It’s a new year and since it’s Wednesday, that means we need a new dosage of Wicked Wednesday!
The one I picked today wasn’t overly wicked, more humorous in the way that children can oftentimes embarrass the daylights out of us. Mine included.
To set the scene: Juliet, the young lady who Patrick has wed to give his daughters a mother and governess all rolled into one (hence his coined term, “motherness”) is teaching the girls to paint when Patrick happens upon them and asks them each show him their pictures.
He turned his head to look at his middle daughter. “Yes?”
“What color clothes do you want?”
“Pardon?” he asked, his jaw tightening. The last time she’d asked that question, he woke up the next morning to find all of his cravats covered with colored ink.
Helena gestured to her canvas. “Your clothes, what color do you want them?”
“That’s me?” he asked, immediately coughing to cover the hitch in his voice. He looked back at the painting and cocked his head to the right. Then to the left. Then squinted. How was that supposed to represent him? When Juliet first showed it to him, he thought it looked like a very well-fed, but horribly disproportioned starfish. Now that he’d studied it a bit better, he’d amended his opinion. It didn’t look so much like a starfish, but perhaps more like an angry bear. Yes, a hairy, angry bear standing on his hind legs with his arms up in the air. “Helena, why did you paint Papa with such an unhappy look on his face?”
“I didn’t,” she said, blinking her innocent eyes at him. “That’s how you always look.”
A peal of infectious laughter rent the air, and a tight coil formed in Patrick’s stomach. He glanced at Juliet. She wasn’t even looking at him. Her eyes were fixed on her canvas instead. He reached forward to pluck it from the portable easel she was using. “Papa,” Kate said, shoving her indecipherable painting in front of him. “What do you think of my painting of Juliet?”
Patrick dropped his hand from the edge of Juliet’s canvas, and his eyes bored into the image in the middle of Kate’s. That was not a picture of Juliet. It couldn’t be. The hairy, angry, ravenous bear was a closer resemblance to him than Kate’s…uh…he couldn’t even describe what it looked like, was to looking anything like Juliet. It was just a few uneven lines and several blobs as far as he could tell. “It’s lovely,” he murmured, turning his head away before she could ask anything else.
Kate tapped him vigorously on the shoulder with the bottom edge of the canvas. “Do you think I captured her figger right?”
“Her what?” he spewed, snapping his head around to look at her.
Shrugging, Kate said, “Her figger.”
Patrick blinked at his little girl, speechless.
“Kate, I believe the word you mean to use is figure,” Juliet said, her voice terribly uneven.
Patrick swallowed and chanced a glance up at Juliet. Though her eyes didn’t have the light in them he’d seen earlier, there was no denying she was on the verge of laughter. “Poppet,” he said thickly, turning his attention back to Kate. “Your picture is quite splendid.”
“Thank you, Papa,” Kate said, beaming.
He patted the top of her head. “You’re welcome, poppet.” He turned his attention back to the mirthful Juliet. “Can I see y―”
“Papa, do you think I made her fluffies right?”
“Pardon?” Patrick choked, gasping for air. Her fluffies?
“Papa, your eyes are bigger than the wolf’s in the story Juliet told us,” Kate commented, her voice full of wonder and her eyes just as big as he imagined his looked.
Patrick beat his chest with his fist. “Sorry,” he muttered when he felt composed enough to talk. “I was merely shocked.”
“Shocked?” Juliet queried, the light pink tint on her cheeks the only telling sign of her discomfort with the conversation.
He nodded. “Yes. I had no idea my little girl knew what fluffies were.”
Juliet opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by more misguided innocence from Kate. “They’re the fluffy things Juliet keeps hidden in her dress here and here,” she said proudly, tapping her chest to indicate just where these fluffy objects were located.
Patrick blinked. “That’s quite enough, Katie love. Why don’t you go paint some flowers or something. I need to have a word alone with Juliet.”
“Excuse me for a moment, girls,” Juliet murmured, wiping her fingers on a damp handkerchief. “Finish your paintings so when I’m done we can have tea.”
“Would you care to explain what you’ve been teaching my girls?” Patrick asked as soon as they were out of earshot of the girls.
Juliet blinked at him. “We’re painting. I’m sorry if the portraits they have painted were not what you would have liked for them to paint. I wanted them to become familiar with using paints before asking them to focus on painting―”
“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it,” he broke in. “Why is Kate openly talking about breasts?”
Though Juliet’s face turned crimson, she inclined her chin. “She’s not. She’s talking about fluffies.”
He penetrated her with his stare. “And what do you think fluffies are?”
“There’s no need to be condescending, Lord Presumptuous.” She twisted her lips and looked out over the gardens before turning her attention back to him. “She’s only five. She’s just being a little girl.”
“I wasn’t aware little girls had interest in breasts,” he retorted. He knew for certain boys did. He remembered that part of his boyhood very well. But girls? No. They probably didn’t even notice their existence until they started developing. A knot formed in his stomach. Just when did they start developing? Kate was too young, but what about Celia? His blood froze in his veins. Not Celia. She was too young still. She couldn’t be maturing that way yet. Could she?
“You’re not even listening to me,” came Juliet’s voice, penetrating his thoughts.
“I’m sorry,” he said, swallowing. “What was it you said?”
She frowned. “It’s normal that she’s curious.”
Patrick stared at her. What was she talking about? “Pardon?”
Juliet sighed. “I don’t understand why you’re having such a hard time understanding this. She’s a little girl.”
“I understand that.”
“Then what seems to be your problem?” Juliet burst out, throwing her hands into the air. “Is the problem that she momentarily forgot her manners and mentioned a topic considered improper in mixed company? Or is it the fact she knows anything about them in the first place?”
“The second one. I think Kate’s too young to know of such things.”
Juliet removed her spectacles and rubbed the bridge of her nose, her brows knitting together. “She’s not too young at all. But if it’ll make you feel better, next time she asks such a question I’ll direct her to come speak to you.”
He ground his teeth. “No, you’re their―” He broke off. His mouth couldn’t form the word mother. She wasn’t their mother. Abigail was their mother. He swallowed hard. “Juliet, part of your role here is to help guide the girls into womanhood, I’ll not get in the way of that. I just feel Kate is too young for those discussions. Please wait until she’s a little older and better able to understand. That’s all I’m asking.”
“You’re impossible,” she muttered, taking a step away from him.
He reached for her, then pulled her up against him. “No, I’m not. It’s not too much to ask that my girls get to stay innocent a little while longer, is it?”
“No, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But I will not lie to them, either,” she said sternly.
He loosened his hold on her. “I’m not asking you to.”
“Yes, you are.” She took a step back. “Not in so many words, but that’s exactly what you’re asking me to do.”
“In your plea that they get to remain innocent, you’re indirectly asking me to evade their questions and omit facts.”
“Then answer Celia’s questions, I never asked you not to do that.”
“Celia?” Juliet echoed.
He nodded, unable to meet her eyes. “If she has questions about how her body is changing, please answer them for her. Heaven knows I wouldn’t know what to say to her, but I’m asking you to answer her questions privately. Kate’s too young to know about fluffies.”
“Celia wasn’t the one asking questions,” Juliet said, her tone softer than he’d ever heard it before. “She’s too young to be developing, but when she does, she’ll have all the knowledge she needs.”
“Then who the blazes was asking questions?” he demanded hotly.
“Why?” he burst out, unable to hide his irritation at the whole situation. “There is absolutely no reason a young girl of five should have taken notice of such a thing, nor found it interesting enough to inquire about. Would you care to explain what you’ve done to stir this curiosity?”
Her grey eyes which were filled with a softness he’d never seen before transformed into cold steel in a second. “Loved her, you jackanapes! Something she’s never experienced at the hands of that nursemaid-turned-governess you hired for them. How you can stand there and accuse me of doing something improper, I’ll never understand.” She swallowed, her face reddening a fraction. “All I’ve done is held her and hugged her and rocked her. I may not be as buxom as other women, but there’s enough there that it caught her attention. When she asked why there was a difference between my chest and yours, I told her. I can see now I might have misunderstood her question. I thought she was inquiring about the physical differences, but now I realize she might have been asking why my chest contains a beating heart and yours doesn’t.”
Patrick stood paralyzed in her wake. His mouth unable to speak. His body unable to move. His brain unable to think. The only thing that seemed to function was the part of his body that Juliet didn’t think existed: his heart, which, though it was beating normally, ached in a way it never had before.