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Choking on Sapphires

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You're walking down the hall towards Alfie's study. You'd left your sketch pad in the room and wanted to retrieve it to do some drawing out in the garden. You had lots of autumnal colored new paints you wanted to use as the trees were starting to change. You adjust the large, thick knit men's cardigan around your slip dress. You hear a strange noise from the direction of the kitchen, choosing to investigate, you walk down the thin hallways, the noise growing louder. As you enter the scullery, you see Aggie on her knees, sobbing. You look around to see the other oldest employees of yours with tears in their eyes. A letter rests in front of the floor in front of Aggie, you rush to her side, hand on her back, trying to console her, her face in anguish.

"What's wrong Aggie?" you ask, pushing the hair out of her face that had fallen out of its usual tight bun. She's crying so hard she can't form words.
You're in Alfie's study as you wanted to be alone and he was still at work. You're on your hands and knees in front of the fireplace, your face blotched and wet, the tears still coming, flowing from your eyes freely. The sobs came in groups, easing for a bit in cycles, and you stare blankly ahead in the downtime between the waves of grief. The cardigan had fallen off your shoulders, leaving them bare and frigid but you didn't notice. You were now slumped in absolute defeat and agony at the news, your body lay like a tossed rag doll long forgotten in a dark corner. You place your face on the rug, fingers scratching at the rough fibers in desperation as you'd groan and scream through clenched jaws. You're so oblivious to anything but your own pain that you don't hear the sounds of Alfie coming home.

He walks in, following the sounds of wailing as fast as his feet could carry him. He's shocked that the source is you, head in your hands, on your knees in the floor, crying so hard you were gagging and coughing, hands slapping against the floor as you gasped, trying to catch your breath.

"My God, Genevieve, what's happened?" he asks immediately words rushed but spoken so tentatively and soft. He slides to his knees next to you pushing your hair back, one hand on your back, a gentle back and forth trying to get you to acknowledge his existence. Him asking what was wrong, the mere thought of having to explain it made it too real and hurt too much and you let out a strangled cry that turns into more sobs.

His eyes are wide, he'd never seen you like this. He hadn't even been sure you had the capacity to feel things in such a way, but your ability to do so eased his mind in a way, it made you far more human to him. But his concern now was making sure you were alright and to keep you from making yourself sick on the rug.

You can't form words, there's no use in trying. Your shaking hand slaps onto two pieces of paper, your fingers clenching, crumpling the documents slightly as you push them towards him.

"You want me to read these?" he asks, making sure of your intentions. This was clearly something personal and he didn't want to cross any lines. You nod your head, still staring at the floor and wheezing.
He places his body, sitting on his knee's directly against yours, holding the papers in one hand. His arm around your twitching form in an attempt to try to give you any kind of comfort.

The first page is tear stained but still readable, he flattens it against the floor before picking it up again, putting his glasses on and reading. It was an announcement of the death of an Elizabeth Smyth. Died from complications from childbirth at age 22. Survived by her Husband William Smyth. No children. Underneath the formal announcement is handwriting instead of print. 'Due to your blatant disregard of my previous, fair warnings, I am demanding that you do not attend Elizabeth's funeral or any of the events surrounding it. You are banned from any further family gatherings because of your lack of compliance to the rules of the family, and hereby no longer welcome in the Greene Family home. No further contact will be made on this matter as it is final. Do not contact your siblings in regards to this or any other matters in the future. You should sit and be with your own thoughts as to how you've brought this burden upon your family and yourself, and I hope you can find solace in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his teachings to guide you towards better choices in the future. Signed George Greene III.'

George...that was your brother's name he recalled, which must mean this was your father writing this. Which means Elizabeth must've been your sister. He can feel his ribs cracking open as the force with which his heart breaks for you at the realization.

He opens his mouth to speak, he wants to console you, but what on earth could he possibly say to you to help? You clearly knew your father was an evil bastard who deserved to die, that much was painfully obvious. How could a man treat his own daughter in such a way? And such a brilliant, loving, beautiful successful one at that? What kind of monster could even think about doing that to his own child?

He remembers there's another piece of paper, this one entirely handwritten, front and back. It was sloppy and the ink smudged, penned by a feminine hand.

My dearest daughter Genevieve, I cannot express my deepest sadness at your father's decision. He has done so with no word to me, and of course without any permission from me as you would expect. I do not and will never support this decision to keep my children apart. I cannot say with words whether spoken or penned at the disappointment and horror at how Elizabeth's death is being handled. He will not speak to me on any matter involving it or you. I have tried and I will continue to try to change his mind, even at the threats of violence that I have already been victim to for my aggressive nature of pursuit in including you in the funeral. You know I am utterly heartbroken at the loss of my youngest daughter, but you, my second youngest, my precious bird that left the nest, are still alive and it crushes my soul for you to receive this news in such a way. If I thought I could call I would, but he has his men watching me night and day and I pray this letter makes it to you. I know you cannot contact me further, but know you are in my heart and soul forever, I will think of you and Elizabeth every day until I die, and even beyond that, I'm certain. I hope it might ease your pain to know the rest of your siblings are distraught at the news of your exclusion. George had cross words with your father over it as did Edward. He wouldn't even see Sara. We are all mourning the loss of both you and Elizabeth, be certain of that. We all love you and have missed you so and wish that circumstances could've been different for all of us. The pain your father has brought to this family, the disgrace and evil he has shown in his true nature over the years are known to more than just us now, as this display of hatred will be heard of to those who ask of you at the funeral. I will not let him slander the name you've made for yourself. I can try to do that much. I hope it comforts you that when Elizabeth and I would speak, we always talk about you. She loved you dearly, the sister who helped raise her and once she learned the truth as to why you left when she was young, she said she hoped she could tell you that she forgave you as soon as she learned the awful things that lead up to your banishment and didn't blame you in the least for leaving. No only being thankful you spared her the ugly truth as a child, even when she physically fought you to stay. This latter memory would make her face light up and her delightful laugh is something I'll never forget. And I pray you do not forget it either. We love you my sweet and we miss you so. Never forget us, as we will never forget you. I hope one day we will meet on good circumstances again my sweet little Lilly. SIgned, Forever your loving mother, Alma.'

He wipes the tears that silently fall down his face before they too join yours on the beautifully written letter. He lays the letter's on the floor, at a complete loss of words for what could've been the first time in his adult life. This wasn't something he could fix. This wasn't something anyone could fix. As words fail him, he simply faces you. "I'm...I'm so sorry luv. I know that don't mean a fuckin' thing but I'm here. I'm here." his voice whispered into your ear as he leans in close, pulling your hair out of your face, the cardigan back up over your shaking shoulders, placing his handkerchief in front of you.

The words I'm here slice into your chest like a warm knife cutting through butter. The frozen cage of your ribs that contained your ragged feeling heart was pierced by them. You didn't have your family, and he knew that now, got a taste of what your life must've been like growing up. You felt exposed and raw and vulnerable and for the first time that didn't scare you.

You let yourself feel everything, you let the grief envelope you without a fight. The loss of your sister, the loss of your family, what they must be going through, and knowing you weren't at fault but knowing you had done something to set this series of events into motion... you grieve all of it. And with no blood left to console you...out of the smoke emerges Alfie.

You take his handkerchief and clutch it tightly, wiping at your face, blowing your nose. It smelled just like him and you let out a small, helpless groan at how it gives you just a moments inkling of warmness again. You turn your face to him, just inches from you now, tears falling but your body more still, you take in a sharp ragged breath.

"Alfie." you choke out, it's all you can get out, a plea for help before your face contorts into another ugly sob.

"Come, come now, sweetheart." he says softly, hands on your arms, pulling you towards him. "Let's sit back here, yeah?" he kindly suggests. He rests his back against the couch, legs spread wide as he pulls you between them and to his chest. His arms feel protective and warm, fighting the chill that you felt down to your bones. His cheek rested on top of your head as he stroked your hair. He couldn't be of much use to you he thought, but he could hold you. Give you support that you were so very clearly lacking from a family that he thought must've adored you just as much as he did, because as far as he was concerned, he didn't understand how anyone could not.

Your sobs are quieter, less violent than they were while you were in his arms. When you would start to cry again, he would kiss your head and close his eyes, rocking you slightly. "Let it out Genevieve. There's no shame in it, pet. Let it out." he'd whisper, thumb rubbing back and forth on your temple as he held your head to his chest, feeling the tears spring forth warm, running down your face and his hands, cooling as they dropped off your chin and his wrist.

"Oh you're home." Claire says with a slow blink towards Alfie, her face red and blotched as well, clearly feeling the somber mood that was settling across the house. "I brought some tea." she offers, holding the tray out and setting it on the floor next to you. "Since I heard you stop shouting, I thought you might need something for your throat." she says quietly, the least intense Alfie had ever seen her. She gives you a nod and turns to leave, sleeve wiping across her face as she disappears out of sight.

You nod and sniffle, looking up at Alfie. "'Course, luv, I got it." interpreting what you needed in a single glance. It made more tears fall, but they weren't for the same sad reason, your raw state left you open to his kind gestures and you found yourself more certain of your feelings for him. You knew it wasn't the time to discuss such things, but it made you feel better in a strange way that was new to you.

He pours you a cup of tea, milk, and sugar just how you like, keeping one arm around you the entire time. "You got it?" he asks with quiet concern as your shaking hands hold the cup. You nod and start to sip away at it, it certainly did help. You realize the tea set reminds you of the one Elizabeth had as a child.

"She didn't even want kids, you know." you rasp out. Alfie is fixing himself a cup and turns his face to you to listen, even if you weren't looking at him. "After Sara had so much trouble conceiving and then with the hard pregnancy and a rough birth of her first Elizabeth was mortified." your head shakes just slightly. "It was expected of her though. Being the sweet thing she was she probably just wanted to make her husband happy." you roll your eyes and a few more tears fall. "I know father always told her she had to have children to make up for me after I left." your voice is becoming clearer, he can feel the hate in the word 'father'. "Now when you grow up you've got to make up for your sister's shortcomings." your head moves as you speak, mocking his words. "Don't be like her, he'd say. As if it was the worst thing in the world she could've done." you let out a ragged sigh. "We need more sweet little obedient girls like you, not more selfish, lying harlots like Genevieve." your face and voice are flat. Devoid of emotion. "He said that to her." you turn to look at him. "At age eleven he said that to her." your damp cheeks shine, your eyes burn with the hate you must harbor for your father.

Alfie's face burns red, you feel the heat from it. "I like to kill him for what he's done to you." he whispers, eyes burning into yours with no hesitancy. You knew he meant it, you knew he would and the combination of love and hate you saw in his eyes was mesmerizing.

"So would I darling," you say quietly, setting the cup down and wrapping your arms around his chest, laying your face against him, his heart thumping away. "So would I." you sigh out, closing your eyes as he wraps his arms around you again.
On the day of Elizabeth's funeral, you stand outside in the garden, looking over the last of the pink and white flowers that she loved so much, now wilting with the incoming cold. You stand outside too long and you start to shiver, so you go inside.

You distract yourself in the kitchen, you see the delicate tea set that reminds you of her. You see the candied nuts in a jar that she loved. You can't stay here.

You're going through the trunk of things your mother sent you after you left, you find the old Doll of Elizabeth's she'd snuck in to send you because she said it reminded her of you. You can't stay here either.

You sit on your bed, shoulders hanging low and let out a tired exhale. You can't stay here at all. You need to get out of the house. Beyond that, you needed to get out of your own mind. The thought of not being there to see her before she was covered forever was too much. You fall back into your destructive old habits far too easily.

Claire comes with you despite you fighting her over it. You wish she didn't know you so well in this moment so you could fade into obscurity in a hazy crowd and forget who you were. But no, she knew better she said. Sane and sober you would agree with her later.

You dress up, a nice distraction for a short amount of time. Your dress low, the slit in the side high, skin glistening and heavy makeup to mask your features heavily, you go out. You drive until you find a place that pulls you, a club in a not so friendly part of town. Exactly the trouble you were looking for. Claire follows after you, and you don't wait or even look at her while you're weaving through the crowd of people. You find a girl in the bathroom to get some snow off of, already fisting a bottle of whiskey and after that, things got a little blurry.

Claire very literally runs after you the entire evening. Into bathrooms, into, and into strangers cars. At first, she tried to stop you, talk some sense, but it became clear very quickly that there was no sense in your mind left to talk to. She knew you were grieving, so was she to a much less extent, she just didn't want you hurting yourself or doing something you'd regret later. You're trying to fill a void inside you that throbs and aches, black and vast like the night sky. No batting lashes or soft breasts could distract you beyond a dance or two. You pick more than one fight, and not fairing as well in the second as you had the first. You almost get arrested more than once and Claire begging the policemen, explaining your sister had died, then just plainly running away with you after you'd worn the policemen's patience into nonexistence. When you notice yourself becoming sad, you run to the next vice, cycling through drugs, drinking and sex and violence on repeat.

Claire was exhausted. You hadn't partied with this sort of speed in ages and she felt you were both far too old to keep up with this pace for the entire night. Your dress is soaked in sweat and so is hers. Yours smelling of various perfumes and whiskey as you rub up against dancing girls and spill your drinks on yourself in your wild, reckless abandon of your civilized behavior. But try as you might, you couldn't drown your demons no matter what you tried to bury yourself in. As you've ventured far into the night, your eyes bloodshot and your mouth dry, your muscles aching and shaking, you cycle back to snow to start another round of deviance. Claire is slipping in her babysitting skills, fading fast as the hours move on into the night, and she rests for just a moment too long, and you've jumped into a car with strangers and you're out of sight before she can even reach the curb to make out the model of the car or be able to describe the driver to the police.

She feels tears burn in her eyes, knowing she's failed you, and herself. She admits defeat, heading to Alfie's club. She finds he isn't there, but Ollie is and he lets her use the phone in his office. She calls the house, and in a trembling, exasperated voice she asks for Alfie.

"Claire?" he asks, highly confused, which she understood.

"Alfie...I hope you haven't settled in for the night yet because I'm afraid I need your assistance." he can tell she's trying to hide her emotion in her voice. He also knew that your sisters funeral was today, and the hell you were out trying to raise would be as impressive as it was destructive and apparently you had bested Claire this evening.

"What's she done?" he asks, voice annoyed but not angry.

"I've lost her." she admits defeat with her tone and her body language as her head rests on the desk in front of her with a thud.

"You lost her?" he asks, not meaning to sound scolding.

"She got out of my sight and hopped into a car before I could even see who she was with." her voice is so sad and tired, he feels terrible for Claire.

"Alright." he huffs out, brow furrowed. "Where'd ya last see her?"

"Outside of the Paradise club."

"Oh hell, she has taken ya for a ride tonight."

"You have no fucking idea." she almost laughs at the absurdity of the night she's had.

"Right. Well I'm out my way out, I'll be lookin' for her and if I find her I'll bring her home, yeah?" he wasn't sure where to look, seeing as Claire was at his club he knew you weren't there and that's where he would've looked first.

"I just lost control of her, Alfie. She's not human tonight, be careful."

"I got it, luv. I'll find the little snake." he tries to be comforting but his thoughts are on you and your safety as he hastily makes his way out the door.
Hours pass, he has men out looking for you as well at this point. He's beyond concerned, imagining finding you washed up somewhere, beaten, robbed and raped. All the worst possible outcomes swimming around his head behind his heavy brow that was furrowed so deeply for so long he wasn't sure if his face would go back to normal. He's miles away from where you were last seen. But you could've been on a ship to another country for all he knew. So he had his men check that as well.

He's driving down the jewelry quarter, thinking that your love of the shiny baubles might sound pleasant to your grieving, pissed self. And lucky for him, he was right.

"There she fuckin' is!" he growls out to his driver, pointing up the street, leaning back inside the car as he'd been driving around, almost half hanging out the window. "Swear on me fuckin' mum this woman is gonna be the fuckin' death of me. Running off like some fuckin scared little child from her problems." he says it in anger, but as he processes the words he says, he realizes that's exactly what you were tonight. You'd reverted back to your immature behavior to grasp at any semblance of happiness you might've had at the time. His instinct is to be angry, how dare you do this to him? But that would be selfish given the circumstances, wouldn't it? The fire in his chest, that anger building all night with every turn down every street that didn't bring him to you falters. Anger was always his go-to emotion when he felt defensive, but as you became more clear as the car approached, the strings of his heart were given a very strong tug by your appearance.

You're wondering how the hell you got so far away from the part of town you originally went to. You don't know where Claire is, or why she's not with you. You stare out across the damp cobblestone streets, the scattered lamp posts reflecting off the dirty surfaces. The side by side buildings pushed together all tower over you, their windows, looking like yellow judgmental filled eyes stare down at you in your shameful state.

You're sitting on a curb by a lamppost in front of the most expensive jewelry shop in the city. You're sucking on a sweet that you'd gotten down at the shops and you're trying to make sense of the mist that had been the night you just had. You felt better after you'd thrown up a few times, got some food in you at a small pub and you'd just walked with no destination. You didn't know what else to do. Your whole body ached, beyond that you felt shame and guilt and defeat. You'd just let yourself give in to your demons and that wasn't like you. So here you are, sitting and pondering what your next step will be to get home. Your dress torn and filthy, shoes having lost all the ornamentation that had been there at the beginning of the night. Your fingernails are caked in dirt around the cuticle and underneath, you know your face must look even worse, as you can feel a busted lip and bruises as well. Your elbows are on your knee, bent up, fingers around the stick of the sweet as you hear his booming voice shout at you.

"Fuckin' hell Genny..." he says groans, stomping out of his car.

"Oh, shit." you say aloud, your eyes going wide. He'd been out looking for you. The bile in your throat bubbles, you feel so embarrassed.

"Oh shit is fuckin' right." he scolds, looming over you, but he sees your watery eyes, the beaten state of you, both emotionally and physically his lips, pulled tightly together under his mustache, being pulled so hard into a frown they almost touch his creased brow start to lose their tension. "Fuckin' hell Genny..." he says in a much different tone than the first. "What the fuck are ya doin'?" he says, chin pushing out towards you, his eyes wide and questioning.

"I don't know." you answer honestly.

He stands in silence, lips tight and nostril flared and exhaling noisily, you keep giving him the puppy dog eyes and he reluctantly falls for it. "You don't seem terribly drunk." he says with an outward motion of his hand.

"No... just terrible." you shake your head and sigh.

"You ready to come home now?" he asks with a sarcastic tone, lips still pursed but not angry, holding his hand out to you.

"Yes." you answer breathily, taking his hand, he pulls you into his chest, wrapping an arm around you. He pushes your messy hair out of your face.

"You've almost sent me to an early grave worryin' 'bout you tonight, luv. Thought you was dead in the gutter somewhere. The more time went on the more certain I was." his voice is light and soft, not sweet but painfully honest with the emotion laced through it. His eyes look tired, you see the red spots on his neck from his nervous picking at his skin. He watches your eyes look him over, his doing the same to you.

"I let my demons win tonight Alfie." you say weakly, averting your eyes from his in shame. "I'm sorry." you whisper, your forehead against his chest.

He takes a deep breath, eyes darting around the road before the roll at how pitiful you were being. He didn't want you apologizing to him, not really. He just wanted you to be safe.

"Well it's over now, innit?" he lifts your face by your chin with gentle fingers. "You're safe and sober with me. As you should be." he runs his hand through your hair and lets out a loud sigh, the same hand pressing you against his chest. "Just don't disappear like that again, Gen. My poor old heart can't take it." he says almost humorously, you feel him kiss the top of your matted head.

"I'm sorry. I really am." your voice still sad and on the verge of a whimper.

"I know you are, luv." he moves to step away, an arm around your shoulders as he moves you towards the car. "Let's get you home and cleaned up and all cozy, yeah?"

"Will you stay with me tonight? You're not too angry with me are you?" you ask, eyes on the cobblestones as you pass them on the walk to his car.

"Angry innit the right word." he shakes his head. "Don't you worry, luv, right?" he gives you the high eyebrows to emphasize his point. "You don't even have to ask if I'll stay with ya now do ya? Ridiculous. I'll be watchin' ya all night and I don't intend on goin' no fuckin' where tomorrow neither."

"Thank you for not yelling at me." you say quietly, his heart breaks when he sees the dejected look on your face as he slides into the car next to you. You really were hurting. A shadow of your normal self. Who was he to judge you and how you dealt with such a degree of loss? He knew he probably wouldn't have handled it much better.

"The last thing you need is me shoutin' at ya after the week you've had." you curl up into his side under his arm, and doze off, feeling that same safe, warm feeling flush across your skin again. It was certainly a new sensation and you were starting to truly welcome it instead of denying its existence.