My downfall started, like most, with a boy.....
A Rose and
It’s Thorns
Chapter 1
I walked along the stone pathway to our less-than-impressive home. My shoes sounded loud on the rock slabs. I hefted my basket from one hand to another and opened the door. Stepping inside, I brushed my wild black hair from my face and set my basket on the table.
“Mother, I’m home!” I called.
“I’m here!” Mother returned from her room.
“I’m fixing your tea. I’ll be right there,” I replied.
The fire was burning in the stove already, so I added more firewood and got busy making the tea. Placing the kettle full of tea leaves and water above the fire, I got all the cups ready. I scooped up a bit of sugar and poured a small amount of milk in the cup, just how Mother liked it. Soon the tea was ready.
I fixed it on a tray and placed a few biscuits on it. Balancing the tray carefully in one hand, I walked the tea over to Mother’s room. Mother lay quietly in bed, gazing out the window. I set the tea gently on the table and helped Mother sit up. Fluffing her pillow, I made sure she was nice and comfortable.
Mother had been ill for quite sometime, and I had to take care of her the best I could. Father had died when I was very young, and I had no siblings to call my own, so it had always been Mother and I against the world. I know that it sounds a little lonely, and it was, but I was happy with the way things were, before Mother got sick. We always had each other.
Then came the fateful day when Mother became sick, very sick. She couldn’t get out of bed, she had the most horrible headaches, she shivered from chills even when it was hot enough to melt a candle on the porch. She was frighteningly thin and ate little to nothing. At first I wasn’t aware of how serious it was. I didn’t think it was serious at all, until a dreadful day in late June.
I had gone out to the market to fetch some milk and bread, and when I came back it was eerily quiet. In the hallway, I found Mother collapsed, barely breathing. She was coughing up blood and had hurt herself in her fall. Nothing like that had happened since, thank goodness, but she seemed to get worse and worse as time went on.
The doctors refused to tell me anything, they didn’t think I had a grasp of the situation. I suppose that they thought that a young woman with no other family could not handle the news that her mother was going to die. They were wrong. I had always known, deep inside.
I couldn’t afford the only medicine that could save her. We could sell our whole house and everything in it and still not have enough money. No matter how much I earned from work, I still had Mother and myself to feed and there was never enough money. The doctors were doing the only thing they could, making Mother as comfortable as possible, for now. No matter what the doctors tried, Mother got worse and worse. Most days I wondered how much longer she would last.
I turned to my beautiful mother. Mother’s hazel eyes seemed a little distant. She seemed to be in her own little world, unaware of my appearance. She got like this sometimes, but it never lasted long. I set the warm cup of tea into her pale, shaky hands, which seemed to rouse her. She sipped from her cup, her eyes still wandering the room dully. It took a second, but her eyes finally met mine, and some life sparked in her face.
“Maria, the tea is lovely,” Mother remarked.
“Why, thank you Mother. I made some biscuits earlier. Would you care for one?” I replied.
“Of course,” Mother requested.
I placed the fresh biscuit in her hands and busied myself with tidying up the room. I added a bit of wood to the fire. Mother got the worst chills, even on a summer day like today. Straightening a picture frame, dusting off the table, just little things here and there. My big cleaning day was Sunday, when I did the laundry and scrubbed the floors and things like that.
I realized that Mother hadn’t started eating. I turned to scold her, but stopped when I realized she was watching me with a peculiar expression on her face. It was a mixture of pride and sorrow and just a touch of something I couldn’t identify. Her hand rose and beckoned me closer.
I obeyed and she touched my cheek, her slightly wrinkled hands caressing my face. Her hazel eyes took in everything about me, from my jade eyes, which were much darker than her hazel ones, to my curly black hair, much different than her straight brown hair. Her hand shook a little and I reached up and covered her hand with mine. Tears appeared in her glassy eyes.
“You look so much like him. Somedays when I glance at you from the corner of my eye, I mistaken you for him. You’re very different, though. Your father knew how to smile,” Mother whispered, a slight quaver in her voice. I wasn’t sure if it was from laughter or choking back a sob.
I laughed, my eyes watering. It was true that while Father and I had looked very similar, our personalities couldn’t be any different. I was pretty serious, even back then. I was a very thoughtful person, contemplative and often spoke of things that others didn’t think of. Father liked to make jokes and was always wearing a smile. We may have been opposites, but we got along well. He was my friend.
We stayed there for a while, neither person wanting to ruin the moment. Mother eventually got tired of sitting up and leaned back into her pillows. She closed her eyes for a moment, looking very peaceful, and I took the time to study her closely.
Her hair was brown and as fine as silk. Mother’s face was bony and pale enough to see the veins underneath. Her eyes were blood-shot and very tired looking, dark circles bordering her hazel eyes. Her lips weren’t as rosy as they had been once, and she seemed ready for death. She wasn’t much more than a skeleton. I wished I could help her, but there was nothing I could do, other then watch her fade away slowly. She was wasting away day by day.
She opened her eyes and I forced a smile on my face. No need to worry her even more. I quickly pulled her covers up nice and high, making her feel warm. I ran my fingers through her soft hair. She lay back and I kissed her on the cheek.
“Eat your biscuit. You’re as thin as paper! I’ll be putting the food away from my trip to the market. You get some rest,” I ordered.
Mother smiled. “Yes ma’am.”
I left the room in a hurry, bringing the tray and the empty dishes. I was eager to put myself to work. I rinsed off the dishes, then went to work on the food. I salted down the meat so that it wouldn’t spoil and set it away. I placed the fruit on the window sill, leaving them out in the sun to dry. Fresh fruit lasted longer dried. The food that wouldn’t spoil went into the pantry. I was quick and efficient, having done this many times before.
Once I was done, I sat in my room. A stack of papers waiting on my desk, needing to be graded. I sighed. I was a governess for a few families in the area, teaching their children all they needed to know. I taught all the subjects, English, mathematics, and history. Some governesses taught science, but none of the families found it of much use, so it was often left out of the curriculum.
I was well learned, earning all my certificates in every subject, including music, which I also taught to earn money. Though I was capable of teaching just about anything, my main passions were English and music. I loved to teach children to write master pieces, and the sound of the soft little voices of children singing filled me with joy. But teaching just those two subjects did not pay, so I had to teach them all.
I reached for my quill and some ink and began grading. It was pretty quick work, but I had thirty pupils, each with a couple tests and papers needing to be graded. I usually saved grading papers for Saturdays and sometimes Fridays, because I only taught Monday through Friday and then I had the weekend to grade, clean, and take extra good care of Mother.
Several hours later, I had finished. I was near midnight, and my back was aching. Feeling very tired, I quickly undressed and put on my nightgown. I slipped into bed and pulled the covers up. I slowly drifted off, knowing there would be plenty of work to be done in the morning. Tomorrow was Sunday, cleaning day.
The next morning, I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the tile floor in the kitchen. It was a small kitchen, and the floors always managed to get filthy by the time Sunday came around, although I was the only one ever in the kitchen. It was a mystery that I had never been able to solve.
My hair was pulled back in a messy bun and a bandana was wrapped around my head to keep soap bubbles off my hair and sweat out of my eyes, a trick I’d come up with after years of cleaning. I was wearing my oldest dress, the one that I only wore for cleaning because it had grease stains on it from when I tried to fry a turkey for the first time, which did not turn out well, and many holes from when I went berry picking in the briar patch. The berries were good, but I’m not sure if it was worth it.
There was a knock at the door. I muttered a few choice words under my breath and was about to stand. Without any warning and without waiting for a response, a girl of about eighteen burst in, a year younger than me. She had strawberry blonde hair, expressive brown eyes, and a slightly amused expression on her face. I brushed a stray lock of hair out of my eyes and glared at her, feeling annoyed.
“What is it Beatrice? I’m a bit busy at the moment,” I snapped, feeling cross.
“Maria! Is that any way to treat your best friend? I’ve only come for a quick visit,” Beatrice replied, looking hurt.
“A quick visit from you can last hours at a time. I don’t have the time for that and you know it,” I pointed out.
Beatrice pouted. “And here I was, about to tell you about a great opportunity. An opportunity that could change your life and possibly save your mother’s.”
I perked up. “What opportunity?”
“Shove off! Why should I tell you? You’ve been rude to me ever since I walked in.”
“You did just burst in uninvited,” I said irritatedly.
“I could just leave. You could say goodbye to that big opportunity,” Beatrice mused.
“Which was great! Who doesn’t love surprise visits from your best friend? If you’d head to the parlor, I’ll be there soon with some tea and cookies,” I added quickly.
Beatrice brightened at the mention of cookies. She loved sweets, and I couldn’t blame her. I love sweets too. She waltzed to the parlor, looking far too satisfied with herself. I sighed, smiling to myself. I went to wash my hands, leaving the cleaning supplies on the floor. I wasn’t going to get anything out of Beatrice until she was good and ready. She was difficult, and that’s part of the reason I loved her. But her difficultness was also a problem. I was going to be here for a while.
I got some tea and cookies ready and brought them out to the parlor, where Beatrice sat and waited expectantly. I poured her tea and we ate in silence for a moment. I took the time to study the strange girl.
I had known Beatrice for many years. Shs was in class with me when we were young. We first met in our early years when she offered me a piece of chocolate from her lunch. We had been friends ever since.
Beatrice and I were very different. I was quiet and thoughtful, while Beatrice was friendly and often spoke her mind. She could talk to anyone and was very expressive. I was shy and hardly spoke at all with strangers. Beatrice was an accomplished seamstress and owned her own shop. Her clothing and shoe designs were very popular among all social circles.
“So, how’s your shop doing?” I asked.
“The usual, busy and crowded. How about your governess job?”
“Keeps me on my toes. Plenty of work and not enough pay,” I sighed.
“Sounds like every job, and everything else in life. Lots of work, very little reward in return.” Beatrice remarked. “How’s your Mother feeling?”
“She isn’t complaining, so I don’t think she’s in pain. She’s still gradually getting worse, and the medicine isn’t doing anything. It’s suppose to help her, but I haven’t seen any improvement. But at least she’s not in pain.”
Beatrice nodded sympathetically. “I wish I could help. I’m no doctor, but even I can see that nothing they’re doing is working. Are they sure they know what they’re doing?”
“They told me before. None of these medicines are a permanent cure. They’ll only slow her health decline, or pause it temporarily at best. The only medicine that can save her is much too expensive for us to ever afford. Even if we sold our every possession, we wouldn’t have enough money,” I said miserably.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Beatrice said solemnly.
“I’m not accepting money. Mother doesn’t want charity. She says there are people less fortunate than us who need the money more,” I protested.
“Hush now. I’m not giving you money. I’m giving you a chance to make money,” Beatrice interrupted.
I raised an eyebrow. “You have peaked my curiousity. Please, tell me more.”
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