I woke suddenly, launching into a sitting position from where I had lain sprawled on top of the bedcovers. I was gasping in equal parts excitement and fear from the images in my dream. An insistent knocking on the door had woken me from my heady fantasy.
"Yes?" I called out in a weak voice. I pushed my hair back from my face as I stood up. My brow was covered in sweat and my hands were shaking. I tried to straighten my rumpled dress as I glanced at the time piece on the bedside table. It was past seven o'clock already. I had slept for hours.
"Tara?" Anne called to me through the door. I walked quickly to the door, and checking my appearance one last time, opened it to reveal Anne on the other side.
"Mrs. Rosenberg. I must confess that you caught me napping. I think the trip was more tiring than I expected." I motioned for her to enter the room. Like royalty, she glided into the room and glanced around, ever watchful for imperfections. She then perched herself on the edge of a sitting chair I hadn't even had time yet to notice. She looked at me expectantly where I still stood at the door, holding its knob. I closed the door and moved to sit in the window seat which was relatively close to the chair.
"Tara, dear, when the two of us are alone you may call me Anne. I actually much prefer it." She smiled at me, and though it was friendly, it also seemed tight and guarded.
"Anne." I nodded and smiled in return.
"Yes, well, your supper will be here shortly. I'm sorry to have woken you but I did want to speak in private briefly before you retired." As she talked she stared intently at me, her gaze unwavering. She seemed to be made of steel; so strong and impenetrable. I only raised an eyebrow and waited for her to continue. I did not know what she wanted to speak about, and yet I was reluctant to hear what she had to say.
"It's about Willow." Immediately my dream rushed back to me in excruciating detail and I am sure a blush rose to my neck and cheeks. So fresh were the images in my mind, I practically shivered from them. Anne saw my discomfort, sighed lightly, and rose to walk to the window next to me. She perched besides me on the window seat, looking briefly out into the night.
"About Willow?" I questioned quietly. Internally, I was tying to control my visceral response from speaking of her so soon after the things I had dreamed her doing to me.
"She's an extraordinary individual Tara, and though I may seem harsh or unyielding towards her, it is done with total devotion and love." Looking at her hands, folded neatly in her lap, she continued "We are each others' only family now Tara. I protect her with every action, or lack of action, that I take. I hope that you will endeavor to do the same." She looked up at me then, took one of my hands and squeezed it lightly. I said nothing, as I don't think a response was expected of me. Her hope of me was clearly an order, not a request. She stood then, smiling cheerily at clearly finishing business she had not looked forward to.
"That will be your dinner then Tara." I had hear nothing, and was about to say as much, when three short knocks sounded on the door. Anne opened the door and showed in a servant with a tray, which she set on the table near the sitting chair. The servant left as quietly as she had come in, never glancing at me. Anne turned to leave.
"Good evening Tara. Please meet Willow and I in the first floor drawing room by eight o'clock. We will be taking breakfast there."
"I will Anne, good evening." As she was walking out of the room, Willow appeared in the hall, just barely visible through the door. I remained on the window seat, wanting to greet her, but feeling obliged to remain immobile.
As Anne closed the door behind her, I heard part of Willow's inquiry to her. She was asking what Anne had been speaking to me about. I heard only some muffled exchanges after that, then loud footsteps and a door slamming next to my room. I assumed it to be Willow's. I laughed lightly to myself, resting my head in my hands. I marveled at what an odd situation I had found myself in.
I then ate my dinner quickly, leaving the tray outside my door. Though I had napped, I was still exhausted. I changed into my night clothes, and went to turn off the lanterns, so ingeniously designed by Willow. As I climbed into the large bed, I thought of her comment about them being bouncy, and tested it lightly with some chagrin. She seemed to be all around me. I then fell into a restless sleep, images of her both tantalizing and tormenting me into the wee hours of the morning.