“I don’t wanna talk about it,” I told Ma when she came into my room, perched on the edge of my bed.
“You shouldn’t have put him in that position,” she said back softly. “As a guest in our home, he would be inclined to try and appease us. As someone who he’s fond of, he’d be forced to try and keep you happy at the same time. That wasn’t fair to either of you, since it’s your relationship that was stressed by it.”
“…I know,” I admitted as I sat up on the bed and scooted next to her. “I’m still not happy about it.”
She nodded and set a hand on mine. “Maybe, but we’re rarely happy with things others make us do, even if it’s for our own good. Your father and I want you to focus on school, but we don’t want to tell you who you can and can’t get close to. Young love is fickle and fragile for all of how precious it is, and we don’t want to see you or him get hurt.”
“I just like being around him as much as I can. And it’s not that fragile. I mean he’s all but proposed to me—”
Ma gave me a look. “And just how has he done that?”
Me and my big mouth. I scratched my head and looked away. Well, it wasn’t like I wasn’t gonna show her anyway. “I’ll show ya, but don’t tell Pa.”
“It depends on what it is….” She tapped her chin in thought and then smiled. “But there are some things that should remain between just us women.”
I trotted over to where my bag was. The crystal-like flowers were still in their jars, still beating in time with our hearts and glowing as bright as always. I pulled them out and showed them to Ma. “Kowl made this for me awhile back, at the shop.”
“It’s certainly impressive,” she murmured as she watched them. “I take it these aren’t the real ones?”
“No….” I sat back down and told her what the saleswoman told me about the flowers and their meaning. Though I did fudge some of the details, like when he gave it to me after I ended up in the infirmary. “I told him ya’d like it, but Kowl didn’t want Pa to find out.”
“Well, I understand why your father would be less than thrilled about it.” She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “Just don’t rush things. Wait until you’ve both explored your feelings and after you’ve graduated before doing anything serious, like getting married. And don’t forget to apologize to him in the morning, okay?”
I nodded. Ma hugged me and gave me a kiss on the forehead. Then she got up and left. Her words stayed behind though, and made me feel bad about getting Kowl involved. After an hour or so of stewing in them, I had to go see him to get my head clear.
The lights were all off in the hallway. It was quiet since everyone was already asleep. Creeping down the stairs to avoid stirring Ma and Pa, I stepped into Kowl’s room and shut the door behind me.
There was a frown on Kowl’s face as he slept. He was rustling around beneath his sheets, mumbling under his breath. What was bothering him so much? I gave him a small shrug to wake him up.
He opened his eyes slowly and squinted at me, since he didn’t have his glasses. “Alice?”
“Can we talk?” I asked as I sat on the bed. “Just for a bit, I mean.”
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. “It couldn’t wait until morning?”
“Ya weren’t that deep into it if I woke ya up that easily.”
“I suppose not.” He reached around and scratched the back of his head. “Are you still angry at me?”
I shook my head. “I was in the wrong there, puttin’ ya on spot like that. It was a little selfish of me to expect ya to agree with me because we’re….”
Kowl’s head tilted a bit. Then he laid his hands on top of mine. “Everything I’ve done for your sake, both good and bad, has always been, and will always be, what I’ve thought was best for you. Even if you hate me for it, it’s what I’ve decided to do of my own will. In that case, I’m the one who’s being selfish, but that’s a part of human nature.”
I held his fingers between mine, locking them together. “Then tell me what’s buggin’ ya so much that ya can’t sleep?”
“….the future,” he mumbled after a moment. The sleepiness in his eyes was gone now. “I’m worried about the future, Alice.”
“What about it?” I’d had more than a few thoughts about it myself, but I never thought too hard about it. “Is it ‘cause of what happened at the shop?”
His fingers were starting to tremble a bit. “It just reminded me there’s simply so many ways things can go wrong…”
“Ya can rush after me to deal with Trolls, but a little flare-up scares ya more?”
“Yes,” he said upfront. “Because this isn’t something I can face head-on. It’s not something I can throw a vial at and blow it up, or stick a knife in it, or create a monster to devour it. I’m helpless, and it feels like I’m in over my head, Alice.”
It hurt a bit seeing him worried and helpless over this. I wanted to do something. But I couldn’t think of anything to say that would help him.
Kowl kept on going after he took a breath. “When we were together in the academy, the biggest problems we faced were peers. Any decision we made ultimately came down to a grade, but it’s a different story now. I’ve been trying to think about what I can do to make sure that I don’t botch it, to the point where even my dreams are basically no different.”
I slapped myself in the forehead for thinking of that so late. Drawing back the sheets covering him, I pulled Kowl into my arms and held him against me like we did at home. He was nice and toasty, making me feel all warm inside. “There. Better?”
“Um…Alice?” He sounded a bit scared. “Your parents will be less than thrilled if they catch us like this. I’d prefer not to wear out my welcome.”
“Just go to sleep,” I told him. “I can’t help ya think about the future, but I can help ya get some decent sleep before I go back to my room. That big brain of yers can think of something that can help ya with some rest.”
He didn’t fight me on it. “Just leave when I’m asleep…”
I promised I would and held him until then. He was deep into it enough that he wasn’t gonna to wake up when I moved after a good hour. I gave him a kiss on the cheek before I carried myself off to bed.