Authors: Maddy Edwards
One Black Rose, Book IV)
Copyright © 2012 by Maddy Edwards
Cover Design: Sybille Sterk
This novel is a work of fiction in which names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is completely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author.
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Dear Family and Friends,
Months have gone by. It’s summer again, but I can’t get warm. No matter how hot it is outside, I can’t get warm.
This isn’t an apology letter. An apology letter hardly seems adequate in the face of what happened. I watched my brother, my best friend and the person I looked up to most in this world, die. It was my fault. I know that. I have accepted that this is now my identity. As it should be. It might even be too good an identity for me. For people to still think of me as Holt’s brother, when I did something like that to him . . . I can barely breathe when I think about it.
I wish I could tell you that I’m doing penance. I wish it mattered that I haven’t slept since that night. I wish it mattered that I haven’t thought about anything else. I used to have fun, drink, see girls, go to parties. I don’t do any of those things anymore. I shouldn’t. I have not had one moment of joy since I watched my brother die. I keep saying it, because I do not deserve to skirt the issue. I killed him. It was me. I failed. Is it possible to have one event mean you failed at life? I am here to tell you that it is possible and it’s what I have done. There is nothing I can ever do to fix what I did. I don’t want to, because that would somehow mean it was okay.
It isn’t okay.
I’ve made a decision. I am a plague to the family, a disease that I cannot allow to spread. I have not found one second of peace, so I am leaving. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do. It doesn’t matter. Just know that I am gone. I will not stay around to ruin any more of our time.
I cannot fix this.
I am not going to try.
I am just going to leave.
You might say this is taking the coward’s way out, but it isn’t. It is what is best for everyone involved.
I love you. Please do not love me in return. I repulse myself as I should repulse you. Forget me.
I sighed, and the woman behind me prodded me to move forward. When I smiled an apology, the sadness that had overwhelmed me for months must have shown in my face, because she gave me a sympathetic smile. If I had been more capable of emotion, being stuck in a bar in the middle of nowhere would have upset me. As it was, I didn’t much care.
Our car had broken down, and I had decided that the best way to deal with a car that wouldn’t work until at least the next morning was to go drink at a bar. Drinking at bars was my solution to a lot of things these days. I wished with all my heart that my biggest problem was a broken down car. It just wasn’t.
The woman moved past me, her black boots scuffing against the worn wood floor. She was carrying a large tray of drinks and obviously had friends and a happy life to get back to. I watched her tattooed back shake as she laughed at something her companions had said. I didn’t remember the last time I had laughed. There was only one way I thought of my life now: pre-Holt’s death and post-Holt’s death. I had known how to laugh when Holt was around. The two of us did it all the time; he had been easy to laugh and smile with. Sometimes you don’t know how wonderful someone is until they’re not there anymore.
Fall had passed into winter and spring had come and gone and I still couldn’t really take in that Holt was gone. It was like I was in a holding pattern in which I simply couldn’t believe that he would never smile at me again. Worse, I couldn’t believe that the life he had looked forward to was no more. Maybe I would still have been miserable if he and I had had a fight and never spoken to each other again, but at least I would have known that he was okay. In real life, he wasn’t okay. He was gone. The worst had happened.
“You okay?” Mae asked me. That had become a common question from her to me since Holt’s death. She would start off every conversation wondering if I was okay, and I just wanted to scream, “Of course not!!” But I didn’t. Screaming would have meant a display of emotion, and I just didn’t have the energy.
Deep down I knew I shouldn’t be drinking, but at some point after Holt died I had stopped caring about should and shouldn’t. I only cared about numbing my heartache. Now it was more habit than anything else.
I shrugged at my friend. She had asked me that question so many times I had stopped responding. Besides, she knew the answer. The stunned look I walked around with told the whole story. I had always worn my heart on my sleeve, and now that my heart had been ripped out of my chest I wore it there almost literally. Until recently my sleeve had been relatively sober, but things change. I wasn’t sure when I had stopped caring about my own well-being, but it had definitely happened.
“You know,” she said, frustrated and worried, “I wouldn’t have to ask if you didn’t look so damned sad. You look like a flower that’s totally wilted in the sun.”
I shrugged again. I thought that was a kind description of how I must look. I used to look like a flower, a very pretty orchid if I do say so myself, and now I looked like an orchid that had been burned and stomped on, or withered without exposure to rain or sun.
Whatever, it wasn’t pretty.
I had stopped taking care of myself, and it wasn’t just the drinking. I hadn’t had a haircut in months, definitely no new clothes, and my manicurist had canceled my regular appointment—I know, the horror. All anyone had to do was look at me and they could see I wasn’t the same Susan I used to be. Mae knew it; that was why she had agreed to my insane road trip idea. Neither of us liked the idea of spending the summer in the car, but I liked the thought of being anywhere but Maine, so here we were. Mae liked the idea of me being happy.
The plan was to take two months and drive around the country. We had a handful of destinations in mind, mostly other Fairy Courts, but we had no fixed plan, so we could really do what we wanted from one day to the next. This was the first night and we had made it to Vermont. I had left without saying goodbye to anyone, because there was no one in Maine to say goodbye to. None of the Roths could stand to be there, and the Cheshires had left out of respect. Samuel and Autumn had gone off by themselves in an effort to work out exactly what their future was, and Logan had disappeared.
I was angry at Logan. He was always doing something selfish. Even now. I knew his mother had given him permission to go—for all I knew she had ordered him to go—but what about me? I needed my family, and the Roths were the only family I had left. Holt had been like my brother, the only one who really got and supported me—and now he was gone. Logan should have shouldered some of the responsibility and some of the fallout from what had happened, but instead he had just run away.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I already had everything worked out. I would be fulfilling my parents’ oldest, and really only, wish for me and totally avoiding thinking about my dead cousin and all the other problems at the same time.
“I’m not sure your parents would approve of this,” said Mae, chewing on her lower lip. Mae was the most loyal and funny friend I had ever had. When she heard I needed her, she dropped her summer plans and joined in with mine. She had just finished her freshman year in college and everything had been going great for her, but she was willing to put it all on hold to be there for me. She was also a worrier, and she just wanted me to be okay.
I knew what she saw. We were in a dive bar, where the crowd could politely have been described as rough. Mae, who was short and very pretty, with dark brown hair and eyes, had gotten plenty of stares when we walked in. I was the opposite: tall, with flowing blond hair and bright green eyes—like my cousin Holt.
I agreed with her that my parents wouldn’t have approved; it was just that the aching sadness, a constant pounding against my temples, didn’t allow me to care if my parents would approve or not.
“My parents are dead,” I pointed out, and took another sip of my drink.
Mae flinched. “I know that.”
She wasn’t drinking. She thought one of us should be responsible, and it was painfully clear that it wasn’t going to be me.
“They’re dead, but they left me my letter. They would have left me other stuff if not for the flood.” I said this like it was a badge of honor. Mae and I had this conversation frequently about what my parents would have wanted for me if they had been around, but the truth of the matter was that they weren’t and they weren’t going to be and I had to figure it out for myself—except for this letter.
“They didn’t leave it for you,” Mae argued, her jaw set. “It just ended up in your hands. I’m sure they never expected you to read it.”
I stared at a point over her head so I wouldn’t roll my eyes. I hated it when she said that. I had always felt like they were speaking to me, even if the letter was addressed to someone else.
My parents hadn’t died normal deaths, they had died at the hands of Winter Fairies one December when they were skiing in Europe. They had accidentally skied into Winter Fairy territory that they didn’t have permission to be in. The Fairy who responded to the threat was young and untrained, and he fired his Winter Glamour at them. It wasn’t what he was supposed to do, but he had done it anyway. It hadn’t hit them, but since they were skiing, the moves they employed to get away had caused an avalanche, and not all the summer magic in the world could burn away the icy snow that tumbled down on top of them. It was awful. I had maintained for years that the Winter Fairy could have done more to help them, that he might even have encouraged the snow along, but I was too young to be listened to at the time. I had been left parentless, with a simple apology from a court of Fairies far, far away that I hoped never to meet.
My parents’ favorite house had been a little shack on a small island off the coast of Maine. Bizarrely, one summer day the house had flooded, and the flood had just happened to carry away all their belongings, including any wills and testaments they might have drafted. Luckily I was their only child, so it’s not like the inheritance was disputed, but since they were dead there were piles of unanswered questions. One of those questions, the biggest and at this point the most pressing, was in a letter that my mom had sent to a friend. When the friend died, the woman’s son had given the letter to me.
He thought I would want to have something that had come from my parents, and I did, but the letter had created more questions than answers.
“What does the letter say again?” Mae asked me. She knew I read the letter a million times a day. When Holt died it had become my obsession to find out what my parents had meant by it. Basically, anything to keep the feelings at bay, anything to keep me going, because if I once stopped, I would have to acknowledge that my favorite cousin, who was more like my brother than my cousin, was dead, and his own brother was missing. And I just couldn’t do that. It was more pain than I could tolerate.
I pulled my parents’ letter out of my pocket again and smoothed it on the table. It was well-worn enough by now so that the letters written over the creases in the paper had totally faded. But that didn’t matter; I knew every word by heart.
“Here goes,” I said. “Remember, Mrs. Winthrop was their family friend. She died a couple of years after my parents.” I swallowed and started to read.
~ ~ ~
How are we? We miss you terribly, although the stunning Maine surf keeps us busy. Susan likes to play outside, so we aren’t indoors most of the day and have been neglecting our correspondence in favor of soaking up the sun and other fun. We are hopeful that soon we will be able to give Susan a little sister or brother. I think it would do her good. She loves to look after people and laugh, and she would be less lonely with a sibling. Besides, Kasell and I always wanted more children.
I wanted to check in and see how you were feeling. I know the spring was hard on you. Remember, you’re welcome to visit any time.
We also have wonderful news. As I wrote in my last letter, Susan is, in fact, betrothed. It wasn’t even a difficult process, and both Kasell and I are delighted. We never thought she would have such a match given her parents’ questionable past, and to have it settled when she’s still so young is wonderful. He comes from a good family and it will create a bridge that will, we hope, remain unbroken for generations to come. There might be one tiny complication, but I am confident it will sort itself out. I am truly happy, and most importantly I think Susan herself will be truly happy.
Susan and Kasell
~ ~ ~
“Are you sure your mom wasn’t just kidding?” Mae asked me.
“She wouldn’t joke about that, especially not to someone as old-fashioned as Mrs. Winthrop,” I argued, taking another sip of my Margarita—I like my alcohol to taste like candy.
“Whatever you say,” said Mae. “I still don’t know how making a road trip this summer to figure out who your betrothed is makes any sense.”
“My parents wanted me to marry this person. After what happened, the least I can do is follow through with it. Unlike the Fairy aristocracy and their Roses, the rest of us do simple betrothals, but they’re just as important in their way.”
“There are so many things wrong with what you just said my head is spinning,” said Mae, putting her head, covered in short dark brown hair, in her pale hands. “Look, first, you don’t know who your betrothed is or anything about it. You would think that if there was someone your parents had really wanted you to marry they would have made it easier for you to figure out. Second—do not interrupt me—why hasn’t his family come forward? Presumably they know who you are; they must, and if that’s the case you’d think they would have gotten in contact with you by now. Epic fail on that front as well.”
“Maybe something happened to his parents, too,” I said. I hadn’t meant for it to come out so softly that Mae had to lean forward to hear me, but she did. Her face twisted at the obvious pain in my voice.
“The odds of that are slim,” she pointed out, not for the first time.
I knew she was right, but I couldn’t let it go. “You can’t argue with what this says. I KNOW my mother wrote this and I KNOW she sent it to Mrs. Winthrop. I also know that she was talking about me, so what gives?”
“And what about that complication your mom mentions? What is that? Maybe that’s what’s keeping him from you now?” Mae was trying to point out to me, as nicely as she could, that my ideas were crazy. But I didn’t agree with her. She just didn’t understand what I was going through.