Anastasia opened her eyes. All was white; there were no dimensions, as if she was lost in the endless fluff of a cloud. A piano was playing somewhere in the distance. Then Gerard walked toward her, smiling as if his heart was full of joy. “Anastasia, it’s wonderful to see you!”
“Yes,” Karen chimed in. “I’m so glad you could make it to our wedding.” The beautiful girl was more beautiful than usual. Except that her eyes were sinister.
Slowly the tune morphed into the wedding march. Gerard waltzed with Karen up the aisle. Perfect Greta Thomas flicked her slender fingers over the ivory keys. For some reason, Anastasia knew that between Greta’s playing and Karen’s voice, Gerard had been enchanted. This was not his free choice! She must stop them! Yet try as she might, she could not move. Looking down, she saw a white sheet swathing her. She was just as much a prisoner. “Gerard, no!”
Then all was dark again. There was no sound, no light, no one besides her in the all too small room. Crawl as she might, her searching fingers found nothing to grasp. But what was that? Something had grabbed her. With a sharp cry she attempted to wrench her wrist away. Yet the warm grip held her powerless. “Who are you?” The words echoed eerily inside her. Then a pain pierced her. She cried out and the grip went away. She was left alone again.
She began to walk. Step after step, plodding along, time stretched and nothing came. Was there anything to meet? Step, pause, step, pause, shuffle, silence, shuffle, silence: endless monotony droning with each movement that accomplished nothing. Where was she, where heading? It did not seem to matter, and yet it did. Then from the abysmal black she heard Karen say, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.” The words repeated themselves, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.” Each syllable dragged out longer and louder, “Your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.” Thousands of voices shouted them at her, “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.” Yes, yes, she was! Tears coursed through her soul, winds blew them away, the dark grew hands to push and poke her. “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.” Yes, she was ugly! But did that deny her love? Was she to be a thing used, a trinket played with till broken and then flung aside? Surely even the ugly deserved better! “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.” Fine! If love only meant pain and refusal, then she would have nothing to do with it!
Without thinking, Anastasia ran away back to the corner from which she had come. She curled up expecting a harsh coldness, but instead found a warm softness. It took away her tears, it removed her pain, it whispered “I love you, Anastasia!” Slowly, as calm returned to her, sleep conquered.
Gerard watched as her breathing slowed; perhaps now she could sleep. Slowly he released her head and tucked the covers under her chin. Her collapse had given them all quite a scare, but Gerard felt constrained by a worry that he could not show. He had not told his sister and father just how he felt about Anastasia, yet he knew they had guessed it. Sighing he sat back into the chair.
His eyes became fixed on the window pane mottled with raindrops. It would have been a new moon that night anyway, so the clouds probably did not matter. For some reason clouds covering the moon had always disturbed him, why he could not say. But they did not disturb him now. Perhaps it was because he was already too disturbed to notice them. How could a mother react so? After sending word to Mrs. Bulfinch asking her to come since her daughter was suddenly taken ill, the woman had replied that she was certain all would be taken care of and her presence therefore unnecessary, just send her the doctor’s note. How cold and uncaring! Gerard knew that he was being unjust, that she was most likely allaying Mr. Bulfinch’s reaction. Anastasia had never told him, but Gerard somehow felt he knew that the merchant thought little of his stepchildren. Perhaps he had deduced this from observing the family in the pew on Sundays.
He sighed again and rubbed his eyes. He was not tired; in fact he could not sleep which was why he was sitting there now. He figured seeing her calm and peaceful would soothe him. Yet he had found her tossing and mumbling, tears slowly trickling from under her closed lids. At that moment he had felt his heart rend immendable. Somehow the words “I love you” had escaped. They had comforted her enough to dispel the storm inside her dream.
Suddenly his heart pace quickened. If his admittance of love had settled her soul, could it be she loved him? It was too fantastic to believe. Surely she had remembered her mother crooning over her as a sick child; or more possibly it was some hero from her novels, Sir Gawain or Henry V perhaps.
Oddly enough, Gerard could not dispel this thought. All her actions that day had shown something: first ecstatic joy when he had greeted her, then cold sorrow as Karen spoke, and now this. But one day was not enough; after all had she not declared with her own lips that he meant nothing to her? His heart felt the stab of pain as if it had been a blow received only that instant. A third sigh escaped him.
“So you can’t sleep either?”
Gerard jumped at his father’s voice. “I thought I heard her call out.”
The elderly man chuckled. “Now, Gerard, don’t give me that.” Seating himself opposite his son, Mr. Thomas asked, “You love her don’t you?”
Gerard helplessly nodded.
Studying the distraught face of the younger man, he knew something was hurting inside, and it was not simply fear for her health. “Does she return your affection?”
He watched as the one he had raised from childhood swallowed hard, every muscle straining in his face, neck and hands. “I don’t know,” he replied somewhat huskily. The elder man waited, knowing the rest of the story would slowly pour itself out. “She said she didn’t care.” Nodding, the father looked down at the ground. “But then, she had been pushed by others.”
“Her face showed she was happy to see me again.”
“I don’t know. Father, how did you know mother loved you?”
With that proverbial smile that only a parent gives, Mr. Thomas chuckled softly under his breath. “Your mother was not like Ms. Bartle. She told me openly and honestly what she thought. One might say she proposed to me. But that is not what you need to hear. Gerard, my boy, look at her actions: what do they tell you? She may say one thing and believe another. Most people rarely say what they mean, but you can always tell by their actions if they do or not.”
“But she is so sincere! Every time I’ve talked with her she has told me plainly what she thought. How do you know that she did not mean what she said?” The eager eyes searched the sedate father’s.
“Just because she is honest intellectually does not mean she is with her heart. Some people are afraid to admit when they love.”
“Why? Well, that is the simplest answer: because they fear. Son, to love someone is to no longer be your own. In love you are totally poured out for the other, completely lost in the tide like a drop of water. In love you sacrifice all with a ready smile, you hold nothing back of your heart and soul. It is difficult to do, but when you lack trust it is impossible. And from all that you have told me, Ms. Bartle does not want to trust.”
Gerard looked down at his bare feet on the sage carpet, a burgundy flower curling above his toes. “Then I am not trustworthy?”
“No,” Mr. Thomas whispered. Such words disturbed deeply his heart. “She must have been hurt as a child that she is so wary of trust and love. Yet, the mere fact that she considers you a friend tells you she trusts you somewhat.”
Gerard sighed. “I suppose so.”
“Come to sleep. In the morning things won’t seem so dismal.”