Annabell crept toward the doorway to the kitchen, away from the banister where the listening of secrets had begun. With each gasping for breath, and the catching of every other word that the unhinged-Dorothy Mason uttered, Annabell drew closer still. She didn’t (but did) want to hear her mother’s secrets. The family’s secrets. What were all these secrets? She knew there were things… but how deep did things go? And how deep were the secrets? Did she want to know? Maybe if her mother would just talk to her, instead of always instructing her, her mother could become a human… and they could have, dare Annabell think, a relationship?
In an act of unhinged empathy, Annabell kept fighting the emotional surge that wanted to envelope her– simply by hearing her mother so… unhinged. She rested her head against the door, as she kept trying to hear the now-murmur of Nessie and Dorothy. The back and forth, back and forth…. She tilted her head in that ultimate act of desperately wanting to connect with her mother. Annabell had never truly felt connected to her. On the surface they shared many qualities: The same curve of the hip. Curl in the lip. Lift in the eyebrow. And the same bawdy laugh that almost made them seem like Northerners– or twins. It was that quality incapable of holding in a deeply-set laugh (one that is kept in the deepest part of one’s gut); that indescribable space between muscle and magic– a laugh that could have come out of a boy, or a man for that matter. Annabell longed to connect to her mother, and without even thinking, she rested her seemingly-underweight–cranium–of–a–headspace against that unhinged door.
(Hence, the being unhinged.)
“Nessie. What was that?” Dorothy whispered.
“Probably just the wind, Mrs. Mason,” Nessie assured her.
“Is there a door open? With this heat and the candles ablaze. Oh no, Nessie, how could you? The yellow jackets will surely eat us alive.”
Annabell stopped short behind the door. What should she do? She’d surely get a whipping or a slap across the face for listening in where she was not invited to be listening. Annabell looked around for her escape route. If she moved a muscle, she knew that she would be found. And after her dance floor excursions, her bruised bum couldn’t handle another row.
Annabell had to act quickly, too– it would be but seconds till they would be walking through that door…
Whoosh. The door opened, concealing Annabell behind it just so, and by the grace of the ever-loving Lord in heaven, Dorothy and Nessie went to the right, as Annabell’s direction was left; and as the door creakily swung back and forth, back and forth, Annabell slipped through a swing and sleuthed through the kitchen. From the other room Annabell could hear the alto tones…
“Nessie, let’s look upstairs. Is there a window open somewhere? I swear if I get a ‘squito bite, or worse, if Walter Jr. gets bitten by a ‘squito… there goes the week. We’ll have to take him to the hospital and get his blood all re-blooded. That sickly little boy, I swear…”
“I’ll go upstairs, Miss Dorothy, and check on Junior while you keep looking down here.”
“Be quick about you,” Dorothy snapped.
“Yes ma’am,” Nessie uttered, unphased by Mrs. Mason’s tone. (Nessie and Dorothy had an understanding. An understanding that one would have after being through together as much as these two had been. There was a bond. Not by blood– thicker than blood, and vesseled in secrets.)
Annabell slipped through the kitchen door. She sat on the stoop outside the servants’ entrance, which was just at the height where the tippy-tops of her eye slits could see if anyone was coming her way. Just as she was about to step back into prepping her story of having been outside this whole time, yada yada…
A hand grabbed Annabell’s waist with a force that she couldn’t free herself from. Hands, bigger than her ribcage could budge. It was with such a strength, to where her feet didn’t hit the ground– like she was floating or hovering for a beat. Just as Annabell was about to release a squeal or a scream (the way girls like Annabell could do, that make them seem even lovelier)…. She was quieted with a kiss. A kiss so deep and so lovely and so made for her, that she felt in this very breath that her entire body –her entire life– had been crafted together for this very moment and this very man.
In a sober moment, Annabell pulled away dreamily and opened her eyes to behold the deep blue eyes of Theodore Wentworth.
“What took you so long,” Annabell jabbed.
“Didn’t mean to scare you,” Theodore zung back.
“I was about to scream. Woulda woken up the whole neighborhood and two counties over… then what would we do?” Annabell zang.
“Run away from here and never come back,” Theodore smiled.
“What in the world are you suggesting, Mr. Wentworth, and what kind of girl do you take me for?” Annabell eyebrowed her statement with feigned disgust.
“Hesh up, ” Theodore smiled.
And he kissed her again. Another deep, long, just-out-of teenhood-spirited kiss. A kiss with all the youth and excitement of adolescence, but with the knowledge of adults (and of all those working parts in the proper places). It was a good time to be Theodore and Annabell. It was a good time for kissing.
“You smell of cigarettes,” she sniffed near his lips again. “And gin.”
“Good,” he curled. And held her tighter.
“How long have you been wanting to kiss me, Theodore?” Annabell asked earnestly.
“How long we known each other?” Theodore pondered back.
“Six years,” Annabell knew exactly.
“Six years,” Theodore honestly returned the favor.
They looked into each other eyes. A glimmer of light careened into the deepest part of their irises, where the spark ignites the heart, head and libido muscles.
As they longed to press into each other once more, a voice came out of the distance–
It was Dorothy. And Dorothy was on the prowl– for an open door, for a distraction, for any place to take out her tension.
Annabell looked at Theodore. “Don’t let her find me. Her fury knows no end when it comes to me…”
She stared at him with a quaking in her right eyelid. It was the first time he’d seen her strong and lithe demeanor fade. Theodore didn’t waiver. He knew exactly what she meant, and in that moment he wanted to protect her from all that could ever even think of hurting his Annabell. (That’s what he’d called her in his mind– something no one had ever known, and which he’d never uttered. She was his. In his mind. In his heart. His Annabell.)
He slipped his hand into hers, and they quickly took off toward the trees… where the wolves and the dogs and the night and the possums, and all that could go wrong, lay waiting for them. Young love to be enveloped and to be torn apart. Annabell and Theodore, thick as thieves and light as gazelles, ran off without hesitation as the fireflies flickered near the estate. The magnolia mansion.
From the second floor, an emerald green dress (to match those emerald green eyes), spied. Oh, Eve and her impeccable timing. Her body tensed as she spotted the two making their getaway. In the distance, one last Dorothy-bellow careened in the stale night air… the echo of, “Annabell!!!!”