Tab wants Josefa to be his forever, but for Josefa, the four years between them and her disastrous track record with men loom large. Tab sets out to prove he’s the man for her by involving her in a road trip with a rescue mission in mind. The brief—to contact Sam Silver’s great-aunt Sofa and give her a message from Sam. The message includes a lament and Tab’s afraid it’s about to become his theme song.
Dusty Springfield, 1971
Tabor Merriweather lay in the grass of the alpen-meadow. Cornflowers and poppies, speedwell, and blue flax bloomed about him in the darkness, and his apple trees tossed him the scent of ripened fruit. It was a perfect night over there, but he was interested only in the woman in his arms. She’d gone to sleep, curled against him, with her head on his shoulder and her long, lovely legs still tangled in his.
He’d have an ear-print on his shoulder when she woke. He was tempted to make it permanent by getting it tattooed. Did men tattoo their ladies’ ear-prints on their shoulders? Would it be seen as a loving tribute or the desperation he feared it was?
Josefa’s hair, once the colour of buttercups, but now back to its glossy natural hue, spilled over his chest. He couldn’t see it in the dark, but it smelled of lemons.
He wanted to spend the rest of his life like this. Well, not like this exactly, because there were other things to do, but he wanted to lie down every night with her, and wake every morning knowing she was there.
He needed a pee, but that would have to wait. He wouldn’t wake Josefa. As he lay there, feeling the dew settle on his bare side, the notes of an old song ran through his mind. His fingers itched for a sylvan flute to do justice to the melody. Music was breath to Tab. He loved it with a passion beyond anything in his life, save for his love for Josefa.
That was frightening. Music had been his from birth, but this woman was his new delight, and she had a will of her own.
He caught his breath. He could conjure a flute, but that might wake Josefa. Instead, he expelled the breath in a controlled note and began to whistle softly.
“Morning Please Don’t Come,” murmured Josefa, and started singing dreamily against his chest.
When they’d finished, she stretched, lithe as a cat, then rolled her face to kiss him playfully on the nipple.
“What do you call that kind of song?” he asked, trying to sound normal.
“An aubade. A kind of lament for parting in the morning. Why?”
Josefa often knew things Tab didn’t. It was part of being four years older and taking an overactive interest in quiz shows. She had a retentive memory. He could play her a song two or three times, and she’d sing it back to him, holding the melody steady while he wove a dance of notes, or singing a descant while he held the line.
“What time is it, Tab?”
“The middle of the night.” He hoped.
Josefa lifted her head, leaving a cold patch on his shoulder. “It’s later than that. The sun’s about to come up. Oh, shit-shit-shit!”
“I need to pee, and I don’t want to get up, but I’ve got to.”
They untangled themselves, and she got up. He hated the separation, even though he needed to go as well. When he’d finished, he lay down again, but the grassy nest had chilled. He held his breath, afraid she’d suggest going back through the gate for a shower and breakfast before work.
He’d love to shower and have breakfast with her but he was just about half-past eighteen, and he lived with his parents and three younger brothers. No one would say anything or even look disapproving if he took her to the family apartment, but at some point, his dad or his mum would corner him and want to talk. They were fond of Josefa. But did he know what he was doing? Had he considered this might be a bit unfair to his brothers who had school night curfews? Would he please, please be careful? She was older than him, she was human, and she had a disastrous track record with men.
You’re eighteen, Tab and she’s twenty-two.
So? Dad’s six years older than Mum.
Would that work as a counter-argument? Could anyone, in these days of determined equality, dare to say that’s different?
It didn’t help that Josefa would agree with them on every point. That’s why she refused to be his girlfriend.
“What do you call this then?” Angry and hurt, he indicated their naked bodies.
She didn’t snap back. “You know what I call it. You’re my favourite green tomato in the world. I’m your Josefa.”
She returned, looming through the predawn light he could no longer deny, and she stood looking down at him.
He made the slightest motion with his arm.
She sighed and knelt beside him. “Tab…it’s a bit chilly.”
“So, I’ll warm you up.” He sounded as upbeat as he could. He refused to be needy and clinging. He had to prove he was a man, her man, someone who could love a woman in a mature fashion, allowing her space while making their time together so filled with love that she’d want to stay forever.
“I know, but—”
His teeth came down hard on his lip, hoping the pain would distract him so he wouldn’t beg.
To beg would just prove the point everyone was so busily not making. You’re a prodigy and a halfling and something incredibly powerful in the fay line, but—you’re not much more than a kid.
“Could you manage a rug or something?”
He released his lip in a gush of thankfulness. “Lie down and find out.”
She folded down beside him, and he conjured a linen cover and then a fine wool spread from his press at home. He’d got the spread from Jenny McTavish of the Braw House and had Skye Bakewell embroider it with his name and Josefa’s. Skye hadn’t asked any questions and Josefa had never seen it because she didn’t come to his room.
Most full fay couldn’t conjure through the gate. The fact that he, a halfling, could, probably meant something or other.