For an instant, while standing in her family’s beloved music room, Evie believed everything had been nothing more than a dream. Her quick death, and the in-between she’d found herself stuck within.
All of it.
What else accounted for her youngest sister, actually seeing her, talking to her?
Evie took a step towards her.
All the color blanched from Edith’s cheeks until she was a shade even paler than Evie’s skin in death.
She is afraid of me.
Abruptly, Evie stopped, and hovered some five paces away, cold in ways she’d not been in so very long.
She stole a glance back over her shoulder, to where Lionel waited…needing to see him. Because when she was with him, she wasn’t afraid or miserable or uncertain.
He held her gaze, and then gave his head a slight, encouraging nod, and that chill receded and light and warmth were restored.
“Evie!” Edith repeated, this time, more loudly, shattering that connection and bringing Evie’s attention swinging forward.
Her heart-shaped cheeks still pale, her big eyes, bigger than Evie ever recalled them, Edith slowly came to her feet.
“Is it you?” Edith’s whisper cut across the quiet.
And this time, Evie managed a nod. “It is.”
For an instant, she thought her sister didn’t hear her. She thought the connection had been shattered, and Evie’s voice and all the words she had for her family existed only in the in-between world Evie now belonged to.
But then, with a cry, Edith raced out from behind the pianoforte bench, and hurtled across the music room.
They met, each coming to an abrupt spot in the middle of the parquet floor, just several paces apart.
Edith’s white wrapper and nightshift fluttered wildly about her ankles, dancing in the air, and tangling with Evie’s pale-yellow skirts.
Evie’s younger stared back with terror in her eyes, and that evidence of her fear ripped Evie up. As desperate as she’d been to connect once more with her family, she’d have never come had she known she’d only bring dread. But, Evie was a ghost now. Of course her sister would be unnerved by her visiting.
“Please, don’t be afraid,” Evie implored.
Edith closed her eyes, and when she opened them, a peace now radiated from her pretty blue eyes. A smile slowly wreathed her cheeks.
“I’m not afraid of you, Evie. I never could be.” Edith frantically ran her gaze over Evie, as if seeking to commit her face to memory.
And mayhap she was.
“The only thing I’m afraid of is that this,” she gestured to Evie. “Is not real. I want it to be you, because I miss you so very much, Evie.”
Evie erased the last of the steps between them and took her sister’s hands in hers.
A soft glow formed a circle around their joined fingers.
“It is real, Edith,” she said quietly. “I am real.”
Edith’s gaze, however, remained locked on their linked palms. “They’re…tingling,” she whispered. “Like when you get pins and needles in your hands or feet.”
Evie felt it, too, a sensation was like a hyperawareness wrought by that powerful energy, a radiance that couldn’t be contained.
Edith briefly drew her hands back for a mere moment, and Evie fought the urge to snatch them back in hers, out of fear that theconnection would be severed and never again found.
That pulsing in her palms vanished, and the light around them faded.
“It stopped,” her sister remarked, and then quickly took Evie’s hands once more.
Instantly, that sensation flared to life, and this time, the light grew more vibrant about them.
An exultant laugh spilled from Edith’s lips, and that boisterous, joy-filled giggle proved contagious. Evie joined in laughing.
Edith snatched her close; she folded her arms hard and fast around her, and Evie held her back, squeezing tight, wanting to hold onto her forever.
“Do you feel it?” her sister asked, her eyes sparkling with joy and wonderment.
Incapable of words, Evie nodded. Yes, and what was more, she felt Edith.
They simply held one another that way.
Time as Evie previously known it in the living world had ceased to mean anything, in death. She’d no clear idea, no real indication as to how many months, or hours, mayhap even years, had passed. In this instance with her sister, she felt caught in that same ambiguous time continuum.
It was peculiar. There’d been any number of things she’d thought about saying or wished to say, and in this instant, all of them whirred and twirled in her head, one big jumble of incoherent thought lost amidst the splendor of being together with her sister, once more.
Edith edged away, and they locked eyes.
Her sister, on the other hand, had questions and words for the both of them.
“Are you in pain, Evie?” Edith asked, her voice catching.
“I’m not,” she murmured, stroking the side of her sister’s head.
“Are you sad?”
Was she sad? How funny how very different Evie’s answer would have been before…him.
“I was,” she admitted. “But not anymore.”
Unbidden, her gaze went to Lionel.
With his focus trained on the windows, he hovered there, silent, and waiting patiently, but removed enough as to allow her privacy with her sister.
As if he felt her eyes on him, he looked up.
They shared a smile.
No, she wasn’t sad. Not anymore. Now, there was him—Lionel. Lionel who could also meet her family, and they him, and that those who she loved most, would all know one another, brought profound peace.
“Evie?” her sister’s hesitant voice yanked her back. “What are you looking at?”
What was she looking at…?
Then, it hit her. “You can’t see him,” she whispered.
The light surrounding them flickered, and that tingling faded.
“See who?” her sister pressed.
“She can’t see me, Evie,” Lionel called over.
Knowing her sister couldn’t see and would never know Lionel, the man Evie had fallen desperately in love with, threatened to rend her in two.
“But…why?” she implored. “Why can she see me and not you?”
“See who,” Edith pleaded. “What is happening?”
Evie and Lionel ignored her.
“It doesn’t matter, love,” he soothed. “This moment isn’t about me but rather you, and your family.”
But he was her family now, too.
Her eyes slid briefly closed and she forced herself back into this moment she’d longed to be since her passing.
“I’ve felt you,” her sister said, and the peace within Evie was restored at that soft admission. “So many times. In this room, mostly. It is why I spend so much time here.”
“We always spent so much time here.” Evie drifted over to the pianoforte and depressed one of the ivory keys.
As that lone note echoed in the quiet, Edith widened her eyes. “I must get Emmy! And Mama and Papa”
Edith bolted. She raced across the room, cutting right through Lionel’s form, as if he were nothing more than a shadow and not the very real person who’d filled her with so much happiness.
With every step that separated Evie from Edith, the light and pulsing energy hanging over the room, grew more and more faint.
“Edith,” she called, and her sister jerked to a stop just before she would have hurtled through the entryway. “I don’t know what happens if you leave.”
Stricken, her sister turned back.
She briefly contemplated the corridor, and then headed towards Evie. This time, anticipating her approach, Lionel stepped out of Edith’s way.
“I miss you so much. We all miss you.”
Tears filled Edith’s eyes.
“Oh, Edith. I miss you all so much, too.” And joining Edith, she folded her in her arms and held her, she held her the same way she’d done when her sister had been just a toddling babe knocked to the floor by their beloved collie, Sir Brandy Alexander.
Edith wept, her warm tears dampening Evie’s chest.
She stroked her hands over her younger sister’s back.
“I don’t want you to be sad anymore,” Evie said quietly, and as she spoke, she discovered those words she’d initially intended to speak didn’t come from just a need to reassure the family she’d left behind. Rather, they came from a place of truth.
“I don’t want you and Emmy and Hutchinson and Mama and Papa to lock yourselves away inside mourning me. I want you to live again.”
Her sister opened her mouth, but Evie gripped her firmly by the shoulders..
“I came to say goodbye, Edith,” she said, at last understanding why she’d been so desperate to make this last connection.
More tears filled her sister’s eyes, and Evie caught them as they fell.
“I can’t go on without you.”
“Of course, you can. You must. And you will.”
Edith gave her head a frantic shake.
“Oh, Edith. I want you to experience it all.” Every last thing Edith never had or would. “I want you to hike your skirts up and run barefoot through the water…and…take center stage of a recital and just sing the brightest, most joyful song. Not those miserable, sad, serious arias all those other ladies will be singing,”
Her sister’s watery laugh melded with Evie’s.
“And write a song because you always loved to compose, and then you share those gifts with the world.”
She’d carried the same dream, too. Tears filled her throat, and she swallowed them down.
“Make a list, Edith,” she said, her voice thick. “I want you to make a list of every dream you carry, and the great things you plan to do in life, and I want you to make each one come true, because you have your entire life to live and it is meant to be lived.”
Evie held her gaze. “Do you hear me, Edith?”
Edith gave a shaky nod. “Y-Yes.”
A light breeze soft as a gentle gust of spring air, wafted over the room, and the sheets at the pianoforte went scattering and flying.
Lionel stood beside the pile of downed papers. He staredpointedly at them.
Shivering, Edith hugged her arms and rubbed. “I’m cold of a sudden, Evie. Are y-you?” fear leant a tremble to her voice.
“No, Edith.” Evie’s gaze remained on Lionel—a somber Lionel who sought to communicate something to her. “I feel only warmth.” She could never be cold as long as Lionel and her sister were here.
Evie joined him near those disordered papers
And up close, Evie noted the pages which her sister had been studying weren’t, in fact, sheet music.
Bending down, she picked one up, and skimmed her gaze not over music notes, but words.
~Sudden onset of illness
~Timing coincided with house party welcoming Hutchinson back from his tour
~Only person to fall ill following the event was—
Evie picked her head up. “What is this?” she asked, even as she could see, and knew.
Edith’s features grew animated. “You must see this, Evie!”
Then, she began to gesture and jab at the page as she spoke. “Emmy believes you weren’t sick. If you’d had an illness, as severe as you did, surely someone else would have been stricken. Mama, Papa, Emmy, Hutchinson and I were at your side through so much of it. None of us developed symptoms. Until it became impossible for you to join in the festivities, you were with all the guests. Not one of them fell ill. Not one, Evie.”
Her youngest sibling began to frantically flip through, and as she spoke, all her words tripped and tumbled over the other.
Evie again glanced at the lone page in her hands.
They’d figured it out, then…what Evie had suspected all along. They could avenge her.
Why didn’t that give her any kind of satisfaction, then? Why was there not a sense of triumph, or at the very least…happiness?
“…and we suspect it wasn’t you at all who was the intended target,” her sister was saying, and as she prattled on, the light around them dimmed. “Who—”
“Edith,” she said quietly.
“Could possibly stand to benefit if something were—”
“To happen to—”
“Edith!” she said, this time, more insistently.
The bright glow that had previously hung over the music room had nearly faded, and the previous darkness, with all its eerie, ominous shadows had crept back in.
“Edith,” Evie began. “I do not want you to obsess over my loss.”
It wasn’t about her. She, like her sisters knew it had never been.
Edith recoiled. “Evie, surely you aren’t simply saying we forget what happened to you.”
“I’m not saying that,” she said calmly.
“Then, what are you saying?” Edith pressed.
“What I am saying is, hand this information over to someone who can and will research so that you and Emmy and Hutchinson and Mama and Papa are safe.”
Whether she’d been the intended target or not, didn’t matter. The mercenary man who’d ended her life was still out there and if he discovered her sisters actively sought the truth, he’d undoubtedly silence them.
Her sister shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
Despite the tension of being at odds with her sister, this exchange also felt so…normal. In this instant, they were not loving sisters who’d been separated by death, but rather, siblings who occasionally didn’t see eye to eye, but who talked through it, and loved one another all the same.
“Edith, you must. If you are only focused on avenging me then you can’t truly live.”
“And what if it had been the other way, Evie,” Edith whispered. “Would you simply live your life, finding your own happiness, while all the while knowing the one who’d ended my life was still out there.”
Evie hesitated. For, she couldn’t say that. She’d always been the big sister. The protector of her youngest siblings.
“I didn’t think so.”
Her sister wouldn’t be deterred.
Hopeless, she looked to Lionel, and tensed.
At some point, he’d gone. “Lionel,” she said, sharply, glancing about.
“Evie? Who is Lionel?”
“I’m here,” he called, and she found him seated upon the chair that had long been hers.
His fingers rested almost tenderly upon the fingerboard of her cello.
Relief chased away all the panic which had come in thinking he’d left.
“I don’t know what to do,” she pleaded.
Lionel stood, and strode slowly over. “What I learned, Evie, was that those we loved must find peace in their own way.”
Tears blurred her eyes. “But I want them to be happy.”
“And they will,” he murmured, coming to rest just beyond her shoulder. “Just as my sister and best friends are.”
“Evie,” Edith entreated. Her tone grew more frantic. “Who is Lionel?”
“All you can do, Evie,” Lionel said. “Is set them free as you are able. The rest of those chains, they must see to themselves.”
Her sister’s gasp cut across Evie’s exchange with Lionel, and she glanced over. For a moment, hope filled her breast. Edith saw Lionel. She’d be able to speak to—
“Is Lionel the one who hurt you?” Edith whispered.
“Is…” She puzzled her brow, and then froze. “No!”
“Then…who is he?” A sudden understanding dawned in her sister’s eyes. “Was he a sweetheart we didn’t know of.”
“He is…” A sweetheart now. Except, could he truly be her sweetheart, if those feelings were one-sided?
Her cheeks went warm.
“Evie,” Edith exclaimed. “You are blushing.”
Splendid. Evie would be one who could blush, even in death.
She slid a sideways look over to Lionel.
That endearing, crooked, roguish grin hung on his lips.
“Oh, hush,” she muttered.
His grin widened. “I didn’t say anything.”
Edith giggled. “I didn’t say anything,” she said, mistaking Evie’s response as one for her.
“You didn’t need, too,” Evie said, her response, once again for Lionel.
Edith flung her arms around Evie. “You aren’t sad,” she whispered against her neck.
“No.” Before Lionel that assurance would have been a lie. Not any longer. “I’m at peace, Edith,” she said, stroking her back again, for what she knew would be a final time.
At some point, that pulsing energy between them, had begun to fade.
Evie edged out of her sister’s arms, and took her again by the shoulders. Crouching down slightly, she looked her in the eyes.
“I’m at peace,” she said again. “And you need to be, too. Promise me.”
Tears tumbled down Edith’s cheeks, and her younger sister gave an uneven nod.
“Promise me,” she repeated, lightly squeezing her.
“And you must urge Emmy and Hutchinson and Mama and Papa to do the same.”
Terror filled her sister’s luminous eyes. “Evie, you’re growing fainter.”
“It is all right,” she murmured, and it was as if the soft syllables of those assurances soothed her.
“I don’t want you to go,” Edith begged.
“You must let go, Edith,” she said softly. “For the both of us.”
Edith tensed, and opened her mouth. To protest?
But then stopped. When she opened her eyes once more, a softness had filled their blue depths.
“I will always hold onto the memories we shared, and I will forever love you,” Edith vowed.
And contained within that gentle promise was the one word her youngest sibling didn’t speak—but didn’t need to.
That fading light around them dimmed, and then flared to life like those white fireworks that briefly lit the skies over Vauxhall Gardens, and then only silence reigned over the music room.
Edith blinked, and glanced around.
At some point, night had given way to the bright, cheerful light of a new day. Those papers her sister had poured over had been scooped up, and carried off. The bench at the pianoforte now rested under that beloved instrument.
And then, the implications…the significance of it all.
They’d not left this in-between.
Neither, Evie, nor Lionel.
And Evie expected there should be a crushing agony and not this…confusion, more than anything.
“I’m…still here?” she said softly.
His hands clasped behind him, in a way that accentuated his muscular chest, Lionel stared back at Evie with an aching tenderness and more, sadness.
“You are,” he murmured.
Then, that perplexity, it grew, and grew, amassing like the enormous snowball she and her sisters had made at the Frost Fair all those many years ago.
“But…it doesn’t make sense, Lionel,” she entreated, rushing towards him.
He let his arms fall to his side, and she reached for his hands, grabbing them, gripping them the way she had her sister’s. Needing him and his warmth.
As she spoke, however, the reality of her existence settled in, clouding out any and all warmth she’d found at that beautiful but all too brief reunion with her sister.
“I felt at peace with her. I was able to say goodbye, and…yet…why am I here?” She couldn’t even manage to let him answer. “Why are you here? And if this is all there is, then, surely, surely there’d be others besides us in whatever this is?”
“I don’t know, Evie,” he said drawing her close, and she went into his arms. “I don’t have the answers for you. I wish I did. But I don’t even have the answers for me. I believed I didn’t make peace, because I didn’t have that real-life connection you just had now with your sister. What…?”
“What is this?” he finished that question for her. He finished both of them. “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know, Evie,” he said quietly.
She drew back.
Lionel, who knew everything, and who’d been both her guide and friend in this afterlife, for the first time, didn’t have answers, and that proved more terrifying than even the moment she’d discovered she’d died, and been separated forever from her family.
“Take me out of here, Lionel?” she asked.
He’d already opened his hand, and she slid her fingers into his larger, warm palm. Together, they left her childhood home.