Winter entered the little frame house, an angry gust of bitter wind ushering Carlyle through the door. Would spring never come this year? How she longed to see the red-plumed cardinals perched amidst the apple blossoms.
Annabelle stifled a sigh. Maybe tomorrow.
"Where's Bo?" asked Carlyle, as he removed his overcoat and tossed it on Papa's empty chair.
"Empty chair, empty house ... empty Annabelle, she thought.
"I sent him on some errands," she said. "I didn't want him here for this." It struck her for the first time. Carlyle had become a man. Handsome, in the same classical manner as Mama's people, but more so. Mama would be so proud of him now. Like Carlyle, Mama would have believed in this coming war, this coming madness.
Carlyle stared at her for the longest time, his blue eyes cloudy instead of bright. She held his gaze until, finally, he looked away, tugging at his gray uniform jacket.
"You don't have to do this," he said. "I'll figure out something."
"What?" she said, trying desperately to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
"When Virginia secedes, we won't be militia any longer, we'll be army. I'll give you my pay. You and Bo can live on that."
"And when that grand day comes, Lieutenant Hallston, what do you live on? Your handsome Confederate looks?"
She turned her back on her brother, berating herself for her own stupidity. All those months, she'd believed Papa. "Don't worry, Annabelle, he'd said. And like a silly goose, she'd believed him, had taken the five dollars, or the ten dollars, and paid Bo's tutor, bought food, coal, sent money to Carlyle.
"We women have to take care of our men. Mamahad known. Well, Annabelle knew now, too. She'd take care of her men, the two who were left to her. She just couldn't stand to look at Carlyle right this minute because something deep inside her wanted to scream at him: "Take care of me.
He followed her into the kitchen. She scooped coffee beans out of the canister and dumped them into the hopper of the iron mill.
"Where's Gordon?" she asked as she proceeded to turn the handle.
"He's not coming."
She stopped and turned around.
"Don't worry," said Carlyle. "He'll go along with whatever you decide."
She could think of nothing to say. She turned back to making the coffee. Heavy hands landed on her shoulders.
"We'll sell the house. I don't need it, and you and Bo can live with Uncle Richard."
Didn't he know she'd racked her brain for days now trying to come up with a solution? Thought until her mind, and her heart, were both ready to explode while he dressed in a new gray uniform and marched with a new rifle. She couldn't stifle this sigh.
"The house is mortgaged for twelve hundred dollars. It isn't worth eight hundred, even with everything in it. There's Bo's education, the doctor bills, the funeral ..." She turned around, shrugging out of Carlyle's grasp.
"Uncle Richard --" he said.
"Uncle Richard stopped by the other day on his way to Abingdon." "To train militia, she thought. All of Virginia's sons gone mad with war fever.
"And he's a little overextended, furnishing horses and guns to the Confederacy. Could I please pay back the fifty dollars Papa borrowed. Not that there's any rush, mind you. Just when we get around to settling Papa's estate."
Two spots of color brightenedhis high cheekbones. She hoped, maybe, he felt a little bit guilty for all those months he'd been playing at war while Papa died from a tumor and borrowed money to keep the family fed. She suspected the color came from his impotent anger.
Annabelle brushed her hands down the front of her apron and turned back to making the coffee. She listened to the clicking of Carlyle's boots on the pine floor, each tap driving another nail into her heart. She'd filled the sugar bowl and poured cream in the little pitcher before he stopped pacing. She watched him jam his hands on his hipbones, and they stood like that, brother and sister, staring at one another while the coffee burped on the heat behind her and the harsh wind rattled the windowpanes.
"What was he thinking? I can't believe Father would do this to you."
She couldn't believe it either, but there was no point in dwelling on that riddle. She shrugged. The door chime sounded, and her heart ceased beating. She stared at the brass buttons on his uniform jacket and wondered if he knew how frightened, how humiliated she felt; wondered if he knew he was only making matters harder. And if he knew, did he care?
Lately, it seemed he didn't care about anything except "whupping Yankees, not even Papa's lingering death. She could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he'd visited their dying father.
Carlyle stepped forward and gripped her arms, squeezing painfully through the brown serge of her sleeves. "I won't let you do this, Annabelle."
She lifted her gaze. "You can't stop me." He let go of her arms, but his face remained hard. "Would you get the door, please?" she said quietly. "I'd like a minute alone."
Herubbed his face in his hands, a childish gesture of futility she hadn't seen him employ in years. She almost smiled; maybe he did care. He left her, his boots "tap-tap-tapping down the hallway. She heard the front door open and the sound of male voices. She removed her apron, folded it carefully, and set it on top of the plank worktable ...
In the Civil War-era South, a marriage of convenience between two unlikely partners soon blossoms into a love that unlocks their true passions and wounded souls. Original.