Garnet would always think it appropriate that on the one day Heloise needed her, she was already busy doing something of which Heloise could only approve. Studying.
And the sad thing was, she was actually enjoying the book she was reading and — to a certain extent — the paper she was writing. Of course it took a person like Heloise to actually enjoy writing papers for their own sake, but Garnet thought the material was intriguing and her own thoughts were taking her interesting places. The best — or worst — part was that this was a paper for one of her mandatory religion classes, the ones she had put off and put off until she had only a year left and had to stack them all in.
Then again, she had managed to get away with choosing a topic that was only religious slantwise. Her title was Powre Behind the Throne: Quene Cassandra and the Conversion of Lothario. She was even getting some ideas, beyond the religious context, for the future …
Later on, she would remember, vaguely, hearing the door to the house open and close. But she hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time. Between the other girls — even if it was only her and Heloise now — the boys from the fraternity, and their maid, the door was always either flying open or swinging shut. Besides, Garnet was interested in this last bit of the history she was writing.
It was about the lady-in-waiting who first called in St. Darren the Dreamer to paint Queen Cassandra’s portrait. Her name had been Brandi le Tourneau, the given name indicating that she had been born a Wrightian. Most historians agreed that she had brought the saint in as a portrait-painter on purpose, meaning to help her queen along the path to the True Faith. Garnet hoped that they were right, not merely because she was agreeing with them for the purposes of her paper, but also because it opened up fascinating possibilities for a real lady-in-waiting —
But all of those thoughts died when she heard Heloise shout.
Garnet yelped and dropped her pen. “Heloise?” she called over her shoulder. “Was that you?”
Nothing — nothing but a low, animalistic groan. Garnet nearly tipped out of her chair in her rush to be up and out the door.
“Heloise?” she called. “Heloise? What’s —
“No!” Heloise choked, staring at the parchment that lay strewn over the table. “No, no, no!”
Garnet’s jaw fell open. She found herself creeping up to Heloise softly, slowly, as if she were a horse that was liable to spook at any moment. “Heloise?” Garnet crooned. “What’s the matter?”
“Go away!” Heloise pushed one hand, then the other, through her hair. “The last thing I need is your –” She hiccuped on what was almost a sob. “Pity!”
She scarcely stopped in surprise before she winced. How many times had she thought — or said — as much? To people who tried to care, who were trying to help? She knew how little anybody needed pity, how it was salt on an already-wounded pride …
But it was balm for an aching heart.
That kept Garnet going closer, even as Heloise tried to scuttle out of her way. “What is it?” asked Garnet. Then, lest the sight of Garnet being gentle do Heloise more damage than good, she added, “It’s not like you’ll be rid of me before I know, anyway. So you might as well just tell me.”
“No! It’s none of your damn business!”
Did she fail a paper? Garnet wondered. That would certainly explain … well, everything. And Heloise would fall apart all the more now that she was all-but-accepted into the Sisters of St. Allegra, dowry waived. If she lost that, she could lose everything.
So Garnet reached a hand toward Heloise’s shoulder. “Look,” she said, “I know it looks bad now, but –”
“Go away!” Heloise wriggled away from her.
And when she did, she laid the parchment on the low table open to view. Not enough that Garnet could it all. But enough that she could decipher a few key words.
Words like Mother … worse … not long now …
And the plea scrawled at the end: Come home. Come home now.
Garnet gasped. “Oh, Lord! Heloise! Your — your mother!”
Heloise’s gaze whipped between Garnet’s face and the parchment. “You read my mail?”
“Read your mail? No! It’s sitting right there! I saw –”
“You read my mail! You –” Heloise’s hands balled into fists, trembling at her sides. “You bitch! How dare you!”
If Garnet was a wiser person, she would have seen immediately what Heloise was doing: protecting herself by lashing out at someone else. Focusing her mind on the inconsequential to avoid having to deal with the enormity of what was sitting on the parchment on the table. How many times had Garnet herself employed that exact tactic?
But she wasn’t that wise. Yet.
“Oh, you’re calling me a bitch? That’s rich. Hello, Pot, I’m Kettle!” she spat. “Lord! At a time like this –”
“You wouldn’t know what t-time it was if you hadn’t read my mail.”
The hitch — the sob swallowed — it was scarcely noticeable. But it was enough to poke Garnet’s conscience. So she swallowed the bitchy comment crowding in her throat, even if it nearly choked her on the way down. “Look, I’m sorry I read your mail,” Garnet replied. “And I’m sorry about your mother. But –”
“Sorry? Sorry? How the hell can you be sorry! You — you hated your mother!” Heloise yelled.
Bitch, please! Did Heloise think she was her mother? Morgause wouldn’t have known genuine sympathy if it came up and bit her in the ass. But Garnet — Garnet had to be better than that. She had actually lose someone she cared about, hadn’t she? Her father. She had thought her heart would stop beating when she held his hand that last time and bid him goodbye. And when they laid him in the crypt …
Garnet still couldn’t remember it without the chill of the grave stealing over her. She shuddered.
“Heloise –” she began. She would remain calm. She would be kind to Heloise as others had been kind to her. And unlike Clarice — unlike even Leona — she would get it. She had been there, hadn’t she? Clarice, Leona, they had been fortunate enough not to travel down that road. Yet.
But at the same time, Garnet had never traveled down Leona’s or Clarice’s roads. If she had, maybe she would have been less shocked when Heloise’s shoulders crumbled and she sobbed into her hands, “And I never loved my mama enough!”
Lord, did Garnet know how that felt.
She didn’t mean for — didn’t want — the memories to come riding roughshod over her. But they did. The first, so dim, so insubstantial, like a gossamer scarf that was just a stray breeze away from collapsing into threads. Her, shying away from her mother, hands hooked around her Lonnie’s neck. Her mother’s hands, hooked into claws, as they tried to tear her away from her Lonnie. “Stupid girl! Fine, be with your undead nursemaid, and not your own mother! May you grow as ugly as he someday!”
Crying and crying as Lonnie tried to comfort her …
Then, when she was older, not practicing her piano as her mother wanted. “But Mama, I want to go play outside!”
Morgause looking up from her book, cat-green eyes narrowed. Nose twitching in disdain. “Fine, fine. Go play. Heaven forbid you take just a bit of time from your busy day to please your poor mother.”
Still later, when she had become a woman — having no idea what the blood on her smallclothes meant — running to Morgan to beg her to make the bleeding stop before she died. How Morgan had been surprised, but hadn’t laughed; instead she had hugged Garnet and calmed her down and explained everything — answered every question Garnet asked. She had felt so relieved, fresh and clean, when Morgan was done, and Morgan even gave her a tea to help with the cramps. And then Garnet went home.
Her mother was waiting in her room, saintly as the Blessed Brandi herself, arms outspread in something like an embrace. “My daughter! Your maid tells me you became a woman today!”
Garnet could still remember that hug. Her mother’s perfume of witch hazel and musk. The bony underclothes under the soft velvet of the bodice. Being able to lean on her mother’s breast for the first time … well, ever, since Garnet doubted Morgause had nursed her herself.
“Now, daughter, surely you will have questions …”
“Oh, that’s all right, Mother. Morgan already answered them.”
That was the first time her mother had physically pushed Garnet away. She had flown into the footboard of her bed. The bruise on her lower back lasted a week.
That had been the quickest of her hurts to heal.
In the present, Garnet crept closer to Heloise and laid a hesitant arm across her shoulder.
“Of course you loved your mother enough, Heloise,” Garnet murmured. It was nothing more than what Morgan, Accolon, Jessie, Leona — even the King and Queen, even Lamorak! — had told her dozens of times. They had all believed it. Garnet had even heard a muttered, “More than she ever deserved,” from more than one of them.
But Garnet had never believed it — not while Morgause’s disdainful sniffs, her elegant raised eyebrow, her cluck of disappointment could ever come to bear on Garnet from all sides.
And to judge by her hollow voice as she tried to reassure Heloise, she didn’t believe it now.
“No, I didn’t!” wailed Heloise.
“D-d-do you know what I did?” Heloise sobbed, her face a mucusy mess. Before Garnet could fish a handkerchief out, Heloise wiped her face on her sleeve. Now the sleeve glistened, while Heloise’s face shown a scrubbed red. “My whole adolescence! She just wanted me to go out and have some fun, and I f-f-fought her every step of the way!”
… Wait … Heloise’s mother wanted her to have fun? Be happy?
“She wanted me to g-g-go out, and m-meet boys, and b-be silly! And I d-d-didn’t want to! I didn’t even want to go out walking with Isabel! I just wanted to r-read my b-b-books! And you know — you know what else s-s-she did?”
Garnet shook her head. Not that it mattered — Heloise’s eyes were too scrunched and blurred to see anything.
“She apologized! To me! She s-s-said sh-she was the bad mother — when I was the horrible d-d-daughter! How terrible am I?”
She thinks she was a horrible daughter for that? For arguing with her mother a bit? For having a better idea of what would make her happy than Helena did? For obviously being a good enough daughter in other ways that Helena would see her mistakes and apologize for it? Garnet’s mother had been twice, three, a thousand times more horrible, and Garnet had never been anywhere near a good enough daughter to make Morgause regret the slightest part of it.
And Helena wasn’t dead yet. Heloise still had time enough to get home, if she hurried, and apologize to her mother for being … Heloise.
And she was standing here crying?
Garnet slipped her arm off Heloise’s shoulder and took out her wand.
“I’m horrible, aren’t I?” Heloise gulped. She sniffled — no, she didn’t just sniffle, she inhaled, the snot bubbling every inch up her nose. Garnet could hear it from here. “I was such a bad daughter … what am I going to do, Garnet?”
Garnet concentrated — this was a tricky spell if she wanted to do it right —
“Garnet?” Heloise tugged at her bodice and looked around. “Garnet, where did you —
“GARNET! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”
Garnet smirked and watched as her spell took effect. First there would be the dazed expression — then the sparkles as the spell took effect — then the Sim ought to take a deep breath, grin, and bound off to her next expression. At least, that was how the spell normally operated. And Heloise certainly exhibited the dazed expression and the sparkles that danced around her arms, her shoulders, her torso, hips and head.
But since this was Heloise, instead of smiling, she scowled. “What the hell was that?”
“A simple spell. Benemoodus Simae. It –”
“I can parse Reman, you idiot! Benemoodus — you wanted to put me in a good mood? A good fucking mood? What part of my mother is dying don’t you understand?”
“I understand every part, including the part you don’t,” Garnet snapped.
Heloise threw her hands into the air. “What could that possibly be?”
“That she’s dying — not dead! You have a chance, Heloise! A chance to get to see her, to make things right! You want to live the rest of your life knowing that you were crying and blubbering and making a damned fool of yourself when you could have been throwing some clothes in a trunk, hightailing it to the livery stables, and getting to see your mother before the worst happens?”
Heloise narrowed her eyes. “Shut. Up.”
“No! I won’t! Damn it, Heloise, you have a chance — a chance a lot of Sims don’t get. You can have one last talk with your mother. You can say goodbye.” And maybe, unlike my father, she’ll be able to talk to you back. “Don’t carry around the guilt of never saying goodbye for the rest of your life, Heloise. It isn’t fun.”
“And I suppose,” Heloise sniffed, head held high and arms crossed before her, “you would know that better than anyone.”
Of course she would go there. It was Heloise. If she wasn’t going to go straight for the jugular, she didn’t see a point in striking. “Believe me,” Garnet replied, voice as still and even as she could make it, “I thought long and hard about whether to say goodbye or not. And I knew I’d be regretting whatever decision I’d make until the day I died. Some days I still wish there are some things I would have told my mother.” Those were the days when she was miserable that the last time she had seen her mother, her mother had tried to kill her. Most of the time, she was sensible enough to know that visiting her in the prison risked a repeat performance. “But my relationship with my mother was a hell of a lot worse than yours. If I have regrets … what will you have?”
Heloise at least had the sense to look stung and thoughtful. “That still didn’t give you the right to cast a spell to make me bloody happy when my mother is dying.”
“But I didn’t make you happy, did I?”
“Please. That could simply be lack of skill.”
If Heloise hadn’t been about to be bereaved — about to lose her mother — Garnet would have turned on her heel and said to hell with Heloise then and there. For what she had said was far too close to something Morgause would have come out with. But there was a difference. Heloise’s was an offhand barb, intended for defense far more than offense. Morgause would have believed it.
“It isn’t,” replied Garnet. “I didn’t want to make you happy. I wanted to make you rational.” True to form, Heloise flinched at the accusation that she could be anything other. “Of course you’re bloody miserable. Who wouldn’t be? But you know what? You can blubber and make a fool of yourself in the carriage. Now, you have to pack and go see your mother.”
For the first time in their acquaintance — perhaps the first time in her life — Heloise had nothing to say to that.
“So let’s go,” Garnet turned Heloise and gently steered her to the stairs, “let’s get you packed, and then we’ll go down to the stables and hire you a ride home. And then you can see your mother.”
Proving, perhaps, that something Garnet had said had stuck — probably the accusation of irrationality — Heloise followed her. Or maybe the spell was starting to wear off, and Heloise was turning again into her grief-stricken self, ready to follow where someone else led for fear of having to lead the way herself.
Or maybe the spell was working better than Garnet had ever intended.
Not that she would count on it. Heloise, even when rational, was never as quiet as she was now, as Garnet burst into her wardrobe, took out gowns and laid them neatly on the bed. She would need, Garnet calculated, at least a week’s worth of clothing. If she needed to stay longer, there were plenty of laundresses in Albion. But a week’s worth ought to do it.
So out came bodices and gowns, shifts and smallclothes, stockings and an extra pair of shoes. A few sets of laces, just in case. Extra shifts, again, just in case. You always wanted a clean shift.
And last of all — the clothes on the very top — was Heloise’s best and indeed only black gown. Garnet said not a word as she brought it out. There was no using bringing up the fact that Heloise would need it.
“… Garnet?” Heloise murmured as the last gown was laid on the bed.
Garnet froze, then turned to Heloise, awkward and playing with her belt. “Oh. Don’t — don’t mention it. It’s nothing.”
“It’s something. Thank you.” Heloise took a faltering step forward, arms outstretched — and hesitated.
Garnet met her halfway.
“It’s fine, Heloise, really,” Garnet murmured. “It’s no trouble, I swear. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Garnet Orkney.”
Garnet rolled her eyes. “I’m not lying. Truly, Heloise … after all we’ve been through, these four years here in Camford … what do you think friends are for, if not for this?”