The Good In Him
In the small Croft family chapel, everything was silent. The shadows danced in the stone corners and the light beams filtered through the stained-glass windows, creating a multi-colored iris on the floor and walls.
At the altar, Father Dunstan held a small Mass in honor of the great absentee. Her friends and relatives, contrite, sat on benches.
The silence broke when the priest resumed his speech and proceeded with the service in a broken voice: “Requiem aeternam dona ea Domine et lux perpetua luceat ea...”
Suddenly they heard hurried footsteps on the outside, the crunching of boots in the dry leaf litter. Someone pushed open the door of the chapel and stormed into the small enclosure.
They all turned abruptly to observe the intruder who’d so disrespectfully interrupted the intimate and sacred ceremony - but none of them were prepared for that.
At the doorframe a tall and slender figure stood, her face not distinguishable, but everyone recognized her attitude, her agitated breathing and the long braid that fell over her shoulder. “What are you doing?” The apparition said in a familiar, but upset voice. “Who the hell put that horrible statue of me out there?”
Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. And suddenly there was a thud.
Winston, the old butler, had collapsed unconscious on the bench.
As if it were an expected sign, the crowd instantly burst into screams and fuss. Lady Angeline let out a cry of horror and collapsed, livid, into the arms of her husband, Lord Henshingly, who was still staring at the newcomer. Charles Kane and Jean-Yves were too stunned to say anything, but they approached her with a cheerful countenance.
“Halt!” Father Dunstan shouted. In four strides, the gallant priest stood before the alleged apparition and began to splash her with holy water, while waving a crucifix in front of her. “You, shadow born of darkness, if you’re not real, I exhort you to return to the hell you came from! In the name of Christ I command you!”
But the woman laughed and, dodging the crucifix, hugged the priest. “Do I really look like a ghost, Father Dunstan?” She smiled.
“How is it possible?” Charles stammered, recovering his speech.
“Long story.” She sighed wearily. “You’re celebrating a memorial? And that statue! C’mon!”
An upset voice echoed in a corner near the altar: “What did you expect? We had no clue about you for six months... Lara! We left you for dead!”
She confronted her mother’s reproachful glance. Lady Angeline had recovered and now stared at her daughter, outraged.
Father Dunstan sighed. Lara didn’t get along with her parents - and had not talked to them since they had disowned and cast her out of home for taking control of her own life. A few moments earlier, they were mourning her. Now that their daughter had returned from the dead, they were cold again.
“Let’s go.” Lord Henshingly commanded, taking his wife’s arm. “Apparently she’s been making fun of all us all this time.”
Lara narrowed her eyes and bit her lower lip, but said nothing. Ignoring her parents, she passed next to them without uttering a single word and leaned over the unconscious Winston. He opened his eyes when she touched him and muttered: “Miss Croft...?”
“It’s... it’s you? For real?”
She smiled. “I’m back.”
The old butler blinked, and then he buried his face in Lara’s shoulder and began to cry - for the first time since he’d received the fateful news of her death.
Everyone noticed the change in Lara. Apparently, Egypt had marked her. She was stiffer, scarred, short-fused. She barely talked about what happened and how she managed to survive. Winston was the only one whom she told she’d been rescued by a shaman from a Bedouin tribe, and how that shaman healed and helped her recover.
“She’s the daughter of the tribe chief.” Lara explained. “Her name’s Putai. You should have seen her healing. I went through hell, but there was no fracture or wound she couldn’t deal with. More than one Western doctor would be impressed at her skills.”
Winston smiled, without saying a word, giving his greatest blessings to that unknown healer for having brought Lara back, more dear to him than a daughter.
Truth be told, Lara was no longer the same, as if three Laras had dwelt inside her, one dying and giving way to another. First, that stubborn little girl who became an arrogant aristocratic young woman with no more future than a brand-new husband - that one had died in the Himalayan plane crash. Then came the adventurous Lara, the Tomb Raider, who risked her life for sport and earned hatred and respect from both allies and enemies.
That second Lara had died in Egypt, crushed beneath the pyramid. And the woman whom Putai had taken out of the rubble, which she’d forced to live when it was easier to let her die, was a third person, different from the two previous ones, born again from an accident.
No matter how hard she tried, something was broken inside her. No longer could she return to the tombs, to the long explorations - not for fear of death. Death was for Lara simply the end of work. But while beside Putai and the Bedouin of the desert, she’d witnessed another facet of life, another face of the world, oblivious to her ambitions. While she spent her years peeling away hidden secrets from the past, there were people living and dying, sacrificing their lives and their illusions for the simple reason of moving on. And she’d had it all too easy. Even when expelled from home, disowned and rejected by high society, Lara had chosen the life she’d wanted - while others hadn’t even been asked for their opinion.
She, who’d fled from the frivolous monotony of aristocratic life, saw her life pass as if she’d already lived it. Tombs and temples, perpetual solitude, and one day, maybe, old age and death - and then no one would remember her and she would’ve wasted her life. Was that what she expected?
The phone rang. Lara rolled her eyes and leaned back in the chair with no intention of picking it up. She’d been harassed by the press for a while - excited for the resurrection of the famous explorer. The previous evening, without further commotion, Lara had been forced to cast a paparazzi troop out of her garden at gunpoint.
Winston got up and patiently picked up the receiver. Then he covered it and murmured: “Miss Croft... it’s Professor Von Croy.”
Lara’s expression froze. She stood stiff for a few moments and then announced in a cold voice: “I’m not talking to him again.” And she got up immediately, leaving the hall and an open-mouthed butler with the receiver in hand.
Von Croy didn’t give up. He went on calling tirelessly - and Lara went on refusing to talk to him.
“He’s more and more desperate.” Winston said.
At the moment, Lara was training with a kick-boxing bag. “Well, let him burst.” The British explorer spat through her teeth as she drenched herself in sweat and kicked the bag. That one was really heavy, and Lara’s blows made it sway as if it was filled with duck feathers rather than sand.
Winston was certain that in the woman’s imagination, that bag was Werner-faced.
“Miss... if you let me deliver some piece of advice....”
Lara braked, exhausted, and leaned against the wall as she pulled off her gloves.
“...you should find out at least what he wants.”
“Babbling excuses. Some crazy explanation of why he abandoned me after stealing my backpack. Bah!”
Winston sighed. “Miss... I also despise this man. I cursed him many times when I knew what happened. But we must remember that thanks to him you’ve become what you are.”
Lara lowered her head and ran a hand down her dripping forehead. “Must be the only right thing Von Croy has done in all his life.”
The butler smiled, and approaching her, rested his wrinkled hand on the woman’s strong arm: “You know, Miss? Sometimes, just one right thing is enough. If you can’t forgive Professor Von Croy for what he did, at least look at yourself...and you’ll find the good in him.”
Next day the phone rang again. Sighing, Lara approached and picked up. “Who is it?”
There was silence for a moment and then a voice stammered: “Lara? It’s you?” Werner’s voice was broken and old.
“What do you want?” She snapped acidly.
“I... I need you to come to Paris.”
“For what?” Lara’s voice was sharp as a blade.
“I’m in trouble...I need your help.”
She snorted. “So that was it? Not sure why I’m surprised...”
“Lara... please.” Werner hesitated. “It’s really urgent. I fear for my life. Please.”
Where, where was the cocky and arrogant archaeologist? Where the ruthless rival who had tried to kill her in Egypt? Where was the greedy mentor who’d left her in the lurch after robbing her? Now he was just a frightened old whiner.
Lara had never seen him like this.
“Fine. I’ll go.” She granted dryly.
“As soon as possible, I beg you.”
“That’s for me to decide.” She answered quickly and hung up abruptly.
Turning, she met Winston’s frank gaze, smiling with satisfaction.