Chapter One Hundred Three: Leaving

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It was hours later when the last drop of red blood trickled down his ghostly hand, into the bowl and overflowed into the growing crimson lake on the floor.

His face was sallow and translucent without the pinkish hue of blood coursing through his veins. The jaundice was now left unchecked and he appeared otherworldly in the lamplight, no longer human.

The chest no longer rose and fell. 

He was still. 

Faded.

I had cried and rocked in the corner as I watched and waited, surprised yet again that I had any tears left after all of the sorrows of the years. 

I cried for myself, for innocence long gone. 

And I cried for him. He had been dead even before this. There was no cure. No treatment. He would die sooner rather than later anyway, most likely choking on his own blood and vomit, suffocated by hemorrhaging from within. At least I had spared him that indignity, hadn’t I?  

When the flow of tears and blood had stopped, I stood and packed my few belongings. 

I stood at the doorway to the bedroom for a few moments more, staring at the shell of what had been a brilliant doctor, my lover. I wanted Nathaniel to wake, to hold me, to tell me everything would be fine. He would not. I knew he would not but the heart wants what the heart wants. 

I craved his forgiveness but I could not have it. Not in this life.

Gathering up my skirts, I tiptoed through the sticky blood covered floor and kissed him once more on the cold lips. 

Kiss me back…

I touched his cheek.

There was no life there. 

I turned on the landing to look back, panic welling up as the horror of what I had just done broke through my clouded senses. A bloody trail of footprints followed behind me, fading with each step. My stomach turned.

Oh, God.

Then I ran.

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.