A Vow Unsaidbyoxytoxin©
Author's Note: This is my first story, feedback is always welcome.
I can't remember a time in my life when he wasn't around. Patrick and I were born two days and two plantations apart. Our families were good friends and even better business partners. From the moment we were born, they dreamed of uniting their plantations just outside of Savannah, Georgia and producing another generation of devout Catholics. 1100 acres and 12 children total. Yes, it seemed Patrick and I were destined to be together.
He is a constant force in my childhood memories. Quiet, so quiet that you might forget he was there if it wasn't for his lanky, towering frame. At 19, he stands 6'2, dwarfing me at 5'5. One of my favorite things about Patrick was that he learned to respect me. My parents were traditional; they had strong convictions on what it meant to be a lady. I was educated alongside my older sister Elizabeth, but my parents discouraged my interest in mathematics. Instead, they attempted to re-direct my attentions to reading, sewing or dancing. They allowed me to draw until they discovered my drafts of a steam propelled rocket when I was about twelve. So we compromised with music and I became very accomplished in piano. The patterns appealed to me in the same way that mathematics did.
Patrick shook his head at my drafts at first, for he was my only audience. But when I fixed his model airplane, he was more accepting of my unladylike interests. And he loved to listen to me play piano and sing. It seems we spent countless hours like that, in the parlor. He would let his head fall back against the wingback chair and slowly close his eyes. Bach's concertos were his favorite. That was the only time I saw Patrick slump his shoulders, when he relaxed as I played piano.
As we grew older, these visits were restricted. In fact, Patrick and I were only allowed to spend time together when we were supervised by Elizabeth or his older sister Nora, who was Elizabeth's age. The four of us spent time together on occasion, but Elizabeth was very antisocial, she did not like to leave her room and was happiest when painting. She painted beautifully; her lines were clear and graceful, unlike my stark sketches. She painted portraits of Patrick every year for his birthday. I should think she would have been promised to him, had she not been deaf from birth. I believe she loved him but, being the noble soul she was, never gave the slightest indication of envy.
It would have just as well to have to two of the betrothed, for as much as I loved Patrick, Nora excited me much more.
Nora was beautiful and fierce like a summer storm. She had Patrick's green eyes and jet black hair. She was willowy like Patrick with an occasional, unmistakably feminine curve. Oh, Nora was too much for anyone to handle. She was sweeter than cane sugar when she wanted to be, but she could twist your arm by pursing her lips. I never saw anger distort her perfect features but over the years I noticed the tight-lipped manner she used to convey a cold rage, one that could freeze a well under the hot Georgia sun. Nora both fascinated and terrified me and I did my best to stay out of her way.
I couldn't help but stare at her, however. I'm sure she noticed this and when she happened to catch me, she smiled knowingly and sometimes she even winked! Winked! I was scandalized, imagining my mother's face if she ever knew Nora Kennedy winked at me.
Nora was promised to her cousin, Brennan Connolly. I only met him once; he lived in Atlanta, quite a source of embarrassment to the Kennedys. He was rough fellow, about eight years older than Nora. The Connollys used to live on a plantation just 6 miles north of us but Brennan's father was rumored to have propositioned young Sister Keenan over at Holy Cross Cathedral in Savannah. Naturally, this was the subject of much gossip and the Connollys moved to Atlanta where they managed a pub. Brennan was an only child; his mother died giving birth to his younger sister Claire. Claire was quite sickly and did not live past infancy. Brennan and his father were often at odds and when his father died in a bar room brawl, it was whispered in parlors all over the South that Brennan shot him. Regardless, Brennan was a surly and foul-tempered man who Nora disdained. My only encounter with him was during the Christmas Cotillion in Savannah last year. I met him outside in the east garden. Patrick and I were walking and we stumbled upon the two of them sitting by the fountain. It appeared that they were arguing and I could smell the whiskey on Brennan's breath as we approached them.
"I don't care if we are to be married, get your filthy hands off of me!" I shivered as Nora's cold rage made its way through my bones. Brennan laughed boisterously. I had known Patrick for all 19 years of my life and this was the only time I had seen him angry. He grabbed Brennan's arm and yanked him off of the fountain ledge, their footfalls unleashing echoes into the cold, stone courtyard. Patrick said through gritted teeth, "Let's go for a walk, shall we? Kaitlyn, could you please escort Nora inside?"
I internally snickered at the idea of anyone escorting Nora. I was certain she would have had no trouble deflecting Brennan's advances had Patrick and I not come upon them. But as we walked out of the East garden, she slipped her hand in mine. We came to a fork and she veered to the left, away from the ballroom and toward the harbor. "Enough dancing, let's walk awhile."
As much time as I had spent with Nora, I rarely received her full attention and certainly never on the bank of the moonlit Savannah river.
"Kaitlyn, do you love my brother?"
For some reason, this question brought a lump to my throat. I toyed with the pearls that fastened my gloves.
"I think so. I can't imagine loving anyone else."
Apparently this was a night for firsts, for Nora had nothing to say in response.
"Do you love Brennan?"
She laughed bitterly. "Absolutely not. But he's the only Connolly left."
"I'm sorry." I meant it, though I didn't know what else to say.
"Such is a woman's plight. I'll marry him on the first of April, love him or not."
I cringed, thinking of the night that would follow the first of April. Poor Nora, Brennan had leered at her all night, not even bothering to conceal his glances down her lacy white bodice. I watched him dance with her, his huge hands easily enveloping her slender waist. Brennan was enormous, as tall as Patrick yet much broader. He could break Nora in two and would probably try.
"Are you afraid?"
The cold rage returned her voice and she said "I'm terrified."
I had always thought Nora fearless but tonight, I turned to her and embraced her. My arms encircled her waist and she buried her face into my neck. I felt hot tears drip onto my collarbone and I felt her hands ball into fists, clutching the back of my dress. I reached up to stroke her beautiful jet black hair. She smelled like lavender and I shivered but not because I was cold.
We stood that way for a timeless moment as the waves slapped against the pillars of the harbor and the constellations cycled on.
That was the first Christmas I bought Nora a gift. I had always gotten gifts for Patrick, leather riding boots, neck ties, straight razors and once, a pocket watch. My father often bought him gifts as well, this year he bought a pearl handled pistol and my mother got him a new sport coat. But Nora was not as favored by our family, though she was always given something. This year, my mother bought her a rosary and a cookbook. Patrick's presents were easy; I bought him a Meerschaum pipe and some tobacco from the Turkish Exchange in Savannah. Patrick did not often smoke but I knew he would enjoy the pipe when he did. I spent much time contemplating what to get for Nora, but I decided on a silver locket. Over the years, we had posed for many photographs and I chose one from this past summer. In the photograph, Elizabeth and I stood beside Patrick and Nora. Nora and I were beside one another and so I reasoned that, in order to make the photograph fit, I would crop Patrick and Elizabeth out. So, perhaps it looked a little odd, giving her a locket with our photograph in it, we weren't terribly close. But it was a lovely photograph, we were both smiling and I thought Nora looked genuinely happy. Still, I had some queer misgivings, especially cropping Patrick out. In hindsight, I suppose that was fair warning.
Christmas Eve brought an annual feast. Duck in plum sauce, honeyed pineapple ham, iced tea, spinach salad with pecans, strawberries, peaches and bleu cheese crumbles and raspberry vinaigrette. Scallop potatoes, lemon drenched asparagus, Brussels sprouts with ham and blackberry cobbler with vanilla iced cream, pears in warm white wine sauce, coffee and brandy. The Kennedys joined us and we exchanged our gifts. Patrick gave me diamond earrings and seemed very pleased with his pipe. He squeezed my hand as we stood on the front porch while he tried it out with my father and Mr. Kennedy. My father and Mr. Kennedy exchanged pocketbooks, as they do every year. My mother bought Mrs. Kennedy French soap and Mrs. Kennedy gave her a fruit basket from Florida. I could not find the courage to give Nora her gift; it was nestled in a tiny box in the inner pocket of my evening gown. I had resigned myself to giving it to her tonight and was on my way to the slave quarters with 3 baskets full of smuggled leftovers from dinner when she accosted me in the south field.
"Where on earth are you going?"
I blushed and unable to think of an excuse for traipsing around the grounds at 9:00 PM, admitted, "Slaves quarters."
She noticed the baskets and her expression softened. "Let me take one of those for you." Her hand brushed mine and I suddenly lost my breath. "Thanks" I whispered. The only sound was the rustling of our skirts as we walked. Scattered stars illuminated the night sky, I could see fairly well.
There was a dim glow of a lantern in the largest shack; it appeared the slaves were having a Christmas dinner as well. Three families live on our plantation; each occupies a small shack in the south field. Although I wasn't fully conscious of it, the treatment of those families never sat well with me and I had been apprehended for socializing with the slaves since childhood. I heard laughter as I knocked on the knotted oak door. Poppy answered and seeing the baskets, flashed me a toothless grin. He was the oldest slave we owned, older than my father.
"Thank ya so much miz Kerrigan. Have a merry Chrismiz!"
As we walked back across the south field, Nora stopped suddenly, a touched my arm. "Kaitlyn, you are so brave."
To hear Nora Kennedy call me brave was absurd. I had to laugh.
She frowned. "What's so funny?"
I chuckled. "I'm not brave."
"Yes you are. It's beautiful. I couldn't ask for a more beautiful sister-in-law. Patrick is so lucky to have you."
"Oh Nora." My fingers curled around her slight wrist. I suddenly remembered her gift.
"I have something for you," I said as I rummaged through my pocket. I pulled out the tiny box and handed it to her.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she slowly opened it. She smiled, and touched the locket which gleamed in the moonlight. "It's wonderful," she said and began to open it. I stopped her, touching her hand. "Wait," I said, "you won't be able to see it out here. Open it when you are at home in your bedroom." Nora laughed, "alright" she said. But her voice faltered as she said "Kaitlyn, I have nothing for you."
"That's alright" I said. "We've never gotten each other gifts before."
"This," said Nora "is what I meant when I said that you are brave."
She kissed me on the cheek as we made our way across the south field and back to the house.
Nora and I continued to spend time together as April loomed overhead. Some days she was the fearless Nora from my childhood. On those days, her sharp wit cut through the cold winter air and her smile was bright enough to warm the hearth. Other days she was uncharacteristically quiet and when she did speak, her voice was so soft that it was barely audible. She grew thinner as February drew to a close. On March first, she received me in her parlor, barely holding back tears. I embraced her and stroked her jet black hair, reveling in her lavender scent. We sat like that for an hour before she spoke, in a hushed tone.
"Play piano for me."
I nodded and walked over to the piano. I began a nocturne, Chopin's C sharp minor. Suddenly, I felt her beside me, leaning her head on my shoulder as I played. She was crying.
I finished the piece and wrapped my arms around her. I felt a warm stirring within me and fought back an urge to tilt her chin toward me. I kissed the top of her head, wishing I could shield her from her fate. I felt her fingers tightening their grip on my upper arm. A wave of shock washed over me.
"Promise me something."
"Anything" I answered.
"Please, just be there with me, on my wedding day."
"Of course my love." The words slipped but they seemed to fit. She breathed a sigh of relief. She took my hand and we walked over to the settee where she drifted off to sleep with her head on my shoulder, her hand on my thigh and her voice in my heart.
It rained the morning of April first. By 9:00 AM, the sun had resurfaced and beat down on the wet earth, soliciting a thin sheet of mist that floated just above the ground. Light filtered through the moss-laden oaks, splashing patches of brightness throughout the shady courtyard. Nora's wedding was held at Holy Cross Cathedral in Savannah. Patrick, Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, myself and one of Brennan's cousins, were the only ones in attendance. Brennan was clean shaven but reeked of cologne and tobacco. Better yet, I caught a whiff of whiskey as he brushed by me in the lobby of the church. Nora looked absolutely stunning in white and through her veil I could see her face. Her jaw was set and her eyes were hard and icy. She was more beautiful than ever, but almost frightening.
Mrs. Kennedy had a blue silk dress made for me. White lilies adorned the alter and candles burned on each side, occasionally dripping wax that solidified on the sides. Father Landon read from a battered bible. The entire ceremony was a bit of a blur. I watched Brennan fumbling with Nora's ring, a gold band with a large ruby. It was too large and I watched it slipping when she withdrew her hand. When it came time for Brennan to kiss Nora, she stood stock still, not making a move toward him. He simply smiled and closed the gap between them but Nora did not budge. He kissed her and I suddenly felt very ill and warm.
As they walked down the Cathedral steps, arm in arm, Brennan dug into his pocket and tossed out a handful of coins to some of the townspeople who had gathered outside the cathedral. We returned to the Kennedy's plantation for wedding breakfast. Brennan's cousin Brian and Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy shared a coach while Patrick and I rode in another. Brennan and Nora rode in a more lavish wedding carriage, with Brennan sneaking peeks up Nora's dress as he assisted her. On the ride out, Patrick wrapped his arm around me and I knew he was thinking of our wedding which would be at this time next year. I usually found Patrick's touch comforting as he was always the perfect gentleman but for some reason, I was particularly conscious of the heaviness of his arm on my shoulder. He smelled lovely, like leather and peppermint but I longed for Nora's lavender scent. I leaned into him, wishing he was Nora and a realization coursed through me, robbing me of my breath.
I was in love with Nora Kennedy. Now Nora Connolly.
What could it mean?
"Patrick," I murmured "are you worried about Nora?" For a moment, he didn't answer and I wondered if he'd heard me over the clattering of our coach.
"Terribly" he said "but I suppose that's natural enough. It's hard to imagine a man worthy of her."
What he did not say was just how unworthy Brennan Connolly was.
Nora was packing her most precious belongings in a small trunk that would accompany her to Atlanta where she would live with her new husband.
Mrs. Connolly. The name didn't suit her at all. Nora was not a "Mrs." She was so frail, she had grown thinner still in apprehension of her wedding day. Her beautiful features were harsher now and she had dark circles under her eyes.
I sat helplessly on her bed as she moved listlessly about the room. She was going to be absolutely catatonic tonight, when Brennan would exercise his marital rights for the first time.
"...and I hardly have room for my violin. How I will miss hearing you play!"
I ripped my mind from its horrid imaginations of Nora's wedding night as I realized she was speaking to me. "Oh Nora, Patrick and I will visit. He is going to miss you terribly."
She gave a weak, close-lipped smile. "What about you?"
I stood and walked over to her, placing my hand on her breast, just over the locket I had given her. "I will miss you even more." Her lips were inches away, our foreheads were touching. Nora's breathing had become ragged and I felt her rise and fall beneath my hand. She leaned toward me and I parted my lips.
"Nora!" Brennan called from down the hall and was soon pounding on her door. "Hurry, won't you? It'll be dark within and few hours and we have got to reach Statesboro by nightfall."
Nora sighed and let her head fall onto my shoulder. I gripped her waist and fought back tears, threatening to betray the fury within me. She rose from my shoulder and cupped my cheek in one hand, leaning in to kiss me chastely on the lips. I felt as if I might faint. A pressure built within me, concentrating itself just below my stomach. Nora seemed to radiate heat, I felt very warm.
I walked out to the front porch with her. She kissed her mother and father and Patrick good-bye. Patrick smiled as he said good-bye but he looked very sad. Brennan shook hands with Mr. Kennedy and Patrick and tipped his hat to Mrs. Kennedy and I. He grinned, brimming with insincerity and contempt. Nora turned, hugged me and kissed my cheek. "Good-bye Kaitlyn." Her voice broke.
I stood with Patrick as we watched their carriage disappear over the horizon.
That night, Nora appeared in my dreams. We were in her room again, but this time we were not interrupted. And again, she kissed me, but not so chastely. I felt my mouth go slack and open for her and she pressed herself against me, untying the strings of my bodice as she gently explored my mouth. She pushed me to her bed, never breaking our kiss. We slowly tugged, unbuttoned and lifted until all of our garments were removed. She was naked above me. And she was smiling, the first smile I had seen since I gave her the locket on Christmas. She began to move over me and I felt a tightening between my legs, her fingers were inside me. She was breathing heavily and kissing my neck. My hands were buried in her hair, clenching fistfuls of it as I arched my back. The tightening progressed and I felt something within me burst, something long buried that was just now breaking the surface. I cried out and writhed beneath her. She leaned in to kiss me again when I awoke, breast heaving and ensnared in my sweat-drenched sheets.
Patrick tucked his pistol into the holster of his dark green slacks. He looked very handsome in uniform; he had even grown a mustache. We were waiting for our coach outside in the cool October night, in front of the Harbor Grand Ballroom where we had attended a costume party. Patrick was dressed as an officer and I as an officer's wife. Both of us had a bit of brandy and we were quite warm. Patrick offered his hand as I stepped into the coach. Inside he wrapped his arm around me and I snuggled closer to him, out of habit. I was nodding off to sleep when he kissed me.