Chapter 39 - “I want you, Master.”
If Anna told her mother that she lost her shoe, she knew she’d get whipped again. Knowing that she had to find it, she lifted herself up and surveyed her surroundings.
“Doesn’t… matter,” she muttered, her speech becoming halting amidst her sobs. “I won’t be going… back home anyways.”
Despite what she told herself, however, Anna shuffled toward her lost shoe as soon as she spotted it rolling beside a tree root. She picked it up and cradled it safely in her arms.
At that moment, an unfamiliar man came into view. He was leaning against the tree before her and staring directly at her. Startled at the sight of him, she dropped her shoe.
This was Anna and Dylan’s first meeting.
“Have you finished crying?” he asked. Ironically, he, too, had eyes rimmed red, made wet with a trace of tears. In response to his inquiry, Anna nodded in reflex before she caught herself and instead began to shake her head vigorously.
“N-No, I didn’t cry,” she denied. “I didn’t cry at all.” She felt embarrassed for having wept like a child.
He smirked. “Then. if not tears, what’s that hanging from the corner of your eyes?”
The pungent scent of alcohol filtered from him. It seemed like he had been drinking. Two empty bottles sat upon the ground next to him, confirming Anna’s hunch. Her mother told her that the best course of action to take when nearing a drunken man was to avoid them first and foremost. She forced her foot into her discarded shoe and hurriedly searched for an opportunity to run from him as soon as she could.
“The world is sometimes like that,” he continued, unprompted. “Sometimes it would present you with an unbelievable amount of happiness, while other times it would force you to embrace such a deep well of sorrow you’d find it difficult to keep on living.”
Anna stopped, watching his downcast profile. It seemed like something unfortunate had happened to him recently. Perhaps even something as saddening as what she had just experienced. Her head, once filled with thoughts of escaping him, was now filled with sympathy and a sense of kinship. She didn’t know why, but she nevertheless pitied the man before her.
“But, you know, there’s nothing in this world you can’t endure,” he said resolutely. She wasn’t sure if he was offering her advice or just speaking aloud as he tried to console himself, heart heavy after exhausting himself by drinking. “You just have to endure it all. No matter what. Then, one day you’d look back and that sadness you once believed insurmountable would seem far away as if it were a dream, and happiness would find you once more. Something will help you get there. It could be time or another person. Or, it could even be something else unspecified.”
He looked up, staring into the empty sky. At that moment, Anna finally spoke. “Button was sold at the market,” she mumbled woefully. Dylan turned to her, tilting his head.
“Who was Button?”
“A member of my family. Button was a sibling, a friend, and… Even tho I had just begun to take a liking to…” Anna trailed off, her round eyes swelling with tears once more.
“Oh dear,” he whispered. His eyebrows creased with pity.
“Father said he did it because he needed the money, but can you believe it? Would you sell off your family members for just a few dollars? I’ll never be able to understand his actions.”
Dylan quietly observed her for a moment. Then, he slipped his hand into his coat pocket, looking for something. He eventually pulled out a key that was as large as two fingers and presented it to her. “Take this,” he said. “Go to the Kilner family mansion and ask for a job. My name is Dylan. If you tell them Dylan told you to come by, they’ll hire you. And… do you perhaps know the price Button was sold for?”
Anna took the key that Dylan handed over and shook her head in response to his question. At that, he loosened an expensive-looking watch on his wrist and presented it to her. She gawked at it as he placed it into her hand.
“Trade this for Button. Get them back and then come back here.”