Chapter 12: When Sparks Fly
It had become harder to tell reality from dreams, fact from fiction…and infatuation from love. The two coexist so closely, that I have lost almost all touch with my reality.
Was I imagining things between us? How would I know for certain? Were we simply just friends? The thoughts continued to gnaw at my mind. Who should I ask advice from? Apollus was out the question because he liked her…well at least until Barbarius came into the picture. I did not feel comfortable telling father. Hearing about my feelings seemed to be the last thing on his agenda. And well Romeos? He seemed to be a good friend but he was too childish to consult. Perhaps I would just keep it inside, after all that is what everyone in this family did anyway.
As the same servant girl came in to give me a weekly massage I imagined it was Priscilla doing it. Considering she did not look much older than Priscilla that imagery was not too far-fetched. I laid flat on my stomach in bed, as she poured the oils and tenderly stroked my lower back muscles before working her fingers up my shoulder blades. I smiled feeling the comfort of her soft hands sliding and then kneading my oily skin. It was one of the few moments I could unwind from the weariness of my recovery. The perfumed oils that wafted my nostrils seemed familiar. One of them must have been balsam oil. All the while I was smiling to myself enjoying the relaxation of a body massage. As she came to my toes, I felt a ticklish nerve struck. It was no use trying to suppress my giggles.
"You seem to be enjoying this," she said. I looked up to catch her usual warm smile. Just then grandfather walked in on the session.
"Hello Troy, you seem to love your massage. Maybe I should come back when you are done."
"Oh no, I was just finishing up," I said, wiping the ridiculous grin off my face. The slave girl merely nodded before leaving the room. Grandfather eyed her as she exited.
"You want to talk about anything," grandfather said. I could tell he was suppressing a grin. Maybe I should tell him or maybe I should just leave it alone. My mind was battling against the two ideas.
"Well um," I began, pulling the sheets over my exposed skin although I already had undergarments on. "I am doing well, if you are wondering." Grandfather just stared at me as if he waiting for me to confess.
"Suppose a warrior one day on his mission discovers a beautiful woman. He knows she is endangered if she stays where she is because the battle is to take place there. However she is reluctant to go with him and decides she can fend for herself and runs off. Should he run after her?"
"If he really cared, he would run through whatever desert, storm, or mountain to protect her. Does that answer your question?" he said raising an eyebrow.
"Yes it did. Excuse me I need to get dressed. I cannot stay in my undergarments." Grandfather chuckled. As he headed out the door he said quietly, "I hope you find who you are looking for."
I had made up my mind to visit Priscilla. Since the party, which was almost a few weeks ago, she had not paid a visit. I had devised an excellent plan for us to enjoy the company of each other alone away from prying eyes. It would be a secret hideout, one of the few memories that I could now recall. I wrote a letter to give to the messenger to hand to Priscilla on where we should meet. Although still nervous around horses, I decided to mount a horse with the help of a slave and ride off to her residence. When I arrived at her place, I saw a chariot also approaching. I crossed to the other side of the stone-paved road. Maybe he was a Messenger? Then a young man stepped out the chariot. He was of muscular build, a little taller than me, and had dark oily hair. As he stepped out, I saw the parents of Priscilla come out to welcome him. Who is this man? Then I saw Priscilla peer out the door, wearing a white chiton that flowed to her ankles. The four greeted each other as the parents beamed at the young man who flashed a smile at Priscilla. When the man took Priscilla's hand, my worst fear seemed realized.
"Bad timing!" I muttered under my breath. As her parents invited the young man inside, Priscilla spotted my horse. Her eyes lit up.
"Troy, I got your letter," she said running towards my horse.
"Who is that?" I said trying to mask my disappointment.
"Oh…um Titus? My parents were trying to pick a suitor for me," she said rolling her eyes. "So Troy in your letter you wanted us to go to your secret hideout, but I cannot know of it until we get there—"
"Never mind. You might not want to come now that you…um—"I stammered. "I have to go before your parents see me."
"I still want to go see this secret hideout," she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"You do?" I asked.
"Certainly. We are just friends right. Friends can still be around each other." I smiled to myself.
"Are you certain about this?" I said. "What are you going to tell your parents?" I said, pointing in their direction.
"I am positive of this. This is my chance to clear my head and not always think of what is to come. By the way it has been awhile since we really talked. I would love to spend the evening with you," she said, flashing a smile. "Besides I will just tell them I will be away to the seashore with a friend. We will get back before it is too late."
"Well then, what are you waiting for? Here I will help you up," I said, smirking.
"Close your eyes," I instructed.
"They are closed silly," she said.
"Good. Keep them close until I say so." Priscilla nodded her head as we pushed through the frilly ferns and bushes. Even under the blindfold I could imagine her rolling her eyes at me. I stayed one step ahead, prodding her along as we stepped over roots, only for me to inadvertently snap a twig beneath my sandals.
"We are here at last," I said pointing to the clearing.
"May I please open up my blindfold now?" she asked in an innocent voice.
"Yes you may, but promise this. Never ever tell anyone that Troy took you to his secret hideout from civilization."
"I promise," she giggled. I slowly unveiled her eyes to the wonders around her. Surrounding us was a wide ring of shrubs and ferns. Towering above them were the trees, their thick trunks coated with moss were the only obstacles blocking our view of the sea. In the very center of the clearing, marked by a fallen log, pale lights flickered on and off. Fireflies. Once the evening sky turned a deep midnight blue, the sparks would truly dazzle like the stars. Priscilla just beamed from ear to ear as we walked among the glowing critters.
"It is beautiful Troy. How did you know this was one of my favorite places to be? Look at all the fireflies. I have so much childhood memories from here."
"Yes, I use to come here myself and catch fireflies with my brothers. I sometimes come here to reminiscence about things."
"About what?" Priscilla asked.
"Oh look, a firefly is in front of your face!" I said. This place captured only a figment of a distant memory. Any thought or word spoken in these woods was muddled at best. But even if this could not ignite a vivid memory of the past, I wanted this moment to be a lasting one.
"Woe!" she said trying to fan it away. I tried to grab the firefly in the palm of my hands to impress her.
"You got it?"
I nodded, as I pulled out one of the two glass jars from the sack I slung around my shoulder.
"Can you open it for me? As soon as I dump it in there, quickly close the lid." Priscilla opened the lid carefully as I motioned my hands to the tip of the jar. Then I stuck my balled fist partway in the jar and quickly released the firefly in the small rounded jar.
"Now!" Priscilla scrambled to close the jar as soon as I pulled my hand out, trapping our little friend.
"It is so splendid, yet I feel bad for trapping it in such a closed space," Priscilla sighed. She tried to scrunch her face into a frown. I could not help but laugh. We both turned our attention to the firefly buzz around the jar only to bang against the glass. I carried the jar by my side as we walked among the fireflies. Together we were going to watch the array of sparkling lights glitter the night sky. We both tried unsuccessfully to add more fireflies to our collection as they escaped between our fingers. We were acting like children; laughing, romping about, and listening to Priscilla's funny stories with her sister when they were girls. The more we were together, enjoying the company of each other, the more I wanted the night to go on. We were alone in the woods watching the fireflies float into the changing night sky.
Then it happened. A brisk breeze from the thickets seemed to blow the fireflies further away, dispersing the dancing lights into the thickets of ferns and vines that encased us. I caught her brush the loose strands that blew over her eyes. Behind the black tendrils of hair, her once creamy olive complexion had become pale in the moonlight. Her hands trembled before dropping the wildflower she had plucked. Her eyes, wide and blue stared into mines.
"It seems as if the sea breeze has come in," Priscilla said in her wispy voice that seemed to carry with the wind.
"I agree it is quite chilly. I can make a fire if you like."
"I would love that," she said, clasping her arms around her bosom. I handed Priscilla my cloak to drape over her shoulders in the meantime. As I searched for fallen sticks, I tried to recall times the slaves made the fire back at home. Now how do I start this fire? I needed something dry so I plucked a handful of grass. I then ripped a chunk of bark from the log and used the smooth side to place the grass. I grabbed a stick I found by a berry bush and began rubbing it between my palms to ignite the dry grass. After more rubbing, there was still no sparks. After several failed attempts I threw my hands in the air.
"You need help?" Priscilla asked, before settling on a log.
"No I think I can do it." I continued rubbing the stick until my hands formed blisters. I blew a hot breath. It was going to be miracle if I got a fire started!
Apparently she must have heard my sighing because she replied, "I think I am fine with the cloak Troy." I kicked the stack of twigs I had prepared and glowered at the thickets.
"I know none of us are really use to doing things on our own. There is nothing wrong with that. Just sit down please." I sighed before plopping down beside her.
"I just wanted to make you happy."
"But I am happy."
"I know but... I wanted to show you that I am a capable man. I am sure you could have anyone you wanted. Before I just wanted to have fun and forget everything that reminded me of the rituals of life and now…"
"I will manage," she said patting me on my shoulders. "I wish things were easy too but things are more complicated after childhood; I should know," she completed. "I know things will not be the same even between me and my sister now that she is married. I am still learning to accept her new life as a wife," she said with a sigh. From the few things I gathered from our excursion she was very close with her sister. In a way her experience was a mixed blessing. She knew what it was like to have a close relationship with a sibling. To have someone you could also call a friend. I wondered if I was ever close to my brothers before the accident. Even on a good day they felt more like strangers. "This reminds me of the conversation we had at the wedding reception last year about accepting our roles," she continued.
"I still remember your unconventional idea that I should defy the rules that bound me as a woman and that you did not believe in love." I scrunched my brows at her words. What would have prompted me to say that? "I could not understand why at first," she continued, "but I realize now you see things in a new light which makes you exceptional."
I could feel my face flushing. "I do not know why I said that," I admitted. "I suppose I was unique even before I bumped my head," I said, knocking my crown with my fist. We both shared a giggle. "I assumed that I never felt those feelings that I was supposed to feel before, and I cannot remember the time I have felt it… until recently."
A stronger breeze blew from the lake, sending the hanging branches swaying. Now I was the one shivering. Without even thinking of what my actions could mean, I snuggled alongside her as we both tried to share the wool cloak. It was the closest I got to Priscilla as we were now literally touching at the hip. I looked into her pale blue eyes, while she exchanged my gaze with a smirk.
"I almost forget about everything else that I thought mattered. I have not felt this way in a long time. I feel a little warmer with you by my side…thanks."
"You are most welcome," I said, grinning.
"You know Troy, you are so different from your brothers and well most young men I have encountered. You are so thoughtful, polite, and sensitive. Most fellows just want to be with me because I am supposedly an 'exotic beauty.' I feel comfortable with you. There I said it," she admitted.
"What else you feel?" I asked, trying to snake my arm around her shoulder.
"Well besides your warmth from your cloak," she said, pulling the wool cloak more on her side, "content."
"In awe, excited to be here watching the night sky," she said keeping her gaze at her lap.
"What else?" I whispered.
"Love?" Our eyes met.
"Come closer," she whispered as she beckoned with her delicate fingers. My heart was drumming against my chest as I wrapped my arms around her shoulders as she snuggled to my chest. I watched intently as she loosened her plaited twist at the nape, letting her black locks cascade down her back. With neither wanting to break our gaze, we were drawn closer and closer until our lips collided. The cool breeze blew rustled her hair, sending black tendrils flying into my face but I continued kissing. I closed my eyes and let myself get lost in time. I opened my eyelids only to find her grip loosening from my arms; her hair blowing wildly in the wind. Bewildered, I tried to grab on, but the more I held on to steal one more kiss, the more she floated away from the log.
"Wait!" I shouted as the wind lifted her, suspending her in mid-air. She floated backwards in the air, flying past the dispersed fireflies and towards the sea through a narrow path through the thickets.
"You cannot leave me!" I said, jumping up from the log. "I love you."
"We are just friends," she whispered. My heart sank.
"No! We were more than that. You kissed back! There is something between us and you know it!" I could feel the blood returning to my cheeks. Only this time in anger.
"The only thing between us is air," she said wistfully before the spindly branches consumed her into the thickets.
I woke up panting from my sleep. I wiped my brow, now slick with sweat. On my shoulder I found Priscilla's head. With our buttocks still on the log we both fell backwards against the plush surface of leaves and grass that cushioned our backs. Her once neatly woven locks were splayed over the forest floor. We had fallen asleep together. I hated to disturb her with that serene look on her face. I imagined that was how a goddess must look like. Soon she began to stir. I was the first thing she laid eyes on.
"Oh my goodness, we lost track of the time," she said, rubbing her eyes. "I must get going."
"Wait!" I said tugging her arm before she got up. "Was this all just a dream? Were we really here watching the fireflies? Were we really having that talk about me, how I was different than most boys?"
"Yes I remember that part somewhat. You were asking me how I felt as we were dozing off." I suppose we both fell asleep before the good part happened. Was I that dull?
"I was wondering how you felt about me, when I asked you earlier."
"Oh," she said softly. She blushed. "I felt warm being with you. You are a kind-hearted young man. You even attempted to get a fire started for my sake," she said, pointing to what was once a neat pile of sticks and stones.
"What about love?"
Priscilla froze for a moment in total shock of such a question. All she could do was blush at the mere sound of it. "I do not know. Maybe. I thought we were just friends right. This all confusing for me right now."
"Why do you have to be confused? Is the choice not obvious?"
"I am supposed to love my fiancé, and no one else."
"But do you love him?" I pressed.
"I suppose love is something that takes time to grow and blossom. I suppose I will find out when we get married."
My face fell. One of my worst fears had come true. I had come here thinking that things could change between us. That maybe the young man at her parent's house was just another stranger who meant nothing. Now I was the fool.
"Is there something supposed to be there already? It sounds like you do not love him."
"That is not true. I care about him," she said looking away.
"But you did not answer my question. Do you love him or does he even love you?"
"Troy, this is not necessary," she said shaking her head. "Love takes time; it is not some quick feeling that leaves you as quick as it came! Love will come later after I marry him, I do not have to love him now. You really do not know what love is."
"And I suppose you know more than me. Look I am not trying to be critical but it makes no sense to marry someone you do not love back. Suppose it does not happen as you say it to be. You do not want to find yourself in a loveless marriage."
"Oh I did not know you were such a cynic!" she spat.
"I am not trying to be," I said, exasperated.
"Well you sure are sounding like one," she hissed. "Why are you acting like this Troy? I thought you were different than other boys."
"I am not acting a certain way. I just want you to think for yourself. What you are saying about love sounds so rehearsed." Priscilla got up to stand with her back facing me.
"Wait. I did not mean to offend you," I said, gentling my voice. "It is just that I wish you would not have to go through with the marriage." She looked over her shoulder.
"It is not my choice to decide who I love," Priscilla said. "I thought you would know that." I paused for a moment. I suppose she was right. I clearly forgot the way things were supposed to work. I remember vaguely that Priscilla's father was the one taking the lead in conversing with Titus. I could imagine the two discussing the arrangement of the marriage contract. He pulled the strings. The strings that kept us apart.
"I wish I had not come at all," she said with tears in her eyes. "Did you honestly think that us being in the woods together was going to change anything?" She said brushing the loose strands from her face. That was the same question I wanted to ask her. But now was not the time to make her feel worse than she was already feeling. If anything I hated seeing her like this.
"I know. It was a chance I was taking. I just want you to be happy and not do something you are going to regret later on." A brief smile found its way back on her face.
"Priscilla. Whatever happens, I just wanted to let you know that I really care about you..."
"You did not even have to tell me. I could see it in your eyes. It is more than just words," she said softly.
"Well that is good to know," I said with a weak grin. "I am not good with words anyways. Maybe I should show you instead." I opened my arms wide and she fell right into them. Her face pressed against my chest as I could feel the warmth that emanated from her. With my arms protectively around her I could feel my thumping heart. As I slowly leaned into kiss—
The thickets came to life with a shark crackle. Then another. They were the sounds only a large animal could make as if it was stomping on the undergrowth of gnarled roots and fallen twigs. Like the way twigs snapped beneath the weight of a san—it wasn't an animal. Whoever it was they were coming straight for us!
"What was that?" Priscilla asked in a hushed tone.
"Someone is coming," I whispered.
"Priscilla!" shouted a distant voice from the bushes north of us. We both looked at each other with fear in our eyes. Our hideout had been discovered.
Hide and Seek
"This is bad! If he found out that you and I were alone... and fell asleep together!" Priscilla mouthed.
"He does not have to know. Besides it is not like we did anything anyways."
"But we almost did," she interjected. "Look Troy, I do not know if you forgot about what 'lying down together' entails but he is not going to think that is what only happened. Especially if a boy and girl are found alone sleeping. It looks too suspicious."
"Well if he really loves you he will trust you if you told the truth," I countered. Priscilla heaved a long sigh. The footsteps were growing louder.
"I knew this should have never happened. I should have never agreed to this," Priscilla sighed, shaking her head.
"You know what...you are right," I said softly. "This was a mistake," I said grimly. I walked away slowly trying not to look at her.
"Troy," she whispered.
"You have to hide. Please! There is no telling what he will do," she pleaded in hushed tones.
"I will get out your way, so I do not mess up your life," I said, rolling my eyes.
"Who are you talking to Priscilla?"
"Run!" She mouthed. I quickly scampered across the clearing and ducked behind a hedge of bushes.
"Um nothing! I am just talking to myself," Priscilla replied.
"Oh really. I thought I heard someone with you." Priscilla better come up with a better lie right about now. "Why so pale, my dear?" he added. "It looks like you seen someone dead." Not yet I thought to myself.
"Oh no, you scared me a little," Priscilla said in a coy voice.
"I was worried about you being alone in the woods. I should have never let you go by yourself."
"No need to worry. I am well thank you."
"Is that a leaf in your hair?" Through the opening in the leaves, I could see Priscilla scrambling to brush the leaves out her tangled hair.
"Oh I fell asleep. Trekking the forest can be tiresome," she said, flushing.
"Well as long as you are all right," he said stroking her hair. "I wonder what you were doing here this late."
"I wanted to see the fireflies. They are really pretty to watch."
"You should have told me. I would like to enjoy it with you next time."
"Yes the little sparks are gone now," Priscilla said flatly.
"Oh they do not have to be. We can make sparks together," he said holding her closer. I cringed at the unseemly sight of them sharing a kiss, but at the same time I could not help but look and wish that it could be me. Maybe she has found love. And who am I to deny it. As I could take no more of it, I slowly crawled away on all fours. Just when I was about almost thirty paces away, I accidentally knocked the jar with the firefly that I hid.
"What was that?" I could hear him say.
"It is probably an animal," she replied.
"Well, I need to see for myself." I could hear the sound of metal cutting the air. My blood chilled.
"Please do not be hasty. Do not let that ruin the moment."
"Too late!" he snapped. It was then I realized my cloak was still by the log!
"Someone else is here, is there," he snapped. "Come out and show yourself. Coward!" He said as he went slashing the leaves off the bushes.
"Please, this is not necessary!" Priscilla said running towards him as he madly swung the sword. I had no weapon to fight back as he kept slashing the tangled bushes and vines.
"Stand back Priscilla!" he scolded. I scurried to denser foliage. Even here I could hear the two argue. I lay crouched, panting. I could hear my enemy breathing with hate a stone's throw away. The next jab came just a foot above my head. I ducked under a bed of thorny bushes. Seconds felt like eternity as my life hanged in the balance. I looked at my hands, which were punctured by thorns. Breathe Troy.
"There is nobody there! You are completely overreacting," Priscilla exclaimed.
"I am not," he said, breathing heavily. "Not until I find out who was trying to spy on us. And maybe I am starting to think you have something to hide too!"
"No," she muttered.
"He is behind the log is he?" He quickly jumped over the log with his sword aimed to stab. Priscilla looked in anguish and sighed as she realized I was nowhere behind the log. I had rolled away in time by the creek. Soon the flickering light from his oil lamp was on my trail.
"Anyone there?" he called. My heart was threatening to explode. I felt trapped. Any sudden moment, would expose me. I wanted to run. As they walked back to the clearing I decided to make my move. I ran as fast as I could. But as I ran my sandal fell off. Leave it. But he will know someone is here. I knew what I had to do. Once the coast was clear I ran and grabbed my sandal and then saw Titus glance over his shoulder. Desperate, I scurried behind a tree. He hurled his sword only for it to stab the trunk. As he came closer—
"Wait!" I shouted.
"Troy?" he said as he peered behind the tree. I stepped out, letting the lamp light expose me.
"What are you doing in the forest, with Priscilla?" Titus asked shaking his head vigorously. I gulped hard, feeling a knot beginning to well inside my throat.
"We are just friends. We came to watch the fireflies. That is all," Priscilla interjected.
"I was talking to Troy!" he said sharply.
"It is what she just said. We are sorry we stayed so late."
"So what took so long?" Titus asked, folding his arms across his chest.
"Um…we were looking for a present for you two, as an early engagement gift and we lost track of time," I lied. Priscilla plastered a fake smile to hide her surprise.
"Let me find it. I just placed it down somewhere."
"You are not getting away that easily," Titus snickered. Titus and Priscilla followed me to the spot that I had placed the jar down.
"Here is the gift for you two," I said bending down to give to them. Titus cautiously took the jar from my hand as he shook the firefly inside it.
"Be careful with it. I thought you two might like it." Titus stared at me long and hard as if there was something wrong with me.
"Thanks for the gift," he snorted. "I trust that you did not do anything alone in the forest." We both shook our head. "So you saw us while we had our private moment I am assuming?" I did not answer. He then pulled her body towards his chest as he passionately kissed her in front of me.
"I think I should be going," I said softly.
"You do not want to stay? I thought you wanted to watch us put on a show for you?" he asked, mockingly. By now I could feel my face flushing. My fists trembled against my sides, fighting the urge not to knock his head off. I thought I was fortunate to have avoided being accidentally stabbed by his sword but he might as well have run me through with it. This cut so much deeper.
"Nice meeting you Troy, your father will be looking for you," he added with a derisive laugh. "He is just a boy." I took my leave, turning my back to both of them.
"He is not just a boy," Priscilla countered. "He just became a man at sixteen," she said sharply.
"Age is just a number. That alone does not make him a man. It is experience in life, my love," he said wrapping his arms around her, yet her body stood rigid to his advances.
"Why are you defending him anyways? Do you have feelings for this boy?" I could hear him ask. Even in his voice, I could detect a tinge of doubt.
"No. We are just friends. Nothing more," she said. When I looked back at her I could in her eyes she was uncomfortable. She may truly feel that way but she knows I did not feel the same way.
"Come on Priscilla, I will take you home. Pretty soon you will come home to me."
"What is wrong?"
"Nothing," she said. "It is just so hard to imagine that one day soon I will be married."
"Never mind Troy. There is someone for everyone, and you are the one for me."
I drifted away slowly, with the branches slowly concealing me in the deep. The voices grew fainter into all I could hear were the chirping crickets. I became more and more invisible, slowly drifting away, until out of sight. I walked down the same path we had traveled together but this time I was returning alone, as I mounted my horse and galloped off into the night.