Chapter Seventy-Eight: Rest

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At last I had peace.

The heat generated by his body as he slept next to me was oppressive. The bed creaked as I shifted, kicking off the coverlet. Beads of sweat had formed between my breasts underneath my shift. I sat up and lifted the crisp, white cotton fabric up over my head, tossing it to the floor nearby. 

I did not want to sleep. Instead, I lay back down, eyes wide open, still feeling restless. I wanted him to make love to me again. 

He stirred slightly. I slid my hand up his back and softly touched the hair at the nape of his neck in the darkness then pressed my naked body into his.

He was mine again.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of him, laying my cheek against the warm skin of his upper back. I could feel him breathe. 

He stirred again. I kissed his shoulder. 

When he rolled over toward me, at first I thought the shadows from the fireplace were playing tricks on me. I searched his features.

That was not Nathaniel’s face, was it?

I scrambled back away from him then off the bed, scooping up my shift. I held the fabric up against my naked body as he sat up. I suddenly felt terribly cold. I shivered. 

What should I do? Run? Where was Anne?

Confusion played on his face. “Evelyn? Come back to bed.” He beckoned to me as he spoke the command. “Now!”

I knew that voice, didn’t I?

I could see his face better now. I could not breathe.

It was the Reverend Drummond.

How?

The world closed in around me and I felt myself gasping for air, falling toward some unseen terror.

Then I was awake all over again, my heart in my throat. I felt as if I had been holding my breath for hours.

The bed next to me was empty. Relief washed over and through my body as I tried to slow the movement of my chest, the tremor of my hands.

The nightmare again. How much longer would this dream repeat itself?

One year. Just one more year.

If I could trust her.

I could endure this for one more year. Surely. One could endure almost anything if there was an end in sight. The Crimea had taught me that.

Chapter Seventy-Five: Red 

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“That will be two pounds, six pence.” The shopkeeper glared at me as she stood expectantly, arms folded across her chest. Her index finger tapped out a message of annoyance on her forearm.

Counting out money one handed with a child on your hip was an arduous task and it seemed to take forever. Rather than assisting me, the woman continued to stare, boring holes of hate into my forehead. She sighed loudly, clearly wanting to communicate her displeasure further. 

My fingers fumbled self-consciously. 

At last I handed her the required change and she set about wrapping the purchases. She was deliberate, taking her time as Ann squirmed impatiently in my arms, reaching for the canisters of bright candies that lined the far side of the counter.

“How do you even know what those are, baby girl?” I whispered into her ear. “Maybe they are poison. You never know about pretty things…”

Eventually the woman was done and she unceremoniously shoved the parcels across the wooden countertop. She turned her back to me, pretending to rearrange the bars of soap that already rested in orderly and pristine rows on the shelves behind us. 

I gathered the brown paper wrapped bundles and placed them into a large brown fabric sack I had brought from home. The cook had sewed it some months ago and had used it for this purpose. Thankfully, she had left it behind…

Anne sneezed as she always did from the bright sunlight as we stepped out of the dim shop and into the street. We started the journey back home.

After several blocks I caught a glimpse of the back of a deep scarlet dress as the wearer rounded a corner. I picked up my pace. I had recognized it.

The beautiful woman in red.

Dreams.

My dreams. 

What were dreams anyway? Ephemeral taunts from on high; gauzy, misty things impossible to grasp.

But I had just seen her. 

Here.

Back home in New England dreaming of a beautiful woman dressed in red meant a move. But here now, across the world, was the meaning the same?

I knew that I needed to speak to her. Somehow I knew the key to my happiness lay with her.

The corner loomed just ahead. I picked up my pace, the bag slapping hard against the crinoline with each step. I quickly dodged around a man in a grey waistcoat to make the turn, breathless. Anne laughed with the sudden evasive movement. She enjoyed this game of pursuit.

There she was.

Her back was to me. She was across the street, listening intently to the Reverend Drummond. Curls of dark hair peeked from beneath a matching bonnet decorated with velvet and wine colored roses.

He looked up at the sound of Anne’s happy gurgling. 

My heart stopped beating.

The man paused in mid sentence as our eyes locked across the cobblestones for a split second.

A choice.

I could turn and walk obviously away sending a message of disdain or keep going forward as if none of this chance meeting mattered to me at all.

Forward. Always keep going forward…

A carriage rattled by. I shifted Anne to the other hip and kept walking, one foot in front of the other. I wanted to turn and look over my shoulder, to catch a glimpse of the woman’s face, but that would be too obvious. I resisted.

I made a long loop around the neighborhood, moving deliberately as if I knew exactly where I was going and why. My arms felt like rubber from Anne’s weight as what had started out as a quick trip to the grocers had turned into quite the journey. Eventually I ended up back in my own neighborhood. As I closed the gate and walked through the small garden to the house with the bag of goods on my arm, I found myself stopping short again.

She was sitting there on the steps at the front door, clearly waiting for me.

She stood, smoothing the red silk of her dress absently.

I was haunted in so many ways. Every smile from Anne’s face was his. I had wrongly believed that it would only be a joy having some small piece of him here with me. A miscalculation to be sure. I loved her dearly but I was tortured by her at the same time. Guilt. Shame. I carried all of these with me every day.

The woman on the porch smiled at me. 

It was Anne’s smile. 

His smile. 

“Who are you?” I asked.