May 21, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

Time passed. Love grew. Days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months and Anna's life had fallen into a comfortable and decidedly domestic routine. She had learned to cook a proper meal and while she was sure that Gus could subsist happily on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, she would come over to his house and make him dinner nearly every evening. She experimented with several different meats for the first couple of months, hoping to satiate her cravings for him. It didn't help, it wasn't about blood, it was something more, but over time she had learned to control herself and her senses better.

She sat on the small couch in the living room reading, waiting for the timer in the kitchen to tell her that the chicken in the oven had roasted long enough. Gus sat at the kitchen table, pecking away at his typewriter.

There was something soothing to her in the discordant rhythm of his keystrokes. It was a sound she associated entirely with him; and a sound she loved.

She put her book in her lap and watched him type. His brow was furrowed in thought, but his movements were light.

As she had on many previous nights, she wondered about their future. Sometimes she would see them together, in the distant future, both young and vibrant, living on the moon or Mars or some other distant planet, far away from the subjugation of Argus. Sometimes, her mind would see him as old and dying and unaware of who she was, and what they had meant to each other. Still other times she saw herself entirely alone, thinking back on the time they'd had together, but never knowing what became of him. It was a risky proposition to turn him, just the attempt could kill him, but that wasn't the only risk. Despite the golden venom, despite her ageless appearance, despite her presumed immortality, She had been born to a human, a mortal and her father's lineage, though he was undoubtedly an immortal, was still relatively uncertain. What if despite appearances, it didn't work?

"You could just talk to me about it," Gus said interrupting her grim contemplations.

"Talk to you about what?" Anna asked.

"Anything, my love. You look troubled."

She considered it for a moment. What could she say to him? He was writing a manuscript unraveling the claims of Gods, miraculous feats and fantastical creatures of myth. Gus was fascinated by mythology, but what he loved most about it was finding the logical, rational truth behind the sensational stories. What on earth would he make of her? Would he understand? Would he want to? "Do you ever think about forever?" she asked.

"Often," he smiled.

Argus was her next thought. His name caught in her thoughts like an ever-present ball and chain reminding her of her place. Anna nodded as if to acknowledge an unspoken command then shook her head and changed the subject. "You know, I thought I would have heard the timer by now." She set her book down and made her way to the kitchen to check it. It still had about ten minutes left, just as she had expected.

Gus followed her into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. They stood across from each other in silence for a few minutes then with five minutes remaining Gus turned off the timer and the oven and cracked the oven door.

"When you think of forever," he said, returning to his side of the kitchen. "Do you see yourself at the beginning, the middle or the end?"

"That's a very odd question," she said. "If forever has no beginning, and no end, then all we can ever be is in between."

"Fair enough, but if you had to pick one, where does forever exist for you? Past, present or future?"

"The future, mostly. I don't think I've ever considered forever in the past," she said. "I know it's there but I don't see the past the way you do. I don't like looking back."

"I think I feel the same way about the future," he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Do you think of me in your forever?" he asked.

She nodded her head but only slightly.

"It all works out then," he said. "If I'm in the past, and you're in the future," he held his hand out across the kitchen to her. "Then we're destined to meet somewhere in the middle."

She held her hand out to him, stepping forward to meet him in the middle of the kitchen.
 

 

Chapter 21 - The Art Of Antagony

It was almost a month later and Anna was at the grocery store with David and Judy gathering ingredients for a peanut butter mousse pie she was going to attempt to make for Gus for his birthday. David had driven, and Judy had tagged along. It was quite obvious that she had a rather sizable crush on David who was doing his best to ignore her love struck antics while continually reminding her that they would never work out.

There was a tall, well-dressed, dark skinned man buying poultry that she met eyes with for a moment. There was something familiar about him. He was not someone she knew, but someone she was sure she'd seen someplace before, she just couldn't place the face to a location. At the University maybe, or the post office perhaps, or it could have been another time at the grocery store... and then she spotted the ring on his hand with a familiar design. He was an Elite; and he was walking straight toward them.

"Judy, run get a jar of peanut butter for me, will you?" Anna said, trying to sound casual. "David," Anna said, taking hold of his arm and turning to meet his eyes. "Go with her."

David's jaw tightened.

Anna nodded once.

David nodded and reluctantly followed after Judy, who beamed ear to ear when she saw that he was going to accompany her.

"Hello Anna," the man said, stopping a few feet from her.

"How do you know my name?" She glared at him.

The corner of his mouth lifted only slightly. "You are not unknown Anna."

"What do you want?" she asked.

"You know what I am," he said. "I see no sense in denying it, I thought I'd introduce myself instead. You may call me..." he paused for a long moment as if considering his own name. "Kale."

"Kale," she repeated, not believing it for a moment but not allowing her mind to settle on the thought lighting fires at the edge of her brain. "I recognized you by your ring, though yours is different than..." her voice trailed.

"Mine is older," he explained.

Her thoughts burned, and her face felt hot. "You've been watching me," she said, trying to remain calm as her mind recalled at least a dozen places where she might have seen or simply just glimpsed him before.

"I've been watching out for you as well." Kale countered.

"For me? Why?"

"You have a knack for stumbling into situations that put us at risk, and threaten your survival," he said matter-of-fact.

"Is this man bothering you Miss?" a gruff voice asked.

Anna turned to see two burly, brutish looking men scowling at Kale. She took a step back, away from them and closer to Kale. "This man is a dear friend of mine," she said.

Kale sighed loudly. "Just like that," he said quietly. "Gentlemen, I was just leaving. Good day Miss," he nodded.

"I-" Anna stammered turning toward Kale, but he had already started to leave. "Good day," she said weakly.

"Damn right you're leaving," One of the men growled and started after Kale.

"A dear friend?" The man who remained sneered and took a domineering step toward her.

"Your friend is making a grave mistake," Anna said. "If you don't stop him, you'll both be dead men."

The man laughed, amused and disbelieving.

"This is not a laughing matter."

Anna turned to see David coming to a stop next to her. He held out a blue card with the word "AZURE" written on it.

The man looked at the card then to David, who smiled curtly, and then briefly to Anna "I'm sorry to have bothered you." He said then sidestepped around them to go after his friend.

It was an odd reaction. Anna snatched the card from David's hand and turned it over in her hand. For an immortal, it might as well have said Argus. She wondered how many pseudonyms he had. She ran her fingers across the embossed typeface, "Who are you, David? What do you do here?" she asked.

"I'm head of Azure House, Anna. Because I saved lives," he added quickly. "But the job is what it is."

"I don't want you to have the life I had, David. I want something better for you. Have I steered you wrong?"

"I'm not a thug Anna, but I do what needs to be done and I'm not squeamish about it. That's not a bad trait for a doctor."

Anna eyed the card in her hand. "Do you know what he looks like, David? Have you ever been told?"

"I've heard," David glanced over his shoulder. "But no one really knows and you know it doesn't really matter."

"It's too late for those men isn't it?" Anna asked.

"Yes." David said.

Anna turned to see Judy, wide-eyed, clutching tightly to a jar of peanut butter.

"Take me home," Anna said.

"Was that him?" Judy asked once they were in the car. "The man who told you to go help Anna; was that Argus?"

Anna shuddered despite the summer heat.

"We do not talk about those we serve." David said, stern.

"I'm sorry." Judy said.

"He told me his name was Kale," Anna said, blankly.

No one spoke for the rest of the ride and Anna went directly to her room when they got home. She shut the door behind her and stood in the center of the room, unseeing and unfeeling.

"Anna," David said, coming into her room. He came to stand in front of her, bending and tilting his head until she met his eyes. "The side I'm on will always be yours Anna. Always."

She broke down into tears and wrapped her arms around him. He held her tight as she told him about everything that had happened. About the venom, about the persistent and increasing thoughts of Argus in her head, and everything the man who had called himself Kale had said to her. When she was done she realized that she had not even started on the mousse pie for Gus's birthday.

"Mary and Judy are taking care of it." David told her.

"Thank you David. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"I know," David kissed her forehead. "I love you too."
 

 

Ihe was worried that she wouldn't be able to forget about the events of the day, and be able to enjoy her evening with Gus, but as soon as she saw him, as often happened, everything that wasn't him simply faded away.

Gus had two slices of pie and pretended to be authentically surprised when he opened the letter opener he'd seen her buying two weeks earlier.

"I have something for you as well," he said, hurrying down the hall to his room, he returned with a small box, quickly kneeling on one knee before her.

"Oh God," Anna said realizing what was about to happen.

"Will you marry me?" Gus asked.

"Uuhh." Anna stammered, fighting the urge to answer him with a yes. Her head felt light, and her knees felt weak. "Gus..." she shook her head as the looming ghost of Argus drifted to the forefront of her thoughts.

"I'll understand if you want to take some time to think about it," he said.

Her mind raced with the possibilities, and the consequences. Gus took of his glasses and she met his deep blue eyes. She would remember this moment forever, just as she would love him forever, but she could not ask him to sacrifice everything for her. She closed her eyes as tears ran down her cheek. She lived a thousand lifetimes with him in her thoughts, until a tear reached her chin and dropped.

"I can't marry you Gus," she said as she opened her eyes.

"Why?" He stood and took her left hand in his. "Do you not love me as I love you?"

"It would be a mistake," she said. "I could never give you the kind of life that you deserve. I could never be a proper wife. I can't even have children. Surely you must have noticed that I don't work like other women do."

He took the ring from the box and kissed her fingers. She tried to pull her hand away, but his hold was too tight. "I'm not asking you to give up your schooling or your independence and become my housekeeper and bearer of my children," he said as he slipped the ring onto her finger. "I'm asking you to love me for the rest of your life, to be my wife, my queen, my goddess."

She yanked her hand free and turned away from him. She held her left hand in her right, and gazed broken-hearted at the stone on her finger. "You are a good man Gus Ambrose - a great man. I would be stupid not to realize how lucky I've been to have your affections, but life is so very short, and you deserve to have every moment of it and every wonderful thing it has to offer. You must believe me when I tell you that no matter my feelings for you, there can be no future for you with me." She reached for the ring, and gently began to slide it of her finger.

Gus stopped her, reaching around her and gripping his hand tightly over hers. "Anna, please. Don't do this. Don't give up."

 She didn't fight him and waited for him to let go of her then stepped away from him. "I'm sorry, Gus. I must not be making any sense to you, I just don't think there's any way for you to understand it."

Gus scoffed. "Don't condescend to me," he said. "You wont even give me the opportunity to understand you. What we have is worth taking the risk, Anna. It's worth fighting for. Please see that. Love me as I love you, be with me... forever."

"Forever." She repeated softly as her pain turned to anger and her heart became an empty hollow, carved out by immortal laws and the man behind them that she was doomed to follow. "This moment," she turned toward him her vision blurred through her tears. "Every moment with you, is my forever."

 "Oh, my sweet Anna." He smiled broadly. In a single step and before she could utter another word, he pulled her into his arms. "Beautiful," he whispered just before he kissed her. She knew it was wrong, but she kissed him back, persuaded by her lust, his lips, the touch of his hands, the sweet taste of his kiss and the savory smell of his skin.

The poor fool. He believed in her more than he should. Trusted her more than was safe and loved her far more than she deserved for the heartache and grief she would give him in return.

As he tugged at her blouse and pulled her toward the bedroom, she surrendered her will to fight and gave herself to him, just as passionately and as fervently as he gave himself to her. Giving them both a brief respite, him from his heartache and her from the strings and laws of Argus, relentlessly pulling at her and slowly tearing her apart.

They made love for hours by the light of the moon. And she savored every touch, every taste, and every sensation, knowing it would be her last. More than once she felt sharp fangs descended in her mouth, and was grateful to be concealed in the dim. That he had this affect on her at all was reason enough to leave, she thought, and for the briefest moment wished she had resisted the temptation of him months ago. But she was lying to herself. She knew that in a million years she would never regret loving him.

She lay in his arms as he drifted peacefully towards sleep just before dawn where he declared his unending love to her one last time.

When she was sure he was asleep she grabbed her clothes and slipped quietly out of bed and into the bathroom where she caught sight of her eyes reflecting a deep shimmering green in the mirror. She hadn't even realized. She blinked hard, forcing them to return to their dull, normal state.

She cursed Argus, her nature and the day she'd been brought into this world.

She found a pen and a sheet of paper near the typewriter. Tears fell silently as she wrote:

 


She left the note and the engagement ring on the kitchen table next to his typewriter then snuck out the front door leaving the world she knew and the love of her life behind.
 

 

     My Dearest Gus,

          My love for you extends beyond the bounds of time - beyond forever. It is undying and eternal. With all that I am I know that I will love you always, and for the rest of my life.
          There is no human logic to be found in it, but it is why we can never be.
          I hope that you will never regret our love or the time we had together.
          Good-bye my love.

 

                                     I am forever yours.

                                                                       Forever,

                                                                         Anna

 

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart