This is a story of Guilford's early nights, not long after his embrace. I wrote it as something more than just a history of the character. It's also of interest as it explains something of the reasons for the Yates Conservatory
A whisper on the wind. And yet she turned, and saw him there. Her hands flew to her mouth, stifling the gasp that might have alerted the servants.
He was a shadow in the night, a shape behind the gauzy curtains, blowing through the open french doors. She knew it was him. Three years abandoned, to all knowledge a widow, yet she knew. As she'd never believed he'd died, she knew who was there, even before she could pick out the details of the shape of him. Those shoulders, not too broad, not too narrow. The tilt of his head, the same tilt he always had, looking at her. Even though she couldn't see his face, she could picture the tender expression. And the tilt to his body. The one he'd come back from the war with. The way he leaned on the cane he needed to walk. It was him. Unquestionably. "Guil?"
He stepped forward. Off kilter steps. The limp, so familiar to her. The clothing impeccable as ever. His features as perfect as ever, endearingly so. But those eyes! It wasn't the tender light she'd seen there for so long. It was madness in his eyes now. And he was pale. Paler than he'd ever been.
"Guil?" She said again, reaching a hand out to him, the other still pressed to her mouth.
He stopped short, before she touched him. "Lizzie, I. . . " His voice trailed off for a moment, then picked up. "I can't stay."
"No, Guil!" Tears stung her eyes. "No, Guil, don't leave me!"
He closed his eyes, a long, long moment. "Lizzie, I can't. . ."
"Why not, Guil?"
He looked so hurt. The expression, and even more so when he opened his eyes. So much sorrow in his eyes. "Things have changed, Lizzie. I've changed." His wonderful voice. She'd always loved his voice. But now it was breaking her heart. Hers, and from the strained tone, his own.
"Not so much, Guilford. My Guilford." She stepped closer, reaching out to him, but again he evaded her touch.
"No, Lizzie. Too much. Much too much."
"Other veterans have come back, and had. . .troubles, Guil. We can live through this. We can survive it. Together, Guil." She reached out for him, a third time.
"It's not the War, Lizzie. It's not what the War did to me." The grief on his face, more tortured in that wonderful, aching voice. "I wish to god it was." And this time, very tentatively, his hand reached hers.
She gasped softly. "You're cold!" The fingers that wrapped around hers, that old, treasured gesture, felt suddenly alien. Cold.
He looked away, unable to meet her eyes. "I. . . " He dropped her hand. "I'll go, Lizzie. I'll still be. . .around. I'm taking the business back. Bart is in no way capable. But I can't. . . I can't stay with you. I'm sorry."
"Please, Guil?" The tears that had been stinging her eyes were threatening to spill.
"What about the children, Lizzie? How are the girls? And you were. . .when I left. . ."
"You have another daughter, Guilford. I named her Faith, to keep the faith, for you."
His eyes closed again. She desperately hoped that he would keep the faith, too, and return to her. Instead, he said, "May I see her?" His voice sounded odd. Unsupported.
"Come." She led him up down the hall, to the chamber where their youngest slept. Faith was still a tiny thing, not much more than two. Very fair, like her mother, like all the girls.
Lizzie watch Guilford as he studied the child. Then he turned and looked into her eyes. "She's lovely, Lizzie. Like her mother."
He left the little room, and returned to the parlor. She caught up to him at the fireplace, studying the photograph that had been taken of her, only a few weeks before he'd vanished. Watching him looking at the portrait, Lizzie still saw the gentle, passionate man she'd loved since she was a girl.
She approached him. "Please don't leave us again, Guilford. The children want to know their father. I want to keep my husband."
It was as if she'd struck him. When his eyes finally met hers, they looked as red as if he'd been weeping. "I can't stay, Lizzie. I am not what I was."
She sunk to her knees before him, her skirts pooling around them both. "Please, Guilford!" The tears spilled out of her eyes, down her cheeks.
"No, Lizzie. Oh, my darling, don't weep." His cold hand touched her face. The gesture as he wiped away her tears was so tender, the same that had soothed her grief when they'd lost their son. The same that had comforted her when illness had claimed her own sister.
"Don't leave me, Guil. . ." She choked out.
And then she saw it. On his face, tears. Two, one from each eye. As red as blood. She gasped.
He raised his hand, touched one of the bloody tears with a finger. He lifted the finger, looking at the blood on it, then licked it off. Again, Lizzie's hands covered her mouth, tightly. "My god. . ."
"You see?" His anguish plain in his voice. "I'm a monster, Lizzie. I can't stay."
She simply stared at him, in horror, grief and shock, while he spoke. "I'm frightened of this thing I've become, Lizzie. I don't want. . .I won't let it hurt you. You and the girls. You see? I have to stay away. I have to."
He turned, as if to leave, but her words stopped him. "You're no monster, Guilford." She rose, standing, and once again holding a hand out to him. "A monster would hurt us, and not care. You're no monster."
He clasped her hand to his breast. She felt no warmth, no comforting beat of a heart. His eyes were red from more bloody tears pooled there. "Oh, my Lizzie. How did I ever get the fortune to have you?"
Once again, she wept, but she smiled at him through tears. "You were the best, Guil. You've always been. And I will always love you."
He, too, smiled, though he would not let those terrible blood red tears fall. "And I you, Lizzie. And I you."
She drew one cold hand close to her, and kissed it, gently. "Will you still build me my paradise, Guil?" It was a joke, between them. Lizzie loved plants, exotic ones from far away places. Guilford had built her a little greenhouse to keep them in, as best as possible. But he'd always promised her, perhaps only partially in jest, to build a place much larger, a palace for her plants. They'd called it her paradise.
"One day, Lizzie, one day." He returned her gesture, pulling her hand close, kissing it gently. His lips were cold, too.
"I'll never forget, Guil." She meant so much, in that. She hoped he understood.
"Nor will I, Lizzie." He watched her, as he walked out of their house, forever. Walking slowly, even slower than he must. His eyes stayed on her, the entire way.
* * * * * * * * *
One hundred and twenty eight years later, Guilford Yates stood in the open, airy foyer of the building he considered his finest achievement. Tomorrow night, the place would be full of guests, for the Grand Opening Masquerade Ball. But tonight, it was Guilford alone, with his memories.
Her portrait hung on a wall near the center of the foyer of the Conservatory that bore her name. He walked slowly toward the picture, looking up at her face. "Your paradise, Lizzie. They'll never forget you, either." He turned around, looking over the room, satisfied. Then his eyes returned to her. "In your honor, Lizzie."
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