The next day, she was curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee. Her mother was sitting near her with a laptop. “Gracious,” she said, “I thought your Aunt Beth would get the message that children are a lot of work when she had five children; and now she’s just had a sixth. She’s complaining again in this email about how she is going crazy.” Anna bolted upright, nearly spilling her coffee. “She lives in England, right?” she asked excitedly. “Well, yes. Newbury.” Her mother was raising her eyebrows at Anna’s sudden interest in her aunt. “That’s it! I’m going to England and I’ll help her with her children while I figure out what I want to do,” she said with sparkles in her eyes. She wanted to be as far away from Tennessee as possible. The Muller boys would never in a million years think of finding her in England; much less go there. This certainly fit the bill. “Alright, I’ll send her a reply and ask her about that.” It didn’t take ten minutes to hear back her aunt’s resounding happiness over the proposal. Within two weeks the house in Knoxville sold and she was free to go. Her father helped her take the truck to a used car super lot and sell it. She now had the house money, truck money, and Roy’s savings with which to launch her life adventure. She began packing for her departure. As she packed, she noticed all the clothes that were a symbol of this area and the pseudo-Amish. “Pseumish. That sounds like a good word to describe the past year of my life- The squashing of the pseudo, and the Amish, and the horrible in between.” She actually smiled to herself at her clever new word. She started tossing clothes in the trash can and planned a shopping trip for the morning. She hardly slept in the days leading up to her departure. She was so excited about going to England, but also, she was terrified about the Muller boys seeking revenge. Almost nightly, she had nightmares of those haunted woods where Roy had been shot. Ghosts came out from behind the trees with shiny, new guns looking for her; waiting for the right moment to end her life. She would run with all her strength, but they seemed to always be catching up to her. She would wake up sweating and with her heart pounding. “Oh God, just help me live to see England,” she prayed.
Anna wandered the halls of Crofton Home, the old estate home of her Aunt Beth and Uncle Peter. It was so large, and yet, their rambunctious children made it seem quite a bit smaller. Peter had inherited the estate from his grandfather. Although there was not much money, it was a grand old home that could be used as an estate in a Jane Austen film. Peter kept a job to support his brood and the upkeep of Crofton. For the first time in so long, Anna felt peace. She knew the anger and grief were still in all the corners of her heart, but she wanted to focus on the peace she now felt. The plane ride had been exhilarating as it tickled the adventurous side of her nature. Settling into life at Crofton had been easier than she thought. She wore jeans and a t shirt and had her hair in a pony tail. “I’m going for functional here, “ she thought as she looked in the mirror that morning. She made her way to the family room and took the fussing baby from her aunt. He loved to be carried football style, but her poor aunt was so tired that she didn’t have the strength to oblige him. “He was up four times last night!” her aunt said. Anna noticed the enormous bags under her eyes that gave testimony to her story. “Go rest. I can take care of him for a while.” She bounced slightly as she carried him around the room. “What did I do without you?” her aunt sighed and then went off to close her eyes. She had never been around children before since she was an only child and had lived in such isolation. After a few days, though, it came naturally and she felt comfortable with them. The baby soon fell asleep and she laid him in the bassinet that was parked in the family room for such times as this. She found her way to the kitchen and began to plan their supper. She had become the supper chef at Crofton. She and Aunt Beth could handle light lunches while the rest of her children were in school and Uncle Peter was working. Anna put a large chicken to roast in the oven and marinated green beans to cook later. She looked in the fridge and decided on using some leftover elbow macaroni for baked mac and cheese. “I have to please the kiddos!” She went back to sit with the baby and read a book until the children came home from school.
After a few weeks, she got an email from her mother.
Anna, Joseph took a plea deal, involuntary manslaughter, twelve to twenty-five years. They say he never actually confessed; just kept saying it was an accident. So glad there won’t be a trial and you won’t have to visit this mess again. I hope you are healing, my dear daughter. Your dad says hello and that the shop is doing fine. Write me soon. Love, Mom.
Anna stared at the word “involuntary” for a long time. She didn’t believe that. She could imagine Joseph saying “accident” with a smirk on his face, knowing he was getting away with murder. Inexplicably, she was not mourning Roy anymore, but was left with the anger of what had happened. Anna hadn’t had enough time with Roy to be devastated for long. She determined to erase Platzville from her mind and concentrate on her future.
Several months later, she was in the kitchen preparing a Mexican lasagna, charro beans, Spanish rice, and fresh avocado. Peter came home from work and yelled with his lovely British accent, “Look who I’ve brought home from London!” Anna heard a lot of commotion as all the children came running to the entrance hall of the house and began screaming with delight. She just had to go see what was going on. When she arrived at the hall, she saw the children mobbing a very tall blonde man. “Ah, Anna,” said Peter reaching out his hand toward her. “I would like to introduce you to my cousin, James Grant. He is on furlough from his duty in the army and will be with us for a few short days.” Reaching James to shake his hand was nearly impossible with the bucket full of monkeys hanging on him, so she simply waved. Peter turned back to James and said, “And of course, this is Anna, who I told you about in the car.” Anna tucked her hair behind her ear nervously and then suddenly remembered the cooking beans. She exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve got to finish our supper! It will be on the table in twenty minutes everyone!” When she was safely in the kitchen she realized she was blushing. “Good gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a handsome man!” She stirred her beans so vigorously they nearly turned to puree’. After supper, James offered to help her wash the dishes. She was stunned for a moment. Men where she came from didn’t wash dishes--ever. “Um, that would be nice. Thank you,” she managed to say without cracking her voice. He smiled at her shyness and the distantly familiar acrobatic butterflies returned to party. He stayed for three days and then had to return to London before being shipped off again. She tried hard not to think about him when he was gone. “You know he gets out in four months and then I don’t know what he’s going to do.” Her aunt must have been reading her thoughts. “I’ve already been married and widowed at twenty-two. I’m sure he’s not interested in that sort of baggage,” Anna convinced herself.
The next month flew by with Anna working so hard at Crofton. Between cleaning, cooking, and the baby she had hardly had a moment to sit and think. That was a good thing. She didn’t want to think about what happened last year. One day she was scrubbing a toilet and the word of her own imagination came to mind--Pseumish. She began to think of Pseumish as a mystical land with hateful and prejudicial characters. She remembered the nightmares she had of those haunted woods and the Muller brothers coming out as vile looking ghosts with their guns. Stories began to unfold in her mind. “I’ve got to write this down,” she thought as she ran to her room and grabbed her laptop.
Once upon a time, there was a mysterious land called Pseumish where hideous creatures lived. They all wore enormous robes around their bodies to hide their true ugliness. Each one would say greetings of hateful words to the other as they passed by, for this was their custom. Jolmur is the oldest creature in Pseumish. What he says is law and those who do not obey meet the magical crack stick and disappear forever. He doesn’t even know why he makes the rules. They have just always been and always will be. He hobbles about with his great brown robe and a cane of twisted wood. He has a long, wooly, white beard and a big sharp nose. He loves to eat sweet things and demands that the other creatures of Pseumish bring him more. One day, he stumbles over a rock. “I declare a new rule! There will be no more rocks in Pseumish!” he says. He makes the other creatures take all of the rocks out of Pseumish while he walks around pointing out what they have missed. While they are picking up rocks, he spots a creature wearing a pink robe. “I declare a new rule! No one can wear pink; only brown and ugly colors!” The creature goes away in tears because she must give up her pink robe. As her tears fall to the ground they turn into stones. “Pick those up!” he roars…..
She typed furiously and lost track of time. Beth finally came to her room to check on her and she realized it was already dark. “Are you alright?” her aunt inquired. “I’m so sorry, Aunt Beth, I lost track of time. I just had something I needed to record in my computer. Is it too late to make supper?” she said as she quickly closed her computer. “I had Peter run out for pizza,” she said. “You need a night off, anyway.” After her aunt left the room, she opened her computer and clicked the “Save As” icon. She stared at the blank where she was to name her file for a few minutes. Finally she typed Tales of Pseumish. Her heart was pounding as she realized that she finally had something that would give her a way to vent all of her remaining anger and pain. She worked late into the night and could not sleep for the flood of stories filling her mind. In the following days, she worked on the story whenever she could. As she read over what she had written, she thought, “I think people would actually read this!” She became determined to make it an actual book and get it published. When she gave her rough copy to her aunt to read, she thought it was fantastic. Anna sent off several copies to different publishers in the London area and waited. Two months later, just when she had given up hope, she received a call from Barton Publishing. They wanted her book! She was elated. The publisher wanted her to come to London and meet them. She hung up the phone and did an odd, but vigorous happy dance. “I’ve been way too sheltered,” she thought as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Three days later she took the train into London. She found a shopping center where she could buy a new dress, shoes, and get hair and makeup done. She didn’t want to look like the sheltered country girl from Tennessee when she met the publisher. She left there looking like a new person. Although she didn’t have the heart to cut her long hair, she did have it trimmed and styled. She marched the sidewalk in front of the shops a few times to get used to the heels she had just purchased. She loved the way they made her look, but she wondered how on earth women spent all day in them. At the appropriate hour, she caught a cab to the publisher’s office. When she arrived, she was swiftly conveyed to the office of the one in whose hands was her fate. He soon made her feel relaxed and she realized that this was going to be a great person to work with. He praised her book and wanted to know where she got the inspiration. “Oh, that is a long story,” she said with a nervous grin. He glanced at his watch and said, “Let’s go have some lunch and you can tell me then.” She agreed and over warm bowls of soup and crusty sandwiches she told him the whole story. “That is simply incredible,” he said as he shook his head in wonder. After more small talk, she said, “I’ve got to go catch the train to Newbury; I don’t want to be late.” He replied that he would take her to the station personally. At the station in Newbury there were a small number of cabs, so she employed one to take her out to Crofton. She came through the front door and heard her aunt yell, “Anna, is that you? Come here and tell us about your trip!” She was fumbling with her bags and purse as she came in view of the family room. Whistles and hooting began to fill the room on account of Anna’s meet-the-publisher look. She looked up from her purse and immediately saw that James was there sitting on one of the couches with a few of her cousins. He had a silly grin on his face as he looked her over. In her excitement over the book, she had completely forgotten that the four months leading to his retirement were already over. “Let me go change and put these things away,” she said quickly. She ran off before anyone could object. She returned in a few minutes in her comfy jeans and t-shirt and told them about the publisher.
James came and went over the next two months. He had a flat in London and told the family that he had a job as an illustrator for children’s books. Anna tried desperately to picture this hunk of a man drawing cute bunnies or princesses, but the image just wouldn’t happen. Apparently he had endless friends in London as well. He would bring his friends out to Crofton and parade around like it was his home. Peter would just roll his eyes and smile, “Ah, the young and single life.” Anna kept him at arm’s length; choosing to have a distant friendship with him in an effort to protect herself. Sometimes James would bring women with him. They would fawn over him and flirt and flutter their eyelashes until Anna thought she would be sick to her stomach. She understood he was gorgeous, but that sort of cheap behavior was not attractive. One morning after one such episode, Anna overheard Peter and James arguing. “I don’t see why you bring those……..women into my house!” Peter protested. “Look, I only do it to test the waters with Anna. You know, find out what sort of girl she is,” James countered. “You know what that poor girl has been through! Her husband was murdered, for Pete’s sake! She is sensitive and you should not be playing around with her like this.” James was quiet for a moment and then replied, “Alright, I’ll not bring them here again. I just wish she would let me talk to her and get to know her.” Peter put in one more rebuke before walking away. “Well, go about it the right way, or you are not coming back here.”
Anna covered her mouth and ran to her room. James didn’t say outright that he liked her, but it seemed to be implied. “This man could have any woman on the planet. Why on earth would he be interested in me?” she asked herself as she paced her room. She thought of her mother telling her not to burn a trail in the rug. The thought of her mother caused her to look at the clock on the wall and see that it was time to go make supper. She hoped with all her heart she wouldn’t encounter Peter or James on her way to the kitchen. However, it appeared that James was gone and so were his fawning bimbos. The house was quiet as she walked through it. Her energy seemed to wane as she stood in front of the fridge deciding what to make. “I need comfort food,” she thought. She made a huge pot of spaghetti and fresh garlic bread. As she brought the food out to the prodigious dining room, she saw that James had returned. “Where are your, ahem, friends?” Beth asked James. “Took them to the train station,” he replied quietly. The whole table seemed awfully quiet to Anna. Everything tasted so good to her, so she didn’t mind the silence. After everyone scraped their plates free of every last speck of spaghetti and mopped up the last drop of sauce with their bread, James once again offered to help with the dishes. She gave him a straight up affirmative this time in spite of feeling those blasted butterflies doing a whirling dervish. As he was rinsing the last dish, he turned to face Anna. “Anna, I know that you have been through some absolutely horrid things. I really want to talk to you, but I am clueless what to talk to you about. I don’t want to sound insensitive about your past. Will you talk about it with me?” Anna thought for a moment and then said, “Yes. I suppose it would be good to get that elephant out of the room so we can act normally. Come and sit here. I’ll tell you the whole crazy story.” They sat in two old wooden chairs by the kitchen window and she told him about Clements and everything that followed up to moving to Newbury. They talked several hours and Anna was shocked to look up at the clock and see midnight fast approaching. “My dear,” he finally said, “you have to be the bravest woman I’ve ever met. I admire you for coming here and changing the course of your life.” She stood up and excused herself, commenting on the late hour. Her cheeks were rosy and she was chastising the butterflies as she walked quickly up to her room.
The next few weeks were much more peaceful. Anna and James were able to interact as friends. She was still aware of the exploits being realized by ambitious butterflies whenever he smiled at her, but was able to maintain control. He was so very handsome, she couldn’t help it. Her aunt started dropping hints about the two of them being together. “Aunt Beth, I assure you, we are friends and nothing more,” she would reply. But everyone knows that when you say that, you mean the opposite. Sometimes she wondered if he was really a children’s book illustrator. It seemed too good to be true. He was a gorgeous, kind man who drew pictures for children. Still, she wanted to believe he would not lie to his own family, so she would believe him, too.