"What are you doing?" she cried, shrinking back onto her heels. He stood on the inch-wide ledge of oak dividing the plaster wall outside. "Get off there, you absolute plonker!"
"I'm afraid of lows." he confessed, grasping the window frame and leaning back to allow her a better view. Two floors below, the decrepit scooter she had spied upon arrival was parked in the shade of the elm, roughly polished, its tyres restored. "C'est pour toi."
"You're joking?" He shook his head, wide-eyed; she yanked back the curtain and swarmed into her clothing, hurrying down to find him kicking the little motor into life. A blue mass of evil-smelling fumes flew from the exhaust and he revved it mercilessly, spinning a donut into the grass around his leg. “I thought it was well dead!” she laughed, shouting over the backfire and waving away the smoke. “Did you fix it?”
“Er, no. I killed it the first time. I made Luc and Étienne put it back together before they left.”
"Have they gone now?" she demanded cautiously. William laughed and nodded in time with his torture of the accelerator.
“You said you didn’t have a ride... now you do.” he added. “Avec amour, de deux saloperies françaises,” She stared at the scooter, delighted, and he got up, stepping aside for her. Susan took command of it eagerly.
“Come on..." she insisted, smiling back at him. "We’ll keep it pointing downhill.”
The chassis groaned beneath him as he seated himself decorously; nicety dissipated, however, in the smoky violence of their launch, and he clapped his hands over her eyes as they gained speed over the sloping lawn.
“William!” she cried, lead wheel wobbling furiously.
“Mr Lamb!” he laughed. In retaliation, she threw the bike into a hazardous turn over the long slope of the parterre and he leapt from the seat, dashing across the arc her route described and slumping down behind her. She lifted her elbows so he could pass his hands around her waist and shook her damp hair out of her eyes, the breeze sweeping it back into his face. Their velocity over the slippery grass almost wrenched control from her and he put out both feet to steady them; they flew briefly over a small depression, the idling peacock scolding and flapping away in panic, its feathered cohorts dashing in three directions. As they sped toward the trees the motor spluttered, buzzed on for a moment like a large bee in a jar, then died, leaving them to coast toward the shade.
“Ohhh...” she sighed, putting out her bottom lip. They rolled to a halt. “Is it dead?”
"M-o-r-t." William reported gloomily while she worked the controls in vain and pulled them up beside a cedar. In their becalmed proximity he sat with arms still around her; the seat creaked as she glanced over her shoulder at him, rolling her eyes when he ignored the polite cue and remained as he was, enjoying the warmth of her back and the apple scent of her shampoo, touching his nose to her hair. She flushed, whispering a low, insincere complaint at the descent of his hands to her knees, reaching down for his wrists and keeping hold of them while she formed the resolve to remove them. “Actually, there was something I wanted to show you, but you’ll have to come into the woods to see it.” he smiled. She chuckled and swung a leg free from the bike.
“I’ve seen things like that before.”
“Are you sure? I think this one has your name on it...” Susan laughed, tucking her hair behind her ears as she began walking back without him. "Oh, so now it's my bike." he complained.
William trundled the scooter around the side of the house and across the front lawn toward the garage, watching her wander ahead with a ragged rugosa bloom to her nose until she turned with a smile behind her hand and hurried back to him.
“Look... walk of shame.” she whispered.
At the end of the driveway Edward stood in conversation with a fair-haired woman in a plain black dress, the stranger carrying her stilettos in one hand to preserve them from the cobblestones. They walked on toward the gates; as Edward parted them, the woman lifted her face to his and kissed his mouth in such a sudden and deeply explicit manner that Susan exclaimed to herself and looked away from them, directing a puzzled frown to her companion.
“I had no idea your brother had a girlfriend.”
Still staring at the distant pair, William dropped the handlebars and let the bike fall into the grass. The union of their familiar shapes tore scales from his eyes and raised both hands to them, and he spoke to himself in his own language with a vehemence of which she scarcely thought him capable.
“Do you know her?” she asked, alarmed. He shook his head as though replying in the negative.
“Yes, I do." he breathed, still struggling with it. "I know her.”
Over by the gates a taxi wheeled around and pulled up to a halt. Edward waited while Lilian instructed the driver and then returned alone toward the house, centered in his thoughts until his brother’s unremitting stare became a physical imposition. He looked up to meet it, walking on into the porch without addressing either of them.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce