The manor had belonged to her grandparents. Grandma Bonnie had just passed on after a long battle with cancer. She and Grandpa John, who had preceded his beloved wife a decade earlier, had lived there for as long as Roxanne could remember. Bonnie had inherited it from her British mother's side of the family in the early 1900's.
Although it was a huge mansion, they always made it feel homey and cosy, keeping most of the house closed off. Holidays were always joyous occasions, the smell of turkey and cornbread dressing and buttery mashed potatoes and spicy pumpkin pies, the sounds of laughter and happiness in the air.
Bonnie and John always knew the house was far too big for them, even when Roxanne's parents and siblings moved in when Roxanne was ten years old. It was a perfect arrangement for everyone - it certainly made things easier financially for her parents, and also helped her grandparents feel not quite so lonely. Despite the size of the house, there was just something magical about the place that drew them in, all of them, and there was no way it the family could ever let it go...until now.
Roxanne was Bonnie and John's oldest grandchild, and since her parents had died in an automobile accident a few years earlier, and her aunt Shirley and uncle Peter were too ill and far away to shoulder the responsibility, she was named executor of the estate, and owner of the manor.
She planned to stay for a month or so to get everything ready to sell it, as it was just too big and expensive for her to live in or take care of by herself. An author of children's books, she was fortunate to have the freedom to do her work on her own schedule, and from anyplace she wished. However, it didn't soothe the grief she felt to see the old family home go, but she didn't know what else to do.
Pulling up to the side entrance, Roxanne turned off the engine of her black Mazda, grabbed her two suitcases from the back seat, and went inside. The family housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson, had left a note on the counter welcoming her, and letting her know that she'd stocked up on groceries, and that she'd already turned in for the evening, but that she'd begin a thorough cleaning of the house tomorrow. She'd also left her a chicken salad sandwich, wrapped in wax paper in the refrigerator. She smiled.
Roxanne would oversee everything and make arrangements with the local realtor. Plus, she had the important task of ensuring that Grandma Bonnie's dear friend and housekeeper received the generous compensation for all her years of service and companionship that Grandma had wanted her to have, so she wouldn't have to worry about finding employment for a long while after she was gone.
But all that could wait until tomorrow. It was late, and Roxanne was tired, emotionally and physically. She quickly took her suitcases upstairs, where Mrs. Johnson had prepared the master bedroom for her. The king-size bed was draped in a thick, soft, beautiful quilt, made by her grandmother as a wedding gift to her parents. The traditional wedding ring design was done in soft tones of burgundy, pinks and blues, with white accents.
After a quick shower, Roxanne brushed her chin-length black hair, changed into her nightgown and robe, ran down to fetch the sandwich and a glass of cold milk, and went back upstairs. She climbed into bed and read a couple of chapters of a novel as she ate, and then switched off the light to get some sleep.
As she began to drift off, she heard a sound that startled her. It was a voice - soft, British and male - but muffled and filtered, as a picture through a soft-focus lens. "Roxanne, my love, I've been waiting for you..."
She barely breathed as her eyes searched the shadowy room, not daring to turn on the lights. As she looked, she saw a form appearing near the window. It was a handsome man, with dark hair and beautiful, haunting grey-green eyes. He appeared nearly transluscent, with an aura of bluish light all around him. He approached her with outstretched arms.
Roxanne's eyes grew wide with terror, but she could neither move nor speak. She felt her fear slowly subsiding, however, as he drew nearer, and found her own arms reaching out to him. The man bent over her, embraced her, and gently placed his lips upon hers. She closed her eyes and sighed as she felt a subtle tingling where he touched her, returning her uninvited visitor's cool, ethereal kisses.
"Richard..." she whispered, not knowing why or how she knew his name, or why she felt no fear, but rather, an attraction to this man, drawing her to him.
"Roxanne, my love," she heard him reply softly, "How long I've yearned to return to you, to feel you in my arms again. And finally, now, here we are. Together..."
He kissed her again, and she melted into his sweet embrace, losing all sense of time, of herself... and the next thing she knew, she awoke to the warmth of the morning sun illuminating her face.
As she blinked and tried to make sense of her strange dream, Mrs. Johnson knocked on the bedroom door. "Roxanne, dear, breakfast is ready."
"Thank you, Mrs. Johnson, I'll be right down," she called out, taking a quick shower and dressing in jeans and a rose pink sweater before descending the stairs.
Roxanne hugged the older woman with a smile. "Mrs. Johnson, it's so good to see you." She had only the fondest memories of the kind housekeeper who was always more a member of the family than an employee.
"I only wish it were under happier circumstances, dearie," she replied, bringing her a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, along with a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. She looked at Roxanne with kind, understanding eyes. "I'm so sorry about your grandmother..."
Stirring cream and sugar into her steaming cup, she sighed. "Thank you, I know you miss her too." Roxanne took a sip and smiled - she always did make the best coffee in town. "But now, let's get one thing straight. You are not here to wait on me. Sit and have breakfast with me, and you can start cleaning later."
Mrs. Johnson laughed, accenting the well-earned laugh lines around her eyes. "Alright, dearie, but I intend to earn my keep. This place will be shinin' when I'm through with it..." Her voice trailed off, clouded by some unknown emotion.
Concerned, Roxanne took her hand. "What's wrong, Mrs. Johnson? Are you alright?" She went to fetch her a cup of coffee and a plate of breakfast.
"Sure, sure," Mrs. Johnson assured her quietly. "It's just that... well, it's hard to see the old place go, you know? I mean, I know it's too much for you to take on by yourself, but I'll hate to say goodbye, that's for darned sure." She ran a wrinkled hand across the kitchen table, lovingly fingering the various dings and scratches and marks left behind by years of children's playful handiwork.
"I know... so will I" Roxanne said with a small smile, looking around at the cozy kitchen where so many happy moments were shared with her family - learning how to make tender, flaky pie crusts and perfect fried chicken at her mother's side, sharing quiet cups of tea and Grandma's snickerdoodles over shared secrets, figuring out complicated math homework with her father's help, making Christmas cookies and divinity for all the family friends at holiday time.
The two women laughed, talked, and shared breakfast before starting their busy day. Mrs. Johnson was going to start working upstairs on the unoccupied bedrooms, packing up clothing and miscellaneous items, and giving the rooms a thorough scrubbing, while Roxanne's big task of the day was to meet with the real estate agent who was handling the sale.
Her appointment wasn't until early afternoon however, so Roxanne took another cup of coffee upstairs with her and went to the study. It was always one of her favorite rooms of the house when she was a girl, with several shelves filled with hundreds of books - everything from mystery novels and classics to non-fiction books on many diverse subjects.
She sat in her grandfather's comfortable leather chair with a book of poetry. As she drank her coffee and read Edgar Allen Poe's classic "The Raven," one of her favorites, she heard a familiar voice - the man's voice she heard in her dream the night before.
"Roxanne..." the voice called to her.
The leather-bound, gilt-edged volume of poetry slipped from her hand, and she gasped, as she saw the man standing before her. "W...who are you?"
"You know who I am, my love," he replied. "You called me by name last evening when I came to your room..."
Roxanne looked at the apparition, or whatever, whoever it was. "But I was just...dreaming." she protested, trying to convince herself more than anything. "It wasn't real. You aren't real."
He spoke softly. "Oh, but I am, indeed, very much real." His hand brushed hers like a feather. "Say my name, Roxanne."
"I..I don't know you. I don't know your name...please..."
"Yes, you do, my beloved. Say it. Please, say my name..."
She looked into his eyes. "Richard... Richard..."
He smiled and held out his arms to her. "Yes, my beautiful angel. It's me." As she slowly arose and began to walk toward him, she noticed that he seemed very nearly real, more fleshly and less ethereal than he had the night before. Richard took her into his arms, which felt more solid around her, his mouth warm and tangible upon hers. Roxanne sighed, returning his tender kiss with all her heart.
"You see me and feel me more fully now," he whispered, "because you're beginning to believe in me more than you did last evening. The more completely you believe, the more real I shall appear in your eyes, and to your touch.
"And on that sweet day when you come to me, my beloved Roxanne, in complete faith, without hesitation, we shall be together forever, as our destiny was written upon the stars so many years ago..."
She smiled softly at Richard. "Oh yes, Richard. Forever..." But just as she leaned in to kiss him again, a horrible scene flashed before her eyes...
All around her, people were screaming, crowding around her. They were dressed in the fine clothing of an earlier era - women, men, children - and Richard was standing next to her, holding a young boy no older than six years of age in his arms, blue and cold and dead. A chill ran through her body...
"No!" she gasped, back to reality now, looking upon Richard with a desperate fear. "Please, just leave me alone. Please..." she wept as she backed away from him.
"Roxanne..." he said quietly, soothingly, extending a hand to her.
She shook her head. "Why are you doing this to me?" Roxanne asked, not coming closer to him.
Richard looked at her kindly, compassionately. "It's not me, my love. It's just your memories coming back, helping you to remember who I am and how much we loved each other once." An icy tear formed in the corner of his eye. "I still do..."
Her eyes strained to see him, now as thin and gauzy as a mist rising over an Irish moor. "What's happening to you?" she asked.
"Your fear is not allowing you to believe," he explained sadly. "I'm fading from your sight, because you fear me, instead of accepting what I am telling you, and being receptive to remembering what we shared together."
He reached out a cool, transluscent hand and touched her cheek. She did not shrink from his caress, although she could barely feel it now. "I don't blame you, Roxanne, I know it sounds all too fanciful and unbelievable. But I shall leave you for a while so you can have time to think and take it all in." And with that, he faded completely from her sight.
"Wait..." she called out. But it was too late. With a heavy sigh, she replaced the book on the shelf and went downstairs to the kitchen.
As Mrs. Johnson, taking a breather from her cleaning, saw her troubled expression, she immediately put on the tea kettle. "Sit down, dearie," she said warmly, with great concern, "Mercy me, you look as if you've seen a ghost."
Roxanne, letting the irony of her statement pass, got two cups and spoons, bringing them to the table as she pondered all that had occured. When the kettle began to whistle vigorously, Mrs. Johnson prepared a pot of Earl Grey and cut two slices of her homemade lemon cake for them.
"Now, honey, you tell me what's troubling you. What is it?" Mrs. Johnson asked. Roxanne always felt as if she had another grandmother in the family, and Mrs. Johnson had always treated her with that sort of love and affection.
Roxanne sipped her tea and looked at her. "Have you ever seen..." she paused, "...strange things in the house, Mrs. Johnson?"
"Strange things? Why, dearie?" she asked. "Did you see something?"
Taking a bite of the sweet, tangy cake, Roxanne let it melt on her tongue for a moment as she thought. "Well, I thought I did, but...well, it was probably just my imagination."
She didn't know how to explain how very real the apparition appeared to her, or how she knew who it, he, was. Besides, she didn't want to frighten Mrs. Johnson.
The older woman chuckled softly. "Oh lordie, child, an old house like this is bound to make anybody see and hear things! Do you remember that once, when you were a little girl, you came running to me and your mother here in the kitchen, crying, and telling us you'd seen a ghost?" Mrs. Johnson smiled warmly. "It took us nearly an hour and a whole plateful of chocolate chip cookies to calm you down after that."
"No... I don't remember." Roxanne replied honestly. "But you're right, this big old house will do that to you, I suppose..." She wasn't convinced, but what else could she say? Their conversation was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
"Hello?" Roxanne said. "Yes, good afternoon, Miss Franklin. I'm fine, thank you. What? Oh, certainly, I understand, Friday would be fine. No, no, really, that's perfectly alright, thank you for calling. I'll see you then. Goodbye."
"It was the lady from the real estate office," she explained to Mrs. Johnson as she replaced the receiver. "She got called out of town, so our meeting is postponed until Friday."
"Well, you're not in a hurry to leave, are you dearie?" she asked, a trace of sadness in her voice.
Roxanne stood up and embraced her with a reassuring smile. "No, I'm not! I just got here, so this just gives us a couple more days to visit - you can't get rid of me that easily."
"Good!" Mrs. Johnson chuckled heartily, the cheer returning to her voice. "Now how about a nice pot roast for dinner tonight?"
"You even have to ask?" she giggled. "You know that's my favorite!"
"Then I'd better get to it!" And with that, Roxanne left her to her cooking, and went back upstairs.
She spent the greater part of the afternoon in the study with her laptop, working on her latest book. Mrs. Johnson brought up tea after a while, and before she knew it, the aroma of her famous pot roast wafted up through the air, and she heard her calling her.
After a comforting, delicious late supper of meltingly tender pot roast with gravy, potatoes and carrots, homemade rolls and butter, green salad, and warm, cinnamony apple pie for dessert, Sarah helped Mrs. Johnson clear the table and went upstairs to work on her book well into the night.
Lying in bed after reading for a while, she closed her eyes and halfway hoped for a quiet, peaceful night's sleep. But the other part of her wished desperately for Richard to appear to her again. And it was that wish that overrode her thoughts...
As sleep overtook her, she began to dream...
The crowds of people surrounded her more closely now. Some people were weeping, some were panicking and shaking, some standing quietly with their loved ones, resolved to their nameless fate. Tears formed in Richard's eyes as he gently handed the body of the lifeless boy to his grieving mother. "I'm so sorry, ma'am, I'm just so sorry..." he said quietly, tears welling without shame in his pain-filled eyes...
It was morning again. She'd had a dream, but Richard had not appeared to her. Strangely, Roxanne missed him, although she wasn't quite certain why. And as she glanced at the pillow beside her, she saw a perfect, long-stemmed white rose lying upon it. She arose, inhaled its sweet perfume with a gentle smile, and put it in a bud vase filled with water on the nightstand.
"Thank you, Richard..." she whispered to the air.
The day went quickly. After breakfast, Mrs. Johnson continued cleaning the upstairs bedrooms, and started on the bathrooms as well, as Roxanne wrote another chapter of her book. After a tasty dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh peas, rolls, salad and peach cobbler, she read for a while and went to sleep.
"He...he got trampled by some of the other passengers," Richard explained softly to the woman. "They were frightened, panicked, running too fast. I tried to reach him to get him out of the way in time, but..." Richard's face was full of sadness and unwarranted guilt.
Roxanne wept as she gently kissed the cold cheek of the boy she never even had the chance to meet. "God be with you, brave little man" she whispered quietly, then turned to embrace his inconsolable mother.
Friday morning. Another dream, yet still no Richard. Roxanne showered, dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast.
"Good morning, dearie!" Mrs. Johnson chirped as brightly as the first robin of spring, as she brought a platter of pancakes and sausages to the table. Roxanne fetched the orange juice and coffee, and the two women shared breakfast together.
"Mrs. Johnson," she asked, as a thought popped into her head. "How much do you know about our family, our relatives from the earlier part of the century?"
The older woman seemed puzzled. "Hmmm, not too much, I'm afraid. There were some cousins, a few young ones from your mother's side, that's all I know about, really. I'm sorry."
"No, no, that's alright. Thank you." Roxanne reassured her, glancing at her watch. "Oh dear, I'd better get moving if I'm going to meet Miss Franklin at the real estate office on time." She grabbed her purse and kissed Mrs. Johnson on the cheek as she flew out the door.
Roxanne arrived at the office, and after a brief wait, the receptionist told her to go into Miss Franklin's office. They went over the details of the impending sale, and all seemed to go smoothly. As Roxanne arose and shook her hand, she had a thought.
"Miss Franklin," she asked. "Do you have any records of who owned the house in the past?"
The older, blond-haired woman checked her file. "Yes, here is a printout from the county records office, with all the previous owners." She glanced over the paper. "Looks like it was originally owned by a couple of distant cousins of yours who died in 1912 before they could even move in. Their names were, let's see... Richard and Roxanne... why, that's your name! Small world, isn't it?"
The blood flowed from her face, and she felt an icy chill. "Yes, very small." she replied, muttering a quick word of thanks before walking out of the office to her car.
Back at the house, Roxanne went to the study and tried to work on her book, but her racing, uneasy thoughts tormented her. 1912...1912... what was it about that year that was so familiar to her? She scanned the bookshelves, hoping to find something light and entertaining to help ease her mind, when she came across a book that seemed to beckon to her.
She looked at it, flipped through several pages, and suddenly realized that the true story within its pages began to make some bizarre sense of her dreams, the date, and all the conflicting feelings inside of her.
Oh my god...
The rest of the day was a blur, barely tasting her dinner and making a vague excuse of a headache to Mrs. Johnson so she could go to bed early and fall asleep, praying desperately for another dream to complete the puzzle that taunted her mercilessly, and especially hoping that Richard would finally appear to her this evening. So she turned out the lights and slipped once again into the dark dreams of the night...
Richard took Roxanne by the hand and led her to the edge of the crowd. "Get on the next lifeboat," he said quietly, firmly. "There's room for you, but you have to hurry, my love."
"No!" she said, "I love you, and I'm not leaving without you. Never without you..." She hugged him tightly and shook her head. "Live or die, we do it together, side by side."
"Roxanne, for God's sake, please..." he pleaded, desperation in his eyes.
"Side by side..." she whispered as she kissed him, her eyes assuring him that she was certain beyond all reason, without fear, and could not be swayed. And so, they held held close to each other and waited for whatever fate had in store for them...
She awoke to the familiar voice calling to her, rousing her from her dream. "Richard, is it you?" She opened her eyes and saw him faintly in the moonlight.
Roxanne sat up in bed with a soft smile. "You're here..."
"Yes, my love," he said warmly. "I wanted to give you time to think about what I told you, time to remember. Do you remember, Roxanne?"
She rubbed her eyes and arose, standing before him. "Yes. I've had several dreams, which all seem to be a continuation of what I saw in my mind the other day in the study." Roxanne looked at him, puzzled. "And I think I'm beginning to know what it all means," she said, "but it doesn't make any sense..."
"What did you dream of, my darlin'?" Richard asked.
"I saw crowds of people, screaming, afraid... and a child. He was so young... dead... you were holding him...comforting his mother."
"Yes," he said softly.
"And you...you tried to save me, too. But I refused to leave you behind...just like some of the stories in the book over there on the bookshelf. The one about the sinking of the Titanic."
Richard smiled and held her hand. "Your memories are coming back, memories of the life we shared together." His voice was low and soft. "Close your eyes and remember, my love. You'll see that it's not a dream, but our very real past..."
As she closed her eyes, Richard's soft hand caressing her cheek, another vision came, more clear and vivid than the others. And at that moment, she realized what it all meant, and what she and Richard meant to each other...
Richard and Roxanne held tightly to each other as the Titanic made its final, deadly descent into the frigid ocean. As the band nobly continued to play "Nearer My God To Thee" until the bitter end, Richard kissed her for the last time. "I will always love you, my beautiful Roxanne. Even death will not separate us, I promise you that." And with that, they sank into the icy depths and perished, still clinging to each other, refusing in their undying love to let each other go...
"Richard...oh Richard," she cried out, "I remember... I remember..." She wept and held him tightly in wondrous disbelief.
"Can it be? Is it really you, have you really returned to me? Are we truly here, together again?" she asked, feeling him strong and completely real now within her arms. "You feel real...in my heart."
"Yes, my love, it's true." Richard smiled and touched her cheek with a warm, gentle hand. "Because you believed, your love brought me back to you..." He kissed her passionately.
"Your spirit came back, reborn as the woman you are now, and in a serendipitous twist of irony, you were even given the same name...or perhaps I merely whispered a few subtle hints to your mother and father." He smiled knowingly.
"I've watched over you all these years, waiting for you, until the time was right for us to be reunited. That ghost that Mrs. Johnson told you that you saw? It was me. But it was too soon, you were too young, and I frightened you. So I helped you to forget that you saw me. I had to wait until you were old enough to understand, to accept the truth. You're now the same age as you were back in 1912 when I lost you."
Richard took her hand. "And think...all your life, this life, you have never truly been in love, have you?"
Roxanne pondered his question. There had been a couple of cute boys in high school that she'd dated, even one romance that lasted nearly a year. In adulthood, she quickly grew dissatisfied with any new man in her life. It wasn't as if there was anything wrong with them, but something was always inexplicable missing, something she needed, desired, but she was never certain what it was. She knew now...
"No, I never have." She smiled at him. "Because I think I've always known, deep within my heart, that my one true love was coming back for me someday..."
Richard took her by the hand, touching it tenderly to his lips. "My love, my wife, if it took centuries, I would search day and night until I found you again..."
"And I would be right here waiting for you, my beloved husband..." She looked into his pale grey eyes, feeling as if she were dreaming, yet knowing she wasn't.
"I am ready to leave this world, to cross over to be with you," she said to him. "If death will escort me into your eternal embrace, then life has no meaning nor reason for me any longer."
Roxanne held him close, her eyes still bound to his. "Take me to the other side to be with you, Richard, please..."
"No, my love," he said softly, "you don't understand. I can't."
She backed away, hurt and confused. "You can't...or won't? Why? Why did you come through time and space to find me again, and then not take me to be with you?" Tears began to fill her eyes.
Richard brushed aside a tear from her cheek and smiled. "You didn't let me finish, Roxanne. You don't have to cross over to be with me. When you believed, you willed me back to life, *this* life, to be with you right here on earth.
He tenderly cradled her face in his hands, looking deeply into her tear- frosted eyes. "You and I are going to live together, right here in this house. We'll have the children we never had, raise them, watch them grow up and leave home. And then, my beloved bride, you and I are going to grow old together, still just as much in love as we were on the day we wed, until the day we do finally cross over to spend eternity together..."
"Oh Richard..." she cried as she kissed him. "I love you."
He gathered her up into his arms. "I love you too, Roxanne," he whispered as he carried her to the bed. "Come, my beautiful angel, let me show you how much..."
"Oh yes..." she pleaded as he lay her down and covered her with decades of missed, desperate kisses. "Love me, Richard. Love me the way you used to..."
He smiled softly and lay down beside her as he reverently slid her nightgown away from her silky skin and quickly undressed himself, covering her with his warm, muscular body.
Roxanne's eyes were locked into his gaze as he hovered over her, his arms strong and tight around her, his lips seeking hers with the hunger of years of neglected passion. His tongue probed and explored her mouth as his gentle hands caressed her eager, receptive body, as if he were playing an old, familiar song that they both yearned to hear.
As she responded to his loving, passionate touch, she sighed and closed her eyes, drinking in every nuance, every beautiful, familiar sensation, of it. He kissed her even more deeply, and made love to her with a sweet, aching desire, which brought them both to the edge of ecstasy, and then, blissfully swept them over.
"Richard!" she cried out as her body began to softly quake within his arms, weeping, soaring high into that beautiful, nameless realm, then gently floating back to earth. She dissolved in tears as he held her to his bare chest, stroking her hair, his own breath ragged and quick as his body tensed, then fell softly onto her, whispering her name over and over again like a beautiful, thankful prayer.
"My beautiful angel," he said softly as he held her, "I've waited so long, dreamed so long of holding you, of making love to you like this again..." He kissed her, his tongue warm and soft within her mouth.
She eagerly returned his unbearably sweet kisses. "Richard, I can't believe that we found each other again, after all this time."
"Time?" Richard said as his mouth sought hers again. "My love, you and I have all the time in the world now..."
Roxanne smiled back. "Yes, all the time in the world, and beyond."
"And what a story we have to tell Mrs. Johnson," he said. "She's such a dear woman, I know that she will be so happy for you, for us. And of course, we'll keep her on as our housekeeper." He smiled. "Should we wake her and tell her the good news?"
Roxanne looked at him with a twinkle in her eye as she reached out to run a finger slowly down his smooth chest. "Morning will come soon enough, we can tell her then."
She purred softly as she gazed at him with with a deep longing in her eyes. "Besides, I have no intention of letting you out of this bed tonight...We have so much lost time to make up for, and I need you again. Right now...please..."
Richard pulled her to him with a soft grin, kissing her deeply as he began to tenderly caress her again. "Your wish is my command, my love, tonight and forever..."
On that night, the first of a new generation of their family was conceived, a boy named James, with an uncanny resemblence to the young boy they mourned so long ago.
And for decades to come, their descendents would proudly and reverently celebrate Richard and Roxanne's legendary, enduring love. For they would never know the story of how they died, but merely the beautiful story of how they lived...
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