It was late when the car finally pulled into the gravel drive. Marie was leaning on Cora’s shoulder, both fast asleep. Each time they hit a rut (which was a lot, obviously the driveway wasn’t well taken care of) they snorted and snored louder.
Magnolia sat still and listened to crunching of the rocks beneath the tires, the wind blowing in the trees on either side of them. She tried very hard not to listen to her companions, despite the fact that Marie was sagging against her and Cora’s elbow was digging into her back in a very uncomfortable way.
The sky outside was tar-black, and she thought the moon was unusually faint. Nevertheless, Nolie held up her watch and squinted—it was just past one in the morning. Then, the crunching gravel completely stopped, and Marie and Cora slumped suddenly forward. They had arrived.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was hard to remember what happened, exactly, after everyone had piled out of the car. Cora didn’t even remember getting out. When she had finally woken up, it was in a four poster bed with morning sunlight pouring in through the windows, which was fine with her. She wasn’t someone who questioned, as long as she got her way. Especially if a servant happened to come in with a soft-boiled egg in an elaborate eggcup, toast, and fresh-squeezed juice on a silver tray.
So for Cora, the first morning at the Red House was a good one.
When Marie opened her eyes, the first thing she noticed was that her nose was completely stuffed up and she had a headache. There were no tissues to be seen. She stumbled up and down the hall in her rumpled dress from yesterday, only to be told by a passing servant with an empty tray there was a washroom right in the back of her own bedchamber. This made Marie feel distinctly foolish. Having her own breakfast served to her in her own bedroom was only a very slight comfort, so even as she ate, sitting up against two pillows, she had a creeping feeling that the day wasn’t going to improve. Marie sneezed loudly and dropped her toast.
Nolie woke up the most tired of the three, having not slept a wink on the way there. There was a huge window that looked out over the grounds and the main road right across the room from her bed, which delighted her. As soon as breakfast came, she changed into fresh clothes and ate her eggs sitting on the window seat. The sun shone brightly from behind the trees. The Red House had a very romantic, old feel to it—the feel of a majestically ancient place that wasn’t going anywhere. Magnolia smiled and set her plate on the floor. That feeling was always a good sign.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
At eight thirty exactly, the three of them met in the sitting room. Cora seated herself immediately, directly in the middle of the settee that faced the fireplace. Nolie and Marie found themselves in matching armchairs opposite her.
“Cora. Please tell me again why we’re even here.” Marie’s voice sounded hoarse and she seemed paler than she should be.
“Are you okay? You look terrible.” Her face was concerned, but at the same time Cora played with the lacy collar on her dress, as if making it clear who looked terrible and who didn’t.
There was a brief silence, and when it seemed like Marie wasn’t going to reply, Nolie broke in.
“What are we doing, for real, at a mansion? Just tell us again the exact reason you dragged us here, because I can say for both of us that we’ve lost track.”
Her good mood was disappearing rapidly just being around her cousin. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
At the same time, Cora was scowling and remembering what Magnolia had done yesterday in her anger—“STOP it!” she had yelled, over what Cora couldn’t remember—and then forced both her neat gloved hands down into a mud puddle. She exhaled sharply and still did not reply.
Marie was thinking only of how she felt horrible and headachey, and how she wished—wished so badly---she never would have had to come here in the first place.
Bitter feelings were floating around the room. A draft crept in from under the door, chilling their bare toes. The fire popped and sputtered.