“You were right when you said I was better off not remembering the confrontation with Hazard,” Dorian said to Brietta that evening. “All I recall is that point in time just before I was knocked senseless- just an infinitesimal slice of what must have happened that night; talk about seeing stars... it was quite a kaleidoscope.”
Brietta, remembering the sparkle of the tear-splattered diamond, thought she could visualize that moment. She patted Dorian’s hoof. “At least it verifies for the police the pony for whom they are searching.” She moved her hoof to his cheek and caressed his face.
Dorian, looking into her eyes, felt like a complete blockhead. Why can’t I respond to this mare? he asked himself. It’s as if... as if I can’t love her. He knew that she expected more from him than he could give, and why could he not give it? Maybe if...
He reached up and slipped his hoof into her mane and drew her head down to meet his, delivering an experienced kiss; but he knew as well as the mare that his heart was not in it. Brietta drew back.
“Dr. Keane said you might have buried your memories of me to protect me from Hazard.”
“Yes. She shared that with me as well.”
There was silence for a moment before Brietta spoke. “Maybe when you’re able to leave the hospital and are back... well, I was thinking... we have plenty of room at Whitehall Place; and my mother and Anna would both be able to see to your needs during the day, so you’d have someone looking out for you until you’re able to manage on your own...” She broke off, realizing that she was pushing too hard.
Dorian, however, took it in stride. “That’s a very thoughtful idea,” he agreed. “But let’s wait and see how much care I need when I’m released; I can’t help but think that it’d be better for me to settle in my own apartment- the physical surroundings might jostle my memory.”
“There is that,” Brietta conceded. “It’s just that I’d like to see you well taken care of.”
“Tell me about Whitehall Place,” Dorian suggested.
“It’s big and old, very grand and gracious. It was one of the first homes built around here and has endured generations of Mannings.”
Dorian closed his eyes, trying to visualize the edifice. “Stone or brick?” he queried.
“Pale stone; it’s three stories high and has a bell tower.”
“A bell tower? That’s unusual for a house.”
“Whitehall Place was the center of activity until the town began to take shape; the bells called the ponies to meetings, let them know of important news, and alerted them to any urgent problems.” She grimaced. “Of course, Grandfather hasn’t allowed the bells to ring of late.”
“And why not?”
“In his lifetime, the bells had taken on the function of heralding the happy occurrences of the Manning family. They rang at his birth, at his marriage, and at the birth of his son. But when his beloved wife died when Father was still a foal, Conrad put an end to the ringing of the bells. He said that with Grandmother’s death, there could be no more room for joyful celebration.”
“Not even at your birth?”
“Nope; and he refused to consider ringing them for our wedding.”
Dorian studied her face. “Our wedding...” he echoed. “Are plans going ahead for that?”
“As Mother says, we have to be ready for any contingency,” Brietta smiled but her eyes clouded. “I have to hang on to the hope that you will remember.”
“I’m trying; honestly, I am.”
“I know.” She had to stifle a great desire to weep. “It’s all so unfair. We were so happy about our life together, so full of plans. I miss you, Dorian.” Unbidden tears finally escaped and trickled down her cheeks.
“What were our plans?” he asked softly, drying the tears with his hoof.
“Immediate plans encompassed our honeymoon, of course; we have reservations at a seaside resort- you were set on teaching me to fish big-time.” A grin surfaced momentarily.
“Sounds like fun. What else?”
“The third floor of Whitehall Place is continuing to be remodeled in anticipation of our living there.”
Dorian arched an eyebrow. “Explain.”
“We decided- after Grandfather expressed a desire that the house should be properly utilized again- that we make our home there.” Seeing the frown that settled on Dorian’s face, Brietta hurried to reassure him. “You were leery of such an arrangement at first, but soon saw the advantage of honoring the family heritage. The rooms that needed converting from guest rooms to more functional purposes like kitchen and dining room are coming along splendidly. In fact, the carpenters have noted several times that your absence and my less frequent appraisals of their work are actually speeding up the process as they don’t have to listen to our excess of suggestions. Everything is shaping up beautifully.” She looked at Dorian hopefully.
“Well, well,” the stallion murmured. “I’ve obviously allowed you to influence my once solitary life.”
“You’d come to realize that being part of a family wasn’t such a bad thing; the decision wasn’t forced on you.”
Dorian’s gaze dropped to the engagement ring and he reached out to touch it. “This is all so real for you; for me, it’s like a... an illusion. How do you cope?”
She met his hoof on the gold-banded diamond. “This ring binds us, Dorian, even if you don’t remember.”
“Ain’t I a lucky fella?” Dorian teased, but Brietta’s confidence withered as she noted the cold depths of his dark blue eyes.
You will remember, she silently bid him. You have to remember!
* * *
“Brietta, got a minute?” Sloan asked as he peaked into Brietta’s office several weeks later.
Having gotten back in the schedule of her workdays again, Brietta had to be satisfied with visiting Dorian in the evenings to check on his recuperation and help him with any of the chores around his apartment that were difficult with his one foreleg remaining in the cast. It still rankled a bit that he had not chosen the option of spending his recovery period at Whitehall Place where he could have been attended to by Lena and Anna during the day. It rankled even more to know that Dr. Finella had become his physician of choice, and that she made house calls. Concerning his amnesia, there was no change.
“Sure,” Brietta smiled, tossing a file down on the desk as if grateful for the interruption; she gestured toward a nearby chair. “Is this about the Brindle case?”
“No, I was just hoping we could chat for awhile; I don’t get much of a chance to see you anymore, other than catering to Dorian.”
“Things have been hectic, haven’t they?” Brietta concurred as she looked over the disorganized array of papers and folders on her desk.
“It goes to show that Dorian was carrying his fair share around here, although he always gave the impression that he was under no particularly heavy obligations.”
“The office isn’t the same without his high spirits,” Brietta sighed. Missing the shadow that crossed the stallion’s handsome face, she continued. “But his recovery’s coming along quite well, so we should have him back in the ranks before too long.”
“The fact that the police have apprehended one of his abductors is promising; and once they check out the leads from that loser, they should have his accomplice as well.”
“Yes, but they were only minor players. And if the one in custody hadn’t been drunkenly bragging about his part in the affair, he’d still be walking free.”
“He was willing to spill the name of his colleague and verify Hazard’s orchestrating of the night’s work; that’s something.”
“I won’t rest easy until Hazard himself is confined.” Restless, she left her desk to stare out the window, wishing she could go back in time to change the course of events that had taken Dorian away from her in thought if not in body. To be so strongly in love with him while he could garner no more than a casual gratitude for the help she was extending to him distressed her terribly. To stand by and watch as his affection transferred itself to Finella was even worse.
Coming to stand beside her, Sloan watched the mare intently; she was far away, lost in her own thoughts... thoughts that undoubtedly were tied up in her relationship with Dorian and the unexpected complications that Hazard’s involvement had spurred. Sloan hated to see her suffering so deeply, yet he was selfish enough to realize that if things did not work out between Brietta and Dorian, there might still be a chance for him to regain her affection.
It was a severe force of will that restrained the stallion from reaching out and gathering the mare in his forelegs to offer her his comfort as should now be his privilege. How many problems had they discussed with one another in their earlier days, how many capricious incidents had he helped her resolve? But that was before the chasm had opened between them which negated any of the previous closeness they had enjoyed. And whose fault was that? the stallion reminded himself bitterly.
Without thinking, Sloan reached out and touched Brietta on the shoulder. She started as if she had forgotten his presence- much the opposite of Sloan’s acute awareness of her. As she turned her head to look at him questioningly, her mane covered his hoof- its soft tendrils caressing him- and her soft fragrance engulfed him. Sloan felt himself unraveling.
“When Hazard is apprehended and you can put all of this behind you, how will you proceed?” he asked softly.
There was a pain in Brietta’s eyes that transferred itself to the stallion. “That all depends on Dorian, now, doesn’t it?”
“And if he doesn’t come to love you?”
“He does love me!” Brietta snapped, her eyes blazing. She shrugged off Sloan’s hoof where it had still lingered in her hair.
“Does he, Brietta?”
“This ring is a sign of that love!” she argued, holding the adorned foreleg between them. The ring was all she had left to speak for the love that she and Dorian had shared.
“His feelings have been obliterated by the amnesia; and, for whatever reason, he doesn’t respond to you the way he did before. The ring means nothing.”
“He’s been through a lot, Sloan; even you can acknowledge that. He needs time to come to grips with this formidable episode in his life.”
“So all the doctors say.”
“Even Dr. Finella?” Brietta asked mockingly.
“Would you leave Finella out of this?” Sloan rumbled, his emotions catching up to him. “And leave Dorian out of it, too, for all I care!”
Losing control of the calm demeanor that was his trademark, Sloan let his feelings rule. Drawing Brietta to him more roughly than he would have ever allowed himself to do under normal circumstances, he kissed her soundly.
Brietta, caught for only a brief moment in her surprise at this unexpected motion, quickly struggled out of his unwelcome embrace. “It’s always been easy for you to toss away friendship, hasn’t it, Sloan? Are you ready to move on from Finella now?” Her words did nothing to reveal the conflict of emotion that Sloan’s kiss had awakened in her.
Brietta’s charge cut the stallion deeply. How his disavowal of her affection must have smote her at that long ago dance! Sloan, however, showed no sympathy. He glared at the mare in an effort to maintain his self-preservation; but he made no comment, annoyed at himself for letting things get out of hoof. It appeared that his unwarranted desire, rather than lay a stepping stone toward reconciliation, had simply driven another wedge between them. The look in Brietta’s eyes now was one of pure loathing.
Sloan gathered his tarnished composure about him like a shield, turned, and walked out the door, leaving a stricken Brietta to sort through her scarred feelings as best she could.
* * *
“I told Dorian to expect visitors, but I didn’t tell him who,” Brietta admitted, smiling at the stallion and mare who accompanied her. The three of them were approaching Dorian’s apartment where the recuperating stallion was ensconced.
She rang the doorbell but did not wait for an answer, using her own key to unlock the door. She and her two companions walked into the room to find Dorian sitting on the sofa with a pile of files at his side.
Dorian looked up to welcome Brietta; and as his gaze went past her to the other ponies who stood waiting in the background, he gave an exclamation of surprise. “Clara! Edward!” he choked, struggling to rise out of the couch. Brietta grinned as she helped him to his hooves.
“Dorian!” Clara cooed, hugging the stallion to her, then leaning back to study his face. “We were so sorry to hear of your problems.”
“You’re all in one piece, though, and that’s what counts,” joked Edward, patting the stallion affectionately.
“I never expected to see the two of you grace my doorstep,” the astonished stallion admitted, “but I’m so glad you’re here. Please, find yourselves a seat.” He began scooping up papers with his useable foreleg, and Brietta joined in to clear the furniture of his work.
“When Sloan said he had delivered some files to you, I had no idea that he expected you to take on a full workload already.”
“It makes the time pass faster,” Dorian said. “By next week, I’ll be back in the office- gotta start all over again.”
“Don’t rush things,” admonished Clara. “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.”
Dorian flashed a grin in Brietta’s direction. “I’m not so sure about that.”
Clara caught the look. “Brietta’s an angel; she kept us informed of your progress every step of the way; that’s how we knew that you were back home and ready to receive visitors.”
Looking confused, Dorian sharply asked, “Brietta contacted you? How in the world did she know of you two?”
“You and I made a trip to Capital City for the express purpose of calling on Clara and Edward,” Brietta enlightened the stallion, patting his hoof to assure him that his former foster parents were aware of his amnesia and the extent of it. “We had a delightful time... except for the trip home.”
“Your trip home?” Clara questioned, but Dorian interrupted her.
“I never told anyone about my past.”
“You told my mother and me about your parents and the foster homes you were in; and you admitted that Edward and Clara were the most understanding of the lot.”
Dorian stared at Brietta, wondering at the closeness that must have existed between the two of them- a friendship that had allowed him to be open with her about a past that he had never had the desire to share with anyone else. Had he really loved her and trusted her so much that he would have lowered the shield that he had kept so carefully in place since making the decision to turn his life in a new direction? Even with Sloan, he had made an effort to keep his past from haunting his future.
“You were very anxious to show off this gal of yours,” winked Edward. “And she certainly won our approval. Clara has been talking of nothing but the wedding for weeks now, ever since the engagement party; now, that was some shindig.”
Glancing nervously at Brietta, Dorian chose his words carefully. “I understand that all the preparations for the wedding are moving smoothly ahead.”
Sensing his reticence over the fast-approaching marriage, Brietta quickly moved the conversation to another topic.
“You questioned our trip home from Capital City, Clara. When you were with us for the engagement party, Dorian and I didn’t want to upset you with the particulars of our journey home after we left you, but what happened with Dorian since then has overshadowed the previous experience.” She took a deep breath, then continued. “Dorian and I were jumped by thieves when we were between cities.”
“What?” exclaimed Clara. “You can’t be serious!”
Brietta grimaced. “It was a frightening experience, but Dorian held them off; and, fortunately, several other travelers happened on us at just the right time, scaring the two ruffians away.”
As Clara and Edward expressed their dismay, Dorian looked disbelieving. “Why didn’t you mention this to me before?”
“It was an upsetting circumstance; I’m afraid I didn’t want to dwell on it,” admitted Brietta. “I was glad to put it behind me.”
“Were you hurt?”
“No... well, just barely. You received a cut and some bruises... you gave worse than you got,” Brietta assured him.
Dorian grew thoughtful. “Was that incident somehow related to the event that put me in this predicament?” he asked, gesturing to his assorted bodily wounds.
“I never thought about it as such,” pondered Brietta. “You never indicated that you suspected anything beyond an attempted robbery.”
“It was reported to the cops, I assume.”
“Yes, of course. They weren’t able to pick up the trail at that time, nor did they find any suspects matching our descriptions of the stallions; of course, by the body paint we picked up from them, it was apparent that they had disguised their true colors.”
“We?” queried Dorian. “Do you mean to tell me that you came in contact with these two thugs yourself?”
“Well, I did manage to thwart one of the attackers momentarily until you could come to my rescue; you were very gallant.”
“You mentioned that other ponies assisted you,” Edward pressed. “Who were they?”
“Senator Gable and his son.”
“Ahh. The senator is a good individual, and I believe his son will follow in his hoofsteps,” imparted Edward.
“I’ll certainly vote for him in the next election simply because he was able to help the two of you,” Clara vowed.
Giggling, Brietta concurred. “I think that’s a good enough reason.”
After more earnest conversation, Brietta finally excused herself to begin lunch preparations, leaving Clara and Edward to reminisce about the time that Dorian had shared their home and their lives. Listening to the snatches of talk that carried to her, Brietta could not help but feel isolated in that there was no past for her and Dorian to discuss, yet he could remember the more distant past with ease. The night of their engagement party was a high spot in Brietta’s life; but for Dorian, it might as well never have happened. She shook off those melancholy thoughts when Clara came to the kitchenette to offer her help in the meal preparations.
The two mares had been working companionably for some time when the doorbell rang; Brietta had her hooves full, so Clara went to the door to answer the summons. Busy with the salad, Brietta was unaware of the identity of the visitors until she heard a familiar- and unwelcome- laugh.
Looking up from her work, Brietta had to repress a scowl as she noted the all-white Dr. Finella making her entrance into the apartment in company with one of the nurses who had tended Dorian. After a brief greeting exchanged between the mares, Finella made her way straight to Dorian; and Alana followed in her wake. Clara accompanied the two mares, happy to see more of Dorian’s friends responding to his confinement.
“This is a pleasant surprise,” Dorian commented after Alana had been introduced properly to Clara and Edward. “No sick ponies in Whitehall today?”
“We were leaving the hospital at the same time,” Finella explained, “and Alana and I were discussing how much we miss you at the hospital since you’ve left, Dorian.” She turned her smile upon Clara and Edward. “Dorian was a model patient.”
“When he wasn’t tormenting anyone within hearing range,” Alana scoffed.
“Hey! Nothing against your medical care, but the time hangs heavy on a fella’s hooves when he has nothing better to do than critique the performance of the personnel,” retorted Dorian.
“Ha!” snorted Alana. “What you call critiquing, the rest of us call complaining.”
“Constructive criticism, maybe,” conceded the stallion.
“You’ll be happy to know that all your ‘criticisms’ have been duly noted... and filed away.”
“Figures,” grunted the stallion, his eyes sparkling. “Although I did think my suggestion to improve meals had merit.”
“Speaking of which, I’m going to be late for a luncheon date if I don’t get out of here,” Alana realized. “It’s good to see you looking so well, Dorian.” She giggled as Dorian’s skeptical gaze swept his one encased foreleg, and his useable hoof brushed across the encrusted mass that marked the point of impact. “Your wounds give you a special quality of derring-do... rather romantic, actually. Make sure you follow doctor’s orders.” She grinned at Dr. Finella and went her way, seeing herself out.
“Oh!” Clara said, reaching for her purse. “I came across another picture of you, Dorian; and as Brietta so enjoyed the others, I brought this one along today.” She presented the stallion with a group shot which included a much younger Dorian.
“That was taken...” began Edward.
“I remember,” Dorian interrupted. “It was a class trip to the museum.”
Finella peered over his shoulder to get a glimpse of the photo in which five school-aged ponies congregated on the museum steps. Four of the ponies had linked their forelegs in fond comradery, while the fifth stood back in brooding isolation. The look of discontent on the young Dorian’s face mirrored the look of the current moment as the stallion gave the photo back to Clara.
“There are some memories that I wish could be lost,” he commented. He abruptly closed any further discussion by asking, “You can stay for lunch, Finella, can’t you? Brietta assures me that she’s an excellent cook.”
“The offer is indeed tempting, but I have an appointment in half an hour across town.”
“What could be more important than breaking bread with friends?” the stallion queried.
Finella patted his hoof. “The next time you’re having a luncheon, be sure to invite me; and I’ll be sure to set aside the time.”
“I look forward to it,” Dorian murmured, clasping Finella’s hoof in his.
Meanwhile, Brietta, busily organizing a pleasing lunch, had become more dispirited by the minute as she listened to the bits of conversation that floated her way; the comfortable bantering tone with which Dorian had once teased her had been missing from their interchange since the misadventure at the ledge, and Brietta missed it. Hearing it now- directed at Finella- was a bitter pill to swallow.
It was fortunate that Brietta did not see the affectionate regard which passed between Finella and Dorian at parting.