AN: Thanks for the reviews so far... I have taken the comments into consideration- thank you for being honest!
Eleanor brushed her bright tresses, smiling at her reflection in the mirror by her bedside table. Her sister had opened the window shades, commenting upon how bleak the dark room was. Eleanor was pleased at this. She could not tolerate bleakness, and it came in all forms: her father and her deeply religious townsfolk, praying to a god they could not see. The meadows in winter, and fall, spring. Even in summer, they were breezy and cold. The men folk were bleak, their eyes serious, their smiles small and indefinite. Only Eli grinned, and laughed like a school boy at twenty-seven, and the others declared him crazy. He was the only one who was not afraid to be ungodly and Eleanor, in her impertinence, loved him all the more for it.
She stood, and chose her emerald petticoat, which made her eyes stand out like leaves surrounded by bloody roses. Throwing back her hair, she smiled, and ran through the hallway. She bid her mother farewell until evening and greeted the cold.
Elijah stood against the large evergreen that towered above her cottage, chewing upon a stalk of grass. He stared narrowly at her, that small smile growing wider and wider as she walked toward him. When she was within a few feet, he charged at her and grabbed her around the waist.
"You saucy thing," she declared, squealing. "You hold off, now. Papa will see and he won't like it." She rapped him smartly on the cheek and scurried off, her dark skirts flying out in the morning breeze. Eli watched her for a moment and then chased her, their feet pounding against the frosty ground, laughing madly.
The dirt roads were empty, no horses out today. Five children shouted out as the two ran past, pausing in their play. The sky was white and barren; the fields seemed endless. Finally, they reached the edge of the wood, and tumbled down to the ground, breathless.
Eleanor sat up and began to rock back and forth, singing, "I'll marry me a hopeless knave and when they put me in my grave, I will only take wild flowers. No, I won't have any poppies, and I wouldn't like a rose, and I'd rather be in my night wear instead of fancy clothes. And when I want to be in my casket, there won't be anyone 'round, I will pick the time that I want and I will just lay down." She finished, smiling, and fell back onto the grass, her hands over her eyes.
"Don't leave me," Eli murmured.
She did not move.
He knelt over her and grabbed one of her hands. "You-you never leave me, Eleanor."
She rose up suddenly and grabbed him around the neck, kissing his nose. "You have been following me since I was only seven years of age. How am I supposed to shake you? It has been eleven years, you beast!" She giggled. "I would not leave you so quickly."
He smiled and fell to her side.
"Papa has been preparing and preparing for tonight's church meeting. How I grow tired of it. Of course, you have heard this much too many times. That is what I admire about you; you never grow tired of what I have to say." She pet his long, black hair as she spoke, leaning on her side. "It shall be all about sinning. But that is what it is always about, is it not? I do not mind religion, I just do not understand everyone's fascination with it."
She sighed and leaned backward once more. Elijah rubbed his lips over her nose and mouth.
"Do you ever just want to leave me be?" she smiled. She did not mind. She absolutely loved the way that Eli was fascinated by her.
She sat up at once.
A man stood staring solemnly at her and Eli. He was in his early twenties, well-built and fair.
"You bad boy," she said to Eli, and swatted him across the face. She shrugged helplessly at the man and smiled. "You know him- he does not understand what is wrong and what is right. He always thinks he can be saucy with me- he does not know-"
"I saw nothing."
Eli stared, confused at Eleanor's sudden change in behavior. He turned his attention toward the other man. Named Vincent Winter, the man was always working in the fields. He was a quiet soul. He sometimes spoke to Eleanor. Eli wished he wouldn't.
"Oh. What are you doing here, anyway? You are always busying yourself with something. We never see you so far up here."
"Do you own this spot?"
"No, I was not suggesting-"she paused. "I hadn't meant to be rude, Vincent, it is just-"
He snorted oddly. "I know. I was joking."
She looked at Eli for an opinion. He stared intently at the other man.
Vincent coughed uncomfortably. "I am not so skilled at jokes."
"You have no reason to apologise," Eleanor said, smiling. "Come, sit with us." She had not talked in length with Vincent Winter in years. Every time he caught her eye, she and Eli had some sort of ruse planned to get out of church, or to hide in the woods although her father suggested that it was dangerous. But Vincent was sturdy and comely, and she had no problem allowing him to sit with them. She made certain to clear a spot between herself and Elijah.
Vincent sat down rigidly and smiled at Eli, who turned away. "He does not say much, does he?"
"No, and every time he attempts to speak, the others haven't the mind to listen. He knows more than they give credit for. He may be slower than the rest, but that gives them no reason to berate him-"she fell quiet.
"You care for him," Vincent noted.
"Yes, although it is not what it seems-"
"I do not believe it seems like anything. But, then I have no imagination."
She laughed at this. "No one here has an imagination- you are not so different."
"I hear you read," he said quickly. "And not only the good book, but tales of mystery and deceit! Are they fascinating?"
"Yes, they are," she nodded, surprised at how intrigued he was by this. "I've read many books. All of my father's collection. And every chance we have to enter the town for anything special we need, that is always my request. Jonathan Swift, Shakespeare, murder, passion, lies!" she cried out dramatically. "I love it all."
"It sounds wonderful. If you wouldn't mind-" he began.
She cut him off: "Why, you are the first to ask! Of course, borrow all you like. I never thought that in this dull little place there was another who had an interest in reading. I am smitten," she kidded, but he did not laugh. Perhaps he's just as poor at detecting jokes as he is telling them. No matter.
"And what of Eli?" he said finally, gesturing.
"Well, you can ask him. I daresay he has an answer, seldom doesn't."
Vincent looked uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. "Eli, what do you read?" he finally voiced, very slowly.
Elijah stared at him, wondered if he wanted to give this imposter a reply. "Eleanor," he stated.
Vincent stared at her.
"He means I read to him," she explained. "He cannot really read, I mean, he can write his name, but he wasn't made to read or write. I read to him, though. He enjoys stories about animals. Sometimes we make them up."
Eli laughed suddenly. "Birds."
She smiled. "Birds, especially. Lately, brown ones. Funny, they always end up dying. We are a morbid pair at times."
"Bury them in the woods," Eli finished and gave the man a flinty expression.
"There you have it," Eleanor giggled.
"I see," Vincent observed.
"You are wondering if you should leave," she stated. "Perhaps we are a bit too strange for you?"
"I do not mind."
"Why the sudden interest?" she teased him. "We used to speak to each other more frequently, but it seemed you had left our world for another."
"Well, I…" He flushed. "I had no motive- I simply, saw you both, and wanted to say hello. And now, good day." He rushed to his feet and walked hurriedly down the sloping, green hill, pulling his russet tweed coat tighter around himself.
"Come by the house when you wish for the books!"
She watched him go for a moment and then shrugged. "Strange thing, isn't he?"
Eli shrugged back at her.
"Oh, don't be so sour. He means no harm to you."
"I doubt he means any harm to me, either. He simply wants to read to improve his sense of humor, apparently." She pushed her fingers through Eli's hair and said, "Don't you worry, my hopeless knave."
He kissed her ear.