Megan clapped happily.
"Another party?" she asked and I nodded with a smile.
"I have another surprise," I said.
We were sitting in the room we shared. I had delivered the news about going to the birthday party in two days. It was the news about school I was excited to give, though.
I took out the bag Daniel had given me. Her eyes widened as I took out her school supplies. There were three pencils, a book of papers, a workbook, and some colored pencils.
"You start school next Monday," I said, watching her face anxiously as she picked up a pencil.
Her eyes were still wide but conflicted. I knew she was scared but she would be around kids her age and have some fun for once. She stared at the pencil strangely. It was new to me, too, but Daniel said they were better for children to use in place of a quill.
"I don't get it," she frowned. "Why am I going to school?"
I sighed and pushed the supplies to the side. She quickly scurried over and wrapped her arms around my chest, pressing her side to mine. I kissed the top of her head.
"Because you need to be around other kids," I said softly. "This is your chance to go and have fun, to make friends. And you'll learn all sorts of new things."
"I'm having fun," she said defensively.
I laughed. "Perhaps when I'm not working you are. Meggie, I know you're probably scared about the idea, but it's a wonderful opportunity."
"What if the other kids are mean to me?" she whispered and I squeezed her.
"Then you'll let Principal Daniel know," I said simply. "You'll like him. He's a nice man."
When he's not being jealous.
I smiled a little, remembering the look on his face when he saw me walking with Elvira. I knew he fancied her and I had a feeling she did not return his affections. Part of me wondered if his jealousy was warranted. Perhaps there would be a day where Elvira and I could go on another walk. I cleared my throat to get myself out of my daydreams. I was very smitten by her.
"I'm scared," Megan said.
"I know but you'll have fun. Just wait and see."
I stopped at noon on Friday so I could get cleaned for Bryant's birthday party. Ivan stopped me before I went back to his house. He was holding a small bag.
"Now, I know how you feel about this kind of thing, but take this," he said.
Frowning, I did and opened it. Inside was a beautiful green dress that would look wonderful on Megan. I bit my lower lip.
"It was my daughter's," he explained. "It's one of the few things we kept of hers."
"I can't accept it then," I said immediately.
He smiled at the dress. "Megan will get more enjoyment out of it than we will. It's been in a trunk collecting dust for several years, Thomas. Take it and put her in it for the party tonight."
I shook his hand. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said and went back to mending the blade of an iron sword.
When I returned to their home, Megan was drawing at the table and I took her into our room.
"I have a gift from Ivan and Candace," I said and her eyes lit up.
I took the dress out and her mouth became a comical 'O' shape. She reached out and touched the soft fabric. It had white lace around the neck, sleeves, and hem of the dress.
"Is it for me?" she whispered.
I beamed. "Indeed it is. Would you like to wear it tonight?"
"Yes!" she said and I laughed as I helped her into it. "It's so pretty, Tommy!"
"You look beautiful," I said as she danced around the room in it.
She giggled and ran out into the house to hug Candace and thank her for the dress while I cleaned up. It was wonderful seeing the grin on her small face as she spun, pretending to ballroom dance. That's the smile I wanted to put on her face permanently.
When I was clean and finished shaving, I dressed in my nicest pair of trousers and loose sleeved white cotton shirt. It was warm outside and Megan practically dragged me up to the house. Other people were arrive and stared at us. I could imagine how strange it looked. The other guests were in fancy dresses and suits and here comes a man in common clothing with a little girl.
When we got to the gravel, I carried her. She was looking nervous.
"What's wrong?" I asked, being careful not to step on the rocks wrong and roll my ankle.
"There aren't any other little kids," she whispered.
"Not that you know of," I pointed out but I was certain she would be the only one. "If you get too bored, I'm sure Miss Elvira will let you play with that doll you've taken such a liking to."
"You think so?" she breathed.
I put her down when we reached the door. "Yes, I do."
Elvira, Bryant, and Theresa were standing in the foyer to welcome guests. Theresa's eyes lingered on Megan for a second before she shook our hands then turned her head, making it clear that she had nothing to say. Megan threw her arms around Bryant's waist.
"Happy birthday!" she said and he chuckled, hugging her back.
"Why thank you very much, Megan. You look beautiful."
She beamed and pretended to do a fancy curtsy. "Thank you!"
She hugged Elvira as I shook Bryant's hand.
"So, 26," I said. "Quite the age."
He chuckled. "That's how old you are, correct?" he asked and I nodded. He turned to his sister. "Hurry up, Elvira! You're lagging behind!"
She giggled. "I will never be able to catch up with you, dear brother."
He rolled his eyes teasingly. "It's because you're slow."
"Just by five years, you old man," she teased back with a wink and he ruffled her hair.
I smiled as she swatted at his hand. That was like my relationship with Megan and it was nice to see. Elvira caught my eye and smiled at me shyly.
"Thomas Buckley," a voice said and I turned.
"Daniel," I said cheerfully, shaking his hand. "It's good to see you."
"Likewise," he said stiffly and my smile faltered, trying to think of a reason why he would be upset with me.
I looked around. Oh. I was standing beside Elvira.
"Excuse me," I said. "I think.... Megan has disappeared."
I walked off, disappointed. I didn't want to anger Daniel, though. Not when my sister's education and happiness was on the line. Though I would love to be around Elvira more, my sister's happiness came first, even if it meant before mine.
Megan was chatting away with a young man and woman who were sitting with cups of tea. I shook my head with a smile as I approached them.
"Is it going to be a baby boy?" she asked when I came up, her eyes shining.
Now that I was closer, I could see the woman's stomach.
"We hope so," she giggled and they both looked up. "Oh, hello."
"I'm sorry if my sister has been talking your ear off," I said, resting my hand on the side of her head, and the couple laughed.
Megan giggled. "They're going to have a baby, Tommy!"
"Congratulations," I laughed.
"Thank you," the man said, smiling fondly at his wife's stomach. "We are very excited."
I was about to speak when I saw Elvira storm out onto a balcony, fanning herself frantically. I turned and saw Daniel talking angrily to Bryant. Bryant shook his head, his eyes furious. I bit my lip and glanced out at Elvira.
"I'll be right back," I said to Megan. "Stay in this room, okay?"
"Okay," she said happily and I slipped onto the balcony.
"Miss Rivers?" I asked and she turned, hiding her face with her fan. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said.
She turned back to look over the water. I knew she was trying to hide her tears so I walked over casually. Down below, the front door flew open and I watched as Daniel stormed down the drive, his hands balled into fists I frowned and she sniffled.
"What's wrong?" I whispered, leaning against the railing and turning my head to look at her.
"It's nothing," she said. I nodded and made to leave. "Wait," she sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm being rude. It's just.... Sometimes he doesn't know what the word 'no' means."
I frowned. "Did he touch you?"
"No," she sighed, finally lowering her fan. "He just asked my brother for my hand in marriage and he declined. Daniel is most insulted. I have told him several times I am not interested but...."
"He still pushes," I finished in a quiet voice.
I looked over at her. The moon was shining on her, increasing her beauty.
"You can't hold it against him too much," I whispered and she frowned at me. I sighed. "At the risk of being too blunt, you are a beautiful woman, Miss Rivers. I can imagine it is very hard to not desire to pursue you."
She folded her fan, still frowning. "Then why have you not asked?" she whispered and I felt my cheeks go red.
"I should go find Megan," I breathed.
She caught my arm before I could leave and I looked at her nervously.
"Answer me," she said. "Please."
I shook my head. "You don't want to be seen with someone like me, Miss Rivers," I whispered. "I have nothing to offer you. I can barely give my little sister the education she needs. Please let me go."
"Shouldn't it be my decision?" she asked, stepping closer.
I cleared my throat. "Well, yes I suppose but-"
She stood on her toes and kissed my lips lightly. I didn't know what to do having never kissed a woman before. She had closed her eyes and I did, too, after a moment. Her lips were soft and warm. I put my hand on her cheek and she leaned closer to me.
Then I remembered who I was and who she was.
I broke away. "I have to go," I whispered.