Chapter 1: The Meeting
“Just one class. One William. It’s hardly like I’m stopping your social life” Emma laughed as she stared at the man. His hands cupping the mug of hot coffee and his eyes staring at the onslaught of new students. Headless chicken running from Dorm to Classroom. He could hardly remember his university days, back then it was all chalk and slate. Or that’s what it felt like to him.
“What if I said you were?” He queried, his gaze flicking over to the woman. She always looked so ladylike, her dress comfortably sitting on her shoulders and tucked in at the right places. Her figure slim, and her face well-worn from the years. He was the same, his frown lines evident every time he marked an essay.
“Sitting at home reading St Chrysostom is hardly a social life. Please, you know how Edward gets when he’s left with my family.” Emma pleaded. He could see the genuine feeling in her eyes as she begged quietly. She’d been his best friend for as long as he could remember. Her husband a close friend as well and he did, indeed, know how Edward was with Emma’s parents. A Buffoon.
“Fine, alright. I’ll save your husband from being with your parents. What class is it anyway?” He questioned. He knew this question would make or break him. Emma taught different classes, some he didn’t mind – History, a topic he found fascinating however she also taught English Literature, something William would admit was never his favourite. Although he did read, far too much, especially when he had begun his career, for a brief period of time, in politics.
“English Literature, third years. They practically teach themselves” She smiled. “ Although I should warn you, they aren’t like your politic students. Some have a little more fire in the bellies ”
To think he could have been grading second year politics; handwriting the notes that attached themselves to each individual document. ‘Susan, you need to speak more of the influence the conservative party had on Victorian England. More specifically their rivalry with the Wigs.’ Or ‘Matthew this was good, but your grammar could be better. I suggest speaking with Professor Portman’.
“Oh,” the delicate voice called from the doorway and his head snapped to the source. She stood there, eyes wide in confusion and fear. He attempted a small smile as she continued to hold the door handle in her right hand. “I was looking for Professor Portman’s English Literature class”
“You have found it.” He commented as he eyed the abandoned seats. “Unfortunately Professor Portman was called for other business. I’m covering.”
She laughed lightly to herself as she entered the room. He took in her appearance, the white blouse that draped over her shoulders and tucked delicately into navy trousers. She was short, shorter than half the girls in the university and yet she carried herself as if she were tall. As if everyone were beneath her. He couldn’t help the smirk that danced on his lips as she sat herself on the front row.
“Have we met?” She quizzed him; he wanted to say yes for some bizarre reason. He wanted to pretend like they were acquaintances but found himself looking at the papers scattered across the desk before returning his gaze.
“No. I don’t think we have. I’m Professor Melbourne” He introduced himself like he always did. His hand subconsciously touching the buttons that held his suit jacket to him. His other hand coming up to straighten his tie.
“My cousin is in your politics class. He speaks highly of you Professor.” She smiled. Her smile was addictive, the way her lips parted slightly to show a slither of her white teeth. “You should take it as a compliment Cousin Albert rarely speaks highly of teachers”
“Albert.” He mused as he searched his mind for a face. One struck him, a tall gentleman with a look that showed his disgust with everyone and his high ego. His hair flopped to one side in some angsty teenage rebellion. “He’s a pleasant man to teach”
“We clearly do not know the same Albert” She giggled. “He’s always been well”
“Robotic” he interjected. The word slipping through his lips before he could think. For a brief moment he suspected he’d spoken out of line as Victoria’s face fell. The smile changing in shape as laughter expelled itself from her lips.
“How true, Professor M. Albert has always worked like Clockwork, Mama would speak highly of him. Especially when entertaining guest like my Uncle. However Albert is not why I am here. Tell me Professor M, have you ever studied English Literature”
He smiled to himself as he recollected his school days, his brief period studying the works of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. He found an escape from politics in the pages of books but he had never been fond of analysing the works. They were stories, though some based loosely on actual events and people, after all.
“For a short time. I found books are a pleasant distraction from my marking.” He responded. She pondered over his words as he slipped his hand into his leather satchel, his fingers dancing on the spine of a hard backed note book. He pulled it free from the case that ensnared it as he flipped through the pages.
“What were your thoughts on William Shakespeare?” She asked, a pen balancing delicately between her index finger and thumb.
“I don’t know him personally but his plays are works of art. I hear they are marvellous to watch in the globe theatre.” He answered her. “Currently if I remember correctly, Hamlet is being played.”
They sat in a blissful yet unsettling silence as each tried to think of something else to add to the conversation. Neither paying full attention to the students that continued to enter one by one, each half asleep or turning back out to leave as they spotted a different professor.
“Victoria” A beaming young woman with auburn hair and a beautiful complexion called from the doorway. Her joy reminded him shortly of his late wife, her joy at seeing their friend – correction her lover. He shook his head free from the thoughts. It was best not to dwell on the past. At least not on that past.
“Harriet, how was your weekend with Cousin Ernst?” Victoria giggled. William’s eyes danced over the pair before submerging themselves back into his own writing, he made no inclination to pay attention to the words on the pages as he listened contently to the conversation.
“A lady never kiss and tells Vicky” Harriet remarked, a soft giggle joining Victoria’s sweet tune. William couldn’t help but lean further towards the pair as students fled the classroom, set on enjoying some freedom to work on their own. “How’s the search for Mr Right going?”
“Goodness, don’t even get me started. Mama thinks it fitting to find every boy at her daily meetings and force them into sharing a room with me. This time poor unfortunate Alexander had to endure a family dinner and then the entertainment afterwards.” Victoria laughed. William didn’t miss the slight undertone in her words. He could tell by the way her sentences ended in a joyous note that her ordeal with Alexander wasn’t too taxing on her.
“Well there is one way to stop your mother” Harriet suggested. William’s eyebrow rose as he observed the two. Both focused on their notes as they spoke. “Find someone here. You’re beautiful and intelligent, not to mention fun to be around. Who wouldn’t say yes to a date with you?”
“Easier said than done Harriet” Victoria sighed. The room settled into silence after that, and William frowned slightly. He was intrigued, he wished to know more about Victoria but he settled back into his seat and thought of his next set of essays.
By the time the lecture had finished, most of the students had ducked out without him noticing, or perhaps they’d never been there at all. A few were left scattered around the chairs, some sleeping off the night before, others finishing off some cereal as they read through their source material.
With a single anticipated movement William stood, his right hand reaching for his leather satchel as he packed away items. He glanced up at the students, all busy packing up themselves of continuing to finish their sentences. Subconsciously his eyes drifted to the two ladies at the front. Harriet copying from Victoria, as the girl packed her things. The younger looked up at him with her innocent eyes, connecting with his cynical eyes. He was the first to break eye contact with a small smile.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, he fished it out as he read from the screen. ‘Thank you again William, turns out my parents aren’t coming this week, it’s next week instead. Edward and I decided to go to dinner tonight and you’re joining us, no questions. I’ll come to your office at five’ He rolled his eyes and placed the device on the desk as he continued to pack away. His thoughts elsewhere as he placed the strap on his shoulder and exited.
Chapter 2: After Lectures and Coffee shops
Victoria and Harriet talk after class, discussions move to the coffee house.
Apologies, the lack of updates was due to a lack of wifi in my house.
“He was handsome” Harriet didn’t miss a beat as the last of the students filed out of the room, it was now just Victoria and her.
With a frown Victoria cast a confused look towards her companion. The older girl awaiting Victoria’s response.
“Who?” Victoria answered her. The last pen being placed cautiously in the inside zipper of her leather shoulder bag. The brown strap causing her navy cardigan to crease on her shoulder. She’d have been instantly yelled at if her mother had seen the crease on her shoulder ‘That is not the way a lady looks Drina’
“The professor, you know Melbourne. Alfred told me that he owns a large mansion in Hertfordshire.” Harriet responded, “Also that every woman is swooning after him. A bachelor. At least that’s what Alfred calls him.”
Victoria remained silent as she wondered to the doorway, the heavy wooden door opening a crack as she cast a look back at her best friend, if they didn’t hurry now they’d miss the best table in the café. The one hidden in the corner of the small coffee scented building, where they could see all and people never spotted them.
“Are you coming to the party later? Albert and Ernst are holding it at their place, just outside campus.” Harriet queried as she followed the path Victoria had just walked. With a roll of her eyes Victoria responded.
“I have no need to go to some stupid party held by a clockwork robot and his ostentatious brother. Even if said people are my cousins” Her eyes narrowed as she saw the phone, clear as day on the work surface of the desk. A puzzled expression gracing her features.
“Oh please Victoria, I mean it would get your mother off your back if you went and met someone at the party. Plus you only have to show your face” Harriet informed her as she followed Victoria’s gaze. “Hey, maybe it belongs to that handsome professor. You should take it to him”
“What?” Victoria spoke almost too quickly for her to think. “Why- Why would I take it to him?”
“Well I can’t, I have a party to get ready for, and you have free time. You know because you aren’t coming to it” Harriet suggested her hands picking up the delicate device. Victoria hadn’t even realised she’d made her way to it, her slim fingers snaking around the base as she threw it to her.
She almost missed as it bounced from her hands, her heart thumped in her chest as she caught it, the black glass seeming to illuminate as she looked at it.
Her eyes were stuck on the picture of two people smiling. A man, she clearly recognised as Professor Melbourne, and a small boy. The younger of the two, his hair dark like Melbourne’s, his smile wide and yet riddled with something; she could see in the way that he stared at her that he was troubled. That disability plagued him in the way his legs touched and his hands were stretched as though they were lying flat on a wall.
Melbourne looked content, the soft creases of worry that sat next to his eyes were barely visible. The cynical glint in his pupils seemingly gone in the picture and the greying hair had been replaced with dark chocolate hair. The pearl white shirt unbuttoned at the top, and tucked delicately into the navy trousers. The sleeves rolled to the elbow as mud caked his arms.
Victoria smiled at the picture as she imagined the scenario. Melbourne with the boy playing around in the mud, him being careful not to get his white shirt stained as they ran around.
“Victoria, you’re smiling, and not just any smile” Harriet playfully hinted.
“Come on, we need to find Professor Melbourne,” Victoria paused, “But after we get some tea”
The coffeehouse on campus was always bursting with people, the condensation hung to the window every time the door opened and a fresh face appeared. The scent of coffee hung thick in the air; a thin after smell of freshly brewed tea. The two scents mixed perfectly balanced in a ceremonious harmony.
She couldn’t shake the chill that bit her back as she entered, her eyes darting to the counter. Brodie stood behind the marble surface, a large grin on his face. He sent them a dignified bow of the head as he set to work making the usual. Two teas and a few cakes. Any cakes; that’s what Victoria had told him. Any flung on a plate and delivered to her table. She’d valued the freedom of being able to choose what she ate.
“I’ll go and get the table.” Victoria remarked as she headed off, she left Harriet to pay for the drinks. Victoria had paid last time, and the time before that. She remembered the last time, she’d been over eating after hearing the news of John Conroy’s new position within the university. This university, she practically cringed at the memory of the letter.
She couldn’t help the thoughts that gathered in her mind, especially as she thought of her acceptance in the school. For at least a month she had been adamant John was the reason. That the conniving worm had wriggled his way around the university board as a favour for Mama. Heaven’s knew what he was gaining in return. If anything. Other than that of her father’s money.
It wasn’t a secret that Victoria’s family were wealthy, one of the wealthiest in the country. She was still unsure as to her father’s actual occupation. Her mother had kept it from her, a ‘Way of protecting you, my dear Drina’.
She froze as she rounded the corner, the table in sight. The light wood accentuated by the dull grey of the wall, the dark oak panelling that had been drilled into the brick hidden by the figure. Papers strewn across the surface of one of the two tables. A jacket slung over the opposite chair.
“Professor Melbourne” She muttered as she placed a small hand into her pocket. Her fingers ensnaring the glass as she pulled it out. She hesitated half way, she could hold onto it for a few more hours. Find out everything about the man. Curiosity would get the best of her. She resigned the thought in her head. No she was raised better than that, she’d give it back.
She cleared her throat, attracting the attention of the older man. His pen falling silent on the paper as he glanced up. A surprised raise of his eyebrows and a quick once over with his elegant green eyes. Her confident appearance wavered as she stood under his gaze. Almost like a school girl with a crush. Almost.
“Victoria, can I offer my assistance in some way?” He quizzed her. It was hard for her not to picture his younger self. He’d aged, but hadn’t most people. She knew that he hadn’t lost his handsome features. The sentence she would never repeat aloud and especially in a room with Harriet and Ernst.
“I, I was leaving the English hall and well. Harriet and I noticed your phone. We were on our way to look for you” She informed him, her hand freeing the device from her cardigan pocket. She watched as he laughed, only half of his mouth lifting as he placed the pen on the table top.
“Looking for me, huh. How did you know I’d be here? I thought this was the securest part of the coffee shop.” He replied. She could see, and hear, that he was far from angry with her. In fact he seemed amused by the situation as she passed over the device. Her foot collided with a chair leg as she moved forward.
He had quick reactions, that’s what she noticed first. He’d lifted himself from his seat as she had prepared for an ungraceful bout with the floor. His hands grabbed her arms pulling her back to her feet. She hadn’t realised until he had released one arm and plucked the phone gently from her fingers, that she had not in fact hit the floor. His other hand lingered on the soft material of her cardigan.
“Brodie said they were out of Victoria sponge cake, so I went with red vel- Professor Melbourne, what are you doing here?” Harriet began as she passed the corner. Her eyes making assumptions she dared not to speak aloud. Melbourne removed his hand from Victoria and stood back collecting his things.
“I was evidently having a coffee and marking. However I fear I must get on. Thank you for bringing me my phone. No doubt Portman would have had my head if I misplaced it, and some other student got their hands on it.” He chuckled lightly, his jacket slung his arm.
The two girls watched in silence as the man walked away, he stopped by the counter. His eyes darting back to the corner and his words evident as Brodie nodded his head furiously. Victoria couldn’t make out the words as Melbourne finished his conversation. He smiled back at Victoria and she happily returned the smile.
“I think, Harriet, I’ll attend the party” Victoria laughed as she turned to sit at the table. Her hand subconsciously placed over the section of her arm Melbourne had grabbed.
Chapter 3: Dinner and Alcohol
William attends a rather rapidly turning Dinner with Emma and Edward. Meanwhile, Victoria attends Albert and Ernst's party with Harriet. Neither are good ideas.
ITS BEEN AGES. My apologies, I've been at work and then at the hospital and whilst not all my time is devoted to work and my health, I've been re-decorating my bedroom and I've only just managed to find enough - what with no being able to sleep due to a stupid reason. But I shall endeavour to update and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
“No, I’m not covering the lecture again. Emma, it is not ideal. I have marking of my own to do. Before you even ask, why don’t you set a reading week or something” He confessed as he relaxed in his chair. His voice barely above a whisper as Edward took his seat. Emma frowned at him.
“The students love you” Emma responded.
“The students aren’t there. They don’t attend the lecture. And those that do, well half of them just walk back out. It’s better for the both of us to just have you cancel the lecture and set work online.” Melbourne admitted.
William shifted uncomfortably in his seat, any dining outside his apartment or Brocket Hall made him feel uneasy. He figured it had been for the fact that the last time he had dined in a restaurant it had been with his wife, son and Byron. An old friend…no not a friend he’d never mention him as a friend again.
“I’ll owe you” Emma pleaded. She was one of the only people who could convince him to do it. He couldn’t bear to see her in peril, and every time she begged him to cover a lesson, or come to dinner. He found himself unable to say no.
“You already owe me.” He sighed, “But I suppose I could cover your lecture next week. As long as I don’t have to speak about a book”
Emma gave him a smug grin as a waiter moved to the table. The young man looked barely out of school, his dark bow tie too tight around his neck and his shirt freshly ironed. Presumably by his mother. It was a strange to hear of anyone doing their own ironing. Even William didn’t, then again. He had never been a dab hand with an iron. He’d managed to burn more than few shirts and trousers in his lifetime.
“The lamb please” He told the waiter, the youngster nodding and disappearing as fast as he had come to the table.
The noise was audible from two streets away, the loud bass that had obviously turned up by Ernst could be felt under their feet as they drew closer to the house.
The house was, fortunately for any nearby family homes, isolated. The grand gates had been opened earlier in the evening, and the door left open as guests trudged in and out, leaving mud caking the hallway and the stone steps. The rain would do no justice for the poor cleaners who ran around in the morning.
“You know perhaps this isn’t a good idea. We have an essay due in three days and if mama found out” Victoria panicked slightly, her words rushing from her mouth as she waved her hands frantically through the air. Harriet stopped her, they were mere metres from the doorway. Students looking at the pair as though they were watching a circus act.
“Listen, your mother won’t know, the essay will be done in no time. Now come on, let’s get a drink.” Harriet attempted to reassure her. The reassurance had been left by the door once they had entered. The poorly chosen strobe lights blinding Victoria as she pushed past the people and into an overly bright kitchen.
There were perhaps three other people in the room with them, all collecting various quantities of alcohol before disappearing back into the seizure inducing hallway. The smell of mingling aftershaves and perfumes had burned her nostrils as they stood beside the kitchen sink. Harriet already holding a plastic cup, Victoria had always heard about parties; she’d always questioned the significance of having red plastic cups and not just ordinary glasses.
“Ah, Harriet. Cousin Victoria” The slurred words of her older cousin Ernst entered the kitchen. His hair dishevelled and his shirt rumpled. If it hadn’t been for Harriet’s devotion to loving Ernst, Victoria would have accused him of messing her friend around. Not that she wouldn’t accuse him at the next ‘family get together’. “So glad you could both make it. Shall I fetch Albert for you cousin”
“Why would I want that” Victoria spat, her words harsh. She despised Albert, he’d always critiqued her on everything. From when she would play Mozart or Beethoven on the piano, to when she would address people at family balls. Her mother had caused this, she was certain, her mother and her uncle had always spoken so highly of Albert the prodigal son. Whereas any mention of Victoria was passed over as though someone had stepped on a newspaper in the street.
“Albert” Ernst shouted, a smirk forming on his features. He never listened. Ever. “As for you my lady, may I have this dance?”
His words would have been charming if it weren’t for the stench of beer that clung to his breath and clothing or the merging of all words. Victoria watched in quiet disgust as Ernst and Harriet dived into the strobe lighting, she hadn’t even realised that she was now the only one in the kitchen.
“What do you plan to do this year, when the holidays come around?” Edward questioned William. He almost choked on his lamb as he reached for some water. With a small sip he swallowed the lump of lamb that stuck to his throat.
William cared less for the holiday season then he did for John Conroy’s health. Of course he had the overwhelming memory of his first Christmas after his son was born. His wife and he had decorated Brocket Hall, they’d placed the toys under the tree and baked Christmas gingerbread. All while their son slept. Each Christmas was the same until they had both left him. Now he sat at home or in the university, his pen scribbling over essays.
“I had nothing planned, specifically.” William answered, “It being so far away. I guess I’ll spend it at Brocket Hall. I believe I was in the middle of a book.”
“Nonsense. Wasting away there all on your own after the passing of…well in all honest she wouldn’t have wanted this” Edward spoke, it was more evident now to see just how much the man had had to drink. William could practically smell the alcohol staining his breath. William’s eyes, void of any feeling, glanced over to Emma. Her glass dangling in her fingers and her mouth hung agape as she stared at her husband.
“Edward” she hissed from her seat, the man huffed out a spout of laughter as he grabbed for his drink again. His hand diving into a bread bowl as he missed the glass. William took the opportunity to shift the concealed substance further from the man’s reach. His empty hand diving into his trouser pocket and pulling out a small leather wallet. He placed a few notes onto the table as he stood.
“I’m sure tonight was a good idea in your head, Emma. As much as I’d love to say I want to stay. I can’t. Goodnight, and hopefully I’ll see you on campus after the weekend.” He left his sentence as that and made his way to the door. He had no idea where he would go, he couldn’t go home. Sit and re-run the whole scenario in his mind like some dreadful nineties throwback that played every morning on some random channel.
“William wait.” Emma protested but his hand had already pushed open the door, a small nod to the waiter and his foot halfway through to the foreign stone.
Victoria had lost count of the amount of alcohol she had consumed in the last hour, Albert and Ernst had decided it was a good idea to start shots. Harriet had been ecstatic after her dance with Ernst, well if you could call it a dance, Victoria had mentally noted that it looked like two uncoordinated house cats skirting around the space and bumping into furniture.
“Vicky, come on one more. Don’t be a lightweight” Harriet had slurred as she thrust another shot glass, the contents purple, in front of her face. The whole room seemed to spin around them. One minute she had been in the kitchen; the next she had wondered upstairs. Albert, Ernst and Harriet following with a bottle of foreign liquid and four shot glasses.
Vibrations on the floor made her feel like she was floating on nothing, the ground unsteady. She could barely feel the objects her fingers traced, or Albert’s hand that had managed to grasp around her arm.
“Victoria. I think you have had enough” Albert’s accent was thicker than normal, or perhaps the drink had made his mother-tongue heavier.
“Dear brother, she has had three shots that isn’t even enough to make someone tipsy. Here take another one” Ernst said passing more shots. Victoria, disorientated, turned to her friend, Harriet’s hand clutching her drink and her other holding onto Ernst. His hand placed around her waist.
To Victoria the place seemed to heat up, her lungs ached for fresh air as she placed the glass down and stood up. Her arms held out as she tried to steady herself.
“Harriet come on, let’s get back to our dorm” Her words merged into one, when her friend didn’t move and just drank from the glass, she questioned whether she had actually said anything.
“Do you want me to walk you home?” Albert asked, with a strong shake of her head. Victoria left.
The world continued to spin around her as she stagger across the street. Her eyes squinting every time a car passed by. She had slipped onto the side of her foot multiple times as she navigated herself back to campus.
A frustrated sigh escaped her lips as she removed her small heeled shoes; she threw them into the road. It hadn’t become aware to her until the light had stopped and the car door had opened. She hadn’t even heard the thump of a heel against a metal bonnet.
“What did you think you were doing? You can’t just throw heels into cars.” The man had shouted as he picked up the small firm material. She spun around, her feet barely stabilising her on the pavement.
“Watch where you’re driving. You can’t just drive in the middle of the road” Victoria slurred.
“Victoria?” The man had seemingly calmed down as he held her heel, the pink material light in his hand, her eyes almost went cross-eyed as she tried to focus them. The double vision appearing and disappearing until she finally saw the man’s features.
His kind eyes, voided of happiness – or at least the happiness she had seen earlier that day.
“Professor M.” she exclaimed her hand reaching out for him. Well not just her hand, her whole body seemed to follow it as he dropped the heel and steadied her. “Wait. Were you at Albert’s party? You know you shouldn’t drink and drive”
“Albert’s…drinking” He frowned. “Victoria, you are in no state to walk home by yourself. Please allow me to escort you back to campus. At least security can take you back to your room. Mind you Penge isn’t very polite.” He mumbled as he thought of the elderly security officer. His late night drink from the silver flask he kept hidden in the second drawer of his filing cabinet.
“Pfft. I can walk by myself” Victoria protested. “I’m not even drunk. You’re drunk. What would Professor Portman think. Tut tut.”
He released his lingering grip on her arms as she turned to walk off, her foot had seemingly found itself stuck under the other and he caught her as she fell.
“Ma’am, I think you should get in the car” He sighed. She nodded as she peered at the ground.
“I think you’re right Professor M.” She spoke swiftly. “Just as soon as I v-“ She had no time to finish her sentence as the liquid sprayed from her mouth and landed before them. William held her as the vomit stopped, his hand soothing her back as she stood.
Chapter 4: Tea and William's Office
William can't take Victoria to her dorm, so he goes for the best next thing
Whoa, another late update. Sorry, still dealing with health problems. Should be being sorted soon, hopefully. Time to get to the actual chapter. ALSO this hasn't been proof read because I just wanted to upload.
He wouldn’t lie and say that the smell of vomit wasn’t strong as Victoria sat in the passenger seat, or that even for a five minute drive back to the campus he had to open the window and inhale the cold air. He would, however, lie and say that he had a duty of care; that he had to pick her up from the pavement and help her back to campus.
“I’m so sorry, Professor M” She slurred from the seat beside him. His hands turning the steering wheel into the staff carpark. With caution he looked at her. Splashback vomit had attached itself to her blouse and the stench of alcohol did nothing to hide the putrid substance. Yet he was used to it, he’d cleaned up sick before, multiple times. When his son or when his wife was ill and no-one could help him.
“It’s fine. My only concern is getting you back to your dorm.” He commented as his vehicle slid into a parking space. The window rolling up as he switched off the overworked engine. “Which block is it exactly, Victoria?”
His head peered around to see her face. Her eyes had slid shut in the few seconds it had taken for him to park. He inhaled sharply as he took in the situation. William knew he wouldn’t pick up this woman, he couldn’t. He went against every rule in his professional life. In fact he’d broken several of them when he asked her to get into his car.
He sighed and exited his car. He could call Emma. She’d be able to help. Sure he’d have the questions to answer that naturally came when a Professor was in the same car as a passed out student; but then with Emma came Edward and William had no intention of seeing him again this evening.
With ease he walked to the other side of the car. His fingers wrapping around the handle as he gently pulled it open. At the noise Victoria had awoken; her eyes darting around the unfamiliar surroundings. A panic rising within her drunk self.
“Where?” She managed to say as William helped her from the car.
“Victoria. We’re on campus. Come with me, we’ll get you sobered up” He sighed as he closed the door once more.
It took them awhile to traverse the stairs until they had reached the destined floor. The hallways vacant of cleaners, not that a large sum ever entered the part of the building, and security. He attempted to stop his imagination from concocting the various scenarios and excuses to attempt, and fail, to escape the situation if ever he was caught.
He could see it now, the smug expression that would craft its way onto Conroy’s face. He could hear the venomous words that stripped him of his job and his pension. All he wanted to do was retire to the peace of his home. Allow himself to wander the large grounds and observe the flying Rooks.
“Professor” Her words were little more than a whisper as she took in her surroundings. “Where” her words died after that. The alcohol still inhibiting her thoughts and her actions as she ran her hand over the flaking paint work. The beige walls giving way to the grey underlying wall.
“Just through there, is my office. I’m going to make you a cup of tea. At least help you sober up a little.” He huffed. It wasn’t meant to be a mean sort of huff, but the overriding annoyance of his dinner and the situation he had found himself in had killed his kindness as it stood.
With that he held the door open, his hand felt the cold wall for the plastic square. His fingers pressing on the switch.
His office was cold, its walls coated in a dull grey; the sort of colour that sucked all emotion from the air and left only emptiness in its wake. The furniture that stood within the confinement of the four walls, had been worn through the years. The fine gloss that concealed the dark paint of his desk had all but faded and left nothing but chipped paint.
A book shelf lined the wall to the left of his door, each book held its own sentimental meaning. His eyes ran over the torn paperback that sat proudly in one of the small squares. The pages had become yellow through the years and the words on the cover had disappeared almost completely. If it weren’t for his fond memory of being a boy and picking it from a bookshop he frequented with his mother he would have thrown it out years ago.
“I hate it” The words crashed through his reminiscing. She had shouted the comment. Her whole body swaying as she stepped forward. Somehow through the unceremonious disgrace she should have had, she was still as elegant as the first time he had seen her. “The colours. I hate them. Did you paint?”
He didn’t know if he struggled with the answer or the boldness of the question. Of course he hadn’t painted the walls, they hadn’t seen colour since he had been given the room. In all honesty he supposed that he should do something about it.
“No, truth be told. I hate it too” He smiled. His eyes still roaming the walls as he answered her.
“You read” she exclaimed as she sprinted to the book shelf. Her fingers dancing across every spine of every book. Her movements erratic as William set about moving to the small kettle he kept by the window. The trolley stocked with tea, coffee, sugar and the small milk that came in circular containers that never seemed to need refrigerating.
“Yes Victoria. Even Politics professors read” he chuckled. He turned to observe her as the kettle boiled. The smile that broke out across her face as she pulled out a certain book. He strained his eyes as he tried to picture the book.
“Poetry. Byron” Her words stung him. The two simple words that to anyone else would be nothing but to him it was a million papercuts across his skin. He kept the smile as he watched her flick through the pages. “Are you a fan Professor M?”
He listened for the click of the kettle, his body shifting to it as he poured the water into the two cups. The tea infusing with the boiling liquid. He held out a cup for Victoria, which she elected to ignore. Her ignorance caused him to cross the floor. His shoulder close enough to her as he peered at the page she was reading. The intense scribbles beside a certain poem. He closed his eyelids, his mind focusing on other things. Anything to distract him from the insistent memories that had been bringing themselves to the forefront of his mind all evening.
“Your tea, ma’am” He commented opening his eyes as her delicate fingers grabbed the porcelain. His hand lingering again a little too long on the mug before he released it. Her hand bringing the mug to her lips. “Careful it’s hot”
“Like a certain professor” she giggled as she sipped the cup. A frown crossed his features as he thought about her sentence a little more. He struggled to make the correlation between temperature and teachers. “Do you dance?”
“I haven’t danced for a long time.” He admitted. “Do you?”
“Mama used to force me to dance. She would say, a proper lady would know all the steps to the waltz.” She spoke, the mug reaching her lips again as she drank. “Albert would always say, a dignified lady would allow the man to lead.”
“I take it you were a natural leader ma’am” His mouth turned into a smirk as he glanced down as the steaming liquid. He hadn’t made it right, he hadn’t added the sugar he would normally have, or the milk that he liked. He wasn’t going to drink it.
“Still am Professor M, I could dance better than anyone here.” She spoke, the tea acting fast as it combatted the sluggishness brought on from the alcohol. “We should dance”
With that she placed her tea on the shelf, her hands reaching out for his arms. The small hands tightening around the material of his jacket.
“Not tonight” he spoke. He brought his mug closer to his chest. A device to distance himself without actually moving. He didn’t want to move as he watched her head dip. Her eyes look at the floor.
“Goodness, Mama would not be happy if she saw me now. Vomit on my blouse” She complained as she reached for the thin material. Her fingers cautious not to touch the stains that now formed. He spotted the silent distress in her eyes as she glanced around the room. The embarrassment flaring in her expression as she properly took in the scenario. “This is embarrassing” she spoke as if on cue.
“Nonsense, I believe I have” he trailed off as he stepped behind his desk. He pulled at the handle of the small cupboard, his hands reaching for the material that lined the bottom. “Here. You can cover yourself in this.” He passed her the shirt.
“Are you sure Professor M?” she cautiously reached for the shirt. The black material smooth in her petite hand.
He failed to respond for a minute. The last time he wore the shirt was at the funerals. It was Augustus’ favourite. It was his wife’s favourite. It was his least favourite. He nodded finally.
“Of course. I’ve been meaning to throw it out anyway.” He commented with a smile. “I’ll wait outside. Then I think it would be best for you to head back to your room.”
He left shortly after that, the door closing behind him and his back hitting the wall. His eyes staring at the floor. He was sure if he waited long enough the carpet would dissipate and a large jaw would open up. He’d be taken into it. He was certain as he thought about the woman in his office, he’d entered something he wouldn’t be able to leave easily.
Chapter 5: Embarrassment and Past Mistakes
Victoria awakens with no recollection of the previous nights events, to make things worse her mother springs worse news on her. An unhappy thing in William's past gets brought to the forefront.
I wanted to go down the Victoria remembers the conversation and some cringy embarrassment happens but the idea got lost in my mind and I chose a different route. Although doesn't mean Victoria's inevitable embarrassment won't be brought up. Hint: It will but in a different way. I promise the next chapter will be better
The only evidence that she had been drinking last night was the blinding headache which seemed to double in intensity every time she entered a brightly lit room. She remembered little of yesterday evening, her last memory being of Albert passing her a cup of stale beer.
She could hear her phone vibrating on the hard oak surface of her bedside cabinet. She struggled to react as she sipped on the large glass of water she had just grabbed from the kitchen. Her fingers missed the device as they fell onto the wood. On her second attempt her slender digits wrapped around the mobile.
Bright letters revealed that her mother was attempting to reach her. Her mother, who she did love even through the harsh laughs and bitter expressions, was difficult to deal with. She was infatuated with Conroy, even – Victoria was certain – before her father had passed.
She answered the call, her hand dangling the phone next to her ear.
“Mama” she croaked, the water did little to soothe her dry painful throat.
“Oh my poor Drina, you sound like you are ill” Her mother’s thick accent weaselled its way down the phone. Her fake affection, this wasn’t a call out of a mother’s concern. Her mother rarely rang her. This is a courtesy call, Victoria understood where this was going.
“Mama, I am fine” she responded, a small sigh escaping her chapped lips as she awaited the real reason.
“Sir John-“ her mother began.
“Mama, he is not a sir, he is just John Conroy.” Victoria corrected her.
“Yes well, he has invited us to the faculty dinner in next week. He has wished for me to express my concern that your grades are not where they should be. He has spoken to many of your professors.”
“John Conroy has no business diving into my grades. He is of no relation to me, and therefore it does not concern him. Mama, if you are too blindsided with love then I suggest we have this conversation another time.” Victoria never got angry, or at least she had never lashed out to her mother like this. It wasn’t until she had heard the silence on the other end of the phone that she realised her mother had hung up. Or maybe she had done it in her haste.
“Victoria, I heard you shouting” Harriet, her somewhat sober friend, commented from the doorway. She still wore the tattered remains of her dress from last night. Her modesty still intact even though the straps had fallen to the middle of her upper arm, and her hair remained a tangled mess. It was lucky for them that it was the weekend, they had two days to energise from the partying.
“It’s nothing,” Victoria lied, “How did you get home?”
“Albert, he insisted. His brother was too drunk to even attempt to walk me back to the dorms.” Harriet responded. She could barely keep her eyes open as she stood there. One hand gripping the skirting of the door for dear life and the other held lifeless to her side. “What about you?”
“I-I’m not sure” Victoria hesitated briefly. Nothing bad had happened, she was certain of that. She was fine albeit her memory distorted and unclear.
“Whoever got you home, gave you their shirt.” Harriet winked, a soft smile forming on her naturally flawless face. “Anyway, I’m going to grab some sleep.”
Shirt. Victoria remembered her outfit clearly, her navy blue blouse tucked into a dark skirt. Hardly partying dress code but she had never been partying. Sure she’d been invited to a few balls where alcohol had been served and as she rightly remembered she was never a heavy drinker.
Her gaze drifted from the doorway where her friend stood to her own chest. The heavy black material that remained baggy on her shoulders. The small scent of old paper and coffee that had intertwined itself with the fabric. This wasn’t her shirt, it was far too big, nor could it have been Alberts.
“What happened last night?” She whispered to herself.
Her walk to the small coffee shop had become a marathon. The sunglasses, she had lifted from her desk, did little to prevent the growing pain behind her eyes. She had a craving, as she sat in her room, for the bitter taste of coffee. The craving had brought her here.
“Miss, are you alright?” The perky voice of Brodie called to her. His words seemed sharper this morning. She winced as she smiled at him.
“Fine, yourself?” She attempted; Brodie gave her his usual half smirk as he bounced on the balls of his feet.
“It’s not normal for you to be here this early, and by yourself” he responded. Clearly the boy had been drinking some of his own freshly brewed coffee as he eagerly awaited her answer.
“Brodie, as much as I enjoy conversing with you. Could I just get a coffee?” She informed him, her hand diving into her bag. “Please” she instantly remembered her manners as she looked back up at him. The boy’s expression had changed into that of a kicked puppy. He nodded as he continued.
Victoria silently screamed as she rummaged through her satchel, the dark purse was normally situated in between her phone and her keys and yet it had disappeared in the short space of time.
“That’ll be three pounds please miss” Brodie commented as he placed the small take-out cup before her. The panic had begun to kick in as her mind froze. The normally clouded space had become a blank surface. “Victoria” Brodie smiled.
“Here, and while you’re at it, one coffee black to go and a tea.” The clearly sleep deprived voice speak. She frowned momentarily as she searched for the source. Her mind finally switching back on as she lifted her coffee from the counter and turned.
There she saw the taller gentleman, his hair dishevelled and his normally ironed white shirt a creased mess. Beside him, she saw the well composed professor of English literature. He offered her a small smile, his eyes averting from her own every time he glanced at her.
“No, I couldn’t. You don’t have to” she stammered over her words. A thing she rarely ever did and yet here she stood like a schoolgirl.
“Nonsense, William hasn’t done a good thing in a few weeks now” her professor laughed.
“I call covering your class a good thing” He mumbled, his arms behind his back. “Are you feeling better today, ma’am?”
“Erm, sorry yesterday is a bit of a blur.” Victoria responded, her stomach had fallen dramatically as she tried to picture telling him she was ill. He couldn’t be the owner of the shirt, could he? No she shook her head. He was a man of principle, or so she had heard from Albert’s rants. Sure Professor Melbourne had his own set of principles but principles nonetheless.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll come back to you.” William told her, his words kind. His words were never harsh, although they weren’t the sort of kind that you would get if you were speaking to a child. The tone the professor used was a gentle mixture of both.
“William, is that…?” Emma trailed off as she spoke, the realisation dawning on her features as she looked between the two.
“My shirt” William finished, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Yes. I gave it to Victoria last night when she was drunk and threw up down her own.”
“This is yours” She shouted almost immediately, her free hand flying to the loose fitting black material. She hadn’t changed the shirt, in fact she had had no intention this morning to do so. The softness of the cotton comforted her shoulders, just as the smell of aged books and coffee soothed her nausea.
“William” Emma warned. Her tone dangerous, he knew full well what she was implying. “Again?” the attempt at a whisper had been Emma’s down full as Victoria managed to control her embarrassment long enough to hear.
Again. Victoria could felt the strange pang of jealousy that hit her, a feeling she had grown quickly accustomed too when John Conroy had stolen her mother’s attention away from her. A feeling that given time since the said occasion, she had removed until now. Though she had nothing to be jealous about. She knew that but it didn’t help her as she stood in the coffee shop.
“That has nothing to do with it. Nothing happened and nothing will” William’s words seemed harsher than Victoria had ever heard the man speak. In fact she was certain that the professor before hadn’t once uttered the sentence. “Besides this type of conversation is best said in private. Don’t you think Emma?”
It was at this moment Victoria took her chance to leave. The two professor watched her as she went, Emma’s eyes firmly attached to the shirt that she had seen on William far too often. William’s eyes flew to the floor beneath him, all fight leaving him as he mentally prepared his defence.
Chapter 6: Emma and Albert
William and Emma had a talk, whilst Victoria goes to on a short, and I mean short, trip to speak with Albert.
I really needed a filler chapter, so that I could weave in the scandal bit and Victoria finding out. Plus I'm trying to incorporate a few more characters. Slowly but surely to the fic. So enjoy, super still teasing you about the scandal and what happened but everything will be cleared up next chapter.
Also, just a quick thing, do you like the changing of perspectives. Or would you prefer just the one perspective that sort of changes each chapter.
“Do you understand the predicament you’re putting me in?” Emma practically screeched as they both finally settled in his office. The walls still as dull as ever, the colour had been getting on his nerves ever since his talk with Victoria the previous night.
“I’m not putting you in any predicament. It’s not what you think” He defended himself, his tone less sharp than it had been in the coffee shop.
“Oh really, and what giving a young girl-“
“Woman” he interjected,
“Not helping William. Giving a student your shirt is just something professors do.” Emma frowned as she stood before him. Her sudden aggression, or perhaps disappointment was a better word, had her on her feet. William could see in her body language, tense with a hand on her hip that she was preparing herself to rant.
“If you’d let me explain” he returned, he purposely left a dramatic pause as the tension rose. Emma took the time to sit down. William had carefully diffused the precise bomb that had built in the mind of the English professor. “Please just listen”
“I listened the last time. When you were paraded in front of the board. I’ll continue to listen even now William.” Emma responded. The sudden change in her tone shocked William. His breath leaving his body in a sadden sigh. He remembered the last time clearly. The sceptical looks of his peers, and the greedy clawed glares from those who instantly believed him guilty.
“Ah Cousin Victoria what a lovely surprise. Is Harriet not with you?” Ernest proclaimed from the porch. A large grin plastered across his features as he spoke.
“Not today. Is Albert in?” Victoria recoiled at the way the words left her lips. Almost needy as she placed a delicate foot on the bottom step. She had hoped that Ernest wouldn’t take it the wrong way but then again he was Ernest. Reason enough as his well-groomed eyebrow lifted, and his gaze focused on her.
“Warming up to him now Victoria” His tone was playful and she could fill the vomit rising in her stomach as she looked at him. “Yes, he’s in. Although he’s not in the best mood this morning.”
“Thank you.” Victoria uttered moving past the man and entering the seemingly spotless hallway. In the light, the place was a marvel of a home. The grand staircase rose to the right of the door, the marble flooring glistened under the intruding sunlight.
The walls reflected the light perfectly. Bright paper covered the plaster and dived beneath wooden panelling. Portraits hung in their respective places. The pride of the home. On the wall directly in front of her stood a picture of Albert, Ernest and their father. Only Ernest smiled in the still frame. Albert much like his father remained solemn.
It looked nothing like how Victoria had seen it last night. The hormone clouded, darkened room with strobe lighting hid the beauty of the house. Sometimes Victoria had wished she’d taken the offer from her mother of a home off campus but as soon as she remembered the home would be paid for by not just her mother but John she declined immediately.
“Albert” her voice left her mouth as she spotted the taller man exiting the kitchen area. A small mug in his hand, she stifled a laugh at the blank face of it. Her mind cruelly reminding her of how it fit the robotic man. Blank and boring.
“What are you doing here?” Albert questioned her already heading off into another room. Victoria hurried to follow after him. His attitude doing little to scare her.
“I was wondering if you’d tell me about Professor Melbourne. He teaches your politics lectures.” Victoria announced. She was sure that given time she could have thought of a more subtle way of asking.
She watched as the man before her stopped, his whole body going rigid as he turned slowly. His eyes focused on her. The weight of his stare caused her mouth to go dry and her body to shift uncomfortably.
“Stay away from him Victoria. If you know what’s good for you” Albert remarked before heading off again.
“She had vomit on her blouse. It wouldn’t have been chivalrous to not give her the shirt. Allow her to keep some dignity.” William commented. He’d told Emma the bare essentials of what had happened the previous night. He’d purposely missed out the part where Victoria had asked him to dance with her, and the part where he had missed the feeling of her hands on his jacket sleeve.
“Oh just like how it wouldn’t have been gentlemanly to have dropped her off with Penge, or let her get to her room.” Emma responded, her eyebrow raised and her hand bringing the tea he had ordered to her mouth.
“Would you leave someone vulnerable with Penge?” William countered. The lack of response told William all he needed to know. The change in Emma’s attitude had informed him that she would have done everything he had. “Plus I wanted to get rid of the shirt. It brought bad memories to the surface.”
“Still William, if anyone else made the connection you’d be under the knife again” Emma sighed.
Silence erupted in the room as both parties thought about the predicament. William’s mind wondering to the young lady in question. Emma’s mind fleeing to the memories of the last scandal. To the vultures that sat in the room with them all eagerly awaiting the boards answer. If it hadn’t been for the death of both William’s wife and his son then William would have been removed from the university.
“What do you mean Albert? Professor M isn’t dangerous.” Victoria cried out as she continued to follow the taller man around his home. In the past fifteen minutes they’d been moving room to room. Albert had continued to tut at her and refuse to answer her questions. “You’re saying this because you’re a prune.”
“How childish” he drooled as he finally sat at his desk. “You should talk to your dear Professor Portman. I’ve seen her with Professor Melbourne multiple times. The two perhaps, are a little more than friends”
“That’s ridiculous Albert. God, I don’t understand what Mama and Uncle Leopold see in you.” Victoria huffed in response before leaving the clockwork robot in his bedroom.
“Edward apologises for what happened last night” Emma announced, her hands smoothing down the bottom of her dress. The material just covering her knee as she sat legs crossed. Her tea had rapidly cooled in their discussion, and the last of the liquid had been left sat on William’s desk. “You don’t have to come have Christmas with us.”
“Emma” It was his turn to warn her. “I appreciate the offer but it’s too soon. Plus being sandwich between both of your parents doesn’t sound at all interesting. No offence”
“Well the offer still stands.” She smiled. “Are you attending the Ball, next week?”
William was about to answer her when a tapping at his office called for his attention. He casted a quizzical look over to Emma whose slim hands rose in the air. A simple gestures which told William that whoever stood behind the door was unknown to Emma.
“Come in” He answered the knocks. His eyes hanging on the door as it separated from the frame. The warmth from the corridor outside doing little to add colour to the room. He noted the silhouette as they held for dear life onto the door handle.
“Professor, I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time. I just have a question about the essay you set last week” The student, a young man with neatly cropped hair and light stubble gracing his chin. William noticed the bags that clung to the skin beneath his eyes.
“Emma was just leaving. Unless you have a problem with me talking to this student.” William jested as he spoke to the woman. A light chuckle left her mouth as she nodded.
“No, I’ll see you later William.” She gave him a tight-lipped smile as she gathered her things.
Her day had been wasted, or at least the majority of it had. She blamed Albert. The prig had never been one to be helpful, and Victoria thanked whatever divine entity she needed to for the fact marrying cousins was considered improper or illegal. She could never quite figure it out. She was just grateful she’d never have to marry Albert.
“Victoria. How are you feeling? William told me about you’re experiment with drinking last night” The delighted tone of her English professor cut through her thoughts. She followed the source of the voice to see her professor walking towards her.
“Yes, it’s still quite a blur, Actually Emma, I was wondering if you could help me out a bit.” She announced. Seeing no protest from the older woman she continued. “It’s clear that I saw Professor M at some point. I just don’t know what happened. Could you fill me in?”
“Of course, although we’ll have to walk and talk.” Emma spoke, “I have a mountain of work to do.”
“No problem” Victoria smiled.
Chapter 7: Scandals and Conroy
Emma tells Victoria. Conroy appears, and well William gets a short visit from Albert.
The scandal may not be as juicy as I wish it were but, without making William seem like a villainous character. This'll have to do.
Emma’s office was the complete opposite to the harsh cold colour tones of William’s. Her walls were decorated in a warm burgundy and lined with various shelves. There were, scattered around, different pictures of her and her husband and a small tray of tea sat delicately on a side table.
The room was larger than most others; and contained not only a desk and computer for Portman but also a small sofa and coffee table. It was like a home away from home, Victoria wondered how many professors’ before Emma stayed in this room. How many had skipped on an evening with their loved ones, or had argued themselves into sleeping in the office.
Or maybe, Victoria was over exaggerating things. Perhaps she’d read too many book, too many office romances. She shook her head at her own thoughts. If Harriet could see her now, she’d point out her obviously blossoming infatuation with a certain stand in politics professor, an infatuation some might add, happened all too fast.
“He said that he’d given you a tea” Emma had announced shaking Victoria from her thoughts. At first she questioned what Emma was saying only to realise she had been mid conversation. Tea.
She remembered the distinct smell of the substance, and the way it boiled in the dark mug she’d been given last night. Her mind raced to a bookshelf that covered one wall, several different books sat on a dustless shelf. One hardback defined itself from the rest. The material had been battered and torn at the edges from excessive use. Byron.
“I remember that.” She remarked. Another memory hit her like a shock wave. Professor Melbourne had told her the tea was hot, and – her breath halted in her throat as she chewed on the inside of her cheek.
“Then he noticed the sick on your blouse and offered his spare shirt.” Emma finished, a frown on her face as she observed the woman before her.
“Pardon me for asking, but earlier in the café. You said Again. What did you mean?” Victoria questioned, her feet shifting on the soft carpet beneath them.
“I would have thought that John Conroy would have told you. Clearly not.” Emma paused. Composing herself before she continued. “A while ago, shortly before William’s wife and son died, a student’s boyfriend made an accusation against William. The girl was in his politics class and she had visited him many times with the excuse of needing help with the lecture information. Poor William had no idea what was happening, he’s always been oblivious to these things, I warned William at the time. He took it well, said he’d let the girl know that she should perhaps ask Peele another of her politics professors. One day the girl, distraught at what she thought was outright rejection, sent William an Email. The contents is confidential but it was serious enough to make William go to her accommodation. He only went to speak to her but the boyfriend saw it and informed your Uncle. The previous Head of the University.”
“My uncle, I- What happened at the meeting?” Victoria quizzed, she had been told very little about the university her uncle owned. Even before she had chosen it, her mother had shielded her from it all. Her breath felt heavy as she exhaled.
“The board acquitted him. Your uncle and John Conroy weren’t particularly thrilled but the rest of the board took pity on him. I’m concerned for him, he can’t take another scandal.” Emma informed her.
“Professor M should never have been put in that position.” Victoria responded, a small look of sadness flickered over Emma’s face as she watched Victoria. The younger of the two sat with her back straight against the chair, her head held in a dignified manner. A manner fit for a queen, the irony. Emma smiled softly.
“No but Conroy helped push the girl into standing against William. Of course it didn’t work. As soon as the girl repeated words that only Conroy would say, that the board realised this.” Emma smiled. “The look on John’s face was priceless when he was reprimanded.”
Victoria laughed; a genuine laugh that erupted from her throat as if she had heard the funniest joke. Emma could not help but laugh as well. It was true what they said, laughter is contagious.
“It’s good to see that you can worm your way out of doing any work, and that you can corrupt Victoria here as well” The weasel like voice beamed from the doorway, the syllables drowning out all the laughter as both of them casted their eyes in the direction.
He stood there with his self-righteous pose and crooked smirk. His suit loose on his slim frame, and his umbrella under his left hand – even though it hadn’t rained since Monday. He continued to stare with his bug eyes. Neither of them had heard the door open, nor had they any idea just how long he had been standing there.
“What can I do for you Conroy” Emma spoke, her words crisp and hard as they fell on the air. John’s feet shifted further into the room, his hand pulling out a small blank envelope.
“An invite for the faculty ball next week. All professors are invited even your precious Melbourne. His invite is in with yours. I’m sure you can get it to him” Conroy sneered, he dropped the carefully folded and sealed paper onto the edge of her desk. His gaze then fell on Victoria.
“That isn’t your shirt” He mused as he took in her appearance. Victoria felt dirty under his gaze. Her weight shifted uneasily on the chair. The air becoming stale around her. “Your mother wishes for you to come to the ball, I, however don’t care what you do. But I care for your mother so Victoria make sure you are there”
With that Conroy left. The room falling into a mixture of different tensions. She could feel the anger and disgust emitted from Portman.
“I’m sorry Victoria. Please excuse me. Was there anything else I could help you with?” Emma smiled, her disgust hidden behind her mask of politeness. Victoria shook her head and left the office. Her mind running through the information she’d been served.
The weekend had been about as eventful, after the conversation with Emma, as drying paint. Victoria had spent most of her time in her room continuing her grossly growing essays. Occasionally she’d head to the supermarket to restock her refrigerator and purchase the casual cosmetics that Harriet required.
She’d ignored all phone calls from her persistent mother, who seemed only to call when an important event was coming across the horizon, or when she couldn’t quite get into contact with Conroy. Conroy, Victoria visibly shivered in horror at the mere thought of his name. The man was a cockroach. He would scuttle out of anywhere and scurry away when caught. He’d survive the apocalypse if he had the right resources.
Whilst Victoria’s weekend had been uneventful, William’s had been plagued with email after email. He had become aware that his feet were firmly rooted to the surface beneath him, when he attempted to pry himself off the, leather swivel, chair he’d been sitting on.
He sighed as he loosened his tie, the top of his shirt had inched itself to become undone as the man rubbed his eyes. In the past forty-eight hours sleep had swiftly become his enemy. Multiple times he’d felt his eyes betraying him and for an hour he had succumbed to the darkness.
“Professor Melbourne” the accent was heavy as he jumped at the mention of his name. It was odd to see the younger male at his office door. In fact he had never once since Albert started at the university seen him step foot onto the third floor. Normally the boy would head to Peele’s office and William was, often, relieved at that fact.
Albert was a difficult student, he was more focused at pointing out the floors in William’s teaching rather than the work that was being set. Sure the boy was intelligent and composed himself with the aura of an upper class snob but that didn’t stop William from having his reservations about Albert.
“How can I help you?” William finally found his voice as he poured the last of his coffee into his mug.
“You missed your lecture,” he paused. A frown flickered across William’s face as he peered over to the calendar that sat on the corner of his desk. “Professor Peele said he hadn’t seen you all morning.”
“Ah, my lecture. It seems time got away from me.” William responded with a quaint smile. His hand bringing the lukewarm substance to his mouth. “I’ll send you all an email, with the reading. Was there anything else?”
“Victoria. She seems to have peaked an interest in you. I don’t wish to see her judgement clouded, she is easily swayed and a man of your calibre is not good for her” Albert warned.
William released a hefty chuckle as he placed the mug on his desk and looked back at Albert. Of course, William didn’t quite understand where he was going with this. Sure they had spoken a few times, but there was nothing more to him and Victoria. She was a student, his best friend was her professor.
“I appreciate your concern, and I’m sure Victoria does but, I’m afraid, you’re imply that there is something more between us than the professional manner. I can assure you there isn’t. But trust me Albert, if, when hell freezes over, something were going on you’d be the first to know. I have lecture to cover and about forty five minutes to get there. So if you’ll excuse me” William retorted.
“Of course Professor” Albert said as he left, William sat with his hands in front of his face. His eyes watching the bookcase on the opposite side of the room, almost like he was hoping it’d open up and teleport him to the other side of the world. Perhaps another scandal was on the horizon for him.
Chapter 8: Seminars and Decisions
Victoria is curious, she's eager for the ball to be over and she informs Harriet of her informal invite. William however could care less for his invite, or well he would normally care less for his invite. Victoria enters the ball.
Whoa, back again with another late chapter. I am attempting to get better at this. Enjoy this bit, I feel that time maybe going a little quickly with events but I'm eager for the blossoming romance to start. You know what they, don't, say. It starts with a dance.
“You’re coming to the faculty ball” Victoria instructed her friend, “Harriet, if I have to stand in the same room as both mama and Conroy on my own with Albert. I don’t know, I’ll… I shall fling myself down the steps”
Harriet rolled her eyes as she let out a sigh. Victoria would always admit, to few, that if Harriet hadn’t been there she would have struggled to make the right friends.
“Is Ernst going to be there?” Harriet quizzed her. The question itself didn’t shock Victoria in the slightest, nor did the mention of her cousin’s name. What shocked Victoria the most was the infatuation that filled Harriet’s voice.
“As far as cousin Ernst is concerned. He is always there. Where there is drinks and women cousin Ernst will always follow” Victoria sighed, the last engagement she went to with Ernst was an utter disaster. Halfway through the evening the host’s daughter had disappeared as well as Ernst.
“I’d be happy to attend. I know just the dresses for us to wear.” Harriet remarked, “It’s sure to get all the boys turning their heads”
“Boys, it’ll mainly be staff, children of staff and my cousins.” Victoria giggled as she attempted to calm her nerves. The faculty ball, was all her mother and Conroy spoke about. Ever since Victoria was in lower school her mother would rave on about it. Victoria didn’t see the big commotion, not then and certainly not now.
“You said you’d cover it for me, I don’t see why joining my seminar is a big deal” Emma ranted as she entered the hall, the rows of students continuing their conversation, all but Harriet and Victoria. Victoria’s gaze fixed onto her professor and her seemingly silent and hidden companion.
“Yes well, that was before I found out you were going to be there. Also you said a lecture not seminar” The sarcastic comment spat back as the man followed it. His voice less enthusiastic as he observed the hall.
“Semantics William. I know for a fact you have nothing better to do,” Emma paused her own eyes falling on Victoria. She gave the younger girl a smile before widening her eyes. “Before you say it, answering emails and brooding over lecture notes is not better to do.”
Victoria laughed as William feigned a hurt expression before placing his leather bag on an unused seat and removing his jacket.
“Oh and that reminds me, Conroy wanted me to give you this. It’s for the faculty ball.” Emma announced holding out the white envelope. The top had already been ripped through, as though Emma herself had checked to see if it contain Anthrax.
“Oh jolly, another thing I don’t want to attend as much as John Conroy doesn’t want me there. Finally something we both have in common” William retorted. His words weren’t unjust. Victoria knew this.
Her gaze lingered on the professor, his white shirt creased at the elbow from where, Victoria could only imagine, he had rolled the sleeves up. She admired the way he could continue, after the scandal. She didn’t stop her inner voice sympathising with him. She could hardly believe that her uncle, a man she had once sought to see for so long – the one she admired as much as her father – had stood by and let an innocent man be condemned.
“I’m sure this year will be different. This’ll be the first one Victoria here attends as a student.” Emma barked, her words knocking Victoria free from her thoughts of her uncle. She practically jumped when Melbourne looked at her. His eyes softening as a smirk formed on his face.
“Still Emma, talking with professors I can barely stand isn’t really one for me” He cleared his throat.
“You were a politician at one point of your life William, you stood in parliament with lords you could barely stand for days, I’m sure you can survive one evening. Plus I need you to be there to dance with, I dread to think of Conroy dancing with me. Again”
“How could I be so cruel” William chuckled; “I’m sure a woman of your calibre can figure something out.”
Victoria felt her chest deflate at hearing that he wouldn’t attend. Her attempts at hiding the disappointment hadn’t escaped his attention as he cleared his throat once more. He placed the invitation in his bag before sitting on another unoccupied seat. A sigh escaped his throat; it was his rule. No more engagements where he stood with people who despised him.
“I have an idea” Harriet perked up, her hand placed on Victoria’s arm. An empathetic glint in her naïve eyes. Perhaps Victoria’s subtle disapproval of her cousin wasn’t as subtle as she thought. The woman beside her didn’t let on as she pulled Victoria from her seat.
Both left the room without a protest from the two professors. Although Harriet had caught the confused almost protest that Melbourne attempted to contain. If Harriet had caught it, she was sure that Victoria had too.
Five shops, and three shopping centre trips later and Victoria had her outfit for the evening. Harriet had put up a fuss about whatever Victoria’s mama had picked out for Victoria to wear. She was exhausted as she collapsed on her bed, her petite feet throbbed in the beige socks.
She sighed as her gaze fell on the dark dress bag. It contained the soft material that a few hours ago she was wrapped in. She would confess the material was comfortable but it didn’t contain warmth, none of her clothing did. None but the oversized black shirt that she had worn the other day.
“I don’t hear a lot of moving about in there. Put it on, with the matching accessories and the shoes” Harriet boomed from behind the door.
“You saw me wearing it in the shop” Victoria complained,
“Yes well, that was the shop Vicky. This isn’t the shop” Harriet announced, the use of the forbidden nickname showed that Harriet wasn’t playing. She would only ever use the abbreviation when she was being serious, even though in actual fact it sounded less serious than Victoria.
“Fine” she shouted back. She ignored the pain that sliced through her feet, she also ignored the slight limp in her right leg as she wandered over to the dress.
He sat still on his armchair. His light brown and burnt orange dressing gown which vaguely resembled a rug he’d seen in his childhood home. The mere thoughts of the rug had caused him to laugh as memories of his youth with his brother replayed in his mind.
The invitation from earlier dangled in between his thumb and forefinger as he observed the shadows across the room. His apartment was sparse, the furniture bland and the artwork that covered the walls the only semblance that a once happy man lived there.
His desk sat enveloped in a dark mist, inside the only locked drawer sat a picture of him and Augustus. In the opposite drawer he kept a half emptied bottle of scotch. The glass that used to accompany it had been removed long ago, he still found small shards of clear material sandwiched in the skirting of the wall.
“What would you do?” He often found himself questioning aloud. He chuckled, “You’d go. Have fun then slip away to be with your lover. I know what you’d do”
It was poison to him, when he had originally found out he’d asked her to leave but when she begged him he caved in. He let her stay, pretended things were ok. Even up to her death, he’d pretended and now he was broken. In his mind he had nothing left to live for. His reputation in the university had been ruined, his family had left him one by one. His friends… his friend refused to give up on him even though he’d given up on himself.
He sighed, his eyes sliding shut as he made up his mind.
Music flew through the air, cascading around each guest. Laughter had become a silent undertone as each group spoke, the words – though drowned out by the notes – were all fictious, no-one in the room could stand the other and yet they pretended. It was a parliament of its own. Social politics.
He stood off to the side, if he was careful enough he’d be a ghost. He’d be camouflaged as another professor. Emma had yet to arrive, or if she had already arrived she had escaped his notice as much as he wanted to escape John Conroy’s. The man was like an unwanted bloodhound, he could smell an opportunity a mile away.
“Drink for you sir” The quirky young voice beamed to him. The silver plate full of champagne glasses and wine held cautiously on the tips of his fingers. The white glove covering his hand as to protect the silver from smudging underneath. William almost immediately recognised the boy, almost. He had been watching out for a particular cockroach.
There stood before him, was the young barista from the university run coffee shop. The one he attended every other Wednesday and twice on a Friday. Although recently, he’d frequented it a lot. In hopes to speak to Victoria. Neither one had properly spoke to the other since Saturday.
“Brodie?” He quizzed.
“That’s right sir, Professor Portman was looking for you a while ago. She told me to inform her as soon as you arrive but I thought I’d offer you a drink first.” Brodie remarked, the information a little too excessive. “I suppose you’ll be watching out for Old Conroy. Don’t worry he’s in the other room currently speaking with Professor Peele and his missus.”
“You’re rather observant Brodie,” William paused his hand reaching out for a champagne flute. “How did you know I was doing that?”
“Easy sir, everyone does it, although I think he’ll be trying to watch out for you. Especially when young Victoria does her rounds of dancing. Every professor dances with her, every year.” Brodie remarked but before William could inquire the boy continued, “Speaking of which”
Brodie finished as he looked at the doorway. William’s gaze followed him as the hall fell into silence, save for the band that continued with their hearty tune, the dancers had ceased as they all watched the young student. Her arm wrapped casually around that of Albert.
William cast his eyes over her dress, the material a deep lavish green in colour, with small intricate lace details around the bottom. It covered her legs and feet as it glided along the floor. Her dress exposed her clear shoulders, her collarbone as well. Victoria in William’s mind, was the very picture of elegance. She was short, everyone knew this but her height didn’t make her look like a child nor did it impede his opinion of her.
“She looks beautiful” Brodie whispered, his mouth slightly ajar as he watched her pry her arm from Albert. Albert stood stock still as his eyes roamed the room, uninterested in this evenings events and in eager search of some sustenance. William smiled in response to Victoria. A soft look adorned his features as he listened to the music roar again and the people dance.
Chapter 9: Green and Silver
I should point out this is probably incredibly underwhelming. I'd apologise, but I apologise with my writing too much that it gets annoying so. I'm going to leave this here and yes I understand the wait was incredibly long. Longer than even I anticipated. So enjoy, this chapter is thanks to a friend who pushed for this chapter. Angst will be ahead probably in the next chapters. Maybe some fluff.
“That she does” William found himself uttering beneath his breath. His eyes still fixed on the woman in the centre of the room. She had been joined by her mother and Conroy, both complaining by the looks on their faces about her dress. Her dress that her mother would never have chosen.
“Beg your pardon sir” Brodie remarked knocking William from his thoughts, he cleared his throat and drank from his champagne.
“Nothing, where did you say Emma was again?” William questioned.
“I didn’t.” He paused, “But don’t worry she’s on her way. I best make a move or Conroy will have my guts for garters. Make sure you dance with Victoria sir. I’m sure you’d be amazing at the Waltz”
With that Brodie sauntered off, his tray hiding his face as he passed Emma. Emma, of course, having the eyes of an eagle knew it was the boy she had tasked to inform her of William’s arrival but seemingly forgot in favour of addressing her friend.
“I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see you. What changed you mind?” Emma asked him, her own champagne glass resting on her bottom lip as she watched the scenes before her. “Or should I say who?”
William glanced down at her, his eyes momentarily removed from Victoria. He shook his head at the words. A simple student hadn’t changed his mind, he had changed his mind. That’s what he told himself at least. Emma smiled at a passing couple.
“If you must know. It was you” He lied. “I couldn’t really leave you to dance with John, the man’s hands wander.”
“He isn’t dancing this year, in fact I don’t think he’s ever danced with anyone other than Victoria’s mother and Flora Hastings.” Emma laughed lightly.
“Hastings, ah.” William muttered, he remembered her well. She’d been stood beside Conroy at the hearing. Her beady eyes ready made in a scowl as they watched him. Her arm had been linked at the time with Conroy. William had initially passed it off as common curtesy but after the hearing he had watched them getting into the same car. Again, a thing that was normal but John had let his hand linger far too long on the crook of her back.
Victoria had spotted him the moment she entered. Stood at the back of the room shrouded in a light shadow. He stood beside Brodie, the younger with his mouth agape as she had wandered in attached to Albert. There was no say in how she walked in, Albert had been thrust before her and chained to her arm by her mother.
As soon as she could, she unlatched her arm from her unwilling companion and searched for Harriet. Her friend had entered before her attached to Ernst of all people.
“Drina” Victoria jumped at the use of the name, her mother had always insisted calling her that when she was younger. She spotted her mother, she wore a black dress. Her mother had kept to her colour scheme of dull greys and blacks ever since her father died. Victoria often found herself contemplated whether she’d do the same, if she ended up with a husband who died. “Where is your dress?”
“Mama, it is Victoria and I think I’ve grown out of pink frilly dresses.” Victoria stated. Her gaze pinned on her mother, not once did she bother to look to the right of her mother.
“You should start dancing, that is the purpose of this evening.” Conroy snarled, Victoria physically cringed at his words. His words were always lies. Every man Victoria spoke to had only ever told her lies. Everyone except Melbourne. Her eyes instantly flew to the standing man. His glass remained full and his eyes desperately flinging in different directions as though the whole scene was a comedy sketch and he’d been caught looking.
“Money is more your purpose for the evening.” Victoria drawled. Her eyes still watching Melbourne.
“Drina” Her mother practically screamed. “Apologise”
“No worry, she’s entitled to her opinion.” Conroy grinned. His teeth just showing, a vile yellow in colour. Victoria grimaced. “I feel it is only fair however, that you dance with someone of my choosing first.”
Conroy glanced around the room, his nose turning up at half the occupants until he had seen someone of interest.
“Alexander.” He called a tall man over. He was handsome, that hadn’t escaped Victoria’s notice but she had no interest in dancing with him. Nor had she any interest in actually being here. Her gaze fell briefly. “You should dance with Victoria here.”
“It’d be an honour” Alexander proclaimed as he snatched Victoria’s hands in his own and positioned himself for the music. Alexander may have looks on his side but she had heard all about his flirtatious personality. A personality that could rival even Ernst. “May I say you look ravenous this evening?”
A lust filled gaze peered down at Victoria. She smaller than him by more than a few inches. Victoria was an animal in the reach of a predator.
William physically tensed, his hand squeezing the champagne flute a little harder as he watched the two dance. He could see the smile that formed on Victoria’s face. Emma had caught the unsteady movement of William. Like he had motioned to move but stopped himself.
“They look like a nice couple” Emma chanced the sentence as William stepped backwards a little and forced his shoulders to relax. He took a sharp inhale and caught his breath in his chest for a minute before exhaling.
“We’ve both heard the stories about Alexander and his inappropriate actions” William remarked his voice low.
“Maybe he’ll have learned after the last-“Emma’s words cut off as she watched the dancing duo. By now the crowds at the sides of the dance floor had noticed Alexander’s hands drop dangerously low on Victoria’s body.
“That was quick, even by his standards” Alfred announced from beside Emma. Neither of them knew how long he had been situated there or how he had come to stand beside them but they nodded in response. William’s gaze becoming a glare. “Should I intervene?”
Emma wasn’t going to be the first to speak; she wanted to see how William would react. This was the most, in the several years since William had become an easy going cynic, he had ever been angered. He remained silently watching and waiting, yet she could see the turmoil running through his head. A turmoil that seemed unending until he spoke up.
“Yes” He had decided, his champagne glass had been passed to one of the many wandering staff members. His movements were slow, almost cautious, as he approached the dancing duo.
“What do you mean someone asking for me? Tell them to wait” Alexander practically shouted over the music, Victoria had been released from his grasp as Alfred tried his hardest to remove the man.
“They are insistent” Alfred pleaded, with a huff and a half-hearted apology Alexander sauntered off. Victoria smiled her hand out stretching to a passing staff member holding a tray of champagne, she gingerly plucked a glass from the silver tray taking a brief sip of it. She savoured the light fruity taste of the liquid.
William stood there momentarily stuck for words as he watched her drink. In his mind he was cursing himself, he was arguing to himself about how stupid he looks stood there behind a young lady like some star struck teenager. Before he could register it his hand tapped her shoulder.
She jumped under his fingers; her shoulder moving before the rest of her body as she looked up at him. Immediately a smile crossed her face.
“May I have this dance?” Melbourne announced, his timing impeccable as the music changed, well either it was his timing or Brodie. Victoria remained silent as she reached for his hand, her glass being taken by the same staff member who she had taken it from.
She hadn’t noticed his grey waistcoat, that had remained hidden behind his black suit jacket, nor had she entirely noticed how it clung to his frame, just as her hand clung to his shoulder. The music began to pick up as he spun them around, her eyes never leaving his face as he briefly glanced around the room.
“I thought you didn’t want to come” She announced and he looked down at her. He studied her expression, the curiosity in her eyes.
“And miss this” he chuckled as they spun. From the outside perspective, Emma’s perspective, they were stunning, deep green and grey dancing around the hall. The two of them stepped in time to the music, neither one missing. It was almost as though they had danced before, both comfortable and trusting of the other. Emma could have watched them dance for hours. “I hardly know how many more times I can dance in my life”
“You are not old professor” Victoria defended him, he chuckled, a genuine smile forming on his face. He stepped to the side, turning them both.
“I would beg to differ.” He responded. He glanced behind Victoria, his eyes catching that of Conroy’s. The cockroach stood to the side glaring with all his might. William couldn’t help but feel a little smug, which he would later hate himself for.
“You move so well dancing.” Victoria laughed.
“Lessons, I’m afraid. Back when I was in school it was must. That and my wedding day. I danced for hours.” William informed her. “You’ll understand one day.”
“I doubt that, mama thinks I should marry someone like Albert. Definitely not that prune, plus he doesn’t dance as well as you do.” Victoria retorted. Her eyes widening as she replayed her speech.
“Well again, I am older,” William announced, “Albert is a good man, protective and robotic.”
“Robotic, now that sounds Albert. He’s like clockwork, his movements and his words. It gets on my nerves. How Mama, and Uncle Leopold dote on him is beyond me.” Victoria enlightened him. To which he responded with a throaty laugh, the sort of laugh that happens at the strangest of times, one that is genuine. “What? Professor are you laughing at me?”
“Yes, I am.” He struggled to stifle his laughter as the music died down and he released Victoria. Both, in the back of their minds, sadden by the short song. “Dote. Only an English student would use dote” It was Victoria’s turn to laugh.
They barely noticed that they had caught the attention of the whole room, or that Conroy had stalked up to them in the moments the music had died.
“I think. You should both step outside. Stop acting like children and more like adults. Control your laughter” Conroy snapped.
Chapter 10: Solitude and Laughter
William takes Victoria to a quiet place after an outburst in the hall
Short chapter, I've been really busy with work recently and I'm trying to create time for this story because I'm eager to continue it but I'm also attempting to write my own book and earn money. So expect more updates and thank you for the kinds words. (I didn't have time to read this again, so also expect spelling and grammatical mistakes)
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? The 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.