Chapter 14

They stayed in the area for a week, and then returned home toEdinburgh. Ash was confused. She was happy that Colin was still with her, but Harry had been right. It somehow seemed that Colin was outliving his sentence. She searched his mind now and again, trying to estimate the amount of emotion still left, but what she found was only a brief spell of mild anxiety and some comfort and peace mixed together. There was no telling how much time he had left, though.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him one night, as they were lying in bed, not really up to going to sleep yet. Colin’s expression was distant and serious, he was apparently deep in thought, and it wasn’t a pleasant trip.

“I’ve been having a weird feeling lately,” he confessed. “I can’t shake it.”

“What kind of feeling?”

“Well, it’s like.. you know, the wolf part of me is gone, and I know you said you’d compensate for it and everything, but I’m still wondering whether I can live without it. There’s this huge gaping hole inside me, and it feels… like I shouldn’t exist like that. I’m surprised I do.”

Ash had no reply to this. She had been wondering when he would realise. Which, of course, didn’t mean she was to tell him she had known all along. Strangely, there was no desperation in her now, it was only like coming to the end of a story in a book, it did not feel like something that had to do anything with her.

“You know what I thought?” he went on. “I thought it would be interesting to have myself turned into a diamond when I die. You know, they do that inSwitzerlandor somewhere…”

“Well, I think it’s pretty awful,” she shuddered.

“More awful than rotting in the ground?”

“No, of course not. But still, imagine wearing someone on your finger… A person that had once been walking, and talking, and feeling, someone you loved and shared memories with. A person reduced into a cold stone…”

“What would you do?” he asked. They had occasionally come across the topic of death in their conversations, and he had always been both surprised at and glad about how easy it was to talk to her about it. Other people would perhaps refuse to get so dark, but to Ashley it was a topic like any other.

“Had myself cremated and dispersed somewhere.”

“Yeah, that’s my second choice. But I still prefer becoming precious.”

“Precious before death as well as after it?”

“Yeah,” he nodded with a little laugh. “You know, about a year and a half ago I thought if I’d died, nobody would’ve missed me. I had absolutely no idea that I’d be in a band and married by now.”

She smiled and he smiled back at her, giving all his affection for her into that smile.

“Still,” he said then, “there’s something I need to do. I’ll be right back,” he promised, got up and went downstairs. A few moments later she heard him talking to someone on the phone, but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

 

“Sorry if I woke you up,” Colin meanwhile apologised to Harry.

“No problem,” said Harry. “I’m not even close to going to bed.”

“Ok. I need you to take care of Ash.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I might not be able to do that myself and if I’m not mistaken, you still care about her.”

“Did you phone me just to tell me this?”

“Pretty much,” Colin nodded.

“You’re a bloody lunatic, wee chap. As if you didn’t know that looking after Ash is something I take for granted,” Harry reproached.

“Just checking…” Colin shrugged.

“Meaning you should be satisfied now.”

“I am,” Colin smiled involuntarily. “Good night, Harry.”

“Night,” Harry muttered, somewhat puzzled by the whole thing, suspecting he was not being told everything. But Colin knew exactly why he had left him in the dark – he was there himself. He had no idea what made him call his best friend with this request; there was just something inside him which had urged him to do it, something lurking in the darkness, a thought of the end he was unable to grasp yet. Still, since solution was nowhere to be found, Colin decided to dismiss the matter and returned to the bedroom and to his wife.

“Feel like making love, sunshine?” he asked her.

She smiled and nodded. And so they did.

 

Hours later they were still awake, lying beside each other.

“Will you hold my hand, Ash?” he asked. “Please…”

“Sure,” she whispered and when he felt her fingers close, he grabbed them and squeezed her hand in his.

“Don’t let go,” he pleaded. “Stay with me.”

She rested her head on his shoulder and stretched her free hand to gently run down his face. They both fell asleep within minutes.

 

When Ash woke up, the daylight was already at home in their bedroom. There was something cold and grey about the morning, something tense in the atmosphere of the room. She was still holding Colin’s hand; she loosened the grip and ran across his inert fingers. It didn’t happen very often that her hand was warmer than his. She turned over to her side and, supported on one elbow, she gazed at her husband’s face.

“You didn’t,” she said then, softly. “Oh, please, you didn’t…”

She waited, but the miracle didn’t happen. He didn’t open his eyes, didn’t smile at her and wish her good morning – there would be no more good mornings in her life. Still, she held her palm at his mouth, but his breath had been washed away by the powerful flow of time.

“Colin, please…”

Following a sudden urge, she jumped up and ran to the shelf where she had left her mobile phone the evening before.

“Harry, he’s dead,” she blurted out when he received her call.

“What?” even though Harry had put a great deal of surprise into that single word, she could have had no idea what a blow this was to him.

“He is, he’s dead.”

“Ok, child, just please hold on, I’m on my way. I’ll be there as soon as I can, all right? Just hold on,” he requested.

“Thanks,” she managed.

Shock took over from the moment she hung up. Not the physical kind people get after sever accidents, she was stronger than that, and too prepared for this outcome anyway, but she had to run away from the bedroom nonetheless, and then sat motionless and white in the face on the sofa downstairs, until she was startled by the doorbell ringing. It was such a brutal penetration of the deadly silence that she jumped at the sound of it.

Twenty seconds later she found herself held tight in Harry’s arms, and his voice whispered into her ear:

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…”

He was crying, a stage she had not yet reached.

“I called Terry,” he went on, when she said nothing. “He knows what needs to be done. I’ve never… lost someone…”

She nodded.

“You know he called me last night? He said ‘I need you to take care of Ash’. Nothing more… like he knew.”

Suddenly it all made sense. He knew, although he might not have realised it. But that did not matter anymore. Nothing mattered. He was gone.

“Are you sure you don’t need a doctor? You look like you’re in shock…”

“My husband just died, Harry,” she managed a whispered answer. And then… “Oh my god, he’s dead…”

Her eyes filled with tears, and within moments, she was finally weeping, letting all her pain flow out to the surface with the rivers of salt. Harry helped her back to the living room and sit down on the sofa. He kneeled in front of her.

“I wish there was something I could say to you right now that would make you feel better.”

“Just be with me, Harry.”

This time it was him who nodded.

 

They only remembered that the rest of the band was unaware of the impending loss of their singer when they saw their reaction to the news. It was utter shock, desperation and pain that Ash and Harry, the partners in crime, witnessed at the former’s house that morning. Influenced by this, they kept from them the fact that the two of them had known from day one. It seemed the right thing to do.

There was no funeral as such. Ash, although still disgusted by the idea, decided to honour Colin’s wishes, and instructed Harry to arrange for them to be carried out. The orphaned SMPDM and herself then gathered on one of the hills overlooking Colinton, each of them holding a short speech conveying their memory of Colin, who had meanwhile been taken far away to be burned into a diamond.

About a week later, Harry rang the doorbell at Ashley’s house again, this time to give her a small green jewel box. She received it with a poorly-hidden frown and shaking hands. It somewhat disappointed Harry that she never opened the box to look at the treasure inside. He chose not to urge her, nevertheless.

“What are you going to do?” he asked instead.

“I’m going to stay with my mum for some time, in the Czech lands.”

He nodded.

“You?” she asked.

Harry shrugged. “I guess I’ll just stick to my job.”

She sighed. “This is so wrong.”

“I know. But we’ll all find a way to make it right again. We’ll find a way out of this mess, out of this darkness into the light again.” His voice trailed off.

“Do believe that, Harry. Believe that for me.”

“Always,” he nodded again. “See you around?”

“Yes, you will,” she agreed.

He smiled faintly, locked her in a brief embrace, and turned to leave.

It was only later that night that Ash opened the box at last, and found herself looking at the loveliest platinum ring she had ever seen. The huge diamond sparkled in the chandelier light, bringing her strange, sad comfort.

She reached for her mobile phone and entered a short text message on the screen that Harry read within a few moments of her sending it. It said:

“It’s beautiful.”

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