I made it through my first few weeks with Marian and her family by surviving a series of mishaps and mistakes. Marian and the younger boys were invariably patient with me, gently correcting all the things I had done wrong and showing me the right way to go about doing simple everyday tasks. Will did his absolute best not to talk to me or even acknowledge my existence in the house, except for the rare occasions when he would again try to prove that I was a fraud. I was determined to pull my own weight in the household, not only to repay Marian and the boys for their kindness, but also because I wanted to prove to Will that I wasn't trying to deceive them all.
"Good morning," Marian said to me as I came down the ladder early one morning. I had been with them about a month by this time, and I was beginning to get comfortable with a few of the jobs I had. Marian still wouldn't let me cook, not after a series of messes that had been almost as disgusting to look at as they were to eat.
"Good morning," I said. "What do we have to do this morning?"
"I was thinking it might be a good day to go into town," she told me. Despite my best efforts to remain calm, I froze. In the four weeks since I had awoken in the turret room, I had seen no one but Marian and her sons. They had kept me from the town until I would blend in better, and until Marian could make me some proper clothes of my own. One day she had taken shears to my hair and cut off nearly a foot of the blond curls. My hair was still long, and most days I had to pin it carefully under a kerchief to work, but it was much less noticeable when it didn't hang to my waist. They taught me to say please and thank you, and not to look so "haughty" as Jake put it.
"Do you think I'm ready?" I asked her timidly. "Maybe we should wait."
"If we wait any longer, you'll never go at all," she replied with a laugh. "You'll be fine, and you won't have to talk that much if you don't want to. Just smile and look pleasant. People will expect you to be a little shy at first."
"But I think I'll probably stick out terribly," I told her.
"Of course you will," she agreed. "We never have any new faces around here. But folks know that you've been with us a month, and they'll start talking even more than they probably are." At the look on my face, she continue, "It won't kill you to see people, you know."
"I know." And I did. I knew that I was being silly, but I couldn't help it. I had only ever seen a town once, and that was from the comfort and the safety of a carriage. I knew there would be no carriage involved in this experience. Marian and I would be walking into the town and walking home. I would be surrounded by common people, people that in my former life I would never have come into contact with. I don't think that my reaction was motivated by any kind of pride, but besides for Marian's family, I didn't really know how to talk to commoners.
Marian had obviously decided that I was going to go with her, so I didn't argue anymore, but instead tried to concentrate on calming my nerves. "Jake," Marian said to Jacob, "Can you go tell Will we're leaving soon to go to town? I know he has some deliveries to make."
If anything, this news made the butterflies in my stomach increase. Not only was I going to make a complete fool of myself, but Will would be there to witness every embarrassing moment of the experience. Marian seemed to realize what I was thinking, just like she always did. "You'll be fine," she reassured me again. "You won't even see William, because he'll be delivering his goods and settling accounts." She smiled. "If you can handle walking there and back with him, you should be fine." I tried to smile back but couldn't quite manage it.
"Stephen, you'll be in charge while we're gone. Make sure you and Jacob get all the chores done early. We should be back just after noon." Marian handed me a thick slice of bread to eat as we walked. She carried one in her hand for Will; she had already eaten her own breakfast.
The walk to town took us only about thirty minutes, and when we got there, Will immediately stalked off on his own. The town wasn't much to look at, only a long wide street in the middle and shops lined up on either side of it. The signs spelled out things like "butcher" and "cobbler" but most of them also had large drawings to show their wares. Marian led me to a shop with bags of flour and other dry goods in the window. "Good morning," she said to the shopkeeper as we walked in. A middle-aged man looked up from a list he was reading to exchange his own greeting.
"Why Marian, we haven't seen you in town for days. How have you been?" he asked.
"Fair," she replied. "We've been awfully busy out at the Rose Cottage. This is Rose," she added by way of introduction. "She's a friend of the family as just lost her parents. She'll be staying with us for a bit. Rose, this is Walter Price."
"Good morning," I said quietly, making eye contact briefly before lowering my eyes to the floorboards. I didn't know why I was so nervous, or why I felt so incredibly paranoid. I must have been imagining the look of surprise on his face when he saw me. Or he could have just been surprised because he hadn't heard anything about me staying with Marian and her family. Or maybe it didn't matter whether or not he was surprise. I tried to calm down. While he and Marian talked, I fingered the ribbons lying in a row on the counter.
In the back of my head, I could dimly hear Marian ordering the things she needed. I wandered away from the counter and started reading the few signs posted around the shop. Mr. Price had to speak to me three times before I looked up to see what he needed. "You can read those?" he asked, curiosity evident in his voice. For a moment I panicked. Should I not be able to?
Marian read the look on my face and stepped in quickly. "Her father did a year at the seminary. He taught her and her mother to read," she improvised quickly. I could feel myself blushing, but I still didn't say anything. I probably looked like an incredible fool, admitting I could read without speaking at all. Just when I thought the moment would prolong itself, the bell at the shop door rang, rescuing us from the awkward standoff.
I moved to the far corner of the room where there was a stack of dusty books, determined to avoid any other potential conversations until Marian was ready to leave. Unfortunately, she seemed to be in no hurry to do that. As I opened the book on the top of the stack, I could hear her asking about people in the town, catching up on the gossip. I could hear another voice added to the conversation, a young male voice. I didn't really pay attention to what they were saying, because I was too focused on blending into the background.
I thought I heard Marian say my name, so I turned quickly, bumping into a solid body as I did so and I dropping the book on the floor. I bent to pick it up, muttering an apology as I did so, only to bang into the stranger again as he too went to pick up the book. "I'm sorry," we said in unison.
I looked up in surprise as we both straightened up. Before me stood a tall young man who was slightly too thin, with light brown hair and big blue eyes. He looked slightly dazed at the sight of me. "I don't believe we've met," he told me.
"We haven't," I said, not stopping to think how foolish I sounded.
He smiled, waiting for me to say something, but when I didn't, he spoke again. "My name is Edmond," he told me. "I'm studying under the vicar here in town."
"The vicar?" I asked, momentarily confused.
"Do you go to church ever?" he asked me incredulously.
I was flustered. I had dim memories of church, but even when I was a child my parents had never been particularly religious. "It's been awhile," I said.
"No worries," he amended with a smile. "I live with the vicar," he rushed on. "You really should come hear him some time. He's really brilliant."
"I'm sure he is," I faltered.
"Are you new in town?" he asked. "I was so sure I knew everyone in town, but I'm also sure that I would remember meeting you."
"I've been staying with Marian and her family," I told him. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to get out of this useless conversation. Marian was smiling at me indulgently and Walter was looking surprised to hear so many words coming out of me. As for Edmond, he looked like he couldn't believe he was talking to someone like me. I wanted to curse my godmothers from so long ago for making me so conspicuous.
"Out at the Rose Cottage?" he asked, a trace of fear in his voice.
"I believe that's what they call it," I told him, biting down on my lip nervously. Why didn't Marian rescue me?
My help came from an unexpected source. The bell above the door tinkled again and a heavy step sounded in the doorway. "Mother, Rose, aren't you nearly ready?" I looked over to where Will was silhouetted in the sun shining in from outside. As usual, he took up most of the door frame.
"Oh, good, you can help me with these," Marian said to him, gesturing to the neat parcels on the counter. He crossed the room, seemingly filling it, and took the parcels, adding them to the things he was already carrying. I assumed the townsfolk had work for a blacksmith and gave it to him here instead of making the trip out to the cottage. He and Marian made their way out of the shop, Marian calling her farewells to Walter as she walked out.
"Rose?" Will called, and I shook myself from observing the scene before me and moved to follow them.
As I did so, Edmond gently touched my hand. "Rose?" He pressed forward eagerly. "It's a beautiful name." When I didn't respond, he continued again, this time talking all in a rush. "I'd like to see you again. Would you mind?"
I didn't know what to say, so I just took my hand back and hurried toward the door, wishing I had never come into town at all. I joined Will and Marian in the street, falling quickly into step with them as we headed toward home. "Poor Edmond looked completely taken with Rose," Marian observed conversationally.
"I know. I saw," Will replied grimly, causing both of us to look at him in surprise. Marian shook her head at me, indicating that I shouldn't ask him about it, which I certainly had no intention of doing anyway. Will was a mystery to me, and it was going to stay that way. I was too intimidated to talk to him about it ever.
We made the rest of our way home in silence, which left me far too much time to think about Edmond and Will and how much I wished I had never agreed to go into town in the first place.