The darkness and the scent of her room has suddenly began to feel constricting. It used to be a sanctuary. A place to call her own. Lies.
Looking outside through the window, silvery moonlight tarnished by orange lamplight flickered on the grass. It must be a meeting. A celebration. Strange. The Signor had no cares for such fickleness. However, that was not the important matter at hand. What matters are the flowers Ren sent her.
How it got past the Signor is a mystery, her beloved must be really good. A few weeks before tonight, she drew a sketch that she sent to him. He answered with a package of fourteen chrysanthemums. Tonight is the fourteenth of November.
Three soft knocks broke the silence. Ah, it must be this moment! Sal bolted towards the door. The sketch she sent him was tucked in the small space between the door and the floor. It was a sketch of a princess locked in a tower saved by a prince. She welcomed him.
Sal tiptoed to reach his sight. Ren took her hands to touch it on his pale cheeks before bowing down so Sal can rest her feet. In response, she nodded her forehead to his. Ren brought out the locket and put it back to its rightful owner, enveloping her in his arms.
“Will you keep this forever?” he asked.
“ Forever, “ Sal answered
She bowed her head down in thought. He was the only voice she wanted to hear right now. “ I do not know if I should even exist here. Take me.” Sal assured.
“ We will. Follow me. “
She glanced back at the place where she had been cradled for nine years. It was that long! What impossible things are they doing because of this boldness.
She even thought of wearing a beautiful dress, a plain baro and a colorful dress paired with an embroidered panuelo. Her teacher taught her that a woman should look good in front of her husband. It was not comon of her, and it was a bit embarassing.
“ If we should go, then we should hurry.“ Ren said. “ Are you ready?”
Sal cannot see his face because of the dimness of the room but she can think of a determined expression crossing his features. Gripping her locket tight, everything flashed back to her, his laughter, Oleon’s stance, and the Signor’s expression. Ren gripped her hand.
“ Yes,” she exclaimed.
In the noise of the night’s celebration, away from the frenzied dance of lamplights and shadows, the two sped silently away out of the room through the hidden corridors leading towards an empty servants’ entrance. It was a place Sal can only cross when going to the baths.
Upon exiting the grounds, they entered a small carruaje waiting by a thick area of trees behind the Casa. The girl was left behind to wait for Ren to fetch the coachman.
It was her first time to be in a carruaje again or even go out the grounds of their Casa. It was too much. At an impulse, she reclined on Ren’s lap in an angle that she will be hidden from the small rectangular hole where the coachman can peek in. Only the moonlight reached her.
Through the small space of the window of the vehicle, she can see the moon following them, running accross the tall figures of trees and houses. She can’t fathom where they are.
“ I am scared,” Sal whispered. Ren squeezed her hand. He caressed her face. It was like feathers brushing lightly on her skin. It was warm. It has always been a new sensation to her.
Minutes and hours passed but it all seemed like a moment. She did not even notice the carruaje stopping. Ren had to hide her when the coachman peeked.
“ Signo, they are looking for you,” he said. The gentleman went out to talk to the man. There was a brick wall outside, orange light coming from a small postlamp. Two voices. Ren’s voice and coarse, harsh, voice. The two greeted each other.
“ What a strange sight for anyone to be outside at this hour, Signo,” the other man said.
“ I was called, Officer. A servant had to rush to me of a bad news about my brother staying outside Calare and I needed to hurry,” Ren answered.He did not tell Sal anything about a brother? Who is he referring to? Ah, this must be what they call lying.
“ That must be a dire matter,’ the officer said. “ Is anyone accompanying you?”
At this moment, Sal can be free if Ren lies. Another is, she knew she can’t face this ‘Officer’.
“ No one.” No one must know or see anything else in the carruaje aside from the Ren and the coachman. Sal let go of the finger she was pinching her lips with.
“ Ah, an advice, Signo. Tomorrow, do not come near Calare, especially in the merchant’s district. “
“ I will heed your advice, Officer.”
Ren came back inside the carruaje. Sal lay on his lap again but there was now something different. Merchant’s district. Cuore. Yes, at least she knew that their Casa is in the Merchant’s district.
“ If they told you not to come back to Calare because of the Signor, I will not wonder.” Sal broke the sillence. Will the Signor come after Ren because of what she did. “ I am a curse.”
The gentleman only brushed matted hair away from Sal’s forehead. Always light. He always found ways to make her feel beter again, but this time Sal cannot dwell on the feeling of his fingers on her face. A memory of her poking Oleon’s cheeks flashed on her.
“ Can I go back?” she asked. Words she did not expect to hear from herself.
“ You cannot hold everything in one hand, Sal.” Ren answered. He stopped caressing her face.
“ I can always use the other hand.” Would it be bad to come back after this night? Maybe when the dust settles. After Ren makes her his through marriage. That is what the Signor intended before, surely he will not be so vexed. The gentleman straightened himself in his seat.
“ When we met, you said you wanted to go and see the world outside.” His voice was low, void of emotion. “ All of this, it will be lost.” Cold air snuck in Sal. “ I do not know.” Sal squeezed the locket all the while feeling the distant sting on her cheek. She sat straight to put her ears beside Ren’s chest to feel his heartbeat.
“ At this time, I want to be honest with you.”
Silence conquered. He broke away. Then, there was a soft jingle of keys. Everything slowed down. The darkness seemed suffocating. He embraced her again and warm air fanned her face. It was only then that she realized their faces were inches away from each other. His lips touched onto hers. The cold night was gone,only softness of his lips conquering her whole. Closing her eyes, only the sound of heartbeat rings in her mind. His kiss was going deeper. Panic.
Sal’s mouth was wet when he stopped, her throat cool from swallowing something. What was even confusing is when Ren tugged at her panuelo, removing it from her, then her dress, then her saya. Loud thumping. Stomach churning. It was like a servant taking a little child to the bath.
“R-Ren?” Sal stuttered.
He kissed her again, different from the first. Heat shot up in her head. It must have felt so light and heavy at the same time. She was a baby cradled in a loved one’s arms. And the world forgot time.
His voice was cold,“Chrysanthemums are also used for the dead.” By the moonlight, his countenance has changed, transformed completely into that of a stranger. Gone was the smile in his eyes.
Her stomach hurt. Needles clanged inside her. Air. Air was escaping out of her and at each gasp, her heart was being strangled, ripped out of the flesh again, and again, and again. Everything spun. Blackness crept on her sight.
He was there in front of her. And then he was a shadow. Nothing. And then he was there again
“ I-it hurts, “ she whimpered.
He bent over her. Finger over his lips.He smiled.