Ring. Please just ring.
I feel like I’ve been staring at this phone for days but she just never calls, never responds. There’s a hole in my chest that refuses to seal without her near me, a space in my arms where she should be. I fucked it, I fucked it up so badly.
Helena hates me and I can’t blame her, I hate me too right now. I should have said something, should’ve stopped Mother before any of this even began, I was just so shocked. I honestly never expected to see Emma again, never mind have her turn up pregnant.
She’d got out, she’d found someone who loved her and she ran. She knew the consequences but she did it anyway, for love. I wish I could’ve done the same thing. After so long of her being away from me I’d almost forgotten she ever existed in the first place, the only woman that ever tolerated me was gone and so soon after I found the perfect one.
I found Helena.
She was so different than any girl I’d ever met before. She was pure, her intentions so kind. I’m used to people being nice to me, but it’s usually because they want something from me. They know who I am before I even enter a room in this world, people scrambling to use me and my family as another rung on the ladder they’re desperate to climb.
But not her.
She had no idea who I was. I know now even if she did know, she wouldn’t have cared, it’s not who she is.
I’d had a breakdown at the hospital that day. Dad was sick again but Mother was so busy trying to keep up appearances she wouldn’t let me at his bedside when I arrived because ‘it will make his condition look worse and the wolves will descend if they see us all here by him dying.’ Keeping up the appearance of perfection was important to her even if it meant robbing her sons of what could be the final moments they would share with their father.
Protecting the share prices was always far more important to her than actually showing a sense of humanity.
I could feel myself about to break, something I’d always managed to rein in during past episodes, especially in public. Maintaining the mask in this society was essential, imagine what they’d say at the country club if someone saw a Vanderbilt son crying in public? We could never have that.
So I ducked into the nearest empty room and sat down, ready to face this alone, when the angel my life had been needing walked straight in.
She didn’t hesitate to smile at me, although I could tell instantly she was carrying her own pain. Pushing the cart of books she began to place them back on the shelves before she turned to me. I couldn’t stop watching her, even the books she handled as if they were precious.
Then she said the words I’d heard so many times at high class events, yet it was the first time they were spoken to me where I felt someone actually cared about my answer. “Are you okay?”
They broke me.
She didn’t hesitate, as the tears left my eyes she came straight to my side and wrapped me in her petite arms. I don’t think I’d ever truly been hugged before by someone that wasn’t being paid to do so in their role as my nanny. My family weren’t huggers, we weren’t even people who genuinely loved each other. We were tied by one thing – obligation.
We sat for hours in that room, surrounded by the books meant to entertain the patients of the hospital. It became clear quickly that she had no idea who I was, it was so refreshing considering my name was at the entrance of the hospital wing. She let me unload and took it with a smile, her touch always comforting me. I left out any personal details, for the first time in my life relaying on the emotions of my words to pour out what was happening with me.
She told me of her own pain, of her sister. The way she spoke about her family was so foreign to the way I’d been raised, stories of family barbecues that struck no resemblance to the formal brunches I was raised with. She told me about her home, her hardships. It was obvious she needed this talk as much as I did.
We eventually found ourselves laughing uncontrollably at nothing in particular, the guard I had worn my entire life dropping from me in the presence of this beautiful woman.
As our time came to an end I felt this urge not to let her go, her calm and sweet energy something I feared I’d never find again. Never in my life had I ever had the urge to kiss a woman as I did that day, but again my cowardice got the better of me and I let her go.
I couldn’t sleep that night, the pretty girl with the kind soul racing around my mind every time I closed my eyes. I returned to the hospital the next morning and asked about her, we hadn’t exchanged names so I only had my own description of her; Dark ebony hair that matched her deep chocolate eyes, her dark mocha skin that seemed to radiate under the sunlight that cast through the windows that day, the sweetness in her smile and the love in her touch, the way she seemed to float instead of walk as she took such delicate steps...
The staff there were clearly as enamoured with her as I was, it took little time for them to inform me of who she was. They explained that a number of students from the local high school started volunteering at the hospital after the shooting they had suffered there, but that Helena was the only one left who continued to come.
A nurse instructed me that I would probably find her on the ward at the same time next week but I couldn’t wait that long. I used some of the family connections I had to reach out and eventually I was given her address.
Sitting outside her home I found myself completely lost as to what I should do, I’m not sure if she would smile or scream if the boy she had spoken to so candidly the day before just turned up in her doorstep unannounced, what if she thought I was a crazy stalker?
So I sat and I waited, hoping the world would give me a sign. My heart pounded as I saw her walking up the street in my rear view mirror, the car had been getting some attention in this part of town so I’d kept the doors locked. My heart began to spring from my chest as she walked past the group of intimidating looking men who had been eyeing this car since the moment I arrived. I wasn’t one for violence, I’d never taken a hit outside of a fencing match at boarding school, but I felt the urge to get out and protect her.
It turns out my fears were unwarranted, as she approached the boys all seemed to drop their anger for a moment, smiling and offering words of compassion towards her. She was clearly well liked far beyond the realms of the hospital. Her naivety was on display, her gentle soul not realising the way the boys continued to watch her as she walked away, she was so shy she never even looked back. It was so endearing.
She stopped at her neighbours house, playing with the children that had been running in and out of the sprinkler on the front lawn. The children ran to her, looking up at her with pleading eyes before she dug into her shopping bags and pulled out something that made all their eyes light up before they began to eat the candy greedily.
I’d been watching the children while I’d been waiting here, they were not like the children I grew up with or my nieces and nephews. They did not try to control their volume, they cared little for the dirt on their clothes. They were just free to be children, not to fill an unreal expectation of them.
The mother of the children came outside, another baby on her thin hips. The woman was malnourished although her children looked so healthy. Helena noticed, taking the woman’s wrist and wrapping her fingers around it to show how underfed she was. It was clear the woman had been sacrificing her own meals to feed her children, something the people in my world would never understand or have to suffer through.
Helena immediately went into her shopping bags, separating the food into half and attempting to place one bag into the woman’s hand. I wanted to go to them, give them every penny I had on me and return with more, but that felt like something I would get a slap for in this world. The woman refused the bag at first but Helena was insistent, taking the baby from the woman’s hip and moving him to her own before forcing the bag into her hand. She smiled at Helena before Helena pulled her into a hug just as she had done with me the day before.
Her kindness seemed to know no limits, she took the baby with her as she picked up the shopping, the woman’s other children following behind as she told them something about making mac and cheese for their supper. They all cheered and laughed, her neighbour returning to the house to put away the shopping that Helena had given her.
As I watched her wipe the dirt away from one of the children’s faces with the hem of her shirt I realised something...
She was perfect.
I had to know her, I had to help her if I could and if she would let me. Emma had left and I’d surrendered myself to my family’s wishes to keep that a secret, knowing it would protect Emma from their wrath too if I just said nothing. I thought I would just be alone, that it would be impossible to find someone who would accept my situation and wouldn’t want to use it as a way to earn their way into the family. Yet here she was, someone so pure I think the angels themselves would want to bask in her light.
My mind was made up, I would find a way to see her again. I decided against just going up to her front door, she clearly had a lot going on. Instead I had the florist send her the most glorious bouquet they could make in an hour and have a note attached.
‘Beautiful flowers for a beautiful soul. Please find me tomorrow night at the beach front fair. I’ll be waiting.
Yours truly, the stranger from the library x’
I wanted to ask her to dinner but I felt it may be too much, the fair wasn’t far from my office so I knew I could sneak off there without Mother insisting on me taking security.
It felt like hours I sat on that bench, watching children laugh merrily and couples stroll hand in hand. In all my life in Westbrooke I had never been here, too public Mother would say, too undignified. She said that if humans were meant to touch the sky then we would’ve been given wings, not a Ferris wheel. Of course the same principle didn’t apply when she wanted to take the private jet to Monte Carlo.
Finally I saw her, her honey rimmed chocolate eyes darting around like she wasn’t sure if I’d show and didn’t know if she should actually be here. Then they caught me and the whole world stopped. My heart hurriedly beating as I raced forward, no one here having a clue who I was so I was free just to be there with her.
We didn’t say a word, both too shy to truly acknowledge the situation we were in, until finally I knew I had to make the first move. I reached out with shaking fingers and took her hand in mine, she smiled as she returned my grip and that was it. We became all the escape each other had from the world of responsibility we lived in.
That night we rode every ride, ate all the candyfloss we could. I finally realised what all those people in the movies I wasn’t supposed to watch felt as they fell slowly in love.
We met like that for weeks, stealing moments together. I had to tell her who I was of course but she didn’t take it the way I thought she would, most people would be ecstatic to find the man they’ve been dating is a millionaire but not Helena. She said the words that made me want to pull her into my arms and protect her from the world. “Why do you want me? You could have anyone, someone with so much more to offer you. I can’t do that for you Christopher.”
It seemed surreal to me that she thought it was her that I had little to offer me when it was very much the other way around. I’d explained to her about Emma, how my family wouldn’t accept me in another relationship and we may never be able to be public the way I wish we could, not at least around the people in my world.
I knew I was being selfish, I just hoped that with time my family would see Emma wasn’t coming back, that they’d accept we needed to tell people she left and then I could be with who I choose. I’d done my duty, I’d married well. Maybe that would mean they’d let me marry for love this time, although I knew Helena’s background would be an issue. She wasn’t one of us, she was from outside our world.
It had happened though, maybe not to a Vanderbilt, but in society people work their way up all the time.
Helena looked up at me that day and I knew it would be a long road for us, but that if we were patient maybe I could do something that would change things. I’d work on Dad, he was always the gentler soul of my parents. He would understand eventually... I hoped.
“Because you are perfect. No-one could offer me more than that.”
I’m not sure when things became so difficult after then. Helena was struggling to support her mother with her part time job so I got her the job at the house, I thought it would make everything easier because we could see each other all the time but in some ways it just made it harder. Seeing her but not being able to touch her, to look at her the way I wanted too. We stopped sneaking out to the fair and started just sneaking around the house instead, she stopped volunteering at the hospital so she could focus on me and her mum. I didn’t want that but it’s just what happened. Time went on, I was getting close to us finally being able to be together
...then Dad died.