Carrie and I embraced. She looked great!
“How are you, little mystery solver? Misha told me everything about your escapade and entrapment of the crooked Vladimere. God, I didn’t know. How could we not see his misdeeds?”
“Don’t say it like that, Carrie! You make it sound so posh.”
She laughed. “You are surviving, right?”
“I’m fine. Alicia might take some time to recover, though.”
“Alicia?” Caroline frowned.
“Alicia?” My mother echoed the sentiment as she looked between my friend and me.
Rather ignoring the latter, I studied the expression of the former. Surely…? Then the truth hit me lightning-bolt style.
“Oh! It’s been two years, and you might have forgotten. And my letter wasn't clear, either….”
I grabbed Carrie by the wrist and began to pull her out of the room. In the background, I was acutely aware of two complaints. The first, from my mother, seemed more important than the health of my leg, so it was to her that I turned briefly.
“Sorry, mum, but I will be back soon. That’s one promise I can keep.”
“No. Agnetha. I’ve lost you once, and once is really enough.”
She stood, and slid her long fingers to encircle each hip. I bit down on my lower lip. No excuses came now. No reasons for me to accompany a stranger away.
Luckily, Carrie’s lawyer attire rescued me.
“Let her go, Mrs. King,” she said. “You have a great daughter, who will do great things someday. What’s stopping her is your fastened palm on her shoulder. Let her go, because it is the right time.”
Wow. She was totally correct, filled with wonderful prose that I’d never expect of Caroline. Maybe she had been taking notes! She, once a wreck, was the one saying those things to my mother that I had always wished to, but never really had the gall to. My mother drooped; and yet, was there a bead of light in her eyes now?
“All right. I love you, Aggie, even when you think otherwise. Why should I be impervious to the things each mother must do? Oh, Agnetha, do well, and be safe. I couldn't bare to lose my only daughter.”
My face broke into a great grin. This turn of events had left my delirious. Oh, how I loved it when a case came to an end smoothly. On the other hand, I had been Alicia's bane. This one last thing for her, I hoped would patch us up rightly.
“Come on, Carrie!”
I was still clutching at her hand. In one more pull, we were in the hospital corridor; in another three, I had stood her beside Alicia's bed.
The girl must have sensed someone in her presence, for she opened her eyes, keeping the relaxed hand where it had been keeping guard of her stomach.
“Aggie?” she said, eyes wide once again. “Who’s this?”
I took a deep breath. Revelations were exhausting! But now were my moments of triumph and I could not pass up this opportunity, the one they had both been waiting for.
“Alicia Craig, this is your late uncle’s wife. This is your aunt.”
It was odd to hear the simultaneous given gasps. Looking between the two faces, I noticed that even their gaping mouths hung in similar fashion. Blood or not, Carrie and Alicia were meant to be together. Of that I was sure.
The former settled first, not having been so formally addressed as her young companion, and Carrie began to study Alicia.
“Elizabeth!” she cried out suddenly. Alicia and I, we stared at her.
After a minute or so of simply staring at the woman’s glazed-eye appearance, Alicia spoke up to her:
Carrie’s eyes snapped into focus. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry.” She closed her mouth. “It’s just that you look so much like your mother, who must have been Elizabeth Craig, am I correct? How old are you, sixteen?”
Bewildered, Alicia nodded her head.
“Yes…the night of the Year Eleven ball…” Carrie continued a little absent-mindedly. “The way the light catches the twinkle in your eye, and brings out the natural highlights in your hair.”
“I didn’t think there could be highlights in white hair,” added Alicia. Her attempt to calm Carrie worked.
“I knew your mother, you know,” Carrie said, ignoring the remark, which had been a clever point to make. “We were best friends, until she shut herself away from me…. I’m sorry to hear what happened, but at least we have you now to thank for everything.”
Alicia nodded at me. “Thank you, Agnetha. You can’t tell me how much I value this.” She turned to Carrie. “Aunt…?”
“Caroline,” the lady prompted.
“Aunt Caroline, it’s lovely to meet you. Under such strange circumstances, too. Well, those are not entirely coincidental. I only came here as part of a relaxing break for my grandmother, who needed the change to rest her weary bones. We noticed you, Aggie, in Treyakov Gallery.” So that was the old woman who had so pointedly at me: Mrs. Craig. Now it made sense for me to have recognised the lady. “Imagine my surprise when I heard that my saviour, Agnetha King, was in danger.”
“And how, might I ask, did you?”
“Through the grapevine. Through the networks of allies I built up in Moscow during my stay. You didn’t think I’d seriously see you and not suspect foul play of sorts? I crept around. I’m sorry if you thought I was tailing you, but you were pretty easy spot. When you left with Richard at such a strange hour, I thought it best to keep an eye on you. You never would have thought that the cabbie would be so useful as to report back!”
“You really did spy on me!” I exclaimed, giggling. How wonderful it was to have a like figure in this girl!
Alicia grinned. “You’re great, you know.”
I flushed a deep red. Neither of them noticed, luckily, so deep in new reunion that they were.
“Oh, I know,” said Carrie to Alicia; “Agnetha brought me back from the bring of destruction when I’d lost everything dear to me. I truly loved your uncle, and his death broke my heart. And this was at our first meeting!”
Alicia nodded in her private way again.
“But, Irene, how is she? My sudden departure – no letter and no anything – must have been terrible for her….”
I put a hand to Carrie’s shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself. You had no choice.”
“She’s had me,” admitted Alicia. “Anyway, she’s getting to the end of her years. I think she’ll be glad when she’s finally at peace with her son. I, however, will have nowhere to go. I like it out here. I might stay or come back to Moscow if it comes to it.”
Alicia’s voice sunk as she finished her sentence. She knew it was useless.
“Well…” said Carrie, a small smile creeping across her face. She gestured at her suit as if that explained every single detail. “This is what I actually came to see you about Aggie: my hearing with the British embassy is this afternoon. It’s been said that, because I’m innocent, there’s a good chance that I can go home. A good chance! I can get Misha to use some of his police influence to convince them that I have helped with the case here. Imagine that, Aggie: I can return to England. I don’t need my job as a governess, but it’s been eye-opening. I might go back to university when I get home.”
I embraced Carrie. “That’s great! Wait, what about Misha – Inspector Simnova? You’d be leaving him here; you’d effectively be dumping him.” It wasn’t a scene I wanted to think about, despite how awesome the end result would be to our friendship.
“I know; I’ve thought about that. Misha was nice, but was our relationship really going to last? We’re a bit too incompatible at the very end of things.”
“Oh, okay. Then that is great news to hear!”
“I don’t mean to sound selfish,” interrupted Alicia, “but how does that help me?”
“I have nowhere else to live but the place where I stayed before I had to escape, the house in which Joshua invited me to stay through marriage: your home. I suppose you and Irene still live there? I’ll be your guardian –”
Alicia almost sprung out of her bed. “You will?” She clutched at her stomach at little uneasily, and Caroline pushed her back into the mass of pillows.
“Of course! There is no one else. A niece! Oh, this is a wonderful thing to have happened. I’m sorry I had to leave and I’m sorry I didn’t know beforehand. But I’m definitely willing to look after – no, care – for you.”
She had been adjusting the pillows around Alicia’s head when youthful hands sprung up and pulled her neck down to Alicia’s level.
“Thank you,” the girl whispered.
My work here is done, I said to myself. I turned, leaving the two in their own company.
My mother was still waiting in the ward I was supposed to be residing or resting in, and she was staring blandly out of the window. For Moscow, the day’s chill was warm and calm, and the sludge was beginning to thaw. Change was slipping out. Slowly, day by day.
At the sound of my uneven footsteps (I hated to admit it, but I did still limp), my mother turned, evidently surprised to see me back where I was supposed to be in due time.
“Come on, mum,” I said, “let’s go home.”