It was dark when she returned to the house. Just like her mother, Cassie waited until everyone was asleep before she crept down the hall and up the old stairs toward the secret she longed to discover. The trunk was there, as it had always been. She fumbled with the catch, finally opening it. Her torch beam played over the books inside. Cassie drew a breath; it was time. Her hand shook as she withdrew and old ledger, books from long ago, and a red-bound photo album. Her quest was halted for a moment as she opened the album. The first photograph was her mother, smiling and laughing. She stood with a man, also smiling. Cassie did not know him. Her eye was caught by the familiar brown of the old notebook. The pages were aged and worn; the ink faded. Cassie drew another breath and read the first page.
Today I turn 16. Sweet sixteen, my mother always says. I don't know about that, but she is taking me into town to buy something for my birthday. It will be my special treat. I don't know what I will get;
The breeze was cool and fresh. The sound of the horse's hooves on the gravel road echoed in Annie's mind as she tried to sit still like her mother always told her. Soon, they would be in town. Annie's mother had promised to buy something for her birthday. Perhaps there would be a nice dress in the drapers; or maybe she could find a new straw hat like the one Martha Birmingham wore. Soon they rattled into town and Annie's father reigned in the cart horse.
"I'll meet you back here at one." Annie's mother just nodded and they walked off towards the shops. Annie was admiring a cornflower-blue dress in the shop window when she heard someone call from across the street.
"Elizabeth, is that you?" Annie's mother turned.
"Edward? It's been so long!" Annie looked at the man who now strode across the street to meet her mother. "Annie, this is Edward. He is an old friend of mine. This is my daughter, Annabelle" Annie curtsied.
"How do you do?"
I am very well missy, and it is lovely to meet you. This is my son Joshua. He is probably very close to your age." A young, handsome boy of about 17 dipped his hat at Annie. As the two adults caught up, Annie and Joshua talked. He seemed so nice, and his smile was beautiful. Annie found herself attracted to him in a way she had never felt before. Finally Edward and his son had to leave. Annie walked around absently, finally choosing a straw hat for her present. As they shopped, Annie's mother told her that Edward had recently moved into town and now owned the general store. That night as Annie wrote in her diary, she could think only of Joshua.
Over the next few months, Annie saw a lot of Joshua. They connected in a way that was deeper than friendship, and every day they grew closer and closer. At the end of the year, Joshua went away to the city for school. It would be 10 years before they would meet again.
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Annie was 26 when she went down the Murray. She relaxed in the deck of the paddle steamer on her way to her aunt's station. She knew the voice as well as her own.
"Annie?" It was tentative, unsure. Annie barely allowed herself to hope. She turned slowly and, sure enough, he was there.
"Joshua!" All propriety was lost as Annie ran to him and embraced him like a lover. Night was falling as he led her down to his cabin.
Annie woke the next morning as a woman. Her face glowed with happiness as she sat up. She dressed and went up onto the deck to find Joshua. The boat was just pulling into port when she saw him leaning against a rail. He did not return her greeting. Annie followed his stare to a young woman standing on the dock with two children. The children waved and Joshua raised his hand in return.
I am to be married today. After all the planning I shall soon be a wife. After many years of knowing Arthur as a friend and finally returning his affections, this last month has gone quickly. No-one else will ever know the reason why I changed my intentions to Arthur or why I hurried the wedding plans, but I believe this is for the best. Arthur will be a good husband. He will care for me and my children.