Throughout that summer, Sean, now finally having found yet another girl who at last piqued his interest, began a tentative courtship with Claire. Though neither of them dared to call it a courtship as neither was quite sure that that was what it was. They just each knew that with each other was the only time they both seemed to hate their own lives a bit less.
Mostly, Sean just raced through his duties at the Torrence home and found some reason to travel towards town, as the Wallace house was the one place between his own home and the small Massachusetts town, itself. During his trips to town, his eyes always looked towards her house to see if Claire was outside, which she somehow seemed to find a reason to be, often.
That July afternoon was no exception as Sean’s mount, a large palomino that Chantarell had named Stardust, approached the Wallace home. Sean immediately adopted his own heart-melting smile as he saw that Claire was outside once more, picking some newly ripened vegetables and wearing a few dark purple wildflowers in her long free black locks, after finding them in the nearby yard earlier. Even though Sean had seen her at least once a week for nearly three months now, he never failed to be floored by how beautiful she was each time.
He only looked slightly nervous upon seeing her parents’ carriage still at the home, but his desire to see Claire again, somehow outweighed his unease at the possibility of having to encounter either of her parents. Upon hearing the horse approach, she returned his smile with her own as she stood, self-consciously wiping her hands against the back of the plain dress she wore that day, wishing she had some warning of his arrival so she could attempt to make herself look more presentable, but still quite eager to speak to him, appearances aside.
“Hello, beautiful.” he smiled as the horse reached the fence she still stood inside of, amongst the vegetable beds.
“You were talking to the horse?” she smirked as she ducked under the fence to step closer to the horse, running a hand over its golden coat in an effort not to reach for Sean, himself, instead.
“Yeah, that must be who I meant.” he chided as he tossed one look back toward the house and stifled a nervous breath before sliding down from the animal.
“They’re here, you know.” she told him furtively, curbing the urge to step closer to him.
“Yeah, I noticed.” he smiled as he tossed another glance back toward the house before he gave into his own urge to take that step closer, “I still wanted to see you though.” he told her with a small smile down at where she stood, a good twelve inches shorter than himself, her smile unwavering as she tilted her head to look up into his beautiful pools of blue.
“You’re a brave man.” she teased.
“I work for the strangest people in all of Massachusetts. Your parents could be refreshing.”
“Well, you obviously have never met them.” she told him with a wry sarcasm, then had to add, “Besides, my parents are among the town full of people that really don’t like your employer. That could actually make them a little less than happy with you, you know.” she added with a bit of sadness behind the words, honestly convinced that if her parents disapproved of her seeing Sean, after all, she might just have to apply for a job with his mysterious employer, herself. Three months of knowing him, had indeed been long enough to convince her that if it came to a choice between seeing Sean, and just about anything else in the world, Sean would win, hands down; she was that enamored with him, already, which she tried to hide, but knew she was failing at.
“Well, luckily, I’m not here to make them happy.” he told her smartly, with his own sly smile, which only deepened upon seeing her blush at his words.
“So who are you here to make happy?” she couldn’t resist flirting back with him.
“Hey now, your mom’s inside, no pretending you don’t have a brain in order to get me. I woulda married the first girl who ever smiled at me, if I wanted that.” he told her with a chuckle.
“I’ve gotten you then?” she couldn’t resist smiling up at him, speaking in an almost sultry tone.
“Not yet, not completely anyway.” he told her, with no mistaking of the sultriness in his own tone, which only caused her previous blush to deepen three times over, though her smile widened as well.
It was then that the dreaded appearance of her mother did come to pass, as the older woman stepped out of the house, her eyes moving over Sean suspiciously as Claire quickly put a bit more distance between herself and Sean, looking off toward the road, and trying not to imagine what may be about to come out of her mother’s mouth, before it actually did.
“Who are you?” Mrs. Wallace asked as she moved toward them, speaking coolly as she continued to eye Sean, crossing her arms firmly in front of her as she made her way toward the edge of the garden where the two stood with the horse, both swallowing a bit at the prospect of Sean’s and her mother’s first meeting.
“Sean Beringer ma’am. I live a little ways up the road.”
“I’ve seen you around town but that doesn’t tell me who you are. Do you have a family? A job? How do you know Claire? Why are you here?” she continued, still not moving her grayish eyes from him as she stopped a few feet from them.
“I grew up in the orphanage in the next town over, I’m afraid. But I do have a job. I keep the grounds at a house up the road.” he told her with a polite nod, mentally noting Claire’s warning about her parents’ opinions on his employer.
“Not the Torrence house?” her mother scowled as a new wall of suspicion went up around the almost tangible ones that were in place already.
“Yes ma’am, but it is only a job. I’ve actually nearly earned enough for my own home, so I can work for myself soon.” he told her, almost as though he knew he were being interviewed for some sort of position.
“Nearly?” she repeated, eyes narrowing, “How nearly?”
Sean tried not to smile as it became obvious to him how true all the things Claire had said about her mother, really were, “I turn twenty-two this month, and I believe that that’s the day I get the rest of the money I need to finish building my own house. I already paid for the property, even.” he assured her as Claire smiled over at him, realizing how easily he went about telling her mother all the things that the woman was sure to want to hear.
“So you don’t like working for that man?” she prodded, not letting down her own guard, just yet.
“It’s only a means to an end, ma’am.” Sean told her with a smile, being careful not to honestly state any real opinion he may or may not have had of the trio the rest of the town so obviously disapproved of.
“And you know Claire, how?”
“We met a few months back, and I couldn’t help wanting the chance to get to know her better.” he offered another polite smile, “I can only hope I’ll be allowed that chance, now that I’m about to get my own home, and life, started.” he added, causing her mother to adopt an expression that finally seemed to be a bit less suspicious, than thoughtful.
“Fine. We’ll have you over for a meal and Claire will be the one cooking it, so then you’ll see what you might actually be trying to get yourself into.” she warned condescendingly.
“I’m grateful for the invitation, ma’am.” he returned, smiling over at Claire once more, “And I’m sure it will be delicious.” he added.
“Don’t get your hopes up.” her mother scoffed with a shake of her head, causing Claire to scowl angrily at the woman, who paid no attention to Claire’s reaction, but did at least head back towards the house.
“Hmph. Aren’t you glad you were so polite to her now?” Claire returned once her mother was back inside, the ice clear in her voice.
“And aren’t you glad, I don’t give a damn about your cooking?” Sean told her wryly as he moved close once again, and even bravely placed his hand on her waist, the horse luckily blocking the view from the house.
“Well isn’t that fifty percent of the reason to marry a girl?” Claire returned, managing to find her cynicism again after taking a moment to remember to breathe upon feeling his warm touch through the material of her dress, and wishing she didn’t have the immediate urge to imagine that touch without the dress to separate their skin.
Sean smirked, still standing close, “I must use a different measurement system.” he then shook his head and couldn’t help adding, “And what’s the other fifty percent?”
“Isn’t it how well she imitates a broodmare and pops out baby after baby?”
“Ouch, you’re gonna offend the poor horse, here.” he teased.
“Well, don’t you want that?” she asked, narrowing her eyes to await his response.
“What don’t I want?” he asked as he raised an eyebrow at the question.
“A wife that’ll have a bunch of babies, or some idiotic thing like that.” she returned, her anger at her mother’s comment sharpening her tone into an accusatory sound.
“Actually, I’d think that having that many babies would definitely cut into the rest of her wifely duties.” he couldn’t help smirking.
“What duties would those be?” she asked, narrowing her eyes further.
“Well, mostly I was thinking of the duties that would get her all those babies, in the first place.”
Claire’s jaw dropped once more, this time at Sean’s statement, “Excuse me?” she asked, seeming more amused than angry, though still skeptical of exactly what his opinion on marriage might truly be.
“You want me to draw pictures?” he teased.
“Shut up.” she laughed, then had to continue, “And what all duties would you expect of a wife? I would really like to know, now.” she prodded.
“And why are you so interested in my opinions on marriage, dear?” he couldn’t help continuing to tease her.
“Well, it definitely sounded like that’s what you were auditioning for when she was out here.” she answered, trying to sound lighthearted, but still curious to know exactly how much of a future Sean might have been thinking about having with her, as she honestly was so taken with him, that she didn’t want to imagine her own, without him.
“You, truly, honestly, wanna know what my opinion on marriage is?” Sean asked her, sounding a bit more serious at last.
Claire took a brave breath, finally responding, “Yeah, I guess I would.”
Then it was Sean’s turn to take a breath as he looked back toward the house again, before turning back and speaking to her again, “I honestly think it’s ridiculous to have to put a ring on and sign a paper and have some priest tell you what you’re now seen as in the eyes of god, or whatever it is they think they’re speaking for.” another breath, “When all that matters is if you love the person and wanna be with them, and no ring, or paper, or priest, or made up entity, will change how the two people feel about each other, truly feel….But I also know that if I wanna be with you in all the ways that I want to be with you, for all the days I wanna be with you, I’ll have to do their little ritual in order to get to have that, to have you.” he finished as Claire simply looked up at him, speechlessly, causing him to continue, “So, what would your wifely duties be? They’d be to love me as much as I love you. And I think that you should get started on them as soon as we find some aisle to walk down to make the rest of them happy. Then we can spend forever making each other happy.”