On my bed night after night I sought him
Whom my soul loves;
I sought him but did not find him.
Song of Solomon 3:1
— September, 18XX+1 —
How to resume my tale? Remembering each moment is like swallowing bile, a bitter reminder of my utter failure, and to record it to share my failure with future Sherbornes is almost too much to bear. Yet I must take up this cross, for I now fear that this shall be one of only a few mementos of our aristocratic family, which as a result of my moment of weakness has fallen lower than dirt and must flee, hiding like rats in dark corners, rather than resuming the dazzling upward climb of a rising star in the social firmament.
Charlotte found me there, hunched over Will Jenkins’ body, and immediately knew the truth of the matter. I would hope that she, at least, would exercise greater restraint in her hour of madness, but I fear that the longing for brains would simply overpower even the best breeding. For if it could overwhelm my upbringing and blood, the countless generations of gentlefolk slowly rising to increasing prominence and quality over the course generations; how could I expect better from even my beloved wife? She knew, I say, the truth in an instant; bits of brains remained smeared on my face, my clothes, and in my general vicinity.
“Help me cover it up,” said I, and explained my hasty plan. She grasped the necessity of the situation and, after removing the incriminating brains from my face (eating them herself with no small satisfaction, I noticed), began to shriek as in surprise and horror. I assumed a posture I hoped appeared innocent and bewildered.
Immediately several servants, including Wellington, the butler, swarmed into the wine cellar. Naturally, pandemonium ensued. Wellington finally settled the lower servants and turned to me. In that moment I sensed his extreme suspicion even then as he observed every minute detail of the scene. He said, “Sir, what has passed here?”
Continue reading.“Poor Will fell down the stairs,” I said, and I fear even then my tone betrayed me to him. Yet at the time I hoped to dupe him, and I continued: “He smashed his head on the stone, and when I saw it, I lost my head and made matters worse in trying to help.” Charlotte, having quieted her screaming, looked at me and we knew, with that uncanny intuition that at times makes itself known to us, that Wellington would determine some bit of the truth no matter what the cost.
“Oh, my dear,” said the cook, who never did miss an exciting scene, “We must get you all cleaned up. What a mess! Poor Will – and how terrible for you, just as you’re convalescing, too! Imagine, him falling and smashing his head like that. Dangerous stairs, I’ve always said so, haven’t I?” Mother hen that she was, she simply believe my word as master. Would that all the servants had believed such; then the matter would have remained silent and the fate of the Sherborne family might have been much different. But alas, such was not the case, and we must now accept the fate that Providence has dealt us.
I allowed the cook to usher me into the grasp of a housemaid, who turned me over to my manservant, Charles, who disguised his disgust at my condition and performed his duty admirably. I suspect he found bits of skull and gore where none should have been, had I simply attempted to help, and his evidence presented to Wellington, who I have often thought cleverer than one really wanted in a butler, simply gave the game away.
“Sir, have you completely recovered from your infirmity, then?” He asked. The brains of poor Will Jenkins had slaked the last of my inhuman appetites, and I candidly replied that aside from the terrible accident, I felt much my usual self.
Wellington appeared with a silver platter, upon which he bore a cup of tea and light biscuits. As he deposited them, he said, “Pardon my curiosity, sir, but how exactly did Will fall down stairs?” I could tell that his doubt had coalesced into some form of certainty, and in that moment I knew that our ultimate future would be one of flight and misery for many years to come because of this man’s cleverness.
“I believe he must have tumbled head over heels,” said I, knowing this weak excuse could not mislead that bloodhound for long. “Now go about your duties and let me deal with this matter.” He bowed quite properly and exited, having exchanged stiff-faced glances with Charles. Though each disguised his countenance well, my intuition told me that Charles would betray me to Wellington, who would bring the matter to the authorities as soon as may be. I must say that Wellington held no personal malice against me or my family, and served us with honor and dignity for many years; but as a man of strict morals, he would never have allowed loyalty to interfere with the righteous function of the law.
I dismissed Charles, requesting Charlotte be sent to me. Such a request was unnecessary, however, for that good lady presented herself to me immediately upon Charles’ departure. Not a word of remonstration passed her lips, though she knew as well as I that I had quite destroyed our future in English society. Instead, we formulated our plan: To execute the ball as intended, holding Wellington off in whatever manner we could, and under cover of those preparations, begin preparations for our flight.
Thankfully I had retained a goodly number of the gems and nearly the entirety of the gold from my treasure trip, and I could obtain a goodly sum from the bank without drawing attention thanks to the many expenses associated with the ball. We are not entirely without funds, but we shall certainly live in much reduced circumstances for the remainder of our days, while that scoundrel uncle of mine receives the majority of my hard-won monies. That knowledge alone, that the Sherborne name shall be dragged into increasing disgrace by the crass mismanagement and idiocy of my uncle, makes me burn with shame and hatred at my destructive action. Nevertheless, I shall have no more opportunity to redeem the family name, for I am a known murder, while he is merely a philanderer, gambler, and pompous fool.
We executed the plan with remarkable success. For reasons then unknown to me, Wellington refrained from speaking through the entirety of the ball, instead executing his duties with exactitude that drew much praise from my peers. I later learned that Charlotte had offered him a post in her parents’ home, as their old butler is nearing retirement, along with a sizable cash advance on that salary, and, most of all, she swore that I would reveal the truth the next day should Wellington serve as necessary and keep his mouth shut for 24 hours. I would hardly have credited my wife with such underhanded dealings, but perhaps the very unlikelihood of the source softened Wellington’s heretofore ironclad morality enough to allow him to unbend. In order to not make her a liar, I posted a letter explaining the entirety of the situation as we made our escape.
Where before I should have rejoiced in our social triumph – for triumph it was: perfect pairings at dinner, sparkling conversation, graceful dancing, and much levity in all quarters, and an appearance by the [somebody from distant part of Royal Family], who was said to have enjoyed the gala exceedingly – now I must instead say that we also accomplished our secret objective, and immediately after seeing the last guest out the main entrance, quickly changed into discreet traveling clothes and betook ourselves out the servants’ entrance. We took the oldest carriage and one of the nags used for delivery, which I had planned to send to the glue factory soon, and hastened to the docks, where we booked
passage on the first outbound vessel we encountered. I paid an urchin a penny to take the nag to the glue factory and told him to sell the carriage and keep the payment, but keep his mouth shut. He seemed disinclined to speak a word to me, so I trust his taciturnity will continue in this matter as well.
Now we find ourselves in Amsterdam, a city with which I am completely unfamiliar, and we have booked passage as Mr. and Mrs. John and Claire Killigan on a large ship bound for America. I hope to disappear into the West in America, where I hear land is abundant and vast, and a man may start anew regardless of his past. It is my meager hope now to simply re-settle somewhere where nobody knows us, where we can control our disease and raise our son (I know he is a son, and Charlotte – I should say Claire, I suppose – assures me that it is) in peace.
— September, 2009 —
“It seems like I’m always having to apologize,” Tristan told the imaginary Kim as he stood in front of the bathroom mirror. His reflection looked pretty sincere, and he’d worked very hard choosing clean jeans, a T-shirt that didn’t have a nerdy phrase on the front, and had even attempted to tame the mop that he called hair. She’d definitely soften up, especially when she got the Edible Arrangements he’d sent to her at home. He continued, “But I’m sorry for leaving the dance without saying goodbye. I could just tell that you were upset with me” – no need to mention that he strongly intuited her extreme displeasure, and he’d wanted to avoid an embarrassing public confrontation, which Kim’s breakup with Austin had proven she was unafraid of engaging in – “and I thought it would be better if we both cooled off and talked about it later.”
“She’ll never believe it,” Julie said. “Now move, I have to brush my teeth.”
“She will too,” Tristan argued, stepping out of the way. “Besides, what do you know about it?”
“Ebrythig,” came the toothpaste-obscured reply. “’Ottie ’old ’e all abouh ih.”
A look of deep disgust sufficed for Tristan’s reply. Trust his sisters to talk about his private life. Stalking out of the bathroom, he ran smack into Max, who was walking down the hallway reading a book and dragging his backpack along the floor behind him. “Watch it,” Tristan snapped, and Max looked up, surprise melting into a miserable, hurt face that immediately became a wail: “Mooooooom! Tristan just hit me!”
“Tristan, stop braining your brother!” Mom hollered from somewhere in the depths of their parents’ bedroom closet. Removing an article of clothing from that closet required an advanced degree in archaeology, Mom had stuffed it so full of clothes, and she refused to get rid of anything. She always said, “It’ll be back in fashion one day. You’ll see.” But Tristan was sure some of that would never come back unless everybody in the world went blind.
“I wasn’t!” Tristan yelled back, shoving by Max into the kitchen. Now he felt bad about being mean to Max, but he was too irritated to want to apologize yet. Time to make a sandwich and mentally rehearse his apology to Kim, which would certainly be the most important part of Tristan’s day, math test notwithstanding.
When they arrived almost late to school as usual, Tristan mentally reviewed Kim’s schedule. She’d probably be in the hallway by the choir room after first period, and maybe he could catch her then. He wanted to wait, though, to give himself plenty of time, but probably not wait until after Spanish. That had, apparently, been too long last time. Clearly the best time was the 15-minute break between second and third period. By then she’d probably be heading for the chemistry classroom. Even though that was almost exclusively the domain of seniors, Tristan decided to make his apology there, and show his regard by risking his reputation in front of all the coolest people in the school.
He found her just as he expected, walking with Selena, Sharon, and Anna, the usual coterie of giggling cheerleaders in the direction of the chemistry classroom. She was wearing tight jeans that accentuated her long, slender legs, and a clinging V-neck shirt that left very little to the imagination. It had a picture of a butterfly splashed across the front in gaudy colors with sequins accentuating the edges.
“Kim,” he called, and all the girls immediately stopped and turned around to look at him. For second he felt like a cell under a microscope until he gathered his wits and said, “Kim, can I talk to you for a second? Alone?”
“Fine,” Kim said, but even though she acted angry, Tristan’s intuition told him it was just an act for her friends. She’d already forgiven him. Now he just needed to do the requisite begging and crawling to satisfy the popular consciousness. The three other girls all produced the inevitable bubble of giggling as they moved away in an amoeba-like clump, leaving Kim and Tristan, two cells off by themselves. “What?” asked the girl of Tristan’s dreams, again in a short tone of voice meant to tell him she was still upset about the dance.
Undaunted, Tristan went down on one knee. “It seems like I’m always having to apologize, but I’m sorry for leaving the dance without saying goodbye. I could just tell that you were upset with me and I thought it would be better if we both cooled off and talked about it later. Will you please forgive me?”
“You totally ditched me,” she said, “And now you’re totally embarrassing me. Stand up.”
He stood up gracefully, using the balance and techniques learned over years of dance to end up rather closer to her than would’ve seemed possible based on their relative positions. He saw her inhale sharply as he drew near. “I’m sorry,” he said in a throaty voice, and an intense longing for her almost overwhelmed him. Her blue eyes seemed calm pools that he could float in for eternity. If only he knew whether he wanted to smother her in kisses or eat her brains, this would be so much easier! Either way, he couldn’t exactly do what he wanted, but Tristan found it unnerving to have such passionate and yet ambiguous feelings for this wonderful girl. He would never want to hurt her, though, so he had to restrain either impulse.
Kim, surrendering to her attraction to this tall, earnest young man, murmured “I forgive you,” and leaned in to his embrace. He held her firmly, feeling her breasts pressing into his chest, her breath coming in panting gasps. She finally broke away, looking deep into his sea-green eyes and reaching up to caress his still-unruly red hair. “I have to get to class. Let’s meet for lunch out on the bleachers.”
A slightly triumphant smile crossed Tristan’s lips. “I’ll be there. I’ll miss you.” Then, before he could do anything stupid, he turned and hurried back to his class, where he learned nothing whatsoever. In fact, he hardly even knew what class it was. Visions of Kim’s slender body pressed close to his utterly defeated any mundane, everyday academic subject. Now he just had to hold out until lunch, and then they had Spanish together. It was going to be a wonderful day after all.
After that, Tristan managed not to totally screw up the delicate creature that was their relationship. Kim ate more than usual, and although some of the girls said she’d gained weight, she felt more energetic and stronger than ever, so she ignored them. All her pants still fit. Besides, Tristan clearly found her irresistible, and that’s what really mattered.
Oh, Mother and Father continued on the same as before. Mother drank too much and had usually passed out by the time Kim got home in the evenings; Father spent some evenings out entertaining people like Senator Gilbertson and other evenings entertaining unspecified persons that Kim knew were certainly not men. But now, when she was at home comforting Evie
or hanging with Leslie, she had the warm glow of happiness left over from her last visit with Tristan.
Those visits were nothing like Kim’s dates with Austin. Austin’s idea of a good date was a dark movie theater where he could feel Kim up and slobber all over her without drawing too much attention. Tristan, on the other hand, was downright romantic.
He took her on a nature walk where long, straight avenues of trees formed cathedral arches all dappled with green and squirrels tossed acorns down at them. They had sat and talked on a small bench beside a stream, losing track of time and only finding their way out in the dimmest part of pre-darkness twilight.
He escorted her to a play, a real, honest-to-goodness play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that was put on by professional actors, something Kim had never done before. She didn’t really get the story, but they’d held hands and Kim had watched Tristan as he watched intently.
That was something Kim found herself liking more and more about Tristan: Whatever he did, he focused on it entirely. When he listened to her, he really listened, an active and attentive listening that Kim had never experienced before, either.
He took her to a fondue restaurant (Kim noticed he was diligent about never double-dipping, and appreciated that; she hated germs) and when the waitress had found out it was their one-month anniversary, she’d brought them a little bit of dessert for free.
Most of all, his family took her into their home with unconditional warmth that melted Kim’s heart. It was like learning what real parents did after all these years of living with lousy, pretend parents. She ate dinner with them, squeezed into a corner around the table in the tiny dining room; she helped dry dishes in the even tinier kitchen; she sat on their sagging sofa and played Cranium, which they all loved unaccountably. It was like finding a home away from home, and when it was time to leave, Kim always felt disappointed to have to return to her real life.