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Our Leaves Are Still Green

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Maddie and Jamie live in a perfectly normal house--no posh, giant castles for her, not yet. Maybe not ever. Jamie is the youngest son, after all. He's not the one who stands to inherit. She'd much rather live somewhere that makes her feel like a normal person, anyway. She didn't marry him because she wanted to be a lady; she only wanted him.

She's probably the first Beaufort-Stuart to be in the drive on a Tuesday morning, repairing her own motorbike. Even the boys would hire someone else to do it. The aristocracy don't fix their own things.

"Maddie?"

She wipes her brow with her sleeve, hoping it won't track grease. The neighbors all think she's odd. The house might be a little too normal. This isn't what the other wives here do either. No children, no pets, just airplanes and motorbikes for them.

She turns, expecting Mr. Lloyd or Mr. Warren, but it's Stephen Colley, hands stuffed in his pockets, wearing a hat and glasses, like he thinks he's Superman in disguise as Clark Kent.

"Mr. Colley," she stammers. He's at her house. Stephen Colley has come calling.

"Please, call me Stephen," he says. "I hear so much about you from Cassandra, I feel as if we're already friends."

She licks her lips. She's on a first-name basis with Stephen Colley. "Stephen," she says. She wipes her hands on her overalls and then winces. She must look a fright. "Would you like to come in? I can make tea. I'm sorry I'm not more presentable, I wasn't expecting--"

"Not at all," he says, all politeness. "What were you doing?"

"Just fixing the exhaust," she says. "It'll keep."

"Can you show me?" he asks, sounding genuinely interested. It reminds her of Cassandra when she fixed her wireless, and of Julie too. "I used to do some handy work, but nothing this complicated. And it's been years."

He watches her, hands her tools as she explains what she's doing, and by the time she's taken him inside for tea after the bike's all fixed up, she's almost forgotten she and Julie used to talk about what it would be like to kiss him.

"I know you didn't come to help me fix my bike," she remarks.

His neck colors a little. "I wanted to ask about Cassandra."

Maddie smiles into her tea. "What about her?"

"Is she doing well?"

She doubts that's really the question he wants to ask, but they can start there. "I think so. Why? Are you worried? Did she say something?"

"I don't like being so far away," he says. "It's nice to be home."

"You were hoping she'd need you to stay?"

"I was hoping she might want me to."

She wonders what it would be like, to be loved by someone like Stephen Colley. She hadn't ever thought about it, really, back when she'd thought about film stars like that. It was easy to think about him spotting her across a crowded room, some whirlwind romance, but what would it be like to have known him forever, to have been the plain, ordinary girl who stole his heart before he'd been anyone?

"I think she's the one you should be asking," she tells him, gentle.

"She didn't mention anything?"

"She just told me how you met. That you grew up together." That he'd been devoted to her. That she could have had him.

He nods, like it's about what she expected. "Does she talk about S--anyone else?"

"Stephen," Maddie says again. "Why are you asking me?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me if you thought it would be a bad idea," he says, with a faint smile. "It was the last time."

"We haven't really discussed it." Maddie pauses. "But I think it's better to say these things, if you can. I think you wouldn't be have been happier, if you'd wondered." She licks her lips and wonders if there's every going to be anything in her whole life that doesn't remind her of Julie in some way. It's a different kind of fear of ghosts, and she's as afraid of losing it as she is it lasting forever. "I'm not sure there's anything worse than not knowing."

He turns and looks out the window, his strong profile reminding her of his films again, of brooding heroes on windswept mountains making difficult choices. "You may be right."

"Would you stay?"

"I don't know," he says. "I'd ask her."

"Well," says Maddie. "You should tell me what she says."

He ducks his head, looking like a boy with his first crush. From what Cassandra said, it sounds like she was his first crush, and sometimes things like that don't change. Sometimes, you always feel the same way when you look at someone. Jamie doesn't make Maddie feel like the girl she was when she first met him, not most of the time. But talking to Cassandra makes her feel that, slams her back to the girl she was when Julie was her touchstone, the single point that grounded her, no matter how far away she went.

It's not the only way to love, or the best way. But it's familiar to her as breathing.

"I will," he says, and she says, "Thank you."