It had honestly never occurred to Bill that there would be boys – young men, really – coming to the stables. Most of them spoke with Clarissa, admired her magical green eyes and her delightfully sweet smile – much in the same way Bill did, though they praised her using flowery words instead of just saying what they really meant – but there were a few who reserved their special smiles for Bill herself, who seemed to be charmed by her.
Bill had no intention of being charming; charm seemed like something artificial, something you had to work hard at, and she was far too busy looking after the horses to be anything more than normally courteous to her customers, even if they were young men who seemed to be – could it possibly be? – interested in her.
And interested in her Clarissa, which she was unsurprised by – who wouldn’t admire her? – but what did surprise her was how Clarissa smiled and giggled and behaved – well, charmingly. As though she was might actually choose one of these men someday – and leave Bill to go off and raise a family with one of them. It was a horrifying thought.
She lay awake one night tossing and turning, imagining being Aunt Bill to Clarissa’s children, imagining seeing Clarissa with her husband, imagining not spending her days with her, imagining being alone –
Bill wasn’t in the habit of shedding tears unless it was over something very important, and even then she was loath to do so. But Clarissa was important, perhaps – no, definitely – the most important thing in her life, and if anything was worth tears, the thought of losing her was.
The next morning, as they sat down to breakfast, Clarissa kissed her on the cheek to wish her good morning, and drew back in horror. “You’ve been crying,” she said, her voice unsteady. “What’s the matter?”
Bill had been so sure her red eyes weren’t noticeable, but of course Clarissa tended to notice things about her that eluded others.
“You’re not – thinking about marrying any of those gentlemen, are you?” Bill replied, trying to make it sound more like a business enquiry than anything else.
Clarissa looked even more horrified at this than she had upon discovering Bill had been crying. “Goodness, no. Bill – Bill – they’re our customers, we must be charming, but I wouldn’t ever dream of – oh, honestly, how could you ever think I’d do something like that?” She seated herself upon Bill’s lap, and rested her head upon Bill’s shoulder, and placed a kiss on her neck. “You can be terribly silly sometimes,” she whispered.
Bill was reminded all over again of why she completely understood why all those men were so charmed by Clarissa. She supposed the girl couldn’t help it, really. She had been so terribly silly.
“I could never leave the horses,” Clarissa said. “And you,” she said, almost as an afterthought, a deliberate one. She smiled impishly up at Bill.
Bill hadn’t known she was going to kiss her, on the lips, as any young man might, until she actually did, but once she had she was glad of it.
They walked down to see to the horses, hand-in-hand.