Andrew Townsend turned back to the darkness over London. Ragtime was playing loudly in the ballroom behind him. Women in shorter dresses than only a few years past toddled and twinkled their way around, the drinks never leaving their hands. The partying was killing him inside. It might have helped him ignore the war when he was awake, but it surely didnâ€™t rid his dreams of war. Jack clapped him on the back and handed him another glass of champagne.
â€œMy uncle died last month, he left me a plantation in Ceylon,â€ Andrew murmured when Jack joined him. The letter had arrived days before, days heâ€™d spent trying to decide how he wanted to die:Â as an old, drunk, empty shell or a young, used-up, empty shell. Those seemed to be the current options.
Jackâ€™s face lit up. â€œWonderful. Could always use a bit of excitement in the Orient. Iâ€™ll go with you, help out until youâ€™ve sold it.â€
Andrew shook his head. â€œSell?Â No, Iâ€™m going to run it.â€
â€œBy Jove, Andrew, you ainâ€™t worked a day in your life.â€
Andrew straightened, good old Jack with his affected accent, he could say that, since Jack didnâ€™t have it in school, only after he met a Lord if he remembered right. Jack Barlow was the wealthy one. Set to inherit a company and a fortune, Andrew had met him at boarding school. Andrew, as a diplomatâ€™s son, had means, but no fortune. No mansion with servants. Andrew didnâ€™t mention heâ€™d been working for the last three years, ever since he was well enough after returning from France.
â€œNo, I spent four years in a damned trench while you never worked a day in your life. Iâ€™m not going to spend the rest of my life drunk.â€ Maybe work would finally tire him enough so the dreams would leave, work more demanding than paperwork, anyway.Â Drinking sure hadnâ€™t. Three years since he returned, and every night for three years, heâ€™d woken screaming.
â€œYouâ€™ll miss the clubs, Andrew, you know it?â€
â€œI canâ€™t breathe with all the cigarette smoke after. . .â€ Andrew walked off without finishing. Weaving his way through the crowd of people, he stopped at the sight of himself in the mirror next to the cloakroom. He handed over his ticket without even looking at the coat check girl. All he could see was the ghost of a man staring back at him in the mirror.
All of thirty-one, the man staring at him seemed to be fading away. He could have been a ghost, nothing more. Days doing paperwork, he couldnâ€™t even tell of what, nights of getting drunk and not sleeping. Pale ghostly skin held brilliant blue eyes, the last bit of life he could find in his reflection. The boy he had been was gone; the man he became was lost. Was that all seven years of his life had given him?
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