He watched the child in silence, not that he could be heard if he wanted to be. If his math were correct, she was three years now. Stepping farther into the room away from the window, he watched her small body shake as she pressed an ear against the door. He couldn't see her face with the fall of wavy black hair covering it. But he knew what the face looked like under her messed hair, round and angelic.
On the other side of the door she was carefully leaning against, he could hear the yelling...again. Her parents spent most of their time screaming at each other and breaking things. He'd sat with the child many times in the last year while the adults in her world showed her all the wrong ways to live.
It worried him that she no longer cried when it happened; she no longer curled her tiny body into the corner and tried to make herself invisible. At least the quarreling adults had never brought it to her; he didn't know if he could stand to see her hurt in any way. He closed his eyes and cursed himself; what could he even do to help her if they did?
A loud crash brought him back to the moment; he opened his eyes to see the girl remove her ear from the door. Her face was visible now and it pulled at his heart to see tears rolling down her round cheeks. It made her dark brown eyes seem blurry and vague. She hugged her tiny arms around her middle, trying to comfort herself. A small part of him wanted to take her in his arms and shelter her from the sadness, not that he knew how to hold a child.
She took two steps back from the door but still looked at it, as if she was afraid it was going to fly open. She sniffled once and raised her face, then looked right at him. Did she actually see him? He was tempted to look behind his form to see if there was something there that would catch her attention, but he was afraid to look away and go back to being invisible to all.
She blinked and cleared the tears from her eyes yet continued to look right at him. With her chin up she used her sleeve to wipe across her face, then raised her chin with a determination he knew all too well. Her eyes appeared as if they were looking right into his, causing his heart, if he truly still had one, to jolt inside of his body.
Finally, she turned from him, went to her little table in the corner, and sat on the small chair that went with it. She opened a book, took the coloring sticks from their messy carton, and scribbled in angry motions over the outline of the picture in front of her.
Sighing, he closed his eyes. She would be fine; he really needed to stop coming here.
He had tried to stay away, as he knew he should, and had been able to just watch from a distance for the last while, but the child on the bed lay there with her face hidden, shaking and distraught. He didn't know what he could do, but he liked to think his presence would be sensed and she would somehow be comforted by it.
Glancing away from her to the papers crumpled up on the floor. He couldn't pick them up to look at them, but he could read part of one. 'Happy 7th birthday.' She was seven already? Had it not only been a few months past when she was that tiny cherub-faced child? He frowned. How had he lost track of four entire years' time? What did he have to keep track of except time? All he had was time, endless decades of time.
Shaking his head, he stepped closer to the bed. If only he could offer a calming touch on her shoulder, to let her know she wasn't alone. But in truth she was; he could hear the screaming outside of the walls of her room and knew that she was very much alone in this world.
She rolled onto her back, clutching something to her chest. With an angry swipe she wiped across her face and took a long shaky breath. He leaned down to see her better and was surprised to see how she had grown since he last let himself get this close. Gone was the cherub face. In its place, the beginning of a more mature form was now visible. He sighed; this small one was going to be a world of trouble for some man in the years to come.
Looking back towards her he found her eyes looking right at him, as only she had ever done. He stepped back in shock. He was ready to tell himself she was just staring into space and it happened to be in the direction he was, but her eyes moved down over his body in a slow, studying way. If he spoke would she hear him?
He clenched his jaw; hadn't he spent years trying to be heard by others? He wouldn't waste one more ounce of energy on that ever again.
When she stood up, he almost stepped back again, afraid she'd go right through him and make him feel undetectable again. Instead, she stopped in front of him and looked up at his face. Inside his head he smiled at her, but the movement did not show on his face. She couldn't really see him; he must be creating this from years of desiring it. She turned and walked over to a shelf in the corner. He hesitantly took a few steps to follow her.
He was astounded when she turned and motioned to a ship sitting on the top shelf. He looked at her for a moment and then moved his eyes to the ship. He smiled; it was a small model of a galleon. While it looked quite like a real one, very majestic and formed well enough, he frowned. Why would she want him to see that? Why would a young girl of seven years even want a scale of a ship? He looked back to her face to see she had calmed and wasn't the distressed child she'd been just moments ago. He noticed the tilt of her chin and recognized that determined glint in her eyes. He smiled at her and hoped by some fanciful miracle that maybe he was partially responsible for this.
So he was a completely spineless man, he thought as he entered her room yet again. He had not lost track of time and knew she was twelve years older now. He had only allowed himself to come this close while she slept over the last few years though, for he was uncertain of what her ability to see him actually meant. She stomped past him, opened her door, and screamed obscenities that he'd only ever heard from older, weathered males. She shocked him, made him wonder whether he should really be here once again. The door slammed, and he turned to see her take a leap and flounce herself onto the bed.
She had definitely lost that helpless, angelic look. Her dark eyes turned to him and he had no choice but to stand there and watch her look at him. She bounced off the bed, straight up as if she were pulled by a rope, and walked past him to the shelves along the wall.
He turned slowly. Gone were the childish toys and trinkets. There were no more colored sticks in this one?s life. His eyes moved over the top of the shelf. She had, over the last several years, added to her galleon ship, and it now held a detailed frigate and shebec model. If he were the size of a mouse, he could have lived on them, they were that detailed. She had associated him with the ships, and he supposed she was more than observant to have done so.
With a hesitant movement he raised his eyes away from the ships he'd last seen in their real and true form and looked back at her. She smiled at him, or possibly it was a snarl; it wasn't easy to distinguish, but the point was she could really, truly see him and he was once more left to wonder what it meant. He heard a door slam downstairs and watched her turn quickly to the window.
Stepping closer so he could see as well, he discovered her mother was leaving, and with her was a man. Even though he had never seen this man before, he knew it was the sort of man any woman was better not getting close to.
Hearing her heavy sigh he turned. She had walked back over to the bed and was putting tiny drops with wires attached to them in her ears. He'd noticed most children of her age walked around with wires coming from their ears. Somehow he doubted it was to lessen the sound of cannon fire. He watched her for a moment longer, decided she was well enough now, and left without further hesitation.
The sound of sobs dragged at him once again and without intending it he found himself inside her room. In the last four years he'd managed to stay away, but in an odd moment of weakness, he had spent a few brief moments here, just to assure himself she was doing well enough. The room had undergone enormous change; it now assaulted his senses to be in it. It was a mix of bright and dark, so contrasted with each other that it made him feel dizzy. Gone were the pretty pink shades of childhood; in their place were black tones and blood-red splatters.
He stopped beside the shelf and wanted for one moment to touch them. There were two more spectacular replicas on the length of the top shelf. A caravel, which, he thought with a smirk, looked as pieced-together in this size as he had always thought they were in the real versions. The man-o-war filled him with longing, just as the real thing had done once. There wasn't anything that could compete with the force of it, the sheer threat its aura had wrought.
Bringing himself out of the long-ago past, he turned to find her sprawled half on, half off the bed. She was talking low into a phone; yes, he knew what a phone was....now. "I hope he falls and breaks both of his legs and has to spend the rest of the year hobbling around on crutches! He's such a loser; I don't know why I even bothered." She sniffled.
Pausing, he raised his eyebrows and tried to understand what she talking about. A male was no doubt involved; he was not so long gone that he didn't recognize the tone that every female adopted when a male had done wrong. What he didn't understand was the word loser; had there been a race? He shook his head and decided he needed to observe more of the televisions in the area. It had been his only way to find out what was happening outside of his confined wanderings. The only link he had to make him feel as if he were still part of the human race and not a lonely drifter who felt no peace. Of course, the first time he saw the wondrous thing they called a television, he was aghast to see such a puzzling contraption.
"Yeah, okay, later!"
Turning, he watched her hang up the phone and do her hop movement to get off the bed. He knew his eyes bulged when she stood up and walked over to close the door. He felt like he?d just been broadsided! What was she wearing? He seriously doubted she should even leave the building in something like that. Her shoulders were bare, as was her midriff, and his throat practically seized shut when he realized she was no longer a child in any sort of way. She had breasts! When had she gotten those? His eyes traveled down to see womanly legs revealed by her short skirt. If he actually had such a thing as saliva left in his body, it would have dried right up inside his mouth.
She walked over and touched the man-o-war ship with a feminine hand, and he suddenly felt like an extremely old man. Turning with her hand still on the ship, she looked directly at him, and he froze, not knowing how to react. She was past sixteen years now and more than womanly, but he felt saddened to realize that there had not been much of a childhood for her.
His eyes traveled the length of her again, noting that she was just a little more than a span of his hand shorter than his own height, but it was her eyes that swallowed him. Her dark hair hung to her shoulders, untamed waves of thick silk. Her deep brown eyes had been highlighted with colored powders, and the result completely robbed him of air, or would have if he still breathed. A child of this age should not know how to look at a man the way she was looking at him.
He watched without movement as her hand ran over a sketch of a face propped behind the ships, and if he could still see himself in a looking glass, he would swear it was a likeness of his own face...the way he remembered looking. He moved a hand to touch the scar that ran from his temple to halfway across his cheekbone. The sketch was of him, including the scar. He glanced back at her and had so many questions, but none he would ever ask. She could see him, but how? And why?
Inclining his head to her, he turned to leave before he could change his mind, swearing a silent vow he would not return again.
* * * *
Miranda got out of her faded, rust-covered car and slammed the door. "Great!" She looked back on the dirt road and then to the front of the car. She kicked the tire as she walked around to open the hood. "You couldn't die where there are actual people or traffic, could you? It had to be in this scenic, stupid, middle-of-absolute-nothing spot!"
She propped the hood open and leaned on the front of the car, looking in. "Nothing's smoking, sizzling, or hissing...which means I am so screwed! I can't even fiddle with anything to make you start again, you stupid piece of...." She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Turning around unhurriedly she sighed, feeling defeated. "Okay, Randy, you just need a little reflection time here and then come up with a new game plan."
She walked across the shallow ditch heading toward a large tree. "No need to stand in the sun and bake your brain while you do that."
Dropping to the ground, she sat with her back against the tree. "This has not been one of my better days." An orange butterfly fluttered down to sit on the top of some weeds a few feet from the tree. She watched it for a moment. "It started out bad enough. Can you believe he dumped me? I mean, seriously, he was hardly the catch of a lifetime or anything, but to leave me a message, breaking up with me on the phone? That is so low!"
The butterfly's wings flitted a few times, making her feel as if it were responding to her dilemma. "Apparently, I?m too blunt, and that bothers him." She snorted and shoved her heavy hair back from her face. ?" just tell it like it is. It's not my fault most people prefer to be lied to." The butterfly moved to another plant a few feet away.
Randy sighed. "I should have taken that as a sign and just stayed home, called in and played dead, or something... Going in to work in the mood I was in was such a huge mistake."
She beamed at the frantic fluttering from the creature. "But you won't tell anyone I screwed myself right out of a job, right?"
She shrugged. "The job sucked anyway. I should have left there a long time ago. I mean, really, I was hired to work in the art department...which for some silly reason I thought might have something to do with art...but, nooo, was I wrong or what? I spent all my time being the flunky and running this here and that there... I don't think I was even allowed to contribute to more than a handful of projects the whole time I was there..." she huffed out a breath,"and the boss...what a chauvinistic asshole!"
The butterfly seemed to pause in its movement and Randy nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Telling the boss man that I was not his personal gopher was probably not the best way to go about it."
She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them. "I'm single and unemployed all in one day. Oh, and let's not forget the stupid piece of crap sitting over there." She looked at her car on the road. Looking back, she watched the insect flutter up and hover for a moment at her eye level before it flew off in the direction of the car. "Yeah, I better see if it will start...not that I have anywhere to be, but I'd rather sulk at home than in the middle of a dirt road." She got up and brushed off her pants.
She tried looking in the hood again. "Maybe you just needed a break, huh?" she said to the car. 'I'm going to try to start you now, and if you can just be nice and get me home, I promise I'll call someone to fix you up." Going back around, she climbed in behind the steering wheel. 'Impress me," she whispered as she turned the key.
Three times she tried and although it made noise like it wanted to go, it didn't quite seem to have the energy to complete the task. "Well, at least you?re not completely dead. I'll just give you a few more minutes to get it together." She got back out of the car and leaned against the side of it, looking down into the motor. "I should have taken shop in school instead of art," she mumbled to herself.
Sighing, she went around to the front and closed the hood with a loud bang. She glanced up at the sky to see dark clouds rolling fast in the breeze to cover the sun. "Oh, that's just what I need to complete my...." The rain began so quickly she had to close her mouth to stop from swallowing it. It pelted her, soaking her before she could get back around to the door of the car.
Hopping in quickly, she slammed the door shut and brushed the wet hair out of her face. "Perfect!" It was hitting the windshield so hard she couldn't even make out the road now. She wiped her wet hands down her drenched pants a few times before she realized it was useless; they weren't going to dry. "I have seriously pissed off the world today, haven't I?"
Waving her hands around she tried to dry them before she dug into her purse behind her seat for her phone. She held it in her hand and squeezed her eyes shut as she opened it. Opening them slowly she almost laughed. No signal to speak of. "I'm shocked," she mumbled without emotion as she tossed the phone over her shoulder into the backseat. The rain ended as fast as it had begun.
Grasping the steering wheel, she slowly lowered her forehead to rest on it. A strange, yet familiar feeling prickled across the back of her neck. She didn't raise her head, just smiled into the steering wheel. "You could do something to help."
She lifted her head slowly, afraid to move too fast, and turned to look beside her. She watched the image of the man she'd been seeing for years become clearer. If she focused hard enough, he would almost appear to be real. Many times over the years she thought she was seeing things, possibly ghosts, but it was only ever him.
He gaped at her, his shock more than obvious. "How...you can see me? Truly?"
Randy sat there wanting to reach out and hug him. Hallucinations didn't talk-did they? His voice was rough and deep, and she'd never been happier to hear someone speak. "I more or less sense you most of the time, but if I focus hard enough I can see you." She looked at the scar across his left cheek. 'You're very clear today."
He frowned. 'And you can hear me?"
Randy tried not to grin. "I'm answering you, aren't I?"
"And yet, here we are talking and being all visible-like." She looked at him, from his long ebony black hair down to his black worn boots. "I have a lot of questions, mostly pertaining to whether I'm sane, but right now...I don't suppose you know anything about cars?"
Dark eyebrows shot up, he opened his mouth and then closed it for a moment "I have never actually been inside one until this moment."
"Ah. I figured as much." She reached around and grasped the key. "If this happens to start, I'll be driving like a speed demon to get home ASAP, so will you be able to chill right there and come with me or am I gonna watch you poof away again?" Serious pale blue eyes looked over every inch of her face.
"I don't think I comprehend the meaning of what you just said." He said it softly, still frowning.
Randy laughed. "Sorry. I want you to come to my house with me, is that possible?"
He opened his mouth then closed it for a moment, a serious look in his eyes. "I am not certain I will remain with your car when it's moving, but I will come to your home later on if I cannot."
She bobbed her head a few times, smiling. 'Cool." She let out a quick breath. "Cross your fingers."
Frowning again he looked down at his hands. "For what purpose?"
Randy chuckled. "Never mind!" She turned the key, it groaned a few times, a bit faster than before. She tromped on the gas and the car roared to life. Without looking beside her, she threw it into drive and slammed her foot on the gas, trying to get as close to home as fast as she could just in case it died again.
"I believe I will meet with you at your home. I do not like being in this thing while it is moving," he murmured between clenched teeth.
Randy glanced beside her and swore her ghost was slightly green and suffering from motion sickness. "Okay... Hey, what's your name?" She looked back at the road and gunned the gas pedal again.
Closing his eyes briefly, he opened them again quickly and swallowed. "Jareth Blackwood." He inclined his head to her. "Until later."
She glanced over to see him gone already. "Jareth," Randy whispered. Her ghost had a voice and a name; maybe today wasn't such a sucky day after all.