The glass tumbler in my hand was cheap, I was sure, but it had a nice weight. Equally pleasing to my senses was the smooth, rich burn of the amber liquid inside it. Yes, more than anything else, I welcomed that burn. That reminder that I was still alive. Or, as alive as it was possible for me to be, at any rate. I was actually becoming quite used to feeling dead inside.
I chuckled wryly to myself at that thought. Good practice for when you finally die that first death, eh, Ivy-girl?
My morbid amusement lasted for only a moment before it faded and I once again began to seriously consider what it will be like to no longer have a soul. Part of me was terrified – alright, it was more than a ‘part’… I’m still not at all keen on the idea of losing my soul – but there was a small part of me that almost wished to hasten to that inevitable end. Because, if I didn’t have a soul anymore, if I didn’t feel this crippling love for her anymore, then I would finally be set free.
Well, free in one manner of speaking and chained in another, but it was beginning to look like an acceptable trade-off.
True, it had been my idea to put an official stop to the perpetual ‘will they or won’t they’ that was mine and Rachel’s relationship. And, like I had begged her to allow me to do, I had tried to move on. I had tried to distance myself from her and attempt to find a happiness that existed on a plane where she was merely a person hovering on the periphery of my life. But she could never just exist on the periphery, simply being a part of my life.
She was my life.
But she steadfastly refused to acknowledge that she actually was in love with me, and I had finally given up hope of her ever doing so. That is really why I asked her to let me go. Not because I wanted her to, but because it at least gave me a feeling of control over our fucked-up relationship. Rather than allowing her to continue to keep me at a careful arm’s length, I instead chose to walk away.
Which is why this charade of happiness that I’ve been living these last few months has made my internal anguish so much more palpable. Because every time I smiled at Glenn, I could feel her heart breaking just that little bit more. Every time I left to go out with him, I could smell her jealousy on the air, thick and putrid like the cloying scent of week-old roadkill left to sit too long in the hot summer sun. Anybody with eyes knew she loved me ‘that way’, even Glenn had made more than a few comments on the matter and we were sleeping together, and yet she kept shoving those feelings of love, of want, of desire, of jealousy aside and called them something else. Something less… gay, I expect.
And that was where I knew her biggest issue with loving me lay. It wasn’t that she didn’t love me, or couldn’t love me, or was afraid of me – she had stopped being afraid of me years ago – but it was in the simple fact that she couldn’t take a step back from herself and her preconceived notions of sex and sexuality and just admit that love is love. It was almost laughable, that this woman who had accepted the fact that she was the closest thing to a demon that has walked this side of the line in over a thousand years couldn’t reconcile the fact that she was crushingly in love with a woman.
The sound of Glenn’s car pulling into the parking lot behind the Human bar on the Cincinnati side of the river that he’d agreed to meet me at pulled me from my thoughts and I sighed as I lifted my glass to my lips and downed the liquid inside in one smooth swallow. My eyes fluttered shut at the feeling of quiet fire burning its way down my esophagus and I licked my lips as I opened my eyes and motioned at the bartender to give me another.
I needed to feel alive.
I looked up at the front door as it opened and caught Glenn’s eye as the bartender slid another scotch in front of me. I thanked him quietly as I watched my boyfriend, I mentally grimaced at the term, approach and it took every ounce of willpower I possessed to not just down my freshly poured drink right then as a balm to help me get through the night. Glenn had been a safe distraction, I knew he was attracted to me, to a certain extent he was afraid of me, and that made him easy to control. Not that he required much controlling, he had always been more than willing to go along with whatever it was that I desired.
Problem was, it was never really him that I desired.
“Find the place alright?” I asked as he slid onto the seat beside me.
He nodded and lifted a hand to motion the bartender over. “Yeah. Guinness,” he ordered. “So, what’s up, Iv?”
I took a slow sip of my drink and shrugged. “Just thought we could try someplace new.”
“Someplace that doesn’t remind you of her,” he countered, and at least had the grace to look mildly apologetic about saying it. “Sorry.”
“You knew going into this that I love her,” I murmured, my back straightening as I smelled a flash of anger rip through him.
He must have noticed my slight shift in posture, however, because he murmured, “It wasn’t an attack, Ivy. Chill.”
Yeah, this was why he was as good a fit for me as anyone who wasn’t Rachel could be. I could smell his fear pulsing through his veins, but he still had the balls to tell it like it was. I could respect that. “Sorry,” I murmured. Really, if living with Rachel had taught me anything, it was how to apologize.
Glenn tipped his head in thanks at the bartender who set a perfectly stacked Guinness in front of him before moving back to the other side of the bar. “Why are we doing this, Ivy?”
“It’s Tuesday,” I said, frowning. He knew as well as I did that Tuesday night meant that we met at a bar somewhere for a drink before going back to his place for a few stolen moments of something that wasn’t quite happiness.
“Yes, and tomorrow is Wednesday, and after that is Thursday, and seriously, Ivy – why are we doing this? You don’t really want to be with me, so why?”
There were so many answers to his question swirling around inside my mind, pretty much all of them outright lies or half-truths at best, but I decided to go with the truth. He deserved that much, at least. “You want me.”
“Fuck, Ivy, everybody wants you,” Glenn murmured as he lifted his pint to his mouth and took a generous swallow.
I shook my head. “She doesn’t.” That probably wasn’t the best thing to say to one’s friend slash fuckbuddy come boyfriend, but there you go. He of all people deserved the truth.
Hell, he of all people knew the truth without me having to give voice to it.
“I…” His voice trailed off thoughtfully and I obliged his needing a moment by taking another sip of my drink while he organized his thoughts. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and I could scent his unhappiness and resignation on the air around him. “I can’t do this anymore.”
I nodded. “Okay.” Really, what was I supposed to say? He had known going into this that he was essentially a rebound from a relationship that I would never be able to rebound from. I had hoped, of course, that I would be able to move on, but I had never truly expected it to happen.
“Okay,” he murmured, nodding slowly, and I watched the way his shoulders relaxed as if the weight of trying to make this thing between us work was lifted from them.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I do like you, Glenn.”
“But you love her,” he said, and it was heartwarming to note that wasn’t the faintest hint of jealously in his tone. “I knew that going into this, Ivy. It’s okay. She’s your soulmate.”
“Vampires don’t believe in soulmates,” I murmured.
“But you do,” he said, finally looking away from his drink to look me in the eye. He smiled sadly and nodded. “It’s… it’s okay, Ivy. I get it. She’s hell-bent on doing whatever she can to try and save your soul, you know.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“Yeah.” Glenn nodded thoughtfully to himself. He took another drink of his beer as he reached for his wallet and threw a couple of twenties down on the bar. “I’ll see you at work, Ivy,” he murmured as he got to his feet.
I looked up at him and gave him a small, sad smile. I knew I should be upset that he’d just, for all intents and purposes, broken up with me, but I wasn’t. “I’m sorry, Glenn. Really. If I could…”
“I know,” he said, setting a gentle hand on my shoulder as he leaned in to brush a quick kiss across my cheek. “But you can’t. I’ll see you around, Iv.”
I took a deep breath and nodded, turning my attention back to my drink as I felt his hand slip from my shoulder. I lifted my glass to my lips as I listened to him walk out of the bar, and as the door closed quietly behind him I gave up all pretenses of nursing my drink and just went ahead and downed it in one swallow.
I was surprised to find the church empty when I finally made my way home but I welcomed the silence, however brief as it might be, as I made my way across the sanctuary to my piano. Music had always been my release and after a night of introspection and somewhat difficult conversation, I needed that feeling of freedom that I got whenever I let my emotions pour into the notes I was playing.
The glistening black wood was cool under my fingertips as I dragged them across the curved edge of the lifted lid and the moonlight filtering in through the large windows made the strings and gold-colored cast-iron plate of the piano glow with an almost ethereal warmth. The keys were equally cool to the touch as I smoothed my hands over them, feeling the crevices between each before I settled into position and began to play.
I worked my way through a couple of purely classical pieces that had always appealed to me because of the haunting quality of their cadence and deeper register, and the low tones reverberated heavily inside both my chest and the shell of the old stone church I called home. As the final notes of the third sonata faded into silence I improvised a slow bridge, my feet working the pedals easily as my fingers danced across the keys and before I even realized what I was doing, I began playing a more modern piece of piano pop that had always spoken to me on so many levels.
A few notes, played slowly, and then a pause. My left hand fell off the keyboard for a moment as I played the next couple of slow, almost hesitant notes with my right, before I once again lifted it to the ivory keys. I worked through the song with an almost heartbreaking intensity, lingering in each press of keys and letting each carefully timed note stab at my heart and tear off yet another piece of my soul, and once I hit the end I began again, this time singing along.
“Something always brings me back to you… it never takes too long. No matter what I say or do, I’ll still feel you here, ‘til the moment I’m gone.” I swallowed thickly as my eyes stung with unshed tears, and I knew that it wouldn’t be long until they spilled freely down my cheeks. But I needed them to. I needed to let them flow so that I could somehow find the strength to wake up the next day and keep plodding along through this half-life of an existence that I was cursed with. “You hold me without touch… you keep me without chains. I’ve never wanted anything so much… than to drown in your love… and not feel your rain.”
The keys plunged heavily under my fingers as I poured my anguish into the chorus, the specter of my foolish plea to Rachel making a reappearance as my heart broke once more and my tears left hot, wet trails down my cheeks. “Set me free… leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity. Here I am… and I stand… so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be… but you’re on to me… and all over me…”
I was vaguely aware of the back door to the church opening and closing, but I was, at that point, too far lost in the music to care that somebody might hear me play. Too desperate to get all of my pain out, to set it free, to care that my moment of weakness might be witnessed by another.
Too hurt to care that she was the one who just walked in the door.
“You loved me ‘cause I’m fragile… when I thought that I was strong. But you touch me for a little while… and all my fragile strength is gone.”
I didn’t look up as she padded barefoot into the sanctuary and stopped just inside the cavernous space. I could scent her emotions on the air and I knew that she recognized the song I was singing and that she felt guilty for continuing to keep that one part of herself that I so desperately wanted away from me. I could tell that she was hurting, that her heart was hurting, much as the same way mine was even though she was bound to write the emotion off as something other than unfulfilled romantic love, and I dove headlong into the chorus once more, pouring every ounce of my longing and desperation into each note that I played and every word that I sang.
Much like I couldn’t lie to Glenn earlier, tonight I was unable to lie to her as well. “Set me free… leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity. Here I am… and I stand… so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be… but you’re on to me… and all over me…”
I heard her shift uncomfortably but I refused to stop playing. If she didn’t want to hear this, if she didn’t want to see exactly what loving her was doing to me, she could leave. She had before, and I had no hope that tonight would end any differently. My fingers landed heavily on the keys as I hit what was, to me, the most powerful and absolutely heartbreaking stanza of the entire song.
“I live here on my knees, as I… try to make you see… that you’re, everything I think I need, here on the ground. But you’re neither friend nor foe… though I can’t seem to let you go. The one thing that I still know… is that you’re keeping me dooooooown,” I poured all of my anguish into that single word, drawing it out until my lungs burned with the need for oxygen. I took a deep breath as my fingers gentled on the keys, the notes ringing through the sanctuary becoming less angry and just… resigned. “You’re on to me, on to me, and all over…”
I closed my eyes as my fingers slowed, my heart thudding heavily in my chest as I worked toward the inevitable conclusion. “Something always brings me back to you… it never takes too long…”* My voice and the final note trailed off into a crushing silence and when I opened my eyes to finally look at the doorway, I felt a fresh wave of tears break rank to spill silently down my cheeks.
She was gone.