Chapter Two: The Letter
Zorell stood over the small trashcan staring at the ripped-up envelope that lied inside of it. She bent down and picked it up and saw that it was damaged, ripped in half by Mister Freeman, but it still could be repaired. Something told her that she needed to see what was in that letter.
She fished it out of the trash and sat on the bed and pieced the pages together. It was signed by some gentleman called Gavin.
I’m writing you this letter as a last resort. I need you to come to Chicago immediately. It’s a life or death situation. Several days ago, there was a horrific car accident. Shanee was driving along a closed road, but the warning sign somehow had blown away and was not visible from the road. She lost control of her car and it flipped over into a ditch. She survived the crash, but she is doing poorly, and the doctors believe that she doesn’t have much time.
I’ve visited her several times, but she is in no way coherent. She constantly calls your name in her delirium, and I beg you to come before it’s too late. I know you’re angry with her for leaving you the way she did, but there is something you don’t know about. Shanee confessed everything to me before the accident. She never wanted to end things with you. She only did it because she didn’t want to ruin your life. She was persuaded to leave you by your father who came to her and insisted upon it. In her shame, she complied. She did it for you, but now to save her you must forgive her and come at once. It may just save her life.
Gavin P. Lorio
Zorell put the pieces of the letter down and thought for a moment. Leland had told her the woman he was involved with was named Shanee, and if the letter was accurate, she still did love him, so there was no reason for him to be miserable. His father on the other hand had some explaining to do.
She didn’t know why this woman would end things with Leland, always knowing him to be a wonderful person. He was a loyal friend who would help out anyone in need, and she must be a special person to have won his love. She couldn’t fathom what could have happened in her past that could tear them apart, and in her opinion, it didn’t matter.
She took the pieces of the letter and hid them on her person. When the time was right, she would show the letter to Leland. She put the envelope back in the trash just as she found it. If Mister Freeman or her father would return to this room, they would think that the letter was still untouched and not think to take any further action.
She intended on playing cupid for her childhood friend, even if the love arrows would never truly hit her. It was only right that Leland be happy, even if that was something that was never to be in the cards for her. She would be happy knowing she had a hand in giving him back his happiness.
She walked out of the guest room and walked slowly down the hallway. She was standing by Eloise’s bedroom door but hesitated before knocking. She could hear voices on the other side, which sounded like a host of giggling girls.
She opened the door to see Eloise’s twin cousins Helen and Gabrielle. They had just turned sixteen and were still in that stage between childhood and womanhood.
“There you are,” Eloise said and took Zorell’s hand and led her into the room. “We can’t start the ceremony without you.”
“That’s not true,” Zorell said, taking her friend’s hand. “This is your day, so it’s all about you. Everyone else can be replaced.”
“I couldn’t get married without you there,” Eloise said and took a light spin in her wedding dress. “We better hurry. The ceremony is about to start.”
“I can’t wait to walk down the aisle with Gordon Mayler,” Helen said excitedly as she picked up her bouquet.
Her short blond hair looked perfect in a tight wave and spit curls, one on each side by her ear and temples, unlike Gabrielle’s long hair that was pinned at the sides, but she had the same spit curls as her sister. They were identical twins, and if it wasn’t for their different hairstyles no one would have been able to tell them apart.
“Gordon Mayler isn’t so handsome, but his brother on the other hand…” Gabrielle said as they walked out of the room. Zorell had to laugh silently at them. They were two of the silliest girls she ever met but still goodhearted. Sometimes she envied girls that sweet and innocent. It was something she felt she never was.
She followed the girls, and finally Eloise came out of the room. Her father was in the hallway waiting for her. He took her hand and smiled. “Are you ready for this?”
“Yes,” she said with so much self-assurance. Eloise was always the dainty and sweet type, but she had an enormous amount of confidence. It was another thing she envied.
The twins walked down the staircase and were met by their escorts and took their walk into the ballroom where the ceremony was being held. It was now Zorell’s turn, and she was escorted by the downtrodden Leland. She felt an uneasiness being around him after reading the torn letter that his father had discarded.
“I guess it’s our turn next,” Leland said and took her hand.
She could see the hurt look still in his eyes, and somehow, she would get him alone and show him the letter. The only down side was that he would be angry at the father that he loved after he discovered what he had done, but Zorell had to tell him the truth. After the way he had said the name of the woman who broke his heart, she felt she had no choice. There was anger and pain already in his heart but also a longing to be reunited.
As she walked down the aisle after they had entered the ballroom, she thought about what her father’s plans where for both of them. He already had one child marrying into the Freeman family, and now he wanted another. The Freemans did have another daughter in Elisa, and she wondered which of the boys he would choose to marry her. To him, marriage was merely a business transaction. Never mind the happiness of the parties involved.
With Devlin and Eloise, it was love. It was just pure dumb luck that it coincided with her father’s plans. She wondered what profit he was to gain by this union. She knew in her heart if love did not play a factor, she would most definitely stop the whole thing.
She would keep silent for Devlin and Eloise’s sake, but not when it came to Leland. He deserved to be happy, and she was going to make sure that it happened.
When they reached the front of the aisle Zorell took her place next to the bridesmaids, while Leland stood next to the groomsmen and waited for the bride’s big entrance. The organ player stopped and changed the tempo of his playing and started the first bar of the wedding march. Everyone stood up and stared towards the back entrance of the ballroom until a vision in white appeared.
Eloise looked beautiful and innocent on her father’s arm. Her eyes sparkled even more than the dress she was wearing. She looked over at Devlin who was fixated on his bride, who was coming to meet him. Then Zorell turned her eyes towards Leland. The sorrow that consumed him was great, but he was doing his best to hide it.
She stood there in a daze, while the ceremony commenced. Once Eloise reached the alter, she passed her bouquet to Zorell and turned to her groom with loving eyes. It warmed Zorell’s heart to see the two of them together. As the ceremony continued, she didn’t realize how much she was staring at Leland. She glanced over at her father who was sitting in the second row on the groom’s side, and he had a look of approval on his face. She knew his plan, and it was best to make him think that it was working.
She finally came back to the present, when she heard all the clapping and sighs from the guests as they stood up from their seats. She realized that the ceremony was almost finished. The bride and groom finally kissed to seal their union, so she joined in and half-heartily clapped.
The only words Zorell could remember hearing was the minister saying, “I now present Mister and Mrs. Devlin Dupree.” So, that was it. They were married. She was happy for them, but the only thing that vexed her was that Devlin’s name was mentioned but not Eloise’s. That was one more thing about the whole institute of marriage she didn’t like, a girl losing her identity. She wanted to be Zorell, whoever that was, and not Mrs. Whoever.
She clapped just like everyone else did, but it seemed like a robotic act, and not anything genuine. Still, she put on a show just like Leland, although she felt he was better at it.
The bride and groom made their walk down the aisle being greeted and congratulated by their guests. Zorell stayed in the ballroom until most everyone had left. She saw that only Leland remained. He lingered about, glancing at the altar, to the remaining flowers and chairs where guests had been sitting.
“You’re thinking about her, aren’t you?” Zorell asked as she approached him.
“Who would you be referring to?” he asked, looking genuinely surprised.
“Shanee,” she said and by the look on his face she knew she was right. “You were thinking about her through the whole ceremony, how you wish you were in Devlin’s place and Shanee was in Eloise’s.”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t matter, because Shanee doesn’t want me anymore,” he said and turned away. There was a pale pink rose lying on one of the empty chairs that his eyes stayed fixated on it. “She loved pink roses… lilacs too, any kind of flower really. She grew them in her garden.” He stopped talking for an instant to pick up the flower and held it in his hand. “I guess she still does.”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Zorell said and touched his arm.
He jerked away from her at that moment. It seemed that he didn’t want any kind of human comfort. “No, she decided she doesn’t want me anymore,” Leland said and a tear escaped his eye. “I love her so much, but now…”
“What if I told you that she didn’t leave you because she wanted to,” Zorell said. Leland turned to her in surprise and shock. “What if someone forced her?”
She reached for the torn letter that she had hidden on the inside of the lace covering of her dress and handed it to Leland. “What’s this?”
“A letter addressed to you,” she said as she tried to find the right words to convey to him the truth in how she obtained the letter. “I found it in the trash in one of the guest rooms.”
It was still torn in half, but Leland was able to connect the two pieces and examined it. “Why would Gavin be writing to me?”
“Read the letter and you’ll see,” Zorell said and stood back as his eyes scanned the torn papers. As the seconds passed his face grew paler.
“This can’t be right,” he said quietly. He looked distressed and may have forgotten that Zorell was present. “My father wouldn’t do something like this. He wouldn’t have convinced Shanee to…”
“He did,” Zorell said and Leland turned his head quickly and gave her a strange look. “I didn’t come across that letter by chance. I was in the guest room changing for the wedding, when my father and yours came in. I hid in the closet so they wouldn’t see me. I heard them arguing, and he admitted what he did. Then he tore up that letter because he didn’t want you to find out what he had done.”
“She’s dying,” he said with a look of fear in his eyes. He didn’t exactly direct the question to Zorell.
“Are you going to the city to see her?” Zorell asked.
“I have to,” he said and folded up the letter and put it in his pocket. “She needs me. I can feel it.”
“So, you’re going to Chicago, awe?” she said and a wild look appeared in her eye. “Then I’m going with you.”
“No, I can’t let you do that,” Leland said and shook his head, and Zorell grabbed his hand. “I can’t take you away from your family.”
“What family?” Zorell asked and circled around him. “I have two brothers who ignore me, and a father that treats me like the plague. The one brother who actually acknowledges my existence just got married, so there is no reason for me to stay. Besides, I was headed there anyway.”
“How come?” Leland asked with a confused look on his face.
“Well, I landed a job at Harden Hospital, and I start next month,” she said, looking proud of herself. “I just haven’t told my father yet.”
“Why not?” he asked, looking puzzled.
“Because he wants me to stay here and marry you,” she said and almost choked at the words. Leland looked flustered and tried to cover it by clearing his throat. Perhaps she confessed the revelation too abruptly, but she had a plan so neither of them had to explain themselves too their fathers…not yet anyway. “If we both leave together without a word to anyone, then my father would think we’ve run off together. Neither he nor your father will go chasing after us… at least not for a while.”
“So, you’re running away then?” he asked simply.
“Basically, yes, just like you” she said with a smirk. “So, when do we leave?”
“How about tonight?” he asked. It surprised her that he agreed so easily, but then Leland always did love trouble. This trip would definitely bring them that, even if it only landed them in hot water with their families. “If we make an exit now, it’ll be too noticeable.”
“That makes sense,” Zorell said and thought for a moment. “Pick me up around midnight at my house. Father will be asleep by then, and that will give me enough time to pick up some things.”
“So, we’re really doing this?” he asked, and she nodded with confidence. He didn’t look happy with the situation and hoped he wouldn’t try to stop her.
Just then, someone came in to interrupt their discussion. Gabrielle was one excited sixteen-year-old and ran up to Zorell. “There you are,” she said, looking as if she would jump out of her skin. “Eloise is about to throw the bouquet, so we need to hurry.”
Zorell rolled her eyes but followed Gabrielle, but not before giving Leland one last look. The hyper girl dragged her out to the backyard near the gardens where the reception was taking place.
“Are we too late?” Gabrielle asked, while her twin sister raced towards them.
“Not quite.” Helen said and grabbed her hand. “If we don’t hurry, we will be.”
Zorell wasn’t sure what they were stressing about, but she was about to find out. She saw a small crowd of anxious young women, and Eloise standing with her back towards them with her bouquet in hand as she shouted towards the crowd.
“Are you ready?” she asked and held up the bouquet. The crowd of girls laughed and shouted for her to throw the mess of pink flowers. “Okay, here it comes.”
Zorell looked up and saw the bouquet heading right for her. Before she could move out of the line of fire, the mess of pink and white flowers hit her in the chest. On reaction, she caught them in her arms.
“Look!” a red-haired girl called out, while pointing a finger at her. “Zorell caught the bouquet.”
She heard another girl whisper. “Who would marry her?”
She ignored it and just looked at the flowers. She hated the fact that she caught it and wondered if Eloise purposely threw it at her. It would be just like her to do such a thing. The bride looked happy that she caught it and ran towards her.
“We’ll start looking at wedding dresses after I get back from my honeymoon,” Eloise said excitedly
“Oh, no, I’m never getting married,” she said and some of the other girls laughed.
“You’ll change your mind one day,” Eloise said and gave her a quick hug. She then joined her groom in a dance. The party would be winding down soon, and Devlin and Eloise would be starting on their trip. She was going to miss the two of them, but at least she had an out and wouldn’t have to live in that cold dead house with her father.
Zorell didn’t feel like dancing, and instead, just watched as everyone else took a twirl. As she stood by the refreshment table sipping her small glass of juice, she noticed Zachary and Trevor shamelessly flirting with Eden twins, Helen and Gabrielle. They were on the wild side and flirted with many girls to their father’s disapproval, but he didn’t stop them from gallivanting with anyone they felt like. Damon Depree would just say they were young boys sowing their wild oats. Didn’t girls have a wild side as well? It was that old double standard that Zorell hated. Boys could do whatever they wanted, but girls must always be prim and proper ladies.
Things were about to change that night once she made the decision to leave home for good. She had planned on it long ago, years before she entered nursing school. She knew that if she was going to be independent, she had to have a profession and being a nurse would give her that chance. Her father was not keen on the idea, but it was one of the things she would not back down from. Becoming a nurse was only her second choice. If she truly had her way, she would have become a doctor. Very few women trained for that profession, and there was no way her father would allow that.
After she had a bite to eat, Eloise came to the table where she was sitting. She still looked so beautiful and innocent. A smile came to Zorell’s face, seeing how happy she was.
“Dev and I are leaving in a few minutes,” she said as Zorell stood up.
“I’ll miss you,” Zorell said, knowing that she would be leaving and may not see her for a good long while. It would be much longer than the two weeks she would spend on her honeymoon.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” she said with that innocent smile of hers. “I wanted to return this to you before we left.” She had taken off the silver bracelet and placed it in Zorell’s hand and closed it up again. “Thank you for letting me borrow it.”
“I wouldn’t let anyone else wear it but you,” Zorell said and put the bracelet back on. Eloise helped her with the clasp.
Devlin came up to the two young women. “There’s my beautiful bride,” he said and took her hand. “So, what are you two plotting about?”
“There’s no dastardly plan, love,” Eloise said and kissed his hand. “I was just returning Zorell’s bracelet.” She held up her hand, so he could see the bracelet on her wrist.
“So, I guess you’re both innocent,” Devlin said as she as he put his arm around his bride.
“Not everything is a conspiracy, dear brother,” Zorell said and sat back down in her chair. She thought for a moment and said, “Just one thing, Dev.”
“What’s that?” he asked, looking puzzled.
“If you ever make my best friend unhappy it will be the last day you spend on this Earth,” she warned, which made Devlin burst out laughing. The thought of killing her brother wasn’t anything she could seriously imagine, but when it came to Eloise, she would do anything for her. “Just take care of her,” Zorell said honestly, which made Eloise blush.
“We’ll take care of each other,” Eloise said and gave her one last embrace before they left.
It was getting late and she needed a few hours to prepare for her departure. She walked back in the house to see Leland sitting in a chair staring at that letter once again. She wondered how many times he had read it.
“Have you memorized that thing yet?” she asked as he looked up slowly. His face was still pale, even more so then when he first learned the truth.
“Just about,” he said, holding onto the letter tightly. He folded it up and put it back in his pocket. “You look tired.”
“I am… a little,” Zorell said and sat down in the chair next to his. “It’s been an emotional day.”
“Do you still want to come with me tonight?” he asked, and she looked surprised that he asked that question.
“Of course, I’m going,” she said and looked out the open window to see her father drinking a glass of something and conversing with his new in-laws. She wouldn’t have been surprised if it was some kind of alcohol. Even with liquor being illegal, her father would find the means to obtain it. “I couldn’t stand to live in that house without Devlin, besides Father would like nothing more than to get rid of me. I’m giving him his wish… but on my terms, not his.”
“At least I tried to change your mind,” he said and stood up. “I’ll drive you home, alright?”
“Sure, I’ve had enough of this party,” she said and stood up taking his hand. “If you don’t mind, make sure my father sees us.”
“Is he still trying to bring us together?” he asked and half laughed. It was the first time that day he cracked anything that resembled a smile.
“Of course, he is, but I would like nothing more than to trick him into thinking he’s won,” she said with a sly look in her eye. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” he said and shook his head. “Why don’t we make it look real by holding hands on the way out?”
“Sure,” she said and offered up her hand.
They walked out into the party and received stares and whispers from on-lookers, but no one actually confronted them. She glanced back in the direction where her father was standing and saw a smile of satisfaction on his face. They made their way out to his car and felt relieved to no longer be the center of everyone’s attention. Once she entered his car, she felt safer. She wouldn’t feel truly safe, until she was away from her father and his house.
“Here we are,” he said, and she sat there for a minute or so. Part of her didn’t want to go back inside. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said and looked up to the second floor where her bedroom was.
This would be the last day she would spend there. She should have been sad about it, but she was elated. She was going to get out on her own and make a life for herself away from his tyranny. It both excited and terrified her.
She finally exited the car and looked back after hearing Leland’s voice. “I’ll be back tonight so be ready.”
“Park behind the bushes so your car won’t be seen and keep your headlights off,” she said, thinking that if he came close to the house her father would wake up, and her plan would be ruined.
“Yes, that may be safer, Zorell,” he said and shook his head with a wry smile. “I feel like a spy.”
“You read too many mysteries,” she said and ran up to the house.
“…and you don’t,” he remarked which made her feel embarrassed. It was true that she had read Sherlock Holmes more times than she should have, but she loved trying to figure the outcome of the cases and felt a sense of gratification when she did.
She still had that awful pink dress on, and she wanted to get out of it. Leland watched until she disappeared inside of the house. She heard him drive away and looked at the clock. It was a few minutes passed six. She would take a short nap after she had everything packed up that she wanted to take on her abrupt getaway. She just had to make sure her father didn’t suspect a thing.
Chapter Three: Travelers in the Night
When Zorell entered the house, she was so preoccupied by her own thoughts that she ran into their maid Stella, who was stunned by their collision.
“Oh, Miss Zorell, I’m so sorry,” she said as she helped Zorell off the floor.
“Don’t worry about it, Stella. It was my fault,” she said, once she was on her feet. “I’m worn out with the wedding and all. I think I’ll just go up to my room and take a rest.”
“Can I bring you some tea, ma’am?” Stella asked.
“No, that’s alright,” Zorell said and looked towards the stairs. “I’m not thirsty.” She walked away and dawned the staircase, wanting nothing more than to lie in her nice soft bed.
Once she got to her room she felt as if she would pass out from exhaustion. It had been an emotional day, but she still needed to pack the things that she intended to take with her. She wasn’t going to take much, only the things she couldn’t part with.
She wasn’t like most girls when going on a trip. Eloise would take four trunks and two carry-ons for a simple weekend trip to the lake. Zorell liked to pack light, so she would only take half the clothes she owned, including the secret dress that she had hidden. She was starting a new life, and anything she needed after the move she would buy. She had a nest egg saved up which would sustain her for at least several months, even if she wasn’t making a regular income, but she would be working soon so she would be more than capable of supporting herself without Leland’s or anyone else’s help.
She looked through her jewelry box and fished out the gold locket that was left to her by her mother. When she was twelve, her grandmother gave it to her for Christmas. Her father never knew about it, and she managed to hide it from him all this time. She always wondered if he came in to her room and rummaged through her things, but her jewelry box was always locked and untouched every time she checked. She also had her mother’s wedding ring. Devlin had it for a while but decided to give it to Zorell thinking that it would be more fitting for a girl to have and not him. When he asked Eloise to marry him, he had bought a new one that he felt fitted her taste better. Zorell was the one who helped him pick it out.
When she was away at nursing school, she had taken both the locket and the ring with her, and it was the only time she had ever worn either item of jewelry. She wouldn’t take the chance of her father ripping the few things she had of her mother away from her.
She had a velvet box and put the few pieces she loved inside. Everything else she would leave behind. She didn’t need much to survive, so she would only take one case and a carry-on. She hid her bags in the closet just in case her father came home. She didn’t want him walking in and see packed bags lying about. She laid her handbag on the dresser and changed out of her dress and into something more comfortable. She lay down on her bed for a few hours’ rest. She wound up her alarm clock and set it so she didn’t oversleep.
She drifted off to sleep but was awakened a few hours later by a knock on the door. It wasn’t a quiet knock, more like a notch below a pounding. “Zorell!” She heard her name being called. As soon as she heard the voice, she knew it belonged to her father. Panic came over her thinking he had learned of her plans.
She jumped out of bed and put on her robe and answered the door. “Why all the shouting?” she asked, and her father looked as stern as always.
“Why did you leave the reception?” he asked as he stepped inside.
“Because I was tired,” she said and sat down on her bed. She wanted a little more rest, but there was no way that was going to happen with his barking. “It’s been a long day, and I needed some sleep.”
“I saw you leave with Leland Freeman,” he said and his sternness lightened a bit.
“He only offered me a ride home, Father,” she said and grabbed her pillow. “Can I please go back to sleep now?”
“First, I want to know about you and Leland,” he said, pacing around her room. “Is there something I should know?”
“Why do you need to know everything?” she asked defiantly. She felt as if she were being interrogated.
“When it pertains to my family, I have every right,” he said and grabbed her arm. “You’re my daughter, and I demand to know what is between you and the Freeman boy.”
“That’s my business, not yours,” she said defiantly and pulled her arm back. There was a red mark from him squeezing her arm too hard. She hoped there wasn’t going to be a bruise, but it wasn’t as if he hadn’t done it before. He hit her numerous times, but most of the time Devlin would intervene and protect her.
She was a young woman now, and she wasn’t going to let him abuse her anymore, not physically or emotionally. “Now, you will tell me, young lady,” he shouted, while pointing a finger at her.
“Figure it out,” she said and had a sly look on her face.
He remained silent, but that look of satisfaction came to his face. He turned and left her room, which gave her some relief. She checked the time, and it was nearly eight o’clock. He would be in bed by ten as he always was, then she could make her getaway. It seemed like fate had decided that she would find that letter and both she and Leland would get what they wanted.
She lay back down and let herself drift off. Dreams took hold of her and regressed her back to a happier more innocent time in her life.
“Throw the ball to me, Devy,” a young girl no more than five with long brown hair called out.
She had it in two messy braids and was wearing a plain blue dress and playing outside with her older brothers. She was the youngest of her siblings that all consisted of boys. Devlin was the eldest, and the one who always protected her from harm. That’s when he wasn’t teasing her about being a frail little girl. She could hold her own against the boys, even when Zach and Trevor were always rough housing and getting her into trouble.
The boy threw the ball, and she did her best to catch it. Her little arms tried to hold onto it, but she fell backwards into the water.
“Zo!” the boy called after her. She was sitting in the shallow waters holding onto the ball. The boy ran towards her worried that she had injured herself. “Are you okay?”
“I caught it,” she said smiling and then threw the ball at him, which he caught it easily.
She walked out of the water soaking wet with her feet and hands muddy and her hair a mess. “You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?” Devlin asked her.
“No, silly, now, let’s go play,” she said and ran off to where her other two other brothers were wrestling. She tried to get into the fray, but a thunderous voice stopped their moment of fun.
“What is going on here?” a tall dark-haired man asked. He towered over the four small children. The two boys cowered in fear, but the spunky five-year-old girl looked much more confident. “Why are you soaking wet?” There was an angry look in his eyes.
“Just playing ball,” she said with a little giggle. “I fell in the water, but I caught it.” She stood tall, as tall as she could manage, and looked up at him proudly.
“Little girls don’t play ball, and they don’t swim in the lake with a pretty Sunday dress on,” he said and grabbed her arm. “Nice clothes cost money, and you need to learn to behave like a lady should.” He raised his hand up ready to hit her when a boy’s voice called out stopping him.
“No!” he shouted, running up to the scene. “It wasn’t her fault, Father. It was mine. I threw the ball at her.””
“Then you will both get punished,” he said and brought his hand up and slapped the little girl across the face. She fell down on the ground crying.
Her brother tried to come up to her and comfort her, but he was pulled away by their father, who dragged him away into the woods. All three remaining children could hear was the screams of their eldest brother.
Zorell woke with a grasp. Her heart was beating fast as she looked at the clock that read 11:28. She was still shaking from the nightmare when she sat up in bed. She just had enough time to change and make her getaway. She looked down at her wrist and saw that it had already turned faintly purple. She was angry about that, and she realized that she had to leave if for no other reason but for her own survival.
She changed into a simple dress of off white, adequate for traveling, and a pair of brown boots. She brushed her hair and pinned it to the back of her head. She thought of cutting it short, but she actually liked it long. Short hair was a sign of female rebellion, but in truth it was just much more convenient and easier to manage for most women. Zorell often laughed at the seriousness society placed on appearances.
She looked at the clock again and saw that she had less than ten minutes. She grabbed her bag and carry-on and quietly left her room. She looked back once and looked around. It would be the last time she would ever live in this room again in her life. She didn’t hate the room, just some of the memories it kept.
She tried not to make a sound, and even though her father’s room was the furthest down the hall, he was a light sleeper and would hear the slightest noise. Many times, when she was a child, she was punished for roaming the house at night when she couldn’t sleep, or if she had crawled into bed with Devlin after having a nightmare. It was all purely innocent, but her father was against boys and girls sleeping in the same room much less sharing a bed even if they were just mere children.
Her father tended to punish her over the silliest things, and his punishments were usually brutal and did not fit the crime. It was like sending a petty thief to the gallows which was a punishment that was better suited for a murderer. For years, she tried to be the perfect daughter and do everything his said, but she never seemed to measure up. He would then punish her for it, but all that ended tonight.
She managed to sneak down to the first floor without anyone noticing and walked to the front door without making a sound and quickly put her coat on. Even in summer, the nights could be chilly and fall would soon come, and she would need something to keep her warm when she was out and about in the city. She was just about to open the door, when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
She gasped, knowing she had been caught. She was so close to escaping her dismal existence, and it was about to all end now. She turned to see it was Stella, the one servant that her father allowed in the household.
“Miss Zorell, what are you doing up so late?” she asked with a look of concern on her face. “You know your father doesn’t like…”
“I don’t care what he doesn’t like,” she said and the maid bowed her head.
She was afraid of the man just as so many others who had come and gone in his employ, but Stella stayed because she needed the money. She was a live-in servant so she didn’t have to pay for room and board, but Damon Dupree paid her very little.
Because of an incident that happened when she was a teenager, she couldn’t get hired anywhere else. It was either work for Dupree or starve in the streets. Finding a husband was out of the question as well. She was not a pretty girl, although she was only twenty-eight and should have still been in her attractive faze. She was awkward and shy and not good in social situations, but Zorell liked her despite of her shortcomings.
Stella knew most everything that went on in the house, but she never breathed a word to her father about some of the things Zorell and her brothers had done behind his back. If nothing else, she knew that she could trust her.
“I’m sorry, Stella, but I’m leaving for good,” Zorell said and Stella looked shocked.
“Why would you leave, Miss Zorell?” she asked, looking confused. “This is your home.”
“No, it’s just the place I grew up, but it was never a home. Please, Stella, don’t tell my father, at least not until morning,” she said with a look of desperation in her voice. “If you have to say anything, just tell him I ran off with Leland.”
“Why would you do that?” Stella asked and shook her head. “Everyone knows that there’s nothing romantic between young Mister Freeman and yourself.”
“Just do it, okay?” she asked, and Stella nodded in agreement. “I’ll miss you.”
She gave Stella a quick embrace, before opening the door. She picked up her suitcase and ran quietly towards the bushes. Once she reached the edge, she looked back one more time and saw Stella standing there in the doorway. Even though she couldn’t see her face clearly, she felt sadness coming from the woman. Without Zorell it was more than likely his anger would be pitted more towards Stella. He had a hatred for women, or she thought he did. He was civil to the Freeman women, but no others she could think of.
Poor Stella, if she could have, she would have taken her with her, but as things stood, she would be barely able to take care of herself, at least for a while.
She found Leland’s car at the spot where they decided he would wait for her. He was sitting in his car humming some tune. She didn’t know what it was, perhaps something he made up himself.
“Were you bored waiting for me?” she asked as he opened the car door and stepped out.
“You’re ten minutes late,” he said and took her suitcase from her. “I thought that you would have more luggage than this. Eloise usually brings ten trunks whenever we would go on a trip.”
“I’m not Eloise, and I like to travel light,” she said and walked to the other side of the car and opened the door. She sat down in the passenger’s seat and waited for him to get inside after putting her suitcase in the trunk.
He was quiet about it seeing that it was the middle of the night, and he didn’t want to draw any attention. He turned on the engine of the car and pulled out onto the street. Zorell was tapping on the dashboard to the rhythm of the song that she heard Leland humming earlier.
“What are you doing?” he asked as he looked over at her tapping on everything.
“That tune you were humming,” she said as she stopped her tapping and looked him in the face. All he could do was blush after he had been busted for his guilty pleasure. He would only hum or sing songs when he thought no one was listening. “It needs a drum sound, so start humming…unless it has actual words.”
“You heard that?” he asked and looked fully embarrassed. “It’s just a song I wrote.”
“Oh, really, for who?” she asked, but he suddenly lost his ability to speak. “Let me guess. Shanee.”
“You got me, it’s back when we were together that I wrote it for her,” he said and his eyes turned back to the road. “You should have seen the look in her eyes the first time I sang it to her. I played it on that little beat up banjo of mine.”
Zorell laughed while throwing her head back. “Not that old dirty red banjo you played when we were kids.”
“Yes, and I still have it in my apartment in Chicago,” he said and turned back to the road. “I wish nothing more than to play that song for her again.”
“You will, but in the meantime, sing it for me,” she said, and he turned back and smiled.
“Are you sure you want to hear this?” he asked and she nodded. “You asked for it,” he said and opened his mouth to sing the sappy love song he wrote for his love.
Sweet September rain
Falling down on me
Please bring my love
Back to me
I want to smell the flowers
And lie on the soft grass
Alone here with my sweet Shanee
He stopped looking embarrassed just as Zorell was humming along to the melody. “Oh, why did you stop? That was beautiful.”
“It’s embarrassing, that’s why? The only person who was ever supposed to hear that song was Shanee, and I don’t…”
“She’s going to be fine, Lee,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
He turned to her with a sullen look in his eyes. “You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do,” she said and had a look of determination in her eyes. Leland didn’t look convinced. “Okay, I’ll bet you.”
“On what?” he asked confused.
“Your Banjo,” she said, and he burst out laughing. She laughed too.
“Fine, it’s a bet,” he said and turned his eyes back to the road.
After driving for a few hours, Zorell became tired and fell asleep. Leland didn’t want to stop driving, and drove straight through the night. He found that it relaxed him more, but in no way, did it keep his mind off Shanee. The trip would take another day but putting as many miles between them and Zorell’s father would be best for both of them.
She drifted in and out of sleep tossing and turning and it seemed like she was having nightmares, but he just kept driving. It was becoming apparent to him why she had no second thoughts about leaving home. He always knew Mister Depree was strict and that he and Zorell didn’t get along, but this was the first time he suspected any real abuse.
It went on like that, until he was starting to drift of too. He didn’t want to take the chance of getting into an accident, so he stopped when he saw a motel. A few hours’ sleep would do the trick for both of them. He nudged Zorell to get her to wake up, but she just grumbled and swiped her hand at him.
“Come on, Zo, wake up,” he said, and she slowly opened her eyes and looked at the blurred image of a man leaning over her.
“Get away from me!” she shouted and turned over and opened her eyes. She was in a haze and didn’t realize that the sleeve of her coat rolled up a bit and revealed the bruise that she received earlier that evening.
“Hey, what happened here?” he asked her as he gently took her hand. She was still unfocused but no longer fighting him. “He did this to you, didn’t he?”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she said and hid the bruise once again. “Where are we, anyway?”
“About fifty miles outside Chicago,” he said and looked up at the sky through the window on the passenger side of the car. “The sun is about to come up.”
“That means my father is about to find out that I’m missing,” she said and stretched out her arms. “I thought we could get something to eat and find a motel to stay at for a few hours and get some sleep.”
“Sure, why not,” she said and opened the car door so she could stretch her legs.
She could see the sun coming up from the dirt road they were traveling on, and Chicago was just a day away. It seemed that Leland didn’t want to stop on their journey, but it wasn’t safe to drive while tired and after everything that transpired over the last twenty-four hours, he needed a rest. Zorell knew in her heart that he wouldn’t have any kind of peace of mind, until he saw Shanee and knew that she was going to be alright.
“You’ll feel better once you get something to eat,” she said and took his arm. They walked together putting the past behind them and only thoughts they had was about what the future would hold.