I swept through the grimy door of the Institution for Orphaned Children in the wake of my mother. We mounted the stairs and walked - small, light steps, neck straight, eyes down - into the study so my mother could discuss the finances of the Institution with Mr. Mould. Charity work. I slipped into a window seat - back straight, ankles crossed - and pulled out my needlepoint.
Half an hour and four perfectly stitched petals later, Mother was finished. Mr. Mould escorted us downstairs. I went into the dingy parlour to sit with the young women, as I did every Wednesday afternoon from 3:30 through tea time. Mother and Mr. Mould felt that if the young women at the Institution could be trained to have basic manners and some conversation skills to use in society, that after they left the orphanage, they could have more of a chance to stay on the straight and narrow path and not stray into darkness as per their lineage probably dictated.
The skinny blonde - Emily? - slouched in her chair and sighed. Every week was the same with her. She, less than any of the others, never appreciated the wonderful chance she had at the Institution. Emily should have stayed on the street, with that attitude. She'll be back there in the houses of corruption two months after she leaves, I wager.
After the usual hour or so of forced conversation and social blunders, I asked one of the prettier and more sociable girls to escort me back to the study so I could meet my mother and finally leave. As we walked up the stairs, a blonde boy came rushing down and narrowly avoided crashing into both of us.
"What do you think you're doing? You could have run straight into me! Walk in the house!"
He looked me in the eye.
I have never seen a person look like that. Every vein in his forehead stood out in fine definition. His face was flushing, but that wasn't what caught my eye. His eyes were on fire with an emotion that I didn't know, and don't want to know. A light flooded his eyes that came from somewhere between anger and pain - an animalistic response to I don't know what.
He turned away from me and proceeded much more slowly down the stairs, grinding what looked to be a letter in his left hand. I peeled myself off a wall that I didn't know I'd suddenly adhered to, and shakily continued up the stairs.
The door of the study was ajar just a bit, and I paused to compose myself before I presented myself to my mother. Taking a deep breath, I put my hand on the door to push it open, but what I saw through the crack of the door made me pause.
Mr. Mould's hand was resting on Mother's waist. Her head was tilted back and she was giggling like a girl.
I stepped back from the door quickly, my mind spinning. This simply couldn't be known. Mother would die. *I* would die!
"Leave me, Maggie."
She skittered away, and I took a deep breath. I rapped gently on the door jamb and after a beat pushed open the door.