A week after my suicidal mission in the backyard nothing went back to normal. Neither Matt nor Anthony believed that this was because of my own doing. They blamed Marcus, which troubled me greatly. Anthony finally gave in against my reasoning and befriended his brother. Matt, however, never stayed in a room with Marcus or I no longer than to catch a glimpse of us then walk back out. Marcus and I fought severely about my health and continuing. He said we could return to ridding me of Blyth once I was completely healed. The only thing that had gone back to normal was Marcus and I was never once in the same room again.
I had expected to wake up and find that Mr. Penbrook ran from our house in fear of what I had done. He shocked me though by coming back every day at noon. He would stay until dinner, and sometimes Anthony would talk him into staying even longer. Mr. Penbrook did as I asked him though. He would spend his time with me until Anthony got home from school and then turn his attention towards tutoring Anthony.
Taking into account everyone’s attitude I had put up my façade once more. To everyone around it seemed as though I was getting better, but in fact I was still dying. Refusing any medication given to me and ripping out the IV in which they stuck in me when I had fainted didn’t help. Little did everyone, including Marcus know that I continued trying to rip Blyth out of me without his help. It was tearing apart my insides literally which is what caused my condition in the first place. I was just hoping to find a way to complete this without going into septic shock and dying.
I was on the brink of going over the edge into what I thought was my most brilliant idea when Anthony broke into my thoughts sending everything scattering away. “Mum!”
“What?” I questioned now taking notice of all the cashews sprinkled around me. There were also tiny balls of paper and a large one made out of a whole sheet of paper as well as Anthony’s favorite vice, a toothpick. I picked it up and looked at it, “Really, you started this again?”
My mum mood broke down when I noticed Anthony sitting next to Mr. Penbrook who was at the head of the table. “Ben wants to know if you have the rough draft of your English paper finished.”
I started filing through the papers in front of me until I realized that I had the finished copy that was typed and bound in my room. I had it completed less than three days after the teacher had first given us the assignment two months ago. It wasn’t that I wanted to rush getting it done. I just found that it was a great way to keep my mind busy, until it was complete. Even after I continued my research on my subject, but with a few simple thoughts I added in everything else that needed to be there.
I pulled the final copy out of my stack of papers and slid it across the table. Mr. Penbrook looked amazed, “This isn’t the rough draft.”
“No,” I answered, and then it hit me again. My brilliant idea shot through me instantly. “Anthony, do you have a mirror?”
Anthony seemed confused now as he took the bound papers and handed them to Mr. Penbrook. “Of course, don’t you?”
“Um, no, don’t.” The answer was right there in front of me the entire time. I didn’t have to rip him out of me. I just had to pull him out of the reflection, or let him come out himself and then shove him into the crystal. It was perfect. All I needed was a mirror. “Can I borrow yours?”
“You don’t have a mirror at all?” Mr. Penbrook leaned in on the table now engrossed in the conversation. “Why?”
Anthony looked at me strangely, “Yeah, why?”
“Ben,” I readdressed him, “When you were a kid did you ever play Bloody Mary with a candle and a mirror?”
Mr. Penbrook ran his hand down his jaw bone while he thought. “Yes, I guess I did.”
“I don’t have a mirror,” I turned towards Anthony, “because I was tired of someone always being inside of it. Kind of like the Bloody Mary thing. It kind of freaks you out.”
“She’s not going to flip out again is she?” Mr. Penbrook made me laugh as he questioned Anthony.
Anthony chuckled as well, but then he grew serious. “No, this is her, but I think she would do well enough to remember to keep a lid on it with company here.”
“Oh, just like you did not more than two minutes ago.” I tried not to glare or even get mad. “Mr. Penbrook…”
I sighed, “Ben, there are secrets in this house that you don’t want to even comprehend so anything out of the ordinary I suggest you just turn your ear the other way and forget whatever you heard.”
“Does that include my eyes when something just appears in front of them as well?” Ben was, I think, wearing out his welcome.
Anthony slid his chair back and got up, “I think that is my cue to go get ready.”
“Get ready for what?” He turned my attention quickly to another subject, and perhaps it was for the better.
“Tonight is the prom.” Ben answered for him.
“Yes, it is this big old thing in school where you get dressed up, take your date out for a nice dinner, and then dance all night.” Anthony started joking. “You are looking a lot better. You should come.”
“No,” My answer came before I could even think it. “I don’t do school dances and you know that.”
“Yeah, but I’ll be there.” Anthony tried to plead with me.
I sighed and thought about it for a moment. “No, I’m not risking someone weird showing up. I might come down and get some pictures of you and Trinity though. If you don’t mind because I know you probably won’t come back here before you go.”
“Well, I was hoping that I could talk you into going.” Anthony leaned against the back of his chair looking at me, but then I saw a flash of what he would think was brilliant in his eyes, “I know. Benno here could keep you company until we get back.”
In defiance I shook my head. I didn’t dare look at Ben to see his reaction, but he must have agreed with me. His back came into my view with Anthony as he told him that it wasn’t a good idea. Anthony with his eyes firmly placed on me answered. “I don’t want to leave her here alone. Both Matt and I are going tonight, and Marc is in Paris for the weekend.”
“Paris?” I never cared what Marcus did, but never before had he went so far away. “Why is he in Paris?”
“He said he was going to see an old friend. That is all he said and then he left.” Anthony turned his attention to Ben. “I swear Trinity and I will be back at midnight. Plus, you said yourself last night that you didn’t have any plans.”
“Great, so now I need a babysitter.” I argued. Tonight would have been perfect for me to be alone. I would have enjoyed a night without everyone in the house. I could have easily pull Blyth out and thrown him into the ball with no one even noticing.
I felt like a throwing a fit, but then I was an adult more than capable of taking care of myself. I was better than a kid just throwing a tantrum, but I had made it quite clear that I was not happy. Anthony, I was sure, could have talked both of us into it with his powers, and I was surprised that he didn’t. Instead he left us at the table to get ready, both in irritated moods.
“If you want my opinion,” Mr. Penbrook started.
“If I wanted it I would ask for it!” I glared across the table.
He carefully began shifting the papers in front of him mumbling to himself. I ignored his ranting and tried to think of a way out of this. When Anthony started coming back down the stairs, it came to me. I looked in his direction even though I couldn’t see him just yet, “Anthony, I think I’ll just go to Pap’s tonight.”
“No,” Mr. Penbrook just broke my heart. “I told Anthony that I would stay here with you.”
I growled at him, “I thought you were with me on this whole thing.”
Anthony graced us with his presence, and it immediately caved me in. I found my way to him and moved one strand of hair that had fallen from his pony tail away from his face. “God, you look like your dad.”
“Mum,” Anthony whispered glancing between Mr. Penbrook and me.
“Alright,” I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “Go have fun. Just get me some pictures.”
Mr. Penbrook walked over and placed his hand on Anthony’s shoulder, “Good luck.”
“Have her make you Chicken Agnolotti.” Anthony grinned, “It is magnifico.”
Stomping my foot I brought Anthony’s attention back to me, “I’ve never…”
“You’ll do fine, trust me.” Anthony gave me a hug and then stood back placing one hand on each of our shoulders. “I couldn’t ask for two better people than you two send me off tonight.”
After we had sent Anthony I left Mr. Penbrook in the dining room as I went to the kitchen to cook as much as I could using my powers. I had never made anything by hand before. This was going to be a first for me. As I walked through the doorway everything was already out of the table starting itself. Over half of the ingredients were in the blender and the dough was rolling itself out.
“Ashley,” Mr. Penbrook’s voice called from the doorway frightening me. I rushed over and took the knife cutting the chicken into slices in my hand to at least make it look like I was doing it. Quickly I put the dough into a bowl and was completely ready to face him once he walked in. “Listen, I’m sorry about all of this. Wow, look at you.”
“What?” I inquired as I sliced through the chicken again this time taking the knife through the tip of my index finger. I cursed and threw the knife down. Mr. Penbrook rushed over to help me, but I grabbed the hand towel next to me and wrapped it up. His eyes might have led him to my assistance, but in the end all he saw was my blood scorching where it landed on the raw chicken. I threw it into the garbage and looked to Mr. Penbrook. “Remember what I said about hearing things, yes, it does go for seeing as well.”
“Consider it forgotten as soon as I walk out that front door, but,” I hated buts. “Could you tell me exactly what that was?”
I picked up the knife and threw it into the sink. I wanted to ignore his question so I started walking around the island and past him. His hand caught my wrist bringing my hand wrapped in the towel to view. “I understand why the doctor was so concerned about you bleeding now, but you must tell me.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, and if you are not careful, it might kill you to.” I hoped threatening his life would end his questioning. “I would suggest that you leave the kitchen and me alone for the night.”
Mr. Penbrook left the kitchen without another word. As soon as he was out the door I quickly put up a barrier excluding him from seeing or entering into the kitchen. I felt safer this way even if I had to spend the rest of the night in here. The rest of dinner began finishing itself.
I sat down a bowl on the table beside Mr. Penbrook’s book, “Bon appetit.”
Starting back to the kitchen Mr. Penbrook spoke, “Ashley, can I ask you a personal question?”
“No.” I sighed and started walking again.
“Do you know Ashley Daisher?”
My heart stopped along with my feet. I wanted to deny everything, but I needed to know what brought his question about. Slowly I turned around to face him. Turning the book he was looking at for me to see I found myself wandering back to the table. Sitting down I looked over the book and right away I had recognized it. My fifth grade school picture was staring at me from inside surrounded by the rest of my classmates. Down near the bottom of the page was my handwriting. ‘Hey, don’t ever forget me. Ashley.’
“Which one is she?” I hated lying.
“That’s her.” He pointed to my picture, and then his finger went down another row, “That’s me.”
I read the name below his picture, ‘Benno Penbrook.’ I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten him. Everything flew back into my mind as I ran my fingers over top my writing. I had quickly scribbled it down then kissed him on the cheek before running away to Kate. It was his last day at our school because his parents were sending him to a private school.
Suddenly another year book passed in front of my eyes. He flipped through several pages until he landed on the senior pictures. “I was curious to see what she looked like in her last year of school so I had my dad mail this to me, but she wasn’t in it. While I was trying to get the yearbook from the year before I was going through some of the pages when I found this.”
He skipped a few pages to one he had marked. Before me was Kate, Josh, Mindy, Matt and I sitting at lunch. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know if it was because he found out so much about me, or the idea of seeing their faces again. “I recognized something quite odd and familiar about this one so I went back and found Matt’s picture. I asked my dad if he had heard anything about Ashley and her dad moving. He said that her father still lived in the same house, but he couldn’t remember what happened to Ashley. The next day he called me back. He read to me her obituary saying that she had died while giving birth.
At first I thought you might have been her daughter, but he continued saying that she survived by a son Anthony and her father. A son, not a daughter. That is where I had gotten really confused, but then it all started filling in. I looked at the picture longer and realized that she never died.
Just to make sure that I was correct in my assumptions I went to the school yesterday morning before coming here and I pulled Anthony’s record. Inside I found a copy of his birth certificate. Guess who his mother was listed as, Ashley Daisher. I was almost sure that I had this entire thing figured out, but the father’s name was not who I had expected.”
I was drowning in my own story from his eyes as I dropped mine back down to the picture of us at the table. “You expected Matt, didn’t you?”
“Well, they hold the same last name at this school and it is almost uncanny how much they look alike. Anthony has something he doesn’t though.” Ben lifted my chin, “He has your eyes, Ashley.”
I closed my eyes and squeezed out the tears. “Matt is his brother not his father.”
Ben was quiet for sometime while he began shutting up the yearbooks and placing them back into his bag. I didn’t know quite what to do now. Never before has someone found me that knew me from the past. “I don’t want to know how or why. I just wanted to know if you were the same Ashley that told me never to forget her.”
“I am not.” I was able to at least admit that much. “That Ashley died nearly eighteen years ago.”
I nodded without looking up at him again. I was afraid of him now. Afraid of what he would do now. Afraid of who he would tell.
“There’s Daisher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen, Comet, and Cupid, and Donner, and Blizten, but do you recall the most famous red-head of all?” Ben began singing and I could almost hear the chorus of children behind him. I tried not to smile or blush, but it was impossible. Finally after he had stopped I looked up to see the brilliant smile stretched across his lips. “And she still lights up like Christmas.”
“Well, you said you weren’t the same Ashley. I’m pretty sure now, that I have the right one.” Ben reached out for me, but I escaped his embrace.
The initial embarrassment left, but my fear still reined over my emotions. “You haven’t told anyone have you?”
“Well, you know,” Ben paused just long enough to make me anxious, “I told everyone I saw today. Which would include nearly everyone at the school, the mail man, a store clerk, and I shouted it to everyone on the street that I had found a thirty six year old woman who technically died seventeen years ago that is masquerading as an eighteen year old high school student. Come on, Ash, who in the world would believe me? I hardly believe it myself.”
“Trust me. It’s real.”
I had expected my tears to stop after the fear had begun fading away. It took me a moment to realize that it was an involuntary reaction from my body responding to the pain that I numbed my mind against. It was the only way that I could maintain the impression that I was indeed getting better. I knew though eventually that my body would start showing the pain it was going through even though I didn’t feel it. I technically just ignored the pain mentally, but it was always there.
I nearly toppled out of my chair and Ben reached out to help me, but I threw up my hand stopping him. “No, I might puke.”
Ben protested as he continued towards me, “You obviously need help. I’m sure I can handle…”
“No,” I repeated and before I could get anything else said a force came through my stomach expelling an immense amount of blood all over the floor in front of me. The blood was trailed by a yellow green slim that tasted fouler that anything I have ever had before. My heart rate was rapidly climbing higher and my chest refused to breathe. Everything in my sight began turning black, and I was sure this was my death. Disappointment coursed through me knowing that I had not completed my goal, so this was just a wasted death, a wasted life. I would have to use another to exorcise Blyth’s soul.
“Ash,” His voice came with his fingers gently running down my cheek. My eyes open to reveal cerulean gems gleaming just inches from mine. A black barrier of hair shielded me from whatever world surrounded us. He sighed and closed his eyes. His forehead rested briefly on mine, “I’ve missed you.”
“Where am I?”
Blyth lifted himself from overtop of me revealing that I was still in the dining room. The putrid vile that I had thrown up was still there, but it was deserted except for us. He held out his hand which I took and found myself standing. I didn’t have a chance to look around for Ben before Blyth had a hand on each side of my face. His fingers brushed my hair back and then his hands ran down my back. The embrace he held me in was a way I never felt from him before. Did he really miss me this much since I had refused to see him?
My eyes fell closed as he released me, but his fingers ran rampant over my face as well as his lips. I allowed him this moment to express his adoration. His hands finally found their way to mine and his lips ceased. My eyes opened to see him now standing less than a foot away from me with despair wrought over his entire being. “You have to go back.”
“Where am I?”
“Caught somewhere between life and death,” Blue eyes fell into mine releasing his sorrow. “We are caught somewhere in the reflection.”
He let go of my hands and stepped out of the way to show a reflection in the glass. It was not the scene that I would have guessed. Nowhere inside the mirror was Blyth, and I was not standing. Ben was still rushing to my lifeless body. Time seemed sluggish in the image if it hadn’t stopped completely. Ignoring Blyth I walked over and placed my hand on the glass just to see if I could go through. Instead it held me like a prisoner. “How do I get back?”
“As soon as your heart starts again, your body will take you back.” I realized now that he wasn’t telling me that I had to go back earlier. He was telling himself that I couldn’t stay.
I turned around to find Blyth staring in the opposite direction. His head was lowered and his hands were shoved deep into his pockets. “Blyth, why isn’t time moving in the reflection?”
“I stopped it.” Blyth began scuffing his boot off of the blood stain on the floor. “But only for a moment.”
“You can do that?”
Blyth sighed, “I can do a lot of things here, except go back.”
“If you can stop time, why can’t you go back?” I questioned stepping closer to Blyth.
His hand halting me from getting closer, “If I go back, my power, my life would go back to my body killing Mathieu. I won’t go back Ashley.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
When Blyth looked at me I felt as though I was killing him all over again. “I didn’t bring you here. Each time you die you come here, but it is only for a moment until your heart starts again. This time I needed longer than a moment. Ash, you are not going to like what I have to say, but I have to say it.”
“What?” I questioned trying to step forward again this time Blyth halted my entire body.
I watched as Blyth sighed heavily, “I agree with Marcus, I don’t like this guy. You can’t trust him. Send him away as soon as you go back, I’m begging you.”
“Are you telling me that the whole reason you kept me here was to send him away?” I argued still unable to move. “I can’t believe you. I’ve known him since grade school.”
“You haven’t known him since grade school. Ashley, I’ve never once opposed any man that you’ve been with, except this one.” Blyth began walking towards me. “Don’t you find it strange how he recognized you? No one should have been able, especially not one that hasn’t seen you for this long, to put it all together that quickly. Don’t trust him and send him back where he came from.”
“Do you know how much your son cares for him?” I hated the idea that I was fighting with Blyth over something so trivial. I had imagined him putting up a fight when I tried to rid myself of him, but never something like this.
“I don’t care what he feels for him. I said send him away!” Blyth was now overpowering the room with his authority, but he knew as well as I did that I abhor when he is like this. Had I been able to move, I would have thoroughly punished him for it. If he had given me more time I would have filled his ear with my own thoughts, but he pushed me back.
Air filled my lungs and my heart beat life into my veins again. Ben was now over top of me and I could see the concern filling him. I smiled and sat myself up as though nothing had happened. That’s was the most wonderful thing about coming back. Each pain or wound was healed and my body was renewed.
The anger that had been coursing through me while I was with Blyth hadn’t completely dissolved though. It grew even more as I heard the song beginning to play. I remembered this song intimately. It was the first song that he had played once we reached the bar in Bradford. He was playing it then because he was angry at Marcus for what he had done to me. Now he was intending it for Ben.
I was sure that my quickly disappearing smile and the sudden growl roaring through me that I had scared him more than the song. I had hoped to get to the stereo before the lyrics began, but I wasn’t lucky enough. Blyth had skipped it forward allowing the chorus to scream through the speakers.
Repeatedly I hit several different buttons, but nothing killed the sound. Finally I ripped it off the shelf and felt confident that it would have stopped. The cord had been yanked completely out of the wall, but it was still blaring through the speakers. I caught a glance of Ben standing in the doorway staring in bewilderment as I threw it to the ground smashing it into a few different pieces. Pleased with myself, I had ended the song and the stereo system.
Ben looked dumbfounded between the dining room and me. “Do I want to know what just happened?”
I hadn’t thought of it then, but in my rush to stop the music I had disappeared right in front of Ben. The best answer that I could come up with came out quickly, “No, probably not.”
With Ben’s eyes locked on the stereo busted apart on the floor I collapsed back on the couch. How I hoped that he wouldn’t ask questions, but I knew they would come. He lingered in the doorway, but while I was trying to gather all my answers he sat down next to me. “Aside from the evident puffing, and the whole thing with the stereo, which I don’t think I really even want to know about, what was that in there? Did you just die in there?”
“Do you want to know the truth or have a glorified lie?” I really hoped he wouldn’t want a lie because I didn’t know one.
Ben was quiet and I could see him wondering if he really wanted to know the answer to his question. “How about this, I’ll just assume what happened and if I’m wrong so be it. You know the other day when you said you were dying I had just thought it was a teenage girl being dramatic, but now the picture has undeniably become clearer. Minus the few missing facts which I don’t think I’m quite ready for.”
“Thank you.” Relief filtered through me as I cleaned the mess on the carpet in the dining room. “Why don’t you eat the Agnolotti that I made? I mean it literally killed me to make it.”
“Ash,” Ben sighed, “You might be able to handle all of this with little or no qualms, but my stomach is in the middle of doing flips at the moment.”
I laid my hand on his easing the queasiness that he was feeling, “Go eat and have a moment to yourself, to gather all your emotions and thoughts.”
I watched Ben’s silhouette in the TV screen get up and walk out as Blyth was standing behind us. Blyth’s hand lifted up producing the image that he had a gun. His hand pulled back as though he shot Ben in the back then he turned to me. I was sure that he was glaring, but I could only see his darkened figure there. Blyth’s voice echoed in my heart as I fell back on the couch.
There was no way that I could send Ben away now. If anything I had to keep him close so that he couldn’t run and tell anyone everything that I had mistakenly let him see. I could just pull each of his memories and send him away as Blyth wished. Is that what I really wanted though? The thought that I could have someone in my life who knew me for what I really was instead of what I pretended to be didn’t thrill me, but the idea did delight me. I could be myself with someone other than Anthony and his brothers. Maybe this is why Blyth was being so overbearing. The thought that I could have someone else other than his sons threatened him.
“That was surprisingly delicious.” Ben walked back into the room. He swiftly lifted my feet up off the couch and sat himself down. Gently he sat them back down over his lap. “So I was thinking while eating.”
“That isn’t good.”
Ben smiled, “How can…”
I stopped him right then. “I thought you said you don’t want to know how or why.”
“How can you date? I mean if you date seventeen year old boys don’t you find it, uncouth. You should be dating men that are nearer your true age for just the sake of natural aging. However, if you date men that are older it would be considered publicly a scandal.” Ben tried not to laugh as he spoke, but I caught on to his meaning. “So how do you date?”
“Look Ben, I know where you are going with this, and I hate to break your heart. I don’t date anyone.” I sat up chuckling. “I have arrays of one-nightstands to keep me satisfied. Trust me though right now, you won’t be one of them.”
“I was not meaning that at all.” Ben stiffened up and turned to face me. “It just has to be weird. While I was eating I thought about if I were stuck at your age, I would want someone who could keep me interested, not an eighteen year old girl. Yeah, I mean they are much better looking, but they would still be quite immature. Do you understand now?”
“One of the great many reasons I don’t date.” I laughed, “That and the fact that every man I have dated killed me in one way or another.”
The smile that Ben had disappeared quickly leaving quite a concerned look on his face. “Even Anthony’s father?”
“No,” I grew serious as well. “I killed him.”
“It seems that dating you isn’t a good thing for you or the guy.” Ben laughed at my response, “But you did have relationships with men before. Were they your age or the age you appear to be?”
My eyes fell to the floor, “Do want to know the age they appeared to be or their real age?”
“So they were all just like you?” I nodded. “So is that why your mom took off when you were born? I mean was she like you?”
“It isn’t hereditary and she didn’t take off. She was murdered.” I answered quickly and then I turned the subject, “You understand that if you ever let this pass your lips to anyone I will kill you.”
“Understood,” Ben noted, “So how old is Matt? It is clear in that picture that you two were close in high school, but is he older than you or the same age?”
I ran my hands over my face and breathed in heavily. He had taken my age well enough, but how would he react to them. “Matt is Anthony’s older brother.”
“Yeah, I got that much.”
“He is also Michael’s and Marcus’ older brother as well.” I cringed and waited for his reaction.
“Wait.” Ben held up his hand, “Marcus, Mr. Baine, is younger than Matt? But he is older than both of us. How much older is Matt than Marcus?”
“Four years.”I had to think back to Violet’s book and the dates. I had never really cared to pay attention to the years between them. To me it always seemed as though Michael and Marcus were older because to me they appeared to be. I could see Ben trying to do the math in his head. “Matt is four years older than Michael and Marcus. They are twins.”
Ben’s eyes shot to mine, “Twins, but there are at least twenty years between them.”
“Are you ready for me to really blow your mind?” I waited for Ben to nod before I continued with the biggest part of their ages. “Matt was born in seventeen twenty.”
I waited for Ben to react but instead he just sat there. I could see him carefully calculating. He mumbled to himself a few times before he came right out and spoke. “So you are into older men.”