Was it Heaven or Hell that brought them together? (Work in progress)
|I moved to New York from my small pre-1900's Alabamian home to seek my fortune and success but I ended up with something quite different altogether. By the time I met Basil, a young and handsome dilettante, I was desperately looking for some shred of human decency and integrity that was keenly the opposite of his baser nature.
For you see, I had married a very rich and handsome man who had seemed to embody all of society and lavishness of a life that I had always wanted. Unfortunately, that lifestyle came with quite a few strings attached.
"Remember, deary, a woman is only as good as her man," Rena shared with me expertly as one last piece of advice before I boarded the train.
I rolled my eyes at her in the famous Delia way. "Which is exactly why I'm going to New York, remember?"
"I remember more than you may realize." She stepped up closer to adjust my brand new traveling bonnet Papa had bought me as his only way of saying goodbye. "For instance, I remember when you were just a child and you would play with your doll on the edge of the hearth. I remember how the sunlight fell across your beautiful blonde hair and how it would twinkle and shine like gold."
Her words made me realize what a change I was actually about to make for the first time. I was leaving all that I held dear and knew about the world to adventure to a completely new society. The only similarity (I had heard) between Alabama and New York was that they were both part of the United States. Other than that, they were completely different. I felt silly for having not thought about it before but the embarrassment was quickly washed away with the fact that I was going to miss Rena terribly. She had been my companion and caretaker my whole life and after today I'd only be able to correspond with her through letters. I would only be able to hope that I'd ever see her again.
"Oh, Rena!" I cried and fell into her arms.
"I know, deary," she sighed and patted my back. "But this will bring a bright future for you, you'll see."
I stepped back to look at her and rubbed at the tears that had spattered my cheeks.
"Oh sweetie, I feel like I am sending a baby bird out of its nest too early," Rena whispered softly and tucked one of my blonde curls back into my bonnet. "In so many ways you are still a child."
Just then the train bell rang out across the platform and the steam from the engines seemed to darken the air around us which was just as good because I was struggling with how to respond to Rena's words. I really resented being called a child since I was already seventeen years old. That was clearly an adult! Many of my friends had already gotten married. And yet, with my heart heavy with realization, I couldn't retort angrily. It may have been the last time that I'd get to speak to her in person.
"Child, you better board that train or else your luggage will arrive without anyone to claim it," Rena reminded me and gave me a light shove towards the train.
I gave her one last hug, as tight as I could. "I'll miss you, Rena, and I promise to write as often as possible."
"Maybe one day I'll get to visit you," she said softly. "My little Delia, all grown up and running a household."
I giggled at the thought of what great things lay ahead of me and took courage from that in order to let go of the only person I had ever really loved.
"Goodbye, Rena. Take care of Papa."
She waved at me as the train gathered itself and chugged slowly out of the station. Her small figure was blocked from my sight quickly as the rows of smudged windows followed the strong engine obediently.
With a determined deep breath, I turned to face frontwards in my seat and head into my new life with courage and strength.
"It's quite unusual for a young lady to be traveling by herself," an older lady across the aisle of the train said loudly to her friend sitting on the bench next to her.
I forced my eyes to stay locked on the outside world as the scenery sped us by.
"Yes, it sure is. And she has been here since we've gotten on and who knows how long before or after that she will stay," the friend retorted. "That just can't be very safe."
My ears burned with their poignant words that were not meant to be heard outside of their private conversation but were too loud not to be. Their hearing was probably going in their old age.
"Or very proper," the first lady said and I felt the heat of embarrassment warm my ears.
"Where do you think she is from?" the friend asked and I felt her eyes appraising my dress.
The seat squeaked as the first lady leaned forward to get a closer look at the spectacle I was rapidly becoming.
"Definitely somewhere more south of here," the first lady appraised. "That style of dress is a few years old and they are always behind down there. Plus it's slightly wrinkled and worn, as if she's been wearing it for days."
I put extra effort into keeping my eyes from glaring in their general direction. It was day three since I had boarded the train and we were now clacking along through the latter half of the Appalachian mountain range in southern Pennsylvania. The train had pulled into and out of many stops along the way and various passengers had gotten on and off. Except me. I was still riding, keeping entirely to myself and completely content to watch the country change as my life was changing.
Somehow, I managed to keep from completely breaking into tears through the long hour the ladies spent riding the train. Eventually, their conversation turned to other things but their stinging words felt heavy in my head and I wondered how New Yorkers would receive me. Definitely not more kind, that was certain.
With trembling fingers, I opened the clasp of my bag to get my paper and pen in an effort to put down some of the thoughts whirling around inside of me. The wisdom of my choice was quickly becoming suspect but there was still enough determination in my heart to keep me from retreating home already.
A few hours later, the train stopped again and the exchange of passengers rotated routinely. It was long after I had stopped watching people come and go and I was still contemplatively writing and doodling in the bound journal Rena had bought me a few months ago. It was almost full with thoughts and dress designs that had appeared inside my head and ended up on the page. Just as I was touching up a design for a dress, a man slid smoothly into the seat next to mine.
I looked up to find the most charming smile on the most handsome man I had ever seen. He wore a top hat as dark as night and a well-pressed traveling coat with golden gleaming buttons. His gloves were a spotless white and his hair was a soft honey brown. His entire look was set off by shining blue eyes that a girl could fall into and never return.
"Why hello, darling," he purred at me. "I couldn't help but notice such a beautiful lady sitting all by herself. May I inquire of your name, miss?"
"Delia Morgenstern," I informed him, my voice as weak and wispy as a breeze.
"My, Delia! Your name is almost as beautiful as your face," he expressed with energy. For an instant he seemed to hesitate with something and then stroked my chin with his soft leather gloved fingers as if he couldn't help it. "In fact, I have never heard the like."
"Thank you kindly, sir," I finally found my manners. Men down south weren't usually this forward, or at least the ones I had been around. His abrupt words had flattered me to the point of fluster. "May I inquire of your name?"
"Certainly," he grinned and nodded his head toward me. "It would only be proper. I am Charles William Loredo."
My heart fluttered at the mention of his name. I had heard of the famous Loredo family even in Alabama, hundreds of miles from their headquarters in New York.
"Loredo? As in the Loredo Banking Company?" My voice was back to a faint whisper.
"Ah," he leaned back in his seat and took his hat off, becoming much more casual than society usually permitted, even on a long train ride. I tried not to check to see if anyone had noticed. "So you have heard of us. Sometimes it's a curse. For once, I'd like to find someone who hasn't heard of me. It makes forming real relationships so much more challenging."
"I can only imagine, sir." Despite the fact that my voice was wavering and quiet, I felt lucky to even be able to communicate to this giant of current affairs at all. His family was among the richest of the growing country and while I didn't know anything about the individual members, I did know that there were a couple of sons who enjoyed living their life to the fullest. Usually, scandalous rumors followed right behind the Loredo name in conversation and many wondered how the company would fare under the control of the sons when the father passed away. But none of that was important to me as I sat next to him on the train. What was important was he was gorgeous and rich, the very things I had left Alabama to find.
"So tell me, where is a pretty gal like you from?" His blue eyes seemed to drink me in. "Your accent implies southern roots, does it not?"
I nodded and attempted to keep from blushing. I wasn't very successful. "Alabama, sir."
"I have not quite gotten to visit there yet but you'll have to tell me all about it and convince me to go. Also, there is no need for such formality, Delia," Charles smiled at me. "We are friends after all, aren't we?"
The intensity of his gaze forced me to look away while my cheeks turned red in full bloom. "Yes, we are."
He smiled down at me as his long fingers fiddled with the brim of his top hat that sat in his lap. "Would it be too forward of me to ask about your destination?"
"I am going to New York," I revealed, feeling anxious to impress him and yet trying to ignore a small voice inside my head which was telling me everything was not quite right. This all seemed so easy.
"Ah, New York. A great city filled with a great many people, if I don't say so myself."
"Do you reside there?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"I do, indeed. I'm required to stay close to my father and the company should they need me for some reason. I can travel if I choose but it can't be for longer than a few months," he explained almost sadly.
"And you do not enjoy being caged so?" I felt prompted to ask.
His charming smile turned into a thoughtful one as he appeared to consider my question. "Have you ever met a bird who did not want to fly?"
I shook my head.
"There are a couple of different birds I've heard tale of from those who have gone on exotic travels that have wings but can't actually fly. What's the point in having wings if you can't fly?" His eyes were a deep sorrowful blue for just an instant and it pulled at my heart strings.
"How sad," I sighed.
"Would you help cure my sadness if you could?" he asked, a sudden mischievous look replacing the one of sorrow.
"Yes, of course I would!" I couldn't help but exclaim.
"I was hoping you'd say that." He grinned. "Would you do me the honors of coming over for dinner? After a few days from your arrival, of course, so you will be all settled in."
"I'd be absolutely delighted to," I found myself committing to while the voice inside my head echoed a cautionary warning. This was exactly what I had wanted. Why should I be worried that it was too easy? Surely God was smiling down upon me and had given me such a gift.
"Once you are ready, send me a letter and I'll have someone pick you up from wherever you are staying," he instructed me as he used my pen to write down his address. Zapping warmth spread from my fingers when he touched them to take the pen. It seemed that blushing around Charles was just something I was going to have to get used to.
After a few more hours and almost twice as many more stops, the train finally approached the great and commanding city of New York. My view was poor from the foggy window and the dark clouds gathering in the sky. Gloom seemed to have settled everywhere and yet my heart soared with anticipation and hope. Not even the rain that ran down the windows in small grey rivers could distract me from trying to see the most of my new world.
Mr. Loredo had long since moved on. In fact, he hadn't stayed much past our initial conversation claiming important business elsewhere. To be honest, I had felt disappointment and relief at his departure. Disappointment because I obviously wanted to get to know this world famous handsome man but relief at not feeling pressure to say just the right thing or react in just the right way. I certainly hadn't had much experience in interacting with famous or rich people and the effort had been intimidating. But that didn't mean I could get the sound of his voice or the smell of his cologne out of my mind.
Huge grey buildings rose out of the horizon as the train drew closer and the farmland had nearly almost dwindled away. Although I had certainly expected New York to be nothing like home, no amount of mental preparation could have readied me for the real thing.