Sunday was calm and uneventful, as usual at the Bulfinch residence. Anastasia read Henry V, remembering all the wonderful insights Gerard had made. But, she firmly told herself, we are just friends. Nor would I want it to be otherwise. As if it could! I am a nobody. No, Gerard will love some elegant beauty with princess manners and regality in every motion. The thought made her heart ache. Roughly she pushed down the feeling, angry with herself for such an emotion. She put away the little leather volume and took up Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Jemima’s voice echoed across the wood floor from the other room. “I’m telling you it’s the talk of all the girls. Mr. Thomas likes her.”
“Well, if he does it won’t go any farther. A gentleman of such society would never marry a girl like her,” Mary Ann’s voice replied.
“But what if he does? Some rich men have been known to do that, despite their family’s disapproval. It just wouldn’t be fair! I’m so much prettier than she is!” A pouting wail came into her voice.
“That’s enough, Jemima! I don’t want to hear anymore. She is older than you anyway, so it’s fitting she marries first.”
As the sound of footsteps retreated, Anastasia wondered who it was Gerard liked. He had never mentioned it. For some reason it hurt more than her amazement over her mother’s harsh voice. I thought we were friends? Well, perhaps it would be awkward to tell a girl you love another girl. But still!
Sadly she closed the book, caressing the soft blue canvas cover, one finger tracing the water stain on it. Smiling sadly, she remembered when Gerard had begged to replace it. That day seemed like so long ago. She could not remember what her life had been like without him. Strange, after only a month to have such an attachment.
In her reminiscence, Anastasia stared through the window. There he was, walking by. He slowed down as he scanned the windows. She leaned back in her seat, hoping he had and yet had not seen her. Why was her heart suddenly beating so? As he vanished from vision, she purposefully bolted to the back of the house, far away from any window. This was the oddest feeling in her heart; she wished it would go away. If it was love, which she was beginning to think it was, she could never accept it. Love was pain and fear and hate. Somehow that sounded contrary, but it was all she had experienced.
Did mother love Mr. Bulfinch? He was so distant and disinterested, and mother was so vibrant and vigorous. Well, at least she had been once upon a time. But that was just it! Love had changed her from who she had been; yes, love had taken the carefree maid and turned her into a worn middle aged woman with hair just touched with grey. Was love worth it? As much as she pondered, she arrived at no conclusion.
Monday came without a change. School was difficult for her distracted soul, yet Anastasia plodded through the morning classes. When the lunch recess bell rang, she only too happily took her lunch pail to the yard.
As she folded her napkin after her meal, Anastasia saw Jane and Karen sauntering towards her. She felt suddenly sick. Why did they always bully her? Surely there were other people who really deserved such treatment- themselves first of all. But she remembered Gerard’s voice saying, “They only tease you because you make it easy.” Well, not this time!
“Hi, Anastasia,” Jane smiled, tossing her long dark locks behind her shoulder. Something was wrong- she was being too sweet.
“We heard an interesting rumor about you… Would you care to hear it?” chimed Karen, her brown eyes sparkling menacingly under her blond curls.
Trying to dispel the fluttering inside her, Anastasia swallowed. “Rumors are rumors and nothing more. And those that listen to them should not be listened to.”
“Oh! A philosopher are you?” Karen seethed. “Well, philosophize out of this: you’re in love with Gerard Thomas.” Her eyes burned with hatred.
Anastasia gasped. People actually were trying to control her future, people who didn’t care two-pence for her? Horror! They actually presumed to distort her friendship into a nonsensical romance? Hateful! Briefly her mind flickered to Jemima’s comments of the other day. Her cheeks burning a bright red, Anastasia said loud enough for near-by hearers, “No, I am not in love with Gerard Thomas. What’s more I don’t care that for him.” And she snapped her fingers. Then she turned to leave. There stood Gerard with an awkward expression. Turning more red- if that was possible- Anastasia quickly, but stately, walked down the lane.
And that was how it started. Whenever they met on the street, there was a silent nod or a quick ‘hello’ in passing. He never walked her home any more, never came to read with her in the park, never talked with her about things. This tortured Anastasia. What had she done? Lost her best and only friend because of pride. Oh wicked, wicked girl! She wanted to talk with him about it, she wanted to make him understand the fear she had of being in love, she wanted to be friends again. But she was afraid he would not want anything to do with her, that he would not understand. And this fear forbade her to speak, although the loss gnawed her heart causing just as much pain.
The school year petered out as the weather changed with the season. The spring rains slowly dispersed into early summer sunshine. The humid chill that pierced everything left to be replaced by the damp warmth of summer on the Thames.
Anastasia, free from home work, found herself often in the park. Sometimes she would sit quietly, as if waiting for something; other times she would pace the paths. But she did not read as much as she used to. This fact disturbed Mary Ann. Had her daughter actually formed an attachment to that young bachelor? Yet what could she say if Anastasia never brooked the subject?