Could you keep a secret from someone you loved? A big one?
A fellow writer (JordanMcCollum) is throwing a blogfest today, and I have joined in. The idea was to write on the topic “I Spy . . . a Secret”—a scene in which a character keeps a secret from someone they love—to support the release of her novel I, Spy.* Feel free to go check out her blog, read other people’s posts, and hey, buy her book!
It turns out I didn’t have anything on hand to contribute, so I whipped out a scene that is background to my current WIP, The Second Sight. It’s funny to me that this is the scene I’ve got for you today. It’s probably the most romance-driven scene in the entire novel (which is largely a court intrigue/magical mystery with a very small helping of romance on the side), and it involves a moment in which Tambre (one of the main characters) is quite overwrought, which is definitely out of character for her. In other words, it’s not much like the rest of the book. I actually don’t plan for it to be in the book at all (though that is subject to change, of course). It’s an event that occurs before the book starts.
It’s also a little cheaterpantsy, I must admit. This is not so much the scene in which the secret is kept as the scene in which it is revealed. Also, it’s Lan’s secret, not Tambre’s. Still, I hope you enjoy.
*I keep on typing “Soy.” I think that would turn out to be a very different story.
The gentle hum of the bees in the clover mingled with Tambre’s own nervous humming as she sat on the sun-warmed rock, waiting for Lan to come. There across the clearing was the first tree she’d climbed to the top while he watched. Back then she’d been so proud of herself, getting there without his help. At first she’d thought he wanted her to learn to be strong on her own—that was why he never reached down to pull her up a tricky spot, never even swiped a mosquito from her skin. She was good enough without his help.
Now, though, she wasn’t so sure. All that was years ago, and now the other girls in the village giggled over secret meetings and stolen kisses with the boys out behind the inn, where the shadows lay heavy at night. But even though Tambre had been his confidante and his companion, even though he looked at her with eyes that spoke more than friendship, still she had never felt the brush of his skin at all.
It wasn’t her alone, she knew. He touched no one. Gloved hands, long sleeves even when the other men were rolling them up in the summer’s heat—he said that the touch of skin made him feel queasy. She’d heard of something like that before, once, in a cousin on her mother’s side. So she’d believed him, all these years, until last night. She’d come up to his family’s home quietly, sneaking up to see Lan and his sister Alena talking in the yard behind their house. Tambre smiled, feeling smug about finally surprising him after all his years of jumping out to startle her.
But then she’d watched dumbly as he deliberately stripped the glove from his hand and poked his sister’s arm repeatedly, grinning mischievously, needling her as she got angrier and angrier, her face a bright red.
Maybe it’s just his family, Tambre thought. Maybe he can touch them but no one else. But she had seen him with them too much to believe that lie; he’d always avoided them too—at least, whenever she could see.
She looked behind her, back into the forest, listening carefully, hoping he would come soon. She didn’t know how long her courage would hold, and she was determined to confront him. She rose and stretched her arms to the sky, easing the tension from her shoulders. Waiting didn’t suit her, and she was already tired of it. She thought—
“Boo!” he cried out, his voice sounding from the trees just to the right of her.
She jumped and whirled to face him. The silly grin on his face told her he knew he’d caught her. Her natural instinct in this moment of surprise was always to smack him lightly on the arm as payback, and quelling it as usual was the last straw.
“Lan, is there something wrong with me?” she blurted.
His grin faltered. “Everyone gets startled, Tambre. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
She huffed. “Not that. This!” She swept her hand back and forth between the two of them.
“What do you mean?” he asked. He looked genuinely confused, and she couldn’t help but think of the stories her friends told about clueless men. She’d always thought it was an exaggeration.
“I mean the space. Always the space. You said it was with everyone, but . . . I saw you last night, poking Alena like it was nothing.” She looked down. “If you can touch your family, why not me?” she whispered.
A moment passed, and he said nothing, just shoved his gloved hands in his pockets like he did when he got nervous, his face paling. She glanced up, but he wouldn’t look at her.
“Will it never be different with me?” she asked, staring at him, willing him to look up.
He kicked at a twig lying in the clover. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” she asked, her voice rising. “You don’t know?”
He sighed in defeat. “I want it to be.”
She paced now, the anger a form of energy in her begging for release. “Apparently not enough,” she snapped. “What’s wrong with you, Lan? I mean, really wrong? You say it’s that you can’t abide to be touched, but I don’t believe you. Tell me the truth.” She suddenly softened, reaching out to him. “I’ll help you.”
He looked at her miserably. “You would hate me. You do hate me, you just don’t know it yet.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. I will never hate you.” She took a deep breath, let it out. “I love you, Lan.”
His eyes were sad, but they stared straight into hers as he replied. “I love you too.”
She didn’t think, didn’t give him a moment to think either. In an instant she had closed the distance between them. His eyes widened, but it was too late. Her lips were on his, awkward, uncertain, but with a devotion he could not fail to recognize.
He kissed her back, his arms snaking around her to pull her closer, and for perhaps three seconds there was bliss.
Then the sensation grew, overwhelmed her. Her head swam, her heart pounded too fast. There was giddiness, joy, adoration, passion she’d never felt before. She clung more tightly to him, but suddenly he pushed her away.
She gasped at the release.
She struggled to reach out to him again, but he held her tightly in place, the gloves and her sleeves forming layers between their skin. Her sight was filled with stars and the brilliant red light that comes of staring into the sun too long. She could barely see or think.
“Tambre, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I tried to stop it.”
“Sorry?” She shook her head to clear it. There was something wrong, but she couldn’t think what it was. The brightness in her mind faded to a dull glow, then with a snap it vanished altogether. She looked up at him in horror.
He shook his head mutely, begging with his eyes, but no words left his mouth as he released her and quickly backed away.
“Magic?” she asked. “You have the touch?”
He nodded, miserable. “It’s why I kept away.”
She looked around her wildly. The little clearing she had always found so cozy for their meetings seemed suddenly too small. “I can’t—I can’t do this, Lan. We can’t do this.” Her voice broke. “Why of all things? Why the touch?” But she wasn’t asking him. It was the whole mad universe, it was the magic at fault. It was wrong, all wrong. Again.
She took another step back from him, moving closer to the fringe of trees. He watched her go with acceptance in his face. Another step back from him, and she turned and ran.
Through the whispering of the leaves beneath her feet, she didn’t hear his whisper: “I’ll miss you.”