William . . . William . . . “William”
Something was breaking through his dream of tiny caskets and crying women. A voice from his past, pounding in his head. The memories it stirred were all too real, and they were forcing themselves into his waking thoughts.
David had died in his sleep a few nights later. William was hiding behind a doorway when the call came. He crouched on the floor, eavesdropping on his grandmother and aunt as they held the phone receiver between them. Something had happened. The baby refused to breastfeed. He wouldn’t take a bottle. He suddenly ran a fever. He died in his sleep.
“How horrible,” Sylvie had whispered, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I can’t imagine what Gretchen is going through. And poor Olivia. Poor, sweet Olivia.”
William was distraught and inconsolable. His grandmother was on the phone to his mother. “The boy needs to come home. There’s been an emergency. He’s had a shock.” He was grateful she hadn’t called him weak. The cause of death was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but he knew . . . he knew the true reason the child had died. Not by any natural cause. And William felt he deserved death as well.
The voice returned. William opened his eyes. Sweat ran down his clammy face and his stomach churned. He felt hung over, disoriented, lying on the floor by the door to the attic. Night had fallen. But something suddenly moved in the darkness. William looked up, and that’s when he saw her.
“Rose?” He whispered, sitting up slowly. His head ached dully and his limbs were stiff. She stood before him, no more than a few feet away, her long hair blending into the darkness so all he saw for a moment was her white face, her large staring eyes. She nodded slowly, a sad smile on her lips. Even though she looked the same, she no longer appeared a girl, naïve and impulsive, but a woman, waiting for him to make all the moves.
“Are you real?” William asked. “Is any of this real?”
She walked to him and knelt before him. She put a hand on his cheek. “I’m real to you,” she whispered. And he felt her hand, felt the heat beneath the skin, felt the pulse in her fingertips. He turned his face so his lips pressed against her palm. “Rose,” he breathed, desire stirring in him. She was naked against him, and this time he wanted to look at her. He wanted to feel more of her.
“I’ve waited for so long for you to come back to me,” she said, resting her head on his, her arms coming around him. His breathing quickened. “You’ve changed, William.”
“I’m older,” he said with a small laugh. “But you haven’t changed. How is it possible that you look the same, yet different?”
“I’m whatever you want me to be,” she said. William pulled away to look at her more closely. He studied the curve of her face, so perfect, her plump lips, her large almond-shaped eyes, and her unruly curls. He reached up to run his hands through her hair, breathing in the scent of summer rain.
“Elizabeth was pregnant,” he whispered. “She was going to have a baby before she died. She was going to name her Rose.”
“I was born when Elizabeth died,” Rose stated. “I’ve been here ever since then.”
“You’re not her ghost,” he whispered.
“Elizabeth’s ghost?” she said softly, shaking her head. “No. At least, I don’t think so. I’m not sure what I am. I’m part of her, but not her. All I know is I’ve never left this room. I have no memory of a life outside these walls.”
William couldn’t take his eyes off her. He studied the slope of her shoulders, the curve of her collarbone. He saw the small diamond-shaped mark on her shoulder and lowered his lips to kiss the spot. She sighed against him and his passion overwhelmed him. “I’ve wanted you for so long,” he said, his arms embracing her so tightly he thought he might crush her.
“You came back to me, William,” she sobbed into his shoulder. “I knew you would. I knew you wouldn’t hate me forever.”
“Hate you?” He whispered into her ear, “No. How could I ever hate you?”
He lifted her easily in his arms, carrying her to the davenport, the same davenport he’d watched her sit in as a boy.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked as she hugged him to her. “Do you know what this means?”
He remembered the withered flowers, rotted apple cores, the dead bunny, and David.
“I don’t care,” he said as he set her down. He had been haunted by the memory of her for too long. He wanted gratification for a yearning that for years he’d tried to exorcise through his art. Now, lying before him, was everything he’d ever hoped to create. Unearthly, unsoiled beauty.
“I’m afraid,” she whispered. “I don’t know what’s going to happen . . .”
“I don’t care,” he said again. “I don’t care who you are or what you are. All I know is that I’ve loved you ever since I was a boy, and I’m willing to risk anything to have you.”
When his lips finally met hers, he felt her rise up against him, pressing herself to him. And he knew as she breathed into him that this might be his final gift to her. He succumbed to his desire. There was no turning back.
Melissa Hunter is an author and blogger from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her articles have been published on Kveller.com and LiteraryMama.com. She is a contributing blogger to the Today Show parenting community, and her short stories have been published in the Jewish Literary Journal. She is currently writing a novel based on her grandmother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and the psychological impact this had on her life. When not writing, Melissa loves spending family time with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Connect with Melissa via her website, Facebook, and on Twitter as @cleancopywriter.