The rest of the night had gone by in a blur, they’d both continuously tempted the wrath of Conroy. Eventually the cockroach had let them be, choosing rather to bore other members of the league board. Victoria’s mama however had stood close by; near enough to hear the two of them laughing and doing their crude impressions of members of staff.
Her mother would have to admit that she had never heard such a roar of laughter from her child. Nor had she seen the smile that graced them all whenever the Professor spoke about his past lectures or his hopes for certain students. She hated how her daughter clung to each word.
“Professor M, there is no way a student did that.” Victoria giggled. Her hand clutching the metal of her necklace. Her eyes not once leaving the man.
“I can tell you, as sure as I stand, he threw his gum at me in protest of the curriculum.” William chuckled, he finished the remains of his glass. He wouldn’t pick up another; he didn’t dare too. He could tell from how his thoughts danced. Each one completely irrelevant from the other.
“Victoria.” The stern mechanical voice stalked up to them. Since Conroy had left and Victoria’s mother had stood prone, Albert had chosen now as the time to interrupt. “I think you have had enough. Or did you forget your tolerance. I would have thought that a Professor like yourself would be a better influence for a young student.”
The words tore a silence in the atmosphere. Neither daring to speak or to look at the other. They just stood there like children who’d been sent to the headmaster’s office. Not chancing a look at the other. Melbourne didn’t forget the pang of guilt that hit him. It was true he should have stopped her when he could see her merry attitude rising too fast but he didn’t want the moment to end.
He hadn’t been aware of just how empty the room had become, many lecturers had chosen to disembark the engagement. His eyes fell to the window. Just a few moments ago the sun was only just setting and now it seemed as though a void had filled the place.
“Thank you Albert, I didn’t realise how late it had become. I should get going. It was a pleasure talking and dancing with you Victoria.” William smiled. He gazed at Victoria, her head had fallen slightly and her eyes had lost the joy from before.
“Goodnight Professor.” Albert chimed up. “Come Victoria, we have people to entertain.” He added.
“I don’t want to. Not with you Albert.” Victoria bellowed. “Why are you all like this? TXhe minute I have fun you come to ruin-“
“Perhaps ma’am. You would like to take a walk before I leave. Get some fresh to sober you up a bit” William clapped his hands, moving towards the door before Albert could protest. Victoria followed close behind him.
Melbourne didn’t say anything else until they reached the doorway. The cold air bitter against his skin; he welcomed it however. A refreshing slap in the face to wear away the alcohol he had consumed. With one look up he noted how the dark grey sky loomed over him, no stars shone down on him. No moon beamed down above. Just dulled clouds and icy winds.
“I must say, Victoria, I found myself having more fun than I thought I would.” Melbourne announced, turning to look at his companion. She stood shivering in her dress, the colour had turned into a harsh black and her face had fallen to sadness. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want it to end. Tonight.” She confessed, he felt the corner of his mouth twitch. A sad smile threatening to etch itself into his aged features. Aged. He was older than her, and yet he felt young next to her. Her presence was enough to make him feel his younger self, he craved it.
“You should get some rest” He blurted out; he didn’t want to say that. He wanted to tell her it didn’t have to end but that was selfish.
“You sound just like them. Mama, Conroy and Albert. Always telling me what to do and never listening to me.” Victoria frowned. Melbourne glanced around, searching frantically for a way to fix what he had said. His eyes landed on a small alleyway in between two buildings on the campus.
“Follow me” He uttered heading off. He hoped she would follow, hoped she’d find as much solace as he did in the place he was taking her. He had to admit that within his logical mind, he knew that heading down a dark alleyway in the dead of night with a student was somewhat fishy but he also knew what he was doing.
“Where are we going?” Victoria called out to him as they continued through the alley, the stones jutting up erratically beneath their feet. An uncomfortable platform to walk on for anyone, let alone a lady wandering over them in pitch black.
“You’ll see” he returned turning a corner. The area at the back of the university, a small corner of solitude, had when he first arrived become his quiet place. His favourite place to be and the only one he wanted after the funerals.
Victoria didn’t know when the alley stopped being an alley. Or when the stones turned to grass. Nor did she realise that Melbourne had ceased movements, not until she had hit into the back of him causing him to fall forward. He released a short shout as he connected with the ground. He was certain that once he found his way back home; and in the artificial lights of his bathroom he’d find mud splattered across his suit.
“Professor, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going” Victoria announced bending down to help the man back to his feet. Melbourne chuckled lightly as he took her help, pulling himself up. His hand rested gently on her arm as they stood in the cold.
“It’s fine.” He responded, his eyes danced around the isolated area. It wasn’t as crowded as it was in the daylight. The birds that flocked around had gone to their nests to rest. “I haven’t been here in a long time.”
Everything was dark and Victoria’s eyes struggled to adjust as the stone silhouettes became visible. Four of them, all stood around a large fountain. The fountain contained no water, just black specks of what she assumed was dirt. The air around them seemed warmer, the feeling of safety wrapped itself around her as she stood beside Melbourne.
“I’m sure it looks better in the sunlight” She whispered. “But why show me this place?”
He sighed in response, hand leaving her arm as he stepped around to face her. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness a long time ago. In fact, if it weren’t for Victoria, he would never have seen the light again.
“You said that they never listened, allowed you to have your fun. This is a place far away from Albert, John Conroy and your mother. Nobody really knows it exists. Only me and Professor Portman and now you. So when you’re feeling crowded, you can come here.” He told her. “But you will have to share it with the rooks. They are rather fond of this area.”
Victoria giggled. She hadn’t giggled since she was a little girl, she remembered the giggling fits she had with her home tutor Lehzen. Her mother never trusted Lehzen, nor had she allowed her to stay in the same room as her daughter for a length amount of time. She’d gone as far as to kick the woman to the curb as soon as Victoria was old enough to attend University.
“I shall treasure this place, but I’ll only come here with you, Professor M. It’d be a lonely place with only my thoughts.” Victoria announced.
“Then with me it shall be.” William smiled, “But right now, I should be getting home and you back to the party. If you need me, you only have to email. And don’t be a stranger. Knock on my office door anytime.” He added.