“What a beautiful day to be going back home.”
From the skip in their step, it was clear the children felt much the same way as their father.
“Look at them lovely cherry blossoms.” Ellen, just as cheerful as the rest.
“Aren’t they lovely?” Michael agreed. “I shall have to paint them.” Her turned with a smile. “What about you, Jane?”
“What about me?”
“He means what about you and that handsome lamplighter, Jack.” Ellen was all but prancing with glee at the very idea, but Jane was frowning.
“No! No. We’re just friends.”
“Oh, go on.”
The whole of the family flock laughed around her.
“Stop it, Ellen!”
As Michael turned and led the others towards the ribbon-wrapped gates to their right, Jane, genuinely startled by the gentle teasing of her family, hung back with a muttered, “That ship has sailed.”
From just behind her shoulder, a prim voice entirely unaffected by the catching laughter offered, “There are always other ships.”
Jane blinked, then slowly turned towards Mary Poppins. Silhouetted against a sea of cherry blossoms, the most delicately gaudy display mother nature had to offer, she was a study in proper blue, the clear spring sky brought down to earth.
“Are there?” Jane asked, very quietly. She tugged at the collar of her olive jacket with one hand, the other slipping into her pocket. Very distantly, she heard the children exclaiming over the spring fair, Ellen demanding they not start running till she’d seen what they were getting themselves into, Michael offering her an arm to get her there. But she hung back in the dappled shade of the trees outside the gate. All she could really concentrate on was the woman before her and the faint widening of her implacable blue eyes.
“Oh,” said Mary.
Jane felt herself beginning to turn the same shade as the blossoms.
“I’m rather surprised I didn’t see it before. Ah well. Must be some surprises left, even for someone like me, I suppose. The world would start to get rather… disinteresting, were it not for the ‘practically’ part of ‘perfect.’”
“I don’t think I’ve said anything very surprising,” Jane offered, watching Mary begin to pluck the coral-red gloves off her hands one fingertip at a time.
“Well, that’s just that, isn’t it. Sometimes, one doesn’t think before one says anything at all, and sometimes one says a great deal in a very few words, or even no words whatsoever, and very pointedly does not think about them after, either.”
“I don’t follow,” Jane answered with earnest interest and not a small amount of genuine distress.
“I don’t blame you,” Mary confessed, pocketing the gloves and taking two quick steps towards her. “Sometimes I am intentionally esoteric, but sometimes, even I am prone to babble. And you, my dear, have brought out the latter in me today with just a two word question.”
Somewhere behind them, carnival music picked up its pace and swelled over the hedges in a swirling, pink-petaled breeze. The air smelled impossibly fresh for the heart of a city, the sun impossibly light.
“You never did answer,” Jane said in that same soft, earnest voice.
“No, I never did. You know I don’t care to repeat myself. But yes.” She tipped her hat back just a bit further out of her eyes with one finger. “There are always other ships.” With one additional step, there was very little space left between them at all; their toes might have touched were it not for Mary’s pointedly outturned ankles. “Some of which—” she continued, letting her fingertip fall away from her hat and graze delicately down the line of Jane’s spring-pink cheekbone. “—it would be very ill-advised to take sailing.”
“Says the woman who eats impossible things for breakfast.”
Stifling a smile, Mary shook her head. “I didn’t say impossible, Jane. If you put words in my mouth, there won’t be any room for breakfast at all.”
Jane, however, was beginning to look a little frail with the teasing, the hand at her jacket collar clutching tight enough it might take a good ironing to work out the creases left by her nails. Mary reached out and pressed her hand atop Jane’s, pressing till it released the fabric and flattened over her heart. “Besides,” she said gently. “While I haven’t tried ill-advised in a great many years I’m certain, after a diet of the impossible, it will be simple enough.” Her hand squeezed. “And a rare treat besides.”
And as Jane stared up into her sparkling, unreadable eyes, they softened just slightly, the hand over hers tugged just the tiniest bit, and that was all it took for Jane to unpocket her other wrist, release her jacket, and bring both hands to bear on Mary Poppins’ shoulders as she drew herself up on tip-toes, leaned in, and ill-advised her lips right onto the coral-red set in front of her.
Oh, she should have known she’d taste of impossible things, too.
“Your family is flying away,” said Mary when Jane pulled back after only seconds, thoroughly overwhelmed by the very idea of what she’d done.
“They’re what?” she asked breathlessly.
Mary turned her in her arms and pulled her head back against her shoulder, pointing up with an outstretched finger.
Jane shielded her eyes with her hand and, sure enough, there was Michael between the tufts of cherry blossoms, clutching the string of a purple balloon, several metres above the treetops. Three smaller figures were just passing through the petals and leaves. “So they are."
“You ought to be with them.”
Jane couldn’t read Mary’s voice, but something in it made her nervous, and she quickly realized why. “You’re leaving.”
Mary’s arms tightened around her waist. “I thought I was, yes. But I’ll tell you a little secret.” Jane felt the faintest brush of lips against the shell of her ear. She shivered despite the warm breeze. “It only happens when you’re ready to let me go.”
Jane gasped, then frowned. “I can’t keep you forever.”
“No,” Mary agreed. “But you know that. And that’s why I can stay. For a little while longer, at least.” She turned Jane to face her again and found tears in her eyes. “Now what’s this?”
She laughed through them, clapping a hand over her mouth.
Mary tugged at her wrist until she lowered it away.
"You know I’ve been in love with you near all my life,” came out all in a rush.
Mary’s eyes softened further. “I don’t know everything, my dear. I thought your schoolgirl crush long forgotten.”
“Michael wasn’t the only stubborn one,” Jane answered with a giddy smile, though her eyes were still bright.
When Mary Poppins laughed, it was utterly infectious, and Jane’s hand rose again to stifle a sudden case of the giggles. Mary caught her before it could get there, twining their fingers together. “But you are the only giggler. And do stop trying to strangle it back or you’ll choke yourself. I’m actually fond of the trait, you know.”
By now, any hope of restraint was lost. She was beaming and giggling and rosy-cheeked besides. “Your scolding doesn’t have quite the effect it used to.”
“No?” One dark eyebrow rose.
Jane bit her bottom lip, the giggles suddenly lost. She shook her head.
Mary smiled down at her flushed cheeks and the tilt of her hat, still a bit off-kilter from their their earlier kiss. She ran the back of her finger over the raised color again; it followed her fingertip right down the side of her neck, too. She looked so pretty in that moment, all wrapped up in pinks and greens and the indecency of a full-petalled spring, and so Mary bent down and kissed her, quick and firm and to the point, then snapped open her umbrella with no warning whatsoever, making Jane jump and gasp.
“Right then,” she said. “Let’s wave to your brother and the children, though I doubt they’ll notice us at all, what with the crowd they’ve gathered.” Sure enough, the quartet of Londoners on strings had blossomed into half a fair’s worth of balloonists, laughing and yelling out to one another above their heads.
“Then,” Mary added. “Why don’t you give me a tour of this flat I’ve heard so much about.”
“Did you just invite yourself back to my place, Mary Poppins?’
“Most astute of you, Ms. Banks. I’m quite sure I did.”
Then she wrapped an arm about Jane’s waist, commanded, “Hold on!’, and up they went, Jane with a startled gasp and a clutching tight to the arm around her, feet leaving the pavement, cherry blossoms swirling about their ankles and following them up into the wind.
And Jane was laughing in her arms, head tipped back towards the sun, thinking to herself as they drifted into a scattered sea of clouds that this was the most ill-advised sort of sailing she could imagine, and she was going to relish every impossible minute of it.