Even the best of us disappoint our greatest creators, but never quite so much as she.
Once Flora's old guardian Bruno noted how alarmingly frequent she mentioned and lauded Hershel Layton in her infrequent letters, and her growingly inappropriate reliance, he severed the said personnel from her life. The amputation, however, was done too late.
Although to be fair, it must be said that the severance itself was quite easy to procure—it took exactly one month, two trips outside of St. Mystere, three talks with Flora, and a few restless sleeps disturbed by deliberately loud wailing at night. However, beyond that, Flora took the blow like a champ. In fact, once she accepted it as a definite future, she was secretly a little glad to be the one doing the leaving this time around, leaving on some grand adventure of life that nobody but she was privy to—not even the Professor.
The Great Leaving came about like this:
It was about a week before Luke's set date of departure and they were sitting in the drawing room at the hour of high tea, as customary. Flora had finished brewing the tea, and seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
It was a glorious day, and the sunlight galloped in through the window and washed the table in a pooling glow. The light also gave her white sundress a certain crispness to its color, and made the red trimming and ribbon around her waist appear to be liquid silk. She thought she looked particularly wonderful today, and smoothed her ponytail. Basking in the radiance of the sun was the Professor, slightly hunched over a book on the sofa, his suit jacket hung up and him in just his orange shirt for once—Flora approved of this casual look, he was younger this way. Luke on the other hand was polishing his violin, humming a slight tune quietly next to the Professor.
Flora was a little disappointed that nobody was looking at her, just when she thought she appeared her best. So she cleared her throat a little and began timidly, "Professor, Luke," and then for formality's sake asked, "Would you care for some tea?"
"Certainly, my dear—a true gentleman never passes a lady's offer for afternoon tea," the Professor replied gently, looking up from his fossil book and giving her a placid smile.
"And a true gentleman always expresses his gratitude," Luke piped in, "So thank you very much, Flora. "
She bobbed her head and hid her eyes under auburn fringes. As she poured Belle Classic tea—the Professor's favorite, although even Flora could not understand his fondness of its sour taste—out of the little porcelain china teapot, none of them spoke. It was as if all of them entered a mutual game of who can stay silent the longest.
Of course, Professor Layton was the first one to lose—he always lost the games that Luke and she conjured up. She quite disliked his natural assumption that he, as the adult, should offer them this false consolation. Nevertheless, he said: "It is going to rain tomorrow, I hear."
"It always rains here," she replied more snappishly than she had intended to sound. One second to realize her tone, and another two to give a natural pause in their dialogue: "I suppose it is beneficial to the flora and fauna, at the very least."
The Professor chuckled dutifully.
"Oh Flora, you're always so clever with puns." Luke squirmed in his chair, seeming to pick up her unnaturally hostile vibe, and tried to make peace.
Somehow Luke trying to make things better simply annoyed her more, and the Professor contently sipping his bitter tea certainly did not help. In just a second, Flora decided that today was to be the day—today she would tragically declare the end of this stagnant peace, and stir up some emotion in these men-folk.
"In any case, I have a rather large announcement to make." She said not without a trace of haughtiness. "Ahem, ahem!" At her emphasizing coughs, Luke put down his teacup and looked at her with his brown, mousy eyes.
"Yes, my dear, what is it that you would like for us to know?" The Professor spoke again, tone friendly and paternal and grating to Flora's ears.
"I am to be attending Beatrice University next year, and Bruno has arranged for my transfer to a local school before then."
"Beatrice University? Is it the one in America?" Luke's eyes widened as he finally focused all his attention on her.
"Yes, along the East Coast."
"But that's so far away from both of us then!" Luke cried out.
"Calm down, Luke, Bruno only has Flora's best interests in mind." The Professor gently chided him and turned his small, dark eyes on her next. "Flora dear, when do you plan on making the move?"
Unsatisfied with his composure, she stood a little straighter and replied dramatically, "I shall be leaving—leaving the day after tomorrow." Surely it was not too much of a problem if she left a few days earlier than planned, she trusted that Bruno had everything in order.
"Oh. That is certainly very efficient of him. Of course I expect no less of the man who ran St. Mystere by himself for so long. You will have a marvelous time I'm sure—Beatrice University is certainly a very renowned school full of gentleman and ladies even in the lands of America."
"Yes—" She answered falteringly. Were there to be no words of anxiety? No parting sorrow? No attempts to keep her here—or even inquiries about when she should visit? "Yes, I'm sure I will as well. Now excuse me, the tea has gone cold."
Flora gathered the china and went to the kitchen to clean up the tea set. The sound of running tap water, strong and steady, covered any noises that she would have made.
She was determined to not see anybody when she left the next day, and covered herself in a stealthy disguise with a scarf and glasses. Her bags will be delivered at a later date, but she herself would be long gone, like a spectre, like a dream, like she will never be seen again.
She couldn't help but turn around to watch the receding house from the back window of the car, her face nearly plastered to the cool glass.
"Telegraph for young Mister Triton!"
"Flora?" Luke grabbed the piece of paper before the two young men beside him could steal it. "Knock it off, Anthony, when did you become so nosy? And Jay, I don't read your letters from the lady friend of yours from that college down the street, now do I?"
"That's because he can't help but read it aloud five times a day!" The young Anthony answered, pushing up his glasses to read the seal on the telegraph better.
"Aye, didn't know you had a lady friend as well, Luke!"
Luke glanced at the telegraph and tucked in safely into the inner pocket of his peacoat. "I don't—this is from my sister."
"Your sister? Didn't know you had one."
"Well," Luke crinkled his nose and thought about it. "She's as good as my sister anyways."
"That's a big difference there." Anthony drawled, and Luke just smiled good-naturedly and tucked away the letter for later.
That evening, after the day was over and Luke was far away from the inquiring eyes and hands of his friends, he took out the telegraph and read it carefully.
It has been a long time since he heard from Flora. Immediately after the Great Leaving, he mailed out a detailed letter to Flora, who of course could not help but reply. They wrote long letters to each other (and the Professor, of course) and knew the minute happenings of each other. Slowly however, Flora's letters shortened in length and slowed in frequency. Ultimately, they stopped communicating. His letters also reflected a lazier hand and a busier person, but he did at least keep up monthly letters to the Professor. From the Professor, he learned that she had stopped writing even to the Professor. He puzzled over it for a while, but the Professor said that it was inevitable, and he had long learned to never question the Professor.
So this letter came quite out of the blue—the request in it also was quite unexpected. It began like most letters, with a warm title, vague inquires about his wellbeing, general descriptions of how vivid and wonderful her life was, and then—and then she asked if he wouldn't join her in a small vacation back to London to visit the Professor.
Without hesitation, he packed up his things, apologized to Jay and Anthony about his change of break plans, and set the travel plans for this reunion.
"Now, now, Luke my boy, calm down," Professor Layton had a bit of trouble holding his guard as the tall young man threw himself at the Professor in an uncontrollable fit of excitement and nostalgia. "I think you've grown tall enough to call me by my first name." He chuckled, kindly pretending to not see the teary glint in Luke's eyes.
"Oh Professor—Hershel, you have not changed one bit! Neither did this house! Oh it's like a time capsule here, and I am still that little boy!"
Despite his imposing height, Luke still gushed like a child in front of his esteemed Professor Layton. And indeed, he did not seem a day older, with perhaps just a few crinkles at the corner of his eyes, and a gleam of gray in his hair that vanished the moment Luke tried to focus on it. It seemed as if the Professor would never change, would never grow a day older, would never tire out and perish and crawl towards death as the rest of the old people that Luke knew.
He was very happy to be back, and to confirm that his Professor was an unchanging, unmoving locus in the world.
"Would you like some tea? Do you still fancy Oasis Berry?" Hershel Layton lifted the top of the kettle and awaited Luke's answer.
"No," a suspicious pink flushed Luke's cheeks, "I'm a fan of Cayenne Twilight now."
"I see you outgrew your sweet-tooth," Layton said almost wistfully. "The Cayenne Twilight's spicy, earthy flavor certainly is befitting a young man of the world, full of energy and aspirations."
"You have always encouraged me—if I am to become a man of the world, it is only thanks to you."
Layton did not say anything in return. Perhaps he did not see a need to respond to a heartfelt thanks, or did not have the words for it.
At the very moment however, a knock on the door led Layton to open the door for Missus Blaine. The woman was the local busybody, a widow whose sole ambition in life, after the successful marriage of her own two daughters, was to gain any and all knowledge on her surrounding neighbors.
Luke did not have fond memories of this woman, who used to herd him away from her daughters as if he was a pest.
"Oh Hershel! Oh Hershel, Hershel, Hershel!" She cried out, her black wig trembling with her every word. "I can only say your name soothingly, for there is naught a lady can say to comfort you! Oh to see your protégée, Miss Reinhold, who used to be such an angelic little girl—she is here, she is back! Oh and you would not believe some of the stories that I have heard about her!"
"It is very kind of you to inform us of her arrival, madam. Would you care for some tea?"
To Luke's dismay, the woman seemed determined to stay, and indeed had begun to sit down when the Professor continued to speak in his mellow tone, "We have a lovely pot of Cayenne Twilight today—very strong and effective. Here is your cup."
And before Luke could understand what was happening, Missus Blaine blew out of the house like a whirlwind.
"Wha—Wha?" He could only make unintelligent sounds.
"Oh the good lady had a frightful incident with Cayenne Twilight tea a while back—she had to go to the hospital for a week due to indigestion of the spice. I assume she simply did not wish to repeat that experience."
Luke wondered if as a child, he often missed these almost manipulative streaks in Professor Layton's character. But he did not have long to wonder, as the sound of a car being unloaded came from downstairs.
He was at the window in a flash, watching the front door to the building complex. It was almost as if he was transported back in time—a real time travel, mind you—for Luke could vividly remember the day that Flora walked out the same door.
He still remembered how both he and the Professor—Hershel—had watched Flora leave in her usual orange dress, with an orange scarf around her orange hair, eyes darting left and right and feet picked up daintily. He had felt a little guilty—for not saying goodbye properly (but Hershel said that she preferred it this way), but also for lurking in the shadows watching her. It was not a very gentlemanly move, but even Hershel had allowed it in silence, even looking up from his book occasionally to join the watching.
Ah, but how the years have passed!
Now Flora came back with a train of luggage. From above, she seemed to be a walking puddle of sparkles and feathered hats. In fact, Luke could not discern her until the drawing room door opened once again to show her in.
She looked like she was dressed to go to Cinderella's ball to steal the prince away.
Flora had always been pretty, but now she was—oh she was something, alright. Her hair was bleached to be a feathery blond, lighter and more wispy than spring clouds, with a glint that reminded Luke of the sun gleaming off of rounded pebbles under a running stream. This glorious mass of hair flowed down her shoulders in a side pleated braid, unobtrusive to the view of her bare back, shoulder blades perfectly sculpted with a hint of shadow leading down where the red fabric of her dress covered. She wore a blazing scarlet flapper dress that hugged her slim waist to flare open to her mid-thigh. There was something similar to a collar on her neck, which against her pale, glowing skin, seemed to call to some deep, animalistic urge inside of man to rip out her throat.
Flora walked across the room with a quiet nonchalance, expectantly gave her pretty gloved hand to be kissed by Luke. When he did, she glanced over him and walked over to the Professor.
"Professor," she began, "How wonderful it is to see you." Her words dropped from her mouth like a string of pearls that she flung aside, and her tone did not betray any sentiment of wonder. "I would pour you some tea for old time's sake, but—I did these nails just yesterday. Luke could you do the tea?"
With the tea set, she began talking about her hair, her legs, her car, her unhealthy sleeping habits and her boredom with the world. Her words flowed without meaning, but it was a pretty flow, and the way she was entirely engrossed by herself was strangely captivating.
Luke was sure that she had the heart of all breathing men wherever she went. There was something about the way she looked at him, with heavy lidded eyes that were crystal clear, the corner of which was drew to lift into an almost coquettish curve.
Anthony was right. There was a world of difference between a sister and 'as good as a sister'—a difference that not even his girlfriend Arianna could prevent him from realizing.
Flora wasn't sure if she was deliberately trying to annoy the Professor or not. The day she realized her beauty was the day that she realized the multitude of personalities that she could become, and of course she chose the one furthest from Professor Layton's teachings.
Was it still a game, a game to gather the man's attention by being contrary? Was she winning?
Hershel rubbed his temple and couldn't help but feel as if he had failed his pupils somehow. He knew that he had an inclination to neglect his children, let it be Luke or Flora, or even Rosetta—for he had considered all children to be his children, in the absence of one. Yet he had thought he taught them enough to not be, well, he wasn't sure what Flora turned out to be, but he knew with certitude that he did not like it.
He could still remember before they all left him, she used to look at him with such large, clear eyes, like dew drops on lotus leaves in the morning—he could see the sky in those blue eyes. It was the growing fervent glint in those eyes that had led him to contact Bruno and allow him to remove Flora from his cares. But even with that, even now, now—Flora's eyes burned him with the same burn he felt from Rosetta.
And it was not just Flora—in the end he lost both of them.
He could remember how Luke used to follow his every movement and firmly try to mimic all of them—if he wasn't so self-conscious, Hershel was sure he would have taken down notes. Now—now his eyes took note of Flora, those brown eyes as deep as a well and just as indiscernible.
What had he done wrong?