That night after dinner we were, as usual sitting in the parlor. Tristan had excused himself to go to bed early, which seemed odd, especially since Annalise was holding a small bouquet of violets and smelling them occasionally, while dreamily staring out a window.

“Your Grace,” a footman walked in, and Aaron looked up from his book, “I apologize, there’s, well, someone wants to see you.” Aaron frowned.

“Of course,” he whispered, “thank you,” he stood up. I looked oddly at him. “Could we talk, later?”

“I,” I looked up at him, “I suppose so.” He lit up at that and leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. I closed my eyes and made a decision then. I would go see Carlton and I would tell him that I couldn’t see him again.

It wasn’t as though we were serious, and he’s getting married.

Not that I think Aaron will necessarily be serious about me. I’m sure he has other plans. The boy is made out of plans.

“I’m going to go for a walk,” I announced.

“Hm,” Lisette looked over at me. I laughed and shook my head. “Oh, all right.” I laughed and sat down with her.

“Unless you want to talk,” I asked. She looked at me.

“No,” she said, “Why would I need to talk?”

“Because my brother gave you flowers and you’re clearly, well, ” I raised my eyebrows.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, “I’m going to go to bed.” She marched away. I laughed and walked out front. I stopped when I saw Aaron with the same girl from this morning, a few steps onto the lawn.

He was holding her hands.

“Kathy, I thought we’d settled this,” he said, tenderly, almost. The tone stopped me in my tracks.

“You did, but, well, I wanted to see you and,” she said, “I thought,” she looked down, “I thought there was something between us.”

“There was, Kathy,” he said, “there is, but it’s complicated.” I stepped out then. He looked at me and exhaled.

“Oh,” the girl said softly, “oh I see. I’m sorry to have bothered you then, Your Grace. M’Lady,” she curtsied, “you’re welcome to him,” she slapped him and then stormed off. I stared at him. I didn’t know whether I was angry or hurt or some horrible combination of both, but I couldn’t speak.

“Athena,” he said, “I didn’t think she’d come here, that’s what I wanted to,” I shook my head.

“No, it’s alright,” I said, my voice shaking, “who, who is she?”

“Kathy Sampson,” he sighed, “we were, I mean, before you came,” I nodded. “Athena, it’s over, I swear it, when I realized,” I frowned.

“When you realized what?” I said. “When you realized you could get me into bed?” He sighed.

“No,” he said, “when I realized my life was going to change, and that includes you.” I looked at him.

“Will your life change?” I said. He frowned. “You still belong here, Aaron, I don’t.” He stepped closed and slid his hands around my face.

“You could,” he said, “or I could belong in Dovetail.” I looked up at him. “Or we could belong in both.”

“And what did you tell her?” I asked. “I assume she’s from the village?” He looked away.

“I don’t want to talk about Kathy,” he sighed. “I thought,” I frowned. “I didn’t know she was in love with me Thena,” he sighed, “I thought we were just, I don’t know, playing around.”

“And this,” I whispered, gods those blue eyes, holding onto mine, I swallowed. “Are we just playing around?” The endearment, shortening my name, the softness of it. How many times had he played this scene?

“No,” he said, “no, this is, something else.” I swallowed. I don’t know when I’d started crying.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I whispered and ran away.  I made my way to the train, which was alive in a way I hadn’t seen since I was a child.

I was used to my cousins in Dovetail now, not to traveling life. But there were the sounds of music and dancing and children laughing. I found my way through it. The familiar faces nodded and bowed lightly to me.

“You made it!” Carlton found me. I nodded, and he took my waist and kissed me. “I was getting worried.” I laughed.

“It’s awfully, crowded,” I whispered right in his ear. He grinned, and took my hand.

“I can fix that,” he led me to a small wagon and we climbed inside.


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