Germain had just delivered the small bouquet of hand-picked daisies and cornflowers. His heart had pounded loudly in his ears, his palm gripping the delicate flowers too tightly. But the risk had paid off, and at her soft kiss to his cheek, he had felt himself turn bright red.
His face was still burning with the heat of his blush, when he could no longer see her between the tall oaks or hear her delighted giggles. Instead, he suddenly heard very different and all too familiar giggles.
Germain turned around slowly, fists clenched at his side and sure enough, the bushes a few feet behind him revealed the tops of his sisters’ heads. The burning sensation in Germain’s face intensified to a mixture of anger and mortification.
‘Joan! Félicité! I can see you," he called, causing them to leave their impromptu hiding place and skip towards him, both wearing ear-splitting grins on their faces.
"Germain is in lo-ove, Germain is in lo-ove," they sang in high-pitched screeches, dancing around him while continuing to giggle obnoxiously.
"Shut up!" he barked irritably, quickly setting off towards home. He suddenly could not bear to stay still for even one more second. How foolish he felt. He shouldn’t have picked her flowers, men didn’t do that, he was suddenly sure. After all, there was a reason he hadn’t told Jem, or grandpère, or anyone, really. He had been ashamed and he now saw that he’d been right to feel that way. No momentary whim of affection could justify a man squatting to pick flowers.
He had taken off at an alarming pace, his sisters racing behind him, still wailing their version of a humiliating serenade to Germain’s courtship. The house soon came into view, although Germain barely saw it, his eyes slitted in anger, all his energy focused on drowning out Joan and Félicité’s voices and replacing it with the agitated buzzing of utter discomfort.
He opened the front door with so much force that it banged against the outside wall loudly, storming inside and not paying any mind to his mother, who had to steady herself on the table so as not to be knocked over when he rushed past her, flung himself on the bed and buried his face into the pillow.
"Germain Fraser, ye’ll take yer boots off that bed this instant if ye dinna want yer father to beat some sense into yer thick heid afore dinner!" Marsali demanded grimly, turning her attention back to the onions she was cutting.
" Maman, Maman !" Her daughters entered the house in a clearly excited state, Joan jumping up and down and Félicité tugging at her skirts. Marsali sighed, carefully laid the knife down and sat on the bench by the fire, motioning for Germain to close the door, which he did with another loud bang, his face a mask of sullen defiance.
"What is it?" Marsali asked when the room had finally calmed down a little, already suspecting a connection between her son’s mood and that of her daughters’.
"Germain kissed a girl!" Joan exclaimed triumphantly, pointing her small index finger at her brother who had settled on a stool. His head had been buried in his arms but shot up at an alarming speed when she spoke.
"I did not!" he shouted with emphasis.
"Did too!" Joan countered, sticking out her tongue.
Marsali suppressed a chuckle for the benefit of her son and to keep at least the semblance of peace. She met Germain’s fiery glance, raised her eyebrows and waited for him to clarify.
"I did not!" he repeated insistently, his hands curled into fists against the worn wood of the table, his eyes burning with emotion, his hair sticking in multiple directions from when he had run his hands through it in agitation.
"Well alright, but she kissed you!" quipped Joanie, sending Félicité into another burst of giggles.
"Only on the cheek!" Germain exclaimed, but wouldn’t meet his mother’s eyes anymore.
"And he picked her flowers, Maman, and stared at her like the goat stares at Papa when he goes to feed her. And then he got all red and..."
"Stop teasing yer brother," Marsali interjected when the table started to shake precariously under Germain’s hands. Her son had stood up, his palms now flat against the surface of the table, and Marsali quickly went back to chopping the onions for dinner before he developed any notions of repurposing the knife.
At the exact moment Félicité took up singing "Germain is in lo-ove..." again, and Germain leapt to charge after her, the front door opened again.
„ Arrêtez cette folie immédiatement!" Fergus shouted loudly, catching Félicité by the skirt and raising a finger towards Germain. They both froze instantly, their eyes darting nervously towards their mother to see what she would have to say.
Before Marsali could speak however, Joan ran up to Fergus, and – wildly gesturing – said: " Papa, Germain is in love with a girl!" Germain knew better than to shout back again and instead snorted his disagreement.
"Oh?" Fergus asked with a curious look at his son, eyes twinkling with mirth. "Who’s the lucky girl?"
"One of the McArdle lasses," Joan supplied quickly, still gleaming with content to tell on her older brother.
"Ah." Fergus released Félicité from his grip and sat down, beckoning for his son to come closer. "He gave her flowers and she kissed him on the cheek and he..." Joan rattled on, but at a single raised eyebrow from her father she stopped mid-sentence and turned away sulking.
"I used to pick flowers for your mother," Fergus told Germain, softly squeezing his sons shoulder. "She kissed me for it, too," he added and looked over to his wife with a loving smile.
" Vraiement, Papa ?" Germain asked, his face opening up considerably, a visible weight dropping off his shoulders.
" Mais oui," Fergus confirmed, biting back the " mon petit " lying on his tongue at the last moment. His son was clearly growing up.