Another week slowly drew to a close. Every time I opened my eyes I felt a little bit stronger. Dante and Elise became my constant companions. One as my eyes to the outside world, the other a source for this new world.
“Elise,” I said one morning about a week after that second fever.
“Yes, Miss?” Elise turned from the fire place where she was stoking the fire.
“Do you know what happened to my boots and coat?” I tried to act nonchalantly about them.
I didn’t want to appear too eager to have my weapons back in my hands. But my fingers were itching to feel the worn, wooden handles of my knives.
“I’ve kept them safe for you, Miss Crystal. My brother is quite envious of your knives.” Elise smiled as she straightened a pillow on one of the chairs.
“Your brother?” I’m curious about this maid. She hadn’t told me much about her life and I was eager to know more.
“Yes, my brother is Mr. Dante’s chauffeur.” Elise gathered the dishes and left them on the tray outside the door.
Someone else, whom I had yet to meet, would come along and pick them up.
Elise came and sat on the bed beside me. I know Dante and Savannah would frown at my camaraderie with the maid but sometimes I felt like she was the only one who knew what I was going through.
“What’s a chauffeur?” I’ve heard so many unfamiliar turns lately.
Elise smiled. “He drives Mr. Dante around in his car.”
I laughed. “They have a car and they need someone to drive it? How silly. Can’t they do it themselves?”
Elise shrugged. “Probably but then my brother would be out of a job. And we can’t afford that. What with the nine of us and Mama so ill, we need all the money we can get.”
“You have eight siblings?” I couldn’t believe it. That was the most I had ever heard of.
“Yes, I’m the second oldest. I barely know my youngest sister. I had to get a job when she was two. I miss her so.”
“Surely you have time to visit your family?” Where the Brooks tyrants? Did they keep their servants chained to their house? “You have days off, right?”
Elise patted my arm. “Of course I do. Every other Saturday is my day off, but it costs a lot of money to go back to the west side. And it’s dangerous. Even being in the Elite neighbourhood is dangerous.”
That brought me back to the words that had sparked my interest in her family.
“Why does your brother like my knives?”
“Because he hasn’t found such perfectly balanced ones in all his searching. He likes to keep one or two on himself to protect Mr. Dante or Miss Savannah when he’s driving them around.”
“And I thought the slums were the only place we had to protect ourselves like that.” I shook my head. It seemed that I knew very little of the place outside my own neighbourhood.
Elise smiled and stood up. “No, Miss Crystal. It’s dangerous everywhere in this world.”
“Elise, will you do something for me?” I grabbed her arm. “Please?”
The maid nodded.
“Bring me my coat and my boots. And my bow and arrows.”
“I don’t know, miss. Where would you keep them? Mr. Dante won’t like it if he finds them in here.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know, but I’d feel safer just knowing they were in my room. If what you say is true, then I’d like to protect myself.”
“Alright, miss. I’ll see what I can do.”
Elise made her way to the door straightening up things as she went. How she found so much to rearrange when I hadn’t been out of bed for days, was beyond me.
She paused with her hand on the door handle.
“Do you think you can find me some clothes to replace the ones I was wearing?”
The maid’s back stiffened and I knew that what I had asked her wouldn’t be easy. Even though she came from a background like mine the west slums still raised their daughters to be ladies. And ladies never wore pants.
She nodded and I knew I had a friend.
Smiling I sank back onto my pillows. I had accomplished two things today. I had found a way to get my belongings back and proper clothes. It was twelve in the afternoon and I was still awake.
The world outside my window had gone dark when I heard voices in the hall. Dante’s rich laugh filled the air. I smiled. When he laughed all seemed right.
Another voice answered him and I frowned. I didn’t recognize it. I had come to know the voices of this house, the soft voice of Savannah; the deep timber of Dante; the rasp of Titus, Dante’s valet; the sweet, west slums accent of Elise and the other maids; the mixed accents of the male servants. But I had never heard this voice.
Whoever this person was had the smooth, honeyed voice of a man who knew his place and his opinion and wasn’t afraid to state it. He reminded me of Bone Jones, only more cultured.
Elise had tied a blue satin dressing gown around my white nightgown and now she helped me into one of the chairs. I sank into the cushions’ embrace and helped tuck a knitted coverlet around my legs.
“Who’s with Dante?” I craned my head trying to get a glimpse of the mysterious person as they passed my opened door.
“Mr. Dominique St. Clair,” Elise replied. “He’s Miss Savannah’s fiancé.”
“Oh, he’s that one she was moaning about the other day.”
“Moaning about, Miss?” Elise carefully placed another log on the fire. A few sparks flew up the chimney. “There, that should be good for now.”
“She was in here the other day go on and on about her fiancé and how she just wished he would come home. I quit listening after about five minutes and missed his name.”
Elise laughed. Then my door opened and we both turned to face the visitors. Savannah was hanging onto the arm of a tall, dark haired man.
He was stood the same height as Dante, yet he looked bigger. I frowned. Dante was a large man, in some ways, yet beside this man he seemed smaller somehow.
“Crystal, may we come in?” Dante asked.
“You’re in already,” I muttered. Louder I said, “Yes, come on in.”
The threesome skirted my bed and joined me. Elise faded into the background and I felt lost without her.
“Crystal, I would like to introduce you to my closest friend, Dominique St. Clair. Dom, this is Crystal.” Dante stepped back and Dominique drew closer to me.
He bent over my hand and gently kissed it. I laughed a little and pulled my hand back.
“You don’t want to do that, Mr. St. Clair,” I said. “You don’t know what I’ve touched.”
Dominique laughed and sat down beside Savannah. “You are a witty one, Miss Crystal.”
“Don’t call me Miss Crystal. I’m just Crystal.”
Dominique’s green eyes sparkled. “Alright, Crystal it is. So how has my fiancé and her brother been treating you?”
“They have been very kind.” I shifted. Something about this man made me uncomfortable. He seemed to at ease in my company and I felt too comfortable with him. I studied him as he turned to answer Savannah’s whispered question. With a jolt of recognition I remembered. I’d seen this man before.
But then he was dressed in a worn suit playing on the floor of his father’s office.
“Nicky?” I said. “Is that you?”
Dominique turned to me. I pulled off the mobcap that Elise had tucked my hair up into. My strand of angel hair fell down beside my cheek.
“Crissy? What... what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. The last time I saw you, you were playing with that ratty dog in your father’s law office. What happened?”
Dominique shrugged. “We got money and Dad bought his way into the Elites. He represents the best of them now. But what about you? The last time I saw you, your grandfather was signing papers. And you all looked pretty well off.”
I snorted. “Until the recession. Then we lost everything.”
“Which recession?” Dominique was facing me full on now and I wondered how I could have missed it.
Of course we had only been nine the last time we were together. I didn’t think that seven years could change a person so much.
“The one that year after. I’m surprised your father managed to keep going.”
“Right after that day, we moved up in the world. And my father wouldn’t rest until he was at the top of the ladder. It killed my mother.”
“I’m sorry.” I wanted to reach out a hand and comfort him but Savannah was softly stroking his other arm.
“May I interrupt?” Dante asked.
“Am I to understand that you two know each other?” Dante looked me to Dominique and then back again.
“It’s been seven years, but yes we know each other,” Dominique replied.
“How?” Savannah laid off her stroking and leaned around to peer at me.
I could see the suspicion in her eyes. As if I would try to steal him from her. He obviously loved the girl.
“When we were nine Crissy and I spent many days playing together.” Dominique smiled and I grinned back. There was mischievous boy I knew.
“My grandfather was working on some legal papers and I was dragged along to many of the meetings back then. Nicky was there and he had a dog and I liked dogs, so we became friends. Then he disappeared. I went back to find you once, Nicky, but you were gone. After that Grandpa found me Truscott. I forgot about you or more likely tucked you away in the back of my mind.”
Dante leaned back in his chair. “Well, Dom, or should I call you Nicky?”
“Please, don’t,” Dominique laughed. “Crystal was the only one to get away with calling me that.”
“Then Dom, you are full of surprises. I thought I knew everything about you. But I never heard about a dog or a little girl with strange coloured hair.”
“Angel hair.” Dominique reached out and stroked the strand. “That’s we always called it, right, Crissy?”
I nodded. “It’s what my mother called it. She always claimed I was touched by an angel.”
The conversation took a lighter turn after that but I barely listened. Seeing Dominique again brought the pain of losing those I loved back from where I had pushed it down.
I didn’t know if I would ever get out of this place. Whenever I mentioned leaving Dante frowned and Savannah began simpering about the privileges of the Elite. But they were welcomed to them. I wanted my bed and Trinity curled up beside me, Robin’s light snores soothing me to sleep. Most of all I wanted Macy, to hold her, see her smile and watch as she grew.