Copyright is held by the author.
MY PLAYFUL side was soon put to rest as I firmly flattened the creases of my stiff historic uniform. Day one of my new summer job stirred a tremor of apprehension. A brief self-examination produced hints of anxiety. “Crap, I forgot to remove my nail polish,” I quietly declared. My youthful fingers formed soft fists dissolving any evidence of a metallic blueberry hue. Next on the list to disappear were my sea shell earrings right into the abyss of the fake Gucci purse. “Jesus, I should’ve read the damn new employee manual – oh well.” A self-punishing eye roll and subtle kiss of my teeth were soon interrupted.
“Welcome Emma. I thank you for arriving on time today. Now if you would kindly follow me I can show you the entire heritage estate and what your duties will be. As you can see around you this beauty of a building requires a lot of attention.” The professional introduction came from my new yet emotionless employer Ms. Calloway. She walked with purpose. “This estate has endured war, restoration and is older than our very own country.” A 50-something prudish librarian type was the least of her worries. Included in her physical portrait was the awkward sense of detachment from modern life and anything enjoyable. Ms. Calloway was Coronation Estate and Coronation Estate was Ms. Calloway.
Our starch riddled skirts swooshed in unison as we trotted with purpose to her office located at the end of a not so opulent hallway. Our methodical march soon had me on my own sabotage mission as I tried to break the rhythmic beat between the two garments. I tried to forge ahead of her pace but soon resigned to defeat. During my childish covert operation I noticed Ms. Calloway was not a tall woman but her rigid upright posture gave the impression of a few extra inches. A prominent hooked nose and pale skin offered little to the woman’s attractiveness yet it somehow added a sense of historical authenticity to her countenance like an old puritan painting.
A cold damp office welcomed me. The smell of moth balls and wood polish assaulted my sense of smell. Ms. Calloway slowly and gracefully twirled her way around a large kidney shaped desk and sat down. The dance sequence was almost theatrical. A cell phone and tablet seemed out of harmony with the antiquities of her office including the two perched brass lamps which allowed me enough light to glance at the nearby wall drizzled with pictures of a history I honestly could care less about.
My mind at the moment was a closed door to the life and war Coronation Estate experienced. The war was 1812 and I’m pretty sure I skipped class that day to learn about it but all that mattered at this moment was the measly money I’d be making over the next few summer months. At least give the impression I cared about this job would be my summer mantra. Hopefully it would be enough to cover my trip to California.
The clearing of Ms. Calloway’s throat interrupted my vision of a Californian beach breeze tickling my skin. “Emma, you are expected to be prompt for work. You will be monitored for this. We provide break times of course and what you do on your break time is up to you.” I looked at the prudish face barking and wondered when she was going to mention pay raises and promotions.
She continued, “I may put you in the library study for a start.” I nodded in response like someone who understood what was being said. What did I just agree to? Did she say she’s putting me in the library? I’m not into books, never was or will be. What did I get myself into nodding in agreement? I thought I would be directing tour groups from room to room selling a romantic history and showcasing fancy looking furniture like one of The Price is Right ladies. I could fake believe tour groups but I know I’d die of sheer boredom in a library. I regretted the moment I responded like a trained monkey, “Yes Ms. Calloway, looking forward to it.”
Day one was hard. Day nine even harder as the tasks and duties kept piling on. My trainer was Cassandra or Cassie for short. Nine years employed at Coronation Estate gave Cassie the undeclared status of team leader.
I sat with Cassie in the grand library cradling books destined for the archives. These books reflected the culture and era of 1812 from social etiquette to agriculture to literary classics and it was my job to make sure they were shelved away correctly. Thousands of book placed on walled perches provided a colourful backdrop to the room. A few lucky ones were promoted to the display tables. The worst part of it all was that the library was open to the public to browse and I had the honour of being host, helper and security brute for each insured book.
Cassie asked me, “How do you like the job so far”? I glanced at my slightly dirty fingers from the furniture dusting. I replied, “Not too bad. A library page was not my idea of how I’d be working here.” A smile from Cassie melted any regret for telling her that I was struggling a bit. “Not to worry Emma, it gets better. I almost quit my first week when I started. Try not to take Ms. Calloway too seriously. She’s all bark and no bite.” I felt more relaxed.
It was now my turn to ask Cassie something that I hoped would result in some form of juicy gossip. “Is there any drama at Coronation I should be made aware of?” There was no immediate answer but eventually Cassie nodded in agreement, “Well, staff here are overall friendly but there has been rumors of strange happenings over the years before and even during my employment here. I personally have never felt afraid or weirded out but I have heard the odd story.” I leaned in towards Cassie intrigued, “What do you mean? Are you talking staff affairs and fatal attractions or something else?” My answer was a growling cough from Cassie. As she cleared her throat she managed to say, “It can get lonely if you’re working early or late so try and keep yourself occupied. I will try to visit you more often.”
Rays of early morning light peeked through the opening of heavy curtains. Sunday mornings were tough after a night of drinks and dancing but I soldiered on as I placed my name tag on my drab looking blouse. Warmth would eventually appear later in the day which was unfortunate as I was always chilly. No matter what time of day, warm or cold I required layers.
This particular morning was no exception. A cool breeze brushed against the nape of my neck as I sat writing my daily log of books used by patrons the day before. I quickly turned my head wondering where such a draft could come from. An electric heaviness in the air had my eyes turning in all directions investigating the invisible source.
“Good Morning young lady, pardon my intrusion but I was compelled to see what new flower has come to bloom at Coronation.” I glanced around for who owned such a gentle soothing voice. How could that be? I told myself. Just as I shrugged off my nerves I heard another “I say good morning Miss, can you hear me?”
My eyes landed on a young man about my age. His green eyes were soft and kind. His dark hair was a sharp contrast to his pale porcelain skin. I noticed his subtle attempts to straighten his crisp red and white soldier uniform for me. I was impressed by his mannerism. How on Earth did I not notice my fellow co-worker before?
“The name is Fredrick.” He bowed his head slightly in a formal greeting. I smiled, “I’m Emma, nice to meet you.” I felt nervous as I found him attractive. “Emma, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve seen you in here for almost a fortnight but felt it necessary to make your acquaintance now.” I thought to myself that Fredrick was totally into his historic character which was kind of charming. So I replied. “I thought I was introduced to everyone here, I guess I missed you somehow.” Fredrick smiled and said, “Emma, if I may be so bold and present you a small gesture of welcome to Coronation.” I was taken back. “Well umm okay, thank you Fredrick. That’s awful nice of you.” The formal role play was endearing.
His gloved hand revealed an embroidered shawl that I did not noticed when I first laid eyes upon him. It was impossible to miss such a beautiful piece of material. I blamed his green eyes for the diversion. The paisley print was faint against the rich colours of blue, green and gold. I absolutely loved it. “Fredrick, thank you so much for this but I can’t accept this.” I didn’t mean that I told myself. It was gorgeous and I was keeping it regardless. “Emma, consider this gift a delicate shield against the cold in this room full of stories.” I opened the shawl examining its intricate design. A slow twirl later and I was proudly wearing it. Somehow Fredrick disappeared when I was in mid-spin admiration. Where did Mr. Dreamy go?
Friday was a busy day at the library. I couldn’t understand how folks could waste their days visiting Coronation Estate willfully. The evening shift produced a large shelving trolley of books and the odd disgruntled patron complaining about something beyond my authority. My mind drifted to my new friend Fredrick who was yet to make another appearance. My gossip source Cassie was now off sick so I was resolved in providing him the status of “hot mystery man.”
The evening moon now hanged over Coronation Estate as the last patron finally left. I surveyed the damage of strewn books, used coffee cups and misplaced chairs. Fifteen minutes to tidy up was the challenge which began well but was sweetly interrupted. “Hello dearest Emma. Hope you are in good health”? I did not have to turn around. His voice had me smiling immediately, “Frederick, you finally showed up. I guess better late than never.” We both giggled.
Our evening stretched beyond my clean up challenge and I didn’t care. Fredrick had an innocence that was wholesome and appealing. Charisma and class came to mind, the two traits that were absent in my boyfriends of past. He spoke little of himself but knew everything of the estate and era. A feeling of connection solidified within me. I embraced it and became bold, “How about we finally meet outside this place.” Sweat could be felt under my blouse as my nerves took over preparing for rejection. A smile glanced back at me, “Emma, your delicate boldness is appreciated.”
The baritone chimes from the old library clock announced it was well past closing time. I didn’t even notice the hall lighting had dimmed. Fredrick mimicked my observation of time, “May I escort you outside Emma? I see that night has crept upon us.” My eyes fell to the floor as my insides fluttered. I reached for my jacket resting sloppily on my chair. Maybe he’ll walk me home or we’d get a coffee or chat about a future I was now imagining with a nice house and kids. My smile screamed permission granted.
The long hallway became longer as we both stretched time dragging our feet. My mind was muddled with both excitement and nerves. Thankfully he interrupted my anxiety,
“Emma, you truly command my attention. It has been so long to find connection with another. I enjoy our encounters and only wish we somehow could continue.” I stopped walking. What did he just say as I now looked at him? I felt crushed but had to know why. “What do you mean”? I replied. The subtle attempt at sounding surprised was disappointing.
Frederick continued, “My dear, I have what one would call a commitment elsewhere. This commitment has nothing to do with my feelings for you of course. Our brief encounter has been nothing short of a miracle defying logic itself.” I wondered what on Earth he was talking about. He was speaking in circles like a person not wanting to reveal the truth. Was his so called commitment another girl? Perhaps it was an early marriage he felt prisoned too. My late night talk shows of cheaters and scammers were not helping at this point. I decided to take the high road. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at Frederick, but it would have been nice to get to know each other better.”
The exit door was within reach. Frederick was the type to open the large heavy door for me but I stood at the door inches away anxiously waiting for a cool breeze to comfort my sadness. The appearance of evening was not revealing itself. I glanced beside me wondering why Frederick aborted his gentleman like manners. There was no Frederick. He vanished.
“Are you sure this Fredrick works here?” Sounding healthy and a few pounds lighter from the flu Cassie paid me a visit. “Yes Cassie. He works here. His name is Fredrick. He is cute, kind and I have big plans with this man like marriage and offspring. Are you sure there aren’t any short term employees here?” Cassie replied, “This is a seasonal estate closed for the winter. We are all seasonal except for security and Crabby Calloway.” My gaze penetrated the long intricate stain glassed window wondering about my Fredrick who nobody seemed to know existed. I quickly grabbed my shawl, “Look at what he gave me. It’s the most gorgeous gift I’ve ever been given.” My shawl wrapped around me like a reassuring hug. Cassie crinkled her brow as she caressed the fabric, “Did you actually get his last name or number at least Emma?” Before I could finish she added, “Let me check around and get back to you. Maybe he’s filling in for someone which is doubtful. You sure he’s not some historical lost in cos-play needs a friend sort of guy?” I glared at Cassie. She got the message, “Okay, okay, let me do some digging and I’ll get back to you. This is so odd.”
The weekend was approaching and my mind often wandered to Fredrick. Maybe I’ll see him Friday like our last encounter. My mind tortured me with hints of a possible spotting whenever a young man entered the library. Social media investigations were short lived with only having obtained his first name. That was my own fault. I needed to figure out who was Fredrick once and for all. Cassie had yet to visit me with her findings.
My patience finally expired and so I declared my own mission to find Cassie during my break. “Back in 15 minutes” was posted outside the library door as I locked the room heading towards Cassie’s location. She was most likely baking cookies for the tour groups in the main kitchen. I walked with purpose not to waste my precious break time.
“How are you enjoying your duties Emma?” I rolled my eyes before turning around. “I really like it here Ms. Calloway. Everything is great.” I said with my professional polite voice. “Glad to hear it my dear.” Now was an opportunity to ask about Fredrick. Perfect timing I thought.
Before I could say anything Ms. Calloway produced an old framed picture she was carrying. The image somewhat faded but the photo stopped me as if I had hit an invisible wall. Ms. Calloway said, “I just found this old picture of young master Coronation in one of our storage rooms. What a gem to find. I have to run it by our restoration specialist but I’m thinking of placing him in the library, what do you think Emma?”
I slowly took the well preserved frame and examined the face that had made me blush. The bottom was inscribed, “Corporal Fredrick Coronation, 1813.” My utter shock spoke for me, “Is this real?” A machine gun laugh responded as Ms. Calloway grabbed the frame, “Of course silly — it’s real. He was the son of this estate. Not much is written about him other than he was a quiet young man loved by his family and eventually died in battle.” Ms. Calloway now had the picture stretched at arm’s length before her admiring her treasure find. “Emma, isn’t your break almost over now? We must be prompt for our patrons.” I wanted to tell her to cram it but said, “Yes Ms. Calloway, I’m heading back now.”
The next morning Cassie poked her head through the library entrance and said, “Hey there, I didn’t find anything on your new friend. He doesn’t exist here. ” My shelving speed now reduced to a zombie pace. I lifelessly replied, “I know. He must have been some oddball.” But Fredrick did exist and his beautiful gift to me proved somehow that time and existence could crossover and bend. I threw my shawl around me comforting myself and walked towards his image frozen in time to haunt me always. The picture looked back. I sighed. Who would believe me anyway?