8. They find themselves deceived.
“Kenneth, how good to see you! Come right on in, Phillip will be with us in a moment.” Suzanne ushered him in and he was surprised to find himself not the only visitor of the evening. Of course, the doctor and his wife had risen in popularity since Gloria’s death, but he didn’t expect such a blatant display.
He tried not to be miserable as every pair of eyes scrutinized him as he found a seat in the corner. They expected him to be miserable and to look as bad as he did. Otherwise, what would there be to talk about? A bitter taste rose in his throat.
“Kenneth, Suzanne told me you were here.” Phillip greeted as he pulled a chair close.
“I’m surprised you could find me amidst your guests. It’s quite the party in here.” He tried to take the hard edge out of his voice and the criticism.
“Yes, Suzanne has come to enjoy the…company.” The look on his face said that the good doctor would rather not have so many underfoot.
“And you, the business, no? What a profit that wolfsbane has made you.”
“Well, there is no true price of protection, is there. If you would like, I have just a bit left.”
“No, it’s too late for me.”
“Kenneth, would you like a drink?” Suzanne asked, the gracious hostess.
“Something to put fur on my chin,” he replied, then laughed dryly. He had stopped shaving since Gloria’s death. Since her killing. Suzanne smiled at him but gave her husband a worried look as if to say, ‘Don’t let him get out of hand’. Wouldn’t her guests, her gossiping hens, just love that, though? “I must be crazy to decline, am I right? I’m probably the only one to turn you down.”
“Not the only one. In fact, George turned me down flat the other day. Said there was no such things as werewolves. But you and I know different, don’t we?”
Kenneth gave him a hard look. Phillip wanted to bite his tongue. Is that any kind of way to speak to a grieving man? Especially Kenneth. He’d been a wild, wandering and fiery youth, finally tamed only by Gloria. Without Gloria, Kenneth was apt to explode. He decided to take a different vein. “And Bishop, now that’s a hard-headed man. Very shady, too. Very shady. I mean, the man has no family, no friends. What’s he really doing in this village?”
Phillip leaned in to Kenneth, as if everyone hadn’t heard this from him already, “I’m saying that if it was anyone who was a –you know- it would be him. It makes sense.”
“Here you go,” Suzanne interrupted.
“To what separates men from beasts,” Kenneth toasted to no one and downed the drink.
Phillip chuckled unsurely. “Did you hear about Withers? That poor woman.”
“I heard. Who hadn’t? What do you think did her in? Your professional opinion, doctor.”
“Age, I’d say. Stress. But the girl was a surprise.”
“Aye, I’d heard there’d been a wee girl kept prisoner. Can you imagine that- kept locked in with Withers?” They both laughed. “Kind of killed her credibility, so to speak, didn’t that?”
“Yes, it did.” Phillip frowned as if remembering something unpleasant. “But now that’s passed and I hear that the girl is doing quite well.”
“The girl?” Suzanne interrupted. “Yes, she’s living with Sarah’s red-haired girl, Savannah. What an…odd pair they make. I’ve heard that they’ve been seen at all hours of the day, wandering through fields and woods. Picking plants and things.”
“Considering that the girl had never been outside, I’d say that was normal.” Kenneth said.
“Normal?” Suzanne scoffed. “Holding hands and dancing in circles with flowers in their hair, normal? I don’t think so. The girl should have stayed with us.”
“The girl didn’t want to be with us,” Phillip softly reminded her. He’d had to remind her of more and more things since all of the attention.
“Well, I don’t care what charm Savannah has over the girl, that child would be safer here. You know what they say about red-haired women,” she said confidingly.
“That they were born that way? That they’re part Irish?” Kenneth offered.
“No. That they’re potion-brewers and enchantresses.”
“Nothing like our doctor here, then, mixer of medicines.” Kenneth countered sarcastically. “You’re no better than Old Woman Withers, screaming nonsense,” he growled. Suzanne backed away fearfully.
“Watch your tongue, Suzanne,” Phillip warned. “You let it get away with too much. Forgive her, Kenneth. We’re just a couple of old people trying to make it through.”
“You seem to be ‘making it through’ just fine. Care to sell me some wolfsbane? Care to trade me some lies?” He directed towards Phillip, the latter towards Suzanne. He stood suddenly. “Phillip, you have changed. Your house is now a den of lies and gossip, a breeding ground for dangerous thoughts. You ought to watch yourself.”
Phillip stood and placed a hand on Kenneth’s shoulder. “It is you who have changed. Think of that.”
Kenneth gave him a weary look and his eyes were still haunted by grief and guilt. He put a hand on Phillip’s shoulder and left.