Authors: Kristin Vayden
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General
by Kristin Vayden
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013 KRISTIN VAYDEN
Cover Art Designed by Am Design Studios
To Rachel, and our endless laughter from adventures in writing.
I love you.
The tears started to fall even before I opened the stiff door to the nursing home. The only thing worse than saying goodbye was
saying goodbye. The wall's cream color blurred as I walked slowly down the hall toward Nanna's room. As I passed each wooden door, I glanced at the bronzed nameplate beside it. Each person within these walls had once been young like me, full of life, and now… now they waited.
Thankfully, Nanna wasn't fully aware of her surroundings; ignorance was bliss in her case. Usually the moment I opened the door to her room, a gentle smile would greet me. On a good day, she'd recognize me and try to fuss over my clothes or hair but today… today I knew that wasn't going to happen. The hospice nurse had called earlier urging me to come and say a final goodbye. My heart clenched.
As I drew closer to the door, I paused. I reached up to touch the nameplate, knowing someday soon it wouldn't be there anymore.
With a heavy sigh, I turned the handle and entered, immediately assaulted by the sounds of an oxygen machine and the subtle scent of cleaning fumes. The bulky hospital bed made my grandmother's small frame appear even more delicate. She rested quietly beneath a pale pink quilt she and I had made years ago. Everything about her screamed fragile. I walked over to her bed and placed my hand on hers. The cool temperature of her skin gave me an involuntary shiver. There wasn’t much time left.
"Nanna? It's me, Jocelyn. I'm here to keep you company for a while. I know you missed me — I sure missed you since yesterday." There was no response, but I wasn't really expecting one. Nanna's hand began to warm as I held it gently. The soft white hair that was usually pulled into a knot at the base of her neck was carefully combed and draped over her shoulders. I brushed a few wisps away from her face and bent to kiss her wrinkled cheek. The familiar scent of her vanilla perfume comforted me. I leaned back so my tears wouldn't fall on her skin and wiped my face furiously. The nurse for hospice had said hearing was the last sense to go, so I knew she could hear my quiet sobs. In spite of my grief, I grinned. I could hear her voice in my mind berating me for shedding so many tears over her. She was ready to pass on. In truth, she had been ready for quite a while. She missed Grandpa Jakob. Even though she wasn't aware of reality all the time, she'd never forgotten him. Soon she'd see him again. The thought of their reunion comforted me.
"Nanna, when you see Grandpa, make sure you tell him I love him, okay? That's your job. If you have to leave me, you have to take my love with you, all right? I'll stay a little while longer, Nanna, but I know you need me to say goodbye, to let you know I'll be all right without you, and I will. I promise. I'll keep your aloe vera plant alive, and your Christmas cactus that Grandpa Jake bought you. Your quilts will be put on my bed and, most of all, I'll remember everything you taught me, and I'll keep our books safe and re-read them, always thinking of you."
In saying the last part, I glanced at the bookshelves around the room all filled with the Regency romances we had both read many times, cover to cover. Of all the things she had forgotten, she'd never lost her love of reading. Her borderline obsession with the Regency era was hilarious. When I'd been little, we would often pretend to be at an important ball. Nanna would wear an old ball gown, and I would put on my best Sunday dress. We'd twirl, dance, and pretend to drink watered-down lemonade at Almack's. During those times of make-believe she'd taught me the waltz, quadrille, and all the other popular dances till I could do them with my eyes closed. We'd had tea parties and scones, and she'd taught me to make clotted cream. My stomach rumbled as I thought of it, reminding me I had again forgotten to eat.
Nanna had grown up in England. Though most of her adult life was spent in the States, her crisp accent hadn't faded. My parents would often tease me that I sounded more British than American because of how I'd mimic my beloved Nanna's speech. For all intents and purposes, Nanna had raised me after my parents had been killed in a plane crash. At the tender age of ten, I had no one else left.
Though I could never replace a parent, Nanna did her best to give me the best childhood possible. She and Grandpa Jake were my solid ground, and their love seasoned my life. Grandpa passed away my junior year of high school, leaving grandma and I the only ones left in our family. When Nanna died, I'd be truly alone. I placed my hands over hers again and laid my head down. The sweet smell of vanilla and the sterile smell of bleach both comforted me and broke me further. Each moment that passed was one less that she would be in this world, and time was running out. Warm tears trailed down my face and soaked the pink quilt as I silently mourned.
Feeling a gentle hand touch my shoulder, I jolted upright.
"Miss? I'm here to take care of Elinore. I need you to move so I can give her another dose of morphine. I'm so sorry to disturb you, but I don't want her in any pain, and I'm sure you don't either." The woman was so gentle in her words, tears stung new. I got up and moved away, giving Nanna one last kiss on her forehead. "I love you. I love you so much."
After administering the medication, the nurse turned to me with shining eyes brimming with tears. A moment later she walked over and gave me a gentle hug. "Don't worry; she's peaceful. She's not in any pain now, and I'm sure she knows you love her."
"Thank you," I managed as I wiped more tears away.
Picking up my purse, I gave Nanna one last glance before I walked to the door. As I turned the doorknob, I whispered one more time the words I wanted her to take with her to heaven. "I love you."
Packing up Nanna's belongings was even more difficult than enduring her funeral. Each piece of furniture had a memory, each quilt a story, and every book was a piece of the rarest treasure to me. As I picked up her recent favorite,
The Redemption of Lord Rawlings
by Rachel Van Dyken, I opened up the first page. Closing my eyes, I remembered reading in Nanna's library by the fire in August a few years ago. She always said a good romance deserved a good setting. That particular book needed a roaring fire to create the perfect ambiance. At first I had thought she was having another spell, especially when I began to sweat, but when she started the second chapter I didn't feel the heat anymore. The crackle of wood and the faint smell of smoke were the perfect support to bring the story to life.
Flipping to one of my favorite scenes, I noticed the page was written over with thick black marker in Nanna's familiar handwriting. She must have written it a while ago. The steadiness of her hand had failed more than nine months before her passing. The black strokes of her penmanship caused a rueful grin to tilt my lips. For all her elegant ways, she had loved black felt-tipped markers. The bold black writing was one of the few things she could read in the last year of her life. The writing was distinct, and as I read the words her voice echoed in my mind. "
Jocelyn, my dove. I miss you…"
My grin faded into fresh pain as a sob broke free. I reached for a box of tissues and pulled one out just in time to catch a tear before it dropped on the page.
"I miss you, and I hate to think of you being all alone. Though you have friends,
I know you'll be feeling bereft. So as my parting gift to you, I give you time. Strange as it may sound, as I came forward to find my Jakob, I'm sending you back to find yours. You have been taught well for this day. Remember what you have learned, and it will serve you. I have loved you with every heartbeat, and though my heart is silent now, in Heaven my soul awaits our blessed reunion
The words blurred on the page, and I blinked forcing the tears to fall before continuing.
"I'll be sure to have some strong hot tea, a good book, and lots of hugs for you when we finally meet again, but it won't be for some time, my dear. Until then have fun, live in joy, and never forget to keep a proper distance when you waltz. With my whole heart, Nanna."
The tissue was soaked, so I reached for another as I re-read her note.
What are you talking about, Nanna?
The thought of her being gone closed my throat — the pain was still so fresh and raw — but her letter was a balm. The words she'd written reminded me that we'd be together again, someday. That gave me a small measure of comfort, as if she were hugging my heart. The note captivated my curiosity, but I needed to finish packing her room. I tucked the book safely in my purse and boxed up the remaining ones to be carried to my house — the house Nanna had left to me. The final drawer I checked held Nanna's few items of jewelry she insisted remain with her. Among them was a pearl teardrop necklace she’d worn often when I was a child. With care, I picked it up and placed it over my head and around my neck, fastening the clasp. I held it out in front of me and caressed the luminescent pearl. Carefully, I took it off and placed it back in its box and packed up the other treasures.
When I finished, I took a deep breath to still the hiccupping sobs controlling me. I closed my eyes, inhaling the familiar scent that still hung in the air. The once decorated walls now glared back a sterile white, daring anyone to claim that life had been present only a short time ago. The front desk clerk gave me a sympathetic smile as I turned in the keys and signed my name.
I carried the last box to my car and drove home, exhausted. I skipped dinner and trudged up the stairs. Each step I took seemed heavy, as if I had lead weights in my shoes. Tomorrow I'd settle everything else and organize her belongings, but tonight I wanted to lose myself in the sweet abandon of sleep.
I glided into the ballroom, searching. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but my heart pounded with urgency. The soft swish of my sage colored silk gown seemed oddly loud compared to the din of voices resounding in the ballroom. People nodded to me, and I nodded back reflexively as I walked by. No one seemed to think of me as out of place. Strangely enough, I didn't feel out of place either.
I drank in the beauty of my surroundings — the gilded molding surrounding the ceiling, the brocaded draperies over tall windows. The people were milling about, dancing and flirting. The crowd parted and offered me a glimpse of a man in a fitted black suit. But before I could fully see his face, another man walked in front of me, blocking my view. Excusing myself, I walked around him. Quickly I searched the room, but only a moment later, I felt a warm, gloved hand cover my eyes. My breath caught in my throat.
"Surprise, Jocelyn." The distinctly masculine voice melted in my ears like warm honey.
I spun around and gazed into the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. He smiled and opened his mouth to speak.
Beep, beep, beep.
The alarm startled me from my dream, a dream I didn’t want to end. The annoying sound needed to be turned off, so I rolled over and reached out, fumbling till I hit the right buttons. Once it was silenced, I burrowed deeper into the blankets and pulled a pillow over my head. Sleep seemed much more promising than the day I had ahead of me, especially with dreams such as that one. As I closed my eyes, I recalled his face, his smile, the texture of his voice, deep and alluring.
Beep, beep, beep.
Ugh, I must have only hit the snooze button
"I'm getting up, I'm getting up," I mumbled as I got out of bed and correctly turned off the annoying alarm.
The prospect of facing a day without visiting Nanna still stung. Over the last few years I'd been finishing my college courses during the day and spending time with Nanna each evening. That left little time for friends, not that I had made them easily before. High school was an experience I'd rather not repeat, or remember for that matter. College would have been easier in the social department if I had put more effort into it, but Nanna had come first, leaving little time to simply "hang out." But I wouldn't have changed anything. The time I'd spent with my grandmother was worth it. Now, with my degree finished, I could continue searching for a job in marketing. Thankfully she had left me with a large inheritance that would give me time to search for the perfect position.