July 2, 1988
The Bay House
As a young girl, I sensed the home held many secrets. It kept them locked safely inside, waiting for the perfect moment to release them to the world. The tall Victorian sat cold as stone at the end of the bay and stared, almost boastful, waiting for passers-by to notice her gentle curves and lines. Her green clapboard siding shimmered shiny and clean and each window, open to its fullest potential, was framed in an angelic white. The curtains, cream lace, flew in-and-out in time with the summer wind, making music as they swayed. The upper-most window, small and round, held eight triangular panes. This is where the young woman sometimes stood, sad and serene, her eyes reflecting the yellow sunlight. Even from a distance Sis and I could see those eyes. Some days we could feel them creeping into the deepest part of ourselves.
But we kept going back – each morning that summer we made our way to the corner and stood brave as two young girls could be, and we waited. For someone to open the grand front door and walk down the steps to the sidewalk, to hear music flowing from the home's wide-open windows. And yet day after day, hour after hour, no one came and nothing could be heard. By mid-morning we would tire of the green clapboard siding and the silent, secret walls, and we let our young feet find their way to our family’s home by the sea. Each afternoon was lazy and carefree – playing dress up with Mom's linen jumpsuits, running wild on the beach, building castles of sand with seashell doors and windows and walkways. Somehow no matter what the day would bring, the Victorian crept back into our thoughts like a secret that wants to be told. It was almost as if it was constantly summoning us, and that was how the house liked it. In fact looking back, that was probably the plan all along…
Now, gazing up at the Victorian two decades later, the air around it still held an ominous tone. I glanced up to the top window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young woman. But not today. The eight panes stood empty and silent and surprisingly dark for the early morning. Still, I remained there on that corner for some time, almost holding my breath, waiting for something or someone. The house answered my gaze with an inquisitive smile, inviting me to come closer. I stood back, wondering if the woman had been an image in our young minds, but understanding her to be truer than anything else I had ever known. Soon the morning sun had risen higher in the sky. I turned slowly around, following the white sidewalk; the sound of gulls gracing the background with their strong, shrill cries. With each step, I resisted the urge to look back. I reached the corner and without another glance followed the familiar steps that led to my family’s home by the sea.
July 2, 1842
Amelia Conrad stood at her bedroom window, gazing out at the crystal-colored bay. She watched as the waves swayed back and forth in time with the summer wind. Sweat trickled down her cheek. She wiped it with her lace hanky, releasing a long, sorrowful sigh.
“And so tonight it begins,” Amelia whispered aloud to herself.
It seemed like forever that she had been standing there, staring and sighing and thinking. She had occupied much of that Saturday, in fact, thinking about her future - a future which wasn’t really hers. Thinking about Rudy, who was a fine man. A fine, wealthy man from a well-to-do family. Thinking about the ring she held loosely in her left hand, its crystal blue stone reflecting the sun’s glow, perfectly complementing the water below. But most of all, thinking about how her life wasn’t her own, her choices weren’t her own, her money wasn’t her own. Nothing was actually hers - everything was her father’s and now her soon-to-be husband’s. It was such a strange feeling to be surrounded by everything but to possess nothing.
“How can I go on playing this role? It’s for everyone else but me,” Amelia sighed quietly to herself, monotonously twirling her black curls around one pointer finger. It’s a question Amelia had asked herself day after day and night after night in these past weeks. And now her greatest fear was coming true – she was being forced to marry a man whom she did not love. Whom she could never love. Despite his handsome jaw line and dark, wavy hair. Despite his impeccable manners and boyish charm. Amelia did not love him, and she was reasonably certain that he did not love her.
Amelia walked to the porch, seating herself in the empty wicker chair at the corner of the balcony. The view was magnificent. The afternoon sun shone down, warm and bright, flickering magically on the blue and green water. Her pink, taffeta gown lay in neat folds, stretching to the porch floor. She fingered the hard, course wicker and stared into the cold emptiness that was her future. Amelia hummed a melancholy tune, the notes hanging in the air before floating gently out to the water.
As she sat humming absentmindedly to herself, Amelia dreamed of a life that would never be. In her mind, she stood before an elegant brownstone, taking its place among many along the New York avenue. Young oak trees lined the street, framing out the scene of passers-by, some strolling slowly in pairs, others bustling quickly, anxious to reach their destinations. A pair of steps stood in front of her, swirling up and around, meeting at a center landing. Amelia smiled, imagining a handsome young gentleman standing at the top of the stairs, waiting for her. He was rooted to one spot, gazing down at Amelia, taking in her beauty, reading her with his eyes. The man called out, motioning for Amelia to climb the steps towards him. She turned, smiling, approaching the staircase.
"Amelia," a woman's voice called, loud and resonate, waking her from her thoughts, "Amelia, come down here this instant!" Amelia ignored her mother's summons, trying to return to the daydream.
But now her mind focused on the cruel reality that was her future. Amelia thought back to a few weeks prior, to the night her betrothed approached her in the moonlight. She had been gazing at the evening stars, dreaming of leaving New York to begin the summer season at the beach. Rudy had approached from behind her, kneeling down on one knee, pulling from his pocket a tiny box of sterling silver. Opening it, he presented her with the elegant ring. Even in the moonlight, Amelia could sense the beauty of the blue stone, and she immediately took in its significance. Her eyes met his, and Rudy asked the four words she was hoping he would never gather the courage to say.
“Will you marry me?” he asked in a soft, even tone. His voice spoke not out of love, but obligation, and her answer, though in the affirmative, was slightly callous and cold. As Rudy gently slipped the ring on her right hand, signifying an engagement, Amelia took in a breath, long and deep, then slowly let it out again. They stood together, the air silent and foreboding. He kissed her hand, then took her arm, leading Amelia through the drawing room door to confirm the arrangement with Mr. and Mrs. Conrad.
Amelia shook her head from left to right, waking herself from this memory. It was a difficult thought to revisit, one that would haunt the rest of her days, and she knew not how to process the depth of its meaning. She felt like a lost soul, but something inside Amelia persuaded her to wear a brave face for her parents and her guests.
Bringing her thoughts back to the bay, to where she sat immersed in her sorrow, Amelia turned her head, taking in the sounds from the main floor. Below her was all a bustle. Glasses clinked as they were pulled from the tall sideboards. White linens covered the long, mahogany dining table, their best china was arranged in perfect form at each place setting, and red roses dripped from Limoges vases. Sighs from the hurried staff carried themselves up the long, spiral staircase and out to the balcony where Amelia sat, silent and introspective. These were the sounds of a party unfolding, and yet Amelia wished to be anywhere but here. If only she could run and hide as she had as a child – escape to the large, kitchen cupboard or beneath the round table in the front hall; flee to the corner porch that wrapped itself boldly around half of their home or in the side garden amongst the rose bushes carefully tended to by her mother. But there was no time for hide-and-seek today. There was an engagement to be celebrated, and celebrate she would, though behind her smile would be a hidden frown, and in her eyes a deep sadness settled, dark and grim and lonely.
“Amelia!” her mother’s voice chimed from the foot of the stairs. She offered no response, but instead held her gaze on the blue water.
“Amelia Elizabeth!” she called again, louder this time, with a tinge of anger. Amelia recognized this tone. She had experienced it many times in the past, and even at the age of twenty-two it sent a chill down her spine.
“Coming, Mother!” Amelia answered pensively. Rising from her chair, she began the unhurried walk toward that which was her future.
Saturday, early morning
July 2, 1988
In a few short minutes, I was staring up at our family’s beach house, the one we had been coming to every summer since I was five. I felt at home here, in some ways more at home than at my flat in the city. I loved everything about this house – its white clapboard siding, the sprawling front porch, the windows that opened to the world. I loved waking to the sound of the seagulls and the crashing of waves, the scent of salt water filling my lungs.
On this particular Saturday, I had risen at the crack of dawn, enjoying my morning walk by the water before beachgoers flocked with their umbrellas and chairs, filling the beach with commotion and activity. After a quick breakfast, I found myself headed for the bay once again, the Victorian my destination. Today's visit had been a short one - the house looked quiet and dark and not in the mood for company. So after just a short time I retreated back, my heart caught between two worlds - the ocean and the bay.
Racing up the front steps to our beach house, I opened the screen door. It slammed with a bang behind me, a familiar sound from my childhood. In the kitchen, I started a pot of decaf and sat down with my latest script, mumbling the lines aloud, imagining the stage and actors. Although I had done many projects for Mirage Publishers, my boss was expecting nothing less than perfection, and the pressure had seeped its way into every facet of my life. It had been a trying project at best, with many sleepless nights and pots of strong coffee. But I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it felt good.
The summer sun shone in through the open windows, landing on the white tile floor. The kitchen table was crafted of fine oak, a light wood, smooth and sleek, matching the rest of the room. White appliances nestled perfectly into the light oak cabinets, and heron blue paint accented the room beautifully. The trill of the phone snapped me out of work mode. I ran to the other side of kitchen, reaching for the receiver, lifting it from its carriage on the wall.
“Hey, what’s up?” I said casually, knowing it would be Mark.
“Not much,” Mark replied from the other end. “You working?” he added as an afterthought.
“A little.” I answered, twirling one dark curl around my pointer finger. “Just tying up a few loose ends with the main character. Trying to figure out which ending to go with – happily ever after for now, or sad for now, but happier later.”
Mark was quiet for a few seconds, contemplating what I had said. I could practically hear the trum of his fingers tapping on the top of his desk.
“Go with whatever’s easier, Whitney,” he responded assuredly.
An interesting answer, and the very one I expected from Mark. He and I met on our first day of college at NYU. I was taken with his dark hair and auburn eyes, that deep voice that knew just what to say and when to say it. Mark was the perfect guy then, and he still was, eight years later. We stayed together all through school. A few short break-ups along the way, but in the end we always came back to one another. Lately I wondered if it was more by habit or chance that we stayed together. I stared at the aquamarine stone on my left finger and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering how Mark had given it to me.
“Whitney? Whit, you still there?” Mark said loudly into the phone.
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, I’m here. When are you coming down?” I asked absentmindedly.
“I’ll be there around noon tomorrow. Sound good, beautiful? Gotta go!"
“Love you,” I said into the phone, but he had already hung up. No doubt caught up in some business deal again. But no matter. I had work to do. Walking a few feet, I grabbed my notes from the side table in the center hall. Stopping in my tracks, I glanced back to look at myself in the mirror. My dark hair fell in soft waves to just below the shoulder. I played with a few strands around my face, matting them down with my right hand. I was tanned from the summer sun and hadn't gotten around to putting on any make-up, aside from a little blush and mascara.
Walking back into the kitchen, I grabbed my script from the table, sliding a pencil behind my ear. I glanced around at the mess, realizing there was cleaning and dishes to be done before my parents, Sis, and the others arrived later tonight.
"I still have all day, so coffee first," I muttered to myself. Walking to the counter, I poured a fresh cup, breathing in the hazelnut scent. Stirring in the cream, I watched the spoon as it swirled in tiny circles, round and round, and I began thinking about my future.
“Why am I not smiling?” I wondered aloud, as I brought the mug to my lips, tasting the bitterness of the coffee and of my words.
Thinking back to one week ago, I frowned, my eyebrows turning inward. I had been in my New York office, watching the clock, counting down to lunch with Mark. We were meeting at my favorite spot, Peinture, quiet and romantic. Finally deciding to cut out early, I started down the steep staircase of the brownstone, glancing at four paintings that hung in a diagonal down the steps. Passing them one at a time, I ran my fingers along each brass nameplate, Garden in the Springtime, Vase of Roses, Dr. Danbury Leefton, Mrs. A. Elizabeth Wellington. The titles rang out in my mind, familiar and melodic, greeting me like an old friend. I made for the door, passing a few co-workers in the entry and offering a quick greeting.
Out on the street, I glanced back at the old brownstone, her three stories standing tall and reverent before me. It was one of the finest buildings on the block, the double staircases spiraling up and in towards the landing, the glass door framed in dark mahogany. I smiled, appreciating the beauty of the architecture before beginning the five-block walk to the restaurant. The sun streamed warm on my face as the steady hum of the crowd pushed along the city street. A few minutes later, I looked up at the burgundy awning marked with one word, Peinture, and I made my way through the familiar entry. Taking a seat by the window, I was anxious to see Mark and his handsome face. I closed my eyes, thinking of the sharp curve of his cheekbones, his brown eyes searing into my soul.
"Bonjour, Miss Whitney," I heard, shaking me from my thoughts.
"Hello, Brady," I replied. "How are you today?"
"Just fine. Meeting Mr. Freeman for lunch, are you?"
"Yes, I am."
"May I start you off with your usual?"
I nodded, glancing out the window, hoping to see Mark. Fifteen minutes later, I was still waiting, sipping my slowly vanishing glass of wine and becoming impatient. Then Brady approached the table.
"Miss Whitney, you have a phone call," he spoke in a quiet tone. I rose from my seat, knowing what this meant, and made my way to the bar.
Taking the phone from the bartender, I held the receiver up to my ear. "Yes?" I asked coolly.
"Hey Babe," Mark said, breathless, "I'm caught in a meeting - I won't be able to make lunch. How about dinner tonight?"
"You know I can't - I have to work late - I have a deadline coming up."
"Oh right, I forgot." He paused into the phone. "Well, I'll make it up to you," he finally responded. "Babe, I gotta go." The phone went dead on the other end. I stood alone by the bar, angry tears forming in my eyes before walking back to the table alone.
That was the day I decided to get away from it all and flee to the beach. It was also about the same time that I truly began to re-evaluate my future.
Copyright © 2014 by Kristin M. Parker