behind my laugh, I'm falling apart.
Behind my eyes are tears at night,
behind my body is a soul trying to fight." -themindsjournal.com
Annabelle Carter's POV
It had been nearly a month that I was living with Mrs. Henderson in her beautiful mansion two blocks away from my childhood home in the university town of Princeton, New Jersey.
I met Mrs. Ophelia Henderson in the nearby park when I was a gawky and shy fifteen-year-old girl.
She was a good-natured sixty-five-year-old lady with a loving, positive, jovial, and pleasing personality. She had a jovial personality, always smiling and caring for others. Every morning we would meet. I would go for my usual jog around the park, and she would feed the ducks near the lotus pond at the far end of the park. I had become very close to her over the years, baring my soul to her. There wasn't a thing about me that she didn't know.
After my father's death in a car accident, I was a helpless seventeen-year-old orphan who would have been sent to foster care, had Mrs. Henderson not legally adopted me and made me her grandchild. When I had stopped going to the park after my dad's death, she took the initiative and sought me out and helped me. I was forever indebted to her. She had given me the love that I had always craved.
My mom had died giving birth to me. I had never seen my mom, only in pictures. My father blamed me for her death and was never home. Whenever he was, though, he never acknowledged my existence, far from loving me. My paternal grandfather whom I called Pops loved me like his own and brought me up. I loved him too as he was my only family but he had a fatal heart attack when I was ten. Our old housekeeper Maria brought me up, taking care of me.
My grandfather died leaving me at my so-called father's mercy. My father never spoke to me. He never was home. Always away at a casino or a bar spending Pops' inheritance away. Maria although old, was a kind woman who helped me in those years. Pops had left me enough, so financially I was secure. My lawyer, Mr. Henry Campbell was a middle-aged, strict but kind gentleman who looked after my finances well.
I was not affected by my father's death as I should have been. After my father's death, when Mrs. Henderson adopted me, Maria left to stay with her sons. I left my family home and moved in with Mrs. Henderson or gran as I lovingly called her.
I continued with my senior year at school. In fact, I loved my life now. Gran loved me a lot and we looked after each other, supported each other. Now my life felt complete. I had always wanted to feel loved, to be cherished ever since my Pops died and now I really was.
The garden around gran's huge mansion kept me busy. I loved gardening and helped gran's gardener, John Berkeley. He taught me about the seasonal flowers and the correct methodology for nurturing them and much more.
"Anna, breakfast is ready, gran's calling you", I heard Martha call me. Martha was gran's most trusted housekeeper. She had been working for gran for the last forty-five years. After her husband's death, she shifted into the Henderson household, living with gran and taking care of her. She had a daughter who was happily married with three children.
Leaving the geranium seeds and the pot that I was planting them in, I got up and hurried towards the front porch.
My eyes bulged out at the sight of a huge black and white spotted great dane angrily staring at me from the edge of the garden. I gulped in fright. It decided to chase me. Terrified, I ran for my life, before it could eat me alive, but I collided with a wall.
"Ow, just my bad luck," I muttered breathlessly. "Which dumb person lets a beast like this, loose?" I mumbled.
"I did,'' the wall spoke in a deep, seductive voice. Wait a minute, I thought, when did walls start speaking? I peeked through my long lashes to find that the wall was actually a muscular chest belonging to an extremely attractive, sexy, and gorgeous man resembling nothing less than a Greek God. My eyes traveled up to his bulging muscular arms clad in a light blue denim shirt. His tanned throat was exposed through the top few open buttons of his shirt. His pink full kissable lips, sharp nose, and jawline, and curly soft brown hair all making him drool-worthy actually. The moment I looked into his stunning electric blue eyes, I was drowned.
"You have some drool, wipe before it drips,'' he whispered into my ear causing an electric shock running through me at his nearness.
"Duke, down boy", he ordered his beast, who meekly followed his order and sat down beside him.
My hands automatically went up to my lips at his comment. His chuckle made me realize with embarrassment what he meant. I felt frustrated with myself and huffed and stormed past him inside the house to see Martha.
Martha was serving breakfast, gran was sitting at the head of the table waiting for me. I went straight to my room, cleaned myself, changed into a lavender floral sundress, white strappy sandals, brushed and tied my waist-length thick wavy brown hair into a ponytail, and left my room.
"Sorry gran, you didn't have to wait for me, I would have joined you mid-way,'' I said as I kissed her cheek and joined her at the breakfast table.
The door suddenly flew open and in walked the Greek God followed by his beast. I rolled my eyes. I didn't want to deal with him again. He smirked at me and so did his beast. What a perfect pair I thought sarcastically! Who cares! I looked away.
"Stefan dear, come and join us for breakfast,'' said gran. Then turning towards me she introduced, "Anna sweetheart, this is my eldest grandson, Stefan."
Looking at him, she added, "Stefan, meet Annabelle, I told you about her, remember?" He nodded at gran.
"We meet again,'' he said as he stretched his hand out for a shake over the table.
"Yeah, sadly, we do," I put my hand forward but a jolt of electric tingles ran upwards causing goosebumps to erupt as soon as our hands touched. He might have felt it too, as his eyes dilated. I snatched my hand away immediately. I could feel his eyes on me, checking out my whole body.
Gran seemed oblivious to our little encounter as she enjoyed her delicious pancakes, adding more fruit toppings to each bite.
Throughout breakfast, I felt his intense stare taking in my every move. Duke was no different, his wide-eyed gaze upon me also had me nearly rolling my eyes. He was thankfully taken away from the room by Martha to be fed and cleaned.
After breakfast, gran went to her room as her physiotherapist had arrived and I went back to gardening. Stefan disappeared upstairs to his room along with his beast, and I was thankful.
The soft summer breeze kept me cool as I successfully planted the geranium seeds. I was done, so with a wave towards John, I left the garden and went up to my room for a shower. Feeling fresh, I wore a pink tank top and denim shorts and left my hair open for air drying. I went to the terrace and sat on the swing, my favorite place in the whole world. I had with me the book I'd been reading "Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot)" by Agatha Christie.
I was so engrossed in reading the book, that I didn't feel the swing sway and was startled when someone whispered "Breathe, it's only fiction", in my ears. I fell off the swing along with my book and landed on my butt.
"God, you're impossible, you scared me," I huffed and got up and whirled around, ready to leave. He caught my wrist, stopping me, and brought me back to the swing, making me sit with him. I turned my head in the other direction.
Coming closer he said, "Ok, sorry, I shouldn't have done that." I looked into his eyes and saw the sincerity of his apology.
He didn't move away and his eyes intensely scanned my face and hair as if peering into my soul. I forgot to breathe at his nearness. He had the most stunning eyes, electric blue, sparkling from the reflection of the sunlight outside the sunshade. His eyes held my gaze in a hypnotic trance. I couldn't look away although my conscience told me to.
After our staring contest, he abruptly looked away and moved out of my personal space, "So you love suspense thrillers? What else do you like?" He asked curiously.
"Yeah, I like those as well as romance, and philosophical books too. What about you?" I couldn't help but ask him. I wanted to know so much about him.
"Romance? Do you believe in those? In true love?" he asked incredulously, staring at my face, his eyes boring a hole on my face and neck.
"Yeah, I believe we all are destined for someone. True love happens once in everyone's lifetime," I said looking up in the sky at the creator of this universe who writes our destinies too.
"You are very innocent and naive. There's nothing called true love. Man makes his own destiny. Everyone is after something, some gain, or just for some personal benefit out of a relationship. It may sound cynical to you, but it is the bitter truth," he explained to me.
I looked at him and pondered over what he said. Maybe he was hurt by someone, turning him so bitter against the thought of love and relationships, I concluded.
"How old are you?" He asked looking into my eyes.
"Seventeen, and you?" I asked.
"Will turn 24 in three months," he informed with a small smile.
I realized that he was still holding my hand, I looked up and I tried to free myself, feeling self-conscious. He took the hint and released me.
"You are very attached to gran, I noticed," said Stefan.
"Yeah, she's all I have" I answered in a small voice. He again took my hand and squeezed it.
"Gran loves you a lot and talks to us about you all the time whenever we call. Thanks for being there for her, she needs the company. We are all so busy and far away, she misses all her grandchildren," he sighed as he spoke.
I looked up into his blue eyes and felt warm and grateful. Apart from gran, someone else appreciated me for the first time. My dad had always proved to me how worthless I was. I knew Stefan had a twin sister and three half-brothers as gran had told me, and they were all busy with their studies. They hardly came over to spend time with gran. She was lonely when I had arrived here, but ever since I started living here, she was happier. So his appreciation made me all the more confident that I could take care of gran, the way she took care of me.
I was surprised that I could talk so much, that too with a complete stranger, just a teenage girl. I usually avoided talking and immersed myself in work. Inheriting dad's multinational chain of hotels and resorts at a young age after completing an MBA from Harvard, I had worked very hard to make Springwell Club and Resorts a billion-dollar worth success story. Although we three brothers shared the responsibilities amongst us, my life was a complicated mess. Apart from my family, I avoided interacting too much with others apart from work.
Annabelle brought out a side of me, which I had kept hidden for a long time. Her big innocent green eyes twinkled and shone mesmerizing my soul. Her long soft brown hair cascaded down to her waist, made me want to run my fingers through them. Her soft creamy skin and pink plump lips had me craving to taste their sweetness. I couldn't understand the new feelings within me. It seemed that I wanted to be near her, see her, feel her softness in my arms. I never had such strange feelings for anyone yet. Sure, I had my quota of one night stands and plenty of dates with the opposite sex, during my college days, but not anymore. I had grown out of that phase.
I had difficulty controlling myself when near her, but I knew deep in my heart that she could never be mine. I didn't want to complicate matters by developing feelings for her. She was too young for me, too innocent and I needed to keep my distance from her.
But as the days went by, laughing, interacting, and knowing her, my resolution to keep my distance from her crumbled to dust and I felt more and more attracted to her soul, to her beauty and to her personality,
Like a moth to a flame.
Like an alcoholic to the liquor
Like a bee to its honey
Like the planets around the sun.
She was my sun.
Even Duke warmed up to her and followed us around taking in our conversation and interacting the best way he could. Annabelle was more comfortable with him now.
A week went by and it was the day that I needed to take gran to her orthopedic surgeon. The tests were done two months back when I had visited gran. I had to go away on an important business meeting to Paris and returned directly here to consult gran's doctor with the test reports.
I updated Annabelle about gran's condition. She wanted to accompany us to the doctor.
Gran's orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Smith, checked her reports and informed us that gran was suffering from acute osteoarthritis. She needed ongoing treatment, physiotherapy, and a 24-hour nurse to take care of her day to day needs as she lived alone. Her bones were weak and a specialized diet was prescribed. Annabelle understood every detail so that she could guide gran's caregiver. We also found a good nurse, Ellie Stewart, a thirty-eight-year-old loving and caring widow, who had no family. She instantly took a liking to gran and Annabelle and started working for us.
Having settled everything, it was time for me and Duke to return to New York, but because of Annabelle, I didn't want to leave.
After a hectic day full of conference calls with Tristan, my brother, and two important clients, I was pissed off with a splitting headache. After dinner, I went to the terrace with a bottle of whiskey and a glass. I wanted to relax and think about my life. The mess that I was in. On reaching there I saw Annabelle on her swing, her favorite place in the world.
"Can't sleep?" I asked her, looking into her sad eyes. Her mesmerizing green eyes shone in the moonlight, her pale creamy complexion was brighter than the twinkling stars and her rich dark brown wavy hair smelled of strawberry and vanilla. She kept biting her plump pink lips deep in thought. I wanted to kiss her and taste her sweetness and forget all the problems of my life.
She didn't respond. "Rosy, what's wrong?" I asked softly, my eyes not leaving her face. I glanced down to her lips. She had stopped biting them but they looked luscious and all the pinker.
She looked at me. "What did you call me?" she asked.
"Rosy," I whispered.
"Why Rosy?" She whispered back.
"Because your cheeks and lips have a rosy hue," I answered as I leaned towards her. Her breath hitched and she blushed crimson and her eyes dilated. I looked at her lips and leaned in more till my lips touched her forehead in a lingering kiss. I wanted to kiss her lips but she was just seventeen and I didn't want to corrupt her innocence.
"Tell me what's bothering you?" I asked again and she looked at me.
"Today's my mom's birthday, I was thinking about how my life would have been had she been alive," she said quietly as a tear rolled down her cheek. I wiped it away tenderly and pulled her into my arms and crushed her to my chest. She sobbed as her hands hugged my torso. I dipped my head on her shoulders and smelled her hair and neck.
"Let's bake her favorite cake then and share it with everyone?" I suggested.
"Would you help me with it?" She asked hesitantly.
"Why not? Let's go," I agreed. She nodded and smiled. I had to release her but missed her embrace immediately. I heaved a deep sigh as she fitted me perfectly as if she'd been made just for me. I held out my palm, she shyly took it and we went downstairs to the kitchen to bake Rosy's mom's favorite cake. I felt happy when she started enjoying our time together.
"I never met her, but Pops told me all about her. She loved dance just like me. She was a professional dancer. She married my dad and had to forget her passion for dance, as dad didn't approve," she reminisced.
"You can keep her dream alive. She's always watching and blessing you. I'm sure she would have been proud of you," I encouraged.
We came to know so much about each other, we took care of gran together. We cooked for each other. Rosy was a wonderful cook and I could worship her hands after every meal.
"How did you learn to cook so well? You have magic in your hands," I told her sincerely, meaning every word.
"Our old housekeeper, Maria taught me. It's stress-busting for me. It helps me relax," she confided with a grin.
Gran was very happy with us and I could see it in her eyes that she wanted me and Rosy to be together always. I know it was impossible, but I just didn't have the courage to face it.
After a fortnight of happiness with Rosy, reality struck and I came out of my dreamland, with a phone call from my dad, asking me to return immediately as Claudia had gone into labor and had been admitted to the hospital, and would deliver the baby soon. I felt guilty for having completely forgotten about Claudia. I immediately packed up my stuff and decided to pay gran a visit before leaving for New York.
Gran was alone in her room, lying down and reading a magazine. She sat up when she saw me and smiled.
"Stefan, are you leaving?" She asked, keeping the magazine down and giving me all her attention.
"Yes gran, dad called, Claudia is admitted, she's gone into labor," I answered with a poker face.
"What about Anna, Stefan? Won't you talk to her before leaving?" Gran asked with concern.
"Please gran, don't get your hopes up for something which is impossible,'' I said, irritated that gran took up the topic which I wanted to avoid the most.
"She likes you, Stefan, I saw the way you look at each other, please speak to her before you leave," gran persisted.
I didn't have the courage to face her and talk about us if there was any possibility of an 'us'.
"Gran, please understand that Annabelle is not my type. I am married to Claudia and she is expecting a child. There is nothing between me and Annabelle and there never could be. Please let us drop the topic here," I said earnestly. I could not look at gran after uttering the harsh absolute truth.
A gasp, made me look towards the door. My heart broke when I saw Annabelle's pale face, as she stood there like a statue. She must have overheard every word I said. She ran out of the room and I didn't have the courage to follow her and explain myself. I left the mansion with Duke like a coward.
My heart broke when I overheard Stefan. I felt unwanted and a burden for the first time after my grandfather's death.
I never saw a ring on his finger, but he was married and his wife was expecting his child? I couldn't believe it. I wasn't his type? I loved him with all my heart. He was the first man, I ever spoke to about myself. The first whom I had opened up to. I could feel that he was equally attracted to me just as I was to him. Was it all a casual flirting? I really was too inexperienced to know. I knew I had to forget him and move on.
I flung myself onto my bed and cried my heart out, till there were no tears left. I couldn't face gran and stay locked in my room for days only coming down for food.
Gran left me at peace and allowed me my space. When school reopened I busied myself with my studies to block out all thoughts and feelings of Stefan.
That was the introduction. That's how they met and parted.
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