Peter walked through the empty halls of his childhood house, each step feeling as though it was one more towards there being no more tracing the same path as he was then; something inside Peter was telling him that it was the time to say goodbye. After all, he was telling himself, with every step that brought him towards the servants’ pantry and kitchen, that nothing was left within those frozen walls to keep him there longer. Even Phillip could not be a nail, or a piercing icicle perhaps, to hold Peter to the ground. Peter could not see a life being built for himself there now.
His eyes being rooted to the floor and the alternating black, then white, of the tiling pattern that wove itself through the entrance hall, and snaked around to the lesser rooms of the house, Peter collided hard with a sweet-smelling someone. Blushing, the boy looked up into the coconut eyes of his love.
Beth blushed and giggled, coyly lifting a worn hand to hide her widening smile.
“Careful, Peter, you’ll get yourself into trouble if you don’t look up…”
She paused, inspecting the lines of his face and the pain within his eyes. Her smile and hand drooped simultaneously. Suddenly, she was gazing at an old man, a stranger. She couldn’t read him, and fear tugged at her heartstrings.
“Sweetheart. What’s wrong? Tell me,” She cupped his face in those soft, worked hands.
Peter pulled away, trembling.
“I…I…I’m sorry. I can do this no longer.”
Beth’s face fell and, although she still grasped out for Peter’s hands, she went even more limp.
“What do you mean? You can’t do this?” She exclaimed in her quietest voice.
Peter gestured, waving his hands about towards nothing.
“My father… He knows about our affections-”
“Does he? Anyway, you needn’t worry about his opinion; we can be without approval.”
A feeling of shock spread through Peter, as though Beth had just slapped him across his sore cheek.
“Well, I can’t tell that he knows for certain, but those kitchen maids do talk, you should understand. And…Beth, I can’t disobey the words of my father again, especially when Phillip so needs my help.”
“So, you’ll choose your family over my love?” She cried out.
“Yes,” Peter nodded slowly, “I’m sorry, but there are things I need to do to help my brothers; my father needs my trust.”
“Trust? You’ll choose to trust that man who won’t give a fair wage or a fair chance to any of his family?”
“Now he has given me a chance to redeem myself.”
“By deserting me? Hardly!”
This time, Beth really did slap Peter.
“Beth,” his fists started to curl up, “We have to fire you. Officially, you have an hour to gather all your belongings, say goodbye, and get out. I really am sorry, but your behaviour has been very disrespectful, and I don’t appreciate you bad-mouthing my family.”
Beth boggled, caught between her utmost fury and the pain deep within her heart.
“What? You yourself said-”
“I am trying to make an effort, dear-”
“Why not make an effort to me? And us?”
Peter sighed, sucking in the cold air that was lying between them with his teeth.
“Love can never be as perfect as you would like it to be. What I said and did is in the past now.”
Tears dripped down from Beth’s eyes; she was speechless.
“But…” She gasped.
“You have…one hour,” Peter finally sighed. His ever-burning fire had gone out, and he couldn’t look into the girl’s watery eyes. Too, his eyes welled up and threatened to pour tears down onto his cheeks.
“Goodbye…” He whispered, caressing her cheek, and tenderly brushing away one of the stray tears.
Beth watched, and could say no more, as her first love turned and walked away across the open tiles, in the direction of the grander part of the house, the place where the family resided.
At the door, he turned, looking prepared to say something- anything- but Peter closed his mouth, decidedly shook his head, and turned one last time, away from Beth.
She too slowly span, walking the cracks of life in the opposite direction. As though there had been a mirror placed between the lovers, she too gazed longingly back, as Peter had done, to the spot where he had been, but she lingered longer, her heart forever broken.
Knowing that it was the last time she would see him.