Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Dead Heart

Wow! So it's been a while. Like almost exactly a year from the last time I, or any of us for that matter, posted on here. Well, we're going to change that. Again. And this time it will stick. We hope. ;)
So, I'm not really supposed to post this story yet because the person I wrote it for hasn't even read it yet. But...I just can't help myself. My twin sister had this super cool dream that I just couldn't stop thinking about after she told it to me. So, for her Christmas present, yep I'm that late delivering, I decided to write a short story about her dream. Happy reading!

The party was already in full swing when I finally forced myself to leave the shelter of my room and brave the crowd that would swarm me the moment I made my appearance. I got lucky on my way down and made it to the entry way of the large ballroom without being noticed. Taking advantage of the momentary solitude, I stood half hidden behind a large plant, surveying the scene before me without interruption.
Extravagance and luxury met my eyes and I felt my stomach churn at the sight of so many wasted resources that were needed elsewhere in our lands. Women were dressed in their finest gowns, not a hair out of place and best manners on display, while the men, dressed equally as elegant, had no such concerns for their manners and many a boisterous laugh could be heard throughout the room.
I spotted several people that I longed never to see again, let alone on this night, and I almost turned back to my quarters. Leaning my head against the cool stone, I closed my eyes against the fresh wave of tears that came at seeing everyone so happy and free when I felt so trapped and broken.
Why did we have to do this every year? We won a war five years ago; couldn’t we just build a museum or a monument to remember that fateful day? Why did we have to broadcast the final battle?
As if living through it wasn’t bad enough, I had to watch the painful events unfold, all my sins of that day laid bare for the world to see. Every. Single. Year. It was too much. This night was too much.
A hand on my arm startled me from my thoughts. Years of training kicked into action as I assessed my threat, my entire body tense and ready to attack.
“Are you hiding, Lady Stonewell?” came the warm voice that belonged to the hand on my arm. I forced myself to relax and returned her smile with as genuine one as I could. It wasn’t much.
“Countess Barlow, how nice to see you again. I’m not hiding, more like…contemplating,” I replied, shaking my head at my own idiocy. She laughed loudly, and I resisted the urge to shush her, so she wouldn’t draw attention to me.
“My dear, what do you have to contemplate? The moment you set foot in that room, you’re going to be surrounded by men who want to dance with you, or marry you if you’d pick one, and women that want to dress like you, act like you, be you. What are you waiting for?” she tilled merrily.
For everyone to realize what a fake I am. To wake up from this horrible nightmare and have my best friend still be alive, I thought. To her I said, “Just catching my breath before the excitement of the night begins.”
This time her laugh did draw others to us and I mentally prepared myself for the onslaught of attention I didn’t want or deserve. Every congratulations was a reminder of what I’d lost five years ago and every action I took that day would be retold to me over and over, as if I wasn’t the one who was actually there. All the while I had to pretend to be amused.
 “Lady Stonewell, how lovely you look tonight! Blue is the perfect color to offset your beautiful blonde hair!”
“And your brown eyes! I wish I had brown eyes like yours.”
“Good evening, Lady Stonewell. May I have this dance?”
“May I have the next one?”
“And I the next after that?”
“A toast to Lady Aryia Stonewell, for giving us back our future!”
I plastered the smile I had mastered over the years for exactly this night on my ridged face, as I walked through the sea of people, all waiting for me. My feet itched to take me back to my empty room where I could mourn this day properly instead of being forced to celebrate it. But I was a soldier and no matter how much it broke my heart, I would be their hero again tonight if that’s what they needed.
Taking my partner’s hand for the first dance, I tried to be as charming as everyone thought I was. I smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the man across from me, but I had a hard time pretending to be interested in anything he had to say.
There were balloons and decorations with the numerical sign for five hung all over the pillars and tables. Five years since the final battle that ended our three-year long war. Five years since I lost my best friend and the real reason we won. But there would be no mention of him tonight and it made my chest ache.
Though we celebrated this night every year, this one was different for me. I had this childish fantasy that he was still out there somewhere, alive, and making his way home. But I knew now that wasn’t the case. I knew him better than I knew myself and he would’ve moved heaven and earth to get back to me by now.
I gave myself five years to hope. Five years for him to show up if he were alive. I realized now what a huge mistake that was. I knew it back then, but I couldn’t face the truth. The moment we got separated I felt his connection to me go out. Like a switch being turned off, and for five long years, it’s never once flickered or given the slightest hint of being there.
Why had I just prolonged the devastation that had been waiting for me? I could have been healing for five years and maybe this party would have been a normal celebration of our victory, instead of the crushing weight on my heart that always left me empty and hollow.
“Where are you in that beautiful head of yours?” asked a deep, gravelly voice. I came out of my thoughts to find a different man standing in front of me than the one I was just with. I felt the color rise to my cheeks and tried to remember how I’d let such a thing happen without my notice. I took his outstretched hand and we began to dance with everyone else.
“My apology, sir. This night is always a long one for me and I must’ve been caught up in my memories.”
“No apology is needed, I assure you. I can only imagine what it’s like being forced to remember the night you took out an entire army single-handedly.”
I smiled tightly at his remark as I tried to figure out if that was meant to be a compliment. It almost seemed more like an accusation, but I couldn’t think why this man would be accusing me of anything. I didn’t even know him. As inconspicuously as I could, I took a closer look at my dance partner. I don’t remember ever seeing him before tonight, but that wasn’t entirely unusual, as I didn’t pay a lot of attention to those around me.
He was wearing a black evening jacket with a light grey waist coat underneath and matching black slacks. He was older than me by almost a decade, if I had to guess, but he was still quite striking with his jet-black hair and green eyes. A thick, white scar lined the underside of his jaw on the left, ending just before his chin.
“Forgive me, I didn’t catch your name, Mr…?” I trailed off.
“For being the goddess among men tonight, you sure do ask forgiveness a lot, Lady Stonewell. Do you always carry around so much guilt or is tonight a special occasion?”
His tone was still playful but there was an edge to it that made the hair on my arms stand on end. I stiffened, and he pulled me closer, like he was worried I was going to try and leave.
“I-I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you—"
“The way they worship you, it’s like you were the only one fighting the war. Well, not everyone has forgotten what else happened that night,” he said, all pretenses gone. “What about the thousands that died trying to defend you before you figured out how to tap into your power? Why are their faces not plastered to the screens, instead of just yours?”
 I felt my stomach drop like a stone and tried, unsuccessfully, to take a full breath. These were all questions I had wondered myself. But having them laid bare before me felt like the greatest slap in the face.
I made to move, but he held me firmly in place, forcing me to face some of my deepest fears. I knew I could probably get away if I tried hard enough, but I didn’t want to cause a scene.
“Why are they left to be forgotten while you’re made into a legend? Do you even think about them anymore? About the people who died? Do you ever think about him?” he asked softly in my ear, sending chills down my back. This time when I pulled away, he let me.
If he wanted to cut to the core of me, he’d done it. I don’t know how he knew about him, most people didn’t, but there was no mistaking the look in his eyes as he stood there glaring at me. Accusing me. And he danced with me so he could remind me about him.
I felt my chest heaving with the effort to get my breathing under control. “Yes,” I finally choked out. “Not a day goes by where I don’t think about all the men who were killed, waiting for me. I think about how it could’ve been different, how I would’ve changed things, so they could have lived. So he could have lived, instead of me. And every single night I dream about him coming home, even though I know he’s gone.” I felt the stinging behind my eyes, but it was too late to stop the tears from coming now. “Yes, I think about him.”

                                *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*