The sun had set and twilight was descending upon New York City. Annie looked at herself in the mirror. The sage green silk gown and matching shoes brought out her hazel eyes. Mary had curled and woven her hair into an elaborate up-do. Annie wished she could say that she felt as good as she looked, but that would be a horrible lie. Truthfully, the stays that held her in place and the stiff panniers made it difficult to breath, much less move. This dress was far different from her everyday attire. But she would suffer through it. Besides, she thought hopefully, maybe the layers of clothing would serve as a deterrent to Major Andre’s amorous advances.
A knock sounded on her door. She looked at the clock. It was only six-thirty. She still had another half hour before Major Andre was due to pick her up. Perhaps he was early. “Coming,” she called out and made her way towards the door. She was surprised to see Cameron standing in the hallway. They had been very careful to keep their relationship, whatever it may be, a secret from the other boarders. He never came to her in her room. “Cameron,” Annie said then pulled him into the room. She glanced down the hallway, making sure it was empty; expelling a breath of relief when she saw that no one was there. “What are you doing here? What if someone had seen you?”
Cameron said nothing. He was taken aback by Annie’s transformation. He had always though her beautiful, but tonight her beauty was otherworldly. Her hazel eyes now appeared to be a soft green. Her long, brown hair had been curled and pinned into the fashionable style of the day. He took a deep swallow. Tonight was going to be more difficult than he thought.
“Cameron,” Annie’s exasperated voice interrupted Cameron’s thoughts.
“Sorry. I just wanted to see if you had read today’s message yet,” he inquired.
“I’d rather not talk about it,” she replied in a harsh whisper.
Cameron flinched. She had never been short with him. He looked into her eyes, read the pain in them. The message must have been particularly upsetting. His urge to read it grew even stronger. “That bad?”
“Cameron, please,” her plea was desperate. “Tonight is going to be difficult enough. I don’t want to contemplate the contents of the message. I’ve dealt with it. Let’s move on.”
“Very well,” he agreed.
“You are most welcome,” he replied then walked closer, stopping when there were mere inches between them. “You look beautiful by the way. You will be the talk of the party no doubt.” His statement was made in a tender whisper. He reached out and grabbed a tendril of her soft hair.
“Thank you,” Annie whispered back. Her heart threatened to burst through her chest. “I’m glad you appreciate it because I can barely breathe.” She babbled.
“I feel the same way,” he replied, then bent and kissed her lips.
This kiss was different from the previous two they had shared. It was not rushed nor was it short and sweet. There was an intimate urgency to it. Annie’s first thought was to pull away, to shield herself from the inevitable doubt that would follow. But she remembered the message and all its implications. It would be far better to share this intimacy with Cameron, to prepare herself for what was about to come. Besides, it was only a kiss.
Eventually Annie responded, tentatively at first, then with growing intimacy until her fervor matched Cameron’s. The kiss lasted for what seemed like an eternity. Although, when they separated Annie noticed that only a few minutes had gone by.
“I apologize,” Cameron whispered.
Annie was silent, still contemplating the kiss and all that went with it. She felt many conflicting emotions fighting within her: confusion, elation, happiness, worry. What she did not feel was shame or fear. Perhaps she was finally getting over the demons of her past.
Mistaking Annie’s silence for regret, Cameron apologized again. “I truly am sorry, Annie.”
“Don’t be. I’m not,” she responded emphatically. “Although, the timing could have been better. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to keep my head straight tonight.”
“I feel the same,” he whispered. “Well, I must be going. I need to get ready for the party. I will see you there. We can talk afterwards, if you would like.”
“Yes. I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon,” Cameron replied. He kissed Annie’s cheek then walked out to the empty hallway.
Annie stood in the middle of the room, staring at the door long after Cameron left. This had been a needless, although not unwelcome, development. Even before Cameron came in and turned her world upside down, again, she had known that this evening would be mentally challenging. She had spent most of the afternoon thinking either about her past or how she would glean information without giving up too much of herself. She knew without question that the information she sought would have to be revealed in private. Major Andre would never divulge military secrets while surrounded by others, even if they were staunch loyalists. He may be unguarded when it came to women, but he was by no means stupid. Annie also knew that, in order to gain the details to his plan, moonlit strolls and carriage rides, however isolated or lengthy, would not do. Her dilemma was how could she possibly ensure long hours alone without granting the Major the physical intimacies he desired, no, expected? If it were Cameron she were considering then it would be easy. He was a friend, a confidant. He had no problem spending hours just speaking to her. He had proven that on many occasions. But Major Andre was not Cameron, Annie though ruefully.
Annie pushed her dilemma to the back of her mind. An answer would somehow come. It always did. She glanced at the clock: 6:58. Major Andre would be here any minute. Gathering her skirts, she dimmed the light and left her room, locking it behind her. Slowly, for there was no other speed she could move at in her dress, she made her way down the stairs. There was a knock on the door just as Annie stepped off the bottom step. Amos answered the door and in stepped Major Andre. Annie stopped with only a foot between them.
“Major Andre, right on time,” Annie said. “I am so happy you are here.”
“The pleasure is all mine. And it’s John, not Major Andre. I think we know each other well enough to use our given names,” he replied, taking her hand and brushing a kiss across her knuckles. “You look lovely tonight Annie. You are a veritable vision in green.”
“Well thank you, John.” Annie politely pulled her hand away. She was getting tired of all of the hand kissing, not just from John, but from everyone. At first she had considered it charming, if a bit antiquated. Now it just weirded her out. “Shall we be on our way then?”
“Of course,” he replied, offering Annie his arm. Annie grasped it and they walked out the door to the waiting carriage. John, the consummate gentleman, assisted Annie inside then followed behind her. Once the door was shut the carriage began moving towards their destination.
Cameron hid in the hall, around the corner from Annie’s room. He had dashed upstairs to his room to change into his evening clothes, then rushed back down to Annie’s floor. Her reluctance to discuss today’s message was troubling to him. Part of him wondered if there was some sort of pertinent information to the war contained within its lines; information that she had been afraid to share with him. He watched as Annie left her room, locking the door behind her. He listened as her steps disappeared down the stairway. Comfortable that he was alone, he squeezed past his hiding place towards her door. Quickly, he picked the lock and slid inside her door. The room was cast in shadows, the only light was a dimly lit lamp. Cameron tip-toed around the room, looking for her satchel. Gut instinct told him that was where she would keep the messages hidden. After several minutes he found the satchel hidden underneath her bed. He pulled it out and found the notebook where she transcribed each message. He glanced through the pages, finally finding the one he was searching for. He read it intently:
Demons from the past will rear their ugly heads again.
You must confront these
demons head on, not just for the sake of your mission,
but for the sake of you mind and soul.
Face what must be faced, resolve what must be
resolved, and embrace that which must be embraced.
Your future depends on it.
The letter was cryptic to Cameron’s eyes. No pertinent information was disclosed. Suddenly he felt like a complete cad invading Annie’s privacy. Here he had spent the past month trying to earn her trust, only to do something that, if discovered, would dash away the tenuous bands of trust he had built. Quietly, he put the notebook back in the bag then returned it to its hiding place. Then he quietly exited the room, re-locking the door, and walked outside to his waiting carriage.