Annie's Song Part 34

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Alex laughed in spite of himself. As much as he hated to admit it, he liked the man. "I'm relieved to hear that."

"Annie is very loyal. We're good friends, nothing more."

Alex moved on up the steps. "She is here, isn't she?"

"She's in cla.s.s right now." He drew a watch from his vest pocket. "Ten minutes more, and she'll be done for the day."

Alex didn't want to wait ten minutes, but he supposed he had no choice. He leaned against the porch taking and folded his arms. "How long have you been a student here?"



"I'm a teacher."

"Oh."

Bruce grinned. "Many of the teachers here are deaf. Believe it or not, being deaf makes it easier for us to teach. We understand better. There are hearing teachers, too. We need them for the speech cla.s.ses. I obviously can't be sure if a student is getting his phonetics right."

Alex nodded. "How is Annie progressing?"

Bruce's smile faded. "She's very smart, and she has the advantage of having once been lingual. But she isn't learning as fast as she could."

"Oh? She's been sending me letters. The words are misspelled, but I-" Alex shrugged. "I naturally a.s.sumed she must be learning by leaps and bounds."

Bruce turned an embarra.s.sed pink. "Yes, well, I helped her a bit." His mouth quirked. "I didn't correct her spelling. If you saw how hard she works to print just one letter in a word, you'd understand why. I didn't have the heart to make her do it all over, and I thought you'd rather have a letter she'd done herself, mistakes and all, than one I corrected."

Alex couldn't think what to say. In his breast pocket, he had all of Annie's letters. He'd traced each word with his fingertips a hundred times.

"Annie's ... homesick. Aside from the letter writing, her heart hasn't really been in her studies."

Alex met Bruce's gaze. "Why do I have this feeling that you're campaigning in her behalf?"

"Probably because I am. All of us could learn more, you included. How's your Latin?"

"Not worth a s.h.i.+t."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Then perhaps you should go away to school for a few years and learn the language. After your Latin is perfect, you can go home and be with your wife."

The man was b.u.t.ting in where he had no business, but for the life of him, Alex couldn't be angry. "Point taken." He smiled slightly. "The lecture isn't necessary, though. I've come to take her home. Since sending her here, I've realized it was a mistake."

Bruce's blue eyes darkened. Alex could see that the news of Annie's departure hit him hard. He recovered quickly. "I'm glad you've changed your mind. For her sake." He lifted one shoulder. "Why learn to speak if the one person you want to talk to is far away? Annie's heart isn't here. It never will be.

Let her learn at a slower pace at home with you. It's where she belongs."

With that, he started to turn away. Alex reached out and touched his arm. "I'd like to surprise her. Please don't tell her I'm here."

Bruce smiled. "I was going to catch her so I could tell her goodbye. Once she sees you, she'll be so excited ..." He lifted his hands. "Will you tell her for me then?''

"Happily," Alex said with a laugh. Then he sobered. "We'll be staying the night here in Albany and taking the morning train. Why don't you join us for supper? That way you can say your own goodbyes and spend some time with her before she leaves."

Bruce brightened at the invitation. He made a show of studying Alex for a minute before he turned and went in the house. "You grow on a person," he said over his shoulder.

Alex chuckled and drew out his watch to check the time.

Annie's cla.s.s would end in three more minutes, which converted into one hundred and eighty seconds, each the longest of his life.

When the front door finally swung open and students began spilling out onto the porch, Alex straightened, his heart leaping whenever he spied a dark head. Two young men came out, three young women. No Annie. Alex realized he was shaking, and from the way his stomach felt, he could have sworn he'd swallowed a handful of jumping beans.

Then, like a vision, she appeared. Alex stood there, frozen, his gaze riveted to her. Sable hair, ivory skin, eyes as clear and endlessly deep as a summer sky. She held a stack of books in one arm and was trying to fasten her cloak. Another student exited behind her and b.u.mped her shoulder. She stepped out of the way, which put her directly in front of Alex. Still, she didn't look up.

"Annie..."

No response. Her gaze caught on his shoes. She slowly looked up. When her eyes found his face, she went perfectly still. No smile. No surprise. She just stared at him, her lips slightly parted, her hand hovering over the clasp of her cloak.

For an awful moment, Alex started to wonder if her feelings for him had changed, if she was dismayed to see him.

Then she dropped the books. They hit the porch with a resounding crash, the report of which only Alex seemed to notice. Papers scattered, some catching air and drifting past him down the steps.

"Aluck!"

With that, she launched herself into his arms. Alex caught her to his chest, knowing as he tightened his embrace that this was where she belonged, where she had always belonged.

Sobbing, trembling horribly, she wrapped both arms around his neck. "Aluck!"

Her p.r.o.nunciation of his name was flat and imperfect, but to Alex, it was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard.

Annie ... He swung with her in his arms, so happy he ached.

He didn't care that everyone on the porch was staring. He didn't care when he felt tears streaming down his cheeks. He held his world in his arms. He had been a fool to send her away.

He'd never make the mistake again.

Keeping one arm firmly around her, he drew her down the steps. When she spied her papers, which were scattering with the breeze, Alex caught her from going after them. "Leave them," he told her.

She looked deeply into his eyes, hers swimming with tears.

Alex hauled her closer and caught her chin on the edge of his hand. "You won't be needing them. We're going home."

"Home?"

"Home," he a.s.sured her. "You and I and the baby. Home.

No more school. I'll hire you a tutor."

"Home, for always?"

"For always."

Alex caught the gate with his hip and swung it open, unwilling to release his hold on her for even a moment. He glanced up the tree-lined street, then returned his gaze to her sweet face.

"Home, for always."

As he said the words, he felt at peace as he hadn't in months.

Home, where their future awaited them. Home, where fantasies could become realities. On impulse, he swung Annie into a waltz step. The breeze caught her cloak, lifting it around her. She let her head fall back, her expression blissful. Alex knew she was imagining they danced to music. The strange thing was, he thought he could hear it as well. Faint, lilting, elusive.

Annie's song, and now his, magical notes only they could hear.

Epilogue.

Sunlight streamed through the dining room window, creating a golden nimbus around Annie, who sat at the table, head bent, gaze fixed intently on something in her lap. Even after nearly three years of marriage, Alex was ever thankful that G.o.d had blessed his life with someone so sweet, and he hesitated just inside the doorway to watch her for a moment.

From the looks of her plate, she had picked at her breakfast again for the third day running.

Unable to help feeling a little concerned, Alex strode across the room. Gabby, the s.h.a.ggy white dog Alex had given Annie two years earlier, must have felt his master's footsteps vibrating through the floor, for he leaped up from his nap and began to dance around Annie's chair, barking shrilly all the while. Detecting the sound, Annie looked up from what Alex could now see was a piece of embroidery work.

"Good morning," she said with a warm smile.

"Good morning."

With a pained expression, Alex glanced down at the noisy dog. Because the animal's shrill bark was one of the few sounds his wife could hear, he resisted the urge to complain.

As useless as the dog was otherwise, he always barked to alert Annie when Bart began to cry, and that made the s.h.a.ggy creature worth his weight in gold. Gabby, whose name suited him perfectly, also barked to let Annie know if someone was calling to her or knocking at the door, enabling her to respond to sounds she otherwise might have missed.

With a soft laugh, Annie set her needlework aside and leaned down to curl her fingers over Gabby's muzzle.

"Enough," she told the dog softly.

Gabby, who adored his mistress nearly as much as Alex did, quivered and twisted about, so pleased at her touch that he looked nearly beside himself. Alex understood the feeling.

With a sigh, he drew out a chair from the table and sat down, his gaze returning to his wife's breakfast plate.

"Annie, love, you can't continue to do without your morning meal. It isn't good for you. Are you feeling poorly or something?"

s.h.i.+fting her gaze to her plate, she wrinkled her nose and pressed a hand over her waist. "I just don't want to eat it. I'm getting fat."

"That is sheer nonsense, if ever I-"

Alex broke off. Annie had puffed air into her cheeks, trying to make herself look plump. The gesture was so reminiscent of that never-to-be-forgotten night when he'd first realized how intelligent she was that it gave him chill b.u.mps. He looked deeply into her guileless blue eyes. No... It couldn't be. He flicked a glance at her waist. Was it a little thicker than normal? he wondered. Or was he imagining it? When he looked back up, he could have sworn he glimpsed a fleeting smile on her sweet mouth.

"Annie?" he said under his breath. "Sweetheart, are you-"

She lifted one delicately drawn eyebrow. There was definitely a smile playing about her mouth, Alex decided. A mischievous smile. His stomach felt as though it dropped to the floor. It couldn't be. He already had everything a man could want, an absolutely wonderful wife and a beautiful little boy. To wish for more ... well, as much as Alex adored children, he had never allowed himself to hope for more babies, mainly because he was afraid he'd only be disappointed.

"Annie, don't tease me," he cautioned her solemnly. "Not about this. Are you pregnant?"

Her eyes grew suspiciously bright as she slowly nodded.

Alex couldn't contain the sudden joy that burst inside him.

Before he thought it through, he was out of the chair and grabbing Annie into his arms. Her embroidery went flying.

Gabby scrambled to get out of the way as Alex swept his wife around the room in a waltz step.

"Pregnant!" he cried. "I can't believe it!"

Clinging to his arms, Annie allowed him to swing her feet clear off the floor. She gave a shrill laugh when he drew her against his chest to hug her. "Careful," she warned. "Don't squeeze too hard."

Alex instantly gentled his hold. "Oh, sweetheart." He bent to kiss her. The instant their lips touched, she melted against him, making him think about all the times they'd started out just this way and ended up locking the dining room doors so they could make love. Against her responsive mouth, he murmured, "I love you. G.o.d, how I love you.''

He had no sooner finished making this profession than he heard whispering. Abruptly ending the kiss, he glanced over Annie's head to see Frederick the butler standing just inside the dining room doors, Bart riding piggyback on his shoulders.

"Yes, Frederick?"

Before the butler could state his business, Maddy's red head poked around his arm. "Well, has she told ye yet?"

Alex felt Annie wiggle and glanced down to see her shaking her head emphatically at Maddy and touching a finger to her lips. In response, Maddy winced. It was as clear to Alex as a freckle on a pig's back that his housekeeper and butler already knew about Annie's pregnancy. So much for a husband's being told first. Disgruntled, he narrowed an eye at his wife, but in truth, he couldn't be angry. In the three years since their marriage, Annie had come to regard Maddy as a second mother. He couldn't fault her for sharing her feminine concerns with the older woman. Unfortunately, since her marriage to Frederick a year ago, Maddy had developed an irritating habit of telling him absolutely everything, secret or no.

"Baby!" Little Bart chortled. Then, clucking his tongue as though to a horse, he tugged on Frederick's hair and kicked his small feet. "Go fast, Fwedwick! Go fast."

Ever ready to spoil the young master of the house, Frederick began to run in place, putting plenty of bounce into his step to satisfy his adventurous young rider. "I am sorry, Master Alex, but I came by the knowledge before you did only because-"

"I told him," Maddy inserted with a huff. "Besides, it isn't as if it's something to be kept secret, now is it?"

She had Alex there. No secret this, but a precious gift. He gathered Annie close again, so happy that he couldn't express it with mere words. Fortunately, she seemed to understand and returned his embrace. From the corner of his eye, Alex caught a glimpse of Little Bart, still bouncing about on Frederick's shoulders. Maddy was beaming as proudly as if the unborn infant were her grandchild. Alex supposed that under the circ.u.mstances, that was fitting. Maddy was as much a mother to him and his wife as their own had ever been.

I want a girl, Alex thought. He already had a fine son. Oh, yes, a daughter. Not that he would really care either way as long as the child was healthy. But secretly, in his heart of hearts, he wanted a little girl. One with silken sable hair and huge, incredibly expressive blue eyes. The happy clamor of voices seemed to fade away as Alex gazed down at his wife's precious face. Oh, yes, a little girl exactly like Annie....

end.

Annie's Song Part 34

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Annie's Song Part 34 summary

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