Take a breath and let the rest come easy
John came and went; no one could ever say when or where. Annabelle grew more and more thoughtful, and when John actually was by her side, he was so quiet and secretive that she didn’t know how to behave. He used to send her charming smiles, but there were something in his eyes that Annabelle could never seem to understand. Annabelle loved mysterious men, but John... She didn't know if she could call him mysterious. So far, he was nothing but unknown; distanced.
No matter how much Annabelle tried to make him talk, hoping that they would get to know each other, he wouldn't. John always came up with an urgent apology and had to storm off, before Annabelle even had time to open her mouth and tell him goodbye.
“I can not do this anymore,” Annabelle wrote in her dark brown journal on a cool August evening. The sun lay hidden behind thick, white clouds that could be likened to Annabelle soft goose feather pillows, and the sky was as pink as the dress her mother had sewed from Parisian fabric, just in time for Rebecca’s wedding.
Rebecca was Annabelle’s older sister, and Annabelle had for as long as she could remember admired her sister for her honest and courageous personality. Oh, and she was so beautiful too, Rebecca! Her thick, light brown, curly hair framed her face perfectly, and there was something about those dark brown eyes that made the young men, both married and unmarried, gather around her.
’If only I were more like my sister," she continued, “John would certainly not be so dumb and secretive - no, he would surely reveal his heart’s deepest desires to me. Just think, maybe he would propose to me, oh, he certainly would... Annabelle O’Malley, it sounds absolutely wonderful! Well, if only I had been more like my sister." She couldn’t help what she just had written; she knew she should be closer to her older sister, when she had no hope to ever see her brothers again.
Her two older brothers, Dean and Sam, had as soon as the war started in April 1861 joined the Confederate army to fight against the Union, the northern states - or the Yankees, which most called them. She remembered her mother’s happiness when Mr. Crowell, one of the wealthiest men in all of Virginia, spread the rumors about how successful their first attacks on the northern states had passed. Battle of Fort Sumter; how they had attacked a Union military installation and won. They had defeated the yankees the first chance they got. What could go wrong now?
She had been so happy, so sure that they would win, sure that Sam and Dean would come home, sure that everything would be fine. Now, two years later, she began to realize more and more that the South never could win the war. It was only a matter of time before Sherman and his men took Atlanta, the city that provided them and so many others with essential products, thanks to the many railroads that linked Atlanta with neighboring cities and states, and also Richmond, the Confederate capital. If Richmond fell, it would all be over, and it was the same with Atlanta.
Many of the Confederate soldiers who had gone home on permission refused to join the army again. The yankees had the upper hand, crushing everything in their path as they were many more than the Confederates had ever been. Ever since the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle so far, she had realized that they had no chance of winning.
Then, when Annabelle’s father had gone out to join the army - and that was only a month ago - nothing had been able to stop her tears from falling freely. Her father would never survive the war. The yankees would crush him - just like they crushed all the other Southerners. What disturbed her the most was that the old men went to battle, too, now. She had seen grandfathers waving farewell to their granddaughters, knowing full well they would never return home again.
It was so unfair, and sometimes - though this she wouldn't tell anyone - she wished she could join the army too, but only because she would know she was taking someone elses place; an injured father could stay at home with his family, instead of leaving for a war they all knew was doomed to end in blood and death. But most of all, Annabelle wished that the men would just stop fighting. No one would ever win that war, because it only drew death and sorrow. War devastated lives.
When she finished writing, she could not stop the small tear that fell down her pale cheek to finally land on the diary, so that she could save it forever as a memory to keep, to remember this moment. So that she could look back, when she was older, wiser and married, and understand what a naive little girl she had been, who admired a man when it was the man that should admire the girl.
Annabelle in time only became more and more sad, when she thought of her unrequited love. “Oh, John,” she would say to herself when she knew that no one else was listening. “Why do you let me suffer so?” And sometimes, but only when the white brick house echoed empty and lonely, she let out a tear. But only one; never, never two. She did not think of herself as weak, for that would be like giving up. And Annabelle Johnson never gave up.
It was an early morning in August, and Annabelle awoke when her windows burst open and hit the wall. The thin silk curtains danced a sad dance and created ghostly silhouettes on the bare walls. Adrienne quickly came rushing in and tried to close the windows before all too much cold filled the room. It was an awfully tough job, and so early in the morning! It took at least ten minutes and when the windows finally were closed, the room was so cold that Annabelle’s lips turned blue.
It was not particularly surprising, now that she thought about it, because she wore nothing but a thin cotton nightgown. Since Annabelle was way too woken up, and couldn't go back to sleep, she decided to get up early.
Quiet, so that she wouldn't wake anyone, she walked on her toes, afraid that the old floorboards would creak underneath her weight. The closet gave away a loud, creaking sound when she opened it, and suddenly she got the feeling that someone was standing behind her, watching. A shadow that followed each of her steps and every single breath. It was a horrible feeling, and Annabelle shook her head stubbornly to make it disappear.
After many thoughts, the girl chose to wear a bright blue dress, only because it made her think of places where the warm spring sun shone, and the feeling of barefoot feet against a wild meadow with flowers swaying in the wind. Then, when she returned to reality, she put on her vanilla white knee socks and placed the bright summer hat with the blue band on her head, as she gently closed the closet door.
Before she left the room, she took the photograph with the silver frame from the carved wooden bedside table. The picture was of her father, young and handsome, and on his lips played a pale smile. She smiled at the picture with a sense of sadness in her heart. There was nothing beautiful about being a soldier.
She then sneaked silently to the kitchen door, the one that only the family’s servants were allowed to use. It was a miserable old door, with its wood gray and rotten. She carefully leaned towards the wall and pulled on her mother’s old leather shoes. Then she opened the door, which, to her surprise, went up without a sound.