To Adel and Maddy, because this story is theirs.
Chapter One: In which everything starts
Things hadn't been the same since Sophie got married. I was happy for her but at times I did think that if it hadn't been for Nikki, I wouldn't have survived losing my sister to marriage with half so much grace and humor. I had only accepted Sophie's marriage because she was so happy – despite the somewhat rocky start she had had with her husband – and now was a happy mother of three – a girl (Kate) and tow boys (Evan and Anthony) – and if I knew my brother-in-law he was already charming his way into getting Sophie pregnant yet again.
So yeah, now it was pretty much Maddy-and-Nikki, the unit that had spread chaos, havoc and destruction everywhere since 1896.
But, then, Nikki –with her brilliant brain and all – had chosen to go to University, leaving me (who am not as book smart as she is) by my self most of the time.
Suddenly, I had too much time in my hands and nothing to do, I wasn't inclined to go to University, that was Nikki's path and she needed to go alone. I didn't want to get married just yet, I wanted to wait till I was at least three and twenty, and that was good four years away. And, though I appreciated all the work Mama put on her charity work, I had always been more of a … hands ON type of girl.
I had tried apprenticing with my brothers at Papa's shipping company, but I didn't have Michael's head for numbers, nor was I gifted with languages like James was. And I certainly wasn't artistically gifted like my eldest sister Lita who could sketch, watercolor and oil paint anything. Sure, I had my talents, I could play the piano and spoke Spanish fluently, I loved animals and I didn't flinch in the sight of blood, but at nineteen, there wasn't much else I could say for myself.
It's not easy to find one's place among such big family like the Evencorts, where everyone is somehow talented, especially when you're the youngest, like me.
I confessed this to my father once, the day Nikki came over, so excited, after her first day at university and told me all about her classes. I had been moping a little after that and, of course, my parents noticed, and Papa came to talk to me about it.
Both Sophie and myself had always been very, very attached to him, we were his two babies and now it was just me and them in a house that sometimes just felt too big.
"What do you want to do, angel?" Papa had asked gently, cuddling me against his chest. Papa – Luke Evencort, Duke of Ayeleborough – was something like sixty, but he still felt comforting, solid and dear, he kept himself fit and as strong as possible; he still had all his hair – black liberally mixed with silvery grey – and I had heard women not so much older than myself call him handsome.
For me it was just Papa, not the powerful Duke, or anything, just my Papa. And Papa was someone I could always talk to.
"I don't know," I confessed against his chest, he was six feet tall and I was barely three inches above five feet (or two and a half inches, as my annoying nephew Mathew felt the necessity to remind me all the time). "I know I want to help someone, for real."
"Then help, sweetheart." Papa said, "Caitlyn and I will always support you in anything you want to do. The world is your oyster."
I smiled and hugged him with all my strength. I felt comfort but helping –doing something – was more easily said than done.
I met Maddy where she told me, in front of Fretwell's, a small bookstore right across the park. She had sent me a message all excited a couple of hours earlier and I had slipped away from my house – and a small mountain of homework – with the pretext of walking Cupcake, the Old English Sheppard puppy that Papa had given me a couple of months before when my Todd – the Irish Setter I had had since childhood – had passed on to doggie-heaven.
Going to University was hard, I mean, sure I always knew it was going to be hard but it was exhausting. Yet, I loved it. Papa, of course, had told me I didn't have to go. He hadn't gone to University and he was still the ever powerful Marquis of Danforth, heir to a dukedom. No big problem if I didn't go to school. But I had wanted to go, even when Maddy said she was SO not going back to school after all those years we spent together in the school room.
It was the first thing I had done apart from Maddy since I was five years old and in doing it so I had gained some weird sense of self that had always lacked a little, never entirely sure of from where I had come from.
I heard Muffin's bark before I actually saw Maddy, Papa had gotten her a dog just like mine, after all Toby –her Irish Setter – had been brother of my Todd and they had started the trip to doggie-heaven at practically the same time.
When Cupcake barked back, recognizing Muffin, Muffin began to run and tug at his leash, Maddy began to run towards me, her cheeks turning rosy with exertion and her sapphire eyes sparkling.
She was up to something.
"I did it, Nikki! I did it!" Maddy yelled happily, unmindful of all the people who were turning to stare at her like saying "Freak of nature". Maddy didn't mind, you could almost believe she didn't notice until she turned to give The Glare of Death to a girl a cross the street. When said girl was gone – your classic debutante type – Maddy jumped up and down again and threw her arms around me. "I did it!" She said again.
I let myself get carried away for a moment or two.
"What did you do?"
"I decided what I want to do," Maddy said softly, losing her hold on me and stepping back a little, suddenly staring down at her shoe as if it was so interesting. "Ever since you started at college and all… I've been feeling kind of… left behind. It's awful and selfish… but I couldn't help it."
"Oh, Maddy," I said comfortingly and gave her a half hug.
Maddy shrugged but accepted my hug. "Yeah, well, Papa said I should think on something I wanted to do and then just do it. The world is my oyster."
"That sounds like something Grandpa would say," I admitted with a smile.
"So, I decided and then did it."
"Alright," said with a nod. "What did you do?"
"That!" She said and grandly pointed at a sign in the window of the bookstore. It was from the local hospital asking for volunteers to help in 'general tasks' and help the hospital for free. "I signed up as a volunteer, I start tomorrow!"
I scanned the advertisement quickly again. "What do you think 'general tasks' means?"
"I don't know, I went to the hospital and the head of nurses asked me a bunch of stuff about my education and what I could do and stuff, and that if I grew sick in the sight of blood. So I told her I didn't and well, she said that she was going to assign me to help one of the doctors and that he would tell me what to do. I'm supposed to report Monday with a," She paused and dug out a paper from her pocket. "William Destler."
"Wow," I said because what else was there to say? "Well, it's awesome Maddy, I'm happy for you if this is what you want to do."
"It is! I feel so happy, like I'm finally going to do something out of my life, you know?"
"I know." I said with a smile. "So… I say, celebration is in order!"
"Yeah, lets go to the Honey Bee!"
"Let's!" I said and so we went.
I looked at William as he went into a sneezing fit.
"Sure you didn't catch something at that hospital of yours?" I drawled.
"Oh, shut up." Will ever the charmer. "Someone must be talking about me, probably Nurse Wells, cursing at me for not leaving the gauze stripes in perfect order or something."
"I truly sometimes don't know why you chose to stay at that hospital, you could be anywhere." I said though I did know.
I had known Will Destler for most of my life; we had gone to the same half-way decent school as children. The School for Undesirables, we called it; we had been drawn together in the war zone such school represented and had worked ourselves to exhaustion to get out of there. We had been friends since we were ten, and implicitly understood certain things, mostly that we both had things we didn't like to talk about.
Will shrugged, good natured as always. "Thanks for letting us put the advertisements in your bookstores, though." Will said, pointing at the ad in the window, asking for volunteers for the hospital where Will worked. "Some people have gone to the hospital and offered help. I'm told Nurse Wells will assign someone to help me starting Monday."
"It was no big deal," I answered. Though perhaps it was… I didn't know.
My business was expanding quickly, in the five years since I had taken over Fretwell's completely, I had acquired a dozen other libraries around London, two small news papers, a few periodicals and a publishing house. They all now operated under Ledger Publishing. I had taken great risks with investments trying to save Fretwell's from bankruptcy. Now I ran a considerable business…. And Thomas Fretwell –the only parent I had ever known – was happy to sit back and let me get on with it.
"Well, thanks anyway, we need all the help we can get." Will said with a rueful smile, he knew no other life than working in the accused hospital. He was brilliant enough to be anywhere else, but he wouldn't ever leave St. George's and we both knew it.
"Anytime, just ask." I said.
"Anyway, I better get back to the hospital for a while before going home; I want to check on some patients."
I shook my head. "You work too hard."
"So you say," Will shot back, just a touch sarcastic. "Besides, not all of us can run small empires like you, some of us had to go and do stuff, like, I don't know, save lives."
Half annoyed I threw his coat at him, Will just laughed it off catching his coat with one hand. "Remember that next time you want a donation for the hospital," I said as if I would refuse.
But we both knew I wouldn't.
I couldn't… because, when life has been kind to you, you can't do anything else but to give something back. Will and I both knew that… only that we applied it different ways.
End of Chapter One
Thanks so much to everyone.
Here is the last of the Evencort stories. As always, I think it can be read alone, but there are certain threats for those who had read the other stories.
Thanks for reading, and please review.
Clavie, Master of the Universe