I can still recall the house I lived in during my teenage years. It was a grand Victorian style house, with circular glass windows, ornamental balconies, and a wide porch that circled the entire front. In truth it was actually two homes rather than one. The owner, Miss Parsons, converted the large house into two separate units. While the right side was still occupied by Miss Parsons, we lived on the left. I'll never forget the day I first walked in the main hall, the grand staircase looming in front, still elegant after so many years. In my wildest of daydreams, I couldn't imagine a more grand entrance than a young girl coming down in a ball gown to meet her guests. My sixteenth birthday was just two months off, and I knew for certain it would be extra special because I was going to have it here.
My father frowned, then shook his head at my idea of having a formal party with long gowns and bow ties. He couldn't imagine any young man subjecting himself to an evening full of female fluff. But as always, he did agree to be an unwilling victim. Invitations were sent out, with the girls responding immediately. The boys took more time, but did so after meaningful suggestions and finally coercion by their parents to answer in the affirmative. I knew I should be happy, having the kind of party girls always dream of, but I couldn't help but be dismayed at my yet unformed female figure. I may have been on the verge of womanhood, but my body still reflected a child's form. Every dress I tried on still showed off my very flat bossom. I started to dread the party and my not so grand entrance.
Her voice was so soft, so sweet, though I knew I should have been startled, but I wasn't. At first I thought it was Miss Parsons, visiting from next door. But Miss Parsons had never come over, even when we first moved in. She kept entirely to herself. My mother said she was just a tired, old lady, who was probably still a bit upset she now had to share her home with strangers. I suppose she was right, but the girl was so pretty, beautiful actually, with long, straight brown hair, and the kindest blue eyes you ever could find.
She said her name was Amelia Parsons, so I just assumed she must be a relative of some sort, like a niece of Miss Parsons, come to visit. There was a quietness around her, a soft kind of glow that surrounded her. She wore a long blue dress, a bit old fashion, I first thought, but it suited her perfectly. She really had the sweetest smile and I never felt so comfortable with anyone as I did with her.
I found myself talking about my little problem with the dresses and my lack of body to show them off. She laughed sweetly at me and told me not to worry. She motioned me to follow her next door into Miss Parsons home. I hesitated at first, but nonetheless, continued into the dark room beyond.
Miss Parsons' house was so dark and dim, with heavy curtains covering all her windows. So very little sunlight came through and the room took on an eerie feel. It also smelled musty as stale air filled the rooms. Amelia was at the staircase motioning for me to follow her upstairs. I asked her where Miss Parsons was and that maybe I should ask her for permission to enter first. But Amelia just shook her head and smiled again, it was all right she said, she lived here too.
When we reached the attic, Amelia took a key that was hidden off the door ledge and opened the door. It was the way all attics looked, crammed with hundreds of old, unused items, with cobwebs and dust covering every inch of space. She walked across the room, seemingly unaffected by all the dust and stopped in front of a pile of boxes. She asked me to help her remove the boxes until we reached a trunk that had been hidden, buried underneath for so many years. The trunk was locked, but Amelia pulled out from around her neck, a small key on a chain and used it to open the trunk.
I had a difficult time seeing anything for the attic was also dark, and what sunlight there was, came from a very dust filled window. I went to the window and tried to remove as much of the dusty film as I could. When I turned around, Amelia had pulled out an absolutely beautiful dress of ivory and lace from the trunk. She held it out to me as I came forward. It was the loveliest thing I ever saw.
It was my dress, Amelia had said. It was made for her sixteenth birthday so many years ago, but something happened, and she never got a chance to wear it. As you can see, Amelia had remarked, the dress is small in the front. Like me she had been a late bloomer, but wearing this dress made her feel beautiful. I want you to wear it for your party she told me. It does no one any good lying up here gathering dust and growing old. I tried to protest, but she wouldn't hear of it. Every woman deserves at least one moment in her life when she feels beautiful, she said. I started to cry for her kind gesture, but Amelia said there was no need for tears and gave me a whisper of a kiss on the cheek. I thanked her again and hurried off to try it on. Before leaving, I turned to her once more and said she must come to my party so she could she me in the dress. She smiled her sweet smile and said she would be there.
I cannot help but say I was the belle of the ball at my birthday party. All the boys asked me to dance and my dad didn't even have to persuade them. The girls were so envious asking me where I got such a beautiful dress, but all I would say was a friend gave it to me. I suppose we were a bit loud with our laughter and music, so I wasn't really surprised when Miss Parsons came over from next door to complain about the noise. She was speaking with my father when I walked into the kitchen and when she looked at me, all the color from her face disappeared and she collasped on the floor.
The dress, she kept saying over and over again, my sister's dress, my sister's dress. She looked at me with eyes so wild and sad, I couldn't stand to watch her. She was sitting in a chair by the table looking at me, at the dress, at Amelia's dress. I felt very guilty at that moment, but then thought, why should I. This was Amelia's dress, shouldn't she have the final say in what happens to it? I told Miss Parsons and my parents that Amelia, her niece, gave me this dress a few days ago. She came over from next door, led me to the attic and we removed it from a trunk hidden beneath some boxes.
No, that's not possible, Miss Parsons said to us, that is not possible. Amelia, Amelia, she repeated, Oh my sweet Amelia. My father said we had better go next door and have a talk with this Amelia person and get this matter straightened out. Miss Parson got up shakily and walked right to the staircase. She never looked behind her but kept going until we reached the attic. She then looked at me and asked me to open the door. I reached over the same place Amelia had gotten the key and opened the lock. Miss Parson had gasped when I knew exactly where to look but remained silent. We walked into the dusty, dark room. Miss Parsons reached around a stack of books and turned on a light switch. I thought, why hadn't Amelia turned on the lights when she took me here. It would have been easier to see if she did. She then walked over to where the boxes and trunk were. I looked down and this time it was my gasp that sounded and my surprised look that was seen.
The boxes lay, as though untouched for years, dust and cobwebs covering them completely. No where could you see where Amelia and I had held the boxes for our handprints were gone. Nothing looked disturbed. Miss Parson asked my father to remove the boxes and when the trunk was exposed she took out a key that was hanging from a chain around her neck, just like Amelia. The lid was opened and inside was an old dress box. Very slowly, Miss Parson opened the box and looked inside, but it was empty, except for a small piece of paper, written in very delicate hand. The paper was old, yellowed and torn in a few places, but the writing was still legible.
My dearest Ann,
I want you to keep this dress as your birthday present.
It is the most beautiful thing I have and I know you
will feel beautiful whenever you wear it. I shall always
remember the way you looked as you came down the
stairs tonight. It made me happy knowing this dress
had brought laughter and smiles instead of tears.
Miss Parsons was looking at me, knowing as I did that Amelia, my friend and her sister were one and the same. She walked over to a shelf of books and pulled out an old album. Turning the pages she finally stopped at one where a sweet smile was fixed on a beautiful young face. I didn't have to look to know it was Amelia's picture, but my parents just wouldn't believe.
Miss Parsons explained to us, that Amelia was her older sister and had this dress especially made for her sixteenth birthday. But a few days before the party she walked out in the rain, bringing this dress to the dressmakers, to have the last alterations made. When she got back home, she caught a bad cold which turned overnight to pneumonia. She died the morning of her party. Her dress was packed away by their mother, who couldn't bear to look at what her daughter had died for. No one has seen or touched it in over 65 years, until now. I told Miss Parsons, I would give the dress back immediately, but she stopped me. It was Amelia's wish for me to have this dress and she was right when she wrote I felt beautiful in it. I knew then I would never part with it.
It has been seventeen years since that night. I sit here and watch my children play games on the carpet in front of me, Jason is six and Victoria is eight. My husband Tom watches football as always, occasionally yelling out when his team scores. I cannot begin to explain what happened all those years ago. I have not mentioned it to anyone. My parents have long ago dismissed it as a childhood prank and Miss Parsons who died a few months after the incident, never mentioned it again. So now, there is no one I can talk to. But the dress is still with me, upstairs in my attic, carefully placed in a box, wrapped in tissue paper, perhaps waiting for the day Victoria turns sixteen, and it can come out again. I know my daughter will feel as beautiful in it as I did, as Amelia did. And I also know, Amelia will be there to watch when Victoria makes her grand entrance.