He was following her.
Evie knew Lionel was there.
Just as she’d known every time he’d been there.
Be she walking alone in Hyde Park, or passing down North Bond Street; an invisible whisp; bustling lords and ladies had moved by and through.
But he’d been there.
He, Lionel, with his harsh, ugly words.
Nay…truths. It had been Lionel with his truths.
Perhaps that had been what had been so difficult; why it had been so very easy to walk away from him that day. Because she didn’t want to imagine a world where she was unseen by her sisters and parents. She didn’t want to be forgotten because…she wasn’t ready to let go.
Seated on a stone bench off the busy-traveled paths of Hyde Park, Evie stared blankly out at the couple several paces away.
So close that they should hear her if she spoke…if she’d been living.
Their maid had been conveniently sent off, and they remained…alone, just the two of them, on their simple white blanket, eating a simple picnic of bread and apples and grapes, amidst a surprisingly empty, quiet park.
Just then, the dark-haired gentleman leaned close and whispered something into the ear of the lady, and a breathless laugh filtered from that woman’s lips, as she leaned into him. Against him.
Nay, they may not hear her, but she heard the whisper of a breathy sigh, as the handsome gentleman dipped his mouth, and claimed a kiss. The lady moaned, and clutched her fingers in his jacket, drawing him close; pressing herself against him.
As Evie watched the unknown man take his lady’s lips, something stirred low in her belly, past the envy and the regret…yearning. But a different longing than she’d known these past days and weeks and months since her passing. This was also a physical kind; but one that she felt; as a throbbing pressure between her thighs.
And then that kiss ended, and the couple pulled apart, speaking so very quietly to one another. Their gazes so perfectly locked, as they talked. The wind whipped and pulled a lone curl loose from the lady’s elegant coiffure and her sweetheart caught that strand, tucking it behind her ear.
Drawing her knees close to her chest, Evie wrapped her arms about her legs.
Mayhap she’d been wrong. Mayhap if she’d still been living and come upon them, they wouldn’t see her.
Fully absorbed, engrossed as they were, the gentleman and his lady were completely lost in a world made for only two.
Her chest ached. Her whole heart and being yearned so very desperately for a moment such as that, she hurt all over.
That was the cruelest part in death…that one could feel, and not only feel, but that those emotions were all the more…acute.
“Did you ever have one of those?” she asked quietly, not glancing back.
The gravel crunched under the heel of his boots.
And then, Lionel slid onto the far side of the bench beside her; sitting as far away as they might be upon the earthen seating. And despite all the distance she’d kept between them since their last parting, she yearned for him to move closer…so that she could feel him.
“Did I ever have ‘what’?” he glanced to the gentleman’s grey mare, grazing just over a slight rise. “A horse. Yes. Several in fact.”
She laughed. “Stop teasing.” And it filled her breast with a warmth and lightness that was a balm upon her soul that had been hurting for so very long. “You know what I’m speaking about. A sweetheart,” she said it aloud, anyway. Made herself speak it out loud. And oddly, in doing so, sharing those words with this man, hurt less.
At his silence, she glanced over.
And in that single syllable utterance she heard a trace of his own regret. “Me, neither,” she murmured. A sad-sounding to her own ears laugh spilled from her lips, and she turned her face away briefly from that couple she so envied. “I wanted that sort of love, though, L-Lionel,” Her voice broke. “I wanted it d-desperately.” To love so very hopelessly and helplessly and passionately and to be loved by someone overwhelmed by those same emotions for her.
Just then, the dark-haired gentlemen drew the lady’s fingers in his, and lifting it to his mouth, he placed a kiss upon the inseam; that place where her wrist met her hand.
It was too much.
She squeezed her eyes shut, and then something warm filled her hand…Lionel’s fingers, and he was drawing them close, and for a moment, she thought he was mimicking the movements of the lord and lady a stone’s throw away.
And her breath caught in her chest, and she wanted that forbidden touch, and that lingering caress of his mouth upon her wrist, as that woman now enjoyed.
But Lionel merely slid his fingers through hers; joining their digits, her skin radiated, tingling under his touch. And then, he gave a light squeeze.
And oddly, though not the caress she’d longed for, it was one she needed, and wanted…for different reasons. The solace and comfort he offered.
Before she’d turned away from him, because she’d not liked the truths he’d given her. She’d been wrong. She knew that now, and she welcomed his being here. Wanted him here so very much, and was grateful he’d not given up and ceased coming around.
Evie applied a gentle pressure to his long, sun-tanned fingers; gripping them in hers, and then she slid closer to him on the bench, so that their legs and shoulders and hips touched.
They sat in a safe, companionable, and comfortable silence for a long while; the faint murmuring of those sweethearts, the errant song of the occasional bird chirping, and the rustle of the leaves overhead made a gentle symphony of sounds around them.
Closing her eyes once more, Evie tilted her face up to the sun.
This wasn’t all bad. She felt the sun’s rays; and they were so very warm. She breathed deep. And she could smell the air around her; crisp and clean with the fragrant scent of flowering that filled the air.
“Summer is here,” he remarked, and Evie slowly opened her eyes; glancing around at the bushes and buds in full-bloom.
And she started, as the truth hit her. That was why Rotten Row had been so deserted these past days…because many members of Polite Society had begun to return to their country estates.
“Summer was always my favorite season,” Lionel remarked.
It had been hers, too. “I didn’t even know spring had passed,” she mused wistfully.
“Time is…funny, is it not?” he murmured.
It felt so very natural to lean her head against his shoulder. “You have a bizarre idea of what is ‘amusing’, Lionel,” she said without inflection.
“Peculiar, then,” he allowed. “Time doesn’t really exist in the same way when you pass.”
When you pass…
Not: When you were gone.
And the fact that he’d recalled her earlier upset with his choice of words, did something
“How do you do it?” Evie turned on the bench, so she faced Lionel directly. “Day in and day out, how do you exist in this…in this…in-between?” she implored, needing to know how to live in whatever state this was.
He shifted, matching her movements so they looked at one another. “Did you ever attend a Covent Garden production?” he asked suddenly, unexpectedly.
She nodded. A memory slipped in. “I have. It was the last event I was able to attend,” before she’d fallen too weak, and so ill that even leaving her bed had been an impossibility. “A production of Romeo and Juliet.”
“That, exactly,” he said, pointing a finger as he spoke. “That is what it is like. At the theatre, every one is looking everywhere, all at once; chattering, and prattling, lords secretly seducing their mistresses, actors on the stage going through their lines and performing the intricate steps of their dances. It is all going on, all at once, and you sit there, a silent observer through it, so much is on display that you rarely attract notice and all the while time just…goes.”
Time just…goes. Yes. That was it, exactly. Every moment rolled together, ambiguously twined so that a person didn’t know if— She froze, going completely motionless, as three words slipped through from all the ones he’d spoken. “Rarelyattract notice.”
Lionel went still as Evie herself. His midnight brows flared briefly, before returning to their regular place. He gave his head a shake. “I don’t know…”
Except, he’d said it, and Evie latched on. She scrambled up onto her knees. “You said so much is on display that you rarely attract notice…which means, people have seen you!” Excitement and joy whirled in her breast.
Color splotched his cheeks. “No. Yes.” She clapped happily, even as a frown darkened his expression. “That isn’t what I’m saying. I’m saying…there have been occasions where, I’ve…seemed to have had a connection, a shared moment that is, between myself and—oomph,” Evie launched herself at his chest; knocking him back on the bench. He grunted, as she came down over him.
She gripped the lapels of his jacket, and leaned so close their noses touched.
“That,” she breathed; feeling even more alive now, than when she’d existed in that world she’d since been expelled from. “You, Lionel Meadows, are going to teach me that.”