Two lost souls
Days passed, and Annabelle tried to put on a good face even though she hadn't seen John since that awful, early morning in August. She knew, and she had known it then too, that one doesn't question men of high birth, for it always backfires. Imagine if John told anyone about Annabelle’s tears, and worse: how she stood up for herself! She would be disgraced; humiliated, if that rumor began to spread. He must have thought she was crazy, who took a walk - alone - that time of the day. No one else, except for slaves, were awake that early.
“Therefore,” she decided, “it's better if my feelings for John disappear. Love is a human’s greatest weakness, and I am not going to allow myself to be weak.” It would be difficult, but she couldn't be in love with a man who didn't care for her. She was worth much more than that.
A week or two after the incident between Annabelle and John, the Richards' family had a dinner party. Annabelle and her sister would arrive, but not their mother. She said that she was too busy with everything, things their servants couldn't take care of. Annabelle knew, however, that the only reason their mother didn't want to go was because her husband, their father, wouldn't be there.
They hadn't gotten a letter in weeks, and behind the smiles and laughter that echoed in the house, there was a growing fear. Nobody wanted to talk about it, but everyone thought it: what if he was dead? What if Annabelle's father was dead, buried in a shallow grave somewhere up north, in a cemetery without roses, a cross without a name. What if he was gone?
Annabelle was slightly upset that she would have to go to the party without Simone, as the girl wasn't allowed to come along. She was a slave, after all. It would only be Annabelle and Rebecca, who she knew would leave her for her fiancé as soon as they arrived. However, Annabelle was happy that she and her sister didn't have a chaperon this time. That meant she would be left entirely to the solitude.
“How is it going, Annabelle? Are you done yet?” Rebecca’s sharp voice echoed through the house. Even though she didn't say it in an angry way, Annabelle heard that her sister wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Her fiancé, James Henry, would be there to meet her, and she didn't want to be late just because she had promised their mother to wait for Annabelle.
“Soon,” Annabelle replied, and asked Simone to hurry up.
“I am working as fast as I can, Miss,” Simone murmured, with hair pins stuck into both corners of her mouth. She was doing Annabelle’s hair, and it was stressful enough to feel Annabelle’s watchful, discerning gaze in the mirror. If she hurried up, the hair would be a mess and it would look horrible, and also take longer, just because she would have to start all over.
Just a few minutes later, Simone was finished. “Turn around so I can see,” Simone asked, and reviewed her work carefully. She knew that if she wasn't happy, there was no way Miss Annabelle would be.
“I think it looks wonderful,” Annabelle smiled. “Forgive me, if I stressed you,” she said then, a little more serious, but with a friendly twinkle in the hazel eyes. “It's just that I get so stressed when Rebecca is waiting.” She made a gesture of resignation with her hands, and smiled uncomfortably. “Thank you for everything, Simone. Now I think I should go to my sister, before she leaves without me.” Annabelle stroked gently over the light blue gown, that highlighted her slender waist and flat chest. Lace and beautiful satin creations adorned the outfit, and made it look magnificent in the room’s dim afternoon light. Without any further gesture, Annabelle turned around and went down the creaking stairs with determination in her steps.
“Miss Rebecca and Miss Annabelle Johnson, so nice that you could come! Anne is about to start with the food, but please, come in and take something to drink.” Mr. Richards himself welcomed them with a smile into the elegant, red-brown brick house. The girls answered him, each with a little bow of the head, before they lifted the broad dresses to enter.
Rebecca immediately found James, and went happily towards him as he stood by the sparkling fireplace. They laughed lovingly with each other, and Annabelle couldn't help but feel a little lonely. She walked slowly to the table and reached for a glass of homemade apple juice, because mother had forbidden her everything with alcohol in. She let the golden liquid touch her lips before she looked around. A maid played a happy piece on the piano, and some danced along to the music. Laughter echoed along the building’s white walls, and Annabelle raised her eyebrows. She was already bored.
Uninterested, she noticed how many ladies were there, and how few men. It was a painful reminder of the war, and the death that had spread in its wake. Many of the missing men would never return, and she couldn't help but wonder what the world would be like when peace once again reigned. She looked for familiar faces, but only found those of strangers. A sigh of loneliness and boredom left her lips.
“This will be a long night,” she murmured to herself and took a small sip of her drink. With curious eyes of strangers following her, Annabelle disappeared out to the house's backyard to take a breath of fresh air. The air inside the house had been too warm for her, and she had always liked the smell of freedom.
After having stretched out her legs, she sat down on a carved wooden bench, placed onto a bed of flowers, just where a huge field began. While she sat there, lost in thought, she noticed the wind’s gentle rustling making the leaves on the trees dance, and the sweet poppy flowers in the meadow in front of her to slowly rock back and forth. The wind caused her to discover all the small things, like the eternal cry of crickets and every little straw of grass swaying, all those things that she never really thought about, but always were there.
It were the funniest thoughts, that played in her head, as she sat on that wooden bench outside the Richards lands on that September evening. She would probably have been sitting there in her solitude lost in her thoughts for much longer, if it were not for the fact that someone sat down next to her.
“Miss Annabelle Johnson,” said the same, familiar, charming voice that had spoken to her on that awful, early August morning.
“Mr. O’Malley,” she answered him briefly, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Why did he always pick the weirdest situations to meet her? If he wanted to be with her, as she had wanted to be with him only a few weeks ago, he should had seen her a lot more often and not during such strange circumstances. Oh, how much she had wanted to be with him before, but now her feelings for him had cooled down considerably and this was not just because of her promise to herself. He had had his chance, and now it was gone. Why did he have to bother her now?
“You don't seem particularly happy to see me, Miss Annabelle.” His eyes searched for hers.
“That is because you always manage to pop up on such strange places, when I'm all alone, only to disappear just as quickly.” Her eyes were cold, but also watchful and wondering.
“I have my own reasons, Miss, and they are and will remain personal.” He smiled one of those charming smiles and raised his eyebrows slightly, in a way that made her heart glow. But when she kept her face cool, his smile disappeared just as quickly as it had come. He shook his head and rose. As he brushed off his black pants, he said: “You don't seem like you want to talk with me today, Annabelle, so I'll just leave.”
Angry that he had said her name without a “Miss” first, as well as several other reasons, she stood up so quickly that her curls bounced against her bare shoulders. She stood there in front of him, and didn't know what to say. Her mouth opened and closed, for no words wanted to find their way out. Eventually she just snorted, insulted and angry.
“You can't just come and go, and continue to treat me like you do,” she began in a loud voice. She didn't say more, because suddenly John had put a cool finger against her rosy lips.
“Mr. Richards,” he said then, his eyes lost in Annabelle’s, and Annabelle didn't know if she wanted to slap him or kiss him. “Is there anything you want?” A low, rumbling laughter was heard from the brick house.
“I was just wondering if you had seen the young Miss Annabelle Johnson,” Mr. Richards said, completely unaware of the fact that Annabelle was hidden behind John. “There is someone who wants to talk to her. If you see her, please let me know.” John attempted something that looked like a hard smile.
“That I will,” he promised.