For your enjoyment, this week I’m sharing a short story originally written in 2017. It’s Ontyre fantasy, a holiday story set in Raspell, Pannulus.
It’s the tale of sixteen year-old Phrilla, orphaned since soon after birth. Phrilla works as a clerk in a downtown store. She’s also a Sylvan, someone gifted with flora magic. Life has been stealing her dreams, but one remains.
I do hope you enjoy the story. It’s a twenty to thirty minute read. The holidays are near so, please, gift those you meet with a smile this season.
For the third time in the young morning of a young life, Phrilla Beckle prepared to save a life, the peace she seldom knew filling her when she was helping patients. She set a hand to either side of an ivy plant and her gift awoke. The plant’s internal structure appeared from leaves to roots. The plant longed for the sunlight, so scarce in late Autumn End Season.
First infusing it with additional strength, she next noted its desire for moisture, but not too much.
She tipped the watering can. “You have to keep up your strength because you’re the mama ivy. Well, not really, but I like to think of you that way.”
Mothering required a certain amount of imagination when she had no idea what it was to have a mother. Still, mending flora hearts was a step towards completing her own.
Beyond the plant, beyond the window, holiday shoppers trudged through the Raspell snow along Low Street. Bells rang. Not far away, there was singing. It was a glorious time of year, but not a good time for ivy plants in a northward facing window.
Tirena Ivy from Shorus Island was hardy, but a north window was cruel.
Choir voices penetrated her thoughts and warmed her inside. She gently rocked, her skirts swishing with the rhythm.
Footfalls approached. “Why do you do that, Phrilla?”
She grinned at the so often heard criticism before turning. “I enjoy it.”
Rassy, hands on her hips, shook her head, her pinned red hair a fire above green eyes it’d be joyous to have.
Those green eyes rolled. “You come in early when our wages go to the orphanage anyway? We have two more years of purported work study that’s really cruelty, before we turn eighteen. You do extra work and Mister Drendle profits.”
“But the plants are innocent.”
“It’d serve Dreaded Drendle right if they all shriveled up. By the Powers, Phrilla, he already owns the largest mercantile in downtown Raspell.”
“But the plants…”
“Do you have any idea how much it’d cost him to pay a trained Sylvan to come in here to do what you do for free?”
“Wake up, Phrilla. The orphanage won’t send you to a gifted’s school and you can’t pay for it because your earnings are split between the orphanage and Dreaded Drendle.”
She shrugged one shoulder. “I know, I guess.”
A strong male voice came from the side. “Leave her alone, Rassy. She’s a Sylvan, they’re all gentle, reserved, and overflowing with kindness.”
“You mean meek, Winton, and it’s different for you. Because you’re a boy you can keep your wages for making deliveries.”
“But, if she enjoys it…” Diverting his gaze from Rassy, he smiled at her and winked.
A different kind of warmth filled her.
Winton was tall and broad shouldered and aspired to become an engineer, yet even he avoided Rassy’s wrath. Even Mister Drendle wilted beneath it. How ironic. Rassy was so fierce Mister Drendle would probably hire her as a manager someday.
Rassy threw up her hands. “Dear Genessa, Winton, everyone knows you have a crush on Phrilla.”
“I—” He flushed and disappeared across the store.
Lips parted, she turned back to the ivy. What a dream it’d be if Winton asked her to the Beneva Eve Dance. Not that she knew how to dance, though Rassy was always threatening to teach her.
Behind, Rassy growled. “What am I going to do with the lot of you?” She was sounding like a manager again.
Time was running out. Mister Drendle’s strict rule was that each employee be at their station when the doors opened.
She touched her hair. Yes, it was still pinned in place. Mister Drendle was strict about appearance too, and it was so long and unruly he could demand she cut it. She swept a hand searching for any black tendrils hanging down. None.
Mister Drendle strode into the room clapping his hands. He was taller than she was, but that wasn’t saying much. It was quite odd how everything about him was thin, from his body to his voice to his mustache to the black hair that was disappearing.
He cleared his throat. “Hurry up now, all of you. I want my clerks in place when we open. It’s the holiday season.” How silly, he gave the same speech each morning. Well, except the holiday part.
The store opened and she assisted each customer with a smile and downcast eyes, hands clasped except when having to handle merchandise. Matching wills was for Rassy who made more sales than everyone else. Rassy, the future manager.
Even if Rassy’s impudence often got the better of her.
Mid morning brought aches after fitting too many shoes. Shoes were her specialty, not because she knew much about them, but because they required her to meet gazes less often. Arching her spine, she retreated to the back room for five minutes of peace, passing two girls returning to the floor.
Actually, they hurried back to the floor.
No one talked about it, but everyone knew she possessed the Sylvan gift. Many thought it was creepy, even though Raspell was known for magic. Superstitions were the work of the staff at the orphanage. Some, like Rassy, didn’t listen.
Winton appeared looking quite smart in his suit. An engineer indeed! “Hi, Phrilla.” He always said it as if he hadn’t seen her in weeks.
He held up a candy and she diverted her gaze. If Mister Drendle caught him sneaking candies Winton would hear about it for the rest of the day. “Caramel?”
“No, thank you, Winton.”
“They’re delicious and, well, the color … like your skin, though not as deep and pretty as your eyes.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, it was something I noticed.”
“Oh, Winton…” He was cute when he was strong, but he was also cute when he was awkward.
He shrugged one shoulder. “You know, I was wondering … I mean, Beneva Eve is in less than a week, and, I mean, you know—”
Rassy burst through the curtain separating the back from the sales floor and pulled the halves closed behind her. “Phrilla!”
“You have to help me!” She grabbed her arms. Rassy was just tall enough to look down, not that she needed it to be intimidating.
“Madame Orflace just came in for shoes.”
“You know, Orifice Orflace. I simply can’t face her again. The woman is horrid. If I wait on her I’ll say something dreadful, which she’d deserve, of course.”
Winton snickered. “So you’re trying to pass her off to someone timid?”
“Phrilla has never said a harsh word to anyone.”
“I … Rassy … I don’t … I mean, I do say mean things.”
Rassy laughed. “Really? When?”
She raised her chin. “I … well, even if I don’t say them, I often think terrible things, awful things.”
Rassy shook her, her eyes beseeching. “Please, Phrilla, you have to do this thing for me. What with the holidays and all, I just simply cannot tolerate that woman today. Please. Please. Please.”
Winton shook his head. “Don’t, Phrilla. Make her do it.”
Glaring at him, Rassy, grimaced. “Oh hush.” She turned back. “Please, Phrilla. I’ll do extra work for you tonight.”
“I … well…”
Phrilla closed her eyes. Dear Genessa, if there was one customer she couldn’t stand it was Madame Orflace. “Okay.”
In the background, Winton groaned. Rassy was right, she was too meek—and there was no one better at exploiting it than Rassy. It was just that she’d vowed long ago not to hate anyone or she’d end up hating the mother who gave her away.
Rassy hugged her and disappeared.
Winton’s sigh was audible. “Good luck, Phrilla.”
Deep breath. She primped her white blouse, brushed at her plaid skirt, and stepped through the curtain. She’d waited on Lady Orflace more times than anyone else. What was once more?
All other sights and sounds disappeared, as did coworkers. Mister Drendle was talking to Madame Orflace, and looking up to do it. He glimpsed which clerk was approaching and blew out a breath, his shoulders relaxing.
Hands clasped before her, she summoned her most demure smile.
Mister Drendle slapped his hands together and slid them back-and-forth. “Wonderful, Phrilla can serve you, Madame. I’ve no better clerk.”
“She’d best be.” As if they’d never met before. “The service in this establishment … well, I simply have no idea why I continue to come in here. And so many people running about on such an absurd holiday. To think, a day when a kindly wizard goes about with gifts and granting wishes … who would think up such a thing?”
“I’m quite certain you’ll enjoy the best service with Phrilla.” He walked off and—Dear Genessa!—gave her a sympathetic smile.
She curtsied. “Madame.”
Madame Orflace was already seated. She pointed to the display. “I desire that style.”
The woman’s eyes became fire worthy of shaming Rassy’s hair. “Well, girl, are you simple? Get on with it!”
“I … yes, of course. I … I mean, policy is that I measure—”
“By the Powers, girl, have you not a brain in that pitiful head of yours? Are you implying I’m not smart enough to know my size?”
“Of course not.” She flashed a new smile, but not too much or Madame Orflace would believe her condescending.
“I’m a size seven.” She motioned with her hand. “Now, off with you.”
Size seven? Not all the magic in the city would force her foot into such a shoe. She was a nine, always a nine.
What was she thinking? It was always the same. She had to wait her out, bringing shoes until they reached her proper size. It took forever and provided more time for the woman to berate her, but it worked.
“In all of Pannulus, girl, what is the matter with you?”
“Oh, sorry, ma’am. Right away, ma’am.” She curtsied again for good measure and raced to the back for the shoes—in size seven.
Winton was there and held up a hand. “Slow down. It takes a certain amount of time for her to become bored with her games no matter how fast you move.”
“Right, of course.” How could she have forgotten? Because Winton had almost asked her to the dance, she was certain of it.
She stepped back through the curtain with the box as a mother and daughter entered the store. Rassy went to greet them, mouthing a thank you as she passed.
Stumbling a step, she froze in place.
A mother with her daughter. She had no memory of her own, or her father for that matter. The girl was perhaps twelve. What a delight it’d be to have your mother take you to the mercantile to purchase shoes. To purchase anything.
Everything she knew about fashion she learned from Rassy, and who knew where she learned it.
It wasn’t fair that Rassy was waiting on them while she got Orifice Orflace. Mother’s with daughters … so often she’d wait on them and imagine the woman was her mother come to reclaim her.
“Girl!” She jumped. “By the Powers, girl, what are you gawking at?”
She rushed forward and dropped to her knees with the shoes, taking a half second to straighten her skirts. “My apologies, Madame Orflace.”
“It’s quite obvious you’re an inferior child. I’ve no idea why Drendle allows the lot of you to work here. Dreadful.”
Removing the woman’s shoe, she set it aside. “I shall endeavor to do better, ma’am.” She slid the shoe on with a gentle hand to ease the woman’s poor toes to the front where there wouldn’t be enough room.
“Ow!” Madame Orflace kicked out with her foot and caught her in the chest. She fell back, but put out a bracing arm. “You stupid little imbecile! Do you have even the slightest idea what you’re doing?”
“I was trying to go easy.” She swallowed hard, straightened, and grasped the shoe again. “Perhaps a slightly larger size?”
“You retched little child. I wear a size seven-and-a-half. What have you brought me? A size seven? I knew it. You’re as slow as a beached jellyfish. Now I cannot even trust you to listen correctly. I explicitly said size seven-and-a-half!”
“Of course. My apologies.” Hand shaking, she grasped the shoe to remove it. Across the way, Rassy was looking at her and cringing and—Dear Genessa—mouthing I’m sorry.
“Did you hear me?”
She jumped and slipped off the shoe. “Yes, right away.”
“You idiot girl! That’s enough, I want someone else. You awful little orphan, it’s no wonder your mother rid herself of you.”
She gasped. Hands fisted, she raised her gaze and glared.
Madame Orflace slapped her hard across the face, toppling her to the side. Tears burned her eyes and she set her hand to her cheek where it stung.
Either there was total silence in the mercantile or she couldn’t hear sounds.
Seething, she unleashed the fire in her gaze. “You horrible, terrible woman! How could you treat a person in such a way?”
Jaw slack, Madame Orflace recoiled. It was a wonder she didn’t go over backwards in her chair. “Mister Drendle!”
He appeared in half-a-second, probably having her the slap. His gaze shifted to a cheek that had to be red. “Madame…?”
“I want this girl fired. Now!”
He cringed and licked his lips. “Madame, I’ll find someone else—”
“I want her fired!”
“But, she … she’s my best clerk.”
“Are you siding with her, Mister Drendle?”
“No, of course not, I…”
Winton appeared, his cheery tone implying he was oblivious to what was happening. “I’m sorry, Mister Drendle, but those packages for Lady Praemia … there’s too many for me to carry and the wagon—”
Drendle grabbed her arm, pulled her to her feet, and shoved her towards Winton. “Take Phrilla to help you, just get her out of the store.”
“I, well, okay.”
How unprofessional … she was crying! And her harsh words … but the woman deserved it. She did!
Winton set a hand to her back and urged her towards the rear.
Behind, Madame Orflace was screaming while Mister Drendle summoned every available clerk.
She pulled on her coat with mechanical motions. That was it. She’d lose the job and no one would hire her after she turned eighteen.
Rassy appeared and hugged her. “Oh, Phrilla, I’m so sorry. If I’d—”
Winton pointed at Rassy, his tone deep and booming. “You aren’t sorry!”
Hands on her hips, Rassy glared. “How was I to know the old bat was on her worst rampage ever?”
Winton growled. “Let’s get out of here, Phrilla.” He encouraged her towards the back door.
She reached the cold air and stopped. “Wait, what about—”
He grinned. “I lied.” He held up two packages. “About everything.” He motioned with his eyes at the undamaged wagon. “If we walk slow enough she’ll be gone before we return.”
Huddled beneath her long coat, hands clasped within her muff, Phrilla walked beside Winton. Was there something she was supposed to say to remind him of the question he’d almost asked?
Families moved along the snowy street carrying packages. Children ran about, slid on the ice, or threw snowballs. In the park were snowmen watching over the passersby. It was all wondrous with the bright lights everywhere and a choir continually within earshot.
If he held her hand it’d be perfect. He couldn’t, of course, while laden with the bulky packages.
Two small children cut between them and she was spun around. A barking dog followed.
Laughing, she sighed. “How cute.”
Winton grumbled. “Little monsters.”
“How can you say that?”
He laughed. “I was kidding. It’s obvious you’ll be a good mother some day.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. I’ve seen you with the children at the mercantile. You’re patient, and the children, they like you a lot.”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe.” Her eyes locked with his, but she diverted them and continued walking, the snow on his side, the street side, waist high.
The romantic, cheerful atmosphere was almost enough to forget the attack at the store.
Running, a boy shoved her as he passed from behind. She stumbled into Winton, who juggled the packages, but didn’t drop them. Clinging to his coat, she regained her footing. Ahead, the boy knocked over an old man sitting against the wall, spilling the contents of his cup in the snow.
“Oh no!” She raced ahead.
Behind, Winton called. “Phrilla, he’s a beggar.”
“But he needs help.”
People were stepping over the old man, pressing the spilled coins into the packed snow.
She crouched before him. “My word, how awful. Are you quite all right, sir?”
He cackled. “Took a spill, I did.” Well, he certainly possessed good humor about the situation. He righted himself and straightened his dark glasses. Dear Genessa, was he blind too?
“Here, let me help you.” She dug in the snow, located coins, and dropped them back in his cup.”
“Well, thank you, kind little miss.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“Can’t say how many times that’s happened to me today and no one else helped.”
She paused in her coin search. “Truly?”
“People are busy.”
“That’s no excuse.” She clawed at the snow, her fingers turning red. “My word, if people keep spilling your cup it’s no wonder so many coins are buried.”
“You’re kind to strangers.”
He seized her hand with surprising accuracy. “Have you ever lost someone close to you?”
The grip on her wrist was gentle, but unyielding. There was also the urge to share. She shrugged. “I can’t say as I have … well, my parents.”
The beggar withdrew his hand. “You’re an orphan?”
“I am.” She extracted another coin and smiled at the clink when it dropped into his cup.
“So, might you ask the Beneva Wizard for a mother?”
“The Beneva Wizard?” What a quaint thought. “I suppose I would if—” No one truly believed. “I rather think I’m a little old to believe in such things.” She gave him a smile he couldn’t see. Extracting a coin of her own, she dropped it into the cup.
“That one was yours.”
She started. “Sir?”
“I can tell. You have so little, yet you stop to help an old man and give him what you can’t afford.”
“It’s but a little coin, sir.”
“And not worth nearly as much as the deserving heart that deposited it.”
“I … I suppose.” She made to rise and he grabbed her arm again.
“Don’t listen to what they say, but instead listen to your heart.”
“Sir?” Was he referencing the mercantile? How could he know?
“Heal, kind miss. Expose your heart to those who need it to complete their own.” He released his hold and slumped.
“Of … of course.” She stood.
Moving close, Winton gestured with his chin. “He’s a strange one, he is.”
“I guess.” She quickened her step to keep up with Winton and twisted around, but the old man was swallowed up in the crowd.
Winton sidestepped a small, barking mutt. “How did he know?”
“About you being a Sylvan. That was what he meant, wasn’t it?”
“I really can’t say.”
“You’re kindness amazes me, Phrilla.”
She sniffled. “I have to be kind or it’ll mean my mother was right to give me up and I couldn’t stand the thought.”
“How could a mother possibly give you up?” He lifted the packages, his way of gesturing ahead. “Here we are.”
“My word, Winton, look at how grand it is even behind all the trees. Colored lights and decorations, including a giving tree with a star. What a sight. It’s the first mansion I’ve seen and it’s glorious.”
“And only Lady Praemia living in it.”
“Well, besides servants. She has big parties and such, I guess, and there’s a brother somewhere, I hear, but, yeah, mostly her.”
“I think I’d want a family to fill the rooms.”
She stopped beside him at the corner to let a trolly and wagons pass, the horses’ hoofs splashing in the slush. Beyond, the stately home with its massive columns on the portico stood tall and proud—and lonely.
All that space and so few people.
Several boys asked Winton who the packages were for.
He jumped at them. “Scram, the lot of ya.”
“I don’t want them snatching them out of my hands. I’d lose my job and my chance for the university.”
“Do you think I’ve lost my position?”
“I agree with Rassy. Mister Drendle needs you to care for his plants, and you’re a good worker. The best, actually. Most customers love you. Grouchy Orflace doesn’t like anyone. She just wants everyone to be as unhappy as she is.”
Perhaps, but if the woman pressed Mister Drendle enough would he fire her? Winton was trying to make her feel better like he always did.
“It’s all quite sad.”
“You do remember she slapped you, don’t you?”
“Well, yes. I mean, it was awful and she deserved my words, but—”
“But? You can’t be serious.”
She shrugged. “She’s miserable on the inside and thinks the only way to be happy is to give her unhappiness to others.”
“She couldn’t possibly have more to be unhappy about than you. Who hit who?”
“Well, that was kind of my point.” Still, the woman had the power to ruin her life if she wanted. Was losing her parents not enough?
Winton knocked and a woman in a smart suit answered. “I’ve packages for her Madame Praemia from the mercantile.”
“I can take them.”
“Sorry, but Madame Praemia has to sign for them or else Mister Drendle will think I kept them for myself.”
“I’m her personal secretary.”
“It has to be her. Sorry, ma’am.”
“Very well.” Retreating, she gestured. “Set them on the table.” She pointed at a well-dressed man passing through. “Please, Poston, watch these two and make sure they don’t touch anything!”
“Uh, you do remember I’m a lawyer, don’t you.”
“Just do it.”
“Where’s the maid?”
“A good question. Madame is far too easy on the staff.”
“Very well. Be quick about it.” He sorted through the papers in his hand and the secretary walked off.
Still near the door, she sighed. Twin staircases curled outward to rejoin at the second floor behind the giving tree, which had to be the biggest—ever. Beautiful lights. A glistening chandelier overhead. Tapestries. And the marble floor … polished until it was a stone mirror.
“My word, I wonder what the rest of the house looks like?” The lawyer glanced her way, but didn’t answer.
“More of the same, I’d suppose.” Winton set the packages on the table, backed away, and pointed at a massive portrait of a couple and their teenage daughter. “I wonder who those people are?”
“I thought you said she lived alone?”
She halved the distance to the enormous giving tree. “Oh, Winton, it’s losing so many needles and it isn’t even Beneva yet. It’ll be bare in no time.” She walked closer, the flora’s struggle tugging on her heart.
The lawyer lowered his papers. “Must I remind you, young lady, that you’re to stay away?”
“But, the tree, sir, it’s dying!”
She rushed forward, spread her hands out wide, and her gift awakened. Eyes closed tight, her inner vision entered the tree. It was so large, and so weak, and required far more effort to explore than the small plants at the mercantile. She provided it strength, pushing so it’d surge to the tip of every branch.
Swaying, she set a ward for the ailing tree to keep the chill away, her eyes opening to a round foyer spinning.
“Phrilla!” She swooned and Winton’s strong arms caught her.
The lawyer arrived. “Damn it, girl, what’ve you done?”
Winton’s tone turned hard. “She’s a Sylvan and just saved your precious tree, that’s what she’s done, but it was too much.”
An older woman’s voice echoed in the foyer. “What’s going on here?”
Her churning stomach gagging her, Phrilla pressed a hand over her eyes. She was in trouble for the second time in a day.
Winton helped her to a chair. “So sorry, Madame, but … well, that’s how Phrilla is. It’s in her nature to help. To think she wasn’t even supposed to be here.” He fanned her face with his hands. “Philla?”
“Stand aside, young man.”
She opened her eyes and multiple images converged long enough to create the portait of an elegant woman in a beautiful blue dress. Was she a grayer version of the woman in the portrait? Or was the woman in the foyer the girl grown up?
Whoever she was, she ordered the secretary to bring a glass of water and sent the lawyer to bring Wizard Silvus.
“Breathe, my dear.”
“I … I’m so sorry…”
“Never mind that. What were you thinking sacrificing yourself so?”
“It was ailing terribly.”
The woman tittered. “My word.” The water arrived. “Here, drink this. It’ll help until my friend arrives.”
She swallowed the liquid and it cooled her all the way down. “My head…”
“You’re obviously gifted, dear, and over-extended the gift.” The woman glanced over her shoulder. “My word, the tree!”
Blinking multiple times formed a picture of a tree, it’s drooping branches raised higher, its color more vivid. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, don’t apologize. The tree was delivered too early. Since then, many Sylvans have passed it without paying it any mind—until you. What’s your name?”
“Phrilla, Phrilla Beckle. I’m a clerk at Mister Drendle’s mercantile.” Off to the side, Winton was staring at the tree, his jaw slack.
“It’s just that—”
An old man in a brown suit and carrying a staff walked into the foyer. “What do we have here?”
“Silvus, this young lady, a clerk of all things, and obviously a Sylvan, overtaxed her gift to save the giving tree.”
“Did she now?” He sounded strangely amused.
Sitting in the chair beside her, he released his staff, which remained upright. He took her right hand and tingling warmth spread up her arm. Her vision remained fuzzy, but after several blinks it cleared.
She narrowed her eyes. “You’re a wizard, sir?”
His brows raised, but there was no real smile. “I am. And you’ve accomplished quite a feat for an untrained Sylvan, kind miss.”
“I’m sorry, but—”
The woman cut in. “She says her last name is Beckle, Silvus.”
“Well now, that’s interesting. Yes, the hair, the features … it’s possible.”
What was possible? “I don’t understand?”
Madame Praemia crouched before her and took her hand. “It has to do with your parents. You wouldn’t remember because you were so young.”
“My parents? You knew them?”
“I did. No one has told you?”
“I … I was raised in an orphanage.”
“What?” Madame Praemia recoiled, her eyes wide, her face reddening. “And they didn’t … oh, they’re going to feel my wrath. All these years? They’ve been living off your dowry, no doubt.”
“I … I still don’t—”
Wizard Silvus opened his hand and his staff leapt to his grasp. “The tragic ferry sinking fifteen years ago that took the life of all aboard—except one.”
Chills replaced the warming strength he’d provided. “One?” She should blink, but her eyes were stinging. Winton set a hand on her shoulder.
Madame Praemia squeezed her hand. “Yes, you, my dear. It was extraordinary that you survived.” She glanced up at the portrait. “I lost my husband and daughter both.”
Her tears came. “I … no one, no one told me. I thought they gave me away.”
“How awful.” Madame squeezed hand again, her own eyes glassy. “They’d have never given you away. You were far too precious to them. Dear Genessa, all these years, I had no idea … you disappeared, and—”
“I understand, ma’am. Your grief and all.”
“And you’re at the orphanage still?”
“I am. I work as a clerk to pay my way now, though.”
The woman’s face hardened. “That’s terrible. Those thieves. They’ve taken advantage of you all these years, and now, having robbed you of your money, they have you working for them. Oh, heads will be parted from shoulders before I’m done.” She pointed at the lawyer. “Drop everything, right now. I want this looked into.”
“Of course.” He gave her a nod and jogged off.
“But, I’ve no where else…”
“Of course you do. You’ll come live with me straight away, and you’ll return to school. No more clerking. Oh no, not for my girl. A school for the gifted most definitely.”
The wizard stood and advanced on the tree. “Quite an extraordinary feat for an untrained Sylvan. Quite extraordinary.” He left.
She set her fingertips to her brow, her still clearing head working to catch up with events. “But … live here? But I’m an—”
“Orphan? No longer.” Madame leaned forward and hugged her. “You’ll live here with me, if you’re agreeable.”
“If I’m agreeable?”
She searched the woman’s face. “Might one day, if possible, we go shopping? I’ve so few dresses. Perhaps I could purchase another, what with school and all?”
“Nonsense, you’re my ward.” She smiled. “I’ll buy you lots of dresses. For now, we’ll see to moving you out of the orphanage. We might need help carrying things so your young man can come along.”
“My young man?”
“My dear Phrilla, it’s quite obvious. He was more pale than you when you collapsed.”
He sighed. “You mean a lot to me, Phrilla. Back at the mercantile I wanted to ask—”
“Of course I knew.” If not for Madame Praemia and the secretary he could kiss her straight away, but that could come later. At least there’d be a new dress to wear when he did.