Barrett offers her brandy, companionship, a handkerchief, but Abigail cannot so easily be comforted.
“How is Morgenstern?” Barrett asked, handing a brandy to Abigail.
She shrugged. “The physician fears he will not live,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “But Emily has hope, and while she does, so do I.”
Barrett frowned. “Terrible business,” he said again. “No suspects?”
“The sheriff has no-one in mind as yet,” Abigail told him. “And Justin has been unable to assist the investigation.”
Barrett gestured and she took a seat, sinking thankfully into the comfy leather armchair. He took the seat nearest to her, placing his glass carefully upon a silver-plate coaster. “If there is anything I can do, you must let me know,” he said.
Abigail gave him a genuine smile. “Of course, Barrett. You are our oldest and dearest friend.” She reached out and laid one hand on his knee. “Your kindness has always meant so much to us. We have never feared anything that might befall us in society with you to watch over us.”
He licked the corner of his lips nervously. “I could watch over you better if I were to wed you.”
Abigail withdrew her hand and sat back primly and he was immediately contrite.
“Forgive me. A more inconsiderate time to discuss such a thing I can barely imagine. It is only that I do care and I do worry about you both. Your parents would have wanted you to be safe and happy.”
He was telling the truth, that was the worst thing of all. If only he were a little younger, or she a little older…no, it wasn’t the age difference, the white hairs in his trim moustache, the wrinkles at his eyes that prevented her from loving him. The fact was that she could never love him other than as a friend. Love could be lost, love could be nurtured, but love could not be forced.
Besides, Emily felt the same, and they had to be in agreement about these matters…and now that they were in agreement, this tragedy threatened what might be their chance at happiness.
She sipped at the brandy, grateful for the warmth of it as it slid down her throat. Barrett was silent, waiting, perhaps, for her to forgive him his misstep.
“Miss,” Barrett said softly. She looked over and he was proffering his handkerchief. It took her a moment to realise that she was crying – traitorous teardrops rolling, unbidden, down her cheeks. She gulped down the rest of the brandy and put down the glass so she could accept the handkerchief. Barrett took her glass away and took rather a long time to refill it, giving her privacy while she dabbed at her face.
“I weep for my dear sister,” Abigail said, a half-truth, when Barrett handed her the glass once more. “She is – was,” she took a deep breath, “is looking forward to the wedding.”
Another half-truth. Abigail longed to leave this place, sick of the charades, tired of the lies. Just a few more days and they would have been free. It was bitterly unfair.
The second brandy did nothing to calm her anger, nor her distress.
Notes: Barrett was developed from the characteraday prompt and related questions and is, in this vaguely 19th century scenario, an aristocrat with more money than brains although he’s charming and well mannered. He wants to develop a relationship with one of the beautiful identical twins – doesn’t matter much which as he can never tell them apart anyway – but they only see him as a friend and ally. He’s not sure of the motives of their current admirer, Justin Morgenstern, a man who claims he can in fact tell the difference between Abigail and Emily.
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