Her father’s footsteps were as familiar to Aria Kensington
as the steady thump thump thump
of her own heartbeat. She could hear him moving swiftly across the plush cart, one quick tap of his dress shoe followed by the slower swish as his left foot dragged – a remnant of the accident eight years before.
Tendrils of sun warmed her face as she turned her head to his approach, her fingers stilling mid-sentence on the page in front of her.
“Why aren’t you at the office?” Her voice was soft with a light rasp to it, yet another memento of the accident. Gentle fingers absentmindedly stroked the small pink scar on her neck.
“I have to go away for a little bit. Just a few weeks, but I have to leave right away.” Her father had never been one to beat around the bush. It was either straight to the point or not at all.
Aria sat up straighter, the book slipping from her lap. She didn’t bother trying to catch it as it landed on the floor.
“But you swore you’d never leave on business.” Panic set in her throat, choking the words.
“I know, Aria,” a heavy hand rested on her shoulder – the gesture meant to comfort but ended up feeling awkward and out of place. They had never been ones for physical contact even before the accident, their interactions more suited to casual acquaintances than father and daughter.
“Clean will be here,” the calluses on his fingers rubbed roughly against her skin, “he has strict instructions to make sure you are taken care of.”
A sigh of relief passed her lips and Aria sank back into her seat. Clean served as much butler as bodyguard and was more a father to Aria than the man who employed him. As long as Clean was staying Aria knew it would be alright.
Without another word her father turned and left, just as briskly as he had come. His steps sounded heavier, wearier, and Aria wondered what he looked like now. Had the years aged him? The last image she had of him was that of a man broadly built with a square, clean-shaven jaw. His hair had been neatly trimmed, the rich blue-black color an exact match to her own. But it was his eyes that she recalled so clearly – the bright blue a mirror image to the sky on a crisp fall day. There were no lines around those eyes for her father had never worn anything other than a stoic, emotionless expression. Try as she might, Aria could never recall a moment when she’d seen him smile. And now she never would.
Sleep eluded her that night, as it had every night for the past eight years. The last images she ever saw played on a loop every time she began to drift, instantly jolting awake as she remembered the blinding lights and the screech of tires, the shattered glass that cut at her sending warm, wet blood down her face. Some nights she could still feel the crack of bones as her rips snapped and the desperate gasp for air. This was one such night.
The dreams had woken her just after midnight and she’d lain awake, the lush Egyptian cotton sheets wrapped tightly around her – cocooning her – until the swallows outside her window began to wake and greet the morning.
“Six oh three A.M.” The clock chirped in its stilted robotic tone when Aria pressed the button to read the time.
No doubt the rest of the house was already alive, the staff buzzing about, diligent worker bees seeing to their daily tasks. There was no point to remaining in bed. Throwing the covers off, Aria shivered as her feet met the cold, hardwood floor. She fumbled for the buzzer beside her bed then walked to her closet. After the accident she used to have to count the steps from one place to another. Now the steps were instinctual and, if the floors were kept clear, she didn’t even need her cane to travel around the house.
Searching her closet for something to wear, Aria’s fingers moved deftly over the Brail tag affixed to each item. Each piece of clothing had been hand selected by her stylist and shipped to the estate. If anyone had asked Aria if she cared about the designer clothing she would have told them there was no point. She couldn’t see the clothes so what did it matter? But her father insisted she wear only the best. She pulled a Gucci sweater dress from its hanger, the wool plush and pillow-soft beneath her fingers.
By the time the knock came on her door, Aria was dressed and seated at her vanity brushing out her silken hair.
“Come in!” she called, the fresh, bitter scent of coffee already permeating the air.
“Good morning, Miss Aria.” Clean said brightly; nothing at all like the brisk commanding voice he used with the staff.
“Morning, Clean.” Aria felt for the edge of the vanity and carefully set the brush down.
“Coffee on the left, cream and sugar on the right.” The fragile clink of herringbone china against a silver tray accompanied his words.
“You’ve been setting my tray the same way for three years. I don’t think you need to keep telling me.” Aria rolled her eyes with a playful sigh.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll change it up on of these days.” The teasing lilt in his tone brought a smile to her lips.
“The day you change is the day hell freezes over.”
There was no need to see him to know that Clean was smirking.
“Has he left yet?” The words tumbled from her lips quickly.
“Before the sun came up. But he’ll be back before you know.” Clean could try to keep his tone light, but Aria could hear the heaviness in his words.
“I think I’ll pass on the coffee this morning. I need to take a walk, get some fresh air maybe.” Aria pushed to her feet and felt Clean press the cane into her hand – the metal of the collapsible cane cool against her palm.
Without another word she left the room, the weight of Clean’s eyes tracking each step.