"He is finally at peace..."
Mary said as Eric and her placed their hands on the young man's bleeding chest. His large blue eyes staring upward laying among the shattered pieces of glass and bullets.
"Benjamin, I would like you to meet your fiancé' Autumn Anderson."
Benjamin did a double take, completely taken off guard at his father's annual 4th of July party. Standing by the punch bowl, as usual he stood back watching with a highly amused smirk as he watched his younger brothers chase the Anderson twins across the lawn to dance. Always being the withdrawn and shy one out of the brothers. He suspected that he would be out on the battlefield, fighting for the South. Still, what feared him the most was the fact his brothers would be joining him. Ever since his mother's passing, he felt responsible for the two of them. His father was a good man, but struggled to keep the farm afloat, as well as his orchards. The only thing that truly kept the farm going was the fact his father was a kind generous business man, and had done so many people in their state favors in times of need. Now that there were money troubles, he still remained keeping his head up, forever a proud and noble man. He insisted that he would have everything work out, and still held these silly parties for his associates and friends. Ben, always a practical young man found this a terrible waste of time and money.
Tonight was important though.
Just last month Mr. Anderson, a successful business man who once many years ago had gone to school with his father, who owned a small lumber mill East of the state, came to speak with his father over what he called a "business opportunity". That evening, both men invited Benjamin who had spent the morning in the orchards picking fruit. Dirty, exhausted, and wanting a bath, he came in more than a little suspicious. Here they both informed him that they had a plan. Mr. Anderson had advancing cancer. The doctors' weren't too sure how long he had, but he wanted to make sure his only child, his daughter Autumn married off to a practical, responsible, hard working man who could maintain his lumber business, as well as be a good husband and match to his daughter. He explained Autumn was a spit fire, a bit of a wild child, but nevertheless needed a good husband. His wife worried that she wouldn't find the right suitor in time, so he decided if he agreed, he would relieve his father of all debts, and he would be new official owner to his lumber mill, a successful, and well rounded company in the state. At first Benjamin was furious. He shook his head, and began to pace his father's study, shouting that they had no right to pick his future. He had never been with a girl before, and had always been so busy looking after his brothers, and minding the farm that such matters never interested him. Now at age twenty-three he knew most men his age were married with several children all ready. He had seen Mr. Madison's daughter only in passing. Still may she be beautiful, he couldn't accept that this was his life now, married off to a stranger, with the weight of everything on his shoulders. How could he love someone he never knew?
That night his father poured his a scotch, something he rarely did, and sat down with him.
"Ben, I'm going to give it to you straight. When you're mother died...I was devastated, and didn't property take care of the farm and it slipped through my fingers. I know you are a good man...you have helped raise your brothers, and be my aid...but we're running out of choices. Autumn is a bright, beautiful woman. Marry her, and give Mr. Anderson a grandchild...an heir and we'll be set for the rest of our lives...please..."
He never saw his father so desperate, not even when mother died.
Sitting back, Ben stared at the flicking flames of the fire, before nodding.
Everything after that went by in a flash. Tonight, for the first time ever, he was officially going to meet his fiancé'. His father had given him his mother's antique ring, one of the few nice family heirlooms they still owned. The plan was that they would meet tonight, he would give her the ring, and less than two weeks later they would be married. There was a small guest house just on the edge of the orchards that his father said they could live in for the remainder of the summer before relocating to Mr. Anderson's estate. Mrs. Anderson had family down in Texas, and since her father had taken ill rarely spent time at her home. The plan was both of the Anderson's would move, while Benjamin and Autumn would make the Anderson house their new home, while Ben oversaw the daily use of the mill. With the war looming, anything could change. Never feeling more nervous before in his life, his stomach flipped as he stood back in his wool suit, feeling sweat begin to form across his forehead.
That's when he saw her.
She was sixteen, and absolutely beautiful. Green eyes, black hair, tanned skin. She wore a dark rose colored dress, her hair in a bun, and dangling unusual earrings jiggling, catching the lights strung outside by the lanterns.
Mr. Anderson smiled, before introducing his daughter.
"Auttum, this is Benjamin Block."
Autumn raised one of her dark eyebrows, looking Ben slowly up and down, making him uncomfortable. Then her full lips curved into a smile before she offered her lace gloved hand.
"So this is my future husband?"
Benjamin nervously eyed his father before Mr. North burst out laughing and rolled his eyes.
"Didn't I tell you she's a pistol? Now you two go and talk some, get to know each other. Lord knows there will be some planning ahead of us."
Mr. Block joined laughing before standing back with his old friend.
"They sure do make a very attractive couple! Just wait until we see those grandchildren huh Lawrence?!"
Mr. Anderson laughed before telling Ben's father he would get him a drink. The two older men laughed, walking away joining the others who were dancing underneath the weeping willows. It was a hot sticky night, and fireflies flew through the still night air. Now alone, Ben suddenly felt overwhelmed. His heart hammering, he looked at her before clearing his throat and gently taking her hand.
"Pleased to meet you Ms..."
"Autumn please, seeing that we're too be wed in two weeks we outta call each other by our God given names."
Ben blinked, before not knowing if he should kiss her hand, or shake it. Puzzled, he stood back speechless, before Autumn laughed. It was a healthy, happy laugh that instantly made Ben's nerves go to ease. Nervously he gave a half smirk, and looked around. Autumn didn't seem like the other girls from church. She was different...
Rolling her eyes, looking a lot like her father, she joined Ben by his side, and linked her arm into his, catching him off guard.
"Can you believe this mess our parents got ourselves into? My mother is afraid I'm going to end up a spinster, and you're father is broke...so here we are."
"Ms...I mean Autumn, I..."
Auttum shook her head.
"It's fine. We're set up for an arrange married. Could be worse...I could be marrying Mr. Lincoln, the seventy year old lawyer of my father's...so that's something."
Ben stared, still speechless before Autumn winked at him and squeezed his arm.
"Walk me around your property Benjamin...I find these parties a bore..."
Benjamin blinked, before nodding and slowly started to walk with her. He certainly he never met someone like her before...
Ten months later...
Benjamin rocked back and forth, hands clasped together, waiting on the front porch of the guest house Autumn and him had moved into on their wedding night. Playing with his wedding band, he sighed, and stared ahead. These last ten months had certainly been a whirlwind. It took awhile to get used to the type of girl Autumn was, but she slowly helped him get out of his shell. She was feisty, playful, even a tomboy at times. Remembering back at their wedding night and her racing out to swim in the pond when the heat was too unbearable, he couldn't help but give a small smile. He remembered how nervous he had been, never having even kissed a girl before. He explored her body, and couldn't believe how good things could feel. Autumn brought him happiness, made him laugh, and made him see a whole new side of things.
She adored his brothers. made him laugh, and most nights the two would lay out underneath the stars, petting each other's hair, and talking for hours on end. Mr. Anderson was will basically running his mill, and besides a few board meetings, Benjamin still was able to remain at his father's farm with Autumn. He loved being close to his brothers, and after they learned Autumn was with child they decided to stay there until the baby was born.
Just a few hours ago he crawled into bed, as she laid there, her nightgown open, rubbing her large swollen stomach. Smiling, he nuzzled her belly feeling the baby he had put inside there kick. He was dirty from working in the orchards, and began to slowly kiss Autumn when she cried out. Frozen, he pulled back asking what was wrong? That's when he saw the blood soaking into the sheets. He ran for the doctor, and now hours later he remained outside as the doctor, and two of his father's maids worked with Autumn inside. Twice he so badly wanted to go in and be with her, but each time the women stopped him, blocking his view from the doorway insisting that a man's place was outside, that nature was taking it's course.
Sitting there, he stared at his hands and slowly began to hum Beautiful Dreamer, the song Autumn usually hummed whenever she was sewing or reading in their cozy little house. That's when the door opened. The doctor stood, his sleeves pushed up, blood slicked up to his elbows. Standing straight up, Ben almost tripped. Instantly he knew something was wrong.
"Auttum? Is she okay?"
The doctor dropped his eyes.
"She's fine, resting...I'm sorry Benjamin...but the baby was stillborn."
Benjamin blinked, not certain he had heard right.
"It was dead Benjamin, died in her womb. There was nothing we could do. She'll be able to bare children in time, but she needs to recover, she lost a great deal of blood. I'll inform your father and we'll fetch the priest. I'm so sorry..." As the doctor passed him, Benjamin felt the world spin. In these ten months he had fallen so head over heels in love with his curious young girl. He found his soulmate, and both had conceived this child he suspected on their wedding night. He had watched as her body grew full with this life, and he counted down the days until he would become a father, and his sons would become uncles. Feeling the world swim, he took a second and swayed before walking back inside. He saw one of the maids, June carrying a blood stained bundle of bedding. That's when he knew that was his child. Stopping, he stared at her. June, a kind old woman glanced up at him.
"I'm so sorry Benjamin."
Benjamin stood before her, before looking down. Slowly, June opened the blanket, revealing the dead infant. It was a grayish color, eyes shut, tiny like a doll.
"Was it a boy or a girl?"
"A son...I'm sorry. The doctor said to bring it to the main house and have the priest bless it. Do you have a name?"
Remembering just the other night while Autumn and him bathed together in the tub that sat in the middle of their house, her body laying against his, as he used a washcloth to rub her smooth swollen stomach, both had been talking names. devastated, he reached down and gently touched the dead infant's cheek which was still warm.
June nodded, before closing the blanket and hurrying away. Looking forward, feeling his heart ache he stared inside the one bedroom, where he had spent so many passionate nights with Autumn. He remembered how frightened he was, and how Autumn loosely wrapped her arms around him, guiding him down. Staring in, he saw the other maid, Marry bundle up the blood stained bedding. The bed was changed, and Autumn laid in it, pale, and her sweaty hair pushed back. Instantly Mary looked in and sighed.
"The doctor gave her something, she won't be awake long...she needs to rest."
Benjamin nodded before slowly walking forward. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he looked down and felt his heart break. His beauitfuil wife looked so much younger, a child herself who had been put through Hell. Her face was pale, circles under her eyes, and her hair pooled out. Slowly her eyelids fluttered open.
She said weakly. Benjamin reached and squeezed her hand.
"I'm here darling..."
"Did you see him? Wasn't he beautiful?"
Fighting back tears, Benjamin stared forward and nodded.
To Benjamin, this tragedy would just be more fuel to try and make this wrong right. He would make another child with his wife, and try to move on from this terrible loss he wasn't prepared for. Taking her hand, he pressed it against his face and kissed it, snapping his eyes shut and feeling all of the grief he ever had well up inside of him and explode. Lowering his head, he sobbed for his dead son, and his poor weak wife...feeling that he was cursed, trapped in Hell. Little did Ben know, that Hell was waiting him in less than eight years...
To be continued...