Dear Diary, I’m sorry I stopped writing where I did. But I had to put you away because I almost fell back into old habits and thoughts. You see, on my birthday, I got a little more attention than I ever expected and the old me wanted to come out and relish this. It is disappointing to me how easy it would be to spend hours daydreaming about how I’d grown into my looks and how the men on the farm seemed to have noticed.
That’s the old me, though. I don’t want to be like that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I know I haven’t exactly “arrived” and changed completely into a better person. If anything, the way my thoughts so easily turned to myself showed me that I have a lot of work to do in order to mature in my thinking and actions. Maybe I’ll allow myself this little thing, though… I did recognize this and wrote it all down in order to learn from it.
Unable to sleep, I sneaked out of the room I shared with Alice and down the hall to the bathroom where I sat on the floor with one lit lantern to write this all out.
When I last left off, I had just realized that it was Elliott coming toward Alice and me and we stood on the inlet bank, admiring the day. I’d been surprised not to recognize him but thought perhaps it was because he wasn’t wearing his hat.
He smiled at me and told me happy birthday and I remember blushing and thanking him. Our eyes met and I thought of Dax as they did resemble one another. But Elliott didn’t have Dax’s deep soulful doe-eyes. Elliott’s were blue, but a pleasant color, not icy like Agathe’s. Probably also due to the hat, I’d never realized how much red Elliott had in his hair. Even briefly thinking about red hair made me miss my father, filling my heart with regret and guilt.
“You should smile on your birthday,” Elliott suggested, which did make the corners of my mouth turn up into a smile.
Self-consciously, I touched my hair which had continued to escape from the bun I’d carefully pinned up earlier that morning. The humidity and occasional breeze hadn’t helped either.
“I must look a mess.”
His eyes sparkled with amusement. “Nonsense. It’s nice to see you’re enjoying the day.”
My face must have been scarlet by now but his attention didn’t make me stare at my feet. I was too curious about him to look away. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Alice had wandered a ways down the bank and was bending now to pick something up which she studied with her full attention.
“What’s she doing?” I said.
Glancing at Alice, Elliott shrugged. “She’s always on the lookout for anything she can use for healing. I don’t understand the half of it. Now, tell me something’s wrong with a horse or cow and I can figure it out.”
“That’s quite a talent.”
“Everyone’s good at something,” he said.
Gosh, but he was handsome the way the sun highlighted his hair and face. The blue of his shirt brought the color of his eyes to life and the way he looked at me made me feel… pretty.
“I suppose so.”
“What are you good at, Blue?”
Sheepishly, I shrugged with a grin on my face. “Getting into trouble.”
His laughter filled the air, making me laugh, too. “I’ll admit that it was kind of funny, you telling us your name was Hester Prynne.”
“Good gravy, is that misstep going to follow me for the rest of my life?” I groaned.
“Probably,” he laughed again. “But don’t worry about it or take it too seriously.”
“I’ll try not to,” I said, glad we could laugh about this. I was so afraid these people would hate me when I came clean.
“I did hear, though, that you and Agathe are on friendly terms even though you crashed in on Dax.”
“Yes, thank goodness. I’m so glad to have met him, though. Agathe told me what happened to him. I wish he didn’t stay in the dark like that, though.”
“I wish that, too,” Elliott agreed. “He won’t tell me why he prefers it this way. Maybe, since he talks to you… well, maybe he will confide in you one day. We’d, of course, like nothing more than for him to live among us as he did before the accident. He is missed a great deal.”
This gave me a new mission regarding Dax. I would try to find out why he refused to live as the rest of the community, and I would try to get him to resume the life he once lived, even if it killed me.
“May I ask you something?”
I hesitated, then nodded. “Sure.”
“Why did you run away?”
Letting my breath out, I bit my lower lip as I thought about his question. “It’s hard to explain. But what happened wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine.”
“If that’s the case, perhaps you should let me take you to the mainland so you can contact your family even if it’s only to tell them you’re all right.”
This made me think. Of course, I shouldn’t just tell my family I was okay, I should also tell them I was on my way home and how sorry I was. But, this could be a first step in repairing what I’d done to my dad, Leela, Ruby, and my little brother by running away. Twisting a corner of my apron around one of my fingers, I realized that my brother would be in elementary school by now and I’d barely saved him a thought.
“I apologize if I’ve stepped over a line – ”
” – Oh no!” I assured Elliott. “You’re only trying to help. It’s just that… I was so thoughtless and even unkind.”
Daring a glance into Elliott’s eyes, I realized his expression was one of caring, not judgment. How were these people like this? Gratefulness filled my heart and I managed a small smile as he spoke to me in a kind voice.
“Do you think just because our lives are so different that I’ve never done anything I was ashamed of later?” he asked. “Everyone has things they wish they hadn’t done.”
“I guess you’re right, but I don’t know if it can be compared to what I did, though,” I sighed. Then I made the decision. “Can you take me to a phone tomorrow?”
His smile widened and he nodded. “Of course.” He lazily put his hat on his head, then straightened it the way he wanted it to sit, peering up at the sun like Matthieu always did. “Well, I’d best be on my way. But, if you ever need anyone to talk to, Blue, I’m a good listener.”
With a genuinely grateful smile, I said, “Thank you, Elliott.”
As he walked away, I watched him. Until Alice grabbed my arm and pulled me back toward the trees.
“Let’s go swimming!” she laughed as I ran behind her.
We came out of the trees to a different clearing with a big beach and I realized we were on the other side of the St. Cyr house. I couldn’t tell how that had happened and I wondered how long it had taken Alice to learn which direction was which in those woods.
Following her lead, I stripped down to my slip. The sand was warm and in some places, squishy between my toes. Even though it was a hot day, I felt a little strange only wearing my slip outdoors like that. Never mind that back home, I wore bathing suits in public and thought nothing of it.
“What if someone sees us?” I asked, glancing all around us.
“Goodness, Blue, I wouldn’t have thought this would bother you. If someone sees us, then they see us, simple as that. We’re doing nothing wrong.”
“If you say so, but if Agathe doesn’t approve, I’m telling her it was your idea!” I laughed. Even though I was mostly kidding, I still looked around one more time to make sure Agathe was nowhere in sight.
Alice grinned from ear to ear, her eyes gleaming with playfulness. “You’re so funny!”
“You’re easily amused!” I joked with a grin to match hers.
Alice went into the water before me. She shivered and said, “It’s a mite colder than usual this time of year, but not too bad.”
Stepping in behind her, I realized there was a sharp drop off. In just a few steps, the water would be quite deep. “You don’t have any sharks or snakes around these parts, do you?”
“Oh no!” she said, stepping off the little last part of sand and treading water. “Be careful of the drop off.”
“I see it, thanks,” I said.
She conveniently waited until I was treading water near her before she casually said, “There was a Sharkigator known to hunt around here sometime back, though. No one has seen it in some time.”
“Sharkigator?” I exclaimed.
“Oh, yes, that and The Blood-Eyed Doom Fish. You really wouldn’t want to run into him either.”
My eyes were so huge, I’m surprised they didn’t pop right out of my head as I tried peering into the depths of the water. I couldn’t see anything, but I was real keen to get back to shore just then.
Until I heard a hearty laugh. It was Matthieu behind us on the beach. “Don’t go filling her head with those ridiculous stories!” He called. To my utter amazement, he was unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it off as if to join us. “Those are just stories we tell the children to keep them from swimming out too far.”
In his long johns (or would you call them short johns? I don’t even know!) he dove into the water, quickly bobbing back up to the surface, his blond hair shining in the sun.
“Hey, Blue! You’re not scared of a little ol’ Sharkigator, are you?” he laughed, then splashed me right in the face like a little kid.
Two could play at that game, I thought as I splashed him back. I got him good, too, but he just laughed and swam a little closer.
“You pack a pretty good splash for a puny little runt,” he grinned.
I wasn’t smart enough not to take the bait. “Who are you calling a puny runt?” I shouted, splashing him again. He was just coming toward me and I could tell in his eyes he was going to dunk me, when I threw up my arms and yelled, “Okay, okay, I’m a puny little runt!”
He stopped coming toward me and grinned. “I guess I shouldn’t call you that now that you’ve had your birthday.”
“You’re darn right!” Alice said, coming to my defense.
“Well, happy birthday!”
“Thank you,” I laughed.
“Has it been a nice day?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s been a really nice day.” I glanced from him to Alice, then said, “Tomorrow, Elliott’s taking me to the mainland so I can call my family.”
“Oh,” Matthieu said, his face seeming to darken a little. “Does that mean you’ll be leaving us then?”
I’d felt uncertain about this as well, but now I knew I must go home. “Yes, I think so. My father is probably very upset with me and I need to make things right if I can.”
Matthieu nodded slightly. “You could always come back if you wanted to.”
“Yes, and maybe your family would like to visit you here,” Alice suggested.
“I’m not really sure how this is going to go down, to be honest. I hurt my family a lot by running away and not contacting them sooner. Now it’s time to face the music and try to make amends. I need their forgiveness.”
Again, I didn’t feel any sort of condemnation from either of them. They only showed me concern which made me feel worse about myself in a way because I didn’t think I deserved it.
“I really hope I haven’t waited too long.”
“I’m sure your father loves you and will perhaps be angry with you, but he’ll be glad to know you’re all right,” Alice reasoned.
“I hope so.”
“Alice is right, I’m sure of it,” Matthieu decided.
We swam and chatted for a bit longer but I could feel the day getting later and I wanted to think about things in more depth before facing my dad, even if it was only through the phone.
After I pulled my dress and apron on, I wandered around the beach and then around a grassy patch that was closer to the rear of the house. Kneeling, I saw a little bug and scooped it up, looking at it closely. I’d never been one to get spooked about such things. In fact, once, I found a little garter snake in the garden and I literally chased my dad around the yard with it.
I smiled, chuckling to myself as I recalled my dad’s expression; wide eyes and mouth shaped like a terrified “O” as he fled from me and Mister Snake. He sure could run fast!
Letting the bug go back to his tiny friends, I straightened up and stared out at the water. It was the prettiest color I think I’d ever seen and I absently wondered if my mom had seen this color when she named me. I liked to think that it was a color like this.
The later afternoon sun was still beating down, baking everything around me. Moving under the branches of a nearby tree, I took advantage of the shade it provided and inhaled deeply of the salty air. I had big things to do tomorrow. But today… who could ever have a problem on a gorgeous day like today?
That’s about the time I noticed Matthieu watching me. He was still on the beach in his underclothes and when I waved to him, he abruptly looked away and busied himself getting dressed, making me wonder what that was all about.
Before I went in to help Alice prepare dinner, I decided to visit with Dax. As the bookcase slid to the side, I knocked. When he acknowledged me, I went about, lighting the lanterns.
“What are you doing?” he nervously asked.
“I like a little bit of light, Dax.”
“Then go outside,” he said, but despite his words, he didn’t sound grumpy at all.
“I will if you come outside with me,” I challenged.
“Why are you here?” he asked, the tiniest of smiles curling his lips.
“I’m here to ask you to come to dinner. It’s my birthday and the only present I want is for you to eat a meal with me and your family.”
When he didn’t answer me right away, I resorted to begging. “Please, please, Dax. Come to dinner. It’s a simple thing. I’m only asking you to come to the main house. You lived there once.”
He shook his head. “You don’t understand. I can’t do it.”
Licking his lips, he hesitated, then firmly said, “You’re asking too much! It is not going to happen.”
Looking into those deep brown eyes, I said, “You’re right. I don’t understand it. In fact, I think it’s kind of selfish of you to hide away like this. Don’t you know your family loves you? They want you to emerge from this darkness and live your life … with them.”
He looked away from me as I spoke, seemingly staring at one of the paintings on the wall. I didn’t turn around to see which one but instead, kept my unwavering eyes on his face.
“Did my family say that?” he quietly asked.
Nodding, I said, “Elliott told me just today.”
“But not Agathe?”
Watching his downcast expression, I thought that even though I didn’t know the whole story, the key to changing things here seemed to lie with Agathe. Luckily for me, these people didn’t realize how stubborn I could be, too. I would find out every detail and try to help them fix this. I would.
“Agathe and I did speak today. She told me about the accident and how you, she and Elliott used to get into trouble playing in these secret rooms as children.”
A small smile instantly appeared as he seemed to remember a happier time. “We did. The three of us were inseparable as children. We got into a lot of trouble like that but we always had fun.”
Lowering my voice in an attempt to sound soothing, I softly said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to reminisce about those times with your siblings over a meal?”
He still seemed stubbornly resistant to the idea, but perhaps a little door had opened. “I can’t give you that present, but I do have a gift for you – for your birthday.”
He motioned for me to sit down as he pulled out a sketchpad and began to draw. I found it very difficult to sit there as I thought about the time that was passing and Alice making the evening meal by herself.
It took him less time than I expected and when he was finished, he timidly put it in my hands. I don’t know why, but as I gazed at the sketch, a lump filled my throat. How could someone who had shut out the world and everything in it make something this beautiful?
“It’s lovely,” I said around the lump, tears threatening to spill out of my eyes.
“Are you all right?” he asked with a tender voice.
I nodded, my eyes meeting his. Gently taking his hand, I explained to him what I had planned for the next day.
Pausing, he squeezed my hand slightly as he held onto it, then averted his eyes so that I couldn’t see his expression.
“You do understand why I have to do this, don’t you, Dax?”
His thumb stroked my fingers as he held them and his lower lip trembled slightly. Then, he took a deep breath and said, “I don’t want to see you go, but you have to do this. You have to go home and repair your relationship with your family above anything else.”
He held me close then, in such a way that I imagined he thought of me as something very delicate that he shouldn’t crush. Even so, I felt safe and the embrace soothed my harried nerves. Resting my head against his chest, I breathed in deeply the faint smell of soap and paint, wishing this moment would never end.
That night as I laid in bed with Dax’s sketch near me, my mind was filled with the excitement of knowing I might have my family back, but I also felt sad because I was beginning to realize that perhaps Dax was much more important to me than I had first realized.