Fortitude Part 18
“Mother, Father.” We stopped beside the places Bettice must have set for us. I gripped the back of my chair. “Good morning.”
My father looked away from the sheaf of newsprint he was reading. My mother was directing Bettice as she laid out the platters. “About time you showed your face,” my father said. “People might start to think you have some quarrel with Michael. I will not have you embarrassing us.”
Busy whispering to his wife and making a pretense at ignoring our presence, I saw my brother smirk at the reprimand. My parents were not nobles, but they enjoyed a certain prestige amongst their friends for having a Beta son, as well as the fact that Michael’s wife was the second cousin of a minor duke’s wife. They fancied themselves the cream of the crop, and relished the attention.
But of course, that came with obligation to act properly. I held in my grimace. “That was not my intention, of course. I apologize.” The words were bitter gall in my mouth, but we couldn’t afford additional scrutiny. My father watching my every move would just not do. “The festivities are going well, I’ve heard.”
I had heard some talk of a lot of liquor and exotic foods being served at the parties. I wasn’t sure where the funds were coming from for such extravagance, but I could see the excesses weren’t really agreeing with my brother. He looked a tad sallow around the edges.
Teddy sat down when I nudged him. We placed our napkins in our laps.
“Father is sparing no expense. The fete is for more than just my anniversary; Cecilia is carrying their first grandchild, which you’d know if you’d been here.”
“Congratulations.” My brother was going on about a son to carry on the family name, but I ignored him. I was hungry, and the meal was almost ready. Mother oversaw Bettice as she began at the head of the table with my father, carefully serving each dish over the left shoulder as we each indicated what we’d care for.
“Thank you,” I murmured.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, William-Henry. You wish to become a part of the peerage, yet you have no genteel manners. One does not thank a servant for performing their duties at the table.” How could I have missed how desperate my parents were for the very thing they mocked me for? I’d been blind about so much.
“Sorry, Mother.” Did I really want to become a noble here in the city? More and more, I was unsure of what I really wanted—aside from Teddy, who ate silently at my side. My brother glanced at him, and I bristled, waiting for him to say something unkind. His comments about being able to provide the family with new blood to carry on came back to me with new meaning.
I narrowed my eyes at him. What did he think he knew?
Michael said nothing, and I gradually relaxed as much as was possible during a four-course breakfast. “You should be paying close attention to the fete, William-Henry. You reach majority in two months, and we must celebrate it in true style,” my mother said. “I will desire some input from you.”
There’d been no talk of fete for my coming of age. Where were my parents obtaining the funds for such things?
“Breakfast was delicious, Mother,” I said, after the coffee was served. I passed the sugar to Teddy. He took several heaping spoons to sweeten the bitter brew.
“Would you like a little coffee with that sugar?” Michael asked snidely.
I grit my teeth as Teddy blushed and dropped the spoon back into the bowl. It took all my control to carefully pick up the final spoonful he usually added and pour it into his cup without scattering the sweetener. “I take mine plain, so there is plenty for Teddy to have his coffee the way he wishes. I daresay you would be better off watching how much mulled wine your wife is partaking of this morning, rather than worrying about what is in Teddy’s cup.”
A tipsy spouse often led to fractious babes, and Michael’s wife did like hers morning, noon, and night. It was one of the reasons I believe she married my brother after he finished his apprenticeship at one of the leading wineries in the region. I couldn’t see what else they had in common. I barely ever heard her speak, even to him.
I sipped my coffee, glaring at my brother as an uncomfortable silence fell over the table. My father was back to his papers, and my mother was pretending like nothing was happening, as usual.
“Better watch your friend so he doesn’t slip off into a fugue state and get hit with a ball. We’ll be playing croquet on the lawn this afternoon.”
Teddy’s cup shook as he set it down in the saucer with a soft clink before he dropped his hand into his lap. Under the cover of the tablecloth, I covered it with my own, squeezing his fingers gently.
“I’m afraid we must miss the fun activity,” I said. I wiped my mouth and folded my napkin and placed it precisely on the table next to my half-empty cup. At least Teddy finished his. “We have previous appointments we cannot, in good conscience, reschedule for games. I’d hate to do anything that would give anyone a bad impression of the family name.”
Michael snorted indelicately. “Sure you do.”
“Excuse me.” We stood.
“Thank you for the lovely meal,” Teddy said softly to my mother. He bowed in her direction. “I appreciate your hospitality.”
I clapped a hand on his shoulder as we walked out, needing contact to ground me after the bout with my family. The vitriol had more effect on me than usual. This was not the life I wanted for us, so I was going to change it.TBC
So does seeing Will's family make his personality a little more clear? We are partially a product of our environment, I believe. But can he overcome their influence? We'll see more next week! Now enjoy more flash fiction from the other Briefers!