The prodigal author returns…once again.
Can I just start off by saying how much I miss you? (My, how you've grown!) I know this hasn't been updated since like…JFK was president but as part of my New Year's Resolutions, I decided that I will finally go out on a hot date with my Glory DVD (because let's face it, that movie's way too cool for Netflix) and write something mildly worthy of your attention. And then I fell in love with it again, and used up two boxes of tissues while watching this. Oh no, this story's not dead. University be damned. This is my childhood, and I will write this thing until I'm bloody well finished with it.
This I vow.
So, if you, my dear readers, will agree to forgive me for the billionth time (or let me wallow in my own lethargy) then we will continue to blaze this trail.
I miss this, really very much.
And also, thank you still for those of you who keep checking on me, it's beyond sweet. Due to the enormous jumble of reviews I have, I won't be able to respond to them on *this* chapter update, but I will resume my post on the following (I hope to update as often as your favorite TV show) chapter.
Blame it on big kid school, guys.
Thank you all so much, and, welcome back. :)
I turned around only after I bumped into the buffet table thatwas layered with extravagant meats and cheeses, cakes, and fragile creampuffs. I knew exactly who it was, and I didn't have to keep my eyes on him to know that the person whose hand rested on my shoulder was not entirely pleased with me.
I suddenly became fascinated with the floor, avoiding his eyes, like a kid squirming in front of the principle. I tugged subconsciously on the ribbon Robert gave me eons ago.
Marty was pinching the bridge of his nose and staring at me with a semi-vacant expression. Yeah. That's all he did.
And he stared.
And then he stared some more.
Finally, finally –
"Alex." He said when he finally did open his mouth. "What are you doing?"
I leaned back against the table, resisting the urge to stuff my face with chocolate creampuffs. "It's nice to see you, Marty! Why yes, I'm fine, thank you! How have you been, good? That's great to hear."
He made a face.
"I'm sorry." He said uninterestedly, as if waking up from a trance. I noticed he was wearing a dark brown suit. "I never ask those questions anymore. We know exactly how you've been doing. Every damn breath you take is monitored."
I'm sure Oprah would have a thing or two to say about such stalker-ness. "Uh-huh."
He ignored me. "And I've got some good news for you, Rio."
His tone was very flat, and something about the way he delivered that line made me nervous.
"You clean up nice, by the way." He added, beckoning at my ball gown with a insultingly surprised raise of his eyebrows.
I realized he didn't really want to give me the said 'good news' and was trying to prolong the process with a compliment.
"Thanks. You too."
But, unfortunately, duty calls.
"Alex, I came to take you home." He said bluntly.
What? I must have misheard him, and I shook my head to show that I didn't understand. Obviously.
He no longer avoided my eyes. "It's time to go back to the future."
"Why?" Denial, but, this really can't be happening. He doesn't get it; I think I…I know like it here, why would they want to take me back? I was doing so well. "I don't…I don't understand."
"You've been here long enough." He shrugged in a manner that seemed almost cold, and very out of character. "We've gotta go, alright?"
It wasn't a suggestion.
Why was it that everyone wanted me to be somewhere else? First Robert, and now Future Boy?! I wanted to stay – badly, and even though I managed to persuade Rob, how could I challenge someone with the ability to control time?
"I don't see what for." I raised my chin in the air, gripping the edge of the table with my gloved fingers. "Everything was going fine; I had it all under control."
Marty snorted. "Control?! Alex, I don't understand you. When I first brought you here, the first thing you told me was that you wanted out." He reached into his velvet jacket and produced a silver pocket watch. "I'm giving you what you wanted."
"You can't take me back." I shook my head violently, feeling all of Niamh's ironwork curls shaking out on my shoulders. The small orchestra was playing a familiar Mozart, and I was glad that the sound of violins, voices, and skirts dancing was muffling us. We were getting pretty loud. "If you touch me, Marty, I swear to God I'll scream."
I was fighting every way I could. It felt like he was my jailer, dragging me back to the Hole in Alcatraz while I screamed and howled, my fingernails leaving marks on the floor.
"I don't need to touch you, Alex. All I have to do is push a button." He opened the pocket watch and instead of an actual watch, there was a small red button in the center. "We'd both just disappear."
I wasn't the smartest person in the world, but I wasn't the biggest idiot ever born. "What about Robert, and Forbes, and them? What would they think if I suddenly vanished?" I snapped my fingers for effect.
He sighed, as if it were too obvious to explain, and shoved his hands in his pockets. "They'd have no memory of you." Something in my face must have startled him, for he added. "Why do you want to say, Alex? Huh? What's the point?"
I was quivering all over, and the whites of my eyes turned red in distress. "The point?! You tell me, Marty. What was the point of you bringing me here in the first place? There must have been a reason! And don't start with all that 'appreciating history' bullshit."
Marty handed me a handkerchief and led me out of the glow of the Chinese party lanterns.
He sighed, watching me calmly. "Listen kid, you can't be here anymore. It's no longer safe. You could get hurt-"
"I can take care of myself!" I shouted a little dissatisfied with the use of the cliché. We were receding further away from the party. I wanted to throw something stronger at him, make him understand.
I thought about Robert. "I'll be fine without you."
"You're screwing things up, all right!" He ran his hands through his hair, combing it with his fury. "You and your constant trip-overs and pathetic little ideas that you're in love with a Civil War Hero."
I watched him, recoiled.
"You can't mess around here. This isn't a game, Alex. This is real history. The slightest little detail can affect the entire time course. You're that detail, don't you see?" He stopped pacing and looked at me, "the fact is, before we inserted you into the time frame, that day when you came to the Shaw mansion after the parade, Robert was supposed to go alone. He was supposed to propose to his future wife – to Annie."
*Author's note: That's not true; the real Robert Gould Shaw chickened out and proposed through a letter long before the parade. I just tweaked it a little because it fits.*
I felt dizzy.
Everywhere we are, no matter what's going on, something bad always has to sneak up and bite you. Why? Who can explain this cruel phenomenon?
I was crying freely now and Marty looked like he was in painful discomfort from watching me.
"I don't want to go back." I made a rather unflattering noise when I blew into Marty's custom-embroidered-by-his-grandma handkerchief.
No, he didn't know. It wasn't just a whim of mine; I needed him to understand that. He had to. "No, you don't understand. Robert…I…"
He held up a hand. "I know how you feel. You don't have to tell me. We all saw the signs. We just thought it was typical looks-only and that'd be easy to fix." We sat down on the ground, in the grass, in the dark. "I'm sorry we let this go too far. We made a mistake, and we're thinking of closing the time travel program altogether."
That is such a stupid idea, but I'm bitter.
My skirt was probably ruined now, but I didn't care. "Don't you see? I can't go back."
"Alex." He said softly, looking at the sky. I can't tell you how huge the stars really are without the presence of city lights. "Remember what I told you on the first day you got here? How old Robert was when he…"
I must admit that I haven't thought of that since that day. Irresponsible as I am, I haven't thought about what was coming at all. I couldn't remember, but something, somehow, on some beach somewhere – was going to happen. Something really bad. Why couldn't I remember?
"Don't say it!" I covered my ears. "I know what you're thinking. Don't speak at all. I don't want to hear it. No! no! no! no!"
I thrashed my legs, too, like a three year-old throwing a tantrum. But in reality, it was me trying to stamp out the feeling of dread towards the inevitable.
Thankfully, he abided to my request, appeasing my wounded self, but it didn't keep him from talking about 'it.' "What do you hope to gain by staying here? It's going to happen. It's going to happen whether you like it or not. I'm taking you out early so you wouldn't have to see it."
"I don't know yet." Such a simple answer, but it was honest. "But I'll figure out what to do. I won't let 'it' happen," even though I know it's impossible.
A loud sigh came from his spot in the darkness.
"The future is better off without me."
He chuckled wryly, as if he knew something that I didn't, but refused to say anything.
"What?" I asked.
"Don't even think about it." He retorted. "It's not healthy for one to know too much of their own future, if that's one thing I learned from Doc it's that. Great Scott." He quoted.
"This is heavy."
I could feel him smile in the dark at my use of his catchphrase.
"Can't I at least tell them?" I asked. "People are smart. They can handle this."
"No!" He barked suddenly. "A person is smart, people are dumb, panicking animals."
"So that's a 'no' to the 'Hey, I'm from the future' idea?"
I think he rolled his eyes.
"Alex. Eight hundred years ago, people knew that the earth was the center of the universe." He had that 'history channel narrator' tone of voice. I watched his dimly-lit profile quizzically. "Six hundred years ago, people knew the earth was flat." I watched the stars, cold, like diamonds. "Until several months ago, you knew that time travel was impossible. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow, or the day after that."
"Where are you going with this?" I asked saying.
A rustle of fabric. "What I'm saying is you shouldn't trust what you know." It was a hint, I know, but why was he throwing it at me if he wanted to take me back?
"What are you talking about?"
"Ft. Wagner, you fool." His impatience to my apparent dimwittedness was beginning to show. "July 18, 1863."
Mission Impossible wasn't that far off. I held my breath until my lungs burned. "Does this mean you'll let me stay?"
"Doc is gonna kill me…"
"Do I have a choice, Alex? I'll talk to my boss; I'll let you play your game. I really should just haul you back kicking and screaming. I shouldn't do this, especially with you." He paused, and I sensed him pinch the bridge of his nose. "Just remember, we can't change the past, but we can prevent the future."
He looked at me. "Try to stay outta trouble, kid."
Reaching out blindly, I threw my arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you…"
He patted my back, awkwardly. "Come on." He said, standing up and pulling me off the ground. "They'll be missing you."
I let him walk me back to the party, my hand resting on the crook of his arm. We formed a truce, and I relaxed, finally able to breathe despite the corset. I won the argument. I loved Marty, then. He could have materialized me back to the 21rst century and I'd think it was all a dream.
I wouldn't even notice.
That thought made me sad and cold.
But I had more pressing matters in my head. The 'It' we were talking about. Robert wasn't going to live forever, though he should. And what was it that Marty was saying about 'altering history?', 'preventing futures?' Followed shortly thereafter by a subtle comment that it wasn't impossible to prevent the tragedy from happening?
I searched for Robert, watching him speak with another officer, as if making sure that he was still alive and breathing.
I didn't know why I cared that much, it was beyond ridiculous. But I would never fight off that burning urge to run for him, because I didn't know how – yet – but I was going to stop the 'It' from happening.
Marty tugged on my arm, and before I knew it, he was pulling me in the direction of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He smiled. "You should introduce me; I always wanted to meet Shaw."
Forbes and Charlie were standing a little ways behind Robert and his Groupies. Said colonel was standing next to a man who seriously needed to rethink the length of his sideburns, he waved a fat cigar in the air and talked about stuff that nobody cared about, stuff like Washington DC and the latest hair pomade from France. But Robert's eyes seemed lit with interest, and they grew brighter when the man started talking about the ratio of supplies-to-men. Of course everyone knows how much Robert likes them supplies, judging by a little hush-hush incident with the quartermaster a whiles ago.
God, I love Americans.
Forbes arched an inquiring eyebrow at Marty, and hitting Charlie's arm, they both approached the circle.
Showing the apparent respect my sex demanded, the men hushed and nodded at me. Their eyes dwelled on me for a fraction of a second, and then were fastened on Marty, curiously. That was when I noticed Charlotte again, and I was surprised to find her participating in the small circle of politics.
"Colonel, I'd like to introduce a friend of mine." I began. "His name is…"
"Eastwood." Marty said. "Clint Eastwood."
I stared at him. He purposely didn't look back at me, but it was clear he was having fun.
Robert smiled cordially at him. "Robert Gould Shaw, Mr. Eastwood." He shook his hand. Marty or Clint or whatever proceeded to shake the hands of the other fancy officers in the circle, and he gallantly kissed the one of Charlotte.
Charlotte smiled at Mr. Eastwood and the young woman beside him. She wondered if perhaps she was the man's wife, or the Colonel's wife, judging by how familiarly she spoke to him. Charlotte, being in her nature to keep prudency and not jump to conclusions, waited for conversation to advance and unveil some of the mystery.
"Mr. Eastwood, we were just discussing unequal quartermaster antics…"
Charlotte had a very charming air about herself, and admittedly, she had occasionally relied on it for support from powerful men. In this day and age, the law was not on the woman's side, the man was the head of everything. It disgusted Charlotte, but she liked to imagine herself as the neck, one who could turn the head any which way she liked.
"Colonel Shaw," she touched his arm, "you promised to share your opinion on the South's educational availability for colored children."
His shyness was evident, and Charlotte was sure that her hand's presence on his arm was causing some level of discomfort. She removed it, and suddenly, he could speak again. "Miss Forten is actually a brilliant school teacher for the emancipated children." He said to the circle.
She smiled at him. "We do our best to teach them well."
Forbes was getting bored with this conversation already. Tedious was the word to describe it, and very Rob-ish, for it was exactly like him to talk about war and education at parties which – in case the man was not aware of - were supposed to be fun and happy.
His sole source of amusement however, was watching his friend squirm under Miss Forten's encouraging gaze. For as long as Forbes knew him, Rob was never any good with women; they had a knack for disarming him which made him feel insecure without a shield. Apparently Miss Forten was no different to him. Forbes had a slight, underlying feeling that Robert would probably feel more comfortable in front of a cannon than the Forten woman's charming smile.
Alex shifted next to him, making Forbes take another swallow of champagne to hide the chuckle that wanted to break past the barrier of his lips.
She was looking at Miss Forten with a face just as nervous as Robert's, and her eyes kept jumping between the two. She tugged on her gloves continuously and Forbes was afraid that if she chewed on her lip anymore she might eat it.
He wasn't a fool, as much as Charlie liked to believe he was, and knew Jealousy when he saw her. Jealousy was such a nagging mistress, and he himself had entertained her when on occasion his precious Susannah would bestow her charms on other men. Forbes could see that Jealousy wanted to be friends with Alex, and he had to shoo her away before she consumed her in her bad company.
"Miss Janeiro." He winked. "Might I persuade you to a dance?"
Alex stared at him. "What for?"
The others were talking about laws now. Fascinating.
Forbes blinked. "Usually the answer is yes or no; I suppose I'll pick one myself since you haven't provided me with anything else."
"Excuse us." He said loudly, to the group, nodding at the Eastwood character and bowing out.
He wasn't surprised that Eastwood did the same, but he was surprised when he paused in front of Alex.
"Can I talk to you again, please?" Eastwood asked her, and perhaps it was Forbes' imagination but he felt like Eastwood's speech sounded out of place, like it was from somewhere far away.
Alex glanced back at Forbes and then followed Eastwood a few feet away.
Bored, Forbes watched him talk and Alex nod repeatedly, but only with mild interest, until he was suddenly fascinated by his champagne glass. The pull to it was amazing, and he watched the yellow bubbles fizz around like it was water from the Fountain of Youth.
Movement made him look up. They were still talking. Eastwood was staring intently at his pocket watch.
Forbes blinked out an eyelash and wanted to shoot a look of impatience at them but only managed one of surprise.
Eastwood had vanished.
He was there one second before and was now gone. Like he evaporated. Forbes did not see him walking away or blending into the crowd at all.
But then he remembered to be rational, and turned his attention back to more interesting matters, such as his drink, and shrugged the world away.
It was probably just too much champagne.
I turned away from the spot where Marty had just vanished from, with the touch of his 'easy button.' He practically begged me to be careful, and I promised, knowing without asking that his job was probably on the line for me.
And honestly, I'm not the best person to place your trust in.
I sighed, but Forbes' expression caught my attention, and I felt my eyes widen in response to his perplexed stare.
Oh. My. God.
He was looking at me like a muggle might look at a wizard.
He couldn't have seen that, could he?
Okay, Alex, you gotta be calm. Find some logical way to explain how "Clint Eastwood" could possibly have vanished on the spot.
That's the thing though; I was never any good with the Dark Arts of Logic and Reason.
I tried to steady my breathing, so I would look all airy, you know? (The corset wasn't helping.) But my feet did not want to move as I forced them back to Forbes, who was now frowning at his champagne.
Was it possible that he could have completely missed all that?
"So are we gonna dance or what?" I tried not to make my voice sound shaky or suspicious.
He raised an eyebrow slowly. "Ye-es."
Abandoning his flute on a nearby buffet table, he led me out onto the dance floor.
"You know, it's something unusual when you – of all people – suddenly aqueous to a dancing proposal." He said, as we spun.
I swallowed, voice high. "I guess there's gonna be a mile a rain tonight."
The tension immediately loosened, and a sweet sense of relief filled me.
If he was joking, he didn't notice, I was sure of it.
The peace didn't last long, however, because first thing I did to kill the security was accidently step on his foot.
He winced. "Ah yes, why break the tradition?"
"No matter," he muttered. "These were a bit large anyway. The swelling should help them fit better."
I looked at Forbes then, I mean, really looked at him, and tried to imagine living in a world where the only way I would be able to see him every day would be through a few lines in a dusty history book.
It was a little hard to swallow. "Forbes, you're the best friend I ever had."
He smirked. "What favor do you need?"
I shook my head, imagining Marty's evil red button, my worst enemy, which could have deprived me of people like Forbes and Charlie and Rawlins…and…Robert. These subjects of text books that so easily turned to some of the most valuable people I've had the luck to ever meet. "I mean it Forbes…you really are…something."
Expecting another smirk, he shocked me with a small smile, "that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me Alex."
And it was almost enough to make me not care about how close Robert and Charlotte were standing to each other, visible over Forbes' shoulder.
One by one, the conversational crowd dissipated, losing one of its members every few minutes until it was only Robert and Charlotte left together.
However, despite his insecurities, Robert was surprised to find himself not dreading every second he spent in Miss Forten's company. In fact, she put him at ease by fascinating him. She was lovely and her words were intelligent. He saw in her a kindred spirit, a woman who wanted to argue – not flirt with him- and he found himself comfortable enough to counter her statements as well as happy enough to honestly agree with them.
"It is dangerous here, of course." She was saying.
Her voice was nice too. Not too soft, like Annie's, who spoke quietly on purpose so people would lean towards her, or scratchy like Miss Janeiro's, who on occasion still irritated him. Charlotte's – Miss Forten's – was eloquent, sincere, and clear.
"I imagine it's difficult." He replied.
She nodded. "Especially for a colored woman. The Southerners are bitter at being conquered. They are furious at Massachusetts' for trying to educate the children of their former slaves. I believe education is a universal human right."
"I agree whole heartedly." He replied, smiling down at her, unaware of how dashing he looked to her with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Your wife must have been worried about you." She said gently, "to have followed you down here…you're lucky to have her with you."
Robert frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
Charlotte looked just as confused as he felt. "The young lady," she inclined her head delicately towards Miss Janeiro, who was engaged in an awkward waltz with Cabot, both laughing at each other as if every movement was some kind of a prank. "The one who came with you this evening."
Robert only just remembered that Miss Janeiro still existed; he had been so engrossed with Charlotte. "Do you mean Miss Janeiro?" He shook his head fervently, as if he was explaining this to himself rather than to this spell-binding woman. "Goodness, no. She is simply my aide-de-camp."
Charlotte smiled at him, and Robert was too enraptured to realize how he sounded when he said Miss Janeiro's name, like it tasted bad. Dismissing her from his mind much like how he dismissed her from her duties.
But Charlotte had put him in such high spirits that he hardly minded that Harker was coming back, swooping down on them with his lemon-shaped head, a shorter, lighter man swaggering beside him.
"Shaw!" He shouted, like they were fellow schoolboys. "Meet Colonel Montgomery, brigade commander."
"Colonel." The man said, and Robert smiled pleasantly as they shook hands.
Harker spoke again. "Colonel Montgomery is a real jay-hawker from Kansas; contraband regiment is his Brain-Child."
Robert nodded slowly. There was something about Montgomery that gave off a negative vibe, something, yet Robert could not see what exactly it was. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Charlotte visibly stiffen as Montgomery nodded at her.
"You didn't think yours were the only coloreds around, didja Colonel?" Montgomery's mustache seemed to move for his lips.
"I did, actually." He replied. And still do, the only ones who volunteered on their own accord, anyway.
"Well I'm sure they'll do just fine." Said the crimson-haired man with a jerk of his chin. "Have they seen any…mischief?"
He did not really ask it, more like said it, as if he was sure of the answer.
Robert's gave a sharp shake of his head. "No sir."
For the first time, Montgomery's lips pulled back in a smile. As if he'd believe that when he's seen it. "I'm hiking a company over the Georgia coast in the morning."
Robert cocked his head, cautious, the black plume of his hat tumbling forward.
"We'll be foraging for supplies, I could use a hand." His eyes were sincere enough for Robert to be lured into a sense of ease that proved to be false. "That is…if you think that you're men are up to it."
Robert's only hesitation in responding was the jab of indignation that made him bite the inside of his cheek. "They are indeed, Sir."
"Good, very good!" He jerked Robert into another hand-pumping shake. "A pleasure!"
Robert's mood lifted again. "Good night."
"I'll have my secretary pass the details along momentarily." He replied, and bowed out.
Robert felt himself grin. He knew exactly what this meant. All those endless days of drilling, marching, practicing, worrying – they were finally ending. The Fifty-Fourth was no longer just a decoration for the Washington cats to feel better about their prejudices; the Fifty-Fourth was…
He grinned at Charlotte, but her return smile was only half-hearted, and she stared at Montgomery's retreating back as if she could erase him from existence by blinking.
Robert did not have time to worry, because the familiar voice of Thomas stole him away.
"Beg-to-report-Colonel-Sir." He chanted, and Robert couldn't help but feel proud when he turned to see his old friend, saluting him, straight and tall and honorable.
Thank God for Mulcahy.
Robert returned the salute.
"The troop is fed and bedded down for the night, Sir."
"Very good, Corporal." Robert felt like a child, trying to restrain his excitement from tainting his professionalism. "Pass the word down to A Company, we'll be going into action in the morning."
Thomas, however, was more inept at hiding his infectious grin, "Very good, Sir."
Before Robert could dismiss him, the lemon-headed Harker tapped his shoulder, sliding a yellow envelope into his hand. "From Montgomery's secretary, details of tomorrow."
With Charlotte standing there, Robert knew it would be rude to open them now, and was resigned to wait like a child until Christmas morning.
His already hard-fought-for attention was grabbed by someone else again, this time, Miss Janeiro's scratchy laughter, her hand looped through Forbes' arm as he drawled something about her 'incredible talent in dance.'
Surrounded by all these people, and the hot envelope he was holding, Robert remembered that he was a Colonel first, and should act like one despite his ball-like surroundings, and perhaps it was time for his major and his aide to resume their duties as well.
"Miss Janeiro," He said, with a clear of his throat.
Her smile dissolved at the tone of his voice, and it was with great difficulty that Robert handed her the envelope of instructions. "Please see to it that this finds its place in my office." He said, knowing full well that 'office' was just a connotation for 'tent', but Charlotte was standing just a foot away.
Miss Janeiro nodded, putting the envelope loosely under her arm.
Robert blinked at her. "Now. Please."
She looked a little taken aback, and her gaze jumped from each member of the group.
"Corporal Searles will escort you back to camp." He muttered, nodding at Thomas. "And there's no need to return." They had a hike tomorrow, what good would it do to her if she was half asleep during it?
Miss Janeiro's face heated up, and Forbes gave Robert an ugly look, as if he'd done something…mean.
Robert opened his mouth to d
ismiss them but Miss Janeiro beat him too it, spinning away before he could issue the order, her buttery skirts hitting his legs as she walked away.
The crowd left again, until it was just him and Charlotte.
He looked at her, dazed, and she returned his gaze with some amusement.
The words came from his mouth before his brain even approved of them. "Miss Forten…may I offer you this dance?"
My face burned, and I was glad that the air grew cooler and the night darker the further Thomas and I marched from that horrible party.
I held the envelope to my chest, occasionally stepping on my skirts or catching it on a twig. If it hadn't been ruined when I came here with Marty, it was definitely worse for wear now.
The Chinese lanterns and the boring music were fading in the background, and the firelights of Camp A were slowly coming into view.
"Did you enjoy the party, Miss Janeiro?" Thomas asked, abruptly. "Erm…Alex."
I bit my lip. "Sure, uh, the colonel seemed to be enjoying himself too, don't you think?"
And damn her.
Why make me come if you're going to publicly dismiss me afterwards? Like he'd made a nonchalant mistake and it was all reversible. Like he was a teacher catching his student sneaking out of class.
Him and his stupid bowtie and his yellow tassels and his funky hat.
Thomas sighed. "Robert is more of a…introverted person."
I snorted. "Yeah well he seemed to be introverting towards that woman."
Thomas frowned. "What?"
We reached the base of the camp. "I'm sorry Thomas, it's nothing, forget what I said." I clutched my forehead dramatically. "I'm just exhausted." I touched his arm. "Good night."
He smiled and bowed gallantly, before marching away into the opposite direction.
I turned right, knowing exactly where the colonel's stupid tent was.
I suddenly felt stupid walking around camp in this Belle-like dress. I closed my eyes and moaned in embarrassment. The way Robert talked to me and the way he looked at her. Was I really that much of a bother? He spoke to her as if she was a lady, but to me, like I was a boy.
Did all this time seeing me in jeans and a kepi make him forget that I had two x chromosomes, thank you?
I sighed, pushing through the flap of his tent.
Stumbling around I found the gas lantern and brought it to life. The room was thrown into a sudden yellow glow.
On his desk, papers were scattered about in a disorganized mess, much too out of character for Rob.
I was about to toss his damn envelope vengefully on the desk when something caught my eye.
This particular paper had so much ink stains it was equally uncharacteristic for Robert, who always wrote with few mistakes, dedication, and precision.
Setting the envelope down, I drew closer to it, picked it up, and squinted at it in the light.
My name was scrawled in repeated lines in a familiar script, and then hastily crossed out.
I frowned at it, wondering what Andrews' hit list was doing on Robert's desk, and then made the mistake of turning it over.
I'm not in love with her.
I'm not in love with her.
I'm not in love with her.
What? Maybe there was some kind of hidden meaning in these words…maybe I should have noticed it…but all I could think of was this:
These lines were circled, spotless, so unmistakably…
And then at the very bottom of the page, in one neat row:
Janeiro is just an aid to the Fifty Fourth Massachusetts Infantry.
That word, just, was the ugliest I've ever heard of, and I felt a fresh wave and humiliation rise, blocking my throat.
Just. You are a just, Alex. A just.
I laid it on top of the envelope, face up, to make sure he'd see it, and left the room, without so much as bothering to extinguish the gas lamp.
Then I marched straight back to that party, despite his orders, and did not slow my pace until I could see the faces on the dance floor clearly, and two of them belonged to Robert and Charlotte.
I wasn't sure what exactly I was meaning to do, but I winced when I saw them smiling at each other, twirling gracefully, and remembered how he had asked me to dance, an hour ago, but we didn't get a chance.
My stomach hurt, it was just the corset, I'm sure.
But still, was I this easily forgettable?
Then again, what did I expect? That we'd all laugh and joke and do Gangnam Style together on the dancefloor?
I saw him laugh with her, and backed away, back into the night, aiming to walk around the entire function to the other side of the mansion, and return the dress and the hair pieces and the gloves.
Because all this…girlishness…this finery…this 'new-me-ness' was obviously just not good enough for him.
Welcome back. :)
I'm also editing the former chapters by the way, because let's be honest, ew.