A love story. I don’t usually like love stories, but this one came right out of me. I don’t usually finish my own writing, but this time I did. So. So I guess there’s nothing to it but putting it up.
He was the most charming person she had ever met. His dark eyes shone with the alacrity of stars. When he smiled, it was a supernova shattering her world and bringing heaven down on Earth. When asked who she wanted to ask to the prom, who she wanted to spend the last night of her senior year, the last time she’d ever affiliate herself with her public high school in the middle of nowhere, it was no question. It was a tease. It was never a question.
That was, until her friends told her he was a devil.
“Do you remember that time when Hell broke and the devils and imps and monsters started to come to this side?” her best friend said, not looking up from her textbook. “Some of them stayed after the war was over.”
“So if he’s a devil what difference does that make?”
“Devils eat human souls. See,” she showed her the book, a research on supernatural creatures, printed five years ago, only ten years after the war ended and enough time to brag that the research was done right. Among others, the page told her that devils were tricksters, the most powerful and despicable races in the underworld. “You shouldn’t get caught up with them,” her friend concluded.
She gave it some thoughts, and then she went to her grandfather, who had fought in the war, and asked him what he thought of devils.
“I’d hardly call it a war,” her grandfather said, rather curiously. “There were agreements drawn up as soon as they came. I suppose the diplomatic tangle was a mess. There were more paperworks than I thought possible, when I was clerk. But in any case, it proceeded peacefully and ended peacefully.”
“Grandpa, you haven’t answered my question.”
“Devils,” he snorted. “Don’t ever get your paperworks through devils. Don’t ever let them draw up your contracts. They make the most guileful small prints.”
It was three days before prom night, when she sat down to ask him about wars and devils. It was no war at all, from what she gathered. If it can be called one, then it was one fought with words. If it was ever fought with fire,” her grandfather said, “There might no be anything left, in this world or the after.”
But the sun was climbing and she realised she was almost late for her date. He didn’t like being late, he told her. Neither of them should be late. So she thanked her grandfather for the tale and said her farewell and went outside.
He was waiting in the park, on their favourite bench by the pond. Instead of running straight at him, she waited out under the glades, among foliage and the crowds of people, trying too hard so he couldn’t see her from where he was. She wanted to know.
He was sitting and enjoying the wind on his back, ruffling his hair. Whenever people walked nearby, he’d nod and smile and gave them a piece of the stars in his eyes. They’d swoon, she knew. Their heart would skip a beat and their day would be better than it could have been if they hadn’t passed by him.
But none of them would receive the full force of the way he looked at her, or, she fancied, her at him.
Nothing devilish about that, weren’t it?
And then just as she was thinking of showing herself at last, he turned to her and locked his eyes to hers and gave a smile as if he’d known all along that she was there. His eyes were black holes that caught everything in its path. She smiled beside herself, feeling both embarrassed and flattered.
“Hi,” she said first, walking up to him.
“Hey,” he said second. “You’re late, you know,” he went on, his voice a purr.
“I wasn’t. I was in the park early,” she beamed. “And you noticed, didn’t you? So we’d met early, actually.”
There was a flush of emotion in his eyes, either of surprise or a hint of anger, but then he let out a pleasant laugh, like the sound of stars being born. “Well, I’ll not argue with that.” He gently held her hand, motioned for her to sit. “Next time you ought to come and say hello first instead of hiding. You know I don’t bite.”
She laughed and sat down and, unable to help herself, leaned on his shoulder. He stroked her and kissed her cheek and it was like constellation falling into place. She couldn’t imagine not asking him out now, and more besides.
“Where did you say you’re going, again?” she asked. “After high school is over?”
“I haven’t mentioned, but I think I’ll go back to my home town.” He looked her in the eye. “Although I might be persuaded to stay.”
He said casually, an afterthought, but she couldn’t help feeling flattered, that she might be part of the reason why he wanted to stay. She was going to say something to convince him, but then one in his words struck her, so she asked instead, “So where’s this home town of yours? I’m sure you’ve never said.”
His lips curled. “I haven’t.” There was a pause, barely recognizable but could be felt hanging in the air, before he went on, “You wouldn’t know where it is even if I say it, though. It’s that remote.”
“So it’s a small town, then?”
“I guess you could say that, yes.”
She looked at his eyes and found a cold dwarf star hiding behind the sky. “How was it like, growing up in a small town?”
“Oh, you’ve heard it in stories, I’m sure. You end up knowing everybody by name, hearing of every that’s going on through words of mouth. Nothing is unseen or unheard there. You can’t hide.”
“Huh. I thought people go to small towns to hide.”
“From the rest of the world. Not from the town itself.”
She let out a laugh. “Of course! So it’s that why you’re thinking of coming back there? Are you hiding from something?”
He smiled in reply, a smile that was impossible to read, that could convince you of anything. “I wouldn’t lie to you. That was part of an agreement, right? We wouldn’t lie to each other.”
“So you wouldn’t lie to me either, would you?”
“Aww, are you changing the subject?”
“Well, I’m not lying,” he said, playfully. “Tell me this, first. Will you come with me, to my hometown, after everything in school is over? I know you’re still not sure where you’re going after graduation.”
Her heart was leaping to say yes, but her mind stopped and held it in place. “I don’t know about that. I have to ask my family. And besides, you haven’t told me where it is.”
“Ah, family,” he said serenely. “I do like your family. But you did say they always give you your freedom to choose, right?”
“I’d still have to ask them.” She looked at this eyes and tried to discern the stars in his sky. “I’ve never met your family, though.”
He grimaced. It was charming even when he grimaced. “I don’t have one,” he said, with the force of a tide washing anything he wrote away. But she noticed. Did he think she wouldn’t notice?
She gently put her hand in his and asked, “So who’s waiting for you back in your home town?”
His expression was blank, his eyes revealing themselves, just for a second, to be mostly void. “No one.”
There were merits in dodging the difficult subject, in taking cues and putting aside what they gestured at each other to forget. They spent hours talking about nothing in particular, and then they got up the bench and on a walk around the park, and later the town. They went to the town’s only cinema before the way was over, and he held her hand in the dark, quietly and without asking much in return. He made it one of the best days in her life, again, and not once during the day that she told him her friend thought he was a devil, or that she had an inkling that she was right.
At the end they said their goodbyes, and, before leaving, she asked him in a way that was reminiscent of an afterthought, if he’d like to go to the prom with her.
“Of course I’ll come with you,” he said, smiling. “I’ll be there for you even if you hadn’t asked.”
He had the charms and the gait to ask literally anybody in the world, but it was always her. She was flattered and overjoyed and it took her a while to realise, to note, the sand undertone in his words.
“See you there, then?” she asked, deciding not to ask him a question he can’t answer.
He nodded, solemnly. “At the gate.”
He was dressed in a neatly trimmed suit with a grey tie spangled with dots that could be stars. She went up the steps wearing a long white dress that used to be her mother’s. When she found him, she smiled and waved. When he saw her, he gave a small sad smile, like the dawn at the end of a night, like a rain covering a starry sky.
“You look gloomy, sweetheart,” she said, the words flowing out of her. She’d never called him sweetheart and they both noticed. The hints of surprise in his face was pleasant.
He let her put her arm around his and they went up the steps together, into the room where music and food and people mingled. As they walked pass faces familiar to her, she waved at them and they waved back at her. He was smiling, he never stopped smiling, but he waved at no one. The most charming, pleasant man in the room, and only then did she wonder if he never had any other friend.
“I can’t stay for very long,” he said, once they had found a place to stop. “Maybe until midnight, but no longer.”
“Why?” She went to look at his eyes, but couldn’t quite focus on it.
“I can’t lie to you,” he said, vaguely. He held her arm and tapped his foot to the rhythm of the music. “Let’s dance.”
And dance they did. They spun against the rotation of the planet, threaded and whirled in a pattern that would embarrass the constellations. Hours passed. He kissed her and brought her drinks and made it a night that would be remembered as a good one, with not a single dark cloud to cover it. And then it was an hour before midnight, and he let go of her arms. He whispered goodbye, a simple one, and made her way out the gate.
“You can’t just do that,” she said, gently, running outside after him. The night, away from the music and the dancing, was quiet. It was like their voice echoed through the air. “You can’t just leave without saying why.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. For everything. I have to get home.”
“Home? Back to your home town?” She didn’t know why it was the first thing in her mind, but he nodded. “Already?”
“Yes, he said. “He closed his eyes for a long time, and when opened them again he looked straight at her. “*Yes.*”
It was the first time he had looked her in the eye the entire night and she couldn’t quite focus on what she was seeing. Her heart was an uneven beat, as if it was counting the second until it could jump out of her chest. “I want to come with you.”
“No!” he said, with a force that surprised both of them. “No, you can’t come. It’s not for- No!”
She had never seen him so distressed, so out of words. Gently, she put his hand in hers and whispered, “You don’t want to lie to me.”
He nodded. “I can’t. But even if we hadn’t made the agreement, I won’t. Not now.”
“So,” she said, softly. “Tell me the truth.”
He closed his eyes, took a long deep breath. In her hand, he could feel his pulse making an uneven dance, getting warmer with each beat. When he opened his eyes, and she could look straight at them, they were different from what she remembered. There were fire burning beneath his eyelids, the sound of the dead echoing behind his iris.
“I was hungry,” he said. “I was hungry, when I met you. And I found in you a- a meal, that could sustain me for centuries. So I talked sweetly to you, I tricked you, I drew up little contracts in our words, so you can be mine.”
“You’re a devil,” she said, surprised at her own lack of fear. “You came from Hell, during the war.”
He nodded. “But you, you’re kind to me even when you know I’m putting an act for you. You know what I am, but you didn’t call me out for it. I’m not a good person, I’m really not, but you still see the good in me anyway.”
“If you tell me to forget,” she said. “I’ll forget.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want you to forget me. I don’t want to ever forget you.” He pulled back his hand, but she held on.
“And if I ask you to stay?”
“I can’t stay. The situation change. They’re getting close. I can run, but I’ll starve, and I won’t be able to see you again anyway. I can’t stay.” He shook his head, before she could ask the other question. “And I can’t take you with me.”
She leaned closer, held his hand tightly in hers. Her eyes locked on his, as if challenging the void and unearthliness that lied behind them. His eyes were nothing like the night sky, but in hers they were still partially stars.
“I love you,” she said, the first she said those words out loud to him.
“I love you, too,” he said, the first time he had said those words and meant them, every beat, in the centuries that he had lived. “I’ll try to come back. When the war is forgotten and the breach abandoned, I’ll come back. I’ll find you.”
She let go of his hand. She gave him the softest smile. “You can’t lie to me.”
“You know this is the last time we’ll meet.”
He tried to steady the inhuman beat of his heart and failed, failed again. He looked at her eyes and tried to give her the last of his stars but failed, failed again. Only honesty now, and if it was the fire that she’d last see of him, fine then. He’d give her a good one. Something for her to remember.
“I have to go,” he said.
One of the characters here, I like to think, is the same one who showed up in another story that I unexpectedly finished, The Small Print (tumblr link). It’s a mess of a story, but, hey, if you feel like reading another mess of a story, there you go.
Also, yes, I did shamelessly steal the title from Welcome to Night Vale. It echoed back and forth in my head as I wrote the story, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being a bit uncreative.