Rebecca watched the stars fade away one by one as the night sky gradually shifted to the colourless hue that preceded a springtime sunrise. It was far too early for a proper lady such as herself to be awake, but this morning was special. This morning, Peter might return. She had told herself that every morning since his departure five days ago, and every morning she would get up before the sun and wait to see his familiar battered top hat bob into view around the bend. There was nothing to suggest that this would be any different, that Peter would actually show up this time. But still she clung to the fragment of a notion she had awoken with. This day would be a special one.
Moving as quietly as she could manage, she crept into the kitchen and began pumping water into her favourite tea kettle. Peter would no doubt be parched from his travels, she reasoned, and who better to offer him a refreshing cup of tea than herself? He acted cold toward her, but she knew he was just trying to be polite and not impose himself upon her. If she could just maneuver him into her home, she knew he would lower his guard at last. Despite her attempts to keep quiet, she giggled lightly at the thought. Quickly, she silenced herself and glanced at the far wall. From beyond, the sound of creaking bed springs could be faintly heard. Rebecca sighed in relief once the sound stopped. For a moment, she had worried she had awoken Hattie, one of her maids.
Once the tea kettle had been placed on the stove and the necessary cups and saucers been arranged on the small kitchen table, Rebecca hurried back to her post at the front window. The wide seat was heavily cushioned and she was tempted to curl up and rest her eyes for just a few moments. But she knew that as soon as her head touched one of the pillows, she would be fast asleep and Peter could walk right by without her ever knowing.
The sound of a train’s whistle drifted to her across the distance through the predawn silence. Rebecca’s heart leaped at the sound and she pressed herself against the glass. If Peter was to arrive, that was the signal he would be doing so soon. Frowning, she looked down at herself and realized that she was hardly decent to meet someone such as Peter. She was still wearing nothing but a pale nightgown. She hadn’t even bothered to brush out her hair. What would he think of her if she met with him like this? Mentally chiding her foolishness, she tiptoed back up the stairs to her bedroom and began to struggle into a more presentable dress. She wouldn’t have time to fight with her corset, she reasoned as she slipped a voluminous lavender dress directly over her petticoat. As she pulled shoes on, she cast periodic glances out the front-facing window, worried Peter would be there and gone before she was even ready.
Finally, she managed to get her shoes buckled and in place. It was almost as if her very clothing had been fighting her, she thought with a small laugh. But now all there was left to do was put up her hair and she would be ready for the day, Peter or no.
Rebecca froze partway through reaching for her hairbrush. The shape of a man emerged from around the bend, his shoulders hunched and his walk urgent. Rebecca would have recognized him anywhere, even with the poor light. Her stomach fluttering in excitement, she rushed back down the stairs, the hairbrush forgotten entirely.
“Peter!” she shouted, throwing the front door open and running down the cobblestone path that led to the road. In her haste, she nearly tripped over the folds of her dress and went tumbling, but somehow she managed to stay upright. “Trying to sneak past me again, Peter?” she asked breathlessly as she came to a stop a few paces away from the Clocksmith. She wanted to laugh at the sheer joy of seeing his familiar face again, but couldn’t quite manage to get enough air to do so. It had been quite a while since she had run like that, she realized.
“Yes, and I almost succeeded.” Peter frowned at her and adjusted his top hat. Rebecca noticed it was looking even more worn out than she remembered. “I have been out of town for some time, as you have no doubt noticed, and would very much like to catch up on my sleep. Good day.”
He began to walk past Rebecca, but she matched his pace and started to speak again. All the words she wanted to say seemed to jumble themselves in her throat. The only thing she could get out was, “Not until you tell me why you left in such a hurry.”
“Rebecca-” Peter started to say.
“Come on, you can tell me,” she blurted. “I won’t tell anyone else if it’s a secret.” Then, with a sudden twist of excitement in her chest, asked, “Is it a secret?”
“Yes, it is a secret. One I do not intend to tell you or anyone else.”
“Please I promise I won’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”
Peter sighed. To Rebecca, it sounded like one of both tiredness and exasperation, but she knew him. She knew it was just an act. “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this, are you?”
Rebecca shook her head vigorously. She had been only mildly curious about the secret at first, but now she knew she would never sleep again unless she found out what was going on.
Peter sighed a second time. “I needed to find something my father made. His notes said it was important, though never explained why.”
“Sounds like a mystery. Can I see it?”
“No,” Peter said sharply. “I don’t want anyone looking at it until I have learned more.”
Rebecca shrugged in resignation. This battle was clearly over and she was the loser. But perhaps she could still win the war, to bother a saying from her father. “I’m heating water for tea. Would you care to have some with me?”
“I’ll get my own tea, thank you.”
Rebecca gazed sadly at Peter. He was so alone. Why would he not accept her help? “Are you still sore about having to sell your house to me?” she asked.
“Not in the slightest. I am very tired, as I’m sure have already told you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.” The Clocksmith stomped past Rebecca without so much as a second glance.
Rebecca watched him go. He was clearly hurt, but from what? Had it been her? Dejectedly, she made her way back to the house. The excitement had disappeared, leaving her to pour tea for only herself and wonder just what it was she had said that had caused her neighbor to become so upset. Quietly, she resolved to apologize for it – whatever ‘it’ was – as soon as she possibly could. Then Peter would forgive her, and perhaps he would even agree to come inside for once. A small smile spread across Rebecca’s face. Just thinking about it helped her feel better about the rejection.