We were the best of friends.
Tom waited for her to return to the house one day; he had faith that she would, though his mother Maud cautioned him not to dare hope. Florence had been gone for many long years; he was sure she'd forgotten him but would remember eventually. She had to come back, she just had to. He missed her so much that some nights he felt his heart could send a message to her, beckoning her to come back and stay with him again. He concentrated on sending out his spirit, his plea, but until that day he arose each morning to the same emptiness. Trapped in the house where he died – was killed. He, the sacrifice in place of his sister who had been their father's true target.
Once Tom had realized what had happened, he felt glad that his sister was at least safe; she was his beloved and he would have died for her, anyway. Still, he hadn't expected to be grounded on the earth and unable to move past it once his life force spilled out. He left his body and entered the house itself, becoming a part of it and entwined with its walls. He watched it as the years went by. She must be fifteen now, he thought one year, and then she might be eighteen or twenty. Time lasted forever, counted in slow motion by the millisecond. He had nothing to do but count time.
His home had been converted into a boarding school for young boys and his mother worked there; she'd never leave him, for then he would be well and truly alone. At least she could see and converse with him, though sometimes he grew bored of her and longed again for his life and companionship of those his own age. What age was that? He died at eleven years old and though his manifestation was that of the schoolboy he'd been, he had lived somehow on in the years that had passed. Certainly he was no longer a child, but he could never grow into a man. The potential had been lost and he didn't even know the first thing about manifesting himself as an older boy, much less the twenty six year old he would have been had he not been cut down in youth.
When others saw him, the few that ever could, they screamed and ran. He heard them describe him as "blurred" and "twisted" in the face. He learned to control how he appeared to some, and didn't understand why they could not see him as he'd been, for his face hadn't been altered by the gunshot. The descriptions frightened him and this itself was astonishing because he hadn't known fear existed in this state of being. He was afraid of many things, but most of all was being alone forever. Watching and never participating; listening and never being heard.
Tom had learned some of the rules of his realm – he could leave the house and so far the limits had not been tested. He'd been to church with his mother, though really, he didn't know why they even bothered. When an innocent child is killed and his spirit indwells a place on earth, what kind of Heaven could there be? What had he done to deserve this punishment? Where then were all the other dead people? They'd gone somewhere; he'd never seen another in the house, not even Walter after he'd passed away. Something kept Tom here, but he knew not what.
A small list of rules governed his world: he could not be seen or heard by most people; when seen, his face appeared disfigured; he could feel all range of human emotions such as joy, sadness, loneliness, despair. When his years had reached fourteen or fifteen his feelings toward girls stirred endlessly, but he was able to control his feelings much better now than in life. He could cry, but he did not need eat or sleep.
He guessed that the reason for his imprisonment had to do with his sister. He'd loved her more than anyone, and longed for her return. They could be together again at last. He would wait for her, however long it took.
And then one glorious day she'd returned to him, only to see but not know him. He had controlled his face, she didn't scream or run away in fright when she saw him and best of all, she spoke to him and heard him when he replied. They had conversations but all the while Tom was careful not to divulge his identity. Mousie, as he had taken to calling her, either could not or would not remember him.
Maud devised a plan to frighten her just a bit to make her stay; only Tom's mother knew of his loneliness and longing, and she tried her best to be a companion to him. Now that Mousie had returned, Maud made it her business to aid Tom in securing her company for an extended time and allowing Mousie to possibly come to terms with the tragedies of her past and see beyond them and into the spirit who now lingered and pined for her.
Though he regretted the method they had employed because it scared Mousie so terribly, Tom felt comforted because she chose to stay and investigate. She would soon find out about him, once she remembered. What would she say or do then? He hoped she might want to stay, but feared that Robert would get in the way. Mousie had grown so attached to him, and Tom had seen them together. He hadn't been shocked, but when the act finally happened he realized he'd been expecting it all along. An act that could never be theirs, his sister and he, but only between Mousie and the man she loved: Robert.
Tom harbored no ill will toward Robert, how could he? Robert had been helpful in bringing Mousie back, so Tom instead felt grateful to him. He could have frightened him away easily, but Mousie was receiving the comfort she needed as her half brother sadly and begrudgingly scared her – scared her right into Robert's arms, and bed. So in truth what Mousie had done was because of Tom and not to hurt him. He had so many mature thoughts in his head and grew frustrated with his perpetual boy's body.
Such it was that Tom began to experiment with the boundaries of his "condition." He could change his appearance more and more, until he could change into almost what he could have looked like as a young man. Mousie sat talking to him one day, and when she looked up, her eyes froze. Had he been successful? Was it fear or recognition in her eyes?
"Tom!" she said with a gasp, her lower lip trembling.
"Do you know me?" he asked, and at once the voice that came from his throat was unrecognizable to him. Deeper, more resonant.
"Yes," she said. "Tom – you're…"
He walked to the mirror and barely recognized his reflection. His face had been transformed, and when he turned to face her again, he realized he was now looking down to her, rather than up.
"Mousie," he said, staring at her. "Do you remember me at all?"
She reached out for him and touched his cheek and he leaned into her hand and closed his eyes.
"Tom, it's you," she said softly.
"But you're… older…"
"I've been waiting for you a long time, Mousie."
"Oh, Tom. I'm so sorry," she said, and took him in her arms. They held each other for some minutes and he felt her body shudder with sobs. He rubbed her back, trying to comfort her.
"I'm sorry for what I've done, Mousie. I was so scared you'd leave again and never remember me."
She pulled back and looked at him. "I do, I do remember you, Tom. I never forgot you … I just had to keep you safe."
He understood; if she had carried the grief with her, it may have destroyed her life. Instead she pushed it deep inside, hiding it all away to keep herself from fragmenting.
"I love you, Mousie," he said plainly, gathering her back into his arms.
"How are you doing this, Tom?" she asked against his shirt.
"I don't know; all I know is you can see me, and you see me as I might have been."
She looked at his face closely, searched his eyes. "Yes. It's true … you are my Tom, but … older."
"Stay with me, Mousie. Let's not be separated again," he said. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. He lingered for a second longer than he'd intended, and realized that she had allowed it.
In that moment, he knew that she loved him as he loved her. They had always been, and always would be, the best of friends.