I know I've been lax on the WWW, LDs, and I am sorry. It's been getting away from me; not only am I not writing here, I'm not writing at all. I'm stuck, as usual. If I could have a week to just be: be calm, be quiet, and be creative; I might get some writing done. Alas, my week vacation isn't until September, so I might get some done then. I'm going to try to spend a couple of days soaking up the nature in southern Illinois.
So, if you're still interested in Ashley and Andrew, let me know. If you just skip over these, let me know. I don't want to keep posting if no one's reading. :)
The buildings were tall trees of brick and wood and glass. We came to a stop outside of the Hale, Booth, and Sanders building. Daddy was Cole Sanders, one of the best lawyers in the state of Mississippi. He exited the carriage and helped me down. I brushed small wrinkles out of my dress, straightened my bonnet, and took Daddy's arm to walk into the building. Inside, large fans manned by light-skinned quadroons circulated the air, making it feel cooler; the marble floors helped keep the temperature down. We walked past the guard, who tipped his hat, up to the second floor, and into Daddy's office. I sat down in one of his chairs after pick up a paper fan off of the corner of his desk. He went over to his safe and opened it. Turning, he handed me ten dollars.
"Should this be enough until I find you?"
"Daddy, this will be plenty! I wand to find some lace and new material for a dress Matty's going to make me." He nodded, helped me up, and escorted me to the door.
"I'll be here for about an hour, and then I'll come over and we'll shop together. I do need a new tie, and probably a new shirt as well. You'll have to help me on that, darlin'. Have to look good for the ball this weekend." I'd completely forgotten! I was looking forward to the dance. Music, food, enjoyable conversation, and hopefully a young man to come calling in the future. I quickly kissed Daddy's cheek and swept down the stairs, tucking the fan into my wrist bag. The guard near the front door tipped his hat to me, then rushed to open the door. I gave him a polite 'thank you' and he smiled back. I walked outside into the sunshine and headed down the block.
There was a large dry goods store in the building next to Daddy's and that's where I expected to find the perfect summer dress material. Matty was wonderful at understanding my scrawlings for new clothing. I walked up the front stairs under a large awning that read "Stewart's Sundries" and into the store. Pleasantly cool and full of the wonderful smells of spices and wood and oil on the first floor, I walked toward the purchasing counter. A petite woman was dusting the glass behind the counter and stopped when she heard my footsteps approach.
"Good morning, miss. Is there something that I could help you find?"
"I don't think so. The materials are on the second floor, correct?"
"Yes. I've just received several bolts of lighter weight summer materials in lovely pastels."
"Thank you," I replied and headed for the stairs. I stepped off of the top step into a large, open-air room with seemingly hundreds of different materials. There were large wall racks of rolls of unbleached muslin and sheeting and denim, along with racks of bolts full of color. I saw gingham and satin, cotton, and canvas, most with colors and patterns to please the eye. I walked around the center, searching for the perfect cotton for my dress when I heard giggling. There wasn't anyone but me on the second floor that I could tell. The windows were open, so I assumed it was children outside. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs, and the giggle came again, louder this time.
"Catherine's on her way, miss!" I heard from below. Who was Catherine? Just then, a girl poked her head around the corner at the top of the stairs. This must be Catherine, I concluded. I wasn't sure if she saw me or not, because she looked back down the stairs with a huge smile on her face, then took off for a back corner. I hid behind a rack of cloth, wanting to see where she was and what she was doing. I heard a heavier set of steps; belonging to a man, I guessed.
"Catherine, what are you doing?" I heard him ask. "Where are you, little one?" By the tone of his voice, I wondered if they were father and daughter. I wanted to pop out and tell him she'd headed for the south corner, but I didn't want to scare either one, and the mischeviousness in me wanted to see how this would end. "Catherine, come on. Mother's waiting downstairs!" He continued toward the back of the room.
Suddenly, a small hand poked out from under the curtained bottom of the rack I was next to and touched my arm. I gasped, but reached for the hand and helped the girl it was attached to out from under the rack. She stood up, brushed the dark brown fringe from out of her perfect brown eyes, looked straight into mine, and said:
"You're beautiful. Andrew will love you eternally." Then she turned and bolted for the stairs. Who was Andrew? I stood up and was promptly knocked back to the floor. I hit my head, but wasn't hurt, thanks to the bonnet and my knot of hair.
"Oh, Lord, I'm so sorry!" someone exclaimed. I attempted to sit up, but the corset wasn't giving me much room. I opened my eyes to see a young man crouched down next to me. I looked into eyes of cerulean blue and flushed. I had never been so close to a man before in such an intimate way. Dancing, yes, but never like this! He reached out his hand to help me up. I placed my hand in his, and a shock traveled down my arm and settled in my heart. He helped me to my feet and then attempted the help brush me off. I wanted to slap him for bolting into me so rudely, but I didn't want to mar that perfect cheek. Of course, if I did, I would be touching it.
"Are you ok, ma'am?" he asked, both concerned for my health, yet not willing to let me go that easily.
"I'm fine. Nothing broken, nothing bruised...yet," I responded.
"I'm quite sorry. I was just trying to corral my sister Catherine. Why were you hiding?"
"I didn't want to scare you or your sister," I said, secretly relieved that 'Mother' meant exactly that. "I was just trying to stay out of the way."
"Ashley." The fluttering in my heart blossomed to my stomach and became more pronounced.
"I don't recall seeing such an angelic face here before. Are you from Hattiesburg?"
"No, my father works here and it's our Thursday outing. He works next door."
"Really? So does mine - Paul Hale."
"Cole Sanders is my father."
"Well, Miss Ashley, we have that much in common."
"I don't think I've seen you around here either."
"I go to school at the university. I'm studying business and law," he said, unconsciously straightening up. I smiled.
"Why were you chasing your sister?"
"Catherine is...well, she's a little rambunctious. She loves coming up here and playing. She pretends she's a queen or something. We were going into our fathers' office to meet him for lunch and she bolted this way. She said something about a princess. I didn't here the rest, but Mother sent me in here after her. The woman downstairs is my aunt. She finds Catherine refreshing and amusing." I nodded. As I was thinking of something else to say, Catherine came up and tugged on Andrew's shirtsleeve.
"Mother says it's time to go," she said, looking at Andrew and then at me. She smiled, and it was slightly unnerving the way she looked at me; like she knew me and what my future held. Andrew reached out for her hand and she took it. Then she reached for mine. "There. Now we're a circle." I didn't understand until I looked down and realized that Andrew was still holding my hand. He looked down as well, and just as quickly, we released our hands. His face flushed, as I know mine did. I could feel the heat all the way into my toes. He and Catherine turned to walk downstairs, and I heard her say, "See? Princess."
He turned to look at me, then turned back to Catherine and whispered, "No. Angel." They walked down the stairs together, and I had to find a chair.
"He called me an angel!" I almost fainted right then. I took several deep breaths, willing myself not to faint. My legs felt like waving palmetto fronds. I stood and went to the nearest rack and began looking through the materials. I wasn't really seeing them. I was anticipating the next time that Andrew might 'run' into me.
Heepwah, and be safe out there.