I love writing this story. Also, this was a chapter that I did not plan but thought that there needed to be a chapter between the last one and the next one. But I really love it.
Also, some important things: I think that this will be my last story. I am seriously doubting that I will be writing new stories after this. There are many factors as to why but I don't want to bore you (if you're actually reading this since many just skip the author's note – I am guilty of that) but I've been thinking about this since I started writing this story. I think that I'm just going to pour every ounce of my love of writing fanfic into this story to make it an amazing exit story. Leaving on a high, if you will. And I'm announcing it here since you all are the ones who are reading my stories and probably care to know.
So yeah, once I finish this story, I will very likely be done writing fanfiction. But that will not be for A LONG TIME. There will be 20+ chapters of this story and if you found the first 4 eventful, you haven't seen anything yet!
Thanks for reading and I would appreciate it if you reviewed.
In Late November Helen and Glen left to visit Helen's ailing mother, who was reportedly weeks away from passing. Originally Glen had planned a two week visit but Helen decided to extend the trip so they may buy and order the necessary supplies for Clare's sixteenth birthday celebration that was still over a month away. So with three weeks without their parents and only the maids and servants of the house as their supervision, Clare and Jake used the time to their advantage.
Jake spent more time out of the house and at the Matlin household to spend more time with Katie. Clare would see Jake returning after an entire day, a happy grin on his face, and he'd tell her what they did that day. Mostly it was just walking around the plantation, talking about any topic they wished. They would be joined by Katie's younger sibling Maya who apparently did a great job being inconspicuous. Jake also had dinner there several times which meant that Clare would have dinner alone.
But instead of eating alone for her dinner, Clare would eat her meals in the kitchen where the cooks would keep her company. At first they were hesitant to allow the Edwards daughter to eat out of place but Clare had promised them that her mother would not find out. So for the time that Helen and Glen were out, Clare would eat at the small table inside the kitchen to find out more about the cooks who worked for her family.
How Clare spent her days varied. At first she simply read more, finishing several books within the first week. A lot of the time she spent sitting at the window sill where Eli had thrown her the book of blank pages. She read the words repeatedly, when she woke up in the morning and before she fell asleep at night.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies…
Clare wanted to know what made Eli send this to her. The words were beautiful and sweet it made her feel special, that a boy would send her a poem so touching. She wasn't sure if he was the one who had written it but even if he hadn't, he still sent the poem to her.
After the first week of being parent-less, Clare found herself spending more and more time outside. Sitting on the patio and reading, taking a walk around the plantation, sitting on the tree-swing her father built for her and Darcy. Aside from her time going back and forth from her lessons, Clare never really spent leisurely time outside. But without a mother to stop her and tell her not to get her dress dirty, Clare did whatever she wanted.
Hours after spending her dinner with the kitchen cooks, Clare, clad in her sleepwear and a thin robe, exited her house through the backdoor and stood on the back porch to stare into the night sky. She often did this through an open window but nothing felt as good as standing outside, feeling the cold, soon-to-be winter breeze against her entire body.
But a tiny sound was enough to make Clare shriek in terror.
Jumping back and clutching the fabric around her, Clare's heart pounded as she searched for the source of the sound.
"Who is it? Who are you?" she asked quietly but harshly.
"I'm sorry that I scared you."
Eli emerged from a corner, a not-so-sorry smile on his face. "I returned to pick up something I left in Jake's shed. I saw you standing there and thought I would watch for a little while to make sure you were okay. But after realizing that you were outside by choice, not from sadness or anger, I thought I would surprise you."
"I do not enjoy surprises," Clare mumbled, blushing madly as she stared at her feet.
"I will try to remember that," Eli replied with slight laughter.
Silence enveloped them for minutes, a comfortable one, as Clare turned her gaze back to the night sky and Eli slowly walked towards Clare, leaning against the porch railing and making sure to leave several feet between them. After the minutes of silence, Clare turned her head and found Eli standing a lot closer than she had realized. If she halfway extended her arm, she would be touching him.
"I…" At a loss for words, as Clare often was around Eli, she just clamped her mouth shut and turned away again.
But Eli seemed to read her mind when he spoke up to ask, "Did you enjoy the poem?"
"I did," Clare admitted smiling. "I…was wondering…did you write it yourself?"
Eli pushed himself away from the railing and extended a hand out to her. "Will you take a walk with me?"
Clare was not dressed for a walk nor was it the time for a walk. And the boy asking her to take a walk with him was basically a stranger to her. She wasn't sure if she wanted to accept his offer but she had to admit that she was curious to do it.
"Don't worry," Eli leaned his head closer to her. "I will protect you." He shrugged off his tattered jacket and placed it around her shoulders. "Now, will you come with me?"
Clare looked Eli's extended hand, her arms hidden underneath a light but warm jacket, and Eli himself, an amused but pleading expression on his face. And in that moment, Clare knew she would be foolish to deny him.
So Clare placed her hand in Eli's. "Yes, I will."
Clare found it rather strange. While this property was hers by birth and she had lived here her entire life, it seemed that Eli knew more about it that she did. She followed him as he walked, not that she had a choice in the matter since Eli's grip did not seem to loosen one bit, and followed as he cut through a shortcut to the small lake that indicated the end of the Edwards plantation. What normally was a ten minute walk became a five minute walk with Eli's path.
It was also strange to be at the lake at this time. As a child, Clare would often sit by the lake during the noon-afternoon hours and watch as ducks swam by. But at the darkest and most silent time of night, the lake was different. And even more magical.
It was breathtaking, Clare thought. The moon was just peeking through the highest of the trees and the water rippled with the wind and the moonlight created beautiful little waves in the water. Clare stood at the edge, staring at the scenery in front of her, as she felt Eli's fingers curl between hers.
"This is wonderful," she found herself saying with the most amazed tone. "Just beautiful."
"I knew that you must've not have been allowed to come out of your house at this time of night to enjoy this," Eli gestured to the entire area in front of them. "So I thought that while your parents were out of town, we just might achieve the most rebellious actions we can imagine."
"And leaving my house late at night to see the lake would count as rebellious?" Clare asked.
"Doesn't it?" Eli shrugged. Leaning down to her again, he whispered, "Your mother would be furious if she found out."
Clare giggled and had to agree. "Yes, yes she would."
When Eli pointed to a large boulder, Clare perched herself onto it and took the initiative to pull Eli up to sit next to her. So they sat shoulder to shoulder for a while, listening to nothing but the gentle rustle of the leaves above them and the wavering water.
"I…" Clare slowly began as her hand found Eli's again. "I don't believe you answered my previous question."
Eli's eyes narrowed. "Which?"
"About the poem," Clare clarified. "If you had written it yourself."
"Oh," Eli said. "I did not write it myself. It is by an English poet named Lord Byron. I first read the poem as a thirteen year old when my mother found one of her old journals where she wrote poems she enjoyed. It's a poem about finding a lady beautiful so that is why I gave it to you."
"You…you think I'm…"
"Of course I do, I do not take poetry and their meaning lightly," he teased.
Clare cleared her throat and retracted her hand away from Eli's. She placed her hands in her lap and stared into them, having no idea what how to respond. She hadn't imagined that this conversation would have gone this way. That night she received the poem she wished to know what made him give her the poem but hadn't thought it was an admission of how he saw her, which was beautiful.
"I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable," Eli said softly, interrupting Clare's thoughts. "I did not intend to, much like scaring you earlier."
"It's quite fine," Clare assured him awkwardly. "I am just…inexperienced with speaking this openly with a boy who is not part of my family nor one that my mother has forced me to converse with."
"And at this hour," Eli added.
"Yes," Clare said with rolling eyes. She attempted to stifle a yawn but failed when her yawn made a sound. "I apologize, I do not find you boring, I am just tired. Adventures after midnight are not ones that I am used to."
"Well." Eli jumped down from the boulder and offered his two hands to Clare. "We should be getting you back before anyone notices your absence."
Clare took a hold of Eli's hands and with his help, she jumped down from the boulder. She was not as graceful as Eli though, tripping over her feet, and promptly landing right against Eli's chest. Once she recovered from her embarrassment, Clare realized how closely pressed up she was to Eli. Figuring that the wrapped arms around her frame was simply a reflex to protect her, it helped Clare to step away from Eli's warm body rather than do what she really wanted to do, which was to stay in his arms.
"Thank you," she blushingly said, avoiding his eyes. She quickly turned and walked down Eli's shortcut path, putting a good amount of distance between the two of them.
As Clare listened to her footsteps crinkling the leaves of the grass and Eli's own footsteps behind her, she could also hear and feel her heart pounding. Never had she been so close to a person in such an intimate manner. The last encounter that she could remember that had been intimate was a hug from her father, intimate in the way of saying goodbye to a sick and dying father. But this was romantically intimate, the kind she read about and imagined in Pride and Prejudice and the other novels she loved.
The romances she so vividly played in her mind, the one that she longed for, was playing out right in front of her. But she was the only one imagining it. How could she find out if Eli felt the same things are her? She had no courage to ask him and she certainly wasn't willing to lose some of her dignity by asking her step-brother to ask for her.
The romance was playing in her mind, mixing with instances of novels, that maybe she was only imagining reality as what she wanted, not what was truly happening. As the house neared, Clare promised herself that she would stop reading the novels, at least for a short period, to clear her mind and come back to reality.
Once Clare stepped up to her porch, she turned and looked down at Eli. "I would like to sincerely thank you for taking me on such a wonderful adventure tonight," she said to him. "I shamefully forgot that there are places of this property that provide a wonderful hiding place that offers beautiful scenery as well."
"It was my pleasure," Eli smiled, bowing slightly.
"Will I see you again soon?" Clare found herself asking despite trying not to look too eager.
Eli dropped his gaze to the grass. "I do not know when I will return here. I finished fixing the patio just in time for the winter and only returned to pick up my tools."
"Oh," Clare tried to hide her disappointment by stepping back further into the patio, shading her face. "Then I will…see you when we cross paths again."
"I guess you will," he replied.
Clare did a hasty curtsy and went to enter her house but stopped when she heard Eli say her name. Turning around, Eli had come onto the patio and stopped a few feet in front of her. A look of question was on his face.
"I…" Eli said slowly. His eyes glanced different directions as if he was collecting his thoughts. "Write to me."
Eli took one step closer. "Using the blank journal I threw to you, write to me. Write me a poem that you've read or one of your own creation or about your day. Write to me. Write an entire page. Then leave the journal somewhere for me to find and write back to you."
Clare was astonished at this request. So this was his plan all along? "Where would I leave it so no one will find it other than you?"
"I suggest the boulder," Eli smirked. "Find a hiding place at that area and I will find it. That will be our place. We will write to each other every day. Deposit the journal during the afternoon or night and I will find it in the morning. We can follow this pattern and share poems or a log of our days."
Clare's mind started to fill with the poems that she had read before that she desperately wished for Eli to know as well. And as risky as this exchange would be, especially once her mother returned, she was so excited to begin this daily communication with Eli that she replied to him with a serious and happy, "I will."
Before she knew it, Eli kissed her hand and quickly exited, making it seem like Clare had imagined the entire night. He had disappeared so quickly that as Clare walked back up to her room silently, it felt as if she had been sleepwalking. But once she sat back on her bed and picked up the journal, she saw the dark fabric that covered her arms. She was still wearing Eli's jacket. She hugged the jacket and the journal to her body and sighed.
It was not a dream. Even her vivid imagination could not imagine such a beautiful and perfect night.