Lillie pressed her fist to her mouth to keep from crying so that she could hear her parents’ argument. Though she did not dare leave the bed, knowing they would hear her footfalls, she was determined to hear their discussion, especially since it was about her.
“We have no choice, Dorothy!” Her father’s voice was half an octave above its normal pitch. “She must go live with Dorcas. It is the only way.”
“But, Samuel, please,” her mother pleaded. “We don’t even know if it is true. After all, the Giles boy said -”
“The Giles boy will say anything,” Samuel cut her off. “His family’s reputation is at stake as well. And Thomas Steele is a business associate. His daughter is to be wed to the son of the Judge.”
“You believe this girl over your own daughter because of business connections?” Dorothy sobbed. “Please, Samuel, darling, please give us time to find out the truth.”
“Do not call me darling. I have all the truth I need. Just as I always have. We will leave tomorrow. Perhaps living with my sister will undo some of the damage your daughter has done to herself.” And with that, heavy feet stomped across the floor, and the front door opened and then closed loudly.
After a moment, Lillie heard softer feet coming up the stairs. She quickly dried her tears and turned her back to the door, covering herself with the quilt. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply so that her mother would think she was asleep. When the door opened, she stiffened slightly but remained quiet, inhaling in out and in a regular rhythm, willing her eyes to remain still under her lids. The bed creaked and moved, and she knew her mother was sitting on its edge. Lillie could hear soft sniffling, the remnants of her Dorothy’s tears in the kitchen. A warm hand stroked her back, but still she did not move. A moment later, her mother rose from the bed and left quietly, closing the door behind her. After counting slowly to ten in her head, LIllie sat up and scrambled as quietly as possible to the window and looked out at the sky, letting the tears fall freely.
Her father had been so angry; he had looked at her as if he hated her. Though Samuel Freeman had never been a warm man, he had never been as cold as he was that evening. And now he was sending her away to Louisiana to live with her taciturn aunt Dorcas. Her life was over. And all because of her petty neighbor’s jealousy and lies.
Two Weeks Earlier
Lillie ignored the noise at her window and kept reading the book of poetry she had just received from her friend Lydia. She was lost in the verse of Robert Burns.
Sighing, Lillie placed the marker in the book and flounced off her chair, going to the window and raising it in irritation. She scowled downward to look for the source of the irritating tapping.
“Took you long enough Lilliegirl,” a loud whisper came from behind the large oak tree. “Thought my arm would fall off before I got your attention.”
“Alexander Frederick Giles, what are you doing? You cannot be out here under my window at night. We aren’t children anymore!”
Alexander stepped from behind the tree and snorted. “It isn’t even dark yet. And besides, I waved at your mama on the front porch on the way back here.”
“Did she wave back?”
“Nope, but maybe she was thinking of something else,” Alexander grinned up at her, tapping his temple with his forefinger.
“You scamp, you know she falls asleep in that rocking chair. I’m going back to my book, which I was enjoying before you started trying to break my window,” LIllie reached for the window to close it.
“You close that, I’ll just keep throwing pebbles. I’ve got news to tell you. So stop acting like a stodgy old spinster and come down here.”
With another frustrated Huff, Lillie held up a finger to indicate she would be down momentarily. Then she fastened her full length coat around her high necked dressing gown. No sense in getting all the way dressed, as it was nearly dark. She locked her bedroom door and then gingerly made her way down the trellis beside her window. As she was about to jump from the bottom of the wooden feature, she felt Alexander’s arms around her waist, and she allowed him to set her softly on the ground.
“What in blazes are you doing with a coat on? It’s July,” Alexander smirked at her. “It’s not like I never saw you in a dressing gown before.”
“I think I was twelve years old the last time that happened, Xander. It isn’t seemly for you to see me that way anymore. Daddy would kill us both.” Lillie brushed the hair from her face. “Now what is this news you had to tell me?”
Xander offered her his arm. “Let’s sit. I heard my mother and father talking earlier today about a party to be given this weekend at Sarah Jane’s house. Practically the entire town is invited.”
Lillie sat down and tilted her head at Alexander. “That was you big news? A party? We’ve been going to parties practically every weekend since the spring. And who cares about a party at Sarah Jane’s, especially me. You know I won’t be invited. She can’t stand me.”
“Oh, you’ll be invited to this one,” Alexander said knowingly. “This isn’t just any party. According to my parents’ conversation, it’s an engagement party!”
Lillie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Sarah Jane was getting engaged? As far as Lillie knew, she hadn’t settled on a specific suitor yet; she tended to flit from boy to boy. Besides, Lillie knew that Sarah Jane had had a crush on Xander since they were children. At that thought, Lillie stood up and whirled around to look directly at Alexander. “Not you??”
Alexander’s eyes grew wide, and then he made an exaggerated face of horror. “No ma’am. I’d sooner be a confirmed bachelor.”
“That isn’t a very gentlemanly thing to say,” Lillie flinched. Even though she didn’t care for Sarah Jane, she was surprised at Alexander’s tone.
“Sorry, Lilliegirl,” Alexander said, flushing a bit. “I forget my manners with you sometimes.”
“So, do you know who she is marrying?”
“That’s the thing. My parents didn’t say. I have no idea who her fiancé is. I guess I’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out who the lucky man is.”
Suddenly Lillie hoped Alexander was right about everyone being invited. She didn’t want to miss the news and have to hear about it later. She sat back down and toyed with her hair, thinking through the long list of young men who had appeared at Sarah Jane’s door over the last several months.
“And what about you, Lillie?” Alexander said, sitting beside her. “Anyone sniffing around the Freeman place?”
“Sniffing around? That’s certainly a romantic way of putting it,” Lillie raised her eyebrow.
“I know Matthew Sloan was a bit interested this spring.” Alexander’s face clouded.
“He was? I never noticed. Why didn’t he come to call, I wonder.” Lillie said the last part more to herself than Alexander. She wasn’t particularly interested in Matthew. He was short, and he talked of nothing but fishing. Still, while Sarah Jane had hosted a regular parade, Lillie had had very few callers. Marriage was the last thing on her mind; after all, she was only nineteen. But it did make her wonder what Sarah Jane had that she lacked.
“What about me?” Alexander asked. “I come close to every day to see you.”
“Oh Xander, you’re sweet, but you’re hardly a suitor. After all, we’ve been like brother and sister since we were still in baby clothes.”
Alexander’s face shadowed for a moment, but Lillie didn’t notice. “So, in case you don’t get an invite to snobby Sarah Jane’s party, would you like to accompany me? That way you could hear the news firsthand.”
Lillie smiled and leaned forward to give Alexander a kiss on the cheek. “You think of everything. I’d love to Xander. And now you better shoo off. As much as Mama likes you, they wouldn’t like knowing I climbed down the trellis to talk to you, whether we are courting or not.” And with that, Lillie walked back to the wall of the house and began climbing up to her room.
Sarah Jane frowned as she stood behind a magnolia tree in her backyard, watching as Lillie and Alexander talked. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she couldn’t help but notice how close together they sat, and she scowled when she saw Lillie lean forward and give him a kiss. Alexander sat up as Lillie climbed the trellis, and Sarah crouched lower behind the tree to make sure she wasn’t seen. Her heart pounded. She had always liked Alexander, but he had never seemed to notice her; his attention was always on Lillie. She had done every subtle thing she could think of to garner his favor, but he couldn’t be wrapped around her finger the way so many of the boys had. And now time was running out for Sarah Jane. She knew her father wanted her to show some genuine interest in his friend’s son. But the man was so much older than she was, and he was hardly what she would call handsome. Besides, when he had reached for her hand once, nothing had happened, no spark at all. As she watched Alexander walk to his horse, she shook her head. Her parents had told her everyone in their circle was to be invited to the party on Saturday, but Lillie’s invitation would get lost. Sarah Jane was going to have to work harder to gain Alexander’s interest, and Lillie would only get in her way.