Elsie hadn’t experienced friendship of the likes of Tilly Eveans and Fiona O’Donnell for quite some time. When she convinced the professor to let her board the Rosanne, she never imagined she would find herself at a table with two friends playing poker, with music in the background, while drinking expensive brandy, and eating peanuts and watermelon. Put simply, Elsie lived a good life back in Victoria City, but she hadn’t had this much fun in ages.
They spent most of the night talking, and they did their best to avoid talking about anything related to the investigation, in fact, they made a game out of it. They talked about everything from makeup to their favourite books. For instance, Doctor O’Donnell got around to telling the story of how she came to teach medicine at Victoria University. “Those old professors never want to admit it, but I’m the best damn doctor that university has ever seen, and I only just turned thirty! As you ought to know, I obtained my job thanks to Robert, well I was already a doctor when I lived in Warren City but that was no challenge. Warren City has always had a bad name because of the lower levels, but I’ll never deny that there is something truly beautiful about that place, you just have to look for it.”
“Have you ever been to Warren City, Elsie?” Tilly asked.
“Well, no, but I’ve always wanted to go. It sounds like a very intriguing place; the City of Blue Lights, you know?”
“Indeed,” said Doctor O’Donnell, “oh how I remember the blue lights! There was this place with restaurants and this spectacular fountain that bubbled like champagne in the moonlight, very romantic it was, I’ll have to show you some time if we ever go there.”
Then Tilly stood up and moved away from the table, saying, “Speaking of champagne…” she fished around for a moment and then produced a bottle. “Shall we?”
Elsie smiled at Fiona. “Courtesy of the professor,” she mentioned. “He was very generous in the funding of Tilly’s ‘special supplies’.”
Tilly sat down in the chair, took a small bite of watermelon, and then poured them all a drink. “I do believe if we keep up this games night tradition I might very well develop a drinking habit. Imagine if my parents saw me now!”
“They might grovel at Fiona for being a bad influence,” Elsie said. “Shall we make a toast?”
“To what?” Fiona asked.
Then Tilly raised her glass and said, “Since we are also celebrating tonight in remembrance of my dearly beloved sister, I’d like to toast for her. To Cecily!”
A small, graceful smile touched Tilly’s lips as she drank. Elsie could see the gratitude in her eyes, the way she savoured her drinks and cherished every laugh, and smiled at every little thing. Elsie tried to imagine how she must have been feeling, to lose someone she loved so much would have been devastating. It would be as though Elsie had lost Jack forever. She liked that about Tilly – her strength was phenomenal. “Were you close?” she asked. “To Cecily?”
Tilly smiled and stared into her drink. “Closer than ever. She was my sister, you know, my best friend, my companion – we did everything together. But, really, she was kind of all I had. Um… after she passed away things started getting bad. Her death wasn’t tragic or anything, she was sick, you see. She spent her last few months in and out of hospital, but the doctors said that in the end there was nothing they’d be able to do. Their technology wasn’t advanced enough, they said. So we decided to make the most of the time we had left, and I swear I didn’t leave her side to the very end. We went fishing, and we ate lots of candy and stayed up late every night taking walks of the beach or staring up at the stars. One day we were in a park when she suddenly collapsed, and I thought she was gone, but it turns out she had fallen into some sort of coma. The doctors were able to keep her alive for a while but they didn’t know how long she’d last. After that I visited her every day and read to her, and I know she could hear me because she smiled as she slept, until, well, it had to happen eventually.” Her eyes began to shimmer. “In that moment I cried more tears than I knew I had. I had been bottling up all this despair and heartache for months, and then I just let it all go. After Cess died I started to lose my way a little, and I did some things that I’m not exactly proud of, but after a while I took up my old job as a mechanic and I worked just to keep my head clear. You know, Elsie, you remind me of her. I think you two would have been great friends.”
Elsie smiled, and Tilly – promising not to be grim on her Cecily’s birthday – started to sing, and not a moment later did Fiona join in. They played and drank and sang long into the night.ns 184.108.40.206da2