Dear Diary, lately I’ve been so busy, I totally forgot it was my birthday. When I finally remembered, it was right before the event that would transform me into a young adult. In the past, my birthdays always worried me. I didn’t care much for the idea of growing up and taking on adult responsibilities, whatever they were. I think I also didn’t like the idea of things changing. The future brings with it uncertainty and confusion, in my opinion, and I just never wanted to face it. As I faced this birthday, though, I was filled with a different sort of trepidation because my life had changed and I was to blame.
Instead of really living the life that I’d been given, I’d only just sort of walked through it as if in a dream, my feet never on the ground, in reality. Everything had been handed to me as if I deserved it and I turned my nose up so high, never looking back down, that I missed a lot of what was really happening. Sure, I’d suffered a lot of hurts, some of which I still haven’t even written about yet because it’s too painful still. But did those wrongs against me outweigh all of the good so much that I couldn’t even appreciate the life around me or the people in it?
And that’s what I began to focus on: I never appreciated any of it. The entire time I was growing up, I thought only of myself and what I needed and what I wanted. I loved my dad and still do, but I never did much to show him how much he meant to me, I don’t think. Up until recently, I’d been pretty good at pushing thoughts like that away so that I wouldn’t feel guilty. But ever since Matthieu had that talk with me in the garden about other peoples’ feelings, and also since really meeting Dax, I couldn’t help but dwell on the things I’d missed seeing.
Things like… how much my dad sacrificed and provided for me. He took care of me when my real mom dropped me off at my grandparents’ for good. Even though he was just a teenager himself at the time, he took responsibility for me and made sure I had the love and things I needed. Thinking about that made me feel even more terrible because in my teen years, I hadn’t taken responsibility for anything, let alone a kid.
Dad also quit his career as a rock star, which, I must say, was pretty lucrative, all because I wanted what I thought would be a ‘normal’ life. During my elementary and high school days, I held a grudge over incidents that happened to me because I was a famous guy’s daughter. But he didn’t even know anything about them because instead of talking to him about it all, I held tightly onto my grievances as if they were my best friends.
Other things? Although I worked after school at For Goodness Cakes, which was a bakery owned by my step-mother, I didn’t even appreciate that a job was handed to me on a platter. It wasn’t just a job that paid, but while working there, I learned how to bake and make all kinds of things that are benefiting me now in the Winchester Farming Community.
I know the list goes on, but it really makes my heart hurt to think that I played a part … no that’s not right. I didn’t just play a part, I am the cause. I’m sure my dad must be terribly worried and beside himself wondering where I am or if I’m alive. I wish I could push my shame aside and reach out to him. When I last saw him, I think he was coming down with the flu and I can’t stand the thought of the grief I caused him when he was sick.
These were the things I was thinking the day of my birthday as I rode my favorite horse, Kelty. She was about the only thing I really enjoyed these days.
As I was coming back into the barnyard, I felt a strange tingle. It took me a moment to realize what was happening.
Quickly, I dismounted and hurried into the barn. This was a moment that I felt I deserved to be alone for. No one should celebrate this day with a wretch like me.
When it was over, something in me felt a little different. Did all new young adults feel different or was it just in my head?
It felt like… like it was time to own up to some things. Agathe had been wanting to have a talk with me since she’d caught me with Dax. Perhaps this was the right time to sit down with her and tell her a few things. If I did that, I could gauge her reaction and possibly tell her more. She was prickly and everyone stepped on eggshells around her, but I needed to buck up and do this.
I was surprised when I found her in the front parlor. She was seated in her favorite chair by the window with her sewing basket and her hair was arranged loosely around her face. She still looked stern, but having her hair like that made her seem more, I don’t know. Human.
“Sit down, Hester.”
“Thank you. I will, but, if you don’t mind, there are some things I’d like to talk to you about. I know you have things you want to say to me, but I’d really like to start.”
All she gave me was a slight nod, so I sat and began.
“Thank you,” I repeated, resisting the urge to wipe my sweaty palms on my apron. Buck up, I reminded myself and somehow, I could hear my great-aunt Keniesha saying that very thing to me. “I wanted to tell you – to tell you how sorry I am.”
She raised an eyebrow but silently waited for me to continue.
In a way, that made me even more nervous. “I’m sorry because I intruded here where I so obviously don’t belong. I shouldn’t have imposed any longer when I realized you weren’t the one who sent for me with the note. And I would like to thank you for not insisting I leave.”
Clearing my throat, I could see her mouth was that thin line again, in a slight frown. My original intention was to come clean about everything, but now I wasn’t so sure if I should. But then, would Agathe seemed displeased with me no matter what I did?
“You see, I needed this time here. I know it’s been terrible for you to have me in your house when I’ve been so awful. I just really needed you to know that I’m beginning to understand these things and I want to do better.”
She stared at me for a moment and I couldn’t really tell if she was smiling or scowling at me. That’s how hard she was for me to read.
Finally, she said, “I accept your apology and I am very glad you wish to improve yourself. However, I wish to apologize to you, too. I see now that I could have been… kinder. I’m not used to children or teens in this house, especially from outside this community.”
“I understand,” I said quickly. Could it be that Agathe was not the severely hard person I thought she was?
“Can I ask you something, Miss Agathe?”
“Just ‘Agathe’ is fine. And yes, you may.”
“Well, you’re hair looks so pretty like this. I was wondering why you aren’t wearing your kerchief?”
“I have business to attend to today and I’m going visiting in a while to see the new Delattre baby. You don’t do these things wearing the same clothes you clean in.”
That made sense to me. There was something else that had been eating at me that I wanted to know about. One side of me said to just be quiet and be glad about how far I got with her. The other side couldn’t resist asking. It was too easy for me to give in to the pushy side. “What happened to Dax? And why does he live in the dark like that?”
Something passed through her eyes and even though it was only briefly seen by me, it registered as – oh what was the word? Regret? I wasn’t sure, but it made her icy blue eyes seem a little less cold.
She looked outside the window for a moment as she said, “He fell from his horse when he was a teen and his face was scarred when he landed on the fence.” I could see her swallow hard. Even though she kept her emotions in check, there was the undercurrent of what I’d seen in her eyes a minute ago; it was even more prominent now. “We didn’t think he was going to live and he nearly lost an eye. Mama had instructed me to go with him but I disobeyed to meet a friend instead.” She let out a slow breath and folded her hands in her lap, staring down at them. “After he was better, it was as if he had become a different person. Before the accident, he was warm and friendly. Afterward, he retreated more and more over time into the darkness until he never came out at all.”
“I’m so sorry,” I murmured. What does one say in that kind of situation? Upon learning of the circumstances, my heart broke a little for Agathe and Dax. It was clear that Agathe felt responsible for what happened to her brother. I’m sure no one blamed her as it was an accident. I’d been taking riding lessons for a very long time and felt experienced in the area, but you didn’t always know what an animal was going to do.
Then, I wondered how this had affected Elliott. Was there a reason he might feel responsible, too? It was just so sad and unfortunate.
She waved her hand at me slightly as if to dismiss my apology. “Those rooms he occupies were never meant to be living quarters. We used to get in trouble for playing there as children.”
I perked up at this as I had the hardest time imagining Agathe as a mischievous child. “What were the rooms for?” I asked. It seemed so strange to have all of those secret bookcases.
“Well, I believe the rooms were always there. I mean that they were designed by the St. Cyr who built this house. It wasn’t until the Lukewarm War that the secret entrances were made. You see, there were many people trying to escape from the Mainland because that region had become occupied by the enemy. Some of the community there knew about our island because, upon occasion, we’d traded with them.”
I began to get really excited then because I’d learned about this in school. Plus, my great-grandfather had fought in the Lukewarm War. (On the side of the goodies, of course.) “You mean this was one of the sites that hid citizens so they wouldn’t be carted off when their towns were captured?”
When she nodded, I think I grinned a little too widely. It was just so neat to be in a spot of real history.
“Before you go, there is something more I’d like to say,” Agathe said. “I want to tell you happy birthday.”
I could feel my face turning red when she acknowledged my special day. “Thank you.”
“You’re quite lovely. When I first met you, it seemed to me you were very near becoming an adult. That is why I didn’t press you further about where you had come from. But if there is anything you would like to tell me now, please do.”
I contemplated this as I studied her face. Could I really talk to her? Trust her? She seemed so much more approachable now than she had before, as if a door had opened between us.
Feeling especially nervous, but also thinking I needed to test the waters, I slowly said, “My name isn’t Hester Prynne.”
Again, was that a smile or a scowl? After what seemed like an eternity, her mouth curved into an unmistakable smile, even if it was still a bit sour. “Yes, I know. I was just waiting for you to say as much.”
Slowly, I let out my breath, my nerves calming a little more.
“We may be very isolated, but not so much that we do not have access to classic literature. I take it you have read The Scarlet Letter.”
I nodded. “I really like Nathaniel Hawthorne. The House of Seven Gables is my favorite, though.”
“Then perhaps you should have said your name was Hepzibah Pyncheon,” she said with a chuckle in her voice.
I laughed, but that’s when it occurred to me that perhaps Agathe herself was a little like Hepzibah Pyncheon. Hepzibah was so nearsighted, her expression was locked in a permanent scowl. Because of this her customers were too scared to shop in her small store. Even so, she had a good heart and took good care of her brother. It did seem kind of like a description of the Agathe I was beginning to know and understand.
We both stood then and Agathe said, “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me your true name?”
Hesitating, I glanced at my feet for a moment. If I was truly turning over a new leaf, then this was the time to come clean. But there couldn’t be that many people, if any, that shared my name. Would she recognize it if I told her? Would she tell my family where I was? Then a thought occurred to me. Would that be so bad if she did?
“My name is Blue Capra.”
“Blue. That’s an interesting name.”
“Have you ever heard it before?”
Shaking her head, she said, “No, I can’t say that I have. Is there anything else?”
“Yes, one more thing,” I ventured. “Could I please have my note back?”
Agathe seemed very reluctant to comply with my request. “I will not order it, but I wish you would not pursue this, Blue.”
“But why? It’s what brought me here.”
“You haven’t any idea where it might lead you.”
“Then please, tell me,” I begged. “I really need to know. Something inside me tells me that I have to find out.”
She sighed and walked over to her desk, reaching into a little gilded box. “Very well, but don’t say you were not warned.”
As I took the note from her, I looked it over again. The tattered edges, the strong, male handwriting. “If it’s dangerous or something, why don’t you just tell me what it’s all about?”
“No, that’s not possible. I don’t want to discuss it. Just know that you are better off leaving it alone.”
“Agathe, please! Please tell me who wrote this!”
“No Name! No Name wrote it.” As soon as she said this, she covered her mouth with her hand as if she was belatedly trying to hold the words in. But they had already escaped and they left me more confused than ever. She wouldn’t speak about it any further and quickly excused herself to tend to her business.
Since it was a more leisurely day, Alice and I let our hair down. Literally. Well, I tried putting my unruly hair into a loose bun because I thought it might look nice, but almost as soon as I walked outside into the humidity, wisps of hair began to fall out and curl around my face.
Alice was so pretty. It was really the first time I’d gotten to see her hair other then when it was late at night and we were getting ready for bed. But during those moments, it was dark and I couldn’t see her very well.
Now, we’d gone deep into the woods to find herbs and things that Alice said were good for healing. She said everyone kept these things in their homes as it was widely known in the community which herb or root was for what. I was eager to learn about this as it seemed so interesting.
Of course, though, the first thing I asked Alice about was No Name. You should have seen her expression. She gasped and looked at me with the same face someone would use if you said the worst four letter word in the world and they weren’t expecting it.
She immediately shushed me and told me never to mention him again. I wanted to know him who. But there was no use trying to get it out of her as the more I prodded, the more I was sure she would faint.
As quickly as she could, she told me happy birthday. Then she fawned over how lovely I was with my dark hair and green eyes. I guess you could say that I thought I’d grown into my looks all right. But it was Alice who was the real beauty here, in my opinion. I asked her why she wasn’t married and she told me that she’d never desired it.
“It’s strange to me how tall you are now, Blue,” she said with a soft smile that lit up her eyes. “Why, we’re almost the same height now!”
I smiled back at her and picked a few green plants from the ground that she pointed at. It pleased me that she used my real name. Luckily, no one seemed angry with me for lying. But then, I suppose they all knew I couldn’t be named Hester Prynne.
“That’s Emerald Mallow,” she said. “It’s used in tea for inflammation. We try to keep plenty in the house in case of basic aches and pains.”
I imagined Emerald Mallow must be very useful with strained muscles caused by the hard labor everyone did, so I gathered extra.
We walked a little further, choosing bunches of this and that when we came upon a pretty flower growing with weeds around it.
“What is this? Should I get some of it?”
She nodded. “Oh yes. That’s Feliaron which we use in a poultice on wounds. It helps keep infection at bay and promotes healing. Oh, and grab some of the Demon Grass growing around it. That is very important to know. When you see it, always pick it. It’s a powerful pain reliever.”
Demon Grass? I pulled all of it I saw and sniffed it, drawing back quickly. “Ewwww…. it stinks!”
She giggled. “Doesn’t it, though?”
Grimacing, I dropped the nasty smelling grass in the basket and wondered if it made you high. When I asked Alice she laughed heartily and denied that it would do such a thing.
After a while, we came upon a clearing where there was an inlet of water. It was so peacefully beautiful that we just stood there, admiring it. Across the water were rolling hills with golden fields of hay. In the distance were jagged mountains rising out of the ground like giants preparing for war.
I was so mesmerized that I didn’t notice at first a man walking toward us, down the beach.
“Who is that?” I asked, squinting as if that would help me see better.
Alice glanced in the man’s direction then back at the water. “Oh that’s Elliott. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him.”
Elliott? I raised a hand to shield my eyes from the sun. As Elliott came closer, I could make out his rugged, bearded jaw. I supposed I didn’t recognize him because he wasn’t wearing his hat. When had he become so handsome?
Author’s Note: Join me next week when Blue’s birthday continues with Chapter 3.6: Dear Diary, Elliott Takes Interest.