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She sighed. “You haven’t said anything that I didn’t know when we said our vows.”
Daniel looked sick. “Why on earth did you marry me, Charlotte?”
Charlotte reached over, lifting Daniel’s chin, turning his head to make him look at her. “Because I loved you.” she said. “And I knew that you loved me.”
“I don’t know if this will ever change.” said Daniel. “How could you love me knowing that? How can we go on?”
Charlotte was silent for a few minutes as she wrapped an arm around Daniel’s waist. She pulled him close as he gave her a pleading look.
“Love is patient.” she whispered. She held Daniel close, tucking his head under her chin as she looked heavenward. Elijah could see the tears rolling down her cheeks and the deep breath she took. She could tell that she wasn’t only speaking to Daniel.
“Love is kind.” she said. “Love does not anger. Love does not boast.” With each word, her voice grew stronger. As she spoke, Daniel closed his eyes. Elijah felt his heart slowing, Charlotte’s voice sending calm rushing through him. He shut his eyes too, hanging on her every word. Charlotte kissed Daniel’s temple gently. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”
There was stillness for a few moments as the snow fell, covering the two as if they had turned to stone in each other’s arms. “These are my vows to you Daniel.” said Charlotte. “You don’t need to ask how I can love you. All love in this broken world is a miracle. There’s no point in questioning miracles. The only thing you need to know is that I will be kind to you. I will be patient. Everything that love is, I will be toward you. I will honor Eliza by showing you every ounce of love that you deserve. Daniel, I’m not asking you to love me more than her. I’m asking you to wake each morning. Ask yourself if you love me. If the answer is yes, then be the embodiment of that love toward me. I’m not in competition with Eliza. She has her place in your heart, that belongs to her.” There was silence for another long moment, as Charlotte stroked Daniel’s hair absently, letting him absorb everything. “You can love her, Daniel.” she said. “Don’t waste your energy worrying about who you love more.”
Daniel leaned heavily against his wife, his eyes closed. From what Elijah could feel, he was at a loss for words. Charlotte seemed to understand this as she kissed him one last time, before pulling him to his feet. He looked numb as she wrapped an arm around his waist. “We’ve spent too long in this cold.” she said softly, beginning to pull him toward the gate. Daniel’s spirit watched them go without following. Elijah waited as their footsteps faded away, watching them disappear slowly down the street. The new silence filled the graveyard as Daniel’s spirit looked idly at Eliza’s grave.
Elijah folded his arms as the snow continued to fall. “You didn’t deserve her.” he said to Daniel, unable to keep a smirk off his face.
Daniel laughed, nodding his head vigorously. “Elijah, that’s the most insightful thing I’ve heard you say yet. As she walked me home on this night, that was the main thing running through my mind. Before this moment in our marriage, my resentment toward Charlotte was at an all time high. As if she was the reason I couldn’t be with Eliza. ”
“What happened after this?” asked Elijah.
Daniel winced, but smirked. “Nothing glamorous, I assure you. The next morning I woke up feeling beaten. But I asked myself, do I love her? The answer was yes. Every morning, for the rest of my life the answer was yes, more enthusiastically each day. Every day I watched her. She was so full of light and love, Elijah. She made love a game, and I never even noticed until she reminded me. It took me years of watching her to realize the gift she gave me. By asking me just to love her, and letting me continue to love Eliza, she showed me more love than anymore else in my entire life.” He paused for a moment, letting a smile play across his lips. “She was the one.”
Elijah raised an eyebrow. “Did you ever tell her that? It must have killed her to hear you say otherwise.”
“I never said it out loud to her. But she knew. I made sure of it. When I loved Eliza it was like fireworks exploding. It was loud and colorful and it looked perfect. But in the end, Eliza didn’t take my name because there wasn’t enough of either of us present there in that love. We set the fuse but we couldn’t keep it burning. Had she lived, we would have been miserable.”
He looked at her grave, holding out his hand as a rose materialized in his palm. He laid it on the snow before her headstone, then looked back up at Elijah. “Charlotte taught me to build love. We didn’t have explosive fireworks. We had a small and steady flame, and we grew it and fed it with every passing day. We fed it with pieces of ourselves, and it grew out of the ugliest moments of our lives.” He sighed, clearly still in awe of his great luck. “I loved her so much.” he said. “What a thing it was Elijah, to be entirely known, and yet loved still.”
Elijah crossed his arms. “I’ve tried not to think about love too much.” He said. “Even after reading about it in my books. The concept of it is foreign to me.”
“Ah.” said Daniel, raising his eyebrows. “Therein lies the problem, Elijah. You are entirely unloved, and you love no one in return.”
A flash of deep, terrible sadness moved through Elijah, and this time he knew the emotions were his alone. Powerful and overwhelming, the sadness quickly twisted itself into anger. “So what’s the point of all this?” he asked angrily. “Are you here to gloat, to lord your humanity over me? To show me what I’m missing?”
To be continued