Charlotte woke early and made certain to dress herself in her best black silks and most stylish dress that would still be seen as a woman in mourning. In some ways, this was always her least favorite part of her funeral routines. Truly, a woman of her shape and glamour looked all together stunning in black and it was so difficult not to flaunt it. She made for a gorgeous widow and she knew it. It had managed to create for her opportunities that had been very fruitful but sadly, this was not going to be one of them. Leave it to her damned brother to potentially be at death’s door, assuming he wasn’t already through it, and to offer her nothing as a parting gift. Unlike every other funeral she had attended over the past five years, she knew for certain that she was not in his will either. The nerve, she thought rolling her eyes with a huff as she pinned her veil to her cloche. She had, after all, seemingly given him the one thing he wanted and hadn’t the good sense to do for himself. It seemed so rude but it was a price she’d have to pay for a bigger prize. Still, it seemed so gauche of him and would be even more so if he wasn’t dead after all and she was wasting all this rouge on him. She knew quite well he wouldn’t be able to properly appreciate all this effort and it would do little to sway his temper if he should recover.
And Charlotte had taken her time to make absolute certain that this illusion was perfect. She had taken the extra effort to ensure that she looked the part she was to play in order to get people talking properly but it was still a gamble on whether or not it would reach enough people. This town had little in the way of entertainment so the gossip ring would be easy enough to infiltrate but she only hoped that it would hold properly long enough to get to the ears it needed. It was the bane of having to rely on fools. They too would not appreciate the hours it took to make herself look like she’d been perfectly polished and yet weeping gently at the side of her brother’s death bed. It made her wonder if the insult of being stuck here would ever cease. She reminded herself that she should just be thankful that no one in this wretched part of the world knew him well enough to know that no one would cry such tears for him. Still, to have all this work go completely unnoticed felt criminal to her and she would be relieved once she was able to leave this pitiful town and its pathetic inhabitants behind her as though it were another husband that had run out his clock.
As she left her hotel room, she made certain that the veil was only partially covering her perfectly pressed and powered tearstained cheeks. She made certain that the rouge of her lips was practical for this situation. Red and vibrant enough to attract attention but not darkened enough to look too wanton. Oh how she hated that no one would notice all the thought she put into this look. How well it had come together and how perfect she made grief look. Still, she was grateful that before she’d reached the lobby, indeed even on the way to the elevator, she had people looking on curiously. More than a few men eyeing her with that familiar look that she came to prey upon. Still, none of them had enough in their pockets, nevermind their bank accounts, to make it worthy of lifting her eyelashes in their direction. Onward to the lobby and into the tea room she went, allowing everyone to take in the spectacle. Delicately placing herself on an empty seat, she sighed, making sure that the exposed parts of her face were getting enough light that people could see the soft edges of the tearstained marks that she’d so carefully applied. She knew that she looked like a painting come to life and she lamented that the one person who might appreciate this most was herself and she was the only one unable to see it. She quietly ordered a coffee, lowering her voice enough to sound distraught but dignified. As soon as it arrived, she never so much as motioned to drink it. She let her breath come out in quivering waves as she absently stirred the steaming liquid. The murmurs had started already but she knew that it was only the beginning. Everyone loved a spectacle but they would hardly remember a beautiful woman sitting in a room if she did nothing worth noting.
After she knew that she had made enough of an impression, she pulled a handkerchief with black tatted lace around the edges from her purse and held it delicately against her forehead, careful not to smudge anything. She thought carefully of things that might bring some small pity to her soul and well up some form of tears that were easily controlled. Dabbing at her eyes, she waited less than a minute before the server surfaced to ask her of her state. In a voice that was barely audible, she asked the time, knowing that the young man would not hear her. Hiding her mouth that no one might help him and ruin the illusion, she asked again, no louder than before. The young man bent down to hear better, asking again if he could help. Through the veil, Charlotte could see onlookers obviously taking more notice. She had to steel herself to keep from smiling as this illusion worked its magic just as she planned. She arched her neck gracefully upwards towards her server, now allowing herself to be heard as she asked again for the time. Upon getting her answer, Charlotte feigned shock and allowed herself to drop the handkerchief as she gasped audibly enough to be heard and began to scramble.
Dropping panicked remarks about needing to leave, she quickly pulled on a pair of brand new white gloves and hurried out to where she met a hired car. She made sure to skip her bill and to leave the handkerchief lying on the ground. She would be coming back later and if they asked about the coffee at all, she would be given the golden opportunity to cry in public and hand them too much money by accident only to walk away without a second thought. If there was a single person who had missed out on what they’d seen on the tea room, they wouldn’t be able to miss it later when she returned. In the back of the car, she pulled the veil across her face, hiding it from the driver as she bowed her head solemnly and told him only that she was going to the cemetery at the edge of town. She said nothing else as she rode the short drive to the gates of the graveyard. As they passed the town around her, she dared not look up and allowed the silence to become uncomfortable enough to make sure the driver would mention it. Upon their arrival, she handed him more money than was necessary and made her very pointed and careful steps through the gate.
Charlotte had been careful in planning this next part. For nearly a week, she had paid careful attention to the papers and looked over the obituaries, trying desperately to find something that might help with her illusion. When it failed to turn anything her way, she had been forced to look for more suitable grounds that might help for what she needed. Luck had finally come several days ago when a woman and her child had been found frozen in the cold. She had dressed in the least flattering clothing she could find to approach a graveyard attendant to give the woman and her child a burial in the cemetery proper rather than the section off to the corner for the unbaptised or the suicides. She made it seem as though the woman were family that had gone by the wayside and that this burial would allow her family to keep its dignity rather than allow the rumors to persist about what happened. The man only slightly feigned interest in the rules he was meant to follow but quickly allowed them to be broken when she presented him with the money for his chore. The graves were dug very quickly and the bodies placed in without fan fare, as per her request. She knew that the stones would arrive much later as she had paid for something modest but enough that it would allow the lie to hold. For now, her destination was the two plots, laid away from the rest as the hill crested. It gave her a perfect opportunity to be seen. An even better one to show the world something worthy of telling tales about.
The plots were coming up closer now as she clicked her heels on the lonely, silent walkway of the cemetery, aware of the stares she received. She displaced the veil enough to allow her face to be seen, aware that she was being followed as she came closer still, her footsteps no longer audible as she trod on the grass. Moving between stones, careful not to cause a stir for the wrong reasons, she finally came to the plots and stood motionless at the foot of the smaller one. As she allowed herself to be seen, she buried her face in her hands as the wind at the top of the hill whipped at her viciously. She removed her hat and held it to her chest, finally revealing herself. She only allowed people to see her for a brief moment before she fell to her knees, clutching at the dirt on the smallest grave and letting the earth fall back to the ground.
“Miss, do you need help?” an onlooker called as he came rushing to her aid.
“This woman needs to be brought in,” another elderly woman said, coming up behind him. “Poor dear is shivering with cold!”
“Oh I don’t feel anything any longer,” Charlotte wailed mournfully, her voice muffled as she covered her eyes with her unsoiled glove. “How can I feel when I have lost my only brother and his beautiful child? How cruel a world where I am to be the only one to come. The only one to bare this pain!”
Charlotte allowed herself to be led away before her poorer acting skills were allowed to come through but the deed was done. She knew by morning there need not be any photographers around to have the mouths going about what everyone here had seen. About what might have been done and what secrets might be buried in those graves. She only regretted that Victor might be dead for real now as she was ushered back into a car to take her back to the comfort of the hotel. If he were alive and well, he would be livid with her right now and that was a sight that she very much longed to see. She hid her face that no one might catch her smiling at that thought.