A Cradle of Wolves

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XXVI

Chapter Twenty-Six: Home.

The Clearwater estate had an unusual atmosphere as if a catastrophe was looming in the horizon. The tense vibe was in no way alleviated since Constance had been anxious for no apparent reason since the second, she opened her eyes in the morning; well at least she thought she didn’t have a reason for being fretful.

Constance had lunch alone and whenever she was about to speak, she ceased before she said anything. Julian was no longer there to hear her words. When she looked across the dining table, she only saw his empty seat. She shuddered when the fresh memory of Julian ending his life came to the forefront of her thoughts. Constance pushed her lunch back and exited the dining room. She could no longer bear the solitude.

The place Constance called home was never her’s and she feared that soon she would feel the same amount of misery she once inflicted on her victims. In the distance, she heard Berth in the kitchen singing as she cooked.

“Is everything alright?” asked Orlando. He approached Constance after he entered the front door with the day’s mail under his arm.

“Yes, everything is fine. Just make sure…” she was about to utter a command but ultimately didn’t know what to say. “Just make sure the day goes as swimmingly well as usual.” Constance left the butler behind and hastily made her trek upstairs as she intended before she was hobbled by her precarious thoughts.

The corridor was dark, save for one spot where there was an open door; all the doors were closed except for this one. She made her way towards that open door, walking into the room. She thought that since the door was open, she was invited to come in. After all, none of her kids ever left their doors open since the day they found out how despicable their mother was. They detested her and strived for their repugnance towards their mother to be evident. They avoided her at all costs, including locking their doors and never leaving them open just so they wouldn’t have to see her.

Constance walked into Booker’s room, for it was his door that was ajar. She had hated her son as much as he had hated her but as of late her hatred and shame towards him had receded completely. Perhaps it was because she had realized that she was getting lonelier by the day? Or perhaps she finally realized that she should start being the mother her kids needed and have wanted all along? It was surely a hybridization of the two possibilities but nonetheless Constance was being genuine for once.

Constance saw that Booker had two open suitcases on his bed as he was stuffing them with clothes. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” he retorted brusquely as he continued to throw in his clothes without lifting his head to gaze at Constance. “Who invited you in anyway?”

Constance blinked, almost wincing at the sharpness of her son’s voice. “I…I…I thought since the door was open…”

Booker snapped his head up to lock eyes with his mother. “It doesn’t matter now.” He closed his suitcases with a sigh. “I’m going to leave. I don’t know where I’m going but I’ll be happy as long as I’m away from you. I’m ready to start my life with Benjamin and forget about you and all the terrible things you’ve done.”

“What are you going to do without a job? It’s not like you can get one instantly without experience. Where are you going to go with Benjamin? I’d doubt he’s going to be willing to live in poverty with you after all this time living under Theo’s lavish care.” Even though her perception towards her son had changed for the better, she was still willing to keep him with her like a bird in a cage. She got in between her son and the door, flaring her nostrils as she looked at Booker with narrow eyes. She really didn’t care much about anyone, but she did care for her children in her twisted way. Yes, she thought Jennifer was incompetent in many things. She thought Richard Jr. was a no-good stoner and she thought that Booker was a disgrace. Ultimately her thoughts on her children didn’t matter because she had spawned them. They were her legacy in this world. She valued them more than she valued all of her riches—she couldn’t afford losing them.

“Move, I implore you.” Booker shot back at his mother.

“And I implore you to stay!”

Booker clenched his jaw, throwing his suitcases to the ground. He turned his back on his mom and the ajar door behind her, shaking his head with a pressed palm on his forehead as he walked towards the other opposite end of the room. “I cannot believe you are doing this. What good are you doing to me by keeping me at your side like a prisoner? Am I not free to do what I please? Yes, I know that I am your son, but I deserve…no, I have a right to live my life the way I want to. At the moment I want to live my life without you in it. Do you not understand that your presence degrades me? It makes me feel dirty and I want to be cleansed by alienating myself from you forever!”

Constance’s eyes brimmed with tears, but not for long since she immediately blinked her tears away and glared at her son. “What kind of man leaves his family in their moment of need? You’re a coward if you walk away!”

“Moment of need? What moment of need is that?” Booker scoffed before he continued. “You have a mansion and everything that you have stolen. By where I’m standing you look fit to do well on your own without me at your side. Disown me if you want; I don’t care if you do because in actuality, you’ll be doing me a favor.

Constance wanted to tell him that she frankly loves him as much as she loves Jennifer and Richard Jr. This stir of motherly affection was awfully new to Constance and it had been so for a while. She couldn’t comprehend what she was going through. Her newfound love, however warped it may be, kept her up at night. It had eaten away at her appetite and she no longer cared for the millions of dollars she unlawfully inherited. All she cared about was making amends with her children, which she had neglected in her greedy and malevolent pursuit of happiness. The happiness she found after the dust had settled was only temporary. All the millions she had hadn’t satisfied her the way she wanted them to satisfy her. She saw how much her children abhorred her and thought that maybe they could end up loving her in the future if she tried to gain their love and trust. After all, it’s better late than never.

The doorbell rang once. Its melodic ring echoed through the estate. Strangely enough Constance became fretful once again. Her eyes had widened, and she left Booker’s room without another word. “Who is it, Orlando?” she asked aloud as she walked downstairs towards the foyer.

Orlando glanced back at Constance with a devastated expression. Constance lightly gasped while she held herself tightly on the stair banisters. Her feet were grounded on the spot where she stood while her hair stuck to the side of her face with sudden perspiration.

Constance quickly regained her composure when she gazed at the man who had crossed the threshold. “What are you doing?” she asked in a hostile tone of voice.

One corner of Theo’s lips curved into a light smile. The man next to him, Tobias, handed him a document. Behind them strode in a police officer. “My good friend here Tobias has a court order to expel you from this estate.”

“Ha! You’re bluffing!” Constance continued her trek down the stairs until she reached the foyer, standing in front of Theo. She snatched the court order from his hand and tore it in half. “That order is now gone. Take your fraud that you call a lawyer and get out of my house!”

As she uttered those words Constance saw Cristina with Richard Clearwater standing at the bottom of the stone steps that led to the front door. In the distance out by the road and under a tree was parked a car with Benjamin and Helen standing next to it; the two of them looked onward at the scene that was unfolding.

Tobias handed Theo another copy of the same document Constance had torn in half. Theo looked into her eyes as he spoke. “It’s signed by the judge if you haven’t noticed.”

Constance widened her eyes and shook her head, dazed. She knew what was transpiring before her. However, she was incredulous to an immense level. Her incredulity blinded her from her current reality. She fell straight into denial. “What are the charges? This estate has been paid off and I can assure you that all the utility bills have been paid in advance as it has been every year, so I see no reason as to why I’m being evicted.”

Tobias intervened in the exchange of words between Theo and Constance. “The will that you received was fraudulent, meaning that you or Julian modified the original will to your liking in a forgery. Luckily for the true owners of this house, your mother always had the true original will with her in a personal safe. I made it my mission to retrieve the original and prove before the judge that the will you had was nothing but a forgery. What you did was clever but, in the end, you only fell into a trap laid out by your own greed. The sole inheritor of this estate is Theo von Draken. He was the one that inherited the Clearwater empire from Marie Edmunds, not you.”

Theo shot her an urgent, threatening glare. “You can thank the judge’s good heart for not ordering an incarceration order for you but never mind that. You should get packing because I want you out of my house sooner rather than later.”

A tremble ran through Constance’s body. He did it, he finally did it, thought Constance with a clenched jaw. Theo’s presence before her was jarring and even more so now. Her opportunity of protesting against such a decision was already thwarted. Constance couldn’t argue against a valid document.

“Amy!” Constance shouted behind her. At her words the girl walked into the foyer but stepped back in shock at seeing Theo. He was almost unrecognizable under the dark shadow of vengeance that loomed over him. “Go pack my bags!” Constance ordered.

Booker, Jennifer, and Richard Jr. all rushed out of their rooms and headed downstairs. Jennifer knew what was happening because she had feared the mere thought of it just as much as Constance did. Richard Jr. was oblivious to it all and to be quite frank, he didn’t care at all. Like his sister, Booker also knew as to why Theo was there and what was happening to his family. He ignored all of it when his eyes fell on Benjamin.

Amy returned with all of their luggage and was ordered by the cop to leave it outside by his car.

Constance clasped her hands together and shook them earnestly, hoping for Theo to somehow feel sorry for her. This hope for Theo to show a bit of humanity was her last resort. She knew that she had a low chance of success, but she did it either way. “Have pity on me! Where am I to go?”

“Pity?” Theo shook his head before he scoffed amusingly. “Did you have pity on Cristina and her family? Did you have pity on me on the night you decided to humiliate me? I can go on and on but that would mean I’d never lock my lips together in silence for your crimes are infinite.”

Theo, Tobias, and the cop moved aside—it was the Edmunds’ cue to leave. Constance exhaled through her nostrils; she was the first to step out of the estate. It was quite a clear sunny day but due to her circumstance, Constance saw the bright day as a dark one. Soon her sons and daughter also stepped outside. From the bottom of the stone steps Constance gazed up at Theo. A year and a half ago Theo were at the bottom of those very steps in a similar condition.

How the tables have turned, Theo wanted to say but his lips didn’t part. He only looked downward at her with a triumphant glint in his eyes.

Seeing Cristina with Mr. Clearwater infuriated Constance even more to a point of no return. “I congratulate you!” she snapped with a sudden clasp of her hands. “You’re all no different than me! If you think I’m despicable and whatnot you should look at yourselves in the mirror. I can guarantee that you’ll be looking at the reflection of the very person you’ve sought to destroy.”

Theo narrowed his eyes at his adversary. “That’s where you’re wrong. You destroyed my chance at a normal childhood and my parents’ chance of forming a family. All I’m doing is recuperating what I have lost.”

“You can recuperate all the money and the property you want but you’ll never fully recuperate all those years of affection and tender love you lost. You’ll never look at Cristina and Richard as your mom and dad because in the end they’ll be nothing more than strangers. What you’ll have between your parents from now on will be nothing but admiration from obligation,” Constance retorted in a loathing tone. She wanted to hurt Theo, but to no avail.

Theo deflected her harsh words without moving a single step. His arms were folded across his chest which flexed underneath his lace button up shirt. “Say whatever you feel but at least I won’t be rotting from the inside with that disgusting and cruel heart of yours and it’s a shame that you also had to ruin your children as well.” Theo’s words attracted the attention of her aforementioned children. Jennifer wanted to defend her mother but couldn’t speak; she was in shock.

Booker only contemplated. This is my family’s moment of need, he realized solemnly. He cast a glance at Benjamin. The love of his life was only a few feet away; he wanted to go to Booker. I cannot abandon them, Booker continued to ponder when his gaze fell on his family once more. As much as he hated his mother, he couldn’t possibly think of leaving her behind along with his loving siblings. Finally, he rested a hand on his mother’s shoulder.

Constance looked at her son, stunned. Her penetrative gaze beckoned him to speak.

“Let’s just go. There’s no point in arguing,” Booker went on with dignity. He found no sense in fighting for what was stolen in the first place.

Constance shot Theo a deadly look. It was a gaze full of malicious resolution. Then she went on picking up her three large suitcases and depositing them in the trunk of the police car.

Booker hastily walked over to where Benjamin stood under a tree in front of the estate. They hugged one another tightly and kissed amorously for a long minute. Neither of them wanted to let go. Booker ran his fingers through Benjamin’s shining flaxen hair while Benjamin’s face was buried in Booker’s chest, taking in all of his warmth one last time. They kissed once more before they said farewell. Their farewell was quick, and it had to be so under the circumstance. Soon after, the Edmunds were miles away from the estate, a place they had called home for years.

When Theo walked back into the estate, he met Amy’s fiery glare as she was seated at the bottom of the stairs. “Good job you just left me without work. What did I expect? I treated you just as badly as them. I deserve it,” said the remorseful young woman.

“You’re partially correct,” began Theo. Berth, Orlando, and Billy the chauffeur all came out from the kitchen to stand by Amy. Theo took notice of the cook and butler but was surprised in seeing a new face at the estate. Nonetheless they all seemed as devastated as Amy about losing their jobs. “Yes, Amy you were somewhat of a nuisance to me, but I would never leave you or either of you without a job.” He pulled out a letter of recommendation from his blazer’s pocket, handing it to her. “An investor of mine bought an estate not far from here and he plans on moving in two weeks. He needs the proper service at his new home, so he’ll be willing to take you in especially with the letter that I’m giving you. The letter also functions for the rest of you,” he concluded with addressing Berth, Orlando, and Billy. He gestured for them to go and pack their bags.

After dismissing the help and the entire situation at hand, Theo walked into the kitchen and sighed. He wanted to be alone to think about what he had done. His mind was reeling with thoughts of all kinds despite his major victory against Constance. He pulled out the will from his pocket and read through it. He couldn’t believe it, but it was true; he was the sole inheritor of the Clearwater estate. But not everything in the will belonged to him. Marie Edmunds only left him the Clearwater fortune and everything that was associated with that fortune because that was his birthright. What didn’t belong to him was the personal will that Marie Edmunds had left for her grandchildren; this inheritance contained the entirety of the Edmunds fortune. It wasn’t in the high billions as it had been once due to Constance’s spending and Julian’s habits. Even so, the Edmunds were still a rather wealthy family.

Theo condemned the sole inheritors of the Edmunds fortune along with the intended target of his vengeance. It was a ripple effect that Theo hadn’t seen coming, despite the predictability of the outcome. When Constance said that he was no different than her he couldn’t help but to agree. He was robbing Booker and his siblings of their rightful inheritance just as Constance had done to him. Just as he realized this new predicament Theo also came with a solution to the problem at hand. Theo was hell bent in righting his transgression.

The kitchen door swung open just as Theo was departing from his seat in the corner table, enlightened with a new goal in mind.

Benjamin stepped in. “Why are you here? Helen and your parents are wondering where you’re at and I just saw Amy and the rest of the help leave.” He paused for a quick second before a thought struck him. He chuckled as he looked around him. “This is where we first met.”

Theo nodded. “Yea, it is.” He walked towards Benjamin and stood at his side. The two of them looked on at the kitchen, recalling the moment they met. As Benjamin reminisced with a somewhat clear mind, Theo was unable to do so due to his persistent internal struggle.

“How the times have changed so quickly. You’re a billionaire and I work at your charity office as an administrator. There was a time when I was just a mere gardener and you were the help.” Benjamin quickly noticed, due to the silence, that not all was right with Theo. He looked at him with concern. “Are you okay?”

Benjamin didn’t have to ask Theo twice. Immediately Theo went on in an enlightened tirade. “I have to save Booker and his siblings from misery, and I have to do it now. I just need to give Booker what is rightfully his which is the fortune that his grandmother left him. I’ll be no different than Constance if I keep it all to myself. My revenge was against Constance, not her kids. Yes, Jennifer and Booker have done things against me, but they only did it because they were influenced by their mother. They have a chance of redemption and I’m willing to give them that chance. This hateful cycle needs to end!”

Benjamin folded his arms across his chest and shook his head, incredulous at Theo’s naivety. “You think Booker and Jennifer are going to receive you with open arms after you just kicked them out, further destroying their mother and their reputation? How can you embark on a quest for vengeance and expect to come out with a clear conscience?” It was outlandish to think that Booker would ever forgive Theo for what he had done. Despite the far-fetched notion of forgiveness that had taken over Theo’s mind, Benjamin wished that things ultimately went well for Theo.

Theo shook his head and regained his posture. “I need to at least try. I hope that my action of delivering them what is theirs is seen as something selfless and merciless because that is the purpose of my deed.”

“Well there’s a big city out there and they’re probably already thirty minutes away from the estate.” Benjamin didn’t want to shoot down Theo’s hopes of mercy, but he couldn’t sugar coat the fact that Theo was running out of time. The more time Booker and his siblings spent in misery, the more resentful they’ll become towards the perpetrator of their disgrace. Such a truth was inevitable to deny.

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