A background story of Ophelia Randolf and the moment where she decided to abandon love.
|Ophelia Curtsinger stood before her mirror surveying the damage the past few days had done to her appearance. She looked tired with the hint of bulging bags under her eyes. Sleep had served very little purpose to her. She did manage to arrange herself in fashionable dress, wearing a summer dress of rich olive tones and white flowers raining down the skirt with a matching coat with three-quarter length sleeves. Even without a maid she had even presented her blonde waves into a cluster of ringlets at the nape of her neck. She could almost convince herself to be seen by other people. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to tell that she was in mourning.
A rap of knuckles against her bedroom door was the only warning she received before her mother stepped in and looked at her with barely concealed disgust. “You have a visitor,” she said by way of explanation. “He’s waiting for you in the drawing room.” With that the older woman turned and left without another word. She left the door open. Her job was done. Ophelia doubted she would see her again that day.
Her family did not deal with scandal well. They spread gossip with knowing glances and whispered words but now that they were the object of public scorn they hid from view.
Ophelia left her room and descended the stairs to find her visitor in the drawing room.
Albert Randolph stood with his back to her, staring out the window to the garden beyond. His fine travelling cloak was open at the waist and he held his hat in his hands clutched at his back. He turned when he heard her close the door at her entrance. His homely face alighted with a great smile and the surge of relief Ophelia felt at seeing her friend nearly caused her to run to him.
But she restrained herself. She was under enough scrutiny as it was. “Albert,” she said with no lack of warmth. “I thought you were in New York.” As a good hostess, she gestured for him to take a seat at the small sofa by the fireplace while she sat in the chair opposite him.
“I came as soon as I heard the news about Charles Everidge,” he said as he sat down, resting his hat on the table next to him.
Ophelia’s face soured. “Which news?” she asked bitterly.
“I already knew of his pending nuptials,” he said mildly. “Naturally his death brought me straight away.”
Her expression darkened even further. She became suddenly wary of her friend. What had he heard? What did he believe? “Why?” she asked.
Albert tilted his head with a sympathetic frown. “Oh, Ophie, don’t take that tone with me. We’ve been friends for a very long time. I know you better than I know myself. I knew death was the only way you could lose your claim to Charles.” He reached into his breast pocket to retrieve a pristine white handkerchief. He reached across the short distance to give it to her. She took it wordlessly, only in that moment realizing that tears had drawn cold trails down her cheeks. “Don’t cry,” he said softly. “I understand. I don’t think you had anything to do with it.”
She rubbed furiously at her shameful display of emotion while her voice flared with anger. “How could I have had anything to do with it?” she snapped in a course whisper. For all she knew her mother had taken a spot outside the drawing room door to listen. “If I had,” she continued, “don’t you think I would have aimed the lightning at his bride?”
Albert leaned back against the cushioning of the sofa. His gaze upon her had narrowed. “Rumor has it, that’s why he died,” he said, watching her carefully. “He was shielding her.”
“Rumor,” she repeated darkly. “I’m sure the rumor is that I’m a witch.”
“Are you?” he asked.
“Albert!” she exclaimed, shocked that her friend would follow that archaic line of thought. She threw his handkerchief back at him.
“I’m sorry,” he replied with a grin as he caught the refused cloth. He wanted to keep joking, to have fun with his dear friend whom he hadn’t seen in so long but she didn’t return his expression. She looked hurt, wounded actually. The scandal had really taken hold of her. He sobered and asked with care, “Have you really lost control of this?”
Ophelia’s thought turned inward as she examined the line of events that had brought her to this moment. She thought of the moment she had sat in the church watching the man that she believed she loved more than anything marry someone else. She had been consumed with a number of wretched feelings she didn’t think she was capable of harboring, thinking dark thoughts, imagining horrid desires. Her voice became quiet as she answered. “Have you ever wanted something so much that you didn’t care what answered when you prayed?”
To her great surprise, Albert answered her with the same quiet, deadly tone. “Would you be frightened of me if I said ‘yes’?”
She looked to her friend, now, studying his face. She suddenly realized that he wasn’t here to comfort her. He had desires of his own. “What are you saying?” she asked.
Albert stood from his seat and immediately came to one knee before her. “I’ve spent the last few years in New York studying the market, making connections, laying the groundwork,” he said to her. He sounded like he was on the verge of a great life-changing confession.
“For what?” she couldn’t help but ask.
He reached out and took her hands into his. “Our future,” he said earnestly.
Oh dear Lord. She could see it now. Albert was in love with her. She knew when he had left for New York that he was embarking on some scheme of grand design. She didn’t know that the design involved her. She thought briefly of pulling her hands back but couldn’t deny that that simple contact of flesh against flesh felt good, comforting. But Albert! He was her friend. She never thought of him as anything else. “You can’t be serious,” she said.
“Oh, Ophie,” he said tenderly, reaching up to cup her face. “I’ve never been more serious than I am right now.” The thumb of his right hand gently rubbed at an errant tear she had missed. “Since you saw me last, I have become a very wealthy man."
“What does that have to do with anything?” she asked. She had taken back his caressing hand into the shelter of her own. This romantic side of her childhood friend made her uneasy.
“As I said, I know you,” he said smiling, “and I know what you want.”
She looked at him doubtfully. “And what is that?”
His smile brightened, deepened, making his plain, ugly face almost handsome. “Power,” he said simply.
“What?” she heard herself ask. She was surprised, not that he had slandered her life’s desires but because he was essentially right. He knew her truly, utterly. He had cut her down to the quick of what she really was and he wasn’t disgusted.
He continued then, “and with my money you can have what you want.”
“But I don’t love you,” she said finally.
“So,” he replied. He stood then and gave a gentle tug to her hands to pull her up with him. “Love didn’t work so well for you last time.” She soured at the reminder. “A marriage to me will put an end to all the rumors and give you whatever you want in life.”
After a moment she realized the truth of her situation. Love had all but destroyed her. Albert was her best friend. What did she have to lose?