“Just be someplace else, Kent. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.” Rose wiped the table off with a clean towel, instead of the usual wet rag. She already put on her nicest dress, the white one with tiny purple flowers. It belonged to her mother, once upon a time, and she kept it in a bag in a box in a drawer in a closet. Once she smoothed out the wrinkles and put it on, it looked good on her.
Kent huffed at her. “Where am I supposed to go? No matter where I pick, you know it’ll be nonstop questions all night. Everybody always wants to know what’s going on with you and Scott.”
Bustling into the kitchen, she checked on the meat and vegetable pies she made for dinner. Scott’s cookie sat on a plate covered by another clean towel, and she had a small cake, too. “Just go to the Equinox party.”
“But I want to know what’s going on, too,” Kent whined.
Rose fixed him with a glare. “Nothing, if you’re here.” She threw her hands up at the kicked puppy look he gave her. “Just this one night, Kent. I’m not going to ask you to move out, or throw you out. You’re part of the household, and if he can’t accept that, he should’ve said something weeks ago. I just want some alone time with him, and some privacy for it. That’s all. It may happen again at some point, but not soon, I promise.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“Sure I can. It’s my house.”
Kent heaved a melodramatic sigh and dragged his feet to the door. “I’m going to spill everything, all over the party,” he grumped. Before she could answer, he grabbed his jacket and slipped out the door, letting it slam shut behind him.
Rose gave the door a dirty look. It lasted a full three seconds before she dropped it to eye the vase sitting on the kitchen counter. For the tenth time, she changed her mind about where it should be and stuck it in a cabinet. After that, she set the table. She paused at the idea of pulling out candlesticks. If he changed his mind about asking, which he had every right to do, then candles would be silly.
The idea he might change his mind made her belly flutter. She left the candlesticks in the cabinet. The moment she shut the door, she opened it again and stared at them, willing them to tell her what would happen tonight. If he asked, would he want to run off to the tavern to make it official? That’s where Sheriff Ben would be, and since Brennan didn’t have a Disciple, he performed the Handfastings in town. Unless a Disciple or a member of the Order of Middyn happened to be visiting, which sometimes happened for Equinoxes and Solstices.
She pulled the candlesticks out, stuck candles in them, and set them on the kitchen counter. When he walked in, she’d pick them up and act like she’d been just doing that. Standing there, she drummed her fingers on the counter, waiting for him. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
So much time passed that she had to pull out the pies or risk them burning. Did he forget and go to the party? Was he expecting her to go to the party and meet him there? He said to take the cookie home for him, so she thought he wanted to meet her here. She covered the pies with a towel and paced across the kitchen, four steps across.
The door flew open, startling her. “Rose, come quick!” Kent stood there, panting. “It’s Scott.”
Rose paled and clutched at her chest. “Is he alright?”
“Missing?” She covered her mouth, then had a horrible thought. “Is this some kind of joke where you get me down to where he’s got a surprise? Because it’s not funny.”
“No, I swear.” Kent looked sincere and worried. “He’s really missing. Ben sent him to do one last check of the road before the party, and he hasn’t come back.”
Leaning against the counter, Rose forced herself to take a deep breath. “What do they need me for, then? I’m no good for search parties or anything.”
Kent blinked. His mouth open and shut. He stepped all the way inside and shut the door behind himself. “That’s a good point. I’m not sure. I guess staying here is just as good as going there.”
“If he’s playing at something, I’m going to…I’ll be upset.” Rose gripped the edge of the counter, wondering if the room suddenly got warm. “And disappointed. I have his cookie right here, and he’s supposed to come get it, and it’s not fair if he doesn’t. He’s the first man interested in me who isn’t an overbearing ass, and he swoops in here and tells me his name and makes me care about him. He just better come and get his cookie, that’s all I’m saying. I saved that cookie especially for him, not anyone else.”
Somewhere in there, fat tears started rolling down her cheeks. Kent hurried over and hugged her. “I’m sure he’s alright, Rose. He probably got slowed down helping an old lady get her wagon out of a ditch. Or Finley conned him into hauling some logs, or Verne got him to lift some heavy things.”
“And one of them fell on him and now he’s stuck because nobody knows about it, and he’s bleeding to death alone. In pig manure.” She let him comfort her even though she didn’t want to be comforted. He shouldn’t matter that much. She should be able to function without him.
“He’s not,” Kent told her with firm finality. “He’s fine.”
“There where is he?”
A long silence filled the kitchen. Kent finally said. “Maybe you should wait at the party after all. People will chatter and there’s all the stuff you baked, plus half the town cooked. It’ll take your mind off it?”
Grabbing one of her towels, Rose wiped her nose and her face. “You swear this isn’t a setup or a joke? I’ll hit you with my mixing bowl if it turns out to be.”
“I swear. If it is a setup or a joke, they’re playing it on me, too. Which is meaner than mean.” Kent put his arm around her waist to walk with her out the door.
Walking past the dinner table, Rose balked. She rubbed her eyes and shook her head. “No, I can’t go deal with everyone. It’s too much. They’ll all be sympathetic and prying at the same time. I’ll stay here and wait.”
Kent nodded and left again without arguing.