Once again, there's a story behind the story. It's an outtake from Winner Takes All, a scene that I've imagined a few times, but don't think actually fits into that novella. Secondly, after reading Virginia Woolf's The Waves, I've been haunted by her use of water imagery and the depth of her poetic language. Thirdly, I've been listening to the song "Soaked" way too often.
Then I made the banner - the greatest mistake of all because it made me want to go "write a story for it". Popping onto the HPFF forums, I found a suitable challenge for the idea - the "Kiss in the Rain Challenge".
And out of all that stuff emerged this:
The Touch of Someone New
The rain was falling, neither hard nor soft, warm nor cool. Just a rain, nothing more, nothing less. And yet it carried the power of life, soaking deep into the soil to be sucked up by thirsty roots, transforming into flowers or trees, leaves or grass. The roses bloomed, their colour dulled against the grey blackness of the twilight, raindrops settling upon the petals, dripping off onto the ground below.
Running steps. A flash of red. Auburn. Someone passes by, kicking heels sending puddlewater into the air, splashing against the iron fence, the leaves, the roses. They shudder at the trauma, but the rain continues to fall, a gust of wind settling them back into quiet submission.
She continues to run, this invader of the streets. She is also a rose, her hair and face all one colour, the latter with exertion and pain, the sufferance of mortification. Her tears are lost amid the rain, fresh and salted drops mingling on her cheeks to fall on the ground, narrowing missing the blue silken dress, darkened by the rain. Ruined now, most likely, though it is not her favourite. It could not be after this day.
Flashes of memory follow her down the street and around the corner. They have followed her this entire distance (as yet unmeasured), passing before her blinded eyes, resounding through her throbbing brain.
But they continue. As does the rain.
The roses shudder once more as another invader passes by, his clothes more appropriate for the weather, mac and wellingtons saving him from the worst of the wet. He holds onto his hat with one hand, the other pumping at his side. He dares not call out her name, knowing that she will only run faster, that she desires to escape him as much as anyone else, even if he is not the cause of her troubles.
Or is he?
It all depends on the memories that haunt, that chase her across the city.
But she cannot continue forever. She is not like the rain.
She stops by a graveyard, a suiting location where she can bury her heart and be done with it, a useless instrument. Let it rot in the earth, ashes to dust. Let it bother her no more with its ridiculous pangs and immature flutterings. She does not need to feel, to be touched. The impression made upon her by the last is too deep. If touched again, she would shatter, falling, breaking, gone.
Rose stares at the graves, letting the rain run over her skin. She shivers, but does not feel the cold. It is too far away. All feeling is too far away, just beyond her reach.
When Teddy rounds the final corner and skids to a halt, the rain splashing around his feet in exultation, splattering the hem of his trousers, she does not move, does not seem to recognise his presence. The tears roll down her cheeks, fading into the raindrops, and she fades into the landscape, one with the solemn earth, the graves, the dead.
Now that she has stopped, he does not fear to approach her, to speak her name aloud and make her real once more. No more a spectre emerging from the fog, howling with the wind, but a woman seeking solace, her mind screaming into the silence.
He catches her as she falls, joining the rain in its descent. They are not far from the lychgate, and he takes her there, bearing her as a corpse through the gateway to– heaven? hell? another place, unseen and unspoken of?
Her face is at rest, peace smoothing the stricken features. She holds too much within, bursting only when she is sure to be safe. Those tears, those running steps, together, they are her only performance of the emotions that must tear her apart from within. Fevered cheeks alone distinguish her from the dead, but not the near-dead. Her shallow breath rustles his sleeve, cools the wet on his hand. Her tears, or the rain? Which is it that has touched him so?
Looking down into face, he knows the answer.
It is some time before she wakes, the rose coming into bloom, Lazarus rising from the grave. The rain still falls, always falling, the fog rising in response, its tiny droplets desiring to mingle with the rain, lovers rising and falling to meet. Her dewed lashes blink once and again. He has not watched her all this time, and does not see her wake until she moves, moves away from him, hands shaking, body shaking, cold and fearful.
“Why? Why did you follow? I wanted alone, to be alone.” She is stilted, trapped in a fragmented state. “Leave me.”
But it is not him that she fears. Her only feeling toward him is violated anger, annoyed frustration. Always she is foiled by one or another of her extended family (he not blood, no longer tied by marriage, and yet still he is one of them). She has never known freedom, privacy, except within her own head, and even then–
She flames at his refusal, all her thorns bristling.
He feels at one with the rain now. Falling, always failing to rise, to return from whence he came and leave the roses of the world to their pitiful state, their endless thirsting. Like the rain, he falls at her feet and is stepped upon, unheeded.
“I’ll take you home, Rose. You shouldn’t be out here.”
“Why not?” Her fists are clenched against him, obstinately curled.
The thorns tear at his skin, his fingers aching with wounds. She must be handled more lightly, as an equal, not as the child he once knew, the girl he disregarded as beneath him, immature, naive. In actuality, he had been those things. Then, as now, she was high above, her face toward the sun while he kept falling, falling, failing.
He thinks for a time, listening to the drip, drop, drip off the roof.
“The cold. The rain.”
“The state of my mind.” She does not shrink from him, but rather grows, pushing him outwards, away. Her state of mind is limited to stubbornness, the pride for independence.
He is the one who shrinks, sinking into his mac, pulling the cloth tighter around him.
“You must be cold.”
She sits, arms crossed, eyes closed. “Go away, Teddy.”
As the wind moves the rain, her words move him. He stands, turning toward the rain. The fog has risen higher, the gravestones bare shadows in the mist. The street, the city, they are miles away, hidden from view, hidden from consciousness.
It is a syllable against the wind, the roses staring it down, the rain drowning it out. She hears it, though, hears its rebellion against her stubborn heart, so recently shattered on a marble floor, polished by house elves with blistered fingers. A heart swept out with the dust, fragments tossed and buried, unwanted. She would turn against him now, heartless, but where could she go? Her arms bluing in the chill, she feels it, but will not shiver, will not show the weakness she has felt, the weakness that had torn her heart away.
“Fine.” A childish word, but suitable enough, she thinks, willing away the tears, the rain, the haunting thoughts that have chased her here. She has a distraction, and there he stands, a sentinel against the memories, the ghosts, the shattered heart.
“But I won’t go home.”
An unwilling captive, she leans her head against the old wood. It smells of wet, of ashes and dust, the ages spread across it in the scores of coffins carried through its shelter. She does not remember entering, and thus thinks of herself dead for that moment of faintness, having been brought to the gate of death, not to be borne through, but to sit at the border, awaiting judgement.
“Your thoughts are dark.”
He is watching her again, eyes shaded by long, thin lashes, too light for black.
“I suppose it’s the place. Very dark itself.” She dislikes the pitch of her voice, too harsh from tears. “You brought me here.”
A bell through the fog, distant. He turns toward its sound, face falling into shadow.
“Only to the gate. You’re the one who ran here.”
Blaming back and forth. You this. You that. It is not the sound of her shattered heart, but it does nothing to hold the pieces. Yet she strengthens with its irregular beat, the amnesia of anger, of passion, of anything but the tears, the rain that have poisoned the rose.
Her eyes close, sinking into the stupor of fatigue. Too much emotion always makes her like this, so exhausted that she can hardly move. Her brain still works, but even its course is slowed, faltering under the pain of half-forgotten sobs, wracking her body with their fearful violence. To sleep, oh to sleep, silent and peaceful, dreamless and painless. But she knows that she will only have dreams, the memories returning when she is unable to resist.
“I can’t face them. Not after–” She breaks off, voice echoing to nothing.
She hears Teddy drift toward her as though blown by the wind.
“You aren’t a coward, Rose.”
No, but you are.
She cannot say that. She must retain a suggestion of kindness, even respect, unable to deny that, yes, she does like him, for all his strangeness, his airs and graces that only disguise his deficiencies. He has followed her this far, has vowed to protect her like some ancient knight, the rain his armor. She must give him credit for that.
“I don’t fear their anger,” her lip twitches at the thought of her father’s wrath, always more comical than anything.
“What then?” He is closer now, must be beside her. Oh, but his voice, it has changed, but she does not know how; she only knows that it is different. Perhaps he is different, too. Perhaps the rain has given him all he has lacked.
The air tightens. She feels submerged.
“Their pity. Anything but that. The looks in their eyes–”
“That is love.”
Her laughter is harsh thunder, breaking the steady drip, drop, drip and shaking the air around them. Eyes opening, she gazes across at him, the haughty flower once again, thorns guarding herself, her vulnerability. That is what she wants him to see: disapproval at such a topic as love. It is a topic for poets and romantics, not for those who are real.
She sees herself as real, but reality has shifted beneath her.
This whole scene has been a dream, the rain, the ghosts, the graves, the fog. It will vanish and she will return to her safe reality.
Only he stands in her way.
“Do not talk of love.”
It is her voice, but so distant, as though she is not speaking it herself. She is displaced from the world, from herself. She floats off into the distance, a rose petal on the water, drifting, but not sinking. No, not sinking yet.
He sits with crossed arms beside her, legs stretched outwards and head thrown back against the wood, throat largely exposed. The rain does not bother him. She does not bother him. At least, that is what she is.
And it is not the truth.
He feels her every movement, her every breath. Out of the corners of his eyes, he watches her, the slowly drying dress and hair, the skin–
Flushing, he knows he has been remiss. Mac removed, he offers it to her with his scarf.
“You’ll catch your death out here.”
She laughs again, even harsher, transforming too quickly into tears, dripping between her fingers as she tries to hold them back, hands hiding her face from him, from all the world that would judge her.
Teddy places the fabric around her shoulders, first mac, then scarf. His fingers brush against her neck, the smooth, pale skin shuddering beneath the butterfly touch. She wavers, but does not move away, hands remaining in place. Do they prevent him from seeing her weakness, or her from seeing him?
He does not shift away from her, but stays close, his warmth mingling with her chill.
It was some moments before she dropped one hand, the tears slowing, then ceasing. Gulping down the air to keep from drowning, Rose does not notice that her hand has fallen onto his knee until she hears Teddy’s sharp intake of breath. Blue-white skin now turned pink-red, she recoils, hand retreating.
But he catches it.
They look at one another, the other hand falling from her face, so puzzled, so confused, but knowing what was to come. She will be submerged once again, deeper, deeper under the water, but not drowning. He will not let her drown, she can see it in his eyes, the little smile that plays upon his lips as he, too, knows what is to come.
At last. At last it will come to be.
Until this moment, he did not realise how long he has been waiting. For her, for this, for the rain to come.
She leans closer and he leans over and the rain still falls. It falls around them, but is now unheeded, a world away, washing the stones of graves and the statues of weeping angels. As sentinels, they guard the moment, but still weep at the sight of so much joy in the midst of the rain, in the place of sadness. Where the bodies of the dead have passed through, two lives are brimming, flooding, blooming.
Their lips have met, hands rising to fabric, to flesh. Hands meeting hands, fingers twining. They sink into the other, needing no air, no breath but that which the other can give. Rose touches the palm of one hand to his cheek. Teddy moves only to place his lips in the centre, then returns them to hers.
Deeper, deeper. Falling with the rain. Falling like petals from the blossom.
They do not pull apart. There is no violence in their separation. It is only a separation of faces; she places hers upon his shoulder, thin and bony as always, but now offering a greater comfort. One hand is still clasped in his. He brushes a musing thumb across it.
There is no need for language, useless words to fill in the spaces, words that can only attempt to describe, to express. They are dead words, no more.
And yet, Rose knows she must speak. She must shatter this silence, so long desired, so long needed, with the guilty cares of one who has been selfish and must apologise. She has run and others may seek her, may think after her with troubled frowns and bitten lips. To not think of them! To forget them and think of only the rain, the silence, of him beside her, his breath in and out lulling her into comfortable forgetfulness.
But it is he who, instead, pulls her from the water, the place of wet silence.
“We should go.”
The slightest guilty flinch as those words emerge from the lips she has only just embraced, and she knows that he, too, feels the pull, the surface of the water growing closer, closer as they rise once more to the murky surface.
“What will they say?”
He takes her question incorrectly, moving away with such suddenness that she is left without balance, steadying herself with one hand scraping against the ancient wood.
Running a hand through his hair, sending the damp strands into impudent spikes, he retreats across the gate. Now, it could not be smaller, more imprisoning. He cannot escape his swollen lips, the memory of touch, of impassioned feeling. He yearns for the rain against his skin, erasing all that she has marked upon him.
“Come now, Rose. They’ll be missing you.”
Stricken, she watches him go back out into the rain, coatless, scarfless, and therefore as vulnerable as she when she had run here all that way. All she had desired was solitude, seeking the place of death as a place lacking in life, but she had been wrong. There was no death here, only memories of things and people long past, only stones marking their place. Perhaps there was more life here than there had been anywhere else. If only she–
He was leaving, nearly at the street. She listens to the drip, drop, drip and then decides.
At first he does not turn, then he hears her running feet, fleeting once more, sending shudders through the vines of roses as the puddlewater splashes upwards, casting a glow upon their haughty petals. Full-circle they have come, but now reversed.
She catches him in half-turning, arms wildly thrown around him, a confusion of thorns and petals and rain that makes him step back, unable to find balance, something to hold on to. But she provides that, an anchor to the depths of the sea that draws him back into the water, to the place of dreams.
“I did not mean–” She makes an attempt at words, losing them as he pulls her closer.
“I’m sorry.” His whisper mingles with the falling rain.
Lips meet and will not be forgotten. They are not falling, this time, nor do they need to fear rising to the surface, where reality beckons in vain. The worst reaction, the most disapproving glance would not change them, would not drag them from this place. Clinging to each other, they find what they have sought and failed to find before. The kiss deepening, the rain falling, the time passing, the end arriving.
When they leave at last, it is together, not running, and not disturbing the scene as they pass. No splattering drops attempt to break from gravity. No roses shuddering against their thorns, indignant at the constant wet. No shattered hearts making their escape, running, running, flying from the memories that haunt and the touch that lingers.
There is a new touch now, a new memory made. It does not fall like the rain. It is lasting, enduring.
It is forever.