The fading light of the summer evening cast long shadows and rose highlights across Gwendal’s immaculate desk, distracting as it played over reports and notes and paperwork, but even more distracting when it lit the lovely figure standing at his door in brilliant orange gold.
Julia stepped into the room, clinging firmly to the doorframe. “Conrad,” she called out, voice still sweet and soothing even when tinged with annoyance, “where have you gotten to?”
“Wrong brother,” Gwendal replied curtly. “Are you lost, Miss Julia?”
“It’s Conrad who’s gotten lost.” She drifted into the room, arm stretched out before her, confidence easily returning to her gait now that she knew where she was. “He was supposed to accompany me to the festival, but he must have taken a turn without me and now I don’t know where he’s gone.” She settled into the chair opposite Gwendal. “Do you mind if I wait here until he finds me?”
Gwendal managed to muffle his exasperated sigh. “I suppose it would be rude of me to abandon a lady in her time of need, would it not?”
“The lady swears not to bother you while you work,” she laughed, “promise.”
Gwendal thanked Julia for her consideration, and returned to his tasks. For a few moments, at least.
The scratching of pen against paper increased audibly. “Yes, Miss Julia?”
The young woman fiddled with the ends of her long white forelock. “What do you think of Adalbert?” she asked, softly.
“He is an adept soldier, and a good man.” Gwendal glanced up sharply. “Why?”
Julia didn’t answer, just stared distractedly at a place no one else could see. “Do you suppose,” she continued, as though he hadn’t replied, “that one can love more than a single person at once?”
“Julia,” the pen had ceased, the papers forgotten, his voice was stern. “Conrad is—”
“My closest friend, and possibly my soul mate.” Her smile, always warm and comforting, had grown so melancholy as to make his heart ache to look. “But it is not Conrad I am speaking of. There is another who I… who I have always had great respect and admiration for. And even though I do not know him as intimately as I would like, the more I learn of his character, the more I see of his deeds, and the more time I spend in his presence…” Julia’s hands moved unconsciously to clasp above her heart, “the more this familiar feeling grows within me. And I can’t help but think, Gwendal: if I were to pursue it, would it outstrip the feelings I have for Adalbert? Would I be doing us all an injustice, to keep these feelings a secret? Would we all be… happier, if I were to take the chance?” She dropped a hand to the desk, outstretched, her eyes boring unseeingly into his. “I don’t know what to do, Gwendal.”
He was not an idiot, and her words were but thinly veiled. He hadn’t known… but how could he? How could he have even guessed?
He took her hand, his fingers trembling. He told them to stop. She had been in the garden. The scent of Conrad Stands Upon The Earth clung to her clothing. He loved her, but everybody loved her. That was just the way it was.
“I think,” he choked, “that one should not abandon a safe haven for the slim chance of something better out on the horizon. Especially when… there is another haven nearby, if it comes to that.”
Her laugh was soft and sincere. “I knew you would say something like that. The two of you are just the same that way.”
All was silence for a few precious minutes as the failing light of dusk finally drifted into darkness. Too soon, she stood, the same as she had always been and always would be. “I hear your brother down the hall. I should go to him before he begins to worry.”
The goodbye was stiff and formal.
That night he dreamed of sky-blue laughter wrapped up in white silk, and of two reasons why it would never be his.