The Memory of Us(14)

by Camille Di Maio

My knee ached and I looked down. The blood had seeped through the satin of my gown, as if it weren’t already ruined from the fall. I gingerly lifted the dress away from the wound and, disregarding modesty, lifted the hem high above my knee and held it there while I went to work on the silk stocking. I rolled it down a bit at a time, wincing with every movement until it was finally off, and my bare skin felt the sting of the cold air.

When I looked up, I found Kyle’s gaze fixed upon my leg. His eyes were slightly glazed and his jaw tense. I peeked down again and realized that the hem of my garter was showing. I stifled a smile, remembering the drama with which I had pronounced to Lucille that no one would, in fact, see my garter. I rolled the dress back down and smoothed out the wrinkles in vain.

His gaze met my eyes and he leaned in before abruptly sitting straight up. We stumbled out words at the same time.

“So, whose idea—” he started.

“What were you doing—”

“You first.”

I nodded. “What were you doing at the festival? Aren’t you a Catholic?” Aren’t you going to be a priest? was what I really wanted to say, though I already knew the answer.

“Catholics can’t raise money for good causes?”

“What about the cathedral? It’s Anglican.”

“Are you Anglican?”

“Well, no. My family’s not very religious. I mean, we go to church once in a while.”

“There you go, then. It’s going to be a beautiful monument to God. I am happy to help make that happen.”

He had me there. Damn him, I could never get in the last word.

We settled into awkward silence. When I shivered again, he got up to readjust his coat on me, then sat awkwardly again on the little stool.

“I wonder how long the storm is going to last.” Weather was a neutral topic, and I wanted to keep talking. I feared that the rapid beat of my heart would give me away in the silence. Besides, I loved the sound of his deep and gentle voice.

“I don’t know, but I’ll walk you home when it’s all over. If we get hungry, I can slaughter that cow over there and have a meal. Do you have a cleaver in that handbag?”

“Very funny.” I smiled. “Lucille and I ate so much at the festival, though, I don’t think that I could eat even a bird right now, much less a cow.”

“All right, Helen.” I could see his grin even in the dim light.

“Oh, you heard that?”

“Yes. So, what’s the story?”

I stretched my legs a bit and removed the pail so that I could sit on the floor. Kyle did the same, and we sat side by side, leaning against the slats of a horse stall. All but touching.

“Well, my grandmother’s name was Helen, and my father felt obligated to name his only daughter after his mother. But he allowed my mother to choose Julianne as my middle name, and to call me by that. I’m very glad that she did. My grandmother died when I was little, but I remember her and I didn’t like her at all. She was old and crabby. I read once that Helen means ‘torch.’ But to me, it means ‘old and crabby.’”

Kyle chuckled. “Well, that would explain how quickly you corrected the Lord Mayor. But it’s ironic, you know. Your fictitious meaning for your name.”

“How so?”

“Because I think Julianne comes from the Latin word for ‘youthful.’”

I barely heard what he said, as my ears were ringing from the beautiful sound of my name on his lips. I wanted to hear it again. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Your name—Julianne. It means ‘youthful.’”

I loved it and wanted more. But I supposed that cajoling him into saying it a third time would have been too flagrant of me. I settled for saying, “Well, how about that?”

“Are you happy to have all that work behind you?” he asked.

“Yes and no. It’s kept me very busy, especially in the last few weeks. But I enjoy it, and it’s almost a competition with myself to see how much we can raise for a good cause.”

“Two good causes,” he reminded me. “Whose idea was it to split the proceeds this year?”

“My father’s. He suggested the cathedral, because it’s a popular project in town right now. I’m sure it has a good business angle to it. But the Ladies’ Society still wanted to have a charity attached to it, so we added the orphanage.”

“Speaking of which, how much did you go for at auction? I hope the winner checked your teeth and made sure that you were a good buy.”

This was exactly the topic I wanted to avoid. I could still see his back as he walked away rather than bid for me. Smoothing back my hair and clutching my pride, I said, “I did very well, thank you. I brought in four pounds, six shillings, the highest amount ever garnered at the auction.”

“Well, good for you! I’m not surprised. Who is the lucky man?”

Well, he certainly wasn’t, and didn’t even try to be.

“Roger Kline,” I said. “And I’m so glad that he won. He’s so handsome, and his father is a secretary at Parliament. I’m sure that he will be just fascinating to talk to.” I couldn’t help but follow this Scarlett O’Hara line of patter. The book was fresh in my memory.

“Roger Kline. Huh.”

I wasn’t sure if it was an interested “huh” or a mocking “ha.”

“What do you have against Roger Kline?”

“I don’t have anything against him. I was just remembering that I hit him once when we were younger. I broke his nose. You know, Irish temper.”

I sat up straight. “You beat up Roger Kline? Why?”

“My father worked on his family’s grounds. One time, he ran over and took my lunch. So I let him have it.”

“He took your lunch? He doesn’t seem like the type.”

“Well, we all grow up and change, don’t we?”

“Did you get your father in trouble?”

“Nearly. He and Roger’s father worked it out. I had to be Roger’s slave for about a month to make up for it. I shined his shoes and washed down his horse and helped him with his Latin homework.”

“I wouldn’t have thought that you have a hot temper.”

“I used to, but I think a few weeks of servitude cured me of it. When you go out on your date with Roger, take a good look at his nose and think of me. I believe it is still a little crooked.” He sat back with a smug expression on his face and crossed his arms.