Perchance To Dream

The Day had arrived.

Honestly, for such a simple venture, Annabel really shouldn't have given it such momentous importance in her head. Nothing was going to happen today. She was simply going out into the countryside around Venice with two of her students for a deeply involved lesson. She was being accompanied by a colleague. A very handsome English colleague whose voice gave her shivers and whose eyes made her heart pound. At least she could admit that her anxiety was frivolous, but that didn't stop it from existing.

For the thousandth time since arriving at the edge of the city an hour earlier, Annabel ran through her mental checklist to make sure all was as it should be. Transportation: There was a simple four-wheeled cart, its attached horse, and the paid driver right beside her. Check. Sustenance: Within the cart was a sturdy basket comprised of woven reeds stuffed to bursting with simple fare of all sorts. Check. Miscellaneous: Another basket carried a burden of blankets, textbooks, writing slates and chalk, and a large umbrella meant to protect them from the sun's heat lay beside it. Check.

Everything was in place. Then why did she feel like something was missing? Looking down at her person, she admitted that it was undoubtedly due to the fact that she felt horribly under-dressed. Which was just silly, it wasn't like she was wearing less, simply.. different. While her normal attire was somewhat delicate, designed for a safe interior environment, it was hardly practical for such an outing. So instead, she'd donned a plain but hardy white blouse, and a pale green skirt of similar make, beneath which were a pair of worn boots. Equally unusual but far better for the day's activities, her golden hair had, rather than being tamed into its habitual coiffure, been woven into a braid that fell nearly to her hips.

Fortunately, she wasn't given more time to dwell on the fact that she felt extremely out of place, as the families of Narcisa and Lino arrived at that moment to hand off the troublesome pair to her care for the day. Once bundling them up into the cart -- and noting with some amusement how they sat apart from each other and tried to ignore the other existed -- she withdrew the pocket watch which had, naturally, been tucked into a pocket of her skirts, and withdrew it, popping open the cover to note the time.

Robert should be arriving any moment.

The knowledge filled her with a combination of excitement and severe anxiety, enough so that her hand trembled slightly as she snapped shut the watch and tucked it back into her pocket, before raising her head to look around for her colleague. Friend? She didn't even know what to call him. The conversation she'd had with Edward a few nights prior continued to haunt her thoughts, making her consider again the course of action she'd been pondering without end ever since, wondering if she should take such a daring chance.

All such thoughts were sent flying out of her head the moment she saw him. Unable to help herself, she felt a bright smile spreading across her face, and unconsciously folded her hands against the delighted fluttering that sprang to life within her stomach. Oh, she was in so much trouble...

"Good morning, Sir Castle. Are you ready to depart?"

@Robert Castle
word count: 577

Re: Perchance To Dream

The open air of the countryside was a most welcome change from the closeness and clutter of Venice, particularly Cannaregio. The blue of the sky seemed crisper, as did the breeze that ruffled Robert’s dark hair.

Other changes were not as welcome.

The simple shirt and trousers Robert wore recalled past days toiling under the punishing Caribbean sun, but felt alien to him still, and he realized how much of a lull he had fallen into under the tutelage of the British ambassador to Venice. Indeed, his body felt slower and heavier in comparison to those days; a more sedentary lifestyle had robbed his limbs of some of their strength and agility. He would have to get back into the habit of moving; complacency did not suit him.

He arrived just after the children were dropped off. He knew this only because he passed their parents and guardians on the road. When he arrived at the cart, his attention immediately turned to Annabel. Her golden hair seemed to glow in the warm sunlight, and the simplicity of her attire, not unlike his own chosen manner of dress, gave way in favor of her natural features, and his gaze was tracing the shape of her lips before he snapped himself out of it.

“Good morning, Miss Blackwood,” he said cheerily, starting forward toward the cart again. He noticed the children when one shifted away from the other; Lino seemed conflicted between avoiding Narcisa as though she carried the plague and grabbing at feminine locks of hair. Much like their teachers, Narcisa and Lino were dressed in plain clothes, and Narcisa’s feminine attributes were more apparent with her hair pulled back and without the fancier frills of her school attire, and Lino seemed to be as entranced by that in Narcisa as Robert was in Annabel.

“Lady Narcisa, Master Lino, are you ready to proceed?” The wind began to tousle Robert’s hair, and both Narcisa and Lino giggled at their instructor’s less-kept appearance.

“Your hair is like a crow flapping away!” Lino taunted, aiming his typical style of insult at Robert. Narcisa giggled again at the observation, and Lino flashed her a proud grin, encouraged by her approval.

Robert batted it away. “Not a crow, but a raven, Master Lino. Crows can be identified by their duller colour, and you must allow that my hair is quite shiny.” Narcisa laughed even harder at that, and Lino folded his arms and sat back.

“Signor,” Robert said, nodding to the cart driver. Then he offered Annabel his hand, to help her up into the cart. “After you, Miss Blackwood.”
word count: 440

Re: Perchance To Dream

As Robert moved past her to approach the cart, Annabel turned so that she was still facing him, unwilling to look away. It was such a shock to see him out of his usual clothing, but something about the plain attire only made him look more handsome. Perhaps it enhanced the refined nature of his features, highlighting the drastic angles and hollows that made him so appealing. Or maybe that was a result of the wind disturbing his hair, which was so often undisturbed -- the way it fell tousled and wild around his face made her want to reach out and smooth it down, tuck it behind his ears and stroke his jaw--

Realizing that her hand was rising as though to enact these very desires snapped Annabel out of her stupor, and she felt her cheeks filling with a flush as her hand snapped back to her side, being thrust into her pocket as though that would restrain it from any further unwanted actions. Goodness, this was already shaping up to be a difficult affair, and it had barely begun!

"Now Lino, I know you dislike your etiquette lessons, but what have we said about commenting on the appearance of others unless it's clearly a compliment?"

Lino stubbornly refused to answer, giving a sullen look to Annabel, but Narcisa, ever the good student, piped up with a smile.

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Annabel bit back a laugh, but couldn't stop from smiling. It was an extreme simplification of the lesson in question, but good enough for her purposes. Lino grumbled something nigh on unintelligible, though she thought she caught the words 'teacher's pet', and her hazel eyes narrowed upon the boy. Before she could reprimand him, however, all ability to think was completely thrown out the window by Robert offering his hand. She hesitated a moment, then put her hand in his, and inhaled sharply at the unexpected sensation of tingling warmth that rippled up her arm from the contact.

"Ah.. thank you, Sir Castle."

Giving him a distracted smile, she lifted her skirts out of the way with her free hand, and climbed easily up into the open cart bed with his assistance, although she was quick to release his hand as soon as she could. Moving toward the front, she settled in beside Narcisa, and folded her hands in her lap, although she fell to absently massaging the hand that had held his, however briefly. The electric feeling lingered, although it was dulled, fading due to the discontinuation of contact. Once Robert joined them in the cart, she spoke to the driver, and he snapped the long reins, spurring the horse into motion. With that done, she turned back to the children with a smile.

"Now, on the way to our destination, I want you to tell me the name of every plant you see."

And so would their trip proceed, with Narcisa and Lino competing to see who could offer the most names during the hour-long trip, and Annabel sneaking glances toward Robert that she tried very hard not to indulge in, always afraid of getting caught. Eventually, the cart turned off the road and came to a stop at the base of a small hill. Annabel shooed the children out of the cart and followed them, before moving to collect the baskets, tugging them toward the edge with a small grunt of effort. They were heavier than she'd anticipated, but she could manage at least one on her own.

"I thought this would be an excellent spot to set up. Edward told me about it after one of his rambling walks -- there's a farm just the other side of the hill. Arabians. Beautiful creatures. A pleasant thing to watch when we're not actively teaching, in my opinion. And there's a fairly abundant diversity of flora present, as well, which will aid in our lesson."
word count: 666

Re: Perchance To Dream

The comment from Lino had been hardly troublesome, but as Annabel corrected the young man’s etiquette, Robert chose not to undermine her, instead offering a small nod at her remark, and then smiling at Narcisa’s reply. Robert suspected Narcisa was a bright young woman, and hoped she would grow in her learning as soon as he and Annabel quashed this back-and-forth between her and the decidedly less mature Lino.

Perhaps Lino’s guardians had erred in not providing him a little sister. Robert could vividly recall being that little boy, but his little sister had always been quick to put him in his place. That had been a valuable teacher, indeed. Robert could hardly have been so immature while shutting down Miri’s youngest suitors for the same behaviors.

Robert helped Annabel into the cart, a simple and almost reflexive gesture from the Englishman. It was not until he saw the way she massaged that same hand that he thought anything of it. Had he squeezed her hand too hard? Certainly not; he was always as courteous as possible around her. He did not linger long on the thought, though, as he effortlessly shifted to teacher mode, encouraging the children’s correct identification of the plant life they passed and occasionally correcting them when necessary.

His gaze found the horizon just as the cart slowed to a stop. He had gone about this incorrectly, he thought. The scene was peaceful and picturesque, and rather than looking after two difficult children, he could have spent the time with Annabel alone, taking in the sights hand in hand—

Robert snapped his head around a little too hard and caught sight of the boy jumping off the cart ahead of the girl, without offering her assistance. “Master Lino,” Robert said in his stern teacher voice as he got up to help Annabel with the baskets. He would have taken both by himself, but Annabel seemed determined to puzzle out one of them, and she grasped it just before Robert began to reach for it. He took the remaining basket with relative ease, although after testing the weight of the basket—his contained the textbooks and such—he did roll his sleeves up first. Robert had complained to himself about having gotten lazy, and there was truth to that, but the muscle definition that remained to his arms and elsewhere would indicate that he was still no slouch.

He also picked up the umbrella, which he carried at rest against his shoulder after hopping out of the cart with expert effortlessness. Arriving at Annabel’s side as she described the farm, he nodded in appreciation. “That does sound pleasant,” he agreed, “and I’m certain our charges for the day will appreciate the view.” Narcisa in particular had previously expressed a love of horses.

“Miss Narcisa, Master Lino, please continue to identify any flora and fauna you observe as we walk to the farm. Stay to the path,” he warned as Lino’s boundless energy threatened to take him into the grass, attempting somersaults in what was to Robert plainly obvious attempts at impressing a girl.

“Miss Blackwood, you have certainly chosen a beautiful location for our lessons today,” Robert said, a genuine compliment as well as an implicit correction of Lino, suggesting that proper behavior and composure would win the day, rather than aimless and exhausting displays of bravado.

As well as his own attempt at impressing a girl.
word count: 580

Re: Perchance To Dream

"I don't doubt they will.. and one in particular."

Annabel couldn't help but smile at that fact. There was probably never a little girl alive who didn't like horses at some point, and to some degree. Even she could remember a great fondness for a pony had in her childhood, one that had been given to someone less fortunate when she grew too old to ride the placid little mare anymore. She remembered Bluebell with a small chuckle, although the sound of mild mirth became a grunt of effort as she hefted the basket laden with food. Goodness, what had the cooks put in there, an entire seven course meal for fifty people? Refusing to grumble, she began moving up the path toward the hill's crown, trying to measure her breathing as best as she could while taking careful steps.

Although she tripped up a bit when the compliment came her way. That was.. unexpected. Now that she looked around, she realized it really was quite lovely here -- the tall grass waved in the wind, and the heads of wildflowers bobbed like they were adrift at sea in the greenery, tree branches swaying placidly.

"Hm.. yes, it is rather picturesque, isn't it? I'll have to thank Edward for the recommendation."

She felt a momentary thrill of alarm as Narcisa and Lino crested the hill, and the girl let out a shrill shriek, until she realized it was a sound of pleasure. Still, it put a bit of speed to Annabel's step as she hurried upward, coming to a stop behind their young wards with only mild huffing and puffing as she fought to breathe. It was then that she saw what had given Narcisa such delight -- the farm's compliment of five Arabian mares, their sleek coats gleaming beneath the sun, were all grazing just the other side of a fence at the bottom of the hill. Narcisa turned to Annabel, literally bouncing with glee, and beamed up at the woman with a pleading expression.

"Signorina Blackwood, can I go see the horses, please?"

Although she knew they weren't here for Narcisa to indulge a girlish fantasy, she couldn't say no to that face. She'd always had the hardest time denying children anything -- she liked them more than most people.. and present company was most decidedly excluded from that statement. Robert was second only to her brother in her list of preferred adult companionship, and even that was a very close draw. Finally, Annabel sighed and set the basket down.

"Yes, you may, although I think we might need to revisit your grammar lessons when you return. Go on, but don't tarry, and be sure to return as soon as we call for you."

Narcisa hurried off with obvious excitement, leaving a disgruntled Lino to decide what he should do. Annabel hid a grin, and looked around the area, before clearing her throat.

"You know, Master Lino, I believe I see some clover just over there, a delicacy of which horses are quite fond. Perhaps Miss Narcisa would enjoy your company in feeding it to the horses, if you were to gather some?"

She didn't wait to see how the boy responded -- either he would take the very obvious nudge, or he wouldn't. She was more interested in turning to face Robert.. not only because he was very nice to look at, but because she took a vested interest in liberating the thick blanket that covered the top of the basket he bore. After a quick glance at him, she pulled the blanket free, and shook it out to spread atop the hill, that they might sit in comfort. While she positioned it just so, she went to great efforts not to look at him, and there was an edge of nervousness to her voice that made it quite clear this fact, as well as her fussing with their seating place, were just methods by which to focus her anxiety.

"Sir Castle.. might I have a word with you, when convenience and privacy allows it?"
word count: 688

Re: Perchance To Dream

When Annabel started to exert herself a bit more with the heavy basket, Robert considered offering to take it from her, but he was also distracted by Narcisa’s exclamation. He followed Annabel in rushing up the hill, and was relieved to see the five Arabian mares, the obvious point of Narcisa’s focus.

Robert let Annabel handle that situation. She was more than capable of doing so, and she had the authority to make that call. However, he did glance at Lino, who was unenthused. “I’m sure Miss Narcisa would be very appreciative of the help, Master Lino,” Robert added, and the boy seemed to take both hints, at least at face value. He trudged off to gather some bunches of clover, and after that would deliver the clover to Narcisa and the horses.

Then Robert and Annabel were alone. Robert had to hide the amusement he took in watching Annabel fuss with the blanket. Instead he occupied himself with looking through the assortment of things in the basket. “I see you planned for every eventuality, Miss Blackwood,” Robert said, addressing her using her proper name in case Lino was still within earshot. However, the boy was not.

He glanced at her when she addressed him in a similar fashion, his eyebrows slightly raised. “Yes, of course you may have a word with me, Annabel, at any time, though it seems that this moment is both convenient and relatively private.”
word count: 242

Re: Perchance To Dream

Once satisfied with the placement of the blanket (well, more like realizing she couldn't occupy herself with it any longer), she dusted off her hands and stood from her crouched position. Turning to peer into the basket which held the other teaching supplies, she froze as she realized Robert was doing that very thing -- she'd very nearly put her hands in there with his own, and this fact made a strange feeling well within her chest. Swallowing past the lump in her throat, Annabel looked around with quick, darting motions of her eyes, as though searching for something to do.

It was hearing him speak her name that alerted her to the fact Lino was no longer close enough to hear them. Her gaze flicked up to confirm this fact herself, and her heart began to pound. The moment was here. She'd instigated this. She couldn't step back now. Could she? She'd always considered herself courageous, never afraid to step up and meet any challenge head-on. But this.. this was so very different. Completely outside the scope of not only her experience, but her comfort. She wasn't sure she could go through with it.

Half-turning away from the man at her side, she found her hands clasping anxiously at her middle, her tongue slipping out to wet lips that suddenly felt dry as paper. She found herself watching him out of the corner of her eye, unable to look at him directly, too anxious as she fought to collect her thoughts into something she could speak without stammering. It wasn't something she was sure she could accomplish, but she would damn sure try.

"Robert, I..."

She paused as her throat seemed to close up, and it took a few heartbeats of struggle for her to start again.

"I've never been the sort of woman to care much for what society deems.. proper. I despise being thrust into a role decided for me by others. That being said.. the last thing I would ever want to do is offend someone I respect or.. or admire, simply by being too.. headstrong, or forthright. As such, I hope that if what I have to say is.. at all upsetting to you, you'll find it within you to forgive me, as I value your friendship even more than I do your capability as an instructor, and I should hate to lose either.. but especially the former."

Dammit all, she was babbling. But she felt the need to explain, to preface her confession with these heartfelt words, lest they be received.. unfavorably. Which she had managed to convince herself, without much effort or difficulty, would be the case. After all, how could he possibly return the feelings she'd realized but a few nights ago? He was so.. him, and she was so.. unworthy. Swallowing thickly, Annabel finally shifted so that she could face him fully, and for the first time in the history of their acquaintance, her features were entirely open, every emotion readily visible: Fear, anxiety, hope, affection.

"I came to the realization a few nights ago that I've.. developed feelings for you that are of a.. more than platonic nature. To be specific, they are.. romantic. I.. that is to say, I.. I um.. I believe I've run out of things to say and I'm absolutely terrified."

That last tidbit escaped as panic suffused her and temporarily short-circuited her brain, resulting in an embarrassment that painted her cheeks a vivid crimson. She bit her lower lip as she pressed her hands against her middle, which was seemingly alive with a collective of rampant insects intent on escape. A very unsettling feeling, but nowhere near as awful as the fear that he would look at her with disgust and deny her newfound feelings.
word count: 645

Re: Perchance To Dream

There was a hint of gentle amusement in the way Robert looked at Annabel, but it was more a sense of curiosity, certainly not of mockery; and in time Annabel would come to find, if she had not found already, that Rowanbert tended to approach things with this particular sort of amusement. He enjoyed watching and learning about others; everyone had their quirks and oddities, and he had found that sometimes those traits spoke more volumes than any other.

He watched her descend into unkemptness. Because Annabel carried herself with such authority and self-assurance, and had only allowed brief moments of casualness around him, it was a strange thing to witness. Yet he thought it was probably as strange for her as it was for him, if not more so, because that self-assuredness was gone, replaced by a thread of nervousness and perhaps fear. And she spoke more at length in her introduction of the topic than he thought she might ever have.

But then she turned to look at him with that open, honest gaze, and, as observant as he ever had been, Robert read her full intention in her face before she uttered a single word. But he second-guessed his own judgment, because it was so unexpected.

Oh. Oh.

She was going to say it.

When they’d met to discuss Narcisa and Lino in the lead-up to this excursion, Robert had thought he had seen some signs of growing feelings, but then he had written them off when he thought she’d dismissed his own attempted overtures. So it was with perhaps less surprise than she might have expected that a soft smile spread on his lips and he reached for her hand. Less surprise, but an abundance of appreciation and affection.

But it was probably less than helpful that he kept his verbal response short.

“Annabel, I’ve begun to fall for you as well.”
word count: 323

Re: Perchance To Dream

His lack of response did absolutely nothing to soothe her anxiety. Annabel was fairly certain that at any moment, one of two things was going to happen: Either Robert was going to laugh at her, or her face was going to heat so much that her hair was lit ablaze simply by virtue of proximity. She felt a bitter-tasting knot rising in her throat, and the sudden thought that she was going to be ill did nothing to help her rising panic.

Somehow, it only got worse when he smiled and reached for her hand. This was it. He was going to gently tell her that he didn't feel the same and that he only saw her as a friend -- or even worse, just as his colleague. Suppressing the desire to turn and run away until she left behind her nausea and shame, Annabel forced her trembling hands to unwind from the tangle they'd twisted themselves into, and gingerly placed one delicate appendage in his.

Then she promptly got the wind knocked out of her by his entirely unanticipated statement. He.. he what now? Did he really just say that he cared for her, too? She blinked repeatedly as the words seeped slowly inward. He did. There was no stopping the smile that spread across her lips, one that was filled with a sort of bashful, disbelieving joy, mirrored in the mercurial sparkle of her eyes. The hand not in his rose, pressing against the curve of her flushed cheek.

"You.. but.. this is.. I don't.. we... Oh my."

Normally proud of her vocabulary and the subsequent eloquence that usually accompanied it, Annabel was mortified to realize that the emotions that came with this situation had rendered her veritably speechless. She felt a laugh bubbling up within her, and didn't try to silence it, instead breathing a quiet, delighted sound as she looked into Robert's eyes. Goodness. She'd never thought to see him look at her that way!

"I'm.. I don't know what to say. I never thought.. that is to say, romance was never something I considered for myself.. but you... Are you certain?"

The moment she asked the question, she recognized how stupid it was, and the mortified color in her face only deepened. She just still couldn't believe that he was interested in her. That he returned her feelings was.. beyond amazing. She was having a hard time processing it, let alone accepting it. Even if she did feel light as air from sheer happiness. That much she could understand. What her brain couldn't grasp, her heart had fully embraced. Funny that she'd always thought it the less intelligent organ.
word count: 455

Re: Perchance To Dream

If such a bright, genuine smile was rare to Robert’s sight of late, so much more so was the fact that he was the one who had brought that smile to her face. If they should choose to date, Robert resolved to try to bring that smile to Annabel’s face every day.

She stammered a bit, then wound up asking whether he was certain of his affections. Robert just chuckled. He found it charming, fortunately; he had at least spent enough time around her to understand that this was part of her nature. “Yes, Annabel, I am certain.”

As for how he felt… well, first of all, he was glad to have dodged the all-too-familiar sting of rejection. But he had not yet worked out the emotions he felt overall. There would be time enough for that, he decided. Happiness and peace were fleeting; should they not enjoy this moment while it lasted?

He let go of her hand only long enough to get up onto one knee before her. She hardly needed to get up, however. Then, her one hand between both of his, he met her gaze and asked, “Will you allow me to court you, Annabel?”
word count: 203
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