Chapter Two

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The temperature in the room felt as though it had dropped to match that of the world outside the door. I wanted to run to the coat hook and slip my jacket back on to try and fight the cold, but the cold had little to do with the season. It merely matched the atmosphere between myself and the Ealing's. We could have cut the tension in the room with a teaspoon had we wanted to, though that would have only added the awkwardness of the situation. I hadn't wanted to see the Ealing's until I felt ready, yet there they were. They stood right in front of me without so much as saying a word. No one even wanted to acknowledge I was standing there.

I drew the inventory book closer to my chest and wrapped my arms around it as though it had become my only line of defence were anything to happen. James watched me out of the corner of his eye, and I knew he expected me to say or do something, but I just stood there. My mind told me to run, but I didn't, and I certainly didn't know what to say to them. Everything just went blank and I found myself just staring at them hoping they would either turn their attention to James or leave. I longed for the latter.

"Mother, it's Rosie!" Charlotte said in a not so hushed whisper. She leaned forward as though she were about to take a step towards me, but Mrs Ealing tightly gripped her shoulder to keep her from moving.

"Remember your etiquette lessons, Charlotte," Mrs Ealing snapped. Her nails seemingly dug into Charlotte's shoulder as Charlotte dropped her head to the floor and allowed her arms to swing by her sides.

"Why don't you go and see if you can find my sketchbook, I think it's in the office," James said, turning to look at me.

"Good idea," I muttered

With the inventory book hugged tightly against my chest, I walked past James and trained my eyes to the ground so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with any of them. We both knew where James kept his sketchbook, the right-side drawer of his desk. He had simply used it as an excuse so I could make my exit and spend time in the office until he called for me again. When I reached the office, I closed the door slightly behind me, dropped the inventory book onto the desk and sunk down into the chair behind it. I sighed loudly and pressed the palms of my hands against my face.

In the month since I left service, I had tried to figure out what I would say to them were I to ever see them again and every time I had drawn a blank. There didn't appear to be any way I could explain myself, were the opportunity to come up, without having to tell them about Mrs Ealing hitting me with the cane or the note from Robert. Both of which were things I did not want them to know about, the note more than anything else. Mrs Ealing had been beyond angry when she thought I had feelings for Robert, if she knew how he felt I almost knew how she would react. I didn't want to be the one to ruin his relationship with his own mother.

By the looks on their faces, I knew none of them were happy to see me and even Esther – who had lingered in the back – didn't look happy. I didn't blame, I blamed myself for thinking I would be able to offer a decent explanation to them when I knew they did not want to hear. There would be nothing I could say or do that would make up for what I had done. All I wanted to do was hide away in the office until they left, but I knew I could never do that. They had seen me, they knew I was there, and I couldn't escape that. I just had to avoid eye contact until they left.

That was always easier said than done.

"Rosie! Did you find my sketchbook?" James called from the shop.

"Yes, I'm coming!" I replied. I pulled over the drawer and grabbed the sketchbook, stacking it on top of the inventory book and standing up. James muttered something incoherent as I grabbed the two books and pushed the door open with my foot. "It was in your desk drawer."

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