They reached Alan’s room, and Siana regretted her decision. She had agreed to his proposal, but when she was finally here; she felt nervous and queasy. Even though she tried to avoid looking at Alan, she could see that he glanced towards the bed which made Siana freeze with tension. When Alan took off his jacket and hung it over the back of the chair in his room, Siana fumbled with hers.
“Are you going to take off your jacket?” asked Alan.
“Oh, um,” stammered Siana, “I am trying to.”
She fumbled with the buttons of her jacket and took it off with trembling hands. One of her sleeves was stuck and wasn’t coming off. Alan grabbed the jacket and pulled it off.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Of course,” he said, “Dinner won’t be ready for a while. You can have a seat.”
“Oh okay,” she said nervously, “my jacket.”
“I will hang it up,” he said, “Just make yourself comfortable. I will give it back to you when we go for dinner.”
‘That is the least of my worries,’ she thought. Alan, meanwhile, took both of their jackets and hung it up in the closet. His room was well-kept, his desk was clean. His clothes were arranged in order. He seemed to be a natural at keeping his space clean. She relayed this to him.
“Well, the military teaches you a thing or two, I guess,” he said.
“They teach you how to clean?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“In a way, yes,” he said, “You have to learn to take care of yourself. Nobody will do it for you. And most times you don’t have anyone you can trust, so you learn to take care of your things. People you begin to trust might drop dead tomorrow, so every act becomes meaningless.”
She hadn’t planned to bring up painful memories for her friend. “Sorry,” she apologized, “I wasn’t intending to bring up bad memories.”
“It’s alright,” he said, closing the closet door, “It used to be painful, but now it just feels like something from a different life.” He walked towards her and grabbed her hand, intertwining his hands with hers. She tried not to flinch at the stark contrast between their skin: one calloused than the other. “You are by my side now, so I feel luckier than most. I shouldn’t complain.”
“It is okay to complain about things,” she said, “Just because you are alive doesn’t mean you have to accept and live with things as they are.”
Alan was quiet. He leaned towards her, his breath spilled over her shoulders. It made Siana feel more worried than ever. “Um, Alan,” she stammered. He was too close.
“You always…,” his voice trailed off, and he became alert. Thankfully, he straightened and took a step away from Siana. She stood there awkwardly. There was a knock at the door.
“Your Lordship,” came the voice from outside the door, “Dinner is ready.”
“We will be there,” said Alan briskly.
She hadn’t sensed the butler approaching, but Alan had. She felt sorry that he was always so alert, perhaps a remnant from his time in the war. She felt sorry for him. However, as he reached his hand out to take hers, she took it, pretending she was fine with it.
* * *
Alan’s dining room was larger than that of the vile viscount’s house. She felt strange in this space as the dinner was laid out on the vast table. It was a feast! She was reminded again of Alan’s stature in society and the huge chasm between them. She tried to brush the thoughts aside and focused on the delicious food.
She complimented the chef on providing such a feast. Her anxiety was momentarily on hold. The scrumptious food helped a little. They finished their dinner and left the dining room. As they were walking through the hallway, Alan’s deep voice came from somewhere above her head.
“I am glad you enjoyed it,” he said.
Siana had been lost in her own thoughts, and his voice jarringly brought her back to the present. “Sorry?” she asked.
“The dinner, I mean,” he said, “You even complimented the chef.”
“Oh,” she said, “Dinner was great. So many new dishes that I had never tried before.”
“You can eat like that every single day,” he said, “if we are married.”
Alan sounded like he had been waiting to utter those words. He was still trying, shamelessly and adamantly, to change her answer. All Siana heard was the worried ‘married’ which made her flinch and shiver. She sighed, wearily.
“I will make you enjoy everything here,” he said.
Siana’s heart pounded in her chest. Nothing felt good. She wasn’t able to calm down. She was quiet. She felt strange that he noticed everything she did and she dreaded the act for which she had come here, in this mansion, with him.
When they entered the room, her pulsating anxiety became worse. The bed, in her vision, glared at her and she felt nauseous.
“Sia,” Alan called.
“What?” she said, rather hurriedly. The mere sound of her name shocked her.
“Do you want to wash up first?” he asked, “Or should I?”
“I will go first,” she said quickly. Anything to be away from here for a while.
“Do you want me to call a maid to help with your bath?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “I can do it myself.”
“Okay,” he said.
She headed to the bathroom stiffly. From behind her somewhere, she thought she heard Alan laughing, but she ignored it. She closed the door of the bathroom and turned on the faucet. She had expected cold water, but it was hot. When she examined the faucet, a magical tool was shining over it. To afford such a magical facility was very pricey. Siana was fascinated.
“There was ice,” said Siana, to herself, “And now there is automatic hot water. Wow, so this is the life of a Lord.” She lowered herself into the water and studied the bottle of oil next to the tub. She opened it and poured several drops into the water. A pleasant aroma filled the room.
Normally, a hot bath would make her feel better no matter how bad a day she might have had. But today, she only felt disturbed. Am I really going to have to do this? Siana wondered. Even though they had spent so many years apart, she had always thought of Alan as her friend. People did say that friendship could turn into love, but there was no word in the world to describe the strangeness she felt. This just felt wrong. She would have to go through with it since she had come to the mansion, but the thought of it made her so queasy. She sat there in the tub, staring off into space with only herself and her thoughts. A knock at the door rudely interrupted her. She flinched.
“Sia,” said Alan from outside the bathroom door, “The maid brought you a gown. I will hang it on the door for you. You can wear it when you get out.”
“Okay,” she said dazedly, “Thank you.”
Siana got out of the tub and wiped herself. She wrapped the robe around her and picked up the clothes she had taken off.
“I am done,” she said, as she came out of the bathroom.
“Alright,” he said, “Go ahead and dry yourself while I bathe.”
“Okay,” she said.
“I had my butler fetch this while you were in,” he said, indicating a bottle of wine on the small table. “You can drink it if you want.”
Siana could bet that it was a very expensive wine. She nodded vaguely. Alan went to the bathroom. She found a magical tool that blew her hair to dry. She combed her hair and sat at the edge of the bed. What in the world is he planning? Siana thought. She hadn’t ever thought that her life would come to this. She would have crossed the border by now. But she was here, in his room, sitting on his bed! She thought she had no way of turning back. She had made her choice, unwillingly and hastily, but she wished she could run away, somewhere far, far away where nobody could find her.
Yulia said it will be painful the first time, thought Siana worriedly. She had never liked pain since childhood. She looked at the bathroom door in anxiety. Her fear was mounting. Any minute, he would come out of that door and she could do nothing. She looked around the room and saw the wine bottle on the small table that Alan had indicated.
I don’t think I can do this sober, thought Siana. She could never hold her liquor. Perhaps if she was drunk enough, it would be easier. She picked up the bottle and uncorked it. She poured herself a glass and downed it in one go. It usually took only one glass to make her tipsy, but at the moment even that failed her. She poured another glass and downed it. No effect! Why in the world isn’t this working?! Siana wondered frantically. Am I too nervous?
T/N: Hi everyone, I was a bit busy this week so updates were late. The next chapter will be up tomorrow! Thanks for all the support!