EVELYN HAD BECOME much too excited for this event, and Annalise was having a difficult time deciding if it was fake or genuine. Whatever the case may be, it most certainly did not make her spirits soar, and she found herself reluctantly dragging her feet as her tall friend pulled her along. She had spotted Maisie early on and it had taken quite a bit of strength to resist an eye-roll. Of course, her younger sister was flanked by three men. She looked to be in heaven. Although Annie had publicly said various times that that wasn’t exactly her cup of tea, she still couldn’t help but feel just a bit jealous over the situation. After all, apart from Evelyn — whom she adored, but never relied on for anything positively relating to men — and her sister Esther, nobody had said a word to her. Perhaps that was because she was a bit of a stand-off, but it still put her off. Annie had believed she had done a fairly good job at hiding this disappointment, but by the way Evelyn was leading her, she took her friend hadn’t fallen for her mask. She didn’t make a comment on it, though. Evelyn hadn’t either.
Eventually, Annalise regained her strength, and tore her arm away from Evelyn. “What are you doing?”
Evelyn turned back around in a rather exaggerated motion, throwing her hands up as if it was the most obvious thing. “I’m finding you a man to talk to. You’re miserable, dear Annalise. It’s time to show off the glorious you to the world.”
Annalise scoffed. “Oh no, no I’m quite alright!” She shook her head frantically. “Mm-mm, no way. I’m really not ready.” Her tone softened at the last bit, and her gaze connected with Evelyn’s. Her stomach twisted, but Evelyn returned the look, and she let out a small breath.
“Did he receive an invite?”
Annie shrugged. She’d been dreading the topic, but knew all-too-well that it was to come up sooner than later. Her hands found one another and began fiddling anxiously with one another. Her gaze shimmied through the ballroom, refusing to settle on Evelyn’s figure again. Memories began flooding into her mind, the power and speed of them resembling that within the body of a waterfall. Then, suddenly, she was staring deeply into those kind, chocolate eyes. Warmth washed over her, and Annie was certain the colour in her cheeks had transitioned into a deeper pink. She could only hope Marie had dabbed enough blush onto her face for things to remain natural. Echoed laughter danced in her ears and faint vision of peacefully swaying flowers filled her mind. A faint murmur was quick to withdraw her from her thoughts, though, and Annie soon snapped out of her daze with a jolt of her head. Across from her, Evelyn was staring expectedly, a hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Concern dazzled in the depts of her stormy eyes, but the calm expression remained put. “Annie?”
“My deepest apologies,” Annalise stammered, quickly straightening her posture and fixed the top of her skirt, silently hoping that if her attention was elsewhere, Evelyn wouldn’t sense her uttermost embarrassment. “I was simply... thinking.”
Evelyn knew her too well, and both she and Annalise knew that. A sympathetic smile played at the dark-haired woman’s lips. “Let us move past that,” she decided a moment later, and Annie was relieved to figure out that would be the end of the short conversation on him. “We’ll focus more on finding your current partner.”
“He was never my partner,” Annalise mumbled, but shut up after that and trailed behind Evelyn like a duckling waddling at its mother’s feathered tail. Her mind was elsewhere, though. Marius Bellegarde, the French prince. Although he hadn’t any connections to the royal family, he had a golden personality. Soft blond locks and loving brown eyes, a personality that was genuine and full of sincerity. Their story was the opposite of love at first sight, yet, at the same time, it was all that and more. Annie remembered the day she set eyes on him like it had only just happened. Just barely a woman, she was, and contentedly painting a mural on the empty wall of the jeweler’s shop as requested by the owner. It had been he who had knocked over her paints whilst browsing the gems and jewels for a gift for his younger sister. His friend, curly-haired Thomas Brown, lacked the manners any true man in Manhattan had, knocking Marius with the typical, “It’s only a woman!” comment before scurrying off with a nasty, boyish snicker. The Bellegarde man had been different, though, firstly offering what appeared to be a sincere apology, then his own two hands to rid the mess he had created on the wooden floor. Annalise had been devasted upon realizing her paints had been spilled, despite the fact that she could easily purchase more, and refused to think anything lightly of the strange young man. It wasn’t until the following day, when she had received a beautiful pair of pearl earrings from a man named Marius Bellegarde, that she decided he truly was kinder than she had originally imagined. That being said, Annalise, whose stubbornness often challenged what a mule came with, refused to wear the earrings until many months later.
The meetings had started out in public, for it was the safest thing to do. Of course, they were never shown as official meetings, having been portrayed as nothing more than a coincidental run-into-one-another situation, but it meant something to the both of them. Marius caved first. He always caved first. He had a soft touch and gentle words, but he was much more of a committer than Annie was. His polite greetings turned into something personal, and eventually, the smiles he’d shoot her way would sink right into the pit of her stomach, and her heart grew little wings. Her smiles were less tense, her posture more relaxed, and slowly, she drew closer to him.
They eventually took their meetings to another degree. Marius was gentle, but he was bold, and quite the risk-taker. Annie had always been the cheeky rebel of the family, but things had gone up a notch. Marius would side by the golden gates of her home at night, and when she was positive all were sleeping, she’d join him outside. For weeks they laid side-by-side, gazing at the stars and giggling over the latest gossip. He was from Versailles, but traveled down to the Americas to visit his uncle, who owned a trading company a town over from where Annalise and her family lived. He was from a family that had money, but his father grew fond of gambling and spent their fortunes quickly. Considered a disappointment to his own father, Marius and his immediate family grew distant from the others. It had explained the rich clothing Marius carried with him. They were a bit old and well-worn, but Annie knew an expensive outfit when she saw one. Nobody with no money could purchase what he wore, even though, more often than not, the clothes certainly looked like they had been run over by a carriage or two. However, he informed Annie that come his nineteenth birthday, his grandfather promised him his house and savings if he were to marry a woman he approved of. Annie had laughed when she heard that.
“Ah yes, I’m sure he would be delighted to hear about a woman who would rather travel Europe to explore art than tend to the house and bear children,” she had commented in a rather dry tone. Marius had done nothing more than grab her hand and murmur softly, “We’ll see about that.”
Then her father found out. Annalise had always held a respectable amount of fear towards her father, but she hadn’t ever imagined expressing it aloud. He had been furious to find out that not only had she fallen in love with a man from another country, but a seemingly poor one, too, and discovering her secrets meetings blew his top off. She’d never done anything scandalous, nothing that would force them to wed before things got out of hand, but a secret near-courting was enough to shatter the respect a Purcell had for another. It only escalated from there. She was to be escorted out, and the gates were to remain locked at all times. She felt trapped, like a prisoner stuck in a sickly familiar location. Stubborn, she was, but Annalise did eventually learn to see things from her father’s perspective. After all, all of her possessions and power would be handed over to her partner, and he couldn’t let all of that go to waste if she were to marry a poor, even though Annie knew that wasn’t the case. If he lacked money, he couldn’t be able to support her, and her father had told both Annie and her sisters countless times that he refused to watch his daughters sink into the face of the Earth and live a hard life.
Life was a cloud of grey misery that endless drizzled down on her for a long time. Then, eventually, she overcame it. Her passion for art grew, and her style expanded. It was beautiful chaos, but Annie had learned to love it, to love her independence and her freedom. Marius had gone back to France and she felt like herself once again. Things were well for quite some time.
But the dark brown irises that had begun to stare into her own eyes had just informed her that things were going to change very quickly.