He meets her for the first time on a sultry summer day; when the branches of the cypress trees are swaying like ghosts and red dirt is caking around his fingernails. The roses didn’t stand a chance this season.
They’re wilting. A garden full of languishing petals and sun stroked stems.
He meets her in the acres and acres of field between the manor and the estate beside them; is searching for one of the cat’s that had gone missing beneath the boughs of a towering tree – he’ll carve their initials into it later with an heirloom pocket knife, will trace his hands in rings around the years that it’s seen – and there’s a rustle, a gasp, a fall.
She’s tumbling to the ground and taking him with her and before he quite knows what’s happened they’re sprawled out against dark soil. A portrait that’s smudged at the edges; moss greens and crisp whites, peach pink and blood red and a boy, a girl, a beginning, if you’re hopeful enough to call it that.
‘Sorry’ she mumbles, cheeks rosy as she presses her fingers to the pulse at her neck.
He fancies he can see it beating – purple and blue veins intersected beneath the paper thin skin of her neck as she breaths, smiles, glances up at him with dirt dusted lashes and a lacklustre halo.
‘No apologies necessary’ he tells her. Sweat is streaking down the planes of his back, moulded into dry rivers by the dirt. ‘You’re lucky I was here to break your fall, though. Just imagine what might’ve happened if you’d come tumbling out of that tree with no one there to catch you.’
He imagines the yellowing Shakespeare pages tucked into the manor library. Roses climbing a balcony to the moon lit Juliet; it is the east and she is the sun and she is blinding, yes, but he is mesmerised.
A smile – impish and red – slips across her mouth as she dusts her skirts. ‘A thank you might be in order, then.’
And he’s never been one to praise.
Not when he’s burning sugar; molasses that drips and slides and sticks. When he’s a name, not a person. A cause rather than an effect. Its the finely tied strands of his DNA.
‘I suppose so, yes,’ he says. Watches ringlets abscond his view of her face – fine cheeks and bright eyes and a bowed mouth that he wants to trace with the tip of his thumb.
And there’s a yell. A clatter that bristles in the breeze and raises the hackles of the dogs chained to the fence line.
She bites her lower lip between her teeth. Clutches a doily in her gloved fingers as she says , ‘I have to go.’
He hadn’t even learnt her name.