Six Months To Love You
After the swirl of changes brought about by the official announcement of William Albert Ardley's identity, the history of false engagement to Neil Reagan and also Albert's revelation that he was her Prince of the Hill, Candy had decided to return to Pony Home to stay there. Albert had at first offered her to live at the Lakewood Mansion but she had refused. She would rather remain far from Neil and Eliza's pettyness and ploys, and their not-so-subtle attempts to keep Aunt Elroy's favors. Furthermore, Archibald was gone to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachussetts to study in Business and Economics to be able to second his uncle and George Johnson. And Albert, even though he lived there, was oftener absent than present... Candy had no ally in that house. As she had explained to Albert, she wanted to rebuild her life, and felt more useful helping her mothers at the orphanage. She liked to feel she was needed, and making a change in those whom she loved and their lives. Albert had been disappointed, but he knew Candy well and her temperament would have suffered to remain doing nothing in the mansion. Thinking it over, he rather preferred to have her surrounded by her loved ones in Pony Home, so he wouldn't have to worry about her.
Afterwards, Albert and Candy had started corresponding and in his letters, he had explained various details of his life she wasn't yet aware of, the reasons of his sudden disappearances, some of his dreams... They had really gotten closer while they had lived together at the Magnolia apartment. Despite a certain uneasiness at first on Candy's part when she had learned that Albert was in fact her benefactor, Great-Uncle William, she had grown used to the idea and they had become the good friends they had been for so long. Albert came to visit her when he found the time and it is during one of these rare moments that they each let their hearts talk...
It was a beautiful autumn day, the sun was shining brightly in a big blue sky filled with white fluffy clouds. The colors of the trees were vivid and contrasted with the deep blue of the sky. Red, orange, yellow and brown leaves filled the trees and some had even started to fall on the ground, making a crinkly carpet. Since he had taken over the reins of the Ardley family, Albert had been busy with his responsabilities that were stealing most of his time. That day, he had finally succeeded in straying away from these obligations as he had promised to be with Candy.
After saddling the horses Caesar and Cleopatra that George had finally found and purchased on Albert's orders, and that he had just given to Candy for her eighteenth birthday, both had decided to go on a picnic on the Ardley lands that touched M. Cartwright's land on which the orphanage was built.
Candy found Albert reserved and thoughtful. Thinking it over, she realised that ever since he had recovered his memory a few months back, he wasn't the same Albert as she knew before, the carefree, happy and laughing man who had always charmed her : she guessed it was all his duties coming from his new rank as head of family that were weighing him down.
Today they had decided to go on an outing just to enjoy each other's company. They sent their horses at full galop and stopped only when they were spent from the race. They were on the banks of the river where Albert had found Candy the first time they had met. They got off the horses, and Albert brought them close to the water so they could drink, then he tied the reins to a tree. Candy had used this time to sit close to the river's edge. She was looking at the water, deep in thought, her eyes sad, like everytime she was thinking of him - Terry. She kept telling herself that this too would pass, this overwhelming feeling of emptiness that oppressed her chest... Albert observed her for a while before he decided to ask her a question.
-So, Candy, still thinking about him, are you? He said slowly, not wanting to hurt her. He wished she would open up to him, because he thought she needed to talk about it with someone. He had been the closest witness to her despair on her return from New York after the break-up.
Candy raised her eyes to meet Albert's and she had to shut her lids very tight to dissipate the strong emotion that had grasped her when he had mentioned his name...
-Oh! Albert! When will it stop making me suffer? I'm trying to keep my mind off things, to keep busy, but his face is printed in my very soul and I can't ignore it. But I have no right to think about him! He's with Susanna now... I have no right, she repeated with a small voice won over by sadness.
Albert looked at her in silence, then he sat down on the grass next to her, stretching his long legs. He took a deep breath before telling her,
-Candy, when you've loved someone as you've loved him, that person always remains in your heart and with time the hurt starts to heal. It's not as bad, but it stays a sore spot. You two separated because of duty, not because your love was dead.... It's your choice, but your heart is resisting with all its might because this choice goes against what it was striving for. Your love for Terry is a part of you and you can't casually dismiss it as if it had never been. This feeling you felt for him was so strong and pure. You have to give yourself time... You know that to love someone, especially when that love is returned, is the most beautiful experience that a human being can live. The sacrifice you have made is all to your honor, but it doesn't cancel out all those feelings you had for him.
-But it still hurts so much Albert! Will the time come when I can continue with my life, because for now I can't, there is still a big part of me that remains with the sadness of the past...
-Candy, since you and Terry are still alive, your love is still there, and it keeps you related with a strong bond. On his side, Terry must also learn to live his life without you. You've seen as I have that he has been through a difficult time also. You both have to learn to get over this ordeal, each on your own... But the love that united you isn't dead...
Albert paused. He looked to the horizon, and added, When someone dies in an accident... all is over in a split second, the person is no more... All the feelings the person had are gone, but the feelings they inspired in others stay alive within them. You know that it is always harder for those who stay behind and must learn to live without their lost loved-ones.
Albert's voice was soft and reassuring, but at the same time, it seemed that his words were piercing him with pain. Candy observed his face that had changed so little since all the years she had known him. Now he was beardless, blonder, and had a few more wrinkles near his eyes that crinkled when he smiled. But she noticed that his mouth had a bitter crease that hadn't been there before. For a brief furtive moment, at the bottom of his sky blue eyes, she could read the same despair that she found in her own when she looked in her mirror. When she saw this, Albert's gaze was back to normal. She asked herself if she had really seen this everlasting sadness or she had just imagined it. Wanting to reassure herself, she asked him,
-What about you, Albert, you seem to know what you're on about. Have you lost someone dear to your heart?
-Oh! Candy... sighed Albert. He got up and walked a few steps away from her. He ran his fingers through his blond hair, visibly upset. He fixed his gaze on a far spot and whispered, I've never talked about it to anyone...
-Do you remember, Albert, in the park in Chicago, we had only a sandwich between ourselves and you had told me it was good to share with someone, our happiness as well as our sorrow? You told me we should share everything with each other, do you remember? She looked at him from the corner of her eye and saw him nod his head in consent. If you knew how these words comforted me! I felt I wasn't alone anymore... Then after you left me, you had found your memory and you had to go back to your own life. So I lost you, my confident... But I didn't really lose you. You've always been there for me, to take care of me. You are not only my adoptive father, you are also my big brother, and... my best friend...
At these words, Albert looked at Candy and smiled with gratitude, but said no more. She had hoped he would share his sorrows and tell her what was hurting him deep inside, but he remained silent. After a long silence, he started,
-You know, Candy, this pain you feel being apart from Terry is horrible, but you chose not to stay together. If it can make you feel better, remember that Terry is still alive and nothing is definitive in this world, apart from death...
Albert was staring into nothingness, his blue irises seemed to be looking at the sparkling water of the river, but Candy could see his gaze reaching beyond... She said,
-An old wise man once told me that as long as we are still alive, we have hope to see each other again. And even though I know that... Terry... is henceforth forbidden to me, I keep hope that someday, maybe, Providence will smile upon us... or that Destiny that has relentlessly tried to separate us, will somehow find a way to lead us back on the same path. It's Terry who made me realise that the dead never come back to life, they are gone into the other world and can't come back, we have no other choice than to move on without our loved one. So I understand exactly what you mean... And if you ever feel the need to speak to someone who can relate, I want you to know I'll always be there for you, Albert, the way you've always been there for me...
Albert seemed to come out of his trance and fixed his eyes on Candy's emerald green ones. How he appreciated this little slip of a woman who had always impressed him with her fiery character, impulsive and happy ways and her golden heart! She had always found the right words to make him smile, to alleviate his sufferings and to offer him his indelible support. Like his sister Rosemary... Oh! He missed her so! This was decidedly a day for nostalgia. His voice coming from afar, he started to talk, as if addressing no one in particular,
-She was a very pretty lass, and she reminded me of you. I think I mentioned her in one of the letters I sent from Africa. She was a nurse in the dispensary where I was working at the time. We would heal humans as well as animals in the shelter. We got along really well together from the time we first met...
He stopped at this point of his story, the emotion overwhelming in his throat, he couldn't go on. Candy stepped closer to him and put her hand on his shoulder to let him know she was there with him, ready to listen. So he continued his story,
-We had gone on a horse excursion and a picnic near the waterfalls, it was a beautiful day, we had succeeded in having both the same day off. We were already spending all our waking moments together, either working, going on errands for the dispensary or to visit around, observing nature and wildlife of this wonderful land with bewitching hidden beauties... We soon became inseparable. The moments spent with her are my most cherished souvenirs, I knew I was madly in love with her, and that day I understood that she wasn't indifferent to my charm... And I felt beyond a doubt that she loved me, Albert... I hadn't told her who I really was... Back then I wasn't William Ardley, at least not officially.
Albert ceased talking. Candy could perceive the emotion in his voice as he was revisiting his souvenirs and telling her about his loved one... His moving story really touched her, but she was also glad that he had decided to confide in her. Even though she was curious to know the rest, she remained silent, waiting for him to continue. Only the lapping of the water could be heard, appeasing and stimulant at the same time. Albert came back to his story :
-When the time came for us to go back, we were riding and she wanted us to race, she loved speed. But... an animal appeared on her path... her horse reared... and as she was close to the water... she was thrown off and plunged into the river... I saw her sink in and I knew the strong current would bring her to the falls... I didn't have time to rescue her...
At this point of his story, tears started falling on his cheeks, his tormented eyes grieved Candy. She wanted to erase this suffering that was making her shudder to her deepest core, recalling undeniably Anthony's accident. Albert found the strength to pursue, saying, It's the last time I saw her. They never found her body... His strong shoulders sagged and he started sobbing. Candy was deeply disturbed by what she had just heard. She had never seen Albert so dejected. She got closer to him and held him tight in her arms, whispering to him,
-Go on, cry, dear brother, cry...
They remained thus embraced for a long while, Albert's sadness finally resorbed and he fell down on the dead leaves covering the ground. Candy sat down next to him. He started talking again, slowly...
-I waited a couple of weeks in case she was found... But it was too hard to stay there, I had far too many memories of her... I was seeing her everywhere, with the feeling that she would appear at any moment, with her sparkling eyes, her smile and her peals of laughter that still filled my ears... I gathered all our stuff, and left with my bundle, with the intent to find her father in Italy to give him her personal belongings.
-In Italy? Asked Candy her eyes wide-open with surprise.
-Yes, she had told me her father was working there. It's on my way to see him that the train I was riding on was bombed. Hadn't been for Pouppe and her animal instinct warning her of the danger, I wouldn't even be here to tell this story. I woke up amnesic and the first real face I looked upon waking up was your own...
Candy didn't know what to say... So, Albert had lost his love just before his accident. That must have been the reason his memory took so long to come back, it was filled with sorrowful souvenirs. She understood better now why he had seemed so different since he had regained his memory. All these souvenirs had assailed him and his mourning that had been stalled by his amnesia, was hitting him full steam now. And he had told no one... Finally, they were much alike, him and her, wanting to hide their deepest hurts behind a façade of cheerfulness.
-There you have it, Candy, now you know everything about me! Finished Albert with a tentative smile.
-Oh, Albert, thank you so much for confiding in me, and believe me, I am very sad about all you went through. Your heart is in shatters too... We look like two cripples of life, don't we?
Albert looked at her with a small smile. Then he shook himself, as if wanting to forget all this. Never one to wallow in self-pity for too long, and not too prone to unburden himself, he still felt relieved to have shared his suffering.
-Let's go, Candy, it's getting late, it's time to go back to Pony Home before they start to worry.
Candy noticed the sun had gone down in the sky, shadows were stretching and the air was cooler. Albert offered her his hand and together they went towards the horses, climbed up and left this haven of revelations and secrets. Never again Albert mentioned this story, and Candy respected his choice. It was not her style to mope either and she understood there were things one would rather keep to oneself.
On this sunny day, Albert had made her a gift of a wonderful lesson of life. Following this discussion with him, Candy had started to change her attitude when she realised how wise he was. Why did she want to restrain herself from loving Terry? Not to feel guilty towards Susanna? She had already given him her man... She had left him... So he could do his duty... She couldn't deny her love for him, so she decided not to feel guilty anymore, because it didn't harm anyone. As long as she didn't try to see him again, she was doing nothing wrong. She had promised Susanna not to contact him again. She had not promised to stop loving him.
Once she had taken this decision, her heart and her head were lighter, liberated from the guilty feeling of not being able to forget him, and feeling she was an adulteress while thinking of him... She gave herself permission to think of Terry and to love him... from far away. Even though she knew that he was forbidden to her, her love for him was not negociable. When she realised that she couldn't stop loving Terry without betraying herself, she started living again and her life became easier. Not questioning anymore, not tormenting herself anymore on this subject, she had come to a sort of submissive stance and her heart remained waiting for maybe, someday, meeting him again...
Candy was grateful to have such a person as Albert in her life, a kind and wise confident. … But she couldn't help feeling that she would have rather discussed all these things with the other half of her soul she had abandoned in New York. She started writing to Terry all her emotions at the end of her day, as an open-letter from her heart, a kind of diary that would keep the connexion with Terry alive, albeit symbolically... She would blacken pages of little notebooks just before going to bed and tell him her days, her joys, her sadness, her hopes
Time had followed its course since that afternoon of confidences Candy had shared with Albert. Four more years had elapsed since her separation from Terry, on that fateful november night when she had left him behind, never turning back... Had she fulfilled her promise to him, to be happy? She had to admit the daily routine she had organised to fill her life was stable and the result was overall satisfactory. At least, she wasn't unhappy.
Still sometimes she was overwhelmed by the intense moment of nostalgia when all the souvenirs of instants shared in his company and the incredible feeling of lightness and carefreeness she felt only in his presence would remember themselves to her. But these never lasted long. Almost immediately, she would remember that Terry was far away and she had to live apart from her love forever. She continued to repeat tirelessly that you never knew what life had in store for you, and as long as you were alive, you had hope of meeting again... Then she would put a smile on her face before facing a new day.
Time was fleeing, and everything remained the same. Her friends thought she was healed, because of her smiling face and her eagerness to please everyone she met. What had defined her before continued to define her, but she had never quite gone back to her old-self. There remained deep down in her green eyes an indescribable and indelible pain that sometimes veiled her normally happy gaze. This broken heart that lived alongside her in every moment was still bleeding, although it remained invisible to all those around her.
One of the first decisions taken by Albert, as William Albert Ardley, was to offer his financial support to Dr. Martin and to undertake the steps to have his Happy Clinic transferred from Chicago to La Porte. The village was flourishing and its population was on the rise at an impressive pace, people were starting to claim the need of having their own health facilities to tend to the sick and needy. Candy was happy for this new outcome that would enable her to come to work for Dr. Martin and to practice her nursing skills that she loved so much, while staying at Pony Home. The distance between her home and her work place was easily walked and this exercise was good for her and she used the time by herself to meditate. The half-hour it took morning and night was good for her mind, as they were about the only quiet moments of her days, as she walked on the path, absorbed in her thoughts.
Candy worked four days a week at Dr. Martin's clinic and kept her other days to help Ms Pony and Sister Lane to take care of the orphans. These ladies had at last accepted the Ardley family's financial donations which helped renovate the outdated facilities. They were starting to think they would need more help. Candy was doing her best as always but soon that wouldn't be enough. The number of boarders had grown drastically since the war years, as too many widows incapable of providing for the needs of their little ones decided to abandon them, not wanting to watch them sicken and die. The expansion of the orphanage was paid for by the Ardleys and it had helped to organise the space well, and they were better installed overall since the renovations.
Patty came to help them once in a while. After Alistair's disappeareance, she had lived through difficult moments and Candy had supported her, with the ladies of Pony Home. After a couple of months, Patty had started to live again and had gone back to Florida to live with her grand-mother Martha whose health was better in the southern climate. She had decided to follow some teaching classes and had worked in a girls' school for some years. She came to spend all her holidays at Pony Home to help out as a way of repaying their kindess in her hour of need. The ladies were always overflowed with work and truly appreciated this composed young woman whose calm contrasted with Candy's exuberant spirit.
Patty had realised that she loved this privileged contact with the kids. She loved to make crafts with the small ones and would put the art work on the walls of the play room. As her candidature had not been retained for the following school year, she was facing some months of vacation before being unemployed in September. For the time being, she wanted to have fun over the summer, looking forward to Annie and Archie's wedding - eventually - and going to visit Candy and Pony Home. She had invited Candy to come stay with her for two weeks in Florida. Candy was still undecided about the trip, because she didn't like leaving her mothers too long to cope alone.
Candy and Annie saw each other more often. Sometimes they met for a shopping spree in the luxurious boutiques of Chicago, or they spent the weekend at the Brightons' where Annie was still living while waiting for her wedding to Archie. The two young women were sometimes invited to balls for special occasions at the Ardley mansion, but Candy didn't really enjoy these social gatherings. She'd rather lead a quiet life, almost as a recluse. Of course she was surrounded by people, but she needed the intimate stability that living at Pony Home procured her. The days she worked at the clinic, she was so busy she had no time to spare for thinking. And at the orphanage, between the kids to tend to, the meals to prepare and the household chores to do, there were hardly any spare moments, and that was all right for her. All in all, everything was cozy.
Without being flat, life followed its course, no intense emotions to destabilise her, just a kind of languor that numbed her heart... Her life, which had been quite tumultuous in the past, had become a long, quiet and predictable river. It's when she thought she was finally sheltered from life's hardships that Destiny decided to put her to the test and everything would start falling to pieces... yet again.