Promised Page 40

She nodded. “That’s fine. But Evelyn and Rafael?”

“Of course. And your brothers and the Jacksons. Anyone else from inside?”

She wondered about his old friends. “How about Rita?”

Leon smiled, his expression easing again. “It would be nice to have Rita. Jack will be happy to see her. He always had a thing for her.”

Gaia laughed. She wasn’t going to touch that.

Leon smoothed a finger along the chain of her necklace. “I wish your parents could be here for our wedding,” he said.

“Me, too.”

Gaia had taken a walk to Potter’s Field the day before, stopping where her parents had matching markers side by side on the dusty slope. Their gravesites seemed so settled compared to the raw, new graves since the rebellion. Before New Sylum ever had a school or a lodge or a library, it had a graveyard. Dozens had been killed during the rebellion, and hundreds more injured. Will had overseen a dozen funerals for New Slyum, saving Peter’s for last. The new mounds lay in a peaceful bay of the unlake where grasses grew tall and undulated in the wind, the sister wind of the one that moved in the black rice slue in the marsh they’d left behind.

“Are you missing Peter much?” he asked.

She didn’t know how to answer. Thinking about Peter hurt.

“You can tell me,” he added. “It won’t kill me if you admit you loved him, too.”

She lifted her gaze to his, searching. “But I didn’t.”

“Gaia,” he said, drawing out her name.

She didn’t know how to explain what she felt. The loss was complicated. She still felt guilty about how she’d treated Peter in Sylum, and sometimes he had really annoyed her. He’d also had a way of seeing her honestly that had mattered. Other times, he had been just Peter, and there was something intrinsically wonderful about Peter. He didn’t deserve to die.

“What are you thinking?” Leon asked.

Her gaze had stilled on the warm gap between his collar and his neck, but now she looked up again to meet his eyes.

“I told you I was loyal,” she said simply.

Leon smiled. “I never doubted you. I just thought you’d miss him.”

“I do. And I will. He was a great guy.”

A lilting, merry chortle of laughter came from beyond the shade, and Gaia glanced over as an old woman walked past with a friend.

“How’s Will doing?” Leon asked.

“All right. Sad, you know, but all right.”

Something had changed there. She didn’t know why or how, but the fine, spinning thread of Will’s longing for her had snapped. She felt it as a release, a new easiness between them, while, she also knew, they’d always be bound by their common grief for Peter.

Leon slid a hand along her arm to her red bracelet, and kissed her once more. “Let’s go see Myrna’s new place.”

Gaia glanced toward the new blood bank in a storefront opposite the Tvaltar. A new beige awning was outfitted over the window, and a pot of colorful flowers stood by the door. Gaia had heard that electricity had been extended to the blood bank so that Myrna could refrigerate an emergency supply of blood, and she was curious to see it all. At that moment, however, Myrna came out the door, paused a moment on the threshold, and began ambling toward Peg’s Tavern.

“I think we missed our chance,” Gaia said.

Leon passed over her hat, donned his own, and picked up the pot of herbs. “What do you say we leave these for her, and come back another time for a tour?”

“Sounds good.”

They stepped out of the shade. October sunlight slanted brightly on the Tvaltar steps, and more people had gathered at Peg’s. Their animated voices created a jovial patter in the square, underscored by the lively notes of the piano. Jack had Maya on his lap now, and she was knocking a couple of chess knights together. It was easy to anticipate how happy everyone would be about the wedding, and Gaia smiled. Norris would make a cake, no doubt. She’d have to find something to wear.

Leon lowered the pot to the side of the door, then straightened, pushing his sleeve up his splint again.

“Let me help you,” Gaia said. She reached to do his sleeve for him. Then she folded up the sleeve on his left arm, too, smoothing the fabric neatly just below his elbow. She let her fingers linger on his forearm. When Gaia looked up, Leon’s blue eyes were alive with a warm, private smile.

“You are irresistible,” he said softly.

She shook her head, smiling. “No.”


He leaned near for another kiss, and she touched her hat from behind to keep it steady.

When they finally righted themselves and started across the quad toward the tavern, Gaia was filled with a contagious, generous happiness that encompassed everyone and everything, from the piano melody and Maya with her knights, to the bright angles of the shade umbrellas. Behind her, a wall was crumbling, and down the hill, beyond the swallows that dove and banked, the expanse of the unlake shimmered with distant blue.

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