Standing among her grandmother's beautiful peonies, Lavinia closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She could smell the damp earth and the soft moss. The faint breath of curling ferns, and heavier perfume of peonies. She felt the tension drain from her shoulders and face, and her thoughts, which had been like a hive of disturbed and angry bees, seemed to quiet and settle.
She opened her eyes and finally admitted, to herself, what was bothering her. She was avoiding Charles on purpose. She was trying to be charming and encouraging to James. But her heart wasn't in it. She couldn't seem to quit hoping to hear Charles' confident step coming up behind her, or listening for the tone of his voice in a crowd. This was a problem.
It was all over their small parish that Charles Mann was taking up with the Mormons. Derisive glares and whispered comments seemed to follow him wherever he walked. It made Lavinia blush defensively for him, but she said nothing. Her brothers, especially, made fun of the baker's apprentice and his new faith. They never teased, to her face, but she knew that her stony silences probably made it pathetically clear that she cared about him. She also knew that his uncle had told everyone that if he joined this new church, he would be out on the street. No apprenticeship. No livelihood.
The thought of that, of everything he was risking and everything he could lose, made her heart feel tight inside her chest. She had the inexplicable sense of her own life slipping through her fingers, and she didn't quite know how to catch it. The anxiety crept back into her shoulders as she sighed and carried the basket of peonies back to her Grandmother Jane.
After a cup of Earl Grey tea and a comfortable silence, she walked out the front door and began walking down the lane. Her eyes were on the road, thoughtful, as she walked. Then, unexpectedly, a shadow fall across her path and she looked up.
She hadn't expected to see him there, and her breath caught in her throat as she looked up into his eyes. Her hand flutter upwards as she realized, with a start, that his eyes were brimming with unshed tears.
He reached out for her hand, and, in an unsteady voice, he quietly but determinedly said "Lavinia, we must talk."