*

They all ran into Ludwig’s room. The room was on fire and so was Ludwig. Richard immediately smothered him in blankets.

Ludwig was rushed to the hospital. They all cried.

Over thirty percent of his little body was burned.

Richard and Elizabeth blamed themselves. Nina blamed them as well, but mostly she blamed Elizabeth. It was her job to look after Ludwig.

The social worker who investigated the incident chalked it up to an unfortunate, and avoidable accident. But, given that Richard had just lost his wife, she thought there should be no action, since it was surely punishment enough for a single father to have a child injured as such. She didn’t even ask about Richard and Nina’s relationship, who she thought was an “au pair from Belgrade.”

Richard and Elizabeth visited poor Ludwig every day in the hospital. Nina refused to come, as she couldn’t bear to see the pain on little Ludwig’s face, for he was wrapped head to toe in bandages and looked like a little mummy. Elizabeth blamed this on Nina, and Nina, in turn blamed this on Elizabeth.

It was during this time that Elizabeth's attitude changed toward both Nina and her father. She swore at him and would lock herself in her room and listen to loud preteen pop, and then one night she had a colossal blowout and screamed and yelled that it was Richard’s fault for sleeping with this “little whore” (exact words) and killing her mother. Richard told her she was grounded for the rest of her life, and then Elizabeth said even worse things to him. Horrible, horrible things, he didn’t think children even knew and it upset him terribly.

When Ludwig’s doctor recommended that he be moved to a private burn clinic outside of Québec City, Nina thought that this would be a great opportunity to send Elizabeth to a boarding school in Québec City as well. After some thought, Richard sent in an application for Elizabeth to attend. She was accepted. It was fortunate, because a summer semester was starting and he could send her there for the first week of June for early learning. It would only cost him $17,000, per year, plus an additional $6,000 for the summer, but Richard and Nina thought that it was worth the money to get Elizabeth a good education.

At the end of the month he drove Elizabeth to Québec City. He lied to Elizabeth and said he was taking her to visit Ludwig, who was moved out the week before. It wasn’t a complete lie, but after they visited Ludwig at the clinic, he took Elizabeth to her new school instead of a hotel, like he promised. She cried and cried and cried, and he cried too, but he said that this was for the best, and besides it was only for a few years and he would visit whenever he could and she would make lots of new friends and speak French all the time, and he would see her during the holidays. She said she didn’t want to come back if Nina was there. He said, of course she would be there, he was going to marry her.

*