Alice finished her breakfast watching the news, then put her mug and plate in the dishwasher that hadn't been on for days. She did not use many dishes, as she mostly dined outside.
After a quick check on her make-up and putting her hair up in a side-bun, Alice took her coat as well. The navy blue accentuated the paleness of her skin but since the band around her waist made her figure appear better than it was, she had decided that the coat was allowed to stay.
Alice grabbed the keys of the car, let her eyes go one last time over the furniture that was like home but at the same time still a bit unfamiliar and opened the front door.

The drive was endless, it seemed. The small quarter that it took her to get to the Rilex Internationals Headquarters had made her forget how to drive long distances. The two hours it took her to leave Amsterdam and enter Drenthe, the province that was known for its cows and the endless number of towns consisting only 250 people, were terrible. Alice could only listen to Wagner for a small amount of time. After half an hour, she had turned off the music which has caused the rest of the ride to be incredibly dull.
Luckily it was Sunday, which meant the roads were relatively easy, especially when she came closer to the parts of the Netherlands which belonged to the farmers and the producers. The highways were replaced by country roads or sometimes even dirt roads as she made her way to the Richmond Mansion, located in the west side of Drenthe, yet still relatively close to the German border.

The manor was located a few kilometres outside Dwingeloo, a tiny village that was once appointed 'one of the greenest towns of Europe'. It lay close to a nature reserve which was one of its main attractions when it came to tourists. Those who wanted to see wild horses or red deer could take tours through the area with guides who knew some basic information about the animals.
Besides that, Dwingeloo looked like it had sprouted out of the ground during the 1200s and had not changed ever since. It was one of the reasons why father had selected Dwingeloo as the residence for the Richmond Mansion, unlike one of the bigger cities who could provide more opportunities, like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag or Utrecht.
Once you had passed the centre of the city, the immense building was easy to spot. Since the nature around Dwingeloo mostly consisted of countryside without much trees or relief, the manor could be seen from far. There was only one road leading towards the house and it was known by the residents of Dwingeloo as the 'ghost road', as there were no street lights to help vehicles, bikers and pedestrians navigate and the weak, flickering lights of the mansion could be seen from far.
During the day, there was nothing ghost-like about the road. The only thing that irritated Alice was the dust that would settle between the grooves of the car's tires and the ever-going fear that you might kill a suicidal rabbit.

Richmond Mansion appeared only five minutes after her car had left Dwingeloo behind. The enormous structure arose between the trees, towering over the rather empty landscape. Even from here you could see the hints of the Renaissance. Towering tall above the trees with columns decorating the outside of the building, as if it's helping with holding up the floors. The pediment held up the black roof, that had lost a few of its roof tiles over the year. As it was barely noticeable but to a trained eye, Alice had never called someone to repair it. It wasn't like anyone important lived here anyway, so what was the use of wasting all that money?
What did need to be done was the paint. In the few years that the manor had resided here, the white paint had started discolouring, giving it a dirty yellow colour, and had begun to bladder off the walls. With windows that were covered with curtains and ivy curling around the sides of the house, it did look like a haunted mansion. Luckily, there was only one ghoul who lived there and she wasn't a threat to anyone but herself.
Alice drove further until the black gates stopped her. They were made of curled iron, creating the form of a fox's head in the middle.
Growing up as a child, Alice had thought of the fox as their brand, their symbol, their way of letting the world know that they were a proud family. Now that she was an adult, she thought of the fox as foolish. The family was wiped out or scattered all over the place. The fox meant nothing anymore and showed rather the weaknesses of the Richmonds than their strengths. The cunningness of the fox had not helped her father during his accident, nor her mother now that she was ill. And most of all, the fox did not help Alice at all. It was not the intelligence of their family's sigil that had helped her rise to the top of Rilex Internationals: it was her own cunningness. The only significance the fox now had was that it was the logo of Rilex Internationals.

Alice stopped in front of the gate, rolled down her window and pushed on the button of the intercom. It took a minute or so before she heard a familiar voice, despite the electronical sound that had twisted it.
"Richmond mansion, what can I help you with?"
"It's me, Mr. White," Alice answered.
"Oh, welcome home, Miss! I'll immediately open the gate for you!"
The intercom made a small buzzing sound which indicated that the person on the other end had hung up. The gates opened creakily and she re-started the car's engine.
The car glided forwards onto the driveway. The white pebbles crunched and grinded under the wheels of the car. Before the car came to a halt in front of the two enormous, mahogany wooden doors, Mr. White already came running around the corner.
White used to be the head-housekeeper when Alice's parents had still been around. Even back then, his face was covered in wrinkles, which were so bad that sometimes you could barely see his eyes, and his hair was as white as the first snow in December.
He had served the Richmonds from since he was a young man, first working for Kevin Richmond, Rilex Internationals' founder. As Kevin passed through his life's work onto his eldest son, Chester, he also passed on quite a lot of extras. When Chester moved with his wife and new born daughter to the Netherlands to establish the new place for Rilex Internationals' Headquarters, Mr. White came along, together with most of the rest of the household.
Now, two-and-a-half decades later, he was still on the team, albeit not as head-housekeeper anymore. He was still good for the job - so good that Alice often wondered why he stayed in this hell hole - but there were simply barely any employees left. Most of them had left after her mother had fallen ill, realizing soon that the Richmonds had nothing to offer them but money. For most, money - even if it was a large sum like the Richmonds handed their staff - was not enough to keep them in a strange country in which they were still struggling to speak the language. Korean was still their native language and Alice had learnt a great deal of it during her childhood. She remembered Mrs Chu, Mr White's right hand, helping her with reading hangul. The way the woman had glowed up when she had gotten a phrase or a word right had been worth it to study the language.
When she had grown older, she had had less and less time to enhance her skills in hangul and eventually she had stopped learning it at all. And when she had fled her parental home, her Korean had diluted almost completely, since there had been no one she had been able to talk it with.

Now, whenever she went back to the mansion, her great amount of Korean lessons was only one of the memories that haunted her. Mrs Chu was dead - as she had already been old and widowed when she had joined the Richmonds to the Netherlands - and so was her desire to study Korean. Still, by seeing the faces of the staff that was still around, her heart could not help to ache a little bit. Perhaps, if she ever had the time later on in her life, she might pick it up again…
But for now, there were other things she needed to worry about; one which was the only reason why Mr White and the other employees were still around.

Alice stepped out of the car and locked it. The shoes of Mr White chirped on the pebbles as he walked towards her, as fast as his old men's legs could carry him. He grabbed her hand before she was fully turned around and pinched it reassuringly. A wide smile had grown on his face and there had appeared a twinkle, which glowed fiercer than the brightest star in the sky, in his eyes.
"Alice, Alice, so good to see you!" he purred, pinching her hand excitedly a few times. Alice let him hold her hand, as he had earned that privilege during his life-long service to the Richmond family. Alice had - after all - grown quite fond of him, on top of that. He was one of the few she genuinely liked.
A small smile appeared on her face.
"It's good to see you too, Mr Choi," she replied. Mr White immediately shook his head.
"Please, I told you to call me Minho," he said. Alice nodded although she was quite sure she would never call him by his first name. Now that she had grown older, the nickname she had given him long ago did not suit him anymore, although his hair was still white.
Back when she was still younger and the Richmond Mansion was booming with life, the employees were hard to tell apart by a child. As Mr White had been the eldest one and had already begun to show white streaks in his grey hair, Alice had crowned him 'Mr White' since he was the only one of the household with white hair. After that, her parents had always known who she had meant if she called for Mr White and soon the other employees had also started to use that name.
As far as she knew, Mr White still used his nickname; wearing it as a badge of honour. But she still wanted to respect the older man and now that she had grown into a fully well-understanding adult, she liked to call him by his own name.
"Where is mother?" Alice asked him.
"Oh, right, of course. Follow me, she is upstairs," Mr White said, as he let her hand go. He led her around the mansion to the backdoor. Nowadays, the large front doors always stayed shut if they needn't to be opened.

The backdoor immediately led to the kitchen. As Alice herself preferred to work with white, black, grey and Bordeaux red in her interior, her parents had had an entirely different idea when they had built the mansion. The kitchen was rather rural themed, with dark, ebony wooden cabinets. The floor was made of the same material. The counter was covered in a grey type of marble, one that Alice had always disliked. She loved the look of the polished natural stone, but she liked it to be black or white. The grey marble consisted of small dots, one darker or lighter than the other, creating an uneven surface. The sink, stove and fridge door were all made of a black scrappy metal that looked like it was reused, especially now that it had been used for two decades.
There was a small table, just enough for six persons to sit at, placed in the middle of the kitchen. It was mostly used by the employees to cut vegetables at if the counter was too full of stuff. Now that Alice was older, she could picture Mr White and the others casually opening a bottle of wine here too, trying to pass the dull, achingly long days with useless chatter as they tried to drink away whatever was bothering them.

The kitchen immediately led to the great entrance hall, which connected most parts of the house. From there, you could head up the immensely large stairs to the first floor or head left to the living room, which basically took in the rest of the ground floor, except for the small laundry room that laid directly next to the kitchen. It had been years since she had last been in the living room. Alice wondered if anything had changed. She realized she did not care enough to check.
Mr White struggled a bit with walking up the stairs. Alice, respectfully, stayed behind him as they slowly continued up. She knew the way to her mother's room. She knew the crooks and creaks of her elderly home better than Mr White ever would, but she followed him still. When she came to think of it, this house had been Mr White's home longer than it had been hers. With that thought on her mind, she suddenly felt very isolated. The house from her memories did not exist anymore. It felt like all the energy and light had been drained. The employees were gone. Her parents were gone. She was gone. The only one who remained was Mr White. Always, always Mr White.
The room to her mother's room was dark. The ebony wooden floor only accentuated the absence of light. Alice knew her way around the house and could even close her eyes without struggling once to find the right room. The rhythmic clicking of her heels on the floor was a welcome sound.

They eventually stopped in front of the right door. If you had not known that her mother's room was behind it, the door would not have stood out at all. It seemed to be just a random door in a random corridor in a random part of the house. To Alice - and to everyone else still working for the Richmonds - the door was like a red flag to a bull.
Mr White turned around, seeming to have shrunk a little bit.
"Ladies first," he said, as he stepped back a bit to let Alice pass. She nodded curtly and opened the door confidently. She walked in and immediately spotted her late mother.
She was only fifty-one years old but she looked like she had strayed through the streets of Amsterdam at least half of her life. Her ever so beautiful, long, dark hair hung loose and tangled around her shoulders. It had grown grey by now. Deep bags hung under her eyes and her teeth had turned yellow from the lack of brushing. Her lips, which used to always be painted red, just like Alice's now, were bitten and showed small wounds.
Her mother still wore her pyjamas and was busy taking everything out of her closet. She was tossing the clothes on the bed and did not even notice her only child come in. Alice did not move and simply watched; disgusted.
Mr White came in after her.
"She has gotten worse," he sighed, as he sat down on the bed, next to her mother. She looked up to him, murmured something that wasn't loud enough to understand - although Alice doubted it would have made any sense - and went on with re-decorating her closet.
"Still every twenty-four hours an rivastigmine Band-Aid, but those have become harder and harder to put on her. She won't let us take off the one of the previous day because it probably hurts. She becomes very aggressive and once smashed all the plants from the windowsill. Mrs Richmond did not hurt anybody and we let her out of her room after that, but her temper has worsened. Besides that, we still give her galantamine and memantine. We just crush the pills and put it through her food, that's all fine. Yet, I doubt she even tastes the food anymore," Mr White explained, his voice dropping near the end. Alice noticed he had a hard time seeing her mother this way. She, on the other hand, did not mind it as much as he did. Sure, it was hard for her to watch but rather because it was annoying to have a mentally sick mother. It barely hurt.
"Raise her doses of memantine," she simply said. "That should take care of it by now."
"Are you sure, Alice? It's quite a heavy drug. Shouldn't we let a doctor decide?"
"I already talked with one," Alice replied curtly, not feeling to be questioned, even by Mr White. "He had already prescribed upping the doses but as everything was still fine I had let it be. She can have 10 milligrams extra, 20 if necessary. Just see how it goes and if she calms down."
Mr White nodded silently. Both of them watched the lady of Richmond Mansion for a moment, who had now turned around to do something else, but was distracted by the clothes once more. She now tried to hang them back in the closet, but she struggled with getting the hanger around the iron pole. Her hands shook.
"How are her motorial skills? Has it worsened?" Alice asked, as she watched her mother.
"Not by much but yes, it has gotten a bit worse. She shakes all the time now," White answered her.
"And her alertness? Has she been zoning out?"
"So much that we almost have to feed her during dinner," Mr White sighs. He was silent for a moment, then looked back up to me. "Are you sure the rising of the medication will help?"
"We have nothing to lose, do we? They get financed by the government," Alice casually answered, with almost a sense of boredom in her voice. She did not really care whether they worked or not.
"I did not mean that. You know she will never get better. She has even dropped her crossword puzzles."
"I understand that, Mr White."
"Then what's the meaning of keeping her here, just to raise her medication and hope she will act like the person she used to be?"
Alice rose one of her eyebrows and turned, for the first time since they had entered the room, to him.
"I do not hope she will act like she used to be," she said icily. In fact, she had rather that she died but she could not tell Mr White that, seeing he was still really fond of her mother. "The only reason I am keeping her here is to protect the family name, as father had always told me to. If we send her off to some retirement home, we be defiling the family's name. The best thing is to keep her hidden and have her pass of, something like, a cerebral haemorrhage."
Mr White had started frowning but nevertheless nodded silently. He looked away, back to her mother again.
"But, Mr. Choi, I told you that if you ever wanted to leave, that you should just call me, remember?"
Alice voice had grown softer, as much as it was able to. In fact, it was still rather toneless and quite neutral, but Mr. White sensed the change immediately. He looked back for a moment to shake his head.
"No," he muttered. "No, and even if I wanted to, I'd have nowhere to go. The Richmond Mansion is as much my home as it is yours, Alice. I'll stay and take care of her, even if I will be the last one staying."
"What about the others? Katherina, Laura and Lola? They are still…"
"Young?" Mr White suggested, with a hint of a smile on his face. "No, they prefer to stay too, although they have halved their hours here and taken up another job back in Dwingeloo."
"Yes, I saw," Alice said. Of course, she had seen, since each of the middle-aged women had personally contacted her upon wanting to change their working hours. Three maids could only do so much when Mr White was always around and there were no people to sit on the couch in the living room or play in the garden or shower in the 4 bathrooms. Even one maid had been enough to keep the house clean from dust.
But Alice had been generous and had let all of them stay. They were family friends after all. Her father would have wanted that.

They watched her mother for another few minutes before Alice let out a short sigh.
"Let's go downstairs to discuss the rest," she said. Mr White nodded and both of them turned around.
Just as Alice wanted to place her hand upon the door knob, her mother suddenly turned around.
"Alice? My Ali? Is that you?"
It was the first time that she had spoken that had been more than a murmur in the presence of Alice. Alexandra Richmond's voice was hoarse and creaky, like that of an old woman who had smoked all of her life and was now suffering from a lung disease. Two blue eyes watched her confusedly; her brain not being able to figure out whether it really was her daughter or not.
She slowly turned around. Alice realized that she was clenching her jaws so tight upon each other that it hurt her teeth.
"Yes, mother, it's me."
Her voice had sounded icier than she had intended it to be. With her sick mother, she at least tried to make it sound welcoming. But her whole appearance disgusted her. Alice could smell her from here, even when she was still a few meters away. That only attributed to the dislike she had already developed for her since her youth. It was not easy to suddenly act charitable, even when her mother acted like a small child.
Her mother watched her, tilting her head slowly to the left as if she did not understand. There seemed to be some sort of recognition, a light in her eyes that was barely lit. It was only a split before it died again, her the corners of her mouth sunk deeper down.
"You should do your homework, Alice," her mother said, with regular pauses to re-think about what she wanted to say. "You got a bad grade for economics."
"I never obtained a grade lower than a seven for economics, mother," Alice replied softly. The older woman started to laugh lightly.
"Ah yes, you are just like your father. You've got such an economical sense. That's why we live here, you know? Because he has so much talent. Where is he, anyway? I haven't seen him since yesterday…"
Alice wanted to open her mouth again, but Mr White grabbed her wrist. He shot her a meaningful look and she closed it again.
"He will be coming back soon, Alexandra," he hummed, as he sat down on the bed and carefully grabbed Alice's mother's hand. "He is working."
"Oh, of course. Thank you, Minho," her mother hummed, before she returned to play with the leftovers of the clothes in her closet.
Mr White watched her for a moment, then slowly shook his head and stood up with a sigh.
"Let's go downstairs," he said. Alice nodded, let Mr White open the door for her and followed him, without looking over her shoulder for one last glance.

Mr White did not speak until they reached the kitchen again.
"Are you still doing financially good? Food, cleaning supplies, your own salary?" Alice asked him, before the kitchen door had managed to close properly. The old man turned around, suddenly looking twenty years older than he actually was. He sighed loud and long.
"Does it really not bother you that she is like that?" he asked her slowly, avoiding the question Alice had offered him. She did not think twice.
"It does not."
Mr White shook slowly his head, letting out another sigh.
"We're fine. We eat diversely and Alexandra still eats well too. Once a month me, Katharina, Laura and Lola have a bottle of wine from the money that's left. The garden is looking fine too and we have started to grow our own vegetables in the greenhouse to spare costs in the long run. The money for the cleaning supplies is a little in abundant now that we don't have to clean the place that often anymore so you can lower that."
"Very well," Alice replied. "Is there anything else you like to report?"
Mr White looked up, catching her eye. His gaze was a strange mix that Alice couldn't place exactly. It wasn't admiration, but he respected her. At the same time, there was a disconnection between them, one that had only started to settle when she had left Richmond Mansion and had gone her own way. Alice had been introverted and closed down her entire life already but it had increased when she had started following up her father as head of Rilex Internationals.
"No, there is nothing," Mr White slowly said. "Will you stay for a cup of tea? I have bought your favourite."
"I do not drink tea anymore, sadly. And I still have work to do," Alice said. "If there are any problems, you know how to contact me."
She adjusted her coat and hung her purse back over her arm. Mr White understood the hint and silently opened the backdoor for her. Alice left first and he hobbled right after her. As she walked she managed to get her key out of her back and unlock her car, proudly waiting for her as a loyal dog on the porch.
Alice opened the door and sat down. Within seconds the car had started and she drove backwards. Mr White watched her, slowly waving as she turned and rode back to the gates. Alice did not wave back nor turned around to say good-bye to him, but she viewed him from her mirror when she had to stop in front of the automatic gates for a moment. The fox's head watched her closely.
When they opened, she tore her gaze away from Mr White and Richmond Mansion. Then, she pushed down the gas pedal all the way until it hit the ground. The engine roared and the car raced back towards Amsterdam.

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