Miss Holloway was no stranger to loss. She had lost everything when she was younger, her parents dying mysteriously. Again when she was a teen and her brother went missing. And now she had lost everything again. Each time broke her, but this time, she wasn’t going to try and rebuild. Losing Duke was what broke Miss Holloway, forever.
He shouldn’t have even been there, she had warned him that it was too dangerous. He had just looked at her with his soft eyes and charming smile and told her, “Nothing I can’t take for you, darlin’.”
Turns out being stabbed thirty times by the monster living in the woods was something he couldn’t take. She killed what used to be a man easily, but it was too late. Duke laid his head in her lap and looked up at her as if she were an angel. Blood dribbled down his cheek, his nose bled, and his last words were “See ya’ in the next life, Darlin’.” He didn’t even seem scared, just sad. She screamed when his heart stopped.
She shut down the diner, quit her job at the school, and stopped paying for anything that wouldn’t draw attention to her. She stopped helping people for a bit, but found that that was the only part of herself that was still alive. Still, as soon as the victim wasn’t going to die, she left them to fend for themselves.
A lot of her time was spent either sobbing or taking care of Duke’s cat, Holly. Otherwise she was a husk of what she used to be. Holloway was just glad that Wilbur hadn’t seen her like this, he’d be able to hurt a lot of people if he knew she was this weak. She didn’t know if she’d even try to stop him.
Life went on for the rest of Hatchetfield. Duke’s grave stopped being visited by friends as often, and it was up to her to keep the flowers fresh. The people who knew her looked on in pity every time she was noticed.
After the second year without Duke ended, Miss Holloway realized that she should probably move on from Hatchetfield. There was nothing there for her, not anymore. Hannah Foster was growing into her powers with the help of her older sister, and the two were doing what Holloway and Duke used to.
Still, she couldn’t find it in herself to leave. Living in Duke’s old apartment, she still felt close to him. Holly would sit in her lap and purr, just like she used to do when Holloway would come for visits. Sometimes she’d hear the black cat calling for Duke, those nights were the hardest.
Having lived for hundreds of years, five years wasn’t that long. The loss of the only person she had left was still fresh. People were starting to forget his name, friends and family were starting to move on, and yet Miss Holloway was still as broken as the day he left her.
People forgot about Duke, but they still cared about her. Sure, her list of friends was shorter than Duke’s was, she still had people come over once in a while. Her old friend Frank and his adopted son, the Foster-Green family, and a few of the kids she had helped still visited occasionally.
She was tending to Duke’s grave when she felt someone looking at her. She turned, but no one was there. Holloway rolled her shoulders and looked back down at the flowers she had set, touching them lightly.
Deciding to get food in town for the first time in years, she stopped by a new place that had just opened up. People looked up at her, a sense of familiarity in their eyes, but she had been gone for so long that people had started to forget her without the spell. Good. She hated using that spell.
Hannah Foster was actually the one to take her order. Once she paid attention, all of the staff were what used to be troubled kids. Troubled kids she and Duke had helped. She almost started hyperventilating, but Hannah calmed her down and got her a slice of pie.
She stopped Hannah when she finished, “Who owns this place?” she asked, it had been a while since she had gotten out, and this Diner was so similar to her own all those years ago.
“What are you talking about? Duke does!” She smiled as she cleaned up. Too shocked to say anything, Miss Holloway let Hannah walk away before she could demand any sort of explanation.
She left the diner in a hurry, walking back to the grave she was sure had Duke’s name on it. Yet when she got there, the grave was unmarked. Just a spark of hope flashed in Holloway’s heart. The sound of leaves crinkling made her turn around, and suddenly she was facing a dead man.
She didn’t even let Duke speak before she kissed him. He kissed her back, pulling her close as he could. She pulled back with her eyes closed and rested her head against his. She took in a deep breath and could smell the cologne he always used. It was fresh as the day he had died in her arms.
Holloway felt Duke’s hands cradling her face, but she didn’t want to open her eyes, too afraid that she’d just be going back to a world where he was gone. “Come on, Darlin’. Look at me.” He encouraged lightly, and that’s all it took.
Standing in front of her was Douglas Keane. Looking exactly the same as he did the morning he died. “There ya’ go.” He rubbed his thumb across her cheek, and she nuzzled more into his hand.
Miss Holloway had been sure that she finally understood the world, the Black and White, and Hatchetfield until now. Nothing about Duke being alive made sense. He wasn’t magical like her, and he didn’t have any ties to the Black and White, not like she did.
“I know you probably have a lotta questions, and I probably have an answer or two, but it’s been a day for me too. Do you think we could go back to my apartment?” He asked softly. She nodded, letting him take her hand and lead her back.
People didn’t look twice at them as they walked down the street, hand in hand. Duke smiled at some, who smiled back. As if they weren’t looking at someone who had died years ago. As if they weren’t seeing someone the town mourned for for over a year before starting to move on.
When they got into the apartment, Holly thankfully had a big reaction. She got excited and practically jumped into Duke’s arms before climbing onto his shoulders and rubbing her head against his cheek.
“Wow, pretty girl,” He spoke to the cat, “You’ve grown.” He kissed her head before setting Holly down and leading Miss Holloway to the couch.
She kept his hand in her’s, looking at him and trying to sense any type of dark magic. There was none. It was the same Duke she had been next to all those years ago. “H-How are you here?”
Duke let out a huff, wrapping his arm around her. “Well, I want to tell you I know how all of this works, but I can’t. I’m not like you in that way, Darlin’. Until you came along, I kinda just let this happen every time I, uh, died.”
“You’ve died before!? Why didn’t you tell me?” She asked.
“Because I wasn’t sure!” She gave him a look that told him he needed to explain. She tried not to find the blush on his freckled cheeks cute (and failed, he was adorable). “Okay, so the first time this happened I was five. Dad was gone and Mom wasn’t paying much attention, so me, Shawn, and Greyson went out to play in the rain. We were on the road when a semi-truck came by, and it didn’t see me. The last thing I remember was the pain and my brothers’ screams. I woke up with a gnarly bruise on my head and walked home, to see my brothers all looking way older. Turns out it had been almost seven years. The doctors said it was just a concussion and temporary amnesia.” He explained.
Miss Holloway felt a little dizzy, but she nodded for him to continue, “No one remembered what happened. They all thought I was playing pretend, that I didn’t actually think either of my brothers were younger than me. Dad would get mad any time I tried to talk about what happened, so I shut up about it.” She winced at the thought. She knew about Duke’s past, and she didn’t want him to have to think about it when he didn’t have to.
“The second time it happened was with Shawn. You know about Shawn.” Miss Holloway had been with him a few times to visit his brother’s grave. It was something they had bonded over, the loss of a sibling. “We were in a corner store when we were teens. Some lunatic with a gun came in, and I tried to play hero. I came back, Shawn didn’t.” He wiped his eyes.
“Every time I die, I come back. It always takes a few years, and things are always a little different, as if things moved on like I was there. As soon as someone accepts or doubts my death, I come back. Everyone forgets I died, and I figure out how to fill the gaps. Like, I guess I own a diner now.” He laughed half-heartedly.
Miss Holloway felt dizzy and amazing and terrified. He obviously wasn’t the same as her, but now the lack of lines around his eyes from aging made sense. Now the need to protect made sense. It wasn’t in the same way, but Duke was some kind of immortal too.
Just because she could, Miss Holloway kissed Duke again. He kissed her back, closing his eyes. “I know you can’t tell me everything about your life and powers, and I can’t tell you about mine, but maybe we can figure the rest of it out together.”
“I’d like that.” She mumbled. She was never going to be alone again, and the thought brought a smile to her face.