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"We're here!" Bridgette Weston cheerfully announced.
"Great," Annie Weston muttered sarcastically as she peered out the car window at the big, white house standing before her. The house was at least three stories tall, with blue shutters, and a stone walkway leading up to the front door. This house was a stranger to Annie, and now, it was her new home.
Annie hadn't wanted to move. If it wasn't for her parents' divorce, she would still be in sunny North Carolina, surfing or collecting shells on the beach. Annie's father had left her and her mother six months ago, and was already remarried. It was at this time that Mrs. Weston decided that it was "goodbye" North Carolina, and "hello" Michigan. Annie's mother found a job as a secretary at a nearby doctor's office, purchased a home, packed up, and moved away from the only place she had ever known.
Annie sighed as she climbed out of the car and slammed the car door as hard as she could, causing her mother to shoot a glare in her direction. They walked on the stone path up to the blue door of the house. Mrs. Weston inserted a small gold key into the lock and, with a slight push, the door squeaked open.
"Isn't it so gorgeous?" Annie's mother gushed, although the smile on her face wasn't as genuine as it looked.
"It looks dusty...and messy," Annie shot back, clearly disgusted.
There were boxes with various labels lying everywhere in the large, open room. Annie's mom had been there a few days before, along with the movers, placing boxes full of odds and ends in the appropriate rooms. Annie had refused to go with her mom, and had decided the stay at her grandmother's house instead.
"This house must be at least a hundred years old," Annie thought to herself as she studied the room. She could not believe that her mom had forced them to move from their modern ranch house on the beach to this old, creepy house.
"Well, go explore. There's a lot to see. There are so many rooms in this house, like a house you would see in the movies! I already picked a room for you. You will find your things in it," Mrs. Weston explained.
"Wonderful. I can't even pick my own room in this stupid house," Annie spat at her mom. "I hate it here! I hate Michigan and I hate this house!" Annie screamed.
A small tear rolled down Mrs. Weston's cheek. Her eyes looked tired, and her body looked frail, but Annie didn't seem to notice.
"You are so selfish," Annie continued. "I can't believe you would take me away from everyone and everything! It's not my fault that there is no such thing as happily ever after!" Annie saw the large staircase ahead and, without looking back, stormed up it in a fit of rage.
She whizzed down the long hallway past what seemed like a hundred doors, stopping at the last one. She quietly entered the unfamiliar room and locked the door. While inside, she noticed the walls were painted a cheerful yellow color¾ the opposite of her mood. The room was kind of pretty though. The bed was made with white wood, with a frilly comforter covering the mattress. The pure white carpet was plush, as if it had been replaced recently. Glancing above the Victorian-style bed, Annie noticed five block letters hanging on the wall spelling out "ANNIE."
"Wow. This is my room...lucky guess," she thought to herself, almost forcing her lips into a smile...almost. She really did like her new room, but she vowed never to admit this to her mother. Annie didn't mean to be hostile towards her mother, but ever since the divorce, Annie had trouble trusting others. She couldn't believe that her father would pick up and leave. Because of this incident, Annie came to believe that there was no such thing as a trusting relationship. And now, here she was in a strange city where she didn't have any friends; she was all alone.
Annie slowly walked to the window and looked down at little children playing outside, laughing and carrying on. A tear rolled down her cheek as she remembered a time when she used to be young and carefree. Annie quickly wiped away the tear and continued exploring her new room. She noticed another door on the far side of the room. "Must be my closet," she thought to herself.
Annie made her way to the door, turned the knob, and walked inside. It was a walk-in closet, like the one she had in North Carolina. She noticed several boxes on the floor of the closet labeled "Annie's Clothes." Annie opened them and began to hang her clothes on the hangers provided in the closet. While at work, Annie stopped at the back of the closet. There were long, red, velvety drapes concealing the back wall.
"I wonder why there are drapes in a closet?" she pondered. "The previous owners probably forgot them." Annie thought the drapes were ugly, so she pulled them aside; she would take them down later. But what Annie saw next when she pulled them aside was unexpected. There was a small door, about half her size, centered in the wall. Annie stared at the elf-sized door for a moment, unsure of what to do. She slowly crept towards the door and spotted a tiny brass key dangling from the door knob.
"This must be the key that opens this door," Annie decided. With slight hesitation, she removed the key and placed it into the rusty lock on the door. With a jiggle of the key and a turn of the small knob, she found herself standing before a tall set of stairs. It was dark, and Annie considered going back for a flashlight, but she decided against it. It would take hours to find a flashlight in all the cluttered boxes.
Annie searched high and low for a light switch, but instead she found a string hanging from the ceiling. With a swift tug of the string, light filled the room. "That's much better," she thought to herself. She made her way up the stairs and found herself in front of another door, only this one was much taller. "What's with all these doors?" Annie wondered, slightly annoyed.
This time, with much more force, Annie shoved open the door. The smell of dust engulfed her as she breathed in the musty air of the room she had entered. After a few hacking coughs, Annie composed herself and scanned the room with her eyes. Some of the anger from earlier drained away as she looked at the old things lying around the room. The room was filled with various items that must have been at least a hundred years old.
She slowly walked about the room, running her fingers over old jewelry boxes and books scattered on the floor. As she studied the antiques, a wooden chest in the corner of the room caught her eye. Annie knelt down next to it and gently blew a layer of dust off the lid. She grasped the edge of the heavy lid and forced it open with a loud screech. What Annie found inside was a stack of old, worn letters. The first letter she picked up was dated July 28, 1944. Annie began to read the letter, unable to restrain her curiosity any longer.
"My dearest Joseph," it began, "I miss you so very much. When is this dreadful war going to end? I sit in this house day and night, anticipating the moment when we will meet again." Annie read on. She could feel the sorrow that the woman had felt as she wrote this letter. It reminded Annie of the way she felt when her dad had left. Annie used to wait each day for her dad to call, hoping he would say that he had made a mistake and he wanted to come back home, but that day never came. One day, Annie had finally given up all hope.
Annie sat cross-legged as she picked up the next letter in the stack and began to examine it. The letter read, "My dearest Elizabeth, I miss you too, more than you could imagine. I pray each day that I will return home soon to be with you again. The sound of gunshots surrounds me. I can barely sleep, fearing for my life." Annie finished reading the letter. She noticed it was signed, "Love, Joseph."
Annie went through the stack, reading each and every letter. She felt terrible for the couple. Annie could tell how much they loved each other, and how hard it was for them to be apart. It made Annie want to cry, but she held back her tears, hoping that the couple had a happy reunion in the end.
As Annie picked up the last letter, however, she froze at what she saw at the bottom of the chest. She picked up a wrinkled section of newspaper and began to read it. The article was an obituary of a 28-year-old man named Joseph Leeson. The man pictured in the article was an attractive man, dressed in military uniform with an American flag in the background. As Annie studied the picture, she couldn't help but notice his eyes. They were etched with fear and sadness.
Annie knew that this was the man from the letters. The obituary stated that he had been killed during battle, leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth Leeson. Annie couldn’t believe that this woman had lost the man she loved so much. Elizabeth had been faithful to her husband throughout the entire time he was away, writing him letters every chance she got, and she never got to see him again. “Maybe there really is such a thing as a trusting relationship,” she thought. Annie then noticed teardrop stains on the newspaper article and she couldn’t restrain hers any longer. Annie added two fresh teardrops to the article as she set it down and sobbed.
“It isn’t fair,” Annie thought. “Elizabeth didn’t do anything to deserve this. She lost the love of her life.” Just then, a sudden realization hit Annie like a ton of bricks. Her mother lost the love of her life too, just in a different way. This whole time, Annie had been feeling sorry for herself, when her mother had lost someone too. All Annie had ever done was give her mother a hard time for making them move, but her mother was doing the best she could to support both of them.
Annie knew what she had to do. She gathered the letters and put them back into the chest. She got up and made her way down the first staircase, shutting the hidden door and covering it with the red drapes. “I have to replace those,” Annie smiled to herself. “Maybe with yellow ones.” Annie wanted the hidden room to always be her own little hideaway.
She shut the door to her room and descended down the large staircase to the first floor of the house. Annie walked down the hallway, looking in each and every room. She stopped at one room to her left and walked in. Her mom was busy pulling kitchen utensils out of boxes when she looked up and half-smiled at Annie. For the first time in the past few weeks, Annie smiled back.
Drawing a deep breath, Annie hugged her mother. At first, Mrs. Weston was surprised, but she hugged her daughter back with all her might. “I’m so, so sorry for everything, Mom. I’m sorry for being so hard on you. I know you lost Dad too, and I was the selfish one. I’m sorry.” Annie told her mom.
“I’m sorry too, sweetie.” Mrs. Weston said, a tear rolling down her cheek. “We’ll get through this together.”
Annie knew they would. It was the beginning of a new chapter in her life, and she knew that it would be a great one.