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Laughter and the Love of Friends

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Soon after Gerry learned to walk, his father decided he ought to begin violin lessons.

“He’ll be glad of the early start if he keeps playing,” he told Philippa. She’d been doubtful at first (surely the boy was too young to learn much of anything musical), but Gerry was soon holding the bow and squeaking out his first notes. And Alec was calm when he and Gerry played, more present (or at least more sober) than he’d been in some time.

There was something thrilling about watching their son create music, no matter how plodding or screeching his notes might have been. It helped that Philippa remembered her own first months on the piano, demanding that her siblings and her governess and her parents listen to her as she played the same fugue again and again.

Once Gerry could be trusted to hold the violin on his own, Alec would sit down at the piano and play along with him, threading a beautiful melody around Gerry’s notes. When they’d reached the end, Gerry bowed, Alec trilled a few final chords, and Philippa clapped and clapped, watching the glowing smiles on both of their faces.

When, much later, she thought of Alec, these were the memories she chose—grinning and full of pride for his son. She only wished they could have stayed like that forever, laughing and clapping and making music together.

 

When her hand brushed that of another customer reaching for the same book, Rose started. Thankfully, the man didn’t seem to notice her jump; he handed the book to her, and asked, “The Metamorphoses?”

It had been so long since she’d been able to talk about literature that she was willing to put aside all sense of self-preservation and talk to him. “I run a school for young women—I’m always collecting materials.”

“You’re welcome to the copy, then.” The man tipped his hat. “Who am I to stand between pupils and their first experience of Ovid?” He glanced around at the rest of the crowd, who were rifling through the jewelry and skeins of silk. “I’m sure I can find another I’d like to own; it’s not as if we have much competition for the books.”

They looked through the rest of the collection together, the man (Hannibal Sefton, he introduced himself as) occasionally offering her a volume he thought her students might enjoy.

Hannibal gave Rose his address: “Should you find yourself needing another teacher.” She found herself calling on him more and more often, not for help with lessons but merely to have someone to talk to. He was the first person in the city she felt safe around (at least, as safe as she’d ever feel), and it was a pleasant surprise to find someone she could talk with about literature and science and (eventually) her hopes and her fears and the dreams she still had, even now, so much later. Hannibal was a wonderful listener, and took care not to sit too close, and she was glad to have a friend.

 

Henri had slipped away after the first dance, and he hadn’t returned. Of course, Minou didn’t blame him—his wretched mother had hardly let him out of her sight since she’d decided he ought to be married.

She looked around at the swirling, colorful dresses that filled the room, and began to make her way towards the orchestra. If she couldn’t dance, she could at least enjoy the music.

During one of the breaks, the violinist caught her eye. “O lovely lady, clothed in light…We haven’t been introduced, have we? I’m certain I would recognize you if we’d met before.”

“We haven’t.” Minou smiled at his flirtation. “Dominique Janvier.”

“Hannibal Sefton, at your service.”

As it turned out, Hannibal was as well-versed in the intricacies of the New Orleans social scene as Minou herself, and they whiled away the night discussing how Blanche Delacroix was handling her protector’s marriage and the hideous yellow monstrosity Desiree St. Pierre had worn to last week’s ball.

The fiddler offered to walk her home, and was not at all put out when she let him kiss her palm and invited him back for tea rather than inviting him in for the night. She made sure to smile at him when she saw him playing at balls after that, and when her brother returned from Paris and the two became fast friends, she wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

 

Consuela hadn’t expected Hannibal to agree when she invited him to Mexico to meet her family. But agree he had, and soon they were off for Mexico City. Despite his assurances that he had his fair share of experiences with eccentric relatives, she worried that he wouldn’t be prepared.

She needn’t have. Consuela should have known that Hannibal would be able to hold his own against even her father. She watched the two of them play game after game of piquet, Hannibal talking circles around her father’s pigheaded assertions in his quiet, understated way. Living in her family home was almost bearable. They could have gone on like this for a while. Not forever—Hannibal had made it clear he wasn’t looking for forever, and Consuela didn’t have any desire to bind herself to a man until death—but for a good while. They read and Hannibal accompanied her as she sang, and they discussed the touring companies of the Americas. Hannibal knew where to stop his probing to avoid throwing her father into a rage, and Consuela appreciated the company and the island of sanity he gave her among the chaos of her family.

She could almost convince herself that this could last for years. Mexico was so much more tolerable with an ally, and he seemed to be enjoying himself as well. At the very least, the air had improved his cough.

Then her cabrón of a brother got himself killed, and Hannibal got himself framed for a murder, and everything went to hell. Hideputa, couldn’t she have this one nice thing?

 

He was the kindest man Morning Star had met at a rendezvous. Wi itunkala, she called him, Sun Mouse—always soft-spoken, but full of joy. He wasn’t as happy now, but it was in his nature to choose rejoicing over mourning.

One night, as he braided her hair, Hannibal asked her how she’d chosen wat to call him. Most people accepted it as a peculiarity of taking a wife at camp, but he seemed to want to know.

“Your name is difficult for me. It isn’t Sioux, it isn’t French; it sits strangely in my mouth.”

He threaded his fingers through her hair, beginning to bring it back into its braid. “That explains why, but not how. A good name is better than fine ointment, and I’d like to know where you found mine.”

Morning Star told him about the light she’d seen inside him when first they’d met, covered over by fear and pain. He pressed a kiss to the part of her hair, and kept his silence for a moment.

“And how would you say it in your language?”

“Finish the braid, and I’ll show you.”

They sat cross-legged on the floor of the lodge, Morning Star saying a few slow words and Hannibal repeating them back to her. He caught on more quickly than she’d expected, and soon they’d gone through the names of everyone he’d met, and a few numbers. He seemed enthralled with the language, and with watching her speak.

She accepted his offer to teach her a bit of English in return. It could never hurt to be able to haggle in another language.

It proved more difficult than expected. She’d been young when she learned French, and the sounds of English were so foreign.

“One,” she said, slapping Hannibal when she laughed.

“You sound lovely!” he protested. “However, you wrinkle your nose in the most becoming way when you speak, and I couldn’t help but express my joy.”

“You could talk your way out of a cooking pot,” Morning Star grumbled, but she took his outstretched hand and kept counting. “Two, three, four, five…”

 

Hannibal watched the sun filter in through the curtains, careful to remain still lest he disturb Rose and Ben, sleeping next to him. What had he done in his life to deserve to wake up on a bright fall morning beside two such wonderful people? He had loved too many and to strongly to call the Januarys the loves of his life, but every day, he thanked whatever being might be listening for leading him here and placing him in their arms. “Greater love has no one than this.

“What was that?” Rose murmured, propping herself up to look over a still-sleeping Ben at him.

“I was only thinking about what a beautiful morning it is, and what beautiful company I’m spending it in.”

Just then, Ben let out a snore loud enough to rattle the bedframe, and Rose laughed in a manner some might uncharitably call unbecoming.

“Should we wake him, do you think?”

Hannibal shook his head. “Why rush into the day?”

And so they stayed in bed, even after Ben awoke and the sunlight shifted from drowsy first rays to the cold, bright light of a late autumn morning. They were all granted so little time, and Hannibal was more aware of that with every passing year. What better way to spend it than in bed with the people one loved?