Who will fix me now?
When the white brick house started to take form in front of them, Annabelle got the feeling that she never left it, and that the war never started, because it looked so familiar and made memories of the past blend together with those she created now.
Her heart was filled with sadness as she got of her horse, and she wondered suddenly if anything ever could go back to what it once was. It was hard to try and fool herself that she didn’t already know the answer. She turned her face down while she waited for John to tie the two horses to a tree.
She had gone back to wearing dresses, although she sometimes missed the feeling of being able to move her legs freely without heavy fabric around them. She had chosen to bring her uniform to the family’s home anyway, even if John had tried to talk her out of it. He thought that she would leave it along with the war in the past, but who was she if she listened to him? She was no longer the person she once had been, and refused to let anyone tell her what she should and shouldn’t do.
“Annabelle?” She raised her face, and her eyes met John’s mesmerizing green ones. He held out his arm to her, but she didn’t take it. In silence they walked along the gravel road to the white house, both with their eyes focused straight ahead. The closer they got, the more Annabelle could see the impact the war had had on the house. Several windows were broken, and much of the house’s white color was dull and pale in comparison to how it once was. She furrowed her eyebrows, which John saw.
“But they didn’t burn it”, he said, shrugging his shoulders, “and your family, at least parts of it, seems to be alive.” At first Annabelle didn’t understand what he meant, but then she saw it. In front of the open door, on the top step, stood a little girl. Her face was pale, haunted, and with dark circles under the hazel eyes. Her brown curls were a mess, and the dress she wore reached no longer than to her knees, and it was worn and ripped.
At first Annabelle didn’t recognize her, because small children have a remarkable tendency of growing incredibly fast, but when the girl’s gaze caught hers it felt as if she couldn’t breathe anymore.
“Katherine”, she whispered.
“Annabelle!” She spun around, and was met by her mother’s warm embrace. It almost came as a shock, because Charlotte never used to show her feelings openly, let alone hug someone other than father. She felt her mother’s fingers combing through her hair. “I never should have let you go”, she said, and then stopped hugging her, just to look at her. “Oh, I thought I never would see you again!” Annabelle smiled at her mother with all her heart, still without really understanding that she actually was back.
“I've missed you too, mother”, she said, carefully, for the word ‘miss’ made her think of Killian, and it still hurt too much. He was gone; he would never get to go home. She quickly changed the topic so that she wouldn’t have to cry again. “Have you seen or heard anything from Sam or Dean?” Her mother shook her head.
“Nothing from your father either, I’m afraid.” When Annabelle heard her mother’s words, it was impossible for her to hold back her tears.
“Mother”, she whispered, broken and lost, as if she was a little child again, and went to her mother for support and comfort. She was initially going to tell the whole story, about how her father came to Mrs. Ericsson’s house badly injured, and then died after Annabelle had watched over him during both days and nights. She had also thought of telling how they had buried him, that he at least got a decent grave and was laid to rest on a large, green meadow beside the mighty oaks, but somehow the words got lost.
“Father is gone”, she said, trying to keep her voice as clear as possible, out of respect towards Charlotte. But she couldn’t; the words were too heavy.
“He is... dead?” Charlotte’s hand flew to her mouth, and Annabelle saw how tears rose in her eyes. She took her mother in her arms, and noticed for the first time how weak and fragile the woman’s body was.
“I’m so sorry, mother”, she murmured, and let her tears fall freely.
“How”, she heard her mother’s faint whisper, and Annabelle swallowed.
“War”, she answered her, “it was the war that took father.” Then she took a deep breath; she didn’t want to cause her mother any more pain, but she still had to tell the truth.
“Did he suffer?” Charlotte continued, but Annabelle shook vaguely on her head.
“I was with him until the end”, she whispered, “and I made sure that he didn’t feel any pain. He asked me to say that he loves you, now and forever.” Charlotte sobbed quietly, and held the girl closer.
“He loved you so much, mother”, Annabelle breathed as she was trying to get herself to take deeper, slower breaths.
“No more than he loved you, Annabelle.” She replied, and then Annabelle realized that the sorrow she carried in her heart never really would go away.
Later that day Annabelle looked around the house. It was so different, everything. The windows were shattered, causing gusts of wind around the house, the curtains were torn down and the large dining table where they used to dine had been torn apart straight across. In some places even the floor had been broken, making gaping holes reaching in the dark for their feet. If it hadn’t been people there, you could have believed that the house had been abandoned for many years. Annabelle took a deep breath. Not even the smell of home was the same.
“Annabelle?” A bright voice made the girl turn around. There, on the first step of the white marble staircase, stood a dark-haired, elegant girl, whose pale blue dress was both dirty and ripped.
“Simone!” Annabelle ran straight into her open arms, and Simone, very surprised but also happy, hugged her back. “I missed you, Simone”, she said, and her white dress danced around her legs. Simone nodded, with a pale smile dancing on her lips, and Annabelle could see how she secretly judged the dress she wore; short, dirty and ugly, but she couldn’t bother her brain with stupid problems like that. There were so many questions Annabelle wanted to ask that she couldn’t come up with a single word. It was Simone who began to talk.
“Well, Miss Annabelle, how have you been?” Annabelle winced at the way she said her name, but decided to let it be.
“It’s been... Tough, I suppose”, she murmured, because she didn’t wish to mention that she fought in the war. It was unnecessary information that surely would do nothing but upset people. Simone raised her head, and looked at the wide-open door behind Annabelle.
“Where is Miss Alice, Miss Annabelle?” She said wonderingly, and Annabelle lowered her gaze.
“She... chose to stay”, was her answer, and she hoped that Simone would settle with that. She didn’t. “Do you mean that she stayed with Mrs. Ericsson?” Annabelle saw strange at the girl, because she had never mentioned where they had been.
“John told me”, Simone said quickly, “well, he’s been here a few times, giving us new information about the war and you.” Annabelle shook loosely on her head, and her eyebrows were suspiciously frowned. John had never visited them - he had never been there, except for a few days ago, when he had been there with her. “Is something wrong, Miss Annabelle?” Simone asked friendly, and Annabelle gave her an absent smile.
“No, it’s nothing.”
He stood in what had once been the ball room and talked with Charlotte, as Annabelle pushed open the door. When she saw him talking to her mother, she decided to wait, as she wasn’t keen to discuss John’s secrets and mysteries with Charlotte in the room.
“Annabelle, is there anything special you have on your mind?” Her mother had turned to her, and now they both had their eyes fixed on her. She shook her head slightly, and went out the same way she had come in.
The fresh air outdoors made her curls dance around her head as she sat down on the white, wide staircase. The garden spread out before her, but where it once had bloomed red roses and beautiful winter pansies were now just withered branches and dead leaves. The grass that had used to be so green had turned into a grayer shade - or perhaps that was just her imagination?
Anyhow, it was a very bleak view that echoed out of both grief and loss. War, she thought again, why? Everything was so broken and sad; her life, dreams and future, that she for a moment wished that she had died there under the pale pink heaven, along with Killian. Oh, how her heart desired, that Killian would be there now, with her, so that she wouldn’t be left entirely to her solitude and sadness.
Just then, in that moment, she was willing to sacrifice anything for him to sit there beside her, and gently press her hand as he whispered soothing words in her ear. If only he were here, she thought, I might not have been this lost that I no longer can be saved. Then she took a deep breath, as if to vent the grief that burned so fiercely within her.
And just then, when the wind shook the leaves of the mighty oaks and it sounded like they whispered her name, she remembered his promise. I will always be by your side. And then, in that second, she could have sworn that she felt him there beside her.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, left alone to her thoughts, before John came and sat down next to her. She could feel how he looked at her, but she continued to hold her gaze straight ahead.
“So, John”, she said, in a tone he had never heard her speak before, “when were you going to tell me about your adventures to Mrs. Ericsson’s house?” She caught a glimpse in the corner of her eye how he wrinkled his eyebrows, but she couldn’t read his facial expression. She swallowed.
“Annabelle, I wanted to tell you-“, he began, but she interrupted him.
“Really? Well then, how could you have known the way there, especially as the house lays hidden deep into the woods? And how could you tell mother and Simone about how we had it there?” How could you not tell me? Now she turned her head towards him and looked him straight in the eye. At first he didn’t respond, and Annabelle clenched her jaw. “I’m not stupid, John”, she said, and he took a deep breath.
“It’s something you should know about me and Alice”. he said quietly and gloomy, as if Annabelle just discovered his biggest secret. Questioningly she raised her right eyebrow.
“Tell me.” She was genuinely curious, but didn’t want to encourage him too much. He pulled his left hand through his short, brown hair, before he began to speak.
“The reason I went to Mrs. Ericsson was to meet Alice.” He paused, and Annabelle laughed sarcastically.
“So it was what I thought the whole time, then?” He frowned, and shook on his head. The look in his eyes was honest, and for a moment Annabelle hesitated.
“No, it’s not what you think. Alice and I, we are brother and sister. We escaped to the north a long time ago, but stayed in the outskirts of Atlanta, after we had...” Here he interrupted himself, and turned up his bright green eyes towards the sky.
“That’s a story for another day. Anyway, after a while we ended up in Atlanta, in a nice house with white fences and a garden as big as the meadow beyond the forest. Then it was I, Alice, our parents and Matthew.” When he saw Annabelle’s confused gaze, he hastened to explain. “Matthew was our brother, only two years old when we arrived there. I was seven, and Alice only five.” He smiled. “I had a good childhood, Annabelle, apart from the fact that it was too short. Alice, Matthew and I were the golden trio, always together, always happy. It was when the days were lined with fun and laughter, and there were no plans for war.”
Suddenly Annabelle came to think of Killian and his story, and couldn’t help but to see the similarities, although they were few. Besides, Killian never left me, she reminded herself.
“But happiness always comes to an end, isn’t that true, Annabelle?” He turned his gaze towards her, and the shimmering green eyes held on to her gaze firmly. She was trapped, drowned in the depths of his soul.
“Yes”, she whispered. He shrugged, and looked doubtfully at her.
“I’m really not good at this”, he murmured, still with his eyes directed towards Annabelle. “Anyway, they died. All of them.” He cocked his head slightly to the left. "All of them besides Alice and me.” He made an attempt to stand up, but Annabelle took hold of his jacket.
“Please”, she said, “continue. What happened?” John sighed deeply, but sat down again.
“What happened was that they died”, he said. “Please, Miss Annabelle, can’t I go now?” He talked to her as if she was a small child, but she didn’t care. She shook on her head.
“I want to hear”, she said, “you owe that to me.” He bit his lower lip, turned his head to the side and muttered a vague
“Sure.” Annabelle sat quietly and waited for his words to once again begin to flow. It was a dark and unknown gaze in his eyes, when he began to speak.
“I was ten years old, and Matthew had just turned five. It was a warm day, and a thick fog crept along the roads”, he shook his head in frustration and wrinkles appeared on his forehead.
“I'm sorry, Annabelle, but I can’t do this.” He hid his face in his hands, seemingly angry, only to remove them seconds later. His eyes were still dark, but now the shimmer replaced by darkness and fog. “My head- I just... I can’t, Annabelle”, he muttered, almost scared, between clenched teeth, “I can’t, it’s too hard.”
Before Annabelle had time to say something, John rose and walked with away with quick, angry steps.