Jane rises from her chair and slips a folder out from one of the drawers. “I have your first-class ticket to New York ready—courtesy of the Palace, of course. I’ll send two girls to Guthrie House to pack your things.”
“You don’t have to do that. I already packed.”
Her smile reminds me of poisonous fruit—dangerously sweet. “Anything provided by the Palace to you on loan—gowns, jewels, et cetra, et cetra—remains with the Palace.”
“The only thing I planned on taking was the necklace Nicholas gave me.”
She clasps her hands. “Precisely. The necklace must remain here.”
Those words hit me like a subway turnstile jabbing into my stomach.
“But Nicholas designed it for me.”
“Prince Nicholas had the necklace commissioned and he is a member of the royal family, therefore it is the property of the Crown. It stays.”
“He gave it to me.”
One of her pointy, penciled eyebrows rises nastily. “And soon he may give it to someone else. It stays. Are we going to have a problem, Miss Hammond?”
I’d like to show her how we solve problems like her where I come from. But I don’t—because, really, what difference does it make?
“No, Miss Stiltonhouse. There’s no problem.”
And her mouth does a fabulous impression of Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo.
“Very good. The driver will have your ticket; be sure to bring your passport. Do come visit again—” her condemning gaze combs over my clothes “—if you ever have the means.”
And I can’t leave this place fast enough.
THAT NIGHT, after a lonesome evening spent drinking myself into oblivion in a corner at The Goat, I don’t dream about my mother, like I did the last time I was good and pissed. I dream I’m on a ship—a creaky, wooden pirate ship—with a stunning dark-haired figurehead with perfect, pale breasts. In the middle of a giant storm. Being tossed left and right, until one mighty, surging wave topples the whole thing over—sending me reeling into the sea.
When I crack my head on the hard, wooden floor, I realize I’m not on a ship. And the tossing wasn’t a dream.
It was my little brother.
Tilting the couch I passed out on and spilling my sorry arse onto the bloody floor.
When I’m able to pry my eyes open, I see him standing over me like an angel of morning-after doom—with Simon standing next to him.
“What the fucking fuck, Henry?”
“I told you, you were wrong. I told you Olivia didn’t do it.”
Those words snap me into full, immediate consciousness.
Henry’s eyes dart to Simon. “Tell him.”
Simon looks pale—paler than usual. And not a little bit guilty.
“Tell me what?” I rasp.
He clears his throat. “Yes…well, you see—I’ve begun a new business venture for Barrister’s…”
When he doesn’t continue, I nudge, “And?”
Maybe I am still dreaming after all.
“Yes—fresh and flash frozen—they’ll be deliverable to anyplace in the world. We’re going to knock Marie Callenders’ and Sara Lee on their arses. And you know how much I enjoyed the pies at Amelia’s when we were in the States, so…I purchased the recipes from Olivia’s father. All of them.”
My stomach is still stuck in the dream. It churns.
“Over six figures.”
Slowly, I sit up, anger rising. “And you didn’t think this was something you should have told me?”
He rubs the back of his neck. “Mr. Hammond wanted it kept quiet. He’s been cleaning himself up—doing the twelve steps and all that. He wanted to surprise Olivia when she came home that the business was out of debt and she wouldn’t have to run it all on her own anymore.” Simon squirms. “And hell—I can never keep a secret from Franny, so I thought it best if you didn’t…” His words trail off as he looks me over. “What did you do, Nick?”
What did I do?
The realization of what I have done lands like a moose kick to the balls.
I’m on my feet in an instant. And with the awful words I threw at her ringing in my ears, I run down the hall—shirt open, feet bare.
But the moment my hands touch the handles, before I even I open the doors, I know—I can feel it.
She’s not here.
I stand in the middle of Olivia’s room—that’s how I think of it now—not the “white bedroom” or “my mother’s old room.” It’s Olivia’s.
Now, it’s Olivia’s empty room.
The bed is made but vacant. The white walls and furniture that looked so pristine and fair yesterday now seem gray and lifeless. I check the bathroom and the closet—I don’t know why—but except for a few designer outfits encased in clear plastic, that I know aren’t Olivia’s, they’re just as bare as all the rest. Any trace of her—her shampoos and trinkets and the little hair ties she’s always leaving behind—have been wiped away.
Like she was never here at all.
I wander back into the bedroom and a shiny glinting on the dresser catches my eye. The snowflake necklace. It was hers—it was made for her; I gave it to her to keep.
To have and to hold.
Even that was selfish of me, I guess. I liked the idea of her having something tangible, something she could touch, a way for her to remember me…after.