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I never really knew James that well before.  I had a vague awareness that his profession had something to do with woodworking.  I knew that only because often in the past he would bestow small furniture gifts upon Reuben like the little table that sat near the fireplace in our house.  At one point I do recall attempting to ask Reuben more about the man, but rarely did Reuben ever give away much.  Without telling me why, Reuben allowed James to stay with us for extended amount of time.  Luckily, it was summer months so James stayed out in the stables.  Walking through my garden one evening, I kept a vague eye on which plants I could harvest in the near future.  Leaning down, I extended my hand out to gently brush over the darkening leaf of a particular herb.  Which strain of plant it was I can no longer recall.  Standing back up, I made my way to the edge of the garden where I removed a stone to recover my hidden journal.  The pages had darkened from the dirt and the leather had grown rough and light in colour.  However, I loved the journal regardless. 

Making my way to the stables, I opened the door and slipped in.  Other than the soft sound of mice feet pattering through the wooden beams and the shifting of the stable’s roof as wind gust passed overhead, the stables were silent.  Securing my journal in the crook of my armpit, I gripped both sides of the wobbly ladder and began to ascend upwards towards the vacant loft area.  A small rotting bail of straw sat to one edge of the loft and piles of wood lined the wall opposite to the edge of the loft overhanging the stables.  I sat back on my knees with a brief smile and a long breath.  The pungent smell of manure and mildew filled my nose, but by now, I had associated that with the scent of independence.  The one place I knew I could be alone was the stables.  In my garden, Reuben could look out and see me at any point in time.  In the house, I often had to remain silent for Reuben worked within the same space we lived.  But in the stables, no one ever bothered me. 

Tending to the horses was a job Reuben detested and so he rarely came out to check on the two beautiful things save for when he was readying them for a trip.  Although at that time, James had insisted on tending to our horses for us as a means to pay a rent.  It felt a little insincere when he made the request and I was not sure why.  Looking back now, I often wonder if it was the demand had anything to do with the helpless babe growing in my womb.  I sat the journal down in front of me now and spread it open.  Flipping through the pages, I let my eyes scan over various drawings all faded to different degrees depending on how old they were.  Drawings of skulls, hips, ribs, skeletons all lined the pages of my book.  I had never been able to secure body with any organs or muscles on it to inspect so all my draws were simply of the bones.  I longed to be able to see what a beating heart looked like or see how the muscles stretched themselves across the bones.  How the movement affected the shapes of the muscles and how the bones connected and worked with one another. 

Suddenly, the sound of the stable doors shutting below me caught my attention away from my thoughts.  I quickly shut the book and shoved it away to slide towards the old pile of straw.  Crawling to the edge of the loft, I peered down to see James walking in.  His arms extended into the air causing the muscles of his exposed torso to contract and push against his glossy skin.  I raised a brow slightly and slowly tried to crawl backwards so that he could not see me.  But alas, I was too slow and he caught sight of me. 

Furrowing his brows, he let his arms fall to his sides, “Mrs. Wragg, what are you doing up there?”  He asked.

“I… uh… was just…”  I hesitated before my eyes caught sight of the wood along the far corner.  Quickly I weaved an excuse in my head, “I’ve been meaning to build a small stand for some vines to grow up.  I’ve been struggling to train the vines to grow up the side of the house so they keep dying.”  I then looked back down to him.  The excuse was not an entire lie to be honest, “I remembered there was some spare scraps of wood up here.”

“If you needed wood, you should have asked,” he laughed.  “Come on down, you shouldn’t be hauling wood in your state, Mrs. Wragg.”

I jutted my chin out defiantly, “I am not helpless.” 

Furrowing his brows, a faint smirk crossed his lips as he walked forward and leaned his chest against the small ladder I used to climb to the loft, “You’re not?  Then why is your dear husband so protective of you?”

A breath escaped my nose as if his words punched me in my stomach to wind me, “He… is just concerned.”

“Aye,” James nodded a few times as his head tilted sideways a bit, “Of course he is.  He knows you’re too pretty of a little flower to hold onto easily.”

“Flowers are rooted and don’t run off easily,” I retorted.

He began to climb up the stairs until he was perched on the loft next to me, “Alright, then you’re more like… and dandelion.  They blow away in the wind.”

“I am?”  I tilted my head, leaning closer to him as my eyes squinted a bit, “And what are you?”

“I’m…”  He paused for a moment as he looks up for a moment before lowering his eyes to meet my gaze, “I’m like the bumblebee who flies in one moment and changes you to blow with the breeze.”

I pulled back and stared at him.  But following his words, he leaned into me.  His lips grazed over my neck as his arms wrapped around me to pull him into him. 

“N-No stop,” I stammered.  I do not know what was wrong with me.  I wanted him to stop, but as he held me into his chest and allowed his hands to find the lacing of my dress, I felt frozen in place.  His lips followed over my skin and I could not escape.  It felt as if ties held me down to the loft floor and someone sew my mouth shut so I could not yell.  I felt paralysed.  And when he moved in me, I wanted to cry.

But then, James stopped the light from the stable door spread into the room and the voice of Reuben yelling filled the stables.  I felt my heart shattering in those moments.

(To be continued...)