Charlotte’s Story

Charlotte’s Story by Laura Benedict Read Free Book Online

Book: Charlotte’s Story by Laura Benedict Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laura Benedict
intimidating on first glance than she had when I was little. Of course, I’d grown to love her too.
    “I’m about to put him down for his afternoon nap.”
    I winced as Michael tried to stand up on my thigh, unsteady in his hard-soled white walkers. I took one of his hands, and he wrapped his fingers around one of mine and squeezed as he righted himself. He was so determined, always persevering even when something challenged him.
    Everything had seemed to come more easily to Eva, as though she knew that nothing was too difficult for her to do or try.
    “You’re hurting Mother, Michael. Get down.” Nonie’s voice was still sharper than I’d heard it in a long while, and Michaellooked back at her so that he almost lost his balance. But I pulled him toward me so he would fall onto me instead of onto the bed, or perhaps the floor.
    “Why are you frightening him?”
    In fact, Michael looked more surprised than frightened, and quickly resumed trying to balance on me. I didn’t care that it hurt. I was finally happy to have him with me. Something had changed, just a little. It wasn’t the desperate kind of feeling I’d had every time I’d seen him over the past weeks.
    “I understand your husband will be staying in town to have dinner with Rachel and Jack. Maybe you should dress and join him, Lottie.”
    I didn’t respond at first. I knew I should go and spend time with Rachel. She was surely still very upset about Helen and Zion. That I didn’t care much for them shouldn’t have influenced my decision to stay home, but it did.
    “They’ll understand. They’ll be talking a lot about Helen and Zion. I don’t need to be there.”
    Nonie was finally quiet. I knew she meant well. I also knew that, like me, she hadn’t cared much for the Heasters. When they came to the house, she stayed in her room and listened to the radio or watched the television we had bought her for her fiftieth birthday (Press thought it was fine to indulge Nonie, but he believed televisions were foolish and plebeian and wouldn’t own one). She referred to them as “those New York people” and was unimpressed with Zion’s booming voice and full, leonine hair and the way Rachel and Jack and Preston hung on his every word. Also in the silence between us was the knowledge that she had been out of town when Eva died. Her guilt, I knew, was comparable to my own. But she had still cared for Michael when I couldn’t. No real grandmother could have done better.

    I did get up and dress and wash my face a few minutes after she took a very wound-up, sleepy Michael back to the nursery. Time was still slow. But when I left my room, I saw through eyes that hadn’t cried that day.
    In the hallway, I was assaulted by the smell of decaying flowers: lilies and roses and carnations, sent or brought to the house even days after Eva’s funeral. They were scattered in vases downstairs and on the second-floor gallery, which was where the family’s bedrooms were. Press’s and my bedrooms, the nursery, and Nonie’s room were all on the eastern side of the house. Olivia’s rooms and two guest rooms were directly opposite, across the wide expanse of the hall, which was open to the third floor and the ceiling’s dome. I stood looking over the gallery railing, remembering how the church had also smelled heavily of flowers during Eva’s church service.
    The hall and gallery walls—upstairs and down—were covered with paintings. There were many portraits, mostly Bliss family members, but a few from Olivia’s family as well, including one of her stern, plain-faced parents. As I went down the front stairs, I stopped, arrested by the portrait we’d had done of a two-year-old Eva and me that was hung above the landing near the bottom of the stairs. It was a very feminine painting, set in the rose garden with the maze blurred in the background, and full of the colors of late spring. In contrast, we wore ivory dresses: a tea gown for me, a simple silk dress piped

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