The inside reflected much of the grandeur the exterior suggested. Statues and paintings adorned the marble floors and walls and grand chandeliers hung from high ceilings. Four great columns stood in the foyer like guards. Even though Jonavon had lived in this house his entire life so far, he never lost the feeling that he was living in a museum. Turning right, he passed through the sitting room and the parlor before finally entering the large dining area. From the dining room, he found the little door in the corner that led to the kitchens.
“’Lo, Jonny,” Bella said as soon as Jonavon stepped through the door. Her ‘hello’ was muffled because of the cucumber sandwich she was eating.
“Bella, you know those are for Mum’s guests today,” Jonavon said in slightly exaggerated exasperation.
“Oh, that’s fine, Mr. Collins,” Cadence said. Cadence was the resident cook; and a spectacular one nonetheless. “I’ve got the sandwiches and tea all prepared; I had a few spare slices of cucumber, and the little Miss very politely asked for a sandwich.” Cadence smiled fondly at Bella. Bella smiled smugly at Jonavon.
“Well, alright then. But don’t guilt Cadence into any more sandwiches, you hear me?” Jonavon asked. “I’ve got to go check on Mum, and when I come back, you’ll have to stop bothering Cadence.”
“She’s not a bother to me at all, Mr. Collins,” Cadence said. “I rather enjoy her company.”
“Nonetheless, you’ll have work to be done, and Bella will just be in your way.”
“I won’t be a bother,” Bella said, her lips forming into a small pout. “I can stay out of the way.”
“Well, I figured you and I could go out back and find some new flowers for the vases. The ones in here are getting a little old,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper. Arabella giggled and nodded eagerly as she reached for one more sandwich. Jonavon turned on his heel and walked out, smiling.
Jonavon found his mother in the parlor, seated in her plush velvet chair. The empty chair beside her still struck a chord in Jonavon, even after all this time Ms. Collins had not noticed her son had entered. She stared longingly at the empty chair; a choked sob escaped her lips. Jonavon rushed to her side. He gently placed his hand on her shoulder. She turned with a shocked jerk.
“Oh, Jonavon,” she said, her had against her heart. “I didn’t hear you come in…You really shouldn’t startle me like that…”
“Mum,” Jonavon said, “you don’t have to do this. If you’re not ready…”
Ms. Collins sighed. “I’ll be fine dear.” She glanced longingly at the seat next to her. “I miss him,” she whispered.
“I do, too.”
At that moment, Joseph entered and said, “The ladies have arrived, ma’am.”
“Good,” Ms. Collins said. “Send them in.” She sat up straighter and patted down any wrinkle on her dress. “Jonavon, why don’t you find Arabella? You can keep her occupied for a while, can’t you?”
“Yes, Mum.” He nodded, gave his mother a quick kiss, before leaving her. He returned to the kitchen, to find Bella still sitting on her stool, talking Cadence’s ear off. “Come now, Bella. Mum’s friends are here, so we need to clear out.”
“M’kay,” Bella said. “Good-bye, Cadence!” She hopped off her stool, placed her hand in Jonavon’s and, together, they left the kitchen. Jonavon led her into the dining room, but instead of continuing into the parlor – where his mum and her friends were – he turned left into the drawing room. From the drawing room, they located the door that would lead them outside into the garden.