• England, 1903

    She sat on the couch, watching as the flames died down, wine forgotten on the table beside her as she absentmindedly petted her cat. Her eyes held a faraway, dazed look of someone caught in the midst of a reverie, mind drifting farther away from the living room, floating back to a time where things may or may not have been better, slipping into a world of memories.
    Pictures held in golden frames dotted the mantle, smiling faces waving down at her, bodies dancing under the falling leaves and thick snowflakes, a couple dancing merrily, the woman’s ivory gown nearly immersing the entire photograph in white. In the background, beyond the sound of the faintly crackling fire, soft music played from an unknown source, an almost melancholic tune that fit the situation to perfection. Low and dreary, a quiet harmony that rose and fell in a lulling sound that risked to pull one’s mind into the realm of sublime.
    In spite of the dreary imagery, the dying embers and sad tune, the brightly furnished living room stood out starkly against the growing shadows of the night. The white couches and green rugs, the white drapery that hung around the bay window that looked out into the growing night. There were more photographs, on end tables, a glass coffee table, dotting the bookshelves where there was space. The room seemed to be a refuge of sorts, a way of falling back into the memories as the images of the past watched on, smiling and waving, dancing in their frames just as they danced in the woman’s mind.
    Her lips were curled in a faint smile, as though she could hear laughter or a joke in her mind, a faint memory brushing at her, teasing her, threatening to pull her completely back in time as she recalled the joy she had felt at that moment in time.
    A clock ticked somewhere in the house, probably the grandfather down the hall, fighting to remind her of the time and date, trying to tell her that she couldn’t dwell on the past; time moved on. Time never stopped, time never went back, time kept going in a forward motion that was heedless of what anyone else wanted.
    Time…she never did have enough time. It had felt like a long time at first, felt as though she had had forever to wait, forever to do what she wanted, but time…time waited for no one. Time never slowed down, time never sped up, it went at its own pace and never once listened to her pleas that it slow down and let her enjoy the moments even more.
    The clock continued to tick, almost as though in beat to the melancholic tune that floated through the air, rising and falling until they reached her deaf ears. She did not heed their sounds, did not obey the ticking sound of time, nor the sad melody that attempted to penetrate the shield she had put up around herself. She was lost in the past, unwilling to be drawn back into the present.
    Slowly, through the dim hallway, a small figure became illuminated by the faint light. Thin and petite, the young girl shivered as the warmth gradually faded from the home as light gave way to darkness. Hugging her arms to her chest, she padded over to the woman sitting on the couch, unaware of the woman’s distant thoughts.
    “Mum?” her voice was quiet, soft, almost a matching sound to the music and ticking clock, rising with question just as the tempo increased just the slightest bit.
    To the woman, however, the low voice was like a gunshot in the dark, loud and sharp, a sound that snapped all attention to it, pulling everything and everyone away from what they were doing. It commanded attention, tearing her away from her memories to drag her back to the present.
    The clock ticked on, the music faded as another song began, and the last ember threatened to die in the hearth. Her eyes blinked softly, once, twice, before she breathed out a quiet sigh of sadness before turning to the figure beside her.
    “Viola,” she said softly, wishing that her voice were sterner, “what are you doing out of bed at this hour? We have to get up early tomorrow.”
    Shuffling her feet, the girl looked down at the floor, wriggling her toes in the plush carpet. “I know,” she replied, reaching a hand to twine a finger through her dark, curly locks. “But…I couldn’t sleep.”
    Instantly, whatever terseness in the mother’s tone faded away and she reached out to her daughter with a comforting touch. “Are you nervous about starting at Bloodstone tomorrow?”
    “Kind of,” her daughter mumbled, allowing herself to be pulled into her mother’s arms.
    “You don’t have to be,” the woman replied gently, stroking her daughter’s wild hair. “You’ll know a lot of people; James and Eric will be there, and so will Eleanor and Beatrice, and it’s going to be Henry’s first day, too, so you will have someone to sit with in class.”
    “I’m not worried about that,” Viola replied, lifting her head back to stare at her mother with her bright green eyes, the exact same eyes as the woman in front of her. “I just…well…Leo said something the other day that worried me.”
    Sighing softly at the girl’s reference to her younger brother, the mother shifted the cat over to the side and got to her feet, intending to lead her daughter back to bed as she answered her questions.
    “And what did he say?” she asked as they made their way back down the darkened hallway.
    “He told that the other day in class, everyone was supposed to talk about their parents,” Viola replied, following her mother up the stairs to the bedrooms on the second floor, “and, well…he said that the teacher found it odd that he didn’t know anything about dad.”
    The woman’s back stiffened and it took all of her willpower not to stop at that very moment. Blinking rapidly to fight back the threatening onslaught of memories, she took in several deep, calming breaths, willing her mind to focus on the stairs and nothing else.
    “And…you want to know what your father did?” She knew exactly what her daughter wanted to know, knew precisely why her daughter was asking this question in the first place. She had tried, for so hard, to avoid this conversation at any and all costs, using various excuses whenever the topic arose. Now, in the middle of night, as shadows and darkness surrounded them, she had no choice but to face it head on.
    “Well, it got me thinking,” her daughter replied in that precise, serious voice of hers that she had definitely inherited from her mother, “and I realized that you…you never told us anything about dad.”
    The mother moved out of the way for her daughter to walk into the bedroom, chancing a glance down the hallway to the bedroom where her son soundly slept, snoring almost as loudly as his father had. A faint smile fluttered across her lips, a bittersweet tilting of the lips that held both pain and love. Lowering her head, she breathed out before following her daughter into the room.
    “I…well, you never really asked,” the mother answered as she began to tuck her daughter back into bed.
    “I know,” Viola replied, adjusting the pillow for comfort, “and maybe I should have…but now, I kind of want to know.”
    Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to be defeated as she moved over and pulled a nearby chair to the bedside. Sitting down, she reached out and gently brushed an errant curl away from her daughter’s brow.
    “What do you want to know?”
    Her heart twisted with pain at the knowledge that now, in just a few seconds, she would be telling an entire life story, a story that she had tried so hard to remove from her memories, but a story that time would never let her forget. Each time the clock ticked, she was reminded, each time those soft, sad tunes played, her memories stirred, and every night, in front of the fireplace that held so many memories, her mind drifted off to a time where light and happiness encompassed her life.
    Swallowing past the pain of regret and guilt, she leaned down and said quietly, “Where to start…?”
    “Anywhere, mum, I want to know everything; how you first met, when you fell in love, everything about dad. I want to know what he did, how, where he lived, every little thing about him.” Pausing, her daughter then added on a second note; “I have the right to know about my dad, mum.”
    “Let me first tell you,” the woman said, “that you are your father in every way and form.”
    As her daughter smiled up at her, the mother leaned back in the chair, running a hand through her vivid auburn curls, debating briefly over how to begin retelling such a story. Sighing softly, Avery McCullough-Hunter, ignoring time’s ticking clock, ignoring the sad music and dying embers, began to slip back in time and retell the life of the man she once loathed and loved.