Part 11

Muse awoke and rolled out of bed, not remembering when she had gone to sleep.  Was she still on the back of the dreamraven?  The thought didn’t unsettle her as much as it might were she mortal; she did not fear slipping off the back of the bird, for the fall was not likely to kill her.  It might leave a mark.

A small part of her wanted to stay home, all day.

But she got up anyway.  There was no point in behaving like a slighted teenaged mortal, and neglecting her duty.  Sometimes, Muse thought, that was all there was to her life.  Her duty to the mortals — to inspire, to teach, to bless their creativity.  And it would last forever.

She left herself only enough time to arrive and get ready for her first student; not enough time to eat breakfast with Love as had become their custom.  She said a brief good morning, then closed herself into her back room, letting him wonder what he had done wrong.  If he were to ask, she was determined to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about, just as he had pretended to barely know her.

Her students came, one by one, then left, and soon it was lunchtime.  Muse took her bag and headed for the door, glad to at least have a little money for lunch somewhere in town.  Love was already by the door, locking it and turning the sign from OPEN to CLOSED.

He saw the bag on her arm and asked, “Where are you going?”

“Out.  For lunch.”

A moment of silence passed; he gave her a long, thoughtful look, and she returned it with as much indifference as she could muster.

“Why?” he finally asked.

“Because I’m hungry.”

“Why aren’t you eating with me?”

“Because I want to go out.”

“Hmm.”  He unlocked the door and pushed it open.  “Then I’ll come with you.”

She gave him a pointed, wordless look, and he added, “You’re right, it’s a nice day, we should go to Roy’s.”  Roy’s was a diner down the street which had a cluster of tables outside on the sidewalk.

“Frances,” she said, and he looked surprised at her use of that name.  “I can’t let you keep doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Wooing me.  Do not think I haven’t noticed.  Nobody gives me anything without expectation of something in return.  In this world I am paid to teach music — I teach it, my students or their parents are satisfied, Mr. Phillips is satisfied, I am paid.  In the other world, I am given tokens of worship only because I grant my gift to mortals.  I am Muse.  If I were not, I would be given nothing.”

Love listened to her entire speech with a faintly baffled look, then let the door shut.  “I’m not following you,” he said.  “I’m not one of your students or your followers.”

“But you feed me breakfast and lunch every day, and I haven’t given you anything in return, not yet.”

Love turned away.  The sunlight coming through the front windows glinted off his glasses and obscured his eyes, but she tell she had insulted him, nonetheless.

“What do you think, that I view you as some kind of whore?  I value your company, friendship, conversation . . . that is all.”

“I may be a young goddess, but I am not a naive one.”  Muse would not be ashamed.  “I know that you would value more if I said the word.  I may not be the most colorful or outgoing of our kind, but I’m not cursed with false modesty.”

“Then why are you jealous of Beauty?”

It was Muse’s turn to turn away.  She walked back towards her lesson room, saying, “I don’t envy her; it would be pointless for any creature to envy the epitome of beauty, wouldn’t it?”  Even as she said so, she know she was sometimes foolish enough to let herself fall prey to such pointlessness.  But that was not what they were discussing, now, and she would not be distracted.

“I feel sorry for her, if anything, considering you bed her in one world and chase after me in the other.”

“You needn’t feel sorry for her, she has no right to be concerned about what I do in this world,” Love retorted, and Muse felt almost triumphant for shaking his composure.

“Do you deny that you are lovers in the other world?  Are you not the Love who lives in the palace on the hill by the Lake?”

“No.  I don’t.  And yes, I am.  But that is the other; we are standing in this one.”

“It hardly makes a difference.  I am the same Muse, you should be the same Love.  She is somewhere in this world, the same Beauty.  Why don’t you find her, and leave me alone?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why?”

“I cannot be with Beauty in this world.”  He stopped for a moment, as that was all he would say, but then started again.  “She . . . she has another, a mortal lover.  I am not allowed to know where they are; it has always been like that.  She only lives with me in my palace because he cannot be with her in that world.  If I were to go looking for her, now, it would be a betrayal of our agreement.  I cannot trespass on her other life.”

They were silent.  Muse knew that it had taken a lot for him to explain that.  To admit that Beauty had him at arm’s length, that she did not truly care for him, that she preferred a mortal, that she only lived with him in one life because there she could not be with the one she truly loved.

“You are both pathetic,” she said.  “Can’t you be alone for one day?  Knowing that in a few hours when you lay your head down, you will awake with the one you love?  Why must she be with you, and you with me, in the meantime?  I will not be like that; I’m not like you and Beauty.  I would rather be alone than share half a life with a person who is only using me as a substitute.”

“I understand.”  He moved toward her, she took a step back.  “But you must understand, I’m Love, Muse, not Lust.  I do value your company, your friendship.  I would be glad to keep that, with no expectation of anything else.  Surely you must understand how it is, in this life, to be as we are.  Surrounded by so many mortals who look at us as one of them, when they can never understand who we truly are.”

“It’s a solitary life.”

“Yes.  You’re the only Immortal I know, here, the only one.”

“Then why don’t you leave this place, go searching for others?  It’s a vast world, this one; we are spread out, but we’re here nonetheless.  Ask one of your friends in the other world to tell you where you can find them, here.”

“That wold be rude,” he said, affronted.  “Have you ever done such a thing?”

She looked at him strangely, but had to admit, she’d never crossed that line, herself.  Dream was the only Immortal to whom she felt close enough to be so personal, but Dream did not live here.  If another Immortal wanted you in their other life, they had to be the one to tell you.  It was an unwritten rule.

“I thought you would have many close friends.  You are Love, after all.  I am Muse.  Fickle, eccentric, solitary Muse; have you forgotten?”

“I am beginning to think you are more stubborn than fickle,” said Love, almost smiling.  “You are the one insisting we try to make our separate lives one in the same.”

“Would it be so bad?”

The trace of a smile left him.  “Do you think you’re the only who is tired all the time?  Who wishes for just one night of blissful oblivion?  To only have one life to tend?”

“No.”  Sometimes, though, she wondered.

“I would gladly live the one.  But I can’t.  And so I would rather have some company in this one life, than wait for it to pass by so that I can be in the other again.”

“I am sorry for you, Frances,” she said, using that name because it was his only in this world — it was only to this world’s Love that she spoke.  “But I don’t know that I can do this.  Be your ‘friend’ in this life and be prohibited from you in the other, because that belongs to Beauty.  In the end, all of it belongs to Beauty — you’re just offering me the half she doesn’t want.”

“Muse, you are being cruel.  Do you dislike me so much, now, that you won’t even have lunch with me?  Is that so much to ask?”

“I don’t dislike you.  That’s the problem.”  Muse walked past him towards the door, again, knowing she had to leave, if only for the rest of the day.  “I will not be the only person in this sad little triangle who is not truly loved by someone.”

She left him, wordless, and listened to the mocking jingle of the bell as the door shut behind her.  Perhaps she was being cruel, but then, so was he.  Asking her to just “be friends” as if he didn’t know he’d already trapped what passed for her heart.

She felt that she should be unhappy, very unhappy, with how things had turned out.  And yet, walking away, she felt awake, completely awake, as if having it out in the open, arguing with him like a mortal, brought her one step closer to truly living — as only mortals could.

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