A/N: Hello, readers!
So, a few things before we start. And please do read this A/N, as it has some rather pertinent information in it.
First, this is another period piece, set in 1910, so obviously this is AU. If that's not your cup of tea, you probably shouldn't read any further. Also, I'm a huge fan of the slow build-up for Brittana, so they will not really be "together" right away. This story will be rich in plot and light on smut. So...you've been forewarned lol. ;)
Second, for the purpose of the plot and Brittana, while this story is AU, it is also PU (Parallel Universe) in that homosexuality is not taboo, frowned upon, illegal, etc. How? Well, because in my universe, the ancient Romans never decided to try to distance themselves from the Greeks by banning homosexuality (Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Romans were the first to be anti-homosexuality. NOT the Christians. Rome started this policy circa the 2nd century BCE; Christianity didn't rise until the very late 1st century BCE/early 1st century CE), which in turn never influenced the minds of the general public, so people never thought twice about gay people. So, gay people in my story are as common and accepted as straight ones. With that having been said, nothing else about society will be different from what actually happened in real life. Men are still valued more highly than women, and while lesbian relationships are certainly accepted, people preferred there to be a man in the mix. Because...that's just what people thought back then in their backwards beliefs of women's cognitive abilities.
Um...Yeah, so, I think that's it for now! I can't think of anything else. Anywho, well, I hope those of you reading this enjoy this chapter!
February 22, 1910
"Brittany! What in heaven's name do you think you're doing?"
At the sound of her stepsister-in-law's voice, Brittany Pierce jumped, cracking her head against the window frame. A clump of hard-packed snow dislodged above her, landing squarely on the back of her neck.
Brittany could feel its wet coldness sliding downward, penetrating the thin, high collar of her shirt waist. Quickly, she jerked back. Her action tumbled more fresh snow onto the perfectly polished hardwood floor of Rebecca Hudson's front parlor.
Now I've done it, Brittany thought. Next to her four-year-old son, Matthew, her stepsister-in-law's house was her most prized possession. That and the sterling reputation of the family name. The Hudsons were an important family in Spokane, and Rebecca never let anyone forget it, particularly Brittany, since she wasn't actually one of them.
"Oh, for mercy's sake, Britt," Rebecca Hudson exclaimed, her tone sharp with irritation. "Snow on the floor will ruin the finish, and Emma just did this room this morning."
With an angry twitch of skirts, head held high as a queen's, Rebecca strode forward into the front parlor, heading toward the bell pull she could use to summon a servant. Even through her annoyance with herself, Britt had to admit her stepsister-in-law looked impressive.
Unlike Brittany, Rebecca was always conscious of the impression she made. It was an important part of keeping up appearances. And Brittany was sure keeping up appearances was the only thing that kept her stepsister-in-law from making her clean up the soggy mess she'd made herself.
It would never do to have a member of the family perform such a menial task, even an unimportant member, such as Britt.
"Though why you would want to open a window in the middle of a snowstorm—" Rebecca went on as she gave the cord so hard an angry yank that Brittany could swear she heard the bell at the other end ringing in the kitchen "—I'm sure I cannot possibly imagine. It's never been so cold, not for twenty years. Finn said so at breakfast just this morning. But, naturally, it's too much to hope that you were paying attention. You never listen to a word we say."
That's not true, Brittany thought. I listened plenty last night. Even more than the ice still melting down her back, the thought of what she'd heard made her shiver.
Quickly, she turned away from Rebecca's petulant face, pulling the window closed with one swift, hard movement. Her action caused a final clump of snow to tumble to the floor at her feet. From behind her, Brittany heard Rebecca make a strangled sound of dismay.
"It's been all I could do to keep the house a decent temperature since this storm set in yesterday," she went on, her voice shrill, "even with a fire going in almost every room. Matthew could catch a chill indoors, and you know how I worry about his health.
"I might have hoped, having lost your own mother so young yourself, that you'd have some respect for a mother's feelings. But it appears that I hoped for too much, as usual. You have no respect for the feelings of others. After all your brother and I have done for you, too. You don't know the half of it, let me tell you that."
Stepbrother, Brittany thought, her eyes still fixed on the storm swirling outside the window. Finn is no true relation of mine, Rebecca, and neither are you.
But her stepsister-in-law had been right about one thing, Brittany thought, as she reluctantly turned back to face her. Brittany didn't know the half of what her stepbrother and his wife had done for her. She knew all of it. She knew everything. All the things Finn and Rebecca Hudson had planned for Brittany Pierce's future. A future they'd designed to cover up their own past misdeeds.
Just thinking about it still had the power to make Brittany's throat close up in some strange combination of fury and terror. Realizing how close she'd come to never knowing the truth made her blood run colder than even the snowstorm's rage. If it hadn't been for the fact that she'd been unable to sleep late last night and had come downstairs in search of a book—
Don't think about that right now, she told herself, appalled to discover that her hands were shaking. Quickly, she thrust them behind her back where Rebecca couldn't see them.
The action made her feel like a remorseful schoolgirl standing meekly before an angry headmistress, an image she was sure her stepsister-in-law would appreciate. Rebecca was always happy to provide instruction to others, her two favorite recipients being her servants and Britt.
Don't think about anything but placating Rebecca, Brittany told herself sternly. The sooner she mended things with her stepsister-in-law, the safer she would be. Then Rebecca would go back to ignoring her the way she usually did. Being the center of Rebecca's attention was the last thing Brittany wanted, particularly today.
"I'm sorry, Rebecca," she said now, stepping away from the window, being careful to avoid the snow rapidly melting into a slushy puddle. Perhaps putting some distance between herself and the scene of her transgression would make her apology more effective.
"You're absolutely right. Opening the window was foolish and thoughtless of me. It's just—"
Just what? she asked herself, sardonically. How did she think she could explain her feelings to Rebecca, even if she'd been in the habit of confiding in her? Even if confiding in her had been safe?
How on Earth could she tell her stepsister-in-law how intolerable she found it to stay inside her house now that she knew what Rebecca and Finn had done? What they still intended to do. How could she tell Rebecca that she could hardly bear to look at her? That all she wanted was to get away?
Brittany had lain awake for hours last night, trying to formulate a plan of action, desperately turning over various plans of escape. She'd wanted to run straight out of the house after she'd overheard Finn and Rebecca's conversation. But, even in her outrage and fear, she'd known she couldn't act so abruptly. She could not afford to give herself away.
It was the only reason Brittany was still in the house today. The only reason she'd endured the agonizing hours from breakfast until luncheon, from luncheon until mid-afternoon. She knew she had to choose her time for action carefully. She would have only one chance to get away.
In the hour after Finn came home in the late afternoon, while he and Rebecca were in their own rooms dressing for dinner. Not until then could Brittany act upon her plan to escape. To go earlier was to risk detection. That was what Britt had told herself in the dark, bleak hours of the early morning.
But she hadn't reckoned on how difficult things would be today.
To spend the day as always, doing nothing, pretending to know nothing. Inactivity had made Brittany's body sore, like a toothache. She'd been so desperate she'd finally resorted to working on her embroidery, a ladylike activity of which Rebecca wholeheartedly approved, but which Brittany usually hated.
It hadn't helped a bit.
Instead of soothing her nerves, the close, tiny stitches Brittany was creating only served to remind her of how close and narrow her world would become if she did not get away. But it wasn't until she'd thrust her needle into her finger hard enough to draw blood that she'd abandoned the embroidery and taken the drastic step of opening the window.
She had hoped the bitter weather would distract her from her bitter thoughts. She had never intended to leave the window open for more than a few seconds. Even she knew it was too cold a day. It was just plain bad luck that Rebecca had come back downstairs, after seeing young Matthew put down for his nap, to find Brittany with her head in the snowstorm.
Apologize again, Brittany told herself now. Maybe if she said she was sorry enough times, Rebecca would spare her a lecture and let her go up to her room. Brittany didn't think she had the patience to bear one of Rebecca's full-fledged harangues today. Her own nerves were too raw. She would be too likely to say something without thinking, and that would ruin everything.
"I am sorry, Rebecca," she said. "I was just so astonished to see so much snow." Brittany closed her lips abruptly over the words that rose up, threatening to spill over. And so afraid the storm would stop me.
Rebecca Hudson's green eyes narrowed. Even from across the room, Brittany could tell the expression in them was calculating, and something else. Good, she thought. She had surprised her.
Though she was careful never to be impolite to her stepsister-in-law, Brittany rarely apologized for the misdeeds Rebecca laid so constantly at her door. Most of them were simply imaginary. Almost the first lesson Brittany had learned upon coming to live with her stepbrother and his wife was that no matter how she behaved, they were always going to find fault with her.
The second thing she had learned was that Finn Hudson hadn't approved of his mother Carol's marriage to Brittany's father, Thomas Pierce. There was only one reason he hadn't opposed it: upon his marriage, Thomas had promised to settle all of Carol's debts. The Hudson family needed Thomas Pierce's money.
Hudson was an old, distinguished family name in eastern Washington. Much more distinguished than Pierce. But being distinguished was no longer the same as being wealthy. Thomas Pierce could provide the money the Hudsons so desperately needed if they were going to keep up the appearances they considered so all-important.
When Thomas and Carol had died in a freak accident on their honeymoon, their sailboat overtaken by a sudden summer squall on Lake Chelan, Finn had had no choice but to take in Thomas' daughter. Brittany's own mother had died when she was a young girl. She had no other relatives.
Not offering her a home would have made the family look bad, and would have been a black mark on the spotless Hudson reputation. But although Finn and Rebecca had taken Brittany in, they had never made her welcome. Instead, they had made her feel like what they obviously thought she was: a charity case, an obligation.
From the moment she had first set foot into her stepbrother's house nearly two years ago, only one thing had kept Brittany going. The knowledge that she didn't have to stay there forever. When she turned eighteen, she would come into the inheritance her mother had left. Then, she would have enough money to be independent.
Brittany knew it was unusual for a young woman to live on her own, but as soon as she came into her money, she intended to try. She didn't want to stay in her stepbrother's house one hour more than she had to.
And now her eighteenth birthday was less than three months away.
Without warning, Brittany shivered, thinking about her approaching birthday and the trap into which her stepbrother hoped to lure her even closer.
I'm not going to step into it, she thought. Not now that I know the truth.
"Oh, there you are, Emma," Rebecca said as a girl several years younger than Brittany, dressed in the dark skirt, white blouse, and white apron of a household servant, finally appeared in the parlor doorway.
She was panting ever so slightly, as if out of breath. Her pale cheeks were flushed. Tiny tendrils of auburn hair had escaped from her cap to curl damply around her face. Looking at her, Brittany felt a pang of guilt. Rebecca Hudson worked her servants hard, and Brittany hadn't intended to make things harder for any one of them, particularly Emma, who was the youngest and most innocent.
"Where have you been?" Rebecca demanded. If she noticed the girl's rapid breaths, she gave no sign. "You certainly took your time about coming. Tidy yourself up, girl. You look a mess. I've told you I won't have that."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Emma gasped out, her fingers fumbling to put her hair back into place. "It's just that I was—"
"I have no time to listen to your excuses," Rebecca broke in sharply. "Miss Brittany has opened a window and let the snow in all over the floor. I expect you to do something about it."
How cold her voice is, Brittany thought. It was the same tone Rebecca had used the night before. Not because she had been speaking to her husband, but because she had been speaking about Brittany. I'm like a servant in her eyes, Brittany thought. Beneath her. Expendable.
In the doorway, Emma bobbed a quick curtsy. "Don't worry, ma'am," she said. "I will attend to it right away."
"See that you do," Rebecca said, as the servant spun on her heel and began to move away. "There's no time to waste. I shouldn't have to tell you that."
A sudden wave of nausea hit Brittany, full in the stomach. She took a few stumbling steps and sat down hard in the nearest chair, heedless of the fact that she had sat on top of her own embroidery. The striped wallpaper of the parlor wavered before her eyes.
Rebecca had said almost exactly the same thing last night, her cold voice finally warming with urgency.
"Tell Artie he must move faster," she'd told her husband. "That girl's birthday is less than three months away. Everything about this must look proper. It can't look patched up in any way. I shouldn't have to tell you that, Finn. Artie is dallying, and there's no time to waste."
Brittany closed her eyes, swallowing hard as bile inched with acid fingers up the back of her throat. This was the thing that made her whole world different today. Standing in the hallway outside the library, listening to her stepbrother and his wife discuss her until her heard had turned numb and her body icy.
Finn had been stealing from her, from practically the moment she had set foot in the house. Robbing her of her inheritance. Her only chance for freedom. He had planned to pay it back, or so he'd claimed. But his investments had gone sour, and now it was too late. Now, there was only one way out.
Brittany had to marry a man before her eighteenth birthday.
If she did that, everything she owned would become the property of her husband. Finn's theft would never come to light. He would be safe.
As long as Brittany had the right husband.
She felt the bile inch a little higher.
She could still hardly believe that laughing, charming Artie Abrams was a part of Finn's schemes. She still didn't know precisely why. It was likely she would never know. But Brittany figured she had all the knowledge that she needed.
The knowledge that she'd come too close to believing that she could love Artie, as he claimed to love her. Too close to doing exactly what her stepbrother wished her to do: be swept off her feet.
Because even Brittany had to admit that, in Artie Abrams, Finn Hudson had found the perfect bait. He was passive and yielding, the direct opposite of Brittany, attributes which had probably led him to become embroiled in Finn's schemes in the first place.
All Finn had had to do was to dangle Artie in front of her, and wait for Brittany's own nature to carry her away. It had almost worked. Brittany felt a chill sweep over her. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead.
I won't think about that now, she thought. I can't. I've got to concentrate on getting through today.
"Gracious, Britt," she heard her stepsister-in-law exclaim suddenly. "Are you all right? You've gone white as a sheet."
Quickly, Brittany opened her eyes. She had done it again, she thought, attracted attention she didn't want. "I'm fine, thank you, Rebecca."
Do something, she urged herself. Don't give yourself away.
"Perhaps I'm the one who's catching a chill," she went on with an attempt at a rueful smile. "No doubt it would serve me right for opening the window."
Instantly, Rebecca's expression softened with concern. Once, Brittany might have hoped it meant her stepsister-in-law was coming finally to feel more warmly toward her. But not today. Today Brittany knew the truth. Rebecca's concern was all for her own schemes. She didn't care at all about Brittany.
But if Brittany fell ill enough to keep to her bed, she might not be able to see Artie Abrams for days. Such a delay could prove disastrous to what Finn and Rebecca were planning. The timeline was already growing short. Rebecca had said so last night.
"Tell Artie that he must move faster. Her birthday is less than three months away."
"There now," Rebecca said. "We can't have you catching a cold, young lady." She crossed the room with rapid, clicking steps to lay a hand on Brittany's forehead.
"You are a trifle warm," she admitted. "Perhaps you should go upstairs and rest. Artie is coming to dinner this evening, remember," she added, her tone growing playful. "You wouldn't want to miss him, would you? And I know you'll want to look your best."
She urged Brittany to her feet, handing her her embroidery with a jovial tinkle of laughter.
"Silly girl," she said. "Now look what you've done. You've sat on your embroidery. I'd say you were growing absent-minded, Britt, and you know what that means."
That I have more important things to think about? Brittany wondered sarcastically. But she didn't even think of answering in such a way.
"I think I will go up and lie down," she said instead. "Thank you for your concern, Rebecca. And I truly am sorry about the floor."
"Oh, well," her stepsister-in-law said with a wave of her hand, her earlier anger seemingly forgotten. She tucked her arm through Brittany's as she guided her out of the parlor and across the downstairs hall. "I daresay this horrible weather has set us all on edge. And accidents do happen."
She's afraid to stay angry with me for too long, Brittany realized suddenly. Rebecca and Finn were always complaining that Brittany was too unpredictable, too impetuous. She might refuse to do what they wanted, if they pushed her too far.
"You have a good long rest," Rebecca said, giving Brittany a gentle nudge toward the stairs. "Just nip this little cold right in the bud, Britt. No man ever proposed to a girl with a red nose, you know."
Again, she gave a peal, of bright, false laughter. Brittany forced herself to return the smile. Artie Abrams is never going to propose to me, Rebecca, she thought as she turned to climb the stairs. I'm never going to give him the chance.
Her only regret would be that she would never get to see the looks on the faces of the three conspirators once they found she had vanished.
Brittany reached the top of the stairs. She moved along the upstairs hallway, suddenly grateful for things she had hardly thought to pay attention to before today.
Like the way the runner of the carpet down the very center of the hallway muffled her footsteps. And the fact that her bedroom was near the head of the stairs.
Until now, Brittany had always taken the placement of her room as an insult, a signal of her less-than-important status in the Hudson household. A room near the head of the stairs was much noisier than those farther down the hall.
But today the location of her room was to her advantage. It meant that she wouldn't have to tiptoe past Finn and Rebecca's door when she left the house. Their room was at the very end of the hall. The only potential danger lay in the fact that one of their windows overlooked the street.
Brittany opened her bedroom door and quickly scanned the room. Everything looked the same as always. Only she knew that her carpet bag was packed and waiting in her wardrobe, concealed by her long skirts. By the time Artie arrived for dinner, Brittany would be long gone.
She stepped into the room, closed the door behind her, and then went to kneel upon her bed, staring out at the storm.
There were huge loopholes in the plan Brittany had concocted in the middle of last night. She knew that. She had also known that she didn't have a choice. She couldn't spend another night beneath her stepbrother's roof. He was right. She was impulsive, and sooner or later her impetuous nature would drive her to reveal the fact that she knew what he had done.
But simply leaving Finn's household wasn't enough. She had to put herself completely beyond his control. That was why, at six o'clock that evening, Brittany was taking the boldest step that she could think of – she was going to the train depot. There, she would board the westbound train that would take her across the mountains to Seattle.
Whether or not she'd ultimately make her home in western Washington's busiest port city, how she would survive once she got there, Brittany didn't know yet. All she knew was that she was going.
A flurry of snow scraped against the window. Brittany shivered, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. Even through the windowpane, she could feel the cold. She couldn't imagine a worse night than this on which to make a journey.
But she didn't have a choice. She had to go. Nothing could be allowed to stop Brittany Pierce from making her escape. Not her stepbrother. Not his wife. Not the false suitor they had chosen for her.
Not even the worst storm anyone could remember.
A/N: So, there it is! Thanks for reading, and I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! I shall be back with Chapter 2 sometime in the near future! :D