Anathema - Part Three of Three
ďSay what?Ē he frowns.
I canít help but stare at him, my mouth hanging open (Iím somewhat in awe of his stupidity), nor can I get rid of that vague itch to slap him. I can say that because itís not really an itch at all, but one of those almost uncontrollable urges to do something attention grabbing. Something Bastien canít ignore no matter how hard he tries. Believe me, if I physically slapped him at this point, heíd definitely keel over in shock.
It would make my earlier point about needing a body to be lovers rather obsolete, wouldnít it?
This surprise runs through my head while my mouth works like a fish flopping on dry land -- aimless and predictable. Iíve told him multiple times in the past what I want from him, each time to be ignored, simply because it wasnít what he wanted. And yet, he doesnít understand why I call him selfish and self-centered.
I wish I could tape this moment, simply for posterityís sake. Then later, when Iím hopefully enjoying the afterlife somewhere with a mild climate, Ianthe could bring it out when heís too stubborn. Iím sure the film would be amusing if nothing else. I mean, really, how often do you watch a nineteen-year-old male obstinately telling the air heís in love with it? I know I wouldnít appear in the video, other than maybe a brief wavering of the air.
Funniest Home Videos, here we come.
I sigh, not knowing how else to express my frustration. ďI want you to tell me that you donít love me and that youíve accepted that Iím gone.Ē
A brief pause. ďOkay, I donít love you and I know youíre gone.Ē
He has this cute way of wrinkling his nose when he thinks Iím being anal. It should probably make me angry, because I know heís acting condescending, but I find it funny instead. His response couldnít be less sincere if he tried. Besides, getting mad doesnít accomplish anything.
Ever. Believe me, I tried getting an attitude with Bastien early in the relationship. This reaction brought about two things. First, it nearly drove me to an apoplexy. Second, it made Bastien blink up at me, his eyes losing that practiced vagueness, and demand why I was blocking the football game, at which point he moved to a different chair.
ďLetís try it again,Ē I say, my voice dripping with that kind of bright sarcasm, ďbut this time, letís do it with feeling!Ē
Ianthe giggles. Her face lights up when she laughs. Something sparks in those berry blue eyes, that light spilling onto her cheeks in a sort of iced rose tint. With her cheeks flushed and her lips curving in a smile, sheís even more stunning. I have to fight away the jealousy.
Odd, isnít it? Iím not jealous that sheís alive, but Iím jealous that sheís prettier than I am. Dead giveaway as to my gender. If I were still walking and talking, Iíd probably have to set aside the next few moments to remind myself how to breathe properly. Envy is such an unpleasant emotion.
Bastien glares at me, his rich brown eyes hooded by sultry lashes. ďI said what you wanted me to say.Ē
And the thing is, he really thinks itís that simple. I shake my head, sending my dark hair to ripple over my transparent form. ďI didnít want you to just say it,Ē I protest. ďI want you to believe it.Ē
ďWell, you didnít say that,Ē he counters. Heís got a talent for being difficult. He stares at me, his chin angled slightly toward the ceiling, defiance oozing from every pore. I wonder if thereís an environmental regulation on that.
Through gritted teeth, I answer, ďI thought it was implied.Ē
ďYou think too much.Ē
Heís right, of course. I do think too much. On the other hand, what else do I have to do? Itís not like I can go out and party anymore, or occupy my time with school, or even do something as innocuous as reading. Well, I *can* technically do the latter, but not being able to turn pages kind of cuts down on the amount of time you can spend actually doing it.
That being the case, Iíll take my thinking quite happily, thank you very much. Itís amazing how coherent my thought processes have gotten since I died (probably because theyíve had so much time to develop), though I must point out that Iíve acquired the most disturbing habit of rambling. Iím sure itís not noticeable, of course, and if it is, Iíd rather not know.†
But, allís well that ends well, and hopefully my rambling will lead to a good conclusion. Preferably one involving Bastien falling in love with Ianthe, though now my glee has started to fade and Iíve remembered that love usually doesnít happen in one night or at first sight. Still, the soulmate connection gives me hope.
ďAnd sometimes I wonder if you have a brain at all,Ē I respond sweetly. I ignore the sullenly disgruntled look he sends my way. His silence simply compounds the impression of displeasure. ďOkay...Ē
Pausing, I think for a moment, trying to figure out a way to resolve this. Playing pretend obviously didnít work, not that it ever did with Bastien. My thoughts center on my previous revelation that leaving them alone together will work miracles and move mountains.
Or it could have the same end results as a nuclear explosion. Iím hoping for something more positive than that, especially since a crater would be a little hard to explain and a little more destructive than Iím trying to be.† Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for.†
Theyíre staring at me. I think they might be wondering why my voice trailed off and what I was thinking about in that small span of time, drifting away in memories and madness. I wish I could share myself with them, but so much is gone already that I donít dare take the risk.
ď...Iím going to leave you two alone now...Ē
Both faces darkening like storm clouds churning across sunlight-streaked skies. Something twisting and flickering through Bastienís eyes, something that looks like...
...as if Iíd stolen the sun from the sky and doused it in an ocean, forever destroying its heat in those cooling waters. As if Iíd sent the last snowflake drifting into hell, my laughter accompanying it on its way to those fiery recesses. As if heíd been betrayed.
Iím momentarily stunned into speechlessness. In fact, Iím so thrown by those accusing threads radiating from his eyes that my words falter like pebbles skipping crazily over whipping water. They skim the air more and more slowly, until finally they sink into nothingness.
Tightening my resolve, I clamp down on my annoying habit of empathizing with Bastien and with what he wants. That habit is just going to make it harder to break away. And really, Iíve never been a fan of vandalism, so Iím just going to leave Bastienís mental health alone.
Itís not hard to figure out why that expression swims in his eyes. He doesnít want to be left alone with her, or even have anything to do with her. In his eyes, Iím abandoning him to her mercy. Iíd *like* to abandon him to mental hospital, or maybe a prison ward. Itís a shame we donít always get what we want.
Holding my breath -- metaphorically, of course, since I donít really breathe -- I block his hurt from my mind and staunch the answering ache flowing from my heart. Sometimes you have to guard your emotions so they donít run rampant. Mine are locked up in a padded cell. I threw the figurative key into the Thames or the Seine or the Loire during one of my astral projections. Iím not entirely sure which one, something that could make finding it rather difficult.
That accusing emotion deepens during the silence, mahogany knives cutting through flesh and carving through bone, until his eyes are only blades that wound me. He seems to want me to say something, to take that pain away...
If I had a throat to clear, now would be the time to do it. But even then, I donít think I could bring myself to finish my thought.† With a weak smile, I wave to them and fade away.
You realize, of course, that I donít really intend to leave. We ghosts have this neat trick of going all invisible, but remaining in the room. Iíve every intention of monitoring the conversation.† After all, whatís the point of having these skills if you canít use them?
When I listed my virtues, having morals was not one of them.
For this reason, I feel no remorse about eavesdropping and spying. Iíve got just as much invested in the outcome of this as they do. So much that I have a *responsibility* to stay. Well, maybe not, but it sounds good, doesnít it?
I have to swallow the choking outrage rising at Bastienís first spoken words. I realize I shouldnít have expected more from him, but this refusal to cooperate is rage inducing, not to mention redundant. Itís a shame Iím supposed to have left and canít talk.
ďI donít want you.Ē
As usual, his voice brooks no argument and leaves no room for discussion. Bastien is the textbook definition of predictable, right down to the fine print. Itís going to take quite a bit on her part to make him listen. Lucky for me, I have faith in her.
Which I should. She smiles slightly, looking sadly down at her hands, her expression just resigned enough to be poignant, and just hopeful enough to be inspiring. That spun gold hair falls like a curtain over her face, but oddly, her voice is clear and sweet when she speaks.
ďI know you donít,Ē she says softly.
Her fingers twist fretfully in her lap, the gesture unconsciously betraying her nervousness despite her obvious efforts to keep her lower lip from trembling. Now that Iím gone, sheís reverted back into her shy and uncertain self, clumsily fumbling through the motions that will bring them closer together if done right.
Her words bring only silence.
Bastien glares and Ianthe cowers, but for several long and stinging seconds, nothing else is said. Just silence, a void that sometimes speaks louder and more clearly than words, in this case offering only rejection and diffidence. While words can be painful, silence can cut deeper than the most finely honed blade, ripping your heart and turning the pieces into a finely chopped pedigree meal.
The smile wavers and fades. Tears glisten in her bright eyes, hovering in that split second between falling and fading, and brighten the color to the deepest and most gorgeous blue of day. With a tremulous sigh, she speaks. ďI know you love Anna,Ē she says, her tone so careful and apologetic that I nearly want to snort with laughter, ďand I donít expect you to stop loving her.Ē
Something like surprise flashes over his features it before he quickly buries it under that apathetic mask. Sheís caught his attention with that statement, which grudgingly earns my respect. Grudging only because I *want* him to forget me. But, as Iíve already said, my methods apparently werenít working, so if this is the way she needs to do it, sheís got my approval, as well as my one hundred percent backing. Iím not going to nitpick over the methods. Only over the results.
Still, he keeps his mouth shut, which might be a record for him. Heís much more likely to be verbally obstinate than silently glare, which matches my personality more than Iantheís. Whereas sheís playing the unobtrusive maiden of old, Iíd probably look him straight in the eye and tell him where exactly he can put his tenacity. And, if that didnít work, Iíd help him find that place by putting it there myself.
Ianthe drops her gaze back to her hands. They pause, then flatten against her thighs in an attempt to soothe shattered nerves. When I look closely, I realize sheís gripping her knees so tightly that her knuckles are a bloodless white.
ďI donít think you should ever forget her,Ē she ventures, her voice still that soothing tone Iíve heard used to calm wild horses. ďShe seems special, but... Sebastien, she said it herself. Sheís dead.Ē
His eyes slide shut, his teeth clenching tightly and a muscle ticking in his jaw. Itís not been a good night for him. I think heís finally realized heís not going to win this one, no matter how hard he tries or how uncooperative he is. A low sound rumbles in his throat. Finally, he shakes his head, as if to deny the truth of the situation.
She sighs, the resignation creeping over the hopefulness until one emotion eclipses the other, and then she stands. Quietly, watching as Bastienís body tenses in anticipation, she moves closer, until sheís standing mere breaths away. He looks like heís in pain, waiting for her to make that first fatal move.
But instead of moving, she simply stands quietly near him without fidgeting. The invasion of his space must be driving him crazy. I can see him flinching away from her though he never actually moves, holding his place almost like heís punishing himself for something. Maybe for loving me. Maybe for giving Ianthe a chance.
Itís hard to tell how his mind works.
ďI donít want you to give her memory up entirely,Ē she whispers. Tilting her face so that sheís staring up at him, her lips brush the air only millimeters away from his. He tenses further, waiting for that first touch of mouth against mouth like the sealing of a pact. But Ianthe doesnít move, doesnít fill the growing cavern of anticipation.
Time and emotion hang frozen between them. Then Bastien groans and his shoulders slump, his words more a moan than anything else. ďThen what do you want from me?Ē he demands, and even Ianthe seems to notice the charged need in his voice.
The tension electrifying the air is both tangible and palatable. Itís not entirely related to their conversation. I can sense uncertain undertones linking their closeness and those voiceless signals theyíre sending to each other like emergency flares during a traffic accident. The only difference is, the flares are a safety precaution, but the silent communication between Bastien and Ianthe is more likely to make them go up flames. And that reaction is about as far from harmless as you can get.
Her eyes have been trained on his mouth, which I must say is delightfully full and sensuous and which he knows how to use, but now they shift to stare at the wall, the floor, the ceiling. Anywhere but at his face.
She has these on and off moments of courage. Sometimes she seems ready to slap him. Others she seems to shrink away. Itís anyoneís guess as to what sheís really thinking and how she really feels. So far she seems reasonable, if not remarkably brave. Occasionally thatís something that can only come with time.
Biting her lower lip, which draws Bastienís attention to her mouth, she looks up at him. Her eyes have darkened, either with worry or fear, but either way, theyíre a luminous color Iíve never seen before, to which I have nothing to compare. I think that any effort to find a comparison would fall flat, so Iím not even going to bother.
I wouldnít be able to do it justice anyway.
Still just a shallow dip of air away, her mouth curves in a smile, but itís one of those sad smiles that says everything is being laid bare before him, that her heart is his to shatter or shelter. ďI just want a chance,Ē she says softly.
And at that statement, something new sparks in Bastienís face. Something like wonder, or maybe trepidation, but whatever it is, itís the first time heís expressed it. Then he seems to realize who he is, what heís doing, and where he is. Like a cameraís shutter clacking closed over the lens, he tucks that emotion away. ďI--ď
Before he can get out more than a single syllable, she rises on the very tip of her toes (Bastienís quite a bit taller than she is) and shuts his mouth with her own. I saw this coming ages ago, when they first sat beside each other, the tension so sharp it could be marketed as a weapon of war. I remember what it felt like to kiss him, memory and longing so heartrending that I almost want to scream with jealousy. Itís not Bastien I want, but feeling someone elseís touch instead of simply... nothing.
I canít tear my eyes away.
I know itís rude to watch them, but they canít see me anyway, right? And I really canít help myself. My eyes are drawn to the clashing of mouths against each other, so gentle and chaste that itís nearly frightening. I can see that emotion breaking over Bastienís face, like heís just discovered a miracle. Iím not sure thatís far from the truth.
A moment later, I realize that tears run down Bastienís face in silent, glistening rivulets, and this time, Iím the one whoís shocked. I have only rarely seen Bastien cry. Ianthe pulls away from him them, her lily petal skin flushed and heated. One hand rises to his face, the pad of her thumb brushing away that dampness.
The emotion singing between them cannot be expressed in words.
He dips his head once more, his lips moving softly over hers. I can hear the sound of my heart breaking. Yes, I want to rest in peace, and yes, I think Bastien should let me go, get on with his life, etc, etc. But I wasnít lying to Ianthe when I said I loved him. Heís as much a part of me as I am of him, which is part of the reason itís been so hard for him to do what I want.
When he looks up, it takes him a moment to focus. ďMaybe I should let her go,Ē Bastien murmurs, that dazed wonder never quite fading from his eyes.
Ianthe smiles softly at him, her head descending in a supportive nod. ďMaybe,Ē she whispers back, her breath catching on that single word. ďShould you tell her that? She doesnít have much time left.Ē
He nods, the scant light rippling over the smooth plane of his cheek. Gathering his breath into his lungs as though heís just been resuscitated after a near drowning, he shudders back into reality. I have to remind myself how sweet it is. Otherwise, I might lose my transparent insides at how *cute* theyíre being.
ďYeah,Ē he agrees, his voice still shaky. Staring at her like heís trying to memorize her face, as if heís trying draw her in, he hesitates a moment, then calls, ďAnna!Ē
And let me just tell you, the tone of his voice is really, really insulting. He probably doesnít mean it to be, but really! We were together in some form or another for seven years. Now he calls my name like Iím some annoying tramp who refuses to leave. Iím tempted not to show myself at all.
But finally, I figure itís probably a better idea. Closure is always a plus. Thinking evil thoughts to myself the entire time, I float over to the wall, where I decide to materialize. Theyíre staring at where I originally was, and I feel the need to be difficult.
A few seconds later, when they still havenít noticed me hovering with my arms crossed over the space where my chest should be (and is, if you look at it from the right angle), I clear my throat. Both whirl, turning to face me like Iím the premiere leader of the Inquisition, guilt etched over their faces.
I think itís adorable that they feel guilty about doing exactly what I asked them to do.
†Oddly enough, under that guilt, Bastien looks pained, as though whatever thoughts or feelings he has hurt him terribly. ďAnna, I--ď
ďYou what?Ē I counter evenly. My voice and gaze are level. My arms stay folded obstinately across my chest.
He sighs. ďAnna, I love you. Iíll always love you.Ē
Surprise jumps over his features, as if the silence and that word werenít so loud they spoke for him. ďBut I need Ianthe. Sheís alive and youíre...Ē
ďNot,Ē I finish, when his voice trails off, and I break into a wide smile. He nods, even while he looks uncertain. I wish I could hug him and tell him it will all be okay, but again, itís that lack of arms thing. Not being solid really puts a damper on old habits. ďItís okay,Ē I tell him gently.
ďI do love you.Ē
The seriousness suffusing his voice is heartwarming. Really. It forces that ache into a pulsing, burning mass of regret, but I canít pay attention to that. I can already feel a strange tingling, something thatís been missing for that whole two year span that Iíve been dead.
Ghostly tears glisten in my eyes and I have to swallow hard to blink them back. I know theyíre not really there, but reality is a completely subjective thing, and in mine, Iím crying. ďI know,Ē I whisper. ďI love you, too.Ē
Iím starting to fade away now. Where my feet would have touched the floor, I used to be almost solid. Present time, Iím quickly losing shape from the legs up. His face tightens. I think he might be crying again, which he really does hate. Says itís unmanly or something ridiculous like that.
He knows Iím really going to be gone for good this time and itís wounding him.†
Ianthe gathers him into her arms, pulling him around so that his back is to me. So he doesnít have to watch, or at least thatís what I think at first. Iím almost gone now, the ghost tears slipping down my cheeks more and more rapidly, dripping into their own disappearance. My consciousness has started fading, too.
At that last moment, as Iím feeling myself welcomed into so much tranquility that itís almost unbearable, I look at them one more time. Ianthe is staring at me, triumph etched across her face. My eyes narrow, trying to focus on her, and her smile widens.
Then, so quickly that I would have missed it if I werenít watching so closely, Iantheís features shift and meld. For just a second, Melissaís face stares guilelessly back at me, then that smiles stretches into more of a sneer. My sister, but not my sister. Her lips slowly and deliberately form the words ďI won.Ē
I have one last thought before I give myself over to that solemn and welcoming peacefulness. One last conscious string of realizations before I let myself go. And that is that Ianthe fooled me, that she played us both, and that she is my murderer.
I seem to have lost a game I didnít know I was playing, and indeed, helped my opponent across the finish line. I lost my life over a prize Iím not sure I would have fought for. And with that insight came another. All this time, I thought I was someone elseís punishment, someone elseís penance for past sins. But I was wrong.
I thought I was Bastienís anathema.
Now I know that he was mine.