She heard the steps upon the front porch before her mother.
“Are they already?”
She could discern the trepidation in her mother’s tone. Once upon a time, she wouldn’t have heard it, her mother could have hidden her anxiety. But not anymore. Ten years was long enough to learn how to read people.
She grabbed the arms of the chair; she always loved how her skin espoused the carvings. She could describe the birds and leaves on the wood just from the touch on her hands. She loved the touch of wood: it grounded her in reality and somehow allowed her to travel in the most unusual way. She would follow its patterns and each nook and hook would tell the story of the object she held.
She pushed herself up, as her mother handed her the cane. The instrument felt solid in her hand, a strong support. Slowly she stepped away from the chair. First she walked on the plush carpet, her feet sinking into it. Walking barefoot was always such a pleasure. She loved the sense of grounding it gave her. Her favourite thing was to step outside in the garden, feeling the blades of grass push between her toes and stepping into the soft dirt, freshly turned over before sawing. But then she was satisfied with the hardwood floor pressing against the sole of her feet. It forced her to stand straight.
Her mother had walked on ahead; she was faster than her. As she crossed the corridor, she ran her hand against the worn out wallpaper. Here was a hole, the remnant of a hook that once held a photo of her grandparents. She caused it to fall some years ago. The frame was gone but the hole was there still.
Eventually she reached the door to the small parlour where her mother and their guests waited.
“Good afternoon Miss Linton.”
One gentleman said taking her hand in his. They were calloused and strong, hands used to handling heavy loads maybe weapons, maybe even working in the fields. Could he be a working man? Not that she could be picky. And she knew that aristocracy didn’t look kindly upon impaired peers. Hers had been a sheltered life in the past decade.
“May I?” She asked.
He let go of her hand. Her fingers reached for his arm. A solid arm that gave off the same sense of strength as his hand. He wore velvet, corduroy, appropriate in this weather, its texture testifying to the fact it was a fairly recent acquisition. He had a down on his face by way of a beard, not as rough as one might expect from a man his age. The lines weren’t deep making him to be in his early thirties maybe. His skin was soft, unblemished by either sickness or scars. Still it had accomplished work under the burning sun. It was slightly rough. This face had known pain: she read it in the lines over his brow, at the temples. Still he had crow eyes, marks of a man who smiled easily. These were matched by the small lines at the corner of his mouth, crooked even now in a mischievous grin. There was kindness written in braille for anyone to read in his face; and joy. She could have guessed the former: who accepted to bind their fate to a disabled woman they’d never met?
She whispered, as she ended her discovery of his face, her hands finally resting upon the cane again.
He laughed, as he too placed a hand on her face. Not to read it, see it as she had done but just an endearment. Its touch seared her skin though: no man had touched her that way since the accident. And once only before that. Only her father when she was a child and unscathed. He drew the line of her jaw, his fingers causing shivers to run through her feverish skin. The touch felt not familiar but inviting.
“It is I who should thank you my Lady. Trusting your fate to a man you can’t even see.”
“I see you Sir. You have a kind heart. It’s written on your features. But why would you bind your fate to someone you don’t know.” And who can’t see.
“I know you my Lady. And you me. We met before. A lifetime ago.”
She felt his breath against her neck. When his cold lips kissed her collarbone, fire sizzled. She remembered the touch of his mouth on her skin. Warm tears touched her eyes, ran down her cheeks.
“They said you were…”
“Dead. I know. I’m sorry Juliet. My letters…”
“Never reached me.”
His arms surrounded her, his touch comforting, demanding, loving… how could she not recognize his voice? Had she forgotten it over the years? His face had changed: and she’d never discovered it by touch before today. Even if she did, she might not have recognized it.
Ten years… his touch finally.