“Hey, Em,” I said, feeling that ache in my gut balloon. You would have thought having her closer would deflate it, but it somehow only made it larger.
“Hi, Patrick.” She was looking at me, but not in that way I’d grown used to. The I-want-you-here-and-now-and-forever look.
I cleared my throat. “Not that I really care since I get a few unexpected minutes with you, but how did you manage to coerce the Gestapo into letting you in during non-visiting hours?” She wiped the smile, shy and all, right off my face with the look she leveled at me. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, tapping her fingers over the tabletop. “How about I’ll enlighten you if you enlighten me?”
This could have been one of those instances where I played dumb. I was, after all, a pro at it, but something about Emma’s I’m-a-woman-on-the-verge look assured me this wouldn’t fly.
A response required another clearing of the throat.
Holding up her hand as I prepared to explain in the most informatively vague way I could, she said,
“Before you try to appease me with a pack of white lies, let me stop you.” Stop me she did. Just from the way she was holding me with those green eyes would have shut me up had her words not been up to the task.
“I know there’s something different about you. Something that isn’t like the rest of us. Something that isn’t like anyone I’ve ever known.”
I had to bite back the dozen automatic responses that came with this segue. Inserting a list of adjectives that included charming, sexy, fiercely enigmatic, so on and so forth, would have done nothing more than put me out of the game.
“I’ve known this for a long time, but chose to overlook it.” She blew out a slow stream of air, looking as lost as I felt. “But after last night”—her eyes drilled through me, screwing me to the wall behind me—”I can’t overlook it anymore.”
Here it was: the question. The one I’d never heard before because I’d never allowed myself to get close enough to beings of the other existence to ask—the question I’d only heard told around campfires.
The question that could end it all.
“What are you, Patrick?”
She was close to tears; the resolution set in her jaw and determination drawn through her brows couldn’t mask them. Above everything else at this moment, I wanted to comfort her. I needed to pull her to me and keep her there until she’d been sucked dry of every last tear ready to fall from her eyes right now.
She stared at me, waiting for an answer. I knew without an ultimatum that silence was the only thing I’d get from her if I didn’t answer her question to her satisfaction.
I sighed, resolved that nothing would be the same between us again. For better or for worse, the innocence I’d wanted Emma to retain from my world was going up in flames. But somehow, I’d always known this day would come. And the increasingly unselfish pieces of me wanted it to, knowing I couldn’t keep something like my existence and the Rubix cube of shit that came with it from her.
I wasn’t an expert when it came to loving a woman, but I knew transparency and honesty were kind of critical to keep the relationship going.
“Do you have any plans this weekend?” I asked finally.
“Are you really just going to ignore the question I asked you?” she said, her shoulders sagging.
“Don’t you think I deserve the truth? I love you, Patrick,” she emphasized, pleading at me with her eyes.
“Nothing will change that.”
“Baby, of course you deserve the truth,” I said. “And that’s just what I plan to give you, but I can’t this instant for obvious reasons.” I eyed the obvious reasons yawning, scratching, and picking themselves staggered around the room. “Do you have plans this weekend?”
“No.” She sighed. “No plans this weekend, unless you count getting some serious answers from you.” The slightest smile was lightening her expression.
And just like that, the worst was over. One of the million reasons I loved Emma was her ability to swim the opposite direction of the rest of her gender. She could get over something and move on faster than I could teleport into the next room.
“Answers I have,” I said, curling my fingers into the glass when her hand formed outside of mine.
“And answers you’ll have soon.”
Staring at me like I was an enigma, she chewed on her lip. “Okay, I’m just going to go with this. I’m not going to get hung up on the fact you’re in jail, or that none of your vagueness is making sense, or that I almost ran face first into someone that could be your twin last night.” Inhaling, she closed her eyes. “I’m going to trust you. Just like I have from the beginning.” And then her eyes opened, dead into mine. “Don’t let me down.”
“I won’t,” I vowed. It was an easy one to make—nothing was more important to me than never letting her down. It was my life’s mission.
“You remember my little brother, Joseph?” I asked rhetorically. No one ever forgot Joseph once they met him. Whether it was the smile, the infectious boyish charm, or the fact he was a damn Greek god incarnate, he was something of a memorable man. “The obnoxious, snarky runt of the family that smiles like a damn fool everywhere he goes?”
She nodded her head, still worrying over her lip, which made it difficult to concentrate. The attention she gave to her lip made me want to give it the same attention.
“He’ll come pick you up tomorrow morning and take you back to Hayward headquarters—” I said, not sure if I should divulge he was already tailing her without her knowledge.
“In Montana?” she interrupted, one notch south of a shriek.
One of the guards in the middle of a yawn zeroed in on us, but not for long as a couple of lovers in a mini bout couldn’t hold a candle to whatever was bothering him up his right nostril.
I nodded once, hoping somewhere in my eyes, expression, or soul she found the reassurance she needed. “Trust me.”
“Remind me to be anti-trust in my next life, will you?” she said, curling her fingers against the glass.
Save for a half inch of melted sand, we would have been entwined. “So, Montana. Tomorrow. Answers.” Shaking her head, she grinned at me. “Sounds like it will be a hell of a weekend.” I grinned the one she loved most. Well, all the girls loved most. “Guaranteed, baby.” One day. Twenty four hours. Fourteen and forty hundred minutes.
I’d lived two centuries plus worth of days, but after living this past one, I’d come up with a new name for them.
I’d never wanted a day to pass so quickly before. Just as much, I never wanted a day to pass so slowly. I was such a wreck on Saturday I accidentally substituted salt for sugar in the vanilla sheet cake and been the catalyst for a very near full-on inmate rebellion. I learned my first week that you can’t mess with one of the few luxuries left in a man’s life.
And to top the day from hell off, Mr. Rogers took his sweet time falling asleep. Every night before, I swear every last one, he was off to dreamland about two point five seconds after laying down. Tonight, when I knew my girlfriend was waiting for me—for the first time in months, I’d be able to really touch her
—a half hour wasted away before his breathing evened out.
I didn’t waste one more impatient second.
I was pulling on the first suit I put my hands on in my closet before you could say eager. I heard the chorus of familiar voices a floor below, and my heart sped up, moving faster than my hands—I couldn’t change fast enough.
Her voice wasn’t mixed in with the rest, but I knew she was here. It was like another piece of me was one floor down.
I was in such a hurry, I buttoned my shirt up wrong and had to start again. This time, I made sure I was getting the right button in the right hole. I was a ball of nerves, the good ones that derived from excitement and the bad ones too. The ones that derived from apprehension and fear.
I had no idea how informed I’d find Emma. I would walk down those stairs, towards her, having no shadow of a clue how much she knew of the not-so-finite me. I knew my family would handle this situation delicately and try to leave the Q and A session to me, but I didn’t underestimate the persuasive qualities of the woman I loved. She’d been with Joseph—the man couldn’t keep a secret if you sewed his mouth shut—since this morning. Trapped in the confines of a car on the way to the airport, trapped in first class, then trapped on the ride from the airport to home.
I’d be lucky if she didn’t already know every last damn secret of Immortality and didn’t burst through the back door running away from me forever when she saw me. Then again, maybe Joseph bit into his tongue and went against everything in him and kept his mouth shut. Maybe she knew nothing and was waiting for me to spill it.
Stepping out of the closet, I realized how screwed I was.
I was walking into a situation I had little to no knowledge of, a situation I had next to no control over. The odds for coming out of this one unscathed weren’t good, but nothing I could do would change the odds in my favor, and I was in far too deep to walk away. This was Emma we were talking about; walking away had never been an option.
I closed my eyes at the top of the staircase and imagined breathing calm in and uncertainty out. I tried one more time—bring in the good, let out the bad—when I came to the conclusion meditation wasn’t for me. I was an action man; the only way to calm my nerves was to confront the source of my anxiety face to face.
Gliding silently down the stairs, I picked out her laughter from the mix. It was tight and a tad clipped, but the fact she was still laughing was a good sign. She either knew nothing about the f’ed up world that is Immortality or was copacetic with whatever tidbits she’d gleaned. Knowing what I did of prior instances of Mortals finding out about the other side, I presumed my first conclusion was more correct than my second.
I let my footsteps emit some noise as I walked to the kitchen, just enough so the Immortal sets of ears would know I was coming. The room was silent save for Joseph’s dimming laughter when I made my appearance.
All eyes shifted my way, although hers took a while.
She knew I was here, straddling the doorway like it was a line I needed to be invited over. She was just as aware of me on a subconscious level as I was of her, but she looked like I had at the top of the stairs.
Focusing on getting her emotions in check before she faced the storm.
The stares of my family went from me to her, then repeated. Their expressions were a mix of reassuring, supportive, and in William’s case, empathetic.
A lifetime passed before she looked at me, and when she did, my knees gave out a little from the emotion in her eyes. It wasn’t anger, and it wasn’t fear she was regarding me with; it was much worse.
It was like she was looking at a stranger.
She knew. More than I wanted, but knowing my tight lipped family, still not enough.
I fought every instinct dying to break loose and didn’t cross the space between us in a rush and fold her into my arms so as to remind her who I was and not what I was.