He hadn’t seen her since summer, but there she was at the end of the bar. She had just ordered a glass of wine and, listening to her converse with the barmaid, Lapis had been impressed that she knew her reds. She had ordered the same one he was fond of. Lapis got the bartender’s attention and ordered the rest of the bottle, then asked the bartender to ask the woman if she would join him at a table. Hopefully his credit was still good. It must have been, because she approached his table with her glass in hand, the barmaid and bottle in tow.
“Miss Byrne. A pleasure to see you again.” Brother Lapis held the chair out for her.
“Why thank you Brother. You don’t mind if I call you Brother, do you?”
They made small talk. Phaedra asked about the project that he had been working on with Father Moonwall during their last meeting, and how he was getting on with it now that the students were back. He returned pleasantries, though he had little he could think to ask her without arousing her suspicions. He was quite aware that she had no love for the Church.
“So tell me Brother. Why did you never come around to see me again?”
Lapis paused to consider the branches the conversation could go from here. Older women knew what they wanted, and Phaedra hardly seemed the sort to be coy. Directness was the best approach.
“Your invitations stopped coming, so I assumed you found me a bore and had moved on to someone who could provide you with more interesting dinner conversations.”
Phaedra sniffed, not believing the answer he gave. “That hardly fits with your reputation.”
“I have a reputation?”
“Let’s say you have a reputation, in certain circles, for being very persistent when working toward a goal. Are you a father now?”
Lapis was silent a long while while as he searched for the right words and trying to analyse the implications of that statement. He found himself becoming distracted as he began setting up a probability model in his mind. Phaedra, sensing his mind wandering, prepared to leave.
“You must excuse me, Brother. I should not have any more wine tonight. It is a long walk back to Wheatstone. ”
Lapis stood as she did. “Allow me to walk you home.” He caught a reproachful look darkening her face. “Only to your doorstep. I promise.”
She smiled and adjusted her hat and went to the exit. Once there, she waited, gazing at nothing in particular. Brother Lapis took her hint and opened the door for her, then followed her out into the night.
When they reached the doorstep of her house on the canals. He held his hand out to her, only a little surprised when she took it in hers.
“Do come and see me again, when you have the time. You know where I live.” She rewarded him with a smile that was less haughty than the ones she had been favoring him with.
“I will await your invitation,” he said.
She frowned at that, “Should the invitation be too long in coming, you’re welcome to send a note and remind me.”
Lapis smiled wryly. “I hate writing letters.”
They stared at each other, trapped in impasse.
Phaedra laughed suddenly, almost giggling, “This is idiotic. Follow the rules, boy.”
“Rules?” He still held her hand in his and he turned it over, pushing the cuff of her long, buttoned sleeve away from her wrist and, bending, brushed his lips over her pulse, “What rules?”
When he straightened she looked just the right amount of stunned. He bowed, bade her good night, and tried very hard not to swagger down the street.