Two chapters this time because chapter 5 is so short. Just to warn you, chapter 6 is rather intense! Links to the previous chapters and the amazon link to the novel follow the excerpt.
All was dark at Leigh’s house when I arrived. I slid the key into the front door lock and turned it as quietly as possible. I saw Leigh slumped and asleep on the living room couch from the faint light emanating from the kitchen stove. I moved to the back of the house, treading carefully so as not to step on the particularly creaky spots on the wood floor. Leigh’s house was built over a hundred years before and had all of the charms and groanings typical of such a house. The girls’ bedroom door was ajar and I pushed it gently open. Anna was snuggled between her cousins in the queen size bed. Franny and Kate both slept facing their small cousin, arms placed protectively. Moonlight seeped between the blind’s slits creating a striped pattern on the slumbering figures. A pretty picture for sure. Tranquil and timeless. I barely breathed as I watched them, wishing the peaceful moment would not pass to be interrupted by the worries of my regular life. Abruptly, I dismissed such whiny, wistful thoughts. I deftly scooped up Anna and walked briskly into the front room. I tapped Leigh on the shoulder. She stirred and squinted up at me sleepily pushing her blonde hair out of her eyes.
“Thank you, Leigh,” I whispered. Anna shifted and pulled me closer.
“Uh, okay…call me…K?” Leigh murmured and adjusted her position on the couch. She seemed uncertain whether to make the couch her bed for the night or to get up and go to the bedroom.
I covered the last few steps to the door, opened it quietly and turned the lock back into place before I closed it again.
In my bed at home I willed the dreams to come. I wanted to see more. In the beginning, my dreams that night were in fact like dreams. Fragments of events tumbling together in no particular sequence. But still, the dreams centered on Roese and her youthful debut into the world of eighteenth century theatre. She played only small roles, but with such poignant enthusiasm and zest. Her style bore the mark of an innocent girl trying to impersonate the true passion born only of experience. But that in itself had its own captivating charm. The audience seemed to embrace her. Flashes of jealous friction erupted from Mary in some segments. However, Roese would not retaliate. She would merely demure. This seemed only to incense Mary all the more. Advances from Robert were becoming increasingly prevalent and it was apparent that he was becoming frustrated and a bit angry with Roese’s polite rebuffs. Interspersed were many episodes of drunken revelry and sexual promiscuity among members of the troupe. Roese began experimenting with drink but shied away quite adamantly from the prolific sexual encounters going on around her. And Ralf. He was laced within it all. Stolen glances between the two of them. Accidental touches. Casual words spoken with deep underlying meaning hidden under the most skillful of facades. They seemed to burn in each other’s presence. Yet no word or action indicated as such.
Then the dreams began to take on a different feel. The kaleidoscope style shifted and became more clarified. Edges became sharper; sound became clearer and more sensible. I was no longer a spectator. I was Roese. I was in the prop room rummaging through a chest of costume pieces. Hadn’t I seen white gloves with an ermine cuff? I impatiently knotted my hair into a makeshift bun as it was impeding the progress of my search. Everyone else it seemed was in the dressing room partaking in spirits and becoming rather loud and rowdy. I was a bit tipsy myself. I was suddenly aware that someone was in the room with me. I paused and turned to see Robert holding the tawdry curtain aside with one hand, a goblet in the other. He looked very drunk.
“Oh! Hullo Robert. You startled me.” I smiled uncertainly. I felt very uneasy. There was something… I didn’t like the look in his eye. It reminded me of the way Jared the field hand at my Papa’s farm had looked at me before he…A flutter of panic rippled through my chest. I suddenly felt like a cornered rabbit. How would I get past him through the doorway? Could I talk my way out of this? Or should I surprise him with a hard shove and run down the corridor? And then what? Have no employment? I had to handle this delicately and with skill. I fought the fear that was seeping into my pores and clenched my fingers quickly before I forced a casual smile.
“Ah, so delectable you are, Roese. Like the sweetest of crumpets,” Robert drawled as his eyes seemed to probe every part of my body. “How I’d love a taste.”
I emitted a silvery laugh. “Ah, Robert, what a charmer you are! You must use that line in your next play. Let us go join the others. Me-thinks your goblet is empty.” I assertively twisted the cup from his grasp with the intention of breezing through the doorway, but he swiftly snatched my other hand in a vice like grip and forced me to step backwards into the small room. He pressed his mouth to my ear and I could smell the stale wine on his breath.
“Let us not go join the others. It is time that you joined with me,” he slurred huskily and slid his tongue sloppily into my ear.
“Robert, stop!” I gasped and struggled vainly to extract myself from his tight grip. The goblet slipped from my fingers and struck the floor with a resounding clang as he used both of his hands to maneuver me a few more steps backward.
“Robert, please…” I begged. He was so strong. I knew I could not wriggle free. And oh dear Lord! Not again! Jared’s filthy, toothless face floated before my eyes for a moment. I shuddered at the memory and the panic became pure. “Robert! No!” I squealed desperately as he attempted to push me down onto a heaping pile of costumes. I struggled frantically and began to scream. He clamped his hand so hard over my mouth that I could not even bite, or barely breathe. This action caused the costumes to topple and I ended up hard on the splintering floor with one arm lodged under my body. My other hand was useless against his strong frame. His free hand rummaged under my skirts and tugged forcibly at my undergarments. I squeezed my eyes closed and tears ran down the side of my face and into my ears. My arm throbbed, splinters pushed into my skin and I felt dizzy from the wine and lack of air. He ripped at my linens and I felt his fingers fondle me roughly.
“Ah, there you are. That’s what I’m looking for.” I jerked at his touch. “There, there, Roese. Why do you struggle so? Open your eyes and gaze upon the man that will have you.”
Then I heard laughter. I squinted my eyes open and looked past Robert’s head to see Mary and Mabel laughing hysterically at the sight before them. Mabel was so intoxicated that she could barely stand. Mary was not. Her laughter was harsh and deep felt. Her eyes glinted maliciously.
“Go on, Robert, ride that horse,” she jeered.
“Yes, I will,” Robert answered and began fumbling with his trousers. I used this distraction to attempt to free myself, but this merely angered him. He slapped my face hard which also had the additional effect of slamming my head to the floor. The edges of my sight became fuzzy and dark. I felt myself go limp. Robert removed his hand from my mouth and attended to his trousers. I felt cool air rush into my lungs as I gulped it in, unable to do anything else but breathe hungrily.
Somehow, suddenly, Ralf’s face appeared to hover over Robert’s head. His features were twisted in rage and his eyes sparked gray fire. I believed that I was having a vision, but then Robert’s body was yanked off of mine.
I cried out in relief and forced myself to scramble to a sitting position. I scooted the few inches to the back wall and curled myself tightly, face into my knees, arms laced securely around my legs. He would have to break my arms and legs to get through. These fiercely determined thoughts were interrupted by the commotion going on around me in the small room. I peeked warily around my knees and saw Ralf land a fist squarely on Robert’s jaw. Robert staggered, cursing vehemently and lunged unsteadily at Ralf. The two scuffled while Mary and Mabel yelled at them to stop. Robert emitted a long colorful string of obscenities as three actors raced in and struggled to break them apart. Katherine, another actress, tottered over and tried to squat on the floor next to me. Drink had robbed her of her balance and she almost fell. She steadied herself on a nearby chair and reached to put a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” I hissed as I buried my face back into my knees.
“Aw, Roese, I know it’s a fright, but these things happen. It’ll be alright, dear.” In my mind’s eye I could still see her rheumy, watery eyes filled with pity and her thin crooked mouth stained with endless applications of lipstick. She patted my shoulder anyway. I flinched and was about to push her away, but realized that she was taking her leave. Unsteadily, she maneuvered herself to a standing position and wandered after the men who were forcing Robert into the hallway. Mary and Mabel followed, chattering excitedly. Only Ralf and another actor named Harold stayed behind. My eyes were pressed so tightly into my knees that they ached. Ralf and Harold spoke quietly for a few minutes and then Harold left, leaving only Ralf. I could hear him panting slightly from exertion. He took a steadying breath and squatted beside me. I would not look up.
“Leave me alone,” I told him firmly. He did not leave. Silence hung between us. After several long moments he cleared his throat.
“Roese,” he said softly, “how do you fare?”
A million angry or pitiful replies rushed through my mind at once, but I said nothing. I became aware that my head was throbbing and that my arm was probably bleeding. I didn’t care to check for bumps or scrapes. I remained tight and still.
“Roese,” he repeated. This time his voice caught a little. A sliver of surprise slipped into my misery at the depth of feeling he had injected into my name. His fingers lightly touched my arm. The contact was electric, but still I tensed and repelled.
“Don’t touch me.” My voice was muffled and not quite as forceful as my last statement.
He pulled his hand away immediately. “Shall I have Katherine tend to you?” he asked doubtfully. “I will not leave you here alone.”
“No,” I answered realizing that I didn’t actually want to be alone either. What if Robert came back? I forced myself to peer over my knees at Ralf. “I…I am ashamed for you to find me in this state.” I spoke hoarsely.”But, please, I mean, thank you ever so much for coming to my assistance.” I swiped at the tear streaks on my face impatiently and glanced around for something to use as a handkerchief. Ralf offered his own.
“I could not let this pass,” he replied simply. But his eyes said much more. In the past I had been afraid to look in his eyes too closely. Afraid for what mine would say to him. Afraid that I might not find the same feelings that I held for him there. Or afraid that I might find the shadowy sexual beast lurking there. He was too perfect. I wanted him to stay that way. Unsullied by my expectations or false hopes. But this time, I looked. I saw tenderness. And uncertainty. And hope. He peered closely at me with those beautiful wolf-like eyes and then seemed to readjust his gaze to look even closer. Almost unconsciously my fingers rose to touch his cheek gently, hesitantly. He moved his face into my palm and pressed my hand closer with his own. He closed his eyes briefly as if to relish the moment. When he opened them again they were piercing and smoky.
“Roese, I do believe that I have fallen in love with you.”
My heart stood still. I could not say a word. I only stared in surprise. He moved to sit beside me. In an absent like manner he delicately guided tangled strands of hair from my face with one hand. His fingers found the nape of my neck and stayed there. He brought his face close to mine and his lips brushed my cheek as he spoke.
“I want to kiss you, Roese…May I kiss you?”
I only hesitated for the merest fraction of a moment. “Yes,” I breathed. And then he kissed me. Deeply, earnestly. He entwined his fingers in my hair and pulled me closer. My hands slid up around the back of his neck and he sighed with pleasure. The kiss was long and it was sweet and it demanded more. But Ralf stopped. He cupped my face in his warm hands and said, “Your arm is bleeding and I do believe you will have a bruised eye, little girl. We must tend to these needs and to other more serious consequences.”
I woke up abruptly. It was still dark. Anna must have crawled into bed with me, because there she was beside me. A fading white glow seemed to linger around her small body. At first I thought it was moonlight, but then it dissipated as I watched. It was then that I realized that I was actually able to see auras. I had heard about auras, but had never paid it much mind. I am the type that I need to see to believe. It seemed that I was seeing. But did I believe? I thought back to the other instances when I had seen what appeared to be auras. The multicolored hospital staff when I gave birth to you. Gladys was downright red after I had fainted. And Anna…well, again she was white. My gaze washed over my sleeping child and I wanted to touch her. But I didn’t. She was an extremely light sleeper and I was not about to be serving “brefast” at four am this morning. Instead, I carefully pulled the comforter over her bare legs. Unexpectedly, thoughts of you came flooding in. The pain of missing you and the mistakes I have made can be overpowering. It creeps up on me when my guard is down. I cannot have it in the front of my mind or I cannot function properly. So you have your own little box there in the back of my mind. However, the ache is always present. Most of the time it is like a dull itch unless it gets pulled to the front somehow. Dear Lord, how I miss you. But it cannot be, so back in your box you go. I slid out of my bed as unobtrusively as possible. I needed a cigarette.