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The writing of the thing was not nothing (although techniques honed through years of turning in essays free of blots and crossings-out had taught Jan the prudence of a draft, so she contrived to ruin only two sheets of her good writing paper.) The posting of it required rather more nerve and nearly as much calculation. It was one step to take notions from the absolute secrecy of her thoughts and commit them to paper, let alone entrust them to the Royal Mail. And it was another to submit her letter to the possibly riskier processes of mail-handling within Trennels.

Jan was fairly certain that between hawks and cricket practices, Nicola was a confirmed early riser and entirely likely to meet the postman of a morning. And the last thing she wanted was N. Marlow (best friend of Miranda and closest sibling to Rowan) intercepting her communication and being curious about it (silently or otherwise.) So she waited for the school term to resume, and she waited a few days more as an added precaution before mailing it.

After all her planned delays, it seemed contradictory to pay extra for First Class Mail. But she bought the stamp nevertheless, wondering with a huff of amusement what her former classmates would think of the person infamous for lack of feeling, behaving like a love-lorn heroine awaiting the return post.

Jan knew she wouldn't have even put the question had it not been for the fact that Rowan had been there for The Tempest. But she had come that evening to Kingscote despite none of her sisters taking part, and even though little had been said between them other than the standard pleasantries that could be exchanged within a circle of family and peers, Rowan's eyes met Jan's more than once while others spoke.

The weeks of summer had passed as Jan prepared to change her life from constantly-scrutinised-schoolgirl to scholar-with-a-degree-of-independence. Throughout that time, Rowan had kept appearing unbidden in her thoughts.

Jan had avoided engagement at school, so much so that Keith had made an example of her lack of involvement. How ironic that now she should find herself not just feeling, but acting on the impulses her former headmistress had been too delicate to more than touch upon that memorable assembly years ago.

How Keith, to go after the harmless outward manifestation of people egged on by their friends to act out their pashes, calling attention to it in a way that was as cringe-inducing as possible, yet fail to notice the girls who genuinely harboured such affections.

Jan made her way up the staircase of her dorm. She was far beyond excessive sentimentality and well on her way to inappropriate attachment.

 

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Lucky, Rowan told herself. Very Lucky.

It was pure chance that she had entered the house just after Doris placed the newspapers and mail on the hall table, and therefore it had been her rather than Mrs Marlow that divided the pile according to addressee as she sipped her first cup of tea.

Rowan knew the handwriting was familiar, but, like a face out of context, could not match it to its owner until she turned the envelope and saw J. Scott written above a college address. Jan was not a letter writer, Rowan had never received mail from her other than cards for Christmas and her birthday. Although, thinking on it, for someone who appeared to eschew many of the ritualised niceties of her peers, Jan was one of the few of her former schoolmates who continued to write to her after her early departure to a life of farming.

Rowan shuffled Jan's letter within the bundle of farm-related bills that she would take to the estate room after breakfast, and slid the remainder over to her mother. Thankfully Pamela Marlow remained in thrall of her correspondence and conversation was non-existent while Rowan stayed undercover by chewing her way through a slice of toast and the pretence of reading the newspaper.

Eventually, her mother departed and Rowan took her bundle and moved to the aged desk chair. She retrieved the letter knife and neatly sawed through each envelope, then quickly sifted through the business mail to check if anything was urgent. Finally it was the turn of Jan's envelope. She read the paper she pulled out once, and then read it again more steadily. Outwardly it seemed like an inconsequential letter from a friend hoping to catch up, but Rowan knew Jan and how deliberate she was and could read between the lines.

A visit to the university town, a chance to enjoy a change of scenery for the weekend, a suggestion of a reasonable hotel where Rowan could stay, should she choose to make her visit extend overnight...

Overnight. Rowan coloured, and felt her skin prickle. A night away from a house full of family members, a town where not everyone knew Miss Marlow. A night where she and Janice could simply be faces in an anonymous mass and escape scrutiny. A night, rather than a hasty few minutes in a pavilion before someone came looking to see what was taking them so long.

How often had she thought of that occasion, and how foolish she had felt those two times since when she'd seen Jan? Why go all the way to Kingscote just to stand awkwardly in each other's presence, Rowan lacking the nerve to say anything meaningful, anything that could give their relationship forward momentum?

Rowan was one to conceal herself from the world except for the times too much feeling had broken free in ways she generally considered disastrous. But this part, she's always known to keep secret, even before Keith had brought the entire school to attention to rip into girls who didn't have the sense to behave discreetly. The infatuation with Eileen and Joyce (then stars of the school's sporting teams) had become ever louder and more public. Rituals where the participants whipped each into a fervour, relics were claimed, and the hero worship became something authority deemed it necessary to act against.

Yet here she was, opening a drawer in cousin Jon's ancient secretary and pulling out a small cardboard folder in which she'd kept all the cards Janice had sent her previously. Other people's Christmas cards were dutifully answered, kept a while, and then the decorated fronts cut off for the children at the local kindergarten to use for their collages. Jan's were cherished, and Rowan's answers to them took an inordinately long time to write the simple phrases Thank you so much for you card... while she tried to imbue them with words that would somehow convey what she felt without actually saying it.

She swallowed, breathed several times slowly and deliberately. She felt both exhilarated and overwhelmed with nerves. She needed to answer, wanted to, and took up a pen only to have the nib hover above the paper. Time, she needed time. She thought through her day. If she went about her morning as usual but came in a little early for the midday meal, she could write a reply then. Then luncheon, then off to Colebridge armed with the current list of errands, and no one would be the wiser about the real motive for her trip into town. Dropped directly at the post office and sent first class was the quickest way for Janice to receive a reply. Rowan did not intend to keep Jan waiting.