Abigail came to the edge of the woods and adjusted her backpack. Heavy black clouds moved rapidly toward her, the dampness in the air warning her that the distant rumble was no idle threat. Slipping under a barbed wire fence she started across the large field. No rain storm was going to keep her inside today. But she needed to get to cover. A small shed lay empty on the opposite side of the field and she knew she could make it before the heavens burst. Walking slowly, despite the growing energy around her, she ran her fingers through the waist high grass. The smell of stale summer rose from the stalks and the breeze quickly grew into a substantial wind.
On days like today, Abigail knew that this was where she belonged. Not in the overly large house where she spent 30 working hours of her all to short week. Not in the smaller house where there was always something to be cleaned, someone in need of something. Not in the over filled school rooms where Professors lectured about what they ‘knew’ about the real world all the while living in academia. Not among the throngs of nameless people who didn’t care a thing about her.
But here where nothing stood between her and the ideas that flowed down from heaven. Where the sky was as high as her imagination was vast. How could anything be as sweet as the world she could create in her mind? No real life could be as easy to manipulate and succeed in. In the real world Abigail was a flop. But here she was a queen. Here she could beat any challenge, face any foe, always managed to choose the right coarse of action, and best of all, the she always got the guy.
Approaching the ramshackle shack she took off her backpack squeezed into the jarred door. The small one room building leaned slightly to the south, as though leaning away from the bighting northern winds. Dust and cobwebs covered every weather warped surface and nothing looked strong enough to hold up Abigail’s weight. But she knew from past visits the rickety old furniture was better made than it looked. Setting down her back pack on the work bench she pulled out an old rag and dusted off the near by stool then pulled out her lap top on turned it on. Immediately it hummed to life. She glanced around as she waited for it to finish booting up. Then, as rain drops began to streak the dirty windows, her fingers began to move.
Like magic. Everything came like magic. This place was magic. Suddenly the gross grey walls disappeared into velvety gold fringed curtains. The dust covered floors grew glossy and vast oriental rugs spread beneath her feet. The dim lights flickered not from the lightening but from hundreds of candles as a well dressed damsels floated by in a large hooped skirts. Cobwebbed ceiling grew loftier giving way to elaborate murals of dainty angels and fluffy clouds. The rhythmic drumming of the rain was joined by a flute then a violin, then softly from the far corner a small band filled the hall with a lilting waltz.
Slowly, pair by pair, elegant couples materialized until they filled the corners and swayed around the center. Frilly women laughed meaningfully behind lace fans that fluttered rapidly in an effort to move the intensely heavy air. Lace trimmed gentlemen lounged gracefully about with roaming eyes. Maids in plain black and white frocks moved silently in and out of small groups offering wine and small pastries. And there, in the very center, a lovely young girl in soft white muslin danced with elegant ease. Tonight was her night and she had prepared for it unceasingly for the past year. Now she shined and every man in the room was aware of the glow.
Catherine stood briefly in one of the archways shielded from the majority of the prying eyes. The small tray of crumpets in her left hand balanced effortlessly as she watched Amelia. The eighteen year old laughed with a toss of her head sending her silken tresses bouncing in small ringlets about her delicate face. A tender smile spread across Catharine’s lips and up into her eyes. Amelia was enjoying herself, the evening was a success.
Adjusting her grey skirts she made her way across the floor toward the hall that lead to the kitchen. Several smiles and nodes were offered and returned as she passed the small groups of gossiping mothers and badgering old men. A small maid began to pass her but Sally reached out to stop her. “Sally, here” she said gently touching Sally’s arm. She knew the girl as the blacksmith’s daughter, and this was her first engagement. “Take this one back out. It’s still full. I’ll take yours back to the kitchen.”
“Yes M’ Lady.” The girl answered giving a nervous curtsy. She awkwardly traded the empty tray for the full one.
Sally smiled as she turned to exit the small door.
“Catherine.” A deep voice came from behind her.
She turned and curtsied to her father. “Yes father.”
“If I have to put up with this fiasco you do too.” He smiled reaching out and resting an arm across her shoulders. “You’ve been unfindable all night long and if I have to listen to another word of Bialy’s nonsensical prattle… I’ll just have to hang myself and have it done with.” He winked at her in the way that always made her laugh.
Once again it did the trick. “Oh Father.” She chuckled. “I’ve been there the whole time. I really have. I was just going to see to things in the kitchen.” The portly gentleman didn’t seem convinced. “I promise I’ll come relieve you of Mr. Bailey in just a moment. I must speak with Chef, the wine must be running out and I don’t want him opening the wrong vintages.”
“Oh very good thinking Buttercup, but I don’t believe you for a second. You know as well as I do Chef knows those wines better than you do. Now give that tray to someone and get back out here and help me with these guests. Not everyone can be captivated by your sister, and those are our responsibility. Now hurry.” Giving her a squeeze he walked away to a group of older gentlemen roaring something about the trials of a father.
Catherine smiled as she handed the tray to another small maid who was headed toward the kitchen. She had only to take two steps back into the room and instantly a pair of gloved hands rested on her arm. Lady Darlington smiled up at her from behind an overly painted face. “My dear, doesn’t your sister look lovely tonight?” she sighed.
“We’re very proud of her.” Catherine replied quickly before the woman turned to her companion the widow Weathurbee.
“It seems like only yesterday that my sweet Ophelia had her coming out.” The widow responded by saying what an elegant event it was. Lady Darlington did not remove her hand from Catherine’s arm, but continued her conversation. “Of course she’s got her little William now. She’s always been the quickest at everything. They told me it would be a mistake to bring her out early. ‘She’ll be an old maid like…” The woman slowed down and blinked briefly at Catherine as though remembering she stood there. “I mean…” She coughed lightly and then continued with a nervous laugh. “She’s always been that quick. And sure enough she’d only been out a month when the Duke asked for her. And no sooner were they married than she produced a perfect little heir.” Catherine looked about helplessly for an escape, any excuse to move out of the conversation. Everything was running smoothly. She had planed too well. It was the widow’s turn to tell of the success of her three daughters each of which were younger than Catherine’s supposedly ancient twenty five.
Catherine jumped as a hand touched her shoulder causing the two women to glance up at the same time. “Ladies,” Paul smiled……
Abigail’s hands froze above the key board. Paul….
The rain had all but stopped now, though small rivers continued to drizzle down the window. Suddenly it she realized it was something of a sauna in the cramped shed. Setting the computer aside she squeezed out the lopsided door. A fine mist greeted her softly cooling her skin. Turning her face upward she closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the freshly bathed earth.
‘Why can’t the world be like this place?’ She mussed slipping off her shoes and walking bare foot in the damp grass. ‘Clean and fresh with every passing rain. Nothing to remind one of past mistakes.’
Then she heard it. Muted though it was she knew what it meant. “Abigail!” Tommy was calling. Time to go.
Slipping back in, she turned off her computer and quickly dusted off her feet with her socks. They were still wet as she slipped them into the muggy tennis shoes but she didn’t have time to air them out. Shoving the computer into her back pack she slipped out of the shed and jerked the door to. She had to move fast or Tommy would find her and guess where she had been. And the last thing she wanted was Tommy’s company any time she tried to get away.
Sure enough her fourteen year old brother was walking toward her as she entered the path on the other side of the field. Still a good ways off she yelled to him and jogged toward him lest he see the field.
“We’ve been looking for you everywhere!” He reprimanded her as she came to a stop. “I told her you were out here. What are you doing out here anyway? Why aren’t you soaked?”
“Cause I like it out here. Who was looking for me?”
“Mom. I told her you’d be back any second, but she was all panicking and …’Where’s Aby?’ ‘Has anyone seen Aby?’ ‘Tommy help me look for Aby.’ I promise sis, your worse for my high scores than Bobby is.” He strode along beside her making elaborate gestures with his hands that made her laugh.
“I’m soo sorry. I know how much those scores matter in this world. Whatever shall we do if Tommy gets a low score?!?!” She laughed again and he punched her in the shoulder. “Ow…sorry.” She snickered. “Did mom say what she wants?”
“No,” he answered looking more glum for the change of topic. “She just said she needed your help. I’ll go tell her you’re coming.” He smiled breaking into a run.
“I’ll beat you!” Abigail yelled breaking into an equally fast run, but it didn’t take long before she was gasping for air and he had left her far behind in his dust. But they were close enough now she could see the house and hear the various ‘goings ons’.
She walked in the door and swung her back pack down onto the floor. “Mom!” She yelled side stepping the dog that made the front door it’s home. “I’m back”
“In the kitchen!” came the response. Abigail made her way through the hall over a pile of laundry that never seemed to diminish.
“Yes mam’?” She asked.
“Aby, where in the world have you been? I need you to take the twins to practice. Bobby’s not been feeling well and I just can’t leave Tom in charge of him.”
“Do you want me to take the van or the car?” she asked moving some dirty dishes into the sink so her mother could finish wiping off he counter.
“The van, I need you to pick up some groceries.” Catherine groaned her disapproval. “I know, but I just need a few things…”
Before she knew it Catherine was droving down the road with 17 year olds Michele and Lindsey, a wad of cash and a sticky note of groceries to pick up.
“Aby,” Lindsey said, she sat in the front while Michele leaned forward enough to be all but in the front seat. “Could you wait till we’re done? We’ll help you get the groceries, ok?”
Abigail shrugged. “That’s fine with me. Why?”
“I want to check out something at the store.” Lindsey said with a smirkish kind of grin on her face.
“What?” Abigail asked arching her left eye brow.
“Well,” she replied her eyes glittering mischievously. “There’s an article in Teen that Stacy told me about. It’s about how to catch your guy’s eye. Since my older sister can’t teach me about that.” Abigail stuck out her tongue at her little sister. She was used to the their teasing in that area. “And besides,” Lindsey added laughing at her own jibe. “I need some new lip stick. My stuff is too pink for this season.”
Michele gawfed from the back seat. “You’re such a priss!” Not that Michele was less of a priss she was just more subtle about it. “Oh… speaking of that stuff…” she said in a more subdued tone. “did mom tell you Paul called?”
Abigail felt her hands tense around the steering wheel. “No.”
“Yeah, he said the dance is at nine and everyone is meeting at his place to car pool.”
Pulling into a parking space Abigail put the car into park. “Cool, thanks.” She said trying to act nonchalant. The two girls burst out of the van and rushed inside the large gymnasium.
Sighing Abigail reached behind her seat and pulled out her computer. She had spent enough hours thinking about Paul and everything around him. She had to think about something else for a little while.
Softly it hummed to life and she covered her eyes for a moment willing the ball to return to her mind.
Catherine jumped as a hand touched her shoulder causing the two women to glance up at the same time. “Ladies,” Paul smiled……
Paul…she couldn’t name the hero Paul. Peter would be fine.
“Ladies,” Peter smiled “I’m afraid Catherine owes me this dance. Would you be so kind as to give her up for one set?”
“Of course Lord William.” Lady Darlington smiled at her patron. “I was just thinking what a pity it was that our Lady Shelby hadn’t danced a set yet. What a gentleman you are to take her…” Lady Darlington’s voice fade away as Peter lead her away nodding graciously at the two women. “How long did those two have you in their clutches?”
“Not long.” Catherine smiled. “But I thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving me.”
Peter’s eyes laughed as he waited for last set to end. His boyish face looking older in the flickering shadows. “Those two are enough to try the patients of the most gracious host… or hostess.” He winked down at her as her lead her out onto the floor. He had good form as he lead her in the simple steps. His smiles were ready as they ever had been. A long time family connection, Peter had always been one of Catherine’s special friends.
The music fade as the set ended and Peter lead Catherine off the floor. “You dance as well as ever.” She said smiling and nodding at her guests as a good hostess should.
“As do you.” He smiled looking down at her. Catherine looked up into his eyes and felt her heart quicken. “We really should dance more often. But now I must do my duty else where. I promised your sister this dance. Don’t let yourself get caught by any more of those silly old biddies.” He winked at her quickly and then disappeared into the crowd. Catherine watched him go smiling to herself, a funny feeling creeping up into her heart. How old was Paul anyway?
A fuzzy blue light glowed in the dark room. Twelve oclk. Abigail stretched her neck popping it one way then twisted it to pop it the other way. After four hours the words on the screen had long begun to look the same. Lindsey moved in her bed and groaned. Abigail snapped the screen closed and watched her sister carefully. She didn’t want to wake anyone up but she knew the report would have to be finished by tonight.