Poppy was never allowed in the kitchens, especially late at night, but then again Poppy was never really one to pay attention to the rules both inside and outside of the estate. At some point the maids had grown used to seeing her wander around the lower floors, telling themselves that as she got older they’d be more strict with her — but each time they saw her wandering around she’d always end up leaving back to her room with handfuls of candies that the staff just ‘happened’ to have laying around.
That was why, this night specifically, she had more of a pep in her step after stealing away in the night in her pajamas to make her way down to the kitchens. She had been put to bed only an hour before and truly did attempt to sleep (at least, that was her story and she would stick to it), but her excitement for the coming day was just too much for her little body to hold.
“Ah-ha,” a voice behind her echoed slightly from the empty hall, “Somehow I knew I should keep an eye out for you, my lady.” The maid that stood there was on the younger side, barely to adulthood, though to Poppy any person older than her may as well be her mothers age. Nettie, the young woman in question, had her arms firmly on her hips and had the attempt of a strict look on her face as she blew a dark curl out of her face. “Come now little one, you can’t be wandering around tonight.”
Poppy shook her head, giving her a faux confused look that Nettie wasn’t buying — just as Poppy wasn’t buying the scolding look on hers. The maids always gave Poppy what she wanted after all, even if they kicked up a bit of a fuss first.
“Oh please,” Nettie said grabbing Poppy’s hand and leading her away from the kitchens, “You can’t imagine I’d let you ruin what the cooks have in store for your birthday, poor Mrs. Griffiths has been working herself to the bone and you’re going to give her a proper reaction — oh, don’t you look at me like that.”
Like what? Poppy would have said if she could. Instead she continued to look up at Nettie as if she were holding back tears — sniffling for good measure. Nettie hesitated for just the slightest of moments, almost letting go of her hand and setting her free to snoop around the kitchens again.
No, Nettie! She urged herself. Mrs. Griffiths was so excited we must be strong! The rest of the maid staff had given her the task to keep an eye out for the little troublemaker — little miss, she corrected herself — as she was the one most immune to her pleading looks and crocodile tears. Not that immune to it, she had whined, but she would still do her best.
Nettie knelt down to meet Poppy’s eyes, placing her hands on her shoulders. “Listen, little miss, I understand the excitement before a birthday lord above knows I’ve gone through enough of my own. But trust me the excitement that comes from waking and discovering a world of surprises is sweeter than any cake —“
It was then that Poppy ducked under the arms of the maid, running off in the opposite direction indignantly. After an angry exclamation that a child likely should not have heard, Nettie was able to quickly catch the girl who let out a bit of a shriek and a meek, “No!” at being caught. Nettie, who had five younger siblings thought nothing of it, carrying her in her arms toward the stairs that separated the servants area and the finer parts of estate.
“Now then, back to bed and if you promise me you won’t try and come back down,” she handed the girl a piece of candy, one she had been told was a favorite of the young miss, and gave her a playful wink, “I will give you two more after dinner tomorrow?”
Poppy thought for a second, weighing her options. It seemed that three candies were better than just one so she gave Nettie a strong nod and turned back to run down the hallway.
Nettie, quite pleased with herself, had walked almost the whole way to the kitchen before she had realized — had she imagined the young miss yelling ‘no’ as she grabbed her? The same young miss who had been mute since her birth?
It only took a few moments for her to convince herself she had imagined it, and a few moments more for her to forget it entirely.
True to her word, or lack there of, Poppy went straight back to her room and though restless was able to simmer her excitement down just enough to get enough sleep to not wake up grumpy. Caroline was thankful to be able to get the young miss dressed and ready for her day without much fuss.
Poppy, being eight years old, did not have many friends but there were certainly many guests to be seen — every noble that had even the tiniest connection to the Brookewoods was in attendance. They sprawled through the garden that Poppy normally called her own haven, but given the promise of presents and cake she could make the sacrifice for a day.
She had been reminded the entirety of the day before by the maids to be on her best behavior and so she curtsied to every noble that greeted her, giving a smile in response to any question that usually granted a curious look or sometimes even ones of offense. Still, the luncheon went on without much of an incident and soon it was time for presents to be opened — Poppy never knew if the gifts or the cake were her favorite part of her birthday, but it seemed cruel to ask a child to choose between the two and thankfully for her no one ever did.
The guests had gathered around a large table roughly near the center of the garden, piled high with presents of every size. Despite the fact the guests were there for her, they generally seemed to avoid her. Poppy tried not to let it get to her, she knew she was not like the other children the fact that even adults didn’t like being around her was all the reminder that she needed.
Nonetheless Poppy was an eight year old girl, and no eight year old should be expected to retain the level of maturity needed to deal with those unable to handle someone different for long. Her mood had soured before the presents had even started to be unwrapped, and the fact that most them seemed more for her parents than for her did not help.
It was her birthday, couldn’t she enjoy today of all days?
Throughout the rest of the gathering, Poppy’s mood only worsened as the adults seemed to mutter and murmur amongst each other, she couldn’t catch every word of course but the ones she expected were always there and with each one she caught she only felt more disheartened.
So when the presents were all collected, the sun was setting, and the guests were filing out, she was quite moody. Which, for an eight year old was rather moody indeed. When Caroline tried to usher the girl back into the estate to look through the gifts she had received Poppy ripped her hand away and stomped her feet.
“Penelope!” The stern yell took her by surprise as she very rarely ever heard her father yell and never at her, and certainly never her given name. The drink he had been holding splashed over the glass as he slammed it down. She stood with shock as her father stared her down, “you will listen to Caroline and get inside.”
Poppy, who had been yelled at so rarely in her in her short life, wanted to listen to her father and so took two steps before she started to cry. Her sobs racked her tiny body while she tried to waddle forward, until Caroline hurriedly picked her up and took her past the threshold, leaving Hector Brookewood alone in the garden.
Hector had spent the day and evening answering questions about her daughters affliction, dodging the thinly veiled insults from other nobles below his station, with his own wife carrying on as if nothing were wrong when everything felt wrong.
Poppy was eight years old now and far past the age of being able to excuse her muteness, though he was still forced to do so. He did feel near immediate regret seeing his daughter begin to cry, but was thankful that she had been taken inside so his temper wouldn’t get even shorter with her. He knew it wasn’t her fault — unlike Cordelia and himself she was clueless, and he was ashamed to say he was envious of that.
Perhaps if he truly thought his daughter was unable to speak, he would be more angry at those who insulted her or belittled her; Perhaps if he hadn’t heard her cry out words of fear during the night terrors that plagued them all in her youngest years, he wouldn’t have felt at fault for the events that came after. Perhaps if he were left in the dark he wouldn’t feel so guilty acting as though he were the one suffering and not his daughter. He began to sip again at the drink he had been nursing most of the night.
“Hector Brookewood you better have a good reason for the state of your daughter!” Cordelia nearly growled at her husband, a firm look on her face as she scolded him — her gray eyes narrowed and looking straight into his own green, something that after all these years still managed to make his breath stop at their beauty.
He had a mind to snap back at her, frustrated as he was, but didn’t want to lose his temper at two people who did not deserve it in one night. He already had so many regrets. Instead he steadied himself with a breath or two, “Did we truly do the right thing, my love? Was there no other way?”
A sad understanding came to her expression as Cordelia moved to kiss Hector’s palm, closing her eyes as if in pain at the thought of the alternatives. “Every year that passes I feel more and more at fault,” she whispered, “In truth none of this would have ever happened if…”
Hector placed a finger over her mouth, “hush my love, my life. I am just at fault as you are.”
The smile on her face said that she didn’t agree, but took the argument no farther. “Come, inside. You have a gift to give.”
Poppy sat sniffling while holding the teddy bear that had been given to her by her late grandmother before she had even been born. It was one of the only things that could stop her from crying once she had started, so Caroline had wasted no time asking Nettie to fetch it from her play room.
When Nettie had handed the bear over, even through her tears Poppy had gazed up at her with a serious look — it took Nettie several moments to realize that the young girl intended to collect on her earlier debt. With a laugh, she had handed the girl two sweet candies and wished her well on her big day.
The lord and lady entered shortly after, the lady with a far more serene look on her face than she had had when she had exited the room minutes earlier. It was a shock to no one, as the two seemed incapable of keeping an argument going from more than a day or two. Poppy, however, turned sharply away from the two with a grumpy pout — an action that should have filled Hector with more guilt but with the two candies that were stuffed into the young girls cheeks he couldn’t help but laugh as she resembled more an angry chipmunk than a wronged child.
“My sweet daughter,” Hector knelt in front of her, spreading his arms out as if to ask for a hug. “I am sorry for yelling at you. It was not right of me, and I thank you for behaving so well today.” With another sniff, Poppy peeked over at her father with the intention of not giving up her anger but was unable to do so for long. She jumped from her place and ran into her fathers arms, crying for another few minutes while her mother stroked her hair and told her it was all alright.
Poppy wished she could tell her father what she was thinking — what she knew, that he was ashamed of her and that he wanted little to do with her because of it. Her faults were the reason why he had snapped at her, like a kettle that had been steadily boiling until the shrill whistling began. She wanted to apologize for not being enough, but the closest she was able to get to was covering her fathers waistcoat in tears, snot and drool.
When the two were able to calm their daughter down, the two parents both presented the young girl with two finely wrapped parcels that looked wrapped with so much more care than the ones the guests had presented through the day. Poppy looked at them both, tearing up for a different reason as truthfully she had noticed the absence of gifts from them earlier and had worried they were finally tired of her.
She took the closest one first, her mothers, silver paper and golden bow such a pretty combination that anyone would feel it a shame to damage the wrapping — Eight year olds, however, don’t tend to feel that way and so Poppy ripped into the paper with zeal only to find herself hesitating to open the box underneath. She looked up once at her mother’s excited face and then opened it, finding inside a pair of shining red shoes with a small string of peals on the side of them, far more fancy than any pair she currently had — big girl shoes! She thought to herself, glad that her mother was acknowledging that she was nearly an adult herself.
Poppy gave her mother a hug and a kiss, noticing with glee that her mother was wearing a pair of heels that matched the ones she had just been given. She gave her an extra kiss and then reached for her father’s present which was wrapped in a bright blue wrapping.
Inside was a small wooden box, smooth and carved intricately along the sides with knotted designs and small embedded jewels. The way it glimmered in the light of the chandelier mesmerized Poppy as she turned it in her hands several times before her father urged her to open it. Giddily, she opened it and gasped as slow, mysterious music began to sound from it and two carved figures of faeries twirled in the middle of it. She looked up at her father in awe and back at the box several times — the previous yelling now entirely forgotten, the young girl wrapped her arms around her fathers legs where he sat. The two parents laughed and Hector lifted his daughter to his lap and her mother began to hum along with the music box as she sat beside them.
It wasn’t long before Poppy began to slowly doze off, her grip on the music box loosening enough that her mother took the box from her to close it. That was the sign that it was time to hand the girl over to the maids to put her to bed.
When they were alone, Cordelia turned to Hector with a look of worry. "I don't know that I can stall a visit much longer," it was almost a whisper for fear of her husbands reaction.
Hector watched as the maids carried his daughter up the stairs, knowing the future of his estate and everything and his wife had worked towards rested with her. "Together," he said with a swallow that tied his stomach in knots. "Tomorrow, we'll go together."