(The following story is prompted by the date, and the theme that only a thief can catch a thief.)
It was August 15, 1925 when I first stepped into the sprawling, Gregor mansion. I was a young thing, sexy, suave, and reckless. I thought I could outsmart everyone. After all, who would ever suspect sweet, small and innocent Marie of anything sinister. Well, they didn’t really know me then, did they?
It was late afternoon when I arrived in my finest, hat, dress, gloves, the whole package. I rang the door bell, wishing and hoping that Bill, or William Gregor, the eldest of the Gregor heirs would open the door. After all, he was the one nearing marriage age, and I, was the perfect bride material, ready to marry at a word. And I planned to marry Bill. That was the whole reason Julia Pratt had taken to being Marie Clementine Avery and adopt a demur personality. If my mamma could see me now, she would be spinning in her grave. ‘Demur? Ha!’ That’s what she’d say.
The keeper of the house opened the heavy doors inwards and barely cracked a smile upon seeing me. I flashed my pearlies as sweetly as I could manage. ‘Am I wrong? Or is Billy home, Thea?’
I slithered past her rigid form, into the grand round marble alcove before the foyer.
‘Master Gregor is busy having tea with the family.’
I smiled ever so sickly. ‘They wouldn’t mind me joining them, I’m sure.’
Thea almost growled, her lips rolling up in irritation. Heavens only knew why she hated me so. ‘The party isn’t till the evening, Ms Avery.’
I was beginning to lose patience. ‘Oh, is it? I truly thought it was an afternoon affair. Would you mind fetching Bill for me? I’m sure he’d love to know I’m early for private seating with the future family.’
Thea left without a word. And in the grand alcove, I couldn’t help but imagine myself as the lady of the house. Eventually.
I checked myself in the mirror, retouched the rouge on my cheek and the red of my lips. Who could resist? I smiled as I caught a glimpse of Bill staring at me from the corner as he appeared. Yes. He was definitely mine. All I needed was to keep the family on my side. Just until the wedding. And I was pretty sure there was going to be a wedding.
I turned, feigning innocent. ‘Billy, darling. I’m so sorry. I must have heard you say 3pm instead, so here I am.’ I kissed his cheeks lightly, like all society women do, and lingered a little longer near his cheek. ‘I hope I’m not intruding. Your Gregor parties are so famed, I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun by turning up late.’
‘You’re welcome anytime, Marie,’ Bill extended his arm and escorted me through the maze of the mansion, and out into the manicured gardens. ‘Come, I shall introduce you to the family.’
Wonderful! Just wonderful. I plastered a smile on my face as the family came into view. This was going to be easy compared to the last family.
Marie stood alone in the bridal room, dressed in an elegant ivory gown. She almost looked divine, properly excited by the prospect of what lay ahead. A wedding. Her wedding. She smoothed out her veil and picked up her small flower arrangements of white roses. The knock came then on the door. ‘Yes.’
A choir lady peered her head around the door. ‘We are all ready for you.’
Marie smiled. ‘I’ll be right out.’
She checked herself in the mirror once and corrected her posture. Standing tall like a Gisele. ‘Here it goes.’
The organ stayed with her as she walked lonesome down the aisle. A vision on defiance. An omen of something magnificently tough. She nodded at few guests as she walked past them towards the alter. She didn’t know many people at the wedding, in fact, the only person she knew was Bill Gregor. Bill Gregor who sat in amongst the crowd in the front rows.
She withheld a sigh. She was supposed to have been walking towards him waiting for her at the alter, not his younger, irritatingly elitist brother, Drew. Marie took it in her stride. By the time she reached the front of the church, she had a smile on her face, and a determination in her heart. Drew was also a Gregor heir, so she hadn’t really done so bad for herself. Just a few peachy months. Then a slow emotional leeching of Drew, a distraught wife who is at her wits end, and a bigger brother who cared enough to try and keep the family together.
Marie smiled at Bill before she turned her attention to the priest, and then the lesser handsome of the Gregor brothers. Her plans hadn’t really gone as planned, but walking down the aisle towards a rich future husband in less than six months, wasn’t a bad turn around.
‘Do you take Drew Maxwell Gregor as your lawfully wedded husband?’
Marie didn’t know where to turn. She needed a moment. A moment to console herself. The guests kept coming over, laying a gentle hand here, few kind words there. But it was all fodder to her. So what she was wearing black? So what she looked completely devastated? So what she was a widow at 51 and completely alone? She eyed the house for an exit. Any more words of condolences and she was going to burst into tears, and they weren’t exactly going to be for Drew, were they? She hadn’t ever learnt to love Drew. Not before the wedding, nor afterwards. Nor any of the thousand times he tried to woo her. And her interest in him had completely fizzled once the doctor told them the reason they were having difficulty conceiving was because drab old Drew was also sterile.
‘Excuse me.’ She managed to sound distraught enough so that she could walk away from the huddle of ladies.
Out in the open garden she could finally breath. A sigh of relief really. She didn’t have to pretend with the Gregors that she even cared for Drew. The whole family knew their marriage had died a long long time ago. Drew had even been ready for divorce but Marie wouldn’t have it. After all, years of her youth sacrificed wasn’t just so she could get divorced at 35 and go back to being dependent on herself for income. No, she deserved better. A good chunk of the Gregor fortune in fact.
‘Are you okay, Marie?’
She startled somewhat and turned around to face Bill. ‘And you?’
Bill shrugged. ‘No body really expected him to live as long as he did.’
Marie nodded. One thing every Gregor family member knew about her late husband, Drew, but the public hadn’t the slightest idea was that Drew was an alcoholic. His liver had died way before he did.
‘You’re going to be okay going back home alone?’
Marie debated whether to tell the truth, yes, or reply no. Perhaps what she hadn’t been able to do all those years ago, she’d be able to do now. After all, she was still in her finest shape, whereas Bill’s wife had let things slide enormously. ‘I don’t know… The house gets so quite, I almost feel like I’m the last one left on Earth.’
‘Why don’t you stay with Erika and myself for a couple of days? It’ll be a change for you, and you’ll have company?’
Marie smiled, a smile she hoped conveyed how grateful she was for his offer. ‘That would be a God send.’
Bill nodded and extended his arm towards her. Marie gladly took it, weaving her arm through his. ‘What would I do without you, Bill?’
‘Probably run away from this whole lot and wonder whatever happened to that vivacious young woman who bounced through our house way early for a party.’
Marie laughed. ‘Ah yes. Perhaps my mistake.’
Bill escorted her into the huddle of mourners and sympathizes. ‘I would have introduced you to Drew either way. In fact, it was the very reason I’d asked you to one of our drab parties.’
Marie felt her checks flush with heat. ‘What do you mean?’
Bill smiled down at her. ‘Drew saw you with me once and asked who you were, so I had promised I’d introduce you to him.’ He waved at a passerby who clasped his hand in a show of condolence. ‘And the rest is history.’
Marie could feel the anger boil inside her. How dare he? How dare he?