“Well, well, well. I certainly didn’t expect to see you here, love,” he said, absentmindedly twisting the ring on his finger. Things were going quite well...until she showed up. Yet there was something about her that brought a smile to his face, and he couldn’t help but admire how her olive skin glowed under the fluorescent lights.
“This one is mine.” Her voice sounded like broken windchimes; it was hollow and cold, but faded wisps of memories told him that it had once been a thing of beauty.
“Which one?” he inquired, eyes never leaving the scene in front of them. She glanced at him for the first time since entering the room. With burning grey eyes, she observed his crisp white suit and the matching calla lily in his hand. The bud had begun to open, spreading its delicate plumage across his palm. A long time ago, she might have felt something close to pity.
“You know which one.” The end of her sentence was punctuated by the tense orders of the doctor in front of them. Nurses rushed forward, ushering the woman’s husband out of the room as she let out another agonized cry.
He turned his eyes away from the woman in a moment of weakness; he didn’t want to watch her reaction. He allowed his attention to be drawn in by the black rosebud she twirled between her slender fingers. It matched the ebony gown that spilled out across the tile floor in silken waves. She stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on something he didn’t want to see. However, the woman’s piercing shriek drew him back in against his will. They watched as the doctor pulled the blanket-clad bundle out of her arms, and one of the nurses closed her eyes as emotion threatened to overwhelm her. He looked down at the lily in his hand, watching as it shriveled inward and crumbled to dust. Spreading his fingers, he allowed the fine grains to tumble into a free fall, swept away before they touched the floor.
She walked forward, dress swirling around her feet like a entourage of shadows. Placing her palm on the bundle in the doctor’s arms, she closed her eyes. The rose bloomed, its inky petals pressing against her cold palm. She dropped her other hand back to her side as the doctor exited the room, handing the bundle to one of the remaining nurses. Gazing down at the rose, she ran her fingers over its dark whorls, smoothing out any wrinkles or imperfections with an expert touch.
He watched as she approached, coming to a halt in front of him. Involuntarily, his eyes flicked down to her flower before meeting her gaze.
“You’ll take care of it?”
“I always do.” He smiled. It was a broken and crooked smile, the result of tangled emotions and old regrets that didn’t seem like the things he would carry on his shoulders. But he did, and he always would. Because some things never changed. A faint sparkle on her collarbone caught his eye. Reaching forward, he brushed the knuckle of his index finger along the silver chain, lifting it to reveal the ring at the end.
“I thought you got rid of this.” There was a moment of silence between them. For a moment, he thought he saw her gaze soften.
“Someone once told me that it would be wise to have something to hold on to.” He smiled down at her and let go of the chain, allowing the ring to slip back behind the fabric of her gown. Her lips twitched and he thought she might return the smile. No. The brief tenderness in her gaze disappeared and their usual steady chill faded back into existence. The woman in front of them melted into sobs despite the horde of nurses providing what comfort they could. She let out a strangled gasp, and he looked up. Their eyes locked. For a fleeting moment, he knew she saw them. His fingers automatically curled around where the lily should have been only to be met with the dull ache of his fingernails digging into his empty palm. He wanted to tell her that things would get better. That five years from now, she would be in the same place with a happier ending.
Death’s cold lips on his cheek averted his gaze from the grieving woman. A long forgotten thing stirred in his chest, and he leaned forward as she pulled away.
“You know the rules.” And with that, she was gone. His eyes caught the last wave of her gown as it slipped past the door, a pool of ink in a sea of white light. His feet carried him into the hall out of habit, leaving the woman in the company of the nurses. His emerald eyes darted left and right, still searching for something they could never quite catch.
The overwhelming scent of roses washed over him, and he swore he heard a familiar laugh...like broken wind chimes. A smile tugged at his lips as he leaned back against the wall. Dipping his head, he brushed the pad of his thumb over the silver ring on his finger. Some things never changed between the Reaper and her lover.