I sit perched on the edge of the window, my legs dangling out over the seas of people in the streets. This used to draw attention from the tenant, but he’s long moved past my “lack of self-preservation.”
I could probably use a bit of healthy caution, honestly. If I had some, though, I’m sure I’d be stuck with some man who I don’t love and children I didn’t want.
I tap my heel against the structure of the tenement. Music plays from the streets, three stories below me. Voices float up to me, but I can’t tell what any of them are saying – which is just how I like it. The noise but not the words.
The music stops abruptly, drawing my eyes back down to the bustling streets. A few carriages and carts cut through the crowd, but that’s typical business.
Then I see the red coats of the soldiers. “Apprehend that man!” one of them shouts. I hear the screams of a few women and see people moving far away from a cart – which, on further inspection, has a man standing on top.
“You have fun with that,” the man yells. “You’ll never catch a pirate, ya worthless dogs!”
I guess he’s a pirate. Interesting. I perk up since I’ve always been interested in pirates.
“I see why you like it up here.” I whip my head around but can’t seem to find the source of the words. It was a man, I’m sure, but where? He must’ve been talking to me. “Up here,” he finally says helpfully.
I look above me to see a pair of boots right above my head. The man leans over his legs and waves. His long, golden hair falls around his face.
This is the man I was going to have to marry. Luke Young.
“Luke? What are you doing?” I demand.
“Ophelia? And – I’m sitting on my window, of course,” he says easily. “What else would I be doing?”
“Spying on a woman,” I say harshly.
Luke puts a hand to his chest as if I’ve wounded him. “Ouch! I’ve just seen you from the streets plenty of times and decided to try it out. I’ll admit, I didn’t know it was you.”
“Spying,” I grumble.
“Not spying. Simple observation.” He swings off of his window and holds onto it, his stomach right beside my head. “Mind if I take a seat on your window?”
I look up at him with a pointedly disgusted expression. “You think you can seduce me by climbing on a building?”
“No,” he says. “It’s just that I might fall if I don’t sit somewhere. I’ll admit I didn’t exactly think this through.”
“Fine,” I groan. I scoot over to leave just enough space for him to sit. He gracefully climbs down and takes his seat beside me.
“Quite the chase down there,” he comments. He gestures down to the streets, where the pirate man has just jumped to another cart. Coins fall from his pockets like rain. A few people, mostly children, rush into the middle of the street to pick up a coin or two. The soldiers are still a decent distance from him. “It’s not that often you spot a pirate in this city.”
“I live in this city, you daft idiot,” I say. “I know that. Shut up and leave.”
“I’m in quite the unfortunate situation, actually. I’m afraid I left my key beside my window.” He shifts so he’s right on the edge of the sill. “I can’t get in through my door.”
“Is that my problem?” I ask and push him backward, away from the edge. I’d prefer it if he didn’t fall. I’ve got a decent reputation and someone might think it’s my fault he’s an idiot. “Leave.”
He looks at me, clearly amused. “Well, I’d have to go through your room to leave,” he says with a chuckle.
“Or you could climb back up to your window.” I roll my eyes and straighten my dress. I push wisps of my black hair out of my face. “Now.”
“Well, I suppose I could try,” he says.
Luke stands on the sill precariously. Gripping the topside of the window, he turns around so his chest is pressed against the wall.
Then he falls.
I try to help him, grab his arm, but of course now is when I have caution. I pull myself back and grip the side of the window. The locket around my neck catches on my hand and comes undone, falling with him. That was my mother’s locket – so I shout out, watching them fall. He lands hard on a passing cart full of hay. I can’t see where the locket ends up.
“Well, that was convenient!” he yells up.
“Is my locket on that cart?” I shout back.
“Uh… yes!” he replies, and I see him holding something up.
I don’t think before I launch myself down and to the side. The wind blows my hair, which is tied in a tail. It will surely be knotted later. My dress and petticoats puff out and fly up, too. I'm glad I always opt to wear pants under my dresses, even if it's not "socially acceptable."
I manage to land right on the end of the hay cart –
And I fall off. I land hard on my back and the air is blown out of my lungs. I lay for a moment, trying to regain my breath. I might end up with some sort of lump on the back of my head, too, where it hit the dirt ground.
Fortunately, there isn’t another cart behind it, but there’s sure to be one soon. Someone steps on my hand as I try to get up. I brush the dirt from the back of my head and petticoats, although I'm sure that some remains.
“I dropped the locket in the hay! Let me find it…” Luke says from up the road.
I scan the crowds for the hay cart. It’s up the road. I run towards it, pushing through the crowds.
The cart swings around a bend. Luke was still digging through the hay when it went around, so I’ll have to chase it, wherever it’s going.
I almost shove a small boy to the ground before I regain my senses. Luke lives right above me, and he knows that I’m on the window a lot – why should I chase him instead of trusting him to get it back to me? I mean, we were supposed to get married years ago! Surely, I can trust him.
Oh, right. I don’t trust people.
I bolt around the corner and trip over my dress. “Stupid – dress,” I mutter and pull myself to my feet again. I consider ripping it off and just wearing my pants and my white shirt, but then I see the hay cart, with Luke still digging in it, about to turn again.
“I’ve got it!” Luke yells. He stands up and, as the cart turns another corner, he tumbles to the ground. “I’ve still got it!”
I finally reach him and he hands me my locket. I try to fasten it around my neck, but the thin cord has snapped. I settle for shoving it into a small, secret pocket on my dress. I help Luke to stand up.
“Well, that was quite an adventure, wasn’t it?” Luke asks.
“I suppose.” I cross my arms. “Really, Luke. What are you doing here, in this city? I thought that you had moved away.”
“I live here now, again.” Luke pulls me out of the street and into a café table on the side as another cart passes by.
“Why do you live right above me? You knew I was here.”
Luke tries to reach across the table and take my hands, but I jerk them away and fold them in my lap. “I did.”
I look at him expectantly. He continues reluctantly: “I didn’t know that it was you below me, but I did know that you lived in that building. I talked to some people who told me.” He sighs. “My parents kicked me out and they wanted me to marry, and… you were my best choice.”
“I absolutely will not marry you!” I stand up and storm away.
“Ophelia!” I hear Luke calling. “Ophelia!”
I’m on the window again, only this time the streets are mostly empty in the moonlight. It’s past midnight, though I’m not sure exactly what time it is.
“Hello.” I hear Luke’s voice above me. “May I come down?”
“No.” I turn around to go inside and I shut the window.
I sit on the couch and hear a knock at the door. “Please, Ophelia, I need to talk to you.”
“Fine. Make it short,” I say, opening the door.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I must have given the impression that I was just using you to please my parents.”
“You were,” I say. “You specifically said that.”
He leans against the door frame. “May I sit down?”
I gesture him inside and shut the door.
“I love you, Ophelia.”
“What?” I say incredulously.
“I love you.”
He steps over to me and kisses me, nudging me against the wall. I shove him off. “Get. Out.”
Luke collapses to the floor, head in his hands. “I’m such an idiot. Such an idiot.”
“Yes, you are. Now leave.”
He obeys and I shut the door behind him, fuming.
The next morning, a letter has been slipped under my door. I open it and see immediately that it is from Luke.
I almost throw it away, but curiosity makes me read it.
I am genuinely sorry for the way I have treated you. I have always been told to take what I want, including someone I’d like to marry. I never fully felt right about it, but I assumed that it must be true for you since it’s been true for so many other people.
I see now that this was wrong. You told me to leave; I should have left. You rejected my marriage proposal; yet I asked again. And that was a mistake.
I didn’t mean it when I said that I loved you, Ophelia. I thought I did, at the moment, but love is not something that I can feel without truly knowing you first. I would like to fall in love with you, and you with me. If you’ll still have me, and speak with me, I’ll be at the café table at noon.
This isn’t an ordinary apology. I believe it wholeheartedly, and, while he was wrong, he realizes that – and I decide that I’ll meet him at the café.
A year later, Luke and I are wed. He’s a good man, and he’s respectful and kind. He helps me get accepted into a university, which I’ll start next year. I love him, and he loves me.
Every day, I find myself grateful for that window and that hay cart.