Victor tried to clear his mind as he drove the familiar road to the widow. It had been difficult to remain poised the minute that Charlotte arrived but such a task had become close to impossible once she’d revealed that he was still listed as the heir. He’d struggled to keep his face a mask of indifference since the arrival of that damned letter but it was becoming more than he could bare. Added to these struggles, he knew that he could not stall on his delivery for another week. The widow wanted the roses brought to her and she would have them. He knew that to break such a promise would eliminate the need to concern himself with any of the other problems that had landed on his doorstep along with his two unwelcome sisters. Memère had been expecting him soon after his last visit and while he was riddled with apprehension upon leaving, he knew better than to keep her waiting. But such a terrible mess to have left. It was such a burden that weighed on his shoulders and knowing that Charlotte was there by herself was an even greater thorn to contend with. Gripping the wheel of the car tightly, Victor tried to will the tension in his hands to strangle these damned emotional tides that he felt caught in. He only hoped that the widow would not see his apprehension as a sign of disloyalty to her.
The sun was sinking earlier now and he could see it fading over the horizon. He would usually be making this trip much later but he dared not go there in the evening when Charlotte might gain some idea of his plans. His sister was nothing short of a viper and anything she might use against him was as good as a dagger against his chest. He felt as though he already had so many and without a clear indication on who held the hilt of which, he was left with a fine mess to sort and the very real worry that time would not allow him the luxury of figuring everything out before he must act. He knew that Charlotte was guilty but of what he couldn’t guess. It was plain, as was always the case, that she was guilty of murder but he got the sense of something more lingering behind her tales. She killed for money and he knew these things. It seemed strange to him that she should remain in his midst knowing that her efforts to extract anything from him were useless. It also told him that there was something far more pressing going on with her than was immediately clear and that was more dangerous than she was herself. He also knew that Caroline was hiding something but to the extent that his other sister could be telling the truth was too hard to gauge. One lived in notoriety for her ability to lie and the other had the burden of worshipping at the foot of their father, forgiving his every whims as though she were doting wife rather than broken down daughter. The shadows crept across the road and he felt a shiver run through him at these terrible thoughts. The thought of the man he swore he would spit in the face of if ever he should see the weathered mass of flesh again.
The title of father sat sourly in his mind as though it were an obscenity too vulgar to say out loud. Victor wondered if he was truly dead. If he withered away of a disease as Caroline’s story had gone or if he rotted in his undignified pauper’s grave. Neither moved him to pity but at least one quickened his heart with anxiety. Both options created within him the air of spite so hot he could barely contain it. It was the fury of knowing that he had done all that he could to escape such a noose that had been meant to hang that man he called Father and yet here he was set to inherit it anyway. A noose that would soon strangle off every single one of his efforts to save him from the life that he’d run from. The one that he had so violently refused when he saw the price that he would pay for it. Oh but there was so much more that it would offer him in terms of pain. So much suffering that he could endure and someone else who had been sacrificed to show him such terrible things. It was not only that his heart had been shattered by the loss of his lover. No, she was the casualty of a price that he had not yet understood and it was his innocence that had allowed it to take her to the pool. His naivety that had opened the door to this terrible prospect that forced him to see the gravity of it in terms of life and death. His life to be forfeit. Her death as proof.
The sun set completely, casting a haze over the damp fields. A chilling fog crawled slowly over the landscape and the roads that snaked perilously through the trees felt as though it was always the wrong ones. Something felt frighteningly like madness come calling at the end of this journey and he knew the widow called. He only hoped it was not her who should inflict that madness upon him. He felt a chill run through him as he pass through another shadowy turn.
The drive felt more dangerous than he could remember. The road felt unstable and unsteady as he slowed his pace. He looked to the rose that he had taken from the garden earlier today, careful to hide it from anyone’s notice. He’d specifically not wanted the child to see it. The girl had warned him of the harm that could come from this action and with each beat of his heart, he felt again the rush of fear that threaded through him to hear her voice and know the urgency behind it but not the reason. Alone on the road, he had the freedom to think of these things without the comforting reason that he tried his best to surround himself with at home. These thoughts felt like something so very childish to him when he was surrounded by the world that he’d built for himself. A world he had control over and could shape to his heart’s delight. But these thoughts that invaded were not welcome there. The services that the widow could offer him were difficult to accept there. The words she spoke could be disguised as sage advice and he could use that against his doubt, lest he insult her gift. This child was someone different though. He was not forced to believe in her gift nor did he understand it. Whereas the widow schemed with him as only adults would, the child was loyal to no one and her gifts came with only the price of ignoring what she said. Victor had not but he had no choice in the matter this time. The price was already set and though he knew that he might be paying more than he bargained for this, he also knew that he did not care for the price that widow would charge instead. For as miserable as he was without his love, he had somehow found the resolve to move to this new place. What would become of him here he could not tell. He only knew that he did not want to find out what the widow would do with him should he fail her. This life, for as empty as he was with his love, was one that he’d fought for. He was not yet so willing to part with it though he feared that he might be fighting a very different battle for it soon.
The twilight had faded from the cloudy sky faster than even the last time he had made this journey, though it was much earlier this time. With the darkness set upon the landscape, the fog became thicker and more menacing to see. It seemed to be parting before him as he made the last part of the journey towards the house hidden off the main path. The trees parted before him and the fog seemed to bow out of the way as he approached the dark silhouette of the house in the distance. Victor felt a great, pain icily gripping at his heart. The normal spectacle of the large house lit like a roman candle in the darkness was replaced with the ghastly image of a shadow of its former self. A shell in the dark likeness of the shape of the house knew. His house of fortune as he’d seen it before this. A pall far worse than he could have prepared for had been cast upon it and as he approached, he could see that it was no trick of his eyes. The lights were all but gone save for the one in the doorway. The one left for him. As he pulled up the drive and paused in the car, he could see a lone figure waiting for him. Cradling the rose against his chest, Victor exited his car and stood as straight as he could. If there was any apprehension in his heart, it did not show in his face. The boy who waited was unmoved as he approached. He simply nodded as he opened the door and motioned for Victor to enter.