Soon after writing my minific Reunion, this short story formed in my head. I hope you like it as much as my other stories. If you do, please let me know. I’d like to hear from you. 🙂
— Ms Puddle
No words… in fact, nobody, including myself, can describe the extent of my great relief. When I thought today was just another ordinary day in summer, he appeared out of nowhere this late afternoon.
Sir Ardlay, your precious son is actually alive and well!! Who could have thought that God has kept him in Chicago all these months.
Not only that, he’s like a totally different person. For a big change, no more sunglasses, unkempt hair or any disguise that shrouds his features. Unfortunately, his unruly hair, black shirt and casual pants made my secretary highly suspicious of his intentions, in spite of his cleanly shaven face. She flatly refused to let him see me without an appointment.
Now that I think about it, I’m more than grateful that I wasn’t working inside my office then, and I happened to have forgotten an important document for a meeting, which rarely occurs. If not, I could have missed him. Who can predict when he would feel like showing up again?
Anyway, on the way back to my office from the meeting room, when I overheard a question, “May I leave a message for Mr. Villers then?”, I felt like my head had been struck by a hammer. This young man with short blond hair, whose back was facing me, had the most familiar voice I’d ever known. Although he had broader shoulders and more sinewy arms than the man I remembered, hope began to rise in me at a rapid rate, and my heart raced so badly that its beat roared in my ears. Before I knew it, an uncertain murmur emerged from my mouth, “Sir?”
To my chagrin, my voice cracked as though I could hardly control my feelings. Yet, I couldn’t help bringing myself closer to him. I must admit I could barely wait to find out if this unexpected encounter signified the end of my agonized search all over the world.
The suspense didn’t last long; he flinched at the sound of my voice, like he was just as shocked. Within seconds, he whirled around with both his hands stretched towards mine and blurted out, “Georges!”
As our gaze met, for a long moment neither of us could speak. He was scrutinizing me as carefully as I was scrutinizing him. If Anthony had survived the accident, he would have grown to be a duplicate of his uncle now, but would Anthony have such an athletic build?
Minutes later, his serious features broke into a smile of mingled joy and regret. I even caught a glint of moisture in his blue eyes. In fact, I was not any better; as I endured the onslaught of emotions that threatened to overtake me, the sting of tears burnt the back of my eyes and a lump lodged in my throat. For Heaven’s sake, the only son of my benefactor had been missing for more than two years. The panic that I had experienced when he, as a teenager, had escaped from the Lakewood villa out of frustration, was nothing when compared to the dreadful reality I had to face every day ever since I had lost track of his whereabouts in Kenya.
“It’s been a while,” his mutter shattered the awkward silence at last, giving me an eager handshake. By then I had composed myself and decided to reschedule the meeting. My secretary, Mrs. Thompson, frowning and eyeing my visitor once more before asking incredulously, “Mr. Villers, are you su-”
I cut her off by waving my hand and nodding emphatically, striving to contain my impatience. Nothing could be more urgent than catching up with Master William. Now that he had returned safe and sound, I had lots to do.
While I was talking to her, she kept casting doubtful glances at the young man behind me. Hence, he put a hand on my shoulder and raised a valid question, “Georges, aren’t you going to introduce me?”
It caught me off guard nonetheless. I’ve grown accustomed to keeping his identity a secret all these years, and without a direct order from him, I would always keep my mouth shut.
Thus, at my nonplussed demeanor, he gave me a nod of approval. However, how much could I tell? My old secretary, who had recently retired, had never met him in person, and this Mrs. Thompson was a new hire.
In response to my hesitance, my master stepped up and introduced himself, “My name is William A. Ardlay. Nice to meet you.”
At the sound of this solemn name, her jaw dropped, and color drained from her cheeks. She froze for one long second before drawing a sharp intake of breath. Only then she remembered her manners and covered her mouth with her hand.
She probably was unaware that I was taken aback as well. Today was full of surprises indeed, and yet I managed to hide my bewilderment and introduce her to my boss. All the while she was unable to respond verbally, so I cast her an understanding nod and directed my attention back to Master William. After sharing a knowing look with him that said, ‘yes, what do you expect?’, I led him to my office without delay.
While making sure that the door was securely locked, Miss Candice’s sparkling emerald orbs unexpectedly resurfaced in my mind. It’s a shame that I have unintentionally neglected her for many months. In fact, she had long stopped writing to Granduncle William for unknown reason. If not I’d learned from Master Archie lately that she had actually left the hospital for some time, I wouldn’t have found out.
If my boss was to ask me about her, what was I supposed to tell him? That I had devoted all my time and energy attempting to track him down, so much so that I had inadvertently forgotten about his adoptive daughter?
At this very moment, mortification suffused me. The mere thought that I had no idea where she was and what she was doing for a living embarrassed me beyond words. Just then, my master remained standing and spoke up, “Georges, I don’t plan to stay long today; my friend is expecting me home.”
“Friend? Home?” I echoed as though I heard something wrong.
He nodded. “Yes, my friend. We have been roommates not long after I returned to Chicago two years ago.”
My eyes must have doubled in size that he heaved a heavy sigh, his lips curling up into an apologetic smile. Then he began, “Georges, I owe you a detailed explanation. Long story short, I lost all my memory after an accident in Italy. Was transferred back to this city and treated in hospital for some time. There I met a friend who recognized me and gave me a name. Before long, I moved out with this friend…”
He went on, making it very brief and to the point. According to him, his memory had just returned yesterday. Then he wrapped up, “I’m ready to resume my role in my family, but please don’t tell my aunt anything yet. I’ll pay her a visit either tomorrow or the day after. She must have been worried sick, and it’s best for her to see me in person when I break the news to her that I have been hospitalized for weeks.”
“Sir,” I nodded in agreement but quickly followed up. “Are you saying you’re not going home… today?”
I emphasized the word “home” because undoubtedly this word had another meaning to him now.
As expected, he slowly shook his head. With a sheepish grin on his face, he produced a slip from his pocket. “Here, this is my current address. Please come and pick me up tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. Also, bring me a suit.”
Suit? Doesn’t he always hate formal business attires? What’s happened to Master William?
Nevertheless, I acknowledged by nodding. Then he turned on his heel, ready to leave, but I worked up my courage to stop him. “Sir William, please forgive me for asking. What’s this strong smell of antiseptic? Are you injured by any chance?”
Upon hearing my inquiry, his cheeks grew pale. He just stared at me, speechless, and yet his inscrutable countenance gave little away. “Nothing can escape you, my loyal assistant,” he responded after a couple of seconds of silence, choosing his words cautiously. “Yes… this afternoon, but I’ve been taken care of. You need not worry.”
He was determined not to relate it to me, so I didn’t push him either. Yet, I offered to give him a ride home. While he hesitated, I reasoned, “Because I’d like to meet your friend. We should thank him and reward-”
While I was still talking, he threw his head back and guffawed in a booming voice. Later, he stifled his laughter, regaining his composure, and said, “Sure. I’ll arrange… when she’s ready.”
“What?” I exclaimed, aghast. “I beg your pardon?” He has been living with a woman all this time?
Regrettably, my flabbergasted reaction didn’t affect him whatsoever this time. Rather than answering me, he turned down my kindness. “I’ll fill you in when I have a chance, Georges. I’d better get going. She has no idea I have come here, and it’s getting dark. She might be upset… who knows?”
As he chuckled afterwards, I had a strong feeling that he didn’t want me to meet his lady friend yet. When I accompanied him out of my office, my secretary swiftly stood up from her chair and bowed low, earnestly apologizing for her condescending attitude earlier. As she straightened up, Master William simply shrugged his shoulders and remarked, flashing her a smile of reassurance, “No worries, Mrs. Thompson. Believe me, I’ve seen much, much worse.”
Then he turned towards me, shaking my hand, “Have a good evening, Georges. See you tomorrow.”
Only after he was gone did I read the slip he had given me. On the front he had written, “I didn’t mean to have disappeared for so long. My sincere apology.” On the back it was his address.
He still comes and goes like the wind, but I know where to find him, at least for the next little while. Relief washes over me because he’s in one piece, despite somehow injured, and didn’t ask anything about Miss Candice at all. It’s as if I was given a second chance. I should have ample time to catch up if I can get ahold of Master Archie at the mansion tonight.
For the time being, I have returned to my office to cancel all the searches in major European cities and Kenya. While writing detailed instructions for my secretary to send a dozen telegrams for this purpose, I can’t help but wonder about my master’s roommate.
Apparently, he’d rather stay with her in the outskirts of Chicago. But why? Who’s this lady? How and where did she meet him before his accident? What’s her age? Is she single? Perhaps she’s an old lady without a family? Or a young widow with no children? Or a coworker back in the Blue River Zoo in London?
Come to think of it, the looks in my master’s eyes can’t lie; he seemed content, like he was finally at peace with himself. More importantly, the fact that he was willing to introduce himself to a stranger using his full name implies that he was at ease with his destiny, something which he has tried to escape all his life.
Have I seen him this happy and upbeat before? Perhaps the last time was Rosemary’s wedding. Was it really that long ago?
Thinking about Rosemary, the way Master William’s eyes lit up when he mentioned his friend reminds me of a man in love, like Vincent. Besides, tenderness was evident in his voice as he spoke of her. Above all, he did use the word “roommate”, so does that mean they have been sharing the same bedroom?
Presently, something dawns on me. Can it be… Master William is married to her?
I laugh at myself. This is ridiculous. If they’re married, he would have addressed her as “my wife” instead of “my friend”. Yet, seriously, what’s the nature of their relationship?
For sure she’s someone who cares about him a lot, and if possible, he doesn’t want to upset her. That’s all I know because he was extremely secretive about her, if not somewhat defensive, and he was quite reluctant to talk more than necessary. Clearly, he no longer regards me as his confidant. I surmise I have to glean information from him by taking things slow. If something is meant to be, it will fall into place. I should not rush.
Thanks to my friend Yue Chan on Twitter. She confirmed that William A. Ardlay’s assistant’s name in Candy Candy Final Story (CCFS) is Georges Villers.
This short story is mainly based on the manga version but mixed with CCFS, in which Pouppe passed away and Albert had been living with Candy as brother and sister for at least two years.
If you remember the lion attack in the manga, Albert’s white shirt was ruined by the lion’s claws. This story took place after the attack but before he came home and found Candy crying for Terry in the dark. Albert was dressed in black then.