Forging Forever

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Chapter 23

Nine o’clock came far too early for Annie. She stumbled out of bed, catching a glimpse of her reflection as she walked to the wash basin. She looked like hell. Her hair was a hot mess and she had dark circles under her eyes. She had slept, but it was not a restful sleep. It was just a void of thought and movement. She washed herself at the basin then began to pull pins from her hair. It took her a long time to brush out all the knots and tangles. Once she was done she dressed in a simple cotton day dress. She pulled her hair half up then covered it with a hat. It was ten ’til ten when she finished. She left her room and walked downstairs to wait for John. She did not have to wait long. She had just sat down in the sitting room when John walked in.

“I was afraid you were going to cancel on me today,” he declared. He took the seat next to her. “You look tired. Would you like to postpone our date?”

“No. Seeing you was the only thing that got me out of bed this morning. I would be devastated if you were to leave me now.”

“Annie, I would never leave you. Should we go now?”

“Yes please. I am famished.”

“Well, we cannot have you going hungry.” John smiled at her then offered his arm. They walked out of the boardinghouse and to his carriage. The sun was shining brightly and the air was warm and muggy. Basically a normal late summer day in New York. Annie found herself missing her swimming pool.

“Did you get any rest last night,” she asked John.

“Not much. What about you?”

“Not really. I slept, but it was not restful. I’m not sure if that makes sense to you.”

“It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Do you have a busy day ahead of you?”

“Yes. I have several meetings to attend today.”

“I hope I’m not detaining you.”

“Of course not. I needed to see you today, to assure myself that you were well. Last night must have been a shock for you. I get the impression that you are not accustomed to being shot at.”

You’d be surprised she wanted to say. “No, it is a new experience for me. One that I hope not to repeat.”

“Annie, promise me that you will not go anywhere today while I’m in my meetings. I do not believe you were the target of the attack, but I do not wish to tempt fate.”

“I promise John. I actually planned on staying in today, after our breakfast date of course.” Annie smiled at him.

“Good,” he smiled back. He really did have a charming smile. Not the same as Cameron’s mischievous grin, but just as arresting. The coach stopped.

The coffeehouse was bustling. Somehow they managed to find a table in the back. They ordered their breakfast and two cups of coffee. Annie had to stop herself from chugging down her first glass. “Have I ever told you how much I love coffee?”

“I do not believe you have. Still, anyone can see your appreciation for it.”

“For me, a good cup of coffee is like manna from Heaven.”

John chuckled, “Well in that case I will have to be sure to have the best coffee delivered to you.”

“I would be forever in your debt,” Annie chuckled back.

“Well that is a fascinating concept,” he blurted out. Annie dissolved into laughter. “I’m glad that my words bring you joy,” he commented.

“It is a special talent virtually exclusive to you, my dear Major Andre.” John gave her a mischievous smile. Annie continued to laugh, not caring if she was making a scene. If John didn’t care then neither did she. Annie ceased her laughter when their food arrived.

Their meal was interspersed with light hearted banter. Once they were finished John paid the bill. He looked down at his pocket watch, a scowl crossed his face. “I’m afraid I must end this most enjoyable outing.”

“Are your meetings about to start?”

“Yes. The first one is in half an hour. That gives me just enough time to drop you at your boardinghouse.” John escorted her out of the coffee house and into his carriage.

“I had a wonderful time this morning John. It was nice to see a less serious side to you.”

“I save that side for a chosen few.”

“Well, I am honored to be among that exclusive circle.”

“I am ecstatic that you came into my life. You bring light to my darkest days Annie.” His gaze was smoldering. Annie’s heart gave an involuntary leap. He reached for her and kissed her deeply. Annie was shocked to find that she kissed him back. He pulled away when the carriage stopped. “You are blushing again,” he whispered in her ear.

“I...thank you,” she stammered out. She had no idea what to say, what to feel. “I’d best be getting back.”

“Of course. Would you join me for breakfast again tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll pick you up at the same time?”

“Yes. That would be fine.”

“Good. I’ll walk you to your door.” He did not kiss her when he left. What he whispered in her ear had the same impact, if not stronger. “I suggest you get used to being kissed properly Annie, because I will be doing it often. That, and much more.”

Annie nodded. “Goodbye John. I will see you tomorrow.” She walked into the house. Mary was standing in the entryway.

“Did your breakfast go well?”

“Yes. Is Cameron home?”

“No. He left for the office a little before you went to breakfast. I do not expect him back until dinner. Why? Did you need to speak to him?”

“It’s nothing that can’t wait. I’m going to go lay down. I find myself quite tired all of a sudden.” Annie waved goodbye to Mary then walked to her room. She laid down on her bed and closed her eyes.

Mary was pacing the entryway when Cameron returned from work around six. The moment she saw him she dragged him into the empty sitting room, closed the door, and locked it. “Something’s wrong with Annie,” she blurted out.

“How so?”

Without hesitation, Mary explained Annie’s odd behavior after her breakfast date with Major Andre. “She came back home and looked pale and withdrawn. She asked if you were home. When I told her you had gone to work and that I did not expect you until dinner she said she was tired then went up to her room. I knocked on her door for lunch but she did not answer. I’m not sure what is going on, but could you try to talk to her? She will not confide in me.”

“Of course,” Cameron assured Mary. “I will get to the bottom of this.”

“Thank you.”

Cameron nodded then went up the stairs to Annie’s room. He knocked on the door and received no answer. He was about to pound harder when one of the other boarder’s walked out of his room. He gave Cameron and odd look. “Mary asked me to fetch Miss Johnson for dinner,” Cameron said. The boarder nodded his head in understanding then walked down the stairs. Cameron waited until his footsteps faded into silence. He knocked harder on the door. “Annie, it’s me, Cameron. Open the door.” Finally he heard movement from within the room as Annie walked towards the door. She opened it a moment later.

“Cameron, I’m glad you’re home.” Annie’s voice was groggy, as if she had just woken up from a deep sleep.

Cameron was shocked by what he saw. Mary’s description of her appearance was much kinder than the reality. The only color on Annie’s face were the dark circles that shadowed her eyes. Even her usually pink lips were white. Her hair was a disheveled mess, curls fell wildly around her face and shoulders. Her hazel eyes had faded into a bland gray. “May I come in?”

Annie did not answer, she merely stepped aside and allowed Cameron to enter the room. Her room was a mess. The bed had not been made and various items of clothing were strewn about the floor. On the desk was a leather bound journal. Cameron walked over and saw that about half the pages were filled out.

“What is the journal for?”

“I just want to keep a record of things, and maybe get a message to my parents, to let them know I’m okay. Once I’m done I’ll find a way to have it put in the house so they can find it.”

“Annie, your job is almost done. Soon you can leave and speak to them yourself.”

Annie gave a weak smile. “Something tells me I won’t be leaving here as quickly as I anticipated.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I can’t go back without Catherine. My parents would never forgive me. Unfortunately, convincing Catherine to just put the past behind us and move on is going to be difficult if not impossible.”

“Annie, your sister is a lost cause.”

“Don’t say that,” Annie yelled. Her face turned red with anger. “She’s my sister. I have to try. I could never forgive myself if something were to happen to her. I already have regrets that I will have to face. I don’t need to add another to that.”

Cameron did not argue back. He knew by the tone of her voice and the intense look in her eyes that it would be pointless. He would not be able to convince her that her life was more valuable. She was fiercely, if not delusionally loyal to her family. He could read the emotions on her face, in her mind she could fix everything if she just tried hard enough. He would not point out that if that were the case then she wouldn’t be in the situation she now found herself in.

“Fine.” Cameron threw his hands up in frustration. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Annie did not answer. Instead she walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Cameron returned the gesture, unsure of what brought it on but grateful for the contact. After a long while Cameron spoke, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid,” she admitted. Her voice was a muffled whisper against his coat. Still, he understood it.

“Afraid of what?”

“Of Major Andre.”

“What did he do?” Cameron’s concern was immediately supplanted by rage.

Annie sighed. How could she explain to him the chilling effect of his words on her? Just those few short words, that, and much more. They had terrified her beyond reason. In the end she decided to tell him not only Major Andre’s words and what they implied, but the whole story of why she was scared. “There has always been honesty between us,” Annie stated. “You have always been kind and understanding with me. Something Major Andre said today unnerved me. I just need someone to talk to, to work things out. Would you mind being that person?”

“Of course not Annie. Let’s sit down and we can talk for as long as you need.” Cameron guided Annie over to the bed where she sat down, her legs curled up underneath her. He pulled up the desk chair and sat across from her. “I’m ready whenever you are Annie.”

Annie took a deep breath. “You must have figured out by now that I am not given to discussing myself, even with those close to me, which now includes you. It’s not that I have a deep desire to be an enigma, it’s just that there are certain things in my past that I’d rather not remember. I tend to bury the unpleasant memories deep inside me instead of confronting them. It’s easier to push them out of my mind, to just pretend they didn’t happen. But every once in awhile something happens that brings those memories, those experiences, back to the forefront of my mind.” Annie stopped for a moment, trying to think of how to phrase the story that she was about to tell. There was no delicate way to tell her tale and she felt guilty for it. She would spare him the ugly, graphic details. Still, the single word she was about to say was ugly in its own right. “Ever since I came here I’ve had to confront things that I thought I had buried forever.” Annie stopped. She could not speak anymore, the words would not come.

“Annie?” Cameron leaned forward and grabbed her hands, holding them in his own.

“Sorry.” A tear fell from Annie’s eye and made its way down her cheek. The warm salty liquid scorched her skin as it made its journey. “I don’t know how to phrase this.”

“Just say it like it is Annie.”

“It’s ugly.”

“Most unpleasant things are.”

“I’ve never told anyone this. Not my parents, not my best friend. You’re the first to know.”

“Then I’m honored that you trust me enough to share your secret with me.”

“You might feel differently in a minute. This is not something people like to hear, to know.”

“Nothing you say will change what I feel for you Annie.”

“I hope so.” She inhaled deeply. “My first year of college I was...taken advantage of in a very intimate way.”

Cameron looked her in her eyes. He was pretty sure he knew what she meant. He hoped that he was wrong, gut instinct told him he was not. “You were raped.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes.” Her voice was a whisper.

“By who?”

“A man that I was courting,” Annie replied in terms he would understand. She was sure he would have no idea what she meant if she said her boyfriend.

Cameron was silent. Immediately he recalled her reaction to his kiss outside of her house when they first came here. No wonder she was afraid. He felt like the lowest person on the planet. “I’m sorry sweetheart. I had no idea.”

“I thought that I could come back here, do what I needed to for our country. So far I’ve been successful. But today Major Andre implied that he wanted more, that he intended for our relationship to become more intimate. I’m not sure I can do that.”

“You won’t have to. We’ll find a way to keep it from coming to that,” Cameron assured her.

“Thank you.” Annie wiped a tear from her eye. “You must be hungry. Go and eat.”

Cameron accepted the change in topic. She had said her piece and he was not going to push her for any more information. He knew she had blasted through her comfort zone, had trusted him with a secret even her family did not know. “I am. You must be hungry too. Would you care to join me?”

“No thank you, I’m not particularly hungry. Besides, I could use some time to myself.”

“Very well. Do you want me to bring you anything?”

“You wouldn’t happen to have any Irish beer concealed in your room?” She gave a faint smile.

“Unfortunately no. But I will search the house high and low. If I find one I will bring it straight to you,” he laughed.

“I would appreciate that greatly sir.” Her smile grew wider and she actually laughed. It was a wonderful sound to hear.

Cameron stood up to leave the room. “Well, I’d better begin my search. I shall return shortly.” He gave a mock salute and left the room. He could hear Annie’s laughter as he left.

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