The Caldecott household had always been a noisy one.
Regardless of the time of day, there’d always been some happy din or another filling the cheerful townhouse. Be it the peals of laughter from Evie and her sisters as they’d raced about, or the music as they’d played their instruments, all hours of the day or night, there’d never been quiet.
Standing in the marble foyer, the sound of silence proved so strong, it threatened even the most joyous memories she’d carried with her into the beyond. Standing here, taking in the flicker of candlelight playing in the bronzed sconces, Evie could almost believe there’d never been happiness in this home and that it was a cold, unfeeling residence belonging to some other lofty couple than her loving parents.
Then, that chill receded as something warm filled her hand–Lionel’s hand. He intertwined his fingers with hers. Evie glanced down at those joined digits and lifted her gaze to his.
“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.
And strangely she meant it.
Oddly, the desolate misery that had filled her the moment she stepped inside this townhouse had gone the moment he’d touched her. In its place was a warmth and peace.
Lionel did not press her for more. Instead, he stood beside her, allowing her to make the move she’d make, when she was ready to make it.
Evie drew in a breath, and retaining her hold on Lionel’s palm, she led him deeper into her girlhood home. It had been the place she’d been born.
“I was born here,” she said those words aloud, speaking them into the quiet. It had also been the place where she’d died.
Lionel looked at her.
“Well, not here,” she gestured to the carpeted stairs they now climbed. “But in this household.” Everyone knew that women who were expecting retired to the country.
They reached the main landing, and her gaze landed on a portrait there. Releasing Lionel’s hand, she drifted closer, and gazed upon a gilded frame she’d once raced past so many times over the years. Before now, had she ever stopped even once to properly appreciate the bucolic scene of her and her family captured for all time? It was a rendering of the first family portrait commissioned after her youngest sister had been born. No more than a year old, dressed in a long, lacy white dress, Elyse sat perched on their mother’s lap. Beside them, Evie’s father had one hand resting upon Evie’s shoulder, and the other on her brother’s. Edith stood between her elder siblings. Papa’s gaze was reserved not for the artist who’d been capturing him, but rather his wife, son, and three daughters. In his imagery, the artist had perfectly recorded the absolute love the gentleman had for his family.
“My father would tell the story of how the carriages were being readied, and they were set to depart, but just as they were boarding, I began to make my entrance.” She smiled wistfully. “Papa used to say it was a sign of how much I loved life, that I was so eager to live every moment that I insisted on arriving early.”
And in the end, she’d experienced just seventeen years. Seventeen short years. She’d never known any of the joys of being courted or marrying, with her sisters tossing rice and coins as she walked from the country parish.
As Evie continued strolling down the hall, she took in the other portraits of her siblings and parents. “Not long before I fell sick, he told me a story of how I’d rise before even the sun came up and wake him so we could go exploring. It was like I was trying to fit everything in.” She paused, staring at a likeness of her and her sisters in the music room, each with their instruments poised. “Perhaps I knew,” she said softly. “That my time was limited.”
She waited for the rush of grief to accompany that realization.
Peculiarly, it did not come.
Perhaps it was because she was now home with her sisters and parents, and this time, this time, she would see them. This time, she would get to hold her sisters once more, make her goodbyes, and find peace.
It was time.
She took a step towards the music room—
“Nothing has changed then for you, Evie,” Lionel said, his voice hoarsened, his words freezing her in her tracks.—She glanced over at him. His eyes glinted with emotion.—“Even in the beyond.”
In the beyond.
It did not escape her that since she’d revealed to Lionel the difficulty she had confronting the word death, he’d gone to lengths to not use it with her.
Lionel caressed the back of his hand along the curve of her cheek. “You’re so vibrant and joyous, and I spent all these years angry and hurting and just wandering lost…and then you came.”
Tears burned her eyes; and then the drops squeezed past her lashes and slipped down her face.
Lionel caught each tear, one at a time. “You tossed rocks and played games and waltzed. You made every moment since you entered my life whole and complete in ways, I’d never believed it could be in death.” His chest and hers moved together quickly, under the force of their shared emotion. “And I wouldn’t trade even a single day back among the living for any of the memories I made here with you.” Lionel pressed his brow against her. “I’m going to miss you so damned much, Evie.”
“I’m going to miss you, too, Lionel.” She bit her lip to keep the sob in, but her efforts proved futile, as the sound slipped from deep inside, where pain and loss were greatest. “I l—”
That squeal of hinges in need of oiling rent into the moment, and a profession that had formed so easily on her lips.
“Hullo?” Someone called out hesitantly, a question there. “I heard you. I know you are there.”
Nay, not just someone.
Evie’s heart sped up. “Edith,” she said softly, so as to not startle her, and shatter whatever connection she’d somehow made in this moment between the land of the living and dead.
Her younger sister, dressed in the same style of a voluminous nightshift and wrapper she’d always favored, ventured from the shadows, and into the hall.
Edith glanced around searchingly.
Evie stood there, willing Edith to see her; needing to have this moment—just one more moment—with Edith and Elyse. That would be enough. Then, she could be free of this in-between. Her sickness had come so fast, and she’d perished even quicker. As such, the last memories she’d left in her passing had been sad ones; where she’d been too frail to open her eyes; not even to provide false assurances to her sisters who’d stayed beside her, praying aloud for Evie’s recovery.
Lionel gave her fingers a squeeze, and she looked down at their joined hands. He nodded; urging her on; pushing her to have this meeting she’d so craved.
Evie took the support to be had in his touch, and then releasing him, she stepped away from Lionel and towards her sister.
And then, Edith’s gaze landed on Evie. Her sister’s big blue eyes grew even bigger.
“Evie?” she whispered. “Is it…you?”
To be continued…