This story is by Roxandra Abidogun and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Adelaide’s finger pressed the red pigment ever so lightly. She turned to her reflection. A swipe on her bottom lip. He was coming today. A swipe on her top lip. He was finally coming. She patted it in. He loved her after all. Next was the bottle that contained the scent Richard liked best. Furthermore, the season is fully over now that it’s September and there will be no more debutantes to try to take him away, she thought, a little smug.
Adelaide heard a knock. It was only Sarah, her favorite out of the servants that Richard had furnished this house with. Sarah could laugh. She was not so afraid of being dismissed like some and she was also not like some in her service who thought themselves better than her. Sarah made her feel like a person like Richard did. With him she was filled to the brim and whole.
“Milady, would you like to dress?” Sarah’s cheeks were flushed as usual.
“Yes please. You set out the violet in advance yes?”
Sarah nodded, carrying in said violet silk gown and shoes to match as evidence with a knowing smile on her face.
“I’ve managed to let it out. Will you wear it without the corset?” Sarah started laying things out.
Adelaide nodded. It was a perfect gown for the occasion. Violet brought green eyes to full attention. Silk indicated how far gone she was from her past. Lace around the wrists and decolletage brought some sensuality to the ensemble.. She was laced into it promptly.
“Milady, Lord Stanton is here,” Patterson said with his usual scowl.
“Tell him supper will be taken in the small dining in half an hour. I shall see him then,” Adelaide did not smile to show any indication of her happiness.
Patterson was one of those who thought they were too good for the likes of her. But she was used to those. She had experienced twenty years of people like that. She paid him no mind.
Instead, she counted down the entire thirty minutes.
“Were going to see your mother soon?”
“What do you think Mrs. Green has prepared?”
“Milady you are positively buzzing.”
“Am I? Sarah, you see straight through me.”
“I believe that is up to you.”
Richard was sitting at the small table prepared for them, glass in hand. Rum. Her smile lessened. He moved to embrace her immediately. His breath fumed with the sting of alcohol.
“Richard, how much have you drank?” She disengaged from him.
As his eyes met hers, she saw how drunk he was. His eyes were reddened and dark circled. This state could not have been done in half an hour. Nothing good ever happened when he was like this. She stepped back. Something was wrong.
Her anticipation fizzled. It was not going to be the night she had planned. What a waste of a gown. And her hopes.
His hands reached for her. But instead of a violent grip, he caught her in another embrace. This time it went on and on. His lips went from her cheeks to her lips to her neck and over again in a circle of sorts. He held on tighter and tighter. She could feel her wrists would bruise. Thank goodness he let them go and instead wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Richard, please,” She whispered.
When he did, she could see pools of water in his unfocused eyes.
“What is it- what’s wrong. Sit.”
Then taking another glass and pouring in some water, she placed it in his hands. Crouching down and looking on his handsome well defined features, she could not fathom what would make him so troubled. This was not anger. This was not passion. This was something new, tinged with an aura of chaos.
“I am sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
“Sorry?” She prompted him to drink.
“For convincing you we had a future,”
Those words were clear.
Adelaide was taken aback. She stood and moved away from him. He was telling her they had no future. Her heart began racing and not the way it did when he kissed her. It was the kind of heart racing she had not felt in five years of living in this house. His house. The kind that warned her of danger. Like when her mother had given her away.
That particular memory smashed up against her consciousness. Ten year old Adelaide had not known any home or family beyond her mother and the room they lived in a building in whitechapel. Her mother was a prostitute. Adelaide would make the place look neat as possible every day, serve food or wine to the gentlemen her mother brought in if need be. In return they could not only keep themselves up but they garnered the odd little trinket here or there. But one day, her mother had woken her not to tidy but to pack her things. She was going to stay with family.
Family had been Aunt May and Uncle Silas. Her heart had begun to race, the minute she saw Uncle Silas open the door and clamp his sharp greedy grey eyes on her. She turned to say something to her mother. But Rose was gone. Vanished in the moment and lost to Adelaide.
She had panicked and tried to run after her mother only to be pulled back by a rough hand on her collar as she cried and screamed. He had punished her for that. That and every small infraction. Aunt May though kind at first, never tried to stop him. She was afraid too. Adelaide blinked away the memory.
“You do not love me anymore,” she said aloud to see what the words felt like.
“God no! If only you knew how…” His voice sounded choked.
He was now the one bent down in front of her.
It suddenly dawned on her, “You are marrying someone.”
He hung his head. That was answer enough. Adelaide heard someone cackle. It was her own voice. How curious. She was laughing and at the same time, there were tears falling on her hands in her lap.
Of course he would marry someone else. This was the understanding ever since they had first met in that smoky brothel over a game of whist. But the love had grown so much that he had fought his own family and the endless parade of debutantes for years now. Adelaide felt her heart break and at the same time knew with certainty that this was always where things would end.
“I’ve bought you Briar-crest. Take any of the servants you wish. All of your things are yours for life even that,” he pointed to the sapphire ring on a chain around her neck.
She winced. Briar-crest was the cottage in Hertfordshire where she had first loved him. Her skin prickled with the memory of his kisses on her neck.
“You can go whenever you want,” he had told her.
“But you don’t want me to go?” she hadn’t looked him in the eye lest she give away how badly she loved the feeling of his love.
“No,” he had lifted her chin, “Never.”
His eyes had been so sincere.
There was a small farm attached to Briarcrest. She would never go hungry. That he was being kind and that he still loved her made it worse. She should rather he hated her and cut her off completely. That is foolishness Adelaide, she thought. She would be glad later for his kindness. Briar-crest was also far away from the people who knew of them. She could play whoever she wanted to. The grieving widow seemed to fit. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes to calm her beating heart. As she did, she heard him stumble out of the room. She searched herself for some semblance of strength. The strength built up from eighteen years of a ramshackle life. From whitechapel to uncle silas to the brothel. She just needed to find that strength.
Three glasses of water later, two of them smashed, cutting her hands in the process, she found some.
She found it in Sarah’s glowing cheeks and messy hair. At some point she had walked in and was watching her closely.
“Adelaide?” she finally spoke.
“Did you tell him?”
Her hand went to her stomach, “No.”
“I never had a father either,” Sarah said moving in closer, “My mother was more than enough.”
“I have no choice but to be more than enough.”