He was Immortal. Countless lives lived, friends and lovers lost to time. I was bound to be one of them. As the years went by, I found grey and he stayed the same. Soon, I looked much older than him. No matter what I looked like, he always said the same thing every night: “I love you more than anything.”
I’ve met so many people in my life. Henry was so different than any of them.
I used to wonder if it was just because he was so old. After all, he still speaks fondly of the soldiers he fought beside “back in 1776.” At first, it seemed likely that he just wasn’t aware of how fast the world was truly moving. Then I saw him with computers. The speed in which he fixed my phone made me realize that he was very intelligent…he just didn’t want people to know how deep that intelligence truly was.
Being Immortal must have its ups and downs. Henry always spoke of how it was “back then.” Whether “back then” was the turn of the century, or simply a year or two ago. To him, time was both a joke and a constant.
To me, time was always ticking. When we met, I was a young student, trying so hard to get my doctorate. He was there to mentor me through it (“I’ve done this a couple of times,” he told me one study session. I thought he was joking until I saw all of his degrees.), and he was there afterwards. We fell in love so quickly.
When I was young, he looked so much older than I. His hair wasn’t quite grey, more pepper than salt. The lines on his face were delicate like a crumpled tissue. Henry stood tall and strong. Beside him, I felt safe. I always have.
Now, he almost looks youthful. My wrinkles were becoming deeper, my hair silver and my glasses thick. I could barely get through the day without having to sit down every hour on the hour. He still moves with such grace.
On a cold November night, he led me to a box full of old, dusty items. His belongings from the beginning of his timeline. With pride, he showed me his baby picture, a neat drawing of a small infant. He showed me his various Metals of Honor from all of the wars he had been forced into (“I never actually wanted to be drafted after I had fought in those first two wars,” he had said once in passing. “But you know how it was back when they drafted men…”)
Old clothes, old paperwork, old photos. Everything was so fragile from time. I was terrified to ruin something important, but Henry kept handing me things with earnest. “Look at this! Oh, look at this now…”
The only thing he didn’t hand me from the box was a small black photo album. As he walked into the kitchen to get more tea for us, I couldn’t help but pick it up and look inside. I was met with a photo of him and I, smiling brightly into the phone we took the picture with. It was a new photo, one from the current year anyway. I smiled down at the photo. I didn’t know he kept photos like this.
As I flipped through the album, I saw photos of us throughout the years, as if I was going back in time. My hair was shorter and darker with every turn of the page, until I got to a photo of us the year we first met. My hair had been so long! I missed the unwrinkled face smiling back at me. Henry’s only difference was his lack of facial hair.
There was still so much photo album left. Curiosity for what was to come forced the turn of the page, and I was met with a photo from what looked like the 70s. A woman with long brown hair and bell bottoms was smiling at the camera, holding a small child as she tried to balance a drink in her other hand. I brought the photo album closer to my eyes, noticing that her smile was eerily similar. The wrinkles that were forming for her had already settled on my face. In the background of the photo, I saw Henry waving.
I turned the page. Another photo of the same woman, this time sitting next to Henry on the couch. Her face looked just like mine.
As I flipped through the photo album, the woman was replaced with an older woman, who looked similar to us as well. By now, I assumed that it was the 50s, as Henry was always wearing some sort of uniform in every photo. Going back in time to see the older woman go from grey to blonde to brown to blonde again, and then another woman who seemed to be my age appeared. In the corner, the photo was dated. “1938,” I mumbled aloud. Her hair was curly, but her face was the same as all the rest of the photo album.
I stared at this woman for far too long, trying to process the reality in front of me. Henry had been saving these photos for years, decades, yet never showed me. My heart skipped a beat as the realization set in…these were his past lovers.
“What are you doing, Mallory?” Henry’s voice came from behind me, a nervous tone hidden behind his smile. It made me jump in surprise. I looked over my shoulder to see him holding our tea, his eyes locked on the album.
I hesitated. I simply didn’t know how to respond. “Looking at photos?”
Henry sat the kettle down on the table and sat next to me, never looking away from the album. “You found the Black Book, I see.”
“If that’s what this is, then yes I did.”
Henry looked a little closer at the photo, eyes darting to the date. He then looked at me with eyes wide. “We haven’t even gotten into the portraits yet.” He reached over and flipped to a page with four pencil drawings, three of three separate doppelgängers and one of a man who looked eerily similar to the rest of us as well. “I haven’t had a lot of past relationships, but for every year, I have a photo of my love at the time.”
He turned to the end of the book, the beginning of his love line. There was a portrait of him and a beautiful woman in black and white, their bodies adorned in expensive-looking robes. I noticed she looked nothing like the rest of the women in the photos. “This was my first marriage,” he explained. “Her name was Annalise, and she was from France. I met her while I was overseas…” He let out a sad sigh. “She didn’t know I was Immortal, so once she realized I wasn’t aging she left me so she didn’t have to send me away.”
“Why would she send you away?”
“Immortals aren’t natural,” he said as if he was reciting from a script. “We’ve been labeled witches, Satanists, aliens…most normal people don’t like the fact that they age and I don’t. It’s immoral, unnatural.”
I looked down at Annalise again. “She doesn’t fit the pattern,” I smiled gently, pointing at her face.
“She does not,” Henry agreed, a small smile twitching at his mouth. “After she left, I found Jane.” He flipped to another drawing of a woman who looked like the rest of us in the album. “She was the first person who didn’t leave when I told her about me. Over here we have her twin, Benjamin,” he added, pointing to a man who looked just like her but with facial hair. “He loved me too, but Jane didn’t know.”
“You left her for her twin?”
“No,” Henry shook his head. He looked a little sheepish. “We waited until they were older. He didn’t want to keep me, but we were also together, I guess.” He paused before adding, “Things were different back then. I was different.”
I closed the book, looking over at him. He was red from embarrassment. “It’s okay, my love,” I told him, handing him the book back. And it really was okay. After all, that was his past. He never judged me for mine, and I wouldn’t begin to do so to him now. I looked back down at the photo album and smiled as I joked, “At least we know you have a type.”
He laughed heartily at this. Between the laughs, he thanked me. “I didn’t know how you were going to react, that’s why I’ve never shown you this. You mean so much to me, so I didn’t want you to be angry with me, you know?”
I knew. “You can’t be alone all the time,” I said simply. “Not when you live forever.” I began to pour our tea into our cups. “I just didn’t know you’d kept track of us all your whole life.”
“It forces me to remember all the colorful people I’ve met throughout the years,” he mused, taking the tea cup I offered to him. “Different hues of the same color. I’ve loved them all. But you,” he started, looking into my eyes. “You are my brightest shade! I’ve been with you the longest because, well…” He trailed off, blushing again. “You never sent me away, or shied away from my youth. Even now, I look as if I could be your young cousin, or even your brother.”
“Don’t make it weird, Henry,” I teased. He chuckled softly as I assured him, “No matter what, you’re still the old soul I’ve loved since I was young. You’ll never have to worry about that.”
Henry nodded, looking almost relieved. I took a sip of tea and leaned into him, resting my head on his shoulder. He returned the embrace, kissing the top of my silvery head. “I could never love another,” I murmured, closing my eyes. As we sat together, the Black Book faded from my mind. After all, in this life he chose me. I couldn’t argue with his ghosts.
Hey everyone! Thanks for reading this little story. On the way home from work this past week, I was listening to SOHN’s newest live album and when I listened to the very first song, “Hue”, I day dreamt up these characters and a short story was born! Hopefully you enjoyed the little peek into Mallory and Henry’s life together!
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