Forever and Always
By: Robin Alexander
Disclaimer: This story has a PG rating, nothing really bad.
Lately, everything I write has to do with time, maybe it’s because I have a lack of it. <g>
This story is dedicated to my inspiration, Becky, she brings out the sweet side in me. Special
thanks go to Denise for being an outstanding beta and kindly pointing out where I’ve screwed up. And also, a big thanks to Tara, who takes time out of her busy schedule to fix all the punctuation and grammar I’ve screwed up. I’m blessed to have a great support group to work with.
Questions or comments good or bad are always welcome at email@example.com.
I sat in the darkened room, my breath coming in short pants, and though it was cold, sweat trickled down my spine. Light from the lone candle flickered as the blustering wind outside seeped its way through the warped wood of the old house. My fingers twitched as I stared at the box.
A nondescript wooden box—no inscriptions, no decoration, four inches high, six inches wide—something so common, yet I was terrified of it. Not even the whiskey I choked down could give me the courage to open it. I’d lost track of time; the sun slowly set while I sat transfixed by the way the candlelight danced across the box. My fingers still twitched, beckoning me to open it and be done with it.
I closed my eyes and dropped my head back against the wing-backed chair, sending a cloud of dust into the air to mix with my breath, steaming against the cold. The smell of old fabric and mildew assaulted my sinuses. Clutching the armrests, I could feel the cloth disintegrating under my grasp.
In the distance, I could hear the waves crashing against the shore. No one would be foolish enough to brave those waters. No one would be coming for me. Isolated and alone is how I chose to live—and more than likely, the way I would die.
In my mind’s eye, I could see the sun and feel its warmth. She was humming some lullaby, as I lay in the clover enjoying the feel of it between my fingers. I watched as she tucked a long lock of red hair behind her ear, her green eyes staring out over the ocean. A smiled tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she turned to me with such a look of contentment. “This is ours, all ours.”
The house, the land, and everything the eye could see bordered by the water was ours. Left to me by a relative, a man whom I had never met, who lived in a country that I had been born in, but had no recollection of.
“I still can’t believe it,” I said in awe as I watched the ocean breeze blow across the tall grass. “Up until last week, the only thing we owned was an old Jeep, and now we have an ancestral home, that dates to before the 1800s. Not to mention an island all to ourselves.” I smiled and looked at the woman who had stood with me through good times and bad. “And I have you to share it all with.”
Blythe moved to stand in front of me and gave me her hand. She pulled me up from my bed of clover and pulled a few stray pieces from my hair. “Can we stay, can we really live here?”
“For a while, my love.”
“We have a lot of work to do on the old place.” She tugged at my hand, leading me back up the hill to the place we dubbed Quinn Manor. “I have so many ideas, so many plans. I want to restore it back to its former glory.”
“He left us a fair amount of money,” I answered with excitement. “But we’re really going to have to budget or we’ll sink every penny into it, then there’ll be nothing to live on.”
Weeks slipped by as we worked tirelessly on the old home. One room was dedicated to housing the treasures we found as we cleaned away centuries of plaster and rotted wood to make way for the new. Among what we considered keepsakes were wooden toys, marbles, combs, hair pins, and assorted personal items, and of course, that damned box.
When Blythe found the box, we were both intrigued by the heart-shaped lock that kept its contents sealed. But we were so engrossed in our other finds that we shelved it for later exploration. It sat in the room gathering dust for months before she finally picked it up.
I was sitting at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee one evening, trying to decide whether to begin work on the library or leave it to the following morning. I glanced up as Blythe entered the room; her eyes were red and puffy, and when she looked at me, it was as if she was seeing me for the first time.
“What’s wrong, love?” I stood and took her shaking hand. “Sit down,” I said softly as I led her to a chair. I stroked her hair and waited for her to speak. The stunned look on her face and her silence were unnerving.
She opened her mouth, then her jaw snapped shut. A single tear trickled out of her right eye.
“If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I’m going to lose it any second,” I threatened, but a part of me was almost too afraid to hear what she had to say. In our thirteen years together, I’d never seen her look like she did that night.
“I…opened the box” was all she could say.
“The one we found with the lock on it.”
I had forgotten about the box, and the thought surprised me. I was so curious about it when we found it, but somehow I’d let it sit without a second thought. “What was in it?”
She looked up at me with such a strange expression. So much was going on behind those green eyes as she stared at me. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I sank down on my knees in front of her, her hands still trembling in mine. “Nothing has you this upset?”
She bowed her head and took a deep breath. “It was a love letter, and it was so sad.” She looked back up at me and managed a smile. “I’m a little emotional right now. I guess I overreacted.”
“Where’s the letter?”
I think that was probably the first time she ever looked me in the eye and lied. She explained that it was in such a fragile state that it literally crumbled in her hands. She claimed to have discarded it along with the box. I don’t know why I didn’t press her for the truth.
“I think we’ve been pushing ourselves too hard lately. We don’t have any deadlines to meet, so why don’t we just relax for a few days?”
She sighed wearily and sank into my arms. “Rest is exactly what I need—and a hot bath. Care to join me?”
“I’ll clean up down here and be right up,” I promised as she rose slowly and headed for the stairs.
As I cleaned the dishes, I wondered what she was holding back. Not one to be on the emotional side, whatever she’d found in that box had rattled her. In my heart, I knew she hadn’t thrown it away.
I sank down into the claw-footed tub and groaned as I settled into the hot water and leaned back against warm wet skin. Blythe immediately circled me with her arms and hugged me close. I rested my head on her shoulder and felt her lips nuzzling my ear, and it brought a smile to my face. All the years we shared together had done little to stifle my desire for her touch.
“Do you believe in family curses?” she whispered softly as her lips grazed my earlobe.
“I’ve never given much thought to it. Why do you ask?”
“The letter I found spoke of a curse, and it got me thinking.”
“Are you feeling comfortable enough now to tell me what it said?”
She sighed, and I felt her body tense against mine. “It was difficult to read, time made the paper very brittle, and there were gaps missing.” She lifted her cupped hand and let the water drift over my exposed skin. I noticed it tremble slightly before she lowered it back into the water. Again, I sensed that she was not telling me the truth.
“There was a woman who lived in this house many years ago who found out her daughter had taken a lover…” Blythe paused and shifted slightly. I could hear and feel her gulp back the lump in her throat. “She didn’t approve and placed a curse on her own child. The letter spoke of it and of the daughter’s undying love for the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. They were together thirteen years when this happened.”
“Just like us,” I murmured as she pushed me up and soaped my back.
“I guess that’s why it affected me so. It made me wonder what it would be like to be without you and how this woman must have felt, having her own mother curse her for a love she obviously felt so deeply.”
I closed my eyes and moaned as she squeezed the wash cloth and let the water cascade down my back. “What happened to the woman and did the curse ever manifest?” I asked as we shifted and I began to wash her back and neck.
“The bottom of the letter was torn. I was unable to read the last of it.”
“Who was she?” I watched as the muscles in her back tensed. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“There was no name, so I guess it would be futile to try and research it…I think it’s probably better to leave what’s in the past alone.”
My curiosity was piqued. I wanted to know more of this mysterious woman and what had become of her. If she once lived in this house, she was more than likely related to me. And at any other time, I would have pursued it, but for some reason, I just let it go.
After our bath, we climbed into bed, neither of us having enough strength to do anything but just lie there. A restless sleeper, Blythe always liked to have her space to toss and turn. She was content to just have a hand or a foot to keep the connection between us as we slept. But on this night and every night after, she pulled me close and held to me tightly as if afraid I would slip away from her.
In the months following, there were subtle changes in our relationship, too. We were always close, but now, we were even more so. Blythe was always mindful of where I was, and she stayed at my side.
We had always joked about the difference between really hot sex and making love. Throughout our relationship, there was both, but they seemed to intertwine—passion was always tempered by tender touches and caresses. And our coupling became more frequent with little regard for where we were. Of course, on that remote plot of land, we were never afraid of being caught.
One day, we were working on one of the upper floors. Blythe was taking a break on the balcony. I paused and looked at her as she stood there with the wind blowing through her hair. I loved the way the light brought out all the different shades of red, and I longed to have my hands filled with it. I crossed the room with the intention of joining her when I heard the creak of the wood. I watched in horror as the balcony gave way beneath her and she scrambled to grab a hold of anything to cling to.
I managed to grab the collar of her shirt as she clawed at fragments of wood that seemed to break each time she caught a grip. Larger than me, her weight pulled me halfway through the opening until I was able to lock my legs onto the frame. We hung there precariously for what seemed an eternity looking into each other’s terrified eyes.
The tension in her face disappeared as she looked up at me. “Let me go,” she said calmly.
“No!” I grunted as my legs began to cramp. “Just give me a second to get my strength.” I groaned, hoping that somehow I would find a way to pull us both to safety.
“I lied to you, Quinn. I didn’t throw away that box. It’s hidden in our treasure room, behind an old picture on the mantel.”
Tears slipped from my eyes and rained down on her. She was confessing, and that meant she was giving up. I didn’t have the breath to respond. I was using every ounce of strength to keep us from falling to the rocks below.
“You need to open the box.”
I shook my head and groaned. The nerve endings in my fingers were protesting as I clung to her shirt. I could feel the muscles in my legs relaxing involuntarily.
“I’ll always be with you, I promise. Let me go, love,” she pleaded softly and twisted, freeing herself from my grasp, giving her life for mine.
That day has haunted me for years, and I regretted that I was too cowardly to let myself go and fall with her.
From the moment I first laid eyes on her in that cramped little bookstore in New York, she had my heart. I didn’t even know her name, but I knew she was the one and that I wouldn’t leave that store without her and I didn’t. We walked along the crowded streets, and the only person I saw was her.
I wanted to know everything about her. I wanted to know what her first word was and I wanted to see her baby pictures. I wanted to know what made her laugh, what made her cry. I wanted to know if her lips were as soft as they looked, and within a few hours of meeting her, I found out.
The idea of a soul mate was a romantic notion until I met her. We never questioned how fast we came together, never took things slow. We met and we were and that was all there was. My heart never failed to skip a beat when she walked into a room. The muscles in my stomach never failed to flutter when I felt her caress. She was my world and I was hers, and we had little need for anything else.
A burst of wind buffeted the old house, and I was brought back to the present. I looked down at my trembling hands and noticed how they’d changed with time. The ring I still wore—the one she gave to me on our first anniversary—threatened to fall off my bony finger. My once strong hands were frail and covered with age spots. My ebony hair was now white, and I wondered for a moment what my love would have thought if she could see me now as an old woman. She would still love me no matter what the ravages of time had mercilessly done to me. I knew it in my heart.
No one else occupied the space in my heart reserved for her; no one could. I grew old alone in the house we planned to share. Restoration long forgotten, I let it die day by day right along with me.
My fingers twitched again, and I reached for the box. Settling it in my lap, I stared at it for a long time. All I had to do was lift the lid. It was the last thing she asked of me, and I had taken all these years to do it. But tonight was the time. I knew it, and the house seemed to know it, as well. Everything grew silent as I contemplated the object resting in my lap. Even the wind died down and seemed to be waiting for me.
I lifted the lid slowly and gasped. I don’t know what I expected to find, but I should have known it was the letter she claimed had been destroyed. With it was a photo perfectly preserved. I pulled on my glasses and studied the pair staring back at me. It was then I realized why Blythe was so affected by it that day so long ago.
We stood there together arm-in-arm, smiling as though we didn’t have a care in the world. And even though the picture was black and white, I could tell the sun was shining down on us. A parasol was casually thrown over her shoulder, and I had to chuckle at the sight of her in a dress, but then, that’s all women wore back then, at least in public. I turned the picture over and looked at the date while the realization filled my mind. On a sunny day in 1859, we visited the States, and this was the very first picture we had ever taken together.
I carefully opened the letter and tears streamed down my face as it became apparent why Blythe had lied to me so many years ago. The handwriting was her own.
My eternal love,
If you are now reading this, then you are aware of the truth, and I take heart knowing that once again, we will be together. In our thirteenth year, your mother discovered our true feelings for each other. She cursed us both that fateful day, and though she wished for my death, our love has sustained us. A loophole in time was created just for us.
We will meet again, my love, again and again, and I know without a doubt that my heart will follow you from this life to the next.
Yours forever and always,
I could feel my heartbeat slowing and heard a ringing in my ears. I knew it wouldn’t be long before Blythe was once again in my arms. I slipped the ring off my finger and placed it in the box next to the photo and the letter. With all the strength I had left in my old body, I rose from my chair and tucked the box back in the crevice where we originally found it, knowing that one day we’d find it all over again. I returned to my chair and rubbed my finger; the absence of the gold band made me feel naked. My last thoughts were of the inscription, Forever and always.
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