“The man died doing what he loved: his beautiful wife.”
Mother’s friend continued with some anecdote about wanting to abduct Father upon meeting him for reasons that remained unclear, and spoke about how an unlikely friendship developed between them over the years. The man was gone much too soon, he said…
Though it was Father who lay in the coffin, it felt more as though we were the corpses, still and empty: his children, his father and in-laws, his sister and nieces…
Also present were my employer, to my surprise, and an old friend of Benedict’s.
Mother did her best to properly eulogize the life of the father of her children and the only butler she would ever love (with the exception of her aforementioned children). Theirs was a fated love, one that death so cruelly stole from them…
She broke down shortly after “death” left her lips, but her friend prevented her from tumbling to the ground. I was long accustomed to Mother’s hysterics, but only now did they feel truly justified.
The funeral passed in a blur, and I couldn’t recall the order of events, or all the words of condolences.
“My babies,” Mother sobbed, drawing Benedict and me into a vice-like embrace. “You’ll never leave me, not like your father. My darling, handsome butlers…”
I was grateful that Benedict’s friend appeared to be comforting Ophelia as Mother fussed over her sons.
“How could he do this to me, without any notice whatsoever?” Mother demanded. “How could he simply die?”
It was always important to be calm and reasonable in the face of Mother’s heightened emotions; the duty had usually fallen to Father, but with him gone, it was my sole domain. “All humans die, Mother…”
“Well, they shouldn’t. Not when they can live forever… He must not have loved me enough, Leopold.”
I had no adequate response for that, even though I knew my father had loved my mother like no other. He could’ve become a vampire and prevented her pain entirely–and everyone else’s.
Not only did a wife lose a husband, and children their father, but a sister lost a brother and a father a son…
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Master Straud murmured, when my mother was otherwise occupied.
“Thank you for coming, Master Straud,” I said gratefully. “I didn’t expect an actor to care so deeply for one of his employees.” I almost wished I could’ve invited Miss Strider as well, but I hadn’t wanted her to meet my parents when one of them was in a casket (and not one meant for vampires).
He gave me an encouraging pat. “Ah, well…you’re the best butler I’ve had in years. Good help is hard to find, you know.”
“You’re too kind, Master Straud.” It was the first time I’d smiled since my father’s death.
Even Ophelia’s dog paid his respects to Lysander Lyons.
…Respects I’d have to clean up later.
Benedict and I found some time together as well. I’d wanted to speak to my twin, but not under these circumstances…
“One of us should stay with Mother for the foreseeable future,” I said. “To help her tend to matters of the estate, as well as her grief–”
“I’ll go,” he said.
“But Benedict–” Clearly I would be the more appropriate choice, though Master Straud would likely be displeased to be without a butler for some time.
He abruptly stood. “I’m her favorite.”
Yes, Benedict was Mother’s favorite.
And Ophelia was Father’s. I found her crying in the hall; strange, when she’d always delighted in pain and tragedy in her stories. Why had we never been close, as she and Benedict were? Was it all of my forced etiquette lessons when she was a child…?
“I can’t live here anymore, Leo. Not after Father…”
“I’d offer the use of my butler quarters,” I said, “if they were mine to offer.”
Master Straud coughed politely nearby. “My mansion is mine to offer, and I’d gladly offer your sister a room until she can secure more appropriate housing. The two of you would be able to rely on one another during this difficult time…”
I truly had never suspected Master Straud of being such a kind-hearted employer, not after all the times he’d dramatically flung his coffee cup against the wall (and I’d had to tend to the spills).
“Are you sure…?” Ophelia said. She didn’t sound like herself; she’d never hesitate to impose on someone else, but now she sounded lost, uncertain.
I knew the feeling.
“It would be far too much to ask of my employer,” I interjected. “Though we appreciate the generous offer, Master Straud.” Ophelia could be…eccentric, even to her own family, and Master Straud likely had no idea what he might invite into his house.
“Nonsense,” he said. “If you’re both amenable…she’s more than welcome. I care about my employees and my fellow castmates.”
Well, that was one matter settled, though part of me feared how much my duties might increase between Ophelia, Lady Dru, and Miss Strider…
But I welcomed the distraction.
After all, Father was gone…
He was my mentor, the butler I both admired and aspired to be. Everything I knew, I learned from him.
And he was a good man as well, the best I had ever known: morally upright and attentive to his family, as I planned to be with Miss Strider and our future children.
Future children–Father’s grandchildren–he would never know.
“Goodbye, Father…” My cheeks were dry as I gazed down into the casket; the time for tears was finished. I had to be strong, for Mother and Ophelia. I would become a man worthy of his memory.