Smoke and Mirrors

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Chapter 6: Yours Truly

“Would you look at that,” Ember put her hands on her hips. “Turns out the name Bandit does suit you best.”

She glared at the little kitten and the bastard looked up at her with the smuggest expression on his whiskered face, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. He was sitting on a wooden box that had Ember’s name carved on the front edge of the lid, so she could safely assume it had been meant for her to find. And yet, this wicked little thing had managed to drag it inside and had made a bed out of it. And what most annoyed Ember was that she couldn’t even be mad at him, because he was one adorable bastard that she’d grown quite fond of for the past few days.

However, she ruffled Bandit’s fur and shooed him away, then she picked up the small wooden box. She could tell it was made of cedar and the timber work alone was beyond exquisite. For someone to be able to craft such thing by hand, it must have taken some incredible skill. And her name was carved in careful letters on the front, teasing her and piquing her interest.

She ignored Bandit playing with the edge of her cloak and slowly opened the box.

She gasped out loud.

Inside the box was an orchid. A purple orchid. Kaleb’s name came to her mind even before her eyes fell on the black diamond necklace that was under the orchid, and then once more as she caught sight of the note under the necklace, with her name written in italic letters as beautifully as it was on the box.

She granted herself a moment before she read the note. She hadn’t seen Kaleb since a few days ago, when he’d left wrapped in an aura of such mystery, his words, his stance, the light in his eyes hanging in the silence that had followed his presence, lingering on the surface of her skin and pricking her senses. He’d sent Nana with the money necessary to ensure the well-being of Bandit, making good on his promise, and Ember hadn’t heard from him ever since. But to go to such lengths, for her, she was having trouble comprehending that much. What was he in pursuit of? What meaning did his gesture hold?

She knew the orchid was a reference to their first encounter, and the memory made her lose a breath. And purple, as well, just like it had been then. The detail struck her dumb. Did he recall it as vividly as her? Did it still come back to him with the same intensity as it did to her? As she held the purple orchid in her palm, it occurred to her that it might have.

She placed the orchid gingerly on the table and weighted the necklace in her palm, enraptured by its beauty now, in the daylight, more than she had been under the night sky. The moon did not served it right as the sunlight did, its onyx shining in dozens shades. Then with a final breath, Ember opened the note and read it word for word like a hungered beggar.

Dear Ember,

Pardon me for my boldness, if I somehow happen to come off as rather presumptuous, for that is not my intention. My intention is solely to return what is rightfully yours, as I cannot conceive this beautiful necklace as belonging anywhere else rather than around your neck, complimenting your beauty. Please do not offend me any further by refusing it.

You have asked me why I chose to help you, and I have yet to offer an answer to that. And I must admit that is a question I have been asking myself more often than not. I genuinely believe you are a good person, against all odds that every god has set against you. And yet, I found I was not satisfied with this answer. And as soon as I’ve learnt that sought answer, I had to make good on my promise and let you know.

If I must confess, know that I am drawn to you as one would be to the edge of the abyss, to looking over that edge despite the knowledge that you could fall off. I am drawn to you as a sailor would be to the song of a mermaid. For some reason, I have learned that we resonate in ways I cannot fully comprehend, as if we are but variations of the same tune. For that reason and many that I am still seeking within myself, my heart spoke over my conscience and I was helpless, with one sole purpose. I had to stand by your side.

There is little that makes sense at the moment. I would not dare dream to be able to explain what ties me to you, yet I yield the hope that I have made myself clear and that my intentions are not to be misinterpreted. I mean well, Ember.

Yours truly,

Kaleb Lahey

P.S. Forgive my sentimentality. This flower continues to remind me of you and I continue to feel like it is a perfect match for you. Our past encounters have merely confirmed what I already suspected.

Ember’s hands trembled slightly as her fingers gripped the paper tightly. Her heart was a humming bird, her eyes wide as a horizon, her lips curved into a smile. She closed her eyes and breathed in.

Then she read the note again, and again until she learned the shape of every letter he wrote. It was amazing, how even his handwriting was the equivalent of his voice.

With yet another intake of breath, Ember folded the note, placed it back inside the box, placed the necklace right above it and glanced once more at the purple orchid.

Then after instructing Charles to look after his sisters and scratching Bandit behind his ear, Ember walked out the door and made her way towards the jeweler’s shop.

~S O U N D T R A C K: Lauren Aquilina – Wonder~

Ember took a deep breath and walked inside the shop. For the briefest seconds, it occurred to her she had no excuse to be here, should she run into Kaleb’s father. And from what she’d heard, William Lahey was not an easy man to come across. And causing trouble for Kaleb was the least she wanted.

However, as she saw who was standing behind the counter, she released that breath loudly, startling Kaleb. He was so concentrated over a piece of jewelry he was working on, a small diamond ring he was polishing, that at the sudden noise, he dropped the ring and the tools and let out a small curse. As soon as he realized what he’d said, his hand flew to his mouth, eyes wide.

“Ember,” he breathed. “Gods above. I am so sorry. That was outrageous on my behalf. Please accept my deepest—“

Ember rolled her eyes. “Don’t make me tell you where you can shove your deepest apologies, little Lahey. In all honesty, I curse like a sailor myself.”

Kaleb looked on the verge of smiling, but his flushed cheeks betrayed the fact that he was still feeling embarrassed about his earlier lack of manners, however little Ember cared for those silly manners of his. It was still adorable that he treated her with the respect one would treat a lady, though she still felt unworthy of the treatment he offered towards her.

“Lovely seeing you again, Ember,” he offered after clearing his throat. Ember noticed that, once again, his hands flew to his hair in the same useless attempt to tame it down. “What can I do for you?”

Ember smirked and took out the black necklace, holding it up for Kaleb to see it, without offering any comments. Kaleb pursed his lips and sighed.

“If you're here to return the pendant, I can go on playing this game to no end.”

Ember chuckled despite herself.

“Then I must obey,” she mused. “In all seriousness, however, it would be indeed very rude of me to keep refusing it. Therefore, I came by to offer you my absolute gratitude. Thank you, Kaleb. Your trust in me, though I find it highly misplaced, hasn’t yet ceased to warm my heart.”

Kaleb grinned sheepishly and ran a hand through his hair. Ember could see how flustered he was, and she was having a hard time comprehending, reading his reactions. What was he getting so worked up about?

“Nonsense,” he replied. “I simply refuse letting certain prejudice and misconceptions stop me from treating you like a human being, and one who’s in need of help and kindness at that. I don’t see why you’d be so astounded that I choose to show you just that. Kindness should not come as a surprise.”

Ember pursed her lips. Yes, he did make a solid point. She knew he was right. But that did not change the fact that, while he’d chosen to treat her as a human being, as he liked to put it, the rest of the village was purposefully oblivious to the poor upbringing of four little innocent souls who had wronged no one. So in that matter, kindness did come as a surprise. Not towards herself. She asked nothing of no one. But she could not look past the lack of kindness whatsoever towards those who were entitled to at least get a taste of it. Her little siblings knew no such thing.

“You are indeed right,” she admitted eventually, smiling sadly. “But that does not change the fact that no one has showed me, or us, for that matter, compassion in that way you have. You’re the only person to have ever done such thing for me. And that happens to place you quite high in my eyes. The little ones, as well. They took up to you. They look forward to seeing you again.”

But Kaleb saw past her attempt to redirect the conversation. He watched her from under his long, thick lashes, curiosity evident in his eyes as he bit his lip. He wonder if he was stepping over boundaries, but couldn’t keep himself from trying to peak over the walls. He’d been caught in the hurricane that Ember Blackthorn was and did not know the way out.

“Excuse my boldness—“ he started, but Ember cut him off.

“Gods, you need to stop saying that.”

Kaleb fought a smile.

“If I may comment on that, I must say, that’s just utterly sad,” he spoke softly. “And deeply unfair. And I have made a purpose to remedy that. Everyone should know compassion, everyone should be granted the privilege of being looked at with kindheartedness and consideration and sympathy instead of hostility and revulsion.”

Ember took in his words and let them sink in, before smirking like a cat toying with a mouse. She took a step forward, the counter still between them, and her eyes dared him to move away, to look away. But he saw past her dare and stood his ground, cheeks flushed and breathing a little more rapidly throughout it all.

“Is that how you’re looking at me, little Lahey?” she inquired, eyes narrowed and a playful smile on her lips that Kaleb returned, surprisingly enough, with a sheepish one of his own.

“On the contrary. I presume I would, should I manage holding your gaze for more than a few seconds at a time. I’m afraid I tend to be quite susceptible to distractions.”

Gods, he was digging his own grave. Ember could barely resist the temptation of mocking him further. She considered letting him off the hook, but watching the dance of his Adam’s apple as he gulped every time they locked gaze and she flashed her wide green eyes at him, it was just too entertaining.

“I see,” she murmured. “Am I distracting you?”

Kaleb let out a shaky breath and Ember was sure she heard him mutter, ‘Gods, you have no idea’, under his breath, but she couldn’t tell for sure. Eventually, he cleared his voice.

“May I ask you a favor?”

Ember raised her eyebrows at him. Quite the way to change a subject, but she had to admit her curiosity was piqued, so she motioned for him to go on.

“There is something I would like to show you. Tomorrow, if you may. It isn’t too far from here, but we should leave at dawn so that we don’t raise suspicion from either my father or the neighbors. I don’t assume you could use any more people bad mouthing you.”

Ember smiled sadly.

“I have had my fair share, indeed,” she replied. “I’ll admit I’m curious. What is it you want to show me?”

Kaleb grinned, and looked at her through his lashes. Ember found herself on the receiving side of the distraction game, and she had to say she knew how Kaleb felt. It wasn’t easy being around him, either. He was quite the handsome young man, and he was rapidly growing on her. Rapidly and disconcertingly. And she was not accustomed to her feelings shifting around like that, was not familiar with the way her body reacted to emotions so new to her. But she welcomed it all in, because she as was helpless in front of it as you would be under storm clouds roaring down at you.

So when Kaleb responded, her heart hummed in tune with his words.

“You shall see.”

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