Upon his passing, and finding himself alone in whatever empty, solitary hereafter he’d landed, Lionel came to reflect a good deal on silence.
When he’d been alive and breathing, he’d never much given much thought to the quiet for the simple reason, as a boy, and then a young gentleman there’d been no shortage of talk and noise. Between a younger sister always about, and a mother who loved to hear anyone—especially herself—talk about ton events and gossip, there’d been no dearth of din.
In fact, there’d been a perpetual chatter, that had often left him resisting the urge to drag a pillow over his head to blot out the noise.
How ungrateful he’d been.
He’d not appreciated the gift of the human voice—from the spewing gossip or explosion of laughter or words of annoyance—until he’d been surrounded by a deafening quiet.
Until his death, when he’d first found his way back home and found the once noisy townhouse blanketed in the worst, most awful silence; the heavy kind that left a faint ringing in one’s ears and highlighted just how very much alone he’d found himself.
Being alone with nothing more than a seemingly eternal quiet, however, had granted him with a…heightened ability that allowed him to see the world more keenly; to be in tune with the feelings of those he’d loved, and even strangers whose life he floated past and by.
Or mayhap, that had been a product of his death.
Or that was what he’d come to think anyway.
He’d been wrong.
With Evie at his side, day in and day out, it was rather hard to say if he’d simply made up the illusion of ‘silence’ in his head.
Strolling the quiet cobblestones, drenched in darkness, but for the fingernail moon hanging upon the sky, Lionel’s mind sought to keep up with Evie’s endearing chattering.
“…it does make sense…why, my sisters were alwaaaaystalking…as was I, and my mother, and Papa, and well, their friends, and their friends’ friends who were frequent visitors…”
His lips twitched, and he felt those muscles move, and it felt so very good to feel anything, and once more, it was all because of his new partner in the afterlife.
It was as though, in simply learning about the power of silence, Evie had come alive, and oddly, he along with her; rejuvenated in the energy of her energy.
“…but I swear, there were times when I lie abed, and it was silent, and it was as though I felt someone there,” she said, and Lionel desperately tried to attend the words she now spoke. All the while from the corner of his eye, his gaze continued going back to her.
She gripped him by his sleeve, and leaned up and in, and a scent lingered upon her skin, a strawberry scent that filled his nostrils and lungs, distracting him from any coherent thought. Her fingers clenched and unclenched upon his forearm, crushing the fabric. “Did you feel that?”
He did. God, he did, and had there ever been a touch as splendorous as hers? Lionel swallowed hard. Existing as nothing more than an ethereal specter capable of moving over and through people, he’d not felt…anyone or anything.
But he felt her touch, and he felt…her.
Her dark eyebrows dipped a fraction, as she settled back onto the slight heel of her slipper. “Or…perhaps it is just me?” Evie released his forearm, and he felt the loss of her touch, as keen as dying a new death, all over. “…but I swore I felt their presence.” She chewed at her fingertip and stared off into the swirling night fog, as if contemplating that ghostly white swirl.
She swore she felt their presence?
And he came whirring back to the present and her question. She’d not been referring to her touch upon him; as powerful and intoxicating as it had been the first time he’d felt the caress of another human, all those weeks ago since they’d met. But rather she’d been reminiscing on past times when she’d been alive, and had felt the presence of a specter.
“You did, Evie,” he said quietly, and her trance-like stare on the night shadows broke, as she whipped her gaze to Lionel. “You felt them.” He moved his eyes over the slightly too angular, and all the more intrigue for it, plains of her face. “I both believe that and know it.”
She beamed, clasping her hands to her breast. “You do!”
Her statement didn’t have the uptilt of a question. Instead, hers emerged an exultant declaration, as though his words were fact and not some unknown that would forever exist among both humankind and the dead.
“It makes complete sense,” she said, resuming her walk; a jaunty skip-like movement to her steps. “Because you and I are real and there…well, here,” she smiled. “You know what I mean. So if we are, then others are, and if we are around people who is to say that they cannot at least feel our presence?”
She opened her mouth to say something more, and he stiffened, already shaking his head, knowing what she would say. “I want to go see my family. To see if—”
“I know they’ll be able to see me,” she continued over his interruption.
“You haven’t been seen by anyone since we’ve begun practicing.”
She stamped her foot, endearingly innocent with that impatient gesture. “Because they are strangers, and they aren’t looking for me, Lionel. They don’t miss—”
“It’s not time yet,” Lionel clipped out that declination of the request she continued to put to him.
She stuck her tongue out. “Oh, phoo.” All his muscles went taut as he prepared for her to continue the debate, but wonder of wonders, she let the matter rest, and all the tension eased from him.
“…though it does of course, make sense that something happens to us when we are no longer with the living.” She continued rattling on; simultaneously making queries, and then answering her own questions, debating herself; only to win her arguments, and then present a counterchallenge that left him dizzy as she spoke.
The lady…glowed; happiness had bathed the pale cream of her cheeks, in a soft crimson color. She had the look of any young debutante, who’d just made her debut, and for whom the shine of innocence had not been lost.
Unlike the living ladies he had known and now observed in death, who’d begun fresh like Evie, but who with the passage of time, he’d come upon again…and find them with their eyes harder, their lips more brittle, and their radiance…gone.
Evie, however, would forever exist in this eternal state of innocence, and…peculiar and wrong as it may be …it felt somehow…right that she should be unchanged. No veneer of hardness should not chase away the essence that was her.
She stopped abruptly; and her nose scrunched up in an endearing way. “What?” she asked, a little frown on her full mouth.
She peered at him. “Are you blushing, Lionel.”
“Impossible,” he muttered.
She pointed her eyes up to the night-sky clogged with clouds and fog. “Because you are a big, strong, handsome man.”
“Because I’m dead,” he said bluntly.
And then stopped; a half-grin formed on his lips. “Big, strong, handsome man, am I?”
Another splash of color doused her cheeks. “Oh, hush. You know you are all of those things, Lionel.” With another roll of her eyes, she resumed her stroll.
“Actually, I don’t,” he called after her, and also promptly wished to recall those three words.
The lady whipped around.
“I died, Evie. I never had a sweetheart. I was still in university where I was just old enough to…to…” and wonder of wonders he did feel warmth wash over his cheeks.
Evie stared expectantly at him. “Yes?” she urged, taking a step closer.
Clasping his hands behind him, Lionel rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “I was old enough to be aware of women, but with older, more seasoned chaps about, too young to ever be noticed by those same ladies.” Then there’d been the women in the brothels who’d noticed him because of the coins he’d paid for their attention.
Evie contemplated him. Even in the hereafter, where time didn’t make sense; where it all blended and melded together, now it did, and the moment felt long, and interminable. Then, she glided closer towards him, floating with graceful steps, until she reached him.
And then, she took one of his hands in hers.
He stared at their joined fingers; his reflexively gripping hers.
His mouth went dry.
He forgot to breathe.
Hell, he’d not even known he could breathe. And he’d not there was any moisture in his mouth to go dry.
“You think you can’t blush,” she murmured, and he struggled to make out words through his dazed head. “because we are…” Evie tripped over her words. “because we are not who we once were.”
Because they were dead. She still could not comfortably say those words. And unlike so many times before he’d taken pains to point out the distinction, this time he remained enrapt by her husky murmurings. “But you feel this.” Evie brought his palm against her cheek, and she leaned that touch she’d initiated, like a kitten seeking warmth.
His body stirred.
And then, she moved his hand to the bodice of her modest white dress; placing it along the high beribboned neckline, and he ceased to breathe all over again, but for reasons that had nothing to do with dying, and everything to do with being reborn of his desire for the woman before you.
“And you feel this,” she whispered.
And through a haze of lust and hungering, he felt it.
It was an all-too fleeting touch. She relinquished his hand, and he mourned that loss even more than he had his own miserable life.
Evie dampened her lips, darting the tip of a pink tongue out, and trailing it along that luscious seam of full flesh.
“Those women,” she began, and he shook his head in confusing, struggling to follow; his thoughts all disordered. She clarified. “the ones who noticed the older gentlemen? They were foolish,” she murmured, her eyes sliding over his features, assessing him the same way he’d assessed her before, the same way he studied her now. “I would have noticed you,” she said softly. And then singing a quieter, slightly forlorn tune in her discordant way, Evie gathered up her skirts, lifting her hem slightly, and resumed her walk.
As she strolled, dodging puddles as if stepping within those small pools upon the cobblestones would leave her feet wet as they had when she’d been living, he stared after her, more than a little afraid that selfishness compelled him and his guidance around her lessons.
That he feared reuniting her for a moment with her family, would mean she achieved what Lionel still sought—peace—and that when she had it, she would disappear from the afterlife, and somehow, he knew, deep within him…that the isolation of these past years would be nothing when compared to the void that would exist when she was no longer with him.