Knocking, my mother’s honeysuckle voice calls me to enter. She’s using fathers chair now, the dark burgundy leather engulfing her tiny frame as she scribbles away on the paper in front of her before looking up at me. The smile on her face one of her genuine one’s for a change. “My little boy, you look so handsome.”
No matter how old I grow, I guess I shall always be her little boy. I take the seat opposite her as she hands me the sheet she was writing on. I look it over.
“Mother I can’t say this. It’s a bit much.” I was horrified enough when she told me I’d be required to make a speech, public speaking has never been my forte, but this is too far.
The kind smile she had when I entered the room is gone as quickly as it came, her eyes now narrowing as they scan over me. “You will say every word Christopher. It looks horrendous that we’ve hidden this pregnancy, this party must make steps to correct that, starting with a speech from the heart that will win over the crowd.”
From the heart, the irony of her writing my speech and instructing me on the words to say making it the furthest thing ‘from the heart’ it can be, is not lost on me. I need her on my side for this.
“Of course Mother, I shall do my best.” She returns to her smile but it’s not sincere anymore, it’s now or never. “Mother, I need to talk to you... I’m going to leave the house soon, me and Emma have discussed it and-”
I stop mid sentence, my mother’s tone so cold it sent a shiver straight through me.
“Mother I understand your security fears but I feel-”
“No Christopher. You will not be leaving this home. Neither of your brothers left when they had children and you shall not either. We are safest and strongest together. There will be no further discussion on the matter. Now run along, the party will be starting soon and your presence will be necessary from the beginning.”
There’s never room for debate with my mother, she’s used to having things exactly as she wants them. Everything in my body tells me to get up and leave but I know if I don’t say something now I never will. She begins to write away again with her fountain pen as if I’m no longer in the room, I may as well be four years old again trying to get her to look at my colouring book before she calls for the nanny to remove the annoyance of her own child from her vicinity.
I will not be ignored. “Mother, I’m in love with somebody else.” She doesn’t waver, her pen never leaving the paper as she continues to write in perfect cursive as if I said no words at all. “Mother? Did you hear me? I said I’m in-”
“It does not matter Christopher, your responsibilities are to this family and to your wife. She is not important.”
Not important? Helena is the most important person in the world to me. “Mother, I’m leaving. I’m going to be with her, I’m not going to shove it in your face but I’m also not going to-”
I’m cut off yet again as the glass paperweight next to my mother goes flying across the room, smashing into pieces as it hits the wall and splintering into my back as it bounces back off. I wince in pain which she seems to ignore, the ink from the snapped fountain pen now pouring out onto the page on her desk as she looks at me with pure discuss.
“NO CHRISTOPHER! I have given up too much just to watch another black bitch from the projects walk into my house and try to ruin my family! You will never speak to that girl again, do you understand me? Or I’ll have her end up the same way as the last maid that tried to fuck with my family...”
I freeze. She knew about Helena? I didn’t mention her name, never told her who I was in love with. She knew before I even entered the room, how long? How long has she known about us?
The last maid... Rowena. I’m still not sure of what happened, I was only thirteen when the accusations were made. I just know that she isn’t around here anymore, I’m not sure anyone knows where she is. I remember she was nice, she was only a few years older than me and she would help me with my homework when I was too embarrassed to ask my tutor to explain it again. I liked her, of course Tommy liked her more. Then one day she was gone, the staff were shaken but nobody would tell me what happened. Tommy had to go away for a few weeks and there were police coming to see if anyone had seen her.
Then it all went away, Tommy came back and not long after that Mother told me it had been arranged for me to marry Emma. I’d heard rumours over the years, things about her being hurt and disappearing but I still wasn’t sure of what happened.
I just remember the fear. Everyone in the house seemed to be dripping in it. It was then Mother really changed, her whole world becoming smaller and the reputation of the family becoming even more important. It was from then I knew my family was to be feared, their power had protected them from this and I didn’t know what else they were capable of, so I stayed quiet.
More rumours spread, each worst than the last as more people seemed to fall victim to my mothers desire to stay on top. The last time I saw my father he told me how he couldn’t live with some of the decisions she’d been making, that they were going on this holiday so he could talk some sense into her and then things would be changing. Then he died, an act that sealed our fate to being at our mother’s mercy for all eternity.
I can’t speak, my heart is racing as I watch her face contort from one of anger to one of complete indifference, the rate at which she is able to flip her personalities has always been frightening. “Now go sweetheart, and change your shirt, there appears to be glass stuck in this one. I’ll be down in a moment.”
She returns to her work, discarding the ink stayed pages and broken pen before continuing to write. Looking down I can see tiny shards of glass from the paper weight have splintered into my side, small red spots of blood on the light blue fabric.
My body is shaking, the image of Helena being hurt because of me causes my heart to sink into my stomach. I can’t risk that. Opening the door with quivering hands my chest pumps erratically. I was stupid to think I could protect her, stupid to think I could protect either of them. I have no power here, she has it all, one wrong move and she’ll unleash it on someone I love. I won’t let her hurt Helena, even if it means I have to let her go.
Stepping into my room my brother is sitting on my bed, scanning through the shirts he’d pulled from my closet and planned to steal. He smiles as I enter, before dropping his gaze to my own shirt. “Oh shit, do I need me to get a first aid kit or something?”
I shake my head, stepping into the bathroom and peeling the shirt of gently, trying to keep all the glass falling from my body to one area. Stefan and me have always been close, Tommy is the oldest and the prize Prince of the family so we were often left to just get on with it together. We both also shared in our desire to leave this world but had surrendered ourselves to our fate.
Stefan however had managed to find some light, despite being forced into marriage like the rest of us he had managed to find love with her too. They shared beautiful children and had picked the wing on the furthest side of the house to live, so in a way had created their own bubble of security. He was never academic so he played little role in the business, instead staying at home with his wife and children as much as possible whilst trying to avoid the spotlight. The engagement party was his first social event in a year and he hated every second.
I had almost told Stefan about Helena on a number of occasions, I knew he’d be happy for me but I didn’t want to make him keep a secret from his wife. He was one of the few that genuinely wanted happiness for me. We’d always joke growing up that if the family money was left to us then we’d donate as much of it as we could, he’d go off to Paris with his family and paint like he’d always dreamt of and I’d get the little cottage I’ve always wanted in the country. We’d both bow out of this world completely. That’s why I think Mother always favoured Tommy, he is just as power hungry as she is.
Stefan comes in behind me, brushing away the final pieces of glass as they fall to the floor. He wipes away the blood and places pressure where needed. “What did you do Chris?”
“I told Mother I want to move out.”
He chuckles. “What would make you do something stupid like that? You know how she feels about that, I had to ask ten weeks in advance just to take the kids to the alps for a week. I know it’s hard with Emma here now Chris, I don’t agree with what mother’s doing here but it’s a bit late now, you can’t run from it... Maybe you guys will even learn to love each other one day, you always got on as kids.”
There’s only one woman I love. There will only ever be one woman I love, I just have to love her enough to let her go and protect her from this place. I’ll go see her later, explain what needs to happen and why. I just want to be able to say goodbye without her hating me. She deserves a life I’ll never be able to give her.
I put on a clean shirt and as I look out the window I can see all the guests are arriving so I know I have to go, I have to put on the face they need me too for the day.
“You ready?” Stefan asks as I look at Emma walking amongst the guests, putting on a good act of not showing how much this is all killing her inside.
“As I’ll ever be.” Leaving the room one of the maids crashes straight into me, I immediately apologise but she just gives me an evil glare, her almost black eyes appear to me staring straight through to my soul.
Stefan pulls me away. “What did you do to piss off Rayna?”
I shrug, although the girl has been rather snappy with me all week. Maybe Helena told her something? I know they work together closely and the girls have been covering for her, maybe she figured out I was the reason her friend was so broken.
The fear I felt earlier rises back to the surface as I walk towards the stairs and spot Mother’s office door, for a split second I swear I smell Helena’s perfume, as if she were standing where I am moments ago, but I know she’s not here. She’d never come in today of all days. Brianna said she’d make sure she knew about the baby shower and something tells me that scary woman keeps her word. I’m glad Helena found her though, she hasn’t had anyone to look out for her since her sister died. I’ve done a poor job of protecting her, Brianna would never let her be hurt the way I have.
She is the only person I’ve met who seems to be completely unintimidated by my family, by out wealth and power. I know she doesn’t come from much herself yet she spoke to me in a way no person has ever dared before. I respect her for that, I hope when I’m gone she will use that strength to pull Helena back from the edge and into her circle of comfort.
Stefan meets his lovely wife at the door, their latest little one in her arms as she smiles at him. “He just needs changing, I’ll be out there in a minute.” Stefan nods, kissing her on the cheek before accompanying me outside. I envy what they have, I know they wish things could be different but at least in this twisted world they have each other.
Walking out into the grounds people smile and cheer for my arrival, my mothers fake smile the biggest as she approaches me and pulls me into a hug. For a moment I’m not sure what she’s doing until I feel her slip the speech I’d left in her office earlier into my suit jacket.
She pulls back, looking me directly in the eye whilst holding my shoulders tightly and speaking quietly enough no-one but me can hear her.
“She’s here Christopher, your whore. If you fuck this up for me today I’ll make sure the bitch never leaves the grounds again. There’s a mountain of earth near an oak tree at the back of the woods just calling her name. Do you understand?” Every word she speaks said with a smile so big anyone on the outside looking in would think she was making a declaration of love.
The colour drains from my face, Emma’s eyes catching mine telling me that she’s just as frightened as I am. My mother places her thumbs to the edges of my mouth and forces it up into a smile. “That’s better, we wouldn’t want anyone to think you weren’t happy now, would we?”
I shake my head, the rest of my body paralysed by fear as I imagine everything she could have done to Helena over and over in my head. Stefan returns to my side.
“Show time Chris.”