In The Land of the Dead
"All right – who here can believe it's been a year since we died?"
Lizzie looked up from her biscuit, blinking. "What – really?"
"According to that calendar Miss Gipe worked up for us, anyway," Arthur said, sitting down across from her. "And I'm willing to trust that it's at least mostly accurate." He leaned on his hand. "November 5th, 1864. I wonder what's going on up there. Do you think any of the faculty still spares a thought for me?"
"I'm sure they do, Arthur," Lorina told him, sipping her tea. "You were a popular dean. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if you had a commemorative portrait hanging somewhere in the halls." She glanced up at the flaking ceiling. "I wonder who's bought our house by this point."
"Who's knocked it down and replaced it with something better, you mean," Lizzie corrected, nibbling her biscuit. The stony bread crunched under her teeth, but didn't offer much in the way of flavor. I must not have let the dough sit for long enough. Damn numbed taste buds. "The Ferrars were looking for a new house when we passed, weren't they? I can't imagine anyone would just let the place rot."
"I hope not – I poured a lot of time and effort into that back garden," Arthur declared. "I'd quite like Ned to keep the place up. Boy was studying botany in school, after all." He sighed. "I've missed the latest graduation. I was already thinking about my speech."
Lorina patted his hand. "We've all missed quite a lot. I was looking forward to Mrs. Foglio's start-of-summer garden party. One of the highlights of the season, in my opinion. And then there was our trip to Brighton, and the latest ball held by Lady Vandermeer, and–"
Silence landed on them like a heavy cannonball. "I never thought I'd miss one of those," Lizzie continued, running her thumb along the end of her biscuit and sending crumbs cascading onto the carpet. "The day before – before the fire, she hopped into my lap and told me that it was exactly halfway to her birthday, and that I owed her a half-birthday present."
"Oh dear – are those like unbirthday presents?" Lorina giggled. "Remember when she got that idea in her head? It took a week for us to convince her that on this side of the Looking Glass, no one was going to give her a gift every day until her birthday."
"She did confess to me she thought she'd have better luck with half-birthdays," Lizzie said, snickering along. "She walked off in a snit when I told her I didn't have anything. 'What's the point of being eight-and-a-half exactly if no one wants to acknowledge it?'"
Arthur laughed and shook his head. "How did we end up with a daughter like that?"
"Pure luck," Lorina told him, setting her teacup down. "And I'm so grateful for it." Her smile faded as she looked into the depths of her green tea. "I wonder what sort of birthday she had this spring. Should – should we check for new arrivals again at Littlemore?"
"I suppose we ought, though I don't know if they'll be able to tell us anything," Arthur said, rubbing the back of his head. "Only two so far have been from Alice's particular ward, and they both said the same – she's wrapped up as silent and still as an Egyptian mummy."
"She's still alive, at least," Lizzie murmured.
Lorina hummed her agreement. "I just hope Mr. Radcliffe is looking after her like he ought to. Sometimes, when you were discussing your will with him, I thought he seemed more interested in who you were giving that Chinese vase of yours to than anything else."
"Oh, I promised that to him long ago just to stop him salivating over it," Arthur said, rolling his eyes. "I'm not even sure it's genuine Chinese, but if he wants it so badly, he's welcome to it. But he does know his business – I'm sure he's keeping what remains of our estate in proper trust for Alice. And whoever her new guardian might be."
"I'm still hoping its the Hargreaves," Lorina said. "Don't make that face, Lizzie – Reginald can be a perfectly nice boy."
"He can also be a perfectly mean one," Lizzie replied, eyes narrowed. "I haven't forgotten the incident with the flowers. Or that time he thought it would be funny to throw rocks at poor Dinah. Alice nearly knocked one of his teeth out for that, and I almost didn't stop her! Why she even considered calling him her 'paramour' is beyond me. He's a rotten excuse for a human being and he ought to–"
Everyone looked down at the two halves of a biscuit now resting in Lizzie's lap. "Yes, we probably shouldn't have brought up boys today," Arthur said quietly.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Lizzie rushed to say, dropping the ruined biscuit onto her plate and brushing off her skirt. "It's been a year, and I haven't – I talk to Mr. Trigger sometimes, don't I? And Mr. Prince?"
"Only when one of us is with you, and then you never say more than 'hello how are you' or 'thank you for the latest paper,'" Lorina pointed out. "Don't think you have to defend yourself, dear. We understand."
Lizzie shook her head. "You don't – not fully. But I wouldn't want you to." She touched the heavily-gnawed sides of her neck, letting the tips of her fingers brush against the exposed spine. "I wonder how he's doing. Do – do you think some other poor girl's turned his head?"
"I hope not," Arthur growled. "If there's any justice in the world, he's already been made the sweetheart of a few halfwit bruisers in prison."
"One hopes. . .but I confess, I'm worried by the fact that he isn't Downstairs," Lorina admitted, picking up her cup again and swirling her tea. "Arson is a serious crime, and – and what happened to Lizzie even more so. I know all of us are glad not to have to look upon his face, but. . .do you think that means. . . ."
"The police in Oxford aren't stupid," Arthur argued. "And there were enough reports of his behavior to set them on the right path. Perhaps they don't have any definite proof, but I imagine there's enough circumstantial evidence to keep him away from polite society."
"Unless his patron's used his thousands of pounds to bail him out," Lizzie muttered. "I wish we'd been able to find more that just that one broadsheet of the Illustrated talking about the fire."
"So do I," Arthur admitted. "It's terrible, being so cut off. But perhaps we'll get lucky today."
Lorina jumped, her tea sloshing over her hand. "Ah! Oh goodness. . .now who's that?"
"I don't know – Miss Winks and friends come to wish us a happy anniversary?" Arthur said, rising. "We probably should see them today – they were incredibly helpful when we first arrived."
"Maybe we can all have dinner together tonight," Lorina said. "If it is one of them, ask if they're free for about eight." She glanced over at Lizzie as Arthur headed for the front door. "If you're all right with that."
"So long as I can sit next to Miss Winks or Miss Gipe and you, I'll be fine," Lizzie promised her.
"You sure about that?"
Lizzie blinked, then reached into the flesh of her shoulder and pulled out the maggot. "I don't see why you would care," she said, holding him carefully by the tail. "You get to eat either way."
"Yeah, but I know you were up pretty late last night," M (as Lizzie had agreed to call him) replied, swaying from side to side. "And you kept looking at your window like you expected it to bust open."
Lorina bit her finger. "Oh Lizzie. . .nightmares again?"
"They come and go," Lizzie admitted, putting M on her lap. "Some nights are worse than others. . .helps that I don't have to sleep anymore, at least. I had no idea you'd noticed," she added to the maggot. "I thought you were – busy."
"I'm working on it," M told her, tapping her thigh with his tail. "But too much from the same place gets boring after a while. You know, it'd go faster if you'd stop glugging down No-Rot every other month. Or at least let a few of my pals in to help clean up when you're not."
"I told you – I want to keep looking like me as long as possible. And I can just about stand having you nibbling away, especially – in the current area," she said, with an awkward look at her mother. Lorina promptly pretended to be absorbed in cleaning up her spilled tea. "More is – well, it's not an option."
"Eh, suit yourself." M grinned. "Can't say I mind having the whole smorgasbord to myself, even if I gotta burrow in somewhere else every other month."
"And I do appreciate the work you've done," Lizzie said, touching her neck again. No hint of dark blue remaining – even if it meant you could see her bones, she was much happier like this.
"Oh, thank you Mr. Prince! I'll catch up with you later!"
Arthur rushed back into the room, clutching a wad of paper, face alight with anxious hope. "Lorina, Lizzie – someone's just come down who knows Alice!"
Both women sat up straight. "Who?" Lizzie demanded.
"Susan Ashby! Mr. Prince just came by to deliver his paper, and he told me to read the new arrivals page. . . ." Arthur paged through the little pamphlet. "Here we are – 'Susan Ellen Ashby, 29, the late wife of Donald Ashby. Cause of death: Influenza. Arrived here early this morning in Littlemore Infirmary.' And when I asked him if she'd been on Alice's ward, he said she'd told him she'd been a mere two beds away!"
"Oh, Arthur!" Lorina sprang from her seat and hugged him. "That's wonder – well, not wonderful, but at least now we'll have a proper update on her! Though. . .she's really been in hospital an entire year?"
"If she's burned bad enough to warrant display in a history museum, I'm not surprised," Arthur admitted. "But it's better than the alternative, right? Mr. Prince said he'd asked her to meet us at the Mouldering Grin Café at five so we could speak."
Lizzie looked up at the little mantel clock. "Four-thirty one now – we ought to leave right away!"
"Definitely," Arthur agreed. "Come along, my darlings – and keep your fingers crossed it's good news!"
"There's a way for Mr. Prince to get into your good books," M commented with a grin as Lizzie plucked him off her lap.
"I'll give you that it does make me feel rather more favorably to him," Lizzie agreed, putting him back by his hole in her shoulder. "But if you start making marriage jokes, I'll see just how far a glass of No-Rot can send you across the room."
"Hey, I have some manners!" M smirked. "Always chew my food twenty times."
"Just get back in there before I give you a bath in Mama's teacup."
The Moldering Grin Café wasn't far from the Liddell home – during her first venture out of the house Below, Lizzie had recognized it as the Underworld equivalent of a coffee shop she and her friends had liked to visit. Being as it was tea time, the little restaurant was quite busy, with waitresses darting to and fro delivering cups filled with toxic green liquid, sandwiches that sported half-rotted cucumbers, and the occasional actual lady's finger. The Liddells slipped into the nearest empty booth. "Can I get you anything?" one of the older waitresses asked, hurrying over with pen at the ready.
"I wouldn't mind a cucumber sandwich," Lorina admitted.
"Cup of Earl Grey, if you've got it," Arthur ordered.
"Nothing for me, thanks," Lizzie said with a little wave. Her stomach – whatever was left of it – was too knotted up in anticipation for food. Finally, finally, real news about her sister. . .of course, the old cliché declared that no news was good news, and they'd already had some vague reports that Alice was not in a good way. But I'd rather know for certain she was suffering rather than let my imagination fill in the blanks. It's far, far too good at that.
The requested dishes were brought out, and the elder Liddells were about halfway through sandwich and tea respectively when the door opened again. Lizzie looked up to see a woman come in, sporting bright blue hair (someone was a very light blonde while alive) and a hospital gown. Lizzie promptly stood up and waved. "Mrs. Ashby?"
The woman turned, then waved back. "Ah – you must be the Liddells," she said, weaving her way through the tables. Arthur stood up and offered her his seat. "Thank you. . .it's – good to meet you."
"For a given value of such, you mean?" Lorina asked with a small smirk. "Yes, we feel the same. My name's Lorina, and this is my husband Arthur and my daughter Lizzie."
"Pleasure to make your acquaintance," Lizzie said, holding out her hand.
"Likewise," Mrs. Ashby nodded, shaking it. She leaned forward slightly, examining her through squinted eyes. "You look amazingly like your sister, I must say. Older, of course, and different eyes, but that's really about it."
"Yes, it's a curious coincidence," Lorina agreed, putting her arm around Lizzie's shoulders. "Didn't you once joke that you were twins born ten years apart?"
"That was one of Alice's, actually," Lizzie said, biting her lip. "Along with threatening that one day she'd be older than me and could make me do what she wanted. . . ." She clasped her hands on the table. "Please, Mrs. Ashby, how is she? I understand it's probably rude to pester you so soon after your death–"
"It's all right – my demise was awful and lingering, and I'm glad to have something to take my mind off it," Mrs. Ashby assured her. She sighed and dropped her gaze to the tablecloth. "I just wish I had better news to give all of you."
The Liddells exchanged anxious glances. "So Alice isn't doing well?" Arthur asked, biting his lip.
"She's barely doing at all, from what I understand," Mrs. Ashby said, shaking her head at a passing waitress who'd held up her pad.
Lizzie frowned. "What's that supposed to mean? We already know that she was terribly burned. . . ."
"It's more than just that – the poor child's gone 'catatonic,' according to the doctors. From what I can tell, that means staring at the ceiling all day and not responding to anyone who passes. The nurses told me she used to scream sometimes at night, but she stopped doing that shortly before I came in. Now she's as still and silent as the–" Mrs. Ashby stopped and considered her surroundings. "Those sayings don't really work anymore once you come down here, do they?"
"Not at all," Arthur confirmed, sighing. "Oh, my poor bunny. . .do they at least think she'll heal?"
"Actually, yes – I overheard a doctor say that she's recovering with remarkable speed, even for her young age," Mrs. Ashby nodded. "He thought she'd lose the use of her hands, but now he thinks she might get away with just a few nasty scars on her shoulder and legs."
"Well, that's good, at least," Arthur said, smiling. "She was always a fast healer. I think I could count on one hand the number of times she was sick."
"I remember one time, when she was attending her day school, she came home upset because everyone in the class had a cold except her," Lorina chuckled. "She actually wanted to get ill so she wouldn't feel left out!"
Mrs. Ashby giggled along. "She sounds like such a darling. . .it's really a shame what happened to her. What happened to all of you. Dying from the flu was horrible, but a fire?"
"It wasn't nice," Lizzie murmured, staring at the floor and resisting the urge to rub her neck again.
"I'm sure it wasn't. What a terrible, terrible accident."
The temperature in the café dropped a few degrees. Lizzie lifted her head slowly, back stiff and eyes smoldering. "Accident?"
Mrs. Ashby drew back. "Didn't – didn't you die when your cat knocked over a lamp in the library?"
"No!" Lizzie slammed her hand on the table, making the plates and cups jump. "That bastard Angus Bumby broke in and threw Alice's nightlight into the library fireplace to punish all of us for my refusing him! Dinah had nothing to do with it!"
"Didn't the police suspect foul play?" Arthur added, leaning toward the unfortunate Mrs. Ashby. "Surely there were enough reports of Bumby harassing Lizzie before our demise!"
"Ah–" Mrs. Ashby's eyes darted left and right. "Actually, f-from what I remember of the papers. . .for a brief time they were blaming Alice. Mr. Radcliffe said something about how she was the sort to play with matches. . .but then Dr. Bumby stepped in and said that the cat was more likely–"
"Dr. Bumby?!" A few other tables glanced over at them, but Lizzie was beyond noticing. "He – he actually passed his exams?!"
"Radcliffe led the charge against my daughter?" Arthur growled, eyes burning with fury. "That – he was seriously going to put a child in prison?!"
"Nobody thought she'd meant it!" Mrs. Ashby cried, waving her hands frantically before her. "It was just an accident. . .please, I can only tell you what I read in the Illustrated and heard on the ward. . . ."
"We're not angry at you," Lorina said, touching both Arthur and Lizzie's arms in an attempt to calm them. "It's just – this is about the exact opposite of what we wanted."
"Wish I could go up there and smash that bloody vase over his head," Arthur grumbled to himself. "Dear Lord. . .and all that scandal surrounding poor Alice! God, I hope there's a family out there still willing to adopt her!"
A terrible silence followed. "I – I don't think she'll have to worry about that for a while," Mrs. Ashby said in a timid voice.
The Liddells stared at her. "Why not?" Lizzie finally asked, gripping the edge of the table for support.
"They – they were making plans to move Alice when the fever finally broke me. . . ."
"Another hospital?" Arthur asked.
"Sort of. . . ." Mrs. Ashby gulped down a steadying breath. "They're taking her to Rutledge Asylum."
Again a horrible hush fell over them. "She's – she's eight!" Lizzie finally got out, voice shrill.
"Nine," Lorina corrected, her own voice trembling. "You just mentioned her birthday. . .you can't be serious, Mrs. Ashby. Rutledge?"
"You can't send a child to an insane asylum!" Arthur protested, slapping the table for emphasis.
"That's what I said when they took away my brother Richard when he was eleven," Mrs. Ashby replied with a deep sigh. "He went straight to Bethlem Royal Hospital. Turns out they had a special children's ward – as does Rutledge. And Richard – the fits he was throwing. . .he needed the help. I know the treatments sometimes sound – extreme–"
"Barbaric is more like it," Lizzie spat. "I know electricity is coming into fashion as a cure-all, but I have my doubts. And leeches – ugh! Leave them in the rivers, please!"
"They helped Richard, though! He was released when he was fourteen, and now he serves as clerk to a milliner! He's quieter than he was, but he's happy! Or, well. . . ." Mrs. Ashby drew anxious circles on the tablecloth. "I hope he is. Oh dear, if my death causes a relapse. . . ."
"We are very sorry about your brother's troubles – we wish him only the best," Lorina said, grasping Mrs. Ashby's wrist. "But Alice – she's not having fits. She's just grieving. There's no need for this extreme, is there?"
"I don't know. I can only tell you what I heard from the doctors," Mrs. Ashby replied, sighing. "She's really not responding to anything, Mrs. Liddell. She doesn't even cry out when they change her bandages. Dr. Craft said that it was no use keeping her there if they couldn't stir her, and that people who'd actually studied the human mind should have more luck."
"They're probably just tired of her taking up a bed," Lizzie muttered, digging her nails into the table. How could this all be happening? Her tormentor slipping through the police's fingers like a snake, her agonizing death blamed on the family cat, her sister suffering in hospital, on the verge of being committed. . . . "What about Nan Sharpe? Hasn't she come to see Alice? Can't she lend a hand to her former charge?"
"She's come to visit, of course, but she's quite hard up for money from what I gathered from her conversation with the nurses," Mrs. Ashby said, drawing more circles. "Something about needing to support her sister. . . ."
"Ah yes – and the brood of nieces and nephews," Arthur nodded, sighing. "The loss of her position with us must have hit her harder than I thought. But she's always been so good at landing on her feet. . . ."
"She mentioned something about spending time with Mr. Radcliffe, so perhaps he's helping her out," Mrs. Ashby offered up.
"Like how he helped Alice?" Lizzie said, voice dripping poison. "Maybe he's giving her money in exchange for – favors." God, she could feel those slimy, awful hands all over her again. . .it took an effort of will not to grab her father's teacup and dump the contents over her head. "We had other friends, though. . .what about the Johnsons, or the Wrights? Or the Ferrars? Or – God, even the Hargreaves? Maybe having that prat Reginald nearby would snap Alice out of it."
"Ned and Cathy Ferrars, you mean? They moved shortly after the fire," Mrs. Ashby reported. "As for the others. . .well, I never saw them in the hospital. Just Ms. Sharpe and Mr. Radcliffe."
"Bloody fair-weather friends," Arthur snarled. "I thought I was liked around the university."
Lorina twisted her fingers together. "Oh, my dear, dear child. . .left practically all alone. . . ." A tear slid down the length of her nose and dripped onto the table. "You don't think. . .if she wakes up. . .she'll – try to – join us?"
"She'd never," Lizzie said, tone final. "Alice would never. My sister–" Her voice broke, and she dropped her head. "My sister. . . ."
Mrs. Ashby fidgeted in her seat, eyes flicking toward the door in anticipation of her escape. "I – I am sorry to have to tell you all this," she whispered. "I don't mean to cause you pain, I really don't. Mr. Prince simply said you were desperate for information on Alice."
"Please, it's not your fault," Lorina rushed to reassure her. "None of this – we don't blame you. We understand you're merely the messenger. It's just – this isn't what we wanted to happen. This wasn't what was supposed to happen."
"Our being dead wasn't supposed to happen," Lizzie muttered, glaring at the tabletop. "But it happened all the same. Why not ruin the lives of the entire Liddell family?"
"Like I said, the doctors are optimistic about her body's recovery," Mrs. Ashby said, trying a smile. "Perhaps the same is true of her mind. Rutledge doesn't have the same reputation as Bethlem. Maybe she just needs a month or two there to pull through."
"A year in hospital isn't enough?" Lizzie rubbed her eyes. "Then again, maybe it wouldn't have been enough for me either, if I'd been the one who'd lived. . . ."
"None of us would have taken being the only survivor well," Arthur agreed. "They probably would have sent me to Rutledge long before this. But we all know how tough Alice is. She'll pull through. Hopefully by this time next year, she'll already have started rebuilding her life."
"Exactly," Mrs. Ashby agreed, nodding. "Things may seem dark now, but I'm sure she'll soon be warm and safe in the arms of another family who loves her just as much as you did." She stood, brushing the wrinkles from her gown. "I really should be going – I've been meaning to track down my parents ever since I got here, and I've been informed I could reunite with my bird Hartford too. Plus I desperately want some new clothes."
"Don't let us keep you," Arthur said, nodding back at her. "Only natural to want to find your loved ones. And – welcome to the Land of the Dead, for what's it worth."
"Our apologies for not being the best company on your arrival," Lorina added.
"Please, think nothing of it. If only I could have given you better tidings. . . ." Mrs. Ashby sighed. "But it's only been a year. Please, remember that if nothing else. The future can hold many surprises. I thought my brother might be hopeless too."
With that, she left, weaving her way around a waitress laden with drinks. Lizzie pressed a hand to her face. "What a way to spend our first anniversary below. . . ."
"I think we'll have to rescind that dinner invitation, if you remembered to give it," Lorina agreed, leaning heavily on her elbow. "I'm no longer in any mood for company."
"Mr. Prince shoved the paper in my face almost the moment he opened the door – we're safe," Arthur told her. "Unless they come by of their own volition, but they should understand us wanting to be alone."
"I want to find an unoccupied grave and pretend to be proper dead for a while," Lizzie muttered. "Corpses shouldn't have to think about their sisters in hospital, on their way to bedlam, or their – their murderers laughing their way into private practice. Dr. Bumby. . . ."
"His old friend likely made a few significant contributions to ensure his favorite student's grades," Arthur said, voice dripping with contempt. "He's no dunce, I'll give him that, but I know quite a few teachers who would have probably failed him out of spite otherwise."
"I wish they had anyway. How many more lives is he going to ruin now? He's creepy and judgmental and never listens and acts like everyone should bow down before him and – and – God help any pretty girl who comes into his o-office. . . ."
Lorina gathered her tight against her side. "Shhh. It's all right, dear."
"No it's not!" Lizzie snapped. "It's never going to be all right! He got away with it. That was supposed to be one of our comforts, him rotting in jail, and now. . .now to know they almost blamed Alice. . . ." Tears began flooding down Lizzie's cheeks. "Why didn't I fight him off? Why wasn't I strong enough to shove him away and run for the door? If I'd known what he was planning. . .maybe – m-maybe I should have just lain there and t-taken it. We see all the good my struggling did."
"Lizzie, don't talk like that," Arthur said, laying a hand on her shoulder. "It's not your fault. Your mother and I – don't ever think you should have submitted. What he did to you was a crime beyond reason."
"You did everything you could, dear," Lorina agreed. "His sins are on him and him alone. And when he does end up down here, with everyone aware that he murdered us. . .how long do you think he's going to stay in one piece?"
"Me and mine wouldn't mind chewing him to the bone," M's voice came from somewhere around belly level. "And I heard there's an old wolf round these parts that can snap a man's femur clean in two. See how well he 'charms' the ladies after a run-in with that."
Lizzie sighed, wiping her eyes. "I appreciate the sentiments, really. . .but the way things are going, he's going to have had a full, rich life by the time he dies. Even if he ends up gnawed to pieces, he'll still be able to lord that over us. Still be able to say he got everything he wanted, including me." She scratched her nails down the remains of her neck. "It's not fair."
"No, it isn't," Lorina agreed, leaning her head against Lizzie's. "Really, it's things like this that make you wonder if there is a God."
Arthur blinked, then waved a hand around the cafe. "I would have considered this Exhibit A regarding His existence."
"If He exists, He probably gave up on humanity long ago," Lizzie muttered. "I would have." She dried the last of her tears on her sleeve. "Let's just go home. It's too loud here, and frankly I could use another bath."
"Of course, dear." Lorina signaled for the check. "You can go wait outside, if you like – we'll be there in a minute."
"Thanks." Lizzie gave her a quick squeeze, then headed for the door, ignoring any questioning looks sent her way. "What on earth did we do to deserve this. . . ."
"Got me," M replied, wriggling just under her dress. "But hey – you've made a pretty good time of it down here, haven't you? I mean, yeah, you read a lot, but I saw you sneak that clay pipe when your folks weren't looking." He found a hole in the waist hem and popped his head out. "They say living well is the best revenge."
"That requires you to do actual living," Lizzie retorted. "Preferably in front of the person who's wronged you." A faint smile tugged at her lips. "And I don't think the clay pipe incident is the best example of 'living well.' Discovering I could still choke on smoke wasn't fun at all."
M shrugged in his usual oscillating way. "Still. . .at least your sister's away from him. She's still got a shot at a normal life. Maybe she can live well for the lot of you."
"Oh, we can only hope." Lizzie twiddled with her fingers a moment, then looked back down at M. "I do appreciate your offer from before, though. It was very kind of you."
"Hey, least I can do for such a steady and ample meal!"
"Ample? That had better not have been a crack about my weight!" Lizzie said, smirking.
"You want me to call you lean and stringy?" M wiggled back through the hole. "Look, I know it really hasn't been much of one, but – happy anniversary anyway. Glad I got to know you. And hopefully next year you'll get some actual good news."
"I won't hold my breath," Lizzie replied, glancing upward. Then she touched her chest. "Well – I wouldn't if I had any. But I suppose I can at least keep my fingers crossed."
The door opened again behind her, and Lorina and Arthur appeared on either side. "Ready to go home, dear?"
Lizzie nodded, doing her best not to think of the bastard – or her sister's imminent arrival in Rutledge. Please, please get her out of there fast. Some justice must prevail. And please, please, please make sure he doesn't get a position there! "Let's go."