Andrew Carlysle pushed open the door to his wife's dressing room. She sat at the far end, disconsolantly, by a window. Her hair hung loose over her neck, and her nightgown was black.
Andrew waved a maid into the room. "Set the box on the table."
The maid carried a box in and did as he directed. Then she curtsied and left.
Andrew crossed the floor to the table and fingered the silver bow on the box in silence. Her silence.
"I brought you a dress -- dark blue." His voice sounded loud in the quiet room. "I thought it might be time to try a little color. Nothing too drastic, but..."
"Black is the color for me." Her voice was calm and cultured, but it carried the undertone of some deep emotion.
A puff of exasperated air escaped Andrew's lips. "It's been 7 years. People don't wear black for 7 years. A week. A month maybe. Not 7 years."
She turned her head and looked at him for the first time since he entered the room. "That's for a case in which the loved one died."
"She is dead, Lola."
"No. She's not. She's dying." She lifted her chin but her eyes swam with tears. "Every. Day. She died today." Her voice rose in pitch until she was almost screaming. "She died yesterday. She died a year ago. She died 7 years ago. Maybe she did and maybe she didn't. We'll never know, will we? Maybe she's still alive right now. And that's worse! My baby girl!" She stood up from her chair and flung herself headlong on the bed, drowning in a torrent of tears.
Andrew hurried to her side and bent over his wife's form, holding her shoulders in his own strong hands. "Lola."
She sobbed into a pillow.
"We did what we had to do. Beth wasn't happy here. You know that." Andrew eased onto the bed until he was sitting beside his wife. "And we couldn't keep her locked up in a room forever. We just weren't equipped to handle her illness in this setting. She is better off in a facility devoted to her care."
"Then why..." Lola hiccuped around her tears. "...did we tell people she had died? Why didn't we keep contact with the people who took her? We don't even know where she is now." She tilted to one side, looking up at her husband with grief-stricken eyes. "I can't help but think we gave more care to the family name than to our own daughter."
"Calm yourself, Lola." Andrew patted her back. "You're acting like a lunatic."
She shook his hand off. "Are you going to send me away, too? Have strangers carry me away in the night?"
"Of course not. Lola."
"Do you remember playing with her? All those toys you got for her? Tucking her in at night?"
Tears stung Andrew's eyes. "Of course I do."
Lola threw her face into her pillow and screamed. "We gave our baby girl away, Andrew! Why! Why!"
Andrew turned, stretching out beside her, and pressed his damp cheek against hers. Their tears ran together. And when he spoke, his voice was hoarse.
"I don't know."