The Cornish town bustled with people. Sara quietly walked amongst them. Her dedication to her parents had been admirable, her neighbours whispered, but it had come at a cost. At the age of 35, Sara was now considered too old, with limited childbearing years left to her, for serious marriage consideration. At some indefinable moment Sara had moved from the status of “eligible young lady”, to one labelled “spinster of the parish”. Inwardly she felt the same. Outwardly she had become … inconsequential … irrelevant … invisible.
Sara crossed the road and looked up. Her smile froze and, for a moment, she could not draw breath. It had been ten years since she had last seen Alex, yet he had hardly changed at all. Perhaps his frown was a little more furrowed and his expression more sombre than she recalled, but his easy stance and dark brown eyes that once turned to liquid ebony when he looked at her, remained as familiar to her now as they had all those years ago. She had once touched those soft curls brushing his collar and kissed those lips. Feelings and sensations that she had long thought dead resurfaced, as fresh and strong as those heady days she had spent in his company. She tried to remain calm. That was long ago, she told herself, and she was so much older now.
She glanced down at her mourning dress. She was dressed too plainly to see him today and he would want to know why she had sent that letter. She must leave, she decided, before he saw her, but Sara was too late. Alex sensed her presence and lifted his gaze to settle upon her face. Despite the distance between them, it felt as if he had reached out and cupped her face so she could not look away. Sara panicked, turned away and hesitated briefly, despising herself for the coward she had become, before taking a deep breath and stepping into the path of a horse and coach.
Sara heard shouting as she fell to the ground. The cold surface of the road felt rough against her cheek as strangers gathered about her.
‘A glancing blow and no more.’
‘She’s opening her eyes … give her room.’
Concerned faces of strangers circled the skyline above her.
‘Let me through. I know this woman,’ demanded a familiar voice.
The sky grew brighter as the faces fell away and Sara was forced to close her eyes against the blinding sun. The chill touch of a shadow fell over her as a man’s arm slid beneath her thighs and around her waist. She felt herself being lifted into the air, but did not protest. The arms were strong, unyielding and she knew they would not let her fall. Instead she reached around his neck and rested her head upon his shoulder. She opened her eyes and saw the familiar dark hair brushing at the man’s collar as he carried her away.
‘I’m sorry for causing so much trouble,’ Sara murmured.
‘You have troubled me for ten years, Miss Healey,’ replied Alex, ‘A few minutes more will make no difference. Are you hurt?’ Sara shook her head. ‘Never-the-less, I want you to be seen by a doctor. I know of one who lives on this street. I will take you to him.’ He carried her away from the gathering crowd.
‘Ten years?’ asked Sara as she watched the coach driver being consoled by another man. She felt Alex’s chest rise as he drew breath, but he did not answer. ‘You said, “Ten years”’, she persisted, looking up at him.
‘You refused to see me or reply to my letter, Miss Healey. I did not trouble you again, but, yes, your change of heart has troubled me many times since our last meeting.’
‘My father refused his permission. I could not marry you.’
‘And being a dutiful daughter, you obeyed him. But your father was a tyrant. I would not have let him stop us.’
‘He threatened to ruin you, Alex.’
‘I did not care.’
‘But I did.’ A muscle worked in his jaw as he held her a little more tightly. ‘So you lied in your letter.’
‘I had to end it. I knew you would not walk away unless I did.’
Alex did not speak at first, but his steps slowed. Eventually he stopped.
‘You wanted me to marry another. I am sorry to disappoint you, Miss Healey. I did not.’ He looked down at her for the first time. ‘I heard of your father’s passing. It was no coincidence that you saw me standing by the cemetery gates. It is your mother’s birthday. You always visit your mother’s grave on her birthday.’
She felt his heart beating against her fingers. They matched her own. A little too fast, a little too loud, a little too wild.
‘I have no need of a doctor,’ confessed Sara.
‘Good, because I do not know where one lives.’
‘But you said …’
‘You are not the only one that can lie. I wanted to speak to you … alone. I wanted to be with you … alone.’
Invisible Sara, spinster of the parish, no longer felt inconsequential, irrelevant or invisible. Today, she felt wanted by the only man that mattered.
‘I am not a dutiful daughter anymore,’ she whispered into his ear. ‘Take me to your lodgings, Alex.’ He turned his head to look at her, his dark brown eyes turning to liquid ebony just as they used to do. For the first time he said her name. Sara. It sounded good on his lips and she smiled. In the morning, she would tell him the whole truth … that the coach had not hit her at all. It would be the last lie between them, committed in the hope it would bring Alex to her side. And Alex had come, just as she hoped he would.