When Ed woke up in the morning, he could feel something strange in the air.
He tried to call for Maggie but got no answer. It wasn’t the first time she hadn’t shown herself, but this time – after what had happened the night before – it felt off. Ed looked around the entire apartment, nervous. It was Monday, though, and he had to go to the office.
That day the usual morning meeting with his boss didn’t go as originally planned. They ended up not talking about customers at all and secretly whispering about the green notebook Ed had brought him.
Edward asked to be kept out of the matter. The possible complications of him being found out by the culprits were something he didn’t want to suffer, even if he had felt the duty to denounce them.
He explained to the boss he had by chance overheard a conversation between the manager and Rose and had started investigating by himself until he had realized there must have been some kind of evidence hidden in that office. Then he had found a way to sneak inside it, but he couldn’t give more details to avoid involving innocent third-parties.
His boss was happy enough with those terms. The notebook he had brought him was priceless.
For the first time since Edward was in the firm, he could see his boss was deeply worried. Of course, he thought: one of his most important managers, someone he had almost started the company with, was working against the firm. Edward could hardly imagine what his boss was going through.
That said, Ed was promised to be kept out of the matter. The issue would be solved without his involvement. After that meeting, Edward didn’t speak about that with his boss anymore.
It was just some weeks afterwards that, due to a sudden unexplained lay-off of a top manager and his assistant, he found himself rising through the ranks fast enough that everyone was picturing for him a radiant future as one of the heads of the same law firm he had despised, just a couple of months before.
But this is another story.
The days passed, one after another, one equal to the other.
Edward continued to call out for Maggie, day after day, night after night, without getting any answer. The ghost seemed to have suddenly disappeared.
Now, some details of their last evening together were starting to make sense. The way she had seduced him; the reason she had wanted him to fuck her; the cuddles that she had reserved him after sex and those short glimpses of sadness he had caught into her eyes.
Could it be, that the girl already knew she was going to disappear? He wondered.
After two weeks, he even tried to contact the old lady, but she seemed not to be at home much in those days. Moreover, the only times he had had the chance to see her in the garden, he had had the feeling the lady was trying to avoid him.
That didn’t matter anymore, though. He wanted to have a tea with her, because he had somewhat got grown fond of her, but on the other hand he feared all the memories that her living room would bring afloat in him. And if they didn’t speak about the ghost, what could they speak of?
It was only after a couple of weeks that he found the courage to react. The truth is, Maggie had changed him more than he had thought. He wasn’t a solitary nerd anymore, but indeed he had realized he needed human contact more than any other things. And even if it wasn’t going to be easy finding a girl like Maggie – or any other one for what mattered – he had to find a way to counter that vicious circle of sadness that was going to lead him back to the person he had been, and he didn’t want to be anymore.
One night, coming back from work, he decided to push himself into doing something he had rarely done, before. Once in front of his building, inside of pushing the wooden door and entering the yard, he crossed the road and entered the small pub that was probably the only social meeting place in the neighbourhood.
Rob, the bartender and owner of the pub, was a good man in his early fourties. He was enough the social type to engage useless conversations just for the benefit of keeping company to a customer, and yet discreet enough to understand when Ed needed to be there, among others, and yet alone with his thoughts.
From that evening onward, Edward began taking his evening teas at the pub. The tea sometimes led to a beer or a whiskey as he met and got acquaintance with more of the pub’s customers. Soon, he found himself looking forward to that short span of time in the evening. A time – and a place – where there wasn’t anything remembering him of Maggie, anything to drag him down to the abyss of sadness.
And so it continued, day after day until the weeks passed and he ran out of tears.
The heavy stone crashing his heart had started to slowly disappear.
Ed didn’t pay attention to the sound of the chimes indicating the opening of the main door of the pub, behind him. He was used to it, it just meant another customer had arrived. Even if months had already passed, that was one of those evenings when he wasn’t really in the mood to talk, and as such he was sipping his hot tea at the bar, only occasionally exchanging some words with Rob. It has been raining all day, anyway, and most of the people had just stayed home: the pub was almost empty.
But everything, suddenly changed when he heard the voice coming from the door.
“Sooo… Gross! Utterly disgusting!”
Ed started. If the door opening and closing behind him was a nuisance he had gotten accustomed to, the voice that followed wasn’t.
He didn’t know that voice, at all; not the vocal timbre, nor the intonation, and yet the way the girl – because it was a girl’s voice – had said the words, the way she had chosen them, caused a rush of blood to redden his face.
He turned around to look at the newcomer. There, standing by the door, he could see the back of a girl removing her wet rain-coat. After a moment, when she turned around, Ed couldn’t believe his own eyes.
“Ma… Maggie?” he stuttered, looking at her. She seemed not to hear, anyway, but as Ed looked at her a little longer than normal, she felt the need to speak.
“There’s a drunkard throwing up just outside the door, it is utterly disgusting, I swear!” she said, as to justify her precedent outburst. Then she covered the distance separating her from the bar and sat on a stool next to Ed.
For a while, he couldn’t take his eyes off of the girl.
No, she wasn’t Maggie, and yet she was. Her light, green eyes were very different from the ghost’s dark ones, but her brunette, straight hair, her petite body and most of all the thin shape of her face… Everything matched.
She didn’t pay attention to the way he looked at her, though. The girl was leaning beyond the bar, searching for the bartender. When the man came back from the back shop with a bunch of bottles in his hands, he looked at her with a questioning frown.
“Hi, I’m Teresa,” she said reaching out to shake his hand. “I’m here for the waitress job. You still looking for someone, right?”
“Ah, yeah, you must be the old woman’s niece. She came personally to ask if the position was still vacant. A very strange thing to do for a woman that otherwise, we rarely see. She is the dodgy type, your granny, ain’t she?” Rob asked.
Edward couldn’t restrain to listen to their conversation, and his heart began to race.
That girl… Could she be the niece of Mrs Turner? He remembered to have seen a young girl in the photos in the wooden dresser in the old woman’s living room, but the girl was so young he could have never recognized her from those old photos, nowadays.
“You still got the job? I bet you can’t find anyone working for you, in this godforsaken place,” she said. “I can begin tomorrow.”
Both the owner and Ed were taken a little aback by the girl’s bold behaviour. The first, because that didn’t fit a girl looking like Maggie at all, the second because the girl had pretty much decided to work there by herself. And who was Rob, now, to tell her to piss off?
The owner smiled, though, exchanging a knowing look with Ed.
“What about starting tomorrow, at 17:00?” Rob asked.
“I’ll be here just before 17:30,” she said cutting him off with a hand, and turning the bar stool to Ed.
“Hey, did I misheard, or you called me Maggie when I got in?”
Ed met her eyes and found himself unable to withstand her gaze. He looked away, finding an excuse on the cup of tea that he had left on the bar. He sipped it, thinking about what to answer. If the girl was really who he thought she was, though, he could try a direct approach. Moreover, she didn’t seem the kind of girl who liked to beat around the bush.
“I did,” he simply said, and he was going to continue but the girl talked him over.
“Was that a reference to the legend of the chained bride?” she asked, then leant on the bar. “Hey, one beer here!” she yelled at the bartender that had disappeared, again, into the back shop.
“Do you know it?” he asked, faking only a mild interest.
“Ohh, my granny and mom bragged so much about this phantom ghost that supposedly still lives in the building, that I could repeat you the story word for word,” she said.
“By the way, you can call me Terry. And you would be?” she asked, grabbing and shaking his hand.
“I’m Edward, you can call me Ed.”
For a moment, he had to fight back the tears that were beginning to wet his eyes. Apart from her look, that girl was very different from the Maggie he had known, and yet he had the same scent.
“So, nice to meet you, Ed,”
They didn’t speak for a while, sipping the tea and the beer Rob had given her. The sound of the distant television on the other side of the pub was filling the otherwise embarrassing atmosphere.
It was Terry to break the silence.
“You may think I’m strange but… I have this feeling,” she started, “that I already know you.”
“Ohh, Maggie, I know you better than you could even-” he began to say, but stopped as he realized he had used the wrong name.
“Maggie, again? This is getting awkward, you know that?”
“Would it be awkward if I say I love you?”
The words had just escaped him, and yet he didn’t regret to have pronounced them.
“That would be running a little too fast, wouldn’t it? I said I feel like I know you, I didn’t mean in the biblical sense,” she giggled, and her laugh was something Edward knew very well, already.
“That was just a bad joke, sorry,” he said bringing the cup of tea to his lips. He kept it there enough for the warm steam to wet his eyes.
“What’s with the sullen face, now?” she asked.
“You remind me of an old friend, who is no more,” he said. “But those are good memories, I shouldn’t get down because of them. Instead, let’s have another drink: I’ll offer, today.”
Drink after drink, they go to know each other. Terry was, indeed, the niece of Mrs Turner. She was still attending college, but she had decided to spend the summer break with her grandmother, under the promise of a chance to earn some money in that pub.
Ed didn’t tell her anything about Maggie. It was pointless for her to know he had met a ghost, he had fallen in love with it, and he had probably broken its curse. Pointless as telling her that she was a living twin of that very ghost; pointless as telling her he had fallen in love with her for real, as soon as he had heard her voice, that same evening.
Time passed, and with it arrived the closing time of the pub. They walked out, together.
“Watch out for the vomit!” she yelled, grabbing Ed’s arm to support herself.
“I’m sorry, I think I… Overdid it a little. Would you accompany me home?” she added.
Ed felt the warmth of her hand on his arm, something he had never had a chance to experience with Maggie. He walked slower than usual, pretending to do so because of the girl holding him back, but he was lingering on the pleasure of that contact.
When they arrived at the wooden door and he opened it with his keys, she looked at him with questioning eyes.
“Forgot to say: I live here, too,” he said without looking at her. For a moment, it seemed to him she had gripped his arm tighter, even if there was no reason to.
He brought her close to Mrs Turner door, but Terry didn’t ask how he knew where she lived. She only turned around to greet him, but faltered and ended up in his arms.
Edward didn’t hug her, he didn’t even lift his hands, actually, even if it took all his might to fight the instinct.
And yet the girl lingered there, in the warmth of his chest, and something inside him shattered. His eyes wetted, silent tears started to flow down his cheeks, as his heart opened again.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asked. The old Ed would have never dared to say anything like that – he thought at the feeling of her fists clenching on his shirt.
Then Terry raised her head and met his sight. They didn’t know each other, and yet she had never felt so at ease like in that stranger’s arms.
“I never did, until today.”
Mrs Turner glanced at the magic book on the tea table and smiled. She would never know if it had worked, but she liked to think so. She had done whatever she could and, as such, she’d managed to help her ancestor at least a little.
Then she turned around and looked at the couple standing out of her window: the boy would soon have a new light in his eyes because the girl burying her face in his chest carried the spark of a timeless love that – she was sure – would soon grow stronger than ever.
And that was Edward Morrison – in the end – the man who had had the courage to break the chains of the legendary bride: a good, gentle boy, and the perfect fit for the latest of her successors.
It was time to put away the candles.
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