Wish you a greater New Year with a higher spirit.
My small gift to y'all...
“Bernard, what are you doing?”
It was not really necessary to ask, was it? Not when handfuls of glistening ornaments, little angels with halos and wands, silvery paper threads, and tufts of cloud-white cotton were crammed all around the butler, and before him stood a fresh cut pine tree the height of one and a half men.
Bernard stopped half way up the small ladder and turned to his young master, Adrian. He knew heartbroken when he saw it, and this time despair was clearly carved in Adrian’s darkened blue eyes. Suddenly Bernard felt his age and wondered why he was still eager for trivial things such as decorating a Christmas tree.
When Adrian was clearly not...
“Several days from now…” Bernard stammered. “We will--” then he halted altogether at the sight of Adrian’s pale sad face. The twenty-one year old moved away from him silently ghostlike floating towards the lit fireplace.
“I’d better stop this silliness – you… ” Bernard started. “It was foolish of me.”
As he began to dismount the ladder, Adrian whirled around, “No, no. You should carry on. I have no right to... ”
“If there’s someone with no right about it, that would be me.” Bernard slowly lowered himself to a squat, (He was not becoming any younger each year, mind you.) and began to pack the decorations back into their boxes. But Adrian pressed gently at his shoulder.
“I meant it,” he murmured. “Please continue. I know this means a lot – to someone, if not to me.” Unshed tears shimmered in Adrian’s eyes, crystal-like snowflakes. His mother had loved Christmas.
Bernard hesitated for a moment before beginning to take the items back out of their boxes, “Mistress Larine…”
“I know,” Adrian bit his lips, cutting off Bernard swiftly. He was not ready to hear anything about his deceased parents, especially about his mother and Christmas, not from someone else, even if that person was very dear. At least not this minute, maybe later they could share remembrances, but not just now. Dear Bernard, he had been more like a family for Adrian now, very much like one of his family, his only one.
“Please, don’t change any traditions of this house, not for my sake. I didn’t spend that much time here anyway, not even at Christmas, not enough… ”
And then he turned, leaving the sitting room and a wordless elderly male servant, to head for the curved huge staircase. Bernard could only watch Adrian’s slumped shoulders as he left. The young man was going to his studio. Of that much Bernard was certain. He had grown accustomed to his master’s preferred sanctuary when the young man’s heart was troubled.
~ * ~
Bernard watched intently as the maids served the dessert, chocolate mousse prepared in tall glasses with think slices of chocolate on top. There was also cheese dished up on small plates with fresh strawberries and a dollop of rich cream. Nothing should go wrong when it came to making these lovely people Bernard had worked for these many long years happy. Everything must be perfect for Jeremy, his wife Larine, and the fifteen-year-old Adrian. Though Bernard knew his master would not mind a little flaw in the presentation he did not want there to be even one. Mr. Latimer was always kind and understanding and deserved for everything about this special dinner to be perfect.
The said kind person put down the small fork used to pick up the cheese, dabbed his lips with a napkin, and turned to his wife.
“I must be going now. Claude said his train would arrive around one, and it’s almost the half hour already.”
Larine nodded and was kissing her husband tenderly on the cheek when Adrian, half throwing his fork onto the small dish, gripped the edges of the table and shouted cheerily. His eyes were gleaming with joy.
“Uncle Claude is coming to celebrate Christmas with us?” It was a statement, not a query. Jeremy shot his son an amused glance.
“Yes. I was so delighted when he said yes. Unfortunately, he shall not be bringing Sebastien with him this time. That little brother of his thinks celebrating Christmas in Athens will be much warmer.”
Larine smiled widely, “why, I can’t agree more!”
Jeremy chuckled and squeezed his wife’s hand lovingly, “But I’m afraid we can’t do that this year, sweetheart.”
“But?” Larine prompted, giggling a little. Jeremy usually played along, finishing her sentences with glowing promises and brilliant smiles.
Not this time, though.
The man simply let go of Larine’s soft fingers and shook his head slightly, “I don’t know, Larine. I can’t promise you anything right now.”
The unusual thing was that Larine did not seem disappointed at all, but rather there was a stronger emotion there in her face. She seemed stricken by a wave of sorrow. And albeit it left her visage very swiftly, Bernard caught it nonetheless, and in that brief moment worry flooded his mind.
~ * ~
Adrian’s scribbling at his desk in the study came to a standstill, his fingertips pressing hard onto the surface of the carefully polished mahogany table. It shuddered, though faintly, but Adrian could still feel it. Was there an earthquake? A car crash? And yet he could not hear anything but the sigh of the wind coming through the window.
But then out of the blue, Adrian found himself trembling violently. He staggered to his feet, clutching at his body as freezing air suddenly engulfed him. Adrian struggled to breathe when damp fingers felt like they were crushing his throat, drawing the air out of his lungs. The entire sensation lasted no longer than a minute and vanished just as unexpectedly as it had come.
Its depletion wore Adrian off and he threw himself back into his seat. He meant to dash for his mother as apprehension now threatened, replacing the earlier chill, but suddenly he was too exhausted to even move a muscle.
Yet, nothing could restrain him when a scream – undeniably his mother’s – was heard reverberating inside the house. The boy jerked to his feet and leapt down the stairs.
~ * ~
A soft knock at the door shattered Adrian’s daydream. He immediately grabbed a sheet of white linen to cover the painting he had finished several days ago. Straightening, Adrian cleared his throat.
Bernard’s long nose was the first thing visible between the doorframe and the oak door.
“You have – a guest, Mr. Adrian.”
“Who is it?” The young man stepped out of his studio, slightly pushing Bernard from the room. He frowned when the old man barred his teeth into a smile.
“I assume you will be glad to see him again, Sir. It’s Monsignor Sebastien, the brother of…”
“Uncle Claude,” nodded Adrian. “I see.” He started toward the stairs but froze at the sight of Sebastien at their foot.
The Frenchman was around his mother’s age, so some strands of grey hair adorned his soft wavy hair and lines marked his handsome, smiling face. Only, right now, even if his lips smiled, there was grief clouding his eyes as he looked around the empty hall.
Adrian stood awkwardly in front of him, reaching out tentatively before he was the one being pulled into the taller figure’s arms.
“I’m sorry, Adrian,” whispered Sebastien, and added as he felt the youth’s head tilted with an unspoken question. “I’m sorry to disturb you unannounced.”
The last time Sebastien stepped into this house was at Larine’s funeral, and he felt quite bad about it. He knew he had not come to visit often enough before her death. And seeing that Adrian had been left alone in this near empty mansion after the passing of both his parents, Sebastien realized belatedly he should have been more supportive.
Adrian gave him a tight squeeze before letting the older man go, “That’s not a problem at all, Uncle Sebastien. We all have things to be taken care of.”
“Have you truly recovered?” Sebastien asked his question in a worried tone. Last time he saw, Adrian the boy was still strapped tight in a wheelchair because of the accident.
“I am well.” Adrian nodded politely. He tilted his head back to Bernard, who was standing quietly behind him. “This fellow is largely the reason behind my recovery, he never lets me out of his sight.” Adrian smiled when the old butler squeezed his shoulder affectionately and his gaze returned to Sebastien.
“Come. You must be tired. Would you like a cup of tea?”
But Sebastien moved to pick up something leaning against the stair rail. The wrapped parcel looked as if it might be a canvas.
“Actually, Adrian, I want to talk to you.” He glanced briefly at Bernard, who bowed out courteously.
“I will be downstairs if you need anything, Mr. Adrian.”
The young man nodded absently. “Thank you, Bernard. Do you want to talk down here or up in my studio?” An icy tone crept into the younger man’s voice.
Sebastien gazed at him. “Your studio, if … you don’t mind, of course.”
The studio had been Adrian’s private space. There were so many of his mother’s paintings there that always spawned his memory of her; thus, there was so much sadness, too, hidden in the oftentimes darkened room as well as memories. Adrian would rather no one would ever set foot in it. But this was Sebastien, he told himself, a friend of his mother’s, someone who knew him before he was even born.
“I don’t mind,” yet his smile was still somewhat forced.
Entering the room, Sebastien saw what had expected he would see. Some old familiar works of Larine’s, and some he had never seen, painted after she had married as she had rarely conducted any more exhibitions. There were also some paintings by Adrian which he had seen more recently and had been quite astonished by them then and again now. The boy clearly had talent.
“Is that yours?” Adrian’s voice broke the silence.
“That,” Adrian pointed to the package. The boy seemed more curious now than resentful and that was better, Sebastien loved to see the boy’s lightening mood. He nodded and handed the parcel to Adrian.
“For you,” which in turn surprised Adrian back a step.
“You’re serious? For me? That’s very kind of you!” Adrian beamed. Sebastien sobered.
“Only if you don’t mind receiving it as a gift.” His fingers started to unwrap the canvas and when the contents were revealed Adrian was left jaw-slacked.
His father. His strikingly handsome father. Seated in a cozy armchair next to the hearth, an open book resting in his left hand and yet he was not reading, instead he was looking out from the painting smiling as if he was waiting for something wonderful to happen.
What made Adrian especially nonplussed was that another painting could easily be the mate to this one. His own painting.
He walked wordlessly to a canvas of the same size sitting on a stand and removed the white linen cover. Sebastien followed him similarly quietly. His eyes watered instantaneously seeing the radiant features of Larine revealed in profile.
Adrian had painted her as if she were about to paint something herself, a canvas was in front of her and there was a palette and brushes in her hands.
Sebastien did not realize he had missed her so much until this moment.
“Do you see,” whispered Adrian. “It’s as though father was posing for her.” The wide blue eyes turned to the older gentleman and then impulsively Adrian flung his arms around Sebastien, so suddenly that the other man staggered back a step.
“Thank you.” The young man sniffled quietly into Sebastien’s collar, seemingly trying to master his emotions with a shudder. “I would have never thought of painting one of my father posing for her,” he whispered. Then Adrian added, his voice stronger, “it feels a bit as if they are back with me for Christmas this year. Thank you so much!”
Sebastien stiffened fighting his own strong emotions and then relaxed to stroke Adrian’s hair gently. The poor, poor boy.
“My pleasure, Adrian.”
~ * ~ fin ~ * ~