Foto bij 559. - Lucien

I have the apartment to myself. Not for very long: Emma is just shopping groceries, but it's still a nice change. It's a rare occurrence. Usually when I'm home for longer stretches of time, Emma and I spend as much time as possible together. I'll tag along to the store, she'll be in the room when I have a call with Eailyn, we're never far apart from each other.
But it's nice, to not be 'on' for a little while.
Frank is in his cat tree, snoring on the highest ledge. A peaceful sound, and also the only one. Even though I'm behind the piano, I'm not touching the keys. The ringing silence is comfortable. At the manor, that silence often becomes threatening. There is the knowledge of the countless empty rooms, some only inhabited by the ghost of the people that once owned them. There were never supposed to be just three of us. A year before her death, when she was already far gone, Madeleine had had a moment of clarity. She recognised me and Aleran as her sons, and told us that she would so much have liked to fill the entire manor.
Five. She'd said. I want at least five. Nothing but laughter will fill the halls, and we can have big family vacations and none of you will ever have to be alone. She didn't remember Eschieve at that time, barely having spent time with her then five year old daughter. For all she knew, she only had two kids when she had meant to have so many.
I trail my finger over the ivory.
Aleran and I already fought before she got sick. She just said boys would be boys, even though it went far beyond that. How different things would have been if she had not gotten sick. If she'd still be here with us. Would Aleran still be alive? She had been big on birthday, she would never have allowed him to go out the day-off, no matter how old he was. Would Eschieve be who she was today, or would she be more like her mother? Soft, timid, less of a bite but still someone you couldn't help but love.
Is that something I'd want?
If given the opportunity, would I give up everything I currently have to see what life would have been like if she'd never died?
It is tempting. I miss her. I miss the way she'd take my face in her hands and kiss my forehead. How she'd tell me I was so smart when I spent the afternoon catching bugs and looking up facts about them in the encyclopedia. I miss her warm embraces and her laugh echoing through the kitchen, even though I barely even remember what it sounds like. I miss watching her dance with my father, once a happy man, as the rain poured down on them. I miss laying in bed, late at night, waiting to hear their footsteps go up to the bedroom so I knew they were nearby before I could finally sleep peacefully.
But getting that back would mean giving up so much. I would never have met Matthew or his sister. I wouldn't have failed out of law school, would never do what I do today. Wouldn't have the relationship I have with Eschieve these days. I would never have come to Scotland for a job my father gave me out of pity, and never would have run into Emma again - if I'd even had met her at all.
I couldn't. I would rather die than give that up.
With a sad smile, I play a single chord. The notes ring through the apartment. "Pardonne-moi maman, car je t'ai condamnée."
      "You look awful melancholy."
My head snaps up. Emma stands at the dining table, still in her coat. Two bags full of groceries stand on the blue tabletop. I hadn't even heard her coming in.
"Just..." I start, but then I shake my head. I don't even know where to begin putting my thoughts into words. "It's nothing." I conclude as I walk over to her to help put everything away. "Got everything?"
"They were out of passion fruits." She frowns. "I didn't dare getting frozen after the speech you gave me last time -"
"That was a completely justified reprimanding."
"- so I got pomegranate instead."
"An excellent substitute." I chuckle, kissing her temple. Her skin is still cold from outside. It hasn't snowed since boxing day, but temperatures have stayed well below freezing. "They'll go well with the nearly perishing raspberries we still have in the fridge."
"I thought you wanted to make jam out of those?" Emma hands me a couple of cans to refill our pantry, and I put them on the highest shelf.
"We can always buy another batch to let nearly perish."
She rolls her eyes with a laugh. "You could use them fresh. Just an idea."
"I'm not sure if I like that." I smirk. Soon enough everything is cleared away, so I set about making a cup of tea for Emma so she can properly warm up. She's cuddling Frank as she waits for the kettle to boil.
"What time again tomorrow?" She asks, nose buried in the cat's fur.
"Ten, I believe." I spoon the loose-leaf tea, Matthew's Christmas gift for Emma, into the little egg. Boxing Day was both good and a little awkward: Matthew and Brie acted like they always had before they'd gotten together, like the whole dating had never happened, but it was clear that Brie wasn't quite over Emma yet. No one spoke about it, we just kept ignoring it. But it was there.
"I can't believe another year has passed already." She sounds wistful: apparently my melancholy from earlier has rubbed off on her. "Could you believe that last year I still hated you?"
I snort. "The feeling was mutual."
"You could never hate me."
"Oh, but I did." I chuckle, dipping the egg in the hot water before turning back to her. She's still got Frank pressed up against her face, which he doesn't seem to mind one bit. "It got worse, even, after finally talking to you again."
"Why?"
"Are you sure you want to go down that road?"
Frank is startled by her laugh; he wrestles his way out of her grip to not-so-gracefully leap to the table, where Emma pushes him off. "Maybe not."
"All that matters," I say as I beckon her over. She does, fitting perfectly in my arms. "is that we're starting this year the exact opposite: hopelessly in love, to the point where all our best friends are jealous." I kiss the tip of her nose. Now that the rosiness from the cold has worn off, she looks her regular pale self. Paler, even, because whatever hit her on boxing day seems to linger, which makes me want to remind her. "And we can do it one or two ways: either we go to the party Matthew and Gabriel are throwing, or we stay here and celebrate with just the two of us."

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