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David tripped over the chair. The clumsy move broke some of his tension. Grinning, he recovered his balance and followed her into the parlor.
"Wait up!" he called.
Down the hallway toward the banquet room, she ran with her hair swaying. For an instant, David wondered if she lied about coming from the wedding party. But she swept into one of the side rooms. Her ribbon whipped outward and her skirt spun as she disappeared.
David sped up. Leaving the rug, his footfalls clipped along the hall. He approached the doorway, and a sliver of view widened. No movement within.
He entered, puffing a little from the race.
The word chopped off.
"Ooh. Geez," he muttered to himself.
Another person was sitting in a tall chair near the fireplace. David could only see a head peeping over the upholstery. A woman. Straight silver hair was pulled back from her face.
"I'm sorry," he said as he glanced around the room. "We didn't mean to disturb you."
Not the appropriate place for hide-and-seek.
"Caroline? Come on out! We shouldn't play in here."
Nothing. His smile slackened a little.
"I'm sorry we're bothering you," he said, walking toward the chair.
About to ask where Caroline ducked, he circled and saw the old face was sleeping. Embarrassment flamed in his face.
"Caroline!" he hissed. "Come on! We're going to wake her up. You can show me whatever it is later!"
He shifted his weight to tip-toe away when he saw something twined in the woman's hands. Nothing extraordinary at first, but the glimpse whipped high into his mind, then sparked a clap of thunder.
A faded and threadbare ribbon. Red perhaps, but the color was exhausted.
The face. He focused on the face.
Familiar. Something in the shape of her cheeks, her dainty chin.
A storm howled in David's brain. Bending down to kneel at her feet, he reached out trembling fingers toward her hands. He touched the skin. Soft and yielding despite the prominent bones. But too cool. Something vital was missing.
David looked up. The body lay draped with utter stillness.
The air rushed out of David's chest.
He scrambled up. He shuffled backwards, away from the chair. Nothing coherent could pierce his pounding thoughts.
He felt for the doorway. Catching the jamb, he side-stepped though.
And thudded into someone in the hall.
"Whoa! Sorry there buddy!"
David snapped around.
A man in a tuxedo. A woman next to him. David couldn't process more.
"Didn't mean to crash into you."
David's mouth opened, then closed.
"Hey, are you alright?"
The eyes. Depthless waters. An infinity of blue.
David nodded, but he was everything except alright.
"Good. Good," the man said, although he didn't look convinced. "We're just checking on my grandmother."
The man peeped over David's shoulder.
Splinters of understanding pieced together. Grew.
"Caroline," David said softly.
"Oh! You two have met, then. I hope she didn't talk your ear off."
"I - I met her earlier."
The man sneaked another look. "Looks like she's asleep," he said.
David couldn't bear it. "Yes," he said. "Asleep."
Caroline's grandson smiled. Another glimmer of the child leapt to David's eyes. The truth landed on his shoulders. And strangling disappointment. The girl was gone.
"She's been so unbelievably excited this whole trip," the man said, lowering his voice. "She used to come here as a child, you know. With her father. I've heard so many of the stories I feel like I used to come myself."
David stared, unblinking.
"It's so sad, though," the man said. "Her father died around then. She was devastated. I know those trips are the most important memories she had of him."
Someone shouted from down the hall. Someone summoning them back to the party.
"Did she tell you? That's why she was so excited to come back. She never travels anymore. The past couple days, she's been like a kid again."
David was losing control. Fast.
"Well," the man said, "we're going to be a while yet. We'll let her sleep. I can't only imagine the wonderful dreams she's having."
David turned away. His eyes were flooding.
"Yeah," he whispered. "That's right. Let her sleep."
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