Part 44 of Queen of the Garden of Girls, inspired by Beauty and the Beast

Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 44

Chapter Fifteen

Nancy was nice. She was sweet. She was also boring as cardboard. To be honest, I just picked her at random. This companion thing was getting tiring and was starting to lose its luster, if it ever had any. We were polite, but parted as little more than strangers. I planted the __ for her.

It ended up taking Robert a week to repaint and rearrange his study. On his own. Elaina had kept him company, but, the second day of painting, it was clear she was hopeless. Instead, she’d curled up on his chair by the open window overlooking where the garden parties used to take place with more frequency.

“You know,” Elaina said once the last piece of furniture was in place, “I’m not sure if maroon was a good color choice.”

Robert frowned. “What do you mean? I think it’s perfect.”

“It’s kind of dark.”

“It’s better than brown.”

“I suppose I have to agree with that, but you have to admit it is very…maroony.”

Robert laughed. “You can help me paint it red next time.”

“I can what now? Which color?”

Elaina only sighed loudly as his laugh grew louder. “Well, I hope ‘next time’ comes sooner than later.”

He finally stopped laughing enough to take her hand and smile at her, though there was no stopping the laughter in his eyes. “With you by my side, I think it probably will.”

Her eyes turned serious. “I wish you would tell me more about your father.”

His smile dimmed a little and the laughter finally faded from his eyes. “Let me change out of my paint splattered clothes and then I’ll meet you out on the patio.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “I have something to show you as well.”

Without looking at her, Robert turned and left her in the maroon study. She glanced around, a part of her wondering if, maybe, he wasn’t as well on his way to processing his father’s death as they both hoped.

She left the study behind, wondering what he was about to show her. As she wandered the halls, trying to remember how to get to the patio since Robert had only taken her out to it a couple of times, she also wondered where Rose had been. She hadn’t seen the woman in days.

“Are you lost?”

So deep in thought she was that she screamed a little when Nigel’s voice came out of the middle of nowhere.

“I’m terribly sorry, Elaina,” the butler quickly apologized as she pressed a hand to her stomach. “I just thought I’d offer my assistance.”

She smiled weakly. “That would be wonderful, Nigel. Thank you. Robert asked me to meet him on the patio, but I think I’ve become turned around. More than once.”

He smiled and held out an arm for her. “Roderick Hall is indeed massive. More than one person has become lost in here.”

“Has Rose become lost?”

“Rose? Lost?”

“Yes. I haven’t seen her around in days.”

“She has business to attend to,” Nigel said vaguely.

“Oh,” Elaina said when he didn’t continue.

He continued to lead her down hallways and stair cases. She vaguely remembered most of it, but too many of them looked the same with walls painted either white or peach and carpeted with the same beige color.

“Here we are,” Nigel finally said as he threw open the French doors leading out on the patio.

He bowed to her and gestured for her to go ahead. After murmuring her thanks, she walked out into the afternoon sunlight and warm Spring air. The doors quietly closed behind her, but she was too busy taking in a lungful of the fresh air, idly wondering just how long she had been at Roderick Hall for. It felt like the day was bordering on summer and she was sure it had been a beautiful Spring day when her friends had dragged her to the garden party.

Lily and Camille. Her parents.

She’d thought of them often, but Robert and Rose were such confused and confusing human beings, she had found herself spending more nights awake ruminating on them than missing her family and friends. A pang of sadness washed over her. She hoped they were doing well, but Robert and Rose needed her more right now.

“I’m glad you found your way out here.”

Elaina turned and saw Robert standing a little self-consciously behind her. He looked freshly showered, his hair damp and unruly. It was a sight she was quickly becoming accustomed to; Robert was, apparently, notorious for getting himself quite messy.

“I’m eager to see what you have to tell and show me,” she said. “And Nigel was kind enough to lead me here.”

“Good, good,” he said as he made his way over to her. He held his hand out. “I hope your opinion of me and my family doesn’t sink once you hear and see everything I have to tell you.”

She rested her hand in his palm and gave him a smile. “I’ll do my best.”

He nodded solemnly and she cocked her head at him questioningly, but he just gently pulled her along onto the grass. They walked in silence as they crossed a wide, green lawn, headed for some tall hedges and an arch set at such an angle that she couldn’t tell what lay beyond it.

“I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I disappear off to most afternoons,” he said as they neared the arch, still at a bad angle.

“I admit I have wondered that a time or two.”

He was clearly too wound up for her attempts at humor, so she bit her tongue when he didn’t respond. Whatever was weighing on his mind was serious.

“What’s going on, Robert? You don’t have a massive graveyard here, do you? Every member of the Roderick family lying in state here?”

He shook his head and muttered, “Not quite, but close enough.”

Shocked, she jerked her hand out of his and came to a full stop. “I’m not superstitious or scared, but I’d rather not go into a cemetery.”

He gave her a pained smile. “Don’t worry, it’s not a cemetery.”

“Then what is it?” she demanded.

“A garden.”

She wasn’t expecting that. “A what now?”

He cringed. “A garden. Please, come. Let me show you.”

He held out his hand again and, hesitantly, she replaced hers in his. He gently pulled her along towards the arch.

Catch up on the story here.

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