26. The Ruins

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

It starts with a gasp

and ends with a groan

the flame licks the tongue

of the lover’s lament

melting granite and ice

as the lost queen, at last

stumbles down to her throne

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

And so the selkie returns to the sea, leaving behind the silhouette of the one who sent her away as the laughing moon ascends to her perch.

Look at your daughter, she cries to the sky. This weak and empty thing, her face marred by soot-black streaks she cannot control.

And all for what —

one man?

One man.

Of course, one.

In the end, one is all it takes.

Edward, the altar, the dagger of his eyes and my still-beating heart—

and I stumble away, bleeding.

Cruel of him, I think, to leave his prey wounded this way. Inhumane.

But I leave him, praying he will not see the trail of blood I leave behind, this scarlet thread stretching across the ocean, connecting the dark frost of the garden maze to the brick and steel of lower Manhattan. I come back to the beginning, resuming my place at the head of an ourobourous with nowhere to go but down and back up again.

Nothing lasts forever. This blow he’s dealt will end me sooner or later. I am not like those other girls, the ones who toss their hair and laugh and drink a memory away.

I’ve made these rules, governed myself by my own laws, played a game I’d constructed according to a childish fantasy.

And lost.

He has ruined me.

Bled me.

And I am cold again.

+.+.+.+

“New York,” my father told me once, his face bearing the strain of erasing what I’d done off the spotless family name, “is a place to start over.”

I cast a long shadow across my father’s thoughts back then, his smile soured with names like Tyler Crowley and Jacob Black. A change of scenery is what you need, he told me. And so, New York.

I retreat yet again into this maze, this tangled mass of tall buildings and filthy cabs and faceless people. The sidewalk outside my old apartment is restless with phantoms of months past, but Billy still smiles when he sees me.

“Ms. Swan!” he calls. “It’s good to see you again! You back in town for a little while?”

I shake my head. “Nothing permanent.”

“That’s too bad. Well, I’m glad you’re back.”

“Really?”

“Sure, I am. People around here — they don’t know Socrates from a Sinatra song.”

I smile in spite of myself. “It can’t be that bad.”

“It was. I’ve been sitting on one since you left.”

“What is it?”

“‘You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t keep Spring from coming.'”

“That’s Neruda.”

“That’s right,” he marvels with a shake of his head. “Well, it’s good to see you again, but you read too much.”

“Only too much Neruda. He’s a favorite.”

“Eh, he’s alright. That’s okay, though. You got anything?”

I think for a moment. “‘Expectation is the root of all heartache.'”

He frowns. “Shakespeare?”

“Sharp as ever,” I tell him, impressed.

“Alright, here’s one more: ‘You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.'”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, I think, but do not say; my tongue suddenly feels heavy, unwieldy and stiff. I feel foolish and naked all at once, my mind awash with the fear that I have been tamed and abandoned.

“You need time?” Billy asks, seeing my expression. “I’ll give you some. But remember the rules — don’t go looking it up.”

Of course, I manage to choke out, hurrying inside and away.

“Welcome back, Ms. Swan,” he calls to my retreating back.

+.+.+.+

The walls are silent now.

My apartment has been cleaned in my absence, but the furniture has not been moved, and the sunlight streams in just the same as it always has. It is enough to be the same; it is enough to feel like a tomb.

And so I spend my days moving listlessly through these beautiful rooms, touching and opening doors and cabinets, running fingers along the edges of bookshelves and balustrades.

Eventually, my muscles begin to scream with the inactivity of the indoors. I wonder what Laurent would say if he could see me now, living miles above the apple trees in the trappings of a Park Avenue Princess, a brat nursing a fantastic melancholy because somebody doesn’t want her.

Maybe I will go back to the orchards, I think once or twice. But then, there must be a limit to how often I can be the penniless stray on Ilse’s doorstep.

Housekeeping comes after six days, two small women shocked to find the apartment occupied again, muttering to each other in Spanish as they take in my limp hair, my blank eyes.

One of them begins to ask me about a crimson necktie she’s found while cleaning and I snatch it away from her, running the silk through my fingers as I ignore the look the two women share when they think I do not see. I remember the large necktie organizer I’d seen at Edward’s apartment, every pattern I once catalogued from afar now trapped in their cedar compartments. They seem less impressive now.

My father knows where I am now; he sends me a message through the building’s concierge after my third day in the apartment, saying nothing significant but ending with a tersely-worded, “Call me immediately.”

I do not know what he knows, or what he thinks, or what he wants. And so I ignore the message, casting it away with the rest of the world for a little while, keeping only the memories of the man who once showed me how to sail.

+.+.+.+

Those first days chip away at me.

Skin pales, lines furrow.

Fingers press against a looking glass,

all of them pointed to the slight figure on the other side.

‘You lost,’ her eyes scream, twin chasms of accusation.

Yes, I tell her.

I lost.

I am lost.

My head is full of fire, Lorca wrote,

and grief and my tongue

runs wild, pierced

with shards of glass.

I trace his words across my windowpane, my fingers silhouetted against the city.

+.+.+.+

The spring continues to warm quickly, heat assaulting from above and below — waves up from the pavement, beams down from the sky. Hours and days bleed together as the city whispers around me, carrying the world along in an ever-surging tide of industry and errands and life.

Soon, all the smart New Yorkers will be in the Hamptons, the Cape or the Vineyard, leaving this place to stink of summer tourists and trash. But for now, the social season is winding down to its end, only a few more gatherings to go before the city’s monied exodus begins.

As for me, the heat brings a new restlessness to my bones, and the quiet ghosts of the apartment begin to cling and scratch.

Sometimes, I stand in my closet doorway, staring at the assortment of dresses and shoes and think of slipping into something short, something tight, moving in an out of cabs in stilettos and into a crowded club, eyes darting from place to place within a crowd until something worth my time makes himself noticeable.

I think of leading him outside, of smiling as I palm an erection through a pair of jeans or tailored trousers, of digging my nails in and letting a stranger fuck me against an alley wall until I forget how to say the one name that weighs down my tongue, burns up my throat.

Soon, I tell myself. When this thread finally snaps, when the cavity in my chest closes, when I am no longer this pathetic satire of the walking wounded.

Until then, I begin to venture outside, my muscles remembering the art of manuevering within the city.

I walk in shadows cast by old industrial buildings, their carcasses hollowed long ago to accommodate young artists flocking to the Lower West Side. I walk past construction sites and old factories, cringing at dissonance wrought in old neighborhoods by encroaching modernity: a pair of golden arches superimposed over Neo-Renaissance architecture.

I walk for hours, struggling to find an old sense of ease or confidence. It was not so hard before — the city used to feel like an old playground. Now it is a foreign cave, walls echoing with the silence of a grief unspoken, a shapeless anger.

Edward Cullen’s face is in each storefront, in the profile of each person I pass on the street. His perfect mouth mocks me in the sound of someone else’s laughter.

Eventually, I crave the quiet and hurry along the pavement, each foot in a race with the other to get back to the anonymity of my silent walls.

I fight against the feeling of being watched, measured and found wanting. Every car window hides a pair of arrogant eyes, and every passerby can read the past as easily as if it were marked in ugly scars across my face. I am the rat on the street, the bum in the alley. I am every ugly reality of being alone.

+.+.+.+

This is no longer a request, yesterday’s message from my father read. Brunch, The Garden. Be downstairs tomorrow at 10:00 sharp.

I sigh, thinking of Ilse, of Laurent, and of the apple trees.

I think of scarlet threads, of burning the world to the ground so I can build it up again, carve a simpler place from the ruins of this one.

Still, I zip up one of my dresses, powder my nose and prepare to re-enter a world of pretty faces, of monotonous gatherings, of power plays and idle chatter and everything else my father loves about the city.

So this is what tame is, I muse acerbically, as light and as listless as the dead leaves of Laurent’s orchard.

A black Towncar idles on the curb as I walk outside; Billy holds the door for me as I slide into the back.

In the seat opposite, my father is impeccably outfitted in one of his suits, the crisp lines of him making his figure appear as imposing as usual. I adjust my skirt as the car whispers along the busy city streets on its way to the Four Seasons.

“Thank you for coming,” my father says evenly, as if this is routine. As if I hadn’t escaped to the cold, earthy arms of an apple orchard for the better part of three months.

“I wasn’t aware there was a choice.”

He sighs; there is a world of fatigue in the sound. “There’s always a choice.”

I nod, staring out at the street.

+.+.+.+

The brunch in question is to benefit military veterans. My father gives a speech that ends with a toast, mentions how thankful he is for a country whose men and women fight for what matters most:

“Family,” he announces to the crowded room. “Family is what really matters in the end.”

Then he raises his glass in my direction and I nod, smile, docile at last beneath the weight of so many stares, the strike of camera flashes.

Here’s to you, my mother whispers, and I think of Saint-Exupéry again.

Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…”

It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.

Later, the car is silent as we pull away from the curb in front of the hotel.

“I’m glad you came today,” my father tells me, examining an invisible spot on his necktie. “People have asked about you. It was good for them to see us together again.”

The ubiquitous people. Always asking, always talking.

“Good of them to notice I was gone,” I reply.

If my father notices my sarcasm, he does not acknowledge it. “Everyone notices everything. Reputations rise and fall on perception, Isabella. Ours could be destroyed in a minute.”

“Yours,” I sigh dully.

“What was that?” he asks sharply.

“Yours,” I repeat. “Your reputation.”

A moment of silence, and then:

“Yes.”

“Would it change anything?” I wonder aloud, trying to imagine a world in which the Kingmaker was forced to exist beyond a roulade of black and white, of straight lines and certainty and americana perfection.

“Things are different today than they were ten years ago,” he answers grimly, his gaze fixed on something beyond his window. “The game has changed. It’s always changing. Change is the only constant.”

He looks at me, aged and sallow features surrounding tired eyes that have seen too much, their sharpness guarding a mind that has traded too long in unclean currencies. “It is change which makes absolutes so valuable. Remember that we exist to serve a greater good, Isabella.”

The rest of the ride is silent.

In spite of the car’s quiet, I am a collision of nerves, a perfect storm of contained fury. My stiletto’d foot wobbles unsteadily on the pavement as I climb out of the Towncar, nod at the morning doorman and tear my way through the door and into the elevator.

I claw at my hair as soon as the doors slide closed, ripping it out of its simple chignon, shedding sleekness and bobby pins.

Change is the only constant, my father’s voice echoes in my head, and I am a beast now, panting and cursing, slamming the front door of my apartment, kicking off these goddamn shoes, throwing my clutch until I hear the satisfying crash of something as I make my way down the hallway.

I can change, too. I will change.

Still confined within the tailored lines of my dress, I pull out the bag that has sat in the corner, untouched since my flight back from London weeks ago. I dump its contents unceremoniously across the bed.

A black evening gown, rumpled and creased from weeks spent wadded into a ball in the corner of my bag. It reeks of stupidity, of evening frost, of Edward. Matching shoes.

Here is the outfit I wore when I fled my father’s house and showed up on Ilse’s doorstep. With it, a few additional articles of clothing accumulated in France.

A passport, a wallet containing the remainder of my wages from Au Chien Pèlerin.

Ilse’s copy of Sajer’s “The Forgotten Soldier.”

An embroidered handkerchief.

Resolution settles on my shoulders like a mantle. The hole behind my lungs throbs with the echoes of its own chamber.

Enough of this dependence, this cancer of complacency.

Burn it all down,

cast away the old,

make room for something new,

something terrifying.

I take everything that reminds me of him, gathering it into an unruly bundle, dragging it to the living room in this place my father purchased, its cold and empty fireplace staring up at me like a gash on a dead body. I stuff everything inside, grab the candle lighter in the mantel vase and flick, flick, flick.

The flame catches the skirt of the evening gown first, licks its way up like a lover. It gains new life as it finds the crimson necktie.

My fingers worry the edge of the lighter as I watch, marking the cadence of my racing pulse.

Remember before, Athena taunts mercilessly, and I do.

But there is nowhere to go except back, or forward.

Back — to Ilse, to Laurent, to the unearthly escape of the countryside.

Forward — to the shadows, alone on a road I do not know.

The unknown: blistering in its intensity, hollow and infinite.

But it doesn’t matter — I will bide my time, pay my dues in this purgatory of my father’s world and emerge the better for it, become someone who does not mope and sulk over rejection like an adolescent girl.

The fire consumes everything as I watch.

And I do not think of Edward.

I do not even think his name.

+.+.+.+

“Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,” I tell Billy weeks later, naming the author of the line he last gave me. He gives me a skeptical look.

“That took you awhile. Did you look it up?”

“No, it’s— the quote is from a book I used to read when I was little.”

He smiles. “It’s a good story. I used to read it to my daughter.”

“You have a daughter?”

“Cecily,” he replies, but his smile dims as he says her name, and there is a corner of grief to his gaze. He is silent for a moment, his eyes are fixed on something in the distance when he continues, “She passed away.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, my words as limp and useless as ever.

Several seconds pass, and there is only silence and a sadness I can’t touch. Then he blinks, catches himself and looks at me with nothing but kindness.

“Thank you,” he says quietly. Then, clearing his throat: “Do you have something for me?”

“‘Let us read,'” I answer, “‘and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.'”

And Billy smiles again.

+.+.+.+

Again, a message from my father; this time, an invitation to The Met’s production of Turandot.

Again, the Towncar.

Again, my father’s sparse words and heavy silence.

Again, cold smiles on the faces of people I do not care to know.

Biding time, I remind myself, entering the lobby on my father’s arm with a small smile, a stiff spine. Nothing is forever and when there is nowhere else to go, keeping the Kingmaker complacent is a small price to pay.

The bright colors of Chagall’s The Triumph of Music stare down at us as we make our way to the Belmont Room for pre-curtain cocktails, the violent colors and sharp contrasts leering down at the grey pallor that covers me. Every shade screams of the unstoppable present, of lifeblood and screaming and bursting with life now, now, now.

I look away and climb the carpeted stairs, feeling small and plain and pale. The constraints of my surroundings settle upon me like old chains, chafing my skin, stiffening my limbs into something slightly less than human. And yet, I’m not truly held in place by the plaster of my father’s world. I am strong enough to leave.

But where will you go? my mother asks smugly.

I ignore her, sipping a white russian while my father holds court during pre-curtain cocktails.

“It’s a shame Cullen’s leaving New York,” a woman near me at the bar sighs to her friend. I freeze at the sound of his name. “Lauren was devastated when the news broke.”

“She wasn’t the only one,” the woman next to her replies, her lips pursed with botox and disapproval. “Sarah’s quite attached to him as well.”

“Sarah Hammond? That’s a lost cause.”

“He’s been spending an awful lot of time with Tanya Denault lately, from what I hear.”

“Who told you that?”

“Tanya Denault.”

Laughter. I still the light tremor that runs through my hands by cupping them tightly around my glass.

“Speaking of lost causes….”

“He may have his mother’s last name, but he’s a Masen. Tanya should know better.”

“They all should.”

More laughter. “We all should.”

Finishing my drink, I silently agree.

+.+.+.+

Giordani’s voice soars above a sea of faces, Puccini’s lyricsfilling the space around me, echoing in my ears.

Tu pure, o, Principessa,

nella tua fredda stanza,

guardi le stelle

che tremano d’amore

e di speranza.

Stuck in the confines of my father’s opera box, I am hot, irritable. Restless. I cannot be still.

The plush material of the seat brushes against my bare back and shoulders; no matter how I fidget, it does not cease to gall me.

Someone behind me sighs with annoyance.

“Be still,” my father whispers sternly.

I grit my teeth, sitting up and away from the seat, bringing my opera glasses to my face to watch Giordani’s Calàf bellow his aria from the midst of the stage, his bulky form surrounded by the tapestried palace garden decor of ancient Peking.

I shift in my seat again, the feeling of heat and raw nerves persisting, pricking, driving me mad. I scan the boxes across from us to see if anyone appears as restless as I feel. All I can see are the profiles of a rapt audience, their attentions fixed firmly on the stage.

Except.

There, directly opposite and one level above, in the line faces entranced by the music, one is unturned, meeting my gaze with a severe frown.

He is not looking through any glasses.

Nonetheless, I can feel his eyes burning into my skin,

twin fires beneath a tousle of penny-colored hair:

Edward.

+.+.+.+

All’alba vincerò!

vincerò, vincerò!

+.+.+.+

I do not look away.

My face burns with surprise, with anger. Thoughts clash, crash inside my skull in crimson and jagged edges, dismay and excitement and humiliation and rage.

He’s found me, followed that brazen thread, throbbing and dripping and crimson with the life that has bled out a little more each moment. It tightens now, pulled taut and humming like a live wire at the sight of him.

Fuck him for staring across this space that lies between us, the void made with words and secrets and silences and his own precious pride. Fuck him for giving me this future, time stretching interminably away beneath the shadow of his absence. Fuck him for winning and walking away.

Applause erupts down below as the tenor onstage takes a bow, the last notes of Nessun Dorma still suspended within the proscenium.

I shudder suddenly, shaken from my reverie by the crowd’s cheers.

Across the hall, Edward is still staring, mouth locked into a tight, grim line.

Cold, I think.

Unbidden, the text from a sermon years before drifts into my consciousness, the echo of a minister’s monotone:

And the people cried out to the mountains and the rocks, saying ‘Hide us! Shield us from his face…’

“Pardon?” the woman beside me asks. I look at her for a long moment, realizing I’ve spoken aloud.

“I’m cold,” I answer, pushing past her. “Excuse me.”

+.+.+.+

Straniero! Non tentar la fortuna!

Gli enigmi sono tre, la morte una!

+.+.+.+

My feet hurry along the carpeted hall, keeping time to the quickness of my breath and I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for. A drink to calm this ache, a bit of fresh air, a moment to remember that he is just one man, that change is constant, that there have been others, will be others…

An usher straightens as I approach, his offer of assistance curtailed by the wild look I shoot him as I pass.

I am almost to the staircase, its cantilevered frame descending to the Grand Tier and beyond, to the stones of the plaza outside. I pause, thinking of what comes next and I could leave now, pretend I am ill, or stop pretending and go, go, go—

But this moment of indecision has cost me, and the pulsing cadence that echoes in my head is no longer just my heartbeat, but footsteps approaching quickly from behind until there is a warmth against my back, a hand around my arm.

I think of wounded animals, of trails of blood and of a hunter finishing what he’s started.

“Edward,” I greet in a low voice.

“Isabella,” Edward repies.

“Take your hand off of me.”

“There are things to say.”

From inside the theater, I can hear the soprano wailing of Princess Turandot, determined to remain untouched, unclaimed.

“You’re wrong,” I tell him. “Let go of me.”

+.+.+.+

E t’ho odiato per quella…

E per quella t’ho amato, tormentata e divisa

fra due terrori uguali:

vincerti o esser vinta…

+.+.+.+

“What will you do if I don’t?” he asks.

“I’ll scream,” I answer.

He ignores my warning, pulling, pushing, turning me quickly until I face him, moving me toward one of the small alcoves off the hallway.

“Don’t,” he tells me. “Don’t scream.”

I glare. “Why are you here?”

Turandot is Alice’s favorite,” he informs me tersely, his features tense, pulled into a scowl.

“Of course it is. Let go of me.”

“I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” he says, eyes dropping down to what he can see of the rest of me. “You look… lovely.”

“I don’t have time for this,” I tell him, twisting to be free of him, but his fingers only tighten. Exasperated, I push against him. “You sent me away,” I remind him angrily.

“Yes,” he nods. “I wanted you gone.”

“Well, now the feeling is mutual.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“You said…” he lowers his voice. “You said that you wanted me. What does that mean?”

“Nothing at all,” I retort haughtily.

“So,” he muses, staring down at me tensely. “this is a woman scorned.”

I open my mouth to scream, but the only sound that escapes is a fraction of a yelp before his hand covers my mouth.

“Stop it,” he hisses, his scowling face too close too mine. “I’m trying to talk to you.”

“You don’t want me,” I snap as he removes his hand. “I can’t imagine there’s much to talk about.”

His eyes widen for a brief second.

“I don’t want you,” he repeats, mouth pursing around the words like a lemon drop, a child recoiling at the way the medicine tastes on his tongue.

My arm is still held fast. I school my anger into an injured simper.

“You’re hurting me,” I tell him softly, going limp in his grip for a brief second, my voice breaking in pain.

But he isn’t swayed. “Oh, you’re better than that,” he chides.

Caught, I stiffen again. “I’m warning you—”

“You’re always warning me,” he retorts as I twist in his arms. “Fucking hold still.”

“Why?” I sneer. “Are you going to keep me here until the curtain goes down?”

“Perhaps,” he grinds out, backing me against the wall, caging me with his hands, his body. My arms immobilized, I jerk my leg up to knee him but he is faster, his leg pressing across both of mine. “Not so fast—”

“Fuck you,” I spit.

“Fuck you back,” he retorts. “Now listen close, because I’m sure as hell not going to say this again. I’m so fucking tired of fighting you.”

“Then let me go—”

“I can’t,” he seethes. I freeze, tense as a wildcat and he laughs. It is not a happy sound. “Don’t think I haven’t tried.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I’ve been through everything they could find on you — every page of every journal I could get, your shrink’s notes — fuck if I haven’t seen your high school report cards.”

I recoil and he presses closer, his breath coming faster.

“I’ve looked through every crack, every nasty little crevice in your head trying to figure you out. I wanted to be disgusted by you. I wanted to find you repulsive. But it didn’t happen. Nothing helped. Every time I think of you I’m either pissed off or hard.”

My body is flush against him, breasts crushed against his ribs and I am panting, fighting for each quick breath but he doesn’t care, presses against me tighter.

“You said I was a mistake,” I remind him acidly, rage wrestling to subdue something that flutters foolishly behind my lungs.

“You are a mistake. You’re the biggest goddamn mistake I’ll ever make.”

“No one’s forcing you to make it.”

“I know that. But I also know that I don’t want things,” he hisses. “I never have. Everything I’ve ever needed has been in arm’s reach, always.”

“So?”

“So, I don’t want things, but you’re a goddamn idiot if you think I don’t want you. Of course I want you. I can’t fucking sleep for wanting you. I’m sickwith it.”

I stare up at him, every frame of every motion I have ever captured of him running in a clumsy, disjointed loop behind my eyes.

Oh the bitten mouth, Neruda once wrote, oh the kissed limbs,

oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

“I could hate you,” I breathe. “I want to.”

He looks down at me, any traces of anger fading from his expression, features now feigning impassivity but I can see the way his eyes change, pupils dilating as he stares at my mouth. “I know,” he says quietly.

We stand there for several long moments, eyes locked in the dim light of the alcove, flesh and heat and short, sharp breaths.

I think of my father, his agitation for each passing minute my seat in his box remains empty, of the bridge I could burn once and for all.

“Just answer me this one question,” Edward says quickly, catching the way I eye the door. “How does this end?”

It is an echo of the garden maze, words from weeks ago. But I still have no answer.

“It could end now,” I reply, hating the uncertainty of my voice, of this moment.

“But does it?” he presses.

“I don’t know. How could I?”

His gaze is unblinking, agitated. “Pretend,” he insists.

“What?”

“I’ve given you something just now, told you things. So tell me something. Tell me anything.”

His fingers have not loosened against my arms; I absently wonder how long his bruises will linger on my skin, where he will be when they finally fade.

“The first time I saw you,” I tell him. “I didn’t even know your name. But I dreamt of you.”

“That’s how this began,” Edward rejoins in a low voice. “Tell me how it ends.”

Tell me anything.

Foolish girl, I think. Foolish, stupid girl.

My lungs exhale a sigh, and it is a last rite, an exhausted doxology:

As it was in the beginning,

is now,

and ever shall be.

World without end, Amen.

We are the ouruboros, I want to tell him.

We are blades and bones.

We are the constant chase of the hunt,

the neverending pursuit of the predator,

the eternal retreat of the prey.

We are twin infernos. We are nuclear winters.

But we are, nonetheless.

Fall and we’ll catch you, the jagged rocks cry.

So I do, releasing the words and watching as they escape the cage of my lips like twin birds of prey:

“It won’t.”

Flames lick the light in his eyes and those stellar remnants, their heat thins this thread, nips at the heels of my pulse until it runs faster, faster, faster, beating the bones of my ribs like a bodhrán drum.

“Promise,” he breathes.

But I cannot.

And so my reply is swift, quiet: “Kiss me.”

He frowns, wanting words again, his gaze heavy on me as I close my eyes, tilt my face up, a white queen flower facing the sun.

Several breathless moments pass before he leans in, lightly presses his lips to mine.

It is the gentlest kiss he has ever given to me, and there is heat everywhere we touch but here, where he covers my mouth with a tenderness that makes me shudder and I am flying, falling, crashing until I am lying with my lover, limp across cold and bloodstained stones.

Ammut, Athena — you fools, I think. You will never touch him. You will never have him.

But my heart is surrounded by his fingers, the elegant and pale parentheses of its beat.

It is death to need this much. It is madness.

Crazy, crazy, crazy.

The luckiest, unlucky passionate one.

And the thought is my own death knell, the toll of a coming freedom.

+.+.+.+

E vinta son… Ah! Vinta,

più che dall’alta prova,

da questa febbre che mi vien da te!

+.+.+.+

The grand choruses of the finale sound, a crowd of performers acclaiming the two lovers as Turandot surrenders to her Calàf.

As the curtain falls, two lone figures burst through the tall glass doors at the front of the opera house, a man and a woman dashing across the travertine tiles of the vacant plaza and down the steps to Columbus Avenue.

Inside, the principals take their first bows, cheers echoing through hall.

“Did she tell you where she was going?” Charles Swan asks someone in his party, raising his voice to be heard above the applause.

“She only said she was cold,” the befuddled woman replies.

Bravo! the audience cries, clapping, exclaiming. Encore!

+.+.+.+

You’re mad, my mother calls, her spectre watching from behind the starburst chandeliers of the opera house as Edward hails us a cab.

But I do not reply.

Because of course she’s right.

I am mad.

Stark, barking mad.

Mad enough to strip myself of the world and its expectations.

Mad enough to be free.

Mad enough to keep him.

I’m mad, but I’m not alone.

Not anymore.

Not ever again.

Because everyone worships something.

Everyone eats, drinks, dies—

Everyone does.

And there’s only one difference between me

and Them:

I’ve already picked my poison.

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

FIN.

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

Epilogue to follow soon.

Also, here are translations of Italian lyrics from Turandot, used in a few of the section breaks.

I. At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

II. Stranger! Do not tempt Fortune! The riddles are three, Death is one.

III. Tormented – torn between two terrible choices: To defeat you, or to be defeated. And now, I am conquered. Conquered not from the trials, but from this fever that comes to me from you.

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About hollelujah
meh.

4 Responses to 26. The Ruins

  1. tightlybound says:

    Tears…haven’t read the epi yet but am hoping for joy and happiness!! Thank You for coming back and finishing this hauntingly beautiful love story.. bravo!

  2. That'sMzPeachesTYVM says:

    I’m so glad she chose to give herself over.
    She didn’t conquer, nor was she defeated…
    She has finally found her heart, and warmth.
    Beautifully done. Bravo!

  3. SLKerouac says:

    Interesting ending. Bella and Edward were able to be together. Neither one did well without the other and now they were living their lives together. Thank you for finishing this story. Keep writing!!!

  4. Joni Webb says:

    oh lord. sobbing. take this to a publisher and make a fortune with it. omg. was hoping, hoping, hoping… such a great story.

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