My fourth attempt for The First Line. August 2013, 2862 words.
There must have been thousands standing in the rain that day. The sky was a dark grey and the clouds looked menacing, ready to unleash the crackling lightning at any moment. I hurried past the crowds, willing myself invisible for if one of them saw me, I would not be able to make my destination in time. Indeed, I would be mauled by the crowd. As the wife of the Prime Minister, they would demand my comments on the situation. I pulled my hood down low on my face, kept my eyes on the pavement and walked briskly down the street. I made it to the end of the block and turned the corner. I breathed a quick sigh of relief for making it this far, but halfway down the block I spotted the car that was waiting for me. My journey was almost complete and I continued my brisk pace.
Arriving at the waiting car, I stepped up to the window and knocked lightly. The window made a quiet hum as it was lowered and a black-gloved hand made an appearance. No words were exchanged as I passed the package inside. I watched as the gloved hands opened the package to ensure the treasure was tucked safely inside.
“I wish Jacob were here to see this moment. Words cannot express my gratitude,” a voice said quietly as he rewrapped the package. “For your loyalty, your courage and your honor, I have deposited a sum of five million dollars to your account.”
“But…you…why…?” I stammered. At a loss for words, I couldn’t think straight. This had never been about money.
“Please, take it and be free. You have given enough of your life to this cause. Thank you for all that you’ve done.”
As I stood watching the car drive off, I felt many emotions. The money was a shock, but mostly I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had come to this city ten years ago on a mission. I had infiltrated the network, the cabinet, the people and I had become one of them weaving my backstory to mix and match with theirs. Not many people remembered that I had once been an outsider and they all considered me to be one of them.
My duty was done. The Eclipse Sapphire was now back with its rightful owner and I had righted the wrong that had been done so long ago. No one here would see it that way, not for many years. Later, when the Prime Minister comes to tell me what happened, I’ll be gone. I know they’ll immediately suspect me and I’ll be painted guilty in their eyes, and rightly so.
I had to get out of town immediately. I had to disappear, but that wouldn’t be too difficult. I would shed my borrowed identity quickly, with each stop I made in my travels. I would be me again and I couldn’t wait. These last few weeks I had grown quite tired of my borrowed identity.
I turned and headed for my car. The crowds were still focused on the Prime Minister and his speech, my getaway was now or never. I turned the heat on high and hoped I’d dry out before I got to the airport. My luggage and most prized personal belongings were already packed and loaded into the car.
I guided the car down the back roads to avoid the crowds and breathed a quick sigh of relief when I made it to the highway with no trouble. I carefully drove the speed limit to avoid any unnecessary problems and when I reached the airport, I parked in the long-term lot. I hoped that parking there would inhibit anyone trying to track me down.
I withdrew the last five hundred dollars in my fake account and paid cash for my ticket to nowhere. Then I went into the restroom to change my clothes, put on a wig I’d bought yesterday and put in the green contact lenses I’d saved from Halloween. I spent some time in front of the mirror putting on a new face with makeup. Then I put on black square cut glasses and stepped into three-inch heels. I practiced walking around in the restroom for a bit to get used to them. No sense in going to so much trouble to change my appearance only to fall flat on my face in the middle of the terminal.
I went back to the airline desks and bought a ticket to Maui using my real identity and credit card. Thankfully, the flight would take off in twenty minutes and I had just enough time to get through security and board the plane.
Thirty minutes later, I stared out of the plane’s window as we taxied away from the terminal. I watched the rain continue to pour as my plane ascended the sky, taking me back to my old life. I prayed the rain wasn’t an omen and that I would find success, happiness and peace in my old home. I had a lot of traveling to accomplish before I arrived there.
I flew first to Maui and stayed for a few days before taking off for Alaska. From Alaska I flew to Japan, then to Bali, then to Greece and finally to my home in Italy.
Those first few years back home had been harder than I expected. I looked over my shoulder a lot. It took a lot of time to reacquaint myself with my family and friends. I mourned the loss of many relatives that had died while I’d been away. I became a bit of a hermit for awhile. I built up my farm. I met a man and married him. Had children with him. Watched them grow, marry and have children of their own. And through it all, through these last fifty years, all my secrets have stayed safe. No one ever came looking for me. No one has ever known my secret except the man I gave the package to. Until you.
How did you find me?
I was two years old when my parents moved us to France. There were no reasons given, no explanations. We moved in the middle of the night and only took the bare essentials with us. My sister was five when we moved and she always would dream of a huge crowd, rain pouring down and a man in black standing on a stage addressing the people. She never could remember what the speech was about and our parents said it was just a dream, but she’d actually been reliving a memory.
Five years ago, when our parents died, we took them back to Ireland to bury them in the family plot. When we entered the town hall, a mural the width and height of the wall was impossible to miss. My sister gasped and collapsed against me. “That’s my dream,” she whispered. We took care of our parents and then went back to the town hall to find out the story behind the mural on the wall.
No one wanted to discuss the details, except a small, quiet woman named Anna who worked in the back office. She would only speak to us in the evenings away from the town hall because too many people still couldn’t talk or hear about that fateful day. We spent many days learning about the Eclipse Sapphire and how the Prime Minister had come to own it, how it had passed down to his son and how it had mysteriously disappeared one day.
Anna told us that one day long ago a man and his wife had come to their village. He told the townsfolk of a terrible magic that was practiced by people in the next town over and how they had plans to come and take over this town. He showed them the Eclipse Sapphire and said that it would help to keep them safe. He could keep them safe, all they had to do was make him their leader.
Anna said everything was wonderful for years, until the Prime Minister died. When his eldest son inherited the Eclipse Sapphire and the Prime Minister position, the town began to fall apart. The son raised taxes, made people work longer and harder and he stole food from the people.
One day a woman came to town. The son fell in love with her and they got married. With a happy Prime Minister, the town went back to how it used to be, happy and prosperous.
The day pictured in the mural, was the day the Eclipse Sapphire disappeared into thin air. The Prime Minister ordered a search of the town and everyone’s home. No stone was left unturned. The townsfolk began to panic, especially when individuals were brought before the Prime Minister for questioning. The townsfolk began to turn against each other, accusing one another of stealing the Eclipse Sapphire, all in an effort to find favor with the Prime Minister. Nothing worked though, the Prime Minister was in a rage and he sent many people to jail or to their death.
Then one day, people began to disappear, which frightened the townsfolk even more. They thought the evil magic was coming for them since the Eclipse Sapphire was no longer in the town’s possession. But what really happened was that families were scared to stay in town and would disappear in the dark of the night to find a new home and to escape the wrath of the Prime Minister.
“Our family must have been one of those families,” my sister told Anna. “What ever happened to the Prime Minister’s wife?”
“No one knows,” Anna told us. “She, too, disappeared that day. Some say she stole the Sapphire, others think she was abducted with the Sapphire and some say she never existed. No one knows for sure and it drove the Prime Minister out of his mind.”
My sister and I had other ideas. So we went home to France and began to investigate. The Prime Minister’s wife was the key, we were certain.
Two years later, my son Daniel met a girl named Alexandra. They fell in love, they were engaged, we met her family and then the day of the wedding came. When she walked down the aisle, my heart stopped, for wrapped around her throat lay the Eclipse Sapphire. I couldn’t believe it. Of course, there was no time that day to question them, but when they returned from their honeymoon, we did. My new daughter-in-law had no answers so she called her parents and invited them to a family dinner.
I brought up the Eclipse Sapphire at dinner. I told her father that I found the jewel exquisite and I was interested in learning the history of it.
Her father, Micah, sat back in his seat and eyed us all carefully. The history of this jewel is long and important. This story should be told to each generation so that they can value and appreciate this precious heirloom. Micah told us a story of a woman who had given ten years of her life to right a wrong. Of a woman so courageous, so honorable, that she would forever hold a special place in his heart and the heart of his family.
He told us about a night, many years ago, when there had been an engagement party. His grandmother, Esther, had been wearing the Eclipse Sapphire around her neck and was planning to present it to her son’s fiancé that evening. It would show the world that they welcomed Sophie into the family, and were delighted with the match their son, Aiden had made. Later that night, when they announced the engagement and Esther gave the sapphire to Sophie, everyone cheered. Aiden had finally found someone to love. The family name and fortune would continue.
But it wasn’t to be. Sophie disappeared that night with the sapphire. Aiden spent many years searching and never finding Sophie or the sapphire. His parents, at a loss and needing Aiden to provide an heir, forced him into marriage. He did his part and produced two sons, Jacob and Micah, me. As we grew, our grandparents told us the story of the missing sapphire. When we grew up and our father was too old, we took up the search where he left off. But we also did a little more, we re-interviewed all the people who were still alive and had been at that engagement party. Through those interviews we found one common thread that hadn’t been investigated. A woman had come with Sophie to the party, labeled as a friend of the bride. We searched high and low and finally found that woman’s child, Sara. We traveled to her and after explaining our story to Sara, she scoffed at us. We had it all wrong. Sophie had actually been the woman’s twin sister. After the party, Sophie had gone up to her room and her sister, Olivia, had followed. Olivia had helped Sophie out of her dress and into her nightclothes. As Olivia was leaving the room, to ready herself for bed and the next day’s activities, a man came to the door. Olivia sent him away and decided to keep Sophie safe by sleeping in the room with her. Sophie was expecting Aiden to come to her that night, so she asked Olivia to sleep on a pallet in the corner. Olivia would be out of sight, but within helping range if that man came back.
Olivia, so exhausted from the day, had immediately fallen asleep and when she awoke later that night with a start, her sister was gone. Many years later, Olivia received a letter, one she never shared with anyone, except her daughter Sara. The letter was from Sophie, assuring Olivia that she was not dead, just kept prisoner in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Olivia tracked down Sophie and went to visit her in the village in secret, weeping and happy that Sophie was alive.
When Olivia went back home, they continued to correspond in secret.
My brother and I were amazed. We asked Sara if the letters had survived and she said yes, jumping up to retrieve and show them to us.
The whole sordid story was in those letters. The man had come back that night and kidnapped Sophie, forced her to marry him and as a dowry of sorts, had kept the sapphire. He’d treated Sophie badly, forcing her to bear him many children and keeping her locked away.
When Sara heard our story, she knew she had to do something to right the wrong to both our families. Her aunt had lived a miserable life, only able to communicate with her sister in secret and dying alone, locked in a room. Their father had searched his whole life for his true love and never finding her had died a sad, lonely death. Sara agreed to go to the town and somehow find a way to steal back the sapphire. By doing this, her aunt’s spirit could finally rest in peace and their family would have their family heirloom back.
My sister and I were so amazed to hear this whole story. And to know that we were now a part of it. I had to meet the woman who was so unselfish as to right a wrong that had no part of her. And I had to ask if I could write her story, your story – to set the record straight. To let the world know that you weren’t a thief, but an honorable and courageous woman.
Tears coursed down my wrinkled, paper-thin cheeks. Could I bear to let this man write my story? To record it for posterity and announce to the world what I had done.
I knew my days on Earth were ending soon. My sight had gone, my hands were numb and crooked from arthritis. My children had moved away and taken their children with them. My husband had been gone for many years and all I had left were my memories.
And so in the final days of my life, I recounted my early life and those ten years. I told him of my fake marriage to the Prime Minister, how I plotted and schemed to steal the sapphire. How I had lived, and how I’d escaped. He recorded it all and when I thought we were done, he asked for more. He wanted it all, my whole life. He said people would want to know what had become of me. I told him my life after was boring, but he insisted. He wanted to know how I coped when I first came home, what falling in love was like and how I kept the secret from everyone.
I gave him more. All. Until the moment I took my last breath.
For an amazing woman full of love, courage, honor and strength.
Sara, may you rest in peace and know you are loved and revered by all for your journey.
I dedicate this book to you.