The sun woke before Anabelle James, but only just. She didn’t usually rise before Brayden, or before the staff were in uniform and enjoying their first espresso of the day. Although, usual was a new concept, because she had only been living at Waldorf for a few months. It was a few weeks since the fanfare faded and in its place was left a contentment of new routines and nuances of life behind the protective gates. She was a wife, new mother, and lady of palatial surroundings which carried responsibilities of its own. Since moving in she found her sleep to be deeper and more restful than any other time in her life, save for the night before. Anabelle had a dream about Kathryn, Brayden’s late mother; the mother-in-law she never knew as such. It haunted her out of the regal suit she shared with her new husband, as if walking away from the bed would also leave behind the dream. Prior to marrying Brayden, Ana’s history with the James family went back to the beginning of her career at Tweed Events, including the last party Kathryn would ever attend. Over countless cups of tea and walks around the manor, Ana had worked closely with her (unbeknownst at the time) future mother-in-law, planning in great detail how to dazzle guests at Waldorf. Through galas, charity events, birthday balls and afternoon teas, Ana and Kathryn developed a closeness in business that transferred into a sweet friendship. Credit entirely went to the kind of woman Kathryn James was, and her ability to bring out the gold in people. And Ana couldn’t help but stand there, alone in the ballroom just before sunset feeling a tangible heaviness . . . I wish I would have known she was to be family. It was What was more, Anabelle didn’t get to attend the funeral. The former operations manager at Tweed wouldn’t grant her request for the day off due to his unnatural phobia of fraternisation with clients. If only Hamish Seagram could see her now – fraternisation of the highest degree had been committed – she married a client! Ana’s arms almost hugged her own body as she stood in a trance-like state, remembering the vivid details. She closed her eyes as if replaying the dream would help her make sense of it. Kathryn wore a flowing pale grey lace dress and her long locks were wavey, like a relaxed version of Alice’s ringlet hair. When Kathryn was alive her hair was worn straight and only occasionally was it curled or put up, so the blatant difference in hairstyle alerted Ana to a transfiguration of sorts since her death. She was walking through the formal gardens with one hand holding the skirt of her dress and the other gently caressing brightly coloured flowers along the stone paths. Some of the floral and fauna in the dream was exaggerated. Waldorf had beautiful, impeccably landscaped gardens but it was a dream, and nothing appeared perfectly accurate. Ana followed at a distance with footsteps that were inaudible even as Kathryn approached the hedge maze where the walkway was exchanged for gravel. Not a sound. Overhead, the formerly blue sky with white, puffy clouds turned the same shade of grey as Kathryn’s dress. After the first turn in the labyrinth, Kathryn took a bigger clutch of the train of her dress and started running, although it appeared in slow motion. Her loose curls galloped over her back and shoulders as her speed increased. Ana had to run to keep up, although now the sound of thunder and rain exploded. In the downpour and running between twelve-foot-high hedge walls she became soaked as Kathryn dashed carelessly around every corner, making all the right turns. The reality was that Anabelle still didn’t know the hedge maze by heart. Alice did. Kathryn would have. In the afterlife, she still knew it by heart was what Ana gathered even in the middle of the dream. “Kathryn!” She didn’t hear, otherwise she would have turned around. The rain continued to pour, and Ana was soddened in seconds as the unaware Kathryn was chased and completely untouched by the weather. Another turn and her hand lovingly stroked the green shrubbery. With someone who knew the way and pursuing the hidden courtyard at a jog they might have reached it already. Timing was no respecter of persons in dreams. That was good for Ana because she felt a quickening inside, as if it was imperative they spoke before reaching the centre of the maze. “Kathryn!” A panic rose up in her as Kathryn ran a little faster and Ana found herself two turns behind. Her feet felt heavy even in flat patent leather ballet shoes over gravel being scattered as she ran. Looking down didn’t dispel the suspicion her feet were strapped to cement blocks. It felt like they were. The more she tried to keep up the further she fell behind. Eventually, she lost sight of Kathryn heard her still running over the gravel. The sky turned darker and more threatening, but Anabelle didn’t turn around. She kept going, making turns that sounded as near to Kathryn as possible. Suddenly, the downpour stopped but the sky remained the same charcoal grey and black with clouds full of rage as they passed over each other. A haunting stillness came over the gardens as if something were pursuing Ana – she felt it. What had begun as her trying to get Kathryn James’ attention had turned to errie weather and the suspicion she was now being chased. Why? Her ears no longer listened for Kathryn as her eyes travelled over her shoulder. Then, the hedge walls disappeared and she stood in the centre of the courtyard. Finally. There was no sign of Kathryn and at the centre of the maze stood a little girl in the same grey lace dress Kathryn had worn, albeit shorter and with sweet, puffed sleeves. She had a head full of ringlets with a large grey satin ribbon keeping some of them out of the way. The girl wore grey knee socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. Both of her hands were behind her back as she hummed innocently a song with no recognisable melody. As her focus shifted once again she was conscious of forgetting how the pursuit began. Why was she in the garden? Where did the hedge walls go? “Alice?” The girl didn’t turn around. “Alice, darling, is that you?” The little girl carried on humming the tune as she swayed left and right, hands behind her back. “Madam?” Ana took a sharp breath in and turned from the ballroom windows. One hand went to her neckline. “My apologies, Madam. I didn’t mean to startle you.” “It’s quite all right, Wellesley.” In his gloved hands the butler held a tray on which sat a steaming cup of espresso in a white porcelein cup and matching saucer. He offered it toward her. “Perhaps you might like some company at this hour.” The warm smile Anabelle was known for, covered her lips. “Thank you.” The butler bowed his head politely before leaving Ana’s presence. His formal shoes click-clacked across the ballroom floor, accompanying the lengthy exit. She stood there in the early hours because that’s where she stood with Kathryn many times during the planning of Brayden’s birthday ball. It felt comforting to return to the ballroom and that entire wall of ceiling-high windows where the morning light competed with the surrounding woodland for a view of Waldorf. Ana held the cup of espresso in its saucer with steam crawling upward and outward in continuous motions. Her eyes returned to the view of the expansive green lawns and surrounding woodland, behind which a surge of yellow and orange were rising. Mist hovered above the green lawns in those early hours of the morning like spirits watching over Waldorf Manor. Soon the fullness of life would be exchanged for bare trees and eventually, snow-covered branches. Ana lifted the cup and took a sip of espresso; calming warmth travelled down into her chest. Through the windows, protective spirit-like mist was still thick in its early morning presence, out of which a stag suddenly appeared. Ana’s eyes locked onto the majestic creature and she daren’t even lower the cup back into its saucer for fear the movement would scare him away. He wasn’t but one hundred metres from the wall of windows. Despite being warmed by both the atmosphere of that first espresso consumed in the quiet, regal ballroom, and the splendour of the sight before her, Ana was frozen in wonder. It was a mollifying view, to be sure. How timely. After waking with a start from such an eerie dream, the moment was gratefully received. The stag lowered his head and foraged briefly. “Sorry darling, there won’t be any acorns there,” she whispered, ensuring not to move behind the glass. “Try by the lake.” He couldn’t have heard her with the distance and bollard of windows, yet the stag’s head rose and those green eyes pierced hers. Ana remained still. The steam from her espresso slowed its desperate reaching up and out of the cup, to more of a slow and steady crawl. She held it in mid-air between her mouth and chest, motionless. The moment was intimate, despite the wall of windows separating them. It brought a calming over her body after a night of disturbed sleep. “Can you see me?” she whispered.
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