There was something wrong with him, he knew. Even his family began to notice. You act metallic, love Mama told him the other day. Barely yourself, something worries you? Plenty, Erik wanted to answer. And yet, if he was asked to voice his fears out loud, he would be unable to find the proper words. There was something changing inside of him. And he didn't quite understand. As much, he felt the anxiety blooming like flowers inside of his chest, the roots tangling and twisting around his ribs. He felt how his own mind was changing, becoming way more irritable. He was upset, frustrated. Like an anxious bird trying to break a glass cage by shaking its wings; little victory and plenty of struggle. There was something happening inside of him and it left him exhausted during the day and awake during the night. Erik looked at himself in the mirror and sometimes he was surprised to not see a completely different face. His spirit felt brand new. Like new shoes that at first harm and feel strange; but you get used to anything, right?
The heat was nasty and it clung on your skin like a rejected lover. Absolutely disgusting. Still, the physical activity kept him from thinking and feeling odd. So he couldn't complain too much. He picked as many flowers as he considered fitting, greeting Raven when she passed by him. Many a time he rejected any sort of help she would want to offer. He felt like being alone. Like he always did. After picking them up, he classified them: the Lilies with the Lilies, the Buttercups with the Buttercups, the Tulips with the Tulips, the Lavenders with the Lavenders, the Lilacs with the Lilacs, and his lonely hands brushing the sweat from his forehead. Erik was not artistic enough to compose and create something new and unseen. He'll figure out, later, how to mix those. You see, he couldn't even figure out which flowers to pick to put in the vase for his visiting uncle until Charles, the charlady's brother, and their temporary gardener, volunteered to help. He always felt the need to step out and offer his unneeded hand like the showoff he was. He thought he could produce his most charming smile and everyone would swoon. Well, not Erik. Erik was clever.
Speaking of the devil.
As soon as he heard Charles' voice, his whole body turned tense, forcing him to stand up. Erik always felt the need to feel taller than the other, even if he was, by nature. If Charles sat down, he would stand up to look down at him. As he was doing right now. Erik raised an eyebrow and took both books, which were offered by the younger man. Earlier, he had sent him out to fetch himself a suit as he was invited by the Old Man to the dinner tonight. Because it was Charles, who always felt like he should spend his savings on nonsense, insisted that he should buy Erik books. As if they needed any, the stacked shelves in the enormous library would certainly disagree.
"I got your Defoe," Charles handed him the book he had asked for after so much persistence from the other man. Then he gave him another.
An unimpressed snort emerged from his lips. "Macbeth. I am surprised by the lack of originality of this, Charles." he held Defoe's by with arm and opened the old play. "Claire, you have me body and soul. I hope this can only be considered a small glimpse of how you capture my thoughts. I read you in every play. Faithfully yours, Peter." the young man read, absolutely bored, the writing he found on the book. Not words written by The Bard, himself. He turned the book and showed him the handwritten inscription right on the first page of the book, yellowish and faded. "I understand why you obtain these books at such a good price. Turns out they are the rejected presents of failed lovers." Erik closed the book with a thud. The short message made Charles smile, Erik could see. Ever so romantic.
"That's why I bought you this, just in case," Charles offered, gesturing to the book. He extended a hand to read the inscription on Defoe's book, but it looked as if he suddenly decided against it and let it drop. As Erik held up the book to inspect it, Charles rushed to say, "You mustn't judge this one by the author." Erik huffed, staring at the title. Macbeth, by W. Shakespeare. "Here," he gracefully stood up, taking the book from Erik's hand and flipped to a page, trailing the words with his fingers before he reached a particular set of words and started reading, "'There's daggers in men's smiles. The near in blood, the nearer bloody.' There's various other quotations I would like to tell you right now, but I'm afraid they're too much of a spoiler. Just give it a chance," he said, handing it back to him.
"I know what Macbeth is about. I am not that stupid, Charles." the possible idea of him considering Erik clueless enough to not know about such a famous play infuriated him. "I don't need to read it to know if I am interested in the plot. Turns out that I am not. A man's greed stimulated by his wife's ambition brings nothing to my life. Nor his unavoidable downfall. There are no scorpions in this mind." there's no guilt. Just doubt. Doubt and fear and wrath. Wrath towards the first two, like an envious and disgraced younger sibling.
"Well, excuse me for thinking that tales of murder and guilt would spark some of your interest, as it seems nothing does. Tell me, what is your favourite book, of all time?" He asked, and if one were to listen closely, one would detect a pinch of irritation dripping from his voice. For he wasn't too sure he could describe his frustration in words. They had known them since their childhoods, and being the only two boys in the mansion, they simply hung together. Being young and naive, he wasn't allowed a lot of time with Erik, his best friend at the time, Raven would pull him aside and chastise him for spending too much time with the young boy. Charles would ask why, and Raven would simply say, "You're just not allowed. You don't go to him, if he wants to come play with you, he will." As children, they didn't yet understand how the world worked. Raven always understood what went on, how people thought, what she had to do in order to extract a positive reaction from them whereas his words were as graceful as a dead slug -- anyway, they seemed to work on Ruthie and Mr Lehnsherr. Erik always reminded him of Mrs Lehnsherr, it was no wonder the woman never looked twice at his direction.
Yet, as they grew up, Erik became distant.
Erik parted his lips, very willing to speak out loud which was his favourite book. But then a corrosive shame brought him down. It was visible. At first he raised his chin and looked somehow offended. Then humiliated by his own choice. He decided to silence himself and look away. For sure he wouldn't say the name of the title. For sure he wouldn't recognize his foolishness. It was none of Charles' business, he was giving him nothing he could use against him. Erik swallowed all of his words and looked around, almost bored with the whole estate that was standing around him. Then he looked a few steps ahead, towards the grass. He would save himself from explaining the stupidity that was the fact that his favourite novel was Wuthering Heights: way too popular, way too romantic, way too fantastic, way too girlish and way too... evident. "I don't have one," was the easiest answer.
"Now give me a cigarette, might be the only good thing I obtain from you, today." Erik waved his hand a bit careless after he read the quote. Digging into his trouser pockets, he extracted a cigarette and gave it to Erik, lighting the lighter before he moved closer so he could cup his hands over the rising flame. At a distance like this, he could catch a waft of the man's cologne, though that was the only it due to the lack of wind. He had always thought Erik's eyes had looked impossibly green but today they leaned towards a bright shade of grey. Erik, on the other hand, felt the need to move and put some distance between the two of them. But that was just when the cigarette was placed over his hand. Erik held it between his thin lips, forcing his eyes to focus on the nail of Charles' thumb. And nothing else. He wanted to reduce everything his eyes capture other than that nail to a dark black. Blinded and safe. His body wanted to shiver, his throat wanted to squeeze him and his stomach wanted to give up and set in flames. He forced all of them to keep working. Erik took a long drag and when he spoke, the smoke came out with every single of of his words.
"Your father was thinking I should have my own flat in London, but I think it's a bit a lot, and anyway, I think living within the campus itself might be better experience, don't you think?" Charles spoke, each syllable of the words like an icy cold dagger to Erik's back. Charles was going to become a doctor. His thumb patted against the filter; too soon to produce ashes. The idea of six years away from each other made him anxious. And at the same time, he was desperate for Charles to leave. Dancing right on the filthy edge of something he didn't understand and something he didn't want.
"Anyone would say you wouldn't stop until getting a career, a position and a house for your future. Don't you say you were getting shy now." Erik snorted, almost cruel.
Charles was about to reply, but his eyes found the hastily makeshift bouquet, the flowers barely arranged correctly, instead each group huddled together as if waiting for some sort of punishment. "I see you've picked the right flowers, but something's missing. I do hope you're not planning on putting them in the vase while they're arranged like this."
"I did plan on arranging something, but considering you decided to be a smart one and tell me what to do, now I will, very gladly, scatter them through the house just like that. A casual reminder to let you know that you are never entitled to feel like you have to remind me anything." Erik was tight and stoic when it came to talk to Charles. It took quite a bit to loosen up. Each day, start once again. A complicated path to walk with so many rocks.
"Do me a favour; pick the flowers and follow me." the cigarette back to his lips, Charles' books under his left arm; then he leaned and picked the vase from the steps with his right hand. Erik began walking without expecting him to come after him. He could simply go to the fountain, but their way towards the pond was longer. For that reason, he picked the option that would take them more time.
As soon as Charles was starting to think they had been robbed of their moment by non other than Erik himself, the man – and it felt strange just calling him that, how bizarre it was to acknowledge the transition from boy to man when he hardly spent a day without seeing Erik – slipping away towards the lake, it would appear. Charles stood by himself for a moment, the smoke tickling the hairs of his nose before he cast his gaze down, where the roses simply lay together awaiting their fate. Better save them the trouble of slow deaths then. He bent down and picked them up, and immediately an array of scents filled his nostrils, wiping away the distinct smell of tobacco. He followed Erik then, doing an awkward jog to catch up and once he did, he thought to answer his earlier statement. "Who's going to employ a landscape gardener? -"
"-Any person who has an estate and little intentions to work on the gardens." Erik replied, casually, the voice coming out strangled since his lips were pressed together to held the cigarette.
"Biology interests me, medicine interests me. There are lots of speculations that there would be a war soon and other than the obvious consequences, the world would need more doctors, don't you think?" It was a sad twist of fate; he had earned a degree in literature and he was effortlessly toss it away, but really, it should paint him as an irresponsible fellow if he admired it out loud. He did value literature, but he couldn't see a future for it. Besides, his scholarship was in the medical field, not otherwise.
One would think that the sound of the steps of a close friend would being him comfort. Well, it didn't. Erik had been unable to find comfort, lately. Not even in a relaxing cup of tea, a cold bath during the worst and hottest hours of the morning. There was something wrong with him. And he couldn't understand what. One of Erik's hobbies was repairing old and broken clocks —used to be family business, back in time!—. And he knew that the problem is something regarding one delicate and small piece you are never capable of seeing, at first. He had been going through all of his gears: brain, lungs, guts, heart... All of them seemed to fail, at some point. He was shattered, not functional anymore. And right now, he forced himself to keep going, acting unbothered by this constant need of knowing and wanting for... for something he didn't quite spot. Erik felt stupid. He hated this and everything that extends to his life and what it might become.
He sighed and stopped right before they reached the small and wooden little bridge. He toyed his shoes off and left Charles' books right next to them: a guarantee he'll come back for them. He wouldn't just leave his shoes right there! But, like this, at least, he would walk and smoke, casually, while still holding the vase with the free hand. The old wood cracked gently under his bare feet. "And don't use that in your favour. Doesn't speak that well of you. There might be a war and I don't see you signing up to become a soldier." Erik snorted and shook his head. Charles was ridiculous; absolutely ridiculous!
"No, not a soldier but a doctor, see," Charles interjected, and it was obvious he was getting a bit exciting, gesturing with his hands, his facial features matching the tone of his words. "When – if a war starts, the local hospitals are going to be flooded with wounded soldiers returning from the battlefield, and I understand nurses are s better option then but it wouldn't hurt if there were more doctors available, people with enough knowledge in the medical field to treat them. You understand at the times, a steady income would be scarce and you know how many people wouldn't be ready to just work without a salary. The numbers will drop," he concluded. It was obvious he had spent some time thinking about this, and although the possibility of a war occurring was a little more than devastating, he needed to think practically. The world didn't need history teachers or even ones who taught literature, but practicality.
Then he added, curious to know Erik's opinion. "Do you think I should stay?" Though he doubted the answer would be too superficial for his liking, the other was always trying to be vague with his words, it was as if Charles needed to carry a cryptographic decoding system with him its to be able to decipher Erik's sentences. While Ruthie's complicated and delicious sentences aroused one's attention and pulled one in her stories, Erik's just made him feel frustrated.
But Erik was becoming bored. Erik let him talk, talk and talk. His voice being reduced to a buzz. Like something an annoying fly would do, as it kept moving around him. In those moment, Charles was tedious as the insect. He spoke about the future and Erik, himself, he didn't know what to do. He didn't even know if he would become himself, again, any time soon. Delay his motivations. What if he left the estate and something tragic happened? Or worse, what if he left and something good happened? The terrible events of consequences would leave him out of any sort of joy or problem. He couldn't just leave for the sake of living. "Become a doctor requires six years. I am sure Hitler will wait until then. And just for you." Erik would have to be stupid or cynical to give The Führer any sort of good connotation. He barley gave him a human condition. Just a machine of hate; a beast of war. A hideous man that was shaking the world, blaming his kind over and over again. There's nothing but hate towards fascism and antisemitism. "Don't give your selfishness the name of heroism, Charles. You surely like life of a student, for there wouldn't be any other way you'd like to start a career, brand new. How would I know? You only speak about it with the old man. None of my business." Erik reminded himself. Each time Charles came inside of the house, he felt anxious and like the walls were closing around him. He almost wished to spy on them while they spoke in the library.
"No, I don't think you should stay here if you want to become a doctor. No one can teach you such career, here," he added as an afterthought Simple. A question answered and his own wishes still buried deep down inside of him.
"Yes, I'm aware."
For a moment, as they walked, Charles struggled to say anything, the gears of his mind shifting and turning in hopes he would find an interesting subject. It used to be so easy, talking to Erik, now it was like walking in a landmine, never knowing where you would end up stepping. Finally they reached the length of the lake, the water was calm, and he could just about feel the heat radiating off it since the sun was directly above it. He bent down and gently lay the flowers on the grass, rising back up with a grin and nudged Erik, "the sun doesn't do you well, you're as red as a rose. Here, give this to me, I'll get the water," he nodded, putting his hand on the handle.
"I can do it, thanks." He had no time or inclination to explain him how awfully condescending that friendly gesture could be proceeded by a straightforward order. The vase which was the very last memory of Uncle Franz, Papa's deceased and only brother. A story of heroism, bravery and kindness. The fact that Charles reached out to touch it, with masculine authority, made Erik feel revolted and angry. He wanted to make amends? After all the things being said? Absolutely not! He gripped the porcelain, tighter.
"I'm already not wearing anything valuable, you on the other hand, I'm sure you don't want to get your own hands dirty, come on." He made sure to apply extra charm, finding the whole ordeal amusement. That was just teasing, on his part, he couldn't say that Erik didn't like getting his own hands dirty because it would be wrong; he'd seen the oldest Lehnsherr do enough to contradict the sentence. Rolling his eyes, he tugged on the vase, wishing Erik would stop following his pride and just get on with it.
Oh, Erik's blood was so close to become acid! "I said I'll do it myself!" and he got stressed with the struggle and the bodies rocking back and forward to win a pitiful and childish argument. So nervous and frenetic he got, he ended up pressing his forearm against Charles' chest, pushing him back and off him and the vase. What happened next was the breaking of part of the vase, as Charles took it with his body into the lake.
At this moment, he was hating Charles with every fiber of his scrawny and doubtful body. When he saw Charles falling down, he did nothing to help him. He absolutely deserved it! For being a foolish and ridiculous boy who only wanted to mess up with his day. But, of course, tragedy was following Erik wherever he went, this morning, and he had to see how a piece of the vase also fell inside the pond with Charles. The memory of Uncle Franz now shattered because Charles wanted to be charming and a gentleman by pretending that Erik, himself, was unable to fill a stupid vase with stupid water from a stupid pond. His body was shaking with exasperation and wrath. Erik got rid of his brown trousers and his reddish shirt before he jumped inside the water. He began swimming, fast, and for a moment, he almost looked like he would would help Charles. But instead of that, he sank him further. And then dived in, himself, stubborn to find the chunk that fell from the vase. And if he drowned while trying to find it, then, that would be Charles' punishment, as well!
Erik was looking for his vase, or piece of it, Charles realized. "Oh, for god's sake!" Charles sank down, forced himself to open his eyes although it hurt at first. He swam to the bottom of the lake and tried to get a hold of Erik's shirt but realized he had none on, so he just grabbed him anyway, wanting to blurt out, "You'll drown," but it would be intelligible anyway. Erik had always been stubborn, but now he was just being a tad stupid. It was a stupid vase. It was complicated to see: Erik's eyes itched and the vision was blurry. The water was somehow cloudy, as well. The only good thing was the porcelain of the vase was white, and the bottom of the pond was dark and slimy. So... he made sure to look everywhere until he saw the vague reflection of something clear. Erik pushed his lungs to the very limit and began swimming faster towards the broken piece, reached and took the porcelain and forced himself up with his feet. The surface didn't seem to arrive so soon. And when it finally did, Erik took a deep breath before he began coughing. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand and began moving towards the grass, to get off the damn pond. The worst idea he had in days! Why did he thought that adding Charles to any of his plans would come out nicely? He always ruined everything. Erik continued to cough, stubborn and not wanting to do it to not recognize the fact that he almost endured too much. The piece was left inside the vase and Erik began to dress up, again, violently, and absolutely enraged.
Following suite, Charles rose to the surface once again, this time out of breath but not the point where it made his lungs hurt. He heard coughing and immediately looked at Erik who was safely on the grass, putting his clothes back on.
Only Erik would take a moment to shed his clothes off when Charles was drowning.
He entertained the idea, then filed it away, catching the sight of the boy he grew up with, now a man in more than one sense of the word. The eldest son of Jakob and Edie Lehnsherr was handsome, random girls would giggle whenever he passed by at one of the parties the family threw. However, this moment felt like it belonged to Charles, like it was customized and crafted and given to only him. For he saw more than what the others saw at this point; Erik was his underwear, in the middle of putting his attire back on but Charles's eyes were curious, and quick to notice, cataloged every inch, how broad Erik's shoulders were, how defined his chest looked, how pale he really was under his shirt. For a moment all he could do was stare, not caring how invasive it must have looked. He tried to hide this by floating on his back, letting the water into his mouth then spitting it back. He didn't know if he should apologize, it felt like the right thing to do, but he was petrified.
Charles duly noted that Erik was even more attractive than in his fantasies. Swimming back to the edge, he hoisted himself up and pushed his hair back, shivering as the water clung to his body and he realized he would have to walk all the way back. He would be a trembling mess by the time that happened, perhaps this was his punishment. It certainly felt like one. Ungluing his shirt from his body in a desperate attempt to erase the stickiness, he failed, which made him sigh.
Erik's world was now reduced to red and brightness. He saw the vase, broken. That and the feeling of his clothes gluing to his skin made him even madder. He had to ruin everything. Look at him. Now he was beyond disgraced and he was responsible, in his father's eyes, of the vase being broken! His father had devotion for that vase. The only time Erik ever saw him saw or weeping was during the memory of his lost brother. How to explain all of that? He refused to blame Charles. He refused to acknowledge the fact that he spent any sort of time with him by choice. He despised him, body and soul! He couldn't stand him. Always so placid and nice. Always so calm and amused by everything around him. Erik felt suffocated to a point he wanted to rip his lungs out of his chest and burn his heart out of a childish tantrum. Instead he covered his naked skin with his shirt and his trousers.
"I'm sorry," Charles ended up saying anyway, looking serious for perhaps the first time this morning, but the look he shot him could only be described as furious. His eyes adopted a wild colour that could only match those poisonous vines that hid in the unseen places of the forest. He shoved the flowers inside the vase and took a step forward towards Charles. It almost looked like he would say something, but instead, he bumped against his shoulder and walked back towards the steps, with all of the intentions to leave him right there, all alone and without accepting his apology.
* * *
If Ruth envied something from her older brother —and, perhaps, it was not envy but some sort of admiration— was the fact that Erik, obviously, had a secret. Ruth had no secrets. No one would want to know about small childish things, such as her diary or the fact that it was her who broke her mother's brush, two weeks ago. That got a maid fired, but Ruth never confessed it. It was barely a secret, more like some harmless and foolish mischief. She wanted to have a very big secret. She would know where to store it. Her brother had a secret, and it grew more evident as the days went by. His eyes got distracted, now and then, when he was lost in thought. His fingers caressed the keys of their piano, without playing, when he thought he was alone. His presence was lingering over the house, like a lost spirit.
He had a secret, his whole existence was now a secret.
And she admired that. She would want to be like Erik, herself. And just for that reason. Other than that, being her brother would be terribly boring. He had no ambition or imagination. Her brother, Erik, was a like a rock that was sinking without a choice or control. She was the dancing wind; she commanded the leaves and the flowers.
There she was was, sitting from the windowsill of her room, she could look at their gardens like it was a stage. She saw her brother rushing towards the house, all wet, rubbing his eyes, constantly. Ruth leaned a bit more over the glass and, from her point of view, he was crying. She didn't think it was the fact his eyes were itchy. He looked distressed... Sad. Perhaps it was his secret? But... But then... came Charles. Just as drenched in water, looking at Erik and then deciding to walk away. Her heart twisted and ached for a moment. She turned her back to the vision and jumped off the windowsill. For a moment she didn't know what to do. Her palms even sweated. Her imaginative mind rushed, trying to understand what just happened. Why would Charles try to make her brother cry? Why were both of them soaking? Ruth felt frustrated with the fact that, many times, fiction has little to do with reality. She felt thirsty for an answer. A fish out of water, a dying nature that could only be soothed with information.
The heavy steps of her brother finally arrived and Ruth leaned over her doorframe. There she saw her brother as he rushed towards his room, now his hands free and covering his eyes and his face. Ruth felt her throat dry and parted her lips for a moment before he looked at her. His eyes were all red and clearly trapped in something between wrath and shame. And more humiliated he looked before Erik slipped inside of his room, to fix his appearance and perhaps that something that was nibbling on his spirit. Ruth felt trapped; with the play, with the twins, with Hannah, with the heat, with her brother's secret, and lastly, with Charles' possible offense. She ran towards the gardens, to let out all of that frustration that took place in her small body.
She went through her play over and over again, but her source of happiness was slowly becoming a rotten fruit. Her imagination was way more delicate and precise than reality. If she was in control of her brother's life, she would describe his secret with all the details. When it started, what it was, how it affected him... Everything. And there she was, knowing nothing and obsessing to the point of making connections between Erik and Arabella, the whole time. What if Arabella had a secret, as well? And not only the doctor prince? Everybody has secrets... But not her. Ruth felt like she was missing something. Like a bird without a singing voice. There was something that was any worse than the feeling of being incomplete?
Her limbs felt nervous. She wanted to move them. So she ran from one side to another. And yet, not satisfied. She felt like destroying something, and so she did. If she could create, she could destroy. Ruth picked a long and slim branch and began punishing the flowers around her, constantly and not taking a create. The whole world was pressing her brain and she wanted to close her eyes and make everything go her way. And like that, everybody would have their role and she would know everything and everybody's fates.
* * *
The cubicle attached to his bedroom had been redecorated to fit a study of some sorts to a young man; there were several novels stacked on top of each other, half of them having been read twice and his favourite part underlined -- in pencil, mind you --, next to them were his textbooks, pages upon pages of detailed anatomy, and he was supposed to have them memorized. Sometimes people discredited the medical field, but it was almost as complicated as everything else, and there was no need to be snobbish about it. Next to his books was his typewriter, a beauty given to him by Jakob Lehnsherr on his twenty-first birthday. Sitting down, he placed a paper in and began to write.. but what would he even write? Dear Erik, I am very sorry for what happened today at the pond, I hope you forgive me. No, that was too straightforward, who would feel like reading it? It needed to be artistic, yet sophisticated. He breathed out a sigh; this was going to be a lot more difficult than he had imagined. Rubbing his eyes, he leaned back against his chair and tipped it a bit with his legs, closing his eyes and trying to think back to that morning. The sunlight had been so harsh that it worked on defining Erik's features and he was only the spectator. His eyes had travelled down from Erik's red lips to his pale neck, further down to the toned muscles of his chest, then danced over his narrow hips, naval, thighs and.. Charles bit his lip, opening his eyes and fell forward to type, before he could think better of it. Dear Erik, for so long I have wondered how your body would feel under my touch, I wonder what it would feel like to make you writhe underneath me, as I take your cock, your big fat cock into my mouth and make you come, undone. I want to ravish you. Yours, Charles. He leaned back and reread it. Perfect. Delivery estimate: Never. He broke into laughter, pushing his hair back as it fell down on his eyes and struggled to imagine a reaction. Utterly brilliant, he thought, picking the letter up and even went through the trouble of putting in an envelope, tossing it beside his biology book.
"Come, now, you have to be more mature. You're going to university, for goodness' sake." He narrowed his eyes and began typing, a nice, formal and not too straightforward letter with his name on it. All he had to do now was deliver it. However, he came to the conclusion that he mustn't deliver it himself, how awkward that would make sense if Erik didn't accept. No, he needed a messenger, and he knew just who to trust, too. Which reminded him, the lemon cakes were still in his possession, the ones he had picked up from the market to appear Ruthie, so he picked them up and grabbed his letter and went out of the door, trying to find his favorite twelve-year-old author.
It took some time, but eventually, he found her, huddled within the long grass like some sort of plant herself. Her red hair was mostly what gave away the little princess, since she was in a field of yellow. He was the only one who was allowed to call her by that nickname, for she wasn't young anymore, she told everybody. He wasn't that much older than her to begin with, a decade, give or take. He had just started grammar school when she was born, and she was a delight, but the birth had been difficult and since then Edie wasn't the same. She would complain that she was feeling ill a lot more frequently, and he felt sorry for the poor woman. Edie did like Raven, and so she didn't object to her attending to her needs whenever she felt like she couldn't get out of bed.
"And how is my favourite princess today?" She knew she was cross, sulking by herself because of the play, but he hoped he could make her feel better. He sat down next to her and presented her with the box that contained the cakes inside, trying not to think of it as bribery. After all, he had written the letter after he had purchased them from the bakery. "Here, I heard you weren't at lunch, so I got those for you. Only if you would share them with me."
And his voice reached her ears. Ruth stopped all sudden. Reality came back for more. She turned her head and pressed her lips, gently, as she tapped the branch against her left shin. The Lehnsherr children weren't that talkative, that's for sure. Very different from their father, who seemed to be jovial, most of the times. "Defeated." she confessed, like a little wild beastie, licking her wounds. Ruth turned and sat down once again as he finally joined her. When the box was opened, a small smile bloomed on her lips and she reached to take one of them. Something sweet could, perhaps, fix her days. "I wanted to finish the play. It can always get better." A perfectionist, that she was. "But it's not going to be the way I want it to be." Ruth felt more comfortable talking about her worlds of fiction than reality. She had the upper hand for she created them.
"Now, now, you mustn't knock it. I'm sure it's splendid, I've read your what, second? draft and even then it was beautiful. If you're worried about the twins, how about you give them to look forward to when you're rehearsing?" He sat cross-legged, getting comfortable as if her were about to tell her a story. "For example, when Twin A finishes his lines, he'll get chocolate, when his brother finishes his he'll get to spend half an hour at the pool. Little encouragements," he nodded. "If you're worried about the quality, like I said, it was very imaginative for a girl your age."
The pastry crumbled a bit when she bit it. Chunks of sugar fell from the corner of her mouth before she wiped her lips with the back of her hand: still very much a child, sometimes. "Perhaps." Ruth would want to tell him that artists should not be paid with chocolate or going to the pool. She liked to think that artists breathe art. That it's the only way they had to live. She would die like an old flower without her plays. But praise was important and then she added: "You'll have a copy of all of my books, I promise." Even if he proved to shake her brother hours ago. "Even if the twins cannot act, I will continue to write."
"But the twins are not artists, now, are they? Only you are." He wasn't patronizing her, but this was the truth; the reasons the twins and their sister were here was because their parents had had a divorce. Raven had told him about it, but it was confirmed again when he was going to fetch Ruthie and heard one of the twins saying the 'D word'. Children were so innocent sometimes, and if anything, he kind of understood what they must have felt. His own mother had walked out on them when he was three, leaving their clueless father to raise them. Of course, none of that happened and it had been Raven who carried on, for their father had died a year afterwards, mourning the love of his life. That Lola girl reminded him of his own sister and he felt great appreciation towards her, however, he was way more reserved than either of the twins and genuinely cared about his sister enough not to give her a migraine. "Don't worry, love, I've just been telling Erik about how you'll grow up and be a dedicated young author."
He brought up Erik and the flame of curiosity grew bigger; burning brighter. "Erik says he doesn't speak to you anymore. He told Uncle Max over the phone. Mama heard it. When she asked why he became odd. Then Mama said he was 'metallic'. He got angry and left. I often think he is more of a machine than a boy." Perhaps that was his secret. That he wasn't quite what everybody expected him to be.
"Well, I assure you, he's not a machine," Charles paused before sighing, rolling his eyes, having a feeling he was cheating himself as he said those words. "He's... distressed, I believe. You know how when guests are coming to his house he's always tense? Because everything falls on his shoulders and he remains responsible for every pinhead that's misplaced." He hoped that was enough interpretation to paint him as if he had an idea what he was talking about.
She took a few bites of her lemon cake until she finished it. Ruth was very much alike Erik, physically. Same build —lanky, Erik was way taller than his mother, and so will be Ruth, with time—, same complexion —tanning, first, over their cheeks and shoulder if exposed during summer— and same ears, perhaps a bit too big for their faces. But hers were carefully covered by the mass of red hair that barely danced over her shoulders. Always away from her forehead, she needed to see clearly to write. The teeth were absolutely different: while Erik's mouth stretched and showed the long teeth, Ruth's were rounded and small. All of them partly showing when he defined her as an artist. Oh, such a rush! She was about to speak again but the chat seemed to orbit around Erik.
"It would be more entertaining if he was a machine. Reality tends to be boring. Disappointing. Sometimes too sad. Everything should have a little bit of magic. A little bit of fiction. Then, life would improve a lot." How would would it be if she ever discovered that her brother's back was covered in gears. She felt like she could write a whole play out of that story. Out of that little white lie. But she was forced out of her daydreaming when Charles pulled out a letter, saying --
"And, actually.." he fetched the sealed envelope from his pockets, waving it around slowly like a prize. "I have a feeling he'll feel better after he reads what's in this. Do you think I could count on you in delivering it to him? I feel rather foolish giving it to him myself, you see."
Ruth forced herself to continue breathing, gently. Her eyes becoming wildly curious as he waved the envelope, as it was claiming to be the solution to all of her doubts. All the information she needed to know. For some reason, that gave her the idea that the letter would reveal both Charles' offense and Erik's secret. All at once. Once, if not, could be forcing them apart? "I can give it to him." Ruth nodded and extended her hand, not looking as desperate as she truly was. She had always been good at pretending; lying.
He laughed again before his eyes lit up. "Thank you, here you are." He gave it to her, standing up. "Remember, you don't think Mary Shelley thought the world had had enough fiction in its stories, did she? If she had, Frankenstein wouldn't have been published. A great story, enjoyed by millions long after its author is gone, just because she decided not to care about what the world needed." He paused, clearing his throat before he himself picked a partition of the cake and ate in silence. "You could always transform it into your own story; your big discovery, that your brother is part-machine," he grinned, admitting that he would want to read such a story.
The thing was that Charles seemed to be her favourite person from the estate. Above her parents and Erik. Not that she loved him more than she loved her family, no. There was a difference, for Ruth. Love implyed loyalty, likeness implied a way weaker consideration. Something that could snap. Still, in moments like that, she enjoyed Charles' company the most. It was somehow refreshing. He spoke of big authors and he was still full of light. Her family, on other hand... they seemed to be tired. Like shadows trapped in a mirror. Often, she would want to bring him inside the house. But that would give Erik the perfect excuse to complain. Something he always did, oh, so well! She let him talk, and while she would have loved that conversation in any other moment, now all she wanted was the letter. It would soothe her soul.
She took it and there was a tickling sensation on the tips of her digits. Ruth shot him a quick smile and said, pleased. "I'll see you tonight, Charles." And then, she ran away, just like a bird with a message. For sure she took the quicker path to the house taking advantage of her petite and slim form. No way to arrive before she did.
* * *
There was a part of him that noted the excitement in her eyes, the glint that danced behind her bright irises, and another part simultaneously dismissed it as excitement for her brother finally going easy on everyone and most importantly, himself. As he watched her go, he noticed she'd forgotten the rest of the cakes and quickly made a mental note to put them into the kitchen so that they could refrigerate them for later use. He felt good, Ruthie was no longer feeling put off, and now he had hopes that Erik's mood might elevate. He had spent approximately an hour trying to word a formal page of mainly an apology. It was harder than writing a paper for school, he discovered, but hopefully it was going to pay off.
Skipping up the stairs to his room two at a time, he disappeared into his study, meaning to pick up his new book to help pass the time where he could also distract himself, when he noticed the folded letter that he had maliciously typed before he perfected the other one. The thought made him grin mischievously, and he went to pick it up to read it again. He extracted the letter from the envelope, unfolding it and started to read. His eyes danced on the words and his heart stopped beating. Eyes widening, Charles' hands trembled as he read what was supposed to be in Ruthie's hands right now, the nicer, less anatomical letter and the right version! "Oh god..." What had he done?
* * *
Ruth arrived to the house with the heart right on her throat. The sweat lapping down her temples with heavy drops. The fabric of her pale dress sticking to her thighs, that trembled, lightly, with anticipation. Still out of breath, she stopped right on the hall, close to the table. Her fingers trembled as she turned the letter, trying to get the paper out of the envelope. Ruth's hands had never been that clumsy in her life. The idea of discovering Erik's secret brought her to state of anxiety and pleasure. Finally! Perhaps her own secret would be the fact that she discovered her brother's. And then, no one would ever know! She would take another envelope from her room, close it properly and deliver it to Erik. Charles would never know. Erik would never know. But she would! Ruth finally took the letter out of the envelope and unfolded it. And then, she read it:
Dear Erik, for so long I have wondered how your body would feel under my touch, I wonder what it would
feel like to make you writhe underneath me, as I take your —
C O C K
The world fell silent around her. Her green eyes needed to blink, at least, four times, before they could see once again. See and read. And this time properly. But that word, that hideous word seemed to be the sun and everything else orbits around it. Writhe. Cock. Undone. Ravish. Ruth felt like she understood, now. She felt like she understood both Erik's secret and Charles' offense. But that was merely too much. That... That was... Writhe. Cock. Undone. Ravish. Charles was... a sex maniac. He had been harassing her brother? Not that much she knows about love. Even less about sex. But she knew there was something wrong in this letter. Something that was not meant to exist, or even less being written on paper. Writhe. Cock. Undone. Ravish. Now that she had a secret, now that she had a chance of having a secret, she refused to have that letter on her hands for a minute longer. It was burning her hands.
"What do you mean, you won't be here tonight?" Erik's voice was heard, loud and clear from the next room. Ruth raised her head, like a deer that just caught a hunter among the bushes. "Well, everything is ready for tonight, not in a couple of days long!" he seemed to be exasperated with the fact that their uncle never made it in time. He would never arrive the day he planned. Erik had been a fool to hope otherwise. Ruth swallowed thickly and ran into the room. She pressed the letter against his stomach, forcing Erik to take it as he frowned, utterly confused by her attitude. But she gave him no chance of asking for as soon as he held the paper, she left the room.