“Thanks for walking me to my room Lane, I appreciate it.”
Kelly, who was slightly shorter than Rebecca, looked up with a genuine smile. It was the Midsummer Night before Mika’s birth, and Kelly was dancing for the first time at the Midsummer Festival, taking over for Rebecca who claimed she was feeling too old and ugly to dance this year. When Kelly proposed a certain dance to Rebecca – one that had been Rebecca’s favorite in fact – they mutually decided that Lane would have to dance opposite, being the only man in Archein who knew the steps (he had been Rebecca’s dancing partner for many a Midsummer).
Lane shrugged the thanks off. “I’ve had bad experiences with dancers being taken advantage of after that dance. I’d like for it not to happen again.” He looked in the direction of his own apartment before turning back to Kelly. “There’s probably no need to worry, but lock your door tonight, just in case.”
“I will.” Her hand was on the knob, but she was facing him. “Would you like to come in for a minute? Make sure everything is safe?”
He looked back down the hallway; what he really wanted was to make sure his wife was safe. She left the Feast early, pleading an upset stomach and tiredness. He wasn’t sure he believed her (he was never sure he could believe Rebecca) and wanted to check on her. The last time she left Midsummer early she was kidnapped by Veriss and poisoned, and that is what caused first miscarriage.
“Lane?” Kelly waved her hand in front of his face so he would look back at her.
“Huh? Yeah, ok. Real quick.”
As she turned the knob and walked in he put a hand on his gun and moved past her into the small apartment. Kelly’s room had only a single bedroom attached and the seating area was a little smaller, but other than that it looked just like all the others. He lit a candle on the small table next to the couch and picked it up to look in the bedroom and make sure there were no men waiting inside.
“Perfectly safe,” he said and set the candle back down on the table. It cast a dancing glow across them both and he stood awkwardly for a moment before trying to leave.
“Wait.” She put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
“I have to get back to Rebecca.”
“Rebecca can take care of herself, she’s a big girl. A Balesi.” Kelly trailed her hand down his arm and goose bumps broke out on Lane’s flesh. “I’m just a dancer. I’ve got no one to protect me since my arranged marriage fell through.”
“Did it?” Lane said and looked at the door behind him. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not.” Kelly took a step closer. “I didn’t want to marry him.”
Lane opened his mouth and closed it again, at a loss for words. Was Kelly hitting on him? Lane must be ten years her senior if not more. “I have to go. My wife is at home waiting for me with a sick stomach. I’m sorry.”
Kelly turned to block the door. “You’re wife doesn’t have a stomachache, Lane, she’s got a broken heart. But she did it to herself. This was her idea, for us to dance together.”
“No one else knows the steps.”
“Do you honestly think you are the only man in Archein who could learn that dance? It’s hard, but any of the men who dance could do it.” She smiled. “You’ve been set up, Lane. By your own wife.”
His eyebrows knitted together as he processed the information. “No… why would she do that? Rebecca wouldn’t do that.” But part of him said that yes, maybe she woul
Kelly laughed humorlessly. “Because she wants you to have a son to pass your title and guns on to. And she can’t give you a son.” Kelly looked at him, challenging him to say otherwise, but Lane was silent. “Rebecca bought me out from my arranged marriage. Veriss’ rooms have been transferred to my ex-fiancé. Did you not wonder why Alexander was living in the best rooms in the palace? The rooms your wife owned? She traded them for me. She’s made me a concubine. She wants me to be your mistress.”
Lane winced. Not so much at the thought of Kelly as his mistress – she was beautiful and young, and could dance nearly as well as his wife – but at the thought of Rebecca going behind his back to arrange it. How could his wife arrange for him to have an affair with another woman?
“Rebecca wouldn’t do that. That’s a lie.” He said it with more confidence than he felt.
“I’m not lying.” Kelly put her hand on his arm again. “Rebecca would and did do that. She wants you to have a son, but she can’t bear it. Any other man would have arranged his own mistress by now.”
“I don’t care about a son.” Lane rubbed at his forehead. “I need to talk to her.” He pushed past Kelly to leave but she stopped him again.
“Just stay here for a while.” She whispered, pressing close, and he could feel his body respond. “Just stay here tonight and you can go back to her in the morning, and she will know that she did all she could to get you a son. Rebecca will be relieved, and I will relieve you tonight.”
“No.” Lane pushed her and she stumbled backwards into the table. Without making sure she was ok he opened the door and walked out, pulling it shut behind him with a definitive click.
“Mika, put on the dress.”
She shook the braid Amy put in her hair that morning so it slapped her face, leaving red marks on her cheeks.
Lane sighed – he didn’t need this tonight. “Put it on, Mikayla. You’re the one who wanted to go downstairs for dinner, so put on your dress.”
“I don’t want to wear a dress!” Her voice whined with the threat of a tantrum.
“Then we are making dinner here.”
“No! I don’t want your gross food anymore. I want to eat with Aunt Amy.”
“Aunt Amy’s eating downstairs, in a dress. So put yours on and we’ll go.”
Lane threw the dress on the bed and left the room before he said something he would regret. He sat on the couch in the main room, pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and tried to breath deep. Had Rebecca been this hard to deal with when she was a child? How had Donald ever managed? Maybe Donald Baine could cook more than ‘gross’ food. Maybe Donald hadn’t made his little girl wear dresses.
Leaning back on the couch and holding a hand over his eyes, Lane wished silently for Rebecca. She made awful food too, but she only had to say a word and Mika would put a dress on and wear ribbons in her hair and be a perfect little princess.
“I can’t do this by myself, Rebecca,” he whispered into his hand. “I can’t raise her without you. Not the way she ought to be raised.”
That made him think of what Jonathan said at the river a few days before. Mikayla needed a mother.
“Daddy?” She poked her head around the corner of the doorway and looked at him with curious brown eyes. He had never acted like that before.
Walking out into the main room with the dress on but not fully buttoned up, she grabbed his hand to get him to look at her. “Daddy, I can’t button it up by myself.”
He pulled her braided head closer and kissed the crown, eyes squeezed shut while Mikayla stood, uncertain and silent. When he let her go she moved between his knees so he could button the back of it with fingers that were too big to easily handle the small buttons. When he finished, she turned around with a bright smile. “I’m ready to go downstairs now.”
“Alright. Let’s go.”
He stood up, his body complaining with the weight of life, and she held his hand as they walked to the Great Hall, which served as a cafeteria area for the Bas class when it wasn’t being used for large festivals. While Mika chattered happily to Aunt Amy and some of the other women nearby who found her ‘too adorable for words’, Lane barely touched his food and stared into the nowhere land between the real world and his memories.
His head bobbed as he caught hold of his surroundings and looked towards the bashful voice. He tried to conjure up a smile, but it seemed he was no longer any good at hiding his feelings. There was a time when Lane was so wrapped up in Rebecca’s world of lies that he didn’t know what he was supposed to feel and say and do without a hint from her, and so he learned long ago to put on a good face until he got his hint. Many days he woke up not knowing if he was a lover or a best friend or an enemy – or hell, if he even existed. Sometimes he wondered if he wasn’t just a lie himself – someone Rebecca made up to serve her purpose of becoming Balesi, of getting what she wanted. Maybe now that she was dead he didn’t actually exist.
“Are you ok?”
Lane blinked and turned his head. He couldn’t place the voice to a name yet and was too disoriented to find the person talking. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” He rubbed his face to wake himself up further and then found who he was looking for, which hit him like a shock of cold water. “Kelly.”
She gave him a small, protective smile as she stood close enough to talk, but far away enough that no fabric would rub up against him and no one would mistake her concern for anything else. She had already done her part in making Lane ashamed to show face in court, she didn’t need to further that now.
“I couldn’t tell if you were bored or upset,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you were ok and give you my condolences…”
“It’s a little late for condolences.” He said it more harshly than he meant to. “It’s been a year.”
Kelly backed down, her eyes roaming the room as if trying to find someplace safe. “Well, I just wanted to let you know if you ever need someone to talk to or…or anything like that, I’m still in the same room.”
She turned and walked back down the table to where she had been sitting alone. Lane never realized it before, but Kelly had taken a fall from grace when she accepted Rebecca’s offer. Her father was upset that his arranged marriage fell through for reasons Kelly couldn’t explain, and as rumors swept through court like wildfire most of the other ladies stopped speaking to her with anything but general niceties. Being a concubine to a Balesi was something the lower classes were expected to perform, but a woman of the Bas? That was not acceptable.
Not for the first time that year Lane found his hands resting on his guns. Jon, trained well to watch in any situation for a pulled gun, noticed and laid a hand on Lane’s arm.
“Let’s take a ride after dinner,” he said before turning to kiss Amy on the cheek and tell her he would be out late.