Home > The Wish Collector(13)

The Wish Collector(13)
Author: Mia Sheridan

What do I want? She didn’t even know, and yet the yearning without a name lay heavy within her nonetheless. A constant wanting of this man she shouldn’t have.

“John, this . . . this . . . meeting this way is wrong and it makes no sense. It’s—” But before she could continue, he lowered his mouth to hers gently, pressing his lips against hers and then pausing.

Their breath mingled, their heartbeats joined, thrumming swiftly in time, and it occurred to Angelina that he was waiting for her to deepen the kiss. Or not. She shouldn’t do it, shouldn’t encourage this forbidden kiss that was danger, and mystery, and a thousand fireflies spinning recklessly inside of her.

Angelina let out a small, breathless sigh and pressed her mouth closer. John made a strangled sound of his own, pulling her against him as he tilted his head and ran his tongue over the seam of her lips. She opened her mouth to him, allowing him entrance, and lost herself in his taste, in the feel of him, in the sudden certainty that though they must hide it, their relationship was not wrong. Not at all. She felt it in a place deep inside that recognized only love and nothing else.

The world might change. It might not. She had no way of knowing. But what Angelina did know was that, either way, for her, there was no turning back.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jonah walked slowly toward the weeping wall, the birds in the trees singing gleefully overhead, the leaves rustling with their play. Clara was already there. He saw her shifting body in the blocked light of the cracks near the base of the wall. His heart lurched and the feeling caused him to consider backing away slowly. But, ah, what the hell? They were just going to chat for a bit. And he owed her some information, didn’t he? For all his faults—and they were vast and many—he’d always been true to his word.

“Hi, Jonah.”

He sat down, leaning against the wall and bringing one leg up so he could rest an arm on it. “You have good ears.”

“The crunch of the grass gave you away.”

“Ah.” The summer heat had turned the grass mostly brown. New Orleans could use some rain. “How have you been, Clara?”

“I’m good. I feel like I’m finally settling in.” There was happiness in her voice and it made Jonah smile.

“I’m glad.”

He heard Clara shift. “Me too. And Jonah, I want to thank you as well.” Her voice was slightly hesitant as she continued. “Coming here, talking to you, it’s made me feel . . . I don’t know, like I have a friend and, well, I hope it’s okay if I consider you one. A friend.”

For a moment Jonah didn’t respond, as his heart thumped steadily against his ribs. He’d convinced himself she wasn’t a friend, and it’d made him feel less anxious about talking to her. But now . . . damn it. “Yeah,” he found himself saying, his words followed by a grimace because what the hell was he doing?

He should tell her he was nobody’s friend and she was a fool if she wanted to consider him one. She didn’t know him. He wouldn’t ever really allow her to and so any “friendship” they had would be limited and very temporary. But that in itself was a reassurance that it was okay to title this thing they were doing, wasn’t it?

He could rest assured that she’d stop coming once cooler weather set in, or sooner if her social life picked up, which it undoubtedly would as she “settled in” even more, and he’d wrap himself back in his safe cocoon behind his wall and that would be that. “Sure, Clara, you can consider me your friend.” Your temporary friend.

She let out a whoosh of air as if she’d been holding her breath in anticipation of his response and when she spoke, there was a smile in her voice. “Great.”

Her clothing scraped softly against the stone as she resumed her position. “There’s an old man who sells home-grown produce near my apartment. I asked him about John Whitfield, and he told me something interesting.” She then went on to tell him about the tuberculosis and John Whitfield refusing treatment. “Did you know that?”

“I didn’t. But I don’t know a lot about the Whitfield family. The stories that I heard as a boy were mostly having to do with this plantation and the people who lived here.”

“Ah. Did you know John Whitfield was engaged to Astrid Chamberlain?”

Jonah furrowed his brow. “I have heard that rumor, but when John came home from the war, they definitely didn’t marry. Astrid married Herbert Davies.”

There was silence from Clara’s side of the wall for a moment. “They say John came home with psychological issues. Maybe that’s the reason they never married. He became a recluse, from what it sounds like.”

Maybe, Jonah thought, that was why he’d always felt a strange affinity for the man—he identified with the need to shut yourself away from the world. John was also the villain of the story, and sadly, Jonah could identify with that as well. “If he was troubled, I can understand why. The Civil War . . . there was nothing pretty about it. The things he must have seen . . .” Blasts . . . fire . . . heat . . . blood, so, so much blood. Jonah clenched his eyes shut and shuddered, reaching a hand unconsciously to his mangled cheek.

Clara was quiet as if she’d heard something in his voice he hadn’t intended to reveal. After a moment, she spoke, but her voice was tentative. “Yes. I can only imagine.” They were both quiet for a moment before she asked, “Jonah, will you tell me a little bit about the condition of Windisle? What’s it like in there?”

Jonah sighed, shaking off the fiery visions as best he could. “It’s not in the best of shape. It needs an exterior facelift, and the grounds have gone to hell. The rose garden is a mess, though Myrtle does her best to tend it. But the slave cabins are still in good shape—”

“The slave cabins are still standing?”

“All fifteen of them. The furniture’s been removed, but they’re still there.”

“Wow,” Clara breathed. “Do you ever go inside them?”

“Once in a while on my morning run.”

“Your run?”

“A man’s gotta keep his body strong.” Although, in actuality, Jonah didn’t have to do anything, and he suddenly wondered why he’d implemented the rigorous workout schedule he’d kept up every morning. For eight years. Something he could control, maybe?

He couldn’t do anything about the part he’d played in the awful tragedy all those years ago, and he couldn’t do anything to fix his ruined face—not that he would even if he could, he deserved every scar he wore—but he could keep his body strong. He could keep his heart beating. And that surprised him. It seemed like a small act of hope. He’d thought he’d come to Windisle to die, but . . . he’d worked hard to keep himself healthy and alive. Maybe it was something he’d contemplate later.

“I suppose that’s true. I have this liniment if you ever get sore—”

Jonah groaned. “It’s bad enough that one of us is covered in that smell. We’d kill the grass on both sides of the wall if I used it too.”

Clara let out a laugh that dissolved into sweet giggles. Jonah’s heart lurched, and he smiled in reaction to her happiness. “I’ll have you know that the grass is just fine over here.” Her laughter faded and she was quiet for a moment. “Will you describe it to me? What it looks like on your side?”

So Jonah did, week after week, as Clara returned to the weeping wall, sitting in the grass on the other side of the wall, the summer days dwindling like particles of sand through an hourglass. He told her about the old willows draped in veils of lacy moss, and the sugarcane fields that grew dense and uncultivated, having reclaimed the paths that men and women had once forged. He told her about the garden behind the cabins that somehow kept bearing vegetables though no one tended it now.

While the rose garden had mostly withered and died, growing thorny and sparse, that vegetable garden—though weedy and wild—continued to flourish without care.

It drank from what rain it got and drew nourishment from the rich Louisiana soil and bore fat juicy tomatoes, crisp sweet cucumbers, and hot crunchy peppers of all varieties, among other things.

   
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