In a time before Bradley broke my heart, even before I felt there was no hope he would ever like me, I arrived at a secluded castle at the most northern borders of the Scottish Highlands.
It was so far removed from everything, it would take a person a day to reach the nearest other living, breathing human being.
Strange then, the way I arrived. A bundle wrapped up in a tattered blanket, ensconced in a basket. There was no note, no farewell letter from a grieving mother, no goodbye, no explanation.
The castle in which I lived, stood majestically on a cliff and below it the ocean crashed into the rock face continuously, day and night. There was never a moment of utter silence, the sound of the ocean was the backdrop of my youth.
Sometimes, on particularly stormy days, the white spray from the waves would cascade over the high precipice and I loved standing under the spray. When I stretched my little arms up into the sky, it felt as if I was like the golden eagle flying in circles in the sky high above my head, and I too could fly to wherever the breeze took me. I could escape the confines of the castle grounds and see a world hidden away from me. A world where the sun’s bright spark lit up the always dreary sky surrounding me.
Grey clouds usually sat closely around the castle walls and it was as if my world was restricted to the area surrounding my home.
On the rarest of occasions, the sun would find a gap between the clouds, and then sunlight would radiate down to the earth in long glowing stripes, but never for too long.
As a young girl, I spent many days sitting in the wide stone window seat in my bedroom, overlooking the stormy grey sea. With my legs pulled up to my chest and my chin resting on my knees, I would anticipate moving away and living somewhere where the sun always shined. Where the sky would be that elusive blue they talked about in books.
In my own perception, I grew up quite normal, even though I had no mother or father, and absolutely no idea where I came from. However, I could not miss something I never knew, and so in my mind everything was as it was supposed to be.
I was home schooled and my tutor, Mr. Glenfiddich always made sure I was shoulder high in reading material. Every Thursday he travelled to his home on the other side of the mist, which might as well have been in another universe, and then he would return on a Sunday evening with new books for me to read.
Often, I wished, he would invite me with him.
On weekends, when Mr. Glenfiddich went home, I would while my days away under the shade beneath the spreading limbs of chestnuts and oaks in the hidden hideout and watch the squirrels, rabbits and hedgehogs play.
When I sat really, really still, sometimes I would even see foxes leap and frolic. I fed them scraps of bread and fruit and imagined myself to be a friend to all the animals in the forest.
My most favourite times growing up was school holidays. Although school holidays never applied to me, this was the time when the servant’s children came to visit their parents, and I looked forward to the few days every couple of months when I could play with them.
We would play hide-and-seek in the vast sparsely furnished rooms. Often, we played catch or dared each other to see who could stand the closest to the cliff edge until one of the servants stopped us and we were all shepherded back to safety behind the walls of the castle. In winter, we built snowmen.
We pretended to be kings and queens, to hunt and slay dragons, and to be blood thirsty Vikings coming to conquer a country.
After each holiday, I said goodbye to them sadly, and then the countdown started to the next holiday when they would come back again.
The servant’s children were of varying ages, and as I got older, so they got older, and my circle of friends dwindled every year, as they stopped coming home as frequently as they did when they were little.
Bradley was only two years older than me, so by my fourteenth year he was the only one still coming home every holiday.
As he got older, it was as if time forgot about me. I still wanted to run outside, build snowmen, and dance in crazy circles on the wet grass in front of the walls of our castle, but Bradley did not want to play with me anymore. That was when loneliness started to settle even heavier on my shoulders and I had nothing to look forward to anymore.
Recently, when Bradley was home for the holidays, it felt as if he was avoiding me, as if the carefree happiness we used to have as children had been stolen from us.
Sometimes, I found him looking at me intensely and I would smile at him, hoping he would talk to me or offer to spend time with me, but he would only look away and then pretend as if I did not exist.
Bradley Windsor had turned nineteen a few days before another three-month summer holiday was about to start, which meant I was a month and a half away from turning seventeen. Only two years then I could finally leave the castle to find out what was on the other side of the blanket of clouds. To be exact it was six hundred and sixty-six days.
I walked into the kitchen and watched Cook hunched over the stove. She was plump, and her face had soft features. Her brown hair was brushed back from her face, and sometimes, she reminded me a little of a hamster. Her cheeks always looked as if she had some food tucked away in them.
Her veined hands dragged a wooden spoon around and around through the oatmeal in the big black pot on the large black coal stove. She looked up at me. “Aye, but you make a pretty picture.” She had taken care of my basic needs since I was little, so I did not take her seriously. Cook asked, “Are ye ready for something to eat?”
I smiled as I sat down at the table, as close as possible to the glowing hearth. “Always.”
I was waiting for Cook to pour the oats into a bowl, when Matilda, Bradley’s mother, came into the room. She looked upset when she complained, “Bradley said he did not want to come home for the holidays this year.”
Cook replied, without looking up from getting my breakfast ready, “When they get older, they all stop coming.”
“He says there is nothing here for him.”
“Aye, that’s what they all say. You will be seeing him less and less, Matilda. T’is the way of life.”
Cook placed the bowl of oats and a spoon in front of me.
Matilda sighed long and sad. “There are just too many parties and get-togethers with his friends from school he says he does not want to miss, and although I want him here, I cannot blame him for feeling that way. This is not a place for any young person.”
I must surely be invisible. She was talking as if I was not even in the room.
“Soon he’ll be telling you he has a girlfriend, and then he will stop coming altogether,” Cook said.
I ate in silence, trying not to listen to their conversation.
“I think there is already a young lady he has his eye on. He is always talking about her.”
Immediately I stopped counting the days to the first day of the holiday. Even though he now never spent any time with me when he was here, it still broke the repetitiveness of my every day and although I was the only one who knew—I had a secret. I liked Bradley. I liked him so much I weaved wishes in the ever-present clouds of him and me together. I pretended one day we would find something true together, something between us, and together we could see the world, build a future together. In one foul swoop, my dreams came crashing down on me like rain pouring from a cloud.
When the bowl in front of me was empty, I stood up and placed it in the basin.
With a smile, Cook handed me a cup of tea when I walked past her toward the kitchen door. I liked to drink my first cuppa while sitting in the window seat in my room and look out at the sea. I could always determine the way the day would turn out by the mood the sea was in that day. If the sea was violent and tumultuous, it always turned out to be an awful day, but on days when the sea was calm, my days were equally serene. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, or positive thinking, but it worked out this way more days than not.
I left the kitchen with only a tiny nod in Cook’s direction.
Giles came walking toward me down the corridor. His tall, lank figure was dark as the large window at the end of the long corridor behind him, silhouetted him. When he reached me, he lisped, “Little Miss, Mr. Belvedere is asking for you.”
I still, after all these years, looked up at him and still in the back of my mind I could not help thinking that he reminded me of a snake. I blamed my imagination on my loneliness. “Thank you, Giles. I’ll follow you.”
He walked ahead of me and we crossed the landing to go to the other side of the castle.
Mr. Belvedere, and I knew him by no other name, was my guardian. He was a recluse and preferred to stay away from the hustle and bustle side of the castle. Although, there was not much of a hustle and bustle, because most times it was just me, Matilda, Cook and Giles, but still it seemed too busy for him.
In all the years I had lived at the castle, I could count the times I had seen him on my one hand.
This side of the castle was dark and medieval looking, and I did not like coming this way. It was as if the faint light from the electric bulbs along the wall created shadows within shadows on the stone walls. When I glanced sideways, my own shadow distorted and grew into something which did not resemble the shape of my body. When this happened, I often wondered if that was what the shape of my soul looked like.
When we reached Mr. Belvedere’s office, Giles opened the door for me and stepped aside so that I could walk into the room.
I took a deep breath, feeling my chest rise, and closed my eyes for a second, before I stepped across the threshold into the room.
Mr Belvedere was a small man and the large chair he sat in made him look even smaller. The tiny hairs on his arm was unusually plentiful and the same pale shade of white as the hair on his head. His red-rimmed eyes were small in his face, and his nose always twitched in a peculiar way, almost like a rat’s nose would twitch when it was smelling something. His eyes had an animal quickness and his instincts seemed to be as finely tuned as any creature of the wild.
The large study was decorated in dark woods and burgundy coloured drapes. Old books were stacked all over the floor and created a labyrinth of passageways through them.
Mr. Belvedere said in his high pitched, squeaky voice, “Sit, Amber.”
I sat down on the edge of the chair placed in front of his desk and balanced the cup of tea I was still holding in my hand on my lap. I sat with my back straight and my chin up.
“After the summer, you will be leaving us,” he announced.
Leaving? Where would I go? Was he tired of caring for me after all these years? Did he think I was old enough to fend for myself? I always tried not to be a burden, to limit my needs only to basic necessities, and never asked for anything which was not offered.
Thoughts of panic raced through my mind, when he halted them. “You will be attending boarding school in Edinburgh. Mr Glenfiddich informs me you are well prepared for this, and it is time for you to go.”
What did he mean, it was time for me to go?
“Your parents...” He stopped talking abruptly. “Speak to Ms. Windsor, she will help you with all the arrangements.” He turned his chair away from me.
“You know my parents?” I whispered.
He bellowed, the voice coming from behind the chair was larger than the body it erupted from, “You may leave.”
I jumped with fright and quickly scrambled from the room, forgetting about the cup of tea I had in my hand. The cup flew from my lap and the tea made an arc as the cup swirled through the room, spilling its contents.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled as I hurried to pick up the cup.
Before I could reach it, his voice said in a calm, loud whisper, it was as if it filled every crevice of the room. “Leave. Now.”
Copyright © Lynette Ferreira (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.