The dim candlelight flickered like mournful souls swaying back and forth, throwing their bodies to the ground for passerbys who might chance stop and offer a scrap of food or pity. Please, please, they beg. Have mercy, they wail. They wept like the crying of her heart, the loathsome pitiful creature she was.
Adele Long cried with no tears. There were none left for her to shed. It had been a year since her cheeks felt warm water from her eyes. She wept the entire well of tears the first few months after her fiance ended their engagement. Now only her heart cried with tears. Tears of blood dripping into the core of her soul. She stared at the candle wick dripping until her eyes felt like they burned. Maybe only physical pain could release the sob she needed—wanted—to release.
Seeing Captain Jonathan Thomas after a year of their broken courtship, Adele knew she was not made of sterner conviction as she thought she was. No, she was a weak woman. A mad woman whose heart seemed to cling to memories of spring strolls through wet paths, summer picnics over rolling hills, and kisses under a gazebo to escape the cold rain. But dreams…oh dreams, you can be so unkind. Have mercy on me, Adele begged silently.
A large hand, warm and comforting, covered her limp ones. She felt a fabric tucked under her fingers and looked at the person across from her. He had been in front of her all this time. She had looked right through him.
All this time.
Brendan Kelsey, the boy next door. Literally. When his parents passed away, Adele’s father, a simple baron was next of kin to Brendan. After a devastating famine nearly killed all in his town, well, suffice to say, he ended up on the baron’s step as a young lad of 10 years. Any other gentleman would have sent the boy away but the eccentric scholar took the boy in and gave him an apprenticeship studying the stars and the heaven. All that time, he also studied his cousin of many distances and separation. All from a far distance.
He watched her grow up, five years younger than he, her hair braided with flowers, her nose constantly smudged with paint, her fingertips blackened with ink…a dreamer, an artist, a writer. She was like a pixie haunting the forest, reciting lines from love poems and singing songs about tragic love. Her dark hair spun down like night, like India ink cascading out of the ink well spilling over a table. Her bright eyes once so happy lit like fireflies in the night now seemed dull like an endless well. Was that well empty? Brendan silently begged, please let there be water at the bottom.
“He seems happy,” Adele uttered softly, praying her voice did not break.
Brendan tightened his hand over hers. What could he say? Oh, what he so wanted to say. No one can be happy without you. He is a fool.
“I hear he will be a father soon,” she continued, her eyes wavering down to his hand.
That man doesn’t deserve your love. That man doesn’t deserve your well wishes. I do! Brendan’s heart burst with words his stubborn mouth refused to vocalized.
“She is beautiful.” Adele sighed and pulled her hand away from him, he had to pull his back. Still, she clutched the handkerchief he left in her hands. She toyed with the hems, a trembling smile and a faltering laugh that was more of a self pitying scoff accompanied by a shrug. “He saw me.” And he showed no feelings, she recalled. He looked down his nose superciliously at her, while his chatty wife, the Lady Chiswick touched his arm to remind Adele, Jonathan was not an object for any other women, especially Adele. Jonathan did not even show remorse. He did not even seem to remember the memories she carried with her. That to her, the love she gave to him was utterly all she had.
“Forget him, I beg you,” Brendan pleaded, surprised those words even found a way into reality. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his eyes searching her face. Look at me. Really look at me. Tell me you see me.
“Brendan,” Adele whispered, staring into his brown eyes, his brown lashes, the slope of his lids falling down, creating crow’s feet against his once youthful face. He was not that much older than her but with all the reading and research and peering through the telescope, wrinkles formed. Only Adele had never noticed them before. To her, Brendan was always her shadow. He was there to break all her falls when lost in thought, she slipped. When she found an injured rabbit, he was there to comfort her and showed her the way to heal the creature. He watched her when she cried after Jonathan broke off the engagement. He fought with Jonathan when it was found out that Jonathan left Adele for a rich widow.
“He told me he never loved me,” Adele confessed, her eyes dropping away from him. “I was just a passing amusement to him until he found someone worth his ambition. It hurt. I thought I got over it. But seeing him again, I wanted him to see how much he hurt me. I wanted him to feel guilty for what he did. But he didn’t even see me.”
“But I see you.” Brendan took both her hands in his, pulling them close to his face, breathing in the lemon scent she often used to wash her hand. “Don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how much he means to you because he’s not worth your time. You are so much better.”
“If I am better, then why did he choose someone else? If I was so good, why wasn’t it me?”
“Because…you weren’t meant for him.” You were meant for me, Brendan wanted to say, but stopped short. “Do you remember that apple tree when I was about 15…and you were 10? I was determined to have that one golden apple among a tree of red apples. I thought, it was meant for me because I saw it. Do you remember how I fell trying to climb it and you cried thinking I had gone and killed myself? I pretty much felt like I did. If not, your papa would have killed me himself for trespassing his neighbor’s orchard.”
Adele smiled, recalling the days when she followed Brendan everywhere. He was like a big brother to her. She adored him, admired him, and respected him completely. She once fancied herself even possibly holding a tendre for him until a charmer of words, action, and look came rushing through her life. Jonathan came into her life like a gale of wind, knocking her off her feet, taking her breath away, and playing tricks with her thoughts. She so naively allowed her feelings to be manipulated.
Brendan cupped Adele’s chin with his index finger and thumb. “You know what you said to me?”
Even though she knew, Adele shook her head because the touch his bare fingers on her chin made her heart jolt. As one of his hand held hers, the other still on her chin unfurled, its palm cupping her right cheek. He always did that to comfort her. When she was sixteen and he just came back from the university, he had done the same action, she had leaned in, her lips quivering to know what his tasted like, Brendan had jerked back, shock painted all over his face. Ashamed, Adele never dared to lean in for a kiss, she never leaned in for anything but brotherly affectation. She never again dared to love him again the way a woman would love a man.
“You said, ‘Why couldn’t you have just picked the apple in front of you? It’s the same as any other apple.’ And you climbed up the tree and picked the apple I wanted and when you gave it to me, it wasn’t a green apple. It was just the sun’s light reflecting on the leaf onto the apple’s shiny skin. You see, I was too enthralled by what my eyes lied to me that I didn’t see it was just like any other apple. We are all the same, just human beings on this land. But some of us…want something that is only an illusion. When in reality, what’s right for you…could have been staring at you the whole time.”
“Brendan.” Adele sighed, closing her eyes, tears her heart wept wrenched an incoherent sound. And then, the knot in her throat, swallowed and disappeared. With it, all the pain she held onto because it grew to be her companion, ebbed. It hadn’t hurt as it once did. If she had seen Jonathan a month after, she’d cry. Six months, she’d have scream and shout. But now, a year later, only memories remained. Yes, it hurt. Yes, she thought about it. But she accepted it. She had accepted it and realized she no longer wanted to live in the past.
Those long black eyelashes swept a shadow over her delicate cheekbones. Brendan wanted to kiss away the darkness. He wanted to take her away from the past that seemed to chase her heels. He ran from his feelings when at twenty-one, he came home to find his pixie cousin grew into a fairy, lost in the mortal realm. And he was the mortal in love with a fairy. They were from two different worlds. He, just an apprentice to a baron. She, a daughter of the peers. All the excuses he made because he thought her beyond his reach. But now as an esteemed scholar, which he built so hard and long for in order to be viewed as her equal, he knew he could have her.
Her eyes no longer shed tears. But her face wore sadness like a mask nailed to her head. Brendan knew part of those nails were his. If he had only realized, if only he had responded, if only ifs were actions he was brave enough to pursue, she would have been his. She wouldn’t have fallen in love with another man who was so callous to a woman’s tender sweet love. Let him be the one to pull away those nails, bit by bit, piece by piece. Let him, Brendan Kelsey for once be brave enough to accept the responsibility of this woman’s heart. Let him live the green pastures with Adele Long that would never require him to look beyond. Because even when grasses turn brown, the seasons will come and turn them green again and he would struggle through life with her, the fairy woman who would give up her immortality for his mortal world.
He leaned in, the smell of lemon swirling his nostrils, intoxicating him. Remember this, he told himself. Remember that she had been here all this time. Remember that he had stepped aside, scared of he responsibility of committing to her. And at this moment, she needed him and he needed her. Her eyes may not have shed any tears, but he could taste the salt that never was. Or maybe it was the residue of tears long ago forever stained. But as his lips touched her upper cheek, the curve of her cheek, the tip of her nose, the slope of her jawline, the salty taste turned sugary. Like sweet honey tea tainted with mint leaves.
The sweet nectar of her lips did not surprise him. Instead, it fulfilled all the dreams he imagined. Kissing her was a fantasy, loving her was a dream…a dream that would always grow and change as they would age together.
“Adele, my love,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers. Their eyes remained close, their breath so close mingled into one. Was that his or hers? “Sometimes, the people we meet come and go. It could last in wonderful memories or it could last on building a future. Jonathan may be a wonderful bittersweet memory but let me…be your future.”
She gasped softly, the knot in her throat returned. Except, instead of pain, it was fear and anticipation. She turned her side slightly, feeling his warm breath on her cheek. “I don’t want you to pity me.”
“Pity?” He scoffed and pulled from her. Their eyes jolted together. “I have always been scared…to love you, to be responsible for you, to give you things that I could never give. You deserve so much.”
“But you were so disgusted when I wanted to kiss you that time.”
“You were a child. Hell, you are the baron’s daughter. Do I repay him by accosting his daughter? I had nothing to offer for you. No money, no house, no job. I was just your father’s apprentice. I dare not even allow myself to think of you. But seeing you like this…I blame myself partially. If only I had been the one and not that rogue, you’d not have cried so many nights. Do you know how it hurt me so to hear you cry at night and be unable to help you? I played a role in breaking your heart. I know I’ll probably end up hurting you along the way but I shall endeavor to always love you and mend your heart. I would never use you or want anyone but you.”
There are dreams some women have. Such was when you dream of meeting the man you love. Such was to hear his confession of undying love. Such was the reaction to these situations. With Jonathan, when he proposed, they were running out of a storm to the nearest gazebo, her heart still beating fast as he held her against him. Say yes, he demanded, I’ve asked permission for your hand in marriage.
For someone so charming and suave, his proposal was anything but. Looking back, she should have put a foot down on how he treated her. But her mind was clouded by her fanciful heart.
But here, Brendan was confessing his love, offering her a chance at happiness. And instead of exclaiming in joy and excitement, she was speechless. Fear that the happiness she felt would only be an illusion. That if she accepted the excitement in her heart, he’d laugh at her. Telling her he was only jesting.
It was barely a whisper but her words hurt him. But it made him only twice as strong for both of them.
“I’ll be here.”
He did not ask her to not fear. He did not want her to. He wanted her to always tell him exactly as she felt. Scared, angry, sad, unsure, happy, excited. He would always be there for her and he did not expect her to change for him. She would change only for love, for her courage to live.
And Adele knew that she would take it one day at a time with Brendan. One day, one day…but today she would accept his proposal. No matter what it contained because he would always be with her, by her, and love her.
She smiled, a soft, unsure smile. And he returned with a relieved smile, holding her hands. From that point on, they would be each other’s future. It was there all this time.