Maewen closed her eyes tight against the morning light and snuggled into her blankets, fully intending to go back to sleep. Classes didn't start for another two days, and she had been up the night before with her new schoolmates. At least she hadn't had too much cider ... .
Two days before the start of classes! She sat bolt upright in bed and grabbed her alarm clock. Only half eight. She scrabbled at the corner of her desk, which was doing double duty as a nightstand, and found her journal. Pasted on one dog-eared page was a hand-scrawled note that had arrived in an ordinary envelope the day before she had left for school: At Penevan's, half past nine, two days before term starts. It was signed with a tangle that could be read as Mitt.
She scrambled out of bed, threw on her dressing gown, grabbed her sponge bag, and ran down the hall to wash. When she got back, she tried to dress as quietly as possible, but her roommate woke anyway. "Sorry, Ridda!"
"What's the hurry? You were up just as late as I was."
"Meeting someone for coffee."
Ridda stared and then giggled. "Not Kennard? I saw him looking at you!"
Maewen felt her face grow hot. "No! Just ... an old friend. A family friend."
"Oh, well. In that case, I'm going back to sleep."
The mirror showed Maewen an ordinary-looking college girl with a long, freckled face. I'm eighteen, she thought, and he's more than two hundred. That doesn't sound any better than it did four years ago! She grabbed her jacket, tossed the journal into her handbag, and ran out of the dorm.
It might not even really be Mitt, she thought as she hurried along the path from Clennan College to Gardale village. Why would he ever be here in Gardale? Wouldn't it just remind him of Biffa?
She arrived at Penevan's with ten minutes to spare. The late summer morning mist was burning off, and it looked as though it would be a splendid day. She took a seat by one of the windows, where she could see the walk up to the door. Eighteen years old, and a new college student. Two hundred years old, and Amil the Great. She fished the journal out and looked at the note again. It didn't really say "Mitt," did it?
"I don't guess you want a beer, right?"
She whipped around in her seat. He was standing behind her, tall and square. His face had filled out to fit his shoulders. He was wearing a rough jacket and trousers and might have been anyone, but she had seen that face four years ago, in the courtyard at Tannoreth Palace, and she knew that voice. Her lips said Mitt, but no sound came out.
He smiled in a cheerful, friendly way, with just a touch of shyness, as though he knew her quite well. Her heart seemed to turn over, and she smiled back. "Does Penevan's even sell beer at this time of morning?"
"Probably not, more’s the pity. May I sit with you?"
"Do you even have to ask?
"I bet Penevan would throw me out if I he thought I was being a nuisance."
"But -- " she said, and stopped. He laughed. "Please stop looming, then," she said, exasperated, and nudged the opposite chair away from the table with her foot.
"Thanks." He sat, and for a few moments, they just stared at each other. Maewen's doubts came seeping back.
"What are you doing here, Mitt?"
He rubbed one hand through his lank hair and gave her a half smile. "You're at Clennan, right? I'm two years along at the Alk School."
"You're a student!"
"Makes sense, doesn't it? There's plenty to learn about this new engineering."
"Mitt ... what are we going to do now?"
"Have to start all over again, don't we?"
The waiter came up then, to Maewen's annoyance and relief. "Coffee, miss and sir?"
Maybe coffee would help. "Yes, please. Coffee and rolls."
Mitt snorted. "You won't get far on that, lady. Let's have a proper breakfast."
"Let me guess," she said. "Eggs, bacon, kidneys, and mushrooms? And bread and butter and honey?"
He grinned and nodded. "That'll do for a start!"
Image from the Sydney Morning Herald