Momma didn’t come home from the honeymoon until the Friday before Thanksgiving. Three full months had passed since I’d heard from her, let alone seen her, but her sun kissed skin spoke of afternoons in the sun of Spain, the beaches of Italy. She’d decidedly bought souvenirs for everyone; I received a gown from France and a few leather bound editions of Charles Dickens and Shakespeare from London. The way I was presented them felt more like obligation on Momma’s part and not kindness. In fact, she seemed much more tense than normal. Bart seemingly didn’t notice; was he accustomed to this? Had she been this way their whole honeymoon? If I were him, dealing with a new spouse constantly jumping at each noise and seemingly paranoid, I’d hate being married. He seemed happy, though.
Over the months, I had been socialized with my suitors more, mostly small parties each weekend, on a few occasions weeknight excursions. Obviously, each event was heavily supervised and much less dates and more so like a childhood play date. My grandparents wanted me to pick a suitable husband but weren’t making it easy in any sense. Grandmother always diverted conversation to topics she approved of. God forbid talking about school or hobbies or books; I was instructed, in essence, to advertise myself as an obedient housewife. I silently decided it was her parent’s methodology when finding her husband, my Grandfather. It barely felt like I was allowed a personality. Then again, it seemed my suitors were in the same boat. Their fathers insisted on their end of conversation focus on business. How they’d be great providers for me and our future family.
The idea of having children with any of these men sickened me. I wanted nothing to do with any of them. Actually, at this point, the idea of having children at all sickened me. Perhaps it was a result of the things I’d gone through the last two years, but I feared bringing up offspring in the world of cruelty and repression my family’s circle succumbed themselves too. Oftentimes, when I was alone, I’d close my eyes and try to dredge up memories from when I was young, the twins’ age, when all I wanted to do was play with my dolls in their little wooden house. I had had an active imagination, making up stories of princesses trapped away in a spare room until their princes came and saved them, and how they’d live happily ever after with their clothespin children. I’d make it theatrical, like the movies I’d seen where the charming beau swooped in, defeated the evil stepmother, awoke his love from a magical slumber, or climbed her yarn-hair, or fought the mammoth dragon for her hand. The stories lost their appeal to me now, for the obvious reasons. Being trapped in a faraway tower wasn’t all the Brothers Grimm had cracked it up to be. In any case, the possibility of parenthood was not only terrifying, it was something I likely couldn’t bear. I wasn’t given the best upbringing, how could I myself provide one to a child of my own?
Grandfather was getting worse and worse. In fact, this time, we were sure he wouldn’t make it until Christmas. I was silently reminded, however, that even if he’d died that very minute, I had at least three months until I could be ‘me’ again in theory. Grandmother’s will was strong, she would not relent in keeping me underneath her thumb as long as possible. If it took me being married off the day of my birthday, she would have it done. Luckily for her, I wouldn’t be able to marry until I graduated, which gave a small leeway between February and May to be a young adult and taste independence.
On Saturday the twenty first, I brought him breakfast. Sausage, eggs, toast. Before I could excuse myself, he took me by the forearm and forced me to look him in the eyes.
“Lucille.” He croaked. “Will you pray for me?” He asked.
“I will. I promise.” I replied naturally.
“Will you forgive my sins?”
It felt an odd time and place for him to ask, and me of all people. I had no authority to forgive anything, and even if I did, there were many things I could never brush away.
“Yes.” I lied.
He licked his lips, he always seemed to do so in the style of the elderly. “Lucille… I have done terrible things. You are young. You have time to grow, I do not. Do not do as I have done.”
I was beginning to be afraid, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Was he delusional in the morphine-induced haze he’d been cocooned in for the last month? He finally let me go.
“Promise to be obedient in the eyes of God.” He whispered to me before he laid back and closed his eyes. “That is all. You may go.”
I thanked him quickly, again promising to heed his word, and made my way back to the dining room so that I may eat my own breakfast. I didn’t mention the encounter to anyone, though Grandmother asked me why I’d taken so long. I simply replied that Malcolm wanted to speak to me a moment. She did not press further.
The next day, Bart would finalize his will, we were informed. He had other matters to focus on that afternoon, and he and Momma had a gala in the evening to attend that couldn’t be avoided as to not make a social faux pas. Malcolm would live another day, everyone decided, at least one. After that, it would be touch and go.
Sunday brought church again and lunch with my suitors. I paid as little attention to conversation as possible. Lawrence spoke of nothing but himself, though at one point began to stroke my hand and dream out loud of a wonderful manor in the mountains and a horse farm and all the lavish parties we could have, all the fine pearls and diamonds that were in his family that he would absolutely love to see around my pretty little neck. In fact, halfway through sandwiches he pulled out a long, slim black box from his coat pocket with a flourish and handed it to me, insisting I open it that moment. I did; it was a necklace, silver chain with a teardrop shaped emerald dangling. Politely, I thanked him, though shot a glance at my grandmother. Was this proper? She seemingly approved, nodding subtly. He beamed as he then took it and placed it around my throat.
“There.” He said, proud. “I had it purchased in Switzerland, they have the finest jewelry, you know. I could buy you anything you desired, my dear.”
Before I could even form a thanks, Kenneth scoffed. “Showoff.”
This led into a small squabble between all four, me in the center trying not to get my soup spilled. Thankfully, it was calmed, and soon enough, I was on my way back to Foxworth in time for dinner. I’d like to have said momma was in better spirits, brushed off her mood as jet lag, but now she was even more distressed. During the meal she dropped her fork no less than three times and wouldn’t stop licking her lips. Bart kept trying to reassure her, making the comment that her father would hate to see her so distraught. The codicil wasn’t so bad, it made their life easier even.
Codicil? This was the first I’d heard of anything. I supposed I’d be learning, as momma then said that she’d like to speak to me about it after dinner. Alone. I obediently replied that I didn’t mind whatsoever, I had the full week off school for the holiday so missing an evening train was out of the question. Once everyone finished and I cleared the table, she took me by the hand and lead me to my room, shutting the door behind us.
“Please, let’s sit.” She said, I quickly sat on the sewn up chair. I rarely had visitors, given that there was hardly ever anyone to visit, and one could potentially feel any of my hidden positions if they sat there. Better safe than sorry. Momma sat in the other armchair, pulling some papers from her pocket and setting them on the small table between us.
She took a breath. “Camilla dear.” She hadn’t called me by my birth name since we’d arrived. “Your grandfather has made some alterations to his will that concern you.”
She unfolded the sheet, though instead of it being a copy of the will or paperwork regarding the alterations, it was a crudely drawn family tree with a concerning number of crosses.
“You’re nearly eighteen.” Momma continued, turning the paper so I could read it. “There are things that I feel you need to know, now that you’re older and my father is dying. Your siblings -- Chris, Cathy, the twins -- they're only your half siblings. Their father, Christopher, isn’t yours.”
I scanned the paper, and she was correct. She was rather calm now, almost nonchalant about the whole ordeal. The line denoting my father cut across to my grandmother’s side, and tracing the connections up, it made him my grandmother’s nephew through her brother; momma’s cousin. My stomach turned at the name as well. Albert Winfield, whether it was irony or her intention, the man that was supposedly my father.
There was one question I could ask. “Why?”
She wrung her hands into her skirt. “I was young, I’d just met my half uncle and we’d been, well, in a relationship for some time. We’d made love, you’re mature enough to understand, we were aware of the consequences that could turn out. Young, dumb, idiotic love. Obviously nothing came of it. It was May of ‘41…” Her eyes closed, she began to cry a little. The act was failing and at least for now, she wasn’t putting it back up.
“Alfred had just come home on leave, he was fighting in Germany for some time, he’d lived in England for awhile and decided to enlist, but he was allotted some release and the ability to come and visit. There was this grand party held for him, everyone had missed him so much. I’d missed him so much, I hadn’t seen him since I was a little girl, you know. It lasted late into the evening, there was beer and wine, there was celebration even if we were all scared for him to leave.”
She had to take a breath. “Alfred got drunk that night, I got a little tipsy from sneaking a little too much champagne. He wouldn’t stop inviting me to dance, I wouldn’t stop accepting those invitations. Eventually, I got tired, he offered to walk me to the spare room where I’d be sleeping. He didn’t leave me at the door though.” The tears began to really flow. “I kept telling him ‘no, no, no’ as he kept kissing me, I tried to make him stop, he wouldn’t... When it was all over he just left me in that bed sobbing as he zipped up his pants and went back for more beers and fun. He said that if I told anyone he’d kill me. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew you were his… I never told Christopher. It would kill him. I think he suspected something, but he didn’t want to face that.”
I was dead silent. What could I say? I’d just been informed I was the product of an incestuous encounter that’d been swept underneath the rug for the last seventeen years. I just nodded slowly, taking her hand. She cried a few more moments, then dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief that she produced from another pocket. Her breathing calmed, and soon enough she resumed her facade.
“Camilla, I’ve never told anyone this.” Her voice was still shaky. “You must never tell anyone else. As for the will… Your Grandfather has put a ruling on my inheritance. I must never… Never ever have children. I can’t have a child with Bart. I can’t adopt. You nor your siblings can ever be known to be mine or else I lose anything. If I ever have children after gaining inheritance, I have to pay every penny back. I can’t do that.”
I paled. This was why I was being gagged, so I wouldn’t lose her money!
“However,” She leaned in closer, trying to smile. “I’m not supposed to know, but Bart told me… You’ve been written in as Lucille. You’ll get a portion of the estate. You’ll still have the money I promised!”
“What about Chris and Cathy and the twins?” I asked.
Her smile didn’t fall. “Don’t worry about them sweetheart… We’ll figure out something, I promise. Don’t we always?”
“I…” I faltered. Perhaps she was right. “We do. We always work something out.”
She patted my hand, getting up. “There you go… It’ll be okay, things are only going uphill. It may have taken a little longer than we thought, but it’s all coming together.” Momma began to walk to the door, but then stopped.
“Please, Lucille. Play along, and you’ll have a wonderful payoff. It’s what I’ve done.”