Maman was acting très mystérieux ever since our last mother-daughter beauty pageant. She stayed in her bedroom, having one of the servants bring her chilled blood wine in a glass instead of eating with Papa and me.
But I caught her leaving the castle in the middle of la nuit, and I followed her all the way down to the docks in town.
She was dressed all in black, like the vampiress héroïne of one of my sister Ophelia’s novels. She wore her hair in a different way too…
Where was she going? Was she buying me a present in secret? I already knew where her and Papa’s favorite hiding places were, but it was nice of Maman to try to surprise me.
Maman didn’t notice when I followed her onto the ferry. She stood alone, staring out across la mer.
I truly was like a runaway princess, off seeking adventure away from the castle…
Eventually, the ferry stopped at an island, and only Maman got off–with me close behind her. She swept through a pair of big iron gates–and into a silent graveyard.
The beautiful adventurous princess followed–and hid, when she heard her mère speak.
“I–I can’t recall his face, Thaddeus. Or I can now, when I see yours, but…it’s fading, like those of so many butlers before him.”
“I have pictures aplenty, Lady Blackwell,” said a man in a butler uniform. We’d never had a butler at the castle, even though all my other rich and sophisticated classmates had them at home. “Never fear.”
“I wish I hadn’t burned so many,” she said softly, but I could still hear her. “Do you suppose he hates me? I shouldn’t be so happy, not when I’m so very close to forgetting him. It all seems so far away…”
They were so close together, like paramours… Were they paramours? Was that why he called Maman Lady Blackwell, so she’d forget about Papa? It should’ve been Blackwell-Straud…
“He would never fault you anything, Lady Blackwell,” the man said. “He would want you to be happy, to find love and comfort in the arms of another.”
Was he talking about Papa? Because he’d never want to see Mama in another man’s arms, unless he could watch. And Papa was nowhere to be found.
“I’m a terrible wife and mother,” Maman cried. “Benedict was right, all those years ago…”
My brother Benedict was Maman’s favorite before I was born, so his words meant a lot to her. Would he tell me what I wanted to know if I asked, or was he still busy with the adoption?
“Hush, Lady Blackwell.” This other man, this possible paramour, continued to touch Maman with his white-gloved hands. “Don’t entertain such thoughts for another moment…”
And then he drew her into an étreinte passionnée…
…What should I do? Should I tell Papa, even if it would shatter his unbeating coeur?
The ferry ride back home felt much different from the one to the island. The inside of the castle–one I always thought was bursting with love–felt different too. Papa called this painting “Graham Straud’s Treasures”…
What if one of those treasures was no longer his? Papa always said we were his world, Maman and me…
And now that world was crumbling…
I couldn’t tell Papa. I couldn’t.
So I told my beastly nephew instead, the next time he visited. (I only got a single glimpse of my sister Galatea.) “I think Maman is having a liaison amoureuse,” I announced.
Sly stared at me. “A what now?”
I lowered my voice. “I think she’s…fallen into the arms of another man, without Papa knowing.”
“Mom says Gramps knows everything. He’s got this badass spy network or something.” He kicked his foot in the air, like a barbarian. “And so what if she is? When I’m older, I’m gonna bang a million chicks at the same time, and all my girlfriends better be cool with it.”
As if any girl of class would ever want a bête mauvaise for a boyfriend. “Maman and Papa have something special,” I explained. “A love like no other. And for Maman to be willing to throw that away for another man… I saw this man holding Maman like she was a poupée.”
He snickered. “A poopy?”
“A doll.” So unrefined. “I know what I saw…”
Sly shrugged. “So do the paps working for SiMZ when they say my mom is banging every one of her new costars. They can make a picture look like anything–even her flicking off the other lead becomes a lovers’ spat or some shit.”
I clenched my fists–my sister would never cheat on her paramour Sebastian. “This is different. Maman isn’t famous…”
But now I was beginning to wonder if I hadn’t truly seen what I thought. It was dark that night, and the princess had been far from her castle…maybe it hadn’t been a romantic graveyard rendezvous at all.
And so all went back to normal, more or less. Maman came out of her room more, and I could admire her pretty things as usual…
I decided to try on some of her jewelry that wasn’t so carefully protected. She had some set aside just for me when I got older.
Papa said I’d be grown up in the blink of an eye! Oh, how I hoped he was right. He usually was.
But instead of jewelry hidden in the back of Maman’s drawer of valuables, I found a pair of neatly folded white gloves…
Were they for me? She wouldn’t mind if I tried them on–she never minded when I tried on her jewelry or shoes or clothes, saying that a woman always had to think about looking her best.
“Put those down, Belle,” she hissed. “What do you think you’re doing, rummaging through my private belongings?”
I sniffled. I wasn’t used to Maman raising her voice toward me. “You never minded before…”
“I’m going to have to think very hard for an appropriate punishment.”
Why was she acting like this? I couldn’t understand–until I did. “Are–are they his gloves?” I asked. “Is that why? Are you afraid Papa will find them?”
“How do you know about…about–”
“That’s enough, Bee,” Papa said from behind me. “I’ll handle things from here.”
“Graham, she–she found his gloves, and she was trying them on…”
“I’ll see she doesn’t do it again, my alabaster dove.”
She left, my beautiful mère, turning her back on Papa and me…
I stayed in place, quivering like a blade of grass in le vent, until Papa came near.
“My sweet porcelain princess,” he said, “your mother didn’t mean what she said. She always gets this way around this time of year.”
“What time of year?” It was Princess Month, according to Papa–that was a time to celebrate, not to mourn.
He knelt in front of me, like a knight before a princess. “The anniversary of her first husband’s death. She loved him a great deal, and it pains her to remember such a tragic event.”
“Did she love him more than you?” I couldn’t bear to imagine it.
“Lysander was her first husband,” Papa said, “and I’m her husband for the rest of eternity. They’re different types of love, my little ice princess.”
I didn’t understand. Everyone had one true love, and only one. “Then who’s Thaddeus?” I blurted. “Why did he meet her in a graveyard at night without you?”
“Thaddeus,” he said, pulling me into a hug, “is family. Lysander’s father–and Bee’s son, in a way. She turned him, many years ago.”
“Why?” Because she was secretly in love with him?
“To save his life,” he said, “as I saved Ophelia’s.” That was one of my favorite stories, the way he saved my sister’s life by turning her into a vampire. She was able to marry her true love, Rhys–who happened to be Papa’s son, and also my brother.
“…Princess Month is a real holiday, isn’t it, Papa?”
“Of course, ma belle.” He guided me to a nearby sofa and let me rest my head on his shoulder. “Now put any bad thoughts out of your mind, and I’ll let you pick out any present you like tomorrow.”
So Thaddeus was like a brother to me… I wondered if he’d tell me about this man Maman loved before Papa–and who she loved more.
I wanted to know everything, just like an adult.