She didn't remember who she was. That was the worst part. It wasn't the fact that she had woken up in a strange bed, in a strange place, her head throbbing in pain, unsure as to whether or not she would live. That part she didn't mind. It was the complete and total ignorance of who she was that bothered her; she didn't even know her own name.
While she didn't know who she was, she at least knew who they had told her she was: Annabelle Derth, ten years old. Possessing short blond hair and blue-green eyes, she was the daughter of David and Christina Derth, who had both died two years earlier, although she didn't really remember anything about them either.
Since their passing, Annabelle had come to live on her Grandmother's farm. It was a beautiful place with open fields, grasslands full of wild flowers, and even a stable for raising horses. The people working there were the best kind; they were sweet and generous, respectful and polite. There was not one among them who did not have a kind word to say or a tip of their hat to offer her when she walked by, and they were always willing to let her help them with the chores, as long as she said she was feeling up to it.
It was good to know that, although she couldn't remember who she was, there were others who did, and that they loved her.
But every time she looked into the mirror, all she saw was a stranger staring back at her.
A girl she didn't know.
A face she couldn't remember.
The only thing she did remember was the river. That was something she couldn't forget, no matter how hard she tried.
The water had been everywhere, the fierce currents of the raging rapids swiftly carrying her away from any life that she had previously known.
Intermittently, she had been released from the river's iron grip long enough to breach the surface of the water and gulp a breath of air, before the overwhelming power of the relentless currents had pulled her under again.
She didn't know how long she had battled the river for her life's breath, but the doctor said that it might have been days. She doubted that it had been that long; Anna didn't honestly believe that she, nor anyone else for that matter, could possibly survive for that long in such an unforgivable torrent. That she had was said to have been a miracle.
She didn't doubt that it was.
While she couldn't recall the exact details of her rescue, the story had been told to her often enough. A young farmhand—Tom was his name—had been fishing on the banks of the river, when he had noticed her body floating in the currents.
Without hesitation, he had dived into the water and single-handedly pulled her out of the river. After gently laying her on the soft grasses near the shore, he had then done something even more spectacular: He had given her the breath of life.
Her Grandmother had sent people out looking for her when she turned up missing, and it was by sheer luck that Tom had found Anna and saved her life.
When Anna had awoken, she had found herself in a soft bed, dry, warm and safe. Her head ached something awful and she had drifted in and out of consciousness for what seemed like an eternity. Sometimes, when she had been delirious, thinking she was back in the river, she had heard the comforting words of her Grandmother whispering to her that everything was alright, and that she was safe here. While she didn't know where 'here' was, and she didn't recognize the source of the voice, she was at least grateful for the words.
All that had happened about six weeks ago, and while her body had recovered, her mind had remained trapped in the fog of ignorance which shrouded the memories of any kind of past, good or bad, from her current thoughts.
Even now, as she stared into the antique mirror and saw the face of the girl she didn't know staring back at her, she didn't have even the slightest clue as to who she had been.
She knew that she should, she just couldn't remember. Sitting there, in her floral-print nightgown, she thought that she should at least be able to remember her parents.
But she couldn't.
That was what vexed her the most: that she couldn't even remember her most cherished relatives.
Without intending it, the question that was always on her mind spilled from her mouth like water from a fountain.
"Who are you?"
She knew she was being silly. The reflection could tell her no more about herself then she already knew.
A gentle knock came at the door, followed by the voice of the old woman.
"Anna? Anna, dear, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Grandma," she said. "I'm just getting dressed."
"Okay, dear. Don't take too long or your breakfast will get cold," she called through the old wooden door. "Okay," Anna called back.
Anna could hear the old woman shuffle back down the hall.
The room was quiet once again. Anna picked up the antique hairbrush and combed her hair. The brush was old-fashioned, as was everything else in the house; the walls, the furniture, even her clothes. Not that she minded, but sometimes Anna wished that there were a few more modern things for her to wear. She wasn't allowed in school; they said they wanted her memory to return before she started taking classes again. Besides, it was summer and there were no school classes during summer vacation.
The farm was big and isolated from the surrounding countryside by mountains and streams, which Anna made a point of avoiding. She had no desire to go on another swimming adventure. Of course, the isolation meant that there weren't any other children around. Aside from the memory loss, that fact bothered her more than anything.
Everyone on the farm was nice to her, but they were all adults and most of them had too much work to do to spend time playing with her.
As she thought about what it must be like to have a friend her own age, her nose caught the pleasant aromas of the promised breakfast which had made their way upstairs from the kitchen. Her stomach grumbled in eager anticipation as she set down the brush and changed into her dress. She was famished.
As she walked downstairs, her dress flowing freely around her, it occurred to her that while the dress was a good fit, it just didn't seem to suit her—not that she was ungrateful for it. It was a very beautiful dress, with a pretty crimson hue and white lace trim. They had told her that she looked lovely in it, and she didn't disagree with them.
It was just that she had felt the most comfortable in her old clothes, the ones she had arrived in. Those clothes were drying on the laundry line now; she had seen them through the window of her bedroom.
It occurred to her that Tom might have noticed them as well. She hoped to goodness that he hadn't seen her panties hanging on the line, too.
At the thought of Tom seeing her underwear, an image of her wearing them in front of him suddenly came into her mind. She thought that she might die from embarrassment at the mere thought of him seeing her like that.
Shaking her head to banish the unwanted thoughts, Anna walked into the dining room and saw that breakfast was already served.
The table was filled with plates of ham, bacon, eggs, sausage, toast, home fries, fruit, and a large pitcher of orange juice. Her plate was already filled with eggs, fruit and a piece of toast; no bacon, sausage or ham, though.
Living on the farm and having cared for the animals, Anna had come to revile eating meat. Every time she looked at it she felt sick, like she was staring at the remains of a good friend. Her Grandmother respected her feelings and had placed those dishes far away from Anna's side of the table.
As she took her seat, she looked at the other farmhands eating breakfast and noticed that Tom was missing. Just as she was about to ask where he was, the swing door to the kitchen opened and he appeared, carrying a plate full of muffins and a pitcher of milk.
"Well, good morning, Ann," he said good-naturedly as he set down the muffin plate.
Anna was smiling at him as she returned the greeting. He took her empty glass and filled it for her, setting the milk down in front of her before taking his seat and serving himself.
She liked the way he always shortened her name to 'Ann'; no one else would, which made it seem all the more special to her when he did.
Tom adored children; he had been a teacher, but had come to work on the farm over the summer to help out Mrs. Vanderholt, who was a friend of his aunt's. Anna thought it very noble of him to help out the friend of a family member in need. He said that Anna was like the kid-sister he had always wanted and that she was a gift from God. That had made her smile more than anything she could remember.
As Anna picked up the butter knife and began buttering her toast, the plate of muffins appeared under her nose. Tom was holding it for her.
"Muffin?" he asked.
She smiled and thanked him as she daintily accepted one of the smaller ones.
As he set the plate aside, and took one of the larger muffins for himself, he asked if she had slept well. She told him she had, leaving out any mention of the strange dreams she had been having.
"That's good," he said. "Nothing like a good night's sleep to give you energy for the day ahead."
Most people found Tom's good natured smile and sage advice off-putting; they assumed he wanted something. Anna saw it for what it was, however: simple kindness.
When they had gone into town, two days before to pick up supplies, Tom had gone into the general store while she had waited out by the car.
When he came out, his big arms carrying supplies, he stopped at the back of the car and tossed her a candy bar he had bought for her. She'd caught it and saw that it was her favorite. He had remembered her mentioning it a few weeks ago.
"You said you like them," he explained while loading the groceries into the car. "I hope it's the right kind."
She suspected that he was being modest and that he knew that it was the kind she liked.
"Yes, it is. Thanks, Tom," she had said.
"No problem." He had responded as he closed the then full trunk.
It seemed strange to her, now, as she watched him buttering his muffin, that he wasn't already married. She thought that a man like him would have a wife; or at least a girlfriend.
"So," Grandma Vanderholt said into the quiet morning, "What are your plans for today?"
"Well," Tom said as he picked up his muffin, "I was planning on repainting the old tool shed out back." He looked at Anna and smiled. "I could use some help with that, if you're interested."
Anna smiled back. "I'd love to help."
Painting was something Anna loved to do. Not that she disliked any of her other chores; she just enjoyed painting for some reason. When she had first gotten well and had started helping out around the house, she had begun by helping to repaint an old wooden cupboard for her Grandmother. She remembered the day she had offered to help.
Newspapers had been spread on the floor and Tom was in the process of moving the large old cupboard into the center of the room.
Anna remembered that when she had picked up the paintbrush, she had paused and was overcome with a strange and confusing sensation. Tom had asked her what was wrong.
"Nothing," she had said. "It's just that I got this weird feeling."
"What kind of feeling," Tom had asked, as he moved the cupboard onto the newspaper.
"I don't know," Anna had replied. "I just got the sudden urge to dance."