The woman sat on the grass, her back against the broad rough barked trunk of the old oak which spread its ancient limbs above her head, its leaves casting dappled shadows of sunlight upon her sketch pad. The figures on the pad were of an elderly couple. There were many different poses of them filling several pages of her pad. She didn’t know them, had only occasionally in the past spoken to them briefly in passing. What had drawn her attention from the beginning was the care they had shown for one another. Even after almost sixty-five years, so she had been told, of marriage their love was still a living thing. It shown through in the myriad of little things. His arm—so gently around her waist as they helped each other across the street. Her trembling fingers as she reached up to pat his cheek as he smiled down at her. The way his gnarled fingers cupped protectively around her elbow as he helped her up the few steps into the park.
Tessa Noel had caught all of these as frozen moments of time in her sketch pad. Her eyes softened as she glanced through the pages. Here was one of the old man standing meekly before his wife, his wrinkled, heavily veined hands hanging loosely by his sides as she fumbled with the buttons on his old, oft mended sweater, pulling it together against the wind that lifted her thinning baby soft hair.
Tessa’s pencil had caught the frailty, the translucent parchment like quality of her skin but her skill had also caught the love that seemed to light his tired old watery eyes as he watched her caring for him. It was the shared secret between the two of them which Tessa had caught.
She stopped at the last drawing in her book. This was the only sad drawing. She had only just completed it. The other drawings had been done over a period of a week, almost a month ago. For the past several weeks, the old couple had been absent from the park. She had watched eagerly for them. After the first sketch, Tessa had decided to sculpt them and had wanted as many pictures as possible from which to draw her inspiration. She had been more than a little disappointed when after a week they had ceased their daily outings.
Yesterday, by chance, she had caught sight of the old man as he left the small market down the street. He was hurrying along, one large paper bag caught tightly in his arms, his eyes downcast, occasionally stumbling in his haste. He was alone.
Tessa had returned to the park today, hoping the couple would be there and she could continue her drawings. Now she knew why he had been alone. Her heart had gone out to them as she watched him lead his wife to their usual bench in the park. Her hair was combed neatly, a little too neatly, and her clothes were tidy. But it was as if he led an automation. When he led her and encouraged her, she followed meekly. If he removed his hand from her elbow, she drifted to a halt, waiting unmindful until he prompted her into movement again.
He helped her find her seat on the bench and sat close beside her, holding her hand, talking to her. Her eyes empty, her face slack, she sat staring blankly, unresponding. Now and then he would reach with his handkerchief to dab at the spittle that started from the corner of her mouth.
This was the moment Tessa had sketched. The old woman’s eyes stared emptily from the shell that no longer housed the essence, the spirit of the woman herself. The man’s face watched, trying in confused bewilderment to understand what had become of the woman he had for so long loved.
It was, Tessa recognized at once, a medical problem, perhaps a stroke, but no amount of the love or caring they had shared through the years could penetrate this barrier.
They had not stayed long in the park. Tessa got the impression that this had been a trial visit, to see perhaps, if this once favorite pastime would bring a response. It had not.
She put the finishing touches on the picture, capturing the lost, hopeless look in the man’s face as he led the old woman from the park. She held the sketch pad tight against her chest as the couple disappeared from view. She felt sorry for them; for her, a person who had been so vital so full of love only weeks before and was now a mindless shell; for him, having to carry on with such a loss but not really able to grieve and heal because there was no end. No physical death only a mental one.
She lay in the darkness watching the man sleeping beside her. As a sculptor she never tired of studying the features of the man she loved. She had tried many times to get him to sit for her but he had always refused and she had honored his wishes. Not that she needed physical images to remind her of this man. He lived in virtually every waking moment of her life and often filled her dreams. The strong jaw with its slight shadowing along the beard line. The sensuous mouth which could cause such delightful shivers of appreciation throughout her body. His straight black hair, usually kept bound at the nape of his neck, now lay in gentle folds across his cheek. The unfurrowed brow told of a man at peace with his life. And what a life he had led, this man of hers.
Unwilling to think along these lines, she slid out of bed as quietly as possible. Taking her robe, she slipped silently from the room. Troubled dark eyes watched from the bed as she pulled the door closed behind her.
Using only the outside street lights and her own knowledge of the warehouse that housed their gallery, she wound her way through the labyrinth of antiques and sculptures on display to her workroom. She plugged the hot plate in to make herself a cup of tea and then settled down at her worktable with her sketch pad, thinking that if she couldn’t sleep, she could get started on the drawing she wanted to use to sculpt the elderly couple. It would be both of them, she mused. It would have to be to show their unfaded love. She loved the drawing she had done of her fussing with the buttons on his sweater but she also liked the tender touch of his large rugged hand touching her parchment-like cheek. Perhaps she could somehow combine the two... After a few minutes, the tea kettle started to steam and she absently turned it off, forgetting to make her tea.
Silently she worked, her pencil inspired, sketching the old woman’s face, the heavier wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth and the tiny fine lines that seamed the tired cheeks. Fine hair hung down her neck, curling in single light curls to frame her face. Tessa roughly sketched in a hint of the body. That could be done at any time.
Her thoughts drifted a little as she started drawing the fingers of the old man as he reached to touch the delicate cheek. His long, work roughened fingers still held strength. Tessa found herself wondering what he had done with his life that he still had such strength in his hands. She added lines here, shading there, to give age to the hand.
It was very like Duncan’s hand, she realized with a start. This is what his hands would look like when he aged. If he aged, she corrected.
She started on the arm, sketching quickly the forearm and elbow, up the well muscled upper arm, eager to began on his head. She drew without thinking, not referring to the drawings she had so carefully made earlier. Her pencil moved with a life of its own, outlining his head, his straight nose. Occasionally she would fill in shadows on the woman’s face, making minute changes.
Her thoughts were now on the man in her own life. They had been together twelve years. Twelve years that had flown by too quickly. They had not been, for the most part, earth shaking, history making years. But they had totally changed her life. He had totally changed her life.
They met her last year of art school at the Sorbonne. To help with expenses, she worked part time for a tour company, reciting the history of Paris as the tour boat cruised the Seine. As they were pulling away from the dock one day, he had leaped aboard, causing a minor disturbance. She had been conscious the entire trip of his eyes on her. He had asked her out, after the tour finished and she had refused him. Other things were on her mind that week. Finally admitting defeat, he left.
She had been given the chance by a small gallery to show some of her work. It was only a week long show but, working feverishly, she had prepared for it as if she were a world renowned artist, preparing for a show at the Louvre.
It was the last day of the show, a Saturday afternoon. It was slow, only two people in the gallery. Stephen, the owner, had been pleased to tell her that three of her pieces had sold that week. She had stopped by to check with him about the details of taking the show down after the gallery closed. She knew another show needed hanging for its opening the next day, another unknown artist waiting in the wings.
His entrance had been dramatic, but not by design. She was standing at the back of the gallery waiting for Stephen to finish a telephone call, listening to the quiet comments of the people surveying her artwork. The shop faced west and the late afternoon sun was blinding, doubly reflected off the brilliantly polished hardwood floors. She stood staring, unseeing toward the front. The glare caused her eyes to water and she blinked rapidly several times and then closed them for a long second to rest them. When she reopened them, a dark figure was silhouetted in the doorway, the light surrounding him seeing almost to emanate from him.
For reasons she could never explain, perhaps it was just the man’s unexpected appearance, her heart started beating rapidly and she found herself straining to see the man’s face.
“Tessa?” His rich baritone broke into her thoughts.
Her heartbeat quickened in anticipation as she turned her head. He stood in the doorway, blinking in the light, his hair tousled from sleep. He had pulled his robe on but it hung open exposing his white jockey shorts, stark against his tanned body. “What’s the matter, sweetheart? Couldn’t sleep?”
She felt a stirring in her chest, felt a flush steal up her throat as she shook her head. “I thought I might get a little work done,” she explained.
He tied the belt on his robe together as he moved forward. “Is there anything I can do?”
She smiled. “Nothing that would help me get this done,” she told him.
Wrapping his arms around her from the back, he nestled his face against her neck, enjoying her scent. “I could help you with other things,” he suggested.
She leaned back against him. A low hum deep in her throat seemed to match the feeling stirring within her. Closing her eyes in contentment, she let the feeling grow.
Terror filled her when she felt him freeze, his arm tightening slightly around her. Another Immortal, she thought. A challenger. Dear God, keep him safe! I can’t live without him!
“Oh, Tessa,” he sighed.
The tone of his words filled her with fear, what was it she heard? Sadness? Disappointment? She twisted in his arms to see his face. His eyes, staring over her shoulder, were filled with a deep sorrow.
“Duncan? What is it?” she asked, bewildered. She turned back around, her gaze following his. “What...?” She broke off when she saw what he was staring at. Her drawing lay exposed on the table. “But I didn’t... This isn’t what...” Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t deny it, the proof lay before her, in her own hand.
“Is this what’s been bothering you?” he asked hoarsely.
She started to shake her head, to deny the drawing but she slowly stopped. “I didn’t mean to draw this,” she whispered. “I was drawing the old couple. The one I told you about. For my sculpture.”
He turned her until he could see her face. “I love you, Tess,” he told her, emotion making his words gruff. “I’ll love you till the day I die. You will always be the woman I love. Nothing can change that.” He drew her against him in a tight hug. “Nothing will change that,” he promised.
“I know,” she told him, knowing his words were truth. “Duncan, since the night you told me what you are, I have believed that my share of immortality lies within you. Your love for me will keep me alive as long as you live. I know that.” Keeping her arm tightly around his waist, she pulled him toward the door. “Let’s go back to bed.”
They passed through the doorway and his hand found the light switch, plunging the room into darkness. As the sound of their footsteps faded, stillness settled back on the workroom. The street lamp outside cast its light through the skylight, softly illuminating the drawing laying on the table.
Her talent had captured the essence of the woman. The passed years showing in the cobweb of fine wrinkles. The generosity of the slightly smiling mouth. The love in her eyes as she stared at the man above her.
The contour of the man’s aged hand, with it’s tiny lines and scars, resting against her cheek, spoke of his love. Her artwork had captured all of this.
But Tessa Noel’s private hell exposed itself in the picture. Unconsciously, she had adjusted minute details until the face of the woman was that of her own, as it would appear in fifty years. The man’s hand, caressing her cheek, was that of an old man, but as she had drawn the muscles of the arm, moving up to the face, her pencil had dropped the years. No sagging muscles marred the face of the man in the drawing, no wrinkles showed around his mouth or eyes, no gray disturbed the dark hair. The face staring down at the elderly woman was that of the man she loved. A face that would never age. A face that could never age. Duncan MacLeod. Immortal.