THE HOUSE OF BALESTROM
The House of Balestrom stood intimidating above the tree lines. Its beautiful red roof and Victorian arches reached up to the sky like hands. The day was clear and bright as the lake that separated land and island quietly moved around the ferry that crossed it. Sara leaned on the banister as she watched the island get slowly closer. She sighed because the ride was almost over and she wanted to continue to take in the sight of the house. David nudged her with his shoulder and pointed in the direction of the island as more of the house came into view. Both of them were excited to be there, though the circumstance of their journey to the House of Balestrom was a sad one. When Susan called Sara telling her of the news that her husband had died and that she wanted Sara and David to come over to be with her during her time of grief, Sara agreed to it fast.
Sara was not sure where they were going so both of them looked up Balestrom House on the internet, discovering many strange things about the house and the Balestrom family. They never thought that one family was documented so well—especially a family neither of them had ever heard of before now. They read up on the family and realized that they were out of place. Sara and David were not bankers or businessmen like the Balestroms. They were merely like every other American—an average person with a day job.
David was a teacher like Sara. They both met at a teacher’s conference in North Carolina. Both of them began to talk the first day at the conference and fell in love. When the conference ended, Sara did not want to leave David’s side. He felt the same way and so they both decided to give it a shot. They rented a place in North Carolina, while finding new jobs there or other places until they decided where they would fit in. They settled on Minnesota.
Minnesota became their place, where they could recreate themselves and be together. David proposed to Sara when they bought their first house together. He held a small dinner with friends they had met from the school system they worked for. David had got on one knee during the toast and proposed. Sara cried and screamed with happiness. She could not stop saying yes to him, as they hugged and kissed. Their friends were excited for them as well. Sara immediately called Susan up to tell her the great news about her engagement.
“Oh, Susan, the ring is so beautiful,” Sara exclaimed over the phone to her sister. She kept staring at it while she told Susan about what David did and how he proposed and how she could not stop saying yes. She laughed thinking about it over and over again. “We are going to have a spring wedding and I want you to be here,” she said into the receiver.
“I will try darling, but I can’t make any promises,” Susan said. “You know I am not even in the states right now,” she added.
“You’re not in the states,” she said sounding shocked. “Where are you?”
“Dear I’m in Turkey,” she said. “I met this nice man from London, when I was visiting Belize. He is an amazing man and he told me about some property he owned in Turkey and that I should come and see it, so here I am darling.”
Susan was always meeting interesting men who did things for her. They would take her off to places and spend a great deal of money on her. She was lucky in that way. She travelled more than Sara ever had the chance to do. Sara had only been to London once and that was when she took an internship over there for college. But she was so happy to know that Susan was not wasting her life away with just anyone. Susan’s life was so unpredictable and carefree. Sara wished she could live like that, but she was too afraid of the world. She needed structure and something physical. She could not live out of Hotel rooms and yachts with people she had never met. It seemed to Sara that Susan did not even have a place of her own. She could remember a few years ago, Susan mentioning that she needed to go by her apartment and pick up something for her trip to L.A., but that was the only time.
Sara could imagine Susan’s house being beautifully decorated and untouched. Susan would laugh at her house, because it was so lived in.
“You have to be here,” Sara exclaimed. “I need my sister by my side. Besides Mom and Dad haven’t seen you in a long time and they keep asking about you.”
“I swear they act like I don’t call them,” Susan said.
“They act that way with me too,” Sara added with a smile.
“I will be there then,” she said. “You’re my sister and you need me. But with one condition.”
“What’s the condition?”
“Well two conditions. One, I am not a bridesmaid and two, you don’t throw me the bouquet,” she said, laughing.
“Done,” Sara laughed. “I won’t make you a Bridesmaid. But you can be my Best Maid,” she said.
“A Best Maid,” she said. “It’s like a Best Man, but you’re the female version.” Sara laughed.
“Wow, Sara, that doesn’t sound traditional at all,” Susan said sounding surprised.
“Well maybe you’re being a bad influence on me,” she said. They both laughed at each other over the phone.
Susan did come to Sara’s wedding. She came in enough time to add her opinion to the construction of the wedding, despite how David’s parents objected. The wedding was successful and Susan gave Sara several wedding gifts. One gift was a check for fifty-thousand dollars and the other was two plane tickets to Paris, which included a package deal for newlyweds. When Sara and David saw the check, they both were amazed. Sara had no idea that Susan had such money. Several guests and family members asked Susan what she did for a living, but she would casually avoid the question by changing the subject or she would just laugh and say, “who needs to work”.
The man Susan brought with her to the wedding was what their mother would call a “catch”. He was six-five with dark brown hair. He wore a beautiful suit that was blue. He wore it like a model. He even had the face of a model. He walked up to Sara and David kissing her hand and shaking David’s. He wished them both a bright and happy future as he smiled at them with pearl white teeth. He was so clean and chiseled. The next day Sara finally got to see—in her opinion—why Susan brought Mr. Chiseled—Mr. Chiseled being what everyone was calling him. Some would have thought that Susan was with him because of his beautiful features and strong body, which he proudly showed off when everyone went to the beach to lay out and swim. Both men and women looked at him in amazement and even—lust, which made Sara giggle like a little school girl.
“Can you believe what we are seeing,” David said, looking Mr. Chiseled up and down. “There isn’t any fat on that man’s body. It’s all lean muscle,” he said, gawking.
“Stop staring,” Sara laughed, swatting at David.
“I can’t help it.”
“If you don’t stop he will think that you like him,” she teased. David laughed and looked away bashfully. Every now and then Sara would catch David looking at his own body. He would flex an arm here or there to see where his muscles were. Sara would laugh and then touch David’s leg. “All your muscles are right here,” she said, taking her finger and poking David in the head.
“Great,” he said. Now he was determined to start working out. Sara knew why Susan brought Mr. Chiseled and it was not for attention—well attention for her, but more of a distraction from her. She wanted to avoid people’s stares and questions. Mr. Chiseled was with Susan for fun. It was the kind of fun that you could only have from someone that was not your husband, but more of a lover. Why Susan wanted to avoid people was a mystery to Sara, but it was how Susan had always been—private.
A few more years had gone by and Susan called Sara to tell her that she had married. It came as a shock because Susan had never talked about a man being in her life. At first, Sara thought it was Mr. Chiseled whom Susan had married, but it turned out to be a Mr. Victor Balestrom. Sara had never heard of him and yet never met him. She was a little upset that she was not invited to the wedding—and yet no one was invited to the wedding.
“I’m so sorry dear, it was one of those things that just happened,” she said.
“I understand, it’s your life, but oh, Susan, I just wanted to be there for you like you were for me on my wedding day.”
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “I can’t help it. I just had to snatch this one up before he got away. He is not like my other two husbands. He is so much better than them.”
“What,” Sara said. “You were married twice before?”
“Yes, I thought I told you,” Susan said, surprised.
“No,” Sara said. “When did this happen and where are they now?”
“Sara, dear, everything is good,” Susan said. “I was married twice before, but they both passed away a few years after we married. How do you think I had all that money?”
“I don’t know, Susan, but now I’m worried about you.”
“Oh, my dear Sara, please don’t worry about me. Be happy for me,” she said. “He’s a keeper and I will make everything up to you.”
“You promise,” Sara asked.
“Yes, dear I promise.”
Susan kept her promise. Every year when a holiday would come up, she started sending Sara and David cards. The cards had photos of Susan and Victor on them and inside the cards would be a brief note and a check. The check would vary each year. It was never below a thousand dollars though. This made Sara and David feel bad because they could not give back to Susan and Victor. They almost wanted to send the money back at times, but then something would happen to where they would need the money. It helped when they got it, but not without feeling guilty when they cashed it. So they both decided to start saving the money when they got it, so they could meet up with Susan and Victor one day. But that day changed for all of them, when Sara received a phone call from Susan late one night.
“Hello,” Sara said into the phone half-asleep.
“What,” Sara asked into the phone. She could not recognize Susan’s voice at first.
“He’s dead, Sara,” Susan cried into the phone. “My Victor is dead.”
“Susan, what happened?”
“I don’t know… he just died.” Susan cried and Sara could barely understand her. “I need you,” she said. “I need you to be here with me, Sara, please come and be at my side. I can’t bury him without you being here.”
“Of course, I will be there. Both David and I will be there for you. We will leave immediately,” Sara said. They said they loved each other and Sara hung up the phone.
“Susan’s husband has died and she wants us to go to her and be with her,” she said.
He reached out to Sara and touched her shoulder. He hugged her.
“Yes, we should do that. I will clear my schedule and call the school and let them know that we have to leave,” David said, kissing Sara on the cheek and then crawled out of the bed so he could start making the arrangements. They booked a flight to Maine, then taking a cab to the ferry where they stood now.
Sara and David could see the house from the distance as the ferry moved slowly closer to the island. It was weird for them having to ride a ferry across a lake to get to someone’s home. It was not like crossing the street or driving down the road, this was much more than that. It was a process—a moment to sit back and relax before you arrived where you were going. This was the privileged life and Sara could feel it deep inside herself. The feelings were foreign to her and yet exciting. She could not wait to see Susan and hold her in her arms. She never wanted to let her sister go.
The ferry pulled closer to the island and Sara could see where they were going to dock the ferry so they could get off on the island the house stood on. An entire island owned by the Balestrom family since the eighteen hundreds. Sara remembered reading about it on the internet. An island all for the family—private—secluded from the mainlanders. The money the Balestrom family must have to maintain the island and the house itself. The internet could not tell David and her how big the house was, it merely said that The Balestrom House had several wings to it…that the main wing or main house was where the family stayed. They rarely explored the other part of the house and on occasion, the family would allow people to come and tour the grounds and the older parts of the house for historical reasons.
“This is amazing,” David said, smiling. The house was barely in view, but he could see several paths that possibly led to it. His heart thumped hard in his chest as the ferry docked. It opened its gate and a few cars pulled out while others walked off the ferry and onto the port landing. Sara smiled at David’s enthusiasm. She was just as excited as he was, if not more. Her sister had moved far up into the world. Sara knew Susan was rich but after marrying Victor, she was never going to have to work again—if she ever worked in the first place. They walked off the docking station until they came to land. “Wait where is the ferry going?”
“How will we leave if we need to,” Sara asked. David and Sara walked quickly back toward the ferry, but it was already pulling off. A man laughed at them from their right. Sara turned to him. “What’s so funny? We may need to leave.”
“You have nothing the worry about,” he said. The man was wearing all white—white golf shirt, shoes and slacks. He had sandy blonde hair, dark blue eyes and his skin was pale. He looked like a ghost and yet attractive and down to earth.
“But how will we get off the island?”
“The ferry returns on a schedule. But if there were an emergency then the house would ring the ferry, who would come out to pick up anyone here. There are also emergency boats all around the island as well as the Balestrom’s own personal boat at the boat house,” the man informed them. David and Sara sighed with relief. They thought that the Balestrom’s owned the ferry, but they were obviously wrong and felt embarrassed for thinking it. “I’m Ralph Turner…” he extended his hand. David took it first shaking it and then Sara. “I’m here to escort you to the house.”
“Escort,” Sara said and then looked behind Ralph to see a golf buggy. Ralph smiled and reached for their bags, taking them from their hands. “I am so sorry; we are not use to this.”
“It’s okay ma’am,” Ralph said. He placed their stuff onto the back of the golf buggy and then motioned for them to get in. They did, as Ralph started the buggy up and pulled off heading down one of the paths to the house. “This kind of life takes some getting used to. I remember my first time here. I was so scared at first, but I found my way around and now I’m good.”
“How long have you worked for the Balestroms Ralph?”
“I worked for them for about two years now.”
“Do you live here on the island too?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “None of us live on the island, except for the servants that maintain the inside of the house. I come here from the mainland. The job pays decent and it helps put food and clothes on my family’s back.”
“Tell us about this place,” David said. “It’s almost like we traveled to another world coming here.” David laughed feeling slightly intimidated over the island.
“I would love to tell you about the island—or what we call Balestrom Island,” he chuckled. “Old Cyrus Balestrom bought the island in the eighteen hundreds. There was barely any life on the island when he bought it. He built a small shack where he moved his wife and six kids in. Cyrus Balestrom had big plans for his family and for the island. He was going to make it an attraction to where the entire world would know who they were…it was like their own little kingdom.” Ralph paused for a moment and Sara saw him glance at them through the rearview mirror. “Cyrus was a visionary, much like all the Balestroms. They have money in everything,” he added. Sara detected something in Ralph’s tone of voice when he spoke to them about the Balestrom family. He could not tell if he was resentful of them or envious, either way the feeling made her cautious.
She could see how many people would feel that way about a large wealthy family like the Balestroms. She herself could feel where her place would be if she came to work for them too. Even visiting made her feel small and unimportant. She now wondered if any of this kind of life has influenced Susan. Would Susan treat Sara and David like a—servant? No…no…Susan wouldn’t do that to them. She loved them too much, why else would she want them to come to her and be with her at this horrible time.
“So Cyrus started to build the house,” David asked.
“No, he never had a chance,” Ralph said. “Cyrus died before he could even lay the foundation. The only thing that was built on the island by Cyrus was the shack, which is the horse stable now.”
“If Cyrus didn’t build the house, then who did?”
“His son Cyrus the second, built the main house where the family resides now. He also started construction on the north and east wing of the house before his tragic death,” Ralph said.
“Yes,” Ralph said. “Cyrus Balestrom the second was murdered one night at a New Years Eve party they were holding in the main house.” Ralph began to tell them about that night in 1959 before the clock struck twelve. As he spoke his words formed images in Sara’s mind. She saw the lavish dresses and well-groomed men dancing and laughing. The house itself was decorated with reefs still hanging from Christmas. Sara’s heart raced as she felt the pulse of the music being played by a small band Cyrus commissioned to play at his party. People wore masks and hats with the year 1960 written on them. It was a beautiful night. Ralph continued to tell the story coming to the part where a young woman approached Cyrus. She wore a beautiful black gown with dark red and gold colored wings on her back. In her hand she held a masquerade mask which she let fall to the floor as she walked up to Cyrus, who was talking to his daughter Elisa.
“Cyrus,” she called to him for his back was to her. His posture stiffened. He was not expecting her to be there. Elisa looked at her father’s expression and slowly looked around him at the woman who called his name. Elisa did not recognize her. The woman looked like someone who stepped out of a fairy tale with her red and gold wings and black gown. Her costume was beautiful and lavish. It was one of the better costumes at the entire party. Cyrus touched Elisa’s shoulder, pulling her from looking at the woman any longer. He turned around hiding Elisa behind him.
“Tara,” he said softly. “What brings you here?”
“Are you really asking me that?” She walked closer to him. Her hand went to her chest as she breathed hard. “I came to see you since you can’t come and see me,” she said.
“Now Tara,” he said holding up his hands to her as if he was trying to calm her down. But it was more like he was trying not to let her cause a scene. “Why don’t you go home and I will call you later.”
“Call me,” she laughed. “Call me later. I don’t want you to call me later Cyrus.” Tara reached out with her hand taking a hold of Cyrus’s shirt cuff. He pulled away from her quickly ripping his cuff from her grip. The sound of fabric tearing caused people at the party to listen in and stare.
“Tara…” he started to yell, but Morgan—Cyrus’s wife walked over to them.
“What’s going on here,” she asked looking Tara over. She wrapped her arms through Cyrus’s only to take his hand. It was her way of saying Cyrus was hers and no one else’s. Morgan knew of Tara. She knew what Tara was to Cyrus and she knew what Tara was carrying inside her. Cyrus turned his head to Morgan all the while looking down at the floor. Cyrus had no idea that Morgan knew Tara was pregnant, because if he did he would have been extremely angry with them both. Morgan was going to take care of Tara and the baby, but Tara just could not let Cyrus go.
“Come with me Cyrus,” she shook when she said this. Her eyes meeting Morgan’s, which made Tara cry. The man she loved was standing in front of her and she wanted him to leave with her. Her heart raced as she reached out to Cyrus again. “Please, Cyrus, come with me. Let’s get away from this place. From this house…” she screamed. The music had stopped and everyone was watching. Tara shook and cried and held her chest with one hand while she reached for Cyrus with the other. Cyrus looked at Tara and for a moment, he looked as if he would go with her, but instead Cyrus lowered his head shaking it from side to side. He pitied Tara for how she was acting. He turned to Morgan who still held onto his arm. They both turned to walk away, which was an instruction for the crowd to snub Tara. The friends of any Balestrom know that they are taken care of as long as they are in good graces with the family. But once a Balestrom turns his back on you, you became—nothing. It was as if you did not exist any longer. “Cyrus!” Tara screamed his name loud and harsh. Her voice quivered with anger and sadness. Cyrus did not turn around he kept walking. The crowd screamed as Tara pulled a gun from a pocket in her gown. She pulled the trigger without hesitating shooting Cyrus in the back of the head killing him.
Sara gasped in horror at what Ralph had told them. She could not believe the tragedy and the scandal. She could not imagine being next to her husband as he is shot. She wrapped her arms through David’s and held him tight. He smirked and kissed her forehead.
“The Balestroms are known for tragedy,” Ralph said.
“So how did Victor Balestrom die,” David asked.
“Oh, David,” Sara said. She could not believe he even asked that question, but deep down she wanted to know too. Was Victor killed like Cyrus? “Poor Susan,” Sara thought. The thought of Susan having to deal with Victor dying or even being murdered made her feel uneasy. Maybe she should rescue Susan from this nightmare and bring her back to Minnesota with them. It seemed like a logical answer and she would bring it up to Susan when she sees her. The buggy pulled down another path. They passed through trees on both sides of them. They could feel themselves journey deeper into the island. They finally arrived to cleared land where they took one more path up to a gate. The front yard of Balestrom House spread for miles, hitting trees on all sides of them. Trees lined the single path leading up to the gate of the house.
Ralph pulled the buggy up to the black Iron Gate and stopped. There was a tall red and white stonewall extending out as far as the eye could see. On the black Iron Gate the letter “B”, fashion in an Old English style text. Ralph pressed a button on the roof of the buggy. The gate hummed to life, clicked and then opened for them to enter. It was as if they were accepted into The House of Lords other than that they would not be able to pass. Ralph drove the buggy through the gate as it closed behind them. In front of them was a huge white gazebo, with tall hedges not far from that. Sara glanced at an opening in the hedges and saw what looked like a beautiful flower garden.
“I see you noticed the flower garden,” Ralph said. “That wasn’t here until your sister joined the family. She wanted beauty and she created it. She has single handedly made Balestrom House look amazing. It is known for its lavish flower gardens now, which attracts tourists and magazines from all over the world. They all want to photograph the gardens.”
“Susan did all that,” Sara said. “How did you know Susan was my sister?” Ralph smiled.
“You look like her.”
“You never answered my question,” David said. “You never told us how Victor died.”
“I know sir,” Ralph said. “It’s a touchy subject. No one really knows how Mr. Balestrom died. All I know is that one day Victor Balestrom was running around the island getting his daily run in and the next he was dead. It happened so sudden. There are the rumors though…”
“Yes, that she killed him,” he said. Ralph watched Sara through the rearview mirror. Sara’s forehead wrinkled with worry.
“No,” she said. “That can’t be true. Susan could never harm another person. She helps so many people out.”
“Hey now you’re upsetting my wife,” David said feeling defensive.
“Sorry. I’m not trying to do that. I just wanted you to know what you were getting into before you settled in,” Ralph said. “I promise you that your sister had nothing to do with Victor Balestrom’s death.” Sara started to cry. She buried her face into David’s arm. She squeezed him tight wishing that nothing like that would ever happen to David. The thought of not having him by her side made her emotional. She loved David and would do whatever she could to keep him with her—forever. He was her rock—her angel—even her soul mate. Life would not be the same without him. She could now imagine what Susan must be going through. How Susan loved Victor. Sara knew Susan loved Victor by the way she would write about him in the letters she wrote to her.
How tragic it was to lose such a man. How lonely it would feel not to have him lying next to her in bed at night. The emptiness Susan must feel. Victor’s pillow still having the impression in it where he would lay his head. The clothes he would never wear again still hanging in the closet. The toiletries still placed where he left them last, even strands of hair tangled in the hairbrush he used.
“Oh, please let’s not talk about this anymore,” Sara begged. Her face turned red from crying. “Oh, this is horrible.”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” Ralph said. “I really didn’t mean to make you cry.”
David held her tight, rubbing her arm to calm her down. He knew how Sara was and he knew she was sensitive to losing someone. It took Sara a long time to get over her grandfather dying four years ago. Every now and then, she would bring him up and start crying all over again. David would comfort her and show her everything would be okay. That her grandfather was watching over her, blowing her kisses from Heaven. This worked from time to time and he would hold her on the days it did not until she fell asleep in his arms. He loved Sara a lot and never wanted anything to happen to her either. The things Ralph told them about the house and Cyrus and Victor disturbed him. The idea of losing Sara made his heart ache. He did not want to lose her and did not know what he would do if he ever did. He pushed the thoughts out of his mind. They were not there for any of this. They were there for Susan. Susan needed them and she was going to need them to be strong for her.
“Now now honey,” David leaned down whispering in Sara’s ear. “We need to be strong for Susan. She can’t see us break down and cry. We want to help her get past all this and see what we can do to make things a little more comfortable for her.” He kissed her head as he rubbed her arms. Sara knew David was right and she sniffed back more tears and wiped her eyes with her fingers.
“I’m really sorry,” Ralph said, again. He was feeling bad for talking about how Victor died. He really did not know the man. He bumped into Victor a few times at the house. He even carried Victor around the island in the very golf buggy they were riding in. Victor was a quiet intimidating man. Ralph felt like he could be even cruel at times, but he never wanted to cross Victor to find out. He pulled the buggy into a stone laid driveway that went into a circle around a tall black iron water fountain. The figures made of iron were of men and women reaching up to the Heavens to a man barely clothed—who stood higher than the rest of the figures. The iron man held in his hand an orb, which he held up to the sky for God to take. The black iron was more so green now from algae. Water trickled down the figures and into the pool that surrounded them. The faces of the figures were mourning and wanting. There were even a few faces that held angry expressions, but all of their eyes were focused on the main figure holding the orb—or maybe they were focused on the orb itself. An object of attraction—a desired destination or want or need. Whichever it was or whatever it was supposed to signify escaped Sara and David, over all it was beautiful and domineering…much like the house itself, which only stood a few feet from them.
They looked up at the sky to its third story. The yellow-white stone made the house a fortress. Nothing was getting into the house without it being invited in. They stepped out of the buggy and walked up to the front double doors.
“Hey what’s this say,” David asked looking at a plaque, which was built into the wall next to the double doors. “Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit,” he read. David searched his memory. The saying was in Latin and he recalled the time when he had to learn Latin in college. He took it because he did not care for French or Spanish. He loved Italy and their language. There was a sense of worldliness about the Latin language. To him it was the language of God. He was a Catholic boy so the language was slightly easy for him to learn. “Nothing…”
“Nothing may come from nothing,” said a female voice from behind them. They turned to see Susan standing behind them. She wore big shades that covered her eyes, along with an entire outfit in black too. She was in mourning. She walked slowly up to them, a cigarette in one hand. She almost looked as if she was posing for a photo. Her clothes looked very sheik—straight lines at the shoulders and arms, but the skirt showed her gorgeous figure. The black skirt curved down her hips to her knees where if your eyes kept going you would see her black stilettos piercing into the stone driveway. The heels themselves looked like they would hurt anyone else who walked in them, but Susan walked gracefully up to them like she was a runway model. Sara barely recognized her sister. Her skin, for what she could see, was amazing. Even though there was a slight chill in the air and the sun would come and go through the clouds, Susan had a pink glow about her. It was a warmth that exuded from her which took all Sara’s fears away.
“That’s right,” David said. “Nothing may come from nothing. Why would they have that on a plaque?”
“To remind us of where we came from and what we could lose,” Susan said, sounding sarcastic.
“I know that phrase from somewhere else,” Sara said. Susan shrugged and David smiled.
“Does it matter right now,” Susan said. She bent at the knees and held her arms out to them both. They hugged her hard. Susan threw her cigarette to the ground twisting her toe on it to put it out. “I missed you two a great deal. I am so glad you could come here and be with me. I need you.” Susan smiled and hugged Sara again tightly.
“I missed you too Susan,” Sara said. Susan smelt sweet and Sara felt out of place with the clothes she was wearing. She felt frumpy compared to Susan, who held a class about her—a sense of elegance and grace yet all protected by a stonewall—like the Balestrom House—protected or guarded. “You’re so tall. I don’t remember you being this tall.”
“Oh darling, it’s the heels,” she said, lifting one foot off the ground. “They are Italian, darling. You must try them on later. You will notice a lot more with some height added to your demeanor.” Susan kissed her sister’s cheek. “Now let us go inside. I’m sure you two are famished from your long trip,” Susan suggested. She turned to Ralph who was standing with Sara and David’s bags—quiet. “Ralph be a dear and carry my sister and her husband’s bags to the room I saved for them.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. Susan walked to the door and it opened for her. On the other side was a short, bald, middleweight man. He wore a black and white tuxedo like uniform—he was obviously the butler of the house.
“Ma’am,” he said, nodding to Susan, who barely smiled at him. Susan walked past him and when Sara and David approached the entrance, he greeted them too. “Ma’am, sir…”
“Hi,” Sara and David said. They were nervous as they walked into the foyer of the house. The floor was made of wood, but buffed to shine, with beautiful brown and gold designs moving their way to the center of the foyer where a single table—it was more of a pedestal made of marble. It was something that would have been roped off if it were in a museum. The height of the table was as tall as David, who was only 5’10. On the table was a huge globe made of black iron. A spike came through the globe, which pointed straight up to the ceiling. Sara looked up and noticed that there was no roof above their heads, but a glass ceiling. The foyer of the house was like its own section. It was where the Balestroms would greet their guests before being led into the other rooms. The foyer was in the form of a huge cylinder with six columns coming out of the walls reaching up to the glass ceiling. The wall itself was designed with gold leaves on a vine, which moved across the wall to the sky. The room was full of brown and gold, which brought on the feelings of classic royalty. There were two huge double doors to the left and right of them as well as another set of double doors on the other side of the globe.
“Wow,” David said. “We could fit four of our houses in this room alone.” He chuckled.
“I see that,” Sara said. Susan pulled her sunglasses off and laid them on a table off to the side of the room. She thumbed through mail that sat on the table as well. Taking what she saw was important and discarding the rest into a trash can next to the table. Her heels clicked their way to the doors on the other side of the globe.
“Come on kiddies, let’s go to the terrace and have a little lunch before all the games begin,” Susan said, motioning for them to follow her. Sara and David followed Susan through the doors into the main part of the house. There were a set of stairs in front of them that split up into two directions. The carpet under their feet was burgundy and the wood on the walls and staircase were all fine dark wood. They followed Susan up the stairs past the many paintings of the family members of the Balestrom clan. They went to the second level of the house and walked down the walk way and into a hallway that over looked the foyer. It was something that Sara and David had not notice when they were in the foyer earlier. Susan moved through another door and into a little studio area where there were a few chairs and a couch. The wall was a layer of windows which over looked part of the back yard. Susan opened a door to the outside and walked out onto the terrace. They both followed, taking a seat at a table she had set up for them to eat lunch. Susan took a deep breath and sighed it out hard. It was as if she was relieved that something was over and done with. She leaned against the terrace banister looking out over the yard.
“Is everything okay,” Sara asked.
“Yes dear,” she said, as Sara walked over to her sister to touch her arm. Sara was worried about Susan still. She seemed bothered about something other than Victor’s death. “I’m just glad to have you here. Also this is the only part of the house I feel like I can be myself.”
Sara looked out onto the grounds and saw more of the house stretching out before her. Down below them were some of the flower garden Susan created for the house. The flowers that people come from all over to photograph. Sara knew why this was her favorite spot of the house. She took it in herself, absorbing every little detail and impression. Sara did not want to forget this day or this house. It was a lot to take in, but she scanned over everything anyways.
“How could you ever get use to a place like this,” David asked.
Susan smirked and then laughed.
“You will never get use to a place like this,” she said. “The Balestroms will not let you.”
“What do you mean?”
Susan moved to take a seat at the table where the butler was setting plates down and glasses. Susan glanced at the butler who barely looked at her, but Susan refrained from talking any more until he was gone from the room. It was as if she did not want the servant to hear their conversation. Sara figured it was a way to cut down on idle gossip among the help. Sara couldn’t believe that she even thought like that…the butler being referred to as mere “help” made her feel alienated. She could not imagine being called the “help”, though under the circumstances if it were any other time period, she would more than likely be the help or maybe even a governess. The butler left the room for a moment only to return with a cart filled with food. He wheeled the cart up to the table and began to place food on all three plates, while another man came in to fill the glasses with water. They left the table as Susan waved them off. She smiled at Sara and David and watched as they took the first bites from their food before she proceeded to eat herself. She did the same with the drink. She only took a sip of her water after Sara and David took a sip from theirs. It was odd after Sara noticed it.
“So you were telling us about the Balestroms?” David cut into his chicken and then took a bite. The meat melted in his mouth. The food was not like the food Sara and him would make at the house in Minnesota, it was better. The flavors were amazing giving life to his taste buds.
Susan blotted her mouth with a napkin and then glanced around the terrace. “You can be excused Gerard,” she said. “We have other guests you could be attending to.” Sara looked around and saw no one. She gave Susan an odd face and then out of nowhere Gerard’s voice quietly came from inside the house.
“Yes Madame, I will tend to them,” he said. Gerard floated past the entranceway glancing at Sara as he did this and then vanished into the house.
“Where was he hiding?”
“That man has been with the Balestroms for a long time. His family worked for them long before the island was ever purchased.” Susan adjusted herself in her seat. She took on a more relaxed pose, not the one she had while Gerard or Ralph were around. This was the Susan Sara remembered—relaxed—beautiful—watchful. The Balestroms changed her a little. She leaned into the table placing her elbows on them. “What I was saying before was that the Balestroms would never let you relax around here,” she said.
“Why is that,” Sara asked.
“There is always something that needs to be done,” Susan said. “Charity events, parties to attend, meetings with family members, openings to businesses and galleries—it keeps going and going.” Susan looked exhausted just talking about it. “After I had been married to Victor for three years I had enough. I wanted to focus on the house.” She waved her hands out above her. “I worked on the grounds creating beautiful flower gardens and hedges. I even added a nice gazebo to the grounds that was barren when you first arrived to the house through the gate.”
“Oh, yes I remember seeing that. Ralph told us about the flower gardens and all that you have done to the place.”
“Ralph,” Susan said, as if she could not remember who he was or chose not to remember. “I’m sure Ralph had a lot to say about me and this house.”
“You sound like you hate this place,” David said.
“I don’t hate this place,” Susan answered. “I just don’t want to end up apart of this house.”
“What does that mean?”
“This house…” Susan stood up and walked to the banister of the terrace. She looked out over the grounds and then turned to face them. “This house has a tendency of pulling you into it. Once you are a part of it, it will then suffocate you and take what life you have away.”
“Well if you feel that way why are you living here? Why did you marry Victor?”
Susan let her hand rest against her chest as she stared off at nothing like she was in a trance. Her mind searching for the days that began her journey to the house and into Victor’s arms. She took a deep breath and focused on the two lovebirds before her.
“I married Victor because I loved him. He was an amazing man, very athletic and smart. He was his mother’s favorite son,” she said. “Just there are demands that Ruth puts on her daughters and daughter-in-laws. It’s those demands that make it hard to live here. Not the other stuff.”
“What sort of demands are they,” Sara asked.
“Children,” Susan said.
“Children? Why would that be a demand?” Sara could not believe Susan thought having children was a chore. With all the money the Balestroms have, she was sure Susan would have help raising them.
“Darling sister, you have no idea how horrible it would be to have a child in this family.”
“How could you say that? You would be provided for and the child would have a great education.”
“Certainly all of those things and I wouldn’t even have to raise them myself,” Susan said. “But it wasn’t just a child Ruth wanted. She wanted me to have a particular child…a male child.”
“Why just a male child?”
“So he could carry on the name,” David said.
“Yes, without a male child the Balestrom name will end. Lucky for me there are plenty of males in the family.” Susan walked back over to the table and took a seat. “But Ruth wasn’t satisfied with that. She is even disappointed in me now since Victor is dead and I haven’t had a child…male or female…”
“I still don’t understand…why didn’t you and Victor have a child?”
“Sara, darling, you sound like Ruth Balestrom when you say that. She hated me for not having children. Have a boy…she would say…are you pregnant yet? We need a boy from Victor,” Susan rolled her eyes and shook her head. Susan took a sip of water. “A lot of Balestroms died in this house or on the grounds near the house. Some people say that their spirits are still here haunting the island. There are rumors of fishing ships passing by the precipice of the island, on its north side, that they can see a woman in a white flowing gown waving to them.”
“That’s spooky,” Sara said, holding herself with her arms. She felt a chill move over her body.
“What makes it even spookier sister is that on that side of the island Byron Balestrom’s wife Emma threw herself off the precipice and into the rocks below. She killed herself to get away from this family,” Susan said. Sara gasped at what Susan said, her hands quickly moving to her mouth. She looked over to David who was surprised to hear what Susan had said also.
“She committed suicide?”
“Yes, she killed herself because Byron had murdered her brother, claiming his marriage to Emma was a sham,” she said.
“Yes, apparently Emma’s brother maneuvered her into Byron’s arms one drunken night they were all partying. Emma became pregnant and was made to marry Byron. But Emma’s brother had other plans with the family, he too wanted to marry in and he wooed Byron’s sister Mary which led to their marriage,” Susan said.
“But that’s no reason to murder someone,” Sara said.
“It is when you find out that Emma and her brother had an incestuous relationship…among other things,” Susan said. “So when the fishermen talk of seeing a woman waving to them in a white flowing gown, we know it is Emma Balestrom. But there are a lot of stories like that which float around here. The men in this family do not live long and die here at the house… sometimes tragically. How convenient my husband did too.”
“That is very tragic,” Sara said. Her eyes watered from the story Susan had told them. Such a tragic family and her sister married into that family. How could she live with the knowledge that something horrible could possibly happen to her or her husband—and yet something horrible did happen to Susan’s husband. Victor has died leaving Susan alone in this huge house.
Susan barely looked at Sara after she had said that. She smirked a little, possibly thinking of something—maybe a memory of a time when Victor was alive. A time when Victor and Susan were happy. Maybe it was her own wedding she was thinking about. There are a few things in a woman’s life that becomes important to her—her marriage day and the day she has her first child. Those memories last forever. Those are her special days. Sara wondered about Susan’s wedding because she was not there to see Susan on that special day. Sara had nothing to compare her wedding to with David. Was Susan’s wedding extravagant with beautiful people fawning over her? It was definitely nothing like Sara and David’s wedding—Sara knew this had to be so. The Balestroms had too much money not to spend it on an elaborate wedding in a big Catholic church. Sara calmed down a little as she thought of how happy Susan had to of been on that beautiful day when she married Victor. The dress she must have worn. Sara was sure it was only of the finest material—probably a Vera Wang. Sara was envious and made a mental note to eventually ask Susan about it, she wanted to know all the details of that day. She wanted to be happy for Susan and make sure her day was just as beautiful as her own.
“I know all this talk about death and dying has depressed you,” Susan apologized. “I love you Sara and I do want you to know everything is okay. I’m just so glad you made it…I’ve missed you so much, my darling sister.” Susan reached across the table taking Sara’s hand into hers. She squeezed it tight to reassure Sara that she was going to be okay. Sara instinctively got up moving around the table to Susan, who stood up from her seat as they embraced each other. David smiled at them both. He was so happy that they were together again. He knew how much Sara loved her sister and he loved Susan too. She was so different from Sara—well from anyone he had ever met before. The only thing that bothered him was that Susan was very secretive and apparently has been through a lot when she married into the Balestrom family. “I’ve kept you from freshening up. We should finish up this small meal and then I will let you two rest up a bit before we have the wake.”
“Yes, that would be nice,” Sara said with tears streaming down her cheeks. She embraced Susan again and then took her seat next to her where they finished up their meal. But Susan barely touched her food. She picked at it with her fork and watched Sara and David laugh as they told Susan about the small adventures of being teachers. Susan would laugh at them and then with them at times, but to her it did not seem real. Sara’s life was so different from her own. She could not imagine living like they did and for a brief moment wondered what it might have been like for her if she actually married a local man in Ohio or even in New York or Los Angeles. What would her life be like if she never married rich? Susan pushed the thoughts away. It was something she did not really want to know. The idea of wondering if she was ever going to have enough money to pay a bill or plan for a trip overseas…she never had to worry about that. There was no planning for her—all she had to do was just pack up and go. All her bills were paid. All of which were handled by a financial manager she employed. She desperately wanted to pull Sara and David out of this strange life of worry and stress. She wanted to give them what she has—but even now, there was more to living this way than what she could handle herself. There were things expected of her and there was always someone watching and listening…
They finished their meal and Susan guided them from the terrace through the living area.
“This is a huge room,” Sara said looking around. David laughed with Susan as they both walked through the door leaving Sara the last one to exit the room. Sara paused for a moment to take the room in. She never really looked at it when they came in before stepping out onto the terrace. The room was very open and she could see the whole view of the grounds from where she was standing. It was breath taking. The sun was slowly going down turning the room an orange color. She took in a breath of fresh air from the open doors of the terrace and then exhaled it out. She was in a foreign place and was not sure what she could touch or where she should stand. The mannerism of this world was not so relaxed like she was use to. Sara felt like she had to tip toe through the rooms and hallway so she would not be discovered—or she may get into trouble if she was caught. She laughed at herself for thinking that way. But she could not help herself. It was the house that made her feel out of place. Sara turned to leave the room when she heard a creaking noise. She turned toward where the sound was coming from and saw a door that resembled the wood paneled wall, slowly creek closed.
Someone was in the room with her and they had just left. How was that so? She did not see anyone in there with her. Susan and David were just outside the room laughing at a joke David had told. She could hear their voices, but the person—invisible person—in the room with her made no sound at all, other than when they left. She would not have known of their presence if the door had not made a sound when it closed. Sara glanced out into the hall and saw Susan and David preoccupied with each other. She walked over to the wall and began to press on it looking for a way to open the door she just saw. It was strange, because the wall had no resemblance of a door; it was as if she imagined it. There were no opening and no handle. She patted the wall with the palm of her hand, but it was solid all around the area. Very unusual.
“Darling, are you okay,” Susan asked. Sara turned to her sister blushing.
“Ye…yes,” she said embarrassed. “I… I just thought I saw something.”
“Come on silly girl let’s get you to your room so you can relax,” Susan said smiling at Sara. Sara took one last glance at the wall before walking over to Susan who waited patiently in the doorway.
“I must be tired with the flight and taking in this beautiful house,” she said. She kissed Susan on the cheek and walked out into the hallway and into David’s arms.
“Well we will wash up and rest,” David said. He kissed Sara on the forehead, who smiled lightly taking a quick glance at Susan who was staring at the wall Sara had been messing with. There was a moment’s pause and then Susan regained her composure, turning back to them.
“Yes, let’s get you two to your room.”
Susan walked them down the hall and up another flight of stairs. She walked them down the huge hallway, where Sara thought looked like hotel rooms. It made her chuckle inside. Some of the doors were open revealing large sitting areas and a few bedrooms. Susan walked up to a door opening it. She smiled at them pushing the door open for them to enter the room.
“Wow,” David said, as they walked into their room. “This is as big as the apartment we lived in before we bought the house, honey.” Susan laughed. The room had a sitting area near a glass door which walked out onto a short balcony. The bed was a queen size, much bigger than their twin bed they had at home.
“The bathroom is through here. Gerard unpacked all your stuff so feel free to look around so you can familiarize yourselves where everything is,” Susan said. “I will come back to get you when it is time for the service. Until then my lovelies rest up, wash up, whatever you like. If you need me before then just pick up the phone on the nightstand and Gerard will pick up. He will get you whatever you need and alert me if you need me to come.”
“This is a lovely place, Susan,” Sara said. “You’ve done well for yourself.” They hugged again and Susan left them alone closing the door to give them privacy.
“Can you believe this place,” David said, sitting on the bed. He bounced up and down a few times feeling the comfort of the bed, which made no sound at all when he bounced. “Honey, you have to sit on the bed. It feels so comfortable.” He moved over to Sara who was looking around the room. He took her by the hand and guided her to the bed where they sat down on it together. David wrapped his arms around Sara’s shoulders pulling her backwards on to the bed. They bounced a little and then laughed. “I feel like I won the lottery.”
“Me too,” she said, giggling.
“Should we pretend that we did win the lottery,” he suggested, leaning close to her. David brushed the back of his hand across Sara’s cheek as he looked into her eyes. He kissed her mouth as she relaxed into his embrace. He adored Sara with his whole being. She was his one true soul mate. The one thing he loved more than anything else on Earth. He could not imagine losing her to anyone else and was very happy the day he laid eyes on her. He moved a strand of hair from between her eyes, brushing it out of the way. He then kissed her forehead and smiled. “I love you.”
“I love you too, David,” she said, as they kissed again.
They showered and dressed for the service. They relaxed in each other’s arms before dressing. They felt like there was no need to ever leave the room and thought about how lazy one could get if they were provided for by just picking up a phone. They would have to pick up a hobby and exercise a lot just to avoid boredom and getting fat. This was, again, all foreign to them. Certainly, they had their hobbies and they did already exercise, but it was not demanded of them. The idea of not having to do anything for yourself seemed ideal, but one had to think of new things just to keep from going insane.
“That’s silly,” Sara said.
“How is that silly?”
“Well because you would just travel a lot and go to parties and do whatever,” she said, waving her hand like it was nothing. David laughed at her.
“Your sister has been rubbing off on you,” he said, smiling.
“Oh, stop,” she waved him off like he was talking nonsense.
“You see,” he teased. “You are your sister.” David got up from the bed only to wrap his arms around Sara’s waist. He tickled her a little and then picked her up off the floor. They laughed. He propped her back down on the floor where she moved across the room still laughing. She looked into the mirror and started to apply a little makeup to her face. Nothing too heavy she did not want anything to rub off onto her dress when she put it on.
“You know I was thinking about something.”
“What were you thinking about,” David asked, opening dresser drawers.
“That saying on the plaque,” she said.
“You mean the one at the entrance before we came into the house?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What about it?”
“Well remember when I said it sounded familiar to me?”
“Yes I do,” David said, pulling out some socks. He threw the socks to the bed. He walked over to the closet of the room opening it so he could pull out his suit for the service. He already knew he was going to wear the suit twice. Once for the wake and the next for the funeral itself. He felt inadequate for a moment. He knew that everyone else would wear two different outfits for both occasions. He pushed the thoughts away. He was no different from the Balestroms. Yes, no different from them at all. He may not be as wealthy as they are, but he had a lot more than they would ever possess. He worked hard for everything he owned. He worked hard to keep and take care of Sara, who did the same for him. They were a single person, unlike the feeling he got as Susan talked about living with the Balestroms. They did not have a life. Their life was controlled—controlled all the way to being taken care of by others. They did not have to do anything for themselves. It was all done for them. If they ever lost their fortune, the Balestroms would be lost and eventually die off. David was glad he did not have the privileged life that they did. “What about it?”
“Well, I couldn’t help myself. The saying was so familiar to me, as if I had heard it before,” she said. She lightly rubbed a black pencil across under her eye.
“And where have you heard it before, my dear,” he said acting like he was rich and snobbish as he held his head up high. Sara laughed.
“You’re a fool,” she laughed. “Anyways the saying came from a Shakespeare play.” She stopped what she was doing and walked over to a table that sat next to a large window next to the door that led out to the balcony. “King Lear was the play.” David looked over to her as she started to explain about the play. “In King Lear, the king is dying and decides to divide his kingdom up between his three daughters based on their affections toward him, but one daughter refuses to accept her father’s gift. After Cordelia refused her father’s gift he said ‘Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit’ and then banished her from his kingdom.”
“That King Lear was a tough man to please,” David said jokingly.
“Yes he was, but all he wanted to know was if his daughters truly loved him,” Sara said. “It was such a tragic story.” She shook her head from side to side just thinking about it. She took a few tissues form the tissue box that sat on the table only to glance outside her room. Sara squinted her eyes as she tried to make out what she was looking at. She could not quite tell for sure, but it looked to her to be a man standing off at a distance from the house. He was standing shaded by the dark, but slightly lit by the moon above. He stood off in the distance staring up at her from the small patch of woods outside their room. Sara turned to David who walked into the bathroom. “David…” she called.
“Yes dear,” he said back, still in the bathroom. Sara looked back outside into the woods. The shadowed figure was gone. She shook the chill out of her body and then walked away from the window, but not before she pulled the curtains closed. She rubbed her arms with her hands as a chill filled the room. She felt a cool draft move across her body. It was as if the room was not altogether built properly. Like there were cracks in the walls, which let the cold in and God knows what else. David poked his head out of the bathroom looking Sara up and down. “Is everything okay?”
She regained her wits about her and shook off the feeling. She had to be imagining things again. Sara smiled at David and walked back over to the mirror to wipe at her eye makeup. “Everything is fine,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you were going to wear the blue tie for the service tonight.”
“Yes, my dear,” he said, raising his eyebrows up and down. This made Sara laugh.
“You are in a very good mood,” she said. “Stop making me laugh you’re going to make me mess up on my makeup. I’m having a hard time drawing a line under my eye.” She giggled a little after saying it, as she caught David’s expression in the mirror. And truthfully, Sara did not want to go back to the window for fear that the shadowed figure was out there again looking up at her from the woods. She shivered one last time and then gave up on her eye makeup. She walked over to the bed and stepped into her dress. David came out of the bathroom taking his dress pants from the bed and slipping into them. He walked over to Sara and zipped up her dress. They helped each other finish dressing, ending with Sara fixing David’s tie. They were now ready for the service.
A knock came to their door as they both were sitting on opposite ends of the bed putting on their shoes. Sara fastened one earring on her ear lobe as she walked up to the door before placing the other earring on. She opened it and stepped back as Gerard turned to her. He nodded to her when he saw Sara looking him over.
“Ma’am,” he said. “I am here to take you to the room where the family and their close friends will be having the wake for Master Victor Balestrom.” Gerard said Victor’s name as if he was sad himself. Sara knew Gerard had to be missing his “Master”; he probably took care of Victor for a long time—probably since he was a baby. Sara felt compelled to leap at Gerard and give him a hug and tell him that everything was going to be okay, but Sara controlled herself. It was not “appropriate” to do something like that here. This place held different rules to the ones she was use to. Though she still looked at Gerard with a kind eye and smiled meekly up at him when she caught his eye.
“Thank you, Gerard,” she said. David walked over to them pulling on his jacket. He closed the door to the room and Gerard guided them down the hallway.
“So how long have you worked for the family, Gerard?” Sara nudged David’s arm for asking the question. David held his hands out confused to why Sara would do that to him. It was an innocent enough question to ask, he thought.
“I’ve been with the Balestrom family for forty years, sir,” Gerard said.
“So you’ve seen a lot dealing with this family,” David said. Gerard stopped walking and turned to David and Sara, who both had to stop abruptly to avoid walking into him.
“I have seen enough, but it is something we do not talk about…here, sir,” he said. Gerard looked around the hallway as if someone else was listening in. David and Sara looked at each other.
“I’m sorry if I offended you Gerard,” David said.
“Thank you sir, but you did not offend me,” he said. “I will give you some advice sir if you would like?”
“Sure thing Gerard, what advice would you like to give us. Anything would be helpful, we are not the best at this kind of life,” David said. Gerard smirked at what David said. He turned and started down the hall again. David and Sara followed.
“You shouldn’t talk too much to anyone here. And you should leave as soon as you get the chance. After the funeral if you may,” he said.
“But Gerard why?” Sara could not believe Gerard was saying such a thing to them. He was a loyal servant to the Balestrom family. Why did his comment for them to leave sound more like a warning?
“Ma’am, there are things you don’t know and you would be better off at your own home,” he said and walked down some steps. It was a way that Sara and David had not walked through before when Susan brought them up to their room. Sara wondered if it was a servant’s entrance, they were walking through.
“Well thank you for that advice Gerard,” David said as he looked at Sara and shrugged his shoulders.
“So Gerard is there any secret passages in the house?” Sara thought about the wall closing when she was looking out from the living room to the terrace. She still could not believe she did not know anyone else was in the room with her. The thought made her shiver.
“Why do you ask that ma’am?”
“Well earlier today the wall was closing in the living room like a door,” Sara said.
“The room that connected to the terrace? Earlier today I thought I saw a door close that looked like the wall.”
“Ah,” Gerard said. Sara felt awkward when she had to tell Gerard where she saw the door, wall, or secret passage. “I’m sorry ma’am we have so many rooms in the house and everyone calls them something different,” he said possibly sensing Sara’s awkwardness. “As for a secret passage the answer is no. There is no such thing at this house. I do not know what you may have seen, but it could have been possibly shadows moving when the sun was setting.”
“Possibly,” Sara said. David and Sara stopped asking Gerard questions and allowed him to finish guiding them to where Susan and the other guests waited. He led them down another hall, which from how the hall looked they could tell that they had entered into another part of the house. A part of the house that was not as new and renovated as the main part of the house. The wood on the walls appeared darker and with deep burgundy carpet and wood paneling. Gerard walked up to a double set of doors, which were open. Standing in the doorway was Susan. She wore all black, with a hat that covered her light brown hair. A veil came from the hat and was pulled over Susan’s face. Sara walked past Gerard quickly and went to Susan’s side giving her a hug. Susan held her sister tight kissing her cheek. “I’m so sorry for all this.”
“Thank you dear. I love you,” Susan said. “Go mingle with the guest before the ceremony starts.” Sara held Susan’s arms with her hands. She looked at her sister from head to toe. Susan was the perfect picture of a Matriarch. Sara rubbed Susan’s arms with her thumbs before she walked away from her sister allowing other guests to greet her. She walked up to the next person standing next to Susan who extended his hand. He was a tall intimidating man with dark blonde hair. His eyes were a steely blue and he held a stone like expression on his face.
“Hi, I’m Sara,” she said taking his hand. His hand was cold much like his expression.
“I’m Alexander Balestrom,” he answered back in a deep quiet voice. “Victor was my brother.”
“I’m so…so sorry for your loss,” Sara said as she looked away from Alexander. She could not bear to look him in the eyes. His stare was much too cold for her to take. It was as if he saw right through her. She could only imagine what it was like to look into Victor’s eyes. There was—now—a part of her that was glad she never met Victor, especially if he was anything like Alexander. She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes looking him over. He was tall and medium built. She felt his strength when he shook her hand. He had a firm grip, but of course, her hand was like a baby’s hand in his. Judging from his physique Sara could bet he was a wrestler in school. He held himself like a wrestler. He almost looked like one of the high school wrestlers in her class—tall and built to grapple someone to the ground and hold them there. A physical brute, she thought. He was definitely someone she would not want to have to fight for fear he would harm her. Alexander came off that way and he probably did it intentionally. To be a man in his position he more than likely needed people a little intimidated of him.
Sara finally turned her attention to a medium height woman standing in front of her. She only turned her attention to this woman because she cleared her throat at Sara. Sara smiled meekly at the woman, whose raven black hair was pulled back. She too wore a black veil, which covered her face. The woman’s eyes were also a steely blue and she held a cold stone look on her face as well. It was like she never smiled before at anyone. She held no lines on her face and yet, Sara knew the woman was older. Sara took her hand and shook it.
“I’m Sara,” she said.
“Hmm…” the woman looked Sara up and down. She glanced over Sara’s shoulder and nodded. A man walked over to Sara and touched her shoulder.
“Ma’am, this event is for the family and friends of the Balestroms.” Sara turned to look at the tall dark skinned man. He had an earpiece in his ear and wore a tuxedo.
“But…but I’m with the family,” Sara said, looking confused by what was happening.
“Come with me ma’am,” he said and took Sara by the arm.
“No, wait…” Sara said looking around for David or somebody to help her. “Susan…David.” She called.
“You can let her go, Bill,” Susan said walking over to them. He looked over at the woman who signaled to Bill and she nodded to him. Bill let Sara go. “She’s with me.”
“Sorry ma’am, please forgive me,” he said and backed away from them both.
“What just happened,” Sara asked feeling flustered.
“You just met Camille,” Susan said. Sara looked back at Camille who shook another person’s hand, but was glancing at Sara with a smirk.
“Yes, Camille Balestrom, Victor’s sister,” Susan said. “She’s not very nice to anyone.”
“You can say that again,” Sara said feeling herself calm down. Susan walked Sara over to a seat and reached over to a server for a glass of wine. She handed it to Sara.
“Here you go darling. Drink this, it will help pull the edge off,” she said, smiling down at Sara. She took it willingly and began to drink from the glass. The wine was very sweet and it slowly moved down her throat soothing her.
“Don’t drink too fast honey or you will be passed out on the floor,” a man said to her as he took a seat next to her on the bench. “Of course don’t let me stop you. That would give poor no bodies like me something to talk about.” He smiled at Sara after he said it, which made her laugh. “I’m Ryan Wilzon.” He extended his hand to her.
“Sara Winston,” she said taking Ryan’s hand.
“Oh, God isn’t this just so tragic,” he said, as he held his hand against his chest and a glass of wine in the other. “I still can’t believe Victor is dead.”
“That’s the second time I heard that today,” Sara said.
“I swear honey you have been around,” he said. “I’ve known the Balestroms for about four years now. How about you?”
“Today,” she said.
“Yes, I met them today. My sister was married to Victor,” she said.
“Oh, my,” Ryan said as his voice trailed off. He looked Sara over taking her in. “Susan is a very kind woman. She has always received me. Alexander not so much, but I know underneath that manly stone exterior beats the heart of a man who loves me,” Ryan said. Sara laughed again.
“You’re gay,” she asked, giggling.
“You had to ask,” he said. “Didn’t you hear the bells before I walked over,” he joked. David walked over to them smiling. “Well, well…” Sara turned to see what Ryan was looking at.
“Oh, Ryan this is my husband David,” she said. They shook hands.
“Oh well, at first I thought my prayers had been answered,” he said. Sara laughed again. David laughed too as he shook Ryan’s hand.
“Sorry,” David apologized. He sat down next to Sara and wrapped his arm around her. “What happened over there earlier?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it was Camille Balestrom’s way of saying hello,” Sara said glancing over at her when she said it.
“Oh, Camille,” Ryan said in a low voice. “I don’t have a problem with her, but I see what she does to others and she isn’t too nice.”
“That’s saying it lightly,” Sara said.
“So did Susan tell you how Victor died?”
“No, we asked but no one will tell us,” David said. Ryan looked a little disappointed. “The driver Ralph said something but we don’t believe it.”
“Ralph,” Ryan questioned. “I’m not sure who he is.”
“He was a young man with blonde hair,” David said.
“He lives off the island,” Sara added.
“As do we all,” Ryan quipped. “I ask because there are so many rumors floating around here and I would bet Camille had something to do with most of them.” Ryan looked at her as she moved from the entrance of the room taking a seat on a bench on the opposite side of them.
“Why would she start rumors about her own brother’s death?”
“Well it was more like the situation that led up to Victor’s death that had everyone talking about it.”
“Did Susan have something to do with Victor’s death?” Sara had to ask the question even though she dreaded it. She did not want to think that her very own flesh and blood was capable of such an act. Murder was such a horrible act. Sara looked over at her sister who was talking to a few other people. Susan did not look like a murderer, but then again what does a murderer look like. John Wayne Gacy did not look like a murderer either. He was an entertainer that was until they discovered all the dead bodies of those boys buried at his house. Could Susan be like Gacy? What about her other marriages? She had two husbands before Victor—two husbands that Sara did not even know about until she told her. Why keep something like that a secret from her? What made the marriage to Victor different from the other two marriages—so different that Susan actually told Sara about it?
“Honey, that’s just a rumor, but from what I hear it was a boating accident,” Ryan said. His voice was low so no one could hear what he was saying. David and Sara leaned in close so they could hear what he was saying. “I heard that Susan and Victor went out for a sail and when they didn’t return the family began to panic. They went looking for them and found Susan unconscious in the boat. There was blood staining the side of the boat and no Victor was found.” Sara gasped as she covered her mouth with her hands. David held onto her shoulders squeezing her. He wanted her to know that everything was okay and that it was just a rumor. “Victor was missing for four days and Susan wasn’t too clear on what had happened on the boat. His body was discovered on the mainland and quickly taken in to be examined.”
“Oh my God,” Sara gasped. She looked around hoping no one heard her. “Did they say how he died?”
“They didn’t get into too much detail, but he suffered a blow to the head and drowned…but there is more,” he said.
“What else could there be?”
“The family never had a chance to see Victor’s body. Apparently Susan was already there crying over a box that was sitting in her lap.”
“A box,” David asked.
“Someone said that Susan had Victor cremated before the family or anyone else could see him. The only ones who saw Victor was the coroner, police detectives and Susan.”
“I can’t believe that,” Sara said. “Why would Susan want to do anything like that?”
“Too cover up something, maybe,” Ryan said, just realizing he was talking to Susan’s sister. He could not believe he was talking to her like she was just anyone. He hoped she would not go back and tell Susan anything that he had just told them. He did not want any trouble. He paused for a moment thinking about all that he said to Sara. “Now please don’t tell anyone I said this to you. Of course, like I said, it was all rumor…” He paused for a moment. “The only real way to find out what happened was to be in that room when everything went down.”
“Don’t they keep reports and tell the papers?”
“David, dear, you do realize who you are dealing with, don’t you?” David shrugged. “Dear, you don’t try to write an article about a Balestrom if you don’t want to get into trouble. They have a lot of money. They can make things disappear. To actually write about a possible murder of their kind and make it public knowledge would be scandalous.”
“Are you saying they kept it out of the paper?”
“Yes,” Ryan said. “The only thing that appeared in the paper was about Victor missing after a boating accident and then four days later his body turning up on the mainland. It then gave the dates of his funeral and a list of things Victor Balestrom had done for the community.”
“I can’t believe what you’re saying. Why would they cover this up? What if someone else was on the boat or someone tried to hijack them, resulting in Victor’s death and Susan’s narrow escape,” Sara said, raising her voice a little. Ryan laughed a little.
“How dramatic and even romantic,” he said. Sara blushed at what he said. She did create her own twist to the story. “I assure you what ever happened that night it was explained or at least will be. Besides no charges for murder have been pressed by any member of the Balestrom family.”
“Well I’m sure if anyone pressed any charges it would be Camille,” Sara said. She knew just from what Camille did to her that she would not hesitate in destroying Susan if she wanted to. Sara made a mental note to avoid Camille but her instincts automatically made her protective of Susan. Susan needed her and she knew this and she was going to be there for Susan no matter what the outcome.
The priest entered the room and everyone rose from the benches.
“Let’s bow our heads in prayer,” the priest suggested. Everyone did as instructed as the priest began to read from the Bible in Latin. When he finished he asked the family members to approach the pew and kneel. One by one they walked up to the priest and he touched their foreheads with his hand as he offered them the host. The immediate family members and Susan remained at the pew as a young boy began to sing in an enchanting voice. His words flowed across the room and into their ears as if the angels themselves were in the room. Sara felt her body relax as she let the boy’s voice envelope her—hypnotize her. After the enchanting lament was finished being sung, everyone walked over to the closed—empty casket touching it. Each of them saying something as if they were actually talking to Victor, whose body was cremated days before. The events Ryan told Sara about what led up to this day was shocking. Sara could not bear to think that Susan had anything to do with Victor dying. If she had not heard it from Susan’s own lips then it was not true. So until then anything that she may hear will be false to her and she will defend her sister. She will not let anyone disgrace Susan and the love she had for Victor.
Everyone gathered around to eat and drink. They each shared fond memories of Victor and how much he helped them. Sara smiled and laughed with the friends of Victor, the whole time watching Alexander and Camille as well as the other members of the Balestrom family. She looked at them oddly, as they moved around the room. No sign of sadness crossed their face. It was as if Victor’s death had not fazed them. They were as cold as ice. Some of them sat motionless like they were being painted by an artist. They ate and drank, but that was it.
Sara’s eyes moved around the room as she searched for Susan. She remember seeing her earlier next to the priest thanking him for coming and that she was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow for the funeral. She also mentioned if he was well taken care of in the room they placed him in. The priest smiled and thanked Susan for everything. But after that, Susan had disappeared. Sara then noticed that Camille was gone as well.
Sara watched as Alexander moved across the room to a woman they called Aunt Birdie, who was tending to twin boys and a little girl. The children looked tired, as did Aunt Birdie. Alexander said something to them and they all got up and left. The next thing she saw was Alexander approach a woman with long straight blonde hair. He touched her shoulder tenderly—something that surprised Sara, because she thought he was incapable of being kind. Then like a ghost, Alexander was gone.
Sara walked around the room only to walk up to Victor’s empty casket. She touched it and said a little prayer for him and asked him to watch over her sister. She was going to need his strength. The strength that everyone said he had when he was alive.
“I wish I knew you,” she said softly as she rubbed her hand across the fine wood of the casket.
“You cannot talk to me like that,” said a soft-spoken voice. Sara looked around for the voice. She moved slowly around the casket and looked around. She saw nothing. She paused for a moment listening for the voice again. She brushed it off and started back into the crowd when she heard another voice. Sara walked a little further past the pew. She glanced off to the corner of the room covered by curtains. Behind the curtain were Susan and Camille. Afraid of being noticed Sara moved out of sight, but to where she could still see what was going on. “I will not tolerate you being a bully to me, Camille,” Susan said. Camille took a hold of Susan’s hands.
“You will do as I say or regret it,” Camille said. Susan pulled her hands from Camille’s and walked off. Sara pulled deeper into her hiding spot as Susan walked past her, Camille following shortly behind her. Sara’s heart began to race as she thought of walking up to Camille and slapping her. What was going on for Camille to threaten Susan like she did? Sara became flustered and walked out of her hiding place. She moved past the crowd up to David who was talking with Susan.
“Dear are you okay?” Susan looked at Sara concerned. She reached out taking a hold of Sara’s arm, rubbing her arm to comfort her. “You look a little bothered?” Sara did not know what to say. Susan was acting as if nothing just happened between her and Camille. Sara looked over at Camille who glanced over at them. Camille then turned away when she saw Sara staring at her.
“I think I’m just tired. It has been a very long day and I still must have not adjusted to the time difference.”
“You should go on to bed then. I will send Gerard to wake you in enough time to get ready for the funeral tomorrow,” Susan said. They hugged each other and David kissed Sara on the forehead.
“I will join you in a moment dear,” he said. “I love you and see you in a few.”
“I love you too.” Sara walked out of the room and tried to retrace her steps back to her room. She got lost a few times and then finally found something familiar. She walked up the stairs and down the hallway. She knew her room was not far from there. Sara stopped long enough to pull off her heels. She rubbed her feet and then started to walk again only to stop when she heard a rustling noise. She heard it coming from somewhere nearby. She looked around and saw someone in the shadows of an alcove a few feet from her. The person did not see her because their back was to her. Sara moved closer and saw that it was Alexander’s back she was looking at and he was kissing someone. Sara could not make out exactly whom Alexander was kissing, but she knew it was not his wife. She crept past them hoping not to be noticed, but as she did, she glanced again at them only to see whom Alexander was kissing. Sara froze for a moment and then quickly moved down the hall.She found her room and walked in closing the door. She started to breathe hard. She could not believe what she had just seen. Sara bit her lip thinking about Alexander and whom he was kissing. She undressed and washed her face and then crawled into bed as she waited for David to come in. She could not wait to see him and tell him what she had seen. She also wanted to talk with him about the incident between Susan and Camille. Sara closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. She could not wait to tell him.