My chest tightens. I’m choking, gasping for my next breath.
This is it.
I flail my arms around, reaching for the hands now wrapped tightly around my neck. Nothing works. I try to scream yet no sound leaves my tongue. The room spins out of focus.
A shadowy figure stands over me, it’s Elizabeth. I look above me to see whose hands are squeezing all the life out of me. A young child with red eyes moves out of the darkness and spins around like a rabid animal jumping upon my rapidly beating chest. I still thrash about. Elizabeth lovingly leans over and tries to pry the demon child’s fingers off of my neck.
“You will have your chance, Tawresh Samekwaw. It is not yet time.”
The child growls but slowly releases.
I wake up on the floor with the covers wrapped around my neck, Shim’s necklace partially cutting off my air supply and one leg still hanging on the bed. I can’t catch my breath.
“It was a dream,” I choke out.
One of many I have had lately, except each time the child grows. He’s getting older and undoubtedly anticipating our introduction.
My heart begins to steady. It was just a dream, just a dream, I tell myself over and over again. Only my heart knows better. I see his face everywhere. His eyes can be seen in every reflection I encounter. The demon child waits for me and, me for him. In spite of his murderous appetite for my being, like a magnet I’m somehow drawn closer each time he shows his face. I feel a strange kindred toward him, as if my purpose is somehow intertwined with his.
Elizabeth has finally given up all hope of me calling her Mother, ever again. Our only encounters are when I come back to Channon Estate for the weekends. We at least speak, but it will never be the same.
It’s been three years since I left Arcadia. I spent the first two trying to convince myself that I was happy. What a laugh that was. Finally, I decided I had to leave the country and everything that reminded me of Arcadia and move into the city. The sight of all the trees only brought sadness, and the search for a way back home resulted in despair each time I failed. Thoughts of Calev and Henry ruled my life and left no room for anything else. I was going crazy like Grandmother. I have decided I will know when it’s time to return, somehow I will just know. That’s why I go back, not to see Elizabeth, but to listen, listen to the trees. The place that used to frighten me so, is now the one place I feel most at peace.
My life is good in the city,
Yes, it’s good.
It almost seems like my time in Arcadia was a dream. Calev and Henry still visit me there often, in that place between sleeping and waking. I believe my love for them has become part of me, like an organ needed for survival. To remove even the memory of them would somehow result in my ceasing to exist. There are times though that I wish Calev would have just given me the serum to make me forget. I think it would be easier not to remember them. It is like they are one person in my mind and yet distinctly different. I still resent Henry and Calev for what they did to me. They made me love them and, I will never be the same. There have been many suiters come calling but, I just can’t let go of the past. I can’t let go of Arcadia.
I woke this morning half excited, half dreading what lies ahead for me over the weekend. It’s the one time of year that I indulge in Elizabeth’s unending requests to throw a party. I always hate having to spend time in her presence. If it wasn’t for Clarice I could hardly bare it. She was always my favorite anyway. After Grandmother passed away last year, all the other servants moved on. Most were as old as she and only stayed as long as they did to care for her. Clarice’s mother, Bina, had cared for Grandmother in Arcadia. It was only on her death bed that she revealed her long kept secret to me. Since then, Clarice and I have become even dearer friends. She is younger than I, yet we have grown like sisters and is the only person I can speak freely to about Arcadia. She has never been there herself, unless you count in the womb, but has been told all her life of the magical kingdom. I have promised, if at all possible, when I return to take her with me.
The shrill of the phone almost knocks me out of bed.
“Hello, Lily speaking.”
“Hello. This is William. I’m calling to confirm our date for this evening.”
“Um, yes. I’m a friend of Aldrich’s. Did Elise not mention that I would be coming along?”
“It’s no matter. I’ll be ready. Thank you for calling.”
Mary and Elise swore they had no plans for a surprise. Those girls can’t imagine a lady not having a man do all her biding. They are constantly trying to set me up with friends of theirs. It’s sickening really. I honestly don’t mind opening my own door or spending the night alone. As a matter of fact, I enjoy those evenings most of all. I do indulge them on occasion but never go on a second date.
The gentlemen are always the same. First, they bring flowers, a kiss on the hand, dinner at a fancy restaurant, and a stroll in the park. The night ends at my door step with a hopeful glance, which I do not return, and then it’s all over. It’s like they take a class or something. Even if I had never met Henry or Calev, I don’t believe I could fall for such mediocrity. I have witnessed too many marvelous things to be impressed by a bouquet of flowers. Even so, I plan on having a marvelous evening.
Since the war, the blackouts have become a part of life. At dusk the city turns a nice shade of dark to avoid the German bombers. I enjoy it really. The sky fills with stars, and I imagine I’m home in Arcadia. Most people hate it but considering the benefit they make do. Make Do and Mend, they tell us, at least when it comes to our clothes. They have invented many fashionable ways to repurpose their worn out attire. Luckily, thanks to Grandfather, I have more than my share of money and clothes. I do feel sorry for these poor girls though, having to place fancy patches on worn clothing, all because our world is at war. I hope William likes my hair down. I can hardly bring myself to pin it up like all the other girls.
Oh, who am I kidding, I don’t really care what he thinks. I’m sure he’s just like all the others.
The phone rings again.
“Lily dear, you are coming aren’t you?” Clarice insists.
“Yes, Clarice. I’ll be there. But first, I must endure more torture this evening. Mary and Elise are at it again.”
“Still trying to marry you off?”
“Of course. This one did sound familiar.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t bring you flowers, heaven forbid he be a gentleman,” she mocked. “You can tell me all about his faults in the morning when you visit, dear.”
I didn’t think I was really that bad, but I know she’s right, so I’m determined to at least give William a chance. Who knows, he might actually be nice.
“Do you think she knows?” I hear giggling outside my door and then a knock. I open to find Mary and Elise smiling from ear to ear.
“Happy Birthday!” they scream in unison.
Mary’s father is wealthy and even in these wartimes she looks fabulous. Elise’s family are not poor but have struggled. She is wearing a dress obviously refashioned from one of her father’s suits. Amazingly she too radiates beauty. “Aldrich and Carver are waiting downstairs.” Mary winks at Elise.
I wonder if William is with them or if he will meet us later. Before I can even grasp my purse, Mary is already grabbing me by the arm pulling me out of the door. I’ve never been much of a giggler but these two ladies bring it out of me at times. I feel a sense of excitement as I’m being dragged outside.
I see Aldrich first and a figure of a man sitting in the back beside Carver. My heart feels hollow, the beating echoing in my ears.
It can’t be.
Each step I take closer the hair stands up on my arms and tiny bumps begin to surface all over my entire frame. The figure moves out of the car and into the light. I can’t hear anything except the sound his foot makes as he walks toward me, each step revealing more and more of his face.
I can’t breathe.
He grabs for my hand, placing his lips upon my hand. He is still partially hidden. I want to scream and pull him into the light.
It can’t be, I think again.
Leaning forward, I finally see his face. My body melts within me, turning my legs to mush. His arms wrap around me just before they give way.
It’s him; it is Henry.
“My lady,” the words leave his lips in an, oh so familiar way. “My name is William, William,”
“Henry, William Henry,” I finish his sentence.
He steps back and drops the flowers out of his hand. “What did you say?”
“Hello Henry,” I slide my hair behind my ear.
“So you do remember?” Smiling weakly, he turns to the others. “Do you mind if we take off for a bit. As it appears we’re actually old friends, you see.”
Mary is the first to answer.
“Oh really, old friends, did you hear that Elise?” her smile widens as she giggles, “You two be good then. Lily, we will see you later dear.”
I see her winking out of the corner of my eye but I can’t speak. I have not taken my eyes off of Henry the entire time. The warm skin, the dark eyes, the hair, still perfectly combed to the side.
I can’t believe it. I must be dreaming.
“Hello, Lily, how are you?” Without leaving time for me to answer he continues. “There were rumors but I did not believe them. All this time I thought you had forgotten,” he pauses and stares at the ground. “Wow, I don’t even know what to say.”
“Is everything ok, Henry? Why are you here?”
“Oh yes, I almost forgot. I’m sorry to come to you like this, but Shim has been searching for you on the Estate. Your mother told him you had moved.”
“Shim?” I answer. “He’s been looking for me, why?”
It’s like talking to a stranger. It’s like Henry hardly remembers me.
“You are needed in Arcadia again. The time has come for the prophecy’s fulfillment. An evil like nothing we have ever seen has corrupted our world. Reficul was mere child’s play compared to Tawresh. You are our only hope.”
“Tawresh, the child? I have been dreaming of him,”
“Yes. I have been assigned by your father to bring you back.”
I still can’t feel my legs.
“But...but...it’s my birthday.”
Really, that’s all I can make out. In the last three years all the times I have imagined seeing Henry again it never was as awkward as this.
“Well I hope it has been a good day for you then. Are you ready to go?”
What? Is he for real? Who is this guy? He’s not kind and gentle like I remember. Henry would have never brushed off my birthday. I feel like I’m in a nightmare.
“I have plans to go to the estate tomorrow to see Elizabeth and Clarice,” I choke out, trying not to cry.
“We really have no time to waste,” he urges.
Ah, I feel something bubbling within me, rage. Welcome back, I think to myself, welcome back dear friend. It explodes out of me.
“No time to waste? If my memory serves me correctly, Arcadia banished me, killed me, tried to take away my memories, and ruined my entire life, and as I remember, you, Henry, did nothing to stop them. So please tell me again why I should go back, why should I help you?”
Honestly I have been dreaming of going back from the moment I left, but I’m sure not telling him that.
“I have been commanded to take you by force if necessary, but I hoped it wouldn’t come to that,” he hesitates “Please, just come with me.” His beautiful lips fall in defeat.
“I’m going to the estate tomorrow and that is that. Afterwards, I will consider going back with you,” I spin around as if to walk away.
“I’m so sorry, Lily.” he sighs as he presses a wet cloth over my nose and pulls me in to a nearby car.
I feel myself screaming, my eyes, they are getting heavy. He has drugged me…
I can’t move.
I wake up in the passenger side of the car, my hands restrained. It’s dark. Because of the war, we can’t even use our head lamps, so the road before me is only dimly lit by the full moon above us. As we near the estate, I can slightly see the gates in the distance still guarding Grandfather’s home as always like mighty warriors. Henry hasn’t noticed I have woken. I stare at the side of his face. Perfection, every detail of his entire being is perfect.
I hate him.
He looks toward me, and I quickly close my eyes. Brushing the hair softly out of my face, he whispers, “My sweet Lily.”
I keep my eyes closed hoping he touches me again. My heart beats heavily underneath my blouse.
“Oh, how I’ve missed you. I never thought I’d see you again,” he swallows hard, “I’m so sorry I didn’t fight harder for you.”
His words are filled with much emotion. I grab for his hand, but he pulls back once he realizes I’ve woken.
“Henry,” I start but he ignores me.
We ride in silence the rest of the way.
The gates open for us of their own accord. We enter while the moon is still high in the sky, yet the entire place is as black as the mud from the swap bogs.
“If I let you go, do you promise not to run?”
“Ugh, I promise,” I belt out while rolling my eyes.
As he unties me, his arm comes across my chest. My skin crawls with the familiarity of his touch.
We quietly make our way to the servant quarters. I approach Clarice’s door hoping she won’t be angry with me. After only a few knocks I hear her rousing inside and soon she is looking into my eyes.
“Lily! What are you doing out here, and so late?”
Just as she is about to scold me some more, she spots Henry.
“Honestly, Lily, I’m in my night clothes. Give me a moment to dress.”
She slams the door shut behind her, leaving Henry and me alone in the dark. I feel his breath against my neck.
I can’t take it. I can’t do this again.
The door opens once more letting Henry and me inside. Clarice makes a spot for me on her sofa, and Henry takes the floor.
“I’ll give you until tomorrow and then we have to leave,” Henry promises.
I don’t fall asleep until the sun begins peeking her way through the windows and only then because I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Instead, I lay awake staring at Henry, watching the rise and fall of his chest.
“Lily, Lily wake up.” Clarice nudges my arm. “Lily, for goodness sakes, it’s practically noon, wake up!”
I roll over to find her standing over me.
“What is Henry doing here? Are you leaving again? Lily, answer me.”
“Clarice, let me at least wake up.”
She pulls the cover off of me knocking me to the floor.
“Ok, ok, I’m up. I’m up.”
As I pull myself up off the floor, Clarice peeks out of the curtains as if she is spying on somebody.
Henry is outside talking to Elizabeth in the garden.
“Why is he here?” She demands again.
“He said I must return to Arcadia, says he came to bring me back.”
She seems a little too excited, and I notice she has a bag packed sitting by the door.
“You promised, Lily. You promised I could go with you.”
“I am not even sure if I’m going. Henry is different. He wasn’t even excited to see me. Besides, I was just settling into the city. What if this time they really do kill me? He says it’s worse there.”
“Oh, Lily,” she starts.
“Henry and Calev were the only reason I ever wanted to go back anyway. I can’t go through the aching again, and it’s already started. I’ve missed them so much”
A knock at the door sends me running out of the room. Clarice graciously answers, and I hear her talking yet, can’t make out what she is saying. Within moments, Henry is before me.
“Excuse me! Can’t a lady dress alone?”
He simply turns around. “We must hurry, or I fear they will come looking for us.”
The words sound rehearsed.
“I’ve already told you, I’m not going until I have my party. You ruined my birthday yesterday. I won’t let you ruin my party today. Besides, why did you even bring me here if you didn’t mean for me to stay?” I yell as I brush past him and out the door.
I sound like a spoiled teenager. I don’t really even like parties.
I hear Clarice apologizing, “Please, forgive her; she’s not very good at…um…talking.”
On my way out, I bump into Elizabeth in the garden and am surprisingly happy to see her.
“Lily, dear, I’ve just met your friend. Where did you meet him? He’s quite the catch.” Her words get softer as she says the last phrase.
For a moment, the memories flood in, and I hate her all over again. She was the reason I had met Henry. She sent him to kill Grandfather and to seduce me.
“Ugh,” I scream.
I have to get away. I run until I almost lose my breath and find myself in the secret garden; the place Henry had proposed. The walls start spinning around me. I see the ivy covered stone, the broken fountain, and the trees towering above me.
Again, I can’t breathe.
I collapse to the ground, memories attacking like an army brigade; our first kiss, the ring, the fire of his touch, the frenzy that followed.
I can’t do this. I can’t do this again.
I hear something, a rustling, and there he stands. Crawling toward him, I lose whatever dignity I have left. He reaches tenderly for me, pulling me to my feet once again. Without thinking, I kiss him. I kiss him hard, at first he complies then nothing, he doesn’t kiss me back.
“Lily, Lily stop it,” he screams while pushing me away from him.
I feel like I did the first day I met him, like a desperate widow putting myself on display.
“What is wrong with you, Henry?”
Before I can continue, a beautiful lady enters the garden. Her hair as black as night and her eyes too, she’s Arcadian.
“Henry, is she ok? Is she going to help us?”
Her words still ring in my ear as she approaches and places her arm around Henry’s waist.
“Resha, what are you doing here?” he questions.
“I thought you could use some assistance,” she offers.
“Lily,” Henry chokes out, “I’d like you to meet,” hesitating, his eyes won’t meet mine.
“My name is Resha,” the girl offers while holding out her hand, “I’m Henry’s fiancé.”
My palms begin sweating. The fire flowing through my veins now threatens the life within me. I gasp for a breath just as I feel the world disappearing.
It’s getting hazy, thick, and hard to see. I feel hands upon me but know not whose they are.
I fall again, and everything goes dark
I wake up on the sofa. Elizabeth leans over me. Jumping to my feet, I spin around to see who else is in the room. Spotting Clarice, I dive into her arms. The tears erupt out of me like hot lava.
“He’s getting married,” I cry.
I really don’t know what I expected. I had even imagined both he and Calev with families. But now being faced with the truth that Henry hadn’t waited for me; he hadn’t even waited four years. Was I the only one that felt lost without them? Was I the only one that was unable to move on? Interrupting my melt down, he enters the room.
“Where is Resha?” I mock.
“I’ve sent her home, told her we would meet her in the morning.”
“Don’t count on it!” I forcefully remove my face from Clarice’s chest.
Dashing past him, I run to Grandfather’s study, locking myself inside. The smell of his pipe still permeates the room. I sit at his desk staring out the window. Gazing up at all the books makes my heart sink.
Grandfather, oh how I miss you. Oh what I would give to see you again.
His belief in my destiny shakes me to the core. His words echo throughout my mind. Neither light nor dark, sun nor rain, will ever keep your destiny away, nor my love my little Lily flower. I know I have to go back. I have to help them, for Grandfather.
A knock at the door finds me again at the window, except this time I’m in my room.
“Lily, may I come in please?”
“Give me a moment,” I sigh while unlocking the door.
Slowly he enters.
“Lily, please let me explain. You must understand. I thought you had forgotten me. I thought if I ever saw you again you would not know who I was. I was lonely. They told me you would never remember me.”
His eyes become heavy.
“It took months for me to even want to get out of bed after I learned what they had done to you. It broke my heart Lily, It truly changed me.”
“Henry,” I start, but he continues.
“Just so you know, Resha is not actually my fiancé. She’s just hopeful, tells everyone that.”
My heart steadies at the last phrase. I remain silent. Reaching for my bag, I pull out the book of poetry he had given me the night before I left Arcadia. His eyes fill with tears.
“You kept it,” he sniffles.
“I read it every night,” I confess.
I finally see it, his perfectly imperfect smile. The same one that used to melt my heart. He approaches slowly. I am tingling all over at the thought of the space around us diminishing. Another step forward, and I can’t feel my legs. His hands reach out to mine, but I am unable to move. He comes closer still. His breath settles upon my cheek and hands find their way around my waist. I’m shaking, numb, and afraid.
“I can’t do this again,” I manage to get off of my lips.
“But, I’ve missed you so much.” he whispers as he pulls me closer until our skin collides.
We breathe in sync, in, out, in, out. His lips sit suspended before me. Frozen in time, we remain linked to one another by death and by life we still remain.
In and out we are breathing.
Eyes not leaving one another.
I can’t do it.
I can’t bring myself to let go. I’m stuck, stuck in this moment, stuck in the past.
It’s as if our spirits are speaking, no words leave our tongue. Still breathing, in and out. His fingers find my hair and wrap around my neck pulling me in closer. Our lips now only a centimeter apart. A friendship forged out of deceit, yet no truer love has ever existed.
His lips gently rest upon mine. Neither of us move. We simply remain. There is something about a moment, one like this, that you know will change your life. Here we are resting in this moment. Our love unchanged by life or death, no matter the distance between realms, the hurt making it stronger and I think inside, I love him, I don’t care what he did; I still love him.
“Lily, are you ok? It’s almost time for your party.” We hear Elizabeth just outside.
“Shall we?” Henry holds his hand out toward the door.
“Give me a moment,” I call out.
“I’ll meet you at the bottom of the stairs,” Henry promises.
“I’ll be the one in blue.”
As the door shuts behind him, my legs give way. I crumple to the ground like a dress at the end of a long day. Resting my fingers across my lips, I still feel the heat from his touch.
As Henry waits for me, my mind flashes to the night we told everyone of our engagement. I remember how happy I was, and I remember the contempt in Mr. Emsworth’s face. I make my way to the top of the stairs and see Henry at the bottom. His arm is held out for me and as soon as I reach him, we walk hand in hand into the dining hall. People are everywhere. Music plays from the orchestra. Henry takes me straight to the center of the room and spins me around. They are playing a fast song, yet he pulls me in to him and begins slowly swaying back and forth. Skirts are flying all around us, but my gaze is fixed upon Henry Emsworth.
He leans over and whispers in my ear, “You look lovely this evening.”
I smile but turn my head away. I’m not sure if I can handle this. Excusing myself, I walk to the table where dinner will be served. After a few moments, Henry follows seemingly confused. I can’t speak to him. I feel sick at the thought losing myself again. Love has always made me weaker than I am. I think of Resha and wonder if her heart is hurting because he sent her away.
Something about Henry and Calev’s absence has made me bitter, and I feel it creeping in again. I’m not really angry anymore just cautious. The way I felt with Henry in my room scared me. It’s like I have no power over my own will when he is here. Like I’m intoxicated in his presence.
“Excuse me, excuse me. Would all of you make your way to the tables? Dinner is served,” Elizabeth announces.
I have lost my appetite. I sneak off unnoticed by Elizabeth, but Henry follows. Running to Grandfathers study, I disappear into his large sofa. I know I don’t have long before Henry is just outside the door.
“Lily, may I come in?”
I try to think of any excuse that would work and come up empty.
“Yes,” I sigh.
The door opens slowly, creaking all the way.
“Did I do something to upset you, Lily?”
I stare out the window. I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now. Confusion has settled in upon me. I have dreamed about seeing Henry again but something just seems off. Maybe it’s Resha, maybe it’s my lack of self-control, or maybe I’m just terrified. Terrified of losing everything again, terrified of facing Tawresh, or just simply terrified of finding out the truth of who I really am. Am I brave enough to stand against Tawresh; can I really do this again? Am I strong enough to fight for Henry? What will I do when I see Calev? Will my heart ache for him as well? I am tired of playing games, of my heart being torn in two directions. Maybe I’m not allowed to be happy, maybe I truly am only a sacrifice and Tawresh will end it all this time.
“Lily?” Henry inquires again.
“I’m sorry, Henry. I’m just tired. I have a lot on my mind. Everything has seemed to hit me all at once. About going back to Arcadia, I mean.”
Henry walks closer to the sofa, “I understand. Are you ok? I really didn’t think of what you might feel about going back because I thought you had forgotten everything. Are you frightened?”
I just smile and hold my hand out to him.
He joins me on the sofa and begins again, “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting. You must think I’m insane. I thought I was prepared to see you again. I thought I could handle it, but I’m struggling, Lily. I thought I was over you, and then you kissed me in the garden, our garden, and I lost it. I haven’t been able to think right since. Resha showing up just complicated things more and in your room I could not contain the fire burning in me to feel my skin against yours, to place my lips upon you.”
His head lowers. My hand rests peacefully in his. “I’m sorry if I’ve made this harder on you than I’m sure it already is.”
We sit in silence for quite some time. Henry leans back, and I rest my head against his chest.
“Tell me about Resha. When did you meet her?” I question.
He sighs and rests his face in his hands. “She was assigned to me once you left. Remember I told you I didn’t want to get out of bed, well she was sort of my nursemaid. She cared for me for several months until I felt better. You know I tried to come after you. I had to sneak past all the guards that Calev had positioned around the Sectors. He is the one who caught me, you know. He’s the supreme authority now, sits just beneath your father.”
My mouth feels dry and breathing labored.
“He’s the one who told me he had taken away your memories, every trace of Arcadia gone, including me, said if I went back you would have no idea who I was. He said if I ever truly loved you, I would let you be. He promised to have me arrested if I tried to leave again. Imagine that.”
I feel sizzling, hot lava settling in my cheeks.
“What do you mean? Calev was the one who took the serum, not me. I saw him thrust it into his own neck. How does he remember what happened?” I rage.
Henry sits up straighter and pushes me off of him. “That vial snake of a man. You mean he knew all along?”
I could see something grow dark within him as his eyes flashed their crimsoned shade.
“Lily, I’m not sure if we’re safe here. I wondered why your father sent me to find you and not Calev. I don’t even hold a position with their soldiers.”
“What do you mean, not safe? From whom?” I inquire.
“There has been talk, but I haven’t paid much attention to it.” He looks afraid. “People are saying the king has apostatized.”
“You mean my father is a traitor?”
“I didn’t say that, Lily. There has just been talk in the streets that he and Calev have been seen meeting with Qedeshah in the North Woods. But I didn’t believe it.” “Who is that?” I question.
“She cares for Tawresh, his mother I guess. She is evil and a bit creepy, looks like a witch. When I’ve seen her Tawresh perches upon her shoulder like a monkey. It’s quite disturbing really. There is a tangible darkness surrounding them, darker than anything I ever saw on my grandfather. They stay in the North Woods but have been seen near Sector 8.”
“What about Shim?” I ask. “You said he had been looking for me.”
Henry jumps to his feet and starts pacing around the room.
“I searched for him for three days before I agreed to come to you with no luck at all. It was as if he had disappeared. Your Father told me that Shim had come for you. He said your mother insisted you had moved to the city, and Shim was too afraid he’d be unable to find you. Has she been acting strangely?” He probes.
My head spins around. What is he saying? I can’t even process any of it. Ten minutes ago I was in turmoil about still loving Henry and now I’m scared for my life. Calev tricked me? I just can’t believe that, he didn’t, he wouldn’t dare.
Henry faces the window.
“Do you still go to the woods?” he asks.
“Only when I visit Elizabeth, why?”
“Notice anything strange?”