I watched as he got his sister, said goodbye to my brother, then leave. I touched my lips. Why had I kissed him? I had never kissed someone before....
"Elvira?" I jumped as Bryant came out. "Are you all right? Did you fight with Thomas? He left in such a rush."
"No, no we didn't fight," I whispered, frowning out over the water. "Bryant, tell me something." He stood beside me. "Why did you kiss Lauren for the first time?"
He let out a long, albeit happy, sigh as he gazed at the water, too.
"Because she is the most beautiful woman I know. Aside from you, of course," he added, nudging me and I smiled. "She makes me very happy and I wanted nothing more to kiss her. We were on one of our walks and the pull was... overwhelming so I acted on it." He chuckled. "I was terrified. I was certain she'd slap me for being so bold but it has just made our relationship so much stronger."
I nibbled on my lower lip. "So... your relationship was not awkward after?"
He shrugged. "It was for a few days. Neither of us had kissed someone before and...." He trailed off and stared at me, standing up straight. "Why are you asking me these questions, Elvira?"
"No reason," I said quickly, avoiding his eyes.
He sighed quietly. "Did he kiss you?" he whispered.
"I don't know who you're talking about."
"I saw him come to the balcony when Daniel left," he said sternly. "Answer me, Elly."
I looked at my hands. "Well... I kissed him."
He leaned against the railing, crossing his arms and staring at me. I met his gaze nervously but he didn't look mad. In fact, he looked curious.
"Is that why he ran off?" he asked.
"I think so," I said. "I'm worried that the friendship we had built is now gone."
He chuckled, shaking his head and looking back over the water. "Dear Elvira, you are quite blind sometimes. It's obvious he is attracted to you."
"They why did he run?" I whispered.
"Probably because he was as nervous as you are," he said.
"If it's true he is attracted, then why has he not said anything before?"
"I don't know. Would you like me to speak with him for you?"
"I don't want to put you in that position," I said quickly.
"Well, I'm curious so I'm going to anyway," he said and kissed my forehead as I rolled my eyes. "I am sorry about what Daniel said to you."
I sighed heavily. "Perhaps he will stop his advances now."
Behind us, my mother cleared her throat.
"It's time," she said and took Bryant's hand, pulling him back into the house.
The next morning, I left the house right after breakfast, ignoring Elvira's pleas for me not to go. I truly was curious, though. Was Thomas feeling like I had when I kissed Lauren for the first time? And could it be that, after so many years, a man might court my sister in earnest?
When I reached the blacksmith's, he was pounding away at a horseshoe, glaring as he did so. I hung back, thinking carefully about what I would say.
"Good morning, Mr. Buckley," I said and he jumped when he saw me, avoiding my eyes.
"Hello, Mr. Rivers. What can I do for you today?"
"Take a break and walk with me," I answered and he sighed.
"Perhaps I shouldn't," he muttered like I knew he would. "I have these horseshoes to finish and-"
"Please. I insist," I pressed and he sighed again before nodding.
He stopped to let Ivan know and I smiled at the old man.
"She kissed me," he blurted and I chuckled. "I didn't- I mean, I-"
"Relax," I said. "I am not here to chastise you."
"Oh," he muttered.
"Tell me what's on your mind," I said softly but he shook his head. "Be open with me, Thomas. I know what it's like to kiss a woman for the first time and everything that comes after."
He groaned quietly. "I tried to leave," he said, kicking at some loose rocks. "I had spoken too bluntly and embarrassed myself. But she stopped me, wanting to know why I haven't... voiced my interest in her. Then she kissed me. I panicked."
I frowned a little at him. "Why haven't you said something?"
He shook his head. "She does not want to be seen with someone like me, Mr. Rivers," he muttered. "She belongs with someone like Daniel; someone with money. I can barely put Megan through school."
"You think money is all my sister cares about?"
"No," he said. "But I want her to be happy." He shook his head. "When I saw how upset she was... I just wanted to see her smile again."
"That's all a woman wants, you know," I said. He looked at me. "All they want is a man who will do anything to make them happy. Just like what you do with Megan."
"I'm not worthy," he said stubbornly.
"That's her decision, Thomas," I said quietly. "Not yours."
He sighed. "Even if she does share my interests, now it is impossible."
I stopped walking. "Why do you say that?"
"Daniel is the principal of Megan's school," he said sadly. "I also know he is a very jealous man. Should he see me with Miss Rivers, I fear he will take it out on my poor sister."
"You think he'd fail her on purpose?" I asked and he nodded.
At first I wanted to tell him Daniel would never do that but Thomas was right. Daniel was a jealous man. He wasn't used to people telling him no.
But for Elvira to be the one to kiss Thomas....
"My sister is not a bold woman, Mr. Buckley," I said. "If she had truly been the one to initiate the kiss as you both claim, then she has feelings for you. If they go anywhere is up to you two. I do wish that you spend time with her. I resent the way our mother treats her. When Elvira speaks of you and Megan, it always makes her smile. Please. She is lonely and I know she wants to be around you more. You are the first man to not throw yourself at her feet."
He shook his head, though. "If Daniel finds out-"
"'If' being the key word there," I interrupted with a smile. "I have an idea, Mr. Buckley, but first you must promise me something." He looked at me nervously and I stepped closer, lowering my voice. "You must promise to treat her well. If you hurt my sister, I will make you pay."
"I promise," he breathed and I knew he took my threat seriously. "This is all assuming she even considers me worth her time."
I laughed, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Why else would she have kissed you, my friend? Now, here's my plan."
I groaned. "Stupid Bryant," I muttered, pacing my room nervously.
What could he possibly be saying to Thomas? And why was he so insistent on Thomas and I pursuing something? It didn't make any sense and it was also a little frustrating. Then I thought back to the kiss. I thought back to how wonderful his lips felt, to how he had touched my cheek so tenderly as if afraid he would hurt me. I thought back to how timid he was.
I was attracted to him, yes, and greatly desired to be around him more. I wanted to learn more about him, to joke with him, to lighten the load he has put on his shoulders since his parents' death....
Someone knocked on my door and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
I opened it slowly but it was just Bryant. He was holding a bouquet of flowers and had a broad grin on his face. I narrowed my eyes, taking the flowers.
"These are from Mr. Buckley," he said, still grinning, and I blushed. "Well, sort of. Anyway, he wishes to see you tomorrow evening in our gardens."
I stared at him, my jaw dropped.
He chuckled. "He wishes to see you tomorrow evening in our gardens," he repeated in a slow voice. He laughed again at my confused face and flicked my nose. "He's asked permission to court you, silly, and I've given him my permission."
I blushed. "But... he kept saying...."
He ruffled my hair, something I hated, and I swatted at his hand.
"He just needed a... boost of confidence," he said. "Now, there's one thing he worries about that he wanted mt to tell you."
I stepped to the side and inhaled the perfume from the flowers.
"Did he buy these?" I asked.
"No," he snorted. "I bout them. He picked them out. Goodness, the fight he put up.... He insisted on buying another bouquet but...." He cleared his throat, sitting at my vanity. "Anyway, he has a concern that I, regrettably, share."
I frowned. "What kind of concern?"
"Daniel March," he answered.
I wrinkled my nose. "Why are you concerned about that fool?"
"Because he operates the school Megan is now attending," he pointed out softly and I stared at him.
"I had forgotten," I whispered.
"But I have a plan. It's fool proof as long as he doesn't show up unexpected," he added. "But I can get rid of Mother should that happen."
I laughed a little. "I don't know who was angrier about you saying no: Daniel or Mother."
He laughed, too. "Now, as I said, tomorrow evening you will meet with him." He smiled at my nervous face. "You'll be fine. Just try not to scare the poor man again."
I giggled, blushing, and he hugged me.