Loved and Lost by Schroering1 November 13, 2020

Chapter 8

TRAVIS

DECEMBER 22 

“To the love of my life,

It’s that time of year again. I know you won’t see this, but… Well, you actually might, if what everyone’s saying is true. I still don’t believe them, though… I say I do, but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to label you as a heartless murderer. That’s not you. You’re much better than that.

Christmas is about spending time with the people you love. That’s why I wanted to write this to you. It’s our first Christmas apart, and it stings like hell. I wish we could’ve had more Christmases together, I really do. You have no idea how sorry I am that we couldn’t.

I know I say this all the time, but it’s my fault. It’s my fault that our Christmases were cut short. It’s my fault that things turned out this way. I can’t apologize enough for that. I’m sending back my pearl. I couldn’t keep my promise.

You at least deserve to rest in peace. I hope this letter helps you find that peace, if you really do see it. Christmas may be beautiful, but it’s so cold, too. If we can’t be together, if we can’t stay warm together… Then I at least hope that you can find tranquility.

I’ll keep writing these letters until I can be with you again. I love you, Travis. Please don’t forget that.

Avalonia

I must say, that’s… Not what I expected.

The letter was left on the door of my old apartment, where I had gone for old time’s sake. Needless to say, it took me by surprise. I spent a long time reading it over and over again, but its implications still didn’t register in my mind. Ava knew that her old boyfriend was gone. She knew that I didn’t love her anymore. Our last encounter ended with her getting knocked out, for God’s sake. Who in their right mind would still have hope?

Along with the letter was a small leather box, which contained a small necklace in the shape of a dolphin. I knew it well. They advertised it as a promise pearl, something to imbue your hopes and dreams onto. Perfect fodder for head-over-heels lovebirds who were looking for a last-minute gift. Alas, I was one of the poor fools who fell into that trap.

Ava seemed to enjoy her pearl. She actually believed that a $10 trinket I bought at a souvenir shop was some kind of declaration of love or some bullshit. Still, she wore hers everywhere she went, and I had a matching one to go along with it.

…Now that I thought about it, I didn’t remember where mine went. But as I pulled down the collar of my sweater, sure enough, it still lay there on my neck; a silver elephant hanging off a chain, adorned with a shining pearl. I must’ve just forgotten to dispose of it. The prospect of quite literally having a symbol of my ignorant past was of no use to me.

With a snap, I tore the silver chain off of my neck and threw it off to the side. I took Ava’s necklace and did the same, before ripping the letter right down the middle. I didn’t need that. I had done too much to let myself get brought down by the girl who got me killed in the first place. Ava better be thankful that I was feeling merciful, or else I would’ve torn her apart, too.

No, I couldn’t get angry again… It wasn’t just her fault. I never should’ve loved her in the first place. We were stupid. I don’t place any blame on her for doing what she did. It was just human nature. I bought her gifts, I hosted date nights, I took care of her when she was sick, I made her feel special, and it was all a waste. The worst part was that I was happy, too.

Life acts in mysterious ways, pulling people along for the ride like a toddler and their teddy bear. Like the bear, people are worn out, and as the clock keeps ticking, they are becoming more and more insignificant in the eyes of the one who puppeteers them. Life is growing up, and we will, soon enough, be tossed to the side.

I refuse to be a toy that sits under the bed collecting dust. It’s always been survival of the fittest, we all knew that good things came to those who deserved them. You weren’t born with a place in the world; you had to earn it for yourself. As such, I did whatever possible to ensure I was the race’s frontrunner. Just look at me now.

I had forgotten that Christmas was coming up. But then again, maybe I should’ve questioned the abnormal amount of couples out. The past few weeks or so had only netted about three victims a day, but now they were coming out in droves. Tis’ the season of love, or whatever.

It appeared as if someone in power was finally starting to take action. I saw quite a few couples out with police escorts. It didn’t work, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. Young souls referred to me as the “Auburn Demon.” If that was to be my legacy, then I would bear it with pride. It was kind of catchy…

Then again, I was being treated as your typical dime-a-dozen serial killer. I saw the documentaries, I knew the type: the ones that went out killing for no reason other than to see their stupid nickname in the headlines of the papers. To take a life without reason… How despicable. There was a part of me that felt guilty whenever I had to kill, and I didn’t fight the thought. It was terrible to have to do something as vicious as take a human life, but… Better to kill a few than to collapse the entire human race.

I remember how awful it was to die. Cold, dark… I was in so much pain, and it wouldn’t have ever gone away if I hadn’t been brought back… Sometimes, I wished it didn’t have to be me. I wished that fate had just passed me up and chose somebody else to bring back to life. I wished that I didn’t have to do it.

But, no. I treated the world awfully. I was the one who went against everything life stood for by falling in love. It was only right that the karma would kill me, and I should thank the stars that my journey didn’t end there. Fate could’ve just as easily left me with regrets, sorrows, and anger, what I rightfully deserved for being so stupid.  

Lucky me, I guess…

 

AVALONIA

DECEMBER 22 

Well, it was the most wonderful time of the year once again. Time flew by way too fast. Normally, I’d be excited to spend the season with family and friends, but considering everything that’d been going on, I wanted nothing more than for everyone to shut up about it all. It hurt too much. I couldn’t handle it.

The pain was amplified by the sendoff of my necklace. I’d kept that thing on as often as I could ever since I got it, but it just felt right to ship it over with the letter. It could be anywhere now, and I felt a deep pain in my stomach once I started thinking about it. I needed to clear my mind.

I thought it would be best to head off to the shop when I got an invitation from Penny for a party. She had said she needed help setting up, and having something productive to do sounded like the perfect distraction, no matter how tied to the reminders it was.

Stepping into the shop was already like entering a winter wonderland. Decorations hung from the walls, eliciting a whistle as I closed the door behind me and glanced them over. They were adorable, and I couldn’t help but admire them for a moment before looking around for the girl that’d invited me.

As I searched, an idea popped into my head. I tried to keep myself from attempting to manifest anything while I wasn’t in Doc’s lab, but being in the clock shop was close enough, I figured. If I could make tennis balls, maybe I could create other things to help us with decorating? It was worth a shot, at least.

I stopped walking, cupped my hands together, and closed my eyes so I could completely focus on what I was doing. Before I knew it, there was a roll of tape in my hand. For a moment, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should immediately turn to the stairs to hand it over to Doc to play with, but I figured that he already had what he needed. If he wanted a roll of tape, he’d let me know. I stuffed it into my pocket with a fairly wide grin and continued my search.

It didn’t take me very long to find Penny afterward. Since everything was kept in the back room I knew so well, it made sense that she’d be in there to fish out decorations. Swallowing down any last insecurities, I leaned myself against the doorframe, spun the roll of tape around a finger, and grinned a bit playfully to the back of her head. 

“Need a tape girl?”

The sudden voice seemed to startle her a bit, but once she turned around to find its source, I wasn’t the only one that was grinning. 

“You came! Hey!” she greeted, weaving herself through the bins in the room to give me a hug.

I realized in that moment that I had never returned any hugs I’d received in quite some time. Gripping the tape in a fist, I decided that today would end that streak, no matter how awkward or meek I felt as I made it happen. I can safely say that hugs feel a lot warmer after you’ve been void of them for so long. 

“Yeah, I’m here,” I replied with a breathy chuckle. “You always gotta have a tape girl for decorating. Anything I can help you find?”

“I don’t think so. I’m just looking for some ornaments for the tree. We’ll have more company soon too, don’tcha worry!” Penny replied with an excited clap after pulling out of the hug. “I invited my boyfriend over to help out, too! He’s super nice. I’m sure you’ll like him!”

As soon as that B-word hit my ears, I froze in place, looking at the woman with wide eyes. Of course, there was no real issue with having him over, but the mention of their relationship both hurt like hell and worried me sick. They better not walk home together after this was done…  

“Oh, I… I can’t wait to meet him…!” I managed to say, turning to look for the tree and regain my composure.

Penny continued to talk as I did so, her voice raising as she followed my every move. “Christmas is the time to be with those you love, right? That’s why I like it so much! Everyone’s happy and enjoying themselves and it’s beautiful! It’s such a sweet time of year, and having a special someone to spend it with is the best feeling in the world!”

I had found the tree just as her little speech came to a close. I didn’t expect to have to wipe tears out of my eyes to be able to see the damn thing. Resisting the urge to verbalize my reply of Bah! Humbug, I blinked my stinging eyes open and looked at the canvas before me.

It was already half-done, with garland wrapped around it from top to bottom, tinsel filling in the branchless spots, and scented pine cones placed strategically to make every angle smell beautiful. If I was completely honest, it was almost enough to make me forget about my sorrows. Almost.

“You’re doing really good so far with this,” I shouted over to Penny as I circled around the tree. Pausing for a moment, I cupped my hands again to make another pine cone to fill in a gap I had found. “Bring over whatever ornaments you can find. We’ll make this tree look real good.”

By the time we were finished with it, we were both grinning at the job we had done. ‘Real good’ was quite the understatement… Combined with the ornaments in the bins and my own creations, the tree was quite the marvel.

Of course, the good feeling had to be ruined by a knock at the front door.

“Zizi!” Penny cried, rushing over to greet the man that’d walked in, the poor guy shaking snow from his coat and stomping off his boots at the door. “Hey hun, I’m glad you got here safe!”

I had to take a few deep breaths before I followed her, but the least I could do was greet the guy. Once I was with the two, I nodded my head with a soft smile. “Hello, I’m Ava. It’s nice to meet you. I… I was actually just about to head home, I think. I at least need some fresh air.”

The poor guy didn’t get a chance to reply before Penny spoke up. “Aw, really? I thought you’d stay a little longer than that! At least let me get you your present! Gimme two seconds!”

Just as I was opening the front door, she dashed off to grab whatever she had gotten for me, and the pit in my stomach finally decided to come back full-force. Not only did I not want to break down in front of her or the others, I hadn’t even gotten her anything in return. I guess I knew what I was doing on my walk.

Penny came back with a tiny box topped with the cutest bow. The combined sight of the little gift and her beaming face helped to ease my pain. I took it with a slight smile of my own. 

“You really didn’t have to do this. Thank you so much…! Should I open it now, or…?”

After getting the confirmation, I took the top off of the box, moved some paper aside… And nearly broke down in tears right then and there. My free hand flew up to cover my mouth as I looked down to the friendship bracelet, something I had never expected to receive again, especially after everything that had happened. If I thought the greeting hug I gave Penny earlier was warm, then the one she received for this gift was burning hot.

I still wasn’t sure if I would go back after that. Stepping out of the clock shop with the bracelet around my wrist and fresh tears threatening to fall, I knew I at least had to get Penny a return present. The last thing I needed at that point was more guilt.

I couldn’t let myself cry again. It was Christmastime, and I was once again with people I cared about. I hadn’t felt that happy in a long time, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their friendship.

Let’s hope Penny liked whatever I found for her.

 

TOCKMAN

DECEMBER 22 

Tick, tock. Ti- Dashing through the snow,

I tried to stop it. I really did. I hoped that Penny would be out with her boyfriend or her family or something, and that I could have a quiet day to really focus and get some work done. Well, just when I was starting to settle down, Penny came running to me, lugging around a large box full of paper snowflakes and candles and everything in between. 

“Doc, Doc! Can we have a Christmas party? Pretty please?” 

She begged me into submission, and as if having to carry that tree in from outside wasn’t enough, I had to deal with Christmas music being blasted on a speaker downstairs. Not to mention the jingle bells she was wearing on her shoes. Ugh, maybe the Grinch had a point.

I was still trying to focus, even if I was failing miserably. The last few days of my life consisted of me carefully maneuvering hundreds of tiny parts, and individually piecing them together. I was putting the final touches on my project when the racket got to be a bit too much to handle, and I stepped off to the side to pour myself a cup of coffee.

Not ten seconds after I turned my back, a large crash signaled to me that this day could, in fact, get worse. I started to yell Penny’s name out of instinct, but when I turned around, I saw something that was somehow more troubling. That mangy kitten from earlier was playing with my papers, having just thrown some of my equipment onto the floor.

I picked up the feline by the scruff of its neck and furiously took it downstairs. Penny and her boyfriend were doing some shenanigans with a mistletoe, but I wasn’t just going to wait until she was done.

Ahem,” I cleared my throat, getting Penny to turn around and acknowledge my existence.

“Wha- Doc! Put him down!” 

“Gladly.”

I allowed Penny to take the cat out of my hands, and after cuddling it a bit and setting it beside her bag on a chair, she turned to face me. 

“We had one condition, Penny. It was that you were to stay out of my business. Do you want to know where I found that cat? In my business.

“Yeah, I know, I’m sorry.”

“Fine. Just keep it down, alright?”

I turned to leave, but before I got the chance, Penny’s high-pitched voice once again pierced my ears.

“Oh, Doc! Wait! Before you go, I got you something!”

Of course she did. I had the obligation to stand and wait as she dug in her bag and threw me a green rectangle precisely wrapped with the cheerful demand of, “Open it!”

With a groan and more than one subconscious curse word, I removed the wrapping paper from the prism, only to be greeted with… A book. Not just any book, but a biographical novel on Wernher Von Braun. There was a part of the book marked off with a sticky note that I decided to investigate later. This would actually do me some good, the man had my interest piqued since grade school. But how did Penny know that…?

I decided to make my questions auditory. “Penny, how did you know that I wanted this?”

My only answer took the form of a giggle, and an,  “A magician never reveals her secrets, Doc!”

I stared at the book for a good long while, examining it from every angle, reading every piece of visible text on the covers. It was a thoughtful gift, certainly not something I would’ve expected to get from Penny. I assumed that she would be too busy making out with her boyfriend to get me anything at all.

“Stay here,” I instructed, tucking the book under my arm and heading back upstairs into my lab. After finding a place to store the book, I swiped the project off my desk and brought it downstairs. I wasn’t entirely finished with it, and I would’ve preferred to wrap it, but it seemed to be an appropriate time.

All those years I had spent around clocks paid off. I held in my hand a completely custom watch, made exclusively for Penny. When I handed it off to her with the caveat of, “Never lose track of your life,” she seemed extremely grateful. Though she attempted to pull me into a hug, her boyfriend held her back, which was the correct thing to do.

“Merry Christmas, Doc!”

“Merry Christmas.” 

With that wish out of the way, I lingered downstairs a bit longer. I saw Penny immediately put on the new watch and show it off to Zinovi, all with the biggest grin on her face. Even I started to smile at the sight of it all. Sure, the music and the jingle bells were annoying, but there was still an aura of joy.

“Isn’t Ava supposed to be here?”

“She went for a walk. Do you really think you should be conducting experiments on Christmas?”

“Perhaps not.” 

Ava and I had been making some genuine progress over the last few months. She was able to manifest small objects with ease, and recent tests had shown consistent ability to summon wings, as well. The girl still had trouble learning to fly with them, however. 

I still questioned why everything she summoned ended up orange, but I hypothesized that it was just some side effect of her magic. It’s certainly not something I need to be concerned about, with the matter at hand. Anything was possible in this day and age.

I did, however, need to be concerned about Ava’s mental state. She was always unable to make any sort of manifestation at all without being calm and in ample control over her emotions. Recently, she had seemed much more nervous and afraid, having to suppress those negative feelings in order to participate in my tests.

I didn’t ask why Ava usually refused to be over at the shop whenever Penny was there. Originally, I chalked it up to Penny being a distraction, and her presence making it much harder to focus. But now, as I saw Penny flirting and joking around with Zinovi, I realized it was something far more personal than that.

Travis, wherever you are, you better watch your back.

 

PENNY

DECEMBER 22 

Hark the herald angels sing…

The best time of the year was finally here! When I was a kid, the Christmas season was one of counting down the days until I got a bunch of cool stuff and going to my grammas’. Christmas had always been special to me, no matter how old I was. 

It was a time where you could truly appreciate those in your life that meant the most to you. When I have kids, I’m going to pass on all that I learned to them. I’ll make them feel loved, and do whatever it takes to ensure that they know the warmth of this holiday year-round! Speaking of warmth…

Doc wouldn’t let me bring in a space heater because of a fire hazard or whatever, so Zizi and I had to come to a compromise. That compromise was wearing the snuggliest sweaters we owned and curling up together for warmth. It seemed to melt even Doc’s cold heart for a bit! 

Of course, not for long. He stuck around for about five minutes before my kitten started wanting to play around with him. I decided on the name “Cine” for him, short for “Cinema”. Isn’t that adorable? Plus with the way his name is pronounced, it sounds like “Sin”. Fitting for a black cat, right?

The family that had taken refuge at the shelter sent me a Christmas card a few days previously. I would’ve invited them to the party, but they were hesitant to leave the shelter, and I had no clue how Doc and Ava would react to them. They could’ve used a spirit lifter, even still. Jeez, that demon really took a toll on everybody…

Survivors all gave the same account. A winged figure, cloaked in darkness and lavender, that stole away those that they loved. It seemed almost poetic, but it was enough of a tragedy to send me into tears at just the thought of it. Zizi and I had tried to be careful, but there were certainly nights where we had to give in to our fears and bunker down instead of going out. 

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Ava, too. Doc was doping her up to be some kind of magical superheroine, and it was really starting to get to her. I used to love a good fantasy novel, but now that it was real…

Well, responsibility like that was probably overrated anyway. With all that’s wrong with the world, it was easy to give up any semblance of hope, but now was the season of snowflakes and everything that was right in the world! The people and experiences that you love, or even the simple delight of a refreshing sip of hot chocolate. A life this good was much too precious to just give up on!

As I laughed at Zizi playing with Cine and getting his nose booped with a tiny paw, something in my head clicked. This is it. This is the boy I want to marry. Sure, it may have been far too busy of a time to be thinking about settling down, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was destiny that brought the two of us together.

I began thinking about all the other things that destiny could bring along. Maybe, in the future, Zizi and I would move into a town with a tad more excitement than little old Auburn. I’d pen a bestseller or two, and his video games could win some awards. We’d both be incredibly successful. We’d raise a few beautiful children. I could vividly see a little grinning face that mirrored his father’s right in front of me… 

A subtle squeak and a cheerful remark of, “Hey, I’m back,” alerted me to Ava’s return. When I turned around to greet her, I saw a small orange box wrapped in her hand, with a similarly-colored bow placed on it.

“Aww, did you make this?”

“Yeah. It’s for you.”

“Thanks!~ Can I open it?”

“Go right ahead!”

Excitedly, I took apart the wrapping paper and barely noticed a small orange figure that blended into its background. As I took it out, I was able to make out what it was. It was an adorable little crochet kitty! It had thin little whiskers and a woolen tail! I practically squealed as I hugged it tightly. 

“EEEEE!~ Lookit the kitty!~ Ava, I love it!”

“Heh, it’s nothing… Sorry I couldn’t make it any more colorful…”

“Nono, it’s perfect! It’ll remind me of you!”

I spun around to show the cat off to Zizi and Cine, before setting it off to the side in order to have my hands free to wrap Ava into a big hug.

I turned around and gave my boyfriend a quick boop on the nose, smirking playfully at him. “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you. Do you want your gift now?”

“Yeah, sure. I got something for you, too.”

I giggled and grabbed a large and neatly-wrapped box out from under the Christmas tree, holding it out to Zizi. With cupped hands and a big toothy grin on my face, I watched Zizi as he removed the top from the box, only to reveal a plaid scarf hiding underneath.

“When I’m not around, you’ll need something to keep you and your cats cozy!”

Zizi had the brightest smile on his face and I looked on as he tried on the scarf. It fit perfectly!

“I love it!” he exclaimed, kneeling down to let Cine examine the scarf as well. The kitten seemed more concerned with the loose strings on each end than the scarf itself. 

“But you know, there’s something that I love even more…”

I giggled, knowing what—or really, who—he was referring to. He kissed me on the cheek with his signature smirk before leaning down to retrieve another present that was hidden under the tree. Wrapping clearly wasn’t his strong suit, and the little hastily-wrapped gift made me giggle a bit. Still, I took the gift from him, taking apart the paper to find a small black box.

Beaming, I wondered if Zizi had the same thought I had earlier. After all, there wasn’t much you could keep in a little velvet box! I opened it up to find a silver necklace on a long chain with a heart charm. I gasped, my huge smile getting a bit bigger if possible. 

“May I?” I handed him back the box and he took it out carefully. Holding my hair back, my boyfriend put the necklace on. It hung above my heart. My other necklaces had shorter chains and seemed to point to it. 

“Oh Zizi, it’s beautiful!”

“Perfect for my beautiful girl.”

He was smiling at me, his eyes echoing exactly what I was feeling. He pulled me into a kiss, and I happily returned it. For a moment, it seemed like life was perfect. I could practically hear “Once Upon a Dream” in my head from this Disney Princess moment…

But of course, it couldn’t last. I saw Ava out of the corner of my eye as I started to pull away. Her eyes looked lifeless, and her face had lost almost all of its color. It looked as if she wanted to run away and bawl her eyes out, but didn’t have the energy to. All of her energy seemed to be busy just keeping the poor girl standing up.

“Ava, are you okay?” 

“Yeah, just tired.”

“You’re always saying you’re tired… Are you sick?”
“It’s… It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time.”

“I’m fine, Penny.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Well, I am!”

After snapping at me, Ava turned away. Either because she didn’t want me to see her cry, or just because she couldn’t bear to look at me anymore. Maybe both…

“I gotta go,” was the last thing Ava said to us before sprinting out the door. There was a part of me that really wanted to chase after her, but there was a much bigger and much saner part that told me that I would only make things worse.

Whatever happened to the happiest time of the year…?