Charlie ducked into the maze of beech trees.
One walked down an alley between ancient hundreds of years old yew trees to the stables where Luke was returning from. It was either enter the maze or risk chancing on him.
Charlie’s nerves had still not settled from their encounter in the library.
Her idea was to duck in and walk along the path just so she was hidden from him when he passed the fork. Half an hour later she was muttering curses under her breath, blaming it on the hateful man. Then it started to rain.
Not the gentle pitter patters but the earnest, sincere kind as if the rain god Zeus had a point to prove. She yanked a fist heavenward as the path opened and congratulations to her she had reached the center of the maze.
Some sort of Greek statuary stood in the center of the maze and with a ‘since I am here I might as well’ resigned sort of air she advanced.
“Dear God!” She heard the incredulous gasp. “Charlie!”
She had conjured him out of her head. His hair plastered to his head Luke stood an ominous scowl on his face, soaked to the skin. She removed her hand the moment she heard him gasp and whirled around to face him but the evidence of what he had been witness to was in his eyes that raked her from head to toe.
His hooded eyes shielded his expression but she backed involuntarily when he took a step forward. The cold stone of the marble statue blocked her retreat. The man advancing on her had her cornered. The steadily pouring rain dropped curtains around them such that the whole wide world seemed to have fallen away.
“I think we should leave now if we do not wish to risk melting in this rain.” His voice was dry with humor but he held himself unnaturally stiff.
She nodded stepping away her head downcast and torrents of water running down the slope of her nose.
He grasped her by the wrist and towed her along full speed ahead.
“How did you know I was in there?” Charlie asked to dispel the hum of the falling rain that seemed to lock them together in dark intimacy.
“I saw you run into the maze to avoid me.”
So he did know she was avoiding him! Good.
“I would have left you to find you find your way back and take your own sweet time,” he continued, “But then it started to rain.”
“I was not lost,” she lied valiantly.
He stopped so abruptly she barreled into him unable to stop the collision of breast to chest, before her palms flattened on his chest intending to push away but instead surprised to discover the pace his heart was drumming at.
“Are you telling me you are so foolish as to risk pneumonia gamboling about in mazes in this pouring rain?”
He was not calm; his thundering heart was telling her. The man was duplicitous pretending a degree of comfort that simply did not exist. Strong emotions were roiling in his chest and he masked it all with his urbane, gentle mien.
Who was he? The man who had pleasantly comforted her or the man who had accosted her: his disturbance revealed by the sharp timbre of his voice.
When long minutes passed and no answer was forthcoming from her Luke studied the eyes regarding him quizzically and the hand on his heart. Understanding dawned.
“So who am I Charlie,” he asked her leaning forward his face inches away from her. “Civilized beast or savage?”
She flushed and pulled her hands away, stepping back.
“We should ah be getting along! Heavens it must be tea time!”
“Tea time has long passed Charlie,” he said in his deeply amused voice. “Since supper is still hours away we may safely linger.”
“Ah but we don’t want to risk pneumonia, do we?” She walked on and took the left turn where he had obviously been leading them and came to a full stop against the dark wall.
Great! She was surrounded now on three sides by the hedge wall and the fourth was blocked by Luke who stood arms crossed watching her, waiting to see what she would do next.
Minutes later she was again stuck. Then again. Then again. Every time she crossed him on the way out a chamber he bowed graciously allowing her to exit, never once letting their bodies touch. She peeped cautiously through the opening in the hedge not wanting to walk into a closed chamber again and saw the white statuary in the distance.
She had led them back from where they had started.
Luke stopped beside her and mimicked her peering into the opening and said. “I say! This is so much fun. Are we pretending to be robbers stealing the precious jewel of the temple deity? Should we whisper so we do not alert the temple guards? We can linger to playact, you know, since the rain has stopped!”
She turned on him. “No you hateful man, we are lost! I thought you knew the way out of this wretched maze!”
“But Charlie,” he mimicked. “How can you be lost? You are having such a grand adventure soaked to the skin, cold, shivering… are your teeth chattering, my dear? You are such a good actress. You get right into the spirit of the thing. I have always admired this about you even when we were children. I just hope the rain has not filled the snake holes with water and we meet an adder or two. That would make the atmosphere truly realistic for our charade.”
He moved on ahead and she followed him.
“You have to admit there is something piquant about risking pneumonia. It is the faint hearted who fear death. This,” he waved airily about them, “this is the real English spirit that has made us rulers of the world! Did you say something my dear?” He turned to ask when she made a growling sort of noise at the back of her throat.
“I said I wish you had died of dysentery that night.”
“How can you ever expect me to do such a churlish thing? Die and put the burden of guilt on your exquisite shoulders?”
“My exquisite shoulders would not give a damn!”
“Tut! Tut! Such language my dear,” he clucked disapproving. “Ah!” He snapped his fingers. “I get it! We are back to being the temple robbers. They would address each other thus. Spit, use cuss words and slap each other on the shoulder. I believe,” he stroked his chin sounding doubtful; “it builds camaraderie.”
Since he had stopped again she had no recourse but to stop.
“Luke,” She fumed clenching and unclenching her hands. “God help me I really want to …to… My gown is soaking, my shoes are drenched and, my hair is looking like rat’s tails. My fingers and toes are shriveled from the cold. I am virtually drowned here. I can barely speak without my teeth chattering. Just look at me!”
“I am looking, my dear,” he said in a velvet voice that left no doubt about his meaning. “If you want to leave just go.”
“Go where in this…” her voice trailed off. They were not in the maze. They were in the yew alley and she had not even noticed.
© Ruby Mohan
© Mamz | Dreamstime Stock Photos for heart image