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a house you can build

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The sun has been high in the sky for a few hours by the time they arrive in Savannah. The house Peter Ashe had found fitting to hide them away in is a small estate, high fences all around, with a well-kept garden in the front and what Miranda assumes are some fruit trees in the back.

"This is my grandfather's brother’s house," Abigail explains to her as they ready themselves to exit the carriage. 

They're greeted by a tall man, with a tired, worn out look, standing in front of them in light clothes and no wig. He looks a bit like Peter around the eyes, and just that simple resemblance is enough to make Miranda hate him a bit right away.

"Cousin John," Abigail greets. John steps forward and takes Abigail's hand so he can greet her. Miranda lets herself observe from a distance.

"Cousin Abigail," John greets back, smiling. "It's pleasure to meet you at last, even if under these unforeseen circumstances."

"Indeed," Abigail agrees easily, voice airy, in a way Miranda has never heard from her — it's always different when one is following protocol.

"Is this the party that accompanied you?" John asks, his eyes going over the three guards that came with them and stopping in Miranda, a frown on his face. "Cousin Peter said that they're to return to Charles Town promptly, but we can provide refreshments if need be."

One of the guards makes to speak, but Abigail intervenes, "Actually, Mrs. Barlow is to stay, to lecture me and keep me company. I'm afraid this was arranged quite last minute, so I’m not sure if Father remembered to inform you."

John nods, his eyes widening, as if suddenly remembering that piece of information. He nods to Miranda in greeting, and she curtseys in answer. "Very well. I'm afraid the rooms are still being prepared, but in the meanwhile we'll have tea and then I'll leave you to get settled. I'm sure you must be exhausted from the journey here."

Miranda follows them into the house. The corridors are straight and narrow, the walls empty except for the occasional painting. Abigail turns to look at her, and Miranda tries to find a smile within herself to give her. She's not sure she succeeds.

"Mother is ill-disposed, I'm afraid," John is saying. "You've never met her, have you, Cousin Abigail?" he asks without looking.

Abigail looks forward again. "No, I've never met Aunt Lilian."

John hums in agreement. "She usually comes down to lunch, but you're probably not going to be seeing much of her beyond that. She prefers isolation these days. Still, I'm sure she's looking forward to meet you. Sit, please.”

They’re in a small library, with a few sets of shelfs, a desk in the corner, a small sitting area in the front. She and Abigail take a sit side by side on the sofa and Abigail pours each of them a cup of tea.

“It’s a quiet life here,” John says to Abigail, a cup of tea on his hand as well. “My children, your second cousins, Adelaide and Jamie, they help brighten up the place. They are out right now, but you’ll meet them later.”

Miranda doesn’t really listen to what John says. She looks out the large windows behind him, to the garden outside, the high fence surrounding it. Behind it, she can see bits of trees. She knows there’s not many houses around, that she’s as good as alone here.

Miranda is brought back to the conversation when she hears her name: “Has Mrs. Barlow been with you for long?” John is asking. Miranda takes a sip of her tea while Abigail answers, pain throbbing harder from her shoulder at the movement.

“Yes, she came with me from London,” Abigail says easily. “Thankfully, we managed to keep together during the whole…” Abigail’s voice dies down. She seems at a loss for words on what to call her stay in Nassau. John nods in agreement, mouth opening to apologize, but Abigail cuts him. “Anyhow, I could hardly come alone from Charles Town after everything,” Abigail concludes. The lies fall easy from her tongue; Miranda would never have thought Abigail, someone so earnest in her opinions and beliefs, a good liar, but it seems like she was mistaken.

Miranda knew a man like that, once.

“Indeed,” John agrees easily, with his eyes — Peter’s eyes — full of sympathy. Such emotion seems wrong in them.

The butler — Parker, Miranda will learn later — comes into the room and nods at John.

“Seems like your rooms are prepared.” John says, getting up. “I’ll leave you to go rest. Cousin Abigail, I hope I’ll see you at dinner. Will Mrs. Barlow be joining us?”

Abigail hesitates.

“Perhaps it’s simpler if I take my meals upstairs,” Miranda offers, speaking up for the first time. Abigail looks displeased with the answer.

“Yes, indeed,” John agrees easily. He moves across the room to the desk. “Parker will see you to your rooms.”

They follow Parker up the stairs, Abigail in front of her. Miranda’s room appears first, and Abigail smiles at her before Miranda goes in. Just this time, Miranda doesn’t smile back.

 

Her room has yellow walls, a large window opposite to the door, a small round table in the corner and a dressing table to the right. In any other occasion, Miranda would have paid attention to all those details, but this time she just goes through the motions.

There are no clothes for her to change into, but she undresses nonetheless, until she’s down to her shift. She has bled through it, but not through the dress, thankfully. She takes off the bandage around her shoulder and doing so reminds her of the many times she has done that for James. So many scars of his have been healed by her, watched over by her as they went from red to white.

James.

She pushes him out of her head.

She’ll have to ask Abigail for clean bandages and for some alcohol for the wound, but for now she only washes her bandages, twists them to take as many water out of them as she can, and then wraps them around her shoulder again. The motions are strange when she does them on herself.

It’s only when that’s done that Miranda finally lets herself collapse on the foot of the bed, leaning against one of the posters. She’s exhausted. She closes her eyes, finally, and all she can see is James. She has not allowed herself think of him throughout the day, not while she stood in front of everyone, but he is all that exists on her mind now. She can see his anger, his pain, his devastation. It fills her senses until even breathing gets hard.

She wonders if he knows she’s alive. Somehow, she doubts Peter would allow him that much.

She wonder is he’s alive. She doubts that too, but hopes nonetheless. Against her closes eyelids, she sees him in the middle of Charles Town, noose around his neck, body hanging limp.

 

A maid comes over a while later, with clothes on her arm. She steals only a glance at Miranda, and Miranda wonder what she sees. Through the mirror, Miranda looks at her own face, red and swollen even though Miranda’s not sure she has actually cried.

Her shift still hangs off one of her shoulders and the wound has bled through the bandage again.

“Miss Ashe asked me to bring you some clothes,” the maid says, drawing Miranda’s eyes away from the mirror. The maid in her late twenties, probably early thirties, but her voice doesn’t sound older than Abigail’s. It’s an odd contrast. “I didn’t know you were injured, Ma’am. Would you like me to bring you some supplies?”

Miranda tries for a smile. “That would be lovely, thank you.”

The maid nods. “Of course, Ma’am. I’ll be right back.”

Miranda looks at the dresses the maid brought, one light yellow and one light green. There’s also a baby blue sleeping gown. Even from a distance, Miranda can see they’re too big to be Abigail’s. Maybe they belong to her aunt, or to John’s wife, wherever she is.

The maid comes back soon and offers to help Miranda with the wound. Her hands are cold against Miranda’s skin, and the alcohol makes her hiss, but the girl is quick and precise in her movements. Better yet, she doesn’t ask questions, barely frowns at Miranda’s bullet wound or at her still blotchy eyes.

The maid takes the things with her when she leaves, but she promises to be back later to help her change the bandage again. Miranda thanks her again and, as soon as the door closes behind her, she lets herself fall back into the bed.

She must have a couple of hours until sun down, so Miranda finally allows herself to cry. Through it, she doesn’t make a sound.

 

Abigail doesn’t come to see her until morning. Miranda is sitting on the room’s small round table having breakfast, when Abigail knocks and Miranda welcomes her in.

Abigail has a weird smile on her face. Her eyes are blotchy, just slightly.

“I hope you’re feeling better,” Abigail says in a trembling voice. “I know you don’t want to be here and I’m so sorry for it. I promise that as soon an opportunity comes up I’ll help you leave.”

Miranda smiles. It’s no use telling Abigail what is really happening: that Abigail’s cousins think her a traumatized, unstable girl, so she’s not to leave under any circumstances. Miranda, in turn, is to stay with her at all times. She doesn’t tell Abigail that, had Miranda chosen not to come, she’d have a bullet in her head and not just one in her arm by now.

They’re trapped trapped here, both of them.

“I’m feeling better, thank you,” Miranda answers.

Abigail nods and sniffles. Miranda frowns. “Is everything alright, dear?”

Her lip trembles. “I- Cousin John got news from Charles Town. Apparently, it’s all the talk in town. Captain Vane and Captain Flint have escaped trial and Charles Town has burned to the ground. Papa is dead,” she says it all in one breath, the words stumbling ones over the others.

For a moment, Miranda can’t breathe; she’s not even sure her heart is beating properly. Selfishly, she asks, “James is alive?”

Abigail nods. “Him and Captain Vane have escaped,” she confirms, and how Charles Vane is involved Miranda doesn’t know. “I don’t know what to think,” she adds, voice weak, crying fully now.

Miranda stands there frozen for a moment before putting her cup down and making her away to kneel beside Abigail. Abigail reaches for her, hugs her, hides her face in Miranda’s neck. Miranda hugs her back.

James is alive. For a moment, she lets herself savor the thought. James is alive. He is alive. She can’t think of sweeter news.

Abigail sobs loudly into her neck, and Miranda returns to her, holds her tighter. She can’t say she’s sorry about Peter Ashe being dead — she would’ve done it herself if she had had the opportunity. However, Abigail had just survived the worst weeks of her life and Peter Ashe was her father, her only close relative, the only person she knows properly who’s not in London right now. The reason why she crossed the Atlantic and got involved in this whole mess in the first place. She doesn’t condemn her for crying and mourning. Instead, she kneels, and Abigail cries.

 

Settling in Savannah is a slow, steady process.

During the first week, they’re all dressed in black in mourning. Miranda hates it, partly because she’s got nothing to mourn when it comes to Peter Ashe, and partly because the person she was afraid she’d be mourning is actually alive and she wants to celebrate it — wants to dress in the most outrageously colorful dress instead.

After that week, things settle into a routine. Miranda is with Abigail most of the day, the two of them seated side by side in the library, each with their own book. They talk about them later, in the afternoon, when the sun is softer and they can go for a walk in the garden. Apart from that, there is a harpsichord in one of the rooms and sometimes Abigail plays, with Miranda watching from a corner. For some reason, she doesn’t tell her she plays too.

She meets John’s kids: the oldest, Adelaide, who is about to reach twelve years of age, and the youngest, Jamie, who is barely eight. Jamie is quiet and observant and has flaming red hair. Watching him feels like a cruel joke. Abigail tells her one afternoon that their mother, Anne, died two years ago in childbirth.

She also meets Ms. Smith, the children’s governess, and Mrs. Middleton, the children’s nanny. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Mrs. Middleton, but Ms. Smith is younger than Miranda would have expected, probably in her mid-twenties. The kids seem to behave better around her than around anyone else, so she’s probably good at her job. A few days a week, in an unusual arrangement, Ms. Smith’s younger sister Charlotte comes in the afternoon to help with the kids, to engage them in painting and art. She’s not more than a couple of years older than Abigail, so Miranda hopes that at least Abigail can make a friend of her own age.

Besides that, Miranda rapidly concludes that, like in any household, the servants like to gossip. They’re not used to her, and she’s not used to the rhythms of the house yet, so she catches them often: huddled together at the end of a corridor, talking in low voices as they set the table. She knows that they probably talk about her, but of all the things that’s what bothers her the least, even when it sometimes it reminds her of her old life, when she was Lady of a house and had servants of her own.

They’ve yet to set a foot outside the fences of the estate.

Overall, it’s a boring life. Miranda hates every day of it.

 

The quiet hours between breakfast and lunch are the ones where she and Abigail are truly alone. John is always out doing something or another, the kids are having their lessons in another room, and the servants are upstairs arranging the bedrooms. Abigail’s aunt is not a concern for anyone, since she’s always closed in her rooms, so much so that Miranda is yet to meet her.

When alone, Miranda and Abigail are usually in the library, where they can open the large windows and close the curtains, allowing for the air to flow without the sunshine being overbearing. They each read from their own book, and Miranda has gotten into the habit of reading the most boring, mots hateful romances she can find. It’s a strike opposite from how it used to be: when James brought her books, he always took care to bring her only the ones he thought she might like, ones he had read himself or that were by authors they knew. Perhaps that’s why Miranda takes some pleasure in reading the ones she utterly dislikes, that make her want to roll her eyes so far up in her head so she’d make sure she didn’t have to read a single word more. Or perhaps it is because they serve as a flicker of emotion in the midst of all that desert.

“Miranda?” Abigail calls her one day.

Miranda looks up, waiting for her to speak. Neither of them are silent when they read, Miranda with noises that she makes mostly unconsciously, and Abigail with doubts over the meaning of certain words or over what Miranda thinks of a certain turn of phrase. Sometimes, Abigail asks if she can read aloud, which Miranda always complies with and returns with a particular bad passage she’s read. She does so in an attempt to make Abigail laugh because that girl needs to laugh more, and she doesn’t know if she notices it is on purpose or not, but it usually works.

Abigail is looking at her, a slight frown between her brows. Not a book question, then. “Can I ask you something personal?”

“Sure,” Miranda says easily.

Abigail nods. She seems to ponder her question carefully. “You and Captain Fli- Mr. McGraw, I mean… Were you very close?”

Miranda wonders what brought this one. News about what happen in Charles Town keep on coming, tales about how Captain Vane cut fingers of men for prizes, about how Captain Flint forced a mother to kill her children in cold blood. About how Captain Flint was the one who killed the Governor with a merciless sword to the chest. Other tales, too, about how they have taken to attack other towns, anywhere they hang a pirate, they say. The news come mostly through the servants, but the house hears them nonetheless. Miranda knows that most of it is made up, but so far removed from Nassau and from the pirates, sometimes it is hard to know where the lie ends and the truth begins.

She’s not sure if that is why Abigail is asking, but Miranda wonders if she is having a hard time at it, conciliating the man she spent days living in close quarters with, with the man who, if the tales are true, killed her father with a sword to the chest.

“We were, yes,” Miranda says simply. She knows, consciously, that James is alive, but part of her never got over the visions of seeing him hanged in Charles Town, and that part of her is still grieving his loss, making it painful to bring up any memory of him.

“How long have you known him for?” Abigail asks, voice soft.

Miranda wants to withdraw from the conversation, but she says instead, “Ten years. We met in London, in 1705, when he came to work with my husband. Thomas,” she adds his the name belatedly. She’s barely spoken his name in a decade and it feels painfully weird in her mouth. “I’m not sure you remember him, you must have barely crossed paths.”

“I don’t, I’m sorry,” Abigail says, and she sounds truly grieved by it. “Did they get along, Mr. McGraw and Lord Hamilton?”

“You can call him Thomas, he’d probably prefer it,” Miranda says before answering the question. “They did, yes. They were very close,” Miranda answers, putting her discomfort aside for the moment. If asking this questions will help Abigail in any way, then Miranda will answer them.

“What did you like most about Mr. McGraw?” Abigail asks, her book totally forgotten now.

Miranda is taken aback by the question, has to ponder her answer for a moment. It wasn’t one particular thing that made her drawn to James, she thinks. She tells Abigail that, and adds, “But I did know that he worried. That he cared. About me. I loved that about him. He was at sea often, never at home for long and tired when he was, but still he liked to help around, with the gardening and the cleaning. I think it made him feel at home. And he always brought me something when he came, a gift that he picked carefully, something that he thought I might like.”

Abigail nods. “You like that he thought about you,” she says, putting it in simpler terms that Miranda ever could.

Miranda nods. “I did. I was alone a lot, and I thought of him often, worried about him. It was good to know that I wasn’t alone in it.” James and I were often closer when we were apart, Miranda thinks, but she doesn’t voice it. She’s not sure how her voice will come out if she does.

Miranda looks at Abigail, watches as she opens her mouth and closes it, her eyes uncertain, until she finally settles on a “Thank you,” and goes back to her book.

 

Despite the fact that Miranda spends her mornings and afternoons with Abigail, she also spends an unfathomable amount of time on her own. She spends meal times in her bedroom, and Abigail likes to play with her cousins in the early evening, before she goes down to dinner, so Miranda leaves her to it. It would remind her of Nassau, except it is somehow worse: she doesn’t have to prepare her meals or clean her dishes, doesn’t have her garden to plan and take care of, doesn’t have her clothes to wash and to mend.

(Doesn’t have James’ visits to look forward to. Doesn’t have her space filled with small reminders of his existence, like a pair of trousers he forgot, his sleep clothes on the foot of her bed, the old rings that he left behind when he changed them for new, shinier ones. His absence is the hardest part of all, and if Miranda focuses on it for more than a second, she feels despair swallow her up, so she doesn’t.)

(It’s an odd thing, to grieve a man who’s actually alive.)

She often spends the nights alone and awake and that what most closely resembles her old life- Except the mattress is harder than she likes, the pillows are taller than what her neck can tolerate, and she never finds the occasional red hair lost in the sheets. In Savannah, everything is, somehow, worse.

She gets used to taking her time with the meals, in an attempt to occupy the time. Abigail asks more than once if she wouldn’t like to join them, but Miranda can’t stand the thought of eating a meal across a man who reminds her so much of Peter, not when the last meal she had with Peter ended with her shot and James in chains, not when other options are available.

In the evenings, while everyone is downstairs for dinner, she gets used to helping Mrs. Middleton with bathing and putting the kids to bed, even though Miranda has no skill for children and Mrs. Middleton doesn’t actually need the help. Nowadays, it’s often only Jamie that has to be taken care of, since Adelaide is reaching the age where she can join the adults for dinner, and she does so more often than not. Regardless, Mrs. Middleton allows Miranda to help and she’s not afraid to correct her when she does something wrong. The part that Miranda most likes is that Jamie is his most talkative during his bed time routine, which helps distract her: he is currently obsessed with horses, and by now Miranda knows more about the animal than she ever expected to in her life.

After that, she retires to her bedroom, eats her dinner, and waits until the maid comes to retrieve her plate to finally undress. The wound on her shoulder is healing, but it still hurts, especially when she moves her arm too much or too rapidly.

She lets herself walk around naked most nights, even though she knows it is hardly proper, but she can’t find it in herself to care. She enjoys opening the windows wide, letting the cool breeze of the night wash over her body. She takes the time to pleasure herself, too, taking advantage of the fact that there is no one around to hear — not that sound is a problem since she barely makes any.

Her orgasms feel good and empty most nights, but occasionally, there is one that leaves her feeling tingly and satisfied. She can never know which one it is going to be when she starts, doesn’t know how to predict when her orgasm will be actually satisfactory, but maybe that’s why she chooses to do it every night — because the hope feels good regardless of the outcome.

 

“Miranda?” Abigail asks.

Miranda looks up from her book. Abigail is looking right at her from the other side of the room. Miranda wonders if she’s been like that for long. “Yes?”

Abigail swallows, nervous about whatever she wants to ask. Miranda smiles, reassuringly. “Did- Were you and Lord Hami- Thomas, I mean. Were you happy? Did you love each other?”

Miranda smiles and relaxes into her chair. “We did, very much.”

Abigail nods. Her eyes look sad. “May I ask, how did you and Thomas meet? Did you love him when you met?”

Miranda smiles again, looks down at her hands folded on top of the book. Her wedding ring rests on her finger, a small reminder of before, of the life she sometimes doubts she lived. She looks up at Abigail. “I did not. In fact, I hated him a little at the time.”

Abigail’s eyes widen, book forgotten. “Really?”

“Yes.” Miranda wets her lips. “I met Thomas when I was fifteen, ten years before we got married. My father was doing some investments with the Hamilton family, so we met as a result of that.  My father, obviously, hoped that one of his daughters would be able to marry a man from the great Hamilton family, so he kept on pushing me to them. It should’ve been my sister to deal with all of his pushing, but she was always a little sickly and my father didn’t trust her to be able to be married. So he pushed me to the Hamilton boys, mostly to Thomas, since his older brother George was engaged to be married and his younger brother was only six. That’s how our friendship started, as a result of inconvenient parents.”

“How old was your sister?”

“Margaret was nineteen,” Miranda answers. “My father didn’t try to marry her off because nobody wanted a wife who would not be able to carry a child. She died the year after I married Thomas.”

Abigail looks down. “Do you miss her?”

Miranda nods. “Very much.” Miranda takes a moment to remember Margaret; the two of them had always been so close in looks and so distinct in personality. “It’s funny, though, because I never really understood her… but she was very dear to me.”

Abigail smiles, like she understands the feeling. Miranda thinks back to the news of Peter Ashe’s death, wonders if Abigail feels some of that too — love without understanding.

“Why did you hate Lord Hamilton at the time?” Abigail asks, getting back on track.

Miranda smiles, thinking back to that moment. It feels like a dream, to remember her father’s house, and Thomas, so young at the time. “I thought he looked small.” She pauses. “Especially when compared to his father and brother. They were both big and loud, and Thomas was… small.”

Abigail frowns. “What do you mean?”

“Growing up, I always knew it would fall on me to marry right. Like I said, my sister didn’t have a good health. Yet, I feel like my parents always overlooked it a bit. I was always a bit of a mischief, ever since I was young girl, but my father never worried. In fact, my father found me funny, he enjoyed that I had such wild spirit, that I had such funny ways, as he said.” She looks at Abigail, absorbed in her words. “I think my father never worried because he always thought that I would grow out of it, when the time came for such a need arise.” Miranda laughed. “Of course, it never happened.” She looks to see Abigail smiling at her, and she smiles back. “But he was so convicted in his belief that I would grow up the proper way, that most time I believed it too, even though there was always some part of me that relished in the idea that I could manage my way around was expected.”

“But you didn’t, right? Grow up the way your father expected?” Abigail asks. She seemed eager to know the answer.

Miranda laughs. “Of course not.” Abigail smiles, big and bright. “But I didn’t know I wouldn’t when I met Thomas. And because I didn’t know what the future held for me, I had grown up with the idea that I wanted to marry someone big. Not big as in wealthy or recognizable, but someone who people looked to, who would make people look at me too. Someone who would make me… noticeable. And someone who I would be able to get a rise off, who would look at me when I screamed or acted crazy, who would do those things as well. I liked to live dangerously, then,” Miranda admits, trying for funny, for she knows that no woman dreams of marrying a man who likes to get into fights.

“And you didn’t think Lord Hamilton could be that,” Abigail concludes.

“Oh, I know he definitely couldn’t,” Miranda assures her. “However, when it came to him, I was right about a few things, and wrong about many others. Falling in love with Thomas was the only time I enjoyed being wrong in my life,” she says, feeling a dreamy smile on her face. “At the time, I was convinced that I would never be able to get a rise out of him, since he seemed to have grown talented in the art of ignoring those who spoke above him. He also seemed too quiet to ever be interesting. I was right about my first assumption and wrong about the second. He was quiet, but just so long as his mouth was shut. God, did he like to talk,” Miranda says. She smiles into the room. “I can’t remember his voice anymore.”

They sit in silence for a while, but Abigail doesn’t go back to her book and so Miranda doesn’t either, preferring to watch Abigail as she thinks. Eventually, she looks up, a thoughtful look in her eyes, and she’s careful as she speaks her next words, “It’s a lonely existence.”

Miranda tilts her head. “What is?”

“Being a woman.” Abigail looks down. “It’s alright to be loud and carefree, but only when we’re children and as long as no one can listen to us. And then when we’re grown people pretend to listen, but only so long as it pleases them. No one wants to know the ugly. That’s to be kept only to ourselves.”

Miranda looked at Abigail, at the traumatized girl who had somehow fallen into her care. She wonders how many monsters live in her nightmares. “You can always come to me with the ugly.”

Abigail smiles to her hands. “Thank you.”

 

Like Miranda hoped, Abigail and Charlotte get along. Abigail starts spending the afternoons when the girl is around with her, in the kid’s room, and her fingers are always dirty by the end of it. Sometimes Miranda joins them, most times she doesn’t.

Charlotte is fun and quirky, odd in an endearing way, and the kids love her. She paints with them, does theatre with them — apparently, Adelaide likes to write small plays for them to act out together — and is always up for whatever kid play the kids come up with. Sometimes, she brings baked goods made by her mother in her pockets, which she feeds the kids when Ms. Smith is not looking. When Abigail starts joining them, she starts to bring them for her as well. Abigail laughs comes easier when Charlotte’s around and she doesn’t seem as troubled and haunted as she usually does. Miranda can certainly understand why.

One of the evenings after Charlotte has come and gone, Abigail comes into her bedroom just as Miranda comes from putting Jamie in bed. For the first time since Miranda had met her, she seems nervous in a normal, not tragic, way. “Charlotte sells her mother’s bake goods every weekend at the town market,” Abigail explains.

Miranda looks at her, careful to keep her expression neutral. Her book rests open under her hands. Just for the sake of saying something, she says, “I can see why. They’re certainly delicious.”

Abigail beams, seeming proud of it. Miranda tries her hardest not to laugh, for she knows it would certainly not be appreciated, “Yes. Anyhow, I was wondering: do you think that, if I were to ask, Cousin John would let me join them sometime? Apparently they’re without a helper, and I have more than enough time to help.”

For all that John resembles Peter in Miranda’s eyes, and though he has made it clear he doesn’t want them to leave often — which might be related to the fact that he always seems troubled around Abigail, as if he is waiting for her to break-down and start throwing things any time now — Miranda has the feeling he won’t actually say no. “Suggest going only for a morning,” Miranda says. “If he says yes to that and everything goes well, maybe he’ll let you stay for a whole day soon.”

Abigail seems displeased — she’s only a child, she wants to be out and about — but she nods. “I will do that. Thank you.”

 

So Miranda begins to spend her Saturday mornings alone. She starts to let herself stay in bed until later, just lying there awake, so much so that her breakfast is cold when she finally eats it. It’s barely a change of pace, but it is a change of pace nonetheless, so Miranda tries to appreciate it as such. Afterwards, she usually goes down to walk the gardens, to gauge what she would have kept and what she would have done different. She knows the planning of it is done by Abigail’s aunt, who she has crossed paths with only a handful of times and is yet to trade any word with.

When Abigail comes home, she comes with baked goods and full of stories from the market, about the costumers and some of Charlotte’s friends, talkative in a way she rarely is. Miranda usually accompanies her to her bedroom, so Abigail can talk and change clothes for lunch at the same time. One time, a couple of months after Abigail started going, Miranda notices a mark in her breast just where the dress would have hidden it. It looks like a love bite. Abigail seems too relaxed to be aware of it, and Miranda draws her gaze away before she can notice her looking. She never brings it up.

 

“Miranda?” Abigail calls. She has a particular way of doing it when she means to ask her something more personal and not something about what she’s reading. Miranda looks up from her book.

“Yes?” Miranda asking, marking the page on her book and settling for the conversation. Abigail is always the one who initiates them and she has started to do it more and more often. She likes asking Miranda questions about her life, about James and Nassau, about London and Thomas, about Miranda’s own childhood. It had been weird and uncomfortable at first, Miranda too unused to talk about such things, but it’s become easier with time. It has made thinking about them, about James and Thomas, easier, too. They don’t haunt her mind like they used to anymore.

Abigail hesitates, like she often does. “How was your first kiss like?”

Miranda smiles, knowingly. “It was… Sweet, simple. A little bit weird.”

Abigail nods. “Was it with Thomas?”

“No,” Miranda says. “My first kiss with Thomas was years after we met. It was great. He was a very good kisser,” she says.

Like many other things, she can’t remember how he kissed anymore. It’s a weird disconnect, to know the feelings an act stirred whilst having no recollection of the sensation. It hurts more than she can say, to not be able to remember so many things.

Abigail nods again, with a teasing smile on her face that Miranda takes a moment to recognize as her own. The realization makes her blink, but it doesn’t go away. “How about your first kiss with James?” she asks.

Miranda has never put it out plainly, what was going on between her and Thomas and James, but, perhaps foolishly, she has never hidden it either. Still, she’s not sure how much Abigail understands of the situation. Instead of dwelling on that, she answers, “It was… Playful. Daring. Fun.” It was in a carriage and we had sex right there, she thinks, but obviously doesn’t say. She also doesn’t explain to Abigail how James’ kisses had changed with time: they were a bit clumsy at first, as if he wasn’t used to the act, but he was practiced by the time they got to Nassau. Sometimes, certain movements he made reminded her painfully of Thomas’, and she had to pull way and take a moment to gather her senses. She’s pretty sure he wasn’t aware of that, for she had never told him. She wonders how he would have reacted if she had.

Abigail takes a moment to contemplate her next question, and Miranda doesn’t rush her. “The first time you…” Abigail blushes and doesn’t finish. Miranda doesn’t pretend she doesn’t understand. “Was it with Thomas? Was it… good?”

Miranda takes a moment to consider her answer. It’s not that the questions feel any more intimate then others Abigail has asked — remembering quiet moments with Thomas or James will always be much more intimate than that —, but she takes a moment to listen for any footsteps, to consider how candid, how truthful, she should be with the girl in front of her. She takes a leap of faith. “It wasn’t with Thomas,” she says. “The fall after I met Thomas, my parents decided to send me away for a few months. My mother has always thought me too childish and she thought it was time I grew out of it. My aunt had this house up north, where she unofficially trained troublesome girls, relatives and daughters of friends and the likes. A bit like a finishing school, but more familiar and private.” Miranda takes a breath, watches Abigail following her story eagerly. “One day, I was tired of lectures so I decided to pretend I was with a terrible headache and had to go lie in bed. It wasn’t the first time I did that, and it didn’t always work, but when it did it gave me a couple of hours alone and unbothered in my room, which was what I wanted. That particular afternoon, Sarah, one of my friends, came to knock on my door a bit after I had gone up. She was a year older than me, and utterly beautiful. We had kissed before, at night, when the girls were sleeping or pretending too, but that afternoon we had time so we decided to try get undressed and see where it lead.” She looks at Abigail, notices the blush high on her cheeks, the way she seems to be barely breathing. “At the time, it was the greatest thing I’d ever done, but looking back we were awful.” Miranda laughs. “We got better with time. I found out later that troublesome girls seemed to have the habit of finding each other attractive, and apparently we weren’t the only ones getting undressed together under my aunt’s roof.”

Abigail nods, like she usually does, and takes deep breath. “Thank you for telling me,” she says, not looking at Miranda. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by the things Miranda revealed to her, just… elated, perhaps?

“Of course.”

Abigail doesn’t take long to ask her next question, as if she’s eager to get as many in as she can before Miranda changes her mind about talking about such tops. “Is it different, with a girl and with a man?”

Miranda frowns, thinking it over. She hasn’t had any good sex with either in so long, it feels hard to remember. “The bodies are different, and they feel different, but I think you already knew that… But yes, it can be,” Miranda says. Abigail watches her silently as Miranda tries to figure out the words. “With women it can be more intuitive. It’s easier to guess what feels good, and when guessing doesn’t work, it’s easier to ask. It can also last longer, which can be a lot of fun,” Miranda throws, just to make Abigail blush again. “With men, they tend to be unaware of your pleasure or even that you can have pleasure too. It tends to be more forceful, less kind.”

Abigail seems lost in thought, going over Miranda’s words. “How was it with Thomas?” Abigail asks, because she always seems to want to know Miranda’s personal experiences.

“Me and Thomas…” Miranda sighs, wondering how to explain it to her. “Thomas was always very kind. He asked a lot of questions, and he was always interested in the answer. However, it’s important that you realize… We didn’t always have sex the way you imagine sex to be,” she says. “There are many reasons for having sex. Sometimes we did it because we were bored and wanted to have fun, sometimes we did it because we had this cool new trick we wanted to show the other, sometimes we did it because we were apart for a while and wanted to feel close again,” she explains to Abigail’s puzzled expression. “Because sex between us didn’t always happen with the same purpose, it didn’t always look the same, and it didn’t always feel good and pleasurable in the same way. Do you understand this?”

Abigail frowns. “I’m not sure.”

Miranda feels herself smiling. “Sex can look like many things. Sometimes it can be what you imagine sex to be, sometimes it can be lying naked next to each other and touching each other softly. Sometimes good is gentle and slow, and sometimes it’s fast and easy. So if you’re asking me if it was good with Thomas, whom I shared a bed with for quite a long time, then the answer is yes, but I think it’s important you realize that good won’t always look the way you think it does.”

“I suppose,” Abigail says, but she still looks doubtful. She sighs. “Me and my friends in London… We never talked about it like that. I didn’t know it was supposed to feel- to be pleasurable. That there can be so many ways of it.”

Miranda nods, understanding. She didn’t either, when she was Abigail’s age. Time and her stubbornness had taught her, and she’s so glad they had. She’s glad she gets to teach Abigail, too. Maybe she won’t have to go through the same pains she went through. “There are as many ways of it as you can imagine. But it’s important that they always feel good. Why else do it, if it only brings pain and makes you feel bad?”

“I suppose,” she concedes again. “You’ve given me much to think about,” she says, and opens back her book. Miranda observes her for a while, her eyes glued to the page but unmoving, and then opens her own book and goes back to reading.

 

Abigail’s birthday comes at the end of October. At her request, Miranda spends the morning in the garden with her, where Abigail tells her about the book she’s been reading while they collect flowers for her bedroom.

At night, for the first time, Miranda joins them for dinner, in a lavish new gown that she was given specifically for the occasion. It is deep purple, the closest thing to her gowns in London that she had worn in a long time. Unsurprisingly, Miranda hates it on sight.

They eat, and then Miranda accompanies them to the drawing room, where they are unusually joined by the kids, Adelaide in her childish gown and Jamie in pajamas, and by Abigail’s aunt Lilian. Lilian stays quiet in the corner for most of the evening, barely glancing at any of them, but she asks Abigail to play them something in a low, sweet timber, to which the girl obliges. Miranda knows from watching her play that she enjoys the quick, technical songs, cheery and light, and that’s exactly what Abigail delivers.

Once Abigail is done entertaining them and has moved on to a game of cards with John, Miranda excuses herself and goes upstairs. She leaves the dress in the bundle on the floor and sits down in her shift to start unpinning her hair and getting ready for the evening. She’s surprised by a knock on the door.

“Who is it?” she asks.

“It’s Abigail,” Abigail’s voice comes through. She sounds tired in a way Miranda hadn’t expected, not after what seemed like such a good day.

With her hair half up, half down, Miranda reaches for her robe and opens the door so Abigail can enter. “Is everything alright, dear?” she asks, motioning for her take a sit. Abigail makes her way to the foot of the bed, and sensing her vulnerability, Miranda sits beside her.

“I’m glad you came down tonight,” Abigail starts, and Miranda smiles at her, as if to say Of course. “I- I’ve come here to say that, I know that you don’t want to be here, and I promise that I haven’t forgotten the promise I made you when we first arrived. I will help you leave as soon as I figure out a way.” She pauses for a moment. “Still, even though I know this is not what you wanted, I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am for your help and your company over the last few months.” Abigail, who has been looking down at her shaking hands so far, looks up at her, earnest and sure. Miranda finds herself, strangely, at a loss for words, so she reaches out to take Abigail’s hand instead.

Abigail squeezes her hand hard and takes a deep breath, then another, until Miranda finally realizes she’s trying not to cry. “Abigail, are you alright?”

Abigail shakes her hand, a small sob escaping. “I miss Father. I- I know that you don’t, so I’m sorry for coming to you with this, but I didn’t know who to go to. Somehow, I spent the day waiting for his gift to arrive, and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t. I miss Father, and I miss my Mom, and I understand that Mr. McGraw was your lover and your friend, but there are times when I hate him so much, and I hate Father too, and-“ She talks until she can’t, until her sobs override her words, and Miranda can’t do anything but stand there startled looking at her. She reaches out for Abigail, puts her arms around her and lets her hide her face in Miranda’s own neck, just like that first morning when she got the news that her father had passed. Miranda holds her, and she doesn’t tell her she’s wrong, and she keeps on holding her until Abigail is so tired that even crying is a hardship.

 

Abigail apologizes the next morning, though she doesn’t say which part she is apologizing for, and Miranda brushes it off. She’s used to people hating James and she’s yet to know a woman who doesn’t have complicated feelings towards her father.

November comes, and the sun still shines bright every day, but the weather gets colder, making the whole house less stuffy and warm.

“Miranda?” Abigail calls one morning.

Miranda looks up, and smiles at her knowingly. She waits for the question to come.

“Did you and Thomas want children?” she asks.

Miranda blinks. Somehow, Abigail still has a way to get her by surprise with her questions. She takes a moment to think before answering, “We expected them,” she says simply.

Abigail nods in acceptance. “Alright, but did you want them?” she asks again. Miranda smiles. Abigail’s getting cleverer in her questions.

“I’m not sure,” she says. “We expected them, so we kept an eye out for it during the first years of our marriage. But it never happened. Maybe there was something wrong with me, I don’t know,” she smiles wryly. She still remembers all the comments she heard about her lack of children and pregnancies over the years. “I don’t know if we wanted them, for some reason that is one of the things we never talked about. We expected it until we reached a point where we didn’t.”

“Would you have liked to be a mother, though?” Abigail asks, and for some reason the question hits Miranda differently than the others.

“I’ve never thought about it,” she admits. “I guess… I enjoyed my life in London, and I enjoyed it the way it was. I don’t think I’d have relished in being a mother then, and probably wouldn’t be a good one,” Miranda says, looking out the window. “And in Nassau… I don’t think I’d have enjoyed that either. So if we’re being practical about it, I think we can say I didn’t want to have children and I’m glad I didn’t have any. But you ask me if I’d have liked to be a mother…” She looks at Abigail. “I honestly don’t have an answer for you.”

Abigail nods. “Maybe-“ Abigail starts and stops. She shifts on the couch. “Charlotte says she wouldn’t like to have children. I asked if she wouldn’t miss the joys of motherhood, and she said that she can enjoy them without becoming one. That she enjoys them by helping out with her niece and with her younger brother, and by coming here to play with my cousins, and by nursing her friends when they get sick. I guess… I wanted to know what you thought of it,” Abigail explains.

Miranda allows for herself to be truly surprised. “I think your friend is very, very smart.”

Abigail nods, beaming, and they get back to their books.

 

The servants are gossiping again. They pass her on the hallway as Miranda makes her way downstairs after breakfast, two maids huddled together so deep in conversation they barely notice her.

She finds Abigail already in the library, immersed in her book.

“Good morning, Miranda,” she says when she comes in. Miranda greets her back and sits down, book in hand.

Miranda puts the servants out of her mind throughout the day, but something about the whole ordeal is rubbing her wrong. She doesn’t like the feeling.

That night, Jamie tells her all about the stars, his most recent fixation — there were horses, then cats, then giraffes, and then the animals gave place to flowers and he spent a lot of time out in the garden, which Miranda thought rather sweet. Now it’s the planets and the stars. Miranda listens to his chatter patiently as she helps him bath and get into his clean pajamas, and promises to go watch the night sky with him one of these days.

When she and Mrs. Middleton finally leave the room to let him sleep, Miranda turns to her. “Do you know what caused such commotion downstairs? Everyone seems very excited,” she asks as they make their way down the hallway.

Mrs. Middleton rolls her eyes. “Just gossip from the town, I’m sure you know how it is. There’s to be a big wedding in town. The girls think he is handsome, the men think she is pretty. They’d all be complaining about if it were here, but it’s always sweet when it’s someone else’s load.”

Miranda laughs. “Of course.”

“Other than that, there’s not much. There’s been some talk about the pirates recently, but I didn’t get the gist of it.” They stop in front of Miranda’s door. “I’ll say goodnight, Mrs. Barlow.”

“Goodnight, Mrs. Middleton,” Miranda replies, and goes into the bedroom, where her still warm dinner is waiting for her.

She’s down to her night gown and carefully unpinning her hair when there’s a knock and Abigail sticks her head in. She seems worried. “Can I come in?”

“Certainly, dear,” Miranda says, and she follows Abigail through the mirror as she comes to seat down at the foot of the bed. “Is everything alright? You look upset.”

Abigail looks down at her hands. “I’m afraid I don’t have good news,” she says, which makes Miranda stop what she’s doing and come to sit beside her. “I- Cousin John was talking at dinner. Apparently it’s been confirmed. Captain Flint is dead.”

Miranda blinks, her hands curling into fists at her side. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?”

Abigail nods. She looks up, as if in prayer. “Apparently the rumors have been around for a while, but the confirmation came from Boston, from the Guthrie family. Not everyone says he’s dead, some say he has retired but-“

“He never would,” Miranda agrees. “James would never retire, not like that,” she repeats, remembering the little snippets of gossip she sometimes heard when John had his friends over, about the failure of Woodes Rogers in Nassau, about the pirate-maroon alliance that has been formed under the leadership of Captain Flint. She doesn’t know how true they are, but they must have some sort of truth in them to make their way all the way to Savannah. But regardless of them, she knows that James would never quit. It’s something she never managed to make peace with.

Captain Flint is dead. She focuses on her nails digging into her palms and turns to Abigail again. “Thank you for telling me. Why don’t you go to bed now? It’s getting late.”

Abigail nods and gets up. “Miranda, I am so sorry,” she says, just before she closes the door behind her.

He’s been dead to her once, Miranda remembers. When she first arrived in Savannah and all she could see was his body hanging in a square for everyone to see. Then it turned out he was alive, but part of her has been grieving his loss since then. She was desperate and enraged then, as she confronted the reality of his loss, but this time it settles in her slowly, all the way to her bones, until all she can do is stand there, limbs shaking.

The news have been floating around for a while and they still don’t even know if he’s really dead. Not even the certainty of death is granted to him in the end.

Retired. She scoffs at the word, at how ridiculous it sounds. Right then, pettily, she decides she hates it.

The doubt of the situation… It keeps her unable to declare him dead in her eyes, leaves him on an unstable, terrible limbo. She can’t go through his death again just to find out later that he’s alive — just the implications of it, because if she mourns him now and then finds out he is alive, then she’ll mourn him again eventually, and she doesn’t think she has it in her to keep doing it, to keep losing him and getting him back and losing him again. But if she pretends he’s alive and he isn’t… To leave him alone even in death makes her sick to her stomach.

When tears come, they taste of despair.