Sal clutched the yellowing white cloth draped over her head The only things she has at this moment. Through the veil covering her eyes, one can see the vast space of their Casa. Windows stood at each side. Sunlight escaped at every corner. Walls did not close in at all sides. It was too much too bear.
Escaping the den must have been foolishnness. It was the product of the dumb mind of a beast, the cursed of the Cuore as one would hear in the house. Sal touched a finger on her own face to trace what should be a scar. Instead, there was only skin, nose, lips, eyes. The rumors would have been true. No, it was a lie.
She yanked the veil off her head. Little by little, the cloth fell into her hands like a snake writhing and coiling. There in her hands, it seemed small, smaller than it seemed nine years ago. Sal lifted her head to look around.
The loss of the constraint of the veil must have been giving a newfound insolence. As long as there was chatter outside, as long as it remained outside, she is alone. The only person in the house at this minute was her. She took off her shoes to feel the wooden flood on her feet then her fingers, and eventually laid on it on her back. To stare at the ceiling, why else should it be? At this moment, is the little Oleon staring at the ceiling like this?
She willed herself to stand to look for Oleon, her little, brave brother.
“ Such filthy beasts!”
It was a voice from the patio. The veil was still in her hands. The voice was followed by an awkward laugh as Sal crouched down to the floor. The sense that someone is watching loomed over. Crossing her arms over her face, it blocked her view of the windows, of the unfamiliar walls and furniture. Why should you be a stranger even inyour own home?
“Sal, I am here.”
It was a gentle voice of a man that spoke to her as his hand must have touched her shoulder. In front of her was his figure crouched down at her level. His smile was warm, welcoming.
It was Duren of the Lidelses. No, he was Ren, her Ren that she is supposed to marry. He was the only man whose gaze she would be willing to meet. His face was the authority of a father and the gentleness of a mother.
“ Is Oleon here?” she asked.
Ren pried her hands away from her face and tucked a stray hair onto her ear. Sal covered her face again and he leaned close, looking at her with such intensity that she could melt. Sal did as what he wanted, exposing her face for him to see. For all words must be met with the eyes.
“ Yes, he has been here two days ago.”
Her sight fell downward. It must be an irony. Such a shame for her. To not even see her brother’s face when all the world must have paid him their good regards?
“ Are you not mad at me?” she wrung her fingers. Not a second from now, the prople outside would come in and they will witness the cursed lady of the Cuore. They will fling insults. Her brother would be disgusted and the Signor, the Signor would have her thrown to that Zaguan. Again.
“ Stop.” Ren’s expression was hard, firm.
“ What you did here was a task of courage. “ He glanced at the veil still in her hands. “That in itself deserves an applause.” He took the yellowing cloth away from her. “ They only know the cursed lady of the Cuore, but not Sal.” He said.
Sal remembered her locket. Inside it was a mirror. At times like this, she would look at the mirror inside.
“ I will see Oleon today.” It was a commanding tone, a reassuring declaration. She looked at Ren and he nodded in affirmation.
He extended an arm to lead the way and Sal curtsied with an imaginary fan as what she’s seen on books. The people started pouring into the house but she could only see Ren.
SAL opened a door to reveal a young man lying on the wooden four post bed. Oleon was curled up, back turned to her but the length of his limbs was undeniable. He looked so tall. He was sleeping yet he seemed as if that was his only chance of doing so. He was thin.
Sal sauntered up to his side to see his brows furrowed even in his sleep. He looked so different from the little boy she knew.
At instinct, Sal glanced up the door to assure that Ren stayed there before remembering that he locked the door ro keep her presence a secret. Sal was now alone with her brother.Would he even recognize her? Would he despise her for showing up? How many years has he grown, leaving her behind?
She tried to pinch his cheek before skippng off. It must be appropriate to open the windows. Despite hating the intense sunlight, she pulled open the capiz windows of the room. There was an annoyed groan before one can see Oleon turning to the opposite side of the bed. His sister took small steps beside him pointing her finger at his cheek. He turned again only for Sal’s small, pale finger to poke at his cheek. She let out a small smile as she waited for a wave of recognition to come over her brother.
His eyes only widend in confusion before softening into a hard look. It must have been useless of her to even show up. Three soft knocks came at the door. Duren’s signal. Sal made a small bow before going until a large, bony hand held her wrist. Oleon held him by the wrist. Upon quick realization, he withdrew his hand before turning his head against her.
“ I hate to leave.” He said shakily.
Sal stood stiff. Was there anything to reply? She ran out of words. It was as if any reply would be met with condescension but she willed to speak anyway.
“ Why must you leave?” she asked.
His brows furrowd and he sat on the bed. His gaze remained locked at the window outside away from her reach. He was looking at the mango tree. This little boy used to be a hysteric mess whenever Sal was on top of the tree. Was the memory still with him?
“ De Signor Cuore.” He muttered.
Three loud knocks.
“ The Signor is here.” It was a servant’s hasty voice from outside announcing the presence of the visitor who marched inside even before he finished his words. It was a man, tall , dignified, and stern. His steps were a monotone cadence. His gaze was a path that will never cross with Sal’s.
Oleon made a quick bow and an attempt to stand from his bed despite his state. Two servants beside the old man followed suit. At instinct, Sal bowed too, as she was supposed to do. The man stood tall and the room was filled with silence. The Signor has to speak first.
“ The family is rightly ashamed of your incompetence.” His tone was hard and emphatic but it almost dissolves into a whisper. Sal was almost frozen in her place with a storm brewing on her chest. She tilted her head to glance at Oleon as the Signor’s words cut him deep. He barely even spoke after that but Sal cannot bare to look at anything else but his cane that stood there like a sword poised to strike. His hand is ready to strike. It was not untrue. It happened once and it will happen again.
Was there any softness left in him?
Sal lifted her eyes to meet his gaze. Turbulent waters fighting another storm.
“ Why do you say those words?”
Graying hair pushed to neatly away from a face whose features surprisingly seemed weak for a voice tht contained harshness.
For a moment, Sal saw the Signor’s steps waver as he held onto his cane. He glanced at his side for a few momemnts and then he looked at her. Sal was exposed.
“ Out with this stranger.” His voice was low, calm.
The servants opened the door and Duren was clearly waiting outside. He was not out of earshot and it was bothering to know that he heard everything. He should not have seen this nor Oleon too. Sal did as she was told. But now, Sal knew that something else must be done.
Something bold and braver.
THE sun already bid its goodbye and the shadows danced in the moonlight, flitting its way toward the window of Sal’s room. The night was silent. So are the days. She cannot sleep. She sat on her desk and began writing under the pale light
… requests your good office that my son should be excused from his studies…
No. The Signor will never mention those words. He is the image of dignity and honor and for that reason he will not give himself to such intimacies. She crumpled the paper and wrote another.
.… requests your good office that Napoleon Felix Cuore be excused from his studies…
It was done in full knowledge that the words written in the letter will never be uttered by the Signor. He is always distant, the scorching cold sun. He never looked at her.
Sal’s hand trembled. It was the last step, putting the Signor’s signature. Strange. It was wrong. Voices of old men quarreling. Shadows dancing in the day.
She shook her head to ward off the images. At a wild stroke, it was finished. With slow, steady steps, she took towards the door to leave the letter in the tray.
Will it be found? Delivered? Ah, Choices are only for the blessed, for the brave.
A WEEK passed without anything strange happening. It was like the days that came before. Stay in the room. Keep the windows closed. Do not make any noise.
Three loud knocks. Sal breathed a whisper. Again, another knock. She walked with slow steps as the knocks became louder.
The door bolted open and a long wooden cane whipped at her cheek. It was the Signor. No. It was the father. His stare stung harder than the pain in her cheek.It was during these times that she can really see how he looked like. His steps were heavy and all she could hear is the sound of the cane hitting the wooden floor. He did not need any other way to greet her.
“Interfering in a man’s business is never your right. Never shall it be the right of a woman.”
“ I am duly sorry. “
Yet, no apology was meant. The words were empty like a meaningless chant. As it always was, you cannot offend someone who does not value you.
“You disgraced me”
He paused. Sal dared not to look up. There was an audible sound of teeth gritting.
“I will not let you continue shaming the Cuore name.”
She can only see the floor as she kept her head bowed to avoid his stare. There will be no feeling, no sorrow.
“The good lord Lidelse must be informed that there will be no wedding to take place. His nephew, Duren Leaugood Lidelse, will be very relieved.”
Everything dissolved into a blur. A storm has taken away everything. She bit her lip to prevent a sound from escaping.
“ You don’t deserve to be my child.” He whispered as he left the room.