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Mitchell asked Cam for the last time, “Are you sure about this? Would it be enough if I can never give you peace?”

 

Cam looked calmly into Mitchell’s eyes, smiled a bit, and responded, “I have never been sure of anything in my life.”

 

****

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a spouse. Though for Mitchell Pritchett, it wasn’t that easy. Well, it was a piece of cake if it was a woman. His father had a list of daughters of his friends from elite society who can easily be called for an arranged marriage. How barbaric, Mitchell thought. What he wanted though was to find a man he could love and who could love him in return.

 

Mitchell looked at the entrance of the mansion his family was renting for the summer and sighed with disgust. It had the same atmosphere the previous summer houses they stayed in. He was assuming the people in this neighborhood probably were the same bland people from those other places they visited in the past summers. People who were too eager to see the Pritchett family throw lavish balls and benefit from it. People who were hoping to marry into the family. Luck had run out though because his sister, Claire was recently engaged to a gentleman called Phil. Phil was from a good, rich family. Mitchell liked him for his sister. He was a treat for company, never a dull moment with Phil. If only Mitchell could find someone like that for him. If only he could find a man suitable to his temperament and a woman tolerable enough to take the role of a wife. He had seen others like him do it successfully. On the outside, married to a woman from the same ranks, being respected in society, their fortunes strengthened, had a child or two, all was well. But the hidden reality, it was a man whom he truly loves and spends his time and fortune with, raising children together. All was also well in this narrative except that it was invisible to civilized society. Such is the painful life of people who are different from what society dictates.

 

Mitchell believed it would be truly difficult for him to find a perfect match, let alone two. He had surrendered to the idea that his father, Jay, owner of the carpentry business would find some appropriate woman for him. Of course, his father did not know that he was not interested in women at all. Mitchell would be disowned and as much as he wanted to run away, move to a foreign country and find the perfect man to be with, he loved the splendor of the wealthy lifestyle he grew up with. In his mind, he accepted being married to a woman he would not agree with. The best-case scenario though would be to find a kind woman to settle down with to satisfy the dictatorship of society. A woman he could genuinely be friends with. He could never love a woman romantically but an authentic friendship with one was something he hoped for so that life would be easier. All the while being with the man of his dreams, someone who would love him despite his judgmental demeanor. The thing was, Mitchell had never been in love. He had a few infatuations in his youth but nothing that could be called a great love. He thought it was because he despised almost everyone. He could not stand most people. Mitchell was smart. Perhaps too smart for the time period he was born into. He knew the repression he needed to do made him arrogant and angry therefore he could only make a few genuine friendships with people.

 

****

 

Cameron was just getting back from his morning walk. He liked to read while taking in the beauty of nature, just before his day of working on the farm starts. He liked farm life. There was nothing that could genuinely make him happy than this life he had with his family. If he could only freeze this moment in time. Later on, he would be grateful that he couldn’t do that because he would eventually find the life he craved for.

 

He had already accepted the fact that for a man like him, it was difficult to find a suitable partner. It was forbidden in society. He had seen others do it with ease, in secrecy of course. For some reason, he didn’t think it could be possible for him. He idealized men as he had read countless gems of literature. He had not met anyone he could admire enough, let alone love. He knew his family at some point would pressure him into marrying a woman. He planned to oppose this as long as he could. If it came to a point he must marry a woman for the sake of ensuring the safety of the small estate the Tucker family had for generations, then he must concede. He only hoped the woman would be tolerable enough. Someone he could genuinely be friends with.

 

When Cameron entered the house, he heard his sister, Pam, excitedly talking to their mother.

 

“The Great House of Netherfield is now occupied for the summer. We must tell your father immediately.” he heard his mother joyfully speaking to his sister who was hopping along the hallway.

 

“Mama, I heard the man is single! This is my opportunity. Imagine your dear daughter married at the end of the summer.”

 

“Who is this single man and why do you think he would particularly like you?” Cameron walked towards them, teasing his sister as part of their usual dynamic.

 

“Mitchell Pritchett, son of the carpentry business owner. He also has a sister but she’s engaged.”

 

“Interesting name and interesting source of wealth. I assume they are having a ball soon?”

 

“Yes indeed, brother. I can’t wait to dress up. Would you help me choose the appropriate dress and hair accessories for the party? I will do your chores for a week.” Cameron’s attention was fixated on having more free time reading if Pam truly took on his chores. “It’s just that you’re somehow better than me on picking outfits and hair ribbons. It’s very odd.”

 

“No need to insult me if you want my assistance. Yes, I’ll help you out.”

 

****

 

The night of the ball came and Pam was so giggly that it’s embarrassing to the people. People were looking at the Tucker family as Pam was too hyper while talking and mingling. Cameron couldn’t help but move away and talk to his dear friend, Longinus at the corner of the party.

 

“So when do we see this mysterious Pritchett family, huh? Are they hiding from the party they themselves are hosting? Isn’t that rude?” Longinus heard the question but was busy looking around at the party, admiring the women’s dresses and the men who were admiring the women.  

 

“Longinus, I came here to talk to you. If you won’t respond, then I might as well go back to my boisterous sister over there.” Cameron in a vexed tone told his friend.

 

“I apologize, my dear friend. How can you not be distracted with all the beauty in this room?”

 

“No one’s catching my eye particularly.”

 

“Perhaps that gentleman over there. That is the Pritchett family.”

 

Cameron looked at where everybody’s eyes were all transfixed. He was in awe with what he was seeing and as he was opening his mouth to ask, Longinus uttered, “That is the famous family. The patriarch, Jay Pritchett, came from a long line of an affluent family. His children are truly lucky. The beautiful daughter, albeit with a piercing look, is known to be amiable and has an overall agreeable demeanor.” Cameron was looking at each one as Longinus was narrating his description.

 

When it came to the gentleman walking at the right side of Jay, before Longinus could continue his storytelling, Cameron asked, “Who is he?” 

 

“Oh, that is the one Mr. Mitchell Pritchett.” Longinus asserted as if he had known the man his entire life.

 

“That’s him? The one my sister was thrilled to see?”

 

“You don’t sound impressed. I am quite vexed at that thought.” Longinus seemed to be taking this as a personal attack. He was rather interested in this stern-looking man from afar.

 

“Poor soul, look at how miserable he is. It seems he has a quizzical brow all of the time.” Cameron was enjoying the painful awkwardness of this man compared to how his family seemed to be accommodating.

 

“He may be, but poor he certainly is not. He inherits half of the fortune.”

 

“The miserable half.” Cameron could not resist making fun of it all as he and Longinus laughed, and people almost turned to look at them.

 

The family walked into the hall as if they were the kings and queens ruling over this new place they found. They looked people in the eye in a respectful, amiable greeting-like manner. As Mitchell was surveying the room, he happened to lock eyes with Cameron. It lasted 3 seconds.

 

Only because Mitchell looked away as if he was disgusted by what he saw. Cameron couldn’t help but laugh at this whole ordeal. He was enjoying the painful existence of this man as he thought to himself, “Why does this visitor act like that? As if they own the place but simultaneously not want to be here in this town at all. But thank goodness this new man in town is a paradox.” It wasn’t because Cameron was interested in him when indeed it was the opposite. He despised people that belittle others. This visit became a piece of entertainment for him and Longinus to gossip about.

 

"Cameron!" A man with a Spanish accent called out and Cameron turned around. To his surprise, it was his foreign friend. "Ronaldo! What a surprise. Why didn't you send me a telegram to let us know you are paying us a visit?"

 

"You know me, my friend. I take life as an adventure. I let it bring me to wherever it pleases."

 

Longinus couldn’t help but tease, "Oh, how poetic. But we know you enough to conclude that you are here because you are as intrigued as we are about this family." Ronaldo chuckled and reassured his friends, "That may be the truth but I also wanted to see you, my dear friends." Before Cameron could retaliate, he heard his name called out again. It was his sister this time.

 

"Oh Cameron, mother is introducing us to the Pritchetts! Come now. A friend of the family also just arrived. His name is Pepper."

 

"What an odd nickname. I wasn't keen on meeting the family, especially the miserable son but the friend seems intriguing enough." Cameron summoned his friends so all of them could meet the family.

 

They were all introduced and Cameron was still amused by the painful, awkward stance of this man with the strawberry blonde hair. However much to his surprise, a few minutes later his friend, Ronaldo, and the Pritchett's family friend, Pepper, seemed to be in blissful conversation. 

 

Cameron joined in, "So you are staying with the family in the Netherfield house for the entire summer?"

 

"Yes, I am." Pepper said proudly with eyes fixed on Ronaldo.

 

Cameron couldn’t help but cut in again into what seemed to be a gazing contest between Pepper and Ronaldo. “I must ask, is it true what they say that the library in Netherfield is the finest?”

 

“That is true indeed. I like to read sometimes. Would you and Ronaldo like to visit in a day or two to gaze into the magnificent beauty of the library?”

 

“I would love to, more than you know. But shouldn’t we let the Pritchetts invite us?” Ronaldo asked Pepper though he did not mean it. He did not care about the rules of propriety. He wanted to spend more time with this man who seemed to be as worldly as he was.

 

Cameron understood perfectly what was transpiring in front of his eyes when Pepper responded, “Nonsense, I’m like a brother to Mitchell. They wouldn’t mind me bringing guests to the house.” Ronaldo was relieved. Pepper then asked Ronaldo to accompany him in getting a new glass of wine. As they were leaving, Mitchell walked towards Cameron.

 

“Are you enjoying the ball that your family is hosting?” That seemed to be a polite question, Cameron thought but Mitchell found it off-putting.

 

“I’d rather like it if my family is not expected to throw lavish gatherings for people we barely know,” Mitchell answered bluntly.

 

“Well then, it is only fitting that you get to know the people in this town. We boast of being an amusing company. You are the visitor, it would be rude if you don’t mingle.”

 

“Not if I can help it.” Mitchell not only spoke bluntly but this time with a piercing look into Cameron’s eyes.

 

Oh, the sharpness continued to come out of this snobbish man’s mouth. It appeared to be illogical though. If Mr. Mitchell Pritchett did not like to mingle, why then did he motion over to Cameron’s side?

 

Cameron was getting agitated but he was delighted to make this man suffer. He thought of a remark that would probably be snarkily received as the theme of this exchange suggests. He smiled and continued to tease, “I also see you have not danced with any woman in this ball. Do you not dance, Mr. Pritchett?”

 

Mitchell was taken aback when he was addressed formally by this energetic man. The winds have changed. He was able to spark anger or annoyance from this man who was the town’s favorite person as it looked like. He then responded, “I must say, not if I can help it.”

 

They stood in silence for a few seconds when Cameron decided to walk away. Mitchell stared as the man left him. He felt guilty but he must honor his true thoughts and feelings. He needed to respond as honestly as possible. Besides, Cameron was challenging him with the way he was making conversation. Mitchell never met someone like this before. People usually praised their family and lied to their faces, except Pepper of course but Pepper was like family. Naturally, Mitchell had to answer in the same tone that Cameron was using.

 

The rest of the townspeople all mingled in the ball, danced, talked, and drank wine. Balls as grand as this were like a rare gem in their town. The ones thrown by the villagers were simple and cozy. This one organized by a rich family was an undeniable luxury in this town. Cameron found his way back to his confidante, Longinus. They were talking excitedly when they overheard Pepper and Mitchell talking nearby. As such, they tried to hide so they wouldn't be caught eavesdropping.

 

“I’ve never seen so many handsome boys before,” Pepper exclaimed.

 

“You were talking to the only handsome boy in this entire room. I bet you’d like to dance with him if permissible.” Mitchell reacted but in a stern and bored tone. Was he jealous of Pepper finding someone he could like? Was he interested in Ronaldo or Pepper?

 

“Oh, Ronaldo is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I want to dance with him publicly. He told me that he considers the family of his friend, Cameron as his extended family. They are truly close.  So his friend, Cameron is agreeable.” Pepper answered as if to make it clear as day that Ronaldo was only his.

 

“Perfectly tolerable, I dare say. But not handsome enough to tempt me. Not even to dance, if we are allowed to dance with men in a ball. Return to Ronaldo and enjoy his smiles. You are wasting your time with me.” Mitchell this time spoke with approval.

 

Longinus and Cameron could not believe what they just heard.

 

“So they are men who are... like us too?” Longinus clarified.

 

“Your question does not contain an ounce of sense. Didn’t you see how Ronaldo and Pepper were looking at each other, smiling and conversing like they are the only ones in this room? I had a sensation in my gut that told me something is strange with Mitchell. I thought there was a strong possibility that he might be...one of us, but now we have a confirmation.” Cameron proudly explained as if he figured out a plot twist in one of the books he was reading. 

 

“While I am in bliss for our dear friend, Ronaldo, may I ask what is your reaction to the rest of what we have heard?”

 

Cameron remembered the very words of that Mr. Mitchell Pritchett, “perfectly tolerable... not handsome enough to tempt him.” Sadness, annoyance, shame appeared in Cameron’s face.

 

Before he could say anything, Longinus decided to comfort his friend, “Count your blessings, Cam. If he liked you, you’d have to talk to him again.”

 

“Precisely. Even if men are allowed to dance with each other publicly, I wouldn’t ever choose to dance with him.” The two laughed away as humor is the antidote to most things, isn’t it?

 

Pam was dancing and talking and mingling with everyone when Barb, her mother, asked her to find her brother. It was important to their mother that they make a good impression with Jay as it could mean business and profit. They all met up with the Pritchetts and conversed about various topics until it came to the topic of poetry. How did it ever come to that? Much to Cameron’s embarrassment, Barb shared the story of how Cam wrote poetry to a girl he was wooing. If only his mother knew the real story. It was for the brother of that girl.

 

“Cam was so in love with this girl from the next village, I was sure he was going to offer her marriage. The amount of poetry he wrote for that girl. It shows stability, Mr. Jay Pritchett. It shows how Cam and our family value determination.” Barb said in the most scandalous way. It opposed her intention of making a good impression on Jay. Cameron had to save the situation and quickly!

 

“I wonder who discovered the power of poetry in driving away love. It is apparent in this story that it did not work. Forgive me mother, but I have to ask you to not confide that story again, please.” Cameron truly tried to save them all from further shame. The night kept on creating surprises as Cameron was shocked when Mitchell spoke to him directly for the first time in this group conversation.

 

“I thought poetry was the food of love,” Mitchell said softly. A first in the evening full of scowling from him.

 

“Of a fine, stout love, it may. But if it’s only a vague inclination, one poor sonnet will kill it.” Cameron said proudly, proving Mitchell wrong about his thoughts on poetry, not caring that he and Mitchell were talking to each other in front of their families.

 

“So what do you recommend to encourage affection?” Mitchell looked desperate to find an answer but tried to hide it. After all, he was speaking to Cameron directly in front of their families.

 

“Dancing. Even if one’s partner is barely tolerable.” Cameron smiled as he said these words. He was teasing Mitchell after all that he overheard earlier. To further aggravate him, Cameron gestured to leave the group and asked a girl nearby for a dance.

 

Mitchell’s thoughts were racing. He was shocked and became quiet as he was consumed by his thoughts, “This man who once again walked away from me seemed to know my opinions about dancing and people who are tolerable enough for company, how could he know? Cameron also showed an inclination that...could it be? Why else would Cameron be playful with his words? Why does he keep on talking to me in a teasing manner? Men in civil society mock each other because of competitive nature but there is something with Cameron. It’s as if him asking a girl to dance after that serious exchange we had in front of our families is his way of mocking. Not to assert a competitive nature but to make me jealous? To send me a message. Not just the message of he likes dancing even if your partner is barely tolerable... so maybe I should give dancing a chance? But he was also sending a  message that he is… someone like me?”

 

Mitchell’s thoughts were interrupted when Jay asked him to go dance with Pam. 

 

****

 

It had been a week since the ball. The Militia officers came to town. Pam being so flirty, asked Cameron to accompany her to town to pick up some hair ribbons and to have a chance to meet an officer.

 

“Cam! Don’t you just love seeing men in uniform?”

 

“Why would I love that, let alone like it?” He replied in a playful but also aggressive tone.

 

“I don’t know. I just thought...” Pam spoke but strayed on her words. Cameron saw his sister drift towards some officers. There would be a second ball thrown by the Pritchetts that’s why most women in town were obsessing in finding the best clothing and accessories to wear.

 

He walked around the shops when he heard a voice from behind.

 

“So you’re the brother Pam keeps on talking about?” Cameron turned around and saw a beautiful man in front of him. He was smitten.

 

“My name is Bo. A pleasure to meet you.” Bo extended his hand and Cameron shook it, with a smile on his face as if he was falling for this man.

 

“So my sister found you? How unlucky you are.” Cameron tried to hide his admiration for the man.

 

“Oh, will you please stop, my dear brother. Let’s all go to the shop and pick up some ribbons, shall we?” 

 

Cameron was watching Pam and Bo pick some ribbons. He was funny and charming and seemed to be caring towards his sister. Wild thoughts began to circulate in his mind. He wouldn’t mind if Pam and Bo get married. He would be able to see his beautiful face often. Besides, he already accepted his fate that he wouldn’t find love in the way he wanted to.

 

They all walked towards home when they saw Ronaldo and Longinus in the field. These two were also intrigued by Bo and it seemed that Pam and Bo became something in the short while they had known each other. They were all chatting away when they saw Mitchell and Pepper riding horses, headed to their direction.

 

“Mr. Pepper! Look at my ribbons for the second ball that Mr. Mitchell is throwing. Do you like them?” Pam addressed them as if they were close friends even if they certainly were not.

 

“Oh, I sure love it dear. It suits you.” Pepper answered and his eyes began to drift to Ronaldo. “You are coming to the ball too, Ronaldo?”

 

“Of course! I wouldn’t miss it.” Ronaldo replied with a smile in his lips and his eyes.

 

Cameron was looking at Mitchell the entire time and noticed that Mitchell was once again irritated. He contemplated, “Is he always like this? Does he not want his dear friend, Pepper, to be happy with Ronaldo? Didn’t he approve of Ronaldo already?” Then he noticed Mitchell looking at Bo with disgust. “Does Mitchell have a poor taste? How can he not like Bo with his beautiful face and charming personality? Sure, they have not spoken so he doesn’t know of his temperament yet but it looks as if Mitchell was judging Bo already with hatred.” Cameron’s contemplation was interrupted when his beloved sister spoke to Pepper again so comfortably. 

 

“Be sure to invite Mr. Bo to your ball. He is a credit to his profession.” Pam asserted. Cameron had to speak and stop his sister, “Pam, you can’t invite people to other people’s balls.”

 

After Mitchell heard this, he motioned his horse to run away from this encounter. He just left. Pepper, being the well-mannered gentleman that he was, spoke, “Of course, you must come, Mr. Bo. If you’ll excuse us, enjoy your day.” Pepper motioned his horse to follow Mitchell who was quite a distance away from them already.

 

Cameron looked at Bo sensing tension between this charming man and the arrogant Mitchell. “Why is there tension?” He thought. He then gestured Bo towards a tree to investigate and have some privacy away from the others.

 

“Are you coming to the ball, Bo?” Cameron asked hoping he would say yes just to have more time with this man even if he knew he couldn’t have him. Well then for his sister. He seemed to be a good pairing for his sister. That was what he kept on telling himself.

 

“Perhaps. How long has Mr. Mitchell been a guest in the Netherfield house?”

 

“About 2 weeks. Forgive me, but are you acquainted with him, with Mr. Mitchell?” Cameron was beginning to investigate.

 

“Indeed, I’ve been connected with his family since infancy. You may well be surprised, given our cold greeting this afternoon.” Bo looked at Cameron’s astonishment.

 

“I hope your plans for staying in our town won’t be affected by your relations with the gentleman.”

 

“It is not for me to be driven away,” Bo said in his usual charming tone as Cameron once again thought, “He’s perfect!” Bo continued, “If Mitchell wishes to avoid seeing me, he must go, not I.”

 

“I must ask, what is the manner of your disapproval of Mr. Mitchell?”

 

“My father used to work in their estate. We grew up together, Mitchell and I. His father, the great Mr. Jay Pritchett treated me like a second son. His father intended to give me a sum of money for me to start an enterprise of my own. Until Mitchell invented a story that I plan to waste the money away for traveling and meeting women. Jay believed his every word easily. I guess blood relations are of better value.”

 

“But why did he do that?” Cameron asked, enraged with what he was learning.

 

“Jealousy. His father... well he loved me better and Mitchell couldn’t stand it.”  

 

“How cruel.” Cam’s heart sank for the poor, lovable Bo.

 

“So now I’m a poor soldier. Too lowly even to be noticed.”

 

****

 

The night of the second ball came. Pam was again mingling and dancing and talking loudly. Cameron talked to his sister to tone it down but she did not listen. Bo was not coming to this ball so Pam was lonely and had to distract herself to the embarrassment of Cameron. People were looking at Pam. Meanwhile, their mother, Barb, was boasting to all that Pam had met a wonderful officer and that maybe they would get married soon. Even if the said man was nowhere to be found in this ball. Cameron wanted to disappear. Clearly, his family members were seeing who can expose themselves to the most ridicule! To make matters worse, he noticed that Mitchell was looking at him intently. Cameron mingled with people instead until he found Longinus who just finished talking to a handsome gentleman.

 

“You seem to be enjoying the ball, I see?” Cameron teased his long time friend.

 

“Indeed I am.” Longinus then told the whole story about this fine man named David. They began walking towards the wine table, joyfully talking, not noticing that they were on the path towards Mitchell.

 

Suddenly, Cameron and Longinus stopped walking and stood still as Mitchell was in front of them.

 

“I am going to dance with this woman I met and I hope you will be there to witness it. I saw how you were a great dancer, Mr. Cameron and perhaps you could critique my skills and talk to me afterward?” Mitchell said, still in his stern, upright manner.

 

“Of course. I will be there.” Cameron answered. Mitchell acknowledged it, not smiling but still in his stoic face, and then gestured to leave.

 

Cameron and Longinus walked fast towards a corner for privacy.

 

“Did I just agree to watch Mr. Mitchell dance, critique his abilities, and talk to him personally afterward?” Cameron asked Longinus in great disbelief.

 

“I dare say you will find him amiable.”

 

“It would be most inconvenient since I’ve sworn to loathe him for all eternity,” Cameron stated the facts in a serious tone, and a few seconds later they both laughed uncontrollably.

 

The time for the dance came and Cameron watched Mitchell intently as he was dancing with this beautiful woman. He can’t help but admire this stoic man’s graceful dancing, the way his body moved but his face was still serious. Then he remembered he was supposed to hate him. He convinced himself, “Mitchell Pritchett is a prick, a cruel man who took away Bo’s future.” After the dance, Mitchell walked towards Cameron.

 

“You are a good dancer, I must say.” Cameron praised the man. He still deserved to know that.

 

“Thank you. I am happy that you are delighted.” Mitchell said in a warm tone, smiling almost. Almost. He was beginning to go soft again just like in the first ball when he asked about poetry.

 

“I didn’t say I was delighted.” Cameron quickly retaliated.

 

“Do you relish in complementing people and then take it away immediately?”

 

“Yes, I have a preference for being unsociable and taciturn. Makes it more enjoyable, don’t you think?”

 

“Tell me, do you and your sister often go to town?” Mitchell replied as if he wasn’t bothered by Cameron’s demeanor.

 

“Yes. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people. When you saw us after we bought ribbons, we’d just had the pleasure of forming a new acquaintance.”

 

“Mr. Bo’s blessed with such happy manners, he’s sure of making friends. Whether he’s capable of retaining them is less so.”

 

“He’s been so unfortunate as to lose your friendship. That is irreversible?” Cameron was hoping to be hammering a point across.

 

“It is. Why do you ask such a question?” Mitchell snapped.

 

“To make out your character, Mr. Mitchell.”

 

“What have you discovered?” Mitchell responded with anger.

 

“Very little. I am puzzled exceedingly by the things I hear about you.”

 

“I hope to afford you more clarity in the future.”

 

Mitchell then walked away. It was his turn to walk away and leave this man puzzled. Curious. But that wasn’t the desired effect. Cameron’s prejudice towards Mitchell was growing more and more. Mitchell went to the wine table to get drinks for two. He then walked back to where Cameron was.

 

"I mentioned a moment ago that I wanted to give you more clarity about myself. May I offer you a drink?" Mitchell handed him the glass and Cameron accepted. 

 

Their hands touched, fingers almost intertwined and they both looked at the glass they were holding. This lasted 3 seconds. After all, they were in public. Men didn't dance together in balls, let alone hold hands, even accidentally, when passing a glass of wine. This lasted 3 seconds because, after all, Cameron hated this ruthless man, didn’t he? 

 

"Thank you," Cameron replied softly as he took the weight of the glass, surprised about this electric exchange. He was awkwardly holding the glass. A mix of embarrassment and blushing, almost.

 

"I… I thought it would be nice for us to have a drink together," Mitchell spoke as he looked at Cameron's face and then down to the glass Cameron was holding in his hands. As if to reminisce what had happened.

 

Cameron noticed this and he also looked at the glass he was holding. He then looked up at Mitchell's face, almost with a regard for the man for a few seconds. Then he snapped back to reality and made a biting remark.

 

"I don't suppose you plan to illuminate me with your character by making me drink and therefore lose my better judgment?" Cameron said proudly.

 

Mitchell's softness from the incident earlier vanished like smoke. His facial expression changed into a smirk, his body stiffened. 

 

He then retaliated, "That is not what I intended. Wine tastes good. Besides, I find it nonsensical when people truly believe that a drink can cloud someone's judgment."

 

"You truly are not like most people. People like us." Cameron pointed to the room and continued, "I need to find my sister. She is a bit lonely as Mr. Bo wasn't able to attend the ball. I believe that is because of you."

 

Mitchell opened his mouth to answer but Cameron was almost sprinting away from this encounter.  Mitchell was willing to argue and fight a few seconds ago but now he just wanted a chance to explain himself. A chance that had passed. He could very well run after him, but what could he do? This challenging man was highly prejudiced against him already.

 

Cameron searched for Longinus and confided what had happened. They began to amuse themselves by watching Pepper and Ronaldo continue to talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. Ronaldo called Cameron and Longinus over to have them join in their conversation.

 

“I was telling Pepper that it is my dream to have a house in this town so I can always visit you, Cam, and your family. Cam’s family has always been kind to me.” Ronaldo spoke sweetly.

 

“We only see Ronaldo a few times a year when he visits his uncle here,” Cameron added.

 

“I suppose you, Cam and Longinus become such good friends because you were neighbors when you were growing up, is that right?” Pepper asked for clarification.

 

“Yes, that is true. We grew up playing in the fields, us three until Ronaldo’s family had to move away.” Longinus spoke with a hint of nostalgia in his voice.

 

At least something right was happening. Pepper and Ronaldo were in the right direction. Pepper liked the company of Ronaldo’s friends. What could go wrong? Oh, what could go wrong indeed?

 

****

 

A week had gone by and it was the normal farm chores for the Tucker family until one day, Cameron’s peace was disturbed.

 

“Cam! Your best friend, Ronaldo, is in our living room wanting to talk to you!” Pam knocked and called out on Cameron’s bedroom. He met with Ronaldo in the living room who then requested that they go outside to talk.

 

“Cam, I have some distressing news. For me, not for you.” Ronaldo confided in his friend in a most somber tone.

 

“What is it, my dear friend? Are you alright?”

 

“Pepper wrote to me. He left. The Pritchett family left the Netherfield house. He said it was for urgent business and they don’t know if they will ever come back.” Ronaldo couldn’t help but cry and Cameron hugged him.

 

“I don’t understand. What can take Pepper away from the town? Why won’t he know when he’ll return?”

 

“Read the letter, Cam, I don’t mind.”

 

Cam read the letter. It was vague.

 

“Ronaldo, my dear friend, you were so in love and happy, you and Pepper. He loves you. Do not give up.”

 

“I don’t think it’s right to hope for more, Cam. Although I thought we could pull it off, how Pepper and I can have a beautiful relationship while concealed from civil society.” Cam felt those words as if Ronaldo was reciting poetry. Ronaldo continued, “I will go to my aunt and uncle in the city. It will be good for me to change my scene.”

 

“I believe that if Pepper knows you are in the city, he will come to you,” Cameron spoke with so much hope but Ronaldo just stared blankly, not believing a word.

 

****

 

A few months passed and at least there was a piece of good news. Longinus kept in touch with that handsome gentleman from the second ball. David asked him to move to another town where they can be neighbors so that it would be easy to conceal their relationship. Longinus invited Cameron to his new house.

 

“Do you love it here? I am lonely that you’re so far away from me. But I’ll be in bliss if you are perfectly satisfied here.” Cameron asked his best friend.

 

“I am truly happy here, Cam. It is lovely to be so close to David. We are neighbors on the outside but these houses are joined so we honestly live together.”

 

“Well at least one of us is happy.”

 

“Still no word from Pepper? How is Ronaldo?” Longinus set aside his perfect bliss and worried about his friend.

 

“Ronaldo’s been writing to me about his broken heart. I wish we could do something.”

 

“I know but he’s far away. Do you know David is friends with Lady Catherine, one of the members of the nobility in this town? She has invited us to dine at their great house in Rosings. You are coming with us tonight.”

 

“It seems I don’t have a choice in the matter.” Cameron at least found something joyful to look forward to.

 

****

 

They all entered the great house of Rosings and Cameron marveled at the sheer magnificence of such a house. He was so caught up with all the beauty that he did not notice someone was gazing at him intently until he heard a voice.

 

“Cameron, it is lovely to see you again.” It was Mitchell, still looking serious but with a little softness, a little yearning in his eyes.

 

“Mr. Mitchell? What are you doing here?” Cameron was beyond shocked. He didn’t think he would ever see this man again, after their family left, with Pepper, that led to Ronaldo’s broken heart.

 

David cut in the conversation and gestured Longinus forward to introduce themselves. “Mr. Mitchell, we didn’t know we would have the pleasure of seeing you tonight. This is my very good friend, Longinus and ---”

 

“Please, David, no need for ridiculous frivolity. We all know you and Longinus are not friends. No need to hide. It’s just us here.” Lady Catherine interrupted. How kind of her. 

 

“That is generous of you Lady Catherine, thank you. May I introduce a very dear friend of Longinus, Mr. Cameron.” David spoke cheerfully.

 

“Nice to meet you, Cameron. Do you two know each other?” Lady Catherine looked at Mitchell.

 

“I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Mitchell when they stayed in the Netherfield house in my town last summer,” Cameron replied politely. It felt that in the presence of Lady Catherine, one was in front of royalty.

 

“Mr. Cameron, I’m a guest here. Lady Catherine is my aunt.” Mitchell informed them all. Cameron was shocked once again. It was another night full of surprises, again. Little did he know, he was in for a bigger surprise later.

 

From behind Mitchell, another man appeared. “Good evening, I am Phil Dunphy, Mitchell’s new brother in law.”

 

“Yes, since the summer we saw each other, my sister Claire got married.” Mitchell smiled as he said this. He loved his sister so much.

 

They all ate dinner, told stories, played piano, and sang. It was Cameron’s turn to play the piano and as he sat on the chair, Mitchell walked towards the piano.

 

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Mitchell, by coming in all your state to hear me. But I won’t be alarmed, even if your sister does play so well, as you have proudly shared earlier.”

 

“I know that I cannot alarm you even if I wish it,” Mitchell spoke in his usual unfriendly tone. Cameron chuckled as he heard these words.

 

Phil, curious about the interaction he was seeing, motioned over to the men, “What was my friend like during the summer you met each other? Of course, he wasn’t my brother in law at that time.”

 

“You really care to know, Mr. Phil? Prepare yourself for something very dreadful.” Cameron was gearing to tease again. Mitchell rolled his eyes. Cameron noticed this arrogant man’s beautiful blue eyes for the first time. He couldn’t help but chuckle in his mind, how he noticed this man’s eyes for the first time because the man was being extra unpleasant.

 

Cameron continued, “The first time I saw him, he danced with nobody, though gentlemen were scarce and there was more than one lady without a partner.”

 

“I knew nobody beyond my own party,” Mitchell responded as if asking for sympathy.

 

“And nobody can be introduced at a ball.” Cameron quipped back.

 

Phil was suddenly called by Lady Catherine. Mitchell and Cameron were left alone. Cameron was smiling in his victory of having a great last word against this irritating man. 

 

He turned his face down to play the piano and at the same time, Mitchell spoke, “I do not have the talent...” Cameron stopped playing the piano and looked up to Mitchell.

 

Mitchell continued, “of conversing easily with people I have never met before.”

 

“Perhaps you should practice.” Cameron teasingly answered and played the piano again. Mitchell walked away but turned back to watch Cameron play music so well.

 

After playing the piano, Phil sat beside Cameron to chat. He found him to be of pleasant company when he witnessed how he outwit Mitchell earlier.

 

“How long do you plan to stay in this beautiful house of Lady Catherine?” Cameron started the conversation.

 

“As long as Mitchell chooses. I miss Claire but it’s nice to have an adventure once in a while. For now, it’s all up to Mitchell’s plans. I am at his disposal.”

 

“Everyone appears to be at his disposal. I wonder why he does not have a relationship and secure a lasting convenience of that kind.” Cameron sarcastically replied.

 

“Cam, when Mitch finds ‘the one’ he will be a lucky man for sure.”

 

“Really?” Cameron chuckled upon hearing those words. After all, Mitchell was Phil’s brother in law. For sure, he would be on his side.

 

“Mitch is the most loyal companion. From what I’ve heard in their journey last summer, he recently came to the rescue of one of his friends just in time.”

 

“What happened?” Cameron’s curiosity was peaking in each new sentence in this conversation.

 

“He saved his friend from an imprudent match.”

 

“Who is this friend?”

 

“His closest friend, Pepper,” Phil responded as Cameron gasped as he heard the very words, but tried to hide it from Phil. He finally understood that it was Mitchell who cut the ties between Pepper and Ronaldo, and he needed to know more.

 

“Did Mitchell give a reason for this interference, Phil?”

 

“There were apparently strong objections to the man Pepper was falling for.”

 

“What kind of objections? His lack of fortune?” Cameron was hurt but also angry at the shallow nature of Mitchell.

 

“It was the man’s friends, they were deemed unsuitable. You know in our society, your circle of friends is as important as family.”

 

“So he separated them, Phil, that was what transpired?”

 

“I believe so. I know nothing else.”

 

****

 

Cameron still couldn't believe what he learned last night. After breakfast with Longinus and David, he told them he would be taking a walk.

 

He walked in the beautiful fields, lost in his raging thoughts, hurt feelings, and tried to come up with a plan. Should he tell Ronaldo and Longinus about this?

 

It started to rain but he continued to walk, not caring he was drop by drop becoming drenched. It was as if the outside was reflecting the insides of his mind and heart. As he was deep in this swirl of emotions, he did not notice who was once again gazing at him intently.

 

Cameron was shocked when he saw Mitchell walking towards him and he couldn’t help but gasp.

 

“Cameron,” Mitchell spoke softly, with yearning in his voice and his eyes.

 

“Mitchell? What are you doing here? Why do you keep appearing out of nowhere? Have you been following me?”

 

Mitchell for the first time spoke with so much passion, sadness, hurt, and longing.

 

“I have struggled in vain and I can bear it no longer. These past few months have been a torment. I came to Rosings with the single object of seeing you. I had to see you. I have fought against my better judgment, my family's expectations, the inferiority of your birth, my rank, and circumstance. All these things I am willing to put aside and ask you to end my agony.”

 

Cameron was confused and annoyed. The story he heard last night juxtaposed to what mockery Mitchell was now delivering. How could his life come to this?

 

Cameron replied with utmost irritation “I do not understand anything you have said.”

 

“I love you. Most ardently. Please do me the honor of being my beloved.” Mitchell answered with sincerity.

 

“Mr. Mitchell... I appreciate the struggle you have been through, and I am very sorry to have caused you pain. Believe me, it was unconsciously done.”

 

“Is this your reply?” Mitchell was now annoyed and quite frankly, hurt after he declared his love.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Are you... are you laughing at me?”

 

“ No. Believe me, I cannot laugh at the absurdity of everything that has been happening,” Cameron uttered in defeat. Life won in this game.

 

“Are you rejecting me?” Mitchell asked as if no one can reject a ‘Pritchett’. Ever.

 

“I'm sure that the feelings which, as you've told me have hindered your regard, will help you in overcoming it.”

 

“Might I ask why, with your little endeavor at civility, I am rejected?” Mitchell as much as he was hurt wanted to use logic in understanding this encounter.

 

“And I might as well enquire why, with so evident a design of insulting me, you chose to tell me that you like me against your better judgment . Who does that?”

 

“No, believe me, I didn't mean--”

 

“If I was uncivil, then that is some excuse. But I have other reasons, you know I have.” Cameron’s temper was rising.

 

“What reasons?”

 

“Do you think anything might tempt me to accept the man who has ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved friend? Do you deny that you separated a couple who loved each other, exposing your friend, Pepper, to the world for caprice and my friend, Ronaldo, to derision for disappointed hopes, involving them both in the misery of the acutest kind?” Cameron was almost in tears when he said the last few words.

 

“I do not deny it.” Mitchell was shocked by how much Cameron knew and possibly how. But still, he wasn’t sorry for what he did.

 

“How could you do it?” Cameron asked sharply.

 

“Because I believed your friend, Ronaldo, was taking advantage of Pepper. Pepper is my closest friend. I had to protect him.”

 

“How do you jump to these conclusions?"

 

“I watched them most carefully and realized Pepper’s attachment was deeper than Ronaldo’s.”

 

“Ronaldo was showing his affection for Pepper. How did you not see that? Were you blind during those times? Or did you persuade Pepper to stop his correspondence with Ronaldo?” Cameron had to fight for his friend’s side.

 

“I did not see nor understand Ronaldo’s side. That is evident now. It was Pepper’s idea to cut ties eventually.”

 

“But why would Pepper do that? He knew how Ronaldo felt. I supposed you brought up the idea of Ronaldo’s unsuitable friends. That helped in persuading Pepper to leave?” Cameron's hate intensified as he spoke.

 

“It was the lack of propriety shown by your mother, boasting of marrying your sister to an officer, Bo, with a character that is not to be vouched for. Your sister being too cheerful and scandalous in the balls we hosted. You see, we cannot be associated with people like that. Forgive me. I must exclude you and Ronaldo from this.”

 

“Just because Ronaldo is my friend and my family behaved in such a way that I myself do not approve of, you decided to whisper in Pepper’s ear that he must stop their relationship?” Cameron had to clarify because there was no logic here.

 

“That is what happened. It really seemed that Ronaldo regards you as a trusted friend and your family as his own extended family. We--”

 

“You said it already. You cannot be associated with a family like us. It is nonsensical how you profess your feelings to me when...it doesn’t matter. There is more to this and that is justice. What do you have to say about Mr. Bo?” 

 

“Mr. Bo?” Mitchell started to move closer to Cameron as he spoke the name of his sworn rival.

 

“What excuse can you give for your behavior towards him?”

 

“You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns.” Mitchell was hurt that Cameron cared about Bo, perhaps at a deep level.

 

“He told me of his misfortunes.”

 

“Oh, yes, his misfortunes have been very great indeed.”

 

“You ruin his chances and yet you treat him with sarcasm.” Cameron’s temper was rising again.

 

Mitchell moved even closer to Cameron and now their faces were a few inches away from each other. Mitchell responded with disdain, “So this is your opinion of me. Thank you for explaining so fully. Perhaps these offenses might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honesty--”

 

“My pride?” Cameron was confused.

 

“...in admitting scruples about our relationship. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your circumstances?”

 

“And those are the words of a gentleman. From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to love.” Cameron snapped hard.

 

They stood there, with their faces close to each other. Eye contact with so much longing. Mitchell leaned in as if to kiss Cameron. Cameron leaned in as if he wanted to kiss him back too.

 

It did not happen though.

 

They were just standing there with faces close to each other, for almost five seconds before Mitchell broke the silence and the tension.

 

“Forgive me, sir, for taking up so much of your time.” Mitchell then retreated slowly, took one last look at Cameron, then turned around and walked away.

 

 ****

 

A day passed and Cameron was still confused about Mitchell’s declaration of love and revelation of his involvement in breaking up their friends.

 

Cameron processed this new-found knowledge by himself, “Honestly, how could Mitchell think he loves me after what he did to my dear friend, Ronaldo? After insulting my family? And during that heated exchange, Mitchell managed to insult me as well. The inferiority of my circumstances? Nothing makes sense.” 

 

He then decided to take a walk once again. He thought of inviting Longinus and David this time in case Mitchell shows up out of nowhere again but he decided to walk alone.

 

When Cameron came back and entered Longinus’ house, he heard his name called out.

 

“Cam! Come here quick!” Longinus yelled.

 

“Why? Did something happen?”

 

“Oh no. Well, Mr. Mitchell came here this morning when you were out for a walk. He left a letter for you. He was adamant that I am not to open this. As if I am capable of such a thing?” Longinus teased.

 

“Well did you open it?” Cameron asked, hoping his dear friend did not tamper with it.

 

“Of course not! Why would I do that? And how could you think I am capable of that?” Longinus playfully spoke as he handed Cameron the letter. They both knew there were no secrets among best friends. Almost.

 

Cameron went to his room, the guest room that Longinus prepared with such care. Before opening the letter, he remembered how much he had not shared with Longinus yet. Everything was happening too fast and it was all truly perplexing that he wanted to make sense of it all by himself first.

 

He opened the letter with care.

 

“My dearest Cameron,

 

I am not asking for your forgiveness. I am simply asking you to allow me the opportunity to explain my side of the matter. It is in my hope and wishes that you finish reading this letter before you cast it away.

 

I wish to enlighten you to diminish your grievances. It was never my intention to hurt you in any way. My actions did not reflect this; this much I know.

 

On the topic of Mr. Bo, he conveniently left out the part where my father offered him a sum of money to which he wasted away in weeks. My father is a generous man and was willing to give him another chance. However, according to my reliable informants in our town, he had the same plan of wasting away should he acquire another sum. I cannot let my father trust someone who does not have serious plans for his life. When Bo learned he is not to receive any penny, he disappeared. We later heard he joined the militia. 

 

Regarding your beloved friend, Ronaldo, it appears to you that he is the casualty of an unforeseen battle. I was only protecting my dearest friend of all. I always had few and short moments with you and as such, I did not have the opportunity to share why I am shielding my friend. Pepper had a string of heartbreaks from ruthless men who either played him or were too cowardly in living our kind of life that is bound to be in secrecy. I cannot witness him being hurt again.

 

I hope I have provided you with some clarity. I wish for you to live the most joyful life you can. Knowing you these past few months has given me great happiness that I will always cherish and remember.

 

Your acquaintance,

 

Mitchell Pritchett

 

Cameron sat in awe. His immediate reaction was to believe Mitchell. He wanted to believe him, forgive him, and have civilized interactions with him. His heart was telling him that. But his mind? It was still all suspicious; everything could easily be contrived, couldn’t it? Or perhaps not.

 

****

 

Cameron again had a lot to process. These past few days were full of everything, almost. He said goodbye to his lovely stay with Longinus and David. He went back home and to his lovely surprise, Ronaldo was there in his living room for a quick visit to the town.

 

"Ronaldo, it is nice to see you!" Cameron exclaimed. “I am thrilled that I got to spend time with Longinus and now, I get to be with you, my dear friend. How are you?”

 

“I am doing fine, Cam. I’m quite over Pepper. If he passed me in the street, I’d hardly notice. My visit with my aunt and uncle in the city is so diverting.” Ronaldo spoke with confidence but Cameron wasn’t believing it so he added, “It is true, Cam. You don’t have to worry about me at all.”

 

Cameron forced a smile to show solidarity with his friend. 

 

“What happened on your visit with Longinus?” Ronaldo asked, to change the topic. 

 

Cameron did not want to divulge the information he knew because, well, what good could it do? Would it bring back Ronaldo with Pepper? Mitchell only clarified what had transpired but that was it. 

 

He looked Ronaldo in the eye and uttered, “Nothing much. Longinus and David were kind to me. That’s it. Oh, I saw Mr. Mitchell at one of the dinners we attended. There’s nothing to talk about it.”

 

“Cam, you saw... what happened... you can’t seriously tell me that you just ate dinner with him. You hate him. There’s more to this. There has to be.” Ronaldo spoke excitedly while trying to conceal his hurt.

 

He knew that Ronaldo would ask for more stories. Men like them tend to be detailed and gleeful when telling stories. Thank goodness, Pam entered the living room albeit in a hysterical mood.

 

“Cam! Since you had your fun little visit to your friend, it is now my turn!”

 

“Longinus invited you to stay with them? I mean, him. At his house. Longinus’ house.” Cameron clarified as he was getting confused after he lied to Ronaldo a moment ago. 

 

“No, silly! Our neighbor, the Forsters, has invited me to go to Brighton with them for a little vacation. I shall dine with the officers every night!” Pam joyfully shared as she started to dance.

 

“Cam, is it okay... and safe for Pam to go?” Ronaldo asked as he was getting worried about Pam’s upcoming adventure. He considered her as a sister as much as Cam as his brother. 

 

“I don’t think so, Ronaldo. And Pam, I will talk to mother about this. It isn’t safe for you to mingle with officers every night.”

 

“You really want me to be like you. I want to get married! Just because you can’t doesn’t mean I shouldn’t!” Pam screamed but not as loud so their mother wouldn’t come busting out to check on them.

 

“What do you mean--” Cam asked.

 

“I know what you are, brother. And I love you for it. But you have to let me go. Let me live my life.” Pam answered sympathetically. 

 

“You know what exactly?”

 

“Please, look at you two. But you are good at hiding it. I don’t think mother knows. Or maybe she does. But this is about me. I will go to Brighton. And brother, and you too, Ronaldo, I will always love and support you both.” Pam spoke with affection and with a tad bit of manipulation. She then stood and left the room.

 

“You better talk about this with your mother. Pam is... So, Cam, we were talking about you seeing Mr. Mitchell. You know what, I do not care at all. You didn’t speak to him, did you?”

 

“It is dinner. It would be rude not to, but nothing happened. We didn’t talk personally.” Cameron lied and Ronaldo knew. They had been friends for so long.

 

“I do not care about this. That part of my life is done. I have to leave, my friend.” Ronaldo also lied and Cameron knew. Friends take part in a friend’s healing journey even if it means living in a lie with them.  

 

Cameron was glad his sister was understanding. All the more he needed to protect her from exposing herself as the silliest flirt who made her family ridiculous. It was bound to happen, he knew for sure. But his mother did not listen to him. Barb wanted Pam to find a husband and she didn’t think Pam could ever act so desperately. Even his father, Merle, was fine with Pam going for a vacation and meeting officers. Cameron lost his fight and he knew he would be worried sick every day that Pam wasn’t home. Thankfully, a good friend of the family, Gloria, and her son, Manny invited him to a little tour of the great countryside.  

 

**** 

 

“Cam! I am so happy to be going on this trip with you. My mother here does not appreciate the great houses and communing with nature.” Manny gleefully spoke with a playful harshness pointed at his mother.

 

“Ah, Manny, who do you think is paying for this trip? Of course, I have to like our itinerary even just a bit.” Gloria quipped back.

 

“I am truly honored to be invited, thank you. It is good for me.” Cameron sighed.

 

“Why, did something happen?” Manny asked.

 

“Oh you know me, I’m being dramatic.” Cameron hesitated and hoped that Manny would let it go. He should have chosen his words carefully. Manny was an observant child.

 

“Cam, it’s me. It’s us. You have known me since I was a baby.” 

 

“Stop it, Manny. If Cam does not want to share whatever it is, it is perfectly fine.” Gloria said sweetly and looked at Cameron hoping he would share later.

 

“I understand. Oh, I think we are near the place that I am mostly looking forward to!” Manny suddenly exclaimed.

 

“What? Where are we?” Cameron inquisitively asked. 

 

“We are on the path towards Pemberley!” Manny proudly said. Cameron was shocked. 

 

“Isn’t that the house of the Pritchetts? The ones who rented the Netherfield house last summer?” Gloria clarified.

 

“Yes, it is. Maybe we shouldn’t go there.” Cameron desperately spoke.

 

“Why? It is a great house. They have many floors. We will only visit the first few floors. Please, mother, can we go, please?” Manny pleaded.

 

“I suppose it’s not a nuisance,” Gloria responded and Manny was glad.

 

“No, we should not go there, please.” Cameron also pleaded.

 

“Why, Cam? Is there a problem?” Gloria asked.

 

“It’s just that...they are...they are...” Cameron desperately looked for words.

 

“What Cam?” Manny asked with a slight annoyance.

 

“They are so rich.” Cameron couldn’t think of anything substantial to say that did not pertain to the real reason.

 

“You are being a snob. Besides, these great families are seldom home. We won’t run into them. If we did, I hope to speak to Mr. Mitchell. I think he will like me and perhaps give me employment in one of his business ventures.” Manny confidently replied.

 

“Don’t worry, Cam. He’s not going to be there.” Gloria sweetly spoke.

 

“What? Who? I don’t care. I...” Cameron nervously replied. He then thought to himself, “Is Gloria getting the vibe that I am worried about seeing Mitchell? That we had a previous acquaintance.”

 

Off they went to the Pemberley house. It had a lot of living rooms with majestic paintings and artifacts. Cameron and Manny admired them and even Gloria couldn’t fathom how there were people who live like this. 

 

Cameron wandered on his own in one of the rooms when he heard piano music playing in the next room. He motioned over and peeped into the crack of the door. He saw Claire playing the piano so beautifully and he couldn’t help but smile. It was an ethereal experience to hear great music in a great house with so much carefully chosen aesthetic. 

 

He was getting carried away when suddenly someone blocked his view in the crack of the door. The man was walking toward Claire. It was Mitchell Pritchett. Cameron couldn’t help but gasp. Mitchell heard, turned around, and saw Cameron. They both froze and had eye contact that lasted 5 seconds as both men did not expect to see each other in the Pritchett house. Cameron didn’t know what else to do so he ran away to the garden outside of this magnificent house. For the first time ever, Mitchell ran after him.

 

“Cam!”

 

Cameron turned around, embarrassed, and almost blushing. He wished he could disappear like smoke at that very moment.

 

“Cam! I apologize, I do not know if I can call you, ‘Cam’. Maybe I should stick with Mr. Cameron.” Mitchell spoke with the same embarrassment that Cameron was feeling.

 

“You... can call me that. I... do not mind at all. I am so sorry. My friends and I, we did not know you were home.” Cameron was almost in tears as if he did something terrible to Mitchell and now he was regretting it. Oh wait, he actually did. He misjudged him and he would learn more about just how much later on. He also felt a warm sensation in his heart when Mitchell called him ‘Cam’ twice. It was a name only reserved for people closest to him.

 

“You can call me ‘Mitchell’ or ‘Mitch’ if you wish. I would like that very much.” Mitchell replied. Both of them were smiling at each other, and for a few seconds, they weren’t awkward with one another. As if they finally understood something. As if they were finally on the same page. But not quite.

 

Mitchell continued, “And there’s no trouble at all. I’m glad you have seen my home. Claire is going to move out soon. She and Phil will live somewhere else. My father will also retreat to one of our houses so I will be alone here. It will be a bit lonely, don’t you think, Cam?” Again with the name. Cameron’s heart was slowly melting.

 

“I am with my friends. They’re in here somewhere. They should be. Otherwise, they have left me alone, something that I don’t think they are capable of doing.” Cameron responded awkwardly. The awkwardness in the air was back in full swing.

 

“No... I don’t think they will just leave you. How could they?” Mitchell, as he spoke the words understood how he was slowly making a fool of himself again. He tried to save the situation as he spoke again, “Are you having a pleasant trip?”

 

“Very pleasant, Mitch. Thank you for asking.” Cameron felt a warm sensation in his heart when he addressed the man in the nickname that he said he was allowed to use. Mitchell felt the same warm sensation in his heart. 

 

There were 5 seconds of silence so Cameron spoke, “Tomorrow we continue our journey.”  

 

“Tomorrow?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Are you staying in the inn here?”

 

“Yes, we are.”

 

The awkwardness intensified.

 

“Again, I am so sorry to intrude. They said the house was open for visitors. I had no idea.” Cameron wanted to run again. Mitchell wanted to tell him it wasn’t a problem they were here in the house but words were lost on him. His face looked desperate though.

 

“Do you have a carriage? May I accompany you back to the inn?” Mitchell offered to hope to ease the tension.

 

“No” Cameron quickly replied sternly. Realizing it was a bit harsh, he continued,  “I mean, no, thank you. I am very fond of walking, and my friends too. I should go find them.” 

 

“It’s fine. Can I...” Mitchell struggled with words before being cut off.

 

“Goodbye, Mitchell,” Cameron spoke softly, almost sweetly. They stared at each other for a few seconds before Cameron ran again. Mitchell took a step wanting to run after him but he hesitated.

 

****

 

Cameron went down to the dining hall of the inn to meet Manny and Gloria when he was caught off guard. Mitchell was there conversing with them. Cameron hesitated to meet them but it would be suspicious if he did not appear at dinner.

 

“Uh, Gloria, Manny,” Cameron spoke awkwardly and all of them noticed.

 

“Cam, Mr. Mitchell here invited us to dine with them tomorrow for luncheon.” Manny joyfully shared, as if his dreams of working for the Pritchetts were about to come true.

 

“Oh, that is nice of you, Mitch. I mean Mr. Mitchell, thank you.” Cameron spoke and Mitchell quickly answered, “I told you, you can call me Mitch. No need for formality. Same for you, Manny and Gloria. I don’t want to keep you away from your dinner. I will see you all tomorrow.” Mitchell stood up and spoke, “Cam, see you tomorrow.” He then left.

 

When Mitchell was out of earshot, Gloria giggled and told Cam, “He was truly nice. He asked you to call him by his name. His nickname. You seem to be close.”

 

“No, we are not. It is a complex situation, he and I. Let us eat dinner, shall we?”

 

“I think you are misreading the situation, Cam. There is nothing complex here. You two seem to be friendly.” Manny proudly spoke as if he was the arbiter of truth.

 

“Well, you don’t know the half of it.” Cameron still won’t budge.

 

****

 

The next day, they headed to Pemberley and had a nice luncheon with the entire Pritchett family. Claire was enjoying the company of Cameron. She liked him for his brother if only things could happen as she wanted to. Surprisingly, Jay and Gloria were having a marvelous conversation with Manny chiming in often. The afternoon was a success. 

 

Mitchell offered to take them back to the inn to which Cameron agreed. As soon as they arrived, a telegram was handed to Cameron by the staff member of the inn. He went to the corner of the dining hall to read in private. He couldn’t help but cry at what he was reading. Mitchell, Manny, and Gloria stared at him and they began moving towards him to ask. Cameron stood to meet them.

 

“It is the most dreadful news.” Cameron in full tears tried to speak as best as he could. “Pam has run away... with Mr. Bo. Who knows where they are?”

 

Gloria hugged him and Cameron continued, “She has no money, no connections. I fear she is lost forever.”

 

“This is my fault. If only I had exposed Bo when I should.” Mitchell walked towards them gazing intently at Cameron. 

 

“No, this is my fault. I might have prevented all this by being open to my sister and mother.” Cameron was still sobbing and Mitchell wanted to hug him too, but it was not appropriate. 

 

“Has anything been done to find her?” Manny asked.

 

“My father has been asking around the neighboring towns but I know nothing can be done. It seems all hope is lost.” Cameron replied as Gloria retreated her hug to give him space.

 

“I wish I could help you. I wish I could ease what you’re going through.” Mitchell still looking intently at Cameron, spoke with longing and helplessness.

 

“Mitch, I think it is too late,” Cameron replied as he wiped his tears.

 

“This is a grave matter. I will leave you to give you space. Goodbye.” Mitchell took one last look at Cameron and left.

 

****

 

Cameron went back home to his distraught mother. His father, Merle, was out in the town, investigating as to where Pam could have gone, with Bo. He consoled his mother but nothing could comfort her as long as Pam was still missing.

 

“I’m back!” Merle shouted at the house. Cameron and Barb ran at the door to meet him.

 

“What news do you have? Please tell me it’s good.” Barb asked her husband.

 

“I received a telegram while I was dining at the pub. Pam has been found with Bo, by Gloria. She has always been a great friend to our family.” Merle narrated.

 

“And? Are they alright?” Cam impatiently asked.

 

“Gloria has arranged for them to be married as long as I send the dowry. It is rather a small amount and surprisingly, Bo accepted it.”

 

“And you will consent to this, father? You have to. We cannot have my sister live her life with a ruined reputation.” Cameron spoke forcefully to convince his father. 

 

“Of course he will. At least I do not have to worry about Pam anymore. She is going to be married.” Barb exclaimed. 

 

“I will settle this matter today,” Merle replied with a hint of dissatisfaction to Pam and a hint of gratefulness to Gloria.

 

****

Pam arrived at the Tucker house a week later accompanied by her new husband. Cameron greeted them coldly at first but he was glad that his sister is alright after all. Even if the man she married could not be trusted, Pam seemed to be happy about the match. Bo tried to start a conversation with Cameron but he wasn’t obliging. After having luncheon with the family, Cameron pulled his sister away from the crowd to talk to her.

 

“You have to know I am still disappointed by your lewd behavior!” Cameron sternly spoke.

 

“I know that, brother. But you will forgive me eventually. You’ll see how Bo and I are a perfect match.”

 

“I still doubt that. But you seem happy. Just stay out of trouble. We cannot ask Gloria to always help us out when we are in need. She has a son to take care of. I don’t know how she found you and Bo.”

 

“She did not. I mean she did when Mr. Mitchell Pritchett asked her to meet us.” Pam explained.

 

“Mr. Mitchell Pritchett?” Cameron couldn’t believe what he heard.

 

“Yes, brother. He found us, organized the wedding, he was the best man. He also paid part of the dowry that’s why Bo agreed to a small amount from father. Don’t tell anyone. I have forgotten that Mr. Mitchell said that I should not divulge this to anyone.”

 

“Wait, Mitchell did all of this?” Cameron was still shocked at everything.

 

“ Cam, stop it! It is supposed to be a secret! Don’t tell anyone.” Pam spoke as he walked towards Bo in the living room. 

 

Cameron couldn’t believe that Mitchell would do that for Pam. Was it for him? Did Mitchell want to save him from a life of ridicule due to having a sister who ran away with a man? Was Mitchell capable of being a good, decent person? Was it all for the love of propriety and to honor the friendship they were slowly developing? Was it something else? Cameron misjudged him entirely. 

 

****

 

A few days have passed and Ronaldo was once again visiting the town. Cameron and Ronaldo were dining in a pub when suddenly, Pepper and Mitchell entered the room. Everyone noticed as the townspeople were used to seeing the same faces. Cameron and Ronaldo looked at each other in disbelief. How was this happening? To make matters more tense, the two visitors were approaching them at their table.

 

“Hello, uh, we are visiting the town again.” Pepper started the conversation awkwardly.

 

“It is apparent as you are here, in this pub, with us, now,” Cameron replied because he knew Ronaldo would not be able to speak immediately. 

 

Ronaldo and Pepper were staring at each other. Cameron was looking at this two gaze at each other, as he could not bear to look into Mitchell’s eyes. 

 

“Cam, can we give them a chance to speak privately?” Mitchell addressed Cameron formally. Cameron wanted to hug him, thank him for what he did for his sister but it would be inappropriate in public or even in private. They were not close friends. Or were they at this point?

 

They moved into another table around 2 meters away to give their friends privacy. Or was it for them to also have privacy? 

 

They sat awkwardly not meeting each other’s eyes. Almost a minute had passed and Cameron couldn’t take it any longer. 

 

“Mitchell, could you please tell Ronaldo to meet me at home after his conversation with Pepper. I have to go.”

 

“Wait, Cam, please, can I--?” Mitchell spoke but Cameron stood up and ran away already. 

 

****

 

  Cameron couldn’t sleep that night because of happiness for his friend. Ronaldo went straight to the Tucker house after running into Pepper and Mitchell in the pub. Everything went well for his dear friend. Pepper and Ronaldo were back together! Ronaldo would be moving to Pepper’s house next week. It was not unusual for wealthy men to ask their friends to live with them so it was the perfect cover-up. All was well. Cameron was so full of joy. At least some things were going in the right direction. 

 

It was around 5:30 in the morning when Cameron decided to get up. It was too early for him but he barely slept the night, might as well get up, and take a walk in the fields. He was walking aimlessly with his thoughts swirling around. Why did he run away from Mitchell, again? He could have talked to him too yesterday. Maybe it wouldn’t just be Ronaldo who had a happy ending. Why did he behave cowardly? Ah, regrets, early in the morning. 

 

Perhaps he wasn’t sure if Mitchell could still accept him. After all, he kept running away from him. They might have had good moments in Pemberley but how could that isolated incident be proof that they were good together? Had they grown to like each other? Let’s not jump into conclusions here. Mitchell saved Pam from ridicule out of the goodness of his heart. Cameron had accepted this theory to be true. Mitchell was a good person all along. But it did not mean anything. It was generosity. Could Mitchell still have the same feelings he professed months ago to Cameron?

 

Did Cameron like Mitchell after the recent developments? Was he being a fool to admit it or a fool for concealing it even from himself? Because the answer was yes, he misjudged him greatly. How could you not like a man who did such a generous act for you? How could you not like a man who had shown you kindness when you trespassed in his home? How could you not like a man who corrected his wrongdoings and formulated a plan to bring back men who love each other? It was safe to assume Mitchell encouraged Pepper to seek out Ronaldo and make things right. The correct answer was you don’t like the man. You love him.

 

But did it matter at that point? Mitchell might not have had the same feelings as before.

 

Cameron continued walking while his thoughts and feelings were a mess. The sun was slowly rising at 6 am. It was a beautiful view he wished he could preserve. As his feet touched the ground, step by step, suddenly, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Could it be? Could it really be?

 

It was Mitchell walking towards him. Their eyes met even from afar and they both felt something right was about to happen. 

 

“Mitch... I couldn’t sleep.” Cameron spoke softly. It was early morning after all and his voice was barely there.

 

“Me too, Cam. Have you heard of the news?” Mitchell spoke with a smile. His voice was strong. Like he rehearsed it.

 

“Yes. It’s great news. I am beyond happy for our friends.” Cameron also smiled, looked down because he was getting shy, and continued, “I suppose you orchestrated that?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And what you did for my sister, I want to say my utmost gratitude.” Cameron looked up to meet Mitchell’s eyes. He wanted the man to see his face full of appreciation and affection.

 

“Surely you must know it was all for you.” Mitchell looked at Cameron with longing and hope. Hope that now, maybe he was being understood. Cameron looked intently at the man in front of him. He did not feel the urge to run anymore.

 

Mitchell continued, “You are too generous to trifle with me. I am learning to hope in life. Something I did not have before.” Cameron was surprised to hear this. Was he able to teach Mitchell something?

 

Cameron didn’t know what to say. Thank goodness, Mitchell continued to speak, “If your feelings are still what they were a few months ago, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes have not changed. But one word from you will silence me forever.” Cameron started to blush and smile. 

 

Mitchell moved closer and spoke, “If however, your feelings have changed... I would have to tell you you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love...I love...I love you. Cam, I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”

 

Cameron smiled and moved closer to him. He took both Mitchell’s hands and softly spoke, “Well then.” He kissed Mitchell’s hands. 

 

They both smiled at each other. 

 

Cameron spoke again, “Mitch, your hands are cold.”

 

Mitchell pulled his right hand away and put it at the back of Cameron as a half embrace. He then moved his forehead against Cameron’s forehead and they stayed like that for almost a minute. 

 

Cameron leaned in to kiss Mitchell, to which the man obliged. They kissed passionately as the sun rose in the morning serving as their background. They paused for a second to get some air, stared into each other’s eyes, and smiled. They kissed again more enthusiastically this time. 

 

****

 

Cameron moved into the Pemberley house which they unofficially named the Tucker-Pritchett house. It was truly fortunate that they could get away with it, as it was deemed normal for wealthy people to invite their friends over to live with them. Eventually, they would have to marry women to keep up with appearances in society. For now, they spent their time having picnics with Pepper and Ronaldo, throwing balls, and traveling around. Everything was perfect and joyful. 

 

Mitchell and Cameron were finally happy together. Something they didn’t believe to be possible. Good things were happening to them. They deserved it. They deserved it as much as traditional couples do. Because why not? It is a truth that will be universally acknowledged, centuries from this moment, that love is love, in whatever form it takes. Because love always wins.