The Bleeding Rose
Do what you gotta do. He'd set her free, hadn't he? That was what the words meant. He had let her go, he had given her permission. But there was something else, something that dragged her back from the edge of the cliff and slapped her across the face. He loved her. Love. It was such a heavy word, so loaded, not to be tossed around freely. Tilly rarely said it, rarely thought it, but...had she felt it? Had she felt it when he'd held her in the meadow, or even moments ago? Did she feel it now? Could love be so painful? It was a knife between her ribs, a burning in her eyes, an emptiness in her soul that longed for him deeply. She did fall asleep eventually, with pain in her heart and and emptiness in the pit of her stomach. Her mother came in once to press her hand against her forehead, but for the most part everyone stayed clear of Tilly. Maybe they could sense it, the death.
But was it the baby, or her?
It was a decision that seemed to be made for her. After a few days her color returned, her strength, that biting hunger that suddenly seemed even more overwhelming. There was even more pain now, more agony whenever she thought of the baby she'd lost and the look in August's eyes. Tilly had thought this new found knife in her heart would be enough to push her over the edge, to push her broken body over the edge of the ravine. It wasn't. In those few days, it became apparent that Tilly would not have the courage to kill herself. No, it was more than that. She didn't want to. August's words had changed everything, and instead of dreaming of an escape...she dreamed of her forgiveness. If he loved her, truly loved her...then she had a reason to live.
Of course, it wasn't so simple. You couldn't go months without talking, lose a baby, and then become...well, Natalie Turner. She started small, speaking to Violet rather that flat out ignoring the woman's attempts at conversation. But of course, she had saved Tilly from a much more painful fate. Her mother was still clueless, and if her father wasn't, at least he kept his mouth shut. August was avoiding her like the plague, so it wasn't as though he noticed anything. It became increasingly clear that she would have to do something that he would notice. And so, one night at dinner, she did the unthinkable. Violet set a plate down in front of her, loaded with pot roast and mashed potatoes, and Tilly said "Thank you." Silence came over the table, eyes fixed on her as she raised her fork and her knife. Did she even remember how to use them? One way or another, a chunk of pot roast made it's way into her mouth. Hattie's jaw had practically come unhinged. It was her father who saved her, teasing Violet as he often did about her choice of beverage. "We havin' that fru fru wine again? No offense Vi, but I don't think it's right to eat a meal like this with anything that doesn't burn on it's way down."
Grim As You Like
It was somewhat like, August assumed, based on limited knowledge with no true basis, being a ghost. Everything he did seemed to have him second guessing his reason for continuing his life. With steadfast conviction, he had exclaimed to Tilly that he had no intention of following her into death's embrace. Now, however, it were as if he were being punished once more. True, he had discovered that he was not unable to have a child, but that penance had quickly been replaced with another.
He was going through the motions of life, going about his days with his family as if playing out a story he had already read. Doing his chores, teaching his younger siblings what the school refused to, remaining peaceful with the Kromms. And yet, it was as though he simply could not move on from the life that had almost been. A ghost, stuck with something important left in a past life, clinging to the desire to make things right.
Then, one night at dinner, a flicker of his former existence shown upon Tilly's face. It was life, not death, that loomed in her words, in her gestures. August dared not jinx the occurrence, which was no doubt some sort of fluke, or whatever the word was that folks used for something like that. The others at the table struggled to believe it as much as August when she spoke to Violet, thanking her for the food.
That fluke was supplemented by an anomaly as Tilly suddenly began to eat. Just a bite or two, but far more than August had seen her consume in weeks. He had believed up until now that she had somehow managed to sneak a few bites in, otherwise she surely would have withered away into nothing and died. Maybe she had, but she had never, with such bold normalcy, taken fork in hand and eaten in front of them. August kept his gaze locked on the tablecloth for several moments, his eye eventually flitting up to her face as the most subtle of smiles flickered on his lips. There was no way to tell just what was going on in Tilly's mind as she ate, but August did not fail to express his surprise. The rest of the meal was spent staring at Tilly, glancing away when he felt anyone else doing the same to him.