[The e-mails and phone call are from before the last full moon]
An email sent the evening after Ella left her note for Daniel explaining that she'd gone. There's no opening, as in a letter, it just begins abruptly, so:
Got your note. I understand you'd want to go home after this nightmare. Hospital said you were recovering and I didn't want to bother you while you were recovering. It goes on without appearing to notice the redundancy, or moving on to another line. Let me know when you get there alright, will you? Then, after two incongruous lines it says: P.S. Drop me a line if you hear anything from either of my parents. They seem to think I'm twelve and they're handing out allowance money that I'm spending on too much candy. Sorry. And finally, without fanfare: Daniel
By the time she receives the e-mail, Ella has settled into a quiet, two story apartment building in Nassau Bay, Texas. Her studio apartment opens onto the waterfront, and it’s about as un-Bellum Letale as a place could be; she chose it for that very reason. She considers mimicking his lack of greeting, but decides against it in the end:
Mr Webster, it begins. Home is a subjective term, I think. Not so much four walls and a roof, but what is inside. When I was little, I thought any place I stayed in for a long while would be home; I oversimplified, as children tend to do. Here she pauses and looks out the window, though it isn’t obvious to the reader, necessarily, as she doesn’t break her train of thought when she returns. Home is, for now, an apartment that opens onto sand and the blue, blue ocean. My family is not here, and I have never lived here myself, but the seagulls seem friendly. They send you their greetings.
The paragraph breaks, and a half hour passes before she returns to it. Your manager made quite the success of the flower shop. Have you visited? It’s exceptionally profitable (nary a book in sight), and I sent the figures and deed to your parents, paid in full. The money was ill-gotten, and I should hardly be the one to profit from it. As it is, I can’t grow anything as I could before, and the shop deserves to continue as it is.
The last paragraph is short, double spaced from the rest. I haven’t had the courage to turn in my apartment keys. Do you think I’ll forget, if I do?
Hate when you call me Mr., the return begins. The next line starts immediately. Glad that your place has a nice view and better airflow than this place. Daniel's paragraphs are not truly paragraphs, as he sends her lines of thoughts, disjointed and without flow or any of his usual quick edge. He does not craft. I haven't visited. I only like it when you're there, and you're not there. I didn't want a return on my investment, Ella, goddammit. It was for you. Can't you take anything from me that I want to give?
This email is sent, but another immediately follows.
I miss you.
Turn in the keys. You'll be happier.
The opening to his return e-mail makes her smile fondly, and she reads the remainder while running gloved fingers over the leaf of a plant on the edge of her writing desk. Have you not learned yet that I will continue to use the Mr. for as long as it differentiates me? There’s more to it than that, of course, something wrapped up in Austen’s hero’s and things in books, but that remains for him to read between the lines.
The sentence about the flower shop stands alone and unclassified by subject. I asked for it; there is a difference.
I spent quite a bit of time asking for things you weren’t ready to give. I realize that now, with time and distance.
When his follow up e-mail lands in her inbox, it makes her chuckle and smile wistfully by turns. I absolve you from any future need to apologize for your ill-temper, Mr. Webster. I can assure you that we are old companions, your temper and I.
The next paragraph is less carefully crafted, obviously so. I thought I would miss the building more than I do, and I thought I would change somehow, but I haven’t. No flowers, no gentling voice in my head, and I am still me. Are you still you?
And lastly, added before sending without giving herself the time to delete it. I miss you, also. You’d like the view; there are no people.
He is so grateful that she still wants to talk to him--even electronically--that he doesn't complain about wrong eras and fanciful things in books by long-dead authors. I am no different, he writes back, within minutes. The Beast has not come. Then, after two white lines: Which is probably for the best.
She hesitates in her next response, but distance and Russia gave her back her opinions, and she is no longer interested in hiding them; it’s liberating, and she blames no one but herself for the loss of them. Or for the worse. They only wanted good things for you, she writes, without clarifying who the ‘they’ is. I think we were both exceptionally grand disappointments to them.
I worry about them. The confession is true. It’s no coincidence that the full moon is circled on the calendar on her desk.
His response is short. The Beast wants good things for me so he can have his. Believe me, it is better he does not know she is gone.
They are still good things for you, Daniel, regardless of the reason behind it, she writes, but she leaves it at that and does not add more on the subject. She knows how the story goes, and she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t worried over it.
Sense and Sensibility is playing behind me on the television as I write this, and Marianne is crying most pitiably. Why is it, do you think, that she does not recognize Brandon as the better choice immediately, as the reader does? She asks. It’s random, very obviously just what she was thinking at the moment.
I am copy editing again, on contract. Teenage vampires pay amazingly well, and I can effect change there with little exertion. I admit, I missed it, the dialog of written words on a page. Even so, I miss the flowers.
She hits send and then hesitates.
She bites her lip, taps her gloved fingers against the keys, feeds the sugar glider and sends one more e-mail, immediately after the other. Did Mr. Webster find the pomander to his liking?
This is after the second email. He's had quite a bit more to drink now that he has the gift out again. Brandon isn't the better choice until she changes to suit him. Never liked that much about him. She had to go through hell and bring her standards down, I guess. Or Austen just liked setting her heroines up with enough money to keep them comfortable.
Glad you're editing again. You're good at it. Regular Samuel Johnson. I'd give you a recommendation, but you probably wouldn't accept it.
I miss your flowers to. The ones you lfet in the bathroom still smell nice though. Shampoo, or something?
He stares at it for a couple glasses, trying to think of what to say about the pomander, but in the end he shakes his head, stabs out one sentence, then hits 'send.'
It made me sad, is all. Not who we were, Ella.
She can tell he’s drinking, of course. Daniel is generally impeccable in his writing, even when he’s being non-conventional with it. I’m hoping my hands will be up to planting something before the summer is out, in the meantime, I’m making do with buying fresh every morning. I grew things before Bellum, and I’ll grow things after. I’ll send you some dried herbs, when I can. Those last longer than anything else for scents.
Willoughby chooses money over her. How is he the better choice? She grew up - you think that a bad thing?
She almost doesn’t comment on his final couplet, almost leaves it alone. Almost.
Then who are/were we?
Without thinking, he answers the email backwards, with what he read last first. Don't know who I am. Just notwho I was before. Before I would care what Vaughn said about a dead man and now its hard to thnik anything matters. Then on to the next line, no pause, just thought after thought, liquor slick. Don't think Willowby is the better choice. Saying that her choosing him was right for who she was before she changed. See? Then, it took some collecting, but he gets out: Don't send me things, it makes it hardr not to see you, alright? Sorry tried to think of better way to put it but couldn't
Her response is one line. Whoever said you couldn’t see me?
The mention of the dead man reminds her of the locked room and the crime laid out on the walls there, but she keeps that to herself for now.
Here, he returns. See you here wehn your not here
Bellum is not the world, Daniel, and you are not a prisoner of anything but your own mind, she says with more candor than she tends to give him. If you wish to see me, you can. I can travel, you can travel. I’ll even let you pay for my ticket. She knows he can’t handle a plane or a busy train, but she leaves the sentence as written. She’s always had more faith in his ability to free himself of the roof than he has. I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to see you; I left because I wanted to see if you wanted to see me. Not the Beast wanting to see Beauty. You. Me.
We aren’t them. I stand by that. Maybe we don’t know who we are, but I know who we aren’t.
No idea how you're so sure. His bitter amusement is clear in the extra effort he put into the punctuation.
Because who we have been for our entire lifetime can’t be washed away in a year. Yes, who we are can change based on what’s happened. You aren’t who you were before my sister did what she did to you, but that happened to you, not to the Beast. We change, not them, she says, a little softer in her opinion than she would have been once upon a time, but still speaking her mind. And the person I care about is an impossibly stubborn once-upon-a-time writer with a drinking problem and scathing wit; not something furry that growls and doesn’t speak often.
Funny wauto put it.
Go put on some coffee, Daniel, she types. Then, and then call me. I want to hear your voice.
A short pause.
Sound beter than i look.
It is twenty minutes later before he finds his phone, plugs it in (for the battery ran out), and calls.
She spent the twenty minutes finishing a chapter of editing, making a pot of tea and starting a bath. By the time the phone rings, she’s in the warm tub with a tug on the floor beside it and the scent of soothing lavender in the air. “I believe I should decide how well you look,” she tells him as she answers, trying to hide her nerves and not bothering to hide the touch of Kentucky in her voice. “Did you make your coffee?” She really means to ask if Rosalie is still taking care of his groceries, if Vlad’s making sure he’s alive every morning, if he has anyone there to keep him from getting lonely. “Does my Kat miss me terribly?”
He's been drinking, but he's not so drunk that he's slurring, a functioning kind of drunk that simply means he's not as sharp or as observant as usual, and he tends to say what he's thinking rather than think about what he's saying. It will take him a little while longer to hear the Kentucky, for now it's just Ella's voice. "Made it," he replies, with an odd hint of warmth on his sigh. "You sound good." He's pleased, and her stay in the hospital was hard on his nerves. "I didn't know you had a cat," he adds a moment later, with a small audible smile of amusement.
It’s good to hear his voice, despite everything, and she smiles. “I do. She’s largely white, and she lives on the roof of an apartment in New York, and I am certain she misses me most fiercely,” she says, a smile and a slosh of water audible over the line. “I feel better,” she says. She forgave him for not coming to her in the hospital about two weeks in, and her physical therapist was grateful he didn’t have to play her shrink any longer at the time. Recovery from burn wounds, she had learned, was something she didn’t want to ever do again; she blamed him and Jane for those first two weeks, when things were really terrible, but she was incapable of holding a grudge, and the anger soon melted away to something sad instead. “The sugar glider, however, says he doesn’t want you to mistakenly think your silent war has ended, simply because of new-found distance.” Her voice softens. “How are you, Daniel? The truth.”
The hospital waiting room kicked Daniel out several times over those first weeks, probably because he smelled like a liquor store and dressed like a homeless man. Once they told him she was recovering, however, he did what he always did and ran back home where he could hide from any further horrors that might befall either of them.
He gives a half-scornful, half-bemused snort at her mention of vengeful sugar gliders, but waves away (literally and figuratively) her final question. "Been worse," he answers shortly. His state is, actually, no worse than it had been before Jane--the real Jane--arrived. He tries to keep the conversation light. "Need to get out of here before m'dad shows up."
She thinks maybe his dad showing up might be a good thing, but then she remembers the journal entries she read, and she rethinks her conclusion. But still, there is something in the fear of the man getting him out of R1. She still thinks, as she always has, that getting out of that closed up apartment that turned him into an alcoholic would be a good thing. The fear exists, of course, that he might not be able to handle it - but he was fine in 905. Maybe not outside, no. Maybe not around the building, no. But in her apartment he hadn’t been scared, and she wants that for him. It’s almost like a prisoner going to back to his cell after he’s been released, and she thinks of those feral children that don’t know how to live inside when they’re rescued - but reversed.
“Where?” she asks. He has an invitation to where she is, and it stands, but she wonders if he wouldn’t be happier somewhere he knows. “Germany? Italy?” she asks. “I’ve always wanted to go abroad. If you go to Bath, I insist you take me.” It isn’t a careful hint, but they’re beyond that now. Regardless of everything and anything, she’d help him go wherever he needed to. She hopes he knows that. "It's quiet here."
The pause indicates he hadn't really thought about where he was going to go, or even the actuality of leaving. "I don't know. Guess I could go to one of those places. I've never been to Bath." It's some indication of how much Jane Austen he's read lately that he knows she's not talking about a bathroom somewhere exotic.
“Go to the airport, Daniel, and buy a ticket for the first place you see that isn’t where you’re at,” she suggests. She doesn’t think he’ll do it, but it’s a suggestion just the same. “Or come here. I’ll make you coffee.” She pauses thoughtfully. “The full moon is coming; it might not be a bad idea.” She smiles, her tone going playful. “Or Mr. Webster can take me to Bath, and he can expense it as literary research.”
"I used to do that," he says, without really answering. "I would just go to a train station somewhere and buy whatever was leaving town." His tone is not unpleasant, just reminiscent and low, very typical of men "in their cups" as the Beast liked to phrase it.
She realizes that he’s doing more remembering than actual talking to her, but that’s fine. At least she knows he’s safe; that matters, after everything. “Daniel,” she says softly, trying to tug him back from his reverie. “Do you think your father will really come?” she asks. She wonders if that would result in a fight, or in lashing out, or in more self loathing. She imagines that his family should be happy to know he’s alive and safe after all this time, but she doubts he’s what they’re expecting him to be, and it worries her, him judging himself through their mirror. She considers suggesting Jane, because anything is better than him confronting that alone, but she’s not that selfless, and the words can’t find their way past her lips.
He surfaces, rather readily, actually, and he makes a soft sound of thought in response as he buys time to mull it over. There’s some shifting, and judging from the sound he’s probably on the living room couch, which doesn’t so much rustle as creak. “I think so. Eventually. It’s been a few years an’ he doesn’t like it when I mess up the money stuff.” There’s a little smile for the last bit. He’s somewhat over that particular failure.
“What would it take to get you to walk out that door right now?” she asks, simply and straightforward, no venom in the asking. She’s always believed R1 was more a prison of his own making than anyone else’s, though she thinks he’d argue that point with her. So she keeps it to herself, and she listens to the shifting and the creaking. The couch. She wonders where Kat is, but she doesn’t ask that either.
He laughs, not pleasantly. “More guts than I got, apparently.” Pause as he takes a drink, and there’s no ice cubes to clink, but it’s fairly clear anyway. “Though can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen to the big bastard when the next moon comes.”
She listens to him swallow, and her own mouth doesn’t water with the need for a drink, which she’s glad of. “Do you have anything planned?” she asks him, and there’s worry in her voice. She knows the tale as well as he does, knows what happens and how it ends. “Come here?”
“Planned?” he wonders aloud. “For what?”
“For the moon,” she says simply. “For him.”
He’s vaguely surprised. “Like what? A letter, or something?”
“Something so he doesn’t panic. Let him know she’s fine, that she’s just visiting her father,” she says, because it matches the tale, and it’s the only thing she can think of that makes sense. “You can’t just not tell him anything,” she says, the worry evident in her voice over the line.
“Panic,” Daniel repeats vaguely. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Alright, I’ll write something.” He does not share her concern; in fact he seems rather resigned about that particular aspect of his existence at the moment.
She can hear the resignation in his voice, and she doesn’t like it in the slightest. She goes quiet for a moment, so quiet the only thing that can be heard on the line is breathing and the sound of the rapidly cooling water sloshing in the bath when she climbs out. She puts the phone on speaker as she dries off and dresses, and when she talks again the ocean is audible in the background, along with the wind whipping at the phone speaker. “Talk to me?” she says softly.
Daniel is clearly slow on the pickup, because after hearing all this sloshing about and rustling with a frown of concentration, he says, puzzled, “Were you in a swimming pool?”
“I was in the bath,” she tells him, and then, “you’re stalling.”
“Sexy,” he returns, with another vaguely drunken smile. He knows he’s stalling well enough, however. “The ocean sounds nice.” He’s listening hard. “Haven’t heard it in a while.”
She can’t help but laugh. “It’s somehow terribly unfair, you know, that you don’t even have to try to sound like that.” She can hear the smile in his voice, and she shakes her head with a smile of her own audible. “If you were here, I’d soundly kick sand in your face,” she said truthfully. “As you deserve it.”
Then she went completely quiet, and she stepped off the back steps into the apartment and walked onto the sand to the water’s edge, where the waves could be heard clearer through the line.
Silence on his end. He doesn’t even drink for a few minutes, just breathes, listening to the ocean. After several minutes of that, in which there is some worry that he might have fallen asleep, he says, in a rather thick voice, “Yes. That--” Clearing his throat, “sounds nice.” Lame. He sighs.
“You could come. No pressure. Just sit by the water,” she offers, and she means the part about no pressure. She’s past that at this point, past the trying too hard and making herself fit into something she isn’t. “Let me visit with my cat.”
“Don’t think I’d like the trip,” he hedges. “Destination would be nice.” He’s trying to reassure her, thoroughly clumsily, since he’s several glasses in, but earnestly enough.
She laughs a little, and she smiles quite a lot. “Quit that, Mr. Webster. It’s hardly necessary.” She goes quiet again a few moments, and there’s nothing but the waves in the background again. “You’d hate any trip, Daniel,” she says finally, voice kind but blunt. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make one. Which country do you like best?”
“Hating it is a good reason not to make one,” he returns, with only a touch of a slur. He sighs again, but a different kind of sigh, more of a tired sigh for her enthusiasm, and he replies, “This time of year, better to stay west and north.”
“Remember that then, when your father comes? West and north,” she repeats. “Before he even has a chance to say much of anything. Call a cab and leave,” she says, and her voice lets him know she’s worried about the eventuality. “One move, if you only want that one. Go online and find somewhere new, somewhere you’ll be happier. Germany, Italy, France.” She smiles. “Bath.”
“Mmm,” he says, bleakly. “By the time old dad comes--” (there’s a slight British overtone to that phrase) “--escape’s not an option until after he’s done with the lecture.” He groans a little bit and settles deeper into the couch. “You never know, Ella. Maybe the building will come down, and I’ll leave then.” Bad joke.
“If the building comes down, I expect you out before it does,” she says, and she sounds like her chin is upturned as she speaks, which it is. “It’d be entirely selfish to go down in a rubble when you’re the only person who can suitably discuss Austen’s intentions with me, even if you’re often mistaken.” It’s said softly, fondly.
He doesn’t respond in words, just chuckles at her and her priorities. “Good you got out,” he says, truthfully.
“I expect you to do the same,” she says. “After all, you need to be around long enough to realize you gave up a good thing,” she teases, and it’s obvious she’s smiling as she says it. “You have my number. Don’t forget to use it once you finally wise up.”
“By that time you’ll have found someone good and sane,” he says, doing his absolute damndest to sound light.
“Planning on turning good and sane, are you?” she asks, still smiling, more so at his attempt to sound light himself.
Muttering. “Not on your life.”
Smiling. “Good. I’d hate for you to suddenly turn boring on me.”
“You need boring,” he encourages, unthinkingly. “Nice stable boring.”
“Books have entirely ruined me for the Bingleys and the St. Johns of the world, Mr. Webster,” she assures. “Unfortunately, I seem not to have gotten the memo about the Wickhams and the Rochesters either, however. I’m not sorry, Daniel.” she adds softly, almost an afterthought.
He stops mid-slurp, coughs, and catches his breath to say, “You don’t?”
“Don’t get excited,” she says with a warm laugh. “I meant I’m not sorry about us. I’m sorry we ended the way we did, but you might wise up in time yet,” she quips, and it’s obvious she isn’t as sure about the words as she pretends, but it’s a good approximation. “That better still be your coffee,” she adds softly.
Another cough, of a different tone. “Should think you’d like to forget?” he ventures, nudging for more.
“Do you want to forget?” she asks simply. Just that.
He hesitates. “How far back do I get to go?”
“How far back would be worth it?” she asks quietly.
“You’d like who I was before,” he says, with some confidence, the first sign of any.
“Probably,” she admits with a smile. “I suspect I would have been staring at you from a distance, without being able to get anywhere near you,” she said truthfully, because despite what he said, there was enough of the man in the writer to get a good idea of his former confidence. “I like who you are now,” she adds. “And I like who you were last month, and the month before that, and the month before that. I even liked you in January.”
He doesn’t believe her. He laughs.
“Is it that hard to believe?” she asks. “And you never said how far back would be worth it? To forget everything after. What point?”
He doesn’t want to tell her about the alley and the blood, and she’s managed to convince him that his doubt isn’t funny. He sobers, and shifts uncomfortably on the couch. “Few years. Before I came to New York.” Not much of a pause. “Think it’s funny you can stand being around,” he mumbles. “Since you’re gone.” Question, really, less of an accusation.
“Before Vaughn,” she says, and it’s almost an apologetic thing, like she’s somehow genetically to blame for her sister’s actions. “Am I not supposed to want to talk to you once I’m not under the spell of a fairy tale?” she asks, assuming that’s what he means. “What I like about you, it has nothing in common with what Beauty likes about the Beast. I promise you, that man would never write a book, even when he did have opposable thumbs. And he would never read Austen,” she adds, softly fond. “Being hurt doesn’t change the things that I find fascinating about you, it just makes me want to kick sand in your face. I’m not very good at holding grudges, Daniel. I never have been. A fault, my mother always said.”
“Don’t know if I’d like your mother,” he responds, sort of like a tennis player thwacking a ball back, automatic and distracted. Did he only care about Ella because she was Beauty? They’d had that fight, thought that thought, and he had wondered it enough times. It didn’t matter anymore, because it the when and why and how were all so tangled up that he only had the results left.
She laughs softly. “My mother is entirely resilient, Daniel. If I was anything like her, I would have milked you for every last cent months ago; you aren’t exactly careful with your money,” she told him. “My father broke anything loving in her a long time ago,” she added softly.
“You don’t want any money,” he says, sounding a little resentful that she had broken that mold. “I would have given you some if you wanted it.”
“It’s not your money I’m interested in, Mr. Webster,” she says, teasing smile audible through the phone line. She pauses a moment. “You’ll tell me when you leave?” she asks, because if his parents are coming there is little doubt that he will - leave, that is.
“I’ll tell you if I leave.” The rephrasing wasn’t intentional, he was too drunk for that. He sounds, however, relatively at ease with the concept; it’s troubling but he’s not launching into panic over it.
“And you’ll take me to Bath,” she says, as if she’s certain he will, even though she’s nothing of the sort. “And don’t you even think of sending me one, round-trip airfare, Daniel.”
Guilty grumbling. “I thought you’d want to go. I wasn’t sending you away. S’not the same thing.”
She laughs. “The company is as important as the scenery, Mr. Webster.” She smiles, and he can hear her move the phone from one ear to the next, the sound of the waves coming through clearly with the movement. “I miss you. Don’t be a stranger.”
Sadly. “Goodbye.” He hung up before he could say anything more.