Chapter 1 : Comptine d'été
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The summer sun is buried six feet beneath the horizon, long shadows creeping across fields like skeletal fingers. Hills stretch up to catch the last few rays of sunlight as they paint zebra stripes across the grass. The evening is still, it is quiet and it welcomes the moment when day disappears into the distance like a paper chase.
The evening breeze tucks itself into the gaps in the window panes and under the door. Old houses are never airtight; it’s something Victoire’s mother remembers most about where she grew up, a bittersweet smile lining her lips as she told tales of harsh winters camped in front of the fireplace.
It’s in front of the fireplace that they sit now, though of course the weather is far too kind to warrant a lit fire. The old iron grate is clean, the stone lining the chimney not blackened by soot. She, her fair hair crushed by his jumper slung across her shoulders, leans back against the rough stone wall as she reads her book. The words have lost their meaning now, her mind is elsewhere; occasionally she remembers to turn a page. He is strewn across the rug at her feet, dozing in the late sunlight that captures the soft hairs on his jaw and the highlights in his dark hair. He lets out a contented sigh, happy that another glorious summer day has passed in a dream-like state.
Over the top of her book, Victoire observes his lazy smile and hidden eyes, aware that she is one of the very few people who sees him as serene as he is now. They are comfortable in each other’s presence, both knowing so much about the other that there seems little point in locking themselves away behind a mask of pretence. It is he who gave her the book which she can’t concentrate on; she allows her mind to wander, thinking of summers past and their unknown fate.
They come here, to this house, every year. Her aunt is welcomes them into the family home with a smile and cries of “ma chérie!”, taking their bags to their rooms as they retire to the parlour. Memories hide in the bricks and mortar of this small room tucked away at the back of the house; the rug before the fireplace, the weathered windows seat overlooking the hills around them, their names carved into the woodwork. Dreams were constructed there, castles built and fairytales dashed as they left their childhood behind.
“Stop staring at me,” Teddy mumbles, his eyes still closed and his fingers entwined.
She starts to redden, a dull flush creeping up the side of her neck and staining her cheeks. He always catches her off guard, often before she is even aware of her actions herself. She sighs, defeated. “How did you know?”
“You stopped turning pages about five minutes ago.”
“Ah,” she concedes, hastily returning her gaze to her book, starting once again from the top of the page she now knows by heart.
These moments together are precious, tucked away in the crux of their childhood memories, words are no longer necessary. They can wile away the time in comfortable silence, watching the last of the summer wither and die before they separate once again. Once inseparable, now the paths their lives have chosen to follow pries them apart.
“Now you’re the one staring,” she mutters, snapping her book shut and placing it carefully on the stone floor, the sound echoing off the hard surfaces. She meets his stare, her soft brown eyes narrowing as she observes his own much darker eyes. Neither flinch or look away, a moment of unsaid feelings passing between them, like a spider along a cobweb, never letting go.
“No I’m not,” he grins, resuming his position on the floor, splayed like an angel in the snow.
She rolls her eyes, leaning back against the stone wall. They’re still the same people, no matter how hard time tries to wear them down. She is stubborn like that and he cares not for thoughts about change and maturity. They still have the summer to retrieve time lost to adulthood, to relive the days when heart reigned over head in their innocence. Perhaps as the summer fades into autumn, they’ll find themselves again in each other, eyes as bright as children, discarding thoughts of what lies ahead.
The sun, now neatly tucked in, steals the light from the parlour. Defeated, the pair bid each other goodnight and go their separate ways. No longer children, they do not deny a good night’s sleep. Nights are meant for sleeping, mornings are made for rediscovery. Sleepy eyed they will rise early so that they can squeeze the minutes from the daylight like juice from an orange. On the cusp of independence, they’ll cling to every moment they have together until the sun finally sets for last time. Then, once again, they’ll separate like spider from web, joined by a single thread.
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