Chapter Seventy-Nine: Sundays

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We eyed each other across the room.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

He smiled uncomfortably.

“I am here to bring you back into the fold…”

“Get out.”

He had startled me terribly when I found him standing in the parlor holding his hat, his back to me, a figure in black who was turning the pages of the heavy Bible that sat on the table in the corner by the window. A dark stranger it had appeared at first until he turned around.

Reverend Drummond.

“Madame. I… I am afraid I owe you an apology.”

“I said get out.” Coming into my house unbidden was a terrible affront, an insult. “You are trespassing, sir.”

He spoke quickly. “I am most sorry for causing you grief, for accusing you of witchcraft. I did not understand what you had done. If it had been witchcraft, surely the girl’s arm would not still be crippled.”

“Surely.” I responded dryly. “Get out.” I kept my voice low and even but firm. Anne had just gone down for an afternoon nap. I did not want to wake her.

He took a step toward me.

“Mrs. Aspern.” He knew my real name. 

That woman! She had told him.

“I don’t know who you are talking about,” I whispered.

“Yes you do.” He held out his hand as he took another step toward me. I stepped back only to feel my crinoline hit the wall behind me. The door was to my right if I needed it. Surely I could get there before him. But Anne! There was an oil lamp on a table to my left that I could throw at him if needed. My mind raced, eyes rapidly scanning the room for potential weapons.

What if I killed him? 

A single eyebrow cocked up as he waited. Finally he spoke. “There is no need.”

“No need?” I could not hide the confusion in my voice.

“To kill me.” He laughed. “There is no need to kill me.” He took another step. “Your secret is safe.”

“What secret?”

“Don’t play coy, Mrs Aspern.” He cleared the distance between us until he was standing close enough that I could smell his shave soap. He took my own mangled right hand in his. “I have a price, though,” he said softly.

I stared at him, waiting. Saying anything seemed an admission of guilt so I remained silent.

What price?

“I will come for dinner once a week after Sunday service.” He paused for a moment. “And you will attend those services again, every Sunday.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed the fingers, his eyes locked on mine.

“Get out!” I said through gritted teeth.

“Until Sunday, then…” He smiled, then bowed with a flourish.

Then he was gone.

Chapter Sixty-Four: Victorious

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Pain wracked my body. It filled me to overflowing, consumed. I was certain I could not take more and continue living.

But I could.

I would.

I looked around the darkened room. Where was the air? I needed to breathe but I could not find the air.

“Have some laudanum, love.” Rough hands smoothed the sweat matted hair back from my forehead. A spoon hovered at my lips.

No!

“I am not dying yet,” I said through clinched teeth.

Pity in the eyes around me.

Was I dying?

I felt the urge to push. Screams flowed from my mouth involuntarily as I bared down. Again. Again. Again. No end.

And if I never see you again in this life….this, this moment will be enough. Do you even hear me? Do you hear my heart crying out for you in all of this pain and loneliness?

One last sob ripped from my throat.

Silence.

I could not see. My eyes were burning from the salty sweat that had run into them. I blinked. Once. Twice.

The midwife was smiling.

Smiling!

New cries filled the void left by my own. High pitched and plaintive and never before heard on this earth. Then there, in my arms, was my baby. So light and yet so heavy. Two brown eyes and a perfect little nose peeked out from the swaddling. Suddenly the face scrunched up like a wizened old man. A perfect little pout!

I pulled back the blankets and stared. At first there was relief. Everything was as it should be.

Then it was not.

A girl.

A girl?

Her hair was dark. Brown. She smiled up at me, but I felt nothing for her anymore.

This was not my baby. God owed me a boy. Not a girl. What would I do with a girl?

Levi had had blond hair, bright like the light from angels’ wings. It had been perfect even if the rest of him had not been. This baby I had carried was supposed to be a boy. With blonde hair.

Instead, I have this? Disappointment flooded my heart.

Why couldn’t you give me my angel?

I wrapped her up again and pushed her away. The midwife looked on and shook her head. More pity.

“Take her away!”

The maid scooped her up and stepped back, fear and uncertainty played on her young face.

“Go!” I waved my hand in dismissal.

Then something in my heart snapped. I felt it. Pain of another sort welled up and tears flowed, wracking my body with sobs. My breasts ached.

“My baby girl, give her to me!” The maid nodded, relieved, and passed the little bundle back.

I held her close. Her eyes fluttered closed as a triumphant half smile played on her tiny rosebud lips. A peaceful repose. Her first victory.

I would love her. She was all that I had left of love. She was mine.