“So, you didn’t stay to see your father?” Martina asked Laird.
“No. I couldn’t bear to listen to any more of her bloody drivel.”
“It sounds like she’s still in love with you.”
“How ironic. Karson wanted her love but I, who never wanted it got it instead.”
“Love is a crazy thing. And some people are unlucky in love.
“Yes, like Karson. How I wish Mother hadn’t adopted Antonia.”
“Your mother always wanted to have a daughter but couldn’t have any more children. Adopting Antonia made her happy, didn’t it?”
“I suppose it did but that happiness came at a cost. She lost her son.”
“I’m so sorry about your brother.”
“You would have liked him.”
“Do you think he would have liked me?”
“Yes, I do. He would have been happy and astonished that I had finally met a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with because there was a running joke between Dad and him that I would remain a bachelor forever or it would take a truly remarkable woman to get me to take the plunge. I’m truly sorry that he didn’t get to meet you.”
“You and he were very close, weren’t you?”
“We were until he fell in love with Antonia.”
“Did it bother you that you and he no longer spent time together like you used to when you were kids?”
“No. I didn’t expect us to be like we were when we were kids but we had become very good friends as we got older and until our interests changed. I was preoccupied with my studies and getting into politics while he was more interested in pursuing Antonia. And she seemed to reciprocate his feelings but it was all a lie.”
“When did you realize that she was in love with you?”
“On the night they announced their engagement. It was after dinner and I was in the study. I was there because I had finished reading the book, Paupers and peppercorns and was returning it the book shelf when she walked in. She came up to me and said, ‘I was wondering where you had wandered off to. They’re serving the cake now.'”
“What did you say to her?”
“I said, ‘I’ll be along in a moment.’ I was browsing through the books to see if there was another book I wanted to read. She said, ‘Everyone is happy about the engagement.’ I said, ‘yes, we all are.'”
“And what did she say?” Martina was on the edge of her seat.
“She said, ‘not everyone.’ And that’s when I looked at her, surprised. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘I’m not happy,’ she replied. I couldn’t believe my ears. Before I could ask her why she had said that, she added, ‘in fact, I’m miserable about the whole thing and I wish you were too.’ After I recovered from my shock, I asked her why should either of us be miserable about such a happy occasion. That’s when she said to me, I’m miserable because it’s you I love, Laird, not Karson and I wish you were miserable instead of happy for us because it would mean that you love me too.’ For several minutes I stood there staring at her. How could this be the same Antonia who had been laughing as my parents and I congratulated her and Karson and raised our glasses in a toast?”
“Oh, my goodness, she told you that she was in love with you on the same night they announced their engagement?”
“Yes. She had everyone fooled, acting like she was happy when all the while, she was pretending. That was the first time I realized that underneath that demure façade was a devious and calculating woman. My affection for her turned to aversion. I told her that she had succeeded in making me wretchedly miserable but not because I had any romantic feelings for her but because of my poor, unsuspecting family. I told her that if she had an ounce of decency, she would break off her engagement to Karson and move out. ‘I’ll break off my engagement, Laird, but please don’t ask me to leave. I couldn’t bear to leave you.’ I said to her, ‘then, perhaps, I’ll move out.’ And then, I walked out of the library. I rejoined the others in the drawing-room. She showed up a few minutes later. The rest of the night was hell for me. I watched my parents and Karson and felt sick to my stomach. And as for Antonia, I wanted nothing more to do with her.”
“I know this must be painful for you to talk about and I’ll understand if you don’t want to but what happened on the night Karson died?”
Laird took a deep breath. “I was in bed, thankful that the day was over and looking forward to the weekend. It had been a crazy week, studying and writing exams so I was very tired. After saying my prayers, I pulled back the covers and settled down. The sheets felt soft, warm and welcoming. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. As I lay there, I heard the door open and close. When I turned, I was startled to see Antonia standing there. ‘What the devil are you doing in my room?’ I demanded. ‘I couldn’t sleep because of the thunder,’ she said as she came over to the bed. ‘You know how terrified I am of thunder. Do you remember when we were children, how I used to come to your room and slip under the covers with you? You used to let me stay until the storm passed.’ She pulled back the covers and was about to climb in. Enraged, I scrambled off the bed and marched around to where she was. ‘We’re not children anymore,’ I said to her. ‘Now, get out my room.’ I grabbed her by the shoulders just as the door opened. Startled, I let go of her and she fell onto the bed. Karson stood there. When the lightning flashed, I saw him advance towards me. He was yelling at me, accusing me of sleeping with Antonia. I tried to explain to him that he was mistaken but he lunged at me. Antonia just sat there, not saying or doing anything. Karson punched me in the face, knocking me off my feet before he ran out of my room. I staggered to my feet, a bit dazed and went after him. By the time, I got downstairs, his car was speeding down the driveway. It was around two in the morning when the police showed up. They found Karson’s car smashed into a tree. He was rushed to the hospital but died en route there. I was numb with shock. My parents returned from their weekend in Bourton-on-the-Water. Antonia and I never told them about what happened that night and they never asked why Karson was out on the road in such terrible weather.”
“Yes, poor Karson. He died believing the worst of me.”
“You hate Antonia for that, don’t you?”
“I don’t hate her but I hate what she did and I can’t forgive her for it.”
“It’s good that you don’t hate her but unforgiveness can be toxic too.”
“I know. The Bible warns us against it but, I just can’t find it in my heart to forgive her for what she did to my brother who would still be alive if he hadn’t had the misfortunate of falling in love with her.”
Martina got up and went over to him. “Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness can destroy a person’s life.”
“I know but, right now, I can’t help feeling bitter because my brother is dead and it’s her fault. If she hadn’t come to my room that night–” He closed his eyes in despair.
“I know, Honey, I know.” Martina put her arms around him and he rested his head against her bosom as he hugged her tightly. How he wished with all his heart that his brother had been as fortunate as he to have found love with the perfect woman.