The Pauper Prince – Part 33

The Pauper Prince
Chapter 33

Mara’s assistants did, after a time, reach a state of mutual tolerance. It was rather unlikely that they would ever become friends, but she was accepting of this. The two women stood apart in far too many ways and had been brought together artificially. There was otherwise no reason for them to associate with each other. As long as Heather understood that she did not need to fight to retain her Lady’s affection, and that Daphne understood that she was not one misstep away from the gallows, everyone could get on with their lives. Especially Mara.

************************

Heather’s and Leonard’s wedding finally took place, performed in the castle’s chapel and attended by their collected family and friends – plus some special guest members of royalty. Other than Mara, who couldn’t wait to attend, she had managed to convince Kelvin and his parents. More accurately, Kelvin had convinced his parents, who initially declined on the basis that “everyone would expect an appearance” – an idea with which Mara quite agreed. After convincing them to attend, Kelvin’s next challenge was convincing them not to make the ceremony about themselves. The least conspicuous clothing they had were their traveling clothes, which were still elaborate enough to beat a peasant’s finest. They would have to do.

The ceremony had been delayed first because of the war, and second so Heather could attend to her Lady to the end of her pregnancy. Now only cold feet threatened the wedding, but it happened, nonetheless, and beautifully so. Mara had been asked to be an attendant, but she gently declined being anything but a spectator, realizing that any other role in the ceremony would have drawn more attention away from the couple.

The question of what sort of gift to give the new couple had been a perplexing one for a while. Mara thought about having a dress made for Heather, but that wouldn’t include her husband. Kelvin thought of commissioning a fine sword of a higher-grade steel and workmanship than was typical for a guard, but again, only one side was being taken care of. Then Mara remembered their biggest challenge: where to live. Heather had always been sharing a room with three other girls, and Leonard, the barracks with the other unmarried guards. Space was premium on the castle grounds, and Mara’s in-laws would not relinquish any of the guest rooms meant for the high-born. The couple could have moved to Allcourt and walked to the castle each day, but Mara was determined to resolve this situation.

After a bit of scoping, aided immeasurably by Solomon, a storage room along the castle’s outer wall was found. The contents could, with some creative distribution amongst the remaining storage rooms and some reworking, serve as living quarters for a young couple. Solomon promised to oversee the operation, which he did to great success. And so the Princess and Prince were able to present their gift to the new couple: private quarters, sparsely furnished by donations from family and friends. Heather was ecstatic to near-catatonia; Leonard was also speechless at first, then managed to thank their Highnesses on his and his new wife’s behalf.

Heather had been granted seven days off to enjoy her time with her new husband. This left Kelvin in the position of asking the new Captain of the Guard for the same deal for Leonard. Again, more grumblings were voiced about “everyone” expecting the same deal, but there was nothing to be done about it. The Princess could set the rules for her assistants, and seven days off after a marriage was one of them. Heather’s colleagues filled in for her time off capably enough, but could never be her replacement.

During her assistant’s absence Mara visited Adrienne, as well as Francine, who had been compensated monetarily for her excellent assistance, if not with a title like Adrienne’s. Miss Daphne was with her as always, bearing a bag of supplies for Isabel while Mara carried the child herself. The visit was, of course, to the midwives’ delight, who could now spend time with the little Princess they had helped birth.

Mara’s timing was also good. The Royal Midwife proudly showed the written and illustrated record of her technique, ready to be copied and distributed throughout the kingdom, per the Princess’ instruction. Adrienne’s main concern was that this would be seen by others as a miracle that would not fail, when any reasonable person should be able to work out that success was never a guarantee. Not even for the Princess, if it happened again. Mara had already considered and accepted that possibility on her own. If it was ever the only way for her child to live, she would welcome the knife.

Mara also revisited Ophelia, whose son Nathaniel seemed twice as large as she’d remembered. Much fuss and adoration then befell Isabel, not to mention the fuss and adoration over the two mothers holding each other’s child. After making her farewells, but before leaving, Mara turned to the family and pretended to pout. She looked at Ophelia’s younger sister, Cordelia. “What’s this?” she said. “No farewell hug for me?” Cordelia, after getting silent permission from her mother, grinned and rushed forward to copy her previous embrace. She was not scolded for it this time.

It was with this visit and others throughout the castle grounds, over time, that the “peasants” surreptitiously viewed the little Princess as closely as any of the nobility had. In some cases, closer, for some were allowed to hold her. If the Queen discovered Mara’s actions, she did not make it known.

************************

Countess Lucinda had replied so far to Mara’s invitations with explanations of her busy-ness. Finally Mara threw up her hands about it and was preparing to make her own trip to visit, when the Queen caught wind of the plan and insisted that she remain at home, not traveling with an infant. Mara was perplexed by this and required a description from Miss Daphne of the tediousness of such travel, not to mention the potential danger to fragile royal infants in rickety carriages – even for brief trips of two hours. Also, the Queen had to point out that the Countess had been committing a most grievous faux pas by not responding to her Princess’ requests. Mara learned that she was supposed to have been greatly offended by this, and promised the Queen to be properly indignant next time.

Without having been sent any further invitations, Lucinda did accompany her husband, Count Richard, during his most recent visit to Gildern’s court. He had never been a stranger there; it was his wife who had become a rarer sight. Mara greeted her as warmly as could be before they all dined with the Queen, joined by various other Ladies of the court. Countess Yvette was among them this time and now 20% more with child than ever. She also showed the Princess a little more warmth than in their previous encounters. For Lucinda, she showed just as much as before.

As Ladies would do, much of the conversation was about their husbands, children – arrived or on their way – hobbies, and pet projects. Mara took the opportunity to bring up what she hoped to become a project: that of cultivating her five acres of land to somehow benefit others.  Whom?  wondered some. Herself! joked another, and recommended a summer home. Or winter home. Or one of each. Mara took an informal poll of the women to see if they favored a school, a hospital, or some sort of sanctuary – each for women.

After a pause, most of the women had to stifle snickers and giggles. Fanning themselves helped cover any impudent smirks. Lucinda joked that, if Mara built a sanctuary, she the Countess would be its first occupant. Mara was not amused; her silence as she regarded them all was her way of containing the unladylike words that she wished to unleash upon them all. The Queen was astute enough to recognize the coming storm, and tried to play off Mara’s queer interests and change the subject. Without missing a beat, the rest of the Ladies resumed discussing their usual topics. Mara maintained her silence and nibbled absently at whatever food was in her hand at the time.

During a break in the others’ conversation to nibble at their own meals, she was emboldened to speak again. “You know,” said Mara, setting down her food and straightening the lap of her gown, “I find it interesting that we are all women, and yet so many don’t have an interest in assisting women.”

“What’s that now?” asked a Duchess.

“Mm… Perhaps my goal is too far-reaching,” said Mara, “But I was hoping that my thoughts of places that might benefit women would be appealing to those gathered. Rather than amusing. That’s all.”

Some of the women traded perplexed looks, but the Duchess remembered and pointed. “Ahhh,” she said, “You mean the school for women? Is that what you meant?”

“Or hospital, or sanctuary, or… something that would benefit us,” said Mara. “They’re merely suggestions. I have land. I don’t have much money of my own, but I’ll have more over time. Because of this, I can’t help but wonder if I should be doing something with it. Something for us. For the kingdom.”

“Mara,” said the Queen gently. “Daughter. Raising my granddaughter, a Princess and future Queen, is ‘doing something’ for the kingdom.”

Mara contained her sigh at the last moment. “Mother Queen, I acknowledge and embrace that responsibility. But these thoughts are not new for me. Of course we live in a ‘man’s world,’ but what is a world without change? There are schools and universities aplenty, but none for women. Why is that?”

“-said the girl with private teachers,” said the Queen.

“I refer to opportunities for other women besides ones of privilege.”

The Duchess smirked. “Even the universities you speak of are for men of privilege,” she said. “Peasants do not venture inside.”

“Then that should change, too.” Mara finally let herself sigh. “Still, it needn’t be a school. Doing something for us isn’t a new thought for me, but…. how to do so is. If I cannot build a school, or a hospital, or even a… a sanctuary or shelter for wives and their children, fleeing the abuses of terrible husbands… then… perhaps unequal laws may be changed.”

The Queen’s eyes narrowed. “You speak of changing our laws now,” she said warily. “Does our King know of this plan? Does your husband?”

“I would use words, Mother Queen,” said Mara. “Words only, to persuade, if I can.”

“Persuade whom?”

“Wh-Our King, of course,” she said. “You. Our Prince.”

“I see,” said the Queen. “And what sort of ‘unequal’ laws did you have in mind?”

Mara had kept all her attention on the Queen, and then realized that all eyes were on her now. She looked around the room of spectators and cleared her throat quietly. “I, uh…” she said, fidgeting with her wedding ring, “I will compile a master list with all haste, but there are laws about things such as… inheritance. They are based on sex rather than, say, order of birth. Or even an equitable split amongst all heirs. Laws about punishments for crimes. About marriage. About the wages of labor for men and women. They, too, are inequitable. A woman doing the same work as a man will always receive less.”

“What sort of work is a man doing that a woman also does?” asked another Duchess.

“Oh…” said Mara, and shrugged. “Many things, your Grace. Surely you’ve seen women plying a trade in smithing, or carpentry, or any number of skills that one might assume are only for men?”

The women pondered this. Some shook their heads.

“It is true,” said the Queen. “Our own blacksmith’s wife and children assist him in his work.”

“Ah, but do they do his work, Ma’am?” said a Duchess. “If he were away, could they swing his hammer all day? Make a large shield or a cart’s wheel? Or… the carpentry you mention. Could a woman lift the heavy wood and tools all day for making furniture? I say no. We do not have the strength for it.”

“You’d be surprised how strong a woman can be,” said Mara. “How much stamina one could have. Doing the work all day that would tire a man. Why… why, some women have even taken up a sword and done the work of a soldier. And lived!”

This brought cackles and titters from the other Ladies, but not the Queen, nor, Mara finally noticed, Yvette. It then dawned on her that Yvette had not laughed or even smirked once at the absurd ideas she’d been putting before these women.

“Oh!” said a viscountess, fanning herself. “Your Highness, such wit!”

“I daresay I wouldn’t want to meet the woman who prefers a sword of steel to the ‘sword’ of a man!” said the first Duchess, eliciting loud guffaws now.

A fist was slammed – hard – on the table, rattling some of the dishes. “LADIES!” bellowed the Queen. In an instant, the room was silent and full of wide-eyed women. “What’s all this snorting?? At a Royal Princess? At your future Queen??

“Y-y-your Majesty,” Lucinda dared to say. “W-w-we are laughing with her, not at her.” Without taking her eyes off the Queen, she grabbed Mara’s hand and all but petted it. “We love her, of course. And her jests.”

“Really?” said the Queen. “Mara, are they jests? And are they laughing ‘with’ you?”

“I…” she said, having trouble meeting the Queen’s – or anyone’s – gaze. “No, they were not jests. I meant every word. But then,” she added quickly, “I should be able to, uh… to handle a bit of fun at my expense. Ladies, I don’t mind your laughter. I realize that my ideas are strange.”

“That is no excuse for mockery,” said the Queen. “Right, Ladies?” With that, the Ladies fell over each other in offering apologies, which only served to redden the Princess’ face. After the contriteness and forgiveness quieted down, Mara smiled awkwardly at them all and grabbed a handful of her favorite comfort food: mixed nuts. Suddenly she chuckled.

“Actually, Duchess,” she said, “Your quip about different ‘swords’ was rather amusing.”

“Why, thank you, my Lady!”

“Of course,” said Mara, trying not to giggle, “These days I prefer my man’s ‘sword.'”

A stunned silence fell on the room, only erupting into mirthful chaos after Mara smiled and winked at them. Then she hoped that none of them would pick up the clue she’d dropped about her previous occupation.

************************

Mara led a squad of women to the nursery to placate their eagerness to see her little Princess. She shushed them in the hallway and entered quietly alone. Miss Daphne was seated by the window and was knitting while Isabel slept in her crib. They exchanged whispers about the feasibility of all the women viewing her at once, as long as everyone tiptoed and whispered. Miss Daphne saw no danger in this, and suddenly the nursery was full of admiring women quietly cooing to each other and Isabel. The little Princess suddenly waved her arms a little, as if reacting to something in a dream, leading to several squeals of delight from the gathered Ladies.

Mara sensed that, the longer they stayed, the louder and more careless they might become, so she gently ushered them outside, then lingered over Isabel’s crib a few more moments. She inquired about Miss Daphne’s knitting project and was told it was “nothing of importance,” so Mara all but backed out of the room in order to lengthen her time watching Isabel.

The gathered Ladies were amenable to a stroll around the castle grounds, except for Lucinda, who explained that she was quite fatigued and wished to rest in her guest room. Mara thought it best to call off the walk, but Lucinda insisted that she would be joining them for dinner that night.

************************

After the Ladies had had enough of walking and talking, they split off into pairs or trios and tended to other business. Mara politely declined joining any such group, preferring instead to make as much time for her daughter as possible. They would all see each other later that evening. But before visiting the nursery, she stopped by Lucinda’s room and knocked gently. She was a little bit surprised that Lucinda opened the door herself rather than any of her assistants. Lucinda’s expression was glum until she recognized her visitor, then instantly became something approximating gladness. She opened the door wide enough for Mara to enter, who stepped inside and embraced her warmly.

“Pardon my intrusion,” said Mara. “I hope I didn’t cause you to lose rest?”

“No,” said Lucinda tiredly. “I haven’t really been resting.”

“Are you unwell?” said Mara, trying to feel her friend’s forehead. Lucinda pulled away. “Sorry. I just wanted to check on you.”

“I appreciate that. Thank you.”

During the uncomfortable silence that followed, Mara fidgeted a little, then made herself clasp her hands in front. “Well,” she said quietly, “I pray that it’s nothing to be concerned about. Lucinda…”

“Yes?” she said after Mara’s words dropped away.

“I just wanted you to know that I’m glad to see you again,” said Mara. “I missed you. That’s all. You were… quite busy, which is perfectly understandable. I do hope that things have settled lately?”

“I’m fine, dear,” said Lucinda. “Thank you for asking.”

“If you’re feeling unwell now,” said Mara, “You’re welcome to visit our physician, Sir William. I’m not– fond of visiting him, but he is learned and competent.”

Lucinda forced a smile. “That won’t be needed. Come suppertime, you’ll see me in full spirits once again.”

“That’s good to know,” said Mara. “We have much catching up to do. You’ll be here at least overnight, yes?” Lucinda nodded. “And I understand that you’re not unwell, but… if you’ll pardon me, I can’t escape the feeling that something is troubling you.”

Lucinda made a frustrated grunt and threw up her hands. “I said, I’m fine!”

Mara’s eyes widened in surprise; Lucinda’s, in fear as she realized her faux pas. She snatched up Mara’s hand and kissed it repeatedly.

“Your Highness,” she said. “I am so sorry. I-I spoke out of turn… out of line… I-”

Mara yanked way her hand. “Stop that. I’m here as your friend, not some royal personage.”

“I still spoke out of line.”

Mara shrugged. “Well– Yes, but that tells me that something is troubling you. What is it? Please talk to me, Lucinda. I want to help, if I can.”

Lucinda’s eyes began tearing up, but she fought them back and stood tall. She took Mara’s hand one more time and kissed it slowly and gently. Unseen by her, Mara rolled her eyes. Then Lucinda stood straight and wiped away a wayward tear. “You’ve always been a good friend to me,” she said. “Yet somehow, you’re probably the last to know this. You never did develop an ear for gossip or rumor.” She led Mara to the settee and waited for the Princess to sit before she did. She spent some more time gathering her courage.

“I’ll be plain,” she said. “Richard means to divorce me.”

Mara gasped. “No! How can that be? What reason could he have?”

Lucinda shrugged. “It… should be obvious.”

“Oh, Lucinda,” said Mara. “Not… infidelity?” she said in a whisper, as if there were anyone else nearby.

“What? No!” she snapped. “I’ve been as faithful as a hound to that man. But Richard: the same could not be said of him. There’s scarcely a woman at home that he’s left untouched. Even my own handmaidens!”

“Oh, no! Constance and Lorraine?”

“Those disloyal strumpets?” said Lucinda. “Yes, them. If I could have had them executed, I would have. The worst I could do was dismiss them.”

“Do you know where they are now?”

“What do I care where they are?” said Lucinda. She stood and began pacing. “They are betrayers! But that’s not his reason for threatening divorce.”

“It seems that you have just cause to divorce him,” said Mara, then grumbled, “If our laws worked that way for women.”

Lucinda scoffed. “Exactly,” she said. “Then what could the reason be?”

“You don’t know it?”

“Of course I know it,” said Lucinda, and watched Mara as if waiting for an answer. Mara responded with a shrug. Lucinda held out her hands. “Look at me,” she said. “Over two years of marriage, and I have nothing to show for it!”

Mara was confused a few moments, then showed comprehension. “Children?” she said. “He’s… Is this about not yet having children?”

Lucinda stopped pacing. She made several attempts to speak, then could only look away and weep. Mara stood and held out her arms. Lucinda made feeble attempts to push her away, but Mara would have none of it. She pulled Lucinda into a long embrace and ended it with a kiss to her cheek. Then she took her hand and led her back to the settee.

“You’re right,” said Lucinda after sitting. “Over two years and no children. I am… barren, Mara.”

“Nooo,” said Mara. “He must have more patience. Two years isn’t that long. There could be any number of reasons for this. Do you have a midwife?”

“Yes. Not that she’s been of any help.”

“Then I urge you to consult with Adrienne, our Royal Midwife,” said Mara. “She has great skill and knowledge. If she can’t help you, I don’t know who could.”

“You’re too kind.”

“And Richard is too impatient,” said Mara. “And… and disloyal, to boot! That just infuriates me! And yet again, the law is far too lenient about such things for men and too stringent for women. Humiliating you like that, and then has the gall to threaten divorce?”

“Mara-”

“And what of his mistresses?” she said. “He blames you for lack of children, but have any of those other women borne him a child?”

Lucinda thought a moment, then sighed and shook her head. “Not that I know of.”

“Well, then!” said Mara. “I’ll wager that… that he is the one who’s ‘barren.’ Hm? Bedded so many women, and none have been fruitful? That doesn’t point to you for suspicion!”

Lucinda sighed again. “Mara, I appreciate that you’re trying to cheer me up, but be reasonable. It doesn’t matter if it’s really his fault for there being no children. The man is never to blame. You know that.”

“Blame should be… where it should be!”

“Well, it isn’t,” said Lucinda. “Not here, not now. And… truthfully, I have moments of relief at the thought of being free of him, but then I remember that it would destroy me. I can scarcely look at him most days, yet… if the marriage ends, it would be the end of me.”

“Oh, no, please, don’t say such things,” said Mara, squeezing her friend’s hand. “I can understand you seeing things as bleak now, but you must take heart. Do your parents know about this? They have the right to intervene on your behalf. At least that law favors us! And even our King and Queen should be willing to speak with your husband. Talk him into showing more patience? Please don’t lose hope, Lucinda.”

Lucinda yanked her hand away and stood again to resume her pacing, this time angrily. “Nngh!” she cried. “What do you know of hopelessness?? Your life is perfect!! A royal Princess, fated to be Queen, whose royal husband and whose royal in-laws all love you!! Everyone does! And your child was probably conceived right on your wedding night! And now I look upon that mouse, Countess Yvette, barely out of her wedding dress and with her own child on its way! Two years, Mara! Where is mine?” She hit her own thighs on each word. “Where- is- mine?!?

“What is this?” hissed Mara, ignoring her friend’s tears. “You try to make an enemy of me? As if I’m to blame for this?? I am trying to help you!!”

“There is no help for me,” moaned Lucinda. “Do you– d’you even comprehend my fate? Do you? Perhaps I shouldn’t blame you for that. It’s a secret, but a poorly-kept one. Mara, did you know that I’m not high-born?”

“No,” said Mara. “And please explain why that means anything.”

“It means…” she said, “It means that my title comes from him alone. I am either a Countess by our marriage, or I am nothing. My parents have wealth, and I am with Richard only because he did not. Our union was purchased, and… if it’s gone, then I lose everything.”

“That does not make you nothing,” said Mara. “You just said that your parents have wealth, so you didn’t grow up poor, correct? And surely they would welcome you home, should the worst happen?”

“I’ve been told… no,” said Lucinda. “I am the oldest. My dowry was… very large. The rest will be for my sisters. There will be no other dowries for me. And even if there were, what would it matter? They’d never forgive me for failing in only two years. And I’d be ‘used’ and known as barren! What man would want me?”

“I don’t know,” said Mara. “A man with children already? A widower?”

“A stepmother?” she sniffed. “For someone else’s brats?”

Lucinda realized her poor choice of words the instant before Mara shot up into a full standing position and loomed over the Countess. She was already a head taller than Lucinda, now more so given Lucinda’s shrinking back.

“I misspoke, I misspoke,” she said. Mara did not reply, preferring to stare. She had an unexpectedly passive expression. Lucinda had no way of knowing the depth of her anger, other than from her two clenched fists.

My Lady?

“Be plain with me,” said Mara. Even her tone was even. This was somehow worse than obvious anger. “Were you truly too busy to visit? Or just unable to bear the sight of my ‘brat?'”

“No, no, that’s not it at all!” said Lucinda, and then let her gaze drift downward.

Look at me!” Mara growled. Lucinda snapped to attention and tried to speak, but could not form any real words. “And enough sniveling!” At least she could hear the anger now. “Am I your enemy for daring to have a child, or not?”

“No!” she said, erupting into loud weeping. Mara was unmoved this time. “Envy made me say those things! I have been a slave to it! I-I-I see… I see any woman, not just you, not just Yvette, but any woman with child, or… or with good, loving husbands… friends… and I lose myself, Mara. I think… why them and not me? Why them and-?”

Stop it,” said Mara. She closed her eyes and sighed. “It pains me to say this. It truly does. But too much of this misery is your own. Lucinda, I love you. I want all happiness for you, and I don’t make light of these things – a poor marriage, trouble conceiving – but you bring too much on yourself!”

“How could I possibly be doing that?”

“You are–” Mara took in a breath for courage. “You are cruel, Lucinda!”

The Countess gasped. “How… How dare-!”

“There! I have said it!” said Mara. “You– You take sport in belittling others. From the time we met, I have seen this in you. You almost struck my assistant and friend; don’t deny that! You tricked me into mocking a women I’d never met! You spew venom on your own assistants – sorry, former assistants, and-and-and… on everyone you know! I have seen it! I have heard it! Is there no one spared of your contempt? No one who’s spared of your jabs and pokes and gibes and gossip and rumor? Am I?”

“Of course! I would never-!”

Really?” said Mara. “You’re angry with me for having a so-called ‘perfect’ life, remember?”

I misspoke,” she whispered. “That’s not what I meant. Please believe me.”

“Then what did you mean?”

Mara realized that she was mere inches from the Countess’ face, breathing down her neck, and took a step back to give her room. If it helped, it was difficult to say, for Lucinda was still unable to come up with a reply.

“Tch. It doesn’t matter, then,” said Mara, turning away to make for the door.

“Wait!” Lucinda called out. Mara paused and only turned back halfway. “My Lady,” she said, grabbing Mara’s hand again to kiss it.

Mara yanked it back again. “Stop that. I’m not here for your fealty.”

“It’s all I have left to give,” said Lucinda.

Mara covered her face with her hands. “Ahhh!” she cried, and relaxed her grip. “I’d prefer your friendship.”

Lucinda spoke softly. “I think you’re my only friend right now.”

“Am I?”

Lucinda looked up, her brow knitted in worry. “Aren’t you?”

Am I?” she said again. “Think before you answer.”

The Countess did just that. She thought, longer and far more deeply than she had thought of most things. Mara sensed this, and said nothing while waiting. Lucinda then took a deep breath. “I think that you are,” she said quietly. “But I have not been your friend. Even today, I laughed at you. Just like the others. I joined with them rather than stand by you. I don’t blame you if you’re angry with us all. With me. I’ve not been a friend at all.”

Mara seemed lost in thought to the point of being oblivious to her surroundings. Lucinda wondered if she’d been heard, and prepared to repeat herself.

“Not lately,” Mara said finally. “But we have been friends before. Look: you have good reason to worry about your fate, and believe it or not, I still do want to help, but nothing good will come of this if you accept none of it, and think only the worst of everything. The worst of everyone. Do you understand me?”

“I think so,” she said, nodding.

“Well… I hope that you know so, soon.” Mara fidgeted a bit, then threw up her hands. “I can’t dawdle anymore. I was on my way to something else, and stopped by – briefly – to see how you’re doing.”

“And I delayed you terribly,” said Lucinda. “I am sorry.”

“Just… try to find a way to help yourself,” said Mara. “I don’t know what it would be, but I want something good to come from this.”

“It will,” she said. “I swear it. You’re my only friend, Mara. And I almost threw even that away.”

“Hm,” said Mara, folding her arms. “My life isn’t ‘perfect,’ you know. But I’m grateful for all of it. My good fortune could change just as easily, too. I don’t want it to, but it could happen. I have lived, and survived, very difficult circumstances. Someday I may be able to tell you of them.”

“I know that you have… scars, because of your father,” said Lucinda.

“Yes,” said Mara, and a distant look overcame her until she managed to shake it off. “Um,” she said, “I’ll see you tonight, yes?” Mara held out her arms for a farewell hug. Lucinda just looked at her uncertainly, so Mara pulled her into an embrace – again – and traded kisses. Then she made her way to the door.

“Mara?” Lucinda called after her. Mara paused at the door. “Do you think I could still… have my seat beside you?” When Mara just stared in response, she waved her hands nervously. “Never mind. Never mind. I will sit wherever I’m told to.”

Mara shut the door without another word. She took a moment to lean against the wall and fight back her own tears this time. A minute later, she’d managed to reduce her eyes to a moist redness at worst. The thought of spending some relaxing time with her daughter added a smile.

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About herdthinner

Writer and artist who pays the bills with another job
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