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The Best Things in Life Are Free
April 2, 1780
I had been eating supper when word of the Siege of Charleston reached me, along with family and friends of mine. I was seated at the dining table with my mother, my best friend, Amelia Ridgewood -who I had known for as long as I could remember- and her family. After my father died in the war when I was eleven, my brother, Nicholas, of thirteen years old at the time had been the only male figure in our lives left. Then, after a few years had passed, my brother left to join the war, and my mother and I had nowhere to go, for without the presence of a man in our house, we were left vulnerable. So my mother and I pulled up stakes and moved in with my best friend, Amelia, and her family.
Supper that day had been the same as usual, for chatter had consumed the dining room as nine mouths moved at once, just like many evenings before. We were all immersed in our conversations with each other, not bearing any mind to our surroundings. Amelia's mother and father had been talking with my mother about how spring had finally decided to show. The younger twins of the Ridgewood family had been busy bickering over who had more beans on their plate, while Amelia's older brother and sister had been discussing what they would spend their hard-earned money on. Amelia and I had been having a playful conversation, teasing each other over the silly things that we had done in the past three years that we had known each other.
“Remember when the stray dog chased you for miles and you came back home with just one shoe?” Amelia teased, no hint of remorse for my embarrassment about that story.
“At least I wasn't the one who came out of the chicken pen covered with feathers! You haven't gone in there since.” I said playfully.
“Come on Annie, I thought we weren't going to mention that again!”
Annie had been a nickname that Amelia had decided to call me soon after we met. She had thought that Annabella was far too long of a name for her to address me by.
Our conversations continued over the noise of someone knocking on the door. As we were all engrossed in our own discussions, no one heard the knocking on the door until it turned into banging. A hushed silence fell over the table as we all silently contemplated who would answer the door. Amelia's father, Carter, had risen from his seat and walked towards the door. He hesitated, before he slowly creaked open the door, to reveal our frantic neighbor, Mr. Abbott, trying to regain his breath. We were all quiet at the dining table trying to listen in on the conversation that was about to take place between the two.
“Good evening Mr. Abbott. How do you do?” Mr. Ridgewood seemed quite perplexed at the current state of appearance of Mr. Abbott, which was quite unkempt.
“Hello Mr. Ridgewood. I'm doing well, thank you. Excuse my eagerness to ask, but have you heard the news of the Siege of Charleston?” Mr. Abbott asked, his tone laced with curiosity.
My heart felt as though it had stopped for a few seconds, for Charleston was where my brother, Nicholas, had told us where he was heading to. A siege meant a battle. A battle meant that there would have been many casualties after the fight. Worried thoughts had filled my head, wondering about the state of my brother. Was he alright? Was he ill? Was he even alive? I beared the thought no longer. My brother couldn't be dead, could he?
“The Siege of Charleston? Heavens no, is everything alright Mr. Abbott? You're sweating bullets!” Mr. Ridgewood led Mr. Abbott inside the house towards the small, but cozy living room.
The rest of us in the dining room followed the two older men to where we all crowded around Mr. Abbott, who was seated in a snug chair near the living room window. He waited until we were all comfortable before he spoke,
“It was reported that the siege -the Siege of Charleston- was one of the worst defeats for the Continental Army! Many died, while General Lincoln was humiliated for having surrendered to the British! Quite a humiliation for us Patriots if you ask me.”
As soon as Mr. Abbott had said that, Amelia's eyes locked onto mine and I could tell that she could sense my immediate distress. She intertwined her fingers with mine and squeezed my hand softly.
“Do you know how many victims there were, Mr. Abbott?” Mr. Ridgewood asked.
“About 90 Continentals were killed and an approximate 140 were wounded. Nonetheless, it doesn't matter to the British how many brave folk die; it's fine by them as long as they win a battle. Such a shame though, that many young soldiers won't get a proper burial and will just be left to waste, don't you think?”
I could tell Amelia had felt me tense up. She squeezed my hand again in an attempt to calm me down. Amelia had known that what Mr. Abbott said didn't relieve me of my worries and instead increased the stir of anxiety that was gathering in me.
“May I please be excused? I'm feeling quite ill and I think I'd be best for me to lie down for a bit.” I said. I felt the tears start to pool at the corners of my eyes just thinking that my brother could be dead.
“Yes, of course Annabella. Go lie down and we'll check up on you shortly.” Said my mother. I saw the crease between her eyebrows and I could tell she was concerned for the well-being of my brother as well.
“Thank you mother.” I proceeded to leave the room without uttering a word to anyone else. I ascended up the stairs and into the quaint room that Amelia and I shared. It had two small beds pushed up to the wall on the left side of the room as soon as you walked in. I took a seat on my bed, the one closest to the window, and it felt as if the whole world had crashed down on me.
The sudden weight of the probability that Nicholas could be dead caved in on my shoulders. I started to reminisce about all my memories with him. I remembered the time when we had went down to the creek and skipped rocks the entire afternoon. I remembered when he had helped a poor bird who's wing had been broken. I remembered how he held me when the news of my father’s death had reached me. I remembered everything about him, even the small, simple things. I hadn't realized I had started crying, but now that I did, I couldn't stop.
I had been weeping for what felt like an eternity, but in actuality, it had only been about five minutes. I tried to calm myself down by counting up to ten. Then, I counted down from ten. I repeated that over and over again in an attempt to recollect myself. I was taking calm, composed breaths when I suddenly heard three quiet knocks on my bedroom door. “Annie? Will you let me in please?” It was Amelia. Her tone was hushed and quiet, as if she were telling me a secret for my ears only.
I opened the door without a word and as soon as I did, she engulfed me in what some would call a bear hug. I instantly relaxed into her touch, despite the heaviness in my heart. She smelled of peonies. Her embrace was warm and comforting. I felt the tension in my muscles drift away as she held onto me longer. Everything about her touch had reminded me of all of the good things that were apart of my life. I believe I was overwhelmed by everything -Nicholas, Amelia, and my helpless feeling- because I had started to cry again. I had cried more over the last fifteen minutes than I have over the last two weeks. I felt weak, pathetic, and vulnerable crying in front of Amelia.
“Don't cry Annie. You're okay, I'm okay, everything is going to be okay. Just breathe.” She held my face in her hands and wiped my tears away with her thumb. “It's all going to be alright.”
“But you heard what Mr. Abbott said. 90 Continentals were killed in the Siege of Charleston Amelia. What if one of them was my brother?”
“That's balderdash Annie and you know it. Nicholas is fine, he's healthy. I'm sure he's in good condition-nay, I know he's in good condition. You know how I know? It's because he's fearless, courageous, and strong. And so are you. You're strong Annie, so strong. Everything will be alright, I'm sure of it. You'll get through this, I promise.”
I stayed silent for a few moments, unaware of what to say. I had thought of how lucky I was to have someone like her; Someone who is a fighter, determined, and doesn't let others define them. Someone who isn't afraid to be true to their feelings. She always knew what to say in times of my worrying. I had been holding onto her as if my life depended on it because in some ways, it did.
“Thank you Amelia, I really needed to hear that. I
'm just- I'm so worried about Nicholas.”
“And you have every right to be worried. Don't forget that you have so many people who care about you and your feelings under just one roof. I want you to remember that you can always talk to me, okay? You can talk to me about everything and anything. I'll always be here for you no matter what.” Amelia said as she threaded her fingers through my hair.
We stayed there for what felt like a lifetime, clinging to each other as if we would never see one another again. I felt as though nothing could hurt me in her embrace. She made me feel safe and protected. I remember thinking that this is what home feels like. She is what home feels like.
April 22, 1780
About three weeks had passed since I heard about the Siege of Charleston. That hadn't meant that I had stopped worrying about the whereabouts of Nicholas. Luckily, Amelia was always there to take my mind off of things by telling me funny stories, taking me down to visit the animals on Mr. and Mrs. Coleman’s farm, and taking me on a walks around town.
It was harder for my mom to stop worrying about Nicholas than it was for me. I suppose that was the case because I believe that she couldn't wrap her head around the fact that she might lose him to the war as well. When my father had died, it was as if my mother had died along with him. She would stay inside her room all day, mourning the loss of the love of her life, of her best friend. My mother and father had grown up together and were best friends their entire lives. People often said that they were joined by the hip; If you saw my mother somewhere, my father was bound to be close by. They had started a family as soon as possible. Folks would say that they had never seen a more happier couple than my mother and father.
That was until the Battle of Long Island. See, my father had enlisted into the war when I was ten years old and he had already been apart of the Continental Army for a year or so. But on August 27, 1776, he had been fighting in the Battle of Long Island, alongside 10,000 Continental troops. The British had first attacked early on the 27th of August, sending in a small unit of soldiers at the center of the Continental Army’s defense. While the Continental soldiers paid heed of this smaller attack, the main force of the British army attacked from the east, nearly surrounding the Continental Army. Instead of losing his entire army to the British, General George Washington ordered the army to retreat to Brooklyn Heights. Then, on the night of the 29th of August, Washington ordered his men to slowly and silently make haste across the East River to Manhattan. When the British awoke the next morning, the Continental Army was gone. Unfortunately, my father had not made it to Manhattan. He had been shot and killed when the British had sent in a small force to the center of the Continental Army’s defense.
When word had reached my mother, she let out a heartbreaking cry. I had never heard a scream more sorrowful and filled with despair. Over time, my mom turned back to her jovial personality, but every once in a while I would catch her stuck in a daze remembering her memories with my father.
My mother and I had helped each other a lot as well. Instead of ignoring the death of my father, my mother would tell me story after story about him. We would tell each other our favorite memories of him. We always talked about Nicholas too, like when he brought home a chicken when he was only a boy of five years old because he thought the chicken needed a friend. Everyone always said Nicholas would light up a room when he walked in. I often thought the same about Amelia. Speaking of Amelia, her family had become my second family, for they took my mother, Nicholas, and I under their care when my father had passed. As soon as the news of his death had reached them, Amelia’s family wasn't hesitant in the slightest to offer us a roof to live under. Albeit the fact that they already had seven people living in their home, they took us in.
Amelia and I were laying on a grassy hill cloud gazing. The sun was high above us and I could feel the warmth washing over me. We were discussing what we wanted to do when we were older and where we wanted to go. Amelia was always one who wanted more in life-more than just living in a simple town. She had always said that she wanted to go north, up to New York and flee from our small life in North Carolina. I on the other hand, had simply wanted to stay in our quaint town and settle down to start a family. Even though I was only a maid of fifteen years old, I was already thinking about having my own family. I thought the idea of having a family was nice.
“Then I change my mind. I won't go to New York when I get the chance.” declared Amelia after I had told her about my plan to stay here.
“What? Why? You've been wanting to go since you were a young girl.”
“Well, that was before you decided where you wanted to go when you're older. Now that you've chose to stay here, I shall do the same. Wherever you go, I will follow; Wherever you stay, I shall stick by your side.” Amelia said with a breathy laugh. I could tell she was serious.
“Now don't be foolish, Amelia. Don't let me hold you back. If you want to go to New York, don't let anyone stop you, let alone me.”
“But that's the thing, it doesn't matter where I go, as long as you're at my side.” She said as she turned her head toward me with a kind smile.
Amelia and I had always been so dependent on each other, ever since we were young lasses. I had always relied on her to get me to try new things and to step out of my comfort zone. She relied on me to keep her in line and in order, for she was always the more unpredictable one of us two. I giggled as I pointed up to a fluffy, white cloud. “Look at that. It looks just like that kitten we see down by the market.”
“Aye. And that one over there looks just like a carrot.” She said as she pointed toward a slim, lumpy cloud.
We had spent the rest of the afternoon cloud gazing and pointing out funny looking clouds to one another. As the sun had started to set and there were no clouds left, we had laid back on our elbows and simply watched the many hues of reds, oranges, and yellows blend together to paint the sky. I had wanted to stay in that moment forever, for it had made me feel serene and blissful.
“We should probably head home soon. Don't want Momma and Poppa worrying about us, now do we?” Said Amelia.
“Mayhaps we should.” I responded with a crestfallen sigh. I hadn't wanted this moment to end.
Neither of us made a move to stand up and head home. I think we had both wanted to make this moment last as long as possible. I turned my head and studied Amelia, truly studied her. The setting sun had made shadows dance across her face. Something had changed about her appearance. Every single one of her features had suddenly become more prominent and noticeable. Her ocean eyes had become sharp and detailed. The slope of her dainty button nose was highlighted by the gleam of the sun. Her freckles looked like stars splashed across her rosy cheeks. Her light strawberry blonde hair framed her face like a portrait. She was glowing. I thought she had looked different because of the brilliant radiance of the breathtaking sunset.
I watched as her brows furrowed together to stare at something in the distance. “Whoever could that be?” She asked.
I turned my head to observe who had caught her attention. We watched as a silhouette of a tall man slowly walked up the hill, closer and closer to where we were standing. His profile was gradually obscuring the view of the sun and his features were vague.
“Excuse me sir, but who are you?” Amelia called out to him once he was in ears reach.
“Pardon me, but do either of you kind lasses know where I could find a young women by the name of Annabella Rose?” said the young gentlemen.
As soon as he had spoken, I had recognized his voice in an instant. I felt the tears gather in my eyes. It was my brother, standing right in front of my very two eyes.
“Nicholas? Nicholas, is that really you?” I asked, my tone quiet in disbelief. I couldn't believe he was here. I was certain that this was all a dream.
“Of course Annie, of course it's me.” Said Nicholas. Now that he had gotten closer, I could see that his eyes looked red and puffy.
I had started to run to him and everything felt as if it were submerged under water, moving slow. I had seen every single memory of him flash before my eyes before I threw myself into his arms. We crashed to the ground in a heap of sobbing and tears.
“You're back… you're really back. I've missed you dearly, we've all missed you.” I tried to contain a hiccup, but it reluctantly escaped anyway.
“I'm here, I'm here. Don't worry I ain't going nowhere.”
“What about mother? Have you told her of your return?”
“Of course I have. You should've seen her, she wouldn't stop crying.”
We both stood up from the ground and I realized that not only had Nicholas and I been crying, but Amelia as well.
“Look at how much you two have grown in the past year.” Nicholas said in utter astonishment.
“How about we head back home and you can tell us all about what happened while you were away?” I suggested. I had never felt happier in my entire life.
“Aye. And you can catch me up on everything I missed. How does that sound?”
“That sounds perfect. More than perfect.” I said.
Amelia, Nicholas, and I headed down the hill with the sun disappearing behind us. I could not imagine a better ending to this day. Less than 24 hours ago, I hadn't the slightest clue as to where my brother could be. And now I was walking back home with him. We were a family again; my mother, Nicholas, and I were a family again. Throughout this past year, I had noticed that I take far too much for granted. I should appreciate everything, from the little, minuscule things, to the grand, mountainous things in life because the best things in life are free. For one day, it may all be gone in the blink of an eye.