Corinne awoke the next morning feeling stiff and sore. It was a struggle to climb out of her bed and she was forced by her fatigue to dress slowly. She had no real reason to be out of her chambers the second she had awoken but she abhorred lying in bed until she became more tired and started to fall into that awful sleep which felt too much like reality and gave her nausea.
She walked down the central staircase of the manor, into the foyer and only remembered she had not washed her face nor combed her hair when she arrived in the kitchen for breakfast. Thankfully the chef and Florence, a maid, were there preparing Richard’s traditional bacon and egg affair and the latter caught sight of Corinne and instantly ran out of the room to assist her before Lord Dachshund could see her in this state. Corinne was once again reminded of the feeling that she was Richard’s ward as Florence treated her like she was her mistress, which she didn’t think she was, officially speaking.
Florence put the comb and flannel away in the pocket of her apron just as Richard entered the room. His feelings were imperceptible in the careful smoothness of his expression and he barely acknowledged Corinne’s presence in the room as he sat opposite her: indeed, a mere nod was what she received from him.
“Good morning,” she cautioned, hoping he was not in a bad mood. She wanted to reassure herself that her worries last night had been irrational but she could not ask him directly a question about what would happen due to the love between them. Also, no question seemed right. ‘Did you mean we won’t ever be married when you said we can’t be together?’ sounded too desperate, too awkward, too forward and a little like Corinne wanted to share Richard’s estate for the wealth. ‘What did you mean by the last thing you said?’ sounded demanding, a little aggressive and slightly as if she was prying into his personal affairs.
Yet she so wanted to know that she attempted to converse again even when Richard’s response to her greeting was another nod.
As he sipped at a bowl of coffee, she asked, “Did you sleep well last night?”
Richard slowly put the cup down and regarded her. His expression was frustratingly blank.
“Yes,” he answered. “I did.” A pause. “Did you?”
“Yes,” she lied. “The night air was cleansing.”
Thank Chance she wasn’t still his maid. To lie would have brought about her sacking. Even when it was about something as slight as how she had slept at night.
“Indeed?” Richard inquired. “I myself found it a little stifling.”
“Oh really?” Corinne asked. “How annoying for you. Perhaps opening your casement a little wider might solve the problem?” Oh heavens! What nonsense was she saying?
Richard looked amused by her unsolicited suggestion.
“Perhaps.” He resumed drinking his coffee.
“Richard...,” she began, without knowing what she would say next. She trailed off, blushing in embarrassment.
“Yes?” he asked, glancing up at her again, curiosity in his otherwise unfathomable gaze.
“Is the coffee nice?” she asked feebly.
Richard looked baffled.
“Would you like to try some?” he asked, half serious because he really found Corinne incomprehensible.
“Would I like it?” she asked, her cheeks miserably flushed.
“I have no idea, Corinne,” he replied. He stood and fetched a bowl from a cupboard, collecting his plate of breakfast from a surprised-looking chef en route.
He returned to the table, poured some coffee from the kettle into the bowl and handed it to Corinne, looking like he didn’t know whether to laugh or pretend she hadn’t embarrassed herself.
Corinne blew over the steaming liquid and sipped at it. It was disgusting.
She put it down and shook her head, her face a little contorted from the awful taste.
“Not a beverage for me,” she murmured.
Richard allowed himself to look amused again and he started on his breakfast. Florence brought Corinne a bowl of porridge and as she began to take spoonfuls from the cooler edge of the cereal, she wondered if it would really embarrass her further to dunk her head in it.
There was a short silence.
Then, Richard asked, “Is something the matter, Corinne?”
“Oh, no, not at all,” Corinne answered bleakly.
Richard pressed on, though hesitantly as he sought a polite phrasing of what he meant to say.
“It is merely ... that you seem to be acting ... slightly unusually, this morning.” He paused. “Is there a problem?”
Corinne looked into Richard’s eyes and frowned. Could she say that it annoyed her that he was acting exactly how he had before yesterday: in the manner that made her want to scream at him?
No, she decided; she couldn’t.
“Nothing, my lord,” she replied.
Richard looked frustrated.
“Don’t call me ‘your lord’!”
Corinne could easily have retorted ‘Don’t act like there’s only friendship between us!’
Instead, she sighed heavily.
“I keep forgetting. Forgive me, Richard.”
“Some day I shan’t,” he teased.
Oh, that was it. She couldn’t bear any more of this.
She stood up and said, “Excuse me, Richard. I feel a little unwell.”
She stalked off to her room and slammed the door behind her. She refused to cry the tears which shouted at her to be shed and threw herself onto the bed fuming.
How dare he be so casual!
And the idea she had expressed the night before, of all moments which shed light on Richard’s heart being a dream, came back to her. Oh, she could slap him for his inconsistent behaviour.
She also knew that she wanted to see him hurt by the cruelty of the action to once again prove that he was in love with her.