I love mornings. Waking up to mellow sunlight filtering through the drapes, my buzzing mind rested and peaceful. I like to start them all with a smile and pull the sheets up around me, cocoon myself in the knowledge that everything is good so far and that I have all the time in the world. I always take a moment to think of what the day will be like. Sit up, clench my toes and yawn one last time. Brush my hair, open the drapes, let some fresh air in. The birds that like to perch on my balcony sing tunes of a new day and dewdrops that smell crisp and fresh quiver on the petals of my roses. My hairbrush lies, waiting for me, on my bureau next to a bowl of water brought while I was sleeping. I pick it up and run it slowly through my tangled hair. My eyes are bright in the mirror and I can't help smiling at myself. My teeth are pearly white and waking up has splotched my cheeks with subtle pink. I am in an unusually good mood and even Maria, when she comes in to help me dress and do my hair, is surprised. "Someone had a good night's sleep," she murmurs, not unpleased, as I beam at her. "Very much so, Maria," I confirm happily. Yesterday was a success. Even Clarence doesn't know, but the first time I ever went out by myself I met Alistair: the rather spoiled son of a former general. I was exploring the streets, marveling at what it feels like to be alone at last. I first saw him stumbling out of a tavern, obviously under the influence of alcohol, a rather angry looking man at his heels. He slipped and fell and after being kicked a few times he was left, curled and for some reason grinning ridiculously, in the mud. I walked a bit faster, remembering my mother's warnings about strange men and the things they are capable of, but he grabbed my ankle as I passed by. I screamed, kicked him in the face and took off running as he swore fluently. That night I ran as fast as I could back the mansion, my heart pounding in my chest, and promised myself I would never leave by myself again. But as it happened, my curiosity got the better of me and the next week I went out again, cautiously now. I am a naturally a very curious person and so, just to find out, I very stupidly went into the same street I had run away from the week before. I passed by the same tavern and there, sure enough, was the drunk man who had grabbed my ankle. He seemed sober now and was out front with a few of his friends, undoubtedly laughing at some dirty joke. Even from across the street I could still see the shadow of a bruise bloomed across his cheek. Studying his face I also took in his dark Italian eyes, straight nose and dangerous grin. I was born and raised learning how to rank people's social status by how they look, dress and carry themselves and to me it was obvious that he wasn't from common stock. Sometime during my studying, he caught my gaze and according to his raised eyebrows and slightly open mouth it was apparent that he recognized me. It took all my strength not to run away as fast as I could in the opposite direction as he excused himself from his friends and headed towards me. But I stood my ground and tried to make it as obvious as I could that I wasn't feeling apologetic while he approached. He pointed at me, never mind pleasantries and said,
"You kicked me in the face."
I, good at controlling the situation when confronted, retort emotionless.
"You grabbed my ankle."
Stupid Drunkard, as I had decided to call him no matter how rude it sounded, glared. He was younger than I thought he was, probably younger than even Clarence but still older than me. I would think he wasn't used to women who stood their ground and for a second he seemed at a loss for words. Finally his mouth tightened.
"Sorry. I mistook you for someone who would help a person in need."
I waved him off effortlessly.
"Oops, my bad. I didn't realize that the term "person in need" has descended down to drunk men who lie like pigs in the mud. You probably deserved it too, I saw that man chase you out."
I saw a flash of hurt flash across his face, my words do that people often, but this time I felt a prick of regret. Maybe it was his good looks, maybe it was the fact that I caught a glimpse of his child-like vulnerability before his stony mask was quickly replaced. Maybe it was because he reminded me of myself. But for some reason I found myself apologizing, the one thing I had no intention of doing. I grimaced.
"Excuse me, I'm being rude. I don't know what got into me."
Stupid Drunkard's face softened a bit.
"I guess I might have startled you a bit."
He paused, then laughed, full and hearty.
"You are a lady after all."
He emphasized lady and raised an eyebrow with a heart-stopping grin. I am not one to be won over easily, or swoon, but in that second I could swear I almost lost the ability of speech and the world spun before my eyes. I too laughed.
"I am not quite so delicate. But that would explain the bruise."
He smiled at me, no holds barred. He pointed to his face, fake confusion playing in his eyes.
"What, this little thing? But it's so dainty!"
For some reason feeling like every nerve in my body was tingling, I giggled. Then I stopped, horrified at myself. What was I doing, acting like an idiot in front of this stranger? I hardened, but remembering that I still wanted to keep a good impression kept my face neutral.
"So are we understood? I mean, no hard feelings?"
He nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets boyishly. His face was sheepish.
"I was a bit rude, wasn't I?"
I agreed, but only after assuring him that I too wasn't being my most mannerly at first. Once settled into an awkward silence, he stuck his hand out.
"Alistair. Alistair Gibson."
Taking a while to process that he was introducing himself, I stood dumb before answering appropriately.
"Oh-Roslyn. I'm Roslyn. Roslyn Bates."
None of the women in my family shake hands, although apparently it's not totally uncommon in these modern times, but I still grabbed Alistair's hand firmly and he enthusiastically pumped it once.
"Bates as in the mayor Mr. Bates?"
I couldn't help but laugh at his surprise.
"Yes. He's my father. He doesn't talk about me much so I'm not surprised you don't know."
He shook his head in mock disappointment.
"And to think that this oh so dainty little gal is the daughter of the regal, all powerful mayor... Tsk, tsk. What is the world coming to?"
I shot him a look and he lowered his chin as to hide his amusement. Once he had it out of his system, he combed a hand through his hair and exhaled. He met my eyes.
We smiled at each other as if old friends. I couldn't help but wonder if he felt it too, that strange connection, the spark that I felt. Perhaps it was just my stupid girlish longings towards an attractive member of the opposite gender.
"So... maybe I'll see you sometime?" Alistair asked. I nearly laughed, it was such an awkward question, but replied in the affirmative.
"Of course I'll know where to find you."
He nodded, already walking away backwards, a grin on his face.
"Always. When next?"
I too felt as if my mission is done, and stepped away.
"Who knows? But don't worry. I'll be back."
Turning around I heard his faint chuckle and when I looked over my shoulder I found he was doing the same. Our eyes met briefly. We exchanged grins, each surprised, and went back into the normal patterns of "the usual" with a feeling of satisfaction. Walking home with the stars to guide me I felt something new, something I had never felt my entire life until now.
Now every week or so, unless I get caught or have something to attend to, we meet in front of the tavern. After about two months I trusted him enough to tell him about the secret door in the vegetable garden and he told me how his mother had died of an unknown sickness four years before. At four months I met his father, drunk and angry, in search of an Alistair in hiding. At five months he told me of his older half-brother, who abandoned his family at a time of need for a well paying job, and I told him about how I hated my father. At six months I kissed him and he kissed me back. At eight months he told me of his plans to marry me once I am grown and of the beautiful house we will own on the beach. He says we'll have four children, three rowdy boys and one sweet girl. Now it's getting harder to get away but he says we'll make it. I believe him because I believe he loves me. And because I love him. I only worry about one thing. He doesn't know who I am truly. My reputation somehow escaped him, the one person I love in this world. I am glad, lucky, but it's something that eats away at me and I know that someday he will find out. I can only hope he overlooks it.