It was when she began to tap her heel on the concrete that I started to fidget, a nervous habit of mine. She continues to stare me down, though this time with a slight brow raised upon seeing my subconscious movements.
The lady suddenly takes a keen interest in my face, narrowing her eyes upon studying mine.
“Hm. You have pretty eyes.”
“Thank you,” I reply, her judgmental demeanor weighing heavy on my chest.
“Well-I trust Aurelia with my life. If our head maid trusts you’ll do a good job in the manor, then I’ll take her word for it.” The lady turns and walks past the gate, to which I hastily follow, pulling my suitcase along with me.
“We’ve had a shortage of maids ever since we fired nearly a dozen of them for gossiping about the family’s private affairs.” She casts me an intimidating side glance.
“That’s um, unacceptable, ma’am,” I comment.
“Indeed. You can call me Mrs. Doubluson.”
I nod in response and she glares at me with a disapproving look.
“Oh-yes, Mrs. Doubluson.”
“Mm. Much better. Now then-” we reach the front of the manor, its colossal presence leaving me in awe. “-welcome to the Neozalski family.”
“You made it!” Aurelia rushes over to greet me and I quickly bow to her, remembering Mrs. Doubluson’s words: always bow to your superiors, including the head maid whenever you see them.
Aurelia brings me back up, letting out a small chuckle. “Seems like Mrs. Doubluson’s already told you about etiquette, huh? There’s no need to bow if you’re meeting me in private.”
“I see.” I smile at her and she leads me to my headquarters, handing me a key to the place.
“Here’s your room,” Aurelia states as she steps inside. The place was small but cozy, with a twin bed lying next to the right wall, a small nightstand next to it and a closet in front. A desk and chair sit on the left side of the room. I walk over to the window, snug in between the nightstand and desk, smiling at the sight of the gorgeous garden that sat right in its view.
“The bathrooms are at both ends of this hall,” Aurelia explains. “Also,” she sighs, “Mrs. Doubluson unfortunately wants you to start working today.”
I turn to look at her. “Ah… Mrs. Doubluson did mention a shortage of maids.”
Aurelia crosses her hands on her chest, her gaze drifting off to the size. “Yes…”
She doesn't respond for a couple seconds, and I tilt my head to the side, furrowing my brows at her distracted expression.
“Lady…” she mumbles.
“Aurelia? What’s wrong?” I was about to question her about who she was thinking about, but her reaction told me otherwise. She snaps her hand back to me and unwinds her arms in attention, clearing her throat.
“Apologies, Luna. Please disregard my behavior just now.”
I assure her it was fine. She gives me a soft smile and heads over to the closet, revealing a uniform stowed within.
“Once you have settled in, change into the uniform and meet me at the end of the hall. I will be working with you for the next three days, so I will show you around as we work.”
I nod, eyeing the uniform. “Those are definitely… unique. I’ve never seen anyone wear something like that before.”
Adeline lets out a little laugh. “I could say the same about your clothes. The whole town was giving you odd looks when I first met you on the street. I’ve never seen anyone wear something similar to what you’re wearing...except-” Aurelia frowns, and before I could say anything, she shakes her head and continues. “Ah, nevermind. I’ll see you soon then, Luna.” She makes her way to the door.
“Oh-Aurelia,” I quickly begin, “thank you for getting me this job.”
Aurelia smiles at the words. “Of course.” She closes the door.
I turn to my uniform and let out a deep breath. “Well,” I mutter to myself, “let’s get started then.”
Though Aurelia had never taken her measurements before, the uniform fit rather snugly on her body. Luna shuts the door behind her and lets out a sigh, body and mind weary from the day’s work. She slips into the soft, cotton nightgown she found in the closet drawer and makes her way to the window, glancing at the clock along the way.
The sun was sleeping well into nine, but the moon was bright enough for Luna to catch a good glimpse at the greenery below. An overwhelming sense of homesickness overtakes her as she gazes at the trees and wildflowers swaying gently into the night.
Somehow, that overwhelming feeling brought her outside, because she vaguely remembered Aurelia mentioning that maids were allowed to be out until midnight.
Except the part about it only being during special occasions.
So now Luna was running around the garden maze, trying to find her way back into the manor without being caught by the guards- how she got out without being noticed or noticing, is a miracle in itself.
It wasn’t before long until Luna found herself lost in between the shrubbery from all the alternative paths and wrong turns she was forced to take.
“Ugh!” Luna lets out a groan when she stumbles back into something hard and promptly stills, listening for the clinking of armor nearby.
Luna turns around and frowns at the thick bundles of vine surrounding the area. She reaches out and blinks in surprise upon finding something solid beneath the blossom of leaves. Luna slides her hand across the wooden wall, finding an edge-
-and immediately begins pushing as hard as she can. Wooden walls like this aren't supposed to exist in bushes, right? So it must be some kind of secret door-
The door swings open and Luna falls through, crashing into the grass from the force of her shove. She hastily gets up and shuts the wall behind her, listening for the crushing of grass underneath boots and the clacking of metal. They near, pause, and after a couple moments, fade into the distance. Luna lets out a shaky sigh and peels herself away from the wall.
So I was right. It is a secret door. I wonder who knows-
“Who are you?”
Luna jumps and whips her head around, nearly stepping straight into the bushes. She hadn’t been expecting anyone else to be here. The voice belonged to a boy standing several feet in front of her, directly under the moonlight, adoring an oversized cloak that covered the rest of his body. Luckily, Luna herself was shadowed by a large tree blocking the light’s path. She hoped it was enough to make her face unrecognizable.
“Uh-um-” she swallows hard. I’m not going to get fired, am I? I really need this job.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?”
How did he know that?
As if he read my mind, the boy spoke up again. “All the maids here aren’t stupid enough to break the rules. They know the consequences, especially after a dozen of them just got fired.” He narrows his eyes at me. “Though, you seem like a pretty dumb and harmless maid. Especially if you’re sneaking around in the garden at night.”
I make a face at him. The boy lets out a laugh.
“Just because you’re under the tree doesn't mean I can’t see your face, you know?”
I quickly straighten out my expression and turn away in embarrassment. “How do you know I’m-”
“Your nightgown. It's the same nightgown all maids are given to wear.”
I look back at his face as he turns to face the moonlight, studying his profile. It occurred to me that he looked familiar for some reason, though I couldn’t seem to pinpoint why. Regardless, he didn’t really seem to care that I was sneaking around the garden at night. Perhaps he was doing the same thing, judging from his cloak.
“Um… so what are you doing here?” I ask.
“I’m waiting,” he replies after a moment.
“Oh,” I say. That wasn’t a very informative answer.
“What are you doing out here?”
“…I forgot about the curfew. I thought it was midnight. So I came out here because I felt homesick, and next thing you know I’m running around the garden trying to hide from the guards, then I came upon this wooden door hiding in between the bushes, and when I heard the guards coming-”
I look up at the boy only to see him staring at me with a slight eyebrow raised.
“Homesick. I felt homesick,” I concluded.
“…Right. You miss your family?”
He looks down at the grass. “Me too.”
I pause. “Is that what you’re waiting for?”
He nods. “She said she’d come back to meet me here someday. So I’m waiting.”
I cast him a curious look. “What happened to her?”
“She ran away. My family adopted her when I was seven for her looks. They stripped her of her past identity, then abused and manipulated her to fit their standards. One day she couldn’t take it anymore, so she ran away.”
“...That sounds awful. I’m sorry.”
The boy shakes his head and continues. “I convinced my parents that she died in an accident when she escaped, and told them I buried her body to cover the tracks. Somehow they bought it, so they’re no longer searching for her.”
“I see.” I look down, watching my shoes squirm on the grass. “...I have a sister too. We used to play in the forest together whenever she wasn’t working, so this garden brought back some memories.”
“Do you still talk to her?”
“No. Not because we chose not to, but-” I press my lips together, feeling a bubble grow in my throat. The boy doesn't say anything-he merely looks at me, waiting patiently for me to continue. “When I was eight, some fancy carriage passed through our town. We lived in a poor village, so most of us had never seen something like that before, and all went out to watch it as it passed.” I take a deep breath, willing myself to control the quivers hitching in my breath. “But the carriage stopped in front of our house, and some rich man walked out. I can’t remember exactly what clothes he wore, but what I do remember is that they were extremely sophisticated. He offered my family a bag of gold in exchange for my sister.” I falter. “My sister agreed to go with him, even though we rejected his offer. She said that the gold was enough for our family to live comfortably for a really long time, and that it was what she wanted for us. I haven’t seen her ever since.” I bring a hand up to my face, realizing that there were tears staining my cheeks and hastily wipe them away. Maybe it was because I was feeling homesick that I ended up spilling my entire story to a stranger I’d just met.
The boy stays silent for a moment. Then he nods and looks away. “I hope your sister is doing well.”
I smile. “Yeah. I hope your sister is too.”
His face softens at the words. “It can’t be worse than living with my parents. She’s free now.” His brown eyes settle on a bush of flowers sleeping under the mellow glow, and I recognize them to be forget-me-nots. “Everyone in the town complimented her eyes. My mother was especially fond of them-it’s the main reason why they chose her. They were pretty, but they were especially kind. Soft and kind, despite all that my parents put her through. Hopeful the night she left, when she told me she was going to find someone.” He lowers himself to the ground. “The shade of forget-me-nots.”
After making sure that there were no more tears staining my face, I decide to step out from underneath the shadows, settling myself on the grass a couple feet away from him. I reach out to touch a forget-me-not, lightly running my thumb over its bright blue petals. “My sister’s favorite flowers are forget-me-nots, actually. Whenever we played in the forest, we would always make flower crowns out of them.” I pull my hand away from the blossoms, feeling the boy’s eyes on my face, though this time under the moon’s dazzling luster. “They fit her quite well.”
The boy doesn't say anything, so I continue. “They’re unforgettable, like her. It’s why I’m here now. I recently began traveling from town to town, looking for the man who took her away," I explain. "But I worry about my family, so I decided to stay here for a bit and look for a job, to send them back some money.”
The silence stretches on for longer than I thought it would, and I look over to the boy, taken aback by his focused expression. His eyes widen and his mouth gapes when I turn to meet his eyes, his own orbs darting back and forth between mine. I give him a look of confusion.
“Uh, are you okay?” I ask, unsure of what was going on.
He promptly shuts his mouth and blinks several times, tearing his eyes away from me. “Yeah,” he breathes out. “How old was your sister when she was taken away?”
“Eleven.” He seemed to have gotten over whatever shock he had, so I decided to brush it off.
Perhaps I should have questioned it more, because after another moment of stretched out silence, the boy suddenly gets up and begins pulling on my arm. I hastily stand up, yanking my arm away from his grip. “What is wrong with you?” I look around. “Do we need to leave now? You could’ve just told me that.” I whisper-yell.
“Not ‘we.’ You. You need to leave this town before they find you.”
“Huh? What are you talking about? I told you I need this job so I can send money to my parents.”
He reaches his arm into his cloak and pulls out a small pouch, dumping it in my hands. “Here. This should be enough to last you a few weeks. Don’t worry about your parents, I’ll take care of it.”
“What-hey! Stop pushing me!” The boy had grabbed my shoulders and began to push me towards the bushes. He reaches his hand into the shrubbery, feeling around until he lets out a satisfied noise. The door, disguised as part of the large, overgrown bush, swings open, and he turns to me. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t under-”
“Hurry. We don’t have time. What’s your name?”
I wanted to press him with questions, because whatever was going on was not only confusing but frustrating. Who did this boy think he was, suddenly demanding to kick me out of this town for no reason? I opened my mouth to insist that I was staying, but the pleading look in his eyes and worried expression on his face caused those words to die in my throat.
“Please, trust me. I promise I have no intentions of hurting you.”
“What about your sister’s?”
“...Stella…” I blink at him, wanting to ask why, but instead choose to look up at the sky. The thousands of stars glimmering above suddenly reminded me of my mother's desire to name us all things that twinkled in the night. Because you guys are my light, she'd say.
“Luna…like the moon.” he smiles at me, a soft, genuine smile, and I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks at the expression. A boy has never smiled at me like that before.
“It was nice talking to you, Luna. And Stella...the name Stella fits your sister quite well.”
I furrow my brows at him. “Um...thanks?”
He takes off his cloak and for the first time, I was able to see his outfit. He wore a white blouse shirt and black dress pants underneath, but what caught my attention was the brooch pinned on his top. It was the exact same one I saw in the family painting at the manor, and my expression changed to one of shock as a realization dawned on me.
“It can get chilly at night, even in spring. Be careful not to catch a cold,” he states, ignoring the look on my face. He adjusts the cloak over my shoulders and drapes the hoodie over, folding part of it back so it doesn't cover my eyes. He steps back and briefly looks me over before nodding in satisfaction. “Go through this door and keep following the path until you reach the end. It’s pretty straightforward. Once you exit, you’ll be past the manor’s gates. There shouldn’t be any guards near that area, but be cautious just in case.” He nudges me into the passage, shrouded in greenery. “Go. Find your sister. Again, don’t worry about your family. I’ll make sure they’re financially comfortable.”
I turn back to look at him. “That brooch… are you-”
“I hope we cross paths again in the future, Luna.” He moves to close the door, but stops halfway. “One more thing-tell your sister I said hi.”
And with that, the light pouring through the pathway shuts itself against the shadows.
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Well written story! Thank you!
Thanks for reading!