Drip, drip, drip.
The sound of the rain, seeping in through the ceiling of the small shack she called home, was keeping Marie awake all night. She sighed and rolled over, pulling the sheets above her head in a half-hearted attempt to drown out the sound. It was no use. With every minute that passed the dripping only got louder, more persistent. It was as if the rain knew how exhausted she was, not letting her sleep only to spite her.
Working two jobs just to be able to pay the bills wasn’t exactly what she would call ideal, having to give up her studies as a result was even less so. It wasn’t ideal but it was definitely necessary. It was the only way she could keep her and her father afloat. Nothing had been the same since her mother passed away, almost two years ago. Her father definitely wasn’t.
She could hear him now, his snores drifting down the corridor and through her worn wooden door. He wouldn’t wake until the following afternoon, comatose on the sofa after his rendezvous with a bottle of whiskey, no doubt dribbling all over her mother's favourite red cushions. It was a night not unlike most.
The clock on her nightstand read 03:08am and Marie made the mental calculations: just under five hours before she needed to be back at work, plastering on fake smiles for her boss who had what could only be described as a very limited sense of personal boundaries. Still, he was her favourite of the two, with her other boss feeling an incessant need to rip into her during every shift, simply for the purpose of amusement. Marie certainly didn’t find it funny.
With a heavy heart, Marie closed her eyes again, trying to push the emerging sense of dread away with thoughts of the one good thing in her otherwise drab life – him.
She thought of his eyes, blue as the sky on a warm summer’s day, twinkling like a thousand stars in the night as he smiled at her. And that smile – his smile – was enough to brighten her heart on even the darkest of days.
She couldn’t believe he’d chosen her – Marie Rosemary Blanchet – out of all the girls in the world. She couldn’t see her appeal, honestly. She was excruciatingly ordinary, with drab dark hair that fell limply to her shoulders, brown eyes that had faded over time, now as dull as the old scratched wood lining her bedroom floor. “Your heart,” he’d told her one Friday evening as he walked her home from work. “Yours is the purest of hearts I’ve ever known.” She’d rolled her eyes and scoffed at his words, ignoring the tell-tale blush that coated her cheeks. He’d noticed, of course, and smiled a smile that made her heart flutter. Then, he’d plucked a single daffodil from a garden as they’d passed, presenting it to her before kissing her cheek goodbye. That was the last time she’d seen him.
The daffodil now sat in a vase on her windowsill, wilted and dying, a new petal falling to the ground with each day that passed without him. She tried not to let herself feel downhearted. She knew he had to travel for work and that he would return for her once again, as he had the time before and the time before that. Two more days to go and he would be back again, as promised.
Along with his strong work ethic, he was kind, funny, considerate – honestly, he was too good to be true. Yet there he had been at the other end of the bar on the night Marie had gone to collect her father from the local pub, ready to help when she’d cut herself on a stealthy piece of broken glass. It had been hiding atop the bar, likely leftover from a pint glass her father had lost his grip on.
She hadn’t known him long – three weeks, to be precise – but already she knew he was the one she was going to marry. Perhaps they would even have children, maybe two or three, and live in a house built from laughter and love. The front door would be painted red, surrounded by a bed of daffodils that would bloom each summer for the rest of their lives.
Knock, knock, knock.
The sudden knocking at her window startled her from her thoughts. She sat up in bed, eyes darting to her moth-eaten curtains. She had drawn them at dusk, leaving her mind to conjure up all sorts of horrific possibilities about what might be lurking behind them.
“It’s nothing,” she mumbled to herself. “Go to sleep.”
Knock, knock, knock.
The knocking grew more persistent, louder, too loud to ignore. Perhaps it was just a bird, hoping to find shelter from the night’s downpour. She hoped it was just a bird.
The wooden floorboards were cool beneath her feet as she padded slowly towards the window, her heart in her throat. She reached for the curtains, gathered up her courage, and pulled them open.
Even through the rain droplets streaming down the glass, Marie recognised the blue eyes staring at her from out in the dark of the night. They didn’t hold their usual shine, instead they were wild, desperate. She threw open her window, watching the water as it dripped from the ends of his blonde hair.
“Lance?” She couldn’t believe it was him, stood outside her window in the pouring rain at three in the morning. “You’re back early. What are you doing out in the rain? You’ll catch your death.” For some reason, he seemed to find that last part funny, a small laugh bubbling out between his lips.
“Marie,” he choked out, voice as desperate as his eyes as he stumbled over his words in his haste to spit them out. “Marie, you have to help me.” He reached for her hands as they rested on the windowsill, his skin like ice against hers.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her heart aching at the sight of his distress.
“I – he’s after me, after us.” His words sent chills down her spine, as if a bucket of ice, even colder than his hands, had been tipped down the back of her pyjama top. “We have to leave tonight – now. We have to leave before he catches us.”
“Who?” Marie glanced over his shoulder, eyes searching for the impending danger out there in the darkness. “Lance, who’s after us?”
“There’s no time to explain now,” he told her, running a hand through his sodden hair and plastering it back away from his face. “We need to go somewhere safe, somewhere he won’t find us. I know a place.”
“I know we haven’t known each other very long,” he interrupted, briefly glancing over his shoulder before returning his eyes to hers. “And I know that I’m asking a lot of you. You must know that I wouldn’t be asking if it weren’t completely necessary. Please, Marie, I need you. I need your heart.”
“Lance,” Marie sighed, reaching up to trail her fingers softly against his cheek, wiping away the water droplet that threatened to fall from his chin. “You have me,” she assured him, “and you have my heart.”
Within minutes, the two were racing through the streets together, cutting through the woodland in a poor attempt to hide from the rain. It didn’t take long for Marie’s clothes to grow sodden, clinging to her like a second skin and weighing her down like a sack of potatoes. The rain, dropping from the leaves and hitting the ground around them, sounded like an army of footsteps that followed them through the night. Every sound had her on edge, the hoot of an owl almost sent her sprawling into the soggy mud. Lance’s step barely faltered as he reached for her hand and led her forward, steadying her as she slipped and slid along behind him.
“Lance, please,” she eventually rasped out when her legs had turned to lead, her chest heaving with each breath she gulped down. “We need to stop, just for a minute. I need to rest.”
He agreed, albeit reluctantly, and gave her his coat to shelter under as she leaned against a nearby tree. “It’s not far now,” he promised her. “You can rest better when we get there, when it’s safe.”
“I still don’t understand,” Marie said, her teeth chattering. “Who’s chasing us? W–Why?”
“Someone bad,” he replied. “And because he’s cruel. He wants to hurt me, to take away everything I care about, everyone I care about. But I won’t let him, not this time.”
“What does he look like?” Marie asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lance replied. “You won’t see him. One day he won’t be there and the next he’ll just appear, hunting you down before you can even catch sight of him. That’s why we have to run, outrun him before he catches us.”
“I’m s–scared, Lance,” Marie admitted.
“I am, too,” he replied, and he meant it. She could see it in his eyes, a fear so frantic it turned the blue skies into crashing waves of perturbed waters. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in for a comforting embrace.
His wet clothes against hers made Marie feel colder still but she appreciated the gesture all the same, nestling her face into the crook of his neck and hoping with everything in her that whoever was chasing them would never catch up.
“Promise me,” she whispered into his ear, “that when all of this is over, we’ll find a place – a home, a proper one.”
“I promise,” he whispered back.
“And we’ll have a red front door, and a flowerbed full of daffodils,” she added.
“Marie, love,” Lance replied. “I will give you an entire garden full of daffodils.”
“Okay.” Marie stepped out of his arms. “Then let’s go.”
Lance didn’t need to be told twice, leading Marie out of the trees and up a slight hill. The rain was beginning to let up now, the great flood slowly turning to only a slight drizzle. The sun was beginning to peak up over the horizon, casting a faded glow over the warehouse-like buildings that they wove in and out of. Finally, they reached the safe place that Lance had told her about.
“After you, sweetheart,” Lance said, pulling open a heavy metal door to an old building, its walls cracked and paint chipped.
“Here?” she asked. “You’re positive we’ll be safe here? He won’t know where to find us?”
“We’ll be safe here for now,” he corrected. “You’ll be able to rest for a while before he finds us. I can fill you in on the rest of the plan whilst we’re inside, warming up.”
She stepped forward and he followed behind her, pulling the door closed with a resounding bang once they were both safely inside. The lights were already on, flickering above their heads as Marie glanced around at the brown walls and grey-tiled floors.
“This way,” Lance said, taking her hand in his and leading her down the short, shabby corridor. He turned towards the red door on the right, at the very end of the corridor, and Marie followed him through it.
Beep, beep, beep.
Whatever Marie had been expecting to see on the other side, it certainly wasn’t the young woman, laid in an old hospital bed and hooked up to a multitude of beeping machines. Her face was white as paper, holding sunken cheeks and eyes that were an unhealthy shade of yellow.
Beep, beep, beep.
For all the surprise Marie felt at the appearance of the sickly woman, she was even more surprised to see Lance’s lack of it. From the way he walked over to the bed, took the woman’s hand in his own and used his free one to stroke her wispy black hair, it was apparent that he knew the woman well.
Beep, beep, beep.
“Celia,” he sighed, as if he’d forgotten Marie’s existence completely. “I’m back, my love.”
Celia slowly blinked, too weak to respond in any other way.
Marie frowned at the term of endearment, her surprise breaking away to a sense of dread that began to curl around her gut in smoky wisps of shame and confusion. She had an awful suspicion that she’d been played for a fool. Her suspicion was confirmed as Lance placed a sweet kiss against Celia’s chapped lips.
“Lance?” Marie asked, regaining his attention for the first time since they stepped into the room. She had to force back the tears that clogged her throat. “What’s going on?”
There was a second of silence as Lance thought of a response.
“I’m sorry,” Lance replied, regret in his eyes. “There was no other way. He was after us, you see. He wants to take her away from me.”
It was then that Marie realised the word ‘us’ meant something entirely different to Lance than it had to her, he hadn’t been talking about her at all.
“Who is it?” She asked, a single tear escaping to roll down her already damp cheek. “Who is hunting you?”
Another silence, this time much longer.
“Death,” he finally replied, his voice tortured. “And I’m sorry, Marie, but I won’t let him have her.”
With her attention so focussed on the happy couple, Marie didn’t notice the fourth person enter the room behind her, clad in green surgical scrubs, holding a metal pipe. He lifted the pipe and, just as Lance had told her, she never even saw him coming.
A week later, the two lovers cuddled together on the hospital bed, flipping through the daily newspaper. They stopped when they hit the headline they’d been waiting for: MISSING PERSON – MARIE ROSEMARY BLANCHET.
“Poor girl,” Celia sighed, raising her hand to rest it gently above her chest, above the exact location of the vertical healing scar.
“She gave me her heart,” Lance replied, eyes quickly scanning over the newspaper article to see if there were any witnesses, anyone who might know what happened to her. They looked to be in the clear. “She never said I had to keep it as hers.”
The red door swung open, the doctor entering the room with a cheerful smile, the bounce in his step already informing Lance of the impending conversation.
“Mr Blackburn,” the doctor addressed Lance. “There’s just the matter of that final payment.”
Lance stood from the bed and walked over to his battered black rucksack, retrieving from it a large sum of money – all in cash, as was the doctor’s order. The doctor chuckled heartily as he took the offering, leaving the couple with only fourteen pounds left to their name.
“The body?” Lance asked.
“Buried,” the doctor assured, “next to the other donors.”
Lance looked down at the scrap of money left in his hand and gave it to the doctor as well.
“Buy some daffodils to plant at her grave,” he said. “We owe her that much.”