*****

“You seek love,” Amelie said, finally, emerging from her long silence. She was studying a ladybug that had lit on the hem of her skirt to wind its way purposefully, probingly along the line of silk stitches. She hadn’t once glanced at Catherine since they’d stopped to sit on the garden bench. “Love is always worth finding, yes,” she continued, “but it is trust I want. If only I might trust again. Trust is more precious than love, you know, more essential. Love depends on trust. Without trust, love is helpless. But with trust, love can soar. Oh, and how love can soar! Only let me find trust again.”

The ladybug paused. It opened its wings once, twice. When it flew, Amelie’s breath caught, her fingers opened reflexively, as though to catch and hold the tiny creature, but her hands remained firmly in her lap, her back straight, head erect as she followed its flight until it was lost in the buzzing haze. She pressed on, the words coming like an intoned rite over the laying of flowers on a fresh grave.

“When trust is broken, when trust is shattered, love can only stare in dumb wonder at the shards of its own reflection, rendered helpless again. When trust has crumbled into dust, to be carried off by the wind, love may persist, love may live on, but it can exist only as a bloodless shade, veiled in torn longing, shrouded in aching need, condemned to floating through the empty and echoing rooms, retracing the steps over and over, touching all the places again and again until the boards and posts are worn and polished smooth. When trust is gone, yes, love may live on, refusing to die, unable to depart, the unevictable tenant of a broken and empty heart.”

Her eyes had remained dry, the tears all long ago cried.

Catherine shifted closer and slipped her arm through, taking Amelie’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

Amelie didn’t pull away.

They sat just so for a while, silently, watching the bees work the crepe myrtle tree, flower by flower, the robin building her nest, twig by twig. When they spoke again, it was of things of much and little consequence, but nothing of love or trust. They talked together until the shadows grew long and the primroses were opening to the evening dew. As the rhythm of the crickets’ song enveloped them, they fell into another long silence, a silence as natural and right as the first had been awkward and strained.

“We should be getting back,” Catherine suggested, with little conviction and less desire. “We’ll be missed.” She felt a faint tightening in Amelie’s fingers.

“If we must.”

Still, neither of the young women rose, neither moved, neither wanting to risk breaking the spell, the spell with its suggestion of a possibility of something so unlikely that it might exist only in their imaginations, a possibility neither of them had anticipated, much less dared hope.

But in a moment that had passed unnoticed that afternoon, the prospect of a better, brighter existence in the world had been conceived. Somewhere within a warm and hidden fold of the make-shift womb of clasped palms and interlaced fingers, the seed of something wondrous and impossible had germinated and begun to take form. To many in their respective worlds, to most perhaps, what these two might dare hope to claim in that twilight hour would seem too meager a treasure, a coin too common, a half farthing one mightn’t bother to stoop to retrieve had it fallen in a gutter. But for these two who had seen so much, two who had suffered more than any two should, two who had endured more than most could—two who had managed to survive in near complete isolation, on little more than sheer will, stripped of any and all hope—what they might possess in the moment, even if it proved only fleeting in the end and gone on the morrow, was enough.

In the last of the twilight, as they walked back to the manor, they were arm in arm, holding hands still, neither of them caring much at all, in truth, whether they had been missed. Consequences be damned. Before parting, they promised they would return on the afternoon next, to the bench at the end of the garden, to the sacred privacy of the primroses and crepe myrtle, to check on the robin.

It was only after they had parted, after Amelie had disappeared from view around the corner of the stables, that Catherine’s legs folded beneath her. She sat in the middle of the path, one hand holding her body off the ground, the other clutched to her heart.

Though Amelie’s tears had all long been cried, Catherine’s first had yet to be shed. Her tears flowed now, the first and the rest.

She might have found a friend.

*****

***

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the story. “The Robin’s Nest” is from the My Kingdom collection of flash fiction, short stories, poems, and short plays for stage & screen, now available in paperback and Kindle editions. ~

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