When the door closed behind me, the sound echoed through the walls. Henri stopped swimming and turned around to look at who walked in. When he saw me, he smiled. Even though it did not reach his eyes, they still gleamed. He swam to the edge of where I was and ran his hand through his golden wet hair.
‘The water’s warm, come on in.’ He said.
He was just in his trunks. If I was not completely swept away by Alec, I would fall into the pool from a heart attack. I still love Henri. I do, but it was different this time. But still, I could not tear my eyes away from him.
I hid my confused feelings with a smile and went to the dressing room to change my attire. When I emerged, I saw Henri back floating as if he was sleeping, his face glistened in the light reflected off the water, eyes closed and, arms wide open. To rupture his peaceful state, I plunged into the water like a kid, making a lot of splashes. It hit his face making him cough. My laughter bounced off on the four walls.
He swam closer to me and splashed me. We did that for a while, laughing, and when my arms began to ache, I stopped.
I laughed and gasped, ‘I cannot believe that we are swimming inside a ship in seawater floating on a sea!’ my eyebrows furrowed, looking sideways, and muttered to myself, ‘If that makes any sense.’
Henri’s husky laugh reverberated as if angels were backing up his voice.
He looked at me, tenderly, full of warmth and love, the same way when I was still younger. As if proud that he witnessed me grow up and nothing and no one could take that away from him. He lowered and tilted his head and then flashed me a lop-sided grin. I avoided his gaze, he made my heart skip a beat, and it hurt.
Under the water, I could see Henri’s lean, well-built lines of his body. Muscular but still had little fat, long limbs, porcelain skin. I backstroke to the other side to ignore my returning affections toward him.
Then there was a moment of stillness.
I waded in the water and my voice echoed as I asked, ‘What was Ms Abram’s promise to father?’
I looked and saw Henri’s smile faded when he said, ‘That she will look after you, no matter what happens,’ he shrugged, ‘What you said to Sadie was inconsiderate, Sierra.’
I frowned, ‘I know,’ guilt was taking over in my stomach, ‘I should apologize. She has been there with me since day one, like you and Aunt Celeste.’
‘She practically raised you,’ said Henri with a chuckle, ‘You know why Sadie is like that?’
‘She wanted to have a child—’
’Then why didn’t she? Did her child run away because she is unbearable?’ I said, sarcastically.
He was taken aback. He gave a look that said I should not talk ill about Ms Abram, ‘She never got a chance to be married because her fiancé died during the Mahdist War. She was devastated to hear about her lover’s death that she left her country, Egypt. Changed her name and never looked back.’
‘I uh, did not know,’ the pang of guilt, once more, went further now in my throat, ‘I will apologize to her at breakfast, tomorrow.’
He gave a lopsided smile, ‘She would like that.’
I breathed in, ready for him to spill the beans of my father’s plan for me. I sort of figured what it was but I was hoping that I was wrong. I swam to a shallow part of the pool where I could stand, the water up until my shoulders. He looked at me, concern in his eyes. He knew it was time to tell the truth.
‘I am engaged to be married, aren’t I?’
‘Daniel…’ he said, minding the distance between us at first but swam closer, ‘…made a deal with Celeste.’
‘What sort of deal?’ I asked, brows connecting and eyes narrowed.
He sighed and looked in my eyes, ‘In order, for you, to inherit your share, he wrote in his Will that you must marry within the year for you are still not of age. Or else, it will be turned to charity.’
My eyes widened, stunned, ‘So, what is the deal between father and Aunt Celeste?’
This time he did not meet my eyes, and stared into the water, ‘It was not planned, at first,’ he looked at me, ruefully, ‘Before your parents had you, Celeste gave birth to a boy. Eliza kidded that if she was going to have a girl, Celeste’s son and her daughter should be wedded.’
I did not say anything, I let him proceed.
‘After a few years, they had you.’ he smiled, remembering something I did not know, ‘Daniel was in high spirits when he held you in his arms. But when the doctor told about what happened to Eliza, he nearly dropped on his knees.’ His eyes shined with water as he recalled a buried memory, ‘I held you, as he rushed to your mother’s side, promising he will protect you with all his might.’
My voice caught on my throat. I controlled the tears forming in my eyes as I imagined what he was saying as if I was there. In my head, I could see everything vividly. Henri was holding me as an infant, calming me down for I was crying. My father was kneeling on the bedside where my mother laid before she took her last breath. I had never cried in front of Henri after what had happened to you, father. I lowered my eyes, ‘The point is?’
‘Daniel knew what his fate was after he got sick. He consulted Celeste and told her to proceed with what Eliza had bantered.’ Henri continued but his voice was kind of bitter, ’You are betrothed to Charles Sinclaire.’
I could not say I was surprised. At some point, all will lead down to arranged marriage. I had heard of Aunt’s son but I had never seen him for he was always away, nor her daughter.
I looked at Henri.
‘I’m sorry it has come to this,’ he took and squeezed my hand, ‘I did not want to be against Daniel’s wish but,’ then he shrugged, ‘I was hoping he would want me to marry you.’
His sudden divulgence dumbfounded me. A little bit too late now, too.
He lifted my hand and pressed it on his lip. But he was not looking at me.
He shook his head, dejected but smiling, ’It does not matter now, my dear. You should have fun, while you still can. Go to Mr Sanders. I will convince Sadie, for your happiness means more than anything to me.’
There was pain in his voice when he said it.
My heart ached as I returned to my suite when Henri’s unusually sad look on his face burned in my mind. Now that I write this, he left me more confused than giving me clarity. Perhaps, I should sleep this through to clear my mind. Oh, someone knocked on my door. It might be Henri.