Characters: Edward Masen
Summary: Sometimes the things he forgot are just as important as the things he remembered.
so silent and peaceful in darkness
“We should not be out,” Edward says, glancing out the window of the car. The overcast sky finally releases the rain to fall in sheets, the sound echoing and gathering density as it bounces off the canvas roof. The buildings gleam in the mid-afternoon gloom, hiding the mystery of the encroaching Spanish influenza, giving the illusion the streets are deserted because of the weather.
His mother looks up from her glossy. “You worry too much.”
Edward settles back into the bench and stares at his mother before looking away again, the fear she tries to hide floating off her in waves.
And Edward is in the mood to push. “I fear you worry too little. Just this morning John Robertson ordered the closing of theaters and asked businesses to stagger their business hours." Edward turns and glances at the back of the head of their driver. "And you James, has the sickness affected your family?"
The driver glances at him once in the rearview mirror before returning his eyes to the slick road. "My baby twins, sir. Lost two days ago."
"And yet, here you are, driving us. Why?" Edward asks.
James clears his throat once before answering. "Because I'm not ill, sir. And -- and because my remaining children need to eat."
Edward gestures towards their driver and says, "And yet we head for a dinner party. Do you even bother to read the newspapers anymore?”
His mother cannot hide her disdain as she sniffs. “This is not a disease that affects our kind, Edward.”
“Our kind. Ah, high society, right? How naïve you are, Mother. We should have left for the farm weeks ago.”
“Edward,” his mother breathes, her gloved hand smoothing the fox collar around her throat, the motion sending her shawl the floor of the automobile. “Don’t be cross. Your father never asks much of you—”
“Understatement,” Edward says as crosses his legs at the ankles. The long-suffering sigh repressed by his mother rings loud in his mind.
“—and this dinner is important to him, to his career,” she continues as if he never spoke. “To our future as a family. Please be on your best behavior—”
“Always,” Edward says as he lifts her silk shawl and drapes it along her lap. “And later when we all become ill of the influenza, will Father be meeting us at the hospital as usual?”
“Don’t be crass, Edward. It doesn’t become you.”
But the smell of her fear lingers.
He first spies the girl at dinner, seated to the right of the host.
He watches her, silverware pushing food along her plate but not into her mouth. There’s something familiar in the way she moves, the blush along her cheeks, the animation in her eyes as he listens to her continually ask questions of the handsome doctor Edward was introduced to earlier. When she turns and meets his eyes for a moment, something almost like a memory flickers and wanes as he watches her face, every thought showing clearly through her dark eyes and expressions. She’s animated and vivacious, smiling at something the doctor has said. Jealously licks at his throat, and he wonders what he can do to get her to look at him in that way.
“I hear the war may be ending soon,” the man beside him says and with sorrow, Edward pulls his eyes away from her.
“And not a moment too soon,” his mother says from across the table. “We’ve made arrangements for Edward to attend Harvard in the fall and he wants to enter West Point. Do his duty for his country, he says.”
He picks up his glass of wine and sips from it before answering. “And if this epidemic becomes much worse, both choices may be a moot point.”
His mother sighs and lowers her fork. “Edward, please. Do not begin this sickness business again. Not while we’re eating.”
He places his glass back on the table and raises his napkin to his mouth. “Forgive me, sir,” he says as he stands, bowing graciously before his mother, aware of the sudden silence of the others at the table. “I seem to have lost my appetite.” He looks to the head of the table and nods his head towards the girl, feeling her eyes on him as he leaves the room.
Later, Edward catches sight of her easily among the dancing crowd, the only woman in the room with long dark hair free from pins and feathers. She moves silently, eyes wild and pale as a ghost, slim hand curved around her nose and mouth. He follows behind her carefully, picking up a glass of champagne from a silver tray and swallowing it without tasting. They move from room to room until she trips over nothing and he grabs her elbow to steady her. They’re in a gas lit alcove and she’s staring up at him.
Suddenly he realizes he wasn’t following as much as being led. Something unexpected slides down his spine and he stands rooted to the spot. She moves to him, her long skirt floating against his legs.
“Hello,” she says, looking up into his eyes.
Edward swallows; her eyes are a lovely shade of brown. “I must apologize for my rudeness at dinner. My name is Edward Masen, how do you do?”
She smiles, her eyes fever bright. “And you followed me here only to apologize? Your mother worries for her son,” she waves her hand before her. “It’s understandable. There’s so much formality between us, I’m sure we’ve met before, haven’t we?”
Edward shakes his head. “I believe I would have remembered meeting you before.”
“Then my name is Illeana--Anna. Are you enjoying my father’s party? Or are you like me, wondering if we’ve just signed our death warrants?”
Edward starts. “You do not approve of large gatherings either?”
Anna gestures back towards the party. “They believe they are above this, that the sickness will not reach them here, that they are immune to it in some way. Fools.”
“So we’re all going to die then? For an evening of entertainment?”
“Doctor Cullen believes it will get much worse before it gets better,” she says and he nods his head, fear closing his throat. “You believe it as well. I can see it in your face. However,” she holds out her hand and Edward takes it without thought, the fever of her skin sending a chill through him. “I would have attended thousands of these parties if only to see you just once.”
Her words cause him to flush scarlet and she smiles. “You mock me, miss,” Edward says, his voice tight.
“Never. I--,” she begins, her voice hesitant. “I believe I’ve been waiting my whole life for you.”
He stares down at her, the flickering flames from the gas sconces highlighting red sparks in her hair and he realizes she speaks the truth. That maybe, somehow, he’s been waiting for her, too.
“Come with me, Edward Masen,” she says, and he follows, as if nothing like this were ever bound to repeat itself again. They escape the low murmuring voices and the tinkling of the musicians and onto the lush, green lawn.
She collapses against the bench in the gazebo, face bent backwards over the railing, held up towards the concrete colored sky, rain soaking her hair to the skin. “Out here is where I feel free,” she whispers as he stands tall beside her, not yet able to let go enough to fall beside her. “Out here, my brother is still alive, not dead from war in an unmarked grave an ocean away. Out here—” she stops and looks up at him, drops of rain gathering along her lashes. She stands fluidly, her wet dress clinging to her body in scandalous ways. Edward averts his eyes, too much the gentlemen to acknowledge what she’s trying to give away.
“Out here, I can do this,” she says and presses her mouth to his, kissing him as if she alone could bring the sun out from behind the clouds. Edward’s calm is shattered by the hunger of her kiss, the way he recognizes the feel of her mouth on his. His arms glide around her body, his mouth opening over hers, their tongues touching once before he breaks away, the back of his hand covering his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, coloring fiercely. “I don’t know what came over me. I’ve been feeling—odd today.”
Edward holds out a hand to ward her off when she comes closer. “It’s all right,” he chokes, not trusting himself to touch her again and wanting to calm the erratic beating of his heart before speaking again. Her kisses, the feel of her body pressed against his, almost brings him to his knees. There’s a memory here, one he cannot place, but burning deep inside him all the same.
“It’s all going to Hell,” she says, her voice hard to hear over the rain clattering against the roof. Anna shivers and Edward pulls his jacket off and drapes it over her shoulders. She nods once and stares back out over the lawn. “The Comstocks have died.”
His stomach clenches tight. He knew this family. She continues to speak even though he wishes she wouldn’t. “My parents are in denial, but Doctor Cullen told the news over dinner, after you left. Their little girl was the first to go, the rest of the family soon after. There wasn’t even enough time to bring them to the hospital,” her voice breaks. “They were supposed to come tonight,” she stops and waves her hand as if to brush it all away. “I don’t want to die. I’m frightened, Edward.”
He finally sits down beside her, gathering her close to him, wanting to protect from the illness, the horrors of the world. All he can think while holding her close is, not her. But what he says is, “me too.”
He’s bending his head to kiss her again when the first of the screams echo across the lawn. He jumps up, startled as Anna puts her head down on the space he’s just left. “Go, Edward,” she whispers above the rain. “I’ll be along later. I just wish to rest here for a moment. Just a moment—“
Then Edward realizes it’s his name being screamed – the pain in his mother’s voice striking him like a dull knife even out here and he knows – knows it’s his father who collapsed, the heavy body burning with fever and nothing will ever be the same again.
And then Anna is gone, already forgotten when her body is found the following morning, but by then it's too late.
Doctor Cullen is leaning over him, Edward trying very hard to understand the words falling from the doctor’s mouth, his parents dead, and the impossible promise his mother extracted before her last breath. The doctor’s cold, marble hands gathering him up, speeding along the empty hospital corridors and then he remembers nothing of his lost chance at love.