Contemplations of Things Past and Future

John stood in the corner of the small room, his hand on his chin, his brows furrowed, his teeth clenched. Rebecca stood near the door, her face a pale replica of the radiant visage he had first encountered. She continually tugged at the handkerchief she held in her hands, occasionally punctuating that activity with a quick dab of the handkerchief to her brimming eyes.

Lorraine stood beside her, an arm around her shoulder, murmuring soothing syllables into her ear from time to time. John couldn't hear what she said, but he knew the tone. It was comforting and authoritative all at once. John nearly smiled; many was the time he'd seen Lorraine take charge of a situation. It was one of her many strengths, and one of the many things he'd always admired about her.

Under the room's lone window stood a single bed, upon which lay the motionless form of the messenger. John didn't know the man, but he still felt a twinge of guilt over what had happened to him. He'd been hired by Sir Reginald, after all, and that made his fate the responsibility of the Broddington family.

An elderly man in a gray suit was bent over the bed, examining the messenger. Robert Witherspoon stood near him at the head of the bed, fidgeting nervously.

At length the elderly man—introduced to them as Doctor Crumberly—stood and turned towards Witherspoon, making a clucking sound and shaking his head slightly as he did so.

"No, Robert," he said. "This young man is most definitely dead."

John snorted, not so much in shock at the pronouncement as in indignation at the callous abruptness of it.

A sob escaped Rebecca's mouth. John glanced at her. She was trembling. Lorraine gripped her more tightly and murmured into her ear again.

Witherspoon, for his part, looked near ready to collapse. This was a far cry from the man John had seen earlier, when the hapless messenger had first staggered into the inn. Witherspoon had veritably flown into action then, recruiting a couple of burly patrons to carry the man into this tiny room and commanding the barmaid—whose name was Annabelle, John recalled for some odd reason—to begin mopping up the mud and blood immediately.

Now, it appeared, that head of steam had run out. John imagined Witherspoon to be one of those people who flourished when there were things to be done, but did not do well with waiting.

"Och, the poor lad," Witherspoon said, glancing down at the body. "He was just a bairn."

The doctor continued making clucking sounds as he packed up his instruments. "Young people these days," he said. "Well, he feels nothing now, Robert, so you needn't fret over him."

With that pronouncement Doctor Crumberly picked up his satchel and took his leave of the assemblage. John glared at his retreating back, wishing that his gaze had the force to burn holes in the man's suit jacket.

Witherspoon sighed. "So that's that, then."

Rebecca dried her eyes yet again. She was sure the redness and the swelling would soon become permanent if this kept up much longer. She shuddered to think of the impression she was making upon these people.

She hadn't cried this much since the divorce. She gritted her teeth as the memory stabbed her in the solar plexus. She tried to push it away, but the old pain was now mixing with the trauma of the last couple of days.

She'd shut herself off after Richard had left her. She'd thrown herself into her work and made it her focus. Through sheer dedication and determination, she'd moved up in the ranks and eventually become head of the agency. She hadn't been a cold and heartless she-wolf, stomping her way to the top; she'd just worked hard. She was, in fact quite a compassionate person; she simply didn't allow herself to get too close to her colleagues. It was safer that way.

Her one concession through all of it had been her decision to keep Richard's surname. "Rebecca Hargreaves" just sounded so much more professional than "Rebecca Witherspoon". That was no reflection on her family or ancestry. She just liked the sound of her married name better.

She just hoped her agency would still be in one piece when she got back—if she got back. Her decision to take this "vacation" had been rather hasty, and Alan, her assistant, had looked pretty panicked when she'd told him she was leaving for a while.

All this spun through her mind in an instant as she watched the doctor exit the room. She could feel Lorraine's arm around her shoulder, steadying her.

She tried to breathe deeply and calm herself somewhat. She'd be of no use to anyone if she remained a blubbering idiot. She was stronger than this, and it angered her that she had lost control of herself. But so much had happened. And in such a short time. It might take her a while to regain herself.

She glanced to the opposite corner of the room, where John Broddington was just then turning to look at her. His eyes were full of so many things: wonder, curiosity, concern, duty, but above all else she saw compassion there. And somehow, that allowed her to breathe again.

John gave her a small smile, then turned to Robert Witherspoon.

"I think we might all do well with a bit of dinner, don't you?" he said.

Witherspoon nodded. "Aye, that's for certain." He gazed down at the young man on the bed and shook his head. "I'll have one of the lads go and fetch the undertaker, I suppose."

Rebecca sniffled again, and brought the handkerchief to her nose, but this time, at least, she didn't sob.

The End

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