A/N: Do the white-faced women have names? I don't think they do; but I gave them names anyway. If I'm wrong about this please alert me ASAP. Thanks.
- - - - - - - - - -
"There will be another party next weekend," the Duchess Baxter was saying to Count Olaf at one of the numerous expensive and upper-class parties that he was suddenly invited to. "Will you attend, dear Count?"
Olaf had not been foolish enough to use his true name. He was still a Count, certainly, because the title gave him status as much as his money did; but his name to everyone in the wealthy upper-class circles he now inhabited was Alfo. Nobody seemed to notice that the letters in his name could be rearranged to spell "Olaf." As long as he wore very high boots he could hide the tattoo of the eye on his ankle; and, as a last desperate measure of protection, he had begun to wax his eyebrows. Now he had a very noticeable separation between what had once been one eyebrow, and that caused him a deeper pain than he could ever say - ridiculous as that may sound to a sane person such as yourself or my friend Katie. (I, naturally, am not sane.)
"Yes, of course I will attend, my dear," Olaf said, smiling brilliantly at the young Duchess. "Your parties are simply delightful."
The Duchess blushed, and then spoke the fateful words that would turn the Count's unexpectedly peaceful life upside-down: "Why don't you bring the Countess along? I've never seen her at any other functions, and I imagine it must get awfully lonely."
Olaf's eyes darted fearfully back and forth. "The Countess?" he repeated, swallowing hard. "She doesn't much like parties, I'm afraid. She'd much rather be doing something else."
"What on earth does the girl enjoy more than a good party?" the Duchess' husband, Duke Baxter, asked with a laugh.
Olaf slid a hand into his jacket pocket and felt a soft brush of silk - Violet's hair ribbon. It had fallen from her dress pocket that day many years before when they had tumbled from the motorbike; and although he had long ago convinced himself that he despised the girl he called his wife, he carried the small but significant token of her everywhere he went. "She likes to invent things," he blurted before he could stop himself.
The Duchess raised a delicate eyebrow. "Oh?" she said curiously. "Do tell."
Olaf waved a hand, laughing nervously. "It's all rather above my head, really," he said. "I'm sure she could explain it to you."
"Well, now you simply must bring her!" the Duchess cried. "I am most curious as to what your little wife builds while you're off doing business."
The Duke nodded his agreement. "Yes, do bring her," he said. "I'd be most interested to meet a girl more intelligent than you."
Olaf forced a rather cold laugh and then excused himself, saying, "If you will forgive me, Duchess - Duke - I am afraid I have some pressing matters that demand my immediate attention. Good night, and thank you for the wonderful evening."
"Don't forget the girl next time!" the Duke called merrily.
Olaf turned and fled the room without answering, his mind focused on an awful sense of foreboding. To bring Violet out in public… to have to spend an entire evening with her… he wasn't certain he could handle that.
It had been seven years since he had actually even looked at her, he realized. She remained in her upstairs apartment, or if she walked in the gardens at all, she made sure he was not present in the house. She must have changed a great deal. After all, she was twenty-one years old now, no small fourteen-year-old girl.
Maybe that thing that had frightened him so much about her had disappeared, he reasoned. Maybe it had died and gone away. Maybe it would be all right to let her out.
But there was always the possibility that it wouldn't.
- - - - - - - - -
Olaf had been kept awake all night by his own fears about how to confront his wife again. When the sun rose, he was already awake and pacing about his rooms, still pondering what to do. Finally he heard footsteps on the floor above him. Violet was awake, too.
Sighing heavily, he opened the door to his rooms, already fully dressed, and walked up a flight of stairs to the top floor. Four doors on the right, straight down the main corridor, was the first to open into the Countess' Suite. Olaf approached this door as though frightened and knocked lightly.
"You don't need to knock like that, Hester," a voice called irritably from inside. Olaf realized quickly that the voice belonged to Violet, and Violet was assuming he was the first powder-faced woman. "I've told you that time after - "
The door opened, and Violet stopped, staring in surprise at the man in her door. "Count Olaf," she said stiffly, a touch of chill in her voice. "I didn't realize I'd disturbed you. You have my… sincerest… apologies if my inventions kept you awake last night."
Olaf couldn't find his voice to respond. It was simply impossible that the woman before him was Violet. She could not have changed so much in seven years. And yet…
She was tall and slender, with chocolate brown, board-straight hair that hung just below her shoulders. That same hair was currently pulled back with a black silk ribbon, just like its twin in Olaf's pocket. She wore a dress Olaf knew he had seen brought in by Hester and her sister Heloise. It was apparently her favorite dress, because it had seen much use in whatever period she had had it; it was covered in black marks and grease stains from whatever she might have been inventing. The original color, beneath every stain and mark upon it, was a rich blue and a deep grass green. On her arms, fishnet gloves with the fingers cut off disappeared into the puffy sleeves of her dress. Her face itself had thinned a bit, her cheekbones more prominent and her delicate nose just a touch smaller. Her lips, an extraordinarily light shade of pink, were currently pressed into a thin line, and in her green eyes there was a terrifying, steely glint.
That thing Olaf had feared had certainly not gone away. But what was worse, Olaf realized he had much more to contend with than the mysterious inner strength
"You have two eyebrows instead of one," Violet noted, sounding only vaguely interested. "That was intelligent of you."
Olaf stuttered somewhat uselessly, "You've changed a great deal, Violet."
She raised a single eyebrow disdainfully. "Change tends to happen to people over seven years," she said. After another moment of awkward silence, she asked, "Did you need something?"
"Not really…" Olaf said dazedly, still studying her with astonishment. An almost hungry glint was appearing in his dark eyes.
"Well, I have many important things to do," Violet said impatiently. "I'm sure you have important things to do, as well. Wasting my fortune and all of that."
Olaf awoke from whatever trance he had been in. "I haven't been wasting it," he said defensively. "I've been increasing it by my hard work!"
"By stealing from other defenseless people, I'm certain," Violet said disgustedly. "All I've noticed you doing is going to various parties with the aristocracy."
The word "parties" helped bring Olaf back to the matter at hand. "And speaking of parties," he said brightly, changing his mood with stunning rapidity, "You and I have been invited to one next weekend."
Violet sneered at the invitation. "What use do I have for ridiculous parties that are only frivolous shows of wealth?" she demanded, and made to slam the door.
Olaf caught the door with his hand and pushed it back open again. "You're my countess," he said severely, eyes narrowed. "It's part of your duty as my wife." He paused. "And what on earth does 'frivolous' mean?"
"It means 'completely useless,'" Violet said flatly. "Like you."
She went to slam the door again, but Olaf grabbed an umbrella from a nearby rack and wedged it between the door and its frame. "Violet Baudelaire, you will heed what I say or you will suffer the…"
His voice trailed off as he pushed open the door and found himself in the midst of the Countess' Suite - or more accurately, the Studio. And it was indeed a studio; plans littered the floor everywhere Olaf looked, and various machines in differing stages of their building processes sat on several tables. There was a working ceiling fan about Olaf's head, humming quietly; a miniature hang glider strung from a corner; a small mechanical dog. Anything Violet could imagine came to life inside this room, and Olaf felt the startling sense of magic and peace that she had spread there, as though someone had laid a warm, fuzzy blanket over him while he watched the most extraordinarily beautiful of sunrises.
"You… you made all this?" he said, awed.
Violet looked at him curiously. "Yes," she said softly. "Haven't you noticed all the things I've asked you for? It's so I can invent."
Olaf nodded slowly, then shook his head to clear the haze that was once more settling around him. "If you think I'm wasting your fortune, maybe you should consider what you're spending your money on," he said harshly.
Violet's eyes narrowed, and she snarled, "Get out."
Olaf crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to back down. "Go to the Duchess Baxter's party with me next weekend."
"Get out!" Violet shouted.
"I'll get out if you agree to go," Olaf said firmly, although inside he was starting to shake. That cold glint in her eyes…
She clenched her fists tightly at her sides and hissed, "I won't go, but I will set one of my inventions on you if you don't leave. Now get out."
Olaf gulped his fear back noisily, glancing at all of the inventions, and then turned and fled.
- - - - - - - - -
Olaf was in a foul temper as he stalked about his rooms later in the morning. He was infuriated by Violet's show of hatred - and he was more infuriated that he had been so easily defeated by her. That coldness in her voice… that dangerous numbness in her eyes…
No. He wouldn't let her control him.
He reached down and touched the silky ribbon in his pocket. It was already too late for that, he realized grimly. She had been controlling him the past seven years. She had wanted him to see that bitter hatred in her eyes. She had wanted him to fear her. Well, it had worked, hadn't it? The little bitch had gotten exactly what she desired. He had avoided her like the plague, fearing her, trying to please her in a small way by pretending to look the other way when items for her inventions came in.
Well, no more. Olaf was lord and master of his household, and no bratty orphan girl, no matter how rich and no matter how beautiful, was going to control him.
At that moment, Heloise walked into his room, a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast in her hands. "Breakfast's ready," she said. "It's waiting for you in the third dining room." She turned to leave.
"Wait, Heloise," Olaf ordered. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, "Send my Countess down to dine with me."
Heloise almost dropped the plate she was carrying, "But sir," she started to object. "You haven't seen her for years. And the Countess doesn't like you much, anyway."
"Thank you for reminding me of that, Heloise," Olaf said testily. "And I visited her this morning, for your information. I just thought it'd be nice to have an actual conversation with her for once."
Heloise was still looking at him disbelievingly. "Whatever you say, sir," she said with a shrug. "Shall I bring her food downstairs, then?"
"Of course, you idiot!" Olaf snapped. Heloise turned and ran as quickly as her mermaid-style dress would allow out of the room.
Olaf sighed as the sound of her shuffling down the floor faded away. He stood and went to go downstairs, but paused briefly to glance at himself in the mirror. Normally doing so cheered him immensely, but for some reason his reflection seemed depressingly old that morning. "Hello, handsome," he said to his reflection, smiling at his own come-on, but even that failed to work. "Shut up!" he yelled at the mirror, even though the poor, innocent mirror had said nothing. "I know that was pathetic!" He picked up a bottle of bad-smelling cologne and threw it at the mirror. He missed completely. Instead, the bottle shattered against the wall, spilling the cologne in a messy, stinking waterfall to the carpet.
"What on earth are you doing?" a cold voice asked from the door. "And what is that smell?"
Olaf spun to face Violet, who was standing in the doorway, hands on her hips. She had changed into a deep purple dress covered in black lace. The same fishnet gloves adorned her arms, but her hair was no longer pulled out of her face by a ribbon. She was eyeing him as someone might eye a large and disgusting insect. "Well?" she said questioningly.
"I was… I was…" Olaf stuttered. Suddenly, he was given a brilliant solution. "I was getting in character for my next big acting debut!" he announced, striding over to her with considerably more confidence than he felt. "It is a great role; an alcoholic man redeemed by the love of his life." Olaf knelt on the floor in front of Violet, slightly distressed at how much taller she suddenly became, and took her hand, which she quickly attempted to pull away.
"No, no, no!" Olaf said, grabbing it back and hanging onto it. "I need it to get in character." He closed his eyes and made up a speech as quickly as he could. "Oh, my dearest love," he said, "I know that I have indeed been most wicked in these dark and tragic days - " He paused for dramatic affect, looking up into Violet's eyes. He quickly looked away when he noted the disapproval. "- but I beg of you to forgive me, for I have always, always loved you. I swear that I shall never abandon you again!" He kissed her hand and moved to kiss all the way up her arm, but she jerked her hand from him before he could continue.
"I'm deeply moved," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm - not to say that her voice actually dripped. That would be disgusting - not to mention impossible - if liquid suddenly came pouring from every word she spoke. The only thing that was actually dripping in the room was Count Olaf's disgusting cologne. "I suppose the girl of his heart falls instantly into his arms at that revolting little dialogue?" Violet finished, wiping a hand on her skirt as though it were slimy.
"Oooh!" Olaf exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "Good idea. Let's try that, shall we? You swoon on three, and I'll catch you, all right? One - two - "
"Absolutely not," Violet said flatly. She turned away from him and walked out the door. "I'm going downstairs to get my breakfast. I was under the impression that you were doing the same."
Olaf ran quickly out the door after her and nearly tripped down the long and winding staircase. "I was on my way," he said, trying to regain some dignity. "But you know, it's very important for an actor to really get into his character."
"I don't see why you bother trying," Violet said icily. "You're horrendous."
Olaf didn't answer. He had expected a similar response. "I do all kinds of acting at the little rich people's parties," he said.
"Oh yes. You'll get to see at the party Saturday at the Duke and Duchess'."
"Of course, I'm not going, so I suppose I'll have to be disappointed, won't I?" They reached the bottom step in unison. Violet stopped abruptly, and Olaf stopped after walking a little ahead of her. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"To the third dining room, of course, where breakfast is always served," Olaf said.
"My breakfast," Violet said angrily, "Is always served in my room, because apparently you're too much of a coward to look at me."
"Why did I invite you to breakfast today, then?" Olaf asked.
"I don't know, but I wish you hadn't," Violet snapped. She pushed past him. "I'm going to get my breakfast, and then I'll eat upstairs," she called over her shoulder.
"Oh no you won't!" Olaf snarled.
"Yes I will!" Violet shouted back.
"You won't," he retorted, fists clenching tightly. "Besides, you've missed the third dining room already. It's two doorways back on the left."
Violet spun around and stomped back down the hallway until she had arrived at the door he had directed her to. She marched in, stomping loudly into the room. Olaf followed her sullenly; even the smell of bacon, eggs, and pancakes failed to cheer him up.
The third dining room was the smallest of four, and it had a quaint little round table at its center. There was a fireplace for cold winter days, and large windows to look out at the extraordinary grounds surrounding the house, which were well kept by a gardener. "Nice dining room," Violet said, sounding almost sincere. She grabbed a plate and began loading her plate with food. Once it was filled, she made to leave, but Olaf leapt in front of the door.
"Where are you going?" he demanded.
"Back upstairs," Violet said flatly.
"Wrong again," Olaf retorted. "We're taking breakfast down here together, as a husband and his little wife should."
"I am not your little wife!" Violet shouted, so enraged that she nearly threw her plate of food on the floor. "Let me out of here! I want to go back to my studio!"
"Yes… about that," Olaf said, lightly placing the tips of his fingers together. "You're simply wasting money with all that junk up there. I think it's time you stopped playing around in your little studio and started doing more practical, wifely things."
"You bastard!" Violet shouted, tears coming violently as she ashamedly tried to hide them. "I forgot how much I hated you! You're a beast! You're evil! I hate you!"
"I realize that," Olaf said irritably. "I've realized that for a long time."
"Then why won't you let me go?" she cried. "You have no real use for me anymore. You have my money. Just let me go!"
Olaf looked her up and down, and then said firmly, "No."
Violet stared at him in disbelief, and then shoved the plate of food into his hands. "I'm not hungry," she said, petulant anger clear in her voice. "I want to go back to my studio."
Olaf grabbed her hands and put the plate back in them. "Eat, Violet," he said. When she opened her mouth to refuse, he snarled, "Sit down!"
She leaned away from him, startled, and then carried her plate over to her table. She sat in sullen silence, eating quietly, while Olaf filled his plate. He dropped into the chair across from her and shoved some of the pancakes into his mouth. When he had swallowed, he said to her, "Your inventions mean a great deal to you, don't they?"
"You know the answer to that."
Olaf nodded. "If you want to keep the inventions," he said carefully, "Then come to the party on Saturday."
Violet glared at him. "Why is it so important that I go?" she demanded.
Olaf shrugged. "People begin to ask questions when they don't see a man's wife, ever," he said. "And I was specifically asked to bring you. It will seem strange if you decline the invitation."
Violet didn't seem to believe him. "And that's truly the only reason you want me to go?" she questioned. He nodded earnestly. She sighed and said, "Fine. I'll go, if you'll let me keep my inventions."
"Done," Olaf said with a triumphant smile.
"I am done," Violet said icily, pushing her plate away from her. "Done with breakfast, and done with you, for now. I'm going back to my studio. Please leave me alone."
Olaf stayed silent as she walked past him, and then, when she was at the door, he said, "You'll be needing a new dress."
She exhaled sharply in frustration. "Indeed," she said flatly. "I suppose I will."
"I'll send Hester to purchase it for you," Olaf offered.
"Good." The door slammed shut behind her, and she was gone.
Olaf smirked slightly as he took a sip from his orange juice. At least in this single battle, he had won.