625. - Lucien
Single notes ring through the music room. They don't form a particular song or even a melody; they just bounce off the walls in all their melancholy and die out before the next one gets played, only to suffer the same fate. I had hoped that hearing them would entice me to play, but so far all they have done is make me more miserable. Every now and then, I accidentally string two notes together that would make a song, but the third note is never found.
My gaze is fixated on the keys. If I look up, there's that chair that's held Emma's ghost ever since she sat there on her first visit here. The image of her watching and listening to me play, is one of my clearest memories. I fear, however, that I might never be able to recreate it. She is an ocean away from me, as I am from her, and while my heart aches for her it also dreads the day of my return. Have we not all but broken up? Was the day we lost our daughter not also the day we lost each other? How much longer can we keep up the charade to not only the outside world, but also ourselves? Questions keep pouring in. About the miscarriage, about us, about every detail we barely know ourselves. I have no answer.
I might have an answer. It is just one I would rather avoid, because the last time I lived that answer they became some of the worst months of my life.
But what if it is the only right one?
A knock. A creak. A figure stepping into the room. My last note, a high G, dies out as I watch my father move into the chair, where he takes the place of Emma's specter.
"I would have hoped all those piano lessons would have paid off." He says in low, soft French.
A joke? Jacques du Castellon rarely jokes, if ever since his wife died. "What do you want?" My voice doesn't sound like it's coming from me.
He looks at me with that unreadable face that I've grown so accustomed to. "I was under the impression you would be here with Miss Middleton." At the raise of my brows, he explains. "Your sister told me. Warned me, better said, that you two were taking a… much needed getaway and that I had better not interfere."
Of course she did. "She's in Edinburgh."
He seems surprised. There's a flash of something else, but I can't name it. "She has returned early? Have you…?" He struggles finding the right word.
"This sounds like the interfering Eschieve warned you against."
There's a long pause. His face is empty again, but I notice a storm behind his eyes that's not usually there. He's not looking at me, instead frowns at something on the carpeted floor. "I have good reason to."
"Usually I would heed your sister's advice and not interfere. This time, however, I think I might be able to offer your valuable perspective."
"You are speaking in riddles rather than enlightening me."
Suddenly his gaze finds mine, and holds it. "Three years after you were born, your mother and I lost a child ourselves due to complications from pre-eclampsia. She was twenty-one weeks old."
The words hang over us like a heavy blanket. I don't have a reply for him, not only because of the message, but also because of the profound sadness painted on his face that I only ever saw when my mother had just passed away. My throat feels dry. When my father speaks again, he sounds nothing like the bitter, emotionless man that I've come to accept as my father. He sounds human.
"We loved her so dearly, so deeply. She was so welcome to our family. But she was taken from us by forces out of our control. God, fate, unlucky coincidence - the reason did not matter. She was ripped from my grasp and took a piece of me with her. Between losing Milly and Aleran, it is the hardest thing I ever had to go through."
Milly. I haven't heard that name in years. The one nickname my father ever used, belonging to the love of his life. He never called her that unless to address her, and she would respond like it was a reflex.
Still I can only stare at my father, who somehow looks years older and years younger simultaneously. Words are lost on me. His eyes are no longer on me, instead back on the floor as he relives what must be a memory closely mimicking mine.
"It broke both of us. You and your brother had no clue what was going on, we made sure not to involve you in our grievances. You especially were much too young. But both of us lost a piece of ourselves that day in the hospital. It got buried with Cosette."
Cosette. For some reason the name gives me a vivid vision of a girl that looks like me like Eschieve does Aleran. She's blonde like her mother and her sister, and she's smashing her tiny hands down on the keys of the piano. "We named her Claire." I whisper, staring down at my own fingers on the keys. "Claire du Castellon."
"Our family name?" He sounds genuinely surprised.
A silence, but not painful. There is a certain comfort in knowing that for once my father does not diminish my pain, but recognises it as his own. After maybe half a minute, he speaks again. "Cosette became a wedge between us. We didn't know how to navigate the pain, how to help each other through without losing sight of ourselves - and vice versa. Our love for each other was still great, but our sadness and grief were much greater."
I dare looking at him. He's still staring at that same spot on the floor, and I realise that this is another thing that we share. With an anchor like that, that is not the person we talk to or in anyway related to the subject at hand, it is easier to separate the feelings from the words, enabling us to actually speak them.
"Were you able to even out that imbalance?"
He smiles a wistful, sad smile. "Not at first. We let it drive us away from each other. Until one day you came to me, and said: 'I miss seeing you and mommy smile together'." His eyes flick up again to find mine. "I have not cried often in my mature years, if ever, but I have rarely come so close as I did then. It gave me a very powerful reminder."
He stands up, brushing wrinkles off his suit before looking at me with that sadness from earlier still painted on his features. "Do not lose something that you could have fought to keep, just because you are lost in something that was beyond your choices and control."
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