I'm Still Here

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Chapter 1: When You Love Somebody

When you love somebody it’s hard to think about anything but to breathe” -Fruit Bats

The glossy black Lincoln slid neatly through the traffic leading to Old Greenwich. Marietta gazed out a tinted window, watching the people bustling about their lives. A father held the hand of his young son, both of them enjoying ice cream cones as they strolled past storefronts and open air cafes. The boy had chocolate all over his face. An old lady with a small dog, a yorkie, walked quickly, angrily talking on her phone. A businessman smoked a cigarette outside an office building, absent-mindedly running a hand through his expensive haircut. A husband and wife made their way out of a department store, arms filled with oversized laminated bags. Three teenage boys expertly navigated the crowded sidewalk on bicycles, laughing as they angered pedestrians with their antics. Two girls, highschoolers by the looks of it, strolled out of a movie theater, holding hands and laughing. Marietta’s eyes lingered on them for a few moments, before turning away from the window.

People were strange. She had spent most of her childhood learning that she didn’t understand other humans, and most of her adult life finding ways to avoid interacting with them. The times she was forced to socialize, by her mother usually, she often found herself out of her depth, struggling to breathe, struggling to translate what people said into what they actually meant. She had learned early on that silence was her best friend. Unfortunately, to the company her mother kept, silence was a wasted opportunity.

She glanced back out the window, at the many strange people. She had never had a person to eat ice cream with, to go shopping with, to even talk angrily to on the phone. She thought of the girls holding hands and frowned. This gave her a sad feeling. She wasn’t sure why. She was fairly certain people terrified her, and couldn’t remember the last time someone had held her hand. Perhaps the inherent social systems embedded in her brain were overriding her logic. Marietta was snapped out of her thoughts by the voice of Samuel, her chauffeur.

“Did you find everything you wanted, Miss Casey?” the man asked in his deep voice.

“Oh yes, I found plenty of Witch Hazel, and some new soil knives as well.”

“You’re adding Witch Hazel to the garden, ma’am?” he inquired kindly. Marietta liked Samuel. He asked about her garden even though he didn’t have to, and he never minded her social ineptness. She didn’t know if he was just good at his job, or if he actually cared about his employer’s daughter, but he was the only person she ever really talked to, outside of her mother.

“Yes, Witch Hazel has numerous medicinal uses, and it’ll look great next to my Phalaenopsis Orchids. They won’t bloom til fall, but I’d like to start redoing the south end of the garden as early as possible.”

“I’m sure it will look excellent,” he said, pulling into the long driveway of her family’s estate. “Would you like me to bring your bags to your tool shed?”

“That’d be wonderful Samuel, thank you.” The old man nodded and stepped out of the car, holding the door for her. She made her way up the cobblestone walk, and entered the mansion that was her family home. As soon as she stepped through the door, Marietta was greeted by Lola, her ever-affectionate pitbull. The burly tan dog happily licked her human’s hands as she stooped to pet her. Lola was always happy to see Marietta, and Marietta was always happy to see Lola. “Hello friend. I hope you had a fun day.” The dog wagged her tail in reply, sniffing Marietta’s shoes. Straightening up, Marietta made her way to the kitchen, where her mother was preparing something.

Her mother was a tall, willowy woman. Her platinum blonde hair blossomed in an elegant bob, her perfume smelled like old money. Her mouth was an engraved line, perpetually creasing and uncreasing at things she found amusing. The older woman often remarked that there was no earthly way Marietta could be her child, as they looked nothing alike. Marietta took after her late father, the loose curls of her dark red hair falling in an overgrown pixie cut. Freckles lightly dappled every part of her, looking nothing like the unmarred porcelain of her mother’s skin.

“Hello, Mother,” Marietta greeted demurely. “I hope your day was pleasant.”

Her mother glanced up from where she was dicing a tomato. “Oh it was dear, I had the most excellent time finishing the acrylic piece, it really has come out quite sharp. Would you hand me that pan please?” Marietta did as she was told, and watched her mother begin to saute various vegetables.

“What are you making, Mother?”

“Almond-crusted salmon on a bed of vegetables. Pierre showed me how to make it in our last cooking class, and I was so fond of it I thought we’d have it tonight.”

“Oh, I see. Will George be home for dinner?”

“No, I should think not, he has quite the deal to close today at the Demeter Club. He shouldn’t be home till much later.”

Marietta wasn’t surprised. Her stepfather, George, was usually out on business, or busy in his study. She didn’t mind in the slightest.

“Would you like any help?” Her mother began seasoning the fish on a board.

“No, no dear, that’s quite alright. I wouldn’t want you to inadvertently foul the dish. How was your trip today?”

Marietta lit up at the question. “Oh, it was so exciting Mother. They have all six different varieties of Witch Hazel. I couldn’t decide which type would be best, so I consulted the color wheel on what would best compliment the Phalaenopsis Orchids, because they’re a specific shade of white, and ultimately I decided -”

“Yes yes dear, you know I don’t understand much of your “plant” talk. I simply wanted to know if you’d be needing Samuel to drive you again tomorrow. I have to go to the Whitney’s to discuss the gala, and I’d like them to see the Lincoln.” Marietta deflated at her mother’s response, mentally berating herself for allowing her enthusiasm to run away from her. Her mother rarely asked about her garden, and she had ruined it.

“No, I won’t be going anywhere tomorrow.”

“Good. And while I’ve mentioned the gala, George and I have decided that it would be nice if you attended. This is the biggest art display of the year, you know, and four of my pieces will be featured.”

“Of course Mother, I’d be happy to accompany you.” Her mother pursed her lips, as if debating whether or not to say something else. The seasoned fish hissed as she placed them in the pan.

“The Bratings will be attending.”

Marietta felt her stomach drop. Her mouth turned to cotton.

“Will...will he?” she stuttered. Her mother gave an exasperated sigh, though she didn’t turn away from the stove.

“Honestly Marietta, I don’t understand why you can’t get over this grudge you have. William Brating has always been a cultured gentleman, and he’s become quite the businessman. He will handle his family fortune very admirably one day.”

Marietta just shook her head, hearing little but the pounding in her chest. She needed to keep the panic from consuming her. Inhale. Plants in the mustard family have 4 petals. 6 stamens. Their seed pods are like a fan around the stem. Exhale.

“It’s not a grudge Mother. I just feel that he has never been very pleasant to be around,” the red head managed. Inhale. The mint family has square stalks and opposing leaves. Exhale.

“Well, you’re just going to have to get over it, because his family is very important to the gala running smoothly, they own the hotel we’ll be using. And anyways, don’t you think it will be good to practice your social skills?”

Marietta merely nodded. Inhale. Her heartbeat was calming. The parsley family has hollow stalks. Exhale.

Her mother was now facing her, searching her face with a disapproving gaze. Finally, her eyes softened, just a little bit.

“Well, anyways, the gala is months away. Before I forget, I wanted to let you know that we’re getting new groundskeepers,” she said, mercifully changing the subject. “They’ll be here tomorrow.”

At this, Marietta snapped out of her ritual. “New groundskeepers?”

“Yes yes, don’t worry, they’ve been informed not to touch any of your garden. They’ll be here tomorrow, about 7 am.”

“I’ll have to get out there and talk to them,” Marietta mumbled to herself.

“Good, I’m sure maintaining your little flowers will help encourage your communication skills. Now go wash up, dinner is almost ready.”

Marietta took a deep breath as she made her way to the washroom. She wasn’t prepared to go to a gala that William Brating would be attending. She could barely hear about the man without going into a panic. She wasn’t ready to talk to people, or socialize.

But if there was one thing she was certain of, it was that her garden had to be kept in pristine condition. She would have to have a conversation with the groundskeepers tomorrow.

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