"I've been needing to speak to you all day long," she said, groping furiously in the darkness. She could hear him stirring about but could not see. Finally, she caught an arm of his. He reached and took hold of her wrist. She felt him kiss her hand through her lace glove. He gently peeled both gloves off as she stood, her whole body trembling.
He put his lips against her cheek and whispered languidly, "I've been thinking about you all day long," The shadows hid the shocked look that spread across her face. His hands pressed against her back while she held on to him tightly.
"George," she murmured. He pushed her back.
"Did you call me 'George'? What are you thinking?"
"George," she stuttered, "George will be back soon and. . . and. . . " She could not finish what she began to speak. In a sudden rush of compassion, he held her shaking body close to his. He actually felt sorry for the poor, fluttering, wisp of a woman.
"George will be back but I won't let him get in the way of anything between us." he told her confidently. She gazed up at him and her eyes twinkled with tears.
She only said one word, but it was the only question that mattered. "How?" she asked morosely. She clutched his collar as they both realized the brutal truth. The denial was shaken out of both of them. It was hopeless, but they were both desperate people with desperate hearts. They both clung to the little faith they had left; and that was the faith they had in themselves. A stirring was heard outside in the hallway. The door, which was not completely shut, creaked open a few inches then stopped.
"I must leave you with this, mon amore," he cooed. He kissed her fully on the lips and crept out of the room without a second to spare.
Eva sank down on her bed slowly. She was alone tonight. She collected the two lace gloves, which lied lifeless on the sheets. She held them to her mouth and gently wiped the tears that fell. There was time but it didn't seem like it was time enough.
Moment by moment, every time her and George spoke, Eva felt a little part of her soul disintegrate partly because she knew that it could never happen under George's nose, but mostly because she knew in her heart of hearts that it was totally and utterly wrong. "It" being everything; the lies, the half-truths, the most-truths, even the whole truth seemed unpleasant and iniquitous. Love was supposed to make a person feel better but all Eva felt was the morose reality of the depth of her lies. They were deep. On a daily basis, she lied to everyone in the household about where she was going and where she had been. No one took a second thought because never before had Eva ever done anything to arouse any sort of suspicion. She was the golden image of a pseudo-Southern wife; from the way she dressed and carried herself all the way to her courtly decorum. The estate that her husband owned was by no means a plantation, since all of that had been done away with for years, but it was steeped in such elegance of the past that could remind one of the glorious days of the South.
Mary was the epitome of restlessness. She squirmed and fidgeted on her bed while she was being dressed. She wanted to get away soon but had no hopes of doing so. She felt trapped, jailed like a prisoner with no way out. It was worse than her most horrible nightmares. Although it was summer, beginning to turn into autumn, in the air was a stifling coldness that chilled her soul. Little did Mary know that she was going to have her heart broken beyond any human's belief or perception. The cold was only a warning to what was to become that night. The night was young but the end was nigh.
Mary floundered about the whole day happy and secure in the thought that she loved and was loved in return. Isn't that the sweetest thing in life? To love and be loved and in return. A life without love is no life at all and Mary believed this with all of her heart. Unconditional love, unrequited love, to be loved wholeheartedly, it is all that Mary wanted in her life. One supposes that at a young age like Mary, life seems dependent on one's ability to find their one true love.
The seemingly omniscient Nicole was in Mary's bedroom, dressing her for dinner. She applied rouge to Mary's already rosy cheeks and lips.
"Alright, young Miss," Nicole whispered after putting her final touches on her makeup, "You will be the belle of the ball tonight."
"What ball?" Mary hissed, spinning around on her vanity stool to look at the silly servant, "There is no ball, only a dinner for me to meet that horrible, redneck slug Richard. Practically still thinks he's in the days of slaves and cotton, that miserable excuse for a male." She turned back to face the mirror, and when she did, she was astonished with what she saw.
It was her, but it seemed not to be. It was not the face of a little girl, or even a young girl, but a woman. A woman, who was full of wisdom, maturity, and the utmost class and responsibilities. Her cheeks were full and high and pink. Her lips spread into a sly smirk as she noticed her quick aging. The wonders of makeup. Too bad mother knew nothing about it. She was likely to cause a big scene and to say something like, "A girl of your age shouldn't try to flaunt her beauty like some common jezebel." Mary giggled. Whenever her mother was worked into some fervor about personal vanity, she always used such old, biblical words like "jezebel". No one called anyone a jezebel anymore except for uptight priests and washed-up reverends. The ones that would preach "fire and brimstone" to their congregation.
Intent on making a grand and stately entrance, Mary chose her most decadent and pricey shoes that she had bought in Paris and worn only once before. They were a deep crimson hue, studded with garnets in the heels and cut in the newly-fashionable semi-high heels. Her satiny dress flowed with her steady steps as she made her way down the hallway with the assistance of Nicole. The laced-bottomed, burgundy dress echoed the upper-class that Mary felt she belonged to. She heard a slight disturbance coming from further down the hall, the nursery.
All of the sudden, a little girl-child's head popped out from the doorway. It was the sweet little Judith, her innocent, angelic face framed by the bouncy blonde curls she inherited from her father. The little child ran up to her sister and her nanny was not far behind.
"Mary, you look absolutely lovely," the girl said in the English-tainted voice, "Any man would have to be daft not to fall in love with you."
"Now, now, Judith, you mustn't bother your sister. She has a very special engagement to go to," she cried, corralling Judith into her arms. The nanny smiled widely at Mary and winked.
"It's always a pleasure to hear from my beloved little sister," Mary reached out and patted her sibling on the head. Judy glowed with the satisfaction of her older sister's approval. The middle-aged nanny carried the girl off back to the nursery, nearly being Judy's bedtime.
With that, Nicole escorted Mary down the grand staircase. She was the picture of youth's perfection. Mary's eyes shone hopeful yet sad. She was trusting but afraid. She was excited while being melancholy all at the same time. She didn't want to meet Richard; however, her mother had been planning this formal meeting for quite a while. She would act accordingly, like a respected daughter should.
Slowly she stepped down the stair, making sure that she didn't lose her balance. When she was nearly half-way down, she was able to see the slight crowd in the dining room. She immediately saw her mother and heard her as well. She said something then laughed quite loudly.
"Mary," she shouted from the room, "You must come down. We are having a great time." Mary continued on making her way down slowly. She saw an unfamiliar man sitting at the head seat on the opposite side as William Hayes. He had auburn-red hair that was long. It was tied off in a ribbon behind his head. She couldn't see his face. She immediately assumed it to be the Southern hick slug, Richard Montballion. A loud, flagrant hat that Mary spotted was the clue that Mrs. Montballion was close at hand. Of course she was, after all, she was presenting her son to Eva's daughter. Once Mary touched the ground with her toe, all eyes turned onto her.
It was like the world went into immediate slow motion. Eva was beaming at her daughter brightly. Mary noticed her mother was looking younger than she had in years. She was donning a form-fitting green dress that really showed her body off, an extremely daring move on her mother's part. Mrs. Montballion's frown even seemed to loosen up once she caught a glance of this teenage belle. Mary, at last, got to see the face of one of her greatest enemies that she had never seen, much less met.
He wasn't a slug. He was hardly a slug at all. In fact, he was almost good-looking. He smiled as soon as he saw Mary strut across the room to take a seat next to her mother and across from Mrs. Montballion. His face was not repugnant, but rather pleasant. His eyes were bright but not overly-optimistic. He had a very charming smile. He stood up and walked towards Mary with a hand outstretched. As soon as he was very close to her, she rested her hand in his gloved one, and he gave hers a light kiss.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." he smiled.
"The pleasure is all mine Mr. Montballion," she cooed. Inside, she was thinking, "Well, you aren't a slug at all, aren't you?"
Mary sauntered towards her chair, careful not to break eye contact with the young man. He seemed entranced with the lady. Her mother twitched nervously.
All throughout the meal, Richard subtly glanced at Mary as much as he could. Whenever she looked opposite his way, he would stare at her beautiful countenance until she snapped her neck back towards him. A couple of times, Mary caught him gazing at her and his face would turn bright red.
"Nicole, would you please find out everything you can about that young man?" she asked the maid as she passed by.
Richard's ears were burning. He knew that someone was talking about him and it must have been that young lady, Mary, who sat so close yet so far away. She was whispering something in the servant's ear and she cautiously eyed him while doing so. He smirked to himself, knowing that it was probably some crude remark that she was making. He imagined something terribly immoral being said from Mary's young lips. He knew it wasn't the first and it probably wouldn't be the last of anything said about him.
Richard Montballion grew up with a very privileged life. His parents' estate was not very far from the Cromwell's, perhaps only an hour's ride in a carriage. It was called by a name, Bristow Lake, after a small body of water of the same name that resided a stone's throw from the main house. It was a very classy, very upscale house very much like the one he was in at the moment. However, his home seemed to not be as warm or loving as this home was. He home was like a library; cold, stuffy, and full of old, ugly things. Every room was filled with some portrait of an ancient, decrepit relative, painted in their last years. In fact, her mother was having her portrait painted. Photography was so noveau riche, his mother told him, only foolish business tycoons have a photograph taken of their family.
Richard's father was like most of the wealthy families in the south, for the fact that he had inherited a large portion of his money. That money, in turn, was invested in crops that were grown on the property. Cotton was still a huge cash crop, especially with all of the factories in the North working as fast as the iron could. Much to any Southerner's dismay (good that none of them knew), Richard's father had a good amount invested in a steel factory up North.
Too bad his father died so prematurely. He died nearly three years prior after he had a fit of apoplexy one day while supervising the field hands. No one in the family has been there since.
It didn't affect Richard too much. He grew up without knowing his father very well. He was always on a business vacation looking around at one certain kind of future investment or another, most of the time in another country. Richard never had times where his father would take him hunting or fishing or any of the other normal things that fathers normally did with their sons. Nor ever did he take Richard to the places he was investing or teach him the wiles of capitalism. Richard was somewhat happy that this never had happened to him; he hated hunting and couldn't stand dealing with money. Let's just say he wasn't his father's son, exactly.
"What's wrong, darling?" Mrs. Montballion cooed at her son, seeing the vacant look in his eye.
"Nothing, mother. I'm fine, just thinking," he said, snapping out of his thoughtful rest.
Mrs. Montballion laugh and said something to everyone about Richard being a deep thinker, and everyone nodded back in acknowledgement. Richard though he even saw Mary smile.
He gently stroked his right sideburn down to his chin pensively. He glimpsed up towards Mary and for that split second, she was gazing back at him.