The wet wet sand crushing beneath her feet was a sensation she hadn't felt in a long time. They would run around and jump the waves of the sea together-Mina and she. The springtime sun had her relinquish the heavy jackets and skirts and she found herself wearing the light and pastel gowns of years ago. She didn't mind that it was all outdated... that she was no longer the immaculate Vanessa. No, but it was certainly good to be back where it had all began.
She walked the halls of her family home and even the ones of the Murrays. She remembered how in those days of her girlhood, she would look on to Sir Malcolm and to Mina and Peter and fantasize that she too was a Murray, Sir malcolm's little girl. It had been her greatest desire, to be loved as a daughter by her best friend's father.
And so caught up she was with her own illusions and dreams, that the little love and care she had for her own father, Gordon Ives, diminished. She respected him, sure. She called him father, yes. But in her heart it was very different-and she knew that he knew.
Vanessa looked and could see him standing by the iron gate. His hair was now full on gray, charmingly so and the curls her mother had insisted he keep trim were unkempt. He lived in solitude without Claire, but now at least he lived with himself.
He had a small smile on his face, in his hand a small package of her childhood favorite biscuits and a mysterious envelope.
"Nessie, I have been oweing you this." They walked together in silence towards the first steps of their homefront where they sat, the sun was setting in the horizon and they were wrapped in a bright orange light so warm, that Vanessa's skin tingled. It didn't burn more than her heart though.
She took a bite of the biscuit and dwelled on the sweet flavour of innocence, the taste of the cinnamon lingering on her tongue. Like the taste of his lips still lingered... It never left her, not since that night on the moors.
Vanessa opened the envelope and glanced at her father's expectant face. As she read through the official document, complete with both her mother and father's family crests, she looked at her father in utter disbelief.
"Father..." Before she said anything he waved his hands so that she would know he wasn't to take no for an answer.
"We never were as close as we should be, Vanessa, I had my priorities and you from a young age knew what you wanted. This is your absolute right-you are a grown woman of nearly thirty, you can very well administrate your mother's private properties and mine also when I pass. It is the least we can do for you."
"Your hysterical girl child..." She mumbled, her eyes like steel, not facing him.
"No, you are better than that." Gordon made a move for Vanessa's hand. He flinched at her cold skin. His hand was large, rough and warm. He caressed her hand with his thumb and sighed, his brown eyes looking out to the impeccable garden. "We are such opposites you and I. You have always been passionate with everything you have done, fiercely devoted and loyal. That is something to be proud of, no matter if you are a woman or man." Vanessa locked eyes with her father. His eyes were hollow, unlike the proud and shining brown eyes of his better days when Claire Ives was alive and his daughter wasn't a completely mad person lost in the world. "I am honestly surprised you returned home. You never quite were attached to this house, even less to me."
"Did she suffer?"
"She prayed for you night and day, Vanessa. Your mother was very faithful to God, but she was even more faithful to you. She cried and cried when you left to seek treatment at that dreadful asylum. She had nightmares of you suffering, being beaten and hurt. She was the strongest person I knew and suddenly her strength was replaced with heartbreak. There was no one she loved more than you. Did she suffer? Yes. But to her it was completely worth it. Look at you... Alive, beautiful, intelligent."
Vanessa looked down at her hands, her chipped nails, calluses, the worn skin of her palms. She wasn't the proper lady her parents had wished her to be, but Gordon was right, she was alive.
Later that evening they met for supper in the too large dining room.
"So who is he?" She looked up at him from her plate of soup. Was it that obvious, the pain Ethan's departure had caused her? Could he see it in her eyes? The way she walked? By the tone of her voice? By the thinness of her limbs?
"Ethan-an American." Her father raised a brow. He hadn't expected an answer. He hadn't expected that answer.
"He..." Gordon loosened his collar in discomfort. "He touched you?" Vanessa raised a brow. He knew she was no longer pure... Since that night at the Murray house when she betrayed Mina. Why on Earth did he ask?
"Not in that way, no. But he left."
"Willingly?" She heaved a heavy sigh. Her appetite was unexistant by now. "How could a man be as foolish to leave behing a woman like you."
"Clearly you are biased." She muttered bitterly.
"Clearly you don't know how precious you are. Claire's daughter and all..."
"She wasn't as perfect as you paint her out to be." His brows furrowed and along with it he frowned.
"Oh I know, but she did marry a fool like me." Vanessa said nothing, but the repulsive thought of her mother being fucked by Malcolm in the darkness of their garden flooded her mind. Did he ever suspect?
"You loved her?" He smiled and nodded.
"She never loved either of us. Nor I nor Malcolm... Her true affections were unattainable." He eyed his daughter knowingly. "I knew the entire time Vanessa." This surprised her. That he would admit to her such a thing of male humiliation. That his wife had been unfaithful during all those years, sinning with his comrad, against this or that tree.
"And you did nothing?"
"Why would I? She was mine, not his. Even you were mine... In name." Vanessa's brow furrowed. "If I am truly and utterly honest, with you, I would say you have no father at all. Between this man here who all your life was present but you do not love and the father of your dreams next door-you had no father but God. You are all Claire and Claire's child only."
"So you don't know for sure?" He shrugged.
"We were newly weds. Gladys Murray had recently birthed Peter and was at his cradle-side for all those months. She was a very devoted mother, however a lacking wife in the matter of pleasuring her husband. So he had to look somewhere else-the young, blue eyed beauty who recently moved next door. The perfect target with a blindly in love husband... So no, I shall never know for certain. But one thing I do know. You were always his favorite girl-he had pride in his eyes whenever he would look at you. More so than Mina. I revelled in the fact that he would never be able to claim you as truly his. Nor Claire." He eyed Vanessa with tears pooling in his eyes. "Little did I know that I never truly had you or your mother. And now I am a lonely, sad excuse for a man."
"You are a wonderful man." Vanessa's steely gaze fell upon his aging face. "Vanessa Ives sounds better than Vanessa Murray anyway..." She offered him a small smile and a gentle squeeze of his hand.
"I want you to go after this Ethan and fight for him Vanessa. I do not wish you regrets such as those of your mother. I wish you all the happiness in the world and for you to remain always this strong..."
"He's probably dead."
"Truly dead or dead to you?"
"I honestly can't tell."
"He left why?"
"Because he thought himself to be a danger."
"We're dangerous together." Gordon took a large swig of his wine and nodded.
"Than put some meat in your bones and go after him! And then write me once you have found him." He smiled. "I shall pray for you every day."
"You are not the least bit worried?"
"No. You're dangerous, you see." For the first time in what seemed like ages, she was able to smile. "Ha! See that dangerously beautiful smile?"