Like the Sun

“His smile is like the sun.”

Everything froze at those words and I looked about the crowded ballroom, trying to find him. The man who smiled the sun.

He wasn’t here. It was foolish to think that he was, that he could be here and I wouldn’t have known. Still, I looked about the ballroom full of bright gowns and tailored jackets one last time.

“It’s nothing at all like the sun,” I muttered as my gaze fell on the man across the room who was smiling our way. Smiling at me. And it was blasphemous to even suggest it.

I slipped away before anyone could ask what I meant and though I longed to go anywhere else, I made my way toward the man whose smile had been mistakenly likened to the sun. I suppose if you thought of the sun only as blinding, scorching, and painfully melting, then yes, his smile could be likened to the sun. But the sun was so much more than that and he…

He was not.

He opened his arms to me when I reached him and I let him draw me in, pressing my lips to his cheek with a slight rasp of stubble, proof that he’d been up far too early. My whispered congratulations felt hollow in my mouth and it was a wonder I managed to choke it out.

If he was the sun, then I was the poor fool who flew to close and got burnt.

“Dance with me.” He did not wait for a response and led me onto the floor because he knew if he gave me an option, I would deny him.

It was his wedding day. If I denied him, people would ask questions and that was not something anyone could afford. So I let him lead me onto the floor without protest.

“I didn’t see you at the ceremony.”

“You were busy.” I didn’t tell him that I was there, I wouldn’t lie to him. Watching him marry another would have been one of the hardest things I’d ever seen.

I waited for him to stop walking, to spin me in his arms in time for the first chords, but instead we kept moving until we were at the doors to the garden. Not too far away was the broad tree where we’d met all those years ago. It was still perfect for climbing, even if I no longer had the luxury of sitting in its branches, hidden by the dense foliage.

“I thought you wanted to dance.”

“You hate to be a spectacle.” Even out here we could hear the swell of the orchestra as they launched into their next ballad. I slid my left hand up his shoulder and rested it on the back of his neck even though it pulled us closer than was proper. His hand was hot on my back and his eyes burned with passion when I looked into them. I held his gaze for a few heartbeats before looking away.

I wanted to ask him why he married her even though I knew why. I’d helped set him up with her and they were perfect together. She was perfect for the kingdom: well-connected, well-bred, beautiful, and educated. She would make him a fine queen. She was everything I was not.

“You’re happy, right?”

It was too late, even if he wasn’t. They were married and nothing but death would undo that and he did not have time to mourn a wife and find another to marry.

“Does it matter?” He slid his arm tighter about my waist and I let him pull me against him until my cheek pressed to his chest and his shirt grew damp. When had I started crying? “For now, I’m here. With you.”

There were any number of things I wanted to tell him, that we would have been miserable together, that the kingdom would have suffered for our marriage, that I loved him. I choked it all down and slid both arms more firmly about his neck. For this moment, none of that mattered.

As the orchestra died down, I stepped away, missing his warmth.

“You should return to your wife. She’ll be…”

“Wondering where I’ve run off to.” He finished for me when I couldn’t muster the words. “You should stay and dance.”

I should, for appearances. But we both knew I would not.

“Be happy.”

If his smile was like the sun, it was hidden behind clouds that broke its shine and wept its sadness.

But at least he smiled and that was more than I could manage.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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