Purcell's Pairings

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THE AMOUNT OF sunlight that pooled into the large art room Annalise had settled herself in equivalent to the amount of water she had painted onto her canvas. Large enough to fill the whole scene, though never too overbearing. Her hand moved elegantly across the cotton-based object, her paint strokes soothing, gentle. Despite the calmness that swept across the painting, Annie's lips were pressed together tightly and her eyes were narrowed in concentration. A frustrated rumble sounded in her throat every time she dabbed on something less than perfect and she fell into an even more determined stage whenever she felt she had to correct something. This had to be it. It was the painting that was to be displayed in the new art gallery just a block over from their house. With thousands of eyes belonging to absolute strangers viewing it every single day, Annalise could not afford to hang off a nearly-perfect-but-not-quite painting to someone.

In reality, really, she could afford it. Since her marriage with Marius, his family had opened up more, and Annie was surprised by just how much wealth the Bellegarde family really did have. It wasn't the same as the Purcells, of course, but they were generous and ensured Marius and Annalise that they wouldn't ever have to go hungry. Although her beloved family was just as supportive as the Bellegardes, things had changed. Moving to France was a large step away from home, and it was more challenging to grasp that comfort and support at all times. With the Bellegardes as practically their neighbours, Annalise knew stability and prosperity were settled firmly in the palms of their hands.

France. When Annalise had first begun to get to know Marius, the glorious stories he had spoken into her ears had given her the desire to travel to the country. The way he had described its charm, beauty, and exoticness had been enough for her to want to get on the next boat ride over to Europe. For obvious reasons, she had not gone through with the plan, but the idea of Europe hadn't ever left her mind. Europe had always been known as the place to visit when it came to exploring artwork, but Annalise wouldn't have dared to travel alone, and she did not have any older brothers to accompany her. She was not allowed to go with another man, unless they were wedded, so she had stepped away from the idea, but finally, it became a reality. She was living it, and not temporarily. Although the Purcells — Philip especially — had been a bit hesitant to let her leave the nest, they eventually caved. Annalise was convinced Marius had had a talk with them, though he denied it every time she asked. She supposed it didn't matter much now. She adored Manhattan and always would, but something about Saint-Étienne made her heart want to burst with adoration. Its quaint little community was a joy to go about on a day-to-day basis. Annalise had made friends quickly, even though her French was a bit choppy; Marius was contentedly helping out with that, and so much more, too. She couldn't have imagined spending her time with anyone else.

There was a gentle knock on the door, as soft as a bird's feather that had drifted towards a newly-formed puddle, making only enough noise for an ear close by to catch onto it. Annie wiped her hands on her smock, then glanced upward. "You may enter, the door is unlocked!"

Marius entered almost before the words had left her mouth, his charming, boyish smile on his face. Settled against his lift hip was Arthur, their son. He gurgled quietly, thumb in his mouth, then let out a shrieking laugh. Immediately, Annalise felt more relaxed, even despite the loud noise. Letting out a sigh at the sight of her two beloved boys, she set down her paintbrush and headed their way, careful not to bump into anything.

"Good morning," Marius greeted, leaning down to kiss Annie's cheek as she reached her hands out towards Arthur. "How is your painting coming along?"

Annalise did not answer right away, much more focused on getting her son comfortable in her arms. She brushed back some of his blond curls, giving his forehead a kiss before turning her gaze onto Marius. "I suppose it could be better," she sighed, quickly glancing over her shoulder, even though the back of the canvas was facing the three of them. "I've lost motivation, which is odd, because I've envisioned a piece like this for such a long time now."

"Well, you've a few more days," Marius reminded her quietly. "You needn't push yourself, that will only make it worse. Here—" he scooted around her and moved to stand right behind her. Annalise stilled, letting the back of her head lean against his torso as his fingers reached for the buttons of her smock, carefully undoing them one-by-one. His touch was soft, gentle, reminding her oddly enough of the flow of a river. "—Perhaps we should go for a stroll inside. It's rather lovely out and I believe both Arthur and yourself could use the fresh air. It may give you some new inspiration." He slid the smock off of her, tossing it onto a nearby chair, then took a few steps forward to face her again. Though Annalise's attention was still on Arthur, it had split, and her eyes now lingered on her husband.

"I need to finish this," she insisted, but Marius was already shaking his head. She pressed her lips together; if she wasn't gripping her son, she would have crossed her arms to prove a point.

"Not this very second," he returned swiftly, and swooped down to kiss her lips as she opened her mouth to protest. "No arguing, Mrs. Bellegarde, that is an order. Now, go get dressed and I will prepare Arthur."

A heavy sigh escaped Annalise's lips, but she knew there was no way around this. Marius was kind, but he had a stubborn side to him too, and ironically enough, he was one of the only people she actually caved around. Apart from himself and Esther, very few could get her to break her concentrated mindset. She said nothing more as her husband departed the room, Arthur back in his hands. It was frustrating to leave the piece uncompleted, that was true, but perhaps Marius had a point. Perhaps some fresh air would indeed sprout some new ideas inside her mind. Or it would make her more stressed. She supposed that was a risk she was going to have to take, even if it wasn't willingly.

She knew deep down she was being selfish; the puddle of guilt in the pit of her stomach was telling her this. They were family and she knew they were far more important than a painting, no matter how much attention it would receive. It was for that reason that Annalise decided to pack up what was sprawled out across the table closest to the canvas she was currently working on. She could return to it later.

An echoey knock sounded from behind her, making her jump. It came from the back door, the one that led out to the road behind them. In other words, in simpler terms, it was the door that was very rarely used. Frowning, Annalise wiped the rest of the paint off of her brush, then set it down and wandered towards the door. Although the frame was glass, it was thick, which therefore made the figure on the other side blurry and hardly visible. She could tell they were wearing dark clothes though, most likely black, and knew it wasn't Marius, who had come in wearing a soft baby blue. She paused to straighten out her dress, then unlocked the door.

A startled gasp left her lips before she had even fully processed what — or, rather, who — was standing before her.

Less than five feet away, a set of cold dark eyes, nearly black, were staring intently in her direction. A smirk was present, gaze cold, manipulative. The eyes she had believed she would never have to see again. The voice that reached open air made her blood run cold;

"Hello, Annie."

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