“He's around the twist,' said Azalea. 'Breaking all the windows? He's mad.' 'Ah, no,' said the King. 'It's only madness if you actually do it. If you want to break all the windows in the house and drown yourself in a bucket but don't actually do it, well, that's love.”
They pulled away. In the ballroom windows, noses and hands pressed against the glass, were the girls. They stood among the prickly rosebushes, beaming wicked little grins. Delphinium and Eve whispered and giggled to each other; Bramble wore a magnificent grin on her face and a spark of light in her yellow-green eyes.
Another figure stood among them. This one had his arms folded across his chest, stiff and firm and formal...
“When I saw you at the graveyard, looking so white, I knew something was wrong. I knew it."
Azalea stared at him, the fire flickering highlights in his eyes.
"So...I thought I should do something," he finished lamely.
"You saw everything?"
Mr. Bradford gave a half of a crooked smile. "I did knock."
"You didn't see Mr...Mr.-"
"Mr. Keeper?" Mr. Bradford spat the name. "Oh yes, I saw Mr. Keeper. Rather hard not to. I saw him try to kiss you. Or what he said was a kiss. I want to snap his head off!"
Azalea had her hand over her mouth, shocked that someone as solemn and dignified as Mr. Bradford could have such venom. He took her hands, gently, and pushed up her sleeved, revealing her swollen wrists. His fringers traced the bruises.
"You stopped him," said Azalea. She bowed her head, shy. "You kept him from-from-"
"Ah, yes, my lady!" Mr. Bradford smiled a crooked smile in full. "His ponytail was simply begging to be yanked.”
The girls looked miserable. The King opened his mouth, then shut it.
"Sir!" whined Lord Teddie. "You forgot my birthday, too!"
Bramble gave a surprised laugh, then slapped her hand over her mouth, as though shocked at letting it out. The tension broke. The girls laughed sheepishly, and Lord Teddie beamed. He probably did not have many ladies think him funny. In fact, he probably got slapped by a lot of them.”
“He was shockingly easy to follow. The pressure of his hand, the step of his foot, the angle of his frame... it was like reading his mind. When he leaned right, they turned in perfect unison. He swept her across the gallery in a quick three, a dizzying pace. Gilded frames and glass cases and the window blurred in her vision, and Azalea spun out, her skirts pulling and poofing around her, before he caught her and brought her back into dance position. She could almost hear music playing, swelling inside of her.
Mother had once told her about this perfect twining into one. She called it interweave, and said it was hard to do, for it took the perfect matching of the partners’ strengths to overshadow each other’s weaknesses, meshing into one glorious dance. Azalea felt the giddiness of being locked in not a pairing, but a dance. So starkly different than dancing with Keeper. Never that horrid feeling that she owed him something; no holding her breath, wishing for the dance to end. Now, spinning from Mr. Bradford’s hand, her eyes closed, spinning back and feeling him catch her, she felt the thrill of the dance, of being matched, flow through her.
”Heavens, you’re good!” said Azalea, breathless.
”You’re stupendous,” said Mr. Bradford, just as breathless. “It’s like dancing with a top!”