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An Even Path: Post 8

August 09, 2017 02:31AM
Author's note: there is a version of this post with just a little bit more steam on another Austen site. If you'd like that site address, just send me an email at beeninehundred@gmail.com

Post of these posts are brand new chapters! smiling smiley


Chapter 10 Part 2



Anne tried to numb herself to Valentine's Day. She never quite managed it—though she stubbornly kept trying. It was just one more date on the calendar. Every year, she lived through it. Every year was a struggle.

She warded off a bout of loneliness when bundles of red roses and bouquets of pink carnations arrived for other teachers and classroom aides. She sat as still as a stone at the edge of the break room, enduring the gym teacher whispering sweet nothings to a fourth year technology instructor. She resisted reaching for her earphones.

For years she'd longed for Fred's presence in the city. She'd wished for the chance to rediscover each other, learn from their mistakes, let go, move forward. Daydreams, she told herself. Nothing more. He's dating someone else now. He took her to a ballet, for goodness sake. He hates ballet.

Frederick's date had looked so very young. So pretty. So impressionable. So...ready to adore him. For the length of the tube ride home, broken images flashed through her mind. Frederick with his arms around that cheery blonde. Frederick whispering gentle words in her ear. Frederick taking her hands.

Fred wouldn't be alone tonight. He was moving on with his life.

When she arrived home from work, she tossed her purse onto the couch, tugging off her leather gloves. She was tired of feeling like a record on repeat. She was tired of yearning for a man who'd forgotten her. She was tired of carrying the weight of that love on her shoulders. She was so terribly tired.

Emma and Elizabeth were in Elizabeth's bedroom. Elizabeth spun in a blood red dress. It was one of Emma's designer cast-offs: sleek, sophisticated, unashamedly sexy.

“Too much,” Elizabeth murmured. Her fingers skimmed the low neckline. She dared a glance in the nearby mirror, barely believing her own reflection. The blood red fabric turned her skin to ivory, and made her hair a curtain of midnight. She didn't know the beauty looking back at her. “I'm not brave enough for this, Emme. I feel like they'll all look at me and think...”

“They would look.” Emma sat cross-legged at the edge of the bed. “They'll all see what a beautiful woman you are. There's nothing wrong with that.”

“I can't.” Elizabeth chewed on her lower lip. She turned away from the mirror. “I'm wearing my dark blue tea dress.”

“The one that goes all the way up to your collar,” Emma pouted, “and down to your knees?”

“I'll feel awkward enough around all those strangers.” She started unzipping the dress. “I'd rather be comfortable.”

“But--” Emma stopped, catching sight of Anne. “Oh, Anne! How was your day?”

“Long. Trying.” Anne entered the bedroom. “I've thought about your offer, Emma, and I've decided I want to come. I just have one request.”

“Anything you want,” Emma agreed readily. “Anything at all.”

“Tonight,” Anne took a deep breath, “I want to feel beautiful.”

“There's nothing lovelier than kindness, Anna,” Elizabeth assured her, “and you have that in spades. But if you want to have fun with makeup, I think you've made Emma's night. Nothing brings her joy like a makeover.”

“She's right on every count,” Emma confirmed. “Anne, this is going to be fun!”

**


Each girl was granted private time in the bathroom to shower, shave, moisturize and prep. They regrouped later in Emma's bedroom. Elizabeth breezed in wearing comfortable cotton sweats. Her dark hair was already pinned up. Emma, in a snow white silk slip and sheer black nylons, sat on her bed. She was paging through a glossy copy of En Face magazine. Anne sat beside her, wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, carefully studying eye shadow palettes.

“A French twist?” Emma observed, looking up. “Pretty, Lizzie.”

“It looks very elegant,” Anne confirmed softly.

“My mum showed me how to do them. It's the only thing I can manage other than plaits or a ballet bun. We'll see how long it stays up, though. My hair's newly washed which means pins slip right out of it. Emma, do you think I need to fuss with nail varnish for this party?”

“Yes,” Emma confirmed. “Oh, and wear a little perfume, too! I have a bottle of Fleur Cinq in the jewelry box on my nightstand. It's a light scent; I think you'll like it. Find the bottle and use it.”

Elizabeth opened the jewelry box. Inside was an eclectic collection: diamond bracelets, Apache bead work, Mexican pearls, Persian gold. Tucked beneath a necklace of watery silver was a small glass bottle. Rose pink liquid shimmered within.

“Dab some just beneath the ear,” Emma advised, watching Elizabeth draw the cut-glass stopper off. “And just a little in your hair.”

For now, Elizabeth was electing not to challenge her friend's bossy streak. She dabbed the droplets in the requested locations.“Why here?”

“Because when a man's holding you close, he'll breathe in a whisper of perfume. Scent is the finishing touch. He'll be weak kneed.”

Elizabeth laughed. She moved to the bed, settling next to Anne. “The men dancing with me will be the usual lot from the ballet. They're not the weak-kneed type.”

One of Emma's cosmetics boxes held a collection of nail polishes. She studied a rainbow of bottles. Ruby red, deep purple, ethereal silver, shining gold.

“I've no talent for this.” Elizabeth drew the silver polish from the box. “I usually read a book while my nails dry, but the varnish always ends up smeared by the time I've finished a chapter.”

“Liz,” Emma murmured under her breath, “you really are his dream girl.”

Anne's mouth pursed. A puzzled furrow formed between Elizabeth's brows. What was Emma going on about? “Hmm?”

“I think,” Emma spoke up, “that you should consider the prospect that Will Darcy might come to Mansfield Park tonight.”

“I wouldn't---he wouldn't---” Elizabeth shook her head, struggling to follow the thread of Emma's thoughts. “Why would Darcy come to Mansfield Park?”

“Lizzie,” Emma looked up from her magazine, “Will basically asked you out today.”

Elizabeth's palms were growing warm. She started shaking the nail polish bottle, rattling it until she heard the bead bouncing against the glass. “Very funny.”

“He asked what you were doing tonight.”

Elizabeth lifted one shoulder. “It's Valentine's Day. It's a common question.”

“Not for Will, it isn't,” Emma countered.

“Did you ask Will about his plans for the evening?”

“Yes, but--”

“Loads of people ask that question.”

“I'm nosy. Will isn't. Will doesn't just go around...” Emma gestured, “asking people about their plans. He only asks if he's interested, and believe me, Lizzie, he is interested. In every way a man can be interested in a woman, Will's interested in you.”

Elizabeth shook her head. She still remembered their first meeting and Will's cool, dismissive assessment of her. He'd apologized, and she'd accepted, but she still doubted that he thought their connection was anything more than a matter of circumstance. As a fisherman's daughter she made an odd addition to his life. Will's community was made up of barristers and academics, heiresses and baron's daughters. Perhaps Elizabeth's unusual background sparked a little curiosity in him, but it was far too large a leap to think that curiosity meant romantic interest.

She simply couldn't believe it.

“You didn't notice,” Emma continued, “how he nearly swallowed his tongue when he saw you this morning in those tiny cotton shorts. Anne saw it, too. You've known Will forever, Anne. Have you ever seen him like that with a girl?”

Anne's smile to Elizabeth was gently sympathetic. “I can't speak for Will. It's true that he's a remarkably composed man. I've never seen him struggle to pour coffee before.”

Pink bloomed in Elizabeth's cheeks. She held up the silver nail polish. “Do you two think silver is a good color to pair with a dark blue dress?”

“Does this mean you're done talking about Will?” Emma guessed.

“Yep.”

“If that's the case, than silver it is.” Emma held up her magazine. She pointed to one glamorous model. “What would you think of this eye makeup, Anne? Something smokey? With hints of gold and violet eye shadow? We'll go with eyeliner, and lots of mascara, too.”

Anne started chewing on the edge of her mouth. “I've never worn much on my eyes.”

“This is the perfect night to try it. You'll look like Cleopatra.”

Emma reached inside her makeup box, searching for foundation colors that might match Anne's skin. Anne had a naturally tan complexion, with undertones of olive and gold. Emma was pleasantly jealous of it. A month spent sunning in San Tropez wouldn't gain Emma the gorgeous shade that Anne boasted naturally. Emma finally decided she'd have to mix two shades together to find one that matched.

“I'm going to combine this with a little moisturizer so that your skin stays hydrated,” Emma said, mixing liquids with an applicator brush. She tipped Anne's pointed chin upwards, feathering makeup onto her skin. “And now, we blend.”

Anne giggled. “The brush tickles.”

“I'll be quick. You don't need much foundation, to tell the truth. You have gorgeous skin. Small wonder your sisters are so jealous of you.”

A small frown formed. “I don't think 'Betta and Maria feel that way.”

“That's because you're a kind soul who believes the rest of us are above it, too.” Emma had a sister. She knew the blend of affection and envy that most sisters lived with. “Lizzie, would you let me do your eye makeup, too?”

Elizabeth, painting her toes, was also attempting not to leave a shower of silver on Emma's comforter. “Probably.”

“You should see the dress I'm lending Anne.”

“It's a beautiful shade of purple,” Anne confirmed softly.

“I'm happy you think so,” Emma said. “That'll get thoughts of your anniversary with Frederick out of your head, Anne.”

“Anniversary?” It was a relief for Elizabeth when her right foot was done. I'd need the patience of Job to do this regularly, Elizabeth decided, moving the brush to her left foot. She could think up a dozen more useful things to be doing with her battered feet. “Is today when you first started dating?”

“Um...” Anne's voice was soft, “no.”

“Your first kiss?” guessed Emma. Having finished Anne's foundation, she reached for eye liner and a clean, disposable applicator wand. “The night he proposed?”

“No.” Anne's voice was small. “None of those things.”

“Well, I haven't another guess in me,” murmured Elizabeth, “unless this was the night you ruthlessly seduced him.”

Anne's prolonged, delicate silence made Emma gasp. Elizabeth's fingers jolted, smearing silver varnish on her ankle.

“Well...” Elizabeth's mouth quirked. She examined the silver streak. If anyone asked, she'd claim it was decorative.

"It wasn't quite what you described, Lizzie, though I did start it.” Anne's dainty mouth pursed. “Fred and I didn't get very far before we were interrupted.”

There was curiosity on Elizabeth's face, but no real surprise. “How old were you?”

“Eighteen. Young enough to confuse impulse with wisdom.” Anne shrugged. “Truthfully, we were too young for it. I didn't think that at the time, but everything that happened...we weren't ready for the repercussions. I know you probably both think every thought I have is measured and careful, but...if my mother hadn't interrupted, I'm quite sure we would have gone through with it.”

“Did you talk to your mom about it afterward?” asked Elizabeth.

“No. Mother and I have never had a relationship that lent itself to that sort of dialogue.”

“Well, I get that,” Emma murmured. “Dialogue isn't the word for what Mom and I have, either. What about you, Lizzie? Did anyone discuss sex with you when you were younger?”

“My Mum. With five pregnancies and Da for company, she's no shrinking violet. We talked about a few things when I was a wee girl of thirteen, and more as I grew older.”

“What sort of advice did she give?”

Elizabeth tilted her head. “Different things. She wants all of us to have a chapel wedding, and a person we love, and I think most of my brothers will. Liam surely hasn't, though she lets him find his own path. She said any man I love should love and accept me completely in return. She told me that I should never to apologize for my body, no matter what state it might be in. She said if something hurts or frightens me, or if I simply didn't like something, I should say it straight away. She said any man worth his salt pleases his woman as much as he pleases himself.”

“Wow,” said Emma, awe entering her voice. “Your relationship with your mother sounds so...healthy.”

“I couldn't imagine that discussion with my parents, either,” Anne murmured. “One would think I arrived via stork.”

Emma turned back to her palettes of eye shadow. “So Anne, what happened with you and Fred...are you comfortable talking about it?”

Anne nodded. "Some of it.”

“Only share what you feel like sharing,” Elizabeth assured her. She rocked back against a nearby pillow. “We'll try not to act like you're Ponce de Leon reporting on the New World, won't we, Emme?”

“Sure.” Emma's laugh was light. “I'm no good with maps, anyway.”

"Well,” said Anne, “Fred and I were very young. Too young. I look back on it and I think, given the intensity of our emotions...” She shrugged. At eighteen, she'd been so sure of where their future led them. “Well, anyway...Frederick was a bit older. He was so careful with me. I was a schoolgirl, so sheltered, so in love, and frankly...quite naïve. I was spending my weekends at Kellynch estate, and my weekdays at boarding school. Frederick was my whole life. When it seemed like he might be taken from me, I felt like I had no....choices. No power over what my life looked like.”

That night, Valentine's night, her whole life changed.

--

After spending time at the college dance, she brought him to Kellynch Hall, slipping him into her bedroom. In the gold light of her bedroom, huddled together on her bed, they examined her engagement ring and spoke about the future.

They'd been secretly engaged for some time. The instant he'd knelt to offer her a ring, he'd bravely asked to speak to her parents. He'd wanted their approval as soon as he'd gotten hers.

Anne had been the one begging for the delay.

A confrontation with her parents would require planning and preparation. They'd done just that. Frederick drew up a budget that could be used for their first few months together. He calculated utility costs and auto fees. He showed his list of modest investments. He researched benefits for Navy spouses. Anne started paging through newspapers in search of affordable rent. They sketched the outlines of their first year as a married couple. She talked about deferring her first year of studies at Oxford.

When they were apart, Frederick kept her engagement ring on a chain around his neck. When they were together, he slipped it on her hand.

“It's become a good luck charm for me,” he whispered, “though it's luckier when you wear it.”

His thumb traced the diamond's hard edges. She knew he must have saved every pound and pence to buy it for her. He hardly made any money at his father's auto repair shop.

“I'm going to miss you while you're in Spain, Angel.



--

Emma's mouth fell open. “Spain?”

“My parents knew that Fred and I were serious. They couldn't talk me out of dating him. I found out the week before that they'd arranged for something else. I was due to spend the final months of my sixth form term at a convent school in Spain. I was devastated about the prospect of leaving Fred. Especially because, well, he was scheduled for training camp that June.”

--

“I love you,” she whispered. She'd climbed onto his lap. Her head buried in the crook of his neck. She knew he could feel her tears on his skin. She was trembling. His arms held her close. Her nails dug into his back.

Her parents would take her away from him. They hadn't even learned about the engagement and they were already trying to pull them apart. All of Anne and Frederick's planning, all of their prudent decisions would be met with a stone wall. That was the real reason she'd delayed telling her mother and father.

They were rushing toward an inevitable schism. She could feel it.

Even the idea of separation made her heart ache. “I love you,” she whispered again. Worried blue eyes sought hers. His hand touched her cheek. Their lips joined. The kissing continued, slow and heated. It was mouths first, then soft tongues, then desperate, loving caresses.

A fever was racing through her. She kissed him again, infusing the token with all of her desperate need.

“Anne.” The word was rough. Frederick's breath was growing rough. Feeling darted across his face. Hunger. Affection. Desire. Love. Caution. “Anne, sweetheart, I--”

She silenced any follow up with another kiss, this one fierce, devouring. “I'm in love with you, Frederick.”

“I love you too,” he said thickly. “You have no idea how much...” They kissed again, fervently. Frederick's breath was coming quick and hard. “Anne, we—I didn't think that you'd—" he could see the intent in her eyes. "Are you sure? Because you have to be sure, love.”

“Every part of me aches for you, Frederick. My heart. My body. I'm sure, if you're sure.” Until she said the words aloud, she hadn't known how close to weeping she was. Her dress was a sleeveless violet chiffon. It had a hidden zipper on the side. She was the one who started unzipping it. “I don't want anyone to take you from me.”

“No one ever could.” Passion was overtaking them both. He started unbuttoning his shirt.

She didn't want the voice echoing in the back of her mind, the one telling her to just wait . It was the same conscience that told her that a secret engagement was a poor idea, that they'd fought so hard to love each other these past few years. That they deserved more than hidden rooms, and hurried, half-thought embraces.

She didn't want thought and reason. She wanted him. She wanted him so much she felt like her skin was on fire.

The new ring on her finger should have felt like an anchor to the future. Instead, her path ahead seemed foggy. She could think of no approach, no argument that would result in her parents approving of this proposal. She'd have to withstand their disapproval. She'd have to be brave. In her mind, Frederick was the brave one. She wanted his bravery.

She kissed him again, hoping to lap up bravery. In the soft light of the bedroom, his blue eyes were as warm as a summer sky.

“I love you,” he whispered, “but we can stop at any time, Anne, if--”

"I know.” She pushed their lips together again. If she examined her thoughts too long, her mind would probably tell her to stop. Her body kept encouraging her to push forward. “I know. I love you, too.”

They started kissing and touching again. They were nervous, fumbling as they rolled against a pillow.

“Oh...my hair.” She winced, laughing, and re-positioned her head.

“Sorry--” His apology was breathless. “I didn't mean--”

“No, it's not your fault, I'll just--” They kissed again. Nervous pleasure made her shiver. Reflex made her elbow pop up. It crashed into the center of his rib cage.

“Frederick!” Worry widened her eyes and softened her voice. “Oh, honey, are you okay?”

“Fine.” His laugh was guttural. “You've got strength in you, Angel.”

“I didn't mean to hurt you.” She feathered kisses on his jaw, his cheek, his lips.

“Anne? Anita?” A hurried knock on the door made both freeze. “¿Tienes dolor?”

Spanish. It was her mother. She was asking if Anne was hurt.

Anne pressed a palm to her forehead, eyes squeezing shut. Fred was fighting hard to regain his breath. A quick, nervous tremble shook her body.

“Me duele...” Anne's voice wavered, “me duele la cabeza, Mamá.”

A headache. It was the nearest thing to a logical answer that she could offer right now, when her mind felt completely divorced from logic.

“Let me inspect you,” her mother answered briskly. “If it's that terrible, I'll call a doctor.”

The doorknob rattled. In one fluid movement, Frederick eased off her.

“Go to the bathroom,” she told him in a whisper, “my mother has a key to my bedroom door.”

He leaned down, kissed her once, hard and quick. Then he pushed off the bed, snatching up abandoned clothes. With a speed she'd never seen him equal, he slipped into the adjoining bathroom.

Anne fumbled blindly, righting her dress and shoving the hem to her ankles when her mother burst into the room.

“Mamá.” A blush flooded her cheeks. “I was just changing.”

Her mother studied her, both brows raised. She remembered Fred's opinion of her mother. He'd called Leticia Elliot a pocket pistol: small, exquisitely made, dangerous in quick, sudden movements. Her mother was barely five feet tall, but every inch counted. She filled up a room. Leticia hadn't readied herself for bed yet. She still sported a champagne colored suit, and small court heels. Amber jewel earrings glimmered in her ears. A matching bracelet, with gems like hard, clear candy, glimmered on her wrist.

That was when Anne realized she was wearing her engagement ring. She folded her hands together, tucking her left hand under her right.

“A headache, you said.”

If she didn't have one seconds ago, she was certainly getting one now. “It was terribly sudden. One minute I was fine, and the next...”

“Pain of that nature is nothing to trifle with.”

“It's nothing, Mamá, thank you. I've had a busy night. Frederick and I went to the Valentine's dance at Queen's College, and then he drove me here. There was heavy traffic on Eastern Avenue. I need rest.”

“I'll fetch you an aspirin.” Leticia turned on one heel, then stalked swiftly to the bathroom. Her manicured fingers grasped the door's silver knob. “Surely there's a bottle of it in here.”

Fear pushed her to the edge of the bed. “Mamá--”


--

“Oh no,” Emma interjected. “Did she find him?”

Anne shook her head. “The bathroom was empty. I even watched as my mother shoved the shower curtain aside. Frederick wasn't in there.”

Elizabeth's brow puckered. “But where...”

--


Lacking the object of her hunt, Leticia Elliot glanced back at her teenage daughter.

“Headache,” Leticia repeated flatly. One terse movement, and she reached into the cabinet above the sink.

Anne nodded. She'd started trembling. “Yes,” she whispered. “A terrible, terrible headache.”

Leticia grasped the plastic aspirin bottle. She swung the mirrored cabinet shut. “You look like you've been crying. Is this about our trip to Spain?”

“ Mamá...”

“You're upset about the distance from that boyfriend of yours.”

“The distance from Frederick,” Anne corrected quietly. “Yes, Mamá, it upsets me very much.”

“Space and time apart will be good for you, Anne.” She walked to Anne. The bottle was planted on Anne's mahogany bedside table, at the edge of the lace runner. “You're far too young for a relationship that serious, hija. I never should have let you continue it this long.”

“I know you think that, but--”

“It's not a matter of opinion, Anne. It's fact. You're a child. You have goals you wish to achieve.”

“I'm eighteen.” Stubborn pride strengthened her soft voice. “Nothing about my relationship with Frederick has been childish. We've been talking for months about what happens next for us. We've been planning for the future. If you understood him, Mamá, you'd know what a fine man he is.”

The comment brought a storm cloud to her mother's eyes. “He's not a man. He's a boy.”

“He's labored so hard these past two years, Mamá. When his best friends went to university, Frederick chose to stay here and work himself to the bone. He decided he needed to save and invest. He's so prudent. He's researched every aspect of the Navy. He has enough for a flat of his own, but he stays with his parents instead and cares for them. He manages their household. He budgets their grocery expenses, their utility expenses. He knows more about their finances than they do, and---”

“He might, but you don't. You've no knowledge about surviving outside of Kellynch Hall, nor do you need it at eighteen. You were accepted into Oxford, Anne. Oxford. I'm proud to say your academic merits, not your lineage, secured your spot there. One day you'll realize the importance of independence. Maybe that isn't today, but the time will come, I promise you, when you realize how valuable it is. You're too young for all the things loving that boy entails.”

--

“So...um,” Elizabeth cleared her throat, “ during all this, where was Fred hiding?”

Anne allowed herself a small smile. That was Elizabeth, always set on determining the mechanics of an improbable physical feat.

“I didn't discover the answer to that until my mother left. Fred was outside, balanced on the window sill. He was using the drain pipe as an anchor. It was reckless and mad, of course. I should have known then that he'd seek out the madness of the Royal Marines and the Navy SBS. Anyway, when mother left, Frederick slipped back inside.”

--

The moment the door shut behind Leticia, Anne sprung off the bed.

“Frederick!” she hissed. She bounded for the bathroom, gathering up the hem of her long skirt to keep from tripping. Dios mio, where was he? “Fred!”

She heard a soft scratch against the window. The twin shutters were usually flush against the window glass. Her mother hadn't noticed the slight gap where the blinds usually fastened, or the draft filtering through the room. The window was open. She pushed the blinds aside. “Fred!”

He was shivering and wet when he returned to her. He'd tossed on his clothes with impossible speed, losing his tie, leaving the shirt and cuffs completely unbuttoned.

“Careful. No, Angel, don't grab me. I could risk pulling you out. Just wait.” There was a hard strength in his voice.

She waited. She'd never thought that window frame looked quite so fragile as it did when his cold, stiff fingers gripped it. One hard push and he dropped into the bathroom.

“Frederick Wentworth,” terror made her voice shake, “if I had even a portion of my wits left in me, I swear that I'd--”

Cold limbs gathered her in his arms. “I'm alright.”

“That's five tall stories downward to a cold, hard flower bed. You might have died.”

“I think we both lost our wits tonight,” he whispered in her ear. His hug was hard.

“I know.” She could feel his heart hammering behind his ribcage. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I'd sooner have my mother find you than risk losing you.” Her chin tipped up. His mouth brushed hers. “I kept telling my mother how rational and sensible we both are, and then--”

“Yeah. Tonight we were anything but that.”

She nodded. She wondered what her mother would have said if she'd found him. For the first time in her life she considered the notion that one day she could have a daughter. Anne imagined how she'd feel if, as a teenager, that daughter brought a boy from a rough background into her household and declared herself in love with him. She imagined how she'd feel if that daughter had a secret engagement, and then brought that boy into her bedroom.

In her mother's shoes, she would have been furious.

“We're getting married,” she reminded herself softly. “This summer. It's the right decision.”

She'd planned that, too. She'd wear her grandmother's wedding dress made of antique Spanish lace. She'd speak her vows to Frederick in front of a Spanish sacerdote. They'd retreat to her family's summer house by the sea and truly make love, without fear or haste or interruption, in a bed that overlooked the ocean.

“Very soon,” he echoed, planting a kiss on her forehead. “Late June, like we planned. After you finish at that school in Spain. Anne, we must tell your parents. We can't wait any longer. Sunrise, this morning.”

“I know.” She cupped his face with her hands. “Please say it again. We'll marry in Spain this June.”

“We'll marry in Spain in June," he repeated softly. "As soon as you graduate. I've told my recruiter. He's said I can manage a weekend trip there between training camp.”

Only a single weekend in Spain for a wedding? She knew he could see the disappointment flit across her face. A proper Spanish wedding could last days.

He kissed her hand. “My time's not just my own, Angel. Not with the Navy.”

“I know...” her voice was soft, “I accept that, Frederick, I promise. And my grandmother will help pay for our wedding. Once she knows about you, and understands how much I love you, she'll--”

“I'm sure she would offer.” His thumb was soft on her cheek. “I can't start our married life beholden to aristocrats.”

“She can't help her title,” she whispered.

The comment snagged him. An array of conflicted feelings surfaced in his eyes. “I love you, Anne. For myself, though...I still have trouble with the idea that someone could be born with a prefix that gives him more privilege than the rest of us.”

She'd known for years that he felt that way. She wasn't sure why she was pushing this discussion now. “Not everyone's like my parents, Frederick. My Spanish and Mexican family won't disapprove of our love. They'll support us.”

“Anne...” his fingers pushed through her chestnut hair. “Angel, you come from money. I don't. I never will. My family's idea of a fancy wedding reception is a roast in the oven and a few extra chairs at the dinner table.”

“We can do that. We can marry with a roast in the oven, and those few extra chairs.” She traced the bones of his cheek. “I'm ready for it, Frederick. I don't need Kellynch Hall. Truly, I—I don't even want it.”

“I know. I just want you happy. You're set on getting married in Spain, and your grandmother being there. Okay, that's fine by me. I just want you to understand, darling, that I don't...I can't let her bankroll us.”

“But if she were to give us something that was a gift for me--”

“A gift for you. It's different,” he said gently, “if I'm involved.”

She shook her head. She didn't understand the distinction between her grandmother doing something for her, and her grandmother doing something for them.

“We had an intense night.” His mouth pressed against forehead. “I should go. You should sleep. At breakfast, I'll return. We'll sit down and talk to your parents about the engagement together. I'll bring my paperwork, my budgets...”

“I need to tell them first.” Her answer was soft, but the look in her eyes was decisive. “You should come back in the afternoon. After the shock wears off”

“I don't want you to face them alone.” He drew her hands to his lips, gently kissing her knuckles. “Whatever heat you take, I'll take with you.”

Her mouth pressed tight. She didn't want him here when the worst of the storm swept through Kellynch. The shock of it would stir them into a frenzy. Her parents would call him terrible names—names no soul should hear. They'd treat him like he wasn't worthy of her. “Not yet, Frederick.”

“I offered for your hand in marriage. I've promised my life to you. I'm yours in every way except for a piece of paper from the court.” His blue eyes met hers. “I'm yours, Anne. I can't let you do this alone.”

“Come back later,” she whispered, “after the initial shock of the engagement wears off. But not yet, Fred. Not yet.”

He kissed her mouth, her cheek, her ear. “It worries me,” he whispered, “whenever you're here in this house without me.”

He had good reason to worry. That was the beginning of the end of their relationship. She told her parents about the secret engagement—that they'd been engaged for four weeks, he'd offered marriage and she'd accepted.

The fallout was tumultuous. Her mother banished Frederick from the household and told the staff to dial the local constable if he ever showed up. Her father vowed to disinherit her if she went through with the marriage. Her mother booked her on the first flight to Spain.

Anne was inconsolable. Spain's sunny gardens and turquoise skies weren't enough to bring joy back into her heart. She threw herself into her studies in the daytime, weeping over Frederick at night. It was only later, after confessing her experiences to the convent school's oldest, frailest priest, that she heard a few truths, gently delivered in Spanish.

“Cry if you wish, little one. Your parents judgments were cruel. True heartbreak is worthy of tears.” They were sitting in the convent rose garden, on a wrought-iron bench. “If you wed the man you love now, tell me the life you would lead?”

Anne could barely see the elderly man's kind, dark eyes through her tears. “I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I just know that Frederick loved me.”

“Of course he did, as you loved him. But my clever hija, you wish to study at university, hmm? Reverend Mother tells me you are bright. You've been accepted to...Oxford, is it? Your father has promised the bursar's fee. Without his funds, who will pay for your school? You? Your young, brave, blue eyed lover?”

“No, but--” Anne shook her head. Frederick didn't have enough money to pay for her schooling. Anne had no inheritance save for what was tied to her parents' name. “I've prepared for that. I would have waited for university. I could work, and then--”

“Perhaps. The cares of daily life have a way of catching up with us. The money we think we'll save never lasts long. You would have to work a great deal to pay for your food, your clothes, your books, your house. Many manage that, though they do so with great struggle. It wouldn't be the life you're used to, would it? You would have little time to study. At times, you would be separated from your husband while he lives as a seaman. When he returned, you would have him, yes, and you would love him. What if God blessed you with a baby? What if you were pregnant, say, by Christmas? Who would raise your child? Who would feed her? Hmm? You would. It would not be easy.” Craggy hands cupped Anne's face. “Daughter, you could have the man you love, but you would invite great challenges with it.”

Her lower lip trembled. “You should have seen the look on his face what when I gave back his ring.”

“Wounded pride. Time is a cure for that. For years, you've claimed all of this boy's heart, and he's claimed all of yours. It's time, Anne Elliot, for you to discover your own heart.”


As she grew older, she heard wisdom in his words. Despite the pain of separation, she'd needed to grow up and discover herself. They weren't mature enough to weather the storm those choices had made. They weren't ready for any of it.

It was rare for her to share that story. The fact that she did so now with Elizabeth and Emma was a mark of her deep trust in them. By the end of it, Elizabeth was pale and Emma was teary.

“We're both older now. I'm sure, with time and distance, that Frederick is relieved we didn't marry young. We weren't ready for it. Not for any part of it. I regret the way we ended things. It all happened so quickly, from Valentine's Day onward. Our love was real, I'm sure of that. If we hadn't rushed the engagement and vowed to marry so young, maybe we might have---we could have---” Anne whispered.

They might have matured together. They might have dated throughout her university years, with her parents begrudging acceptance, and then married after Anne's graduation from Oxford. Wentworth would have established his career in the Navy by then, and she would have been old enough to earn her own living.

“We can't undo the past. Frederick's moved on with his life. I should, too. I just want to go out tonight and have fun.”

Emma was brushing tears from her eyes. “Elizabeth and I will move mountains to make that happen.” She sprung to action, reaching for a tray of smoke colored eye powders. “Anne Elliot, I'm going to make you into the belle of the ball.”
SubjectAuthorPosted

An Even Path: Post 8

BernadetteEAugust 09, 2017 02:31AM

Re: An Even Path: Post 8

deanna0288August 16, 2017 09:51AM

Re: An Even Path: Post 8

KarenteaAugust 09, 2017 07:22PM



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