Upon their first meeting, Jenny allowed Phineas two kisses to her gloved hand before drawing her arm away, looking at him in wonder. Good thing she’d done so, for he sincerely believes he would have grasped her hand, drawn her in to him and given her many, many more kisses if she hadn’t. There was no humbug about this matter. At least, not around Miss Lind.
Around Mrs. Barnum, however…well.
Phineas was the Prince of Humbug.
And, as Jenny sang, love makes such fools of us all.
Was it an affair, really? There had barely been any physical contact between the two of them over the last half year, and what little there was, it was very chaste. Gentle kisses and ghosting touches. Yet, for Phineas, each moment of contact left and awful feeling in the pit of his stomach. Every time, some new and nasty feeling gathered down there, each building upon the feelings of the times before, until it all remained there, making him feel almost permanently nauseous.
What Jenny and Phineas had might not have been as raunchy as the typical tryst, but it was every bit as dishonorable as any other affair.
It didn’t feel fair to Phineas. Why – how – could a creature as golden as Miss Lind be so very toxic?
“Phineas…” Jenny’s voice came suddenly from across the room, startling him. He looked over at her. She was still perched at the vanity, her neck stretched and her chin tilted up, powdering her face. He had totally forgotten she was there.
“Phineas,” she repeated, “Phineas, you mutter.”
He frowned. Had he been thinking aloud again? Jenny gave him a knowing look, an almost superior look, and all of a sudden, he felt inexplicably angry.
“Nonsense,” Phineas replied, turning around to face his own mirror and giving Jenny his back. “I always utter; I never mutter.”
And as he set about aggressively doing his bowtie, he uttered quite a bit of words about Jenny and her looks and smiles that she was rather fond of bestowing upon every man that came to the show.
To this, Jenny fired back a few good words of her own, inquiring about the letters that Phineas had been taking the time to send each and every week to lady in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Phineas didn’t respond after that. He didn’t turn around. However, one glance by Jenny at the man, one look at his stiffened posture, sharp movements and red ears were all that the opera singer needed to conclude that her words had effectively gotten a rise out of him.
As she packed up her makeup, she suppressed a laugh.
She cleared her throat, and for the third time, called, “Phineas.” It was said with such firmness that Phineas slowly turned to face her, a tight expression on his face.
“If you were willing to stop the letters,” Jenny said, tucking the last of her makeup brushes away and snapping the box shut, “then I would be willing to be more…exclusive about my trembly smiles.” And with that, she fixed him with one of those smiles, the saccharine ones with a hint of something mischievous that always made him go weak-kneed. Always.
He stared at her.
She crooked her finger, beckoning him.
Then he sighed and crossed the room, a faint smile on Jenny’s lips as he did so.
Phineas bent down, lightly rested his hands on either side of Jenny’s face, and fixed her with a look of pained want.
“Why can’t I quit you?” he said helplessly, his voice raspy.
The Swedish Nightingale leaned in for a kiss, and Phineas followed suit, but the Swede suddenly paused a breath away from contact and slowly rose to her full height, Phineas mirroring her.
“Because,” she murmured against his lips, “Du vet inte vad du önskar. You do not know what you want.” And then she pressed herself firmly against him and kissed him.
As he reciprocated, visions of a gentle red floated around his mind.