ACT I, Scene 2

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He sent Launce. I took that as an act of mercy.

Launce was small, no taller than me and bespeckled. His high forehead glistened with sweat, and reflected the sunshine outside like a beacon. He carried a leather-bound ledger, which I did my best to ignore.

"Miss Portia, hello. Is your father here?"

"He is unavailable at this moment, but you can speak to me."

Launce hesitated in the doorway, before stepping in. He cleared his throat as we sat at the table. When he placed the ledger on the table, it thudded like a cinder weight.

"We were all sorry to hear about Nerissa. She was such a beloved figure. Quite a fine woman."

"Thank you, Sir Launce. We've had a lot of notes and gifts from the townspeople."

"I don't suppose Venetian will ever be the same."

My heart twinged painfully. I stared as hard as I could at the ledger to hold back the tears pricking behind my eyes. Launce pressed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and put his palm on the cover.

"I'm here to speak with your father."

"Unfortunately, he is unwell."

"It will only take a few minutes."

"He can't see anyone but I can hear whatever it is you have to say."

"You are not of age quite yet, my child. And these are adult issues."

"I am the heir to Belmont."

Launce sucked in a little breath that suggested amusement. And with it, the pretence between us disappeared. He stroked the ledger cover and shrugged,

"Tell me, what does it amount to when you are the heir of nothing?"

I clenched my jaw and a flash of anger warmed my body. He continued to needle,

"Uneducated, unpolished, undeveloped with zero prospects for work or marriage in the future?"

I said nothing for a long moment. I felt his eyes and heard him chuckle. I forced my lips into a girlish smile, hoping he'd assume I was dim and momentarily forgotten his presence.

"If you'd be so kind, Sir Launce, please how much do we owe?"

"This is your father's concern -."

"Come now, what does your little book say?" I said, sounding like a foolish, vacuous little girl. A little girl who would make him feel comfortable.

Launce clucked, and shook his head. More amusement. Launce untied the rope around the ledger and flipped open the pages.

I heard the slightest creak from the bedroom behind me. A floorboard bowing under weight. Inwardly, I pleaded for Daddy to stay put. If he emerged from the bedroom now, I would lose my nerve.

Launce ran a finger down a long column to find the total figure. He turned the ledger to me. My stomach sank at the sight of it - an insurmountable number. I did my best not to let horror show on my face. Instead, I lifted my chin and leaned back into my chair. I shrugged.

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yes, thank you, Sir Launce. For the reminder."

Launce slammed the ledger closed and scowled, "Miss Portia, you may see this as a polite reminder but it is not. It is a demand. Your parents have defaulted payments for the last three months."

"Mama was sick..."

"Be that as it may, your family has obligations to Sir Shy and they will be met."

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