In the weeks that followed, she adhered to his request to stay inside and not answer the door. The only exception when Sister Maria de Los Lagos dared to visit during one of Ramiro’s daily absences. She claimed to be checking on the scared girl, but Arabella sensed an ulterior motive. Her first few visits were merely to bring bread and milk, but on the fourth she handed her a book wrapped in a red cloth.
“Read it when you are alone, but you mustn’t reveal to anyone that it is in your possession,” Sister Maria warned. “Not even Ramiro can know.”
“No one?” Arabella eyed the gift suspiciously.
“This is a secret that must remain between you and God.” She took her leave never to return.
A secret that must remain between you and God, she reflected. Arabella decided to bury the secret beneath a loose floorboard in an unused room. She resumed her strange new life with Ramiro in a modest home on Calle Santa Clara, within walking distance of the cathedral and the town square. She spent her days gazing through the window, sometimes hiding behind the curtain afraid of being spotted by a revolutionary, or worse.
Who kidnapped me, and why? She often wondered as she studied the passersby. Some of the children occasionally glanced in her direction, but most simply continued on their way. The circumstances surrounding her disappearance remained a mystery, and any inquiry she made about her family and her life prior to the wedding was met with either a deafening silence, or the statement: you should not concern yourself with things that no longer matter.
Her days were long and lonely, because Ramiro left before sunrise and did not return until well after dark. He claimed to do important work for his father, but when she asked about the work he did, he’d merely say: it is best that you do not know.
At night, she fell asleep talking to God in the darkness of her bedroom, asking for answers to her unanswered questions, and praying for insight into the memories she could not recall. She heard no voice and did not feel His touch, but the presence of God filled her heart with faith and hope regardless.
Sometimes, Ramiro would lie still beside her and listen as she cried in silence. He offered no comfort and made no advances. Falling asleep and waking before her, leaving her alone for much of the day, while he too adjusted to the change.
After three weeks in solitude, Arabella waited until Ramiro left for work before she climbed out of bed. She prowled through the house in the half-light, searching like a cat for something or someone hiding in the shadows. Her heart pounded in her chest, worried that a spy or revolutionary was lying in wait to pounce.
Satisfied that her search produced no results, she crept to the vacant room at the rear of the home. She lifted the loose floorboard and retrieved the book wrapped in the red cloth from its hiding spot. She unwrapped the wool, almost forgetting to breathe, and revealed the wine-colored, leather bound book. The gold letters of the title reminded her of the lettering on the Bible, except it read:
THE LAST LOVE LETTER
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but she didn’t dwell on it. She opened the book with great care. It resisted her, as if being opened for the first time. Arabella leafed through the pages—thin and stained by time—they reminded her of a journal with secrets as dark as shadows. She replaced the floorboard, tucked the book under her arm and returned to the main room at the front of the home. It felt unseasonably cold as the end of the Hurricane season neared. Despite the lack of rainfall, there remained a blanket of mist in the early morning hours due to a perpetually overcast sky.
After setting the book on the couch, she placed logs in the fireplace and searched for the box of matches. It was then, for the first time, she realized there were no books on the shelves, save for a Bible covered in dust. Perhaps the mystery of how and why The Last Love Letter came to be in her possession had got the better of her, but she felt something familiar tug at her core.
Books and stories, she realized as she looked around at the empty shelves. She missed them and needed them. Something about the smell of old paper, the letters and words organized in a particular way to define language, and the feel of the pages between her fingers reminded her of a feeling from another lifetime.
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