You knew it when I carried you two sweaty miles to the River Jordan after you got sick outside Jerusalem. I told you not to eat all those dates. You knew it when you were my nurse in that Italian hospital during the first World War, and before that when I hid in your cellar during the tsar's purge of St.
Petersburg. When I scaled the turret of your castle in Scotland during the Reformation, and danced you around and around at the king's coronation ball at Versailles. You were the only woman dressed in black.
There was that artists' colony in Quintana Roo, and the protest march in Cape Town where we both spent the night in the pen. The opening of the Globe Theatre in London. We had the best seats in the house.
And when my ship wrecked in Tahiti, you were there, as you were when I was a convict in Melbourne, and a pickpocket in eighteenth-century Nimes, and a monk in Tibet. You turn up everywhere, always, and sooner or later you sense all the things I've just told you. But you won't let yourself accept what you feel might be the truth."
Daniel stopped to catch his breath and looked past her, unseeing. Then he reached over, pressing his hand to her knee and sending that fire through her again.
She closed her eyes, and when she'd opened them, Daniel was holding the most perfect white peony. It practically glowed. She turned to see where he had plucked it from, how she hadn't noticed it before.
There were only weeds and the rotting flesh of fallen fruit. They held the flower together.
"You knew it when you picked white peonies every day for a month that summer in Helston. Remember that?" he stared at her, like he was trying to see inside her. "No," he sighed after a moment. "Of course you don't. I envy you for that."
But even as he said it, Luce's skin began to feel warm, as if it were responding to the words her brain didn't know what to make of. Part of her wasn't sure of anything anymore.
"I do all of these things," Daniel said, leaning into her so that their foreheads touched, "because you're my love, Lucinda. For me, you're all there is." Luce's lower lip was trembling. Her hands went slack in his. The flower's petals sifted through their fingers to the ground.
"Then why do you look so sad?"
It was all too much to even begin to think about. She leaned away from Daniel and stood up, wiping the leaves and grass from her jeans. Her head was spinning. She had lived before?
She waved him off. "I think I need to go somewhere, by myself, to lie down." She leaned her weight on the peach tree. She felt weak.
"You're not okay," he said, standing up and taking her hand.
"I'm so sorry." Daniel sighed. "I don't know what I expected to happen, telling you. I shouldn't have ..."
She would never have thought a moment could come when she'd need a break from Daniel, but she had to get away. The way he was looking at her, she could tell he wanted her to say she would find him later, that they would talk about things more, but she was no longer sure that was a good idea. The more he said, the more she felt something waking up inside her - something she wasn't sure she was ready for.
She didn't feel crazy anymore - and she wasn't sure Daniel was, either. To anyone else, his explanation would have made less and less sense as it went along. To Luce ... she wasn't sure yet, but what if Daniel's words were answers that could make sense out of her whole life? She didn't know. She felt more afraid than she ever had before.
She shook his hand loose and started toward her dorm. A few strides away, she stopped and slowly turned.
Daniel hadn't moved. "What is it?" he asked, lifting his chin.
She stood where she was, at a distance from him. "I promised you I'd stick around long enough to hear the good news."
AN OPEN BOOK
Luce collapsed on her bed, giving the weary springs a jolt. After she'd fled the cemetery - and Daniel -
she'd practically sprinted up to her room. She hadn't even bothered to turn on a light, so she'd tripped over her desk chair and stubbed her toe hard. She'd curled into a ball and gripped her throbbing foot. At least the pain was something real that she could cope with, something sane and of this world. She was so glad to finally be alone.
There was a knock on her door.
She could not catch a break.
Luce ignored the knock. She didn't want to see anyone, and whoever it was would get the hint. Another knock. Heavy breathing and a phlegmy, allergy-ridden throat-clearing sound.
She couldn't see Penn right now. She'd either sound crazy if she tried to explain all that had happened to her in the last twenty-four hours, or she'd go crazy trying to put on a normal face and keep it to herself.
Finally, Luce heard Penn's footsteps treading away down the hallway. She breathed a sigh of relief, which turned into a long, lonely whimper.
She wanted to blame Daniel for unleashing this out-of-control feeling inside her, and for a second, she tried to imagine her life without him. Except that was impossible. Like trying to remember your first impression of a house after you've lived in it for years. That was how much he had gotten to her. And now she had to figure out a way to wade through all the strange things he'd told her tonight.
But at the edge of her mind, she kept spiraling back to what he'd said about the times they'd spent together in the past. Maybe Luce couldn't exactly remember the moments he'd described or the places he mentioned, but in a strange way, his words weren't shocking at all. It was all somehow familiar.
For example, she had always inexplicably hated dates. Even the sight of them made her feel queasy.
She'd started claiming she was allergic so her mom would stop trying to sneak them into things she baked. And she'd been begging her parents to take her to Brazil practically her whole life, though she never could explain exactly why she wanted to go. The white peonies. Daniel had given her a bouquet after the fire in the library. There had always been something so unusual about them, yet so familiar.
The sky outside her window was a deep charcoal, with just a few puffs of white cloud. Her room was dark, but the pale full blooms of the flowers on her windowsill stood out in the dimness. They'd sat in their vase for a week now, and not a single petal had withered.
Luce sat up and inhaled their sweetness.
She couldn't blame him. Yes, he sounded crazy, but he was also right - she was the one who had come to him again and again suggesting that they had some sort of history. And it wasn't only that. She was also the one who saw the shadows, the one who kept finding herself involved in the deaths of innocent people.
She'd been trying not to think about Trevor and Todd when Daniel started talking about her own deaths - how he had watched her die so many times. If there had been any way to fathom such a thing, Luce would have wanted to ask whether Daniel ever felt responsible. For the loss of her. Whether his reality was anything like the secret, ugly, overriding guilt she faced every day.
She sank onto the desk chair, which had somehow made its way to the middle of the room. Ouch. When she reached underneath her, hand groping for whatever hard object she'd just plopped down on, she found a thick book.
Luce moved to the wall and flicked on her light switch, then squinted in the ugly fluorescent light. The book in her hands was one she'd never seen before. It was bound in the palest gray cloth, with frayed corners and brown glue crumbling at the bottom of the spine.
The Watchers: Myth in Medieval Europe.
Daniel's ancestor's book.
It was heavy and smelled faintly of smoke. She tugged out the note that was tucked inside the front cover.
Yes, I found a spare key and entered your room unlawfully. I'm sorry. But this is URGENT!!!
And I couldn't find you anywhere. Where are you? You need to look at this, and then we need to have a powwow. I'll swing by in an hour. Proceed with caution.
Luce laid the note next to the flowers and took the book back to her bed. She sat down with her legs dangling over the edge. Just holding the book gave her a strange, warm buzzing sensation just below her skin. The book felt almost alive in her hands.
She cracked it open, expecting to have to decode some stiff academic table of contents or dig through an index at the back before she'd find anything even remotely related to Daniel.
She never got beyond the title page.
Pasted inside the front cover of the book was a sepia-toned photograph. It was a very old carte de visite-style picture, printed on yellowing albumen paper. Someone had scrawled in ink at the bottom: Helston, 1854.
Heat flashed across her skin. She yanked her black sweater over her head but still felt hot in her tank top.
The memory of Daniel's voice sounded hollow in her mind. I get to live forever, he'd said. You come along every seventeen years. You fall in love with me, and I with you. And it kills you.
Her head throbbed.
You're my love, Lucinda. For me, you're all there is.
She fingered the outline of the picture glued inside the book. Luce's dad, the aspiring photography guru, would have marveled over how well-preserved the image was, how valuable it must be.
Luce, on the other hand, was hung up on the people in the image. Because, unless every word out of Daniel's mouth had been true, it made no sense at all.
A young man, with light cropped hair and lighter eyes, posed elegantly in a trim black coat. His raised chin and well-defined cheekbones made his fine attire look even more distinguished, but it was his lips that gave Luce such a start. The exact shape of his smile, combined with the look in those eyes ... it added up to an expression that Luce had seen in every one of her dreams these last few weeks, And, over the last couple of days, in person.
This man was the spitting image of Daniel. The Daniel who had just told her that he loved her - and that she had been reincarnated dozens of times. The Daniel who had said so many other things Luce didn't want to hear that she had run away. The Daniel whom she'd abandoned under the peach trees in the cemetery.
It could have been just a remarkable likeness. Some distant relative, the author of the book maybe, who'd funneled each one of his genes straight down the family tree right to Daniel.
Except that the young man in the picture was posed next to a young woman who also looked alarmingly familiar.
Luce held the book inches from her face and pored over the woman's image. She wore a ruffled black silk ball gown that hugged her body to her waist before billowing out in wide black tiers. Black lace-up wristlets encased her hands, leaving her white fingers bare. Her small teeth showed between her lips, which were parted in an easy smile. She had clear skin a few tones lighter than the man's. Deep-set eyes bordered by thick eyelashes. A black flood of hair that fell in thick waves to her waist.
It took a moment for Luce to remember how to breathe, and even then, she still couldn't tear her strained eyes away from the book. The woman in the photograph?
It was her.
Either Luce had been right, and her memory of Daniel had come from a forgotten trip to a Savannah mall, where they'd posed for cheesy dress-up shots at Ye Old Photo Booth that she also couldn't remember - or Daniel had been telling the truth.
Luce and Daniel did know one another.
From an altogether different time.
She could not catch her breath. Her whole life tossed in the roiling sea of her mind, everything came into question - the itchy dark shadows that haunted her, the gruesome death of Trevor, the dreams.
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