My time with Caleb felt like freedom. I was powerful. I could move about, play, touch, feel, smell, breath, without fear. The more I was able to feel this way, the less I could imagine living any other way.
Luckily for me, I wasn’t the first to bring up our deadline. The ball was only a week away and after that, there was really no reason for me to continue my stay. It was Caleb who brought up the idea of disappearing.
“I’d like to go to Italy” I asked without missing a beat. The stories that Caleb and Rachel shared of Italy were my favourites. The warmth, food, and culture seemed to lend itself to the person I was becoming.
“Of course.” He smiled and took my hand as we gazed out the window.
“Let’s go now.” I blurted, putting my hands on his cheeks. Instinctively he moved closer to me, and kissed me.
“Give me a week.” I was disappointed to hear that now wasn’t an option, but I was not lost. In one week I would be free, really free and Caleb would be by my side.
“You have a week, no more, or I go on my own.” I didn’t have to tell Caleb, I had no intention of returning to my husband’s home. I had been given an opportunity; I was not going to waste it.
The kiss that followed my realization lead to a clumsy, albeit urgent race to the nearest surface that promised to be slightly more comfortable than the floor. A race that had me tripping over my skirts, twice, but was well worth the struggle for what followed next.
Caleb wasted no time finding his way under my skirts and without hesitation began stroking and I responded like an expert, though this was the first time things had ever progressed this far. He watched my face change with each touch and smiled. Taking a handful of his hair I pulled him in for a deep kiss and held him tightly to me as I began to shudder. I did my best not to scream, burying my face into his shoulder.
“Did you just…” I asked panting, pushing my body into his, already wanting more.
“You are still intact.” He whispered into my ear giving it a playful little lick.
“I want more.”
My days moved from Caleb’s arms and Rachel’s planning sessions on to my own agenda. With a very handsome allowance, I began planning our escape. I was to leave first, Caleb to follow a month or two later, along with Rachel. In Italy I would stay with Paulo, a past lover and trustworthy friend of Rachel’s.
With Rachel’s help I hired a coach and travel companion to ensure my safe arrival. To my surprise, Rachel spent some time teaching me how to wield a dagger, reminding me even with every precaution taken, this journey could have its unpleasant moments.
I would pack very little choosing to replenish my wardrobe when I arrived in Italy. I began reading books, describing the country and the culture. I even began learning a few key phrases that would help with the transition.
Caleb had left, shortly after we finalized our plans, to hurry up some business he had in the city. Despite Caleb’s absence, the time leading up to the ball flew by. And then, there I was, standing in front of a mirror, looking more beautiful than I had ever dreamed possible. Rachel and her team of beauty experts were doing their best not to applaud themselves for a job well done. As I tried to hide the love affair I was having with my reflection, it crossed my mind that this was a fitting way to celebrate the end of this life and the beginning of my next chapter.
My dress was gold. A colour I never would have chosen for myself, but Rachel insisted it added colour to my cheeks. My breast spilled over the low neckline, as did the lace from the top of the capped sleeves. The bodice hugged my still girlish figure and was fringed with more lace. The skirt, was my favourite part. In colours only found during the most dazzling sunset, a fashion genius had embroidered a phoenix rising from the ashes. I didn’t dare think how many hours or sleepless nights had been put into that skirt, considering the short amount of time we had to plan the ball in the first place. All I knew was that when I died, I would be buried in this dress.
“You’ll give us a little spin, won’t you?” Rachel asked playfully. How could I resist?
Rachel and I busied ourselves with greeting guests, and a few other last minute details, all the while pretending that this was not a special night, in anyway. I even managed to fool myself into believing that I was not nervous about seeing Faolon again. He was not fashionably late. As I watched him enter the room, I forced myself to smile in his direction and not to look for Caleb for protection, or for the quickest way out.
Laying eyes on me, I knew immediately that my husband was torn. He didn’t know how to react to my appearance. I saw a flash in his eyes that made me want to cower followed by a smile that I could only guess was telling the room he was someone to be respected. It was never far from my mind that this was the last night I would ever see this man.
“I see you’ve made an impression on your hostess.” Faolon said as he took my arm leading me to a private corner of the room. He nodded acknowledgments as we passed guests, as did I, neither of us paying close to attention to who they were. Though I was sure my husband was pleased with the connection I had solidified for us over the last month, I was also afraid that he may have sensed, already, that there was more to the story.
While I was away, I had sent the odd piece of correspondence explaining in boring detail the plans for the ball and repeating some of tamer bits of gossip and stories Rachel had shared with me. I received no letters in return.
“How have you been?” I asked, when we stopped walking, barely able to meet his gaze. I could feel him sizing me up, burning holes in my exposed skin, forcing truths from my pounding heart.
“I should wonder the same about you.” He began breathing into my ear, though keeping a pleasant demeanor for any eyes that may be lingering in our direction.
“It has come to my attention that your hostess, though unmarried, has a special reputation with some very influential gentlemen in the area.” Barely in the same room, after a month apart, and Faolon wasted no time making accusations, towards me. I felt the heat of it against my face.
“I’ve seen no gentlemen in this house, aside from her brother.” I defended myself with honesty.
“I will know, Niamh,” He snarled pleasantly, “if you have faltered. I will know.” Thankfully, the Orchestra began playing a piece by Sullivan, a favourite composer to many.
“We will find a private spot when this dance is over.” He said leading me out on to the dance floor, just loud enough for the men, also leading their wives out to hear. His smug look, told me what he wanted everyone to think, but I knew better.
To continue…. For previous posts of The Becoming short story romance please click here