A pause, and then Maurice said hoarsely, “I’m sorry.”
“You never have to say that to me, Papa.”
“Do you hate me now?”
“No!” I turned to look at him, and the tears that I was doing my best to hold back started to fall the moment I saw my father’s face.
It reminded me of the day he told me that Mama had left us for good, and he blamed himself for it.
“Papa, no,” I whispered. “Why would you even think that?”
“Because I know how these things work,” Maurice said heavily. “They will say things about me, make it seem that I am worse than a crook. And people would say things about you—-”
And slowly, I began to really hear what he wasn’t saying without the words.
It was just like what happened when Mama left us, and Mama had made it seem like it was all Papa’s fault.
“They may blame you, too. They may make it seem that you had something to do with—-”
“I don’t care!” I shook my head hard, saying feelingly, “I have never let what other people think of me shape my decisions, Papa. And no matter what they say – it would never make me hate you,” I said fiercely. “Never. Not even if the whole world thinks you’re a m-monster, I will always trust and love you, Papa. Because I know you.” I gripped my father’s hand and squeezed it hard. “And I believe that things will still make a turn for the better. I believe that with all my heart, so please don’t lose hope yet.”
I closed my eyes.
Please let it be true.
I cast my prayer to the heavens and offered my soul with it, not knowing that God wasn’t the only one who was listening.
THE NEXT MORNING DAWNED bright and clear, too lovely a day for a dear old man to be sentenced for a crime that didn’t actually happen. I asked what I could do to help with breakfast, but Maurice shook his head and insisted on doing everything on his own.
Wanting to help, I went out to water the plants in his tiny vegetable garden, a luxury he could afford since he lived an hour away from Paris.
After watering the plants, I went on to unclip the dry clothes from the clothesline, all the while doing my best not to think of how today was like that day, too.
But it was impossible.
The day Mama walked out on us, both of us had acted like nothing had changed. Papa had still gone to work, and I had still taken care of the chores at home. Both of us had believed that if we kept acting everything was still okay, then it would be so.
And it had.
So let this day be the same, God.
Let it please be the same.
The heaviness in my heart had hardly dissipated when I was done folding the laundry, and for some moments I simply stood there, unable to make myself go back inside the house. The silliest part of me wished that if I could find the strength to stand still forever, then time would stop with me, and my father would never be taken away.
I looked up at the unending sky, wondering, wishing, praying – Was there nothing I could do for Papa?
I waited for even the smallest sign, but there was nothing. Not even a gentle breeze to touch my skin, not even the faintest chirp of birds to whisper an answer. Telling myself that it was pointless to delay the inevitable, I was about to turn away when I hear Maurice call out from his house, “Could you check the mail, Bella?”
“Will do!” I managed to keep my voice steady as I answered him. It really was just like that day, I couldn’t help thinking, and was there anything more normal than checking the mail?
Maurice’s mailbox was the charmingly vintage tin type, and a smile curved on my lips at the sight of it. The smallest pleasures of life, I thought, should always be enjoyed. I took the mail out and absently went through them.
Bills, more bills, and—-
My eyes widened.
One of it was addressed to me.
It was a very old-fashioned letter, its cream-colored paper stiff and textured, and sealed close with blood-red wax. I ran my fingers uncertainly on its rose emblem, wondering why it was so familiar.
Breaking the seal, I unfolded the letter, and as the letters slowly took shape and turned into words, my heart started to beat faster and faster.
Your company is requested in a private discussion regarding your father’s circumstances. Please present yourself at the address below at five o’clock p.m. today.
The letter fell from my fingers. Now I realized why that rose was so familiar. It was the exact same rose used to symbolize the House of Sauvage, my father’s accuser.
Into the Woods