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Do You See Me

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The air hung heavy with perfume as Lady Caroline and Lotty Wilkins sat beneath a tower of banksia roses. The wall leading down to the village had burst with them seemingly overnight, thick, full blooms of white and yellow that carpeted the stone and trailed down to the ground with nodding heads, so thick on the vines they seemed to spill over like foam on the ocean. Lotty had declared it a perfect picture, like a fairy’s bower, and insisted on taking a rest halfway down the stairs with the sweeping branches above her head. The tiresome bores who would interrupt dinner with constant references to artists would likely have something to say about the framing, the sunlight on Lotty’s golden hair, the brilliant play of light and shadow dappling on the blossoms and her sun-kissed cheeks.

(Scrap might not hate art so much if it weren’t painted by artists, but alas. If only someone could show her a Monet without mentioning the blasted man for five minutes on either side, she might actually enjoy it.)

But here, without art, without artists, without execrable dinner conversation and the pressure to be interesting and clever and bored all at once, Scrap could look at Lotty and notice things like the slender curve of her neck, or the way her nose turned up just so. Again she thought of the oversized jumpers, the drab dresses, the clothing meant to hide. “You could be quite glamorous, you know.”

Lotty released a wild bubble of laughter that cut off halfway through, as though she heard herself and snatched it back before it could rise too high. It sounded, Scrap thought, like the Mrs. Wilkins she had met in London, drowning in her overcoat and melting behind her large, grey eyes and letting Mrs. Arbuthnot handle the conversation. Scrap felt a sudden pang of regret for making her feel so, followed by a sharp, stinging irritation like an insect bite she tried to ignore: she had not meant to do so, she could hardly be at fault. All her life Scrap had upbraided and insulted those around her and had her words come off as caresses, and now her attempt at a compliment gave offence?

Lotty tittered a little more, one hand coming up to touch her hair before dropping back to her lap, and at last Scrap recognized the outburst for its true nature: self-consciousness. Not the vain plays people made in the drawing room, transparent affectations meant to draw the assurances of those around them of the opposite, but real, genuine self-deprecation. Fascinating. “You’re very sweet,” Lotty said, one cheek dimpling. “I think this place must have worked its magic on you. I do think there are — parts of me, perhaps, which might be called glamorous — my hair, you know, is quite thick and lovely, and the colour —”

“Like honey,” Lady Caroline murmured, without really thinking.

Lotty’s eyes, always so astonishingly grey and large, grew even larger, but only forged on. “And my hands, Mellersh once said, have a real delicacy around the fingers, a real lady’s hands, except of course that was before I washed all his socks and things. I don’t think I’ve been called glamorous in my life. I don’t really think I could be called glamorous, you know, in aggregate. Can one be glamorous in bits and pieces, or is it only if one is taken at a whole?”

“Lotty, for heaven’s sake,” Scrap broke in, unable to bear it a second longer. “I can’t listen to this. Washing Mellersh’s socks, really? Of course you haven’t heard it, your whole social life has been your dinner table and your husband’s solicitor parties. You do know being glamorous has absolutely nothing to do with men. You were closest on our first night here.”

She blinked. “Really?”

“Men don’t appreciate glamour properly. They don’t notice the clothes, they’re only ever thinking about what’s under them.” A shocking statement, one that would drive the colour into Mrs. Arbuthnot’s cheeks and make Mrs. Fisher slam her cane and say really! in that sharp tone Scrap so loved to provoke, but Lotty only looked thoughtful. “Women do. We know the work that goes into it. We know how to appreciate it. The truth is, women dress for other women. Men are an afterthought, as they will benefit whether we intend them to or no.”

Lotty was quiet for a moment, taking it all in, then she smiled again, impish. “So if I had more friends of my own, I would think myself properly attractive?”

“I should hope so,” Scrap said. “One would hope you’d hear it enough it grows tiresome.”

“Is it really tiresome to hear you’re pretty?” Lotty asked. She drew a sprig of roses over her shoulder, though she didn’t break them loose, and stroked the petals idly. Scrap found her gaze oddly focused on the play of Lotty’s fingers over the soft, white blooms. “Because I do think so, but I wouldn’t want to make you unhappy by hearing so.”

The sun really was uncommonly warm for this time of the morning, Scrap thought. Perhaps she ought to wear a hat, except she felt no beginnings of a headache at her forehead and temples, only a flush at her cheeks. “I can make the occasional exception on a rare basis,” she said grandly, looking away over the stairs, and Lotty laughed and tugged the rose branch so it showered them both with a rain of rose petals.

Lady Caroline spent that night in agony, listening to the sea below her garden parapet roar against the stone walls and replaying their conversation like a newsreel she could not escape. Why had she told Lotty she could be glamorous? Nothing good came of aspiring to such an ideal, Lady Caroline knew that above all others, and certainly the illustrious Mellersh would not approve, yet here she had placed the thought in the good lady’s head. Already Lotty’s fine vacation stood to be dashed once her husband set foot in it, like a soap bubble pricked by an impatient finger, and now Scrap had brought invited tawdry thoughts of style and fashion into Lotty’s mind, which was not, as Scrap had first thought, dull and provincial, but utterly sensible and perhaps even marvellous.

She would caution her tomorrow. Compliments were one thing, a woman like Lotty should receive showers of them (Scrap felt this rather suddenly, with a fierceness she did not quite understand), but never mind this business of glamour. Lotty did not need this business of having the world intrude upon one’s self-perception, and Scrap should never have brought it into their little haven.

A fine plan, except Lady Caroline slept late the next morning as she always did, and by the time she rose for breakfast Mrs. Wilkins had already left, for communing with the birds or cliff-diving or whatever new thing she got it into her head to do next (this Mrs. Fisher’s pronouncement, rather sternly, over a bracing cup of tea). Scrap conjured an image of Lotty sitting with a flock of flamingos, convincing them to divulge their deepest secrets, and the thought so entertained her she completely forgot her urgency in needing to speak with her immediately.

Well. There was no sense trying to find Lotty now, anyhow. She had the most uncommon ideas about vacation of anyone Lady Caroline had ever met, in that she would insist on doing things. Mrs. Fisher retired to her honey-coloured parlour and associated terrace, stick slamming the stones in warning like a war-general’s horn. Even Mrs. Arbuthnot, a religious woman for whom sloth must be the greatest sin, seemed to understand that on holiday one should do very little on principle: she often found a quiet patch of rock or flowers and sat or lay still for hours.

But Lotty would go for walks, or into town just to coo over the quaint little streets and houses when she got back, or pull out her (unfortunately uninspired) bathing costume and — Lady Caroline could not believe this the first time she learned — actually swim in it. Imagine, swimming on holiday! Lady Caroline had any number of attractive bathing costumes and wraps from Paris that could be worn for lounging with other attractive people, combined with oversized hats and dark glasses and parasols for when the company grew tiresome, but had never considered actually diving into the water to get away. The concept amused her to no end.

Lady Caroline did not intend on swimming, or cliff-diving, or haring about San Salvatore searching for the errant Lotty. She retired instead to her garden, where she attempted to move her chaise into the shade for all of three steps before Domenico sprang from the earth like Adam himself and expostulated firmly that the signora should not trouble herself so, he would take care of it, only tell him where, and in fact should the signora require anything else he would only be over here, trimming the lilies that spilled out over the verge.

Lady Caroline sighed. Domenico thought he had never heard a sound of such beauty, such quiet pathos, and accidentally crushed his floppy sunhat against his chest in rapture.

This, Scrap thought firmly, was exactly why she should not have given Lotty ideas about trying to be glamorous. No sensible person wished to leave good, salt of the earth gardeners in raptures over their presence, it really was too ridiculous. And really, the truth of it was, true glamour was not about the right dress or hairstyle or rouge or pencilled brows; it was mastering the art of not caring. More precisely, caring very much and putting in tremendous effort only to look as though one was very bored by everyone and everything and could leave at any time.

To society, Lotty cared about all the wrong things and didn’t care about the right ones. She paid no attention to her dress but cared that others felt comfortable and safe, even if that meant leaving them alone rather than making sure everyone saw her making a grand show of her concern. Caring in society meant fussing and grabbing until Scrap had a headache and snapped (not that anyone noticed). Caring, for Lotty, meant looking at her in that queer way, then smiling a little and leaving her to herself. It was talking nonsense at dinner and encouraging Scrap to do the same, regardless of how many odd looks they garnered. It felt — ridiculously — like digging a garden where Scrap could plant herself and grow.

Absolute madness for an heiress who had quite recently come to realize the lifestyle she had cultivated was not only tiresome, but not worth the sacrifices she had laid at its feet.

The sun beat down hot on her knees through a patch in the dappled leaf-shade, but Scrap was not about to make any indication of minding and bring down a flurry of shawls and pillows and parasols, and so she closed her eyes and willed it away.

Lotty emerged for dinner as she usually did, hair flyaway and skin sun-kissed, freckles on her cheeks and the tip of her nose pinking from the sun, but before her usual time at the dinner table in raptures about her day. Instead she appeared at Lady Caroline’s little salon as she was preparing for the meal, contemplating a pair of wrap dresses with disinterest.

“I like the green one,” Lotty said from the doorway, and Scrap jumped. “You do look lovely in green. Of course, it’s such a lovely colour, so full of life, I think it must be difficult for anyone not to look well in it.”

Mrs. Arbuthnot, the poor lady, had a severe gown in what was most decidedly an olive tone, and it unfortunately made the pale Madonna appear quite sallow. Lady Caroline had not yet determined how to approach her about abandoning her favoured sombre earth tones for ones that did not so much array her as a body laid out to rest. “That must be it,” Scrap said with more warmth than she intended, and laid the green gown (not olive, but rather quite springlike) on the bed.

She waited for Lotty to carry on, but instead she hovered, tracing one fingertip up the grain of wood of the door jamb. Scrap disliked hoverers as much as she did grabbers, both for their persistent holds on her attention and her inability to rid them through firm hints that would only be interpreted as the greatest kindness, but now she found her impatience allayed by curiosity.

One could not rush Lotty, Scrap had learned, and so she waited, even as the heavy mantel clock continued to tick in what could be considered a rather officious way, like that fellow who always seemed to show up at parties and complain about the timing of dinner. At last Lotty gathered her courage: a very physical act Scrap could see in her posture and the lines of her face as though she’d worn it about herself like a heavy and unpleasant garment she had to draw out of the mud.

“Do you think you could make me beautiful?” Lotty asked all at once, the words tumbling out of her in a rush.

Scrap blinked at her. “You can’t be serious,” she burst out. A moment later she regretted it, except of course her wide eyes and melodious voice would transform incredulity into tender concern.

Lotty, at least, did not appear greatly wounded. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, and this place, the magic, it’s done wonders, you see, and I feel so beautiful, and I only wondered what it would be like to look on the outside how I feel on the inside, even for a minute, before Mellersh gets here.”

A dull ache rose in Scrap’s temple. “Lotty —”

“Not for Mellersh.” Lotty brushed the notion away with a flick of the fingers. “You’re right, he wouldn’t know how to appreciate it, poor lamb. I’d be doing this for me. I’ve never tried to be beautiful, you know, I always said it didn’t matter, but really I thought it was because I couldn’t be, and here, in this place, I — I want to know that I can. That’s all. Just know that I can, for myself, so I can have it and put it in my pocket and take it out any time I want.”

Scrap had spent an entire afternoon being very stern with the Lotty in her head, crafting any number of fine speeches, but now the words fled. “This isn’t what it’s about, you know,” she said finally, waving a hand at her vanity table, the cosmetics she hadn’t bothered to touch since she arrived. “Real beauty. You have to know that. It’s … dress-up.”

Lotty smiled and lowered herself down onto the make-up stool, tilting her face up to Lady Caroline, grey eyes large in her delicate face. “So dress me up, then.”

The breeze shifted, bringing in a wave of scent from the roses that grew on the trellises around Caroline’s window. In the distance the setting sun glittered over the sea, casting a golden glow over the gentle-lapping waves. Despite the robe she tossed over her shoulders, Scrap fought back a low shiver. But Lotty had asked, and she so rarely asked for anything that Scrap found herself with a powder puff already in hand.

Scrap pulled up a chair, and Lotty sat obligingly still as Scrap brushed the powder over her face, not even sneezing as the delicate talc settled, though she did twitch her nose. “I’m not going to bother making you too pale, not when you’ve been out in the sun so much, you’d only look like a ghost,” Scrap said. It felt faintly ridiculous to speak with their faces so close, but the longer they sat in silence the more it seemed to curl, like candle smoke or incense, twisting in the pit of her stomach and bringing with it a strange flutter. “This shade will be fetching enough.”

Lotty said nothing, as Scrap’s powder puff currently made replying impossible, and by the time Scrap moved on to the rouge she abandoned the attempt. Not wishing to smear her efforts, she tipped one finger under Lotty’s chin to nudge her head sideways. The room did seem so unbearably quiet, surely her own heartbeat should not echo in her ears so, but while she could put a record on the Victrola, the player sat on the far side of the room and Scrap couldn’t quite make herself pull herself away.

The air seemed to grow thick, not with the scent of roses or star-flowers or the last burst of wistaria showering its petals from the roof terrace, but an invisible silence that wove itself between them, back and forth as thread on a loom. Scrap didn’t dare sneak a glance to see what sort of cloth might be taking shape between the warp. Lotty’s cheeks flushed a glowing pink as Scrap dabbed rouge over the apples and smoothed the edges.

“Close your eyes,” Scrap said, and nearly jumped at the sound of her own voice, harsh and raw in the gentle quiet of the room. Lotty held her gaze for one, two, three infinite breaths before dropping her lids. Scrap felt as though she’d slammed a window sash closed against a sudden downpour and now stood inside, startled and shivering in sodden nightclothes as rain lashed against the glass.

And so it went. Lids, lashes, brows, until at last Scrap came to the lipstick, where she stopped, frozen, with her hand in front of her. Lotty waited with perfect patience for Scrap to press the colour to her lips, and Scrap rehearsed the motion in her head as she’d done in front of the mirror a thousand times. All it would take was a few steady sweeps, and the curve of her knuckle resting below Lotty’s lips.

Scrap fumbled and dropped the lipstick, though she caught the tube before it hit the ground. Lotty frowned, pencilled brows puckered in concern. “Caroline?”

“You can finish up,” Scrap said, turning quickly. “I’ll find you a gown.”

If Lotty thought anything strange, she didn’t press. Of course she didn’t; for all her startling pronouncements that could grind a dinner party to a halt (to Scrap’s great delight), Lotty would never insist on sticking a thumb in someone’s discomfort. Scrap rifled in her closet, forcing her attention to the interplay of fabric and colour and complexion to drive attention away from the absolute madness brewing in her chest. She refused to countenance any of it, and for the first time, as she took her feelings by the scruff of the neck and delivered a stern rebuke, Scrap understood an inkling of how it must feel to be Mrs. Fisher much of the time. No wonder the poor woman was so cross.

She chose a drop-waist gown of ivory silk and gold lamé, with delicate beadwork down the bodice and overskirt. Scrap had picked it up in Paris a hundred years ago and hardly thought about it since, but the ivory would suit Lotty’s sun-kissed complexion without making her look bronzed, and the lamé would set off her honeyed hair quite nicely. By the time she turned back around Scrap had composed herself as though nothing had happened, which of course nothing had, and she held out the hanger to Lotty, who had apparently given up on the lipstick tube itself and made a valiant attempt at dabbing the colour directly on with her fingertip.

Ridiculous, Scrap thought with sudden fondness. No artistry at all. And yet, somehow, it fit her perfectly. “Here.” Scrap passed the gown over, allowing a moment of quiet pleasure at the way Lotty’s eyes went wide. “Try this one, just for fun.”

Lotty held the gown in front of her, smoothing one hand down the beaded fabric, and turned to examine herself in the mirror. “My goodness,” she said, a little wonderingly. “I suppose I didn’t actually expect to look so different.”

The invisible hand around Scrap’s throat seized her vocal cords and squeezed. If she were Lotty, the words would be easy; Lotty could be open and effusive and say grand, ridiculous, sentimental things without letting anyone’s disapproval or incredulity shock her out of her trajectory. If she were Lotty, Scrap might have said something like, I’m sorry I made you feel unglamorous, or there was nothing wrong with you before or, perhaps, even, terrifyingly, you were always beautiful.

How might it be, to drop a sentence like that and have it float through the air like gossamer, light as you please, without sinking to the ground or tangling around one and trapping one in clutches. Scrap could hear the words, imagine them in her mind, but the thought of saying them out loud —

“You may borrow the dress if you like,” she heard herself say instead, distant and far-off. “You’ll be the talk of dinner, I expect.”

“Thank you, that’s very kind,” Lotty said, and slipped out the door with the gown still held against her chest.

Fortified by an early glass of wine, Scrap startled Mrs. Fisher by arriving on time to dinner, and only smiled when the latter commented on Mrs. Wilkins’ absence. “Perhaps she’s communing with flamingos,” Scrap said serenely as she poured herself a glass of water from the tall carafe at the centre of the table. Mrs. Fisher, who had clearly forgotten her earlier comment, stared at Scrap as though she had sprouted an extra head.

Francesca had brought the soup when Lotty made hear appearance. Scrap had arrived early not because of any sudden love of punctuality, but that her reaction upon entering and seeing Lotty might not be scrutinized by the entire table. If the others were busy gawking at Mrs. Wilkins, surely no one would pay attention to Lady Caroline.

Except that now, of course, Mrs. Arbuthnot leaned across the table, pale hand outstretched, inquiring gently whether Lady Caroline was all right, wouldn’t she like some coffee, and Scrap had to pull herself back anyway. Because there was Lotty in shapeless silk with her face scrubbed clean and pink, slipping into her chair with a small smile. “I do apologize for being late, but I had the most marvellous adventure today,” Lotty said, picking up her spoon and hovering it over her bowl, as though a thought distracted her before she could complete the gesture.

“Did you,” Mrs. Fisher said, in the reluctant tone of one who would rather not encourage such conversation but could not devise enough affront to justify stony silence as a rebuke.

“Oh yes,” Lotty replied, still smiling in that beatific way. Her glance met Scrap’s for a moment like the jolt of an electric shock. “Maybe next time I’ll have some company.”

Sunlight crept across the floor far earlier than Scrap would have liked after a long night of tossing and turning and attempting to dull her thoughts with wine, casting long, blocky shadows across the floor. For a long moment Scrap nursed the temptation to remain in bed for the rest of the day, nursing exhaustion and the remains of a headache that, for once, was no invention. And yet instead she dragged herself up and into her clothes, called Francesca for a cup of coffee, and, following an instinct she did not quite understand, Scrap followed the large, flat flagstones that took her away from the castle toward the cliffs.

Beneath her the sea roared, waves crashing against the rocks. Scrap turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes, soaking in the sound of the water, the distant keening of gulls, the scent of lilies at her feet. Presently the soft tread of shoes on the path intruded upon the scene, and Scrap was fit to sigh until she realized the steps were too soft for Domenico, and nowhere near deliberate enough for Mrs. Fisher. Besides, there was no stab of the old woman’s stick against the stones. Scrap’s shoulders lowered from where they had begun to creep toward her ears.

“I hope you don’t think me ungrateful for last night,” Lotty said. “I really did only want to see it for myself, you know, but the funny thing is, you were right. I didn’t need it. In fact, I washed it off and I’d never felt so free. But I liked that, spending that time with you. I’d never done anything like that before, and I’m glad I could share it with you.”

Once again the words that flowed so easily in social situations, giving Lady Caroline the reputation of not only a gracious guest but one guaranteed to smooth over any unforeseen unpleasantness with tremendous aplomb, dissipated on her tongue. How could she explain the silence that had caught her tongue? The shiver each time Lotty closed her eyes and tilted her face into Scrap’s touch? The jolt that seized her at the thought of pressing her thumb to Lotty’s lip to blot the colour? Madness, was the only option.

Lotty’s hand skimmed hers, once, twice, then stayed, ring and little fingers hooked around Scrap’s, enough to feel the contact but not enough to grab. Scrap’s breath stuck in her chest, and she didn’t dare turn to look, but slowly, slowly, she curled her finger around Lotty’s and found the cliffside did not give way beneath them.

For two weeks they enjoyed peace. Sitting in the garden together under the shower of petals as the orange-blossoms fell, or walking side by side along the paths while Mr. Wilkins engaged the other ladies in conversation back at the castle. Mr. Wilkins was quite obliging in the matter, never grumbling when Lotty kissed his cheek and announced she wished to spend time with friends and could he amuse himself for a time on his own, sweet dear. In those hours Scrap could almost pretend nothing else existed: only Lotty, and the sea, and the brush of their little fingers as they walked.

And then, Mr. Briggs.

Mr. Briggs, and Mr. Briggs, and Mr. Briggs. Scrap could not get rid of him. He hovered, he grabbed, he was everything she could not escape, and the wretchedness of it all built up inside her until she thought she would burst, like the pipes that had nearly killed Mr. Wilkins. Lotty had her Mellersh, Mrs. Arbuthnot had Gerald — Mr. Arbuthnot, even Mrs. Fisher, it was plain to see, had made a fast friend in Lotty. And whom did Lady Caroline have? Mr. Briggs, dogging her steps and making every turn impossible. He would stay for the rest of the month, she felt it, and return to London, and she would never be rid of him. She would always be indebted to him, for without his advertisement there would be no castle, no San Salvatore, no Lotty. But did that oblige her to suffer a lifetime of Briggses?

After dinner that night he followed her out onto the terrace, and while she barely heard him as he persisted on telling her about the garden, Scrap felt the resignation creep over her like a shroud. It would never stop, Mr. Briggs in Italy, Mr. Briggs in London, and if not Mr. Briggs then someone else. For the rest of her life, days and months and years, until at last her fading beauty provided the protection that her own desires did not.

“Mr. Briggs,” Lotty said, kindly but firmly, as she appeared from the rose trellis, causing Lady Caroline to nearly bite her tongue, “I do believe Lady Caroline is attempting to be polite. You would not wish to do her the disservice of forcing her to be disagreeable, do you?”

Oh, no, remonstrated Mr. Briggs, the Lady Caroline could never be disagreeable, and indeed he only meant to convey his most sincere and appropriate —

“Mr. Briggs,” Lotty said again, a layer of iron entering her tone, “Lady Caroline might not, but other persons may, if it seems as though Lady Caroline’s wishes are not respected. You understand, don’t you, and you wouldn’t want that. Not here, not in such a place as this. Let’s not make things unpleasant.”

“Come, young man,” said Mr. Wilkins with enforced jocularity, throwing an arm around Mr. Briggs’ shoulder and leading him away. “Tell me about the architecture here in this wing of the castle, the gardener made a go of it but my Italian couldn’t make heads or tails, I’m afraid …”

With one last sputter over his shoulder, Mr. Briggs abandoned the garden, and Lady Caroline, and let Mr. Wilkins ferry him off down the path.

The moon shone bright over the garden, glittering on Lotty’s hair like quicksilver. Her eyes sat large in her freckled face, and she reached out to Scrap with both hands. With the magic of San Salvatore thrumming in her veins and Mr. Briggs vanquished, Scrap closed the remaining distance and gripped her fingers.

Lotty spoke once they had gone, quick and reassuring. “I am sorry about Mr. Briggs, but he’ll understand once he’s been here a little longer. This place will work on him too, I’m sure.”

Scrap laughed, how could she not, but felt no meanness in it. “Lotty. Do you think the best of everyone?”

“I didn’t used to, not before I came here. You wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me before.” Lotty looked away over the garden toward the distant sea. “When we go back to London… I want you to come with me.”

Scrap sent a silent apology to Mrs. Fisher for ever thinking her wilfully obtuse, when her only response to such an earth-shattering statement was the phrase, “To visit?”

By the mercy of heaven, Lotty did not laugh at her or snort in disgust. “I mean come with me. For good.”

Scrap choked as the words stopped up in her throat, and she looked down at their clasped hands. A wash of desperation seized her and she nearly turned on her heels and fled. “And what of Mr. Wilkins?”

Lotty shook her head, eyes bright with insistent fervour. “I’ve spoken with Mellersh. We have an understanding, he and I. We are happy to continue on as we are, Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins, but I see no reason why you and I can’t make something of our own. And it isn’t as though anyone could complain about a family solicitor whose wife has a close association with the daughter of a Droitwitch.”

A wild sound tore loose from deep within Scrap, sure to horrify the drawing room, but Lotty never flinched. “An understanding! And what did you tell Mr. Mellersh-Wilkins, Family Solicitor, to convince him of such an idea?”

Lotty smiled. Stepped close, and laid her hand against Scrap’s cheek. “I told him the same thing I’m going to tell you, my dear: I see you with us. With me.”

Scrap meant to pull back, she should pull back, but it was as though a powerful force held her in place. “Lotty, you can’t mean it. It’s like you said, it’s this place. Once we get back, in London, everything will change. The world will go back the way it was. We’ll have to play by the rules again.”

Lotty shook her head. “I see us,” she said again, immovable as the cliffs, gentle as the star-flowers that wove their way through the cracks in the rocks. “After everything that’s happened this month, I believe in love more than ever. Don’t you?”

“Love.” Scrap really should be congratulated for managing to speak at all.

Lotty smiled again, a marvellous expression that lit her entire face from within, so warm and welcoming that Caroline felt the icy knot of fear at the pit of her stomach begin, finally, to shrink. “But of course it’s love. What else would you call it?”

“Of course it’s love,” Scrap echoed faintly, scarcely believing what she heard. “What else would one call it indeed.”

“If you don’t wish to, then of course you needn’t try to please me,” Lotty said earnestly. “I wanted to tell you before the month was over and we all went back to London, but if you don’t wish it, I am happy to be friends.”

Scrap stood still for several startled heartbeats, then darted forward — so quickly their noses knocked, and Lotty let out a quiet burst of laughter — and kissed her. Lotty’s fingers ghosted the curve of Scrap’s jaw, and as the scent of lilacs curled around them, heady with the evening dew, Scrap thought she had never known such happiness.