"Wow!" She muttered in breathless wonder, her neck craned backward to allow a better view of what was above.
The scent of flowers was overpowering enough to set even my skeptical and jaded soul at ease.
Yet it was the pure bliss in those hazel eyes clouded by age, the joy in her wide smile that truly filled me with a warmth my body hadn't known in centuries. Warmth.
And such a leaden dread I couldn't shake. "This must be what Eden looks like!"
She glanced at me excitedly before she swung her arms wide and twirled around like a little girl playing in the rain.
I couldn't help the laughter that bubbled from my chest at the sight, but her age betrayed itself when she hunched over and heaved a breath and I felt that familiar dread steel in my spine.
Even my unnatural strength could hardly stop me from rushing to her side, so I shoved my hands into the pockets of my pants to distract them as she straightened and laughed at herself.
I tore my eyes away, the spritely memory of her galloping across sandy beaches clouding my reality. When I looked back at her I found her staring at me with those wizened eyes, patiently.
I scrutinized her for a moment before the corner of my lips was pulled up in a smirk.
"Isn't that what you said about the last ten places we've visited?" I questioned her, a playful challenge in my voice. Her grin broke wide once again.
"Well, yes. But perhaps Eden is this and all of those things as well! Besides, you never truly know!" How such a simple, casual statement could cut so deep; I looked down once again.
"You're right. I can never know."
"Oh," she approached me, placing her hands on my arms. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
"I know," I sighed. Looking up, I finally took in the scene. Rows upon rows of violet, white, and maroon flowers hanging like vines, enclosing the space in a surreal atmosphere.
I thought perhaps in that moment I finally understood what she meant about Eden, but she threw off any further contemplations with her next question.
"Why did you come back for me after all this time?"
It was surprising and yet a question I had been expecting to come at any moment during this expansive journey.
"I never truly left, you know." My hands were back in my pockets, and I felt my shoulders hunch with the embarrassment of that admission. "I couldn't just... leave you. I always kept an eye on you."
Her eyes widened in surprise before they twinkled with amusement. "So you were that figure in the shadows all these years!"
If there was blood still coursing through my veins, I was sure it would have all rushed to my face then.
I chuckled "Yes, probably," and shrugged in an attempt to confirm my indifference; she always saw through my facades, however.
"You spent the last half century following me around!" It felt like it should be an admonishment but her frail, gaunt hands reached for my face.
"I was so sure you would be upset enough to leave the country and start over again somewhere new."
My eyebrows shot to my hairline and laughter rumbled from my stomach. "Someone is full of herself!"
She was surprised by the comment and stepped away, straightening the light scarf around her neck indignantly.
"Well, I just- I figured-" She was at a loss for words; she reminded me so much of her younger self, a bumbling ball of timidity and indignation.
"I have spent that last half century loving you. I couldn't simply let you go. You were... are the only woman to push me away first."
I opened my mouth to say more but found myself at a loss for words just the same.
"The only mortal to challenge an immortal?"
"Well, yes, essentially!" I laughed. "Not the only mortal to take a stance in all of history, but indeed the only one to do so to me, in my long lifetime."
"I wanted you to leave... because otherwise I would have asked you to stay. And that wouldn't have been fair, especially to you. And still you came back."
"I always have. I always will." I shrugged as if it were an inarguable fact.
"You know... some would say you're cruel. Having your way and your fun, taking off at the first sign of grays, and then waltzing back in to a woman's end of life as if there were no harm done."
She stated this so matter-of-factly, her voice edged with a tone I knew to be facetious, but the words felt like the pinpricks of toothpicks being dug into my skin.
"Actually, I was not the one who took off this time around, as I believe we just discussed." It was a prideful reproach I knew to be unnecessary but couldn't contain nonetheless. "But. You are right. I am cruel."
This was not a confession made for the first time.
She had been gazing up at the flowers again and I saw all of her features soften before she rolled her neck to look at me. "No. You are not cruel."
She turned to face me and took in as big a breath as she could, eyes closed and nose to the sky. "Look at what you've done for me." She gestured around her.
"You've made me feel young again! This gallivanting from one country to the next, just like all of those adventures we used to talk of taking!"
"I don't think your daughter is a huge fan of what we're doing. Or of me for that matter," I said, grinning.
She giggled. "She simply hasn't processed it all yet. We did sort of spring the idea of Vampirism onto her three minutes before you threw me on a plane to Venice!"
"I did not throw you anywhere! Plus when she recognized me from the photos, I just thought she knew!" I mentally admitted it wasn't my finest moment.
She laughed joyously. "She'll be fine. She's just worried, is all. She still thinks I should be home undergoing an onslaught of treatments."
"She's strong-willed and bull-headed, just like her mother."
"Yes, yes she is!" She was looking around again and had begun taking slow steps down the tunnel.
"Usually..." My voice was quiet and she must have sensed my seriousness as she came to a halt and turned toward me once again, arms wrapped loosely around herself.
"Usually when I feel there is an opening to come back, it's too late... I just wanted to do more than say goodbye. I wanted to give you these adventures in the end, if nothing else. But I do agree with your daughter; after we're done here I'm taking you home so that you can-"
"I am an 88-year old woman," she interrupted, voice stern. "I have lived my life and lived it as best I could and I think I did a good job of it. I was married for forty beautiful years. I have a strong, intelligent daughter. I don't want to fight for borrowed time. I just want to live. And enjoy whatever time I'm given."
She was stoic, unmoving, and I knew any argument would be futile. This was always a woman who knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. Such a wondrous soul to be leaving this world.
What a shame.
Closing my eyes I sighed in resignation and took a moment to tame the panic and worry that rolled in my gut. When I opened my eyes again, resolve steeled, I found hers resolute, challenging.
Chuckling after a moment, I said simply: "Then live we shall."
----- (c) SabrinaS, 2020