Elvira and I sat in silence for a while until Megan came running back in, Bryant in tow with a tortured look on his face that made us both laugh. He was wearing a paper crown with glitter and-
"He doesn't make a very good fairy princess," Megan pouted and I tried to hold back my laughter at his face which was covered in sloppy makeup.
"She found your makeup," Bryant said to Elvira. "Perhaps you should go be a fairy princess."
"Yeah! You'd be prettier!"
Elvira giggled and kissed my cheek, letting Megan take her hand. Bryant shoved the paper crown on her head and she laughed more as Megan dragged her out. Bryant shuddered and wiped his face clean.
"Oh, you owe me Mr. Buckley," he grumbled, sitting across from me.
"For what it's worth, I think you make a lovely fairy princess," I said and he threw the napkin at me. I laughed. "She's going to come with me tomorrow."
He nodded, his face serious. "Good. She needs to get out of this house and not just to the docks."
I glanced at the door. I couldn't hear the girls anymore so I leaned forward, Bryant doing the same.
"Why does she look so pale?" I asked quietly. "When she came down, she was shaking."
Bryant shut the doors and sat back down. "She had a nightmare about Daniel," he answered and my stomach dropped.
"What kind?" I whispered, thinking of the violent ones Megan had sometimes.
"Something about him telling her she'd never be free of him," Bryant said, rubbing his eyes. "God, she's terrified. I didn't realize how much it impacted her until now." I nodded sadly. "What is it?"
"I'm being selfish," I blurted.
"Tell me," he said and I leaned back, pulling at my shirt.
"She couldn't kiss me," I muttered, turning a little pink at talking about this with her brother. "I know it was because of Daniel and I'm fine with being patient but.... Forgive me, but this is rather awkward," I breathed and he chuckled. "I... I miss kissing her."
"Yes, I feel that way now with Lauren," he said. "She has not been able to leave her home for a week now."
"Why not?" I asked.
"She gets ill when this time of the month comes," he answered.
"Ah," I said. "Goodness. I do not look forward to the day Megan becomes a woman."
He laughed. "You'll be fine."
I groaned. "She's talking about a boy at school," I said. "A boy! She's only six! She can't be interested in boys!"
Bryant tossed his head back and laughed. "Oh, my dear friend, you're going to have your hands full with that little girl."
"Thanks a lot," I grumbled sarcastically.
Their mother walked in and her eyes flashed when she saw me. I knew she didn't like me still and, after what Bryant told me, the feeling was mutual.
"I'll be back tomorrow," I said, not wanting to be in this woman's presence any longer than I needed to be. "Send Meggie when she's done playing with Elvira, if that's okay."
"Certainly," Bryant said and I left, already going through a list of things I'd need for the day long hike with Elvira tomorrow.
"Elvira!" Bryant groaned from the foyer. "Come on! Mr. Buckle's been here for an hour!"
"Hush your mouth, Bryant, and come help me!" she shouted back and I smiled.
He groaned again and walked up the stairs. I had dropped Megan off with Ivan and Candace. At first I was worried she'd be upset. When I mentioned I'd be with Elvira, though, she practically shoved me out the door. I was glad that Megan liked her so much.
Finally, Bryant walked down with Elvira. She was in a simple grey dress that she still managed to make look stunning. Her hair was up in a ponytail and she wore boots instead of heels.
"My father used to take us up into the mountains," she explained as we walked out and I mentioned her boots. "Each year he would have the shoe maker make a pair. Bryant bought me these last year."
"It should be a nice day out," I said. "Just some clouds."
"I put on sunblock this time, though," she said with a giggle.
"Ah, with that silly large hat you should be fine," I teased and she nudged me.
She wrapped her arm around mine and I smiled down at her.
"So, Bryant tells me that young Megan has her sights on a boy," she said when we started down the forest trail.
I groaned, shaking my head. "His name is Peter and he's simply adorable! Then, when I asked to meet him, she squealed and ran to her room, screeching that I never could."
Elvira laughed loudly, a noise I was falling in love with.
"I was like that with my first crush," she told me. "Only it was my father instead of Bryant. Oh, he gave me the hardest time about it!"
I chuckled. "What was his name?"
She put her head on my shoulder as we walked.
"His name was Ronald. We were five and went to school much like Megan and Peter. Oh, he would tease me so much! My father said that's how boys show they like a girl but, one day, he threw mud on my dress." I glanced down at her to see a devilish smile on her face and I arched a brow. "I shoved him in the mud and threw an apple at him."
I laughed. "You were a violent child!"
She giggled. "I got into a lot of trouble but it was my favorite dress! Of course, it was back to normal three days later, but it was the principle of the thing, dear Thomas."
"Well, hopefully Megan doesn't do anything like that," I said.
"Why? Are you worried she'll hurt?"
I smirked down at her. "I taught her how to fight." Her eyes widened. "Yes. We were in a village and I was working as a sort of servant at this house. Meggie was three at the time and the boy of the house kept bullying her until he struck her one day. It took everything in me not to beat him. Thankfully, the parents were good people and he got what was coming. I took her from there, though, and the parents sent us with plenty of food and money.
"Anyway, we were on the way to wherever we could get to next and she expressed her desire to be able to hit the kid back. Though I do not condone fighting, I do believe in self-defense." I shook my head as we sat on a large rock. 'I'm very aware that Megan is going to be a gorgeous young woman and she needed to know how to get away. So, I taught her. I'm still teaching her as she gets older."
"What?" she asked when I cringed.
"Well, I was the only person she could practice on," I said, passing her one of the sandwiches I packed for lunch. "She's very good at fighting, Elvira. When a five year old can beat a 25 year old enough to make him cry, then you know she's going to be fine."
Elvira laughed, nearly choking on her sandwich.
"What did she do."
I wrinkled my nose. "Well, I was about to win when she got desperate. This was a year ago when she only came up to about my thighs, you know." I shook my head. "She kicked the closest thing and-"
Elvira erupted into laughter, clutching her sides and I threw the wrapper at her. I smiled, though, as tears of mirth went down her face.
"Oh, she didn't!" she gasped.
"She did," I nodded, popping a grape into my mouth then lying down on the rock to look at the sky. "I could get mad at her because I was teaching her but she was so ashamed. When she saw me crying, she nearly cried, too, until I explained it to her. Then she turned into a mess of giggles."
Elvira got down beside me and held my hand. I looked over at her but she was looking at the sky, still smiling.
"I know you're... insecure about this, Thomas," she whispered, "but you're doing such a wonderful job with her."
I shut my eyes. "I don't feel like I am."
"You keep saying that. Why?"
"She still has nightmares," I said bitterly, now glaring at the clouds. "I can't stop the damn nightmares."
She moved closer to me. "You'll never be able to stop the nightmares, Thomas," she said quietly. "The best you can do is be there to hold her when she wakes up. Wipe away her tears, make sure she knows she's safe. That's all she needs."
"You really think so?"
She kissed my shoulder, something that made my heart flutter.
"I know so."
"What if what?" she asked when I struggled against my tears.
I bit my lower lip and took a deep breath. She must have sensed the change because she put her head on my shoulder and wrapped an arm around me. I shut my eyes tightly and put a hand on her arm.
"What if she hates me?" I whispered.
Elvira sat up so fast her head bumped into my chin. She looked at me as if I were insane and I looked away.
"Thomas, she adores you!" she said, wiping a tear off my cheek. "She would never hate you!"
"I couldn't save my parents," I said and tried to stop my tears but they wouldn't.
She sighed and kissed them away. "Oh, Thomas. You fear she will blame you?" she whispered and I nodded. "There will come a day where you'll have to tell her what the dragon really is, Thomas. But you've shown her nothing but love this whole time. I can see all you have sacrificed for her." When I didn't answer, she ran her thumb across my cheek. "Would it help if I were there when you tell her?"
I stared at her in shock. "You'd do that?"
She nodded with a small smile. "Of course I would."
I smiled back and she put her head back on my chest. Never before had I wanted to kiss her as badly as I did now. I sufficed with holding her tighter. Neither of us spoke for a long time. The air was starting to smell of rain and we slid off the rock. We walked back to her home, hand in hand, and I felt terrified and excited at the same time.
I had fallen in love with Elvira Rivers.