Thomas and William wanted to accompany Richard to his father's home for the funeral but he insisted that he go alone. Richard was very secretive when it came to his family and barely mentioned them in decades he knew his partners. They knew he had several siblings but only heard him ever talking to his brother Linus regularly. He did also get an occasional call from his brother Christopher when they lived in England. They assumed he only told Linus that he moved.
Richard packed two small suitcases and said goodbye to the men. He packed a few days worth of outfits, two suits, two pairs of shoes, and one tie. He didn’t plan on staying there long enough to use all of the clothes he packed but he always preferred to pack too much rather than too little. He didn’t want to be bothered with having to shop for something he forgot. That thought led him to remember all of the shops in his hometown. He hadn’t been there in ages and he wondered if the area had been developed more. He was excited to drive the Copan but he wasn’t thrilled to get to his destination.
All of his memories that took place in his childhood home were not bad, but a lot of them were. The bad memories always seemed to stick out. Bad experiences always had more staying power in any situation, they weren’t house specific. He really tried to remember happy things, he remembered running around with Linus and Christopher, then he remembered how Sarah used to harass them. He remembered a particularly muddy day. It had rained for several hours and after the clouds cleared off the sun was exposed and heated the air. He, Linus, and Christopher ran outside and came across two huge puddles by the back garden maze. They hid until Sarah came looking for them. She was yelling and being bossy like she always was. They laid a layer of leaves over the puddles and waited on the other side. When she got close to them, they ran trying to get her to follow. It worked and when she began to run she stepped onto the leaves floating in the huge puddle and she fell into it. The boys turned and laughed until she stormed back inside. He felt bad thinking about that day but it also still amused him.
Richards' journey was from Virginia to Pennsylvania. He loved driving cars and indeed found pleasure in driving the Copan. What he didn’t expect was that he enjoyed the trip for another reason, the scenery.
It was October and during that time the leaves changed colors in such a dramatic and vibrant way. He couldn’t have picked a better route, there always seemed to be a large forest traveling with him, and different territories had different trees and they all mixed together. Some trees he passed were bright green like it was summer in a tropical climate, then deeper into the hill spotted area there was a landscape of orange and red tufts decorating the horizon.
His father had an estate in Butler, Pennsylvania. That was where Richard spent his younger school years. He forgot about how vast and grand the states were. It certainly didn’t matter which state he traveled through there was always something very unique to see in each one.
Thomas urged him to take one of their cars rather than the train, not just because they were being courteous, but because they wanted to test the new modifications on it. The Copan model was a staple in England and that model is what they brought to America. The exact model was not what they were going to produce, the one Richard designed was the one that was sold. It wasn’t much different than the original Copan but it was specified for the US market.
The weather in his old hometown was typical of October in that region. The sky was a dreary gray and the clouds draped themselves slovenly across the horizon. There was an icy nip floating with the wind, alluding to the possible coming of snow. He hadn’t been to his father's estate in more than a decade. His family didn’t always live there, they lived in England until he was thirteen. His father, Michael, made them move to the states for business. As soon as he graduated Richard returned to England for University and never returned until that year with William and Thomas. The trio had been friends for more than a decade. They met through his first job back in England and bonded over their love of automobiles.
Richard finally arrived at Butler on October seventh.
Richard's father's body was found on October sixth but he died on October fifth. The mansion sat upon a few acres and was surrounded by woods and a cast-iron fence.
The gate that blocked the entrance was just as tall and haunting as he remembered.
He pulled through the gate and parked in the arched patch of gravel that covered the front of the house.
He grabbed his bags and took a moment to stare up at the giant house. It towered above most of the trees surrounding it. He took a deep breath and walked towards the door.
Dozens of memories from his childhood flooded his senses. The stones crunched under his dress shoes, a welcome sound.
Richard entered the house not knowing what exactly happened to his father. Having a vast knowledge of his past behavior he had a realistic and fanciful notion that it wasn’t natural.
The maid, Lucy, came to the door. “Oh Richard, I haven’t seen you in ages. I'm so glad you’re alright. They hugged. Lucy was in her seventies, she has been with the Vallow family since Richard could remember. “How have you been?” He asked. She looked a bit shaken and a wreck. “This whole mess, it’s a lot to take in.” She said, “ I’m just grateful all of you kids are here now and of course Clara has been wonderful.” “Clara?” He asked, not recognizing the name. “Oh she’s been living here for several years, she’s really sweet you will love her.”
Lucy took his bags. “Room five,” he said, “if it’s available”. She smiled. “Of course... oh wait, that room is occupied...”
The bedrooms of the estate were numbered, his sisters doing when they were younger.
His younger brother Linus swiftly entered the hallway from the sitting room. “Oh! Richard.” He said excitedly. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to come.” They hugged as he responded. “I wasn’t even sure myself.” He turned back to Lucy who was waiting for directions. “Just put them in whatever room is available.” He said, She smiled and began to drag his bags up the stairs.
“Would you like some food or tea?” Linus asked. “I just ate, but tea would be lovely.” They walked to the kitchen. Richard was glad they were staying away from the sitting room, he could hear his sister Sarah dominating the conversation very loudly. He was not fond of her, nor in the mood for her antics.
“Boy, she has not changed,” Richard said exhaling as he sat down at the kitchen table. Linus opened the cabinet and pulled out some teacups, then put the kettle back on the burner.
Richard looked around the room. “This place looks a lot nicer than I remember. I never figured dad to be the sort to keep up with maintenance or decorating.” “It was surely the woman he’s been living with, Clara.” “Lucy mentioned her, is she here?” “She’s around somewhere, she’s the only one of us that actually lives here, and was kind enough to invite us to stay.” “Interesting, it sounds like she has some sort of claim here.” “I couldn’t tell you either way.” He poured the hot tea into the cup and placed it on the saucer in front of him. “Thank you.” He took a sip. “Ah, at least you still haven’t lost the English touch on the tea.” “I don’t think it would matter how long I’ve been here in America. I’ll always make a good cup of tea.” “Good to hear.” “It’s lucky you happened to be back in the US for business.” “It depends how you look at it.” He said. He was still not sure how he felt about being back in his old home. They laughed. “I still can’t believe you stayed around here. I couldn’t even stand being in the same country.” Linus smiled, “Believe it or not, I may live close but I rarely speak to anyone but you and Christopher. I mean, I do see everyone over the holidays... sometimes“ “Well that’s good. I’m glad you haven’t been suffering in hell or anything.” Linus laughed.
The kitchen door opened, it was a thin elegant woman in her early twenties. She had dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. She was carrying a discarded food tray of hers and placed it by the sink. “Oh Clara, I’d like to introduce you to my older brother Richard. She turned around and her disinterested expression immediately changed. She and Richard locked eyes.
He instinctively stood to shake her hand.
Richard was just below the average height for a man of his age, but he was still taller than Clara. He had rugged, attractive, slightly aged features. His hair had grown longer than the standard business professional cut and was suavely pushed back. Linus on the other hand was thin blonde and very neurotic. He was not bad looking, but he was nowhere near as good looking as Richard.
Clara held his hand in her soft palm, the light flickered on her face revealing hints of tears that were sitting on her cheeks. “Lovely to meet you.” He said, “Would you like to join us?” “No thank you.” She said quietly. “I have some business to attend to.” She left the kitchen and Richard turned to Linus. “Wow.” He smirked. “I know.”
Sarah, her husband Carl, and her brother Christopher relaxed in the sitting room. The trio spent a lot of time together, Sarah lived with Christopher and their mother all their lives until recently. Sarah got married and moved out and John took her place in the house. Christopher didn’t live by himself because he thought it wasn’t necessary since he traveled all the time and rarely spent time at home, therefore he felt like having his own place was a waste of money. He traveled for his job and that dominated almost all of his life.
Christopher lied back on the couch and tried to ease himself from the traveling exhaustion. “Drink anyone?” Carl asked as he approached the bar cart. Christopher was a large man, very muscular looking, a sort of deception. He had a neatly trimmed beard. He had a black pair of dress pants on with a matching vest, his dress shirt was pure white. His suit jacket was long left at the front door with his overcoat. His sleeves were rolled up to his forearms. He was a burly man in the clothes of a professional. A unique, yet attractive combination.
Sarah was an average looking woman in her late thirties, she was wearing a grey dress with a gray sweater. Her waist was cinched with a brown belt and she was wearing worn-in brown heels. Her hair was a mousy brown and was curled and pinned up. Her jaw was very angular, which was very indicative of her personality. Her eyes were a piercing blue. Her husband Carl knew all too well how haunting they could be.
Carl was wearing tan slacks and a sweater. Sarah didn’t like his casual wardrobe but that was one fight he always won. He had very well-groomed dark brown hair and no beard whatsoever. He swirled his glass around watching the thickish liquid flip around.
The room was encased in a dark gold-gilded wallpaper that had faded over time. The chair rail wooden border across the walls was a dark cherry that matched the floor. The couch was crafted out of dark red velvet and had matching pillows. It was not the couch of their childhood, though it was a similar color and style.
Richard went up the stairs to settle into his room and Linus returned to the sitting room. “Richard is here.” He said smiling. “Oh, I didn’t think he would show up.” “Wait, did you honestly think he wouldn’t show up?” Well...when was the last time you saw him?” “Speaking of allusive people, I have never seen Clara,” Linus said. “Well, you only come over Christmas and that’s her busy season,” Christopher said. “That being said, I come here more often than that and I still don’t know much about her. Micheal did talk about her often, but it was never about anything of substance. “ “How could we not know anything about her? I mean you would think between us we would know something?” “It’s hard to outshine dad, he’s pretty noticeable and certainly dominates a room.” “Yes, and Clara is very introverted.” Sarah looked towards the door, “Oh you know what? I bet John knows her better than us. I never really thought to ask him.” “Good call,” Christopher said.
Richard walked up the large creaky stairs to the second floor, he saw his bags were in front of the room next to the one he wanted. He knocked on the room he wanted, to see if someone was residing in it. Clara slowly opened the door. Richard smiled. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I assumed the room was empty. Usually, no one is interested in this room because it’s so small.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” She said, “This is my room.”
Room five had always been his favorite room. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to occupy it. Sarah claimed it as hers when they moved there. It wasn’t special, it was one of the smaller rooms. Richard liked it because it had a beautiful large window that almost spanned the whole back wall that looked over the garden. “I’m sorry, I figured no one would want this room.” She looked at him. Her expression questioned him without words. “It is one of the smallest rooms.” “Yeah, I guess, but I am fond of the view.” “That’s the reason I like it.” He said, “It’s the only window that is completely centered on the garden.” She smiled. “As a child, Sarah had this room, she hated it but wouldn’t give it up because she knew how much I loved it. I would sneak in all the time and look out the window. If it had a balcony I would have never left it.” She opened the door more, “Come look at this.” She led him to the window and pulled open the curtains. The gesture revealed a beautifully crafted balcony with two plush armchairs on either side. He smiled. “This is amazing, just what I always wanted. Do you mind?” he asked, gesturing to the chair. She pulled open the window door and he sat down. She joined him. Even though it was very cold they were able to enjoy the view for a few solid minutes before they felt like they had to go back inside. “If you want to stick around I can light the heater.” “Oh no, thank you. I better get to my room.”
Clara closed the door after him and turned back to her pile of clothes on her floor. She decided that packing would be the best course of action since she wasn’t sure if she would be welcome there after the funeral.
Everyone met in the sitting room around seven for after-dinner drinks. They all seemed in relatively good spirits despite the circumstances. They were stuck in a weird limbo where they hadn’t faced the effects of Michael's death.
Clara sipped tea in the corner of the room while everyone else talked loudly. John sat down next to her. “How are you doing?” “I’m alright.” She said.” “I can’t figure out what could’ve happened. I feel like if I would’ve paid more attention to him this could’ve been prevented...” Sarah turned her attention to her. “Did he say anything odd?” She asked. “Not really, but he was acting weird.” “I mean how well did you know him to make that judgment?” Linus asked. Richard turned to him quickly, annoyed at his tone. “I mean, I’ve lived here for almost four years.” “Four years?” Linus said, “I’ve been here several times for Christmas and I’ve never seen you.” Sarah jumped in. “That’s a long time to be servicing someone without a ring...” Excuse me?” Clara said, “I was not being kept by him, I am never around during holidays because I am a ballet dancer and I travel to New York for a series of holiday shows.” “Then why are you living here?” “Your father owns the dance company I grew up at and he approached me when I was eighteen...” Richard groaned thinking the worst. Her face turned a bit pink, “oh, no, nothing like that. He offered to fund my life if I moved in here to take care of him, like a nurse but for company rather than medicine.” “Sarah slammed down her drink. “That’s ridiculous! He wanted something more, he never would have helped anyone without something in return.” Clara stood up and ran out of the room. Richard yelled. “What the hell Sarah.” He ran after Clara.
Richard found her in the green room. The green room was sort of a sunroom, it had more windows than solid walls. It was sort of a greenhouse made for indoor life. The base of the windows was wood and reached up to about knee level then the windows covered everything to the ceiling. The walls were painted a weird pink, sort of mauve color. The furniture was a dark spruce and there were tons of pots. Lucy was supposed to keep all of the plants alive, but some slipped through the cracks. Most of them were thriving. There was a beautiful Terracotta pot by the door with a large fern coming out of it. Its leaves were mostly waxy like they were supposed to be, but a small bit was dry like they had been scorched.
Clara was sitting on the lounge when Richard entered. “I’m sorry about Sarah.” He said. “She can be... well, she can be harsh and unreasonable.” “Thanks.” She said He noticed that she was more upset than angry. “So... you met Michael a few years ago?” “Yes.” She said. He sat down across from her, she realized that he wanted to hear more. “I dance at the Shokan Ballet Company, Michael bought out the company when I was around sixteen, he funded the company and housing for the dancers.” “When did you start dancing?” “My mom was one of the instructors there, she would bring me to work, I never knew my dad then I started classes when I was three. After school, I would go straight to the studio... My mom died when I was pretty young, she was shot. I don’t remember a lot of the details. After that, I had nothing so the owner of the Shokan at the time and headteacher allowed me to stay in the housing as long as I worked there. I probably would’ve kept dancing anyway.” “Oh my.” He said looking towards the ground, “that’s horrible.” Clara looked out the window trying to hide the trickle of tears streaming out of the corner of her eyes. “Michael was surprisingly great. Living with him was...he was the family I didn’t have...I’m sorry for telling you this, I didn’t realize how nostalgic I was...” Richard put his hand on hers. “It’s alright. I understand.”