Fantastical Page 47

She squeezed again and let me go with an, “If you say so, my dear.”

Hmm. It would seem I needed to be better with my act, even, maybe especially with an old, blind lady.

“So, shall I start reading? Blanche will be back with the kids before we know it, mayhem will ensue and you won’t know if the pirate was able to cow the fair maiden to his will.”

She smiled a gentle smile. “Well, I can’t miss that.”

I opened the book to its marked page and mumbled, “Certainly not.”

I heard her quiet chuckle and I reached out a hand and squeezed her knee.

Aggie chirped a, “Read, Cora!” (he liked this story too).

So I let my friend go and started to read out loud.

Chapter Sixteen

The Only Thing I Needed

Tor’s hand tightened in mine. We’d just walked in his front doors and I was pulling away.

“Where are you going?” he enquired.

“I have to do something,” I said quickly and he stared down at me.

“What?”

“Something!” I cried, getting desperate. Time was wasting.

He gave me an assessing look then he told me something I already knew.

“Hurry, love, you don’t have much time.”

I nodded, got up on tiptoe, curled my fingers around the back of his neck, pulled him down to me and touched my lips to his.

“I’ll be back,” I whispered, let him go and started to rush to the kitchens.

The fireworks were going to start at any minute and Tor and I were going to watch them on our balcony, a balcony that jutted out further than any of the others and a balcony, incidentally, that anyone from anywhere in the village and on the sea could see.

This filled me with dread, being somewhere where everyone could see me with Tor (and they’d be watching).

But I had to admit that the day had been pretty fantastic.

Boris was right. Bellebryn knew how to give a party. The streets were filled with music. The businesses and houses were decorated with colorful garlands and bunting. There were puppet booths set up, giving free shows. Children dashed around with faces made up with face paint and circling vibrant streamers behind them. There were belly dancers, snake charmers and men eating fire performing for coins all of whom seemed, by the looks of them, to have come from faraway lands. The air was thick with clashing aromas because there were stands selling everything from roasted, honey-coated nuts to sausages on sticks to big, steaming pans filled with paella to flamboyantly swirling lollipops.

Around every wind of the cobbled street (and, as was his duty during this huge street party thrown in his honor, Tor strolled down and up (and down and up again) the entire street, his hand in mine or his arm around my shoulders or waist), people were dancing, swinging around and even I’d been swept into the frolicking. Though I didn’t know the steps, I did the best I could do, laughed at myself because, I had to admit, it was kind of fun and I pretended the joyous looks thrown my way were real.

It was fabulous.

It would have been magnificent if I could have really joined in and believed that Tor’s people loved me as much as they pretended to or even a hint of how much they very obviously loved him.

And now it was almost over, I was exhausted and I hadn’t had time to present him with his cake. The fireworks were the showstopper, ending the festivities at midnight. I had fifteen minutes to give him his cake or he wouldn’t get it on his birthday.

And he had to get it on his birthday.

I pulled up my skirts and I ran to the kitchens, coming to a skidding halt by my cake (I had found all the ingredients in the village, including the red food dye, thank God).

It looked magnificent and someone had put small, blue candles in it. I’d talked to Perdita days ago about birthday candles and she’d informed me, looking confused but humoring me, that they didn’t do birthday cakes here, but birthday tarts and they didn’t do candles but sparklers. I gave in on the sparklers and even though some people used them in my world, I was disappointed. I had wanted to give Tor a piece of my world, which included, traditionally, candles.

And there they were. And next to the cake was an oddly shaped, purple-wrapped package.

“Your grace,” I heard from my side and I jumped when I saw Perdita as well as half a dozen of the cooks and cooks-helpers standing behind her.

“Uh… heya, Perdita,” I replied, smiled and tipped my head to the women around her. “Eunice, Daphne, Sabina, Winnie, Pauline.”

I got a bunch of smiles and mumbled, “Your graces,” in return.

Then I looked back to Perdita. “You found candles.”

“Talked to Rocco, the candlemaker, had them made special,” she told me and I blinked.

“You had them made?” I whispered.

“Seemed important to you, your grace,” she whispered back and I blinked again, this time to blink away the tears that sprung to my eyes.

I knew she was doing it thinking she was avoiding my, then Tor’s, displeasure but that didn’t make me any less happy that I could give Tor a real from-my-world birthday cake, which was exactly what I wanted most to give him. I was so happy that I dashed to her and gave her a big hug with a loud, smacking kiss on her cheek.

Still holding her arms, I leaned back and whispered, “Thank you.”

Her hands pried mine from her arms but held them between us where she gave them a tight squeeze. “My pleasure, your grace,” she whispered back.

I smiled at her and then cast my smile around to the others before I raced back to the cake, saying, “And thanks for letting me use the kitchens.”

“We were honored to have you with us,” Eunice stated.

“Yes, it was fun!” Sabina put in and I looked at her.

It was fun. I had pretended then, too, when I was baking and they were cracking jokes and making an effort to include me in their frivolity, that it was authentic. I hadn’t cooked anything since I came to this world, except basting the rabbit that first night with Tor. I forgot how much I loved to do it. It was even better doing it for Tor. And even better, pretending to enjoy it around people who were pretending to like me. And, in a weird way, the whole thing worked.

“We’ll have to do it again,” I told Sabina, reaching for the cake.

“Wait!” Daphne cried and the women rushed forward as I stilled.

“This is for you,” Pauline said, picking up the package and handing it to me.

“For me?” I asked, taking it and studying her.

“Yes, for you,” Winnie stated.

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