“NO!” I cried, rushing over.
Ned stamped out the small fire.
“What were you thinking?!” I asked.
She stared unbelievingly at me.
“Y-you! What are you doing here?!”
A raging mixture of fear, and pain, and hate could be seen in her eyes. “Well, I don’t want to be found!” She pointed a finger at me. “And I think you-…” She suddenly looked at us in a really weird way, almost as if she’d just snapped out of a daze. I-I-…”
She dropped down on her hands and knees.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do…I killed my cousin! I’m sure my daughter resents me by now…I just d-don’t know what to do anymore – I can’t take anymore!”
“Clara, why? Why did you do all of this?”
She lowered her head, then looked up at me.
“You must know by now that I’m not a Thornton anymore. I-I’m a Neely. When my husband and I started talking about kids…I realized I’d never be able to give my child everything I wanted to. I had no share in the company.
When Charlotte told me about her charitable little plan…I went crazy. There she was, giving away her share – her 30% share, no less – in our highly profitable family company, when I already had little income to work with – and Jessalyn was months from being born!
So, yes – I started the fire! I killed Charlotte!” She cried. “To this day, Charlotte’s song haunts me…her voice echoes through my brain, day after day – and I’ve never been so sorry, yet so…so…glad that I did something…
Sometimes I wonder how everything would’ve turned out if I hadn’t k-killed Charlotte…would Jessalyn be the same girl she is today? Would I be who I am today?…Who would Charlotte be?”
I sat down beside her.
“There are other, more legal and harmless ways, to get money. Anyway, why didn’t you just tell her about what was troubling you?” I asked.
“I was young, and scared of what the future held…”
Tears were streaming down her face.
“Clara…I want to show you something.”
I brought Charlotte’s letters out of my bag, and handed them to Clara.
She read them, her emotions of pain, love, and sorrow growing more and more apparent with each second that she read.
“So that’s why she did it. She was in love…but then her love…died.”
“No, Clara – her love never died – only the man behind it.” I said.
I was reluctant to do so, but I knew that it was what she needed.
She handed me Charlotte’s letters, and I picked up the other papers and journal which still layed stacked on the floor.
Ned and I left the room.
Outside, we found Jessalyn and Addison, who had just climbed up the steps.
“We found your mother, Jessalyn. She’s in Charlotte’s bedroom.” I said.
“She is?! I have to go see her.” She started toward the door, but I stopped her.
“I think what she really needs is some time alone.”
So, if Clara isn’t the mysterious woman in the fog, who is?
“Savannah?” I said, realizing who was standing in front of me.
“Wade?” She repeated.
“Colton.” Colton said, obviously feeling awkward.
I ignored him and walked toward Savannah.
She had sandy blond hair, and unforgettable deep green eyes.
“I-I thought I should come…thought ya’ll might need me here.” She said, trying to avoid eye contact.
“Wade, I’m really sorry-”
“No, no you obviously don’t care to see me anyway, so why get into the whole conversation? Let’s just finish this s-so you can…go home.”
“But this IS my home Wade. I realized that we have things to work out, and I…have certain things I need to say.”
Colton just stood there, awkwardly.
“Oh, would ya’ look at the time! It’s getting so late and, uh, I need to go and, um, do that thing…that we were doing…” He hurried away.
I was glad to see him go. It felt weird talking to Savannah with that kid breathing down my neck.
She and I walked over to the old fountain which was, like the rest of the area, consumed by weeds. We sat down.
“Savannah, before you say anything, I just wanna say that I’m so sorry for what happened! I’ve been regretting it ever since we broke up! Maybe if I hadn’t been so foolish you wouldn’t have moved away and-”
“Wade, you were not the only reason I moved away. I moved because I wanted to see the world – what secrets it had hidden under it’s floorboards. This little ol’ town ran outta ’em!”
I didn’t know what to say…so I said nothing.
“You’ve been in my heart this entire time. I’ll admit that part of that was bitterness but, now that your here with me…I just don’t feel like I could ever possibly stay mad at you.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Was it possible that she still loved me?
I couldn’t believe what I was admittin’! I was still in love with Wade, and from the looks of things, he was still in love with me!
“Wade let’s go on up to Thornton hall. It was a long flight, and I need some rest. G’night.”
“Good night.” He replied.
“Nancy? Wake up!”
I turned over sleepily. “Why?” I asked, my eyes still closed.
“What?!” I cried, quickly squirming out of my sleeping bag.
Jessalyn was at my side, her eyes red, as if from crying.
“My mom! She’s g-gone.”
“What kind of ‘gone’ do you mean?” I asked, now wide awake.
“I mean she left! While we were asleep…and she-…she left me this.” Jessalyn held out a white envelope marked with her name.
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know. I was going to wake everyone up first.”
“Ok, well, let’s do it.”
All over the room, people were stretched out on the floor, lying on dusty blankets.
All of the girls had slept upstairs, while the boys had slept in the parlor.
“I’ll go wake the boys up.” Jessalyn said.
She headed down the stairs.
I darted across the room, first shaking Bess, then Addison, then Savannah, then Harper.
In a few moments we were all sitting on the floor, still in our regular clothes, groaning in tiredness, and waiting anxiously for Jessalyn to read the letter.
Jessalyn cleared her throat, and began reading.
My dear, dear daughter…I can no longer stand the pain and sorrow which fills my heart when I am here. What I did to Charlotte was, and is, a horrible thing…and now, I only wish I could go back in time and fix it all.
When I think abou how I locked you in the crypt, I can hardly breath. I imprisoned you the way the past has imprisoned me.
The moment I held you in my arms, I knew I never wanted to be apart from you – but now I feel like being away from you is the best thing for you.
Heredity has cursed me with such unfaverable traits as these. I am thankful that you have not inherited my harmful nature.
Harper was right about me. I killed her sister, sending Harper into a living nightmare – one which she has yet to escape.
Tell your father I love him, next time you see him.
I only hope that you can forgive me for everything I’ve done.
Whether or not I will return, I do not know. But just know that I am always with you, carrying you in my arms, just as I did when you were first born.
With all the love a mother could ever offer,
Clara Thornton Neely – AKA, Mama.
P.S. Enclosed is something I should have given to you in the first place. Use it as you wish to.
Jessalyn wiped a tear off of the side of her cheek.
“Mama.” She said under her breath.
Colton rubbed her shoulder consolingly.
“What’s in the envelope, Jess?” Addison asked.
Jessalyn reached her hand into the envelope, and brought out a slip of paper.
“It’s her share in the company.” Jessalyn said, after reading the document.
“You mean Charlotte’s share in the company.” Harper corrected.
“Right.” Jessalyn smiled.
I think we were all thinking the same thing about Clara. It was almost as if she had been fixated on the past, and she had let it control her until, finally, she realized the gravity of what she’d done.
“I forgive you, mama.” Jessalyn whispered.