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The morning turned sour in a matter of hours. Rose was unavailable, his father was already passed out from his early morning drinking binge, and he was stuck playing nice to the mayor’s person.

“Amelia, how are you related to the brooding gargoyle?”

“Jean Fischer, have you been daydreaming?” She giggled as she took his arm. “I am the niece of his brother’s wife. There is no way I could possibly share the same blood as your gargoyle.”

“Of course not.” Jean smiled down at her. She wasn’t Rose or nearly as interesting or fun to watch. What is she doing? His thoughts wandered back to Rose despite the idle chatter at his side till he noticed the silence. It was welcomed but off-putting.

“You really don’t know how to smile.”

“Excuse me?” An easy smile spread before he could stop it. “I have been told that I look my best when I smile. I couldn’t keep that from the world.”

She giggled again but it soon turned into a fit of laughter. Jean slowed them down till he could duck into an alleyway. The town girls weren’t as candid nor did they call him out on things like smiling.

“Oh my. Is this why the girls shy away from you? They must be concerned about their virtues in such a small town.” Her gaze lifted from his chest, a smile forming. “I think they’re missing out.”

Stepping back, his hand fell away. He took shelter in the shadows of the buildings to hide his face. “Why did you ask for me? This town isn’t complicated and I doubt you need the kind of escort the gargoyle wanted.”

“Oh come on, Jean. I’m not going to tell him you accosted me.”

“Why am I here?” He had plans he had to rework for her and her absurd request. It was the first and possible last time he and the mayor ever agreed on anything, and he already regretted not taking the jail option for saying no when they asked him.

“You know,” she started towards him, her hand finding his arm, “my visit it a short one and we could enjoy our time together before they ship me off again to another relative.”

“I think I’ll keep my life, thank you.”

“Wow…”

“What? Is a man’s life not important enough for you?”

“No, no. That’s plenty boring and self-preservation is expected. I’m just…shocked.”

“I get that from time to time.” Jean removed her hand and walked around her to lean on the other wall. “But you haven’t answered my-”

“You seriously can’t do it, can you?”

“Do what?”

“You’re incapable of actual emotions.”

Her laugh grated his nerve but he smiled. It was forced, it was irritated, but he smiled. “I have plenty. The problem is, I don’t want to be here.”

“No. That’s not it. You haven’t even laughed at my stories. I know they’re good yet nothing. Tell me, why can’t you laugh? I could help if it’s that kind of problem.”

Jean glanced out at the people that passed their little hideaway. They were the lucky ones, free to go about their day without babysitting duties.

“Jean.”

“Amelia.”

“You really are dryer than I expected. The rumors do you more justice than the actual thing.”

Shrugging, Jean stepped out of the shadows. “Find a new escort. I suddenly feel very ill and I would hate to get such a respected woman ill as well.” She gaped at him as he left her in the alleyway with no more than a chuckle and a, ‘good luck.”

Jean shook his head. Incapable of emotions. It was more ridiculous than him playing escort for the day. But he did wonder – what did make him laugh? Nothing came to mind. I’ll ask Rose. She’ll know.

It took some searching, but he found her at his house of all places. He wanted to ask what she was doing but the flour on her face and in her hair was too much.

“Jean!”

Still laughing, he made his way over to her and picked up a lock of her now white hair. “Do you plan on baking yourself?” She took her hair in her own fingers and he chuckled. “I think it looks good. I can pour the rest on you if you like.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose.” Seeing his smug smile, she went on. “I sneezed.”

Despite the sigh and pout, Jean burst into another laughing fit. The morning was a wreck. The afternoon, however, looked easier.

 

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