He meets her in the summer.
When he returns home from school to find a childhood friend drifting among guests in the ballroom with diamonds at her neck and a smile pasted against her mouth. She’s different this time.
He’s different this time.
And the way that she says his name no longer swirls around his brain with a saccharine sweetness but sears beneath his skin like an effervescent lightning streak. They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. But his veins are churning an oxygen-deprived blue and he’s of nobility, yes, heir to a massive fortune and weighty title.
His future is written out for him in strategically planned calendars, plotted down to the day.
That summer, though, the days peter out into hazy daydreams that scratch like a needle on a record and a quill on a parchment.
They swim in the lake and attempt to recall the names of the constellations cast like iron-clad tales up into the sky.
She giggles, points to the flickering star portrait of a dragon defeated by Hercules.
The water is tangling her hair, clouding around her head like a halo. He can see rivulets of water beading along her collarbones, the jut of her hip and the curl of her toes as she floats on her back.
They spend days in the library together, sat against towering shelves draped in a dusty gloom. The sunlight filters through the stained glass windows and throws distorted images against the thick rugs as she reads to him, words breathy melodies that curl around his ribs and make his heart beat a little faster.
She accompanies him to dinners and, afterwards, they sneak into the rose garden. He follows her into a fountain one night, watches as the silk of her dress clings to her legs and the light grows fuzzy around the edge of her body. She laughs and he smiles and they hold hands as they hurry back to the manor.
He sneaks inside her house one night, scales the improbably high balcony and whispers sweet things into her ear while her mouth tips into a smile. He sleeps in her bed that night and she presses a kiss against his cheek that he thinks might leave a bruise.