Part 15

They soon crested the hill.  To the right hidden back amongst tall old trees stood an old and abandoned house.  To their left stretched what may have once been a farm field, but was now just a field of wild grasses and flowers.

Love stopped the car, and Muse got out, not waiting for him to come around and open the door, though he probably would given the chance.  She gazed up at the ramshackle three stories, the boards fallen down or looking precariously as they might.  There was no glass in the windows, and the porch sagged.  Everything was overgrown with climbing plants and birds’ nests.

She did not at first notice was Love was doing, but when she turned she saw him pulling a picnic basket from the trunk.  She smiled.  He was always prepared.

“What is this place?”

“It’s my house.  Or what’s left of it.  I grew up here a long time ago.  The property is still mine, though they think it’s an inheritance from my great-great-great-grandfather Frances Love.”  He closed the trunk and came over to stand next to her.  “Leaving for decades at a time helps people forget that you’re the same person, when you come back.”

He unfolded a checkered blanket and spread it on the ground a few yards away from the car, closer to the porch.

She followed him, taking a closer look at the porch, noticing how every other board seemed to be rotted through.  It was surely unsafe, but she still felt a desire to go inside.  It would be quiet and dark, filled with old, worn things and bits of rubbish wearing their age like a mantel.

Instead she sat down on the blanket and looked the other way, across the field.  “Why do you live above the music store when you have all this property?” she asked.

“It’s more convenient that way,” he said with a shrug.  “And I would have to tear down the house and build a new one, there’s no way I could fix this up well enough.  It’s gone to seed for too long.”

“You could build a new house in the field,” Muse suggested.  “It would be sad to tear this down.”  Sad, even though his memory of growing up here could not be true.  That didn’t really matter, it must be real enough to him, that he’d never sold the land or torn down the house.

“Perhaps.  I do like that idea.  But still, it would be lonely out here, all by myself, in some big house with so many rooms I’ve no need of.”

“Like your palace?” she said wryly.

“My palace is always filled with Immortals and mortals alike.”

She nodded, and looked away.  She didn’t really want to go down that line of thought.

“We should eat,” he said, and began to pull things out of the basket.  There were hard boiled eggs, a bowl of strawberries, with a tub of fresh cream, and waffles he’d made before driving to her apartment.  “They’re not quite warm anymore,” he lamented, but she assured him it was alright.

So much for resolve, she thought, accepting the food.

“I had a brother,” he said, somewhat unceremoniously.  “And two sisters.  You know, it has been over a hundred years, since last I saw them.  But I still think back on them, and I wonder where they’ve gone.”

Muse, busy with putting strawberries and cream on her waffles, paused and couldn’t help but say, “But you know they were not real, don’t you?”

He frowned.  “They were real.  As real as you and I.”

“We came from the Lake.  You know that, whatever memories you have.  We all come from the Lake.  Immortals don’t have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters like the mortals do.”

“You have a sister.”

“It’s not the same as what you’re talking about.”

He just shook his head.  “I brought these to show you,” he said, reaching into the basket and pulling out not food, but a stack of old photographs tied up in a yellow edged ribbon.

He untied it and held them out for her to see.  She looked at the faded daguerreotypes and saw several people sitting stiffly for portraits.  They did look like Love, like they could be related.  She took them and silently paged through them.  There was a wedding photograph, and a picture of the same couple again years later, older, yet still side by side.  There were pictures of a boy, later a young man, and girls, later young women.  And she saw a portrait of four children, two boys, two girls, seated together.

There was a picture of Love, looking unmistakably the same as he did now.  The fashion of the clothes was different and the coloring was all sepia, but it was him.  Naturally, it was him, for he was very old.

She handed the photos back.  “A handsome family,” she said, inanely.

“My family.”  He tied the stack back up and tucked it away.  “I loved them.  I don’t remember leaving them, or anything about them after the ages we were in those pictures.  Young, very young.  Sometimes it troubles me, you know.  That I remember them, that I remember being Frances, and then I don’t.  Then I’m Love.”

Muse didn’t know what to say, so she ate.

“Do you never remember life before . . . this?”

“No.  Have you spoken to Beauty, asked her?” Muse answered, a little testily.

He chose not to notice the tone.  “She’s the same.  She remembers her life, like a dream, but she cannot remember when it changed, when she became Beauty.”

“And her mortal?  Whom she loves?  Was he part of that old life?”

“I don’t know.”

“You should ask her.  It might explain why she would prefer a mortal over you.”

“Are you trying to hurt me, with those words?” Love asked.

“No.  I’ve no reason to want to hurt you.”

“And yet you know.  You know it hurts me that she loves him more.”

“You shouldn’t concern yourself with that.  How absurd, for Love to be unloved.”

“Yes.  I suppose it is.”

A sudden breeze blew up and made a loose shudder flap and bang against the house.  They both glanced toward it, and Muse was half glad for the interruption.  When she turned from the house she went back to eating, and concentrated wholly on that.  Love ate silently beside her, but she could feel his eyes on her.

At length he asked her how she liked the food, just to break the silence, and she told him that it was delicious.  As always.  He seemed pleased with the double compliment.

As they were cleaning up he touched her arm, but she moved away and gave him a warning glance.  He didn’t press the matter, and simply offered, “I’ll take you home then, if you wish.”

She could not deny to herself that part of her wanted to say “Let’s not part, yet.  The day is young.  We could go other places.”  Instead she just nodded and said, “Thank you.”  After a moment of hesitation she added, “Thank you for showing me this place; it’s very interesting.”

He nodded in return.

As they were driving away Muse turned to have one last look at the house.  She saw a face framed in one of the upper windows, gazing down at them.  Muse recognized it, though it was wild and old.  Their eyes met, young and old, and after a short moment the face in the window turned away.

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