Eleanor sits at the dressing table brushing her long, wavy hair. 100 strokes a day her mother used to tell her and it's a habit she's never given up. Even now that she has no reason to worry about her looks, her hair is her one vanity. Charlie always loved her hair.
She smiles as he enters the room, silently as always, as if she's conjured him up just by the act of saying his name in her head.
She knows her family thinks she's mad when she tells them she can sense his presence but then it's always been this way between them. Ever since the very first time they met, when she was 15 and he a worldly man of 28 just out of the navy and the most handsome man she'd ever seen, they'd had this unexplainable connection.
Soul-mates, I suppose you would call it, but really it was more than that, each of them being part of the other; together whole, apart, always aware of something missing.
Of course at 28 he'd thought he was far too old for her and so the years had passed, both of them marrying other people, both of them knowing something was missing, until fate threw them together again, at work of all places.
They were married when she was 33 and he 46 and the 16 years following had been some of the happiest of her life, she thought with a smile. And although money had been tight and the road had not always been smooth, she wouldn't have traded it for anything.
She feels the warmth of his breath on the back of her neck as he moves closer, and she places the brush gently on the table, savouring the feeling of closeness.
"Don't stop," he whispers in her ear, and she picks up the brush again, offering it to him to take over. "No, you do it," he says gently, stepping back and resting his hands on her shoulders, "Watching you gives me pleasure."
"Pleasure?" she questions sadly, "how can watching me give you pleasure? I'm old and grey, tired and wrinkled. Nobody even sees me any more. They talk about me as if I'm not here, they look through me as if I'm invisible. Why would you want to look at me now?"
"I see you," Charlie tells her, "and in my eyes you will always be as beautiful as the first day we met. Let me show you." And with that he leans close to whisper in her ear.
"Look in the mirror Ellie, tell me what you see."
"I see an old lady with grey hair and wrinkles, bags under her eyes and a face that's beginning to sag along with her body. How can you love that?"
Tears form in her eyes as she looks at herself, wondering when she got old, wondering when she let herself go and stopped caring about her appearance.
Tenderly Charlie wipes them away before they can fall. He'd always hated to see her cry.
"Now look again! And I'll tell you what I see," he promises and she stares into the mirror, seeing an old lady looking tiredly back at her.
"Brush your hair," he commands gently, and she lifts the brush back to stroke from the roots to the ends, wondering what he's doing.
"I love your hair," he tells her softly. "I remember the first time I saw you I thought I'd never seen a more beautiful girl. Your hair was gleaming chestnut in the sunlight and it curled slightly, framing your face perfectly before tumbling in waves down your back. I think I fell in love with you then."
Gazing into the mirror it's as if the reflection flickers slightly, her hair becoming less grey, developing a glossy sheen. Impossible she knows, especially under these harsh lights, but it's almost as if she were standing in the sunshine again.
"Do you see, Ellie?" He asks and she nods her head mutely, not wanting to break the spell by speaking.
"Your eyes were the second thing that struck me," he continues, his voice almost hypnotic in the silence, the only other sound in the room her laboured breathing as she struggles to understand what is happening.
"When I looked into your eyes it was like seeing into your soul! You stared at me and I was lost."
Eleanor gazes into her own eyes as he speaks and isn't surprised to see them brighten, the tired bags lifting from below, the wrinkles smoothing out, the colour changing from a murky grey to a brilliant green.
She'd forgotten that her eyes used to be that colour before, and the change startles her for a second but then they'd always changed to reflect her emotions, brown when she was angry and green when she was happy.
"The first time I kissed you," he continues, "I never wanted to stop.
If your mother hadn't come home that day then I would have proposed to you there and then. When we kissed, your lips clung to mine as if you couldn't bear to let me go and my heart ached because I felt that too. Every time it was the same. Letting you go that day was the hardest thing I have ever had to do."
Her eyes well up again as she thinks of all the time they had wasted.
"We found each other eventually though," she sobs softly.
"Yes," he agrees, wiping away the tears. "We did, and although it wasn't as soon as I would have liked, you play the hand you're dealt with. The last 16 years have been the happiest of my life, and I can say that with complete certainty. Don't cry love, you can't change the past."
She takes a few short breaths, trying to get herself under control, not wanting to waste their time together on sad things.
As she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror she notices that although her eyes are now red-rimmed, her face is unlined, lips plump and glossy, her hair a deep chestnut brown, her cheekbones sharp and defined. The contrast between this and her wrinkled neck, buttoned up in an old fashioned cotton nightdress scares her and she raises her hand to her neck, worrying at the skin there.
Observant as always, he catches her movement, resting his cheek against hers as he brings her hand down to her side.