We last left Mike feeling depressed and rejected on the swaying tree top platform after a series of personal interviews with the women from Willow keep. He has almost given up on his quest when Maybelle appears at the top of the stairs.
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Mike wiped the sweat from his palms. Here she was, that wonderful mind, those enticing hands; standing before him and wanting to get to know more about him. From their earlier meeting he had not been sure if she had any wish to see him again or not. The uncertainty had kept his stomach in knots ever since.
She crossed the platform and settled into a low chair, exposing a slender ankle. “Will you come join me?”
Mike worked the moisture back into his mouth and placed his chair next to hers. “Beautiful evening, isn’t it?”
Maybelle took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I haven’t been up here in years, I’d forgotten how nice it is. You should see it in spring when the flowers are in bloom and the breeze is warm and soft.”
“I imagine it’s quite a sight.”
“It is,” she said as she turned to face him. “What’s your home like?”
“Nothing like this, that’s for sure. Right now the fall roses lining the front walk are in bloom. It’s an old house, that’s for sure, sturdy and built with care. I’ve made a cozy place for myself there up in the attic. There’s everything a talented tinker like you could ever want to create any number of wonderful things. The family that lives there has some of the old blood in it as well, the woman and youngest child can see us and I’ve made friends with her.”
“Just how good of friends do you mean?” Maybelle asked, her tone darkening.
“It’s purely professional, I assure you. I help her keep the house in working order and she allows me to take things from the pantry as payment. In fact she’s the reason that I decided to find a woman to court.”
“It wasn’t until meeting her that I realized just how lonely I was for someone special in my life. I imagine in a place with so many other tinkers around that it’s hard to be lonely.”
She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. “It would seem that way, but it’s not true. The curse hurt everyone here more than you could imagine. Everyone here lost people special to them. The younger ones lost fathers and brothers. The older of us lost husbands and sons. Ever since then we’ve tried our best to keep moving forward. It hasn’t been easy.”
Mike swallowed down the lump that had formed in his throat. Maybelle had lowered her head. Tears threatened to spill down her face.
“Who did you lose?” he asked, his voice now quiet.
“My husband, Stephen, was one of the first. I watched on as he changed from kind and gentle to a terror. No one knew what was happening. One night he attacked me, I barely escaped. I was lucky, there were several who didn’t. They tried confining him in a cell but by then he was more animal than man. He attacked anyone who came close.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her sleeve. “I’m sorry, after all these years it’s still upsetting.”
“Don’t apologize, you’ve done nothing wrong. You don’t need to go on if you don’t want to. This must be very hard.” He placed a hand on her knee and she rested hers over it.
“No, I want you to know. In the end they were forced to kill Stephen along with the other men. It wasn’t long until the younger men and even the boys started showing signs of the curse as well, including my son. He was only seven.” She squeezed his hand and he could feel how it trembled.
“I can’t begin to imagine what that was like. You loved them very much. I’ll understand if you would like me to leave you in peace.”
“No, don’t leave me. As much as I miss them, I miss the feeling of being held by a pair of strong arms more. I miss having someone to come home to at the end of the day. It’s been so long that I’m afraid I no longer know what it even feels like to be loved.”
Mike brushed a strand of her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I can’t replace them, we both know that. But I can be that pair of strong arms. Would you allow me to hold you?”
Maybelle wiped her eyes and nodded. “Yes, I would like that very much.”
She entered his embrace, timid at first, but as he wrapped his arms around her she softened, tucking her head into the curve of his neck. The emptiness that had haunted him for the last few years disappeared as he took in the smell of her hair, the feel of her broken life against his chest. Her tears of pain and loneliness soaked into his shirt.
From that moment he yearned to make her whole again and protect her from ever being hurt again.
To be continued…
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