AUTHOR'S NOTE: This excerpt from Tin Soldier has been edited for clarity and to help it work as a piece of standalone flash fiction. It is posted here for Sunday Scribblings.
“I'm grateful for all his help,” Carina confessed as she collapsed into a chair in the sitting room of the hotel suite. “But Alvi tires me sometimes.”
Donovan watched her cautiously. Alvi the peddler had been a friend of Carina's family for many years. Now that she was a widow, he hoped to be something more. Donovan wondered if she had noticed.
“Thank you coming to town with me and putting up with all this. I’ve been a lot of trouble.”
“You’ve been no trouble at all.” Donovan wandered over to the stack of packages from the day's shopping and pulled out a bottle of scotch.
Carina sat up. “Can I have some? Just a little to help me sleep.”
Donovan poured a generous amount for her and then some for himself. Now that the military funeral was over and supplies purchased for the valley farm Carina shared with her sister, Donovan felt weary to the bone. Maybe it wouldn’t take long to get their packages staged by the door. He could hire someone to pack the wagon in the morning and help with the coffin that was the main purpose of their errand.
“You shouldn’t lie to me,” Carina said, startling him out of his reverie.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been nothing but trouble.”
“It’s not your fault. You're still grieving.”
She frowned over her drink. “That's no reason for you to lie. Alvi lies. I’m not sure why, but he does. It depresses me to only get more lies from you.”
“What does Alvi lie to you about?”
“You tell me.”
Their eyes met. “He has to lie," Donovan finally said. "He’s a government informer. The peddling is just a cover.”
Carina nodded, as if he were confirming what she had already suspected. “I should’ve realized long ago.”
“I don’t think there’s any malice in it. He gives a lot of disinformation. He’s even helped people escape to the Underground.”
“So he plays both ends against the middle.”
“Whatever his faults, his feelings for you are sincere. He'd do anything for you.”
“Except take no for an answer.”
Donovan frowned. Carina had only learned the news of her husband's death a few weeks ago. Had Alvi proposed so quickly? What did it mean for Donovan's own prospects with her if he had?
Carina tossed back the rest of her scotch and stood up. “I’m going to pack my things and get ready for bed. Thanks for the drink.”
After she left, Donovan staged his purchases near the door, then poured himself another drink and went into the bedroom. He found Carina in her nightgown, standing in front of her empty luggage. Clothes and other items were spread across the bed in disarray and there was an expression of confusion on her face. “Do you need any help?” he asked.
“No, it’s just. . .” She shook her head and smiled at her own folly. “How hard can this be, right?” She began picking things up and stuffing them in a bag. “It's been so hard to get started on anything since I found out...you know. Anything I try to do, I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong, and I won’t have another chance. Every decision feels irrevocable.”
“I don’t think how you pack is going to make much of a difference,” Donovan said. “But if you don’t leave out something to wear tomorrow, you’re going to find yourself irrevocably having to unpack again.”
Carina sat on the bed and ran her fingers through her hair. “I think I’ve lost my mind.”
“Lost your illusions, more like.”
“I guess I had a lot of them to lose.” She searched his face earnestly. “Isn’t anything as it seems?”
“I’ve never thought so.”
“I liked my illusions.”
Donovan fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a blue velvet box and handed it to her.
The necklace seemed to glow with an inner light in its nest of white satin. Carina’s breath caught and she looked up at Donovan in confusion. “This must’ve cost a fortune.”
“You didn’t steal it, did you?”
“But you probably stole to pay for it.” She hesitated, as if she would give it back. “I can’t wear blue any more - it was my husband's color.”
Donovan took the necklace and held it up so she could see the full effect of the light shining through the gems, then he clasped it around her neck. “Of course you can wear it. It’s the color of your illusions.”
She reached a hand to her collarbone and touched the cool stones. Without meaning to, she smiled. When she looked at Donovan again, a little of the old warmth and humor lit her eyes. “I guess there’s no harm in wearing a reminder of how deluded I can be.”
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