The garish light that came from the single bulb hanging above her head felt like a spotlight in the night. A signal to showcase everything she’d failed at this time. Thankfully, she’d managed to keep her shame to herself after the first night here. The moment she stepped into this filthy room and felt the cold chill coming through the rattling window, she’d been shocked to find how the light radiated around her like a horrible accusatory halo. There was nothing heavenly in that light but rather the icy harshness of white electricity around her. From the mirror, she saw how very old it made her seem. The way that it found each crease in her face. Each shadow and made it deeper than it might have been otherwise. Within the first hour there, she took the mirror down and anything else that might reflect her own eyes back at her. Anything that might yet act like the sullen audience with that familiar, disapproving stare.
Even without the sting of eyes relating her failure, Caroline could not stand the sight of her own reflection. Her hair, the glorious gold that it once was, was growing out unevenly. The color that had once been dark, like Victor’s, was fading now and becoming mousy and seemed as though it might turn the color of dust. Worse still, the new grown had revealed an even more horrible revelation. She had regretted the loss of her beautiful flaxen locks but it had been for the greater good. For the best and only to return in time. Now, as time attempted to relieve her of this decision, she could see there would be no gold coming through but a paler color marked with white, silver and grey. The peppered color of a woman far older than herself. The sight of it disgusted her but it spelled an even more distasteful revelation. Though she may grow it out, her hair would never allow her to see the maiden that she longed to be ever again. It would forever have lost that sheen to it that once spoke of sun kissed afternoons on the estate. Of potential that was once promise and had since turned to shame and regret.
No. Shame, perhaps, but there was no regret in the matter. She did not regret what she had done in the name of keeping her beloved Victor safe. Why, she was only doing what she had been sent for. What she vowed to do the day that she watched him leave. She swore to herself that she would see his face again. That she would dry her tears and she would repair that family, even if she had to do it alone. She knew that day that there would be sacrifices for the greater good. He would understand that eventually but the poor dear had been so young. So foolish and so very naive. To think that their father had just let him roam. He would have known eventually that there was only one place for him if he’d been taught properly. If he’d been kept where he belonged. It was father’s fault that it should come to this. His temper that had goaded the boy forward and he would have stayed if only he’d been kept where he should have been. If only he’d been watched properly. If only they could have chained that willful spirit of his. Caroline had done what she could have. She had worked beyond what any other woman in the world might have to care for him. To make him into the man he would be when he was ready. It was not her burden to carry regret for what had happened.
If she felt any sense of turmoil, it was for the way in which she was forced to dwell in this putrid little room when there was still so much to be done. So many things to take care of before she could go and make sure that she completed what she came to do. She knew that there were many setbacks to contend with now. More now than she had been prepared for. In her foolishness, she did not understand that initially. She’d arrived, believing this to be the only part of the battle and that victory was simply assured as soon as she had found him. As soon as he saw her, he was supposed to be destitute and relieved. It was all supposed to be so much simpler if he was barely getting by and finding that he could indeed come back to the love and the title that awaited him. Oh how she wished that she could have that Caroline back. That girl who had been so unprepared for the landscape ahead. She couldn’t have known. Still, she fumbled when she’d arrived and found him not only wealthy but in a far better situation than the one she’d left. Still, she held fast to that want and need to see him return. She had continued on, believing that she might yet find a way to thaw his heart. To find a way to make him understand. Alas, it had been a fool’s errand and she was the one who understood that now. She only hoped that he had seen her last letter. That he would follow the trail that she was leading him on. It was the only hope that either of them had for the life that awaited him. A life that he was born for, if only he could see that.
Oh how she loathed this waiting. How she wished to simply make this plan come together. She knew that there were so many obstacles that needed tending but she could not leave yet. She wished very dearly that she could find a way to find a new supply of wine but alas, that was proving extremely difficult since her exit of the previous place. There were more people who asked too many questions here. The crowd was interested in accommodating her but they were so greedy. They wished to know more about her funds and where they were coming from. Caroline cared very little for their interest in her affairs and made a point to avoid them from the first day that she was here. Instead, she paid for the full of the month’s stay and had scarcely left the room for anything at all. It was better this way. Though she writhed at night, wishing dearly that she could ease her pain and soothe her mind, she could not give in. The money was not yet gone but it had been a great feat to get this room rented as it was and the expense of it was more than just a bit unsettling. To go out at this point was dangerous. If it wasn’t someone looking upon her strangely, making her wary of their sideways glances, it was someone vile who had been able to sense her need, trying to coax her out of her virtue and her money. The vultures were everywhere and it was best if she let them feast on someone else’s misery. She had fed them enough and it had nearly been her undoing last time.
A single harsh sound of a wretched bell broke the silence of the room, making Caroline’s heart flutter wildly with alarm. It was the sound of the phone. For a moment, she froze, letting it that awful bell sing its shrill note in the empty room. When she could stand it no longer, she finally, with a trembling hand, picked up the receiver from the cradle and held fast to the candle stick body as she brought it up to her quivering lips.
“Mrs. Winters?” the dull voice said over the static. For a moment, she paused, momentarily forgetting her made up name as she listened. “Are you there, Mrs. Winters?”
“Yes,” she said, sharply. “Why do you call at this hour?”
“There is a package that has been left here for you,” the voice replied. “It waits at the front desk for you.”
“Who brought this package to me?” Caroline replied, firmly. She fought to keep from begging the person on the other end to dispose of it. “Surely they must have left a name.”
“The person said it was from your sister,” the voice replied before hanging up.