Bittersweet (The First Ending)
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you
Clarissa had made her way to the attic, trembling as she went up the darkened stairs and, taking a deep breath, opening the door.
She was surprised to find the room as Emma had so often described it. There were the two small beds and side tables. The rocking chair was in the middle of room and Rumach Goldark sat in it. He stood as soon as he saw her.
“I’ve been expecting you. Miss Clarissa, is it not?”
“Yes sir. Dr. Swan sent me to bring you downstairs,” she told him.
“It’s not quite time, my dear. Soon. I’ll know.” He walked over to her.
Clarissa tried not to pull back, knowing what she did about the man. She didn’t think he looked like a ghost. She couldn’t see through him for one thing. And he’d walked over to her, no floating. She could feel his presence; he was strong and comforting. And he had this little half-smile that made him look younger and . . . somehow sexy-dangerous. No wonder Belle had fallen for the man.
“I’m a bit concerned about you Miss Clarissa. Where’s your father?” he asked her.
“Oh, my mom never married him. I’ve met him a couple of times, but I don’t really have a lot of contact with him.”
“Never married?” Rumach was not pleased to hear this. “Do you mean to tell me that the scoundrel got your mother in the family way and then absconded? “
Clarissa rushed to explain, “Oh, no sir. Nothing like that. My mother didn’t believe in marriage. She thought it was a trap for women.”
Rumach closed his eyes and shook his head. “The works of that Judith Murray woman and Miss Wollstonecraft. Bad influences, I’ve always thought.” He turned on Clarissa. “What’s your opinion on marriage, Miss Clarissa?”
“I’m for it. I like the idea of finding someone you truly love and committing yourself to them for the rest of your life.”
Her answer seemed to please him. “That young man you’re seeing. I’m not sure I approve of him.”
“Colin?” Clarissa smiled. “He is a difficult man to love, sir. He has a bad reputation but I . . . . I know there’s good in him.”
“I’m not so sure. I know his family. They were no good.”
Clarissa was puzzled, “His family? I don’t understand.”
“He’s the spitting image of his great whatever grandfather. The same man that my first wife ran off with.”
“The pirate!” Clarissa was intrigued. “The same one that went into politics?”
“The same,” Goldark confirmed sourly.
“Well, he’s not his ancestor,” Clarissa protested, suddenly finding herself standing toe-to-toe with this proud, opinionated individual. She rapidly was beginning to understand why Belle French would so often get frustrated with him.
“But he’s bad stock,” Goldark continued to press his suit. “And since your father is not here to guide you, I would think you would be glad of my guidance and heed my direction in this matter.”
“Well, he told me he’d come from a scandalous family,” Clarissa was smiling at him. “He’s not tried to keep anything from me.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You aren’t going to give an inch on this are you?” he asked her.
“I don’t believe I shall, sir. Colin and I are still getting to know each other. We are still discovering all the layers that make each of us who we are.”
“You aren’t a particularly tractable female, are you?” He did not look pleased.
“No sir, I guess not,” Clarissa managed a shy smile.
He sighed. “You take after your great grandmother.”
“Thank you,” Clarissa told him, genuinely pleased.
“That wasn’t a compliment. Your great grandmother could be a most irritating, aggravating young woman.”
“And yet . . . you fell in love with her,” Clarissa said softly.
He almost smiled, “So I did. I did indeed.”
Downstairs Neal had cautiously entered the darkened library. Sitting at one of the tables was Belle French. She looked up when he came in. Once she saw who it was she stood and held out her hand to him.
“Neal deBae? You’re Rum’s great grandson through his first wife, aren’t you? It’s lovely to meet you.”
Neal hesitantly took her hand, “Ma’am,” he greeted her.
“I’ve been expecting you. You’re a little early. Let’s sit down. We can talk,” she turned and re-seated herself.
Neal warily sat in the chair next to her. The woman was bright and energetic, not at all how he thought a ghost would appear. Her deep blue eyes sparkled when she talked to him. Her hand had been warm and . . . very real.
“You’re seeing Miss Emma, aren’t you?” she asked him. He managed to nod. “I think Rumach would approve of that. I think he would bluster and posture that she is too independent and complain that this is what happens when women become educated, but privately, he would admire her courage. . . and her intelligence. And she’s very pretty, too.”
“I don’t know if Miss Emma approves of me,” Neal admitted. “We’ve had some difficult times. All my fault, understand. I don’t know if she’s forgiven me.”
Belle looked sad and concerned. “Oh, I hope she has.” She looked closely at him.
“I’m sorry,” Neal said. “I know I’m staring but you don’t look like . . . “
She finished for him, “a ghost?”
“And just how many ghosts have you met?”
“Well. . . I. . . “
“I’m taking energy from you,” Belle explained. “Since you have blood ties to this property and I’m tied to this property, I’m able to use you for a short time to be as I am.”
“So you know . . . ?” Neal had to ask.
“That I’m dead? Yes, dear,” she answered sorrowfully.
“What’s it like?” Neal wasn’t sure of the etiquette here, but this woman was so inviting that he felt comfortable asking.
“I don’t really know, because I’m not exactly dead like . . . well, like most people who die. I’m . . . stuck. I feel like there is something else I need to do but I can’t quite . . . I can’t quite do it.” She was gazing off.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.”
She didn’t respond at first.
“Miss French,” he called her name but she continued to gaze off. “Miss French.”
She started then turned back to look at him. “It’s time. Neal. May I call you Neal? I need you to hold my hand and help me up the stairs.
Emma was still sitting on the bed. The shadow was looking more and more like the figure of a woman.
“They won’t be able to come,” the shadow told her. “My spell is too strong.
“Maybe yes, maybe no. Your spell is getting weaker, hour by hour. The longer I stay here, the weaker it gets. I’m sending in some people with Rumach’s blood, a great grandson and a great granddaughter. I’m hoping with a little help they’ll be able to make it into this room.”
The shadow-woman began to flit back and forth, never straying far from the mirror.
Emma took another swig. “Listen the Baron took the rest of the rum, but I’ve got a couple of Pepsis, some Monster drinks and a couple more Red Bulls. Can I open one for you?” She took her eyes of the shadow and turned to rummage through her satchel.
The shadow-woman rushed her. Emma caught the movement from the corner of her eye and instinctively flinched back but the shadow stopped before actually getting to the bed. Emma wasn’t sure if Cora was just trying to frighten her (it had really worked – Cora was one scary bitch) or if Cora’d intended to attack her and the Baron had protected her.
“I take that as a ‘no’?” Emma said trying to maintain her outer appearance of calm. Emma sat back up, cross-legged on the bed. “So you’ve just been spending eternity in this room, occasionally making a guest appearance in some of the other mirrors from this house? Doesn’t that get like. . . really, really boring? For all eternity? Just hanging around the same place?”
The shadow had returned to its station near the mirror.
“So close, but so far,” Emma summed up the situation. “A lot like Rum and Belle have been living with for the past two hundred plus years.” All remained quiet for a while. Emma suspected it was getting near seven in the morning, getting near sunrise.
The shadow appeared to be sulking, biding its time.
There was a tap on the door. “Come in,” Emma called.
The door slowly opened and standing framed in the light were Master Goldark and Clarissa.
“Come on in,” Emma called and very slowly with Clarissa holding his hand and leading him, Goldark and Clarissa crossed the threshold. They stayed against the far wall of the room.
“Hello Cora,” Goldark said. “It’s been awhile but the walls are weakening.” He folded his arms and stood next to Clarissa. He nodded at Emma.
“Rumach,” the shadow-woman addressed the ghost of the man she had cursed. She was beginning to look more and more like her portrait. “Darling. . .” she began
“There’s nothing you can say,” he interrupted her coldly.
There was another rap on the door
Again the door swung open and standing in the light were Belle and Neal.
“Come on in,” Emma invited the second couple in. The two crossed the threshold, not noticing that Clarissa and Rumach were already standing there.
“Belle,” Rumach called out immediately, recognizing the slim form of his former clerk, his wife of a day.
She turned and saw him.
Emma couldn’t help herself. She took her eyes off the shadow-woman and watched the couple reunite.
Belle stood still for the briefest moment, her eyes locked with his.
Then she raised her arms to him.
Rumach stepped into her opened arms and put his hands on her waist to pull her into him. His arms reached up around her, one arm holding her in place and the other hand clasped her head to hold it still while his lips crashed onto hers. Belle’s arms reached up to his shoulders and her hands clenched the material of his jacket. He was murmuring apologies, something about having been wrong to go back to the house, telling her how very, very sorry he was.
Emma glanced over at Neal who was watching the couple but, as if on cue, glanced over at Emma. Clarissa was beaming at the reunited couple.
There was a sudden unholy keening and howling and screaming. The shadow-woman rushed them, pushing and pulling them apart. Emma took the opportunity to hurl her ever present flashlight towards the mirror, the beautiful, beveled-edged free-standing mirror.
It shattered, sharp pieces of glass going in all directions. The shadow appeared to turn but before it could move in any direction, it emitted a loud, desperate, inhuman cry.
Then it dissipated and faded away.
Rumach and Belle had startled apart when they had been rushed by the dark entity, but Rumach had quickly thrust Belle behind him in the effort to protect her. He had taken the full brunt of the attack. He had nearly dropped to his knees and Belle was attempting to support him. Clarissa reached the couple and helped Belle support the crumbling man. Between them, they helped him back upright. Belle then stopped when she caught sight of Clarissa.
“Clarissa?” she turned her full attention to the young woman.
“Is she very much like our daughter?” Rumach asked weakly, struggling to regain his balance and composure.
“Very much. She looks like her, the same hair and eye color,” Belle told him.
“I thought she might be. She looked so much like your drawings. I knew who she was the first time she came into the attic,” Rumach told Belle. He had a hold on Belle’s waist and had not released her, unwilling to part with her after their long separation. He dipped his head toward his wife, “You still smell good,” he whispered to her.
Belle giggled, “So do you,” she told him looking up into his eyes.
“It would appear de sun is coming up.”
This new voice had come from the corner and the group turned to it. It was the Baron. “Well, well, Emma. You did well. Cora had put herself into de limbo world of de mirrors and I could not grasp her reflection. But with de mirror destroyed, she was easy for me to take. Emma, you spent de night here. You broke de curse.” He tipped his hat to her.
“What happened to Cora?” asked Belle addressing the entity.
The Baron smiled at her. “She be on a leash.”
Emma shuddered but Rumach muttered, “Good enough for her.”
“What happens to them?” Emma asked the loa, nodding towards the reunited couple.
The demi-god considered. “Dey can come with me into de next world. Dey could stay here.” He shrugged. “Dey can decide.” He gave them a gentle smile.
“I get to decide?” Rumach asked him.
Belle lightly cleared her throat and looked up at her husband.
Rumach looked at her a moment and then nodded, “We get to decide?” he asked again.
“You can come wid me,” the loa told them. “Follow me into de light.”
“What will we find there?” Belle asked him.
“What comes next,” the loa evaded a direct answer. “It is what awaits de good and de faithful,” he told her.
“Or we could stay here?” Rumach asked.
“Together on de property. You would be confined to de property but free to move around. To be together in dis house and on de grounds.”
Belle whispered in Rumach’s ear.
He listened and said something back to her. The two turned to the Baron.
“My wife tells me it will be a new experience. So, show us the way. It’s past time,” Rumach told him.
The Baron nodded and a stream of light appeared in the room.
Rumach and Belle turned to Emma, “Thank you,” Belle told her. “Thank you for everything.”
Rumach, still holding onto Belle, nodded.
“We love you,” Belle addressed Clarissa and Neal.
Then Emma, Neal and Clarissa watched and with the Baron leading the way, Belle and Rumach, hand in hand, walked into a brilliant stream of light.
“That’s it?” Emma asked.