I didn’t always steal beautiful things. I hopped over rocks and red and blue flower beds, holding the wooden box to my chest. I stopped to catch my breath on the green hill overlooking the pond and saw, gleefully, Lily sitting on a blanket at the far end, her face angled to the sun. I ran the length of the pond and plopped down next to her in a fit of breathlessness.
She snapped out of her peace and began giggling at my entrance.
“Jo, what is the urgency? Should I be frightened?” She asked mockingly, pulling a strand of her hair behind her ear.
I nodded, a wild look in my eyes. “Yes. When Mrs. Danfield discovers the box missing, she will surely create a secret search party.”
Lily’s eyes fell to where I held the box protectively in my hands.
“You took it all?” She grinned mischievously and pulled the box from me, lifting the lid.
I tucked my legs under me and sat back.
“I…It all seemed too perfect? Truly perfect and she would ruin it. She would…” I threw my hands up, trying to conjure the image. “She would burn it all and summon something terrible, something biblical!”
Lily threw her head back laughing, her pearly teeth shining. “You are so fanciful, Miss Josephine Lemmons. Don’t fret; she’ll never find out who did it. She still doesn’t know who stole her copy of The Great God Pan.”
I reached out quickly and gripped her wrist. “You didn’t…”
She smirked and refused to look at me. She always bit her thin lips before telling a secret.
Lily laughed wholeheartedly again and nodded. “I loved it to pieces and she wouldn’t let anyone even touch it. For good reason too –it offers more education than this school in its entirety.”
I put my hands under my calves and pushed my weight onto them. It certainly taught more than was recommended. I would never read such a morally repugnant book, but Lily loved to read and from every subject, even the sinful ones. Could an education like that be good for her? She was bound to find a husband as soon as school was finished. Perhaps a book was better than a man. Even Lily would agree with me on that.
“Shall we put it all in the tree?” She asked, taking out each item one by one and inspecting them carefully with a delicate touch.
I nodded, watching the tree past her shoulder. It was a looming Manchester poplar with a thick hollowed-out knot taller than us just so we could reach in and hide away our treasures. It was the most perfect tree. It sat at the furthest side of the pond that most of the other students didn’t bother to explore. That also meant teachers kept their distance.
We put different things inside the knot. Lillian sought beautiful things. Torn silk ribbons, broken pieces of jewelry, and once she even found a gold coin that rolled in from the street through the gate. She began jumping holding it up so it glinted light around her like she stole the sun’s attention. Lillian says gold used to be quite popular, especially in Rome. It wasn’t a gold coin, at least not a Roman one, but I dared not say. I cared more for forgotten things. A piece of broken teacup, candle stubs with short wicks, and what I found yesterday, a small bust of Shakespeare with the top of his head chopped clean off. I found it under the window of Madame Dupuy’s class where she probably chucked him out during class to prove one of her flourished points of poetic art and theatrical deviance.
The tree was ours and I feared the day it no longer was. We were growing so fast. My knees were still knobby and my hair a vast wasteland of braids which was Lily’s feeble attempt to help me be presentable. She was no longer the child I remained. She had grown into her shoulders and chest and her hair was soft and golden. She acted as if we were the same, though clearly, we were not. I was only a year behind, but I could see decades between us.
“What is this?”
I looked up and saw her holding up a tall card. I took it from her and looked closely.
It was about the size of my hand with faded drawings of people within a thin black border. One was a young man leaning over a table covered in knives, balls, and short broken branches. Once carefully painted now worn and faded. The figure wore a large hat and gestured out of the picture with a short wand. Below him was “Le Batelevr.”
“No idea. Do you know what the bottom means?”
“No, which is a real shame. What was the point of living in Paris every summer if I can’t translate some mysterious card?”
“It’s very odd…Maybe we should get rid of them?”
Lillian shook her head and tried to pull it out of my hand. “Oh no, these are fantastically strange things.”
“You aren’t suggesting…”
“Maybe they’re magic?”
I laughed and collapsed onto the grass. “Magic? Certainly not…Even if they have a fearful look to them.” I looked at her and realized I could see her more clearly with the rays of sun peeking through the tree limbs.
Her skin was kissed with sun, soft and speckled with freckles. Her brown eyes were always curious and demanding. Thin blonde waves blew across her face with each gentle breeze. Her nose was small and perfectly rounded. Her cheekbones struck me most, sharp under skin and never red like my own. She felt like a desired reflection, one sought after midnight somewhere dark and forbidding. However far better than my own reflection, for she was right next to me.
She rolled her eyes, letting go of the card, then looked over. Her smile dropped and her eyes widened. I turned my head around and saw Mrs. Dansfield standing with Headmistress Martin. Both stared sternly at us both, and Mrs. Dansfield, with her frizzled black hair, curled her lip at me.
“Miss Lemmons and Miss Albrecht, you both are to come with us. A discussion needs to be had,” Mrs. Martins said, disappointed.
Mrs. Dansfield twitched her nose like a pig at the air and said with her top lip scrunched up and nearly touching her nostrils, “Let me talk to Ms. Albrecht. If we split them up, we can get a better idea of how this insolence occurred.”
The Headmistress folded her hands and nodded sorrowfully. “Very well. Girls, come along.”
I held the card to my chest and Lily held onto the box and the four of us walked back like surviving soldiers after a long battle back into the main hall.
The sun disappeared quickly behind a cloud and I opened my eyes to Lily standing over me. “You’re alive!”
She knelt down and hugged me, her chest pressing into me.
“Of course I’m alive. Mrs. Martins wasn’t going to have me hung, drawn, and quartered–”
Lily walked over to the pond’s edge and looked in, placing her hands on her hips. “Mrs. Dansfield wanted blood, let me tell you. She broke the box! I’ve never seen a woman so full of rage. I hope I never become that.”
I stood quickly. “She broke it? What a foul thing. If she is to have no goodness, then no one is.”
“It was truly dreadful, Jo. She is only like that because her husband sleeps in a separate bed and takes baths in sock water.”
I stifled a laugh which caused Lillian to knit her eyebrows, full of seriousness. “It is not funny…I know I won’t be like that. Even if my husband is a cobbler or a drunk, I won’t…” She stopped herself as she looked to the pond’s surface.
I raised myself up on my elbows and said plainly, “You don’t have to marry, you know.”
Lillian shook her head and said more softly, “Yes, I do Jo. My father…” She stopped herself again, then turned back to me, her usual cheer dulled.
“My father expects me to return home, during all breaks, after school, and for the rest of my life. He wants me–” Her voice broke. She closed her eyes and composed herself before continuing. “If I want to have a home of my own, I need to marry. Before school ends.”
She looked back to the water and kicked a few pebbles in, disturbing the still water.
“You could earn a vocation? I am quite excited about the aspect of secretary school–”
“I can’t. I won’t…I’ve never done such a thing.” She scoffed. “And if I fail, I would have to go back to him. I don’t have your talent or your determination or your forgiving home, Jo.”
I felt my nails dig brutally into the earth. She was always hesitant to talk about her father, but when she did, the hatred was loud. He introduced himself during the beginning of the school year. A rotund belly filled with excess and a red beard oiled to a sack shape. He’d looked down at me through tiny circled frames and asked in a booming voice if I wanted to visit during Christmas. Lillian had jumped in of course, saying I was taking a holiday elsewhere and would be unable to. He’d clicked his tongue against his teeth and said, “Pity.”
“Luckily for you, there are plenty of toads in this water who would love a kiss. A prince is better than a cobbler by far.”
That pulled a smile from Lily; she raised her pale linen skirt and placed a foot into the water.
“It’s nearly tepid–”
“Lily, don’t, you’ll come out freezing with nothing to warm you or even to dry off. You’re ill-prepared.”
She looked over, and cocked her head. “So you won’t join me?”
I shook my head sharply and raised myself to sit, sticking to my spot.
She shrugged and scrunched up her blouse, the intricate white lace crinkling, and asked over her shoulder, “Is anyone near?”
I looked behind us. I saw and heard nothing from the small cluster of trees that hid the back street. There was no one present but us around the pond.
“No one, but me.”
“You don’t count, you silly filly.”
I twitched my nose. “What phrase is that? Did one of the other girls teach you that?”
She pulled her blouse off and threw it next to me. “Madeline Jameson quite enjoys rhymes. If she has a nimble of port, she’s full of them.”
“That sounds cruel…Do you mean it in jest?”
Lillian kicked over her skirt, turned in her cream chemise, and walked backwards into the pool, the water meeting at her ankle.
“I don’t mean to be cruel. In all honesty, your company is the only one I can bear–”
She said something else, but my attention was captured by the sun peeking from the cloud and hitting her perfectly at the water’s edge. If this sight was seen centuries ago in Greece, the viewer would be convinced that this subject was praised by Apollo himself. The gods have their favorites.
“Jo? Aren’t you listening?”
She had sunk now waist deep, moving her arms through the water.
“I asked if the headmistress took the card?”
I exhaled a breath I didn’t realize was being held. “Oh…No. She said it could only be kept if I appreciated it and its importance–”
“She said someone had made them for divination. They were hand-painted so they must have been very special to whoever owned them.”
“That’s brilliant! So did you add it to our collection?”
I nodded and held my knees to my chest, rubbing my thumb nail.
“We must be careful from now on. I was given a warning about…our friendship. Martin’s fearful we may get in the way of what we are to take away from the Hibbert School–”
“At least she was kind in her suggestion. Mrs. Dansfield told me that I was to avoid you at all costs. You know what I said?”
“I told her I pitied her to not understand closeness. It was a dreadful thing to be so alone.”
I gasped. “What on earth did she say to that?”
Lily winced and began getting out, the chemise sticking to her thin frame.
“She didn’t find that words would get her message across, so she simply gave me a lashing on my arm. Oh, and said I am not allowed to go to the fete tomorrow. No sweet buns and hymns for me.”
She walked out and kneeled on the grass, offering her forearm to me. I took it and saw across her olive skin a thin and long violet bruise.
“It doesn’t hurt…” she said, watching my face turn and tremble at the sight.
“I’m sorry I got you into this.”
“It was an effort on both our parts–”
“Luckily, you’re leaving within the year. You won’t have to be bothered by Mrs. Dansfield or…”
Tears began pouring from my eyes, dripping onto her arm. She tsked then reached out for me, pulling me into a tight hug.
She said in a quiet secretive voice, “I’ll write every day and I’ll visit, of course, I’ll visit.”
A bell rang out across the grounds, two loud hits.
Lily pulled away and grabbed her blouse and skirt. “Dinner is to start and I am looking as if I drowned.”
“I could save you a seat or even some food if you don’t come down in time?”
“That would save a headache. Thanks, Jo!” She rushed off, putting the blouse and skirt on quickly. All you could see from under the tree was the stretch of hill and the pointed tops of the dual spires made of scrubbed limestone that seemed to tetter every winter. I saw Lily reach the top of the hill, wave quickly, then disappear on the other side of the path.
I stood, briefly rubbing my own bare forearm.
The next day at noon, students were let out early to celebrate St. George’s Day. All of us exited from our classes and calmly walked out of the main doors except for myself, who languished the whole affair. If I could just sneak off to Lillian’s room, we could celebrate the day together and she wouldn’t have to see it as such a punishment. I let the other girls skip in front of me and followed further behind, my shoes clicking on the front stone steps. Then I saw Lily at the side gate grinning ear to ear. My smile began and fell when I saw it was an older man, gripping the gate with one hand and leaning his head against it. He was absorbing every word she was saying feverishly. He nodded and smiled, charmed.
I walked up briskly behind her and asked, coldly, “Who’s this?”
The man looked up with dark blue eyes and greasy brown hair. He grinned suddenly and asked in a thick Irish accent, “This her then?”
Lily nodded and pulled me closer, just a few inches from his face. “Jo, I was just telling him about our recent trouble-making.”
I snapped my head over to her. “Why would you tell some stranger about that?”
Lily scoffed and was about to say something when the man interrupted her.
“Lets’ fix that, shall I? Name is Marcus and I’m…”
She grabbed my arm and said happily, “He’s a magician!”
Unimpressed, I pulled Lily back. “We should really go–”
“Just watch, Jo.”
He smiled at Lily and produced a thick gold coin. He flicked it through his fingers, held it up and squeezed it in his palm, and opened it to show nothing.
“It’s some parlour trick.” I said, trying to move away once more, but the man moved his hand through the bars to point at me.
“Check yer hair.”
I reached up behind my left ear and felt something thick in the frizz. I pulled out the coin from its position. I held it up, my heart racing. He stood there smugly and proud of my confusion.
“That’s not even the real magic. I’ve done all sorts, the mundane, the maddening–It’s good fun. You’d like it.” He winked at me, sending a shiver down my spine.
He flicked his eyes to Lily, who returned with a moon-eyed stare. She looked positively foolish.
“Magic tricks only work on children,” I said proudly, crossing my arms across my chest.
He grinned this terrible smile, all teeth with the corners of his mouth pulled back. I didn’t want to unpack the wild look growing in his eye.
“Tricks yeah, but not real magic. Real magic isn’t something to toy with.” He rolled his tongue over his teeth.
Lillian pouted her lips, trying to mimic the picture of Sarah Bernhardt that she kept on her nightstand. “You can do that then?” she asked, cocking her head and leaning against the gate.
“Aye” was all he said, setting his head against the gate bar, parallel to her.
I pulled Lillian back and said, “Magic isn’t real. Lillian. He is just trying to beg for money–”
She wriggled out of my grasp and stared at me with a raised eyebrow and sour expression. “Josephine, where on earth are your manners? I didn’t realize you had the social graces of a Scottish goat.”
I stepped back, clutching my chest, feeling as though a wound was forming.
Lillian gave an exasperated sigh and turned back to Marcus. “Forgive her, she…she is guarded.”
He gave a long look, one strangely familiar. “She should be. It’s a chaotic world out here; you never know who could sneak in.”
Bastard. “And what are your intentions? We have no money and we aren’t to leave school grounds, so I see no usefulness to you,” I asked, folding my arms tightly under my chest.
He clicked his tongue and said, “Just because you don’t see it, don’t mean it isn’t there.”
“Get away from the gate!”
Lillian and I moved back and saw Mrs. Martins, picking up her skirts from the stairs and marching over. Her back was perfectly straight, giving her the air of utmost grace and reserve. She was a stunning maid. She had given her youth to protect and teach the girls who had entered our Hibbert School. The years were stolen from her, but they were not thankless.
“Girls, go to East Hall for the celebration.”
Lillian piped up, “Ma’am, I’m not allowed. I was just helping Mr…”
I shot her an impatient look. Was she to defend him? To uphold his honor which he obviously lacked.
“Now. Your punishment will further be discussed later,” Mrs. Martins said, without a tone of desperation or anger, but it was unmoving and it was to be followed.
We walked solemnly past the steps onto the uneven stone path that ran the length of the school. I paused at the side of the West Hall, looking past the washed white stone bricks and saw he was shaking her hand, amicable.
“You’ve heard then?”
I bit into the soft red apple then passed it to her, replying, “Heard what?”
She bit into it as well then said, “Apparently there is to be a show this Friday. Courtesy of that magician.”
She held it out, but I didn’t take it.
“Performing? How on earth did he manage that?”
She looked to me, eyebrows knitted together, letting her hand drop into her lap. “He is, and I, for one, am excited–He said he was going to perform a real trick before you spoiled it.”
She tried to hide the disappointment in her voice. She offered the apple once more.
I crossed my arms and said, “You seemed quite entranced with him. I’m surprised he didn’t perform it already.”
She didn’t respond to that.
I thought he was gone by now. The red came to my cheeks. I rubbed them angrily.
“He shouldn’t be here. What are we to do with a show?”
“Do you not get bored here? It’s so dreary. It makes me miss Munich.”
I picked up a stick and began to mess with a small pile of rocks by the water’s edge. “I thought you hated Munich.”
She stuck her tongue to her molar and scoffed. “I hate living with my father. I miss living in civilization.”
I set my chin on my left shoulder and asked, “I don’t think anyone would accuse Northern England of being uncivilized.”
She laughed, then pretended to cough into her hand.
“Stop it. I’m trying to be mad at you.”
“Please don’t be. You understand why I dislike him so much, surely?”
Lillian began picking at the tilted blades of grass. “Because he was focused on me and not you.”
I huffed and said in soft desperation, “Of course not. It’s because he is much older and–”
Lillian stood and put her hands on her hips. “He is not much older than most suitors.”
“You’ve just turned seventeen…”
“We aren’t children, Jo! We shouldn’t be so lost in childish things. I was…” She stopped, her bottom lip trembling. “I was going to gift you a typewriter so you could write me once I leave. Now you’ve ruined it.” She gathered up her skirts and walked under the polar’s shade.
I stepped on the edge of the shadow and begged, “Nothing has to change. We don’t have to change, not for any man or each other…I want you to be happy-”
“Exactly what I want, which is why I wish to marry someone fun.”
“Fun? You may as well marry a carnival performer.”
“Perhaps I will, and you’ll be a maid and waste away like Mrs. Dansfield…” She had gone too far and knew it. My lip trembled a moment.
I turned on my heel and marched up the side of the grassy hill.
After walking onto the pavement between the hill and main hall, I heard a whistle. I wouldn’t have given it a thought, but it felt direct, like a bird call. I turned and saw a man inside the gate, the Magician.
He shouldn’t be here, not inside.
I began walking briskly through the main doors. My pace quickened feeling his eyes on my back.
How on earth did he get in?
She wasn’t there. Mrs. Dansfield just paused over Lily’s seat when taking attendance and never said a word about it. I kept staring at it as if she would appear suddenly, but her seat was bare and the gnawing of her pencil absent. After class concluded, I walked with slow and careless steps so I could spot her coming around some sharp corner or pausing in a doorway, but nothing. I thought I saw the bouncing of her braid, but it was gone when I blinked. While sitting in Practical Sewing, I thought I heard the clacking of her favorite Parisian shoes, but I couldn’t be sure. While threading my needle through the end of a pillow sack that looked more like a hood, I thought, she’ll be at the lake waiting for me, I know it. I stabbed my thumb when thinking of what she would say.
Class ended promptly at 11:30, which left me 10 minutes to rush down before lunch began. I grabbed a handful of my skirt and ran out of the school with my writing books pinned to my side with my right arm. I made it to the top of the hill and shielded my eyes from the sun. A figure sat beneath our tree, but it was impossible to make out. I rushed down the hill, collecting grass stains at the end of my skirt and skidding on the wet grass fresh with dew. I was a few yards away when I saw painfully clearly it wasn’t Lily.
It was Marcus lounging against the tree. He had one knee to his chest and leaned an arm on it with a wide-brimmed hat hiding his face. He looked like a ridiculous version of the men I grew up around, drunk miners napping on their break. I stepped carefully toward him, dropping my skirt, stepping on it carelessly. When I made it to the shadow of the tree, he raised his head, finally showing his red-streaked cheeks and an apple in his mouth. He pulled it out, a clear-cut impression of his teeth in its flesh.
“You made it.”
My mouth dropped then raised, my chin sticking out proudly. “Lily…”
He shrugged, throwing the apple up in the air and then catching it. “She stepped out. Went to the kitchen to grab me a bite.”
“She…Sshe’s feeding you now?” I…I didn’t mean to ask that. I didn’t.
He offered the apple to me which I didn’t even humor. “Your school is giving me a good ‘mount of money, but not till after the show. Luckily, I have kindness to rely on.”
I felt the bile rise up in my mouth. I had to turn my head away. “How can she not see it…” I whispered it under my breath, a thought that kept running through my mind and sticking to each side.
He leaned his head against the tree, the hat brim folding in. He was watching me again in that strange familiar way that touched me since the first day he arrived.
“Money…” I said suddenly, stepping in the shade of the tree. “That’s what you want, right?”
He didn’t respond, just raised an eyebrow.
“I can give you money. More than the school and I’d give it…”
“You couldn’t…” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“I have it. In jewelry and cloth, and, and…” My mind escaped me and I said curtly, “I will give you anything just to leave us alone.”
“You…” I bit my tongue, hard.
He leaned forward, staring up at me in some mock hopelessness. “You…You what? Should I not say her name? Should I test out what happens if I do?”
I dug my heels into the dirt, my face turned deep red and a vein popping in the center of my forehead.
“Don’t.” It was all I could manage to say.
He got on his knees, and looked up at me like a parishioner begging for confession in church.
It sounded like a pop of a shooting rifle. The noise blanketed what I did next. I screamed, a hollow shrill scream that tightened my chest. He didn’t look frightened, he looked more intrigued. That made the world blur around me. I grabbed ahold of his shirt and began ripping at the cloth, handfuls, and just pulled. The threads snapped and the right sleeve came off in my hand. He still didn’t stop me, just looked at me more disappointed. I reached for the red scarf around his neck and pulled, jerking his head forward like strangling a doll.
Then he put his hands over my wrists and held them. I stopped, feeling the touch awfully chilly and almost seeping into my skin.
“Josephine, it doesn’t have to be like this,” he said, the grip softening.
I dropped my hands, frightful suddenly of the feeling sunk deep through my fine hairs and freckles.
The bell rang loud over the property, causing a family of birds to rise from the trees and fly across the sky.
He sighed, picked himself up, and straightened his scarf. As he was straightening it further he said, “This is what’s gonna happen. You are going to stand by, wishing me dead while I get my way. It’ll happen now and it’ll happen over and over again.” He put his hand to his chest and sighed. “I’m sorry.”
He walked away, past the trees and onto the handmade path back onto the main road. Frozen at the pond, I pressed my own hand to my chest, feeling the sickening quick beat of my heart.
The banner above the East Hall’s front door announced “Marcus Magnus Presents.” Danielle and Mary Vaughn were failing to put up the accompanying poster inside the foyer due to an argument of the placement. I made my way swiftly under the banner into the theater. Other girls were milling about, setting up the rest of the chairs and helping Madame Dupuy set up a large bowl of lemonade and cookies the size of compasses and just as tasteless. I looked around the room for Lillian who surely would have arrived sooner. It had been over a day since seeing her and I was fearful I would have forgotten her face.
Finally I saw her exiting the side of the dusty red curtain with a happy but nervous expression. She was pressing her thumb between her front of her teeth, a tell-tale sign she was planning on doing something devious. I had seen the expression before, many times.
She skipped down the stage steps and went over to Madame Dupuy to help. Then she saw me. She looked like she was about to say something aloud, but she closed her mouth and turned back to Dupuy with a more solemn expression.
What had he done to her? I stepped toward her unconsciously, but doubled back. I was only here to do one thing.
He stared at himself in the mirror of the dressing room. He turned his head to see the vein thick on his neck and the dull shadow of a beginning beard. Carefully I entered, then his eye turned on me in the mirror’s reflection.
“You’re late,” he said, making direct eye contact.
“I–I–” All my bravery had left me. I could feel what I wanted to say, the screams and thrashing, but it added to nothing. Nothing I did would reveal any truth to Lily. Nothing…
Marcus broke into my thoughts. “No speech? No declarations? I’m disappointed.” He stood and dropped something into a small dish with a metal clank.
My lip quivered and I croaked, “Go. Please.” My voice barely sounded like my own.
He hooked a hand into his neck scarf and grinned menacingly.
“I know what you are…” he began, his Irish accent prominent.
My tongue rattled in my mouth, too angry to say anything.
“You are lying to yourself.” He looked away from the mirror and took a step toward me.
I stepped back. “I am not.”
“Indeed ya are.” One more step.
“You, sir, know nothing of me–”
“I know you, and Miss Lillian, and with that, I know a great deal.”
I stepped back, blood pumping into my clenched fists.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
He held out of his hands. “Aye, not of me, but you are tongue-tied and scared. I’m not allowed to say of what.”
He advanced forward methodically. I stepped backwards, stepping on sheets of strewn paper and cracked beads from old costumes.
“I am not…I am…” My voice quivered saying it, the anger slipping.
“Ya are.” He was close now, I could see the unevenly-stitched spades in his waistcoat.
“I don’t like this.”
He nodded, licking his lips. “Good.”
I stepped into the wall, pressing my palms against the striped wallpaper. He stopped in front of me, the smell of old paper rich on his skin.
“What do you want from me?” I said it through shaking lips. He knelt to look me in the eye, his green-fleckedbrown eyes nearly matching my own.
“I want you to say it.”
He slammed his hand above my head.
“She’s taken to me. Lillian, darling thing, she said she likes me dress and me charm and me ability…She asked to meet me late tonight…by the pond.”
My eye twitched, I grabbed him by his waistcoat and jerked him to me. “Don’t speak of her or to her. Erase her from your mind.”
He tsked, “If only I could. I’ve taken a fancy to her.”
I pushed him back hard, his foot tripping over the other. He steadied himself.
“I like her, love her even. How her hair moved in the breeze, how the silk collected to her legs when she walked out of the pond–” His voice drifted off as my head found the image. It was the day before we had met him.
“You…you were watching us? How…”
The anger flooded my mind, but something was sticking.
“No…We were alone. It was just us then…”
He dropped his smile and nodded.
I opened my mouth, then closed it.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and waited.
I looked wildly as if the answer was floating between us. Lillian and I were alone then I was sure of it, but my attention did drift. I was watching her and unwilling to get into the pond myself. I swore she looked–
He interrupted my thoughts, “She looked divine as if she worshipped some sun god.”
My eyes grew wide.
He looked like he understood. “You must say the truth, Josephine. Say what you have been unable to say. I can’t say it for you.”
“I….” I felt it in my chest, like the words were ironclad and sunk to the bottom. “I can’t…She’ll never understand.”
He shook his head. “No matter.”
My hands shook, going to my mouth, the shock sinking in. “I think I….”
He exhaled a deep breath and closed his eyes.
I moved my hands to my chest and moved them over my heart.
“I love her…I love Lily.”
I blinked quickly and he was gone. The room was still except the nearby sound of chairs scraping against the floor in the theatre. My breath quivered and the lump in my throat dropped away. Where Marcus stood was something fam-liar. I walked over and picked it up. In my hands was Le Batelevr.
“Josephine, you must tell what Miss Albrecht’s involvement was? Did she tell you to take it?” the headmistress asked sternly.
I wrung my hands, boring holes into them. Meekly I said, “She did no such thing. I…I took it in fear it would be discarded or unappreciated.”
“To what end, dear? This could very well be the beginning to a life of vice…”
I looked up quickly and scooted forward in the chair.
“If that may be, it is from not accepting consequences of my own actions. Lillian had nothing to do with it. Lily is…She’s…Well, she deserves much more than I.”
Ms. Martin let out a heavy sigh, then picked up the card and tapped it on the table. “You are much too hard on yourself.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…If I could, I would give her goodness…I don’t mean in character, I mean in security and comfort. She wants to marry and shed her goodness only to honor some man who knows nothing of her–” I stopped, seeing Ms. Martin’s expression softened, and she gripped the card more tightly.
“I understand, Josephine…I developed very close relationships when I was your age as well. I understand completely. I also see you will adjust your ways accordingly to not steal or collect more treasures that were not bought by your own hand, understood?”
I nodded fiercely.
She offered the card to me, which I accepted.
“See to it that you treasure that card. It’s a very unique item.”
“How so, Mrs. Martin?”
“It’s a divination card. My aunt was a fond collector for peculiar things. She showed me one very similar when I was younger than you. They are used to uncover truths, whether it be the future or the present. I believe this card, when pulled, means it is now the time to manifest your true desire,s or how my aunt put it, all you need to do is say what you want and the Almighty will grant it…But my aunt was quite fanciful,” she said with a small smile.
I looked at it lovingly. “Do you think it can?”
She pulled her glasses off and folded them. “I think cards like that are simply a medium that we cast our own wants and desires onto and only interpret them how we want. If you were to pull it, you would read it in a way that interprets your own wants and desires. I do hope you cherish it. You will put it somewhere safe, yes?”
I put the card to my chest and said, “Yes, I will.”