Author’s Note: This seemed to flow rather well after the flashback with how Violet met Winston.
“Is something wrong?”
She sighed, looking up from her hands. She did not remember much of walking back to her bench in the garden, and if she’d been lost in her thoughts all that time, she was certain to have worried her companion. That had not been her intention, but her mind had been on Winston a lot over the past few days. He was an impossible subject to avoid. Everything had come about because of his arrival in her life, and even though he was gone, he had left too many marks behind to say he’d been there.
“I’m sorry. My mind went to… I was thinking about the first time that I met Winston.”
She heard the edge to Robbie’s voice, a sort of sharpness that made her feel worse about her mind’s wanderings. She must seem very rude, perhaps even pathetic, dwelling on memories that had to with the man who’d betrayed them both. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t bother you with my recollections or worry you with how they make me feel.”
“It’s…” He let out a breath, shaking his head, and she realized that his disgust was directed at himself. “I almost made a snide comment, actually, and that was not right. You do not deserve that kind of treatment.”
She frowned. What treatment did he mean? Was he thinking the same thoughts as the towns’ gossips? Was that it? “What?”
“A cruel remark about you foolishly thinking it was love the moment you saw him,” he said, wincing as he looked at her face. “I know. That isn’t fair. It was wrong of me to think it.”
She shook her head. “I do not think it was wrong. Given how quickly our courtship progressed, many people thought it must be that way, that we loved each other on sight alone. I did not think that was true—certainly it was inaccurate for our first meeting. I could not hardly see him because of the sun, and I rather made a fool of myself. It would seem that was all I ever did with him.”
Robbie frowned. “Surely your next encounter was not as… the first, or you would not have been willing to see him again.”
She almost laughed. He was right about that much. She would never forget the way that Winston had returned, the way he’d stepped in with a flourish, revealing the bouquet, and how sweet he’d been as he explained his offering. “Oh, no, the next time, he was all smiles and apologies and charm. He brought me flowers to replace those I’d dropped, and… Other than his habit of comparing me to nymphs or sprites, he was quite charming. I liked to hear him speak; he was a fine storyteller. Perhaps that should have warned me, how much I loved his tales. He would tell me of places he’d traveled, but I liked hearing of his childhood best. That is what fooled me into thinking I knew him, how well I could picture his upbringing. It was as though I’d been there to see each moment, sharing it with him as he spoke.”
Robbie gave her a slight smile. “He must have had some great stories if he impressed you. I rather think I should not have managed it. I would be surprised to hear you liked him if he told you the beehive story.”
That one made her smile. She’d laughed the entire time, even if it was not proper. “That, as mother said, was simply a boy being a little boy.”
Robbie stiffened. He rose, moving toward the back of the garden. “That was not how my father saw it. He was very displeased, and I was never allowed honey again because I cost them so much. Not for breakfast, not in tea, never.”
“No,” she whispered, not wanting to believe it. He could not know that tale. That was Winston’s. It had to be. It was not Robbie’s, not again. How could Winston have known something like that, anyway? There was no way, was there? “Tell me that the beehive is not one of your stories, too.”
He shook his head. “I can’t. It is.”
“Was… Did you knock that down with one of your friends, perhaps? Is that it? He said he was alone, but if you weren’t, if you were with another boy, and he saw or helped and—Please. This does not make sense.”
Robbie shook his head. “No. I did it alone, thought it must have become known to all around us when the neighbors learned of our honey shortage. I do not understand, either. My mind must be more damaged than I thought if I cannot remember who he is, if I cannot recognize him. He has such intimate knowledge of my life, so how is it that I know nothing of his?”
She swallowed. “I do not know. I cannot think of any sort of explanation for that. This almost seems like proof of your conviction that he knows you, doesn’t it?”
Robbie came back to her side. “What other tales did he tell? What about the snake? Did he talk about the snake and the minister and—”
“Please stop. I do not want to hear how many more of those stories belong to you and not to him.”
“No,” she said, pushing herself to her feet. “I am… I cannot do this. I cannot sit here and examine every instance of how I did not know him at all. I should be stronger, but I am not. I cannot bear hearing how I gave my life and my love away to a man that I knew nothing of. I cannot. Do not ask me to do so.”
“Oh, Violet,” Robbie said, reaching up to touch her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think about what that meant for you. I was so determined to learn how he could have known these things that I didn’t stop to think of you.”
She closed her eyes, wishing that she’d shut out the tears as well. “I think I shall lie down. Perhaps you can ask your family more of this man, but I… I do not think I can help you again. It… This hurts too much.”
“I understand,” he said, letting his hand drop back to his side. He shifted his feet, looking at her with such guilt that she wanted to tell him it was all her doing, not his, but she couldn’t change how this made her feel. She could not help him again, not now. Perhaps later, but she could not bear it at the moment. “Would you rather that I didn’t come back at all?”
“I… No… That is… Oh, I do not know.”
“I will send a message, then, and if you do not wish to see me, simply say no in reply. I will finish what I can here, and if you change your mind before then, we may meet, but otherwise, I shall most likely return home in the next day or so.”
She nodded. A part of her wanted to beg him to stay, but she would not. She did not know what she was thinking or feeling now, so mixed up and confused and wishing she was anyone but herself. She needed to be somewhere where she could attempt to end this turmoil within her.
“Excuse me,” she said, turning back toward the house, not able to look at him as she left.