Chapter Twenty-Seven: Hope
"It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars." ―Richard Evans
Finals are over, and what little I have left of my life is packed into a suitcase that is presently somewhere in the cargo hold beneath me. It's a strange thought—one I'd never imagine I'd have—to be on a plane with Dr. Hall.
He's currently sleeping, or pretending to, at least. It's hard to tell with him.
His shirt is unbuttoned two or three buttons, and his tie is missing. Flying makes him uncomfortable. Not that anyone would be able to tell just by looking at him. His already unreadable face is now half-obscured by a neatly kept moustache-goatee thing. I hate it. The hairs are still prickly—they haven't grown out quite long enough to be soft yet—and they make kissing almost unbearable.
He has already promised he'll shave when we reach our new home.
That's a promise I'll hold him to.
I flip open my wallet and stare at my ID in boredom. It's fake. My passport is too. I don't know how Dr. Hall got his hands on them, because they're pretty high-quality. The best, he says. He has his own as well, obviously.
We had to wait around for a couple of months for the ID and the passports/visas to come through. As soon as finals were over, I moved out, and we left Oregon. We stayed in Dr. Hall's house in Washington, one I remember well, despite the fact that I wasn't there very long the first time. It was where I first admitted that I loved him.
I was kind of sad to leave.
I glance down at my ID again.
Mine says that I'm Annette Clement. I'm from Texas, almost 33 years old. Most of it's true, except for the name. That's because Dr. Hall says it's best to conceal a lie in the middle of a whole bunch of truths. That way it's hard to tell the lie.
His says he's Charles Clement. I don't know why he's so fond of the name—he's used it before—but I guess it works. According to the documents, he's my husband. We've been married for a few years, he retired early, and now we're looking to spend the rest of our lives in comfort on a remote beach in Galicia.
I wonder if it'll be remote enough.
As if divining my doubtful thoughts, Dr. Hall reaches out with a hand and winds his fingers through mine, giving me a gentle squeeze without even opening his eyes.
"Nearly there," he murmurs.
I hope so.
We make it through airport security and customs without a problem when we land, thank God. Dr. Hall's easy manner and attitude help a lot. I'm a nervous wreck. He holds my hand through most of it, quietly reassuring me that everything will be all right.
There's a car waiting for us outside. I don't know how he did it, but apparently he bought it beforehand and arranged for it to be there. There's a guy from the dealership there, waiting with the keys. Dr. Hall signs a few papers and then we drive away.
Finally, after nearly two long days of travel, we are home.
It's a small house tucked away in a secluded corner of the beach. There aren't any other houses around. I appreciate that. I normally don't like socializing with people. I like it even less in a foreign language that I don't understand.
The house is set up on a small, rocky hill, surrounded by tall trees and green lawns that could do with a bit of care. I can already see Dr. Hall scanning it with his eyes, probably making plans for a garden. I don't mention anything or tease him, because he's already seen me eyeing the stairs cut into the hill, leading down to the beach below.
"How did you find this place?" I inquire curiously as he leads me to the front door.
"I have my methods," he replies vaguely.
Methods he obviously doesn't want to share. I guess I don't really mind. What's important is that we're here. Far away. All our problems are in the past.
Or so I'd like to think.
Ever since I mentioned David, Dr. Hall has seemed somewhat distant, reticent and pensive. He hasn't said anything about the issue. In fact, he doesn't like to talk about it at all. I feel as though there's still something that needs to be worked out, but I can't do it alone.
A couple of times, just once or twice, for a few seconds, I've wondered if I made the right decision in coming with him. Can I really be happy, so far away from everything that I know and love?
Not everything. You still love him, don't you, Charlotte?
Of course, I reassure myself.
Life finally seems good. Moving in is an adventure on its own: we have to go into the small neighboring town to order furniture, decorations, kitchenware, and other accessories. Fortunately Dr. Hall understands the language and speaks it pretty well. From what little he's told me, he used to travel a lot.
That must be why he's so cool and collected as we settle in. As for me, I'm a mess. As usual.
After a few weeks of insanity, though, things cool down and we're left completely alone and in peace. I spend a lot of my time down at the beach, with or without Dr. Hall. Mostly without, I'm sad to say.
He spends his time in the house reading, or out in the yard, gardening. Sometimes, when I think he won't notice, I watch him work. It's somehow rewarding in a strange way to see him so at peace and relaxed. It's as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
But I know better. I can tell something's bothering him, and I'm afraid it might be me. We share everything: a house, a room, a bed, but I still feel as though he's holding something back. He doesn't touch me, and I can see him try not to flinch whenever I touch him.
Do I disgust him that much?
Finally, when I can't stand it anymore, I bring it up. He's making dinner in the kitchen, so I know he can't run away. He won't leave food half-done just to avoid an argument.
He hardly glances up. "Charlotte."
"I don't know how to be tactful, so I'm just going to say it. Something's bothering you, and I want to know what it is." I boost myself up onto a corner of the counter, out of his way, but still close enough that he can't ignore me.
He glances at me with a hint of disapproval. Counters are not for sitting on, he's thinking.
"Talk to me," I urge him.
He finishes slicing tomatoes and dries his hands with a dishcloth. Sighing, he looks up at me and states calmly, "I have no idea what you are talking about. Everything is fine. Now please, get off the counter."
"Charlotte, don't be unreasonable." He starts to wash a handful of mushrooms in the sink.
"I can't stand this anymore," I tell him in a voice that cracks one too many times. "I thought we'd be happy here. But it's like I don't even exist anymore."
"You're imagining things," he replies coolly, chopping the mushrooms with slow, deliberate movements.
"Evander," I utter his name in a voice mingled equally with reproach and a plea.
"What, Charlotte?" He sets the knife down and turns to face me. "Something is obviously troubling you. Out with it." I sense a hint of frustration in his voice.
Yeah, something is bothering me. "I'm not happy."
"And you blame me for your unhappiness? What have I done to offend you?"
"Nothing! But you haven't done anything to make me happy either," I explain.
He throws his hands up helplessly. "This doesn't make you happy? This house? This food? This life here?"
He's trying to make me feel guilty. It's true; he's given me everything I need and more. But it's not enough. "I could care less about all that," I tell him honestly. "Without you it means nothing to me."
"Charlotte," he replies in a tone that is altogether too patient for my liking, "I am here, right in front of you."
"You're here, but you're not here."
He raises an eyebrow, otherwise his face remains flat.
I guess I should explain myself better. "Look, I chose to come with you because I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But it's like we're leading separate lives now. You do your things alone, and I do mine alone. I don't like it. The last time we had sex was what...back in the states? Not that it matters—I just want to know if I'm doing something wrong."
He sighs and shakes his head. "No. No, you're doing nothing wrong."
"Really? Because I feel like...I think you haven't forgiven me yet. For David." I cringe as I speak the name, because I know it's going to bring out an unpleasant response from him.
"Oh, don't bring him up again," Dr. Hall retorts. "You asked me to forget him, yet you still bring the subject up every time you get a chance."
"Only because you have treated me differently ever since I told you."
"That isn't true."
"Liar. You know it's true. I'm sorry for what I did. If I had known what would happen..."
He interrupts me curtly. "We would all behave differently if we knew what would happen. The fact of life is that we can't predict the future. We simply move on. I see that's something you have difficulties with."
"I'd move on if you'd let me," I snap.
"You have my permission!" he replies in frustration.
"I don't need your permission! I want you to forgive me!"
"I did!" he shouts. "I did! I forgave you. I had to." He falls silent, thinking for a very long time before continuing in a soft voice, "You did what you thought best. Why should I punish you for that?"
"I don't know," I reply in a defeated voice. "I just want things to be the way they used to be between us. That's all I want."
"We change, Charlotte. It's part of our nature," he answers almost with a hint of apology in his voice.
"Some things don't have to change. I never stopped loving you."
His gaze changes somehow. He's not simply looking at me now, but searching me. "Come here." He beckons me nearer.
I slide off the counter. Dinner is all but forgotten now anyway. He reaches for my hand and leads me out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. It's a small, cozy space made to look larger by big windows. It's filled with comfortable furniture and has a fireplace tucked in one corner.
"Sit." He indicates the sofa nearby.
I sit down.
He remains standing for a moment, his face distorted in thought, his brow heavily furrowed with lines, his lips pursed. Finally he sits at my side and rests his hand on my knee.
"Charlotte, I love you," he tells me quietly. "I do. Don't you ever doubt that."
"Then please tell me why you've been so distant lately."
He closes his eyes and looks away. "I'll admit that I'm still slightly upset. Every time I look at you, think about how much I need you, every time I think about touching you, I wonder if he has ever thought the same thing. I can't stand it. Do you realize this man might still dream of you? Fantasize about you?"
"I never thought about it," I reply hesitantly. I guess when he puts it that way, it would almost make it seem as though I am still having an affair.
"Of course not. You don't realize how lewd a man's thoughts can be." He smiles just barely and adds, "At times you still surprise me with your innocence."
"I'm hardly innocent," I scoff.
"Seldom," he agrees. "But on rare occasions..." His gaze wanders in thought before he looks directly at me and continues, "That's one thing I appreciate about you." He reaches out and takes my hand in his, running his thumb over my skin.
I close my eyes at the simple touch. "I know it was hard for you to leave him alone. I'm grateful. I appreciate it more than you could know."
"Because I let a man you care for live?"
"No. Because it gave us this chance. David is good. Seeing you destroy something good out of spite would have destroyed me too. But we're here now, and he's not. I want to be happy here, with you."
He doesn't respond.
"Besides," I add a little more flippantly, "more than one man has had dirty thoughts about me. Even you would have a hard time killing them all."
He closes his eyes and mutters, "That isn't exactly a comforting thing to hear."
"Sorry," I reply with a small laugh.
"You're right," he states after a moment. "What's important is that we're here now."
"I promise you there won't be anybody else. Not ever. Not while you're here."
"I want something stronger than a promise, Charlotte," he tells me.
"Anything. What do you have in mind?"
"One moment." He gets to his feet and goes to the fireplace, where he retrieves a small box from the mantel. "I have been thinking about this for some time now," he explains with his back to me still. "It's one of the many things that have kept me so preoccupied lately."
Now I'm curious. "What is it?"
He turns to me and smiles. "Close your eyes."
I tentatively do so, resisting the urge to peek. I hear him cross the room. He stands in front of me for a few moments, and then I think he kneels, but I can't be sure.
"You may open your eyes now," he murmurs, his voice very near.
I open my eyes and see him kneeling on one knee, the tiny box in his hand now opened to bare a beautiful, intricate ring. I inhale sharply, shocked.
Now this was something I was definitely not expecting.
"Charlotte Reed, will you marry me, legal fees and all?" he inquires in a soft, gentle voice.
I can't help but laugh. I'm not afraid that he'll feel bad, though, because it's one of those laughs that are filled with emotion, the kind of laugh that keeps a person from crying.
"Yes," I tell him, dropping to my knees as well and throwing my arms around his neck. "Yes, of course."
He returns the embrace, holding me close for a few moments before murmuring, "Perhaps we should sit down again."
He has a point. The cold tile floor is not very comfortable to kneel on for extended periods of time.
Once we're back on the couch, he takes my hand in his and carefully slides the ring onto my finger. I don't know what to feel quite yet, still too stunned.
"I love you," he whispers, drawing me in for a kiss.
It has been a long time, I think to myself.
"I love you too," I whisper breathlessly when he pulls away. "One question, though. How do we get married?"
He laughs softly. "We'll figure it out. In the meantime why don't you change into that lovely sundress you bought last week while I fetch some wine? We can go down to the beach, watch the sunset..." he trails off suggestively.
I like that idea. A lot. But before I go, I can't resist asking him one more question. "You said I didn't realize how lewd a man's thoughts could be. How lewd are your thoughts right now? On a scale of one to ten."
He purses his lips thoughtfully. "Six and a half. A seven once you're in that sundress."
"And if I take my clothes off now and go down to the beach in my skivvies?"
"An eight. Definitely."
"Only an eight? What more do I have to do to get a ten?" I retort.
He smiles. "Come closer and I'll show you."
I have to admit, a ten is pretty hard to earn, but well worth the effort.
Sadly, we don't make it down to the beach before dark, but I don't mind having a late dinner and simply going to bed. Not when it means sleeping in the warm embrace of my fiancé. That simple little word sends chills down my spine just thinking about it. I don't know if I'm ready for marriage—not that it'll really change anything. I never really thought that far ahead. And who knows what I'm getting myself into, agreeing to marry a psychopath.
But I'm willing to find out.
That said, I'm too excited to really sleep. I simply suspend myself in the moment and enjoy the sensations that surround me: Dr. Hall's heat, the smoothness of the sheets against my bare skin, the soft cool breeze that enters through the window.
Now I'm happy.
"Can you not sleep?" he murmurs sometime during the night.
I shift a little in surprise. "I thought you were sleeping," I whisper in response.
"What are you thinking?"
"Do you want the truth, or do you want the diplomatic version?"
I let out a laugh. "I'll bite. Give me both."
"I ought to say that I was thinking about the wedding day. Of you in a long white gown, flowers in your hair, a kiss for me waiting on your lips." At this, he brushes his thumb over my mouth, eliciting a pleasant tingling sensation.
"I knew it," I reply. "You're secretly a romantic at heart."
"It's no secret. And you'll want to retract that statement when you hear what I was really thinking," he answers softly.
"Fine. Tell me."
He lowers his lips to mine, captures my bottom lip between his teeth and tugs gently and suggestively before whispering, "I was wondering how many times we could have sex tonight before you decline my solicitations."
I push him away playfully. "You horny bastard," I laugh.
"I think I prefer being called a romantic," he replies with a chuckle.
"In answer to your question, I'd like to point out the well-known fact that women have much higher stamina than men when it comes to sex," I state.
He pulls me closer, with just enough roughness to show that he means it. "Prove it."
We may have missed sunset, but we're up in plenty of time to see the sunrise. Though we're both kind of sore after several late-night adventures and a midnight snack, we walk down to the beach hand in hand and sit on the cool sand. We're just close enough to the water that we can feel its spray on the breeze as it wafts gently across our skin.
I stretch out on the sand, and Evander settles down behind me, holding me close against him.
I don't see a point in calling him "Dr. Hall" anymore. Not even in my head. There's too much that we've done together, all that we've been through. And in a way, he's not the same person that he used to be.
I don't know if serial killers can really retire, but he seems perfectly content to spend his time with me now. Whatever he used to do when he'd disappear for days on end—killing, meditating, planning, people watching—he doesn't do it anymore. That doesn't necessarily mean that he'll stay out of trouble. God knows I probably won't. But at least we'll be having our adventures—whatever they may be—together.
Who would have thought five years ago that I'd be on some remote European coast, wrapped in the arms of a serial killer, wearing his ring, watching the sunrise with him?
I remember the first time I ever met him, alone and afraid in a snowdrift in Montana. I had no idea what would become of my life. I wouldn't have even dared to imagine that I'd befriend him, much less grow to love him.
But I do.
And he loves me too, in his own unique way.
"Did I ever tell you how beautiful you are?" he murmurs.
I think about it. "No. I don't think you have."
"Well you are. My beautiful, broken angel." His lips brush against the sensitive skin just behind my ear.
"I'm not broken," I retort.
"You don't think so?"
"Not anymore." I wrap my arms around his and hold them tightly around my waist. "I have you."
"I can't mend you, Charlotte."
"I don't need mending. I just need you."
"In that case, I'm here for you."
I turn around to face him, looking into his solemn gray eyes. There's a question I've been meaning to ask him, but I've never felt it was the right time until now. "How did you find me all those years ago? Was it pure chance that you happened to walk by me?"
"No," he replies softly, gently brushing a strand of my hair out of my face.
"You weren't just out for a stroll, were you?"
"No. I was watching the sunset when I saw you fall. I went out to search for you. It took me quite some time to find you," he adds.
It sure did. It took several hours, in fact. "Why did you even bother looking for me?"
"Curiosity mostly. I wanted to know if you had survived the fall."
Now he has piqued my curiosity. I've never asked him much about when we first met or why he bothered saving me. "What did you think when you found me? Why did you help me?"
"I knew you were strong, but helpless. Broken. I wanted to help you. I was lonely, also. I thought you might be able to help me," he admits.
"Help you? How?"
He considers it. "I've spent my entire life manipulating others, believing that if I didn't, they would try to manipulate me. I never wanted to be a tool that was simply acted upon. I wanted to be the one acting. It's a very lonely existence," he admits slowly. "I wanted to know if just once I was capable of letting another person past the barriers, of connecting with them on some level."
I let out a short laugh. "I bet you never imagined we'd end up like this."
He smiles. "No, but I began to hope."
I look questioningly at him. "What do you mean?"
"As we grew acquainted, I became increasingly attracted to you. Not simply physically, but mentally, intellectually," he explains. "You're different than other people. You understand ideas and motives, even though you might not agree with them. You see the sense in things, even when they trouble you. You saw the monster in me, yet you looked past it to find the good. You found something in me that I wasn't even aware of."
I don't know how to respond, too moved by his words to really think. So I fall back on old habits to numb the overwhelming emotion that I feel. "Ah! That explains why I'm so willing to marry a psycho serial killer!" I joke.
"We really need to work on name-calling, Charlotte," he retorts good-naturedly.
I laugh. "I love you," I reassure him. "I do. Thank you."
"For what exactly are you thanking me?"
"For rescuing me from that snowdrift. For saving my life."
He closes his eyes and smiles, leaning in to press his lips against my brow, pulling me closer. "It was my pleasure. We saved each other. And now you're mine."
"Yours. Entirely yours."