He wears the face of a man who doesn’t get nervous often. Permanent lines of confidence surround its sharp angles, showings of the fearlessness he’s only ever known. His eyes, those open and controlled dark things, show that he’s nothing if not a brave man. He’s nothing if not an honorable one.
His elbows rest without care on the surface of his smooth marble table, demanding respect (as he always does). His eyebrows rise as he blows at the harsh liquid in his cup, slow and calculated. The sounds that leave his mouth fill the dark room, demanding attention (as he always does).
He wears the left hand of a gentle woman, strong and firm it clads his stiff arms. Fingers twist at the ring that lay between them, mindlessly.
How honorable can be a man who knows no duty?
“Tea and crumpets? Again?” she asks. Her hand squeezes at him, bringing him to her. Pulling him to her. “I thought you’d have one of my biscuits this morning.”
He shakes his head, soft dark curls swaying restlessly as he does. “Emilia made these lovely crumpets for us last night. No sense in leaving them to waste, darling.”
He’s right (he always is). The crumpets were made with pride and the tea with love. Not a single soul in the whole damned household can deny it.
“No sense in just about anything when it comes to that Emilia, right?”
She’s upset. Her nose is flaring and her eyes are rolling and she’s just so unabashedly upset.
Right, too, she is. He knows that she is, and I do, too. There’s no sense in anything when it comes to the two of us. Not when we’re alone and not when we’re together. He holds my mind in the palm of his hands and I his.
We’re foolish, the both of us, and she’s right about it. (I will not, after this day, let myself be foolish again.)
He drops his teacup down onto the table. It clatters so loudly that I think it may shatter. (It doesn’t, of course, because he didn’t intend for it to. Nothing ever befalls him unless he intends for it to.)
(Except this, of course.)
“Must you bring the help into every conversation?” he whispers. He’s leaning into her, hoping to reach no one’s ears but hers, I suppose.
I want to step in. I want to walk into the room with the two of them right now and remind them both that he brought me up first (he always does). I won’t do it. I want to, but I won’t. He’ll still deny it and she’ll still blame me (they always do).
“Just the help?”
“Just the help.”
How brave can be a man shy to the truth?
I can’t help the laugh that escapes me when he goes to sip the tea again. The creases between his eyebrows relax and he looks so pleased. It’s funny to me. So funny that I must cover my mouth with the rough cotton of my sleeves to keep from making a sound. He always looks this way when he feels like this- when he feels like he’s won.
And usually he has. Usually, he’s the one in control, for certain and always, spinning reality into whatever he wills.
(Except this time, of course. This time I’ve taken reality and woven it into what I want. This time I’ve made the tea. I’ve baked the crumpets. With just the right amount of pride, love, and- well, he’ll come to know.)