She gazed up at the starry sky, her eyes automatically searching for the only constellation she could recognize at that time of yet, the Big Dipper. A smile touched her lips when she found it. She had always loved watching the night sky for it spurred her imagination and she dreamed of strange, far off places that man would never know. Lost in a world of her own, she was unaware of the tender look her companion was giving her. Thus, it surprised her when he suddenly said:
"Marry me, Anne."
"What?" she asked, unsure if she had heard him correctly.
He sat up and took her hand. "I love you Anne and I don't want to be without you. I've been thinking about this for a long time. We'll be graduating in two months and I'll be going off to Iowa State University. I want you to come with me. Your father can just as easily pay for tuition there as for a college here."
"Anne, you're the one I want to be with for the rest of my life and I'm hoping you feel the same. Please say you'll marry me."
He looked so vulnerable that Anne's heart swelled with love. She pushed back the tiny voice in her head that pointed out she would be sacrificing her own dreams if she accepted him. Surely she would find another and better happiness if she was with the man she loved. "Yes, I'll marry you Frederick."
He quickly embraced her then pulled back and tugged the class ring off his finger. He slipped onto Anne's left hand and said, "One month after we graduate Anne. I can't wait any longer than that."
"Neither can I."
"Anne, what's wrong? You've been moping around for the last month."
Anne looked at her Aunt Russell for several moments before coming to a quick decision. "Margie, I have something to tell you." She told the elder woman of Frederick's proposal and of their plans to attend the same college. "But I don't know how I'm going to tell Father... And I'm not sure about... I mean, I don't know if I really..."
"Oh dear," Margie sighed. "Anne come sit with me a moment." When her niece was seated comfortably on the sofa next to her she said, "I thought you wanted to attend college here. It was your dream to follow in your mother's footsteps. Now suddenly you've changed your mind. Why?"
Anne fiddled with her ring. "I don't know. I guess it's because I love Frederick and... and I'm afraid of losing him." She looked up pleadingly at her aunt. "It shouldn't make too much of a difference should it? I mean I'll still be going to college but just not to the one I wanted to."
Margie patted her hand. "I understand what you're going through, my dear. I made the same decision when I was your age by marrying your uncle instead of following my own plans. At first I didn't really mind but as the years passed, I began to resent the fact that I gave up my dreams for his. Don't get me wrong, I loved your uncle dearly but if I could go back... I would choose differently."
"What should I do, Margie? I don't want to lose Frederick but I don't want to give up my dreams either."
"That's your decision Anne but remember you're young yet. You have your own life ahead of you and if Frederick really does love you, he'll wait."
Two days after graduation...
"Why?" Frederick shouted. "Is it because you don't love me?"
Anne's eyes filled with tears. "I do love you! But I have to think about what I want too!" She sighed heavily. "I'm not saying I don't want to marry you. I only want to put it off for a few years until after college."
"Yeah, and a lot can happen in that time! You'll find someone else or change so completely that I won't know you anymore! No, it has to be now!"
"You're making it sound like we're never going to see each other! It's only four years -- and we'll have the summers and vacations together! You won't loose me!"
Frederick shook his head in disgust. "How do you know that? Can you see into the future? If you really loved me, you'd marry me now. All this waiting around stuff is bullcrap!" He folded his arms defensively and asked, "So what's it gonna be?"
Anne stared at him, not believing that he was forcing her to choose between him and her dream. Her hand shook as she slowly pulled off the ring Frederick had gave her and held it out to him. "I thought you'd understand," she said. "But I'm sorry. I can't."
"Fine!" Frederick snatched the ring from her hand. "I guess you don't love me. You never did." He turned to walk away but stopped and added, "You'll regret this Anne. One day, you'll realize you threw away the love of a lifetime." With that he stormed off.
Anne would not see him for the rest of the summer, and in the fall Frederick left for Iowa.
One year later...
"I'm sorry," the doctor said, "I'm afraid it's bad news."
Her family started to cry. Anne just stared at the doctor in disbelief. "Are you sure?" she asked.
He nodded. "The tests are positive. You have cancer."
Anne winced as one of the movers dropped a box marked "Dishes" on the floor. "Sorry," he mumbled and hurried off before Anne could say anything.
"Please, don't let too many of them be broken, " she said aloud as she opened up the box to inspect the damage. Anne peeled back the bubble wrap to reveal a jumble of shattered porcelain pieces. "Wonderful," she grumbled, "Now what are we supposed to eat off of?" The sound of her father's voice called her away from her contemplation of the ruined dishes.
"Anne, honey, could you open the door for me?"
Anne hurried over to the kitchen door and held it open as Walter Elliot struggled through, carrying a large box. He set it down on the counter top and then wiped his forehead. "Phew! That thing is heavy!" he exclaimed. "What's in this anyway?"
Anne checked the label on the side. "Mary's collection of pewter turtles," she replied.
"Well she can carry it upstairs then," Walter said with a smile. "Maybe that will teach her not to pack things so heavy next time."
"Is there going to be a next time, Dad?" Anne asked.
"Not that I can see," Walter replied.
This had been their second move in three years. When Anne was first diagnosed with leukemia, her father insisted on her having the best treatment available in Michigan. Unfortunately, it would mean she would have to be treated in Ann Arbor, which was a few hours drive from their home near Mt. Pleasant. The Elliots now had to make a decision. Elizabeth, the eldest Elliot daughter, was attending college out of state but Mary, the youngest, would be starting high school shortly. Walter considered leaving her with her Aunt Margie while he and Anne went down to Ann Arbor, but Mary refused flat out. She was not about to be separated from her family. They argued back and forth until Margie offered a solution -- sell the house in Mt. Pleasant and move to Ann Arbor. The sheer genius of it struck them all and the plan was agreed to instantly. Walter gave up his successful law practice and they moved within a month.
The Elliots lived in Ann Arbor during Anne's two-year battle with cancer. They stayed for another year after that, waiting to see if her leukemia would return. Much to everyone's relief, Anne stayed in remission. At about this time, Walter was offered a partnership in a small legal firm in Lansing, Michigan's capital city. He had not worked since the move, wanting to devote all his time to Anne. But now that Anne was better, he was anxious for employment again. And so the Elliots found themselves moving once again, this time to a small town twenty miles northeast of Lansing. It was named Kellynch.
It was late in the evening and the Elliots were deep into the unpacking when they heard a knock at the front door.
"I'll get it!" Anne shouted. She stood, brushed off the packing material that clung to her clothes, and then checked her reflection in the glass of the china cabinet. She grimaced as she brushed at her short hair, which was finally growing back after it had fallen out from the chemotherapy. It stuck up all over in ridiculous peaks and stubbornly refused to stay down. Anne sighed. "It'll have to do!" she said to herself. She heard the knocking again and ran down the stairs to open the door.
Two women stood on the porch, each holding a casserole dish. One was short, with light-red hair and blues eyes. Her companion was taller, had black hair and startling green eyes. Shock coursed through Anne's body as she recognized the tall one the same time the woman recognized her.
"Anne!" the woman exclaimed. She set the casserole dish on the porch swing and gave Anne a warm hug. "You do remember me?" she asked.
It took Anne a couple of seconds to find her voice but she managed a "Sophia Wentworth! How could I forget?" Yes how could I? she thought, You look so much like Frederick...
Sophia smiled. "It's actually Sophia Croft now, darling. I got married two years ago!" Anne barely had time to murmur her congratulations before Sophia went on. "If I had known you were to be our neighbors, I would have been here sooner! Are your father and sisters here also?"
"My dad and Mary are. Elizabeth is still away at college -- I guess she's taking some summer courses," Anne replied.
"Oh! And what is she studying?"
"Really! How does she..."
Sophia's companion, knowing how much her friend loved to talk, decided it was time to remind everyone of her presence with a discreet cough.
"Oh dear!" Sophia exclaimed, flashing a guilty look at the other woman. "I forgot the introductions! How rude of me!"
"It's alright, Sophia," the woman said. She smiled at Anne. "I'm Kerri Musgrove. I live right across the street from you," she said pointing at a large colonial style house.
"Anne Elliot," Anne said. "Would you like to come inside? My family would love to meet you."
"Only for a few minutes," Kerri replied. "You're probably very busy unpacking and we don't want to disturb you for long." She handed the casserole dish to Anne. "Sophia and I made you something for dinner. It's tuna."
Sophia picked up her dish. "And this is my famous macaroni and cheese," she said proudly. She looked Anne over critically. "I must say you need it! You've lost quite a bit of weight since I last saw you."
"I've been sick," Anne said.
"Oh that's right! How are you feeling?" Sophia asked sympathetically.
"That's good. Well let's get inside so I can feed you and say hello to your family."
The meeting was warm and the surprise of finding the Elliots and Sophia being neighbors was exclaimed over again. They talked for fifteen minutes and Sophia was full of plans for introducing the Elliots to the neighborhood.
"I'll organize a block party," she declared. "The first one of the summer! It will be just the thing." Not long after that, the two ladies left with admonishments to eat heartily.
"Well that was a pleasant surprise," Walter said to his daughters. "It's good to find a friend here in Kellynch."
Anne nodded but was hardly listening to him. It had been good to see Sophia again but she had also brought back memories of Frederick. She hadn't allowed herself to think about him much in the last few years but now she caught herself wondering just what he was doing. Sophia hadn't mentioned her brother at all but Anne was sure she would hear of him soon.