"I promise you I will do everything just as you ask. But come closer. Let us give in to grief, however briefly, in each other's arms."
Homer, The Iliad
I woke up under heavy blankets, opening my eyes wide as I took in the room around me. I didn't move, just listened, trying to understand where I was. It was then I heard footsteps walking toward me and the older man, the jeweler, came into view, standing above me. It all came back . . . breaking the vase, paying for it with the locket, the homeless shelter, fainting. I blinked up at him, my fight or flight instinct kicking in as my eyes darted around the room.
"It's okay, you fainted. My driver helped me put you in my car. You're at my town house."
I sat up, pulling the covers up against my chest. I still had all my clothes on, but someone had removed my shoes.
I opened my mouth to say something, I wasn't sure exactly what, when the door opened again and a woman walked in with a tray in her hands.
Food. My stomach lurched and my mouth immediately started to water at the smell wafting off whatever was coming toward me.
The woman set the tray over my lap and I looked down at it greedily—some kind of soup and several rolls with neat little pats of butter melting on top. My body took over. I'd get out of here after I ate. I had to eat. In that moment, the hunger ruled me and it was too much to resist. I didn't care where I was, or why or with whom. The food was the only thing that mattered. I picked up the spoon with shaky hands and I started shoveling it into my mouth, glancing up at the jeweler and the woman in a housekeeping uniform who stood just to his side. Both of them watched me with sad, curious eyes.
The woman took a step toward me. "Slow down, little one. You haven't eaten for a while. You'll make yourself sick if you eat it too fast. Force yourself to slow down." Then she put one hand on my back and moved it in slow circles while I slowed the movement of the spoon from the soup to my mouth. For several minutes, the only sound in the room was my unladylike slurping and then my own chewing sounds as I picked up each roll and ate them in three bites apiece. The woman's gentle circles on my back never stopped, calming me, reminding me to eat as slowly as I could. A few times it felt like the food would come back up, but it didn't and when I was finished, I picked up the napkin and wiped my hands and my face, and then set it down, embarrassed to look at them. My dignity trickled back in now that my hunger had been satisfied.
"Well then, that's better," the woman said and I glanced up at her sympathetic face. It felt like so long since someone had been kind to me. Tears filled my eyes, but I looked away before they could spill down my face. She took her hand off my back, picked the tray up, leaned into the man and said something softly, and then left the room.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, but the man put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Please, you're welcome to stay here tonight. There's a bathroom over there." He inclined his head to the left and I glanced at the closed door he was indicating. "And this room isn't used by anyone anymore. Please stay. It's the least I can do after . . . today."
I licked my parched lips, looked around, trying to decide what to do. I desperately wanted to stay here in this warm place where I could sleep in an actual bed, but I didn't understand why this man had taken me in.
"I broke your property today," I finally said.
He pursed his lips. "Yes, and you paid for it. And it could have been handled differently. I'm sorry I didn't step in."
I wasn't sure what to say to that and so I remained silent, looking up at him.
"Please. Let me put you up for the night. We can make other . . . arrangements tomorrow. Yes?"
I looked down, fidgeting with my hands in my lap. It was either say yes or go back out into the cold street. But I didn't know what his "arrangements" might be and that worried me. I nodded my head and when I looked up at him, he looked pleased.
"Good. Take a shower. Get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning." And with that, he turned on his heel and walked quickly out of the room.
Once he had left, I scurried over to the door and turned the lock. Leaning back against the door, I took the time to really take in the room for the first time. It was beautiful. There was a sort of floral fabric on the walls and I walked over to one and ran my hand over the smooth, slightly textured surface. I tried to muster up some gratitude for the lovely surroundings, but there was only numb observance. I turned and looked at the bed again. The luxurious silk and velvet bedding was rich in various shades of cream and lilac. Inviting. I walked back over to it, the call to sleep too great to resist now that my belly was full. I'd shower in the morning.
I climbed back in between the crisp sheets, still fully clothed. Sleep took me under her dark wing, sweeping me away into blessed oblivion.
I dreamed of morning glories, I dreamed of him, my love, wispy images that twisted and turned and washed away under a wave of water so big I was crushed beneath it. There was no breath in my lungs left to call his name, to whisper the words I needed him to know in the end - that I loved him, that I'd always love him, that he was my strength and my weakness, my endless joy, and my greatest sorrow.
I woke up crying, breathless but silent.
I went to the bathroom and stripped my clothes somberly and stood in front of the mirror for a moment, running my hand over my flat belly and sucking back a sob. I stepped under the warm spray and tilted my head back, wetting my hair. I hung my head forward and let go of that which I had held so tightly inside for the past week. I sunk down to the floor of the shower, pulled myself back against the wall, and finally allowed myself to sob as the sound of the running water masked my cries.
I walked out into a large hallway, showered, dressed and having relieved a small portion of the burden of my grief, at least for the moment.
The sounds of dishes clattering drew me and I peeked into a large kitchen where the jeweler was seated in front of a plate of food, an open magazine on the table next to it.
"Good morning," he said, getting up. "You look refreshed. Did you sleep well?"
I nodded. "Yes, thank you." I eyed the food sitting on the table—a plate of bacon and eggs, and a dish of fruit.
The jeweler followed my eyes and waved me over to him. "Please, sit. Eat. We can discuss the arrangements I mentioned last night."
I nodded, biting my lip, and took a seat at the table as he dished up food and set it before me.
I took a few bites before looking up and gathering my resolve. I wanted to stay here. The man was nice, or so it seemed. But, I was pretty sure what his "arrangements" would include, and I didn't think it was possible for me—I couldn't fathom it. Not after what I'd been through. I would return to the street—I might die there—but death didn't scare me, not anymore.
I'll be waiting for you, by a spring. Come find me, I'll be there.
I cleared my throat. "I can't accept the arrangement you propose," I said, lowering my eyes.
He furrowed his brow, his coffee cup stopping midway to his mouth. He tilted his head. "I haven't proposed anything yet."
Heat moved up my neck and I looked down. "I understand what you want," I said softly.
The jeweler watched me for a minute and then lowered his coffee cup, causing it to clatter back down to the saucer. I looked up at him as he stared at me, looking . . . angry? Sad? I couldn't be sure. "That's not what I want."
I looked at him in confusion. "You said you had an arrangement we could discuss."
He took a deep breath and stared at me for a few moments. "First of all, I don't think we've met properly. My name is Felix Grant. Please call me Felix. Yes?"
I nodded, waiting for him to continue.
"Okay, good. Now what's your name?"
"Eden," I said softly.
"And your last name?"
I looked down and cleared my throat. "I don't know."
"You don't know your last name?" he asked, incredulously.
I shook my head. "No, I know I had one once, but after my family died, I went to live with someone else, and . . . I can't remember it."
He was silent for another few beats. "How is that possible? How did you go to school without a last name?"
"I never went to school," I said softly, more color moving up into my face.
"How old are you?"
"I'm eighteen," I said. Felix looked at me as if he didn't believe me.
More silence and then, "Eden, do I need to call the police? What happened to you?"
My eyes flew to his at the word police. "No! Please, no. I . . . no one is looking for me. I'm not a runaway or anything. I just . . . I don't have anyone anymore. They're all . . . gone now. Please no police." My voice broke on the last word and I looked at him pleadingly, ready to run if he went for a phone.
Felix looked at me thoughtfully for several beats before he finally said, "What can you do, Eden? Do you cook? Clean?"
I shook my head. "I wasn't allowed to do any of that. I can play the piano," I said hopefully. It was pretty much the only thing I could do.
Felix raised his eyebrows. "Is that so? Well, it just so happens I have a granddaughter who's been asking for piano lessons. Are you good enough to teach her?"
I nodded my head slowly. "Yes. Yes, I could teach the piano."
Felix nodded. "Okay, then. This is the arrangement I propose—you're hired. Room and board is included in your salary. And your job includes nothing more than teaching my granddaughter, Sophia, the piano. Is that clear, Eden?"
I nodded my head, feeling something that felt a little like hope. I was going to be safe, warm, fed. I might at least have that.
"Good. Then that's settled. I'm going to assume that because of where you were lined up last night you don't have anything other than what you came with?"
I shook my head, looking down at the clothes that hung off my body. "I'm sorry. Once I work for a little bit, I'll be able to afford some different clothes . . . ones that look nicer . . ." I trailed off, embarrassed, but Felix waved his hand in the air.
"I'll front you some money for some new clothes. Marissa will go out today and pick you up some things. You met Marissa last night."
I nodded, and then studied Felix for a minute. He was older, probably in his sixties, I'd guess, but he was still a good-looking man with bright blue eyes, and a full head of salt and pepper hair. "Felix, I don't understand this. Why are you doing this for me?" I finally asked him.
He looked up at me, and then over at several pill bottles I hadn't noticed before, sitting on the side of the table. He took one bottle in his hand and unscrewed the cap, throwing a pill back before answering me. I couldn't help notice that his hands were shaking. Was he ill? "Because I made the wrong choice yesterday when I saw what happened in my store." He looked thoughtful for a minute. "When I saw you again on the street leaving the line for the shelter, I saw it as a second chance to do the right thing. I made the wrong choice once before, too, Eden, and I never got a second chance to correct that one. Does that make sense?"
"I think so," I said quietly.
He nodded. "Okay, good, then it's settled. You have a place to stay and I have a new piano teacher. Speaking of which, I'll need to get it tuned. It hasn't been played in years." Sadness appeared in his eyes for a brief second and then it was gone as he stood up. "You relax here today. Tomorrow, you'll meet Sophia. Marissa is here all day if you need anything."
I nodded as he walked past me. "Thank you," I said softly, gratitude and relief filling my chest and causing me to suck in a breath. His steps slowed as he walked past my chair, but he didn't say anything and a few minutes later, I heard a door close down the hall.
I spent the morning in my new room, reading the books I found on the night stand for the escape they brought, and curling into a ball and crying when I couldn't hold back the tears.
Around lunchtime, I heard Felix arrive home. Soon after, I heard the doorbell ring and then listened for the next hour to the sounds of the piano being tuned.
When a knock came at my door, I opened it and Marissa was standing there with a smile on her face.
"Lunch is almost ready, dear, and the piano is tuned if you'd like to try it out."
"Thank you, Marissa. You don't have to make me food though. I can come to the kitchen."
Marissa waved her hand as she walked away. "It's no trouble."
I nodded, but then called out, "Marissa?"
She turned. "Yes, dear?"
I cleared my throat. "Felix . . . um, does he . . . allow you to go out?"
Marissa tilted her head, furrowing her brows. "Go out? You mean out of the house?"
I felt color rise in my cheeks. "Yes. I mean, if you want to. Does he allow it?"
"Yes, of course. I'm free to do as I like, as are you." Her expression turned to one of concern.
"Okay," I said softly.
Marissa just kept looking at me for a second before she nodded her head and turned away.
I walked down the hall to the living room where I'd seen the large grand piano earlier and sat down at the bench, taking in a big breath before laying my hands on the keys. As I began to play, it felt like I was back there, in the main lodge, playing for the council, being paraded before them. I closed my eyes, tears escaping out of the corners to make their way slowly down my cheeks.
I heard someone speaking and opened my eyes, listening to the words being spoken in another room. Despite the sound of the piano, I could hear them clearly, the acoustics in the ceiling delivering the voices straight to my ears.