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.
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.
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