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A v a r i c e | T w e n t y E i g h t

T w e n t y E i g h t

❝Bloody and sweaty he held my hand;

an effort that backfired and got him banned.❞

ZACHARIAH’S WOUND WAS PATCHED UP PRETTY easily, the doctor had told us. There were no infections, and it was pretty clean cut, which, he said, was strange because the cut came from a lycanthrope. The cut looked as if it had been intentionally non-worrisome. As if the lycanthrope had just been toying with us, using Zach’s blood from his leg to lead us to them.

It was sickening to think they were capable of such a thing.

The real question, however, was why they would do it. What did they get out of it, honestly? They had lost food and (probably) got a little hurt, too, so it didn’t sound like they retrieved anything spectacular from the entire ordeal.

Unless I was missing something, but I really didn’t think that I was.

Mother wanted the dinner with Cain over as soon as possible. So, the second he and Father came back to bring news of how Zachariah was doing, she invited him to have dinner with us tomorrow evening.

To which Cain had first replied “no”.

It had been an awkward exchange. I was sitting at the table with Sarah and Gen when Father and Cain came in. Mother and Sarah had immediately stood up from the table, walking to Cain and Father. Mother had hugged Father while Cain had told us what the doctor had said concerning Zachariah. So, essentially, Zach was fine and was going to be fine and would be let out tonight or tomorrow.

Sarah had been ecstatic upon hearing the news. She and Gen had clasped hands before hugging one another. I had stayed in my seat, solemnly nodding. Michael had stood up then, walking up to Cain and shaking the fellow knight’s hand in respect, murmuring his thanks. Samuel had stayed in the kitchen, leant against the counter.

He was still angry with me.

Along with that tension, Cain wouldn’t stop glaring whenever I came into his eyesight. After everyone had thanked him, Sarah not-so-subtly nudged my mother. Mother, who had rolled her eyes with a sigh, removed herself from my father’s side to look directly at Cain. “Would you like to have dinner with us tomorrow night, as our thanks?”

Cain not-so-subtly himself had looked over at me, scrutinizing me from top to bottom. I squirmed in my seat, refusing to give him the satisfaction of looking back at him. Cain looked back at my mother, shrugging. “Thank you for the offer, but I’m quite alright.”

Mother hated when someone told her “no”, even if it was politely. I thought she would let it go, seeing as how she hadn’t wanted Cain to come for dinner in the first place, but she must’ve taken his rejection as disrespectful. Mother blinked one, twice at Cain before regaining her composure, a smile gracing her face.

“I insist. It’ll be splendid, perfect if you will.” She had told him, her voice sounding sweeter and more relaxed. Cain still looked liked he didn’t want to come. “You can sit wherever you’d like,” Mother had said. She had then looked at me, and then looked back at Cain. Sly move, Mother, I had thought to myself. I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath. Sadly, Cain hated-

“I’d love to come,” Cain had nodded. Mother had smiled ever-so-politely before bidding him a farewell.

Now, I stood in the kitchen, arms crossed against my chest, resting against the counter while I watched my mother go out of her mind cleaning the house. We had all tried to help her, truly, but she would just yell and swat at us, so we had all given up. Sarah and Gen were carefully setting up the table for the fourth time already. Michael and Samuel were out with Father, fetching Ralph Jr. and Lenny (I wasn’t sure whether their wives were coming or not).

Zachariah was on the rocking chair Mother usually sat in. In the morning, I had gone with Mother to pick him up from the doctor’s and bringing him back here. Zachariah was tired from a restless night. Mother gave him some of the pain medicine I’d gotten for my hurt wrist and currently he was passed out on the rocking chair, a blanket draped lazily across his body.

While at the doctor’s, I was told that my wrist was fine now (it hadn’t been too bad) and that I didn’t have to keep it wrapped all the time. I had immediately taken off the stupid wrap and threw it away.

“Cerise, please move,” Mother sighed, as if I were in her way. She had already cleaned the counter I was leaning on. I moved anyhow, going over to the table instead. Mother was making her delicious soup. She’d ordered Father to get some meat, too, and was making a soup roast. She only made this during special occasions, so she clearly wanted to impress Cain.

I wasn’t really sure why, however. She had never needed to impress him until now. Was her ego really that big and that bruised from when he had said “no”?

It had to be the afternoon by now, and all morning she’d been cramming around and cleaning and cooking and yelling. Her hair was wet from sweat and she looked like she had gotten less sleep than Zach. If she wanted to look even remotely presentable (in her mind, at least) she needed to get started now.

So, being the good daughter that I could be, I took over cooking and told her to go get cleaned up before our guest arrived. Mother hadn’t even complained, like I’d suspected she would. She sighed out a, “Thank you, dear,” and then ran off to no doubt bathe.

Once Mother was out of sight, Sarah and Gen sighed and sat down at the table. I laughed at the two, and they smiled pleasantly back at me. “Is she always like this?” Gen asked me with an exhausted smile on her face.

I shrugged. “Not usually. I’m not sure why she’s acting like this. She doesn’t even like Cain.” I said, my eyebrows furrowing. “Perhaps he bruised her ego when he said no at first.”

Sarah and Gen both nodded slowly together. “I think it also has something do with you, Cerise,” Sarah pitched in with a smile. “You and Cain are courting, aren’t you?”

I frowned, my composure stiffening immediately. “What? Of course not! Who told you that?”

Sarah glanced over at Gen, who smiled sheepishly at me with a shrug. “They haven’t admitted to it yet, but they like one another,” I rolled my eyes, opening my mouth to protest, but Gen shushed me. “I think Sarah’s right; on some level I think she’s trying to impress a potential suitor for you.”

I shook my head. “Doubtful. She would never think of Cain as a potential suitor.”

Gen’s lips thinned out. She tilted her head from side to side with a shrug. “Perhaps, but you are her daughter, and maybe she just wants everything to look good because she knows there’s something going on between you two.”

“Except there’s not,” I was adamant, shaking my head. I didn’t dare look at Gen. I kept my eyes on the food.

“Sure,” Gen drawled out, her voice clearly presenting her disbelief.

I just rolled my eyes.

Sarah and Gen got ready an hour or so after that. Once Mother was finished, she shooed me to go get ready myself, telling me to wear a nice dress.

I didn’t have to bathe like she had, so I went straight into my room to look for something to wear. Once upon a time we had a couple of servants to dress us and clean, but Mother got sick of having them around so she consequently paid them off for the rest of the next few months and told them to go elsewhere.

I didn’t necessarily want a servant. I felt bad that they were forced to do everything (well, mostly everything) that I ordered them to do. It was just nice to always know what I was going to wear, and to have help getting it on.

I chose a lavender colored dress. It was nice. It wasn’t anything I’d wear to the palace, but it was a good dress for dinner with company. I took my time getting it on, making sure it fit nicely. Then, I sat down in front of my mirror and brushed through my hair.

I didn’t want to do much with it. Usually I had it pinned back or tied up with accessories in it. Today, however, I felt I needed something simple. So, I braided it, tying it off with a ribbon. I didn’t bother with any accessories. I tugged out a few loose strands in the front, however, because I felt I needed some hair to frame my face.

I put on little makeup before I deemed myself as presentable.

With a little bit of perfume, I left my room and went back into the dining room. Zachariah was up now, sitting at the table. He still looked a bit tired, but a lot better than what he had before. He smiled weakly when he saw me. “You look lovely,” he complimented me.

I sat down across from him, making small talk while we waited for people to arrive. Sarah and Gen got finished getting ready shortly after me. Sarah sat next to Zach, of course, and Gen sat next to Sarah. They apparently had become close friends during their time here.

Father, Samuel, Michael, Ralph, and Lenny soon came back. “Something smells good,” my father said as soon as he walked through the door, his sons following after him. He went into the kitchen and kissed Mother, smelling the soup. “It’s going to taste fantastic.”

As I had thought, Melinda and Margaret were absent. I wasn’t surprised by this in the least. They were probably still in mourning, after all. In fact, I was surprised Lenns and Ralph had come at all. Apparently, they noticed me studying them. Well, Ralph did, because he said, “Melinda and Margaret weren’t feeling up to the occasion.” He gave me a tight smile. “They told us to go on.”

I nodded. “How nice of them.”

Ralph nodded tightly. He obviously hadn’t wanted to come. No doubt Father had forced him to.

Michael sat next to Sarah. Everyone began to choose their seats. “Stop!” Mother frantically said, shaking her head with wide eyes. Everyone froze in their place, glancing over at Mother to see what she was yelling about now. “We will let Cain choose to sit where he wishes first.”

Sighing, we all stood up except for Sarah and Zachariah. Zach sort of claimed whichever seat he wanted, and Sarah of course was going to sit next to him.

The rest of us weren’t so lucky.

Soon, evening had befallen on us and there was a knock on the door, shutting up all conversations. We each looked at each other, debating on who was going to answer it. “Well, go on, Cerise.” Michael finally urged me, nodding his head at the door. “He’s really your guest, after all.”

Father, Zach, Ralph and Lenns all frowned at this, clearly not understanding what Michael meant by that. I glared at Michael, promising in my head that I would not let him get away with that unscathed. Michael smiled brightly at me, as if he could read my thoughts. This just made me angrier at him.

I took in a deep breath and marched over to the door, opening it up determinedly. Cain could be angry with me all he wanted, but I knew what I was, and I certainly wasn’t a witch. I was not evil and I would never, ever create a lycanthrope of my own free will. Witches were cruel and horrible creatures, as awful as that sounded. And I was not one of them.

When I opened the door, I hardened my gaze as if to say all of this to Cain through my eyes. But all of that hard exterior fell away the moment I saw him.

Cain leaned against the doorframe, breathing heavily. His face was bloody from cuts, his entire body drenched in sweat. His eyes had been close, squeezed shut in pain, but when the door opened, they opened up and he looked over at me.

A small smile crossed his face. “Cerise,” he whispered, before collapsing to the ground.

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