"Aren't you glad we're finished for the day?" Andrew sighed, approaching Claire as she opened the clinic's door after ushering their last patient out. "I, for one, am compeletely tired out. Would you care to join me for a cup of tea before you go? I have some spare cookies my housekeeper baked for me the other day."
She just kept staring at him, not saying anything; then she nodded, while she endearingly bit her lower lip.
Andrew closed the door behind them, and attempted to bring in conversation again. "So, how have you been doing with your rehearsals lately? Are you going to play some songs of yours?"
"Y-yes." Claire answered, tentatively. "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you I was going to perform at..."
He let out a small chuckle, dismissing her apology. "It's alright. Say you forgive me for having been so rude to you and we're even." But Andrew couldn't deny he had been a little hurt. Why couldn't she show more confidence in him? She wouldn't have told him anything at all? "Besides, you can make it up to me by playing at the festival as beautifully as you did at my sister's." He then shot her a warm smile. "And speaking of Ethel, who knows what she might have been telling you about me? I'm not the ogre she takes me for." He teased. "And if you'll excuse me for using such a lame excuse for my behaviour at her home the other day, I must own that sometimes her remarks get the best of me."
Claire stifled a laugh and remarked, "she says you're a great man."
Andrew knew his sister too well to believe Claire's words wholeheartedly. "I'm sure that's not the only thing she has been telling you." Andrew sincerely hoped that Ethel had not vexed Claire too much with her exuberant, medlesome ways, but he couldn't say he blamed her entirely if she had. Perhaps he could use her matchmaking abilities. "Anyway, are you of the same opinion?"
"Oh, yes!" Andrew's teasing was surprisingly rewarded by that unguarded response and a smile on her part. Faint as it was, it was a smile nonetheless. "I mean-" Claire never ended her sentence, as she froze and started to blush, apparently ashamed of her earlier enthusiasm.
"Good!" He was beaming. "Then, will you show a little more trust in me in the future? Everything you do interests me."
Claire looked at him self-consciously for a brief moment, then away again.
When Andrew re-entered the clinic a few minutes later to tell Claire that a cup of tea was awaiting them at the dining room, he found her looking out of the window, absent-mindedly staring at the horizon as he had seen her doing in so many previous occasions. There was always that sad but dignified look about her that Andrew had come to love so much.
"Claire?" He softly called after her. At the mention of her name, she turned on her heels and gently began to walk in his direction.
By how her hands swiftly moved along her hips as she walked, Andrew could tell that, for once, she had dropped that careful, studied way of hers, and her demeanour had significantly softened.
And she was smiling again! That made twice in a row! It was obvious he had taken her off guard, and Andrew was in complete awe to finally get a glimpse of what he thought was her natural self. It still amazed him how strikingly beautiful she looked whenever she smiled. If only those amazing eyes of hers were smiling too...
She was now standing in front of him, her smile already on the verge of becoming her usual poor attempt of a smirk. Andrew didn't want that to happen, and suddenly felt the irresistible urge to take her hand in his to bring her closer. He was pleasantly surprised that her hand, shaky as it was, made no attempt to budge from his hold as he tenderly brought it to his chest.
"Oh, Claire," he spoke her name again, pulling her even closer to him. He immediately felt her arms wandering freely down his waist as he lowered his head to meet hers.
When they parted, they were both out of breath.
"Oh, Claire!" Andrew inwardly chastised himself for not coming with a better response. It seemed as though this was the only thing he was uttering the whole evening. He quickly recovered, however. "My beautiful Claire. Such a lovely flower..."
The spell, if there had been one, was broken the moment Andrew said that last sentence, as Claire suddenly stiffened and broke apart from his embrace. "I'm no flower."
Why the sudden change in her expression? Andrew couldn't understand what he had said to cause her distress, and why she was looking at him as if... No, it couldn't possibly be! Andrew immediately brushed off that idea. It was absurd that she should be scared of him! No, of course not. It wasn't that what he read in her eyes at that moment. It was most likely just guilt. Her pained expression told him that she was probably not ready yet to be kissing another man so shortly after her husband's death.
How he longed to be able to cause such pain. But Andrew felt immediately ashamed of his own thoughtlessness. It must have been very hard for Claire to lose a husband, especially when she was still blooming with youth. And it must have been even harder, if he had been any close to her age, to have witnessed him meet such an untimely death. But what did Andrew know about the whole matter? He suddenly realised he knew anything about her marriage, and there were so many things he needed to know.
"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting that you've..." Andrew did his best to hide his disappointment behind a fake smile. "I don't think I've ever given you my condolences over your loss."
"My loss?" Claire looked at him questioningly. "Oh, you mean my..." she swallowed. "...husband..." There was a short pause and then she spoke again. "Thank you!"
"Had you been married for long?"
Her answer was hesitant. "Yes."
"I don't mean to pry, but, how did he die? I hope he didn't suffer."
This time her response came with a bitter undertone to it. "I don't think I ever saw him suffering. Not once in my life." And with that she was lost in thought again.
Andrew sighed heavily. He could understand this was a sore subject for Claire, but why did she have to talk about it in such a cryptic manner?
Under normal circumstances, Andrew would be excited about this trip, but after what had happened between Claire and himself the previous evening, he was in no mood to go fishing.
He shouldn't feel jealous of the dead, that much he knew! It was unwise, unkind and useless. He understood she needed time to heal, but feeling like her second best wasn't a pleasant emotion, -one he wasn't sure to overcome-, and his patience was growing thin. This woman was destined to drive him insane!
He was glad it was still early for meeting Jack and their friend at the club. It meant he had still time for a quick stroll in the woods before the sun rose. Riding his faithful stallion at full speed was exactly what he needed at that moment to appease his ruffled mind.
Andrew spurred his horse encouraging him to go faster, as both sped deeper into the night.
Author's note: If anyone is wondering about Claire's reaction to being called a flower, Chapter 09 will give you the answer: it's actually not the first time someone calls her such ;-(.
Okay, and now...
You didn't think I had forgotten Christmas is just around the corner, right? ;-)
"En Nuey chelada" is a Christmas carol from my homeland that I hope you'll like. You can play it while you browse through these pics of my "staff" wishing you a Merry Christmas. Oh, and for those Spanish-learners out there, it's alright for you not to understand the lyrics, because it is NOT sung in Spanish ;-).
Lots of hugs and best wishes for everyone,