"Emily," He said warmly, "trust me."
I sighed, placing the torn open envelope into his outstretched hand. Twisting my white gloves nervously I watched as he unfolded the letter.
Happiness beamed from his mellow eyes as he read the contents aloud. I smiled, I wanted to embrace him and thank him for all of the help he'd given me; the late night discussions over tea and for when he helped me on my final essay. It was all because of him I had done so well.
"Congratulations," Robert said, "Your father would have been proud."
He placed the envelope back into my hand. And I smiled.
"Thank you," I uttered quietly. Father would have been proud, but it didn't matter anymore to me. Father died a long time ago, and his Miss Muffet too. I had new life goals. Uncle Valentine was my father now; his house was my home.
"Shall we go inside?" He asked, extending an arm gentlemanly, "Maude's got cold chicken and corn waiting for us if I'm not mistaken."
I smiled, wider than before, and took his arm gladly.
We entered the house arm and arm to find Uncle Valentine at the kitchen table, hunched awkwardly over a letter, tears streaming freely from his eyes.
Maude was at the stove, pulling out hot biscuits. Her eyes, too, were filled with tears.
"What's happened?" Robert asked, nervous. His grasp on my arm loosened.
Uncle Valentine arose from his chair, dropping a single sheet into Robert's hand.
"I'm sorry," He said, placing a hand on Robert's shoulder.
He then bent down slightly, looking me in the eye, "Remember, none of this was your fault." He cupped my cheek softly.
Straightening himself he walked briskly out of the kitchen and down the hall, into his study at the far end. I heard the latch on his door go, faintly.
"I've left dinner for you, the Dr.'s given me the night off." Maude said putting on her shawl, she opened the back door and, as brisk as Uncle Valentine had left, was gone.
I looked into Robert's eyes. I didn't care if he saw the fear in mine. Why would Uncle Valentine feel so compelled to tell me it wasn't my fault? What could it be that I was involved with that could be so horribly wrong? What could make a man like my Uncle cry?
"Marietta's dead." Robert said, grimly.
My mouth dropped openly, my head felt dizzy and the room started to spin. I felt Robert sit me down at the table. I choked back tears, to no avail. I felt the hot sting against my cheeks.
I had seen Marietta just yesterday and she had promised me she was getting better. Why didn't she just let Uncle Valentine treat her? Maybe she wouldn't have gotten so sick. Maybe she wouldn't be dead. How could she leave me like that, after she promised!
There was a knock on the back door.
Robert dropped the letter on the table callously.
"How could he show so little emotion?" I thought.
He opened the back door half way. Mumbled something and shut it tightly, throwing the latch carefully.
"What is it?" I hiccupped. Trying to hold back my tears was making me sick. I felt like crying harder than I was, just letting all of my sorrow flow from me. But I needed to be strong in front of Robert.
His face showed no emotion, other than intense sorrow. I looked hard for comfort in his features.
Without a word he approached me slowly. He pulled me off the chair sedulously and embraced me. At first it felt like he was taking care not to break me, like I was porcelain. I buried my face into his shoulder and let my tears flow freely. He hugged me harder. I felt the warmth of his body against mine. He sighed deeply.
I don't remember how long we stayed that way. It was the first time he had touched me that way. I should always regret such a caring gesture came at such a sorrowful time in our lives. The happy letter of academics I had gotten only moments before felt out of place, lost in time.
It felt like we stood there for hours, but it must have been only a few minutes.
He kissed me on the top of my head and quietly whispered, "I've got something I need to do tonight, and I need your help, I need you to be strong for me; for Marietta."
I nodded and raised my eyes to meet his.