There was no sense of time, it could have been noon as easily as midnight. The only difference was the way the air felt.
Daylight was line-dried cotton, still warm from the sun. Crisp, yet soft to the touch. It smelled of lilacs and lavender, and sugar cookies. There was laughter and hugs, birdsongs and gentle breezes.
Midnight… midnight was rich as velvet. Bittersweet and dark as Darjeeling, lingering scents of cinnamon and ginger hung in the air. Whispered voices and calls of night owls meandered through the halls, a chill clung in the corners. There were shy smiles hidden behind a delicate hand. Furtive glances filled with longing and sadness.
Even with the drapes drawn and the shutters latched, there could be no deception. Midnight was not to be manufactured, it must be anticipated. There was to never be a civilized high tea. There could be no evidence of the sun, no outward bustle of a life lived among others. It was a solitary existence. He would only come at his appointed time, she could not summon him while the day still remained.
Preparations began after Compline ~ “… grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end…”
~ before the moon reached its zenith. The color of cream, swirls of chai playing upon her full face, Luna cast shimmering shadows across the lawn. Bending at odd angles in search of an unguarded way into the house.
There were to be only two at this plenilunary ritual. The finest bone china was set out, embroidered linen and sterling silver demitasse spoons graced the table. The creamer and sugar pot at the ready. A three tiered petit four tray held delicate treats, savories, scones waiting to be garnished with Devonshire cream or jam, and tiny, crustless sandwiches of avocado and lox.
A fire had been laid, though her guest would be in no need of warmth. She favored the amber glow of the flame to the harsh glare of contemporary lights. Within the golden aura of the blaze, he was more substantial. As if the modern world was too much for him to bear, never allowing him a firm foothold.
Checking the kettle heating over the fire, the clock in the hall chimed the third-quarter hour. He would be there soon. The water was near ready, with just enough time to brew the tea. As the minutes ticked by, her heart matched time with the pendulum’s swing. She was as breathless with longing now as she was at that first rendezvous so many years ago.
While she fretted over the tiny lines etched around her eyes, deepening when she smiled, he had not aged. Still as charming and youthful as the day they met, he often asked her why she had never took another companion. Asked if she was lonely. She would wave away his concerns, telling him she was happy in the short hours they shared. Never admitting she knew there could never be another who she would love more.
As she poured the steaming water over the tender tea leaves, she felt that familiar thrill that foretold his appearance. Replacing the iron kettle on its hook, she turned to finally face him. She felt her knees weaken at the radiance of his smile, and feared she would fall had he not reached her at that moment, gathering her in his arms. Arms as real and strong as any man who walked in the daylight.
He held her close, breathing in her perfume. Her heart beating so hard, he could feel it through his shirt. Reluctantly he pulled back from her, kissing her gently, tasting the honey she had used to sweetened her earlier cup of chamomile.
Taking her hand in his, he brought her finger tips to his lips, murmuring his ‘I love yous,’ charmed when she blushed schoolgirl pink. Squeezing his hand, she managed to remind him their time was short and walked with him to the elegantly laid table.
He pulled out her chair, still holding her hand as she eased into the seat. Two short steps and he took his place across from her. Far enough away to be able to see her face as they spoke, yet close enough to reach for her hand during lulls in their conversation.
“I though you might like to try a new Ceylon I found recently,’ she said. “I’ll pour.”
A persistent sliver of light, finding the smallest of cracks in the shutters, shone brightly across her cheek. Reluctantly she allowed her mind and body to awaken, the echo of the hall clock fading. She was vaguely aware of it chiming six times. Her right arm numb from long use as a pillow. Lifting her eyes, she saw her untouched cup of tea, long since cold. The sweets tray still filled to brimming.
Rising she stirred the dying fire, pouring the remains in the kettle onto the coals, dousing their heat. Standing beside the table, she placed a hand on the teapot, it too cold to the touch. His cup, still full, had not been moved.
In the dawning hours, she struggled with her memories, yet she persisted in the formality of tea. Just in case this was all more than a dream, in case one day he remained until daybreak, or she left with him at midnight.
I sent my challenge ~ up a creek without a paddle ~ to Rett at Rettorical.
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