The Elliots of Savannah were a well established "old family". Kelly Hall, their antebellum mansion, had been built prior to the Civil War and had been maintained in near pristine condition. Mr. Walter, the current patriarch of the family, was a proud man. He loved looking up his family home on the national registry of historic places and hearing his name called out on arriving at cotillions, "Mr. Walter Elliot of Savannah". In his own mind, he was as close to royalty as most uneducated Americans (especially the mostly redneck population of the South) would ever get.

He was as fastidious in his dress and personal grooming as he was fanatical about his family history. There was never an excuse for a southern gentleman to appear unkempt or disheveled. Any task which required one to perspire was for laborers. He expected his family to follow his example in this fashion and for the most part they did.

His wife had passed nearly 15 years ago but she had been a lovely genteel Southern lady.

He felt that their match had been a most advantageous one since she had also brought a nice inheritance into the Kelly Hall coiffers along with being an ideal companion for dinners and parties. Everyone had always spoken of what a lovely couple they made.

Before her death, his wife had provided him with 3 daughters, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary.

They were all now grown up and Mary was a married woman with children of her own.

Elizabeth was just past thirty but still as pretty as her mother. She attended Mr. Walter now whenever invitations arose. Her beauty and style were always spoken highly of which made her his definite favorite among the girls. Mary, the youngest, wasn't as pretty as Elizabeth but she had always known how to make the best of her looks and especially how to use her feminine sensibilities to gain attention. That was how she had snared young Charlie Musgrove right out of college. Why Mary had seen fit to pop out two young ruffian boys within 3 years was beyond his understanding but at least she was settled. Anne was another matter entirely.

Anne had always been a bookish girl. She was dark where her sisters were fair. Her temperament was sweet but tended toward quieter pursuits like reading. She didn't care much for parties or crowds and detested even the idea of high fashion. No one had been surprised when she earned her doctorate in English Literature by the time she was 25 and now at 28, she was a full professor at Dalton University in Atlanta. She preferred hiking and camping like some primitive animal to social events. He tried not to speak of her whenever possible but at least he had her academic achievement to boast of if any mention of her were absolutely necessary.

Life at Kelly Hall had continued in much the same manner for most of Mr. Walter's life. He had his job at the law firm (which had always been mostly a figurehead position), his hobbies and his social calendar. Elizabeth had become indispensable to him as his sort of social secretary throughout the years since his wife had died. She answered every invitation and arranged all the Kelley Hall parties to perfection. He sometimes wondered how it was that she was still single despite being such an obviously superior lady but honestly there could be very few men who would deserve such a wife.

Mr. Walter, as he was generally known around Savannah, usually had very little in the way of troubling thoughts. Worry caused one to develop wrinkles and creases so he tried to avoid it whenever possible. Lately, however, bills had been mounting at Kelly Hall. After the hurricane a few years back, some extensive repairs had to be done to the roof and windows. Then there were the real estate taxes that had to be paid. And, of course, there were always new charges to the credit cards for new clothing, shoes and small luxuries for himself and Elizabeth. He was finding it difficult to keep up minimum payments and he could tell that the stress was already affecting his appearance. He decided that he needed to consult with his neighbor and old family friend, Lydia Russell.

Lydia had been his wife's best friend and had been godmother to their girls. She had always been a sensible but never unfashionable woman. She would surely have some advice. He invited her over for an afternoon tea. Even though in her early 60's, Lydia could easily pass for 10 years younger. She had learned that tiny tweaks at the plastic surgeon's office every year or so were very effective and weren't so drastic as to cause talk among the ladies in town. She like to appear to be aging gracefully but, in fact, she fought it in every way she could. Her hair was kept tinted to a light golden color with tiny streaks of silvery white blonde added so that it looked natural but better. Her clothes were designer and custom fitted and she worked out daily to keep herself trim. Many people wondered why Mr. Walter had not pursued her after his wife died but, in truth, Lydia was thankful that he had not. He was not her type at all and could, in fact, be quite annoying. If it hadn't been for the girls, especially Anne, she was sure that they would have had very little contact through the last 15 years.

It came as no surprise to Lydia that the Elliots were in dire financial straits. She had tried throughout the past few years to warn Mr. Walter and Elizabeth to start being more prudent in their spending but they had either ignored her or declared such sacrifices to be impossible to live with. It did surprise her how much debt had been accumulated. She empathized with Mr. Walter's plight and told him she would think about it for a few days and see if she could come up with any possible solutions other than the horrid thought of having to sell the family home.

Lydia's first thought was that she had to contact Anne and apprise her of the situation. Anne was the only truly sensible member of the Elliot clan. Between the two of them, they could surely come up with some way to help straighten out the financial affairs of the family. Anne was like her mother in many ways, although not as obviously pretty as her dear mother had been. There had always been a special bond between them. Anne had turned to her as a mother figure for advice and comfort throughout her adolescent years. She had always tried to steer her in the right direction and now she was the youngest full professor in the state, looked to as an authority on Victorian English Literature by scholars from all over the nation. Anne still had not found her Mr. Right but there was plenty of time for that.

She still shuddered to think what could have happened if Anne had married that young film student who had proposed to her when she was only 19. He was a penniless bum in Lydia Russell's opinion who had been beneath Anne in every way. Even though Anne had been quite smitten with the young man at that time, she had known that Lydia was doing what was best for her by separating them. The young man (what was his name – Frederick Whitworth or something like that) had taken it very hard and been angry with both herself and Anne. Then he had simply disappeared from Savannah and as far as she knew had never contacted Anne again. Of course, it had been difficult for Anne as well. She had spent over a year grieving for the boy. She had gotten over it, though, and moved on splendidly. Lydia Russell was quite proud of her involvement in that near fiasco.

She telephoned Anne later in the evening to discuss the situation of her father's finances.

Anne seemed to have expected as much. She agreed that they would try and figure out a way to save Kelley Hall if at all possible. With their two heads working on the problem, surely a solution could be found. She chatted with Anne about her job and when she might be coming home for a visit and ended the call thoroughly satisfied that she had done all that she could for the day to fulfill her obligations to the Elliots.

Chapter 2

Anne had been sipping a glass of white wine and grading essays when Lydia Russell called. Hearing of her father's financial difficulties wasn't a shock. In fact, she had wondered how he had kept it all afloat for years. He spent money like water and the house was over 100 years old and constantly needing various repairs. On top of that, they lived in the highest property tax district in Savannah. She had always been a little ashamed of her father's attitudes about money and privilege. He cared more about keeping up the appearance of being Southern royalty than taking care of his responsibilities. She had promised, however, to work with Lydia in trying to come up with a plan. She hung up the phone feeling frustrated and angry. Her father wouldn't want her help and would, in all likelihood, eschew any ideas she proposed. She would have to enlist Aunt Lydia's aid.

Aunt Lydia was as much a part of the Elliot family as any blood relation and more of a true aunt than any of the other Elliots had ever been. Anne had turned to her at the age of 12 when her mother died. Lydia had been her protector, comforter and adviser for many years – the person she could turn to when life at home got too lonely or overwhelming. She knew that her father and sisters mostly looked on her with pity and resentment because she was so different from them, but Aunt Lydia had always welcomed her with open arms and seen the good in her. Perhaps that's why her good opinion had always been so important to Anne in her younger years. It was only after the ordeal with Frederick Wentworth that Anne realized she had to learn to listen to her own heart. Lydia might want what was best for her but she wasn't always right.

Freddie had been her first real love. They'd met in her freshman year of college. He was attending Atlanta Arts University and she Dalton University. He was a couple of years older. He had joined the Army for 2 years to be able to afford college and worked as a waiter to pay expenses while he was taking classes. He had come from a blue collar family but had big dreams of becoming a film maker and directing blockbuster movies in Hollywood. His excitement about the future was captivating. He made her believe that anything was possible in a world where everyone else had always made her believe her life had to be within certain boundaries. For 3 months he had been her world and she his. At the end of that Spring quarter, Freddie had been accepted to film school at UCLA. It was all he'd ever wanted. She had resigned herself to him leaving and then one night he'd gotten down on one knee and proposed, saying he couldn't leave her behind. He needed her. She had, at first, agreed but her family and most importantly, Lydia had called her home and barraged her with nothing but negativity – how marriages at such a young age could never last, what would they live on, how she was giving up her dream for his, and on and on. She fought back and declared that she loved Freddie. She had every intention of marrying him and moving to California.

On the night before she was to return to school and to Freddie, Lydia came to her room. She sat on the bed and held Anne's hand. With tears in her eyes, she talked to Anne about her mother. She told her that her mother had always known that Anne was special and would do great things in her life. Anne was soon in tears as well. Finally, she said, "Anne, your mother would be so disappointed with this choice you're making." It broke Anne's heart and her resolve as was intended. She called Freddie and told him that she had changed her mind, that they were too young and it was too impetuous. He was hurt, of course, and then angry. "Your family got to you, didn't they? I'm not good enough for them! That's it, isn't it? You let them change your mind!" Anne could barely speak much less respond intelligently to his charges and he was right. Everything he said was the truth. He wouldn't understand about her mother's wishes. It was better, she decided, that he was angry. He would leave with no regrets and go on to UCLA and live out his dreams.

She didn't return to school until the next Fall and all her focus and energy went into studying. People marveled at how quickly she earned her degrees but they didn't know what was driving her. She poured all her heartache over Frederick and her passion to do justice to her mother's memory into her studies. She had no social life, took no breaks or vacations because there was no on who wanted to see her anyway. Lydia would visit every few months but otherwise Anne lived, ate and slept literature. It was only after she received her doctorate that she realized she had to develop some type of outside interest so she'd taken up hiking and rock climbing. It was just one more thing for her family to dislike about her but she didn't care. She took the first job offered her which happened to be at her alma mater and tried to go on with her life.

To everyone else, Anne seemed a basically happy, if slightly shy person. She worked hard to make them believe that to be true. In fact, she felt more like half a person. Ever since Frederick had left, there had been something or more precisely someone missing in her life. She had kept up with his career through the internet and magazines. He had graduated and was already becoming a talked about young director. His last movie had been nominated for quite a few awards. He had accomplished everything he'd set out to do. He still wasn't married but was often shown in pictures with a supermodel or young actress on his arm at red carpet events. Giving him up had been the biggest mistake of her life. She'd known it almost from the moment that last phone call had ended but couldn't admit it to herself until years later. Never were there two people more perfect together than they had been. She would never know that kind of happiness again and had resigned herself to that fact. Still, though, she could live a full life and be content. That was something.

Her mind drifted back and forth from grading to essays to the problems her father was having. How could she help him come up with enough money to satisfy their creditors and how could she prevent him from falling into this same pit again? It would take a miracle to save Kelly Hall. She vowed to spend some time researching it tomorrow but had to refocus her attention on the essays.

Chapter 3

Anne had an early class the next morning and it was midafternoon before she found some quiet time to do some research. Her first searches turned up lots of law firms who did bankruptcy filings. "That," she thought, "will never do for Mr. Walter Elliot." Then she remembered how her father was always bragging about their home being on the Historic Homes Registry. Maybe that would help secure some type of loan or grant, she thought, so she searched for information. There was nothing of particular interest until Anne noticed the subject line for one of the search results. It said, "Historic Antebellum Home Sought for Sparkman Movie". She clicked for more details. It seemed Stephen Sparkman was producing and directing a new movie based on a recent best selling Civil War novel. He'd scouted a few cities but hadn't found exactly what he wanted so he was asking interested parties to send him pictures and information about homes that were available for location shooting. No specific amount was mentioned but the article did say that owners of the prospective locations would be well compensated. "What could it hurt?" she thought as she filled out the information and attached pictures of their house from the historic registry page.

Anne continued her teaching duties and had a couple of long talks with her father by phone attempting to get him to cut back on expenditures at least until his current debt was settled. He, of course, insisted that they were already cutting back on any non-essential items. How could they be expected to do without their favorite imported coffee? Also, it took a minimum of 3 people on their household staff to keep the home and grounds in immaculate condition. Did Anne expect them to do the cleaning themselves? And, of course, he and Elizabeth had to get new clothes for the Summer Rose Cotillion. He could not represent Kelly Hall in last year's tuxedo. Anne's frustration level grew with each call but her father would not budge. She began to think it would come down to having to sell her beloved home.

The information Anne had sent to Sparkman Studios had completely slipped her mind until she received a large envelope with the Sparkman logo emblazoned on the upper left corner. She ripped into it and began scanning the letter, "Received your info and pictures…house looks like a possible match for our needs….would like to come and do a tour…..please give us a call…." Anne was stunned. This might be at least a partial solution to their financial dilemma but only if she could convince her father to do it.

A quick call to Aunt Lydia and they began scheming up ways to make the idea appealing to him. It didn't take long until they had a plan. Anne would come home for a visit on the following weekend and they would put their plot to the test.

After dinner on Saturday, the family, Mr. Walter, Elizabeth, and Anne with Lydia Russell in attendance sat in the drawing room having coffee. They had been discussing trivial matters when Lydia casually mentioned that it would be wonderful if more people had the opportunity to see the true beauty of Kelly Hall and its historical significance. "You know, if we could get it featured on HGTV or a documentary on the Civil War or even in a movie, it would give the world a chance to appreciate how well you've preserved this piece of history,"Lydia commented. Mr. Walter's brow furrowed, an unusual occurrence, "Hmm, I don't know….it seems so common, being on television…they let anyone do those reality TV shows. I just don't know." Anne immediately chimed in, "I completely agree with you Father. It would be tragic to allow cameras into our ancestral home. I would feel violated." Lydia immediately took up her part, "Oh, but, Anne, we would make sure that it's done tastefully and respectfully. Just think of how famous Kelly Hall and the Elliot name could become." Her father was, as expected, quick to agree with Mrs. Russell, "Oh, Anne, you are so unsociable. Of course it would be done with decorum. I would welcome an opportunity for the old Hall to be showcased." Elizabeth, sitting perched like a sparrow on the edge of chair added, "Do you think we could meet anyone famous? Maybe even be invited to Hollywood parties?" Her father perked up even more, "Ooh, wouldn't that be thrilling!"

It was time to spring the trap. "Well, I have heard that the director Mr. Sparkman who did that wonderful movie about the Holocaust, he won the Academy Award you know, is looking for a Civil War home to use in his next movie. They were discussing it on Good Morning Savannah the other day. I'm sure everyone who lives in the historic district is trying to get their house picked so it would probably be a waste of time to even check into it but I can try if you'd like," Lydia remarked in an offhand manner. She knew he wouldn't be able to resist the idea of beating out his neighbors to have his house picked to be in a possible Oscar winning movie. He tried to seem blasé but quickly answered, "I don't see what it would hurt to just inquire. Do you Elizabeth? I mean it would be good for the whole community." Elizabeth quickly agreed with her father (she rarely did otherwise) and so Lydia agreed to check into it for them. Their plot had worked and neither would ever know that it was Anne who had set the whole thing in motion.

Chapter 4

Anne turned the project over to Aunt Lydia so that her involvement would not taint the process for her father and sisters. She heard from them that appointments had been made. Location scouts had visited with cameras and video equipment. She tried to act completely uninterested although it was exciting and made her feel hopeful for a change. She focused on finishing up her Spring quarter classes. She wasn't working Summer quarter and had already promised to spend two weeks with Mary who constantly complained about how overworked and under appreciated she was. Anne was sure she'd be spending the majority of those 2 weeks babysitting her nephews but she didn't mind. It was a change of pace and they could be so sweet sometimes.

Finally the last exams were marked and grades were posted. Anne put her mail on hold and packed a small bag for the stay at Mary's home just outside Savannah. She also packed her hiking and climbing gear because she planned to drive north and spend some time on the Appalachian Trail later after her family visits.

She heard officially from Elizabeth that Sparkman had chosen their home for his next movie. She and father were beside themselves with excitement and all the neighbors were terribly envious. And, they were paying them a small fortune to rent out the entire house and grounds for 3 months and possibly longer. It would clear all the property tax they owed and about half their credit card debt. Of course, they'd have to move out for those 3 months but they had rented a nice townhouse on Tybee Island for that period so it wouldn't be a hardship. They still didn't know if they would meet Mr. Sparkman but were hoping to.

Anne was happy for them. She knew that it not only helped greatly with the financial difficulties but it also gave her father and Elizabeth an instant society boost being associated with a Hollywood director. She, however, wanted to stay as far away from the whole mess as possible.

Mary and Charlie Musgrove lived in a modern 3000 sq. ft home with a double car garage and a large pool in back. The house sat on land which was part of the farm owned by Charlie's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were the two of the friendliest people Anne had ever met. Charlie was their oldest and they had two daughters, Louisa and Henrietta (who preferred to be called Henna). The whole family was fun loving and open hearted. Anne truly enjoyed their company. She was hoping to spend some time with them during her visit with Mary.

She arrived at her sister's house to find Mary prostrate on the couch with a migraine and the two boys squabbling over Legos while a Spongebob cartoon played loudly in the background. She stopped the squabble, fed the boys their lunch and then sent them to their rooms so she could talk with Mary for a while. "Honestly," her sister whined, "I can't understand how Charlie can just leave me when I'm so ill. He knows how wild these boys are and I am so weak I can barely stand." Anne commiserated with her sister and promised to help her out over the next couple of weeks. Mary was soon up and feeling hungry so Anne made them both tuna salad sandwiches and iced tea.

Just as they finished lunch, Louisa and Henna drove up. They had seen Anne's car in the driveway from their house and couldn't wait to come and say hello. They had both grown up quite a bit since last year. Louisa was a college freshman and Henna a sophomore. Both were attending the Univ. of Georgia in Athens and were home for the summer. There were hugs and a lot of chatter all around with a few negative interjections by Mary. Anne ended up promising to come to "the big house" for dinner that evening with Charlie, Mary and the boys. The girls left for a trip into town leaving Mary and Anne alone again. Anne commented on how grown up the girls were and Mary replied, "Oh, yes, the Misses Musgrove think they're all that since they're attending UGA now. It's really annoying. They hardly ever come by here anymore – too busy with their friends and parties. Not that I care, of course." Anne smiled and changed the subject. She knew all too well why the girls didn't visit Mary and it was the same reason that she only made the trip once a year. Mary was a whiner. She complained incessantly about everything and used her rowdy young sons as an excuse for being exhausted or too ill to participate in any planned activities. She was a lot like father and Elizabeth, spoiled and petulant. With the Musgroves, however, she wasn't coddled or fussed over. It often proved to be quite amusing to Anne although Mary would be enraged and usually took it out on poor Charlie.

Anne ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in the pool with her nephews so that their Mom could nap. She was actually having fun and so were the boys. They loved spending time with Auntie Anne. Charlie showed up around 5:30 and was his usual happy good ole boy self. He gave Anne a big bear hug and told her how glad he was that she had come for a visit. Anne knew that it was mostly due to the fact that she would be giving him a short break from the burden of Mary's constant complaints. She didn't mind, though. She'd always liked Charlie and had even gone out with him once before he had met Mary. He definitely wasn't her type but he was a good man.

They got the boys settle with a babysitter and headed over to the Musgrove's for dinner.

Anne was excited to see her old friends and they were as delighted to have her as a guest again. They were all catching up on the happenings in each other's lives over the past year when Louisa suddenly blurted out, "Oh my goodness, I forgot to tell you. While we were in town today, everyone was talking about the movie they're making at Kelly Hall and you'll never guess who's going to be directing it as well as renting a house only a few miles from here. Anne was thinking to herself, "Stephen Sparkman. I'm the one who set this all up," but she didn't want to ruin Louisa's surprise. After waiting a moment to build suspense, Louisa squealed, "It's Fred Wentworth, the hot young director who won the Golden Globe last year. We googled him and he is a total hottie. Oh, AND I have it on good authority that he is renting the ranch that the Coleman's used to own for himself and the crew to stay in while they're filming. You know that's only like 5 miles from here. Can we invite him to dinner, Dad? Please. It would be so cool to have dinner with a famous Hollywood director."

For a moment, Anne lost focus on what was being said. After she'd heard Freddie's name, it had all become a blur. Was it possible? Could it be that he was coming back to Savannah? It was like an old scar on her heart had been ripped open. She couldn't breathe. Charles, who was sitting next to her, noticed her discomfort and asked if she was feeling alright. "Just too much sun today, I think," she lied. No one other than her father, Elizabeth and Aunt Lydia knew about her previous relationship with Fred Wentworth and she would keep it that way.

Her world slowly came back into focus in time to hear Mr. Musgrove exclaiming that, of course, they would have to invite Mr. Wentworth over for dinner which led to squeals of delight from Louisa, Henna and even Mary. "According to everyone we spoke to, he and the crew are moving in tomorrow. They ordered food and rented furniture to be delivered today. Let's make a neighborly visit tomorrow, Hen, and invite him over," Louisa declared with a twinkle in her eye. Henna was instantly in agreement, "We could invite him for Friday and have a BBQ." Mrs. Musgrove liked the idea and they were soon all heads together including Mary planning the event.

Anne tried acting excited but in fact was terrified. Would she have to see Freddie again? What would she say? How would he feel? She couldn't do it. She'd have to come up with an excuse. She couldn't face him after what she'd done to him and she didn't want him to see the dowdy college professor she'd become. She'd rather that he remembered her young and full of optimism even if that meant she'd never have real closure on their relationship. Yes, she would definitely have to come down with a migraine or stomach virus on the day of the barbeque to avoid contact with him and then she'd be gone in another week so she could avoid any contact.

The trio of Charlie, Mary and Anne left for home around midnight. Anne sat up long after everyone else had gone to bed. Her mind raced with thoughts of Freddie laughing, Freddie kissing her, Freddie proposing. Though she had thought that such memories were buried in her past, she could still remember how his lips felt against her skin and the touch of his hand on the back of her neck as he pulled her close. The memories burned like a fire reigniting inside her. She still wanted Freddie, indeed still loved him. But as she stood in front of the mirror staring at her reflection, she realized she was no longer the same Anne Elliot he had known. Not only had she hurt him deeply but she wouldn't even be attractive to him now. The tears finally came and she buried her face deeply in her pillow so the sobs would not wake Mary, Charlie or the boys. She would get past this and life would go on and she would be content again. It was only a matter of time.

Chapter 5

Mary insisted they go shopping for new dresses to wear to the cookout. Anne tried to stay behind to act as babysitter but Mary wanted her to come along and help her pick out the perfect outfit. Anne relented and off they went to spend the day in boutiques picking through the latest fashions which just happened to be high on Anne's list of UNfavorite things. She did end up getting a light blue sundress in the vintage clothing store but Mary had to try on practically every dress and skirt in stock in every store they entered. She finally settled on a skirt and top which cost enough that they should have encrusted with precious gems rather than plain buttons and zippers.

What Louisa had told them was true. Every shopkeeper in town was talking about the movie being made at Kelly Hall and Fred Wentworth moving into town for the filming.

They were all excited at the prospect of possibly being part of a big Hollywood production, and of course Mary had to discuss the fact that she was going to be having dinner with Mr. Wentworth on the following evening.

Every time she heard his name, it felt like a tiny dagger to her heart. She kept a smile in place all day and even tried to pretend excitement of her own. Mary even asked her if she was feeling okay. Anne decided to lay the ground work for an excuse on Friday by saying that her stomach had been upset all day. Mary, who demanded empathy for the slightest ailment, reciprocated the least amount possible and offered her sister little more than a deep sigh as comfort.

It was nearly dark by the time Mary was ready to return home. Anne was exhausted both mentally and physically by that point. She had slept very little the night before. Charlie had bought pizza for himself and the boys for dinner and saved a few slices. Anne chose instead to take a long hot bath and turn in early with a book, one of her favorite Jane Austen classics. If she could just make it through tomorrow, it would be over. She wouldn't have to worry about seeing him again. One more day, she could make it through but her plan to beg off due to illness had to work.

She deliberately stayed in bed until nearly noon when she heard her sister saying rather too loudly, "I don't know when your Auntie is getting up. You'll just have to wait."

She finally got up but tried all day to keep up her act of not feeling well. Mary didn't even seem to notice. She was much too busy preparing herself for meeting a real Hollywood director.

At around 3:00 pm, Anne was sitting under an umbrella watching the boys play in the pool. Mary was inside doing her nails. She was trying to keep her attention on Little Charles and his brother but thoughts of Freddie clouded her mind. She didn't notice that Little Charles had gotten out and was running along the edge of the pool until she heard the huge splash. She jumped up and dove in pulling him to edge. He had hit his head on the edge of the pool and had a nasty gash on his forehead. She knew he needed stitches.

She grabbed both boys and called Mary who came out waving wet fingernails.

Upon seeing the blood, Mary began wailing and flapping around like a chicken. Anne calmly told her that they'd have to take him to the ER for stitches which seemed to calm her a bit but the wailing continued. They grabbed a towel to press against the cut, loaded the boys in the car and headed out. Anne had to drive because of her sister's emotional state but Mary continued screeching about how Anne should have been watching them and about getting blood all over herself . Anne was used to drama and histrionics after living with her father and Elizabeth so she simply nodded and kept driving.

The wait wasn't long and they soon had Little Charles all stitched up and eating a popsicle. Charlie had come straight away when Mary called him. They were finishing up the insurance paperwork and it was almost 5 pm. "Surely now," thought Anne, "there can be no thought of attending the cookout. I don't have to pretend to be ill. Little Charlie is really hurt and will want his parents."

Anne got back into the car with Mary and the boys and they followed behind Charlie's truck on the way home. At the first stoplight she turned to Mary and said, "I'm sorry you'll have to miss the party tonight. It's all my fault." Mary looked astonished. "Miss the party, why? The child is fine now. It was just a little bump. I don't see why I should have to miss anything." Anne didn't know what to say. She was sure Charlie would have a different view of things. Upon arriving home, however, Charlie was all for going to the party and leaving Mary at home to tend their son.

"Oh, that's just fine," sniped Mary, "you get to go and meet Mr. Wentworth and I'm the one who has to stay and tend to the child. He's your son just as much as mine. Why don't you stay and watch him and I'll go out. Just because I'm a woman doesn't make me a nurse." Charlie started to argue back and Anne could feel a huge argument brewing when a plan clicked into place in her mind.

"You two go and I'll stay with Little Charlie," she offered. "You know I haven't felt well all day, Mary. It'll be no trouble. We'll watch Spongebob. Really I want to stay with him." Charles tried to refuse but Mary was pretty quick to agree without arguing at all. She and Charles went upstairs to change and Anne settled down on the sofa with the boys to watch cartoons. They were both tired from the excursion to the ER and would probably be asleep in a couple of hours. She waved Mary and her husband off to the party with great relief. She was spared having to meet him again. Everything was going to work out. Before she knew it, she and the boys were all dozing in front of the TV.

At around 9 pm, Anne was awakened by the phone ringing. She answered quickly and whispered, "Hello." She could hear the party going on in the background as Mary was asking her about Little Charles. There was music and laughter and the sound of a man's voice, not Charlie or his father but a familiar voice, a voice from years ago. She heard herself assuring Mary that everything was fine while straining to catch the sound of his voice again. It was Frederick. He was there less than a mile away from her. She hung up the phone once Mary was satisfied and walked to the window which faced the Musgrove farm. She could see the lights and if she walked just a bit closer, she could probably hear the family and Frederick as they talked and laughed. Had he asked about her? Had anyone mentioned her? Did he even know she was here? It didn't matter. She didn't want to see she him, although every fiber of her being yearned for that very thing.

Charles and Mary, both a little tipsy, arrived home around midnight. She had carried the boys to their beds and was reading in her room. She could hear them talking as they went to their room and readied for bed, "I really do like that guy," Charlie remarked, "Very down to earth. Not at all what I expected." Mary agreed, "Oh yes and he's so handsome. Louisa and Henna were really taken with him. It's hard to believe that he is from such an undistinguished family." "Oh, stop it Mary," Charles sounded perturbed, "he had a single mom and they were poor. He worked his way to where he is. That's something to be proud of." Mary wasn't swayed, "Well, of course, but heritage is important as well. I wouldn't trade my Elliot heritage for all his money." Charles snorted a bit, "Maybe not, but apparently your father didn't have a problem with it." Mary had nothing else to say so the next sound Anne heard was the slamming of the bathroom door. Before long the house was completely quiet as all inside slept.

Chapter 6

The next morning, Anne was up early. It was Saturday and she had planned to take the boys out for the day. She was in the kitchen making pancakes when she heard a knock at the door. Assuming it was one of the Musgroves, she yelled, "Come on in." As she finished flipping 2 pancakes, she turned to say good morning to the guest and came face to face with Frederick Wentworth. He looked as stunned as she felt. She had to grab the counter behind her for support to keep from falling. He stammered, "I'm sorry. Charlie invited me to go fishing. I didn't realize that you were here." He turned as if to leave. She heard herself say, "He's out back," and then felt like there was no more air in her body to be able to speak. "Thank you," he responded curtly and left as quickly as he'd come in.

It had happened. She had seen him and he had seen her. He had not even acknowledged her as Anne. Could it be that she had changed so much that he didn't recognize her? She gasped in a breath. The boys were looking at her with worried expressions, "You okay, Attie Anne?" Little Charlie asked. She swallowed her tears and nodded, "Yeah, buddy, I'm great." She couldn't fall apart, not now. That was probably the only time she'd have to come face to face with him. She would stay very busy with the boys all next week or even go shopping again with Mary, anything to stay out of the house and away from further contact.

She was finishing the last of the pancakes when she heard the door to the garage opening. Charlie was talking to someone, "Come on in and get some coffee, Fred, and I think I smell Anne's famous blueberry pancakes." Anne grabbed a mug of coffee to steady her hands and steeled herself for another confrontation. Charlie walked in, "I don't think you've met Anne, my sister-in-law, Anne Elliot meet Mr. Frederick Wentworth." Anne could only smile and nod. Fred managed, "We've met before," as he nodded in her direction. "Really?" Charles asked, "When was that?" "Oh, God, No!" Anne prayed, "Don't say it. Don't tell him." Whether he saw the pleading in her eyes or maybe he felt the same, she didn't know but all he said was, "We were acquainted for just a short while when we both attended college in Atlanta, but that was years ago." Charlie was completely absorbed in his pancakes now and simply mumbled, "Huh, weird, small world and all that I guess."

Frederick sat down and accepted a cup of coffee, though he never drank a sip. He chatted amiably with Charlie and even spoke to the boys, asking Little Charlie about the boo-boo on his head, but he never again even looked at Anne. She sat like stone watching him move, listening to his voice. He was the same, no he was better, than 8 years ago. He was confident and charming. He still had the most perfect smile. His hands were so strong looking but she knew how gentle they truly were. She wanted to take in every line and every sensation to store away so that in years to come, she would still be able to remember him like this.

She didn't know how long they'd sat. Charlie had finished his huge stack of pancakes and turned to her, "You're awfully quiet this morning, Anne. You feeling okay?" She jerked her mind back to the present, "Oh, yes, fine. Just planning our day. The boys and I are going out, aren't we?"she asked to a chorus of YESSES! She looked back up to see Frederick's gaze on her again. There was a searching look in his eyes like he was trying to reconcile the woman who sat before him with the 19 year old girl he'd been in love with. Anne looked down at her coffee mug, "Well, time to get dressed guys," she said to the boys. She was turning to leave the table but stopped, "It was nice to see you again Fred." He only nodded in response. Then she was being pulled by four little hands to "Huwwy up, Attie."

By the time she'd dressed the boys and herself, he was gone. She went to pack snacks and saw that his coffee mug still sat where he had left it. She wrapped her hand where his had been. She could remember when their hands had been entwined so closely that you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. That was over, she thought, as she carried the cup to the sink. That was in the past.

Mary had just awakened and was stumbling to the kitchen as Anne and the boys were heading out the door. "Have a good day," she smiled. And they would, Anne knew, have fun. Her nephews were some of her favorite people. In their eyes, she was perfect, not bookworm Annie, not skinny Annie, not a fashionless social flop but just Aunt Annie whom they loved. The rest of her family would never see her as they did and she had accepted that long ago. She just wished that Freddie Wentworth had kept that vision of her from 8 years ago in his head rather than this shell of a person she'd become.

Chapter 7