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“Now listen up children.”
I take a seat delicately on the edge of the armchair and look down at the eager faces of my three grandchildren. I smile softly at them and fold my withered hands on my lap. I brush a lock of grey hair behind my ear and begin.
“If you will be patient with me and my fading memory, I have a very good story to tell you all.”
“What’s it about?” squeals the youngest one, a bright, beautiful girl named Elaine. I gaze fondly at her and reply in a gentle voice filling the children with anticipation.
“It’s a tale of love. Hard love, tough choices, impossible fates. But do not take the story the wrong way, my children. It is not a story to discourage you. It’s a story that is meant to make your hearts soar and fall, to kindle a fire deep inside you, and to take you into a whole, other world. Allow me to tell you the story of Cosette.”
Cosette Considine was a girl of the grandest beauty imaginable with long, wavy brown hair and rich, coffee colored eyes. She was tall and slender, her face precisely crafted with soft, smooth skin, long eyelashes, and a small mouth. Cosette was a gentle, caring woman like her mother, but also fierce and hard working like her father. In the eyes of the men of Boston, Cosette was a girl to be sought after. Many a man climbed the stone steps to her house and knocked on the door, wishing to court her, while many more arrived late at night to throw pebbles at her window and ask if their dear “Juliet” would step out onto the balcony. Cosette’s heart, however, was not so easily won over, and she would laugh at the men’s follies. She allowed her father to send her callers away, telling them Cosette was too young for such things. Everything had always been fine and boisterous in the house of the Considines. Her father was a wealthy businessman and so their family was bathed in riches with an immaculate house and anything their hearts desired.
As all things must, however, their lives changed drastically. Cosette’s mother passed away two weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Her father started to spend more time at home taking care of Cosette and less time working at his business. Little did she know that his company was losing money as other businesses grew in Boston. Her father barely kept his corporation afloat and by Cosette’s eighteenth birthday, he could see the company’s end. He didn’t want this life for his beloved Cosette and immediately began searching for any way out of this mess.
On the morning of his daughter’s eighteenth birthday, the sun was streaking warmly through the clouds, brightening up the city of Boston. The golden rays crept through each window filling the rooms with a heavenly glow. All the rooms but one. In this room, the shutters were locked tightly closed, the only light came from a small, wooden desk lamp casting eerie shadows on the room. A tall figure sat rigid in a leather chair, his fingers curled around the arms of the chair, his face pale under the harsh light. He leaned forward to the desk, illuminating his features. His face was hard and sunken with stress. His hazel eyes shifted nervously between the door and the phone. He absentmindedly brushed his brown hair out of his eyes. He plunged a hand into his jacket pocket withdrawing a round, silver pocket watch. The hour hand was approaching eight o’clock, ten minutes away he noticed. He kept his whole body focused on the watch, counting down the time until the pounding of his heart synced up with the second hand. He tossed it aside and it clattered to a stop on the desk.
“There’s nothing to be nervous of,” Charlie attempted to convince himself. “Everything will work out the way we planned it. I have to do it for Cosette.”
The phone was allowed only a half ring before Charlie snatched it off the wall.
“Hello?” He said into the receiver.
“Hello Mr. Considine. You said earlier you had something you needed to discuss?” Said a deep, authoritative voice on the other end.
“Uh yes.” Charlie hesitated.
“And what would that be?”
“As you know Mr. Elliot, the business has been...declining.”
“So that’s what this is about. I see.” Charlie could almost imagine a smile creeping across Mr. Elliot’s face.
“Yes. Well...” Charlie stammered.
“Just get to the point please Mr. Considine. I have a very important meeting to be at shortly.”
“Well I’m losing my business and with it our money and I can’t bear the thought of Cosette not having the life she deserves. I am afraid I won’t be able to save the business.”
“Okay...so you would like to strike a deal I presume?” Mr. Elliot sneered.
“Yes. I was wondering if you would accept Cosette into your family....your son Henry.....he’s an aspiring businessman like yourself correct?” Mr. Considine choked out.
“Oh I see what you want Mr. Considine. You’re willing to trade your business you raised from nothing for your daughter’s happiness?”
“I would do anything for my daughter.” Charlie said with such certainty in his voice that sent chills down Mr. Elliot’s spine.
“Well then you and Cosette shall come to the party I’m hosting tonight at 9 o’clock. Henry will be there and we can finalize our business.”
“Thank you Mr. Elliot.”
“Yes. Good day.”
“Goodbye.” Charlie breathed, hanging the phone back on the wall. He collapsed into his chair, relieved he was able to accomplish his deal. Giving up his business was the very last thing he had wanted to do, but it was dragging his family down and he knew it. At least he was now confident that Cosette would be happy. How could she not be?
In another room, the sun spread its delicate arms around the white walled room in a heartwarming embrace. An elegant, white four poster bed perched in the middle of the room. As the light encroached upon the bed, Cosette arose from her slumber and blearily rubbed her eyes. Suddenly, she leapt from her bed as she remembered what day it was. Her eighteenth birthday. Each year her father planned an exciting day and she knew this would be the best yet as this was a very special birthday.
She slipped into a casual summer dress, dabbed some make-up on, ran a comb through her luscious, brown hair, and skipped down the hall to her father’s bedroom. She was just about to open the door when her father stepped out of the office door adjacent to her.
“Oh. Good morning my dear Cosette. A very happy birthday to you!” He said cheerily. But as Cosette examined his face, she saw only wariness and anxiety. She smiled broadly at him, hoping he was just tired and that this would blow off.
“What shall we have for breakfast?” She asked tentatively.
“I was thinking we could go to town for breakfast. What do you say?”
“Sounds wonderful. I’ll get ready.” She chirped and walked back to her bedroom. Once the door was closed, she paced in front of her bed. She desperately wanted to know why her father was acting so strange, was it something she’d done, or something at work perhaps? She couldn’t figure it out. Cosette decided not to bring it up until later.
Hastily, she grabbed her handbag and joined her father downstairs. They got in the neon blue family Ford and drove the short distance into main street Boston.
After a laughter filled breakfast and a scenic drive through Boston, Cosette settled down into a chair at the kitchen table, preparing what she was going to ask her father. He took a seat across from her and set his elbows on the table. She stole a glance at his face. A smile stuck on his face as he beamed at her, but one look at his eyes told her it was fake.
“What’s wrong Father?”
“Nothing dear. Why do you ask that?”
“You seem troubled.” She replied, half wishing she hadn’t even started this conversation.
“How could I dear? It’s your birthday.” He smiled reassuringly at me. I returned the gesture still not quite believing him. “And I have something big planned tonight. Mr. Elliot, you remember him right, well he invited us over tonight to a party he’s hosting. Won’t that be fun?” Her father exclaimed in a voice too loud and boisterous to be believable.
“Why yes. Of course. Shall I go ready myself?” Cosette said softly, trying to hide her disappointment. She had been hoping to just spend some time with him, but if this is what her father desired, then it was what she wanted also. Her father nodded and she dismissed herself to her bedroom.
A couple hours later, Cosette once again joined her father in the entry way to head to the party. He was dressed in a formal, black suit with a crisp white buttoned shirt underneath. She noticed he also wore the tie she had given him for his birthday the year before. He embraced her awkwardly as she stepped down onto the landing. All the while thoughts tumbled through her mind in utter turmoil. She was clueless as to why her father was acting so very strange. What could there possibly be to be nervous about?
“You look very lovely Cosette. And very grown up.” Her father whispered in her ear. Cosette hugged her father once more and then, they ventured to Mr. Elliot’s party.
Her father parked the car in front of the house and escorted Cosette inside past drunken party guests jumping wildly to the live band on the lawn. Inside, the house was lavishly adorned with breath taking pieces of art and decor. Two large pillars framed the entrance to a large ballroom. It was there that two men stood waiting for them.
“Hello Mr. Considine,” a short, rather fat man said while vigorously shaking his hand. “And this must be dear Cosette. I am Thomas Elliot. It is quite a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.” Mr. Elliot bowed cordially.
“The pleasure is all mine, sir.” Cosette responded, inclining her head to him.
“Allow me to introduce you both to my son, Henry.” Mr. Elliot stepped aside and a youthful, handsome man strode forward. He had close cropped blond hair with bright, warm, blue eyes. He was thin, but well built and looked very prim and proper in a dark blue tuxedo. He took Cosette’s hand tenderly and gently kissed the top of her hand.
“It is very nice to meet you miss. And if I may say, you look very beautiful.” Henry said in a deep voice as smooth as honey. Cosette blushed and cast her eyes to the marble floor.
“Why don’t you show Cosette around, Henry, while Mr. Considine and I go get a drink?” The short man called over his shoulder as he led Cosette’s father to the bar. Henry offered her his arm and led her down a short flight of stairs and into the crowd.
Cosette was thoroughly enjoying her night spent with Henry as they shared a few drinks and danced a classical orchestra set on a raised platform in the corner of the hall. She was indeed having a great night until he began to show her the rest of his mansion. As he led her up and down and through each hall and room and floor, he constantly rambled on about his business and wealth and all the artwork imported from who knows where. Cosette attempted to carry out a conversation with him, but ended up just following him and listening to him until her mind buzzed and her feet ached in their three-inch heels. Eventually, after thirty minutes of this, she cleared her throat and spoke up.
“I think I’m going to run to the ladies’ room. I will return shortly.” Cosette said quickly and hurried off back to the ballroom without waiting for a response.
Once there, she debated whether to search for her father or not. Knowing him, he was probably up in Mr. Elliot’s study talking business or something of the sort. Deciding not to, she checked over her shoulder for Henry and collapsed onto an empty couch. Suddenly, a whisper tickled her ear.
“Care if I join you?” The voice was thick and rough, at least she could be sure it wasn’t Henry. She twisted her neck to get a view of her visitor. The man was tall and dressed casually in a crisp, white, long sleeve shirt rolled up to his elbows topped with a grey suit vest. A black tie hung loosely down his chest. His black hair was parted to the side and slicked back. His tan pants appeared not to have been ironed and his black dress shoes were scuffed and unpolished. Cosette looked him up and down skeptically.
“Can I help you?” She asked unpleasantly. He raised his eyebrows at her. She looked aghast and turned away from him. He took a seat next to her on the couch.
“Good evening my lady.” He said loud enough to be heard over the music.
“I don’t have to talk to you,” Cosette replied harshly, shifting a couple inches away from him on the couch.
“I have a feeling you would like to though. It doesn’t seem like your previous company was much of a laugh.” The man said inquisitively, a half smile creeping onto his tan face. Cosette couldn’t help but allow the corners of her mouth to twitch.
“May I ask who you are exactly?” She turned to him.
“William.” He extended his hand. She took it lightly.
“I’m Cosette.” She said and looked into his eyes. They were a dark, mysterious green and she couldn’t help but stare. She wanted to know this man. She didn’t know why, but she was drawn to him in a way she couldn’t explain.
“Well it’s nice to meet you Cosette. Would you care to join me for a drink elsewhere? It’s a little loud in here.” William stood up and reached his hand down to help her up. She rose and took his arm. Then, she stopped.
“No. Well. I want to, but you see I’m here with my father and I couldn’t possibly...” Just then she heard her father’s voice behind her.
“Cosette?” She whipped around. Her father and Mr. Elliot approached them.
“Where did that boy Henry get off to?” Mr. Elliot said, smiling a little too bright. Then, directing his gaze to William, said, “Good evening sir. To whom shall I make your acquaintance?
Before William could reply, Cosette jumped in.
“This is William. He was just leaving.” She smiled sadly up at him, but something told her she would see him again. Soon.
William nodded his head in the direction of the two gentleman then smiled briefly at Cosette and ascended the stairs to the front door. Just then, Henry arrived and a few hours later bid Cosette a good night. And with that, father and daughter headed home. Cosette climbed straight into bed and fell asleep almost instantly, but not before William floated back through her mind for the thousandth time that night.
“Mother?” Margaret’s voice breaks through the story. I look up to see my eldest daughter in the doorway to the living room.
“Oh is it bed time already? So sorry dear time slipped away from me. I’ll just finish up real quick here okay?” I say. Margaret chuckles and her footsteps retreat back towards the kitchen. “Now let me wrap this up, so you can all go to sleep.” My words are greeted by unexcited groans from the the three children before me. I smile broadly at them and leap back into the story.
The next morning Cosette was sitting at the table with her father enjoying a quiet breakfast. Her energy was drained from the party the night before and she was content just to spend a little time alone with her father. Cosette, however, was still curious as to his strange behavior yesterday.
“Father? Why did you want us to go to that party last night?” She asked cautiously.
“For your eighteenth birthday of course.” He said, not looking up from his newspaper.
“You know I would have been happy with anything,” she smiled expectantly at him. He put the paper down. “Why the party?” Her father breathed out a long, deep sigh.
“I knew I couldn’t keep this from you forever...see Cosette...my business has not been doing well. It’s on a path to destruction and I can’t do anything about it. I’ve tried and tried and put a lot of our money into it, but it hasn’t help. I don’t have what it takes anymore. And that isn’t what I wanted you to start your new life with. I can’t provide for you the way you need to be taken care of.” Her father said, avoiding her eyes.
“Father that is so untrue. You are a very good businessman and an even better father. I don’t care if we don’t have as much money as we used to. It doesn’t matter to me.” Cosette explained, confused as to why he didn’t already understand this.
“No my dear. You don’t understand. You need to live the life you deserve. So...um...well I sold my business.”
“What?! Your business is your life!” Cosette shouted, leaping to her feet.
“That’s not true. You’re my life Cosette. And I need you to trust me. I want you to have the best life possible. Trust me. Please. Do you trust me?” He begged.
“Of course Father.”
“Then, I sold my business to Mr. Elliot.” He looked up at Cosette. Confusion streaked her face, her mouth slightly open. “Mr. Elliot is much experienced businessman and well...his son is following in his footsteps. I mean at the age of twenty he already has his own business on its feet and doing well.”
“The party was...so I could meet Henry?” Cosette said slowly, realization clearing her mind.
“I was hoping you would like him. He’s a nice gentleman.” Her father stated.
“This is what you want?” She asked, her voice soft.
“Only if it’s what you want sweetheart.” He urged. Cosette weighed her decisions just as William crossed her mind. She couldn’t go about with a marriage that meant nothing to her. One look at her father though and her mind was made up.
“Of course Father. Henry is a kind, good hearted man. I know you want what’s best for me.” She said and went over to hug her father.
That night, something awoke her from sleep. The sound of a pebble hitting her window. She groaned, climbed out of bed, turned on the light, and stepped out onto the balcony.
“Who is it?” She called.
“Who do you think?” Replied a deep, gravelly voice. Cosette’s heart pounded against her rib cage. She dashed inside and struggled into a long sleeve shirt and skirt. Cosette glided down the steps, throwing open the front door. Sprinting across the lawn unladylike and shoeless, she jumped into William’s arms.
“That wasn’t quite the reaction I had expected.” William laughed. Cosette shoved him away playfully. “C’mon. Let’s go get that drink you promised me.”
Every night from then on, Cosette made a habit of sneaking out with William unbeknownst to her father. Every day, however, Henry came to call on her and she would spend the days with him. She wasn’t unhappy with Henry. He was kind, good natured, and now talked less about himself and more about her.
One beautiful, summer day only a few weeks later, Henry invited Cosette and her father over for an afternoon lunch. Afterwards, Cosette and Henry strolled through the well-tended gardens behind the manor. When they arrived at a particularly astounding granite fountain, Henry turned around to face Cosette. He reached into his pocket and knelt on the cobble walkway.
“Cosette...will you marry me?” Henry beamed at her in absolute joy and held up a gorgeous diamond ring. For a moment, time stopped and Cosette felt as if she was thrown into a hurricane. She had to be honest. She knew this was coming. She knew her secret relationship with William wouldn’t last, couldn’t work. A love like that is impossible in this world. But yet, she didn’t love Henry. She loved William. It was as simple as that. She knew what she must say. Cosette looked into Henry’s light blue eyes, grabbed his hand, and said yes.
Later that night, after much congratulations from her father and Mr. Elliot, she sat, curled deep into her bed covers, tears streaming down her face. Her fingers went numb as she aimlessly twirled and twisted the diamond around and around her finger.
A pebble hit the window. Cosette shook with another sob. She must go tell him. She must see him one last time.
Cosette stepped down the stairs and crossed the lawn slowly to where William stood. He took her in his arms, but already knew something was terribly off. He kissed her tenderly on the neck then, looked into her deep, brown eyes.
“What’s wrong, my love? What’s happened?” William searched her face, brushed his thumbs underneath her eyes. She reached her hands up to touch his cheeks and chin, rough with stubble.
“Something terrible has happened. We can’t be together anymore William.” She choked out and more tears gushed out. He brushed those away too.
“Why? Why not?” William whispered, almost inaudibly. “I love you Cosette.”
“I love you too William, but...but...my father...and Henry...” She sobbed, collapsing into his arms. He waited patiently, stroking her silky, brown hair as a single tear leaked from his green eyes. Cosette finally composed herself long enough to explain to him everything. And when she was done, he held her so close to him and told her he wasn’t mad at her, didn’t blame her, understood. Then, as the sun kissed the horizon, William kissed Cosette.
I drew myself out of the story and faced the children.
“Is that it Grandma?” Jack cries. “There has to be more! She can’t just leave him!”
“She loves him doesn’t she?” Elaine climbs up onto my lap. “Tell me she marries William. She’s got to! It’s true love! Like Prince Charming and Snow White!”
“That’s another story. I’ll tell you some other time. Now, you must all go to bed.” I hug Jack and Elaine and they run off to the kitchen. I look around. Alison, my oldest grand daughter, is still sitting on the floor, gazing perplexedly up at me. “What’s wrong sweetheart?”
Alison stands up and grabs my hand.
“I know your secret.” She whispers. Then, she leans real close to me, “You’re Cosette.”
“I didn’t expect you to figure it out. You’re very smart Alison.” I sweep a lock of her hair behind her ear and sigh heavily. “Yes I am Cosette. All of the characters by a different name of course. But that is my story. You can guess how it ends.”
“So you didn’t love Henry? You didn’t love Grandpa?” She asks.
“It’s complicated Alison. I did. We were married for a very long time and I loved him, yes.” I answer, only half lying.
“But not like the way you loved William...did you ever see him again?” She kneels beside my chair and stares up at me.
“I did not. It was for the better though. Your grandfather loved me very much and took care of me just like my father promised. You understand that right?”
“Yes.” Alison grins at me. “Well goodnight Grandma. I love you.”
“Goodnight sweetheart.” I smile fondly at her as she turns to leave. One more thought strikes me though. “Alison?”
“How did you know the story was about me?” I ask out of curiosity. Before running upstairs to her room, Alison smiles mischievously at me and calls over her shoulder.
“I’ll tell you some other time.”