Sarah arrived at Grandage place around six o’clock. She needed to clear her mind, or at least focus on something else rather than the facts of last night. Once again she believed in the wrong man, and part of her wondered how she could still be a romantic.
She ranged the big steel front door’s bell and, after a few seconds, she saw Ethan’s brown eyes show on the peephole and then heard him turning the knob.
- Hello, miss Braccini. - he said gently, though he seemed nervous, for he wandered a bit around the hall after he closed the door.
- Hello, Mr. Chandler. I am deeply sorry about the lack of word regarding my arrival. I just hope I’m not bothering. - she said when Ethan showed her the couch and went to fan the embers in that cold afternoon. Sarah found odd to see the house that empty.
- Not a problem, you don’t bother at all. It’s good to see you. A drink? - Ethan poured himself a double shot of whisky and indicated the fresh bottle of wine that was on the table as well.
Sarah crossed her legs and her hands upon her lap and nodded positively to the wine. When Ethan approached with the glasses and handed Sarah hers, he sat beside her and spreaded himself on the couch. He sighed, smiled sadly and took a fine sip of the destillade.
- What happened? Where is Vanessa? - she asked under her breath, holding her cup with both hands.
After an instant, Ethan rested his cup on the center table and turned his face to the young woman.
- Miss Ives is not at home. She’s accompanying Sir Malcolm in his work with the poor ones. But I’m glad that you’re here. - Ethan’s tone was formal and a little bitter, as if he was really upset about something.
- I don’t understand, miss. I swear to you that I don’t understand. Vanessa is so, so stubborn. And now… - he shook his head, as one would do if they wanted to forget something bad and crossed a long leg over the other.
Sarah sat up straight, put the wine aside after sipping it and slipped a hand on Ethan’s shoulder. The older man understood that through the gesture she was showing concern and wish to comfort him; he stroke her thin fingers and smiled back. He sighed and waited for until he could find the right words.
Sarah was a friend of Vanessa’s, maybe she could help him understand what was happening.
- I don’t know if you noticed, but the police is around the house again, just like when that thing happened to me. - Ethan’s voice was trembling, as were his hands. Sarah noticed that he was reluctant about showing his weakness to her, even though she and the gang have been friends for some time.
- Really? Why? Inspector Rusk makes me shiver… What does he want now? - Sarah approched Ethan’s face, whose eyes were hidden among his fingers, his head laid down and many locks of hair that went everywhere.
- Someone from the moors told Inspector Rusk that Sir Geoffrey has died. As you know, the man was the region’s law made flesh and almost everyone feared the shit out of him. Apparently, it was a normal death, but we know better than that. The same way Rusk somehow found out the death causes in the Mariner’s Inn, he started to investigate this one and is seemingly getting to put 2 and 2 together.
Ethan’s voice was now nothing but a whisper. It would always be painful for him to remember what had happened at the inn and at the moors. It was hard to know which was worse: knowing that he took all those lives, or that Vanessa would probably go through hanging for her stubbornness if he could not stop it.
- And miss Ives insists on saying that there is no possibility of something happening to her and it shatters you… My God, Mr. Chandler. You know better that anyone how relentless the inspector is and… Wow. - Sarah understood what he was feeling and she feared for Vanessa as much as he did, but she tried to find a way to calm him down. Ethan’s short temper wouldn’t help Vanessa to be more careful, much less change what has happened.
- Excuse me, I… - Ethan confirmed what the girl said with a gesture and started to get up, but Sarah made him sit again and drink the rest of the shot.
- Ethan, SIT DOWN! Cool it off. You are as headstrong as she is, don’t act impulsively and turn things worse. All of us will gather around and figure out what to do, but not now. Not like this. I just hope that Sir Malcolm is doing exactly the same as me here.
- But… - the cowboy wanted to argue, but Sarah was irreducible.
- Mr. Chandler, look at me. Don’t let me down, please. I came here to chat with friends, not to see them sabotage themselves. Take a breath. If you ever walk out that door, I’ll leave this house and never come back. - of course she would never leave them, but she surely could never bear to see them in that kind of scenario again.
Ethan snorted, gave it a second thought and kissed the top of Sarah’s head before sitting. Slowly his expression softened and she felt better.
- I’m sorry, miss. That’s no way to behave with a friend, much less when it’s a lady friend. I promise you I’ll do my best to change this conversation and be a decent company to my visitor.
- Good. I’m glad for that. Also because I would like to hear experienced male opinion on a certain matter. - she felt her face blush for a second and couldn’t help but laugh when she saw Ethan raising his eyebrows and smirking.
- I’m not the best role model in most of the matters, but let’s see what I can do for you… What is it about?
Sarah made a funny face and drank from her wine. She moved to feel more comfortable and to be sitting across Ethan and thought of something to say.
- Well… You might remember that, a while ago, I fell in love with someone. That I’m a practically hopeless romantic and that I went to Heaven when he said he felt the same. I really give myself over my feelings and still believe in the human race, even though I can very well end up with a broken heart.
- That’s beautiful! But he broke your heart, didn’t he? - Ethan asked sweetly. The young woman confirmed and he suggested with a wave of his hand that she could proceed with the story if she wanted to.
- Utterly. He has been betraying me in many ways and it only came to light yesterday. - Sarah could not stop either the knot in her throat or the tear that came from one of her eyes. She shut them tight and tried to breathe deeply, when she felt Ethan’s hand holding hers.
- I’m sorry, Sarah. Say the word and I go punch his face right now.
- Don’t waste your time, Ethan, he’s not worth it. Why the hell I am crying because of him? He didn’t deserve a crumb of what I gave him! I cannot let him ruin my life; I’ve walked that road before and survived.
- It’s not wrong to show weakness. - Ethan said in a singsong voice. - Even if some people hold that against us, it means that we have feelings, that we are human and flawed. Besides, I can’t with ladies in distress… - they laughed and she accepted the handckerchief she was offered.
- It also counts for you, Ethan. - quiet comes between them, but it’s not umconfortable. - I know that your father brought you up in a brutal way and that you carry a lot of guilt, but you have no idea of how tender you can also be. Of how gentle, generous and compassionate you are. Me, Vanessa and the rest of the squad accept you, no matter what. You can open up to us. Some things are indeed very hard to deal with, but we have friends with whom share the burdens. And the first step is you accepting yourself. As you are here for us, we are for you.
- Sembene told me the same thing… - recalled Ethan.
- You see? You can trust in those people. And, according to what I hear from miss Ives, as much as she hurts you by being so willful and doing those crazy things, and I see in your eyes how bad and scared you feel, you hurt hers by not finding a way of getting rid of the guilt and sorrow and not opening up to her.
Ethan turned away , but Sarah touched his arm gently and whisper an “I’m sorry”. He took a deep breath, said he would think about it and asked her to tell the rest of her tale. She agreed.
- Anyway, Mr. Chandler. I wonder: what goes around someone’s head for them to think they can steal your heart, only to betray you in the nastiest means possible? - she daydreamed after several sips of wine and words.
- Ignorance, stupidity or just wickedness. This kind of person doesn’t deserve the love they’re given. - by the hoarse pitch of their voices, all that alcohol was already doing its bidding.
- Have you ever gone through that, if you don’t mind me asking?
- Yes, I think. And how do you deal with a person as willfull as miss Ives? - replied Ethan.
- By not being as she is, I guess. - the young woman laughed.
- I swear to you, that woman drives me crazy in so many ways.
- I know, hahahahahaha. I see it; it’s mutual. He did that to me too. How does one get over such a treason? Because I know a lot about broken hearts that are not loved back, except that.
- I don’t know. Drinking to forget it, I suppose. A toast to the traitors and to love.
- To love.
As the drink ran down their throats, they laughed at the traps of life and at love. At how much Ethan loved Vanessa, and Sarah thought of how lucky they were for that. Of how much she wanted to have that same thing.