Origins (Page 10)

"Here." I took Rosalyn’s tiny white hand and pushed the ring on her finger. It was too large, and the emerald rolled lopsidedly toward her pinkie. She looked like a child playing dress-up with her mother’s jewelry. But Rosalyn didn’t seem to care that the ring didn’t fit. Instead, she held out her hand, watching as the diamonds captured the light of the table’s candles. Immediately, a crush of women surrounded us, cooing over the ring.

"This does call for a celebration!" my father called out. "Cigars for everyone. Come here, Stefan, son! Y ou’ve made me one proud father."

I nodded and shakily stepped over to him. It was ironic that while I’d spent my entire life trying to get my father’s approval, what made him happiest was an act that made me feel dead inside.

"Katherine, will you dance with me?" I heard Damon’s voice above the din of scraping chairs and clinking glassware. I stopped in my tracks, waiting for the answer.

Katherine glanced up, casting a furtive look in my direction. Her eyes held my own for a long moment. A wild urge to rip the ring off Rosalyn’s finger and place it on Katherine’s pale one nearly overtook me. But then Father nudged me from behind, and before I could react, Damon grabbed Katherine by the hand and led her out to the dance floor.

Chapter 7

The next week passed in a blur. I ran from fittings at Mrs. Fells’s dress shop to visits with Rosalyn in the Cartwrights’ stuffy parlor to the tavern with Damon. I tried to forget Katherine, leaving my shutters closed so I wouldn’t be tempted to look across the lawn at the carriage house, and forcing myself to smile and wave at Damon and Katherine when they explored the gardens.

Once I went up to the attic to look at the portrait of Mother. I wondered what advice she’d have for me. Love is patient, I remembered her saying in her lilting French accent during Bible study. The notion comforted me. Maybe love could come to me and Rosalyn.

After that, I tried to love Rosalyn, or at least garner some kind of affection for her. I knew, behind her quietness and her dishwater blond hair, she was simply a sweet girl who’d make a doting wife and mother. Our most recent visits hadn’t been awful. In fact, Rosalyn had been in remarkably good spirits. She’d gotten a new dog, a sleek black beast named Sadie, which she’d taken to carrying everywhere lest the new puppy suffer the same fate as Penny had. At one point, when Rosalyn looked up at me with adoring eyes, asking if I’d prefer lilacs or gardenias at the wedding, I almost felt fond of her. Maybe that would be enough.

Father had wasted no time in planning another party to celebrate. This time, it was a barbecue at the estate, and Father had invited everyone within a twenty-mile radius. I recognized only a handful of the young men, pretty girls, and Confederate soldiers who milled around the labyrinth, acting as if they owned the estate. When I was younger, I used to love the parties at Veritas–they were always a chance to run down to the ice pond with our friends, to play hide-and-seek in the swamp, to ride horses to the Wickery Bridge, then dare each other to dive into the icy depths of Willow Creek. Now I just wished it were over, so I could be alone in my room.

"Stefan, care to share a whiskey with me?" Robert called out to me from the makeshift bar set up on the portico. To judge from his lopsided grin, he was already drunk.

He passed me a sweating tumbler and tipped his own to mine. "Pretty soon, there will be young Salvatores all over the place. Can you picture it?" He swept his hands expansively over the grounds as if to show me just how much room my imaginary family would have in which to grow.

I swirled my whiskey miserably, unable to picture it for myself.

"Well, you’ve made your daddy one lucky man. And Rosalyn one lucky girl," Robert said. He lifted his glass to me one last time, then went to chat with the Lockwoods’ overseer.

I sighed and sat down on the porch swing, observing the merriment occurring all around me. I knew I should feel happy. I knew Father only wanted what was best for me. I knew that there was nothing wrong with Rosalyn.

So why did this engagement feel like a death sentence?

On the lawn, people were eating and laughing and dancing, and a makeshift band made up of my childhood friends Ethan Giffin, Brian Walsh, and Matthew Hartnett was playing a version of "The Bonnie Blue Flag." The sky was cloudless and the weather balmy, with just a slight nip in the air to remind us that it was, indeed, fall. In the distance, schoolchildren were swinging and shrieking on the gate. To be around so much merriment–all meant for me–and not feel happy made my heart thud heavily in my chest.

Standing up, I walked inside toward Father’s study. I shut the door to the study and breathed a sigh of relief. Only the faintest stream of sunlight peeked through the heavy damask curtains. The room was cool and smelled of well-oiled leather and musty books. I took out a slim volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets and turned to my favorite poem. Shakespeare calmed me, the words soothing my brain and reminding me that there soothing my brain and reminding me that there was love and beauty in the world. Perhaps experiencing it through art would be enough to sustain me.

I settled into Father’s leather club chair in the corner and absentmindedly skimmed the onionskin pages. I’m not sure how long I sat there, letting the language wash over me, but the more I read, the calmer I felt.

"What are you reading?"

The voice startled me, and the book slid off my lap with a clatter.

Katherine stood at the study entrance, wearing a simple, white silk dress that hugged every curve of her body. All the other women at the party were wearing layers of crinoline and muslin, their skin guarded under thick fabric. But Katherine didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed by her exposed white shoulders. Out of propriety, I glanced away.