*Added side note: I realize there are some grammatical discrepancies. However, as it is a first draft, it's in the "write like mad just to get the ideas on the page before they disappear" stage. Sadly, this sort of thing is a long-lost art in school nowadays.
It was a small room, a fireplace at the far left wall and long windows on the right with a desk pushed against it. A door was at the back wall, and comfy-looking olive green chairs filled the corners of the room, plus one matching loveseat. It appeared to be a drawing room made over into a study, since book cases lined the blank spaces between the sitting furniture. There were two end tables, with lamps on each and one tall lamp over a chair in the far corner. The books on the shelves were not neat, they were haphazard, some stacked atop one another, or only half-way on the shelf, two or three open on an end table. This was surprising to Lyla, since the rest of the house seemed to be in perfect order.
Mr. Archer turned from his chair at the desk, and must have noticed her eyes scanning his things. He apologized half-heartedly. “Sorry. The servants are told not to touch a thing in this room. Please, have a seat.” His chin dipped in the direction of the chair closest to his desk and door, the left corner of the room. It was the one over which the tall lamp stood, its light nonexistent, the corner dark behind the drapes pulled back to let in the early afternoon light.
Lyla moved cautiously towards the chair, not taking her eyes off him, but he remained the same. Gentle smile, genuine, observant eyes, relaxed shoulders. She wasn’t sure what she was wary of, but there was an easiness and kindness to him that set her on edge. No one was really this nice unless they wanted something.
“I didn’t want it to go quite this way, but you’re very used to your own independence and wouldn’t give me the time of day, would you?” He raised one eyebrow and folded his hands before him on his desk.
Lyla gaped at him. “You’re- you followed me- and you- had-”
“Miss Fox, can we please start over?” Mr. Archer gave a long sigh.
“I’ll let you think about it tonight. I don’t expect immediate forgiveness.” He continued on as if he hadn’t heard her very blunt answer. “Even so. Here we are, so let us discuss.” He waved a hand in the air, as if that defined the topic they were to discuss.
What are we discussing?
He turned his back briefly, shuffled through some papers, and slid out a single sheet with yellowed corners. Letters were inked across it in fast scribble, and Mr. Archer held it out to her.
Lyla pressed her lips together tightly.
“Oh, forgive me, can you read?” He blinked, and Lyla thought she detected embarrassment cross his face. Good, he had a conscience after all.
She shook her head. She didn’t know enough to be able to read a letter.
Mr. Archer lifted it up and cleared his throat, his finger paused in the middle of the text somewhere. “ ‘The parents are passed, and I’ve been unable to locate the child. It seems a bit odd to me, considering how young she was, only five or six years, but I suppose that is old enough to wander. Wouldn’t you think that she would come to some town then, looking for food or drink, unless she was (forgive me, for I think the worst!) eaten by some wild animal. The wood was searched, and nothing found. Poor Lillian Laura-Ivy Foxley, orphaned, lost and eaten clean out of this world all in one day.’ ” Mr. Archer slowly lowered the yellowed page into his lap, his eyes moving up, the opposite the direction of the page, and his lips curving down, sympathetic. “Was this you?”
She was caught, seated in a corner, in a locked house, with little money and no prospects, no where to go but the streets again, and feeling absolutely lost and out-of-place. “Yes,” Lyla answered, her voice catching. The truth burned, and the vulnerability froze her. These juxtaposed emotions twirled something painful inside. “But not anymore.”
“You are different?” He phrased it as a question, but it was more of a statement, an observation he’d already made.
“Lillian was afraid of everything.”
“And you’re not?” He raised an eyebrow at her, but before she could answer he continued speaking. “I didn’t know your parents, but I know who they were. I can lead you to someone with answers, I can give you some of them myself.”
“How do you know what my questions are?”
“Because, Miss Fox, you are different. You have known it always. Your parents were different. You always believed you had nothing to live for but yourself, because you were not one of the molded chesspieces like other young ladies. There would be no one who could match you without feeling intimidated. Your survived! What a strong thing you are, but I can offer you a chance to live more comfortably, not to just have to survive, but to enjoy life and do whatever you do best.”
Lyla crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you know about what I can do?”
Quietly, Mr. Archer opened his desk drawer and and reached into it. He withdrew her bracelet, and she gasped indignantly.
“You have stolen my jewelry!” Lyla stood and reached to snatch the bracelet away. He didn’t stop her.
“You are a clever young lady, Lyla, do not squander your talents. If you help me, I can answer so many questions about who you are. Your invention, it is something spectacular, but dangerous. Help me, and I can help you with this, as well.”
She stood abruptly. “Where is he?”
Mr. Archer lowered his hands and leaned forward as if not sure he’d heard her quite right. “Where is who, Miss Fox?”
“Rex. Where have you got him and how did you get him at all?”
“Ah. Rex, so that is what you call it.”
“Alright, him. Rex was easy to catch after I had you. I tried to tell you this.”
“You lying, thieving, awful, good-for-nothing-” Lyla inched closer and closer to him, her right hand beginning to rise.
“Miss Fox, please sit down.” He was calm, but insistent.
“Would you like some tea?”
“Are you very daft?” What sort of person offered tea in the middle of a disagreement?
Her sarcasm didn’t seem to have the desired effect. Calmly, he said, “I will ring for some tea, it may help to stem the insults that I do admit I deserve.”
“Yes! You do!”
“I’m glad we agree on something, at least. Wonderful, we’re finally building a friendship.” Mr. Archer rang for tea, still maddeningly calm, while Lyla shook with rage. For lack of anything better to do and completely out of words, she huffed loudly when she resumed sitting. Mr. Archer prattled on. “Rex is really interesting. I haven’t been able to turn him on, however, but the thing of it is, you see, it’s really remarkable you have been able to build him. It is because of him that I chose you. I have a problem, and I need your help. If I told you everything now you would never forgive me-” He paused at knock on the door, and a smartly-dressed maid entered bearing a tray of tea things. “How nice. Thank you.” He dismissed the maid, and continued chattering on. “As I was saying, we can discuss details further, when you are feeling up to it. Just enjoy the tea, Miss Fox.” Mr. Archer poured her a cup of it, and set it on the coffee table between them.
“Where is Rex?”
Mr. Archer paused and set his tea down. “You really miss him, don’t you? I’m afraid that if I tell you, well, I don’t really know what he would do. I would like to keep the bracelet in my possession until this mess is all sorted out.”
“If I don’t give it back to you, what then? What kind of hospitality is this?”
“Do not be angry with me, I am trying to do what is best for everyone.”
“Everyone! Everyone. You mean you. Rex is mine.”
“Please, Miss Fox, allow me the benefit of the doubt. Give me three days, and I promise you, you and Rex will be free to go. I never lie, Miss Fox. Ask the others.”
He was being infuriatingly rational, and she knew it was entirely because they’d set off on the wrong foot. Had they carried out this same conversation in a pub somewhere- which they wouldn’t have, because she would have left him sitting alone after the first sentence- she would have accepted his proposal with less acidity. Besides, he had a letter which revealed that someone knew too much about her. This was either very bad, or, perhaps there was a small chance this someone might know the things she had put into the very corners of her mind, dismissed as irrelevant because, altogether, they were too different, too strange, and too fractured to understand. Lyla had been very small on that day, too small to really know anything, just to remember them.
“Did the person who sent the letter know my parents?”
“Hmm, knew of them, more like.”
“The answer to that may lie in the answer to my question. How much are you willing to listen?”
“The answer to that may lie in the answer to my question. How much are you willing to listen?”
“And I would get Rex back?”
Mr. Archer tipped his head thoughtfully. “We can work something out, I am sure.”
Lyla nodded slowly. “I will listen. I cannot promise that I will help you, but I will listen.”
Mr. Archer put out his hand, and she knew what that meant. Hesitantly, she slid the bracelet back off and placed it onto his palm. He put it away in the drawer again, locked it, and held out his hand again, waiting to shake on it, a wide grin spread across his friendly face. Even his eyes smiled, though Lyla held her hands close to herself. After a second of hesitation, she returned the firm handshake, and slid her sweating palm down her skirt. Had she made a terrible mistake? What was she getting herself into?
Just then there was a tiny ringing sound, a bell chiming from somewhere unseen, and Mr. Archer’s eyes lifted. “Oh, great timing, that. We’ll resume in a few hours?”
Lyla rose at the same time he did, murmuring “Yes, of course, Mr. Archer.”
“Oh, please, call me Simon.” He stepped forward and opened the door for her.
“Yes, Mr. Archer.”
“Simon.” He smiled again.
Lyla walked through the doorway, rolling her eyes after she passed him. What was he at?
Simon shut his door behind him and caught up to her. “Come and greet Angelina with me.”
Lyla peeked at him from the corner of her eyes, her hand encircling her left wrist again, twisting, twisting. Simon’s eyes flitted over her hands, moving in nervous habit, but he said nothing, and stepped ahead of her, leading her around the balcony and down the stairs.