It was like being buried alive.
Jaenelle sat in her room surrounded by pastel colour and frills of lace, toys she never touched, the bed immaculately made as if it had never been slept in. The "playpen" at Briarwood was more her home than this too clean, barren cell, suffocating, smothered beneath the bland mask, the smell of cleaning agents still acrid in the air.
The rain cascaded down the windows with a soft, soothing tap-tap sound, muffled by the glass. The door creaked quietly as it open, the soft whispers conferring and one set of feet crossing the soft carpet.
Jaenelle blinked once, masking her eyes before turning around. It was Leland today, to her relief – Leland was better than Alexandra. There was no sign of the family matriarch. Philip hovered over her should. He could today – Bobby wasn't here. She knew where he was. Oh, how well she knew where he was.
Briarwood is the pretty poison…
"Darling? Why don't you go wash? We have a guest this evening…"
A guest. From Briarwood? Jaenelle wondered bleakly. She stared through Leland and didn't answer.
"Jaenelle," Philip cut in. "Jaenelle, is something wrong?"
She resisted the urge to laugh, bitterly, mirthlessly. She couldn't help an involuntary spasm and a small noise, though. Leland flinched, hesitated, then reached out and took Jaenelle's limp hand in hers, giving it a squeeze.
"It's all right, sweetheart, you can tell us."
Jaenelle took a breath. "Doctor Carvey is a –"
"This is a waste of time," Alexandra's voice said harshly. "She's just telling the same old lies and stories. You heard what the Doctor said. She's not well at all yet."
I'm not sick, Jaenelle thought viciously. I'm not I'm not I'm not – I didn't imagine the gardens at Briarwood, didn't imagine Saetan and the kindred and –
But there was still that seed of doubt that itched under her skin, saying 'but what if you were wrong?' She closed her eyes and couldn't help the tears that leaked out.
Someone was giving her a hug. She stayed limp and unresisting as Leland's perfectly maintained hands brushed her hair back from her forehead and kissed her there. "Darling, please," she said. Jaenelle could hear a touch of tears in her voice. "Just tell the truth and maybe we can help…"
Jaenelle withdrew into herself stubbornly, hunching her shoulders and closing her face. "You wouldn't believe the truth," she said hoarsely. "You don't want to hear the truth."
Alexandra's voice was suddenly very near and very hoarse as she set a hand on Jaenelle's shoulder and shook her gently. "Jaenelle, do not speak to your elders that way," she snapped. "Go get washed up. You should look your best for dinner."
Jaenelle looked up at Alexandra and dropped the mask on her eyes for just a moment before she blinked and resumed her regular expression. Alexandra dropped her hand, looking confused and a little frightened as she stepped back.
"Come with me, I'll help you get cleaned up," she said briskly.
Jaenelle rose reluctantly and looked at Leland where she was standing, her face a little blotchy, Philip's hand resting on her shoulder. She curtsyed to both of them. "My apologies, Lady, Prince," she said formally, and walked out after Alexandra. The soft sob from Leland tore at her soul, but it hardly hurt. Jaenelle was too far buried again, locked inside the coffin of the Benedict family. All that remained was the numb, pretty, polite girl with the face that the uncles saw and the body they wanted… and the girl they could not touch.
When Alexandra wasn't looking, she pinched her arm beneath the sleeve, reminding herself that she was still alive. She was buried here, but when she was free…when she was free she could live again.
As if she could ever be free.
She turned a corner and saw Alexandra talking to a tall male, his psychic scent making her wrinkle her nose, but it was more than that that produced her distaste for him. Robert Benedict.
He looked past Alexandra at her and smiled a greasy smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Daughter! You're home! How wonderful to see you!"
You knew I was coming home, Bobby.
He knelt down and opened his arms, as if she were a toddler still. "Come and give us a hug, sweetheart."
I don't want to touch you ever again, Uncle Bobby.
Alexandra was watching, and she started forward reluctantly and gave him a quick squeeze that made as little contact as possible before drawing back and wrapping her arms around herself, scurrying away from him. He smiled indulgently and laughed.
"Such a shy child. Too bad she can't play with more children her age…"
Oh, but you wish you could, don't you, Uncle Bobby?
She hunched her shoulders and shuddered. Buried, safe six feet beneath the earth in her warm, safe coffin, suffocating… but at least she didn't have to breathe the stale air of Briarwood that stank of fear and other more disgusting emotions.
She closed her eyes and surrendered to the earth.
…there is no cure for Briarwood.