Author's Note: This wasn't quite what I started out to write, and it was intended for Halloween ... but given Dan and Billy's back story (and yes, one day I do hope to get around to writing that) maybe Remembrance Day is even more appropriate. Without wanting to go into the detail of it now, they served together during the 2nd World War - that's when they met. So actually it felt good to post this one around Remembrance Day in memory of all those who gave their lives in War, and holding especially in memory all the Dans and Billys whose lives must have been so unbelievably difficult. God bless you all.
The house sat slightly remote from those around it at the top of the hill. It had an unhappy, slightly forbidding air, and lately the kids in the neighborhood had taken to avoiding it. They'd stop their cycles a few yards short of the hilltop before turning to free wheel down around the curve where the street followed the bend of the river. They never discussed why; it was simply an understood thing between them: that creepy place was somewhere they stayed away from.
Adults weren't always so perceptive.
The young couple were very keen to get a house, and charmed as they drove up the gently curving road. The afternoon clouded over suddenly as they parked their car and the house looked cold and dark against the suddenly stormy sky. Their realtor prattled with determined cheerfulness as they waited for the door to open, but as the first rumble of thunder sounded, the young woman suddenly shivered, moving closer to her husband.
The man who stood in the dark frame of the doorway seemed to fit the house. He was tall and thin with a grim face that became even grimmer as he looked at them.
The young man had a flashback to watching Addams family reruns and half expected the old fossil to growl out "You rang" like some ancient Lurch. His wife was less amused. She found the old guy as creepy as the house.
Before she'd even entered the door she was determined that nothing would make her live there.
By the time a stair rail had come loose in his hand and he'd observed a pattern of water stains on the ceiling above the stairs, her husband agreed with her.
The estate agent seemed exasperated and relieved in equal parts.
They all left together. There was one last crack of thunder and then the skies abruptly cleared. As they drove away the sun was shining benevolently once more.
Inside the house, it lit up the hallway and as the old man walked slowly up the stairs, grasping the now solid stair rail, the light played on the unmarked white ceiling above his head.
Other potential buyers came and went - often leaving in unseemly haste.
There were no major incidents, nothing that actually put anyone in any danger, but a number of strange little things did seem to happen whenever a realtor brought anyone to see the house for sale at the top of the hill. Pictures would suddenly slip sideways on the wall as potential buyers walked past; dishes would rattle on the dresser for no reason; doors would stick, or swing suddenly open. And all the time the owner would be in the background, a grim figure, radiating disapproval, if not downright malevolence.
"It's a horrible house," people hissed to each other as they escaped down the steps.
"It's weird," they shivered. "It's creepy. We're not living there!"
"It's crazy," the realtors complained among themselves. "You'd think he didn't want to sell, the way he stands there scaring them all off more even than the damned house does."
"You'd think the house didn't want to be sold," some of them thought to themselves. "It's weird the things that happen whenever there's a buyer in the house. It's always fine if I just go over to talk to him, but as soon as a buyer walks in ..."
But they could never say such things out loud. The last thing anyone wanted was for the house to get a reputation for being haunted. And, of course, everyone tried very hard not to notice that, whatever the weather elsewhere in Pittsburgh, it was always dark and stormy when they took a buyer to that damned house.
As the months passed, the atmosphere of the house seemed to darken even further, and the old man's face became more grim, more forbidding.
Until one Saturday in the early Spring, when new buyers arrived at the door accompanied by their realtor, who happened to be the mother of the younger of the couple. The older of the two was tall, with dark auburn hair, astonishing hazel eyes, and a cynical twist to his mouth; the younger was smaller, fair like his mother, with blue eyes that shone with joy and lips that seemed made for love and laughter.
The sun shone brightly as they walked up the steps. The old man growled out his usual reluctant greeting, but as they moved through the house and nothing untoward occurred, his attitude to them seemed gradually to change. By the time they'd reached the back of the house where the sun shining through the huge windows spilled brilliant color across the walls and floor, he was becoming almost welcoming.
The blond's awed and enthusiastic reaction when he saw those windows and, even more perhaps, the tall man's reaction to his partner's excitement, seemed to thaw even more of his reserve. As he showed them round the rest of the house, he became positively avuncular - although the glint in his eye reflected the tall man's own cynical gleam.
When the pair finally left, deal done all but the signing of the final papers, the old man stood before the windows. Looking up at them, the sun almost dazzled him. Or perhaps it was the moisture in his eyes that made it hard for him to see.
"They came, Billy," he breathed hoarsely. "You were right to make me wait. They finally came."
If possible, the sun seemed for a moment to shine even brighter banishing the last remnants of shadow from the house. Once more as the old man remembered it, it glowed with warmth and love.
In the weeks after they moved in the couple were very much aware of that quality as they came to know their new home. It was almost like a presence; not intrusive, but a gentle influence that brought with it a sense of blessing. And the feeling was strongest in that beautiful back room under the amazing stained glass windows.
They lay sprawled together below those one night. It was almost summer but there had been a chill in the air all day, and they'd lit the fire and were lounging in front of it on a gaily colored rug, glad of the warmth and enjoying the quiet time together.
Abruptly and without warning the younger one jerked upright, as if stabbed by some sudden pain. His tall partner gave a startled oath and sat up as well.
He opened his mouth to demand what was wrong when the sense of something amiss, something not in its accustomed place, came to him. He looked around, confused, and then his eyes met his partner's.
The blue eyes that he loved were clouded. "It's happened," the blond breathed.
"You don't know that," he remonstrated weakly.
"Yes. I do. And so do you."
Once more their eyes met.
Wordlessly, the tall man reached out and stroked his partner's shining hair; then drew him into his arms and they clung together, troubled by a sense of loss they didn't really understand.
But neither of them were surprised when, an hour or so later, the phone rang. The blond took the call, all the while tightly clasping his partner's hand. There were tears on his face as he put down the phone, and tears in his voice as he said, "He's gone. He he died a little while ago. That was his nephew. Dan asked him to call us when he told them to let us know."
The tall man drew him into his arms. "Don't cry, Sunshine. He's gone where he wanted to be, where he belongs. They're together again now, Dan and his Billy."
Despite his words his own eyes swam and they stood a long while comforting each other for the loss of the friend they'd found only in the last months of his life. But in spite of their very real grief, there was a sense almost of release as well, and as they held each other and gave and received love and comfort, the house became truly theirs, truly their home, free now of all ghosts from the past, except that of the love that had created it.
That love, like theirs, would live forever.
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