It was curious. Even when she was quite the little girl, she had thought how very green her grandmother’s eyes were. They were a strange, unusual shade, sort of dark green but with a clarity and clearness that, in later years, she’d rarely run across in any other person of her acquaintance.
Back then, when she was around eight years old, her grandfather was still alive, but her memories of him were unclear. The truth was he rarely spent time in the company of his first grandchild. But whatever his neglect might have been, his wife made up for it ten-fold.
In those early years, when her parents first separated, she spent more time on Freret Street than at her own house. It had always felt more like home to her than the number of domiciles she and her mother frequented over the years.
But there was one particular day, one very memorable day, that she most treasured. It was wintertime, close to Christmas, because the fireplace downstairs was lit, and a huge white Christmas tree was sitting in that very large room. It was late at night, and she and her grandmother sat in front of the tree, sipping nearly bitter cups of hot chocolate. They had that in common. They liked their sweets laced with a tinge of bitterness.
Mika didn’t know where her mother was, only that she was absent, and that seemed par for the course, even at her young age. “Are you tired?” The lady with the dark green eyes asked her quietly. Her grandmother was dressed in a long black, plush robe with white lace. They had turned out all the lamps in the room, so they sat with the fireplace and the Christmas tree lights being the only illumination. At that moment, Mika remembered thinking her grandmother might have stepped out of some fairytale they were so fond of reading together — not as a princess but as some sort of enchantress. She always thought of her grandmother as beautiful, even as she aged.
She shook her head and sipped her chocolate, dodging a few disintegrating marshmallows in the process. “No,” was all she said.
And then her enchantress smiled in a conspiratorial way and whispered back. “Would you like to see a secret?”
The question didn’t surprise her much. Her grandmother was fond of secrets and did like to play. Again, she nodded back to her, saying nothing further. Back then, she was a child of few words. But then again, her grandmother seemed quite in tune with the content of whatever words she did deem to mutter. Perhaps, it was a streak of obstinacy on Mika’s part, a small protest of hers against the unfair turns her life had already taken, but between them, there was an understanding. And maybe that was indeed all she needed, one who understood. Again, a whisper, “Finish your chocolate, and then I’ll take you upstairs.” Her grandmother leaned back in the tapestry-covered, winged-back chair she was sitting in, looking quite pleased. “Dominque, there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to.”
Her grandmother occupied a suite of rooms on the second floor. Her grandfather had rooms elsewhere. Mika never thought to ask about the arrangements. At that point in her young life, the idea of normalcy concerning anything was more than a bit skewed. As she got older, there wasn’t much improvement.
She followed her grandmother up the rather grand, dark wooden staircase. Her pink, furry slippers slid along the highly waxed texture of the enormous surfaces. She’d measured them once. The length of two of her feet could fit on a single stair. But granted, at that age, her feet were somewhat small. She tugged on her grandmother’s sleeve, suddenly feeling a little unnerved rather than excited by the mysteriousness of it all. “Who are we going to meet? Are they upstairs?”
She glanced back at her, smiling, “Patience, you must remember to savor life’s surprises, my dear. Before you know it, they’ll all be used up. You only get so many in a lifetime.”
She remembered being struck by the elderly woman’s sadness just then. And it was unusual. Her grandmother wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself. She was always busy with one thing or another. And if there wasn’t something to do, she created it, like their adventure tonight. Mika had a sneaking suspicion all of this was a spur-of-the-moment creation by her enchantress to amuse her, but she didn’t care. She was game. And they were comrades in the storm while the madness of the outside world flew by them.
They paused on the landing, just in front of her grandmother’s rooms. Mika waited and then finally inquired, “Is it in your bedroom?”
She shook her head, “No, it’s in another place. A small room I’ve never taken you to before. I wanted to wait until you were old enough. “
Silently, they traveled down the hallway past the large doors to the suite and stopped in front of a smaller door at the end of the hall. Mika was sure she’d passed it before, but it was so nondescript, just an ordinary, white wooden door. No doubt, she had assumed it was a closet. There seemed to be nothing special about it. The house was full of them.
Again, they paused, probably a bit longer than was merited. So, she asked, having the forthrightness of a child that had yet to learn the world’s subtlety. “What sort of room is it?”
Her grandmother’s fingertips lightly brushed the doorknob, but then she dropped her hand, seemingly indecisive. “It’s my special place. I keep it just for myself, but I think you would appreciate it.”
Mika looked up at her quite solemnly as she remembered and answered, “I’m sure I will.”
Quietly, her grandmother reached up and opened the door. The entrance was relatively narrow, but she gently pushed Mika forward. At first, it was impossible to see, and her foot slammed into something. Behind her, her grandmother put a hand on her shoulder. “There’s two steps inward. Be careful.” They were steep steps. Mika took them awkwardly and then gratefully found herself on flatter ground. She heard the door being swung shut behind them. And then another whisper, “Are you ready for one of your life’s surprises?”
She nodded, just now very anxious to get out of the darkness. She heard a lamp on the wall switch on as the room suddenly was illuminated by a soft light. It took a moment, or maybe a few, to focus on everything she saw. There was an old-fashioned, apothecary-looking desk against the wall, and across from it, bookshelves with volumes and ornaments, as well as lovely small porcelain statues. Then across the little room was a great bay window that was just streaming in the slightest bit of moonlight. Beneath it was a velvet window seat with plush, lovely, soft pillows. In the first moments, as she took it in, all of it felt so comforting, cared for, and special. “This is a beautiful room,” she whispered, genuinely enchanted. “You must love having this room.”
And then, quite calmly, her grandmother said, “This is not my room. I made it for her.”
She smoothly gestured with her hand in a way that reminded Mika again of the enchantress casting a spell. She pointed behind Mika’s back, making her realize that there was one wall of the room that she’d failed to examine. She turned around slowly and then just stopped. “You see, my dearest. This room is for the Lady in the Blue Dress.”
Mika didn’t remember if she gasped. Her heart must have skipped a few beats because she saw something within that ornate golden frame that her grandmother saw as well — something so special and unique only to them. Later, it would become clear to her that not everyone shared their passion for this painting. Some only saw it as a commodity, her mother a prime example. But she and her grandmother saw something well beyond that. They saw magic.
Copyright © 2022 by Evelyn Klebert
When she was a child, Mika Devalieur was introduced to her grandmother’s most precious possession — a priceless and mysterious painting that she simply called The Lady in the Blue Dress. Upon Adele St. Clair’s death, the painting is left in the care of her granddaughter with only one stipulation. Mika must hand over the family heirloom to a total stranger. Mika Devalieur desperately wants to deny her beloved grandmother’s last request, but she can’t. Torn between her Gran’s last wishes and her desire to hold onto the Lady, she ultimately journeys to rural Virginia, where an enigmatic man shows her that this painting is only the beginning.
What quickly becomes clear is that James Clairmont knows much more about her and the Lady than he is letting on. He begins to slowly unravel a powerful supernatural connection that spans three generations of her family. Mika finds herself desperate to uncover the entire truth before she falls in love with a man filled with so many secrets — secrets about him, about her, and most especially about The Lady in the Blue Dress. (First published on Kindle Vella, episodes 1-23.)