The Mirrors at Barnard Hall: Chapter 25

1 Jun

I’m not sure about you folks, but I had a fantastic week simply because I was under the impression that Tuesday was Monday; Wednesday was Tuesday; Thursday was Wednesday; and Friday was Thursday…

Have I told you lately how much I love four-day weeks? 

To make everyone’s four-day week a little better, the icing on the proverbial cake, the next installment of my debut novel, The Mirrors at Barnard Hall is now available. 

As with previous weeks, I’m relentlessly plugging the book, reminding all of you that the story is available in its digital entirety for only $3.99!  Click the link to download: Amazon, GooglePlay, Smashwords.com (includes .pdf version)

Have a fantastic weekend.

-Jenny

New to the story?  Click HERE to start reading from the beginning.

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Chapter 25: Surrender

“You left your earrings on my bedside table this morning.”

I touched my lobes and, sure enough, they were bare.  Had his maid found them?  The trouble my carelessness could have caused was unfathomable.  Rumors were infinitely more detrimental to families in 1902.  If someone untrustworthy learned that Nick and I spent our nights together in each other’s arms, a scandal would undoubtedly ensue.  The last thing the Daltons needed right now was a scandal.

“I’m so sorry, Nick.” 

He chuckled.  “Why ever for?”

“Just think of all the trouble my thoughtlessness could have caused if someone else had found them!”

“No one saw them but me, and I’ve kept them in my pocket all day.”

“In your pocket?  Why didn’t you just hide them in your drawer?” I asked.

“They served as a reminder that you are real.  I would idly touch them, and the metal warmed as if it was against your skin.”

“You’re so odd sometimes,” I said.

“I am infatuated.”  He heaved a sigh and continued.  “I’m afraid nothing can be done.”

“About what?” 

“You.”

“What do you want to do about me?”  Did he want to get rid of me already?  Any level of separation from Nick would cause me excruciating pain, from which I would never recover.  I’d had a taste, a touch of what I yearned for.  He was the only one who could take that away from me before the twenty-fourth. 

“I was never sure before but now I am positive.”

“And?”  I held my breath.

 “And how insane is it to have feelings for a woman who is not born yet?”  Nick ran his fingers through his inky hair, revealing his agitation.  “It is so… pointless.   And yet…” he walked to the mirror and stared at me through the frame.  It was the first time he had really focused on me all evening.  He had been pacing the floor since I had entered the room.  But now he was gazing into the depths of my being.  Could he see the fear that lingered there? 

“And yet it is inevitable.  Callista, you are different from every other woman of my acquaintance.”

I laughed nervously.  “Of course I am; I’m a modern woman in the most extreme sense.  I shouldn’t exist to you.”

“But you do.  And with every moment, I become more certain that I cannot exist without you.” 

I inhaled the scent of fresh-cut grass filling the room through my own open window.  The whine of the mower was loud at first then faded as it moved in repetitious circles over Barnard Hall’s vast lawn.  Nick had seen the gardener hard at work earlier and had become visibly frustrated.  He had returned to his own room without offering an excuse.

“I had prayed the future would not be so different,” he continued in a hopeless voice.

“Things are bound to change in a hundred years,” I teased, attempting to lighten his mood. 

His frustration was understandable.  Even though I visited the past, a time period I had studied in multiple history classes, the differences between worlds were overwhelming.  There were so many more rules in 1902, especially concerning social etiquette; life was more formal, more rigid.  What you wore, who you addressed—and how you addressed them, events you attended; all of those inconsequential things made a difference in one’s social status. 

The Daltons were considered “new money,” which put them toward the bottom of society’s food chain.  However, the blue-blooded world seemed fascinated by the beautiful family.  Expectations were high for each member.  And here I was, unprepared for every aspect of life in 1902.  I was completely out of my depth even within the confines of his room.  Turn of the century, “modern” conveniences—primitive in comparison to my own—were surprisingly complicated.  How could he expect me to function outside of the haven of these walls?

“Yes, but I never imagined it would be this different.  You have such possibility, such promise in what is to come.  Your future is unwritten.”

“And it would have been over if you hadn’t saved me.”

“Perhaps…”

“Nick, your future isn’t set in stone either,” I reminded him.  “Your family’s fate has been altered before and can change again.”   

A myriad of emotions played on his half-turned face, and I recognized them instantly—they mirrored my own.  He was worried and nervous, plagued by an undercurrent of depression and sense of foreboding. 

Neither of us knew what the next move was.  We were frozen in the moment, savoring what precious little time we may have left in one another’s company.

“Do you realize that I would give up everything to be with you?” Nick whispered.

“And you’d be giving up too much.”

Nick jumped on his bed and through the mirror onto mine.  Before I blinked, he was kneeling on the mattress in front of me.  He took my face between his hands.

“I would surrender everything for you, Callista.”

A solitary tear slid down my cheek.  “I would never ask you to.”  As the Dalton heir, Nick had an unyielding responsibility to his family.  I would never be so selfish, no matter how vital my need for him.

“I know.  That is why we are faced with such a problem.”

“What do you mean?” I asked breathlessly.  It was nearly impossible to bring oxygen into my lungs when he looked at me this way.

“I yearn to ask you, to beg you to give up everything.  Does that mean I love you any less?”  His voice quivered with emotion.

“You love me?”

Nick pulled back ; his eyebrows came together in confusion.  “The surprise in your voice wounds me.”

“I’m sorry; it’s just that I am surprised.”

“Then I am a fool for not telling you sooner—for not showing you.”  Nick leaned forward and kissed me tenderly on the forehead.  I inhaled, committing his sweet, heart- wrenching scent to memory.  In this moment there was nothing but our love for one another.  I had been confident and content in the depths of my own feelings for Nick, believing that they had been one-sided.  To have him return my love was a gift I had neither expected nor deserved. 

“I am entirely self-centered.  How could I ask you to abandon all of this?  Your life, your future, and everything you have for a life of what has been—for me.”

I brought my hands up to cover his as they cupped my cheeks.  My thumbs drew soothing circles over his rough knuckles.  My mind searched for the words that would convey how little my own world held for me.

“Until you, I was pretending to live and barely keeping things under control.  You… You are all I have.  I would be giving up nothing and gaining everything, even if I can only have you for a little while.”

“You’re wrong.  I am the one who would gain everything.  In your world I am the past, but in mine, you are the future—my future.  I need more than a pair of your earrings with me to remind me of your existence.  I need you here.”

“I am here.”  And I would be there until the end.

“That’s not enough for me.”

“What more do you want?”  If his request was within in my power, I would grant it without reservation. 

“I want you to marry me.”

When the words left his mouth, my hands fell to my sides.

Marry me.  Marry me.  Marry me.  Those two simple words thrummed in the space between our bodies, tugging at the floodgates protecting my heart.  

My eyes filled with an unstoppable fountain of tears; it would have been impossible to keep them from falling.  Nick reached for me, bewildered over my unexpected response.

“Callista?”

Those same tears choked me to silence.

“Callista, what is wrong?  If I would have known you would react this way I would not have said anything.  But I believed you shared my feelings.  I thought…”     

I knew I had to put an end to his babbling before he said something we would both regret.  “No.”

“No?  So you don’t want to…” he let the last words of his sentence hang in the damp air.

“No, no it’s not that.  It’s just… what if I disappoint you and you can’t send me back?  Then what?”  He would only grow to hate me, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.  Knowing I was the source of his unhappiness would kill me.

“Callista, I will never want you to go back.  I want you here, with me.”

In an effort to force him to see reason, I took a different approach.  “Maybe right now,” I allowed.  “But, Nick, don’t you think we’re both a bit young for such a final decision?” 

He grinned.  “Of course not.  Marriage, even at our age, is perfectly acceptable in 1902.  Actually, seventeen is a bit old.  You could be considered an old maid at your advanced age.  Perhaps I should think twice about my proposal.”

“Probably so.”  Even as I supported his statement, my heart broke.

“Callista, I am joking!  Do you honestly think so little of yourself?”

“You only met me a few months ago.”

“And I love every part of you already.  Can you imagine how much more deeply I can love you when we have had the chance to grow old together?”

Would we even have that chance?  “Nick, you have a responsibility to move your family forward.  You should marry someone who knows what to do and how to act in your time… someone like Lady Smyth.”

He chuckled.  “First and foremost is my responsibility to myself.  Nothing was ever official with her, only speculation amongst a few townspeople started by the woman herself no doubt.  She would be a life sentence.”

“But your family…”

“Loves you too—every one of them,” he said, emphasizing each word.

“I haven’t met all of them,” I pointed out.

“My mother loves you, which is enough for my father to love you too.  You already know that Tilly still considers you her best friend.  They have never seen me this happy and fully support my decision.”

“I can’t… I don’t…  But what if…”  My mind was no longer registering coherent thoughts.  I was out of arguments.  Could this work?

“Listen to me.  Listen.  This—us—we are permanent.”

I wanted to believe so badly; I needed him to mean what he was asking.  If he loved me half as much as I loved him then maybe this was possible—all of it.

“Callista, if you don’t want to accept my proposal because you don’t think you could be happy here with me, I understand.  But know this: I will never marry another.  My life has been permanently altered; I will never be able to forget you.”

If we succeeded in stopping the fire, Nick would marry, even if he was forced into a union he did not want.  He had an obligation to continue the Dalton family line.  Did I honestly want to read archives about the man I loved marrying another woman?  Did I want someone else to have his children?  Did I want someone else to live the life I now craved?

If that scenario played out, I could sell the house and start over, put all of this behind me.  But I would never do that.  Seeing as this decision was going to permanently alter my future, it would always be ahead of me, punishing me for choosing an alternative route.  Besides, I was masochistic enough to keep Nick as close as possible for as long as I could, regardless of the crippling pain it would cause me to see him with another woman.  Barnard Hall was now my home.  There was nowhere else in this world where I belonged.  But what about when I belonged?

What if we did get married?  Was I okay with being buried in the ground next to my mother, with my body long rotted away by 2012? 

Yes. 

The answer shouldn’t have come as easily as it did.  It should have been a struggle for me to decide to relinquish everything I had ever known.  But the modern world no longer held any interest for me—it never had.

I deserved to be happy just like anyone else, didn’t I?

Yes.

I wanted to marry Nick, didn’t I?

“Yes.”  Together, Nick and I could overcome every adversity, even death.  My entire purpose would be dedicated to ensuring that he did not regret asking me. 

The man I loved perked up at my statement, suddenly hopeful.  “You mean you will…” 

“Yes.  I will marry you.”

His kiss was intense, showing me what I had to look forward to for the rest of our lives—however long that may be.

“I will go and tell my mother now!  We can be married right away.  Of course, Tilly will have to come home earlier than originally planned.  If she missed the event she would never forgive us…”

“Um, Nick?”

“…so she won’t mind.  We can announce our marriage at my mother’s party.  There really is so much to be done if we are to finish by Aug…”

“Nick!” I shouted.

“Yes?” he said happily, reluctant to be pulled from his enthusiastic wedding planning.  I could practically see the guest list, bouquet, groomsmen and bridesmaids in his gaze.

“What’s the hurry?”  After the question came across my lips, my stomach lurched.  We both knew the answer.  Nick’s face fell, more forlorn than I had ever seen it before.

“Callista…”

I held up my hand to stop him.  He wouldn’t say that our time together was limited—even if it was.  What we both needed was the sweet peace of denial and the sanity it offered.  How was I supposed to revel in his romantic proposal when all I could think of was the fiery end on the horizon? 

“Please, don’t.  We can announce our engagement at your mother’s party then plan the wedding accordingly.  September, maybe.  A fall wedding would be beautiful.”  My voice sounded uncertain even to my own ears.

“But what if that cannot happen?  What then?” he asked dejectedly.

“I refuse to start my life with you planning for the end.” 

“We wouldn’t be planning for the end, not really.  We would be starting our future together sooner.  I do not want to waste another minute without you.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” 

“Callista…”

As much as I wanted to believe his idealistic excuse, I knew in my heart that he was giving us a deadline.  “Nick, we should wait.”

“I disagree.”

“Please?” I begged. 

“Alright,” he relented with a sad smile.  “I could never deny you anything.  We will plan for September.”  He pulled me in for a fierce hug but held me gently.  My heart twisted inside my chest, frightened for the impossibilities our new relationship faced.  “You will be happy, I swear it.” 

“I’m not worried about me,” I whispered.

“Callista, no one in my lifetime or yours has ever loved someone as much as I love you.  We belong together forever.”

But forever meant different things to different people.  To Tilly, forever had been the span of time between baking cookies and devouring them.  My forever was infinite.  I could only pray that Nick’s forever would have the opportunity to last as long.

Until death do us part suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

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