Choice (The Second Ending)

Look at the stars

Look how they shine for you

And everything you do

Yeah they were all yellow

I came along

I wrote a song for you

And all the things you do

And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn

Oh what a thing to have done

And it was all yellow

“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 gentile smile.

“I get to decide?” Rumach asked him.

Belle lightly cleared her throat.

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.

“Togeder on de property. You would be confined to dis property but free to move around. To be togeder in dis house, on de grounds.”

Belle whispered in Rumach’s ear.

He listened and said something back to her. The two turned to the Baron.

“We want to spend some time here, in this house, perhaps have some sense of the life we should have had here . . . that we could have had here,” Rumach told him. “At least for awhile,” he added.

“I am agreeable,” the Baron nodded and faded back into the shadows.

“I know where I want to go,” Rumach had immediately turned to his bride and begun to usher her out of the room.

As she allowed herself to be led out of the room, to leave the room with her new-found husband, Belle first turned to Emma, “Thank you, Emma. I knew you were the one.”

“Miss Swan,” Rumach nodded to her and the couple faded.

“Where’d they go? Neal asked.

Rumach suddenly reappeared, “Oh Miss Swan, could you have that delightful Mrs. Nolen arrange to have the rest of the furniture in this room destroyed, including the curtains and the rug. The remnants of that mirror need to be taken out and smashed, burned, scattered and buried.”

He continued, “And I’m thinking it might be nice to paint the walls a lighter, brighter color. Miss Belle always liked yellow. Yellow would be nice.” He made eye contact with Emma. “I want this room expunged, cleared of every vestige of its former occupant . . . as soon as possible.”

Emma nodded. “I’ll let her know your wishes.”

He nodded and disappeared again.

“Wow, that was interesting,” Neal said.

Abruptly Rumach reappeared. “And let everyone know the Blue Bedroom is off limits. Mrs. Nolen is welcome to come in a clean but no one else will be welcome.”

“Yes sir,” Emma answered him.

Rumach disappeared yet again.

The group waited a moment but he did not make a re-appearance.

“You broke the mirror,” Clarissa finally said.

“Yeah, I figured out early on that there was a connection between Cora and the mirrors. She appeared in mirrors, even one in Neal’s house and then Belle, well she left me the clue from Alice through the Looking Glass. I knew the mirror, as all the furniture in this room, had belonged to Cora. I knew she had done something to keep herself away from the Baron and figured she had somehow put herself through the looking glass. It had served as some sort of magical barrier.”

Neal and Clarissa nodded. “That makes sense,” Clarissa said. “I guess.”

There was a discrete tap on the door. Clarissa opened it and found an ashen Colin standing on the other side.

“Colin, man, are you all right?” Neal asked.

“I . . . I . . . “ Colin managed to make it inside the room.

“Colin?” Clarissa put her hand on his arm.

“Mister Goldark appeared to me,” he finally managed to get out.

“He did?!” Clarissa was astonished.

“I guess that’s who it was. This guy who looked like the guy in the portrait appeared to me, grabbed me by the collar and threw me against the wall.”

“What?!” Clarissa was able ready to go and try to locate her irascible great grand-father.

“Yeah, he was a lot stronger than he looked. He told me that if I ever hurt you, that he would know,” Colin replied. He swallowed and continued “He said he would rise up and bring the wrath of seven hells down on me.”

“Wow!” Neal was astonished. “I take it he doesn’t approve of you.”

“He made that abundantly clear,” Colin responded. “Scared the crap out of me.”

“I’ll talk with him,” promised Clarissa.

“Well,” said Emma. “This is all very nice, but I’ve had a hundred and twenty-eight ounces to drink and I’ve got to go find the ladies room or I’ll wash away.”

She left the other three still in the Red Room.

“She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she?” Clarissa said to the two men.

“She is,” Neal confirmed to her. “I was a dumb shit for screwing things up with her.”

Colin nodded, “You were.”

“Of course, it does sound like Emma has not been entirely truthful about some things with you,” Clarissa suggested perceptively.

“Yeah, I caught that particular confession when Emma was talking with Cora,” Neal looked over at Clarissa and Colin. “What do you think? Should I confront her about what she said or do I let her bring it up?”

“Give her a little time, mate,” Colin counseled. “Work on the relationship first.”

Clarissa gave Colin a surprised look. “And when did you become so insightful about relationships?”

“Since I got into one myself,” Colin answered her. “I’ve learned that the most important thing in a relationship is trust. It’s the bedrock that love is built on.”

Mary Margaret Nolen sat in her office sorting bills and making out a schedule for the upcoming week. It had been less than a week since The Investigation was completed and there was a thin layer of snow on the ground. The investigation group had disbanded and everyone had gone back to their lives. Except Emma. She had come back and Mary Margaret had put her up in the green bedroom. Neal often stayed over with her.

Emma had come back with distressing news. She and Leroy had spent hours going over the recordings only to find there were . . . no recordings. There was no video, no data logs, no audio, nothing. Every single piece of hard evidence had been . . . erased. She had shared this with Mary Margaret and expressed her outrage.

“This could not have happened by accident! The recordings had to have been tampered with!”

Mary Margaret digested this information and asked timorously, “You don’t think . . . ?” She glanced up the stairs.

“I do think!” Emma answered. “And I’m gonna have it out with him!” She took the stairs, two at a time, and vaulted down the hall to the Blue Bedroom. She burst into the bedroom and began shouting, “Rumach,” she had called out. “Rumach, you son of a bitch! Get yourself out here!”

There was no response. “I’m not going awaa-aay,” she shouted.

“Good lord, is this what they mean by ‘loud enough to wake the dead'?” Rumach appeared abruptly in the room in front of Emma, startling her. “Miss Swan, if you weren’t the mother of my great grandson, I would let you sit here until you joined me on my own plane of existence,” Rumach was clearly peeved and irritated with the determined Dr. Swan. “What is it that you want?”

He was attired a bit differently than his usual suit (complete with waistcoat and tie). He was wearing his boots, pants and just a plain white shirt, open at the neck.

He was not happy.

Well, neither was Emma. She asked him, “How. . . how did you know about. . . ? Oh, never mind. Did you wipe out all our data?”

“You use strange words amid the familiar ones, dearie,” he said dismissively. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“The audio recordings, the video – everything has been wiped cleaned.”

“I take it that’s not a good thing?” he asked with just a hint of a smirk.

“No, of course it’s not!” Emma raised her voice. “Without those recordings, we have no evidence, nothing except our personal experiences which in the field of paranormal research counts for nothing, nothing!”

“So your time here was wasted?”

“No,” Emma was exasperated. “Of course not. We helped you and Belle out. I’m so glad I was able to do that for you two.” She had managed to calm herself just a little, “But I was here trying to get real hard evidence of the paranormal! And for the first time in my life, I had it!”

“And now your evidence is gone. What you’re doing now, standing here and conversing with me? This is not worth anything?” he asked out of curiosity.

Emma blew a breath out, fanning her hair up from her forehead. “No. This is a personal experience. For all I know I could be passed out somewhere, reacting to some medication, have a brain tumor, be psychotic. . . .”

“Interesting,” said Rumach. “So you don’t trust what your senses tell you?”

“No, I trust that I’m experiencing this, but I can’t use it as evidence to get other people to believe. Now did you clear off that evidence?”

Rumach gave her a long look. “Understand that I’m immensely grateful for your role in breaking Cora’s curse. However, I’m not admitting that I destroyed your evidence but, you must understand, that I view the pain and turmoil of my story with Miss Belle as private.”

“I would protect your identify!” Emma protested.

“With hard evidence of the existence of ghosts?” he gave her a disdainful look. “Soon enough it would come out and then they would come traipsing into the Inn at all hours. It’s bad enough the place has become a boarding house or weekend lodge or however Mrs. Nolen referred to it, but I’m afraid that any clear evidence of my existence would attract all types of riff-raff.”

“So you’re admitting you destroyed my evidence?”

“I admit no such thing, Miss Swan. For me it has simply been a fortuitous event.”

Emma glared at him.

“Are we done?” he asked her.

“Not hardly,” she said to him.

But he had disappeared.

“He’s a complete pain in the ass!”

Although Emma shared the sentiment, she was surprised at such language coming from the usually prim and proper Mary Margaret. She had come down the stairs after her confrontation, poured herself a whiskey (middle of the day be damned) and was now planning to help work on a new brochure for the Inn with the housekeeper. Emma was willing for her name to be used in describing the Inn post-Cora Curse. The new brochure noted that there had been an extensive investigation by the estimable Dr. Swan and her team. Although no hard evidence of a haunting could be produced, there were personal experiences that implicated the presence of two spirits but neither one was considered dangerous. The brochure went on to give a brief expurgated history of the two lovers, including an expanded history of Belle French-Gold’s career as a teacher and sponsor of young professional women.

Emma had asked Mary Margaret what it was like living with two active ghosts which had precipitated Mary Margaret’s over-the-top response.

“What’s he doing?” Emma questioned.

“Himself keeps popping in, scaring the bejeebers out of me. ‘Mrs. Nolen would you be so kind as to replenish the tea bins?’ I didn’t think ghosts ate or drank but apparently he likes the smell of freshly brewed tea. ‘Mrs. Nolen, give me an update on how the re-decoration of the old Red Bedroom is coming along. I’d like that to be completed post-haste.’ Like he can't walk down the hall and look for himself. Then there’s ‘Mrs. Nolen would you please arrange for fresh flowers in the library. Put them on my desk. There’s a good girl.’”

“OMG, he actually said, ‘There’s a good girl’?” Emma was trying not to laugh.

“Yes, he did,” Mary Margaret was fuming. “He’s asked to see the financial records on the Inn. He’s asked if I can play different music when he’s down here – like I know when he’s down here. He’s driving me crazy. I liked it better when he couldn’t get out of the attic.”

“He’s a very controlling guy, isn’t he?” Emma said this more as a comment than a question.

“Controlling. He’s a rigid, dictatorial prick. I don’t see what Belle saw in him.”

“Well, he’s got a kind of dark, sexy thing going, wouldn’t you say?” Emma gently put forth.

Mary Margaret looked at her, “You’re kidding, right?” She kept looking at Emma. “You think he’s hot!”

“Well, I’m more into the younger, less intense, more relaxed live version, bu-ut he’s got an appeal. I mean the guy is totally take charge and . . . could certainly make a girl feel special.”

Mary Margaret just sighed, “Well, let me tell you the ‘take charge’ business wears thin really quickly.”

“Any contact with Belle?”

“Yeah, she’s often up and out in the garden early in the morning and just waves at me. But she did pop up one day after Goldark had been in and out with lists of his demands.”

“How she doing?”

“I adore her,” Mary Margaret shared. “She’s the sweetest thing. She always asks how I’m doing. Is there anything that she can help me with, and reminds me that Master Goldark is more bark than bite.” Mary Margaret shook her head, “Those two are an odd couple.”

“Kind of a beauty and the beast?” Emma questioned. They both heard something drive up.

“I hadn’t thought of that but yeah.” Mary Margaret glanced at the clock. “Oh, this is a group of high schoolers coming in for a tour. This Inn is part of a local history class. I’ve got to go.”

There were eighteen students in the group along with their teacher, a little snifflely fellow, Mr. Clarke. Mary Margaret greeted them and took them up to the front porch where she gave them a brief history of the building of the Inn.

But, of course, all they wanted to hear about were the rumors of hauntings and had Ms. Nolen ever seen a ghost (and not so much the history of the Inn and its significance to the history of Maine). They dutifully followed Mary Margaret around the grounds, including the notorious poison garden, and then went into the Inn.

Walking along, Mary Margaret thought she heard, coming from the back of the group, occasional voices raised and sounds suggestive of a scuffle but when she and Mr. Clarke looked back, they weren’t able to pinpoint any problems.

They had gone upstairs and Mary Margaret was explaining that the owner had made the decision to re-decorate the Red Bedroom which had been the focus of so much of the previous paranormal activity. It was still very much in a state of disarray. It still held an unsavory atmosphere and clearly many of the high-schoolers were uncomfortable in the room. They halted outside of the Blue Bedroom which had a thick golden rope across the entrance.

Mary Margaret explained, “At the request of the owner this is a room that we don’t go into. We are able to stand outside of the room and look at the beautiful furnishings, many of which date back to the beginning of the nineteenth century.”

“Do people really see ghosts in this house?” one rude boy asked. He was a pretty fellow, slender with a surly expression on this face. He had a tight grip on the pretty red-headed girl standing next to him.

“Many people have had unusual experiences in this house,” Mary Margaret calmly explained. “They have heard voices, heard people walking around, felt temperature drops. A group of paranormal investigators recently had a lot of personal experiences but they were not able to obtain any hard evidence of hauntings.”

“I think it’s all bullshit,” said the boy loudly.

Mary Margaret smiled, “Perhaps,” she agreed mildly and led them all down the hall to the other bedrooms. She didn’t see the boy linger with the girl after the group turned the corner leaving them behind.

The boy easily took down the golden rope and pushed the girl into the Blue Bedroom. “How many times do I have to tell you not to talk to Eric? You stupid bitch! I don’t know why I put up with you.” He had shoved her up against the wall. The girl was whimpering that he was hurting her. “I haven’t begun to hurt you, you stupid bimbo. You think I’m going to put with you disrespecting me?” He drew back his hand. . .

And was pulled back away from the girl.

“Hey!” the boy was protesting. “Did you just push me away?”

“She didn’t. I did.” They both heard a man’s voice. “You need to leave,” and the boy was propelled out the door of the bedroom and down the stairs. He was hollering and drew the attention of his group which came back around to see what was happening.

The boy just managed to stumble down the stairs. He fell to the floor at the bottom of the wide staircase. To those watching it appeared as if he was picked up and forced down the hallway to the front door.

He was screaming all the way, “Leave me alone! You’re hurting me! Help!”

The front doors flew open and to the amazed eyes of his classmates, the boy was flung out the door and down the front steps, landing in an unceremonious pile at the bottom.

“Ok, ok, ok,” he was shouting. “I won’t do anything like that again! Leave me alone!” Then he managed to get up and back away from the house, holding his hands up as if warding off blows. The teacher of the group excused himself and quickly went after the boy.

“What happened to Peter?” one of his classmates asked.

The pretty girl he’d been manhandling had come out of the bedroom. She’d been crying but had stopped. “He was about to hit me when something pulled him off.”

Another one of the boys rushed forward to comfort the girl as did several of the other female students. The girl continued, “We heard a man tell Peter that he wasn’t welcome here and then Peter was pulled out of the room.”

“Wow. Like it was a ghost,” said one of her classmates.

“Then I saw a really pretty lady with bright blue eyes and she told me that I could do so much better than Peter and she checked me over to make sure I was all right,” the girl said.

“Was that a ghost that pushed Peter around?” one of the students asked. Several others muttered that Peter was a real d-bag and deserved to be thrown out, in fact, they hoped the ghost had given him a few swift kicks.

The teacher had come back. “I think Peter is going to be all right. He’s been badly frightened. Said that something had threatened him and told him that he had ‘best not be raising his hand to any member of the fair sex.’”

The group decided that, after this excitement, the tour was over. Most of the students were thrilled that there had been a ‘real ghost’ encounter and were chattering easily about it as they headed out of the house and back to the bus. The red-headed girl held back.

“That was another ghost, wasn’t it, Ms. Nolen?”

“The woman with blue eyes?” she hesitated but decided to go with what she knew was the truth. “We don’t have an employee here who looks like the woman you described, but she does fit the description of one of the ghosts that haunts the place. She usually just appears to people who are in trouble or who are about to get into trouble.”

The girl gave a bitter laugh, “Well, I guess that was me. I don’t know why I’ve been hanging out with Peter. At first it was exciting but now it’s gotten kinda scary.”

Mary Margaret walked the girl out to the bus, counseling her to be careful, stay away from Peter and take the pretty woman’s advice.

Emma had been downstairs while all the commotion had occurred and witnessed Peter being thrown out of the Inn.

She greeted Mary Margaret who filled her in on what had happened when she came back to her office.

“You know,” Emma told her, “for a pain in the ass, maybe Goldark is not half-bad.”

“Hey,” Emma whispered. “Neal, get up.”

“Uuughh. It’s too early.” Neal stirred wrapped in up the Egyptian cotton pale green sheets that were on the four poster bed. There were two empty glasses next to an empty rum bottle sitting on one of the nightstands.

Still whispering, Emma encouraged him, “Something worth seeing. Come over here and look out.” Emma was standing by a window of The Green Bedroom where she and Neal had spent the night.

Neal stretched, slid out of the bed, and managed to stagger over with the sheet wrapped around his waist. “What!?” he asked.

“Look out in the front garden.”

Neal looked down and he could see a woman in a long blue dress. She was leading a man with a cane out into the flower garden. There were only bushes with a few berries and some evergreens in the garden given the season, but the woman seemed quite at ease with these sparse offerings. She pulled the man along with her, evidently showing him different things.

“He doesn’t look any happier to be up than I am,” Neal remarked.

“But it’s so sweet. She’s showing him all around stuff he hasn’t been able to get out to in. . . like forever.”

They watched and Goldark allowed himself to be pulled along but even from the second story window they could see that he was paying less attention to the bushes and the open beds and more attention to the lithe form pulling him along.

Upstairs, Neal was paying less attention to the couple on the grounds and more attention to the lovely Miss Swan who was standing within the circle of his arms, clad in some purple pajama bottoms and a purple and blue striped tank top she had slept in. He cautiously pulled her in next to him and was gratified when she leaned back into him.

Down in the garden, Rumach had similarly pulled Belle back into his arms and turned her around to face him. There was a moment when she pulled against him and tried to direct his attention back to the garden but he ignored her and gently turned her face to his own.

As he focused his full attentions on his bride, so Neal was similarly nuzzling along Emma’s neck. She allowed him to turn her around.

“I see where you get your amorous skills from,” Emma whispered.

“There are some rewards for being persistent,” Neal agreed.

“Do you wonder if they can . . . you know?”

“What?” asked Neal, distracted.

“Have relations?”

Neal had to laugh, “You appear to be on such good terms with him, why don’t you ask him?”

Emma considered. “You think? I wonder if now would be a good time?”

Neal pulled her back to the bed, “No.”

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