This is the third installment in TMN staff writer Allison Maschhoff’s serialized fiction series, The Curse of Briar Michaels. You can read part two here.
Aislinn walked over to Briar. Her lips were pressed together firmly, and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. Dushan and Asuka watched silently. Asuka wasn’t sure what was going on, but Dushan knew. He had seen it in Aislinn’s eyes. He wanted to stop it, wanted to tell her she didn’t deserve this, but he didn’t know how.
The look in Aislinn’s eyes made Briar feel cold. He watched her hands reach up and fumble under her hair for the clasp to the chain around her neck. Aislinn always wore that necklace, but in the year he’d known her Briar had never seen the charm. She always kept it tucked under her shirt.
Aislinn let the necklace slide off into her hand. She reached out and dangled it in front of him as she said, “Take it.” Her voice was frail. She was losing control over her tears.
Slowly, Briar did as he was told. He ran his fingers over the thin silver rectangle hanging from the chain. A strange word was engraved on the metal.
Before he even asked, Aislinn told him, “It’s Old Irish. It means love. My grandmother gave it to me when I was a little girl. She brought it with her from Ireland; it belonged to her grandmother. I’ve never taken it off.”
Briar couldn’t think of anything to say. He was too focused on the sinking feeling that this conversation was the end of something. He was too focused on the knowledge resting in his gut that this would change him forever.
Aislinn swallowed. She was glad he wasn’t talking. She would’ve started crying by then if he had been talking. Her eyes were glued to the floor. “I want you to have it. I want you to know that I’ll always love you, even though I have to ask you to leave.” She paused. “Or, if you can’t leave, I will. I suppose that’s fairer of me. I’m the one making the decision.”
Asuka started to interrupt, but Dushan’s solemn glare made her stop.
Finally, Aislinn raised her eyes to meet Briar’s. His body was understanding what she was saying quicker than his brain was. His eyes had a film of water over them, but his countenance spoke confusion. His mind was in a whirlwind trying to understand what had come over her.
Aislinn said, “We have to stay away from each other, Briar. I mean it. For the rest of our lives.”
The first tear fell from his eyes, and it was the tiny splash of water that reminded him he still had a voice. “Aislinn, I don’t understand. Why should we be apart if we love one another?”
“Because I hurt you! Because without me, you’ll never have to feel whatever it is you felt this morning and back on the sidewalk six months ago! Because without me, you can’t find that awful, awful creature!” She realized she was shouting. Dropping her voice back down to a whisper, she finished, “Without me, you don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to be cursed.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Briar saw Dushan’s hands fly up to cover his ears. He wondered if that was Death. He wondered if this conversation was truly going to kill him.
All Aislinn wanted in that moment was to reach out to Briar. She wanted to hold him and tell him she was afraid and ask him to never leave her side, because the awful irony was that, while her presence meant Briar had something to fear, his presence made her feel as if she didn’t. But she cared more deeply about his ability to get away than she did her ability to find solace.
She supposed that was what love was.
Summoning all of her strength, she said, “Leave.”
Briar stared in her eyes for a solid minute. Asuka silently counted the seconds. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three…
Briar didn’t want to leave. He wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, either. But he knew after that minute of silence that he had to. Right or wrong, he had to go for now. He didn’t think it’d really be forever.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Aislinn collapsed. She curled herself in a ball on the floor and she sobbed. Dushan gave her a couple moments before he walked over, gathered her gently into his arms and carried her to bed. He placed Aislinn on her bed and let her be. He could hear her crying as he walked away. He could hear her up until the moment he stepped out of the apartment and into the hallway to find Briar sitting on the ground, staring at the door.
Dushan sighed. “Give her a couple days,” he said.
Briar didn’t respond.
Two days later, though, Briar was knocking on the apartment door, begging for re-entry. The next day he asked for an explanation. The day after that he simply banged on the door until Aislinn answered it. She only opened it a crack. Just enough to tell him to go away.
He came every day for a week. And then Aislinn did something he had never considered a possibility. No one had thought it would come to this.
She left. She had told Briar that if he didn’t leave, she would. So she packed her things and said goodbye to Dushan and Asuka, promising to write them when she settled down. She got on a train and headed to St. Louis. From there, she got on a bus. She put 350 miles between herself and Briar Michaels before she stopped moving. Then she found an apartment and a job and soon an envelope mailed from her new address arrived in Dushan and Asuka’s mailbox.
“We can’t lose her,” Asuka said to Dushan as she stared at Aislinn’s letter.
“We won’t.” He said it like a promise. Neither of them was sure what he was promising, or to who.
Aislinn’s departure forced Briar to accept the finality of her decision. He did not follow her. He did not ask for her new address. While they would never say it, Dushan and Asuka blamed Briar for breaking apart their close-knit family, so he eventually drifted away from them. A year later, communication had ceased. What they had all believed to be unbreakable was finally broken.
It took three years for them to be brought back together again.