Chapter 16: Reason

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“Hello.”

“Hello.”

We smiled at one another.  Ever since Nick had revealed his theory for my existence, a tension had been building between us, vibrating the air—and glass—separating our forms. 

My days had been filled with fruitless research, consistently providing me with more questions than answers.  The monotony of my findings allowed my mind to wander more frequently than I would admit.  More often than not I found myself thinking of my best friend’s brother.  Senseless questions spun through my mind, all of them irrelevant to the investigation.  What was his favorite color?  If he could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?  What was his favorite food?  Had he ever been in love?

When night came and I saw Nick, all my questions—relevant or not—melted with the heat of his stare. 

Tonight was the same as our previous evenings together.  Nick looked frustrated, and I attempted to stifle nervous giggles.  He was the first to break the intense silence that had enveloped us.

“You’ve crossed my mind a thousand times today.”

The statement sounded sincere but his tone of voice made the occurrence sound like a burden. Thoughts of him had been plaguing my subconscious since we had first met; I would have it no other way.

It was hard to take Nick seriously when he said things like that—which was all the time now.  The perfectly delivered lines were something out of a book, not to be used in casual conversation.  In stark contrast, the words I spoke sounded childish and insignificant.

“How did you get anything done?” I teased.

“I didn’t.  I was utterly useless.  Needless to say, my father was not pleased with me.”

“Why?  What did he say?”

“It wasn’t so much the words he chose—which I would never repeat in the presence of a lady—but his actions.  He became so enraged that he ordered me to leave.”

“That sounds serious.” 

“Very serious.  Ledgers are nigh impossible when one is distracted.”  The intensity in his sidelong look made my stomach flip.  It was like Nick Dalton could see into my soul.  And, if that wasn’t enough, he liked what he found there.

“I can only imagine.”  I gave in and allowed the smile to play on my lips.  “This distraction seems to be hindering your responsibilities.”

“This particular distraction is welcome to hinder my responsibilities for as long as she likes.”

She thinks you may soon come to regret the offer.”

Nick ignored my self-defacing statement.  “Do you know what else is impossible to do when one’s mind is otherwise engaged?”

“What’s that?”

“Eating.”

“Eating?”

“Yes.  Eating is impossible to do while distracted.”

“So you haven’t eaten today?” I scoffed.

“I don’t know.”

“How can you not know if you ate?”

“I cannot remember eating and I am absolutely ravenous.  The combination of the two leads me to believe that meals were forgotten.”

“It sounds like a very trying day.”

He let out an exaggerated sigh.  “Oh, it wasn’t all ledgers, angry fathers, and hunger pains.”

“No?  What else was there?”

“I heard from my sister today.”

I jumped off my bed and pressed my palms to the glass.  “You did?  Did you talk to her?  Is she there?”  I had been waiting to hear Tilly’s reaction, to know if she had thought I had been imaginary too.  What would she say when she found out I was back?  Had she even remembered me?  What would I do if she couldn’t recall all of our adventures, if I had not made the difference in her life that she had made in mine?

“Calm down, Callista.  She is not here, at least not yet.  I received a letter from her this morning.”

“This morning?  And you’re only telling me now?”

He wasn’t fazed by my annoyance.  “I told you that I have been distracted.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”  Nick grinned.  Sometimes he was so irritating.

“What did she say?”

“This and that—typical Tilly.”

“Read it to me?”  I asked, hoping he would agree.  I wanted to hear her exact words.  She would be real if I could hear what she had to say and how she said it.  Tilly always had her own unique way of expressing herself.  Had that fact changed in the past ten years?

“Read it yourself.”

Nick scooted his chair to the mirror and held the letter up for me to see.  The words scrawled elegantly across the page, drawing me into the sentences.

Nicki,

Your news could not come at a better time.  Timothy and I will be back at Barnard Hall in August for mum’s birthday.  So I will say, “Hello,” to Callista myself.  I begged Tim to leave London early, but he is obligated to stay until the end of the month.  By the way, your help with the final arrangements for the event would be much appreciated.  After all, she is your mother too.  It is trying to organize everything from London.  (And do not tell me that such things are a woman’s work, below your lofty station, or I shall take out every bit of my disappointment on you when I return.)

Do not be yourself and scare Callista away.  If she is not there when I arrive I will hold you personally responsible.  She is my best friend and I have been waiting too long to see her to have you ruin things.  

Give Callista my love and try to be charming—your life depends on it.

Love,

Your beautiful and intelligent sister

Tilly

PS. I told you she was real.  You can apologize to me when I arrive in August.

I did not notice the tears welling in my eyes until her signature began to blur.  I swiped at them and offered Nick an apologetic smile. 

“The letter is so…”

“Tilly?”

I nodded and let out a watery giggle.

“I suppose I do owe her an apology.  She always believed you were real—even when I made fun of her for having an imaginary friend.  She used to get so angry with me.  The names she would call me became quite inventive as she grew older.”

Tilly was never one to keep her own emotions in check.  No doubt she had passionately backed the argument for my existence.  I was ashamed that my own resolve had not been as strong.  In this issue it had felt like the entire world had been against me; modern thinking did not promote the presence of imaginary friends—or magic.

“I wish my mind had been as open to the possibility of her being real.  My mother sent me to a therapist to prove she couldn’t exist.”

“And did it work?” he asked quietly.

“At first I resisted.  After a few months I thought it had worked.  But it was harder to accept her non-existence than the present situation we find ourselves in.  I think maybe I always knew she was real, somewhere in my heart.”

“Will you tell me about your parents?” 

His question caught me off guard.  When I had first met Nick, I hadn’t wanted to tell him anything about me.  Our conversations tended toward impersonal subjects and my weak attempts to ferret information.  Now I looked forward to speaking with him.  Somewhere inside me I knew I needed to tell Nick about myself and the life I had endured.  If I could share everything with him then perhaps the burden wouldn’t be as heavy.

On the off nights he did not appear, I had found myself falling into a deep depression.  It was as if he was my own version of therapy—or the beginnings of an addiction.  Even if the latter was true—which I suspected it was—I could not find a reason to cut myself off.  Who did I need to be sane for?  Imaginary friends weren’t viewed as healthy companions but so what?  Happiness was more important than sanity and Nick made me very, very happy.

I started with blissful childhood memories, ones of my family before it had been ripped apart.

“My mother met my father when she was nineteen.  She was a model and he was a successful businessman.  They were married three months later, and I came along in the first year of their marriage.  Life was wonderful then…”  In the few photos I had seen from that time in my life, my family had been smiling.  My parents had been so proud of me even when I did the most mundane things.  Looking back, it was most likely a byproduct of being an only child.  But their noticeable pride gave me confidence that, at one point, I had been loved.

“When I was seven, my father contracted a virus that attacked his heart.  I didn’t even know that could happen.  Treatments had not helped and he died a month later, in April.  My mother married Jim in May and we moved to England in June.”

“That had to have been a distressing year for you.”

I nodded.  “Besides the loss of my father, the worst part of that year was losing my mother.”

Nick’s forehead crinkled as he processed my statement.  “I thought your mother died a few weeks ago?”

I chuckled bitterly.  “My mother’s spirit was dead long before the date on her tombstone.  At first I blamed Jim for her change.  Then I realized it was not Jim’s presence, but the absence of my father that drove my mother into such a deep depression; he had been the glue that had kept our family intact.  My mother could not handle losing him, and I was a constant reminder of what she had lost. She never recovered.

“After I was sent to New York, things didn’t get better.   I lived with my father’s spinster Aunt.  She had never had kids so she wasn’t sure what had been normal behavior and what had been me acting out; she had assumed that everything was the latter.  Her one house rule had been strict: don’t bother her unless the problem was life-threatening.  Aunt Mildred and I never ate together, spent time with one another, or had any semblance of a conversation; we had barely co-existed.  She never noticed me, and I had learned to ignore her.”

Nick looked down at his hands and did not speak.  His silence was my cue to continue.

“I’ve lived the past ten years in a sort of self-imposed exile.  I kept thinking if my grades were high enough or if I did something spectacular, that I would be worth loving—or noticing.  I had always hoped my mother would realize she did not lose everything when my dad had died.  So I fast forwarded my life; I skipped grades in school and studied around the clock.   I didn’t have time for friends or social interaction beyond a superficial level.  I graduated high school at fifteen and received my college degree at seventeen.  Now…”  I said, coming back to the present.  “Now my days pass too quickly.  It’s like I am working on delaying the inevitable.  I have no control over time, and the end is looming in the distance like a deadline I’m dreading to meet.”

And it was.  August twenty fourth was rapidly approaching, and I could not do anything about it.  Although the date did not mark the end of my own life, the life that was going to end seemed more personal, the loss infinitely more catastrophic. 

“My days pass as quickly as yours.  To me their ends are inconsequential because they mark the beginning of the night.  But the nights, they are only a breath away from morning.  I blink and another day is breaking.  Then I am responsible for being cordial to others, holding meaningless conversations, and pretending to occupy myself with menial tasks when my mind—and heart—are elsewhere.”

I smiled.  It was the same for me only I wouldn’t have been able to say it like a sonnet.  Never in my life had I looked forward to anything as much as I did seeing Nick.  My entire existence revolved around his impossible presence.

“I think maybe…” Nick let the sentence drift into silence.  His forehead creased and his eyebrows drew together like he was searching for words.

“Maybe what?” I prompted.  I wanted to know what he thought.  No, I needed to know what he thought.  Could he feel the same?  What was the point in feeling this way if I was the only one touched by our connection?

“That you are my reason for coming back, or whatever it is I am doing.”

He could not be serious, could he?  “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?”

“Because…”  Just because.

“Do you care to elaborate?”

“Well, because I’m just a person, not a reason for anything.  The mirrors aren’t magical because of me, they just are.  They worked before me and will work when I’m gone.  You and I happened to be at the same place at the same time—you know what I mean.  And because we were, we can see one another.  But I can find no reason behind any of it.  Reasons contradict magic, and I am positive that we are dealing with magic.  So that’s why you can’t be serious.”

“But that’s just it, even with the logical points you’ve raised I remain serious.  What was the point of doing this before you—of barely existing?  The thought of seeing you stops my heart yet it’s like my heart never beat before you.  In you I have found something better than existence; I have found life, my purpose.”

My mouth went dry.  I had almost sunk down into my pit of despair while relating my story, and now Nick was declaring himself.  At least I thought that was what he was doing.  He pressed his palm to the mirror, and I scooted to the edge of the bed.  The burning look in his eyes gave me hope like I had never experienced before.

“Every day I hold on to the possibility of you.”  My own admission seemed inadequate next to his.  I could not believe I had spoken the words aloud.  But a spark ignited inside my dormant heart and I continued.  “You see me differently than everyone else… than I see myself.  I have never been good enough.  I’ve never been a reason for anything.”

“Everyone was wrong.  You were wrong.”

I shook my head.  “In my time, I am unexceptional. It’s the mirrors—the circumstances—that make me seem…”

“Remarkable?” 

Remarkable?  Not in the least.  He had to know about me.  Preconceived notions and false impressions only turned into disappointment.  If there was any way to remove the barrier that separated us then he would only be let down by the person he found on the other side; that offense would be unforgivable.

“No!  Listen to what I am telling you, Nick. In my time…”

“Maybe you belong in a different time.”

“That’s insane, not to mention completely irrelevant.”

“Why is it irrelevant?”

“Because it is,” I dismissed.

“You are quick to make rash statements without having any rational thoughts to support them.”

“Can’t you see?  Rational thought does not allow for this.”

Nick repeated his question.  “Callista, why is it irrelevant?”

I was furious now; angry tears burned the backs of my eyes.  I wasn’t angry with Nick, I was angry at my own helplessness in the entire situation.  “Because I can’t exist in any other time than my own.  A mirror is called a looking glass; for some reason when I look through I see you.  I see you.  I can’t touch you or feel you.  I can’t belong with you.  This—you and I—we are an impossibility.”

Nick and I stared at one another.  Tension raced across the divide, electrifying the air.  Neither of us could speak as the weight of our conversation hung in the glass space between.  He opened his mouth then shut it abruptly. 

Lightness buried deep within my being, beneath my childhood, my parent’s death, and life’s disappointments broke free and floated toward the surface like a balloon without a string.  An unstoppable smile spread across my face, and I laughed.

I laughed because Nick and I were fighting over our mutually impossible feelings for one another instead of reveling in the sweet agony.  Then I laughed because Nick looked at me like I had sprouted a third eye.  But mostly I laughed because, for the first time since I had met the man in front of me, I felt a semblance of hope.  Hope for the maybe.

Nick shook his head solemnly.  “The only impossibility I foresee is me letting you go.  Together, we can overcome everything else.”

My laughter was silenced with a swift knock on his bedroom door.  We turned off our lights simultaneously and the room fell silent.  Through the darkness I watched a thin strand of white light grow as his door inched open.

“Nick, are you alright?” a sweet voice called out of the darkness.

“Yes, Mother,” he said, making his voice sound appropriately groggy for a man who had gone to bed hours earlier. 

I squinted in the darkness, attempting to catch a glimpse of Maria Dalton.  All I could make out was a slender shadow cast by the dimly lit hallway.

“Alright.  I could have sworn I had heard voices.”

“Hmmmph,” he growled.  When he didn’t say more, his mother closed the door.  We waited a few moments before speaking, making sure she was not going to come back in.

“Callista, are you there?”             

“Yes,” I whispered, stifling a giggle.  Even though we were separated by an impossible barrier, our minds were thinking the same thoughts.  That knowledge made me feel closer to him than ever.

There was a smile in his voice when he responded.  “I was hoping you would say that.”

“Were you?”

“Of course.  Otherwise, what reason do I have to stay awake?”

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