Hope was standing beside the window, looking out. Rain spat against the glass, rippling streams of water cascading. She was holding a tray in her hands; a steaming pot of tea, a slice of toast on a china plate and a rolled napkin in a silver ring neatly set out upon it, around small silver dishes containing butter and sugar and a tiny silver jug of milk. When Rose came up behind her she jumped, nearly upsetting the tray and all its contents onto the leaf-green carpet.
They exchanged weak half-smiles and Rose fiddled with her watch-strap.
"You going in?" Rose asked.
"Were you waiting for me?"
"No...yes. Look, why don't you get the door?"
The door. The wood shone, aged and seasoned oak, the brass handle gleamed. Rose hardly liked to touch it. She ran her hands over the skirt of her dress and knocked softly, three taps, then pushed it open, holding it so Hope could enter first with the tray.
He was sitting up, leaning heavily against the plumped-up pillows, staring petulantly toward the mirror. The mirror was very large, sparkling silver in an ornate and heavy frame above the wide fireplace. Rose had climbed up to it as a child, tried to will herself through it like Alice. Life on the other side. Pity it hadn't worked.
Hope placed the tray on the small wheeled table and he moved grudgingly to accommodate it.
"It's not poison. It's breakfast," Hope said.
"Poison to me," he hadn't acknowledged either one of them but now he fixed his eyes on Rose. "You tell her!"
"It's just breakfast," Hope sighed but he turned on her with spitting hatred.
"Get out of here! Go on, get out. I can't listen to your stupid whining voice, look at that grotesque, hideous face of yours another moment! Leave me and Rose. I want to talk to her. Just her."
Hope rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. "I just wish..." she said and left, closing the door firmly behind her.
"Rose?" he said plaintively. "My Rose?" He moved one alabaster hand against the white sheet in a helpless gesture, inviting her to come forward and put her palm to his. Rose didn't move.
"How are you feeling?"
"Atrocious! Terrible! I'm dying Rose. I've left it all to you. You know that, don't you? Won't you come closer. Kiss me?" He lifted his cherubic face to the light. When he was still he never looked real. His face was too beautiful, sculpted and pale as marble. Copper-gold curls hung over his perfect brow and his eyes pleaded.
Rose swore under her breath and moved to the window, watching the rain. The garden looked as if it was underwater, washed in light.
"You won't die."
"Oh no?" he said. She could hear the amusement in his voice.
"The contract is up. It's done."
"But you renewed." She turned now, stared at him.
"No, not really. I put in a little something extra. It's all changed, Rose." He was sitting up, animated.
"Oh my God, what did you do?"
"We're going to have some fun. That's all. The old crow will never see it!"
"Oh hell, Grandad, what did you do!"