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Author's note: I wrote for a contest at first but then I ran out of time and decided to write for my friends, who are romance-loving twins.
Faint sunlight spreads across my letter, melting into the black ink. For the first time summer seems more desirable than winter. I drop my pen and tuck the bulky curtains away to get a glimpse of the full sun – but it blinds me. I focus my strained eyes on my unfinished letter; the pain flows slowly as the warmth dries my tears. I can’t help but to smile for no reason. Death to me now is an unfinished sentence, an incomplete conversation.
I look up to see Sister Roberta, her worried frown knowing my deep anguish. She quietly stands beside me and places a small box above my mess of papers. I thank her, not even making an attempt to open it. It’s rude of me, but I cannot seem to function properly. I may never for the rest of my life.
“It’s from him.”
My heart sinks. Sister Roberta pats my shoulder and leaves the room for me to face the box that is before me. I sit there for a moment staring at the package. I am afraid to open it. I am afraid of another piece of his disappointing news.
I tumbled over a sharp rock and rolled down a gentle hill powered in shimmering flakes. Echoes of angry barks rippled in the wind. I covered my ears and continued my unknown trek. I took no notice of winter’s beauty; only the fear in my heart that grew with each stride. There was no moon to guide my path. My vision went blurry denting everything in sight a hazy orange. Stomps thundered behind me. I was tackled to the icy earth. The harsh breath of the wolf fumed in my face. I felt sharp teeth clasp down on my arms. There were more wolves. The wolf on top of me bit down on my neck. No sound came out of me. Only blood trickled down my bare skin and soaked into my skimpy blouse. The wolves snarled at the clamor coming from the darkest part of the forest. Something like lightning pierced through the viscous creature.
I saw another figure’s shadow looming towards me. I wondered if I had done the wrong thing. At that point I did not care to live.
Someone’s hand brushed against my chest. I hoped it was the hand of death, ready to steal my soul from my weary body. I parted my eyelids to meet dancing shadows of a fire. Was I in hell? No. I was in a cozy room tucked away in a soft bed propped against a frosty window.
“You’re safe now.” A young man assured me, his voice fading into the quiet atmosphere. I opened my mouth to ask why I wasn’t dead but nothing came out. I jolted up ignoring the pain burrowed in my chest and arms. I wrapped my fingers around my throat as if a tight collar were around it. I couldn’t speak. Only the panicked breaths came out. I pointed to my neck, tears trickling down my cheeks as I tried to get the man to understand. He handed me a mug of water and I hungrily sipped the refreshing liquid. I coughed and cleared my throat, wiping at my wet chin.
“What is your name?”
I said nothing at first, cautious to speak. I handed the empty mug back and carefully looked at him.
“Are you from the village?” he asked leaning his face closer. I gazed back at his chestnut eyes. His voice was rough hinting off an annoyed impatience. I was actually a run-away from an orphanage far from this area. I shook my head. I rose up to take a look at myself and I caught a glimpse of my bandaged hands and knees, before he pressed me back down against the comfy sheets. “Lie back down,” He ordered. “And stay here.”
He gathered a few items and began to leave the room.
“My name is Vinita.” I spoke up loudly.
“Simeon.” He replied hastily as he shut the door.
Simeon was a woodcutter. I remember waking early in the morning to hear the loud thudding of his axe slamming against a trunk. Through the window I watched him strike the tree, his face blood red and knuckles pale white as he gripped his tool tighter with each hit. There was a hidden fury in him that I could not figure out at that moment. I shifted out of bed and staggered into the living room. I’ve never seen such a well organized place. Shelves packed with books stood in almost every corner. A fireplace filled with dusty ashes. A gleaming table was stationed before a rusty stove.
I walked over to the shelves and traced the vast rows of novels, recognizing few of the titles.
Simeon came in and slipped out of his jacket. His auburn curls shone in the morning glint. He frowned at my presence as he strode past me towards the stove. I picked a random book and went over to the rocking chair pretending this place was my own without the man. I was glad to find pictures in the torn pages and I scanned the beautiful drawings of landscapes and flowers.
“Young lady.” His voice invaded my focus. I dropped the book and scurried over to the table surprised to find a fresh meal before me. Eggs and ham and a mug of milk. To me it was a feast I have been so used to gruel and water that I found eating rather a chore. The smell lured me to sit down and without hesitation I stuffed my mouth with the food. Simeon lightly smacked my hand. I winced and glared at him.
“You may be lost but you are not a savage.” He glared back. Simeon handed me a silver utensil. He sat at the other end of the table, his back straight as he ate quietly. My plate was soon empty. I got up and stood beside Simeon who gave me a curious look.
“Thank you.” I said to show him that I was not a savage and that I knew my manners very well. Simeon nodded and got up to collect the plates.
The door slammed open and a woman barged in a heavy fur coat.
“Oh, Simeon I just found the most perfect …who is this?” she sniffed at me.
“Rosi.” he took her by the hand and brought her farther away from me. I watched her slip out of her heavy coat, before tackling him with a vulgar hug. He shoved her away and murmured lowly to her. She casted me a sly glance and laughed.
“You’re stuck with her. No one will take her in. Maybe she’s strong enough to meddle about on the streets instead.” She spoke loudly.
Simeon continued to whisper, angrily clutching her shoulders. Her gold ringlets bounced as she heartily giggled. He gave up speaking in a regular level.
“Could you take her in?”
“No…how about the priest and –“
“Still loathing are we?”
Simeon said nothing and knelt before me like a privileged knight.
“Vinita. I’ll find somewhere for you to stay. Would you like a new dress?”
I dropped the book and fiercely nodded.
“Of course you do. Don’t want to be stuck with my wardrobe.”
“Like I said, Simeon, she’s your responsibility. You’re the one that found her.”
“Pay no attention to that woman. She doesn’t live here.” Simeon said ignoring her presence at the moment.
“Hmm. Then I shall see you another time.” Her hoarse voice drifting off. She slammed the door seemingly unsatisfied with her visit.
Simeon lifted me into his arms and trekked out of the forest following a clear path into the town. It felt strange to leave the forest as if I were a dying fish out of water. I basked in his balmy warmth, holding on dearly to his neck. I didn’t want to go there. I pushed against him as if I could force him to turn all the way back. Despite my rebellious resistance he walked on and I timorously shook as we neared the town’s entrance. One thing I quickly learned was that the elderly people of that simple town had a strong odium for him. Spiteful stares followed us down the cobblestoned streets. A group of wrinkled ladies loudly broached accusations at the sight of us. Simeon kept on walking as if he were a deaf man. Two boys caked in moist dust hurled marbles at me denting my forehead. Simeon glared at them and the boys ran off into a dark alley their laughter echoing off the slimy walls. Slowly I forgotten my worries and anticipated a new beautiful dress. We passed several boutiques. I shook his shoulders and pointed at the sky blue dress on display. Blue is in fact the loveliest color God has ever created. A cheery bell rang as we entered. He set me aside on a bench, leaving me there to excitedly swing my aching legs back and forth. A plump lady came over to me with several dresses I did not approve of. I pointed at the displayed dress. Simeon said that it was for grown women but I refused until I at least had one my size. He bought me four blue dresses a pair of black boots and white stockings. I was filled with so much joy I no longer felt the pain in my legs and ran down the streets, swirling my skirt. Simeon scolded me and grasped my hand, heading into another area.
We ate lunch in a ruddy old tavern infested with many men of all kinds. Simeon held my hand tighter with each step we took inside. My mouth watered at the sight of other meals. Men with long tangled beards gulp greedily at brown colored drinks and yelled at waitresses’ rudely. This aging woman came over to our table and stared hard at Simeon.
“Who this?” she snarled. People look over at our direction. I folded my hands together with my head held up high.
“Niece.” He said taking a sip of his drink.
“Is this true little girlie?” she asked me her ugly thin lips curled up into what I think was a smile.
I nodded, twirling my hair around my finger.
“You know he’s a pretty little girl killer?” she laughed hard. The muscles in my jaw tensed.
“That’s enough. Stop frightening her.”
Relief fell into me when she turned to chat with some other full table.
That entire day killed off every suspicion and prejudice I had towards him. He was quiet for most of the time as I shared my dreadful memories of the orphanage. I was called a troublemaker by the adults. I was called great number of cruel names by my peers. The food was terrible, nights were unbearable cold and worst of all I was lonely. My only refuge was the little church beside the building. I snuck inside during free time just to read the huge bible the preacher left behind. I couldn’t read that well but I understood a majority of it to get a sliver of hope in that dreaded place. When I couldn’t take another day I just had to run. Run anywhere. I knew there was a better place.
There was no orphanage in the village but Simeon promised me that he would never let me set foot in another ever again.
“How about you?” I smiled curiously.
I learned that he was twenty years old, nine years older than me. And that he didn’t live in the village too long. Only three years. He offered me boarding until he could find me a suitable home. Thrilled, I hugged him and immediately asked if we would attend church. Simeon frowned and let out a sluggish sigh.
“If there was a God I wouldn’t want to associate with him anyway.”
Those words left me dumbfounded.
“Oh…” was all I could say.
Simeon taught me to read better. I leaned against his side and repeated the words he read as the fire crackled in the cold night. Sometimes he made me read my favorite books out loud to him. There were nights when I thought he’d never die into sleep. At times Simeon would just lie before the fireplace covered in a thick quilt, reading or carving a chunk of wood. If I couldn’t sleep I would sneak up beside him and watch him shave the wood into a beautiful sculpture. When he was through he handed it over to me for my approval. They were always lovely figures. He devised the jittery rabbits and hungry foxes that roamed the woods. He carved plump hearts and lively birds. But to his dismay my favorite ones were of the women. I always imagined them as my very own dolls but he refused to let me fool with them, setting them on the highest shelf where I couldn’t reach with even a stool in hand. Months passed and Simeon could not find another haven for me to board in. Soon the villagers did believe that I was his dear niece and treated Simeon with a new attitude. I turned twelve as the winter died. Simeon crafted me a set of wooden dolls that kept me occupied when he was busy shipping wood over to the village. It was the best gift I had ever received. Simeon turned twenty-one in the middle of the blazing summer. We didn’t do much but I sang him a song that I overheard Rosi sing to him when we visited the village. He acted as if it were the best gift he had ever received in his life.
When the sun faded in the sky Rosi would arrive and I dreaded her aggravating presence. I paid no attention to her as she batted her sheer lashes at him, swatting her hand at him as she spoke imprudently. Rosi’s dirt packed eyes shot us displeased looks if Simeon paid more attention to me during her existence. I remember those demented nights when she slipped into his bedroom, making his name ring out so loud through the thin walls. Every time her ugly voice got louder, I would repeat in my head: I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.
For his birthday Rosi purchased him a white stallion that I immediately fell in love with. Lolita was her name and I enjoyed every moment caring for her or riding her along with Simeon, but he never let me ride by myself because I was still too small.
I never planned to make Rosi flee and leave him alone for good but one night I ruined their regular truce. Simeon had promised me money to purchase any book I wanted and let me stay at the book store alone without his supervision for good time. Time passed and I took no notice of the long hours. The bookkeeper ordered me out of the store I quickly decided to buy a thick volume of fairytales filled with pretty pictures of everlasting happy endings. I knew he told me to wait for him but I was too ecstatic about the book I purchased and looked forward to reading to him. Swollen snowflakes drifted lazily on my way to the building where Rosi resided. I peered inside the corridor reluctant to call out his name in the silent darkness. An acrid smell drifted from a hearth in a nearby room. I followed its scent and scurried to the center finding a slightly open door. The moans, interrupted by a snort of laughter belong to Rosi’s. I stepped out into the back porch to find them in a sickening embrace. I slammed my book down, fury eating me alive. Simeon ceased his salacious kisses and Rosi mouth gaped. Her flimsy nightgown exposed her perfect shoulders that gleamed in the moonlight. She coughed up a laugh, looking to Simeon for an answer.
“I thought I said to stay.” He berated. My chest was on fire, my heart turned combustible with envy. Rosi had taken his deepest affections and I coveted it without shame. Rosi poked the middle of my head and said ever so sweetly “Children are not allowed here.” That insulted me more than anything else - I had just turned thirteen yesterday. I struck her across the face and tore her pretty cheeks and lips in one harsh stroke. She gasped and shielded the running blood on her shocked face. I wasn’t done. Hatred grew stronger as I tackled her clawing at her bare shoulders…her lush hair. Simeon hoisted me up and pinned me to the wall his face blood red. Other women rushed out of their rooms and helped Rosi to her feet. “That little witch!” she spat. Simeon kept his furious gaze on me “Don’t ever act in such way! Do you hear me, child?”
“I’m not a child!” I screamed into the chilly night.
“I don’t ever want to see you again, Simeon.” Rosi cried. “You care much more about that filthy little brute than I!” This confused me a great deal. She was the one he admired the most.
“Rosi…” Simeon calmly said, but she didn’t listen.
“All you ever care about is that thing.” This flattered me only briefly. Fury rose up painfully in my throat but this time I felt like I hated Simeon. I kicked the book into the bank of snow and fled out of there. All the way home I marched without holding Simeon hand. Once inside I did my best to hide my glossy face. He did not speak a word to me, nor did he come to my side or even signal any sort of apology. I ran to my room collapsed in front of the dead fireplace feeling defeated. My tears squished between my lips then dripped into the rug below me. I really wanted him to admit his wrongs but I gave all of hope of him repenting. The door creaked and I sucked in my breath as he knelt beside me. “Go away.” I choked. He didn’t and I was glad.
“I hate you.” I said testing him. He still stayed and this time embraced me tightly, making me rise up to face him. I quickly changed my mind and held him back.
I expected more normal days ahead of me. Now that Rosi was gone, I was for certain Simeon would only return affectionate intimacy towards me. But when the snow started to melt it was replace by a fire greater than I could fathom. I was tall enough to ride his horse and I spent every morning traveling through woods minding every detail before me. For no reason I ventured further than I should of, losing track of time but luckily not my path home. Twilight arrived swiftly and I smoothly guided myself home. A wave of heat met my skin as I came closer to the familiar path of his cabin. Fire licked at the hovering tree branches, melting into the snowy grounds. I scrambled off my horse, horror enveloping me at the thought of Simeon’s whereabouts. The cabin was breaking beneath the force of the heat. I rammed myself inside to find Simeon and Rosi trapped behind the partially fallen roof. She coughed uncontrollably, pounding at the large pieces of debris.
“Vinita! Over here!” Simeon screamed as I pulled the away the barrier between us. He collapsed against me; his suffocated breaths struggling out of him. I reached out for Rosi’s hand but a loud snap made her freeze. The cabin walls fell, knocking me and Simeon back outside. Simeon shot up and ran back into the flames. I seized his wrist, seeing hell spread out before him. God, he is not ready to die. He stopped in his tracks realizing it was too late for her. We rushed over to the horse and fled north through a path I’ve never seen before. The sky rained of ashes. Strange massive birds soared a great distance above us, flying perfectly narrow as if they knew their true destination was right before them.
“Where did that fire come from?”
“We’ve got to get out of here.” He faintly panted.
A great red light loomed through the trees, brightening our direction. I gasped at the sight of the destroyed village. Behind the long row of trees was a world of pure chaos. I felt so sick with confusion and terror I felt myself pass out in my own world of darkness.
I awakened, questions toppling in my brain relentlessly. We were on the side of a rocky path stained with soot and patches of blood. Simeon tied his horse to a great tree and sat next to me in the slanted ditch.
“What was Rosi doing there?” the question I wanted an answer from the most.
“She came to apologize.” He simply said, wiping his filthy hands on his tunic. Before I let myself go into a fit of rage I am reminded that she perished in that fire last night. Rosi was dead. And because of what?
“Simeon, why was…where…what is going on?”
He did not reply, letting the silence be replaced with the clatter of passing travelers. Simeon struggled to his feet and stopped the group, asking all sorts of question so quickly that even I could not understand him. We followed the group all the way down the path finding ourselves in the midst of other lost folk. Simeon held me close as we pushed our way through the crowd. Over the steep hill lay a city in ruins. Crumbled and beaten back into the earth.
In the midst of the fiery air that lapped at our faces, I awed at the destruction of the world I resided in. Simeon’s visage stayed solemn. His lips straight, no smile of course but no frown either. His listless gaze was elegant in the breeze of shriveled ashes. Chaotic droning filled my ears: wailing, sirens, and worst of all screams of terror. The only comfort was the firm grip of Simeon’s hand.
We traveled for a few days, surviving on generous travelers and abandoned resources, until we had Lolita stolen and arrived in an untouched city. In a dark alley Simeon pressed against the brick wall as if he were going to faint into sleep. I tugged at the tail of his shirt, wanting him to stay up late with me like we always used to. He slumped down and folded his arms over me. I was not tired despite the uncomfortable restless sleeps of the previous nights but I considered his weariness and let him dose away. Time passed too slowly and boredom settled too quickly. Echoing noises rang in my ears. The cold winds grew stronger. I decided to pray. I rarely talk to God because I am afraid I might say the wrong things, and I may not be the person he wants to hear from, but I try anyways. I requested refuge and elaborately thanked him for Simeon’s kindness towards me. When I finished I heard rushed footsteps coming closer. Fear slid down my throat as a shadow edged towards us. I buried my face in my hands and gave Simeon a slight shove. Simeon rustled and opened his heavy eyes in time to see the shadow come into full view.
“Excuse me sir.” A finely dressed portly man grinned. “But would like a more suitable place to stay?”
The hotel maids welcomed me warmly as I stepped inside the main entry hall. A group of grown men greeted Simeon and he followed them into a grand living room. The maids guided me up the stairs into a beautiful corridor and gave me a brief tour. Walls were plastered with vast paintings and dull portraits. I marveled at Hotel’s perfection and asked for a room that overlooked the city.
Back downstairs I was offered a cup of hot tea and a plate of crackers. I quietly entered the living room and gazed at the men circled around the warmth of the massive fireplace. Simeon stayed very still in his chair listening to the other men’s chatter. I took a seat in the corner of the room, in front of a chess game and pretended to be occupied with it as I eavesdropped. I tried to listen carefully. I felt myself sucked into a conversation that would change our relationship forever. The man, Mr. Harris, who had kindly let us stayed free for the night, mentioned the assassination that I have over heard several times during our expedition. That took place five months ago. Now a lot of countries are locked in a war that seems to be triggered by this. A man angrily ranted of the “Huns” whom I later founded out to be the Germans. Simeon said little, only listened to the detail of this bloody issue. I turned the game pieces into dominos and knocked them down quietly. A maid strolled by and poured me more tea.
“Sir, I believe it would be best, considering your situation, to enlist in the army.” Mr. Harris lost no eye contact with Simeon. “As an officer.”
Simeon glanced over at me. I blushed and nearly choked on my burning drink.
“What about my Vinita.” He said firmly. “I cannot just leave her alone on the streets. I have no family to look after her.”
“My sister runs a catholic boarding school for young ladies. I offer free enrollment for the girl. Not only will she have a safe place to stay but a healthy education to accompany her.”
The word school makes me want to puke. I leave their presence tired and completely bored again.
That night I still could not sleep. Simeon finally came inside our dark room and slipped out of his raggedy shirt, tossing it aside over the vanity mirror. He lit a plump cigar and deeply sucked in, leaning against the vast window that gave away full view of the sparkling city. The lights of city spilled across his weary face. I climbed out of bed and gazed at his darkening silhouette. Without rotating his direction he waved me over. I followed the origins of the smoky trail that flowed from the spicy tobacco. Simeon kept his focus on the scenery behind the laminating glass and sat down on the window’s edge. He opened his arms out to me and I fell against him, resting my head beneath his chin.
“God bless Mr. Harris.” I said watching a couple walk hand in hand down the empty streets. Simeon blew smoke that bounced off the glass and smacked me in the face.
“I shall like to try that.” I declared snatching the cigar. I bit its end and inhaled boldly. A cough sputtered out of my shriveled lungs.
“I do not think you are ready.” He said taking it back.
“Yes I am.” I laughed. “A woman I say. I’m fourteen. I shall smoke and drink merrily as you do.”
“Fourteen.” He asked as if it were unheard of.
His eyes descended. I was no longer a callow girl of childish innocence. Simeon kissed the center of my fragile chest and moved his fingers down my growing curves until he found my hands that rested on his lap.
“You’ve become a very beautiful young lady.”
“Simeon.” My voice was too mawkish. I coughed and looked back at him fearless.
“Could I be with you always?”
He did not look away or said anything for awhile.
“Wait.” He said. “Wait for a little longer until you are a fully grown woman. Will you do that for me?”
I nodded without question.
“Thank you dearest. Perhaps after three more years, we could move near the sea or better yet in the countryside.”
“That would be wonderful.”
“Then it’ll just be you and me.”
I was patient. As long as this was true I could wait for the longest time.
Despite its lavish beauty I hawked up a mouthful of warm spit and spat on the pavement leading to the tall iron gates. Simeon did not take notice of my disgust and led me through the entrance. Girls in elaborate uniformed dresses flitted about on the lawn, playing childish games that brought me a sense of my own arrogance. Blossoming trees bordered our path like a welcoming omen. I dreaded the coming moment of my first day here. A wrinkled face looked our way and approached us cautiously as if we were lost travelers.
“I believe you are my expected company.” She said wistfully her gray bangs covering her thin eyebrows. “I am Emelia Eichmann the headmistress of St. Rosetta academy”
“Simeon Hamilton.” He said in his most cordial voice. “And this is your new student Vinita Hamilton.”
She gave me a glance that lingered a bit too long.
“We shall make her into a fine young woman, provided with the most extraordinary opportunities.”
“No thank you.” I muttered hastily. Simeon casted me a warning glare but I folded my arms in a rebellious matter.
“Ah, but she is quite an honest girl, I see.” Ms. Eichmann smiled as if she were totally oblivious to my rudeness. “I tell you Mr. Hamilton we need more of that here than you think.”
After the endless boring tour of my classes and room, it was time for Simeon to leave. I thought of escape plans. I thought of any route that led to his destination but I lost all ideas and was hopeless to stay here. Simeon and I stood alone at the gates that would soon separate us for a good time. He knelt down before me like he always did and gave me strong hug.
“Will you behave?”
“Maybe. When will you visit?”
He sighed and held my hands in his.
“Whenever I can. I’ll write to you though. Will you write back?”
“Mmm.” I was not satisfied with mere letters. “I suppose.”
“Vinita, stop sulking.”
“But I want to be with you!”
“You’re better off here. You won’t stay here forever. I’ll be back for you.”
“Really?!” a spark of hope flickered in my heart.
“I’m certain. It’s time for me to go. Goodbye Vinita.” He kissed the tops of both of my hands, but this was not enough for me. Simeon rose up but I shoved him back down and held the sides of his face. Without hesitation I boldly kissed him on the lips. Girls squawked at the sight of this. Simeon was not tense as I expected. Suddenly I felt stupid and ran off, hearing the giggles of nearby students as I ran past them. But when I turned, I saw the most incredible miracle. Simeon’s smile did exist. He gazed back at me with that amused grin and waved goodbye. There was even a soft laugh behind it as he turned to leave the school grounds. I stopped in my tracks, watching him disappear until I could no longer see him.
War is truly inevitable. It is all I ever hear from the teachers and people I pass on the streets. I cannot imagine a world of peace – where men of all kind tolerate differences or at least share the same intentions. I hear that the trenches are most dreadful and I am glad that Simeon’s high rank does not let him participate in those places. He is stationed in France – Belgium, I think.
As I expected I hated school. As the school year went on I did poorly in mathematics and ballroom dancing. I complained to Simeon about this but his letters seemed to scold me into doing better. The months floated by and the letters came frequently. I realized how precious these messages were and placed them beneath my bed inside a large jewelry box the headmistress has given to me as a welcome gift. Simeon rarely talked about his job or the war I heard so much about. Most of his letters focused on what he ate and who he met and the descriptions of places he visited. Sometimes he asked me about school which I did not like to talk about either. I also complained to him about my violin class and how I destroyed the strings on the first try. I rambled on about the itchy uniforms and how girly and childish it makes me look. School proved to keep most of my thoughts from daydreaming about my future with Simeon, but I didn’t find that to be a good thing. I am not arrogant but a great number of the students and teachers were pompous buffoons. Except for Sister Roberta.
The only two things I like about the school were the choir program and Sister Roberta.
Singing appeared to be my only excelled talent. Our choir is the only group that gets to venture out into the cities when we perform in Church Masses. I am a very high soprano and my choir director said that I have the voice of a cheery sparrow. Sometimes Mr. Harris will be among the crowd with his sister, giving me a proud wink every time I glided upon the stage.
Sister Roberta had a more free spirit unlike the other teachers - who absolutely held down the students with boring rules and tradition. Being the youngest teacher she had more difficulty in expressing her authority over her pupils. Mouths kept flapping, despite her kind but firm calling over the chatter. I really wished they would cease their conversations for later. I was eager to learn the basics of painting landscapes so that I may one day be as skilled as Sister Roberta; whose paintings are quite known throughout the city outside our school.
Sister twisted her brush, sighing in defeat. I could not tolerate such rudeness.
“Oh do hush up please!” I shouted among the noisy classroom. The freckled girl next to me flicked a wad of paper in my eye. A flood of snickers passed through the class. Sister Roberta’s mouth shaped into an O as I turned her desk over and tore her notebook to shreds, making it rain over her specked face.
“The devil!” she screamed, grabbing my wrists.
Sister charged toward us and pulled us apart. Her deserved sovereignty overpowered her as she dragged the girl into the hall way where a teacher would escort her to the headmistress’s office. I followed her footsteps but sister gently placed a hand on my shoulder and said firmly with a smile “Miss Hamilton, I will not put up with such behavior understood?”
“Yes ma’am.” I smiled back.
Somehow Ms. Eichmann found out about the feud in class. She called me into her office with a disgusting scowl on her face. I knew she was bad news from the beginning.
“No food for half a week.” She spited. “That’s punishment for brutalizing one of our most distinguished students. You shall apologize to Cassandra!”
I balled up my fists and left her office, determined to eat anyway. There was a small garden beneath my balcony – I climbed down the tree bordering the railing and picked up some healthy blueberries and strawberries until I was full. I wouldn’t apologize to a rude brat – no matter how distinguished she was claimed to be.
After that hearty dinner I searched for Sister Roberta. I found her in the vast library under the glow of a night lamp reading Pride and Prejudice intensely. I pretended not to take notice of her as I skimmed my fingers over the rows of books. She finally put the book down and grinned to herself.
“It does one good to read a nice book.” She said directly to me.
“You’ve finished already?”
“Yes. Have you read it?”
“No, I don’t believe I have.”
She nudged the book into my hands.
“It’s my copy. You may borrow it.” She replied as if she read my thoughts.
It took me two nights to finish the romantic novel. A kindling friendship grew between us every time I visited the library - to find her with a new book to share with me or to gossip endlessly about the terrible girls that reside here. I found myself seeking out her company than the ignorant “women” of my classes. On weekends we took brief strolls around the arboretum and drank tea during breaks in the Great balcony that viewed the Red Garden. We never missed a weekend together and even spent Christmas there when most of the students were away to visit family.
I was about to turn sixteen. And I knew it would be one of the best birthdays of my life. Simeon sent the school a letter, informing Ms.Eichmann that he will be spending a few days with me. Sister has offered me the privilege of choosing a place for her to paint for my gift. I suggested that she paint the Red Garden for my birthday.
“We must wait until the flowers are in full bloom.” She said taking a long sip of her hot drink. “But I’m sure that will happen before your birthday.”
She was right. The flowers weren’t exactly mature. The petals were not red enough; even the sky was not rid of winter’s bland hold.
I want him to meet Sister Robert when he visits me for my birthday.
Rising early the dawn cracked and tore through the cream colored curtains, sinking into my warm skin. I pursed my lips and thought of him, as always, when I awakened. He would go to church with me, as promised in his letter. Finally he may hear God for the first time. I know he can change. Change for me. Then we would go downtown and see the Gold Spring parade before eating at a Café. I went to my desk and reopened the letter he sent to me a week ago so I could make sure he truly promised to attend mass with me. A soft knock invaded my thoughts. I was not even dressed yet. I rub the crumbs from my tired eyes and opened my door.
“Vinita. Sorry to wake you up so early but…”
“But what, Sister Roberta?” I slowly yawned, not minding.
He stepped into view. Sister couldn’t help but to smile at my horrified expression. Simeon is here fully dress in an extravagant uniform of a true solider and here I am in a baggy nightgown with rustled hair. He stands stronger and firmer but there is still that same softness in his somber eyes.
I screech, startling both of them and I throw myself against him. We topple down. Some of the students rustled out of their rooms to see the blissful commotion. Simeon held me close and I felt his slight smile pressed against my forehead. He leaned back and got a good look at me.
Simeon’s smile started to fade and I feared the worst of his reaction.
“You’ve grown up so much.”
Mass ruptured our ears with heavenly music from the enormous quire of young nuns. Simeon’s shadow shelters me from the colorful pouring of sunlight from the glass stained windows. During the long sermon Simeon rested his head down against the pew in front of us and opened a bag of assorted sweets. I nestled closer to him and discreetly snacked with him, popping hard fruit candy and soft chocolate in each other’s mouths. We silently laughed at the pettiness of it, causing an elder to give us a stern glare from the front. “And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” Father said a little louder. At that moment Simeon glanced up and kept his eyes on him as if he were talking directly to his soul. I turned my head to see the mean freckled girl, Cassandra, glaring at us. She mouthed the most dreadful insult – but I was unmoved by my fury.
I loved the parade. Spring is my most favorite season of the year – it is the beginning of earth’s replenished beauty. There were a few booths on the streets, claiming great prizes if successful in the game. There were two new bikes hanging on one of the booth’s walls. I spent half of my money on that game, losing each time. I couldn’t get all the rings into the hooks of that cursed spinning wheel. I whined for Simeon to try. He won so quickly I didn’t realize the man in the booth was handing over Simeon the two bikes.
“You know how to ride a bike?” Simeon asked, climbing on top of his.
“Of course.” I replied, reluctantly getting on mine. Simeon zoomed past the influx of people on the street and I panicked doing my best to catch up with him. I wasn’t very good at these contraptions, but I was determined not to make a fool of myself in front of him.
We were out of the city, riding onto a rocky road that led us to a golden wheat field. He rode through, skidding ever so often to look back at me and sigh. I caught up with him as we past the windmill.
I pedaled hard, forcing each to turn to be harder than his own. I would win this race. I laugh and I take a few peeks behind to see if he has caught up. Suddenly he flew past me, sending a cloud of dust over me. My poor bike creaked from stress and I heard something snap. I tumbled to the side and fall into a thorny bush. Simeon skidded to a halt. I hold in my breath and watch the sunset glow its last performance of the day. This was such a wonderful day. It was a dream I wanted to live forever.
“Vinita…” Simeon kneeled by my side and wiped the debris of my cheek. Tears were rolling down my face. Not because of the deep scratches – but because I am too happy to even care. I smile at him then stick out my tongue.
He ignored my childishness and swooped me up in his arms.
“We’ll go back and-”
“No!” I shouted. “I’ll be fine! It’s just a bruise and a few cuts.”
He raised an eyebrow at me as if I were lying.
“And I want to set up your camp now!”
“Yes, before the sun goes down.”
As I played tag with the fireflies, Simeon arranged a khaki wide tent beneath the willow tree, and then gathered supplies to start a camp fire. He wanted to stay out there for his visiting nights, because he was so used to it. He called me over to help him load his sleeping bag into the tent and he started to unpack a few of his belongings. A deep brown case caught my eye as he pulled it out from his knapsack.
“What is it?” I asked, tapping the surface.
“You play the violin!” I cried shocked.
He nodded and opened the case. The violin was the most beautiful I’ve seen. Its curves were perfect and sleek and the stings were narrow and strong. I carefully picked it up and plucked the strings.
“Could you teach me? You know how terrible I am and my teacher is the worst.”
He took the violin from my grasp and positioned it between his shoulder and neck. The sweetest song floated smoothly off the thin strings. Simeon’s eyes softened as he gracefully moved the bow across the instrument. I never heard “Amazing Grace” played so beautifully. Shock settled inside me. He knew this hymn? I murmured the lyrics to the song and felt the swift breeze of afternoon cool my skin. Tears built up when the last verse came. Finally he finished resting the violin back in its case.
“Why do you play it so sad?” I asked a little exasperated.
“Most of the time…violins are sad. They are sad instruments.”
I had a strong desire to spend the nights with him out there in the fields, but he wouldn’t allow it. It made me cross but he let me stay out late with Sister’s secret permission. Nightfall came and the stars took their place. We lay side by side next to the small fire and talked about our future together.
“I cannot wait to be with you forever.” I yawned, closing my eyes.
“Two more years.” He said.
“Where shall we go?”
He flipped over to face me.
“America?” I raised an eyebrow. “What on earth shall we do in America?”
“I’ll have enough money for the both of us to travel and establish a home in North Carolina. There is more opportunity there than here.”
“What will you do to earn money?”
“I could be a farmer.”
I laugh. “And we could buy another horse. Name her Lolita. I do miss that horse.”
“I do too. I will try to remember that.”
“How about me? I could work. There are libraries in North Carolina, right?”
“I am sure. You want to be a librarian?”
“I just love to read. I would like to work in a place where I am surrounded by my most favorite things. After all you are the one who sparked my interest in books.”
“And also… a singer!”
“Will you sing to me before I go to bed at night?”
“Yes. But why would you want to hear my voice?”
“Your voice is comforting.”
“I wish you could see me in choir. Maybe in America I can join a church and start my own. Simeon, would you go to church with me?”
Simeon said nothing and frowned.
“What is wrong, Simeon?”
“I am just tired.”
He didn’t look tired – he looked very upset. In his previous letter he said that the British army lost a lot of men that day. He must have had friends die by his side.
“Is war…it’s not pretty at all is it?”
Simeon closed his eyes for a few seconds, and then gazed at the slim moon above.
“Sometimes soldiers will shoot themselves in order to be discharged…or to just die to end it all.”
“Do you ever get scared?” I knew my brave Simeon would never be scared of anything – but I asked to make sure.
“All the time.” He whispered. This startled me. Suddenly I wished that he never entered the army.
“I…I will pray for you.” I reached for his hand. “For strength. God’s strength.”
“It is time for you to go to bed.” He replied coldly, sitting up. I bit my lower lip and a troubled pang entered my chest. I had truly thought that the message today had an effect on him, but I was wrong. He began to trek out of his camp site and I followed him to the school’s gate.
“Good night, Simeon. I shall see you in the morning.”
He stopped me.
“I don’t want you to worry about me. Worry about your schoolwork.”
Moonlight glazed the left side of his face. I clutched the pocket of my skirt and looked away from him.
He tipped his head towards mine and kissed me.
It was so strange. So different from when I kissed him.
He left causally, and I staggered to my dorm and fainted on my bed.
When he left I tried to hide my devastation. I sank into my bed that night relishing on the memories we had just created. I could wait. Always wait and without doubt know that he is to come for me.
For the rest of those years I spent my time filling my head with academic instruction, proper posture, and news of the Great War. Simeon told me in one of his letters that the Americans have joined in. I worried less and less of the future as my eighteenth birthday came. Now I was a lady. Sister Roberta has insisted. My hair has grown to an enormous length, curving just above the small of my back. The sun has blessed me with a tint tan and I was an individual among my pale-skinned peers. There was not a day I did not smile. I listened well in all my classes and spent most of my social time with the teachers, learning so much that I would have never possibly fathomed as a child. He finally came. The day after my birthday – he returned to me. Simeon was soon to be discharged (by granted request) and then finally we would be together in a small cottage near the sea or in the land of America. The trees blossomed fresh petals and the slips of pink swarmed past me as I ran down the bright bridge to meet him. His troop was passing along here – so he had a few moments to greet me. He was resplendent in his clean uniform, looking greatly vigorous than before. Tears welled up in my eyes and I ran into his open arms. He held me tighter than ever. I wiped away my tears of joy and looked into his eyes – but there was no excitement, no joy, not even contentment. The war was not over yet, but there was something else troubling him besides that fact. “What is wrong?” I asked. “I need to talk to you about something very important.” He led me at the wall of the bridge and sat next to me on the rough ledge. “I’m…” he looked away. He gazed at the rippling water below. There was a pained wrinkle in his forehead. “I met this woman - an excellent nurse. When I broke my leg I went to hospital and was taken well care of. She saved my life. She cleaned away this dangerous infection in my knee. We started to spend a lot of time together. She’s a very wonderful lady. I want you to meet her.” I nodded and waited for whatever his point was. “Vinita, I’m going to be a father.” “What?” I barely whispered. “What do you mean by that?” “She’s the mother of my child. I’m getting married in a month.” Silence brewed in the damp air. I didn’t know how to express the anguished emotion in words. I slapped him sharply across the face. It hurt enough to make him wince, but he kept his impassioned gaze on the diligent waters. At last my agony came out in harsh roaring words. “How could you? I’ve waited years and years and years!” “Vinita. Please listen-” “No, I’m done listening to what you have to say! I’m done waiting!” He knelt down and held my trembling hands in his. “That is not the only important thing I have to tell you!” he said firmly. “What does it matter? You’ve ruined everything! My dreams that I thought you shared. But what did you do while I waited to become a woman? You slept with a wh***!” “Vinita!”He angrily snapped through clenched teeth. “It’s the truth. Why haven’t I seen it before?” I was asking myself so many questions. I have lost what I thought I knew. I snatched my hands away and turned to leave him forever. Simeon grabbed them again as I modestly hoped for. “Vinita - I want to be with you for the rest of my life.” I dropped to my knees and locked full eye contact with him. Tears were forming in his eyes and suddenly my fury was replaced with confusion. “I know I promised you those things a long time ago. Understand that things change throughout the course of one’s life. After almost dying – I finally understood this. Things change in our lives, sometimes unexplained. You don’t understand how much I love you. I still have kept part of my promise – I’ve purchased land near the seaside and we are moving in spacious cottage. Annabelle wants you to be with us. She plans on becoming a librarian soon. You could work by her side at the library in town when we go to North Carolina. “ “I…I may live with you?” He nodded; his cheeks were a burnt red. He wiped the wet corners of his eyes and held me. “I love you so much. I’m sorry. You are my family Vinita. Don’t leave me, please.” I cried and left a pool of tears on his shoulder. A soldier on the far side of the road ahead yelled out his name. “I must go.” He murmured, letting me loose. “But when will I be with-” “I shall write one more letter then after-” The soldier impatiently screamed his name louder. Simeon kissed my forehead twice and fled down the path. I cursed everything as I ran back to my dorm. Not even a birthday gift. A week passed since that dreadful news and I got an unexpected letter in the mail. It was not from Simeon but his soon-to-be bride, Annabelle. When Sister Roberta handed me the envelope I flung it across the room. “Vinita. Pick that up this instant.” She upbraided me softly. I did as I was told and let the thing plummet over my other scattered letters on my desk. “Child, couldn’t you be more perceptive for Simeon and this Annabelle?” “Why should I?” I already vented the very contents of my heart to Sister Roberta and this is what I get in return? A lecture. “Vinita, you were so young. I know it was a heartbreaking disappointment. But that doesn’t mean your relationship with him is over.” I felt that our entire connection was blasted into hell. I don’t want to believe Simeon loves me. I don’t even know what sort of love is left for me? “It’s done.” I said blankly. “No. He is a good man and I trust his word. You are going to have such a promising future with him. If I believe that – you should too.” Sister left my room. Once I was certain that she had left the dorms I quickly tore the envelope open and began to read. Dear Vinita, It seems that I have known you for years. Most of Simeon conversations usually end up focusing on you, Vinita. He says you’ are a clever, bright girl like no other. I’m sure you and I both know very well how little he smiles. His comrades have given him all sorts of nicknames like “Mood-killer” or “Grumpy” but he is mostly known as the man who never smiles. I have tried countless times to conjure up some sort of visible happiness, but I fail. One day he finally decided to attend church with me. It was not to long after visiting you. He always told there couldn’t be a God, a loving one anyway that cared. As we sang “Amazing Grace”, I felt him tremble and looked at him to see his eyes all watery. I set my hymn book down and held him there. He didn’t come up to the altar nor did anything else until church was over. After church he worked extra hard on your birthday gift. He hasn’t been able to finish it on time since he is busy with his demanding duties. You are going to love the gift he has made. You are also going to love the cottage we are going to live in. There is a room for each of us (and the upcoming baby) – but you can choose whichever room you like. I’m six months along with child. Before I close this letter I want to say just between you and me that Simeon only smiles when he speaks of you. I can’t wait to meet you – I’ve always wanted a close female companion to live with me in the household. I grew up with nothing but men! Again I cannot wait to see you beautiful Vinita. Hopefully we can get our Simeon to show us a grin one day. Love, Annabelle Luna Hamilton I liked her name. It sounded lovely. Simeon did have a birthday gift for me after all. I took in a deep breath and carefully set the letter on top of the stack next to my lamp. I thought about what Sister Roberta said, then thought about Simeon and Annabelle’s words. I began a letter of my own to her – but became drowsy and left it unfinished. I was too young. And there are so many changes in not only my world, but in others. There are so many things that I want to do. I want to fulfill my dreams and explore this earth. I want love and acceptance…and a family. That night I went to bed without any sour bitterness or hate. I let my mind cool. I let the night rock me to sleep. “Vinita…Vinita.” A panicked voice awakened me. I rubbed my sore eyes to see Sister Roberta and the headmistress standing next to my bed. “What is wrong?” Sister opened her mouth to speak, but Ms. Eichmann spoke instead. “I’m sorry to inform you of this Vinita, but you will not be leaving our school grounds so soon.” “Why not?” I replied back sternly as her cruel voice. “Simeon is to rescue me from this filthy dump.” Her eyes hardened but a strange gesture of her frown was different from her usual expression. Sister Roberta pursed her lips together and looked to Ms.Eichmann, pleading for privacy. She strolled out the door and shut the door quietly. “Vinita.” Sister whispered kindly. “There was a bomb on the road that leads to our school. Many people died yesterday afternoon on their way to the city…” She paused, trying to see if I caught on - but I didn’t. “And what? Are we to evacuate?” “Vinita, we have to stay here to be safe. Simeon and Annabelle are not coming for you.” Tears quivered over my eyelids. Has he broken another promise? “Why?” Sister broke into a hiccup of sobs. “They’ve passed away.” She whispered as our tears splashed on my lap. “I’m so sorry, Vinita.” I wonder if one day God will show us something much deeper than words to express ourselves. I cannot begin to reveal the dying heart of sorrow. My dreams, my hopes, my future is gone. There is nothing left for me. Nothing. For the first week of that summer I sat in my room alone. I did not eat. I could hardly fall asleep. I stared at the bounded stack of his envelopes and the letter from Annabelle until I passed out over my desk. I wanted to die along with them. I wanted to be blasted into smithereens and have my blood plastered all over the rubble paved road. I wanted to die with my happiness and joy. Sister Roberta checked in on me every night – offering me food, reading me passages from the bible before leaving me with a warm hug. How will I live now? What will I do? On Sunday I changed into my clean uniform, brushed my hair and teeth, and came down to breakfast. All the girls gave me odd looks as I took my seat at the far end of the table. I’m not sure if it was sympathy or contempt, but I gave a friendly smile and said good morning to them all. It was as if I suddenly did not recall the news of the tragedy. I discovered this after finishing my breakfast and broke down bawling in my chair. The Sisters guided me back to my room and left me alone. I now stared at the unfinished letter to Annabelle. That’s when Sister Roberta gave me the late package from Simeon. The last of his words are there…in this box. I don’t even remember opening it. All its contents spills out and float across my desk. A yellow envelope and a wrapped gift. I open the envelope first, feeling the raining tears splashing on the desk; I grit my teeth and rub them away as if they were dirt. I read but I can’t stop crying and moaning. Dear Vinita, After I am finally discharged we are coming to get you. I know that we all will be happy together. I am not very good with expressing myself in words but I must tell you something just between you and me – and nobody else. I grew up with in a very wealthy family in Paris, though we were originally from Great Britain. I attended the best private schools with my younger sister, Clare, and prepared for an occupation as a banker - like my father. My future was completely destroyed when I found my sister murdered near the bank of our backyard pond. I was supposed to watch after her that night- but instead chose to drink in a pub down the street with my older cousins in celebration of my birthday. She was fifteen and I was seventeen. I was responsible for everything. I couldn’t bear to face my family or friends. I felt so much shame and fear that I ran away to the village where I met you. It has haunted me ever since. I blamed God for my actions and refused to have anything to do with him. In fact I believed he didn’t exist at all – until you came into my life. I never felt so much love showered upon me. I could see God’s love shining through your smile. That is why I have been so cold about it whenever you brought it up. I have been hated by many people, so I never really cared for love. You were an angel. My redemption - but I failed to even do what was right. I didn’t straighten out my life. I hoped the best would come for you when I decided to let you attend Rosetta academy. But I’ve broken your heart again, right? I know I promised you so much, but I need you to understand that though I love you with all my soul and being I cannot see myself being your own. You are too innocent and too young for me to ruin. But I can truthfully say that I cannot see myself continuing to live without you. I love Annabelle and our soon to be child, but most of all, I love you. Find it in your heart to forgive my sins as God has done. I will never forgive myself for forgetting my angel. Happy birthday, dearest. Love, Simeon Hamilton I grab my present and shred the pink paper apart. In my hand… Is the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen. An angel. Her hands and eyes are closed in thoughtful prayer. Her gown spreads out beneath her small legs. Her hair is wavy and is fanned out over her arched wings. I hold it to my chest and cry out a painful gasp. I forgive him. I forgive him because he knows what he’s done. He is in God’s hand now. I forgive myself. I forgive myself for not understanding him at all. I place the angel on top of his letter and neatly fold my unfinished letter to Annabelle. I am going to fulfill my dream without him. I will go to America, live in North Carolina, and become a friendly librarian in a small country town. And I will forget. I will forget that I was his forgotten angel.