Muriel had gotten tired of the food that was usually offered at the hotels they stayed in, so, after showering that morning, she had asked if they could go out for breakfast. After a quick internet search, they had found a highly-rated diner and were now seated at a booth with omelets. They hadn’t spoken to each other very much, but Muriel didn’t mind. She wanted some time to sort through her thoughts.
While she off a piece of egg and cheese and chewing it slowly, Muriel stared at Aion and wondered at how much she had previously missed about him and everything around them. He always wore button up shirts in deep jewel tones; today it was a deep and vibrant blue, with black slacks that looked tailored, wrinkle-free, and spotless no matter what. His shoes were similarly shiny black and spotless, as if they were freshly waxed every morning.
There were a couple heavy gold rings on his left hand – including his ring finger – with ornate engravings that reminded Muriel of abstract flower vines. She wondered what that meant, especially in regards to who Aion really was. While she was soaking in as much as she could about his appearance, she still didn’t know much about his background or identity.
Despite the fact that Muriel had never seen him use the shower, he always looked perfectly clean and manicured. His hair was always silky and smooth, though he did alternate between wearing it pulled back or leaving it loose, and his chin never sported any stubble. Come to think of it, Muriel realized with a shock, she had never seen him sleep, either, but there was never any trace of fatigue in him – he always had the refreshing glow of perfect health about him. At least his appetite was normal.
As for Muriel herself, she felt drab and plain. Her clothes were worn and faded, and she didn’t have any makeup to wear to cover up her pale skin or the dark circles under her eyes. Every time she looked in the mirror, she felt that she was too wounded and haunted to be pretty, no matter what Aion said to the contrary. When they had first sat down, she noticed the dirty look that the waitress had given her, and the way that she had tried to flirt with Aion. It made her feel insecure and inadequate, until Aion responded with such indifference that waitress hurried away like a dog with its tail in between its legs. Would it be rude of her to suggest that they leave a small tip? Muriel liked that thought.
But Muriel still wished that she felt like his match, instead of a small and helpless girl who was already worn and frayed. She could easily imagine him with someone who oozed confidence and grace, like a goddess, yet, for some reason, he only had eyes for her.
She also hadn’t realized how much traveling they had been doing, and she wasn’t sure which part of the country they were in anymore. How was it that she got into a car, day after day, without ever noticing which color it was, or where they were going? She wasn’t even sure how many days it had been. They were on an endless road trip, with no destination to direct them, or to limit them.
Ever since she had met the Grim, she had been in a deep dream where nothing made sense, yet it had never occurred to her to question how nonsensical her world had become. Now she was waking up, and waking up was difficult.
“Are you married?” Muriel asked, breaking the silence as she gestured towards Aion’s left hand. His reply didn’t surprise her.
“Yes. To you.”
Muriel sighed. She wanted to question him – to question everything – but she didn’t feel like there would be much point in doing so, other than exhausting and frustrating herself. He would probably give her evasive answers anyway. Instead, she commented, “I don’t have a ring.”
“Do you want one?” he asked.
“Of course.” Muriel held up her left hand to show her empty finger. “If I don’t also have a ring, everyone is going to think that you’re cheating on your wife with a high school student.” It was probably a nasty thing to say, but Muriel somehow felt that it was the sort of thing that she should say, considering that she wasn’t talking to him as an innocent virgin. Again, she couldn’t figure out why he wanted her, when she had nothing that she could give him.
“Let’s go get one then,” Aion said. “Don’t worry about the price.”
Muriel couldn’t believe her ears. “What?” she gasped. “Anything I want?”
“Anything you want,” he repeated.
A feisty side that Muriel had never known welled up inside of her, and she wanted to push the limits and find the boundaries of his generosity. After all, wedding rings weren’t cheap, and he had suggested buying her one with a casualness that had seemed almost irreverent. Law of Attraction aside, he was talking about a lot of money. “I absolutely hate my clothes,” she added coyly. “Can I get new ones? Makeup too, of course, and maybe some hair accessories and necklaces so I can focus on my appearance a bit more. And maybe some electronics or some such to keep me occupied while we’re driving around.”
“As long as we don’t overfill the car, we can buy a few things.” He smiled, a sort of indulgent and amused smile that made her think he was offering a counter challenge and testing her limits. “Would you like to have a fun date today and go to the movies as well?”
“Yeah, that sounds nice …” With that simple suggestion, he had outclassed her. She couldn’t couldn’t keep asking for more, because all of a sudden she started to get the sensation that everything was unreal. There was no way that her crappy life had led to finding herself married to a gorgeous man with unspeakable amounts of money – it was just too much like bad fanfiction. “Holy crap!” she exclaimed. “I’m dead!”
That seemed to strike a nerve in Aion. He grew somber, and spent a moment staring into Muriel’s eyes, until she began to shift uncomfortably. There was something in his gaze that penetrated through her, to something beyond, and it made her feel empty inside. Slowly, he reached up and touched the center of Muriel’s forehead, and whispered, “In a sense, you are. Now you are a wisp of what you were.”
Chills raced down Muriel’s back, and for a second she couldn’t breathe. She could feel the truth in what he said, but she couldn’t understand it. It was a forgotten memory, just out of reach, and blocked from her, as though a solid pane of glass had been place inside her mind. In a way, she could barely see it, like a glowing blossom surrounded by darkness, and she knew that it was somehow a part of her. She shivered again.
“Hey, I’m done eating, so let’s get going,” she said quickly, breaking the moment with the sound of her voice. It also pulled Aion out of his reverie, and he agreed, then went to pay the check. Too late, Muriel remembered that she didn’t want to tip the waitress very much, but it didn’t matter. Her mind was too heavy to care.