It was strange. Everyone in the village had noticed it, how Pepper had been so busy. After spending the day working on the farm with his brother, he'd run into town and sit with James in his smithing stall. Pepper and James never talked about it, and no one knew what they were doing. No one seemed concerned by it. Well, no one except for Mercy.
After the harvest festival, Pepper had been spending his free time with Mercy. In the evenings, Mistress had been letting Mercy go see Pepper, rather than attend her every need. At first Mercy felt bad, but after every second spent with Pepper, she was starting to forget her duties more and more. But Pepper was so busy, spending so much time with James that him and Mercy had barely had all but a night together.
Mercy was starting to feel a little lonely.
Mistress Castell had been trying her hardest to cheer Mercy up. Each time Mercy had returned to their house, turned away by Pepper and his new friendship, Mistress Castell had sat with Mercy at the table and played cards with her. Every other night, Verity and Alice had joined them. It felt nice, Mercy felt like she had finally made some friends, but she still couldn't help but feel upset by Pepper's rejection.
"Forget him!" Verity told her. They were sat in Meredith's tavern, the bar empty except for their table. "If the boy can't see how sweet you are, he's not worth the dirt you walk on." Mercy admired how unapologetically honest Verity was. Alice dug her elbow into the redhead's ribs.
"Ignore her, Mercy," she said. "I know Pepper, I know he hasn't forgotten you. I'll talk to him for you."
"Thank you, Mistress," Mercy bowed her head. Alice offered her a kind smile, and with that the girls downed their drinks and headed home.
Alice must have mentioned something to Pepper, it was the only explanation Mercy had as to why he showed up at the door in the middle of the day. He should have been on the farm, helping Silas and Alice with the farm.
"Go ahead and talk to him outside," Mistress Castell encouraged. Mercy took her advice and stepped outside, softly closing the door behind her.
"What are you doing here? Not that I don't want you here, but shouldn't you be on the farm? I thought you'd stopped liking me, you haven't stopped liking me have you, Pepper?" She asked, the questions flying out before she could stop herself. Mercy cursed her mouth, it never did what she wanted it to.
"Of course I like you," Pepper smiled. He waited for a second, the silence stretching out between them, before he shoved his hands into his pocket. "I made you these."
Pepper pulled his hands from his trousers, revealing two handfuls of stones. Mercy looked at them curiously, most of them were oddly shaped and some of them were shipped, cracked, and broken. Pepper pushed them all into Mercy's hands, and she had to lift her apron to carry them all. Before she could question them, Pepper spoke up.
"I've been asking Master Reed to show me how to shape the stones," he explained. "I wanted them to look like hearts, because you make my heart beat fast, but I'm not very good at it. I didn't want to give you one until I'd got it right, but I didn't want you to think I didn't like you. Do you like them?"
"Like them? They're beautiful!" Mercy exclaimed. She picked up one of the misshapen stones and stroked it thoughtfully. "These are the prettiest stones I've ever seen, and they're all for me. No one ever did give me something so pretty is this, not even the flowers my Mistress gave to me. No, these are surely the prettiest thing I ever did see."
"Can I- can I kiss you?" Pepper asked. He refused to meet Mercy's eyes, but she could tell he was blushing. The words wouldn't come to Mercy's mouth, and she found herself - for once - completely speechless.
Pepper leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss on Mercy's lips. It was soft and sweet and everything Mercy wanted in life. She felt safe with him. All too quickly, Pepper pulled away. There was wide grin on his face.
"I have to get back to the farm, but I will see you tomorrow?" Pepper promised.
"Bye, have fun on the farm, stay safe," Mercy replied. Pepper jogged off through the streets, Mercy watching him until he disappeared behind a building. Only when he was gone did she turn to go back inside. Mistress Castell was waiting by the door, smiling pleasantly like she knew what Pepper had been doing. Mercy looked down to hide her face; she was the one blushing now.
"I guess that means there'll be another Sharrow?" Mistress asked. Mercy's face heated up some more. She liked the idea of that, Mercy Sharrow.