2. Be Nice.
The reception we held afterward was sparse. It was a dreary affair, all badly made sandwiches and cheap Swiss rolls. My mother retired to her bed, almost collapsing under the insincere condolences as she made her way up the stairs.
I watched her go, a shadow of her former self, and then I turned my attention to making more sandwiches.
"I'm sorry for your loss," a distant aunt told me.
"Thank you," I said simply, as I wondered if she was sorry that I'd lost my father or my fortune.
Both, I supposed.
As the sparse number of guests collectively decided to leave, I decided to clear up. It seemed like all I'd done recently was sit around. I needed to keep busy. Busy was good.
No, busy was great.
Busy meant that I didn't have to close my eyes and see a man slumped over his desk, red adorning his temple, red adorning the wall.
Busy meant that I didn't remember the words of apology, written with a shaky hand, smeared by tears of guilt, of shame.
From across the corner of my eye, I could still see my father, younger, less bald, less grey. If I listened really hard, I could still hear his laughter booming across the walls, scattering throughout the house. It had happened so suddenly, it was like almost like a very bad dream. It couldn't be true. It couldn't.
And yet it was. I'd seen his pallid face, hugged his lifeless form as my mother read the note that broke her heart. She'd always thought that he'd be there, not matter what. And now, he was not.
The air in the room felt suffocating, and I struggled to draw breath into my lungs.
I stepped out into the garden, into the half forest, half unkempt garden that would soon no longer be ours. The debtors had come just days ago, taken little fragments of what had once been my home. The grand patio was gone; the mantelpiece was now cleared of the clutter my mother loved so much. The walls were bare, devoid of the artwork that I'd spent hours admiring. I think the thing that hurt the most was when they took away the desk.
The heavy, century old mahogany desk, beautifully restored and painfully cared for, had once sat in my father study. When I thought about it, I thought about being eight again and seeking its heavy, musty refuge from one very aggravating Brady Bernhardt. I'd always get under my father's legs, always interrupt his important grown up work, but I did it anyway and he never yelled.
I took a deep breath of the fresh air and let go of the memory of the desk.
What else could I do?
Savouring the faraway hum of life carrying on, I tucked myself into the little nook between the over grown oak tree and the too tall grass.
"There you are." A voice broke my thoughts, sombre and gravelly.
I looked up at Brady. "I thought you'd gone with the rest of them."
"And leave you and your mother to clean up the mess? That would be ungentlemanly of me."
It seemed like a lifetime ago I'd have a smarmy response to that, but today, I had nothing.
"Thanks," I said instead.
He took that as in invitation to join me.
"I can't believe he's gone," he said as we sat in silence. "It was like yesterday I saw him, trying to play matchmaker."
I laughed a little, the beginnings of an ache building up in my chest. "God, that feels like it happened to a different person." I exhaled. "I can't believe he's gone."
My vision clouded, and one tear dropped, and then two. And then, I couldn't stop.
I did what my mother and my aunt had done, right at the beginning. I fell apart. And I didn't know how I was going to be put together again.
"Hey, shhh, shhh." Brady Bernhardt had deal with enough crying women in his time to know what worked and what didn't. He hovered, he hesitated and eventually, he rubbed his knuckles lightly, underneath the curve of my chin and cupped my cheek with one hand.
I brushed his hand away and he just pulled me closer. I cried into his suit, my tears wetting the wool of his suit.
When my sobbing had dulled into hiccups that punctuated the cricket's song, when the glow of the sun had dimmed to a husky sunset, he spoke again.
"I think you should make a wish," he said as he pulled a dandelion seed from my hair.
I shook my head, and choked a little. "I...I'm not eight anymore." It was a white little piece of fluff. If I still believed in wishes, I wouldn't pin big hopes on such a brittle little thing.
"Go on," he urged.
"Okay." I turned to the seed resting on his finger, and I closed my eyes. "I wish...to be far away from here. A million miles." I exhaled and opened my eyes to peek at him. "How's that for a wish?"
"Then let's go," He said. "Let's get away. Maybe not quite a million miles away, but as far as we can."
"What?" I looked up at him. "We can't just..."
"Yes we can. It'll be easy."
He shrugged. "Why not?"
"What about mother?"
"She'll be fine."
"Why are you being so nice?"
He looked at me. "I've always been this nice."
"Not to me."
He considered this. "I don't think we've ever been nice to each other."
I gave him a little smile, a quirk of my lips. "I didn't think we were capable."
He let out a little chuckle. "Neither did I Sophie, neither did I."
"Tonight's just a night of surprises isn't it Brady Bernhardt."
He pursed his lips as he looked at me. I always meant to ask you that." I titled my head, signalling for him o continue. "Why do you call me that?"
"Brady Bernhardt. You know, you can just call me Brady. We're practically friends now, going on holiday, having civil conversations."
I titled my head as I considered his name, rolling it around my tongue silently before I came to a conclusion. "I don't think you could ever just be Brady to me, Brady Bernhardt."
He gave a little chuckle, a rich sound that came from deep within his throat. "Careful there Sophie; I might just get the impression that you actually like me."
I said nothing.
He got up, stretching his long limbs as he unfolded. "Eight," he said with conviction.
I blinked at him. "What?"
"Eight. I'll pick you up then. It'll be nice and quiet, no traffic."
"Just like that."
He gave me a little smile. "Just like that. Live a little Sophie Hamilton."
"What about my mother?"
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Exactly. Tomorrow at eight, Sophie Hamilton, your life begins."
I mulled his words over in my head as I packed, the sobbing in the other room subsiding as the sleeping pills kicked in. And in the dark of the night, I curled into a ball, the alarm on my nightstand set for seven thirty exactly.
Tomorrow, Sophie Hamilton, your life begins.