Summer's warm embrace
I had slept for what felt like days. My lids were heavy from too long a slumber, and when my maid, Emma, pulled back the sashes, letting in the glare of light, I raised my hands to shield them. "What time is it?" I queried, even then, too lazy to move but for sliding deeper into the soft mountain of blankets and pillows upon my bed. "Nearly ten o'clock, milady" she replied, bustling about gathering old clothes and seeing that creases didn't form in the gown she had just pressed. "Would you like breakfast in bed again, milady?"
The winter had been so long, and although tempting, I had scarcely answered spring's verdant beckoning, preferring instead to keep to my quarters, with an occasional trip to the salon to visit with my parents, when they weren't busy with affairs of their own. Mama insisted that I must travel with her to Paris for some of the new fashions, while Papa tried to be nonchalant in asking about suitors. The unspoken issue, was that if I were not married, the estates could not properly be managed, and eventually, the income that I might inherit would dwindle away, whilst I did the same, as a spinster and social outcast. I did my best to remain patient with them both. Truth be told I simply wanted to be left alone. That was not to be the case.
One afternoon in April's misty rains, a coach arrived with a gentleman who dropped off a gift to me from Papa. A sweet ivory-coated dog, with a note attached to her collar "Her name is Athena, and she is under strict orders to keep you company, my sweet dear girl." At first, I admit to being wary of the gift; Papa was many things, but he was not often so sentimental. I thought perhaps he might have an ulterior motive in mind. The Baron may be gone some time now, but I still live in anxious apprehension of another match being made without my knowledge, and a dog - while a lovely companion - might have been some excuse for me to attend a grouse hunt and suddenly "oh, dear, Sir Whoever You Are, how unexpected that you joined us, do you know our daughter, Olivia?" Thankfully no mention of a shoot, or any other such social engagement was mentioned and after two month's time, I found myself calling for Athena to join me in my walks through the park, or to join me in my travels.
Two white paws appeared on my bedside, followed by the sound of familiar panting, accompanied by her perpetual smile. Emma hustled over, but I waved her away, stroking Athena's fur and with one final stretch, acquiesced to the canine's wishes that I should stop being so lazy, and take her for a walk.
We had traveled by ship to La Rocca two days prior and were met with the penetrating warmth that never quite seems to get as far as England. I had cloistered myself for too long; the social season was nearly upon us, and I had to reacquaint myself with its trappings. I washed and had a light breakfast. Emma managed to outfit me and style my hair without tripping over Athena. I leaned toward the mirror, looking intently for any signs of my advancing age of twenty-four, and tamed some unruly tendrils of hair before turning to Athena, dancing around in joy at the prospect of a long stroll.
I opened the door and immediately,the summer air enveloped me in its warm embrace. Athena trotted down the path of our rented villa and paused, turning to be sure I hadn't decided to abandon her before galloping over to a group of leaves that were swirling in the breeze. She inspected every inch of ground, no doubt learning the comings and goings of everyone who had passed there recently. A smile crept across my face. and as I watched her, the shadows began to reach for the sea.
We must have covered all of the island by the time we reached the amphitheater. The church bell rang out, calling the faithful to evening mass and I gazed out at the great immensity of the sea, feeling rather small and insignificant beside it. The soft wind caressed my face and Athena sidled up to me looking weary and loving. In that moment nothing mattered but that moment. No pressures of a stable future or an advantageous marriage, no worries as to how I would save the family's estates, or manage to survive without a husband's supervision or income.
In that moment, I was safe and warm, loved and cherished, and happy in summer's warm embrace.