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That morning Richard sat in the green room enjoying an after breakfast coffee. He was leaning a bit forward while intently reading the newspaper. He was wearing a pair of glasses that were perched on the edge of his nose. He didn’t need them as much a few years ago, but as he got older he didn’t feel like straining to see was worth it. He only needed his glasses for reading and therefore got into the habit of perching them on the edge of his nose.

The paper rustled as he turned the page. He was reading the local newspaper which he hadn’t seen a copy of since he was young. He didn’t particularly trust their paper for any breaking news but he wanted to read it to see what was going on in the city. He had been away for so long he was pretty curious how things had changed. Along with checking out the local stories, Richard was trying to avoid his thoughts. His father kept slipping into his mind and he wanted to suppress him.

Clara finished breakfast then gathered her dance bag.

She was very particular about time, if she had to be somewhere at a certain time, she was always early arriving. She was always early to work, appointments, or parties. It wasn’t really about where she was going or who she was meeting, she just liked extra time to get herself together. On the rare occasion, she was late for something and she panicked and felt completely uncomfortable.

Before she left, she stepped into the living room where Richard was sitting.

She smiled at the sight of him reading with his glasses resting on his nose. She always found that look attractive. It was odd but she embraced it, and it didn’t hurt that she already found him attractive without the glasses.

She sat down on the couch next to him. He turned to her and she spoke. “I know you have a lot going on, we all do, but I’m performing tonight at the Bigloe, I mean if you are looking for something to do...” he put the paper on his lap and smiled. “That sounds lovely.” She smiled back. “I’ll reserve some tickets at the box office for you and if anyone else wants to come.” She gestured around the room to no one. “Will you be gone all day then?” “No I just have a morning dress rehearsal and I’m free again until around six tonight.” “Would you like to go out to dinner with me before the show?” He asked. Yes, that sounds lovely.” She stood up. “I better go, I’ll see you later.”

She walked into the hall and saw Lucy. Lucy kept to herself mostly, since she revealed what she knew from reading the letters. She used to be a busy body but it was as if reading those notes taught her a lesson. She didn’t want to be a part of a murder investigation and she was constantly worried she was in danger. Clara noticed that she looked like the life had been beaten out of her. “You don’t have to worry.” She said to her. “No one's going to fire you. I’m still in charge of the estate at the moment.” “It’s not that... it’s just... one of you might be the killer...” “Yeah, that’s true.” She chuckled. “Honestly It’s so far out of my comprehension I am just apathetic to keep myself sane I suppose.” Lucy felt unnerved at her answer. She wondered if Clara could be a cold-blooded killer or if she was just naive. Her response could have easily been a traumatic reaction to the limbo they were subjected to until the murderer was caught.

Clara realized she made her more uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, I’m really tired. It’s exhausting trying to constantly analyze every breath and comment to try and read in between the lines to see if there are any clues that could bring justice sooner.”

Lucy felt relieved at her answer and decided to ignore her odd musings and keep cleaning.

Clara's driver was waiting for her at the roundabout. She got into the back of the car and told him to drive her to the police station. She didn’t tell Richard that she planned on going there, in fact, she didn’t tell anyone. Her head hurt every time she tried to determine who she could trust. The murderer could have easily been anyone in her eyes. Before she could delve deeper into her valid paranoia they reached the station. She thanked her driver and told him to wait until she came back out, adding that she wouldn’t be long.

The station was no longer the unfamiliar intimidating place it had been when she first went there. She was becoming very familiar with the cops and the atmosphere. The building itself was built very well. It was stone on the outside and cherry wood adorned all of the support beams and wainscoting.

The desks in the bullpen and lobby were made of cherry wood too. There were a few desks that were being used, the rest were temporarily vacant. The officers that were at their desks were pouring over files and filling out reports. Clara thought having a desk job in the station could have been fun. She figured that they were safe from the street action but still got to see some action. She knew she would be good at categorizing evidence and outlining timelines. She was very into lists and had a strong desire to have everything organized. She walked to the front desk. The officer standing behind it was Officer William Jones. They had come across each other several times at that point. She asked to see Detective Frede. He told her to wait for a moment while he went to the detective's office. She watched him knock on the door but couldn’t hear what he was saying.

He returned and informed her she was welcome to go ahead to the office. She walked through the pen quickly. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself. She kept her head down so she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. It only took a few seconds to reach the detective's door and before she had the chance to knock he said “Come in.” “Hello,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you but I have some important information.” “Please sit down.” Detective Frede was very professional but he got caught up in various things that distracted his mind, but he didn’t let it show. He found Clara very attractive and even more importantly she was lovely to talk to. He asked her what was going on and why she was there. She sat down in the chair on the other side of his desk and placed her purse on the ground. Her hair was very thick and was pulled up into pin curls the night before so that day her hair looked like a dark cascading waterfall slithering down past her shoulders. Clara mentioned that she spoke to Lucy and then told him everything she said. He made her go through the events exactly how she remembered them. They slowly talked through everything and he outlined her words very inordinately on a piece of paper.

He was already surrounded by dozens of papers full of notes, they were labeled with numbers. She never realized how many little pieces were necessary when putting a case together. She tried to read some of them but his handwriting was too messy. Even though she couldn’t read most of his notes it was very obvious that it was a complete collection of everything he learned about Michael's murder.

He asked her to go through everything one more time to make sure he recorded everything correctly. He thanked her and told her he was going to go to the house and talk to Lucy after he looked into something else first. Halfway through the sentence, he stopped. “Oh wait…” He told her that he and Michael's lawyer would be going to the house to read the will later that day. “Honestly, I can’t believe I forgot that was today.” He quickly shuffled the papers around and then picked up the slips he just took notes on and shoved them into his pockets. Clara thought that was odd, not just because he was shoving papers into his pockets like a mad man, but she hadn’t seen or heard of anyone ever having their will read formally. She wondered what sort of things were in it. Michael loved being dramatic, she knew there were going to be some major bombshells.

Clara ate, then went to rehearsal. The only thing she hated about rehearsal was the building temperature. They kept the studio super cold in the winter and it was torture changing into leotards and tights. Once they began to dance it was always a little bit better but only because they were exercising. The worst was when they didn’t finish until it was already dark out. It was cold and depressing. That day she didn’t have to worry about that. On the day of a show, they cranked up the heat so it would soothe their muscles while they went through the dance steps lightly.

After rehearsal, her best friend Cecilia sat down next to her on the bench in the dressing room. “How are you doing?” She asked. “I’m ok.” She responded. “Want to come over to my house until the show?” She looked at her. “That sounds nice but I have a date.” “Oh my goodness!” She said in a high pitched excited voice. “You have a date! Who is it with?” Everyone in the dressing room looked at them. “It’s with Richard.” She said under her breath. Clara kept Cecelia informed of everything that happened to her, she knew about all of the people in Michaels family. They talked for a bit then walked out of the studio together.

The air was brisk but not hauntingly cold. The trees were mostly orange and the ground was wet from the rain that morning. It was a beautiful depiction of autumn. Her skin was wet from the heat in the studio, and the cold air confused her body while it determined what temperature to adjust to. She took a deep breath and the cold air traveled into her lungs. She smiled, it made her feel a lot better.

She waited outside while Cecelia got her car. She offered to drive her home and she was determined to do so, therefore Clara didn’t fight it. She drove to the side of the building where Clara was standing. Clara hopped into the car. The seats were leather and there was a lot of legroom. She placed her dance bag on the floor. Clara didn’t want to talk about anything, she genuinely just wanted to bathe and take a nap.

Cecelia didn’t say much on their ride, she was pretty good at feeling out what Clara was in the mood for, she knew the less she pestered her the better.

They arrived at her house, she thanked her for the ride, and just as she was about to open the door Cecelia placed her hand on her shoulder. “If you need anything just ask.” She said. Clara gave her a half-smile then got out of the car.

She stopped to look at her home before going inside. It was beautiful. Clara walked into the house and took off her jacket and gloves. She sat on the bench by the door for a few minutes trying to decide whether she should bathe or sleep first. Bathing then sleeping would be the clean thing to do, she wasn't sure if she would make it without falling asleep in the bath. As she was walking away from the entryway someone knocked on the front door. It was the detective, Michael's lawyer, and two officers. She greeted them cordially.

She took Michael's lawyer Jeffery Maddox aside before anyone else arrived. “Have you ever read the will to a family before?” He smiled. Jeffery Maddox knew both Michael and Clara very well and he could tell she knew there was going to be some drama. “Yes, you are right. It’s very odd to have both a lawyer and detective show up at a victim's house for a will reading done like a child’s play. Despite that, I have done will reading before, I think twice. Both times were in my office.”

“Why are you doing it this way today?” She asked.

“Michael and I discussed the contents of his will in depth many times, he personally explained the reasoning for everything in the text.” He said while putting his hand against the side of his briefcase. “He made sure I was fine with his stipulations for coming here and reading the will in front of everyone. Honestly, how could I turn that down? We were so close.” She nodded.

Everyone sat at the dining room table after lunch. Sarah dressed up thinking it would somehow make a difference in the outcome. She even tried to flirt with Jeffery Maddox.

The detective sat in the corner looking over some notes again and one officer stood by the door trying to eavesdrop. The other officer was sent to canvas the house again. Jeffery sat at the head of the table. “Ok I have a few things to go over, but Detective Frede wants to speak to you first. “Oh, right. Your father's body will be released today. You may proceed with the funeral arrangements.” “Finally,” Sarah said. “You can continue Jeff.” “Thank you.” He said. “Firstly Michael wanted to make sure everyone was here.” He called each person's name and they answered “present” like they were taking attendance in school. When he got to Elizabeth, they realized she wasn’t there. “Oh, she’s not coming.” “She doesn’t want to be here so let’s keep going,” John said. Clara wanted to see what Elizabeth looked like, she was disappointed she wasn’t going to show up.

“Ok now that everyone is ... mostly here, I can begin. This is the will and testament reading for Michael Vallow. The following words were written by Michael himself.”

“Good day you leeches and wastes of space.” John laughed, Sarah rolled her eyes and Richard immediately felt a pang of nostalgia. Michael said that to them a lot as children, both were like pet names, he usually said them as a joke. “I had no doubt you would humor me in this manner especially since there is money at stake, lots of money. Imagine my death being the only thing that would be able to bring everyone together, assuming Richard did show up. If he didn’t do any harm, he’s not my son anyway.”

Everyone froze. Clara looked at Richard. He didn’t look shocked at all. He assumed he meant figuratively. He stepped away when he was 18 so he assumed Michael cut him out of the family.

“That’s right all you freeloaders, Richard is not my biological son, neither is Linus.” The lawyer paused for a moment. Richard's facial expression changed from smug to surprised. “Congratulations John, Christopher, and Sarah you are my biological children, oh and of course Clara.” “What!” Clara said. Sarah stood up, “What the hell is this?” “Are you serious?” She yelled. He continued. “Don’t worry I am not confused, Clara, you are my daughter by blood. Why do you think I wanted to take care of you? It’s my fault your mother died and I couldn’t live with you not having someone to rely on.”

Clara sat with her mouth agape. “This is ridiculous, this is so stupid, clearly this is some joke,” Sarah yelled. The lawyer looked at her. “Sit down. Now before I continue I want to let everyone know this will is ironclad, there is no appealing or contesting. Michael had this will witnessed by a judge, me, and a police officer. There are several copies hidden around and they are all the same.” He took a deep breath and continued reading.

“Now, Sarah, John, Linus, and Christopher. You get equal shares in my home and land.” Sarah smiled when she noticed Clara wasn’t included. “Elizabeth gets all of the furniture, she may sell it off or keep it, I don’t care. Lastly, my money. All of my money and investments go to Clara Marie Costello.” Clara gasped but it was drowned by everyone else talking and making loud noises. Sara and John were angry. Linus and Christopher were somewhat heartbroken. Richard was less affected but still felt hurt that he wasn’t left a trinket of any kind. Clara stood silently, she was completely shocked. She wasn’t even thinking about the money. All she could think about was Michael and all of the time she spent with him she didn’t know he was her father, she felt like she missed enjoying that fact while he was alive, she felt like it could’ve meant so much more. She started crying. Sarah stood up. “Oh my goodness, what a spoiled little bitch, she’s crying and she got everything,” Sarah yelled. Christopher smacked her. “Shut up you insufferable bitch, she’s probably crying because she just found out who her father was.” Clara ran out of the room. “Not everyone is a shallow harpy like you,” Christopher said, looking at Sarah with disgust. Sarah was enraged and started tearing the room apart, she pulled open the drawer to the buffet table and pulled out table cloths and random trinkets. She tossed them everywhere. She yanked out the drawer and reached back behind it and pulled out a gun. “Don’t mess with me.” She said as she pointed the gun at the door Clara just left through, it looked like she was about to run after Clara when the police tackled her. “No Sarah! John yelled. “Grab that gun and don’t get any prints on it,” Frede ordered. “Let’s go.” The police took the gun and Sarah to the station. Carl followed.

The room was filled with an electric chaotic energy. Richard left to find Clara. He wanted to make sure she was alright. He found her sitting on the back steps outside in the garden. Her cheeks were stained with tears and she shivered as she held her face in her hands. Richard grabbed a blanket from the green room before he walked outside.

The garden was mostly dead, save for the rare collection of fall flowers. The sky was a pale blue and the sun had been pushing the clouds away all afternoon. He quietly sat down next to her and placed the blanket around her shoulders. She looked up at him without changing her expression. He put her arms around her to keep her warm. She rested her head against his chest. They sat there a few minutes before Richard spoke. “Come inside with me, I don’t want you to get sick.” He helped her up and they walked back inside.

They stood in the green room and she began to fix her hair. “I guess I have to go back into the dining room don’t I?” She said, trying to compose herself. “I don’t think I can bear being near Sarah.” “I don’t know how to put this, but Sara was arrested and taken to the police station.” He said. “What?” She said, looking at him. “After you ran out, she started tearing the room apart, and then suddenly she had a gun in her hand. They tackled her and took her away.” “Oh my goodness.” She said putting her hands to her face. “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” “Honestly... it looked like she was going to come after you, so it was good you were not there.” Clara began to use her hand to wipe the tears off of her cheeks but Richard pulled out a clean handkerchief and gently dabbed her eyes. She smiled. “Do I look ok?” She asked “perfect.” He said.

They returned to the dining room. Clara sat quietly at the table. She felt guilty for receiving all of Michael's money. She knew that every one of them felt like they deserved it, even Richard. She knew that they all resented her in some capacity.

Maddox got everything back in order and continued reading. When he finished Linus stood up. “Would anyone like a drink?” “Everyone but Clara stood up to grab one. He offered Maddox a glass and he accepted. They talked a bit and he told them some stories about Micheal.

Clara and Richard went to the kitchen and they both sat down at the table. “There is something that is bothering me.” He said, She looked at him urging him to continue with her eyes. “Did Sarah know the gun was there? She was tearing apart the room, was she tearing apart the drawer because she knew the gun was there, or did she happen to find it while she was tearing through and just went with it?” Clara realized that was a very valid question. “That’s terrifying.” She said. “She may have known that the gun was there.” “Which leads to an even more haunting question.” Clara nodded, knowing what he was going to say. “Was that the gun used to kill Michael?” Christopher entered the kitchen. ”Could you two join us back in the dining room, we have to decide on funeral details.” Clara was suppressing the news that Michael was her father. She had too much going on to deal with that. But it kept slithering back into her brain.

John, Linus, and Michael's lawyer were still in the dining room when Christopher led Ciara and Richard inside. “Ok, I think you guys can handle this, I’m going to try to get Sarah out of jail,” John said. He grabbed his coat and quickly left.

“Ok, well let’s see if we can't work this out,” Christopher said. Richard was happy it was just the five of them, he knew everything would remain civil. They laid out what needed to be done and after a bit, Clara had to excuse herself to get ready for that night.

Clara started to run a hot bath in the bathroom closest to her room. It was decorated with different shades of blue, surrounding the palate of aquamarine mostly. The floor and walls were a Moroccan tile that Michael had shipped straight from Morocco. He was very fond of all of his bathrooms.

The clawfoot tub was able to hold the biggest of men, which meant Clara could completely engulf herself in it. She slowly took off her clothes and reached over to the counter. Sitting on the marble was a canister of bath salts, she grabbed it and the glass bottle next to that. The glass bottle held scented oil, it was her favorite, mandarin orange. There were large chunks of spiral rhines floating in the bottle. She closed her eyes and sniffed it. The vibrant tropical aroma transported her to a summer scape. It reminded her of flavored ice and the beach. She slowly drizzled it across the surface of the water.

There was food always stocked in every room. Michael was insistent on it. Beside the basin was a tray with salted meat and other lighter items. She took advantage of that and snacked as she soaked. The hot water hitting the cold porcelain created tufts of steam that leaped up around her.

She closed her eyes and lied back. In the coma of orange and salt, she drifted off for a moment. She could see Richard enter the room, he was wearing suit pants and a white blouse tucked into them neatly. His sleeves were rolled up like a detective who was working the night shift. He wasn't wearing a tie and his shirt was partially unbuttoned. The room morphed into an ancient Roman-style bathhouse. The tub became a hot spring pool of sorts. He slowly waded into the water. The steam was still swirling around them as he, completely dressed, made his way to her. She, in turn, was wearing a white slip and nothing else. They met in the water and their lips touched. As they sunk into the water embracing Clara awoke gasping for air. Her dream coincided with her slipping under the water. She was wide awake and sat up completely. She ran some cold water and covered her face with it.

She looked over at the mirror. It was extraordinarily extravagant. Michael fell in love with the mirror when he first saw it. He went through a lot of effort to buy the mirror for her. She smiled, then began to cry. She spent most of her life trying to connect with people that could hold the place for her family. She was so angry that he never told her while he was alive. She felt like she was robbed of knowing he was her father. They lived together all of that time and he didn’t say anything about it. She thought about what she would have done if she knew while he was alive. She figured she would’ve hugged him more, but she also realized that even though she didn’t know he was her father, he treated her especially well and they created the father-daughter connection even if she didn’t realize it at the time. That made her stop crying and she smiled a little bit.

After her bath, she carefully got out of the bathtub. She was always careful when she used oil, it made the porcelain very slippery and she only wanted to feel the pain of that revelation once. She pulled a brown plush towel from the towel rack and began to dab herself dry. She didn’t like to wipe herself with towels, it dried her skin and made her feel uncomfortable. Dabbing also helped keep the oil absorbed. Her dress for the night hung on the back of the bathroom door. She put on the black dress. The slip and base layers were silk and it slithered down her body like a stream of water. The second layer was a thin sheer black tulle that was light and fluttered when she walked. Both layers draped to the ground and a bit behind her.

Richard was wearing an all-black suit, white dress shirt, and pale blue tie. She walked down the stairs and he stood at the front door admiring her. She felt fluttering in her chest. He held out her jacket and they walked outside to his car.

The wind whirled around them. It slipped through her hair, the strands flew up and covered Richard's face. He was not only hit with her hair but he was hit with the mandarin oil aroma. It was very appealing. They laughed as she tried to take control of her hair. He opened the car door for her and she smiled. “I’m so excited to ride in this.” She said. Richard blushed, he couldn’t believe that she was actually interested in his car, the car he put his heart and soul into. He promised he would give her a proper ride when they had more time.

They drove to the restaurant. The lights flew by the window and she felt like she was entering the future. The restaurant wasn’t that far from the estate and was even closer to the theater. It was a classy Italian restaurant that was dimly lit with candles. He escorted her by holding her elbow. Her coat was wool and had a beaver fur trim around the collar and down to the first button near her ribs. She liked the coat because it created the ability to pair brown and black together. At dinner, they sat silently for a few minutes, but that didn’t last long. They seemed to have everything to say. Richard told her about his job and why he came back to America. They talked about everything except the murder. Richard didn’t want to talk about how he just learned that his dad wasn’t his dad, he stood as his dad all of the years he was alive and even though he had been estranged, he still considered him his father in his mind.

“What was Michael like when you lived with him?” She asked. Richard hesitated. “I don’t know if I should tell you... you seem to have a pretty positive opinion of him and my experiences may destroy that.” “No, it’s ok, I want to know.” She said.

He told her a story that he felt defined what sort of person Michael was. He couldn’t remember the details exactly but he tried his best to remember everything. “Dad took John to work with him when he was around fourteen years old. When they returned John began to beat me frequently, when my mom found out she yelled at John and demanded to know where he learned what he was doing. My father... I mean Michael, took him on a trip to an associate's house to pick up something but the man didn’t have what he wanted to beat him while John watched. My mother was so mad at Michael for teaching him that sort of behavior. She took all of us kids away and we stayed with her mother for about a week. When we returned, everything went back to normal except my mom acted a lot colder towards Michael.” “WOW. It sort of makes me feel like not growing up with him may have been safer than with.“ “You might be right.” The conversation went back to Richard's business and he talked about the cars. They both felt like they really connected when they were alone together.

They eventually finished dinner and left for the theater.

Richard invited Linus and Christopher to see the show and they all sat together in the fourth row. Clara was insistent that they sit there, in her opinion they were the best seats in the house. Clara then went backstage.

The house lights were dimmed and the symphony started playing. Those moments in the dark before the show started were very exciting and energy fueling. It was a common feeling that every performer felt no matter the medium. It was a magical tingle that haunted performers that is hard to recreate anywhere else. The lights rose on stage and the dancing began. It took no effort for Richard to pick Clara out of the dozens of dancers that ran on and off the stage. He watched her delicate limbs and graceful movements. She was fueled by the music and passion to be there.

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JRBANCROFT

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