Once Sean did arrive at their bedroom a few moments later, he was a little thrown by the fact that there were nearly twenty candles lit in that room alone, when there were normally never more than two or three per room. But his worry was more for Claire’s state than that mystery, as he entered the room, moving his eyes to where she now sat, shakily tearing out her most recent line of stitches she had made in the dark material that lay across her lap.
“Claire?” he asked quietly as he moved forward into the room slowly closing the door behind him.
“I’ve been making these damn dresses for twenty years! You would think I’d get it right by now.” was her greeting. Though she spoke in more of a mumble as she continued fussing with the stitching, not yet raising her eyes to meet his worried look.
“Your dresses are beau---” he began, and then just shook his head as he moved towards her, “Mariana said you seemed upset. I somehow doubt it’s just over a dress. What’s wrong, Claire?” he asked with concern.
“The stitching is wrong. That’s for sure.” she mumbled again, her slightly shaking fingers still pulling at the material.
Sean simply sighed at her response before kneeling beside the chair he now placed his hand gently upon the back of, “Are you upset about them? I know I should have only brought one of them, but I just wanted to avoid any more chance of severed family ties in the future, you know.” he paused slightly as her only response was blinking slightly as she continued to fuss with the material, “Is it them you’re upset about?” he asked with further worry.
“Not really, Sean. We did need new servants, after all.” she stated, her voice remaining nearly a whisper as she forced her attention to remain on her task rather than allowing any eye contact.
“Well, yes.” Sean furrowed his brow, “Though I’m sure you only expected one, and not sisters, but I’m hoping it will work out. Hoping that we can at least give it a---”
“I’m not upset about the fucking new servants Sean!” she finally interrupted with a raise of her voice as she tossed the material from her lap to land in a rumpled heap on the floor, while quickly moving, in the same motion, to stand and turn away, her voice trembling more than a bit.
Sean swallowed a bit as he stood upright again, more than a little thrown by her sudden flare up, “Claire, please, what’s wrong?” he asked, though his voice was sad rather than angry as he forced himself not to reach for her just yet.
She let out a long sigh, making some feeble attempt to calm herself before speaking again, “Ash is gone, Sean.”
“Well, yes, I didn’t see his horse…” he spoke slowly as he allowed only a brief glance back toward the bedroom door before moving his own now troubled eyes back to her.
“Gone, Sean.” she said more firmly, swallowing again, “And I’m guessing it’s for good.” she added, her voice trembling through the words still.
“Well….what do you mean, exactly?” he asked with his own swallow as he moved only an inch closer.
“He went to go see if any of his family had survived and gone to live with another tribe, and he never came back. That’s what I mean.” she told him in her own whisper.
“Wait, when was this?” he asked, his own voice rising in continued concern.
“You have been gone for a month, Sean.” she unnecessarily reminded him.
“Yes, I know that.” he swallowed again, “But, when was the last time you saw him?” he continued to try and deal with only one worry at a time.
“Four nights ago.” she answered briefly, her tone still barely above a whisper.
“Three days ago?” he rephrased with even more worry.
“Three very long days ago.” she agreed, still not turning back, for fear of him seeing in her face that there was so much more to that story.
Sean let out another sad sigh as he finally moved to place his hands over her shoulders from behind, “Thank goodness you’re ok.” he whispered as he gently kissed her hair.
“I’m a long way from that, Sean.” she mumbled again, tilting her head downwards, though still not pulling away from his touch, which she missed more than she had the words to describe.
Sean sighed again, shaking his own head as he stepped closer to move his hands to wrap around her waist loosely, pulling her body gently back against his, “Well, something had to have happened, Claire. He would never abandon you. You’ve got to know that.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that something did happen. But that doesn’t make it any better that he’s gone.” she whispered, her eyes still cast downwards.
Another long sigh from Sean, as he knew there weren’t really any words that would truly be comforting in light of things, “Well, we do have two still, I suppose.” he said with another brief glance toward the door, “We’ll be ok. Just like we were before.” he attempted to assure her with another light kiss over her long, loose locks.
“Ok?” she scoffed as she finally stepped forward from his grip to lean upon the vanity, looking down at the candle there that reflected brightly in the mirror, “Like we were before?” she added with another scoff.
Sean narrowed his eyes once more as he continued to watch her obviously sullen demeanor, “I know you’re upset about Ash.” only a slight pause, “But I can’t help thinking there’s more here, Claire.” he added as more of a question.
“Ok, like we were before? That’s how it’s going to be?” she repeated the words as a question once more.
“What are you asking me to answer, really, Claire?” he asked, with perception that came from more than just their nearly two decades together.
“You want a question?” she scoffed again, shaking her head once more, “I’ve got a question: What are we, Sean, really?” she finally asked, her voice trembling once again.
“What are we?” he repeated, obviously thrown by that question.
“Yes. What are we?” she repeated sadly, “Are we dead? Are we alive? What are we?” she asked as tears welled up as she continued to stare into that bright flame.
Sean let out another long sigh as he tried to think on her words, trying desperately to determine how to answer them, “I guess, most would say…both?” he added with his own sad shrug.
“Is it both or is it neither? Which is it, honestly?” she asked as another drop of red drifted down her pale cheek.
Another sigh, “It’s been almost four years, Claire. Why…?” he couldn’t even think of an appropriate way to finish his own question right then.
“Because, we died, those nearly four years ago, our bodies died. Any doctor in the world would agree. We’re dead, right?”
“Yes, I suppose so, Claire, but I’m not sure I know what you want me to…” his voice trailed off.
“Then why would any stranger we meet think we’re alive? My own parents, they would see me, and they wouldn’t know, they’d think I’m alive, right?”
“Well, yes. That’s what helps us fit in…” he attempted, only further confused by her strange line of questioning.
“Fit in?” she scoffed again.
“You know, when we have to.” he added as he watched her in puzzlement.
“When’s that, Sean?”
“What do you mean?” he asked slowly.
“We can walk, and talk, and think, just like we did when we were alive. So, why is it, that we live as though we are dead, and have for so very, very long?”
Sean swallowed again at her question, “You know we have to stay hidden, remember?” he made another attempt at reason.
She scoffed again, and even allowed a wry smile, “I thought that meant that we had to hide what we are now. Not actually, hide.” she shook her head as she finished her sentence.
“Well, I guess, it’s just, you know, easier, the less people who see us, or know us, or are around us…” Sean tried to make a logical argument to explain their lives since the change, but still couldn’t help his voice trailing off through his own words.
Claire then sighed as well, “The things we can do though,” she began, “If anyone ever found out what we are, we could just make them think something else. Make them forget. Just like magic. We somehow were graced with that power on the night we died. There’s gotta be a reason, right?” she added with another slight shrug.
Sean furrowed his brow further, “You barely ever even make yourself eat, let alone use those powers we have. I thought you hated those parts of…this.”
She shook her head again, “What I hate, Sean, is being alive….and living like I’m dead. I can’t believe, any more, that we were given eternity, given this strange existence, just to spend years, decades, centuries, even…just locked away, not able to ever again be part of the world that this blood says we can be part of forever, if we want. Why do we even have this life, if it’s meant to be one where we can’t even live? If that’s really supposed to be our lives, forever, then we may as well just crawl back into some box in the ground, and give it all up, after all. Please tell me that’s not how we’re meant to spend eternity.” a slight sob, “Please tell me we’re not meant to spend it in that darkness, forever. Cause if that’s how we’re really supposed to spend it, then, and only then, will we really be dead.” she sniffled again, “And I don’t want to be dead, Sean, especially if I have to live through that death every night, forever and ever. Do you?”
Sean swallowed hard as he finally moved to step closer, taking her in his arms and pulling her to him, wrapping his arms around where she curled against him, “What do you want to do then?” he finally asked.
“I wanna be part of the world. I don’t just wanna spend every night hiding, waiting for the sun to come up, just so I can do it again the next night. Doing the same thing over and over again, and hoping it will be different the next time…isn’t that the definition of madness?” she asked with another sad sigh, “I don’t wanna be mad anymore, I wanna be alive again, even if I no longer have breath, or a heartbeat, I still have a mind, and I’m going to lose what's left of that too if I never get to live again. Please, say we can. Please?” she pleaded as she squeezed him tighter.
Sean allowed another long sigh as he held her closer still, “We can. We can do anything in the world, anything in the world, if any of it will ever make you happy again. If any of it will make you feel like you still are that girl I fell in love with, that girl I couldn’t bear eternity without: Then that’s exactly what we’ll do.” he promised her, finally, after so long, getting the answer to his own question, about how he could make her happy again. He didn’t know how hard it would be, and whether or not he would have to turn the entire world upside down to do so. But, if that’s what it took to help Claire become Claire again, then that is exactly what he would do, no matter what.
After making love to her again that night, Sean placed another gentle kiss upon the top of her head as she held him tight against her own quickly cooling skin. As the minutes ticked by, as they waited on another morning’s sunrise, Sean couldn’t help being drawn back to their earlier conversation that night.
“So, how should we go about starting this new life?”
She sighed slightly, “Are you trying to convince me it won’t be possible, after all?” she asked sadly, her eyes turning downwards as they remained laying close to one another.
“No, I mean I’ll do everything in my power to make it possible.” he assured her with another little squeeze, “I just assumed you must have been putting some thought into it. And I wanna know, where do you think we should begin?”
Another sigh, “You’re serious. You wanna do this?”
“Quite serious, Claire. I wanna do anything I can to give you back that happiness again. I just wanted to know if you had any particular plans in mind already, since you’re obviously quite serious about this. I just want you to tell me what all you were thinking of.” he smiled down at her.
“Ok…if you’re serious,” she began as she warily looked up at him, “You’re an artist, right?”
“Try to be.” he agreed with a sad smile.
“But here, that’s almost impossible. Especially now that Ash is gone.” she added sadly, “Here all you’ve been able to do is just try and get by, and having to take care of the land just to survive. That’s not an artist’s life, Sean.”
“Well, someone has to do that sort of thing.” he reminded her sadly.
“Exactly. Living here, all of us, the people here in this new world, all we can do, is spend every second of every day, just surviving in a land that’s not even ready for us to be living in it yet. That’s why we’re called settlers. Because nothing here is settled yet, that’s all left to us to do. Here, even if we were, like everyone else, we still have to start with nothing, just barely managing to get by…Here it’s all we can do to survive at all. You can’t be an artist here, Sean. There’s no one here who has time for art. They’re all just trying to survive, at all. You have to know that. You’ve probably known that for a long time.”
“You’re saying you want to leave, America, I mean?” he asked with a raised brow.
She sighed slightly, “If we went back there, back to where our great grandparents came from, there we could be artists. We could come out at night. We could be someone different every night of every week, if we wanted. You and I never dreamed of having some farm in some empty, unsettled world. We dreamt of having lives that meant something, lives that made a difference to others, lives where we could be creative, and not looked down on for it. We’re not meant to be part of a world that is barely ready for living people to survive it. We’re not meant to be part of this new, hard, bright, savage world…not yet anyway. In this world, we have to hide, in the old one, we could shine. We could be someone again. That’s the world we’re meant to be part of, Sean.”
Sean allowed a slight smile at how hopeful she sounded, even if it may be false hope, her having hope at all was something he missed, and would do everything in his power to keep alive, “You’re talking about London, then, right?”
“Ships leave from Virginia all the time. It’s only two states away.” she reminded.
He smiled again, “How long have you wanted this?”
“Haven once told me all about his life in London, before Columbus even came here. Haven only came to the new world out of curiosity, and then stayed for the same. But his old life, in London, it was so different. It was the kind of life where it wasn’t always about hiding from the sun. It was about shining bright enough to make your own. I want to make my own. I want you to make your own. I want us to get that light back. It’s been too dark, for too long.” was her final argument, as she placed a kiss over his lips, which smiled down at her, rather than ever making any argument of his own, to quash that light she was trying so hard to find again, at last.