It had been a glorious day. Still, and hot. Shining and sunny. The way the sun should beat down on a summer day. However, Alfeo caught a whiff of sweet-smelling ether on a breeze. And not from sage or juniper, or rose or tree heath. The black ones. The watchful eyes on the macchia, as the twilight blew in. And the gale was only beginning to pick up after a long calm.
Far on the horizon, he made out clouds, dark and dismal, rolling along the sea. A tempest, by Alfeo’s reckoning. He knew one when he saw it. It was far enough away that the Alcmene could return to Pozzallo without incident, but the thunderheads surely spelled murder for his garden. If the squall now was any indication, he would lose his saffron roses, the orchids, the tulips, everything. Even the everlasting wasn’t hardy enough to withstand a cyclone. But there wasn’t much he could do to stop it.
He sighed and carried on, after informing Jane, Abigail and Cosette that the boat had arrived. And had he seen Helen he would have told her too. Jane and Abigail were unfazed as usual, but Cosette was more than agitated. Merde flew from her mouth with fury. Though he could hardly blame her, as she had been forced to cook for ten extra people on her own.
Now back in the courtyard, he saw the guests beginning their march up the path, and then spotted Iryna admiring the saffrons among the hedges.
Alfeo came alongside Iryna, and when she faced him she smiled. “Ciao, Alfeo.”
He said shyly, “Ciao, Iryna.” He paused and looked at his feet before stealing another glance at her, “You look… beautiful, today.”
Iryna blushed but didn’t say anything. Then he stepped closer and lightly placed his hand in hers. But she rejected it and suserrated in her Slavic cadence, “Alfeo, don’t… he’s watching.”
Alfeo looked around for the old man. Sure enough, he saw the cripple on his balcony, with his new eagle eyes set on the two of them. He retraced his single step, but after a moment, he felt too awkward to stay put and let Linden Murray, judge him. For the longer he stood there, the angrier he would get, hating the man to his core. And Alfeo didn’t want Iryna to see him like that. His vengeful side.
But before he could retreat, Iryna protested, “Wait.”
His hot brown eyes shot up and met her sad blue ones. His scowl thawed at the sight of them, and her lonely look tempered his rage. And if he hadn’t caught himself in that moment, he would have taken her in his embrace, carried her down to the shore, and bid Portelli sail them away. Sail them as far from Mr. Murray as they could go… But he held back.
She pleaded, “Stay with me, Alfeo? Please? I don’t want to…” and she faltered, searching for the word, “escort these people to the house alone.”
The gardener could not deny the flower. Could not leave her to withstand the gathering storm alone. He would not.
“I’ll stay with you,” whispered Alfeo.