Love is the Phoenix
copyright by J. Crispin-Ripley 2001-2006
Robert placed the flowers against the lamp post, took a step back and bowed his head. Late on Halloween the only sounds were distant cars and leaves skittering across the empty road. Warm light shone from windows but otherwise the neighbourhood was deserted. All the young trick-or-treaters would be safely at home and the adults at parties just nicely underway. Robert was alone in the world.
Five years earlier he had been Romeo and Emily, Juliet. Early in the evening they were on their way to a party. Anne, Emily's kid sister, was in the back seat and Emily and he were teasing Anne that an advantage of being a Goth was that on Halloween everyone assumed you were dressed as a vampire.
Anne gave as good as she got, questioning their choice of costumes. "Romeo and Juliet never made it to the altar you know. No, you don't. Neither of you dummies ever bothered to read the play. It's a tragedy guys, a real tearjerker."
Anne probably regretted that comment later. Robert regretted not checking the cross street before he drove through the green light. The car that killed Emily came through a red. He remembered a scream. It had been Anne. Emily hadn't screamed, hadn't known, hadn't felt a thing. Since then Robert hadn't felt much either.
Emily and Robert had known and loved each other all their lives, growing up in each others' houses. Her family still lived a block away, next door to Robert's old home. He didn't know how they could stand passing the place Emily had died. Maybe they took a route to avoid it. He came back once a year, on the anniversary. He came back on Halloween.
Robert hadn't lived in the neighbourhood for years. His parents had moved to the other side of the city when he and Emily were fifteen, not approving when a deep-rooted friendship budded into full-blown romance. At first they had thought he would grow out of his infatuation but when he hadn't, they had taken steps. Some of their best friends were... of different faiths, Emily's parents for instance, but they didn't want their only son marrying one, one so dark and so obviously different. Robert had forgiven them, then, because Emily's parents and Emily insisted he do so. But if his parents hadn't moved, hadn't pulled him away, he wouldn't have been driving that night. If his parents were what they said they were, not what they really were, Emily would be alive and with him. They might have children by now.
Robert sensed a presence behind him. He hadn't heard footsteps, just the wind blowing dead leaves and the sound of cars in a faraway world. Emily?
"She doesn't want this."
"How would you know?" Robert stood and turned to face Anne. At twenty, the age Emily had been, Anne was an eerie echo of her sister, a living shade: about the same height, slighter, with pale skin that never saw sun, obsidian eyes and jet black hair. Seeing her was as painful as expected, which was why Robert hadn't visited Anne and her parents since Emily had gone.
"I know what Emily wants because I am still her beloved sister. She talks to me, Robert. How do you think I knew you were here?"
"One of the neighbours saw me and called you," Robert answered.
"Yes, it could have happened that way." Anne held out a skeletal hand. "Emily wants me to take you home, Robert. You're ready to accept she has passed beyond this world and that you are still very much in it. I know my sister's desires."
Anne's grip was stronger than Robert had thought possible from someone so frail in appearance. She guided him along sidewalks he knew well. He remembered the way, but with his eyes blinded couldn't have made it on his own. Anne was taking him home but she wasn't. She couldn't. Emily wouldn't be there. Emily wouldn't be there with him.
They stopped on the steps that had known a first kiss and a last. Anne unlocked the door with her free hand. "My parents aren't home." She took him inside and to the couch. With the drapes open the living room was flooded with shadows.
Anne put an arm around him."Don't be concerned about my reputation, Robert. It's long since ruined and besides, I'm family."
That brought him out of it, a little. "I've never considered you anything else." He remembered Anne as a gap-toothed brat in pigtails, and as a tomboy with skinned knees and an impish smile. She was mischief and adventure. He remembered Anne going on dates and coming back to huddle and giggle with Emily. Because of who she was he assumed Anne had also sought and found adventure there also. He never had asked either sister. Emily wouldn't have told him and Anne wouldn't have withheld a thing.
"Good. I've never considered you anything other than family either, Robert." Anne stood, pulling him to his feet with her unforeseen power. "It's almost time. Emily will be with us always but especially tonight. At midnight on All Hallows' Eve the souls of the dead visit their homes."
Robert couldn't breathe. Sorrow was choking him. Anne steered him out of the living room and down the hall. By instinct Robert stopped in front of Emily's door and reached for the knob.
Anne pulled him away from it. "No. That's Dad's study now. We're going to my room."
She opened a door into a deep darkness. "Stand here."
Anne let go and Robert felt totally alone. It was all he could do to stay on his feet. He hear a match striking. A candle flickered into being. Anne appeared in front of him, flames dancing in both her coal eyes. "She loves us both, Robert and we love each other. Flames flicker and wane but love is the phoenix, reborn from ashes."
Arms around him, arms of merciful passion. A hand at the base of his spine. A finger slowly tracing upwards, sending tremors through him. Robert floated in Anne's loving arms. Yes, it was Anne and would always be Anne and Emily was there, in Anne and in him and he was Anne and Anne was him and it was Halloween and he was finally forever home.