Then, as I lay down on the floor and the life began to drain out of me in a stream of silken crimson, I felt immeasurable pain. They say your life flashes before your eyes but mine didn’t flash. It crept along slowly and I was forced to relieve all the pain and the few fleeting moments of glory. I clung to those moments with Declan and Michael in Atlantic City, to me and Ludie making love in the theatre, to giving birth to Ingrid, to having my granddaughter’s arms around me despite the impossible odds. I tried to let them live in my mind, to win out over the pain and sorrow that was oh so present and oh so persistent. And I don’t know what side won. Was it the brief happiness I felt in the small things, the simple joys in my life? An accepting look or forgiving touch or sunshine in the backyard? Or was it the feeling of being deserted, abandoned, unknown and unloved?
Either way, I died with an aching heart for the things I suffered through and the things I loved. In the end, it’s all the same.
In the end.
Oh, but my story doesn’t end there, does it? I don’t think anyone’s does, I’m just one of the first people to tell you so.
Death seemed like an eternity of blackness but who knows how long the moment of emptiness and shadows really was. I opened my eyes and I was no longer on the floor of my room. I was no longer bleeding. I was standing beside the lake back in Sweden, back at my old house. It was grey here, it was dull and grainy but it was still home. I had gone home again.
I heard a throat clear from behind me so I took my eyes off of the shiny, beautiful lake and looked to the forest. Jakob was standing at the edge of it, leaning against a birch tree.
He smiled at me and held out his hand.
“Come with me, Pippa,” he said gently. “You’re not home yet.”
I grinned at him in return, pleased to see that I was no longer my incoherent self, but younger and able-bodied. I walked toward him up the slight grassy embankment that ran up the side of the house. My house where I grew up with its stone and wood and silence.
I was happy to see him, happy to go. But…
I stopped a few feet away and looked back at the lake. There in the middle of it, the water shimmered more than normal. A portal!
“Pippa,” he said in a warning tone.
I shook my head and looked at him apologetically.
“I can’t go yet.”
“There’s nothing you can do for them. They have their own lives to live.” He knew I was thinking about Declan and Perry. “You have yours to continue living. In another place. In your home.”
“No,” I told him, the lake holding my full attention. “If I can help them, at least help them find each other…”
“Fate will bring them together if it’s supposed to be that way.”
“Curse you and your fate!” I sneered at him, my anger surprising me. How had it followed me from one plane of existence to another?
His boyish face, forever young, showed no sign of annoyance. It’s like he expected it all along. Maybe he knew this to be my fate no matter what I said to him, no matter what I did. Fate would find me.
I looked down at the ground, at my feet that were no longer in the hospital slippers but in glossy, beautiful dancing shoes, ones I only dreamed of owning once upon a time. The sight of them made me smile again and I willed the anger to disappear.
I must remember these little joys, I thought to myself. Even in death.
“You’re not coming then?” he asked.
Somehow, even in the Thin Veil, I heard the call of birds across the water.
“No. I will not go. Not yet. I’ve made some mistakes that I’d like to make up for.”
I glanced quickly at Jakob. I could see he knew that I brought Perry across into this side all those years ago. I wasn’t sure if I ruined her life by doing so, if I made her see ghosts where there were no ghosts before, and I had to help her if I did. I had to help her anyway, because I cursed her to this life. As for Declan, I knew the potential he had and the life that knocked him around. He’d need me too. I just wasn’t sure how I’d make a difference at all.
But I had to try.
Jakob gave me a salute and walked into the woods. I knew I’d see him again. Until then, I wouldn’t move on.
I had to keep trying.
I’m still trying.
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