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Silent as the Sea
The sun set slowly on the horizon. The once blue sky was orange and would soon be black. The sun touched the dark water in the distance. There was and island right off the water. Hidden behind luscious trees was a small village, the roads made of cobblestone and dirt.
One dirt road climbed up to a small peak that overlooked the crystal waters below. Perched at the very edge of the grassy cliff was a young girl, her bare toes hanging over the edge. A warm wind rolled off the waves, carrying with it the smell of salt..
The girl was tall and slender with dark brown hair that spilled over her shoulders and down her back. A white skirt twisted in the wind at her knees and pushed at her flowing red blouse. Her peach skin glowed in the evening sun. A single tear rested in the corner of her honey brown eyes.
Her face was soft and welcomed any strangers who caught her eye. Whenever she smiled her rosy cheeks made hearts melt. But she did not smile any more.
When she made her first trip up to the cliff men smiled and tipped their hats off to her, and at first she smiled back, picking daisies as she skipped through the grass. As each day passed and turned into months, her smiles came less and less until they were no more than a memory. She walked by people with a ghostly expression, never noticing their kind gestures.
Her eyes scanned the sea, searching for the white sails of a ship that left the small village nearly a year ago. In her hand was a single white rose. She twirled it in her fingers before releasing it into the wind.
The sun was gone, but she continued to look into the darkness for sometime after, watching the stars claim their places in the inky black sky. With a heavy heart, she turned and started for her home.
Music played in the taverns, bringing joy to the people who heard, but not to her. Barely anything brought her joy anymore. She looked into one of the windows, unable to find her reflection amongst the many others. Men and women smiled as they danced, making up steps as they went, moving the way the music told them to.
She slowly turned at the sound of her name, giving a grim expression to the young man who spoke it. He smiled widely at her despite the cold greeting. His name was Austin, an old friend of her family’s. He was only a year older at the age of twenty and kept his sandy hair cut short. For the longest time, Hailey and he were very close and she found it easy to talk to him. Now, however, she rarely spoke.
“Robert and I are going cliff diving, want to come?”
Hailey furrowed her brow. “In the dark?”
“Makes for more excitement!”
She forced a sad smile and shook her head. “Maybe some other time.” She said, turning to walk away. Austin grabbed her left hand, scratching his palm on a small diamond ring.
“Please, Hailey,” he begged, “I miss you.”
She sighed, guilty at having hurt her old friend. “I’m, Austin.” Though she wanted to say more, she was at a loss for words. He looked into her eyes, seeing the tears that lingered behind her eyes. “I have to go.” She said. Austin released her hand and watched her hurry away.
He looked at the bay, cursing the day they received new that the Avenger had been caught in a horrible storm, leaving none of its crew alive. The only thing that had kept Hailey from snapping like a twig was hope. Hope that the ship was only lost and would soon return. A hope that was completely shattered.
Hailey ran as fast as she could, wishing her tears had held a bit longer. She let them flow freely now, blurring her vision as she ran. Once she reached her home, she locked herself in her room and collapsed on the bed, loosing control.
The next morning, Hailey woke to knock on her door, and then her mothers kind face, drained pale from worry. “Darling, Austin is here to see you.”
Hailey turned to the wall, “Tell him I apologize, but I am not in the mood from company.”
“Hailey, you have barely eaten, you don’t talk anymore or smile, you keep yourself locked in you room…”
“Except when she goes to that God forsaken cliff,” Her father growled, “There is a reason its called Widows Peek, Hailey Lynn, and no daughter of mine will sulk around with so little pride,”
“But, Papa,” Hailey started.
“March, young lady.”
Hailey sighed and started down the stairs. She may not have been a widow, but she had been close..
Austin waited outside the house patiently, unaware of Hailey watching him through the kitchen window. She looked over the face of her betrothed, placing a hand over her heart. Nothing held her back from marriage to him any longer, save the fact that her heart had been given to another. By the end of the summer, they would be married, whether Hailey agreed or not.
The moment he saw her, Austin had a bright smile, though she did not return it. Deep down he wondered it she had forgotten how. The sun caught the white stud on her finger, making him squint with envy. She stopped an arms length from him. She gave a quick, forced smile.
“Thought you would fancy a walk.” He explained, holding a hand out to her. She had no desire to walk, though the sun shined brightly and a warm wind drifted off the water. Hailey did not accept his hand, just walked beside him, keeping a distance, her eyes stung with furious tears.
They walked along the beach, watching the water. The suns reflection sparkled on the water like thousands of crystals. Austin tried to take Hailey’s hand, but each time she pulled away. He realized then that Hailey was like the sea.
She rolled through life like the waves, keeping her emotions inside. Her beauty was something he could not put into words. Above all, she was as silent as the sea itself.
Hailey jumped when Austin’s finger trailed over her cheek. She stood still, allowing him to look through her eyes and into the depths of her soul. He shivered at what he saw. He held her face with one hand, stroking her hair away from her eyes with the other. She pulled back from him and he sighed, letting her walk a few paces ahead.
Hailey’s fingers trailed along the smooth brick walls, paying no mind to Austin who still followed close behind. She turned back once to look at him before walking down a dim ally. He followed her, picking up speed when her footsteps quickened. He lost sight of her for a moment until he saw the edge of her skirt as it disappeared around a wall.
He followed her, finding her in the middle of the road, watching as people shopped. Hailey had her eyes on the small children.. They laughed as they pulled away from their mothers and ran between people’s legs. They were so happy and content with their game.
Hailey watched them, remembering a time when she was oblivious to the world’s cruelty and magic was hidden behind each corner. Though she tried to hide it, Austin caught the smile that found its way to her pale face. In that short instant, he had seen a glimpse of the old Hailey that he loved so much.
She turned to face him fully, her eyes so much gentler as the small shadow of her happiness shined through. Austin placed a hand on her cheek and leaned closer to her.. Their faces were so close when a drop of water landed on his cheek and slid down to his chin. Together they looked up, aware of the dark clouds that rumbled above them. A loud crack of lightning sent them running down the cobblestone streets.
Their shoes disturbed the growing puddles as they raced towards shelter. Ringlets caused by each tiny bead gracefully stretched out to frame the small rivers. Austin began to laugh as he pulled Hailey along with him, remembering all their races up to Widows Peek, and how they would collapse in the grass, allowing the sun to dry their damp brows.
It seemed eons ago that they lived in that peaceful world. Back when he was sure Hailey’s heart would one day be his. Then she met Demetri.
He frowned for a minute. The name always left a bitter taste on his tongue. He squeezed Hailey’s hand tighter, but she had not noticed. He shook his head, slowing to a stop when Hailey’s house came into view.
He sighed, wishing he had more time with her. He had only to wait until the end of the summer to marry her, but she was not his. He was not the one she wanted and he knew it, but he could not hide his feelings from her.
She gave him a smile and squeezed his hand. “Goodbye, Austin.” All he could do was wave, regretting it when he saw her eyes twitch with pain. She closed the door, hugging herself with guilt. On the other side of the door, Austin scolded himself. She was happy for the first time in months, and he hurt had hurt her.
He called on her again the next morning, surprised at how anxious she was to see him. For the whole morning he stole uneasy glances at her. Hailey had been smiling when she met him, and it stayed the whole time. They stopped when the church bells began to ring. The old black bells only rang when someone passed away.
Hailey clung to Austin’s arm, trying to block out the sound. It had been nearly a month since the last deaths in the small village. As they walked, they caught bits and pieces of scattered conversations.
“Died of sickness…Blotches on the skin…Three others have it…”
Hailey could make no sense of their words, and she did not wish to. The bells began to ring daily as more people fell to deaths feet. When Hailey and Austin were on their now daily walks, they saw the death carts, carrying the poor souls to the churchyard..
The sun shined brighter with each day as May turned to June. Summer brought with it its warmth and children sought refuge under the shadows of trees to keep cool.
Austin rolled up his sleeves and splashed water up at Hailey as they walked knee deep in the water. She giggled and kicked the foamy sea up at him. The ocean spray moistened their hair and clothes.
Austin laughed, looking nervously up at her, one hand in his pocket, the other holding hers. “Its almost July.” He said. She smiled in agreement. “Soon summer will be over.”
“But then we will have the fall.” said Hailey.
Austin cleared his throat and took both her hands. “All the plans have been made, but I never did ask you properly,” he said, placing the golden band in her palm. The red ruby in the middle was shaped like a heart. “Hailey, will you marry me?”
She looked at him, not at all sad, but shocked and confused. The past few weeks she realized how much she cared about him, but she was still in love with Demetri. Austin closed his eyes and bowed his head in understanding. “You don’t have to answer right away.” He said with a smile, unable to hide the disappointment in his eyes.
Hailey could not sleep that night. She turned the small ring in her fingers and fell back down against the pillow. She thought of the day Demetri gave her the one she still wore on her left finger in exchange for her hand, and how it had enraged her father. He had gone to sea the next day to make his fortune and prove himself.. She thought of his promise to return, to make her his, his final kiss…
Hailey sat up in bed stricken by the realization that she could no longer remember Demetri’s face, the sound of his voice, the color of his eyes. Whenever she tried to remember him, she pictured Austin, smiling at her.
Her heart skipped a beat. Had she really spent so much time mourning the man she thought she loved, that she was blind to his real identity?
Rain slapped at the windows as it fell from the sky. Hailey stared out as she washed dishes with her mother, imagining Austin on the curb, waiting for her.
He had not called on her for nearly a week. Had he given up on her when she did not say yes? Hailey placed the dish with the others and hurried to remove her apron. She threw it to the side and rushed out the door. Despite the late hour, she had to see had to see him.
She smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt as she walked up to the door of the Callaway’s house. Austin’s mother answered after Hailey tapped on the door a few times. She smiled and curtsies.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffled, “But Austin is in no state to see anyone.” She said and began to close the door.
“NO! I can’t keep this from her!” cried Austin. Hailey pushed by his mother anxiously after hearing his weak voice. Austin lay beneath his covers, shivering though the rain made it more humid. “Don’t come too close,” he warned, “I don’t want to make you ill.” He said, coughing violently.
“What is wrong?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, Hailey, I wish you did not have to see this.” He sat up in his bed, allowing the blanket to fall away from his bare chest, revealing the red blotches that covered his skin. His face was ashy and covered with sweat.
Hailey shied away, up against the wall. Breathing hard.
“Hailey?” Austin wanted to cross the room and comfort her, but he could barely support his own weight. Hailey blinked back her tears. “Not you too,” was all she could say before running out of the room. She covered her face with her hands. She did not know where she was going, just that she had to keep running.
The path that led up to Widows Peek was muddy and slippery. Hailey stumbled as she climbed to the top. She fell forward and cried into the damp grass, scratching her head on the diamond ring she wore. She slipped it off her finger and held it up to the small patch of sun that cut through the thick clouds. It glinted off of the jewel, making rainbows on her skin.
Admiring it for the last time, Hailey leaned over the side of the cliff and looked at the still water. The ring caused ripples as it gracefully sank to the bottom, taking with it all its painful memories.
Sun filtered through the open bedroom window, illuminating the many dust particles in the air. Shadows began to crawl out from their hiding spots. Austin coughed, thumping his chest with his fist before falling back on his cold pillow and closed his eyes to the throbbing behind them.
He did not hear the footsteps, but he felt the warm breath of the person sitting beside him.. A cool hand passed over his forehead. “Austin?”
He tried to open his eyes, but the lids were so heavy. He heard her Hailey laugh. The back of her hand rested on his forehead. “You will be alright,” she said with a cracked voice. The cold metal of her ring made him shiver. She rested her head above his ear. “I love you, Austin,” she whispered, “And the moment you are better, I will marry you.”
At first, Austin thought it was all a wonderful dream. But when he woke up he found Hailey asleep at the edge of his bed. Her left hand was on his knee. Through the darkness of the night, he could see the red glow of the ruby.
Hailey spent every free moment she had helping to nurse Austin back to health. July came, bringing one of the hottest summers in a long time, taking with it eleven innocent souls who were taken by the epidemic that summer. Hailey jumped each time the bells rang, praying they were not for Austin.
By September, the sickness had taken its toll and began to move on. The wind chilled and the leaves were browning around the edges.. The morning dew on the long blades of grass turned to frost by night, melting when the sun came out to warm them.
It was the first Sunday in October. Hailey skipped down the road with a handful of the last few wildflowers of the year. Her breath swirled before her eyes.
She was surprised to see the front door open to Austin’s house. Her heart hammered in her chest as she ran down the hall to his room, feeling queasy when she found his bed empty. The bells had not rung in weeks, she thought, trying to reassure herself. She ran to the door, trying to think positive thoughts.
“Are those for me?”
Hailey turned so quickly she nearly tumbled to the ground. Austin smiled, leaning against the doorframe. His legs shook after so many weeks confined to his bed and he lost a lot of weight, but he was up.
The flowers in Hailey’s hand fell to the ground and she ran into his arms. He kissed her and laughed before lifting her left hand to his lips, kissing the ring that would forever join them together.
The men on the ship could see the faint image of a young woman standing at the edge of the tall cliff in the distance. From the way she stood they pondered whether or not she would jump. It made them wonder what cruelties made her want to take her own life.
There was a time when she had considered plummeting from the cliff and letting herself become one with the sea for eternity. What the crew of the ship did not see was the man standing behind her, a baby sleeping in his arms, or the three year old that clung to the woman’s skirt, using his free hand to suck on his thumb.
Hailey kissed the babies head and smiled up at Austin before lifting the little boy onto her hips. She held Austin’s arm as they made their way back home.
When the children were fast asleep, Hailey joined him on the front porch. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder ad they watched the sunset into the water. They looked into each other’s eyes, smiling brightly with the suns orange glow on their faces. They made a pledge of love in that single stare. One that was as strong and silent as the sea.