Chapter Ninety-One: Another Light

 Gas lit street lamp. 
“You cannot have her.” The ancient man with the gravely voice scribbled something in a ledger. The well organized rows of curls on his powdered white wig rested on his shoulders, standing sentry. 

“What do you mean I cannot have her?” I struggled to keep my voice even. I had quickly learned that any show of emotion was inevitably ascribed to my perceived insanity and affected my credibility.

He continued scribbling, dipping staccato-like into the black ink pot, then scribbling some more.

He looked up finally when he realized I was not leaving, sighed loudly, then closed the heavy leather bound ledger with a deafening slam that caused me to start involuntarily.

“You are an unfit, unwed mother.” He enunciated carefully, as if he were explaining to an imbecile.

“I was wrongly imprisoned and I am widowed.” I spoke through my teeth to keep from screaming at him. “Those are not crimes!”

“Nooooo…. They are not. Wrongly is up for interpretation, but they are enough to keep you from getting your daughter back.” He held me in his stoney gaze, unmoved. “Furthermore, you will be required to pay an allowance to Mrs. Greer towards the care of your daughter.”

“Please.” The lump forming in my throat made it difficult to speak. I blinked, my eyes burning with the promise of tears still left unshed. “She is all I have left in this world.”

“No. She is a ward of the crown and will remain so.” He stood, the wooden chair scraping on the stone floor as it was pushed back. “Now leave.”

I was frozen in place, panic rising.

What else can I do? Fall to my hands and knees to beg? Offer up my body?

My body. It was used up, spent. Nothing to be desired anymore. There were scars that ran deeper than what the eyes could see. Things had been done…

My mind stopped there. It could go no further, think no other thought than that I was lost. 

Anne was lost.

How to get her back? Kidnap her? Would that even be possible? Maybe…

A hand appeared on my shoulder and pulled me away. I turned to look at the owner and recoiled reflexively in spite of myself at the pock marked and scarred face. His right eye was opaque, unseeing. It still caught me off guard from time to time.

Heaven had turned its back on us all it seemed.

“Come.” He spoke firmly.

We walked outside the courts, onto the streets.

No solicitor would take my case. A woman shamed. No one believed that I should have my child back.

I could not give up!

He paused to a stop by a lamp post. The sky was gloomy and overcast and the flames had already been lit. I pulled the wrap around my shoulders tighter against the chill that suddenly passed through me.

“I have a question,” he said softly, taking my free hand.

Oh, please. No. Please don’t ask me anything. Not today.

“I do not know if it will help matters but I offer myself to you as a husband.” There was earnestness, kindness showing in his one good eye. 

I could barely hold his gaze. I felt ashamed. I was relying upon him heavily to help me navigate the courts. Using him.

I do not love you.

Maybe I had once. 

Yes. I had. 

What had changed?

I was used up, spent. An empty shell. 

To refuse him would be to alienate my one remaining friend. To accept would be to lie to him. I had no intention of ever following through with marrying anyone, not until I could put the ghost of my past to rest. Edinburgh was far away but any promise of that pulled too strongly now. I was haunted and it was a terrifying, unrelenting obsession. The name, Nathaniel Brierly, repeated day and night in my head, invading even my panicked thoughts of Anne.

A woman in deep red silk brushed past and my heart skipped a beat until I realized it was no one I knew. The gait was wrong, the waist was wider, the hair a different shade…

One month until that letter was to arrive. One month to stall him. One month to plan stealing back my Anne. 

Lies. I would need many, many lies. I had plenty of room for them now, inside the empty shell that had once been me. 

We were two broken shadow people standing in the street, beneath a gas lamp. 

“Oh.” I smiled at him gratefully. “Of course… Thank you.”

He squeezed my hand, smiled, relieved that he had not been rebuffed.

A yes without saying yes. I could call it a misunderstanding later.

Yes, a misunderstanding. I took his arm and we walked onward together.

Chapter Eighty-Five: Retribution

 Antique hospital bed reflected in an apothecary's window. 

Where was he?

I waited at the window for hours with Anne playing in the floor beside me. 

“Don’t pull on the drapery, darling…” I tugged gently at the dark silk but she did not turn loose. Instead she giggled and yanked hard back. “This is not a game!” Edginess showed in my voice.

She smiled up at me but did not release her grip, pulling hard again.

I knelt and unfurled the fingers of her good hand from the fabric. She was strong when she wanted to be. The curtain was quickly draped carefully over the chair back out of her reach. 

Anne pulled herself up on the chair, still smiling. Reaching. Standing on bare tip toes she balanced with the one arm, reaching with the other. Unsuccessful, she switched hands. Realizing she could not reach it, I was quickly met with wails of frustration. 

Still, he had not come.

Darkness descended, empty and foreign.

What did it mean?

My mind explored all possible scenarios: A carriage accident? He had finally come to his senses about me? He was ill? Someone else was ill? The diocese had called a meeting about his suspect activities on these Sunday afternoons? 

Sleep was fitful, punctuated by fear filled dreams of blood and fever.

Monday passed without word from him as did Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. Hurt. Desperation. Anger. Relief. My emotions ran the gamut. 

There was no one I could ask and pride prevented me from sending a letter of inquiry directly to him. I was not sure I wanted to know the answer, quite frankly. As long as it was possible that there had been an accident, I was spared the inevitable rejection.

Another Sunday passed at the window, alone. 

Finally, I was done with it. I would not care. I settled in the flickering shadows after putting Anne down for the night and burned his letters in the fire one by one. 

All except one. My favorite. 

“I hold you in the highest regard and pray for your wellbeing nightly…”

I would keep it as a token, a reminder of my folly. The dangers of hope. The flattery of attention, being led astray…

I traced the letters over and over again, then refolded the paper, returning it to the envelope.

Great wracking sobs came. I mourned. For myself, the loneliness. For Anne. For Nathaniel. For hoping for something better than what I had, better than this miserable existance in its perpetual state of uncertainty…

Mid morning on Wednesday, still with no word, I swung Anne up onto my hip and set out, intending to get bread but instead walking past the bakery. 

We walked on and on, the dappled sunlight filtering through the occasional trees.

There was the beginning of a strange, dull ache and I shifted Anne to the other hip. She rested her head on my shoulder and dozed off a bit, lulled by the movement.

I did not stop.

People crossed to the other side of the street as we approached, fear recognizable in their eyes even from that distance. I was used to anger and loathing. Fear was new and puzzling.

There it was. 

The modest gray stone building in traditional Georgian construct, the rectory. 

I halted at the bottom of the front steps.

There on the heavy wooden door hung my answer. Acid crept up the back of my throat as understanding set in.

Small pox.

A sharp pain suddenly broke through the dull ache in the base of my pelvis. Severe. Crippling. 

Oh, God.

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Chapter Eighty-Four: Shadowed

IMG_2643

Make love to me first with words.

He had done that, and then some. I had stacks of his letters in my dresser drawer, written since I had asked him to give me words. I would take them out and reread them each night by lamplight. 

Sometimes certain phrases or even the simple curve of a letter would send my fingertips tingling. 

I looked down at the hand holding mine, the fingers that had written those powerful words of apology and devotion. There was a charge there that raced from his hand to my fingerstips to my lower spine. I had almost forgotten how intoxicating that sensation was.

He leaned forward tentatively. 

I closed my eyes in anticipation, awaiting the feel of his rough beard against my face. I could smell his soap.

Just as his lips touched mine for the first time, there was a cry from Anne in the other room. Not her sleepy whimpering wake up cry. It was a full on, angry sob as if she knew that I was betraying her father’s memory at that very instant. He kissed in earnest until it was clear that she would not settle down.

He moved away, amusement playing on his lips. A half smile hung suspended there.

“I will get her,” I sighed. 

“No, I will go.” He applied gentle pressure to my shoulder indicating I was to sit down and wait for his return. 

I eased myself down onto the sofa and folded my hands onto my lap to wait.

He knew nothing of changing diapers or feeding or soothing a child. It would not be long.

As expected. Anne would have nothing of it, of this man. The wailing creacendoed as she refused to calm down. 

Two minutes later he returned with a red faced, tear stained Anne who turned silent as soon as she saw me. 

He placed her on my lap, apologetically.

“It’s alright. Shhhhh,” I murmured.

I held her close. She rested her warm, damp head on my shoulder, fuzzy hair tickling my chin. A quiet hiccup, then a contented sigh as she drifted off to sleep again.

“I will go,” he whispered. He bent down and kissed my forehead, then the top of Anne’s head. “Until next week…”

I watched him grab his hat and let himself out.

Tonight I would not need his words. My lips felt raw from his earlier kiss. Love lingered there.

Chapter Eighty-Three: Pudding

IMG_2322

Such joyful sounds…. giggles and coos.

A man’s laugh.

I peeked around the corner, wiping my hands on the apron tied around my waist.

He was in the floor playing with Anne. She looked up at the Reverend with adoring eyes as she waited for the wooden ball to roll back to her. 

“Are you ready? Here it comes!”

He rolled again gently and she caught it between her good hand and the bad one.

She used the damaged hand as if she did not need for it to work like the other, as if she did not recognize that the hand was not normal. She did not need for it be normal, as it did what she wanted regardless. She knew nothing else.

Still, it hurt to watch. Joy and pain and sadness intermingled. Life. It was relentlessly bittersweet.

I went back to the formidable black oven. 

Cooking for myself was easy. Subsistence did not require anything fancy. Cooking for him was another matter. I would practice during the week, trying something new, then whip it out for his visits. 

Why was I trying so hard?

Truth be told, I had started looking forward to his visits, the gifts he brought. Sometimes they were for me. An ornately carved tortoise shell hair comb. Oranges and dates. Heavy stationary paper and ink. Sometimes the gifts were for Anne. A doll that was much too old for her. Or the ball today.

Each Sunday I would stand at the window and watch for him.

At times I worried that loneliness clouded my judgement. There were whispers about him around the town. Attendance at his church fell. Out and about I found the animosity toward me enhanced and magnified.

And then there was the question of where friendship ended and romance began. What did he want from me ultimately? Penance? Or a wife?

There was an easy familiarity developing between us, dangerous in its potential.

I cracked open the oven and tapped a towel wrapped hand on the dish resting in the water bath. 

Not yet set.

I closed the heavy door again. 

Why did I decide on baking an orange custard pudding? Granted it was with the oranges he had given me but it was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It would still have to cool before it would be edible. 

A throat cleared from behind, causing me to jump. It was then that I realized I was standing in the middle of the kitchen with my right hand still wrapped in the towel, unmoving, lost in thought. I must have been an odd sight.

“I am sorry! I did not intend to startle you,” he said.

The Reverend was now standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Anne perched primly on the crook of his elbow. When she saw me she opened her arms, indicating that her loyalty still lay with me, at least in so far as carrying duties went. He stepped forward and handed her off to me.

“Come to mama, baby girl…” I kissed her fat cheek. It felt cool against my lips. 

She hugged my neck tightly enough to squeeze my heart.

The room was warm and I could sense strands of hair stuck to my forehead by beads of sweat. I brushed them away with the back of my hand, suddenly self conscious.

He stared at me for a long moment. 

He was close enough to touch. In fact he reached out his hand toward my waist as if he would, but thought better of it, instead shoving the offending hand quickly into a pocket.

My heart beat harder in my chest. 

He had almost crossed into territory from which there would be no return. 

I realized that I could not decide if I wanted him to cross that point or not.

I stared back.

Edinburgh felt as if it was shrinking up, fading into the distance.

“I think I should go.” His voice sounded thick and deliberate.

I nodded. 

Yes.

Chapter Eighty-Two: Trappings

IMG_2200

The birds fell silent in the trees overhead. Our eyes met.

“Why do you keep coming back? Go on and tell my secrets to everyone who will listen. I will not be held prisoner in my own home any longer!” My eyes flashed with the anger I had been holding inside.

“May I come in?” He removed the hat from his head, holding it in his hands in front of him.

In supplication?

“No.” I said it firmly, without raising my voice.

“Please.” He spoke softly, almost tenderly, then took a few steps forward. The tone of his voice made me feel off balance for a moment and I put my hand on the door frame for support.

He is not going to stop coming until I give him what he wants. 

What did he want, exactly? Power? Control?

“Why? Just tell me why. Why can’t you leave me alone….sir?” I stopped before I said “Reverend”. That word, the implication that he was a man of God, stuck in my throat.

“I… I realized that there was much more to your story after Mrs. Brierly turned up looking for you. I want to know your story.” He stood silently for a moment. “Not so that I can use it against you. I want…” He looked up at the sky overhead, the gaze upward wrinkled his forehead, then he looked back at me. “So that I might understand.”

I considered this for a moment. My story. I was not sure my story was anything this man would approve of. There was nothing to lose though, really. Nothing could get worse than it already was, could it?

“Come.” I stepped back from the door and motioned him inside.

As he stepped across the threshold, he pulled a package out from his coat pocket and handed it to me. It was small, soft, and wrapped in brown paper.

“What is this?”

“Open it.” 

I motioned him into the parlor and indicated he was to sit in a plain wooden chair by the window. I settled myself on the cushioned sofa, careful to arrange my skirt and crinoline properly. 

“It is a peace offering of sorts,” he said. He picked up the chair and moved it closer to me before he sat.

I placed the package on my lap and untied the string, folding back the paper. It was a summer dress for a baby girl, pale yellow, lace trim. 

Exquisite. 

Suddenly, I wanted to cry. I didn’t. I was not going to give him that satisfaction, but my heart, wounded and bruised as it was, felt overwhelmed by this simple act of kindness even though it was admittedly suspect.

Having vast amounts of money is meaningless without respect, human interaction/support, dignity. Ostracized for so many months I only went out for the bare necessities, making my trips as short as possible. I could hear the whisperings. I saw the looks, felt the glares. I knew when I asked for bread that I was given the stale loaves, a message not to come back. All of my money could not buy what I needed most: Love and kindness. 

I had not bought Anne anything like this but she deserved it and so much more. Every day I promised myself that I would make it up to her once everything was set right, when she could meet her father.

“Thank you,” I whispered as I fingered the lace. I did not want to feel guilty for not offering him tea, but there it was, guilt. “This does not make everything better, you know.”

“I understand.”

“It is beautiful, though.”

He smiled. “It is beautiful like her.” 

“Yes,” I replied. The man was devious. He knew the way to a mother’s heart was through her child. I could feel my own heart softening against my will.

“Tell me about her. About you.”

And so I did.

Chapter Eighty: Into the Darkness Again

IMG_2066

The week passed slowly. I awoke in the wee hours each morning to Anne’s cries and then spent the days vacillating between delighting in her giggles and a building of anxious dread over what Sunday would bring.

Recuerdo.

The broach came out of hiding. It was an irrisistable plaything for little fingers whenever I wore it. It had been too precious to risk breaking so I had left it buried in the corner of a drawer. Now I took to wearing it again, pinning it each morning to my dress. Perhaps it would offer protection?

I had no intention of ever attending church services or allowing the Reverend Drummond back into my home but the threat of both loomed ahead in the dark unknown of my future.

What I really needed to do, I realized, was to move away. Far away.

And yet…

If I left, would this woman in red find me again? 

Mrs. Brierly. 

Hate and pity and satisfaction mingled together as I repeated all of the permutations of her name over and over again. Mrs. Nathaniel Brierly. Anne Brierly. Mrs. Anne Brierly. 

And now perhaps Evelyn Brierly? I repeated the words until they became a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. Then I realized the taste was not the proverbial fearful bile. It was blood. My nervous habit of chewing the inside of a cheek had drawn blood… The pain hit, reminding me of my own frailty.

I could not send her a letter myself, could I? No. And if I packed up and left town, leaving word here where I had gone, then the Reverend would follow me, wouldn’t he? Escape was not possible. 

Could I even trust this woman? 

I still had my doubts and yet desire, or was it love, clouded my judgement. 

So then I must remain for the next year in this place. 

How to survive?

The days ticked by. The fear kept my mind buzzing, unable to settle on a coherent plan.

Sunday dawned dark and overcast. The doors and windows were locked tight. I double checked them, triple checked them, drawing all of the curtains closed.

The bells rang summoning for services, their joyful sound standing in stark contrast against my fear. Soon he would see that I was not in the pews.

And then what?

Dark storm clouds rolled in bringing along thunder in the distance. Raindrops pattered down in a soothing staccato on the roof and lulled Anne to sleep in her bed. I had planned an early afternoon nap, not wanting her to bear witness to what might come next. I kissed her gently on the forehead and then closed the door quietly behind me.

I settled down in the dark parlor to wait.

Then it came, the knocking.

Go away.

It came again.

Go away!

Then again. Jiggling of the door knob.

Oh, God!

Then banging. Was he kicking the door?

I tiptoed to the window and stole a glance.

There he was, dressed in dark gray clothing that matched the dark skies overhead. He was standing in the rain, water pouring from the brim of his hat. He did not move but his eyes flicked to the window, searching it from top to bottom. 

Surely he could not see me?

My heart pounded until it felt as if it might burst, but then it was not my heart at all, I realized. I was holding my breath, afraid that he might hear even the intake of air as I stood frozen to the spot.

Please don’t wake, dear Anne! Stay quiet as a little mouse…

He stood there for what seemed like hours. 

So did I.

Anne woke. I could hear her stirring. Could he? 

I stepped slowly away from the window, wincing at the creak of a floorboard as I moved. I must reach her before she began wailing.

I did my best to keep her quiet in the back of the cottage, not lighting any lamps. I snuck into the kitchen to silently prepare her pap mixed with water. No milk today since I had not left the house.

The hours passed. Some sunlight appeared through the clouds as the rain stopped temporarily.

Eventually Anne fell asleep in my arms cradled among the long twilight shadows that creeped and crawled and grew across the room. I nestled her among the blankets and in the dark stillness snuck to the parlor to the front window. I pulled back the heavy drapes a crack to peer through the lace veil and my eyes searched the darkness.

Lightening flashed across the sky.

He was gone. 

I checked through the house and looked out of every window to make sure he was not lurking about and then decided to retire, to attempt sleep myself. I did not undress, however, wanting to remain at the ready. 

I stood over my baby, my precious daughter, my only tie to another life. Her gentle breathing helped me to relax some. I picked her up, carrying her to my bed and watched her peaceful slumbering with envy until my own eyelids felt heavy as lead.

This was only the beginning of the unpleasantness, I knew. I could not hide forever.

Chapter Seventy-Nine: Sundays

IMG_2620

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 Seventy-Eight: Rest

IMG_3386

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-Seven: Promises

045

“Where is he now?” I asked.

We eyed each other across the vast expanse of the worn wooden kitchen table, a chasm made wider by our mutual pain and mistrust. I had not bothered to cover it with a table cloth. Why worry with niceties when your rival is sitting across from you? The surface was crossed by knife gouges and my fingers traced the marks absently as I watched her face. Her eyes clouded with something… Anger? Pain? A secret perhaps? Then it disappeared, hidden.

Finally, she spoke. “He is in Edinburgh. Probably drunk.”

We sat in silence again.

“Do you still love him?”

“Yes.” She smiled slightly. She was beautiful. “But not as before, not in the same way. I want him to find the happiness he could not find with me.” She seemed earnest, though I wondered. Who could be human and yet so magnanimous? 

“And your daughters?”

She sighed. “With him.” She saw my concern and hurriedly added, “They have a governess. An old, ugly governess. No sense tempting fate.” A bitter laugh escaped from her red lips.

“What do you intend to do?” I watched her face again. There was resignation this time.

“I will go back. I have no choice. I have no money of my own and no means or skills by which to support two daughters.” She stared at me, pointedly. “What do you intend to do?”

What could I do?

“I will continue to go on as I have.” I shrugged. “No choice but to keep going forward.” I stopped as realized her intent. “If you are worried that I will attempt to take him from you, I can assure you that I will not.” She nodded solemnly. 

Shame and pity washed over me. 

I held out my hand to her. 

She hesitated but took it. I squeezed. We had made a pact, she and I, two women hurt beyond recognition by love. How happy would we be if he had never crossed into our lives? We would never know. There was nothing to be done about it now.

“I am sorry, you know.”

“I am, too,” she whispered softly.

She gripped my hand tighter.

“I know of another way.” She rushed through the whispered words.

My heart pounded. “What?” Did I hear her correctly? Surely not.

“I know of another way,” she said, this time louder. “We can both have what we want. You want him. I want freedom. I know of a way but I need your help.”

“You know of a way?” My voice sounded incredulous. I cleared my throat and tried again, this time without the edginess. “You know of a way?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I cannot tell you just yet.” She stood, still holding my hand. “Give me one year to make the preparations. I will send you a letter with instructions.” She was squeezing harder.

“One year?”

“One year.” She spoke with urgency and determination. “You promise to help me?” Her grip was beginning to hurt.

“Yes.” I stood up. “Yes, I will help you.” 

“You will raise my daughters as your own?” I nodded. “Say it! Say you will do it!” She grabbed my other hand and we stood facing each other, her eyes searching mine, looking for some clue. Could I be trusted?

“I will.”

She let go of my hands. She gave me a tight, quick hug and then held me out at arms length, joyful. 

A smile.

And then? Then she was gone. 

She walked out of my house. I watched her red dress fade into the distance from the parlor window as Anne began to fuss from the nursery, letting me know she was hungry.

One year.