Queen of the Garden of Girls, Part 46

Chapter Sixteen

Patricia was an okay companion. Not brilliant, but not dull. Just another in a string of unremarkable girls. Picking out a new companion was becoming a chore. Every girl felt like a variation of the one before. Other than her name, I don’t remember much about Patricia, except she stayed for a month before quietly slipping out in the middle of the night, leaving only a note wishing me well, but she’d rather try again with her on and off boyfriend. I planted __ in her honor.

The night was lit by a brilliant full moon. It was late, but Elaina couldn’t sleep. After Robert had showed her what lay behind the tall hedges her windows faced, she couldn’t stop thinking of how to make things right in his family. There were so many secrets that could hurt others, so much tainted love.

She rested her forehead against the glass, her legs tucked under her on the windowseat. She remembered countless other times she’d sat this way, staring out at the expansive grounds. Now that she knew what was on the other side of the hedge, though, she felt it wasn’t so much her duty to make things right, but to engender a solution.

Why she felt that way, though, she had no clue. It would be so easy to just say no and walk away. But Robert had been sweet and kind, funny and generous and trusting. He’d let his walls down for her, because of hope. It was a heavy weight to bear. Sometimes she didn’t think it fair, didn’t think she could do it. Sometimes she wanted to storm away and say it wasn’t her problem.

At first, she’d stayed because of the job promise. Then she’d stayed because Robert had been so charmingly awkward. Now she was afraid she’d actually gone and lost her heart to him.

Or maybe it was because she’d lost track of time and really didn’t know how long she’d been locked up here for.

Wait, what was that?

Elaina’s breath caught as she spied a pale figure ghosting into the rose garden. Her heart leapt into her throat and she swallowed a cry, one hand going to her chest. She pressed her face closer to the glass and just made out a long stream of hair that looked just like Rose’s.

What was Rose doing out so late, and why was she going into the rose garden?

This wasn’t the first night Elaina had spent staring out the window. It was the first time she’d ever seen Rose out there. Ever.

She didn’t think; just shoved her feet into shoes, wrapped her shawl tighter around herself, and dashed out of her room. Her heart was in her throat, her eyes wide open, her mind fully awake despite the late hour. She wouldn’t let herself think; just let the impulse carry her.

The halls were dimly lit. No one was stirring. It felt like the Hall was asleep, like she should have been.

Her feet carried her. Her mind was in the garden. She wasn’t aware of how she got out onto the patio, but she somehow managed it. She raced over the lawn to the hedges and slipped into the garden.

The heady scent of the roses almost knocked her off her feet. As lovely as it had been earlier in the day, it was surprisingly pungent at night, almost as though the roses were releasing their scents for the moon with a “pick me”call.

Her feet stalled, Elaina took a deep, calming breath, almost choking on the heavy scents wafting around her. She flickered her gaze around the garden, but didn’t see any movement.

Had she missed Rose? Or had it really been a ghost? Or maybe Rose had left the garden already?

No, that was a light skirt rustle. Elaina would know that sound anywhere. Her own gowns made that sound all day. She was glad she was in her light nightgown with its single layer. The soft cotton swirled around her legs as she quietly made her way towards the rustling sound.

Her breath caught as she peeked around a corner, carefully to not let the thorny rose bush next to her prick her. She still had Robert’s Sleeping Beauty story rattling around in her head.

Rose had paused on the path. Her head was dipped down, her nose barely grazing an open rose blossom. Her fingers, so long and graceful, were gently caressing the petals. Her gown, one like so many of Elaina’s wasn’t one she had ever seen before; Rose was almost always in a suit or some other chic outfit, never a gown. But here she was, laced into a pale colored ball gown with her hair done up in an elegant chignon, loose strands floating around her ears.

She looked like she came from a fairy tale.

Who was this woman, this mother of Robert?

Elaina almost lost her nerve, but Rose startled her.

“Walk with me, Elaina.”

With a gasp, Elaina almost pitched forward onto the path. Her hand grazed a couple of roses, but no thorns as she regained her balance and stood upright. Her eyes met Rose’s as the older woman had turned to face her. She studied Rose’s impassive face, but her features gave away nothing.

“I’m sorry,” Elaina began, putting a foot behind her. “I just thought…I mean I thought I saw…”

“You saw me,” Rose said softly, plainly. Her lips twitched into a smile that never managed to materialize. “I must look a ghost in this dress, in this moonlight.”

“Well, I mean,” Elaina stuttered, one hand flapping uselessly as her eyes searched the garden for words it could never give her.

“Walk with me, Elaina,” Rose requested again, her voice soft.

Elaina swallowed hard. “Yes. Yes, of course.”

Rose waited patiently as Elaina slowly made her way over. Her expression never changed; she merely waited with her hands clasped before her like a lady. As soon as Elaina had reached her side, she turned and continued walking.

“I presume my son has introduced you to his garden,” Rose said softly, a hint of tenderness in her voice that completely threw Elaina.

“Oh, um, yes. He did. Yesterday, actually. It’s, um, very lovely.”

“It’s very sad,” Rose cut in quickly, but there was no malice in her voice as there might have been. Instead, she sounded sad. “I’ve lost count of how many roses there are, how many girls have wandered Roderick Hall.” She paused. “My son thinks you’ll be the last.”

“Well, I, um,” Elaina stuttered, still too perplexed by this very different side of Rose.

Rose turned and smiled sadly at her. “I haven’t been easy on you, Elaina. I’ve never been easy on any of my son’s companions. If you knew what I knew…” She trailed off and shook her head. “Being a Roderick bride is a very different sort of thing, Elaina. I’d like to believe you’re just the girl my son needs, but only time will tell.”

“I do care about him,” Elaina blurted out.

“There’s no question of that, dear. There’s also no question of how my son feels about you. You’ve built a true relationship no matter how hard I’ve tried to pull you down. I’ve never seen my son so committed, so passionate. I’ll be the first to admit, Elaina, that stepping aside isn’t easy, for many reasons. But, at some point, I do have to trust my son, don’t I? After all, he is his father’s heir.”

“We’ll never purposefully run the family business to ground,” Elaina promised.

Rose’s sad smile appeared again. “Stay innocent, Elaina. I promise I’ll keep you innocent for as long as I can.”

“What?”

Rose waved a hand. “That’s not important right now. What is important is that your bond with my son deepen. It’ll be important.” She sighed. “It was a hard lesson for me to learn. I don’t want it to be so for you and my son.”

“What?”

“Robert’s father and I had an arranged marriage, one neither of us particularly wanted, but it was necessary. The reasons are not important right now. We were never in love, Elaina. We had a duty, that was all. It made…things…difficult.” She shook her head, and seemed to droop a little. “I knew about Colette, his long-time mistress. I hated that woman with every fiber of my being, but I had my own affairs, Elaina. It wasn’t a happy marriage. I don’t want that for my son. He doesn’t have the pressure his father did. At least, not yet. I intend on keeping it that way. I can’t let him make the same mistakes his father and I made.”

“What?”

“Go back to bed, Elaina,” Rose said gently. “Enjoy this time with Robert.”

Abruptly, Rose glided away from Elaina, fluttering across the lawn like a ghost. Elaina was startled to realize they’d already walked about the Garden of Girls right back to the entrance.

“What on Earth?” Elaina whispered into the night.

Catch up on the story here.

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