Soulmates

Maybe we're not meant to meet our soulmates. Not immediately, at least. Sometimes, it just takes a few trys... Or a few lifetimes.

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2. Ani and Edmund

 

‘It’s a C’, Madam Howze corrected, her voice laced with a bitter sense of kindness. Ani nodded as she continued on the piano, using every note possible – excluding a C, ‘I know’. Howze forced a smile, her patience growing thin, as it often did around Ani.

‘Aniara – ’

‘Ani’. Howze grit her teeth, ‘Miss’, she exaggerated, refusing to use the girl’s name. ‘If you wish to play the piece well, it would be preferable that you play the right keys’. Ani smiled, shaking her head, ‘I don’t think I want to, thank you. Nobody ever advanced by being the same as everyone else’.

Many people do actually, you may do well to follow their footsteps, Aniara’.

‘Ani’.

Fine’, Howze spat. ‘Miss Ani’. She wasn’t quite satisfied, but Ani supposed it would do. Her fingers relaxed as the musical piece was cut short and Ani slumped upon the stool. ‘Thank you for the lesson, Madam but I really don’t feel quite myself today. Would you mind if I were to leave early, I am rather exhausted’? Howze did not bother with arguing, knowing an argument with Ani isn’t so much an argument. More a lecture directed at her to which she quickly forgot (or ignored, Howze wasn’t sure­) and invented some sort of tale to prove she was right. A scheme which never failed to work on Madame Howze, no matter how hard she worked on being immune. Today was no exception, ‘Very well. I shall call Master Thomas to escort you back to your quarters’. Ani sighed, pushing the stool away from herself as she took to her feet, ‘That won’t be necessary, I –’. A door creaked open and Ani fought to hide a grin as a figure came into view, ‘Edmund will walk me, if that’s quite alright with him’. Edmund froze, not quite liking the ways she was smiling right then, ‘I’m afraid I can’t, princess. I have many errands to run. I can, however, fetch Prince Thomas, if that is what you wish’. Ani declined at the shake of her head, ‘It’s not. I wish to relieve you of your errands and ask that you escort me’, she glided towards him and linked her arm with the crease of his inner-elbow.

Edmund cleared his throat uncomfortably as a redness coloured his neck and Ani shut the piano room’s door. ‘Why did you do that?’

‘Why did I do what?’ Ani blinked innocently. Edmund rolled his eyes, ‘Right. Play ignorant for now, but you know, Aniara’.

‘Ani’.

‘Princess’.

‘Ani!’

‘Fine. Ani –‘

‘There you go that wasn’t so hard now, was it?’

‘We need to stop this’. She laughed, slipping her hand into his. Edmund reluctantly laced his fingers in return, ‘You worry too much’. Edmund glanced at her, his heart warming at the sight of her eyes on him, ‘I worry because you do not. I worry because your husband is within full rights to behead me if our… relations were to be found out’.

‘He wouldn’t do that, Eddie’.

‘Edmund. And of course he would. I’m a servant, he has no reason not to’. Ani stopped abruptly and took his second hand in hers. She felt him tense and she rolled her eyes, dragging him into the nearest room to ease his anxiety. ‘What I’m trying to say is I wouldn’t let him. I love you’. Edmund bowed his head, ‘You shouldn’t’. She shrugged, grinning at the boy, ‘And yet I do. And I know you do me’. She wasn’t lying. Edmund did love her, and had for a very long time.

The two grew up together, though Ani had always been a fair bit richer than he. Well, an enormous bit richer. Not that Ani ever really registered it. Even when he was appointed a servant at the castle, the class difference never truly settled with her. Not much did, really. Especially not her marriage.

Ani and Thomas married no more than three months ago. And whilst the ring on her finger and the arm she hung off in public presented this, Ani’s behaviour itself did not.

Ani adored Edmund. And he, in turn did the same. And he despised himself for it.

She’d been wearing him down for months and, one day, he finally cracked. And he let her kiss him. That was almost a week ago and he had been avoiding her since then. Ani never questioned it, somehow knowing why he was reluctant, despite never voicing it. Ani always seemed to know.

She took a step towards him, staring into his deep emerald eyes and kissing his fist. Edmund flinched, ‘If you don’t want to do this just say’. He chuckled, his guard collapsing once more as he rested his forehead against hers, ‘I do. That’s the problem. You’re toxic’. She furrowed her eyebrows, ‘Thank you? I think…’

‘I didn’t mean it like that. You’re – I’m’, he sighed and paused trying to un-jumble his words, ‘I can’t think around you. It’s like I have all these things I want to say that just don’t make sense. You – You make me better’.

‘I don’t think that’s what toxic means’.

‘Addictive then. But…’ He smiled sadly and moved to sit on the nearest stool, ‘Ani, this; you… me… we can’t happen’.

‘Sure we can’.

‘No. Ani, we can’t’, Edmund spat out, fury suddenly rushing through him. He threw his gaze to Ani, the burst of anger turning to regret. But there was no sign of hurt on Ani, just a look of pity.

‘But we’ve already happened’. She kneeled in front of him, tightening her grip on his hands, ‘You’re my best friend, right’.

‘Of course’.

‘Right. And I love you as that. You’re my family, right’.

‘You – Right’.

‘And I love you as that. You’re Edmund. And I love you full stop’. Edmund blushed a habit he found only surfaced around Ani. ‘Eddie’. She paused, not quite sure she’d heard him right ‘What?’ His hand flew to his head as he ran a hand through his hair, ‘Eddie, I – You can call me that. If you want’. Edmund never let him call her that. Ani smiled, dragging him upwards and pulling him into a desperate hug.

Over his shoulder, Ani caught sight of a vase, a set of roses swimming inside. ‘Here’, she grinned, pulling away from the boy who pouted as she ventured towards the vase. She picked the largest one at the stem, careful not to prick herself on the thorns. She swiftly spun on her heels and walked back towards him. ‘So maybe this time, I’m married. And maybe this time isn’t our time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. So here; it’s no wedding but… Here’. She handed him the rose, a scarlet shade of red, almost identical to Edmund’s flushed skin.

His crystal green eyes, slid onto hers as he laughed, taking the rose and setting it on the table next to him. Hesitantly, he raised his hands to cup her face as he returned his forehead to hers, ‘You need to stop’.

‘Stop what?’

‘Making me happy. It’s making it hard not to… feel that way about you’. He cracked a smile as she leaned into his touch. Slowly, he leaned forward, his lips less than a centimetre away from hers. ‘You don’t have to do this, Eddie’, she whispered, referring to the obvious kiss that was to follow, sliding a hand onto his arm. ‘No, I – uh, I want to… If that’s okay with you’.  She nodded, giggling at his cautiousness, ‘Of course. I don’t want to pressure you’.

‘It’s a kiss, Ani. One that I’ve wanted to give for years’. She thought back to him running out on her after that first kiss that occurred only just a week ago though decided not to mention it as she waited for his lips to finally reach hers. And then he did. And then it was over, as Ani’s husband’s gravelly voice echoed the castle’s halls.

Ani apologized, placing a kiss on the boy’s cheek as she raced out of the room. And Edmund was left, once again, disheartened and alone as he wallowed in his sadness for a while before returning to his duties.

Closing the door gently, Edmund exited the room; the falling of the rose on the desk top going unnoticed...

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