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The cathedral had always stood in ruins between Twelfth and Fourteenth on the east side of New Ardos. The blocks around it were lively enough, and on a larger scale the city was largely untouched by the recession, but the church managed to evade reconstruction and demolition efforts alike, and so it stood, a monument to Loss and Indifference. The grand arched ceiling, gilded, crowned, painted with murals of floods and ships and clouds and crosses, had long ago crumbled to nonexistence. Pillars now supporting nothing but the weight of the open sky stood lonely and crooked. The marble was chipped and cracked, and the once proud carvings of celtic knots now serve as handholds for creeping vines. The cross had fallen from the altar. Only the organ, silent now for so many years, could recall the grand music and prayer the building was once home to.
Shards of glass of the richest reds, blues, and golds crunched under her sandaled feet. She wore that day the same flowing white summer-dress that she wore when she last walked these ruined halls, one year ago. For the first time since, her perfect golden hair was done up in curls Aphrodite herself envied. Her face was, as always, free from makeup. Such would only cover her radiance. She wore no jewelry but a simple gold ring. It was set with a single small sapphire carved in the likeness of the first crocus of march. He had made it by hand. They were already living together when he came home one day with a trunkload of tools and grinders and polishers and Jewelry for Dummies tucked under his arm. “Oh,” he said. He flicked the hair from his royal blue eyes and they sparkled from his sun-dark face. “You weren’t supposed to be home. I had hoped to have the ring finished before I proposed.”
The ring glittered on her finger, a memory of the reckless fire of his eyes. She smiled. She smiled for the first time since she last entered the ruined cathedral. Then she caught herself remembering and recoiled from her own mind. Too often the memories had come; her tears were like a reflex. They were a constant, the way a smoker’s chronic cough is a constant. But this time the memories came and she found she was smiling. So she laughed a bit at herself, and she laughed a bit at her tears, and the small, awkward, out-of-practice chuckle echoed through the ruins, and the walls rejoiced in the music of it.
As the echoes faded, one wall said to his corner-mate, “It’s been too long since we’ve had music like that.”
“Too long,” said the other. “There’s something special when it comes from someone like her. It’s like wine aged in a barrel of sorrow.”
She brushed the rubble and dust and glass off a pew and laid on her back to stare up at the deep blue, early Autumn sky. A couple of puffy clouds rolled through; the sun was on her face and she was warm as she thought about him, actively thought about him, for the first time in far too long. She started (and she smiled at the fittingness of it) at the beginning. Their first couple of dates had been small things, hitting the library to read together for a while, getting coffee, pleasant little rendezvous along the river-walk. He never really asked her out. It was a simple case of longtime friends with a mutual, unspoken agreement to change the relationship. She couldn’t clearly remember him before, though. It seemed she knew him like a childhood companion for all the time she knew him; she couldn’t remember meeting him. Out of the fog of their early days the first clear memory of their time together was the first time he brought her to the cathedral. It lay in ruins even then, and through the changes of the years it remained a constant, as if Time, having completed His work there, moved on to his projects with the rest of the world. They were on a ramble through the city, and they stumbled there as if by chance. They talked late, until the sunset lit a fire through what remained of the stained glass, sending strangely static beams of crystal radiance through the church, lighting it with a beauty only found in the stories of the Elder Days. There was no more talking that day. There was no more need. Swiftly, though, dusk shouldered its way through their eternity. Their parting was quiet and intense that night, though they did not kiss.
The spot became a favorite of theirs, and they went often to escape the city and its people and noise and just be together, mind dancing with mind through the rubble and conversations. Autumn wore on and they stayed longer in the cold than others would endure, warmed by company and the magic of the ruins.
“Want to know why I first brought you here?”
She glanced sidelong at him, smiling already at whatever was to come. “Sure.”
He stared off into the nowhere of his mind instead of answering. His face was so solemn, so gently severe as he brooded over ‘ephemerals’ or ‘inconstants,’ ‘serenities’ or ‘meditatives,’ ‘I’s or we’s.’ At last he said, and he did not look at her as he said it, his radiant, confidant mask dissolving, revealing his gorgeous, self-conscious inner self, “This place is strange. You’d think the ruinous nature of the place would be a turn-off, make it depressing, but it doesn’t. It’s like there’s nothing left to happen here, so the universe doesn’t care what anyone here does. Anywhere else, it’s like the Universe, or Time, or something like that is watching, but here we can get away from people and any ephemeral watchers at the same time.” There was a pause. He stared off into oblivion for a moment as long as the lonely voyage of the cold, distant starlight in the space of a heartbeat. He resumed, talking slowly, chewing each word before he said it. “And when none of them are watching, it’s like the place has no time; like nothing can ever change. It feels so forever here. And so I tried to make sure our best memories would be here in this forever.”
They were sitting side by side. She leaned until she fell against his side and stayed there, lulled by love and warm summer and his muscle and bone beneath her cheek. “I love you,” she said, and promptly fell asleep.
A birdcry tore her from her dreams. She found her face was sore from smiling. Muscles had atrophied, she joked grimly to herself. The smile for a moment became the wry smirk; much more comfortable, familiar. She noticed and sighed. A chill breeze reminded her of the lateness of day and of season. She began to regret her choice of clothes. The breeze left her shivering and thinking of other times, worse times, cold times. As much as she tried to stop the flow of memories, a darker will kept them flowing. She remembered the first dark day of the Other.
It was as any time they had gone to the cathedral. Must have been late november by this point. It was cold, but just warm enough to convince oneself that it would be worth it to go, even for a little while. She brought hand warmers. He brought his thick warm coat and a willingness to wrap her in it with him. But it was not to be. The spell of that place was broken, at least for a day. Another bundled figure was there when they arrived. He was slight and sharp of feature, exceedingly slim. The years worked early on his hairline, and his eyes were rimmed with red. His hands shook with a desperation for something other than warmth. “Phil?” she breathed, incredulous. “What are you doing here?”
“I -- I --” he stammered. “I found out you came here sometimes, and I wanted to see you again.” A pause. He looked at his shuffling feet. “I’ll be going now.”
“No, Phil, wait,” she called, but he was gone.
“Perhaps coffee would be better today,” the man at her side brooded. “The wind’s a bit more, well, wind than I expected.”
She nodded, lost in thought.
At the coffee shop, The Old Stone Brew, they were silent for a long time. At last he broke the silence. “You knew that man?”
“Mhm. We went to the movies together once or twice in highschool. Nothing ever came of it. He was pushy. I didn’t react well to it.”
More silence. “Why was he here today?”
“I don’t know.”
Before she could get any farther down that dark road, the sunset arrived and the ruins became a fairytale land of radiance. The breeze died down, and the sun seemed just a bit warmer off the horizon, and she was saved from the darkness for a little while. She wandered the ruins for a while, enjoying the now and the colors and the wreckage and the birdsong. But even in that timeless place the Sun still has its cycles, and before long there was no light but what reflected pink and blue down from the nightening sky. Her thoughts drifted to the one time they came by the light of the stars.
It was late spring, Beltane, he told her, and he lit a fire in the middle of the church. At her mild worry, he said, “Time is done with this place, so the fire can’t possibly hurt it,” and he smirked at something he would not tell her. They talked the night away under the stars, and when the moon was at the azimuth, and the fire was dying low, he showed her the ring she wears today, and asked for her hand in marriage, and she accepted, and they kissed under the stars.
It was wellnigh morning when they parted. He insisted that they go home separately. Some ritual thing; “It would be wrong otherwise,” he said, or something like that. She was used to such whims from him, and went along playfully. She hailed a cab and slept most of the way home. At some point in the heart of the city, she was awoken by an ambulance siren. She thought nothing of it.
On the news the next morning (She was watching alone; he still had not returned. She figured he was making preparations for a surprise of some sort; probably romantic, almost certainly overblown.) she saw that Phil had been arrested last night for murder.
Then came the call. He was hiding in the ruins all night. As soon as she left, he leapt upon her fiancé with a knife. He had been stabbed once through the heart. He died almost instantly. They were so sorry.
The moon found her crying amid the rubble before the broken altar. She looked up to see the hand of Jesus reaching down from what was left of the stained glass window. By age or by wind or by some chance of fate, the rest of the glass shattered and fell around her. On the altar landed the shard with the hand. Grabbing it, she lay on the altar like a princess in her barrow. “Lord, grant me one last prayer. By your hand, take my heart and bring it to him that lost his so cruelly.”
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The worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren't worth the truth.