed my neck with a pair of scissors, plugged my wet fingers in an electrical outlet, hung myself to an upper shelf with a power cable. Each time I woke up unscathed to the sound of barely restrained snickering from the others, on the exact spot where I'd first regained consciousness.
That state we were in couldn't be defined. Was it purgatory, Hell, or something else? Had I really behaved badly enough to warrant a stay in Hell? I guess that depended on how by-the-book the admission staff upstairs was willing to play, so to speak. I'd been a pretty average teen and hadn't had an awful lot of time to sin in the first place. Lots of swearing, a little premarital sex, depending on your definition of what constituted a sexual relationship, and the obligatory white lies to the parents, nothing out of the ordinary. Was it enough to earn me a spot on the fryer? And for how long?
And believe me, I went through the entire paranormal section, bullshit near-death experience and all, without getting an inch closer to getting a sense of the situation.
For a few weeks, Tate and I were happy. Genuinely, effortlessly happy. We had each other. We got each other, finished the other's sentences, our steps falling in line of their own accord, sensing what he wanted before the wish came fully formed in his head. Had we been popular, we'd be voted most barf-inducing couple, no doubt. Our distaste for everybody else was a contributing factor to our welding together, but only peripherally.
We spent most of our time together, usually at his house since my father was vocal in his disapproval of our relationship. Not that it did much to deter me. My dad hadn't been my favorite person in the world ever since I'd found out he was having an affair with a twenty-something student-slash-nympho, months before mom walking in on them and the whole thing blew up in his face. So, he thought Tate was a shithead, I thought he was a shithead, we had no choice but to grudgingly agree to disagree, I guess.
I loved hanging out at Tate's for many reasons. The first one, of course, was the uninterrupted make-out sessions. Contrary to my parents, Constance Langdon didn't seem to care in the least if we didn't leave the door open and she never showed up unannounced to check in on us on bogus pretexts. And if she ever noticed we were smoking dope in there, she feigned not to.
Besides, the house was even more fascinatingly creepy from the inside, with all those morbid fresco paintings and constantly creaking wooden floors, and Tate's family fit the decor to a t.
Constance was very much a washed out Southern belle, always a smoke and a glass of gin in each hand but never a single hair astray from her perfect updo. She didn't like me much, I could tell, but she welcomed me in nonetheless, sizing me up with an affable sneer.
Her relationship with Tate was complicated. He claimed to hate her guts but seemed to fear her more, and she was never less than laudatory to his intention in my presence. Tate had two siblings, an older brother who'd had been born with a set of dramatic physical and mental defects and a younger sister born with Down syndrome.
And then there was Larry, Constance's boyfriend, whose presence continuously infuriated Tate.
I kept wondering what it could have been like, growing up in this singular family, in this striking decor, but never found the guts to ask.
Things started crumbling on the first night I was formally invited for dinner. If something had happened before I showed up that evening, Tate never said, but he seemed so far past 'tense' when he welcomed me in I was instantly on edge. Constance was uncharacteristically flustered and shaky as well, while Addie wouldn't come out of hiding. Only Larry sat serenely in the patriarch's seat, oblivious or unconcerned by the strain in the atmosphere.
From many similar dinners spent between my feuding parents the year before, I knew better than to disturb the quiet. The adults around the table didn't seem to have acquired the same knowledge. Every attempt at small talk was met with a furious glare, until Larry dared to address me directly.
"So tell me, Violet, how is Los Angeles treating your family? Constance told me your father was opening a practice in your new home?"
"You leave her the fuck alone!"
"Tate..." Beneath the table, I reached for his thigh, hoping to lend him some peace and quiet, and found his leg beating a frantic rhythm into the floor.
"No! Hell no! I forbid you to speak to her, dickwad!"
I chanced a quick glance in Constance's direction but she was frowning down at her plate.
"Really, Tate," she said as the silence settled, "This is no way to behave in front of a guest."
"Believe me, you're the last person I'd take a lesson in propriety from."
I took a big gulp of water, gave Constance an uneasy smile and tried to politely ignore Larry, given Tate's hostility to the man was so obvious you could feel it weighing in the air like a storm waiting to happen.
From that moment on, the conversation was clipped and reduced to the minimum. The seconds passed by, excruciatingly slow, with no distraction beneath the sound of silverware clinking against china.
Later, Constance refused my offer to help clear away the table and suggested I went to play with Tate in his room, her word. I was almost afraid to face him after that display, but from the moment I stepped in his room, he dissolved in apologies and we quickly made out.
Days after the incident, Tate's brother suddenly passed away from respiratory failure, on an ordinary October evening. From that moment on, everything suddenly picked up a fast pace in the general direction of Hell, until I grew so scared of him I had to walk away.
With nothing to do with my time, I read, and read compulsively, while the others plotted their miserable little revenge. Stephanie wanted to find Tate and get him to confess all his sins. Chloe just wanted to ask him why, as many times as it took to get a straight answer. Kyle wanted to beat him up, tear him to pieces, and destroy him completely. Kevin didn't seem to care all that much but he was willing to follow the others, out of boredom and idleness. Amir didn't get a say. With the bottom half of his face missing, he didn't get a say in anything.
That all sounded laughable to me. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Tate was dead, either by his own hands or law enforcement's. If he was gone for good or locked in his own little box, I had no idea. I tried never to think about it. I didn't like the conflicting emotions it made me feel.
Life went on, uneventful, save for the countless bitter breakups and effusive reconciliations between Little Miss Perfect and Kyle the Asshole. No one ever came to visit our cage, as if it stood on different plane of existence.
I didn't expect anything special to happen on Halloween. I didn't even keep track of time since every day was exactly the same. The others were conspiring among themselves as usual, while I was reading in my corner, just another delightful evening in the library from Hell. I didn't hear them leaving or notice anything was amiss until Amir came to stand before me, his grotesque face as unreadable as ever.
"What?" I asked pointlessly.
He jerked his head toward the door, and I tried not to notice the gooey stuff sliding from his jaw at the sudden movement. It didn't matter. Nothing matter compared to the enormity of what was happening.
The door was open.
I didn't think, I just ran. I couldn't miss my chance; couldn't risk having the door slammed shut in my face. The rare moment I didn't spend reading, I wasted them obsessing about breaking out. That was it. Finally. No bland high school hallway had ever looked so appealing. Suddenly, my mad dash to freedom was interrupted by an abrupt collision with a female body.
"Hey, watch out!"
"Sorry," I said before breaking in hysterical laughter. It was Halloween ; there were signs and decorations everywhere. Best day of the year to wander among the living.
"Stupid bitch," the girl I'd crashed into hissed as she pushed me out of her way.
"Well? Aren't you coming...?" I asked from the library doorway, seeing as Amir hadn't followed.
He shook his head, shielding his head with his hands.
"It's Halloween. Maybe no one's gonna notice," I offered unconvincingly. He shrugged and went back to sit at the far end corner, where his little group usually held council.
"Thank you," I said before taking my first step outside in the better part of a year.
The sun was high the air smelled of that special blend of pollution and ocean air. I wrapped my sweater tighter around my gaping wound and started hiking.
I took my time walking all the way home, filling my lungs, taking in everything, the people, the places, the billboard, as if there were the most fascinating thing to ever grace my sight. For a moment there, everything looked so new, vibrant and interesting compared to the stillness of the library I wanted to scream with joy.
I spotted my mom sitting on a deckchair out on the porch, staring into the empty with a wool comforter over her shoulders and a tall glass in her hand. She looked worn out, thinner than I'd ever seen her, her gorgeous red hair dull and undone. My little bubble of happiness exploded soundly. She'd been a force of nature, my mother, self-assured, fierce and beautiful. Watching her sit there with her light all dimmed was shocking and incredibly painful. I watched her raise her glass to her lips, her fingers like a white and bony skeleton hand.
My father was nowhere to be seen, his car not in the lane where he usually left it. Was he out with another of his too-young-mistresses? Was he permanently gone? Or just brooding in his office as he so often did?
They say the first step towards adulthood is to accept the fact that your parents are only humans and as prone to stupid mistakes as you are. If that's true, I guess I'd died before I was done growing up.
It was so tempting to walk to her, to take her in my arms and tell her everything would be okay. That I wasn't lost or gone or in pain. That there were worse fates than mine. It would hardly be the first time I'd lied to her. Maybe there was a rule against that, maybe there wasn't. I stood there on my toes, shaking with the need to go to her, tears streaming down my face.
But when I tried seeing the world through her eyes, or any sane person's eyes, I know what the sudden and unexplained reappearance of a long dead daughter sounded like. Insanity. I wouldn't be the one to give my dad a chance to have her committed.
I wiped my cheeks dried and turned away from my grieving mother.
Next stop: Murder House.
Tate was sitting on the low wall outside his house, on the exact spot where we so often shared a cigarette or a joint while conspiring against our parents and the rest of the world. His back was to the wall, his head hanging low, blonde curls shielding his eyes, gleaming in the afternoon sun. How had we gotten here? How could everything spiral so far out of control?
As I approached, Tate lifted his head, blinking into the light.
"Hi," he said, all faux-nonchalant.
Sitting straight, he shrugged and said, "Gotta start somewhere, I guess."
"Still, that's pretty weak. How about, 'sorry I shot you in the chest'? Or, you know, 'congrats on making it out of Punxsutawney'?"
He half-smirked at that, that same old half-smile, as if nothing had happened. It should have made me mad, but instead it felt oddly comforting. As if there was some normalcy left in the world, or as close to normal as things would ever get given my current situation.
"What are you doing here anyway?" I asked as I sat next to him. "Don't you have someplace to go? Seems like it's now or never."
"I was waiting for you." Before I could fully take that in, he added, "Let's take a walk."
"What's wrong with here?"
"Like you said. It's now or never to go sight-seeing, isn't it? Besides, the walls have ears around here."
"Even today?" I asked, looking around. Everything looked so ordinary.
"Worried your mother's gonna ask me to stay for dinner, aren't you?"
"She doesn't live here anymore. Come on. Let's go. Please?"
"Fine," I huffed, and let him lead the way.
I wasn't surprised that he'd chosen the beach for our little heart to heart. We'd spent many evenings there together, there were many memories attached to that sandbox, and only good ones. All our bad times at taken place back at his house, all our fights and that ghastly breakup.
I kicked off my shoes and sat next to him, leaning back on my elbows. The sand was warm beneath my feet, the air smelled good. Why couldn't I have died in a place like this?
"Where do we go from here?" he asked quietly, facing ahead instead of looking at me.
"Well, first you explain and then we find out if I believe you."
Tate sighed. "I don't know what to say. You know what happened."
"No, I really don't."
He shook his head. "You know the bullet point version. First that bastard Larry killed my brother and got away with it and then you dumped me. I was angry. I was high. I may have overreacted."
Disappointment zinged through me at his careless words. "If you're gonna be this full of shit, there's no point talking to you at all," I roared, getting to my feet.
"No, don't go! Violet, Please!" he asked, grabbing my wrist, and pulled me back down. Shaking him off, I sat up with my knees to my chest, ready to tear him apart at the first sign of a brush off.
"Talk," I ordered.
"I was angry. Crazy angry. I did a lot of blow, which didn't help, I guess. Especially after you left. I just... drowned, I guess. And the house," he paused, turning to look me in the eye. "The house helped. It feeds on that kind of bullshit, you know? It couldn't wait for me to really lose it. It was pulsing with it, all that hope for chaos."
"The house didn't kill shoot all those people, Tate."
"It did. It just needed someone else to pull the trigger."
"That's a little easy, don't you think?"
"Nothing about this is fucking easy! You want to punish me? You think I'm not being punished enough? Everyday, every second of forever I have to live with what I've done to you. Being apart from you. I thought the worst thing that could ever happen to me was losing you. To have you turn away from me. When it happened, I just lost my head."
"Oh, bullshit, Tate. You turned away from me. You disappeared. One day you were there and the next you were gone and what was left was not you. It was all rage."
He opened his mouth to answer but seemed to rethink. There was a long pause, until he said, "You may be right about that." Another pause, then, "All I ever wanted was to be loved."
"All I ever wanted was you. I certainly didn't want to be shot to death by my rampaging boyfriend!"
"I'm sorry. There's not a moment that passes when I don't regret hurting you."
He was crying, I realized. I felt oddly calm, as if I'd only been waiting for the words that whole time. I sighed and said, "Okay."
"Okay," I repeated with a shrug.
"No. I'm plenty mad at you. But it can't be undone, and I want to enjoy my night out."
"Do you want me to leave?"
"You can stay. Just don't piss me off."
He smirked, brushing away the tears. "I'll try."
Afterwards, we were silent for a long time. I laid back until my head hit the sandwatching him do the same thing out of the corner of my eye. It kept turning in my head; that secret life he'd had without my ever having a clue.
"You asked me if I believed in ghosts, the first day we met."
"Yeah," he muttered. "I knew I couldn't talk about it, that you'd just think I'm crazy. But I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you everything there was to know about me."
"You've always known."
"Not known known. It's just, there were all those people who lived in my house, ever since I was a little kid, and we were supposed to pretend not to notice. We had to act like everything was cool, like we were the most normal family ever. Well, you've met my mother," he shrugged.
"You never asked her about those things?"
"She wouldn't talk about it. Said I had a vivid imagination. But there was this strange lady that showed up to read me bedtime stories and a freaky baby in the basement who liked to eat live rats. I used to play ball with some kids who told me they had their throats slashed by a boogeyman downstairs. I couldn't have made all of it up."
"How many people are there, anyway?"
"I don't know exactly. Most of them keep to themselves. And no one wants anything to do with me, after what I've done."
"What do you do all day?"
"Not much. I just hang around, play with my brother when he feels like it. There are new tenants now, two guys. They're tearing the place apart, trying to make it look like something out of a magazine, driving Nora crazy."
"The first one. She still thinks of the house as hers."
"What happened to your mother, then?"
"She moved next door with Addie after everything that happened. I haven't seen either of them since they finished packing."
"Sounds pretty lonely."
"Well, you know."
"Yeah, I know."
When his sandy fingers gripped mine, I didn't push them away.
"I'm still trying to figure out the rules, you know? " I said, moving my head until it was perfectly pillowed by his shoulder. "The way it all works out. It's got to make more sense that it seems but somehow anything I've speculated on turned out to be pretty far from the mark."
"I don't know all the rules either. I don't even know if they're the same for the two of us. The house is special. Anyone who dies there sticks around."
"Isn't it the same for everybody?"
"I don't think so. This night would be a major freak show if no one ever checked out."
"I guess you're right. Can you go out?"
"As far as the gates, nothing further, except on Halloween."
"Can you eat?"
"Everything tastes like ashes."
"Are we gonna age at all?"
"No. We'll have to make do with looking young and pretty forever."
"Yeah, I feel so pretty," I said, looking down the front of my shirt. Tate winced.
"Are vampires for real?" I asked, mostly to keep the conversation going.
"No," he said, chuckling.
"Hey, I'm just asking," I said with mock outrage, biting a smirk. "Tell me something useful, then."
His face turned serious as his stare slipped from my face to the messy hollow in my chest.
"You don't have to look like this, you know. You could look... the way you did before. If you wanted to."
"Shit, this is hard to explain," he sighed. "Just picture yourself healing. Imagine you're in front of a mirror, watching the wound getting smaller and smaller."
I did as he said, felt a tremor pass through me as my skin started itching like crazy. When I looked down at myself, the bloody mess was gone. Even my clothes were good as new.
"Perfect," he nodded. "Now why don't you try picturing yourself with bigger boobs?"
I elbowed him in the stomach and we laughed, and damn, it felt so good to laugh, to feel light and carefree and happy if only for a moment. It felt more organic and genuine that anything that had passed through my head during that long year in the library. At that moment, I knew I would forgive Tate. Not declare a truce, not to brush our dirt under a rug to enjoy a night out, but a real pardon. It might take years to let go of the bitterness and anger, but I knew I would, eventually. All it would take was time, and time was the only thing we had on our hands.
Soon after, I fell asleep, listening to the crashing waves and the sound of Tate's heart beating beneath my ear. Tate didn't sleep, he talked, whispered in my hair things I could barely make out in my hair, words of love and remorse.
I felt the first light of dawn before I could see it shining, like a pull that resonated down to my bone, reminding me my leave of absence was coming to an end. We were laying together, Tate's arms curled around me, and the last thing I wanted was to go back. The only thing I had to look forward to was another full year of captivity, emptiness and boredom.
"What if I don't go back?" I asked, more curious than hopeful.
"It won't matter. You'll turn a corner and find yourself there anyway."
"How do you know? It's your first Halloween."
"Do you think the older ghosts would stick around if they were free to bail?"
I couldn't help a sad smile. Older ghosts. We were baby ghosts, the two of us. Maybe in time, years would start to feel like they were flying by, once we'd adjusted our perception of time. How long would it take? Decades? Centuries?
"So," I sighed, "I guess this is it."
"Yeah," Tate sighed. He kissed my temple before releasing me. We walked in silence closer together, our hands touching with each step without grasping at the other. We passed some people along the way, sad and dejected people, walking the streets alone at the crack of dawn on the morning after Halloween. More of us, bracing themselves for another round.
There was a crowd gathering before the Murder House gates, when I hugged Tate goodbye.
"Will you come back?" he asked with all bravado gone.
A part of me wanted not to answer, to let him wonder and yearn and hope. It wasn't as cruel as it might have sounded, hope means a lot when it's all you've got to live on. But when I looked back into his eyes, I couldn't lie.
- Epilogue -
He was already there when I arrived, sitting crossed-leg, facing the sea in his eternal plaid shirt. When he heard me coming, he turned to beam my way.
I felt awkwardly excited, as if it was a first date, a start over. The beginning of a new day after a long, long night.
"Interested in current affairs, all of a sudden?" I asked, nodding towards the stack of newspapers by his side.
"They're for you. Been collecting them for a while. Thought you'd like them."
"I do. Thanks." I sat next to him, my knee bumping his. "I've missed you."
"Bet you have," he grinned.
I slapped his knee and laughed, thinking that if it all everyone wanted was to be loved, maybe the two of us didn't have it so bad after all.