“There’s been no talk of actually carrying out a reversal. It’s all theory and speculation. Nothing more.”
“Hmmm,” I mused, scratching my head. “I seem to remember the Holocaust starting with talking. You know what else? Those crazy e’ffers that drove the planes through the twin towers didn’t get there without first talking about how they could kill as many innocent Americans as possible. You want to know who else I’d bet my Immortal life started out talking before killing?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “Those British bastards that murdered our mom, sister, and Nathanial’s wife, right before they turned their muskets on the five of us.” I fought through the bowling ball sized lump in my throat. “Talk is every beginning, the catalyst to every horror story in mankind’s history. Talk is dangerous.”
“Talk is dangerous?” William repeated in his ever calm voice. “This coming from someone who never shuts up?” Now he was smirking.
“I’m dangerous,” I said.
Bryn exhaled her agreement.
“You’re a Hayward. Of course you are,” William said, grinning. “But in case the pessimist in you fails to remember, talk has been the catalyst for good as well. It’s a tool that can be used for evil just as much as it can for good.”
Of course the good professor could deliver a lecture that could convince the most rigid of the cynics.
“What matters, what you should concern yourself with, is whose hands the tool is in.” I snorted, crossing my arms. “Yeah, Chancellor Hayward. A very responsible and active participant in the last ‘talks’ before the Reversal Project ended the lives of friends we both cared for.” His expression didn’t change. Trying to fluster William was as impossible an endeavor as it was trying to keep me calm. “And Bryn,” he said, nodding at the woman who, at one time, we’d both loved.
“And me,” he added, staring at me—making sure I was taking mental notes. “And now you too.” I scrubbed my hands over my face. Damn it was infuriating how much sense he made when sense was the last thing I wanted to see. But he was right. I couldn’t decipher father’s intentions—he was too much a the-needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few brand of soldier—but I knew the stuff the three of us were made of.
It was the kind of stuff that believed no one’s life was worth the advancement of our kind. An eternal life lost was not worth uncovering the secrets and possibilities of reversal.
“Fine, you’ve made your point,” I grumbled, hacking into the pie again as William’s fork zoomed in.
“Does it ever get old being right all the time?”
He took a bite that was all apples and ice cream, smiling through it. “Not really, no.” Sighing, I clanged my fork against his when he came in for seconds. “Bugger off. Get your own dessert.”
Setting his fork down, his eyes trailed across the room, falling on one blushing bride. “I intend to.” I cringed, letting it shake my whole body. “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.” William was throwing an all but giggling and giddy Bryn over a shoulder when I bolted off my stool. I might be over Bryn, but being a fly on the wall while one’s big brother was a set of stairs and one hallway away from getting it on with my former love interest was wrong on every level.
“I’m outta here,” I said, knowing I’d be early, but it was late enough that, hopefully, Emma and Julia would be asleep by now. “Thanks for the dinner, Bryn.”
“You liked it?” she asked, forcing her laughter to freeze frame.
“You see any leftovers?” I replied, as William man-handled her out of the kitchen.
“I made it, you know,” she said, and I didn’t need to see her face to know just how proud she was of herself.
I don’t think I would have been more shocked if she’d just said she was preggers. “You went all Stepford on me, Bryn!” I hollered. “I didn’t take trophy wife as your thing, but from those mashed potatoes, I can see I was wrong.” I grinned despite William’s footsteps attacking the stairs. I loved few things more than giving someone, especially someone as easily baited as Bryn, a hard time.
“Didn’t your dad ever teach you not to piss off a Taker?” she hollered back, before she shrieked, followed by another giggle.
I was so out of here.
“Have fun,” I muttered, partly grossed out, but mainly jealous. I wanted to be able to touch my woman like William could, was, at present, touching his. Hell, I would have been happy with one chaste kiss, but that was out of the question since I expected a full scale meltdown would ensue if Emma woke to find her boyfriend, who was supposed to be serving the last few weeks of his four month sentence, lurking in her bedroom.
Speaking of lurking in her bedroom…
God, I loved my gift. I could go from prison, to inhaling steak and apple pie at my brother and sister-in-law’s, to standing in the center of a dark room, staring at the girl who could take my breath away sporting a ratty Stanford tee and a high ponytail.
I did a quick check over my shoulder to ensure the goddess of darkness wasn’t brewing a potion or stabbing a voodoo doll and sighed my relief when I found Julia’s bed empty. Maybe she was at her favorite cemetery, performing a séance or studying the existentialism of mankind.
Turning back towards the bed I wanted to crawl into, I took a couple steps closer, kneeling beside her. She breathed the steady rhythm and wore the face of a person who didn’t fall asleep to nightmares.
But Emma had nightmares. The kind that came from the horrors of real life. The kind that knew what a girl who’d watched her dad abuse her mom and had fallen into the same trap would run away screaming from most.
Emma had always been a pro at hiding what she was really feeling deep inside. It was something she couldn’t let go of even while she slept. She could be having the sweetest of dreams, but I knew she likely wasn’t.
Of course I was delirious enough to hope that recent events and her recent boyfriend acquisition might be changing that.
She suddenly rolled onto her side so she was facing me. If I was gun-shy, I would have jolted, but I stayed right where I was, letting my eyes absorb as much of her face as I could. The perfect in its imperfection face I’d fallen for months ago. The only face I could ever love. I’d spend eternity alone if Emma one day woke up and decided I wasn’t it for her anymore.
That scared the hell out of me, knowing some person other than myself had that kind of control over my life, but it was also kind of special. When I realized the world didn’t revolve around me—when I realized I wanted to live my life making someone else happy. It was oddly freeing.
I was smiling like a damn fool, staring all dreamy eyed at a sleeping woman, but damn fool fit me pretty well.
Emma’s hand was splayed over her pillow, her fingers curling just enough into the billowy fabric to give away that whatever dream or nightmare was unfolding now was intense. I ached from wanting to touch her, ached like a disease had worked its way into my bones.
Unable to fight it any longer, my hand moved towards hers, just to brush it ever so lightly, I assured myself.
Myself was not good at assuring.
I knew once my skin connected with hers, even for a heartbeat, I’d be a lost cause for skin-to-skin celibacy. I’d want to weave my fingers through hers, curl up beside her until my body ran against every inch of hers, wrapping both my arms around her until I couldn’t determine where I ended and she began.
Shaking my head in an attempt to calm myself, I bit my fist too, hoping physical pain would deter me from this line of crazy thought. It was futile of course; nothing short of a team of Immortals intent on ending my eternity would be painful enough to stop me from putting idea into action.
If I wasn’t gaping at her, I wouldn’t have believed the word had come from her mouth. I waited for more, another word or for her to stir, but nothing came. Nothing other than a slow forming, long staying smile.
Did she know I was here?
I doubted it, because if she did, she wouldn’t still be asleep. She’d throw herself on me in either a ball of excitement or a ball of terror for being in her bedroom when my bar studded room was a few dozen miles away.
So she was dreaming about me.
My smile managed to jack higher, although I knew from the levels of smug I could feel elevating, it was tilted higher on one side. My Emma was having lewd, pure, amorous, or I-didn’t-care-what-else dreams of me, and I wanted to dance an Irish jig.
To be a fly on the walls of that dream world…
I heard the footsteps coming down the hall, the heavy clopping reminiscent of a Clydesdale trotting down a cobblestone road telling me it was a purple steel-toed boot-wearing culprit. Julia was going to be here soon.
Which meant I’d have to leave my smiling, dreaming of me, sleeping girl soon.
“I love you, Emma Scarlett,” I whispered, going against every instinct in my body and brushing the back of my thumb down her arm.
And then I was gone, as silently and suddenly as I’d appeared.
At the end of the day, or the end of the night, a felon belonged behind bars.
“That hairnet looks mighty fine on you, Hayward,” Mr. Rogers yelled across the kitchen at me as he slopped something of a medium gray consistency into a serving tray.
You see, when it came to jail food, everything was some shade of gray. Where the geniuses that created the menus got creative was in the consistency. We inmates were blessed with no, medium, heavy, and brick-like consistency for variety.
If the time served wasn’t deterrent enough to stay out of trouble on the other side, flashbacks of the food would be enough to keep any man from stealing a subcompact again. In my Immortal, no real need to eat opinion, no food was better than god-awful food. I might have cooked the crap, but I wasn’t dumb or desperate enough to eat it.
It helped I was able to gorge on a rainbow of deliciousness at one of my three sisters-in-laws’ every night.
“If I wasn’t positive you’re lashing out only because your receding hairline no longer requires a hair net, I’d be dishing out a tongue lashing comeback right about now,” I hollered back, putting my back into stirring the gray slop of a brick-like consistency—soup, is what it was called on the menu—in the metal vat deep enough to hold a man.
Mr. Rogers chuckled the creepy kind of laugh. The kind that schizophrenic mass murderers emitted throughout a horror movie. “You got yourself a woman waiting for you on the other side?” he asked at the conclusion of that spine spasming chuckle.
I was caught off guard for a moment, which didn’t happen often. Mr. Rogers had been my cellmate for nearly four months, and he was about as talkative as a corpse, and—on the rare occasion he did open that mouth of his—it was about nothing personal. Sports, the weather, foods he couldn’t wait to eat when he got out—that kind of thing. This was the first time he’d ever been the initiator of anything of a personal quality.
“Yeah,” I answered, continuing to stir the slop so it didn’t burn on the bottom. However, burnt might at least add a little flavor, so I stopped stirring. “I’ve got a girl on the other side.”