To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here.
The room truly was lovely in the afternoon. Golden rays slanted through the high windows set with small crystals. Rainbow colored lights danced on the richly carpeted floor and sofas. A small tea tray was set upon a cracked marble table, the silver gleaming in the glow. Iced cakes and delicate pastries rested on a china plate next to the silver, beckoning anyone nearby with their sugary smells.
In fact, the only thing that marred the otherwise perfect afternoon and the perfect room was the person that sat on one of the perfect couches. Then again, “sat” was perhaps too generous a word. She slouched, her back sloping and her stomach sticking out at an utterly unattractive angle. Unfortunately, Richard had to bear the woman’s presence. Victoria was, after all, still his wife.
She smiled at him, showing slightly yellow teeth. Richard found himself staring at them, unable to look away as flecks of spit flew from her mouth when she spoke, “I’m so glad that you’re home, my dear. There have been a few changes since you left, but I think that you’ll enjoy them. I freshened up the rooms and made a few different arrangements. Do you want a tea cake? They’re absolutely delicious.”
Richard could tell she thought they were absolutely delicious. The woman had gained about ten pounds since he last saw her. He plastered a smile on his face and waved a hand, “Not right now, dear. You were saying something about changes?”
Victoria nodded and reached forward, grabbing a pink iced cake between two fingers. She popped it into her mouth and chewed loudly, the wet sound of her tongue slapping against her teeth filling the room. Richard resisted the urge to grind his own teeth as she finally swallowed, “Why yes. Your finances were in a dreadful state. I had to really do a bit of work on them. You see…”
Richard tuned out her whiny voice as she continued. She would be gone soon enough. He was ruined, of course. The downfall of Julius meant his downfall as well. He would never fully recoup his losses—but at least he didn’t need to put himself through this sham of a marriage any longer. If he was going to suffer in poverty, he was determined to suffer alone.
Richard found himself staring at Victoria’s face as she spoke—at her muddy, squinty eyes, at the mole at the corner of her mouth. Victoria didn’t have her charm, her beauty, her wit. She didn’t make graceful motions with her hands when she spoke about a topic that interested her. She didn’t grin deviously. She didn’t laugh in a high, clear voice that reminded him of running water. She didn’t take the initiative to grab his hand and twirl him around a dance floor to the sound of violins.
Then again, she also didn’t lie.
Richard turned his gaze elsewhere, glancing out the window. The early morning frost was melting in the afternoon light, blown by the wind and falling like silvered glitter, making the air sparkle. The bare trees shone with ice, diamonds that made him squint at the perfectly blue sky. It was so different from the night when they had dashed through the tunnel, when they evaded the restless, when they emerged behind the latrine near a small town. Richard found himself briefly wondering where the other two were—whether the girl was still following Robin around like some creepy, lost puppy. He shook his head. It wasn’t important. They were gone—the same way she was gone. The bright light began to make his eyes water.
Richard turned his attention back to his wife, blinking his eyes before smiling, “Yes, my sweet?”
Victoria stared at him for a moment before biting her thin lips, “You’re not angry with me?”
Richard forced himself to laugh. Even to his own ears, it sounded false, “Why would I be angry?”
“Because I essentially indebted you to my family, Richard. I know how you hate to be indebted to anyone. But papa was so kind when he said he would repay all your debt. He said that you were part of the family now, and that you should be treated as such.”
The blood in Richard’s veins turned to ice, freezing him in place. He felt his smile slowly slide from his face as he spoke, “Did he say anything else?”
Victoria gave him a trembling smile, “I knew you wouldn’t be angry. Papa was wonderful. He said you didn’t have to worry about repaying him. All you had to do was take care of me as you always would…as your wife.”
Richard knew a veiled threat when he heard it: Take care of her or else. “Or else” could be anything. It could be his ruin…or his death. He shuddered inwardly, leaning back in his chair. “That’s…delightful.”
His wife practically beamed as she reached forward, grasping his hand with her clammy one, “I knew you’d be pleased, Richie. We’ll be together forever, and you can rebuild your fortune. Papa said he’d be watching your progress and helping when he’s needed. Isn’t it a dream?”
Forever. Richard stared at her, swallowing back the bile that had come to his throat. Forever with Victoria: sleeping in her bed, kissing her lips, smiling when he’d rather scream. Forever without…
He closed his eyes, unable to even contemplate how he’d never again see her again. Perhaps this was his punishment, his penance. Perhaps this was what he deserved: a nightmare in place of what could have been, what was once his fantasy. Only her memory remained, the faint, lingering thought of a woman that was as false as his marriage.
Richard opened his eyes and smiled back, “Yes, a dream.”