Part 27

Muse found her car parked outside Beauty’s picket fence, when she returned.  It sat there, so innocently, as if it had never disappeared.  Yet still she could sense a bit of dreamworld magic clinging to it, as if it had been to the moon and the stars and the go inbetweens, while she was calling around to see if it had been towed.  Her own thoughts made her smile; it was a snatch of song lyric that had leapt to her mind.  She may be mortal, but she was still Muse; her love of song remained.  It was comforting.

Love and Beauty were awake by that time.  Love stood and smiled when she came through the door, but there was both relief and a lingering strain in his smile that told her he had not been expecting her to return.

Beauty voiced what he’d tried to mask: “We thought you’d run off again.”

“No.  I just had somewhere I needed to go.”  Then she took a deep breath, knowing what she had to say would disappoint one of them.  For a time.

“I’ll be leaving again.  I came back to say goodbye.”

“But you promised—” Love protested.

“I know.”  She gave him a small, apologetic smile.  “But you deserve to be with the one who loves you more.  And that’s Beauty.  It’s always been Beauty.  And she’s always been the one you loved.  You know it.”

He looked to Beauty, but she was silent, and turned away.

“If she will only forget the nonsense with her former lover, there is no reason you cannot always be together,” Muse said, she thought, quite reasonably.

Beauty looked up, a little color rising in her cheeks.  “Nonsense?  I am loyal to—”

“A man who died a long, long time ago.”  Muse shook her head.  “Why?”

Beauty sat down and fidgeted absently with the folds of her skirt.  Love went to sit next to her.  “I’ve always respected your wishes.  You don’t have to explain if you don’t want to.  But I did . . . I was . . . surprised.  When I realized that your mortal lover was no longer . . . .”

“Living,” Muse supplied.

Beauty nodded.  She looked at Love as she began to explain:

“My husband came down with a terrible flu, but I nursed him.  I didn’t care that it was contagious.  I couldn’t leave him to die alone.  And he didn’t, he recovered.  But I caught it, and died.  Later I woke up, alive, but he didn’t remember me.  He thought I was insane.  He wanted nothing to do with me.”  She paused, shaking her head at the memory.  “I kept my distance from him, but followed him until he later died, an old man.  I had hoped . . . I had thought . . . maybe he would rise again and remember me.”

“You’ve been waiting all these years?” Muse asked.

She nodded.

“He’s not going to rise.  The Mother chooses who to resurrect, and she only chooses those who died too young, before their time.  Those whose dreams have caught her fancy.”

“I know, by now, that it’s too late.  He isn’t going to come back.  I wait because . . . .”

They waited.

“I don’t know why, anymore,” she finally admitted.  “I thought I did.  But—” she looked up at Love “—when you left me to go after Muse, I realized that I’d lost you, for what?  For a memory that I can never return to.”  She half smiled, looking back down.  “I couldn’t stop you, though.  Not after all this time that you’ve patiently abided by my wishes.  If you wanted Muse instead, I didn’t have the right to stop you.”

Muse shook her head.  “He only chose me because I offered him the chance to have love in both worlds.  Love needs a lot of it.”

Love frowned at her.  “Muse, why do you disregard everything I felt for you this way?  As if I just latch myself to whomever seems most willing?”

“I’m sorry.”  But she couldn’t help but laugh.  “You say ‘felt.’  Not ‘feel.’  You and I both know you are going to choose Beauty.  She was your first choice.  You were just going to settle for me.  Now you don’t have to.”

“Muse—”

She cut him off with a sigh.  “France.  I’ve become mortal.  You will never see me in the Dreamworld again.  Let me go.”

Love and Beauty were stunned into silence.  They looked at her, anew, as if just realizing there was something different about her.

“The Mother gave me the option to become mortal and live in one world.  I took it.”  She smiled.  Love looked at her with horror, but Beauty nodded a little, as if she understood.  Muse was sure that she did.

“Now I have the rest of my life to live out, as I would if I hadn’t died.”  She paused.  “Well, a few decades later.  But you know.”

“Now,” she looked between them, “stop being foolish, both of you.  You belong together.  Beauty and Love, like Wisdom and Joy.  Stop fighting it, and dragging poor little confused Muses into it.  I was meant to be alone.”

“No one is meant to be alone,” said Love.  He believed it.  The concern and warmth in his eyes was almost enough to make her regret her decision.  She hadn’t fallen out of love with him, not yet; could anyone really fall out of love with love itself?  But she swallowed it down before anything should betray itself on her face.

“Maybe.  Maybe not,” she answered him.  “But don’t worry about me.  I’m not going to waste away.  I have plans; things I’m going to do with my life.  And after all, I was a happier mortal before I discovered lovesickness.  I still have my first love, music.  I intend to follow my heart.”

It was the right decision.  She knew it.

She left them there, together, standing by the door, watching her go.  She waved and smiled bravely for them as she got into her car, poor old faithful car.  She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she’d land on her feet somewhere.  It was what she always did, only this time she really intended to stand.  Alive and awake.

the end