Tommy had decided the ballet company would perform in the back garden. The night was warm and there was a full moon.
They’d set up a tent. Dozens of lanterns and lamps of different sizes were hanging from the ceiling; some of them were as tiny as stud earrings. Sometimes a gentle breeze blew, and the lanterns and lamps fluttered like silk kerchiefs.
The ballet company was performing Swan Lake. As the ballerina glided across the stage, spinning on one foot, jumping into the air and arching her back, the musicians played the violins, violas, harps and flutes.
Polly was sat beside one of the marble columns, her hands on her lap. Her eyes were fixed on the stage, but she wasn’t actually watching the performance. She heard the music as if someone were playing it from far away. The ballerina, the stage, the lanterns and lamps, the guests sat in the first rows, everything was blurry.
Her mind wasn’t there.
She was thinking of Aberama.
She had asked Tommy to invite him. She had told him she would agree to marry Aberama if he proposed in the proper way. Agree hadn’t been the right word; she had made it sound as if this marriage was a convenient solution, a way to ensure he will continue being loyal to the Shelbys. Polly was aware that she had made it sound as if she was just okay with it. She’d chosen this word, the word agree, intentionally. She wasn’t ready to talk about her feelings for Aberama, let alone with Tommy. Perhaps she would allow herself to talk about it with Ada some time. For now, she preferred to keep her feelings for herself.
She hasn’t even talked about it with Aberama. He had showed her his caravan; they had spent hours alone in the woods and roast a rabbit over the fire; they had kissed; on her birthday, she’d visited him in the hospital and cuddle up next to him in the bed where he was recovering. Polly hoped he knew what she felt for him. She hoped he’s seen the truth through her actions, because every time she tried to say the words aloud, her mouth became dry and she felt something heavy in her chest.
A tiny onyx fell on her lap. It was black and looked even brighter on her golden dress. Her heart skipped a beat, and she took it with trembling fingers. She held it in her gloved hand and turned to see who had threw it, though she knew deep down.
She wasn’t wrong.
Aberama. The light was faint, but she saw his eyes lit up when they met hers. He tilted his head towards the trees, towards the area of the garden where there were no lights, no people, no sound. Polly smiled and rose to her feet.
The music grew lower as they walked away. In the semi-darkness, Aberama Gold bent down on one knee and pulled out a ring.
“Polly Gray, will you marry me, a poor commoner who loves you?”
She was already offering him her hand, her smile encouraging him to slide the ring on her finger.
She didn’t remember if she had tugged on his suit jacket or if he’d stood up on his own, but soon she found herself leaning against a tree, and his mouth claimed hers. She gripped his shit collar to pull him closer, and his body covered hers right away, his lips never leaving hers, his tongue sending shivers down her spine. Even though she couldn’t breathe and her lungs started to hurt, she pulled him even closer. The bark was scraping her back, but she didn’t care. The music grew more intense then, as if the orchestra was waiting for this moment. She wrapped her right leg around his waist, and he slid his hand beneath her dress and caressed her thigh. Despite the stockings, she could feel how warm his hand was. His mouth left hers and found her pulse below her jawline. She arched her back.
They heard a gunshot from the stage, but they didn’t see the red ribbon falling from the ballerina’s dress. The music grew lower and lower until it stopped. When the sound of clapping broke the silence, Aberama pulled away, and they stared into each other, their breaths ragged.
“We can continue after dinner, my beautiful queen,” he whispered, his face just a few inches from hers.
“Yes.” She inhaled. “Yes. The night is long, and the party has just begun.”