Almost five days had passed since our arrival in the cheery little town of Alyth. It was evening as I walked the dirt streets, and passed the wooden homes where children played on porches. The delicious smells of supper wafted through the air. Nearing the stables, a familiar whinny greeted me. I smiled, but kept going. Not tonight, my friend. I was on a mission—one I felt somewhat nervous about, but determined to fulfill. It was something I’d put off far too long.
I continued along the timbered wall to a set of wooden stairs, which I ascended quickly. At the top, I followed the suspended walkway until I reached one of the watchtowers.
Pulling the door open, I stepped inside. The small room resembled the towers in Marysvale. It consisted of a roof and four walls, with one of them opening to the forest beyond. In the middle of the room sat a small, iron stove which radiated heat. Surrounding the stove were four chairs; three of them were occupied by Sarah, Hannah, and Jane.
“You’re late,” accused Hannah.
They were drinking tea and watching the sun set across the treetops. It had become our new ritual.
Upon arriving in Alyth, Sarah insisted on taking her turn at watch. They wanted her to rest, and she did; but she also claimed she could sit there as well as anywhere.
Hannah, being Hannah, grew bored of rest and felt like she was missing out on something; so she also joined Sarah. She was positive that we talked about her behind her back, and was very concerned that she wasn’t there to defend herself.
“I’m not late,” I retorted.
“It feels like you’re late.”
“How can I be late when it isn’t even my watch?”
“Well, I was here early,” she said with pride.
I sighed, “You can’t be here early; it’s not your watch either.”
She gave a little wave of her hand as if dismissing what I’d just said. “Still, you’re usually here before now.”
“I was busy,” I said.
She eyed me suspiciously. “Doing what?”
“You’re awfully nosy today. Besides, it’s nothing that concerns you.”
She studied me, then exclaimed, “Look at you; you’re all cleaned up. What for?”
“Do I need a reason?”
“No, but you’re in clean clothes, too.”
Her eyes narrowed, suddenly more distrustful.
Sarah was looking at me, with a grin that she wasn’t hiding very well behind her cup; and Jane was looking at me too, with no expression at all. Suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable. Refusing to meet their eyes, I sat down and sipped my tea.
After a moment of awkward silence, Sarah put her cup down and stood up.
“Come along, Hannah,” she said, holding out her hand. “You can help me down the stairs.”
Hesitantly, Hannah took it and stood up. “But your watch isn’t up for a quarter hour,” she protested.
“I think John and Jane can finish up for us tonight.”
Her eyes widened. “But they’ll be alone!”
“Yes,” agreed Sarah. “They will.” And with a firm arm around Hannah, she led her to the door.
Hannah whipped her head around and glared at me with the most disapproving look she could muster.
Before the door closed, and careful that the other two couldn’t see me, I returned her look with the smuggest “I won” expression that I could manage.
Her jaw dropped and she was about to contend, but the door closed.
Jane stood up to take in the last of the sunset; and I joined her. It was beautiful. Silhouetted against a deep blue sky, the fading sun ignited the treetops in a blaze of color.
“At least there’s no lasting damage to her mental state,” I said, referring to Hannah.
She started to say something; but unable to resist any longer, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched her up in my arms and kissed her lips.
She went stiff.
I released her, mortified that I had been too presumptuous.
I stammered, “I’m sorry… I thought you felt the same way.”
She looked at me slyly. A playful grin spread across her face, and she said, “Took you long enough.”
Bewildered, I sputtered, “But… I thought…It’s just that…”
“Shh,” she whispered, pressing a finger to my lips.
Then, taking my face in her hands, she gently pulled me close and kissed me.
The adventure continues in book two of the Marysvale trilogy.