Summer has come and passed; the innocent can never last
It was cold outside. The sun had not yet risen, so the sky was still as blue as the sea with streaks of pink, which Annabelle found very soothing. Colorful leaves rustled under her feet; autumn had arrived earlier than usual this year. Otherwise, it was quiet.
“No,” she said to herself, almost whispering, when she noticed that the dress was tightened in an unpleasant way. Thorns from a bush with wild roses had hooked itself into the delicate fabric. She bent down and tried to gently remove the blue dress, fearing that the thorns would destroy the thin textile. Fortunately, the dress was unharmed and Annabelle sighed in relief.
“Mother would have killed me if the dress had gotten even the slightest tear,” she said quietly, almost in a whisper, afraid to hear the truth behind her words. Annabelle knew that her family did not have as much money anymore, mostly because their money was in the Confederate currency, which now had begun to lose most of its value. It would take some time before she would afford a new dress. “I have to stop being so reckless!”
Then, when the sun started to rise and the sky changed into beautiful pink hues, Annabelle found herself on her way home. She went where flowers grew, honeysuckle and wild roses, a way she knew always led home. She was so lost in her own thoughts, that she didn't notice the dangerously curved tree root that crossed her path. Just when she would walk past it, she got her foot stuck under the root, tripped and ended up right on her stomach. Grass stains appeared as large, green spots on the blue fabric, but luckily they weren’t that many. However, the mud made it a whole lot worse, for it was quite dark, and made the dress look awful.
“No,” she swore, “Why do I always have to destroy everything?” She rose quickly, and tried to brush away the ugly mud spots, but it was all in vain, and the dress remained just as dirty. “Mother will kill me,” she murmured as she walked briskly, “I'm as good as dead already!”
When she reached the family house, she once again made an attempt to brush away the worst spots. The dress remained just as dirty and ugly, and the hopes to escape her mother’s anger disappeared. Just when she was about to raise her hand and knock at the door, she burst into tears and fell down on the porch stairs. She sobbed quietly, afraid that someone would hear her. Just as she sobbed the loudest, she heard a calm male voice, and looked up.
“Miss Annabelle, are you alright?” A pair of emerald green eyes looked at her with curiosity, searching, wondering. When Annabelle saw who it was she sobbed loud and raised her hands to cover her face, while she resisted the feeling to slap him straight across the cheek. Why did it have to be him?
“Oh, I didn't mean to disturb. Do you want me to leave?” He was so kind as he stood in front of her with a white embroidered handkerchief in his hands. She brought her hands away from her face and quietly took the handkerchief he had given her. She couldn’t help but wonder if his thoughtfulness and kindness was nothing but a false charade, an act, and that his only goal was to fool her, to make her look stupid.
“I was just passing by when I heard your sobbing. Forgive me, but I felt I had to take a look.” He gave her a charming smile. “I never would have thought it to be you,” he laughed melodically. “You have given me the impression of being a very strong person, who doesn't give up in the first place. I thought you were one of those people who never gave up until they had gotten what they wanted.” Annabelle didn't know if she should take it as a compliment, or if she should feel humiliated. She wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and stood up.
“Tears are not a sign of weakness, Mr. O’Malley,” she answered him stubbornly with her head held high. She didn't like the arrogant tone in his voice.
“Oh, that you say?” He said, questioning, with the green eyes sparkling with excitement. The mischievous boy in him had awakened; he would never pass on a chance to play. “I have always been told that that is exactly what it is - a sign of weakness.” He finished the sentence with a clarification on the last word.
“If there is someone who is weak, it's you,” Annabelle replied sharply, with raised eyebrows and a childish, provocative smile. “Why haven't you left for the war? Joined the army, fought for our freedom? All young men, and even the old ones now, too, have gone. Why not you?” She enjoyed John’s fading gaze and cold frown, but when she said the last three words her face was serious, for this was something she often thought about.
“Oh, I-,” he lost his words, but quickly found them again. “I have seen the war, Miss. It was horrible, like nothing I have ever seen. The death, the pain, the misery... There is no honor in fighting that god damned war, and I'm not proud of myself for doing so. I have been extremely close to dying, and I probably would have, if I wasn't-,” His voice faded away, and his eyes turned to the clear blue sky.
“You should understand that I'm nothing like all the other young men you've met, Annabelle. My story is different from all the others you've heard,” he said, still with his eyes lost in the blue sky. Then he laughed; an almost angry and bitter laugh. “We are so different, you and I. You will never understand what I've been through,” he paused a little when he saw Annabelle’s face. “You've had it so easy,” he snorted, irritated. “You've gotten everything that you've ever wanted, you've never gotten to experience deep sorrow, you've never been so hungry you thought you would die...” He decided to stop talking when he saw the burning look she gave him.
Meanwhile, Annabelle fought against the instinct to shout herself hoarse in defense against John, but no matter how hard she tried, the words got stuck in her throat. She could not understand how he dared to talk to her like this; insult her when she stood right in front of him!
“Miss Annabelle, it has been a pleasure to talk to you,” he said, now with his eyes fixed on her. “But I think I must be going.” Then he smiled again, but this time it was a sad smile playing on his lips. The smile got the fierce fire within Annabelle to burn out, and for a second she let her heart forgive him for the terrible things he had just told her. But only for a second, because then her heart was once again filled with pure anger.
He saw how she struggled with her feelings, and let his gaze fall to the white marble stairs, still with the smile on his lips. Then he turned around and left. Annabelle followed him with her eyes until he turned around the corner. It was then that she realized that she still held his handkerchief in her hand. She quickly held up the dirty dress and her small feet carried her the same way he had just taken.
“Mr. O’Malley!” She screamed as she ran, annoyed that he left her with the handkerchief. But when she turned around the corner, all she could see was and empty road with its flowers and trees. John was gone. She yelled again, a little calmer this time, just to be sure that he wasn't around. Then she turned back, her steps filled with anger and his handkerchief in a tight grip.