Chapter 74

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July 1871

A week later, the rain keeps everyone inside, cooped up liked caged animals waiting to pounce. The house is dark, even though it's the middle of the day, but there's a bustle of activity as servants rush around bringing last minute items inside and fighting the wind to close any forgotten windows. I pace around the library as Harrison sits stretched out on a leather chair reading some sort of documents. We're alone for now and I take advantage of it.

"Harrison, you know I wouldn't have agreed to any of this had I known you'd be paying my debt off yourself." He swings his feet off the sofa and pulls me down next to him.

"Don't be ridiculous Ellie. I'd still do it again, even knowing this. Consider it payment for the enormous favor you're doing me."

But I'm not going to be doing him a favor, I think guiltily. Jackson and I talked about it, there is no other way. We decided that Jackson will pawn my engagement ring and we'll leave as much money for Harrison as we can. We'll have to take a small amount for ourselves just so we won't starve, but it still won't be enough to cover the debt. We could never really afford to repay him.

And yes, paying him with his own ring isn't really paying him back, but it's something, and his father won't know where it came from; he'll think I ran off with the ring. This is my rationale. Selfish, but ultimately I do hold the trump card; I'm doing this all to save my own life. I need to run, far from here in order to survive.

"I don't think I can go through with it Harrison, living in this house, your parents, and now Catherine..."

"Everything will be fine Ellie, unless-- is there something else going on?"

And for a moment I almost tell him. I almost confess about Jackson and my intentions with this engagement. But I don't, I'm smarter than that, or maybe more selfish, I'm not sure, but I don't say anything.

"No! I'm just worried."

"Are you sure Ellie, because I don't see a problem? We're helping each other out. That's what friends do." Numbly, I begin to nod, even though I'm not sure I agree with him. Friends don't do this. This is going too far.

"You should see the problem with it," I whisper. "That's what worries me."

The next day I happen to be in the kitchen when Felix stops by with the bread delivery. I can smell him before he even walks through the door, the comforting scents of the bakery wrapped up in him. I've avoided him ever since I spoke so rudely to him the day I left, and now here he is in the Akenbrand's kitchen and I have nowhere to hide.

"What are you doing here?" I whisper nervously.

"Delivering bread."

I look down at his bundle and go to help him with it but he turns the basket away from me, blocking it with his body.

"This is your order; you're not delivering it!" I step back, frustrated, and stop trying to help.

"I meant, what are you doing making the deliveries? I thought Jonah usually did them." Felix makes a face.

"I'm doing it now."

That doesn't tell me much but his tone is enough to make me bow my head and slide against back against the cupboard, giving him room to do his job.

"Have you been okay?" he asks quietly, not looking up from his task. "I mean have you been--safe." His voice cracks on the last word, knocking down the barricade I'd put around my heart. I can only nod. He clears his throat. "Good." I look up at him as he unloads the delivery. He's concentrating on his work, not on me. I'm not ready to say goodbye again and I struggle to work my voice out around the knot in my throat.

"How's Jonah?" I whisper. Felix stalls for a moment, like he's debating what to tell me.

"He's not good." He goes back to unloading the goods. "He misses you. He's going through some things; he could've used you being around." If he's trying to hurt me more, it's working.

"Is that why you're making the deliveries here, Jonah doesn't want to see me?" Felix nods. "Oh." I feel horrible. Cruel. Small.

"I miss him, both of you really." I look up catching Felix's eye right before he turns away and goes back to work. He's still angry with me and he has every right to be. "I'm sorry I spoke of your wife, of Sarah. I had no right." He stops what he's doing. I don't care if he accepts it, apologizing is the right thing to do and he deserves one.

"You're right, you had no right to. You don't know the first thing about her."

"I know," I admit, ashamed of myself for bringing up something so painful to him.

He's about to say something more when Catherine walks into the kitchen. You can tell by the look on her face that she knows she stepped into something. She rocks backwards on her heel like she's about to retreat when both Felix and I enthusiastically greet her. As happy as I am to see Catherine, I know it signals that my time with Felix has come to an end. He easily picks up his now empty basket, swings it onto his back, and bids us both farewells, but not before shooting me one last sad smile before he walks out the door.

"I'm sorry," Catherine apologizes. "I didn't mean to interrupt. I know it's been a while since you've seen him."

"Don't be sorry, besides I haven't seen you in a while either."

"You see me every day."

"No, not really." Catherine knows what I'm talking about; she's just trying to avoid talking about it. I'm not sure why. "Ever since Harrison asked me to marry him, you've hardly been around." Catherine hoots.

"How self-absorbed are you? I wasn't around long before you became engaged; you were just too wrapped up in your own world to notice." She turns and stomps out of the kitchen leaving me alone and confused once again.

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