Troy Tatterton’s fingers trailed down the ridges of the tiny shingles as he mounted each tiny shingle against the roof of the dollhouse.
A fantasy world. He could fill the empty house with a mother, father, son – brother. Big sister.
Leigh’s smiles had always made him perk up, and he had only ever seen gentleness in her eyes, for that sickly lost child without a parent or a friend, cast on the grounds of a cold manor.
Bright eyes in front of him – not Leigh but Heaven, the prodigal daughter. The woman, the girl, who had marched into his cottage and refused to go that first day, then ran off in a jolt and left him wondering.
Heaven was stubborn in ways that Leigh wasn’t – not to him, at least. She had always been kind to him. Heaven liked to yell back at him – in the beginning, at least, and then she had softened and he had too and there had been a kind of understanding in every touch that he couldn’t explain if he tried.
The voice in his head that reminded him his days were numbered grew quieter, then, though not silent, still a dirge behind his ears, drumming.
Heaven glided into his cottage now, her eyes turned up with a happiness that she only let show when she was around him. She always looked so guarded the rest of the time; and that made sense with the things she had told him about growing up in the hills.
But she wasn’t in the hills now, and she didn’t need to be guarded with him.
“Engaged,” she said with a smile as she sat. “Sometimes I can hardly believe it.”
And he believes that because he so rarely lets himself believe it – he, after all, has always known he was marked for death, and his heart aches every time he imagines another little cottage, far from Farthy.
When Tony told him the truth – in that declarative way of it, where there was just no arguing and this was simply the ways things were going to be, the way it had been when Troy was a child, he could have screamed but he did not.
They were blood. The woman he loved and himself, the same cursed Tatterton blood ran through their veins. What was he supposed to do with that?
And worse – his precious, angelic Leigh, a victim of his own brother, and Troy too blind to see it.
He had to leave, had to get out of here. If he left then maybe Heaven would forget all of this – maybe she would finally be free. She could be with Keith and Our Jane and Tom and Fanny, her own little family that she had always thought was cursed. Instead it had been the Tattertons. Always the Tattertons.
If he could leave and change his name – if he could leave with Heaven and they could start anew as two people who had met under any other circumstances. But he couldn’t wipe away what he knew in his heart – that they were uncle and niece and there was no changing that.
He had been cursed, truly, cursed forever, and there was nothing that he could do about it other than turn and leave forever.
Give fate what it had wanted from him all along.
Heaven had walked into his cottage without knocking, her arms swinging at her sides and tears in her eyes, unable to look at him.
“Heaven…” Troy began, raising his own eyes, desperately trying to lock in. His heart was pounding, thumping.
“Can’t we just forget?” she asked a moment later, bringing her hands up to cup his cheeks. “Can’t we forget what we know and just… go on anyway? Go somewhere without Tony! It’s all his fault anyway, Tony Tatterton and his blood money. We don’t need it. I’ll go anywhere with you, Troy. Anywhere at all.”
“But college,” Troy protested. “That was your dream, after all… would you give that away to live some kind of half-life with me?”
“What do you mean half-life?” Heaven fired back, “Troy, you’re a genius. We could go anywhere and do anything. We don’t need him.”
“We don’t need him,” Troy echoed. He had traveled far and wide, but he had always been chasing after Tony.
He hadn’t realized that he had been chasing him into a pit.
Leigh seemed like she wanted to tell Troy something, like she would start coughing and it would come out and spray everywhere, come out and cover them both.
Troy wanted to ask her what was wrong, if it was something that he had done wrong. He was used to Jillian telling him about everything that he had done wrong; maybe he just couldn’t do anything right.
More than either of those things, he wanted to cling to Leigh’s ankle and go anywhere she would go. Maybe he could protect her, if she ran into something like pirates. If there were any bad people that she needed protecting from (the only bad person Troy could conjure up was Jillian – could Leigh be running away because Jillian had yelled at her, too?)
“Troy, I wish I could take you with me,” Leigh said a moment later. He could see that she had her pretty little suitcase and that there were tears in her eyes. “But I can’t.”
His heart had hurt; it had ached, and he had cried for days. Jillian had been so angry with him, telling him he didn’t know what the hell he could even remember of her.
After a while, he had simply known not to mention Leigh’s name in her presence.
But he had still held the name close to heart. It had sung to him in his dreams.
Beautiful, ghostly, Leigh.
Because he had dreamed her death and woken up in a sweat and there had been no one to tell, no one at all.
Troy’s heart palpitated as he held the horse’s reins, looked out on to the wide, open sea. Imagined what it would be like to be the one fading away.
Maybe Leigh would be there to greet him, at last.
But not Heaven.
Not the other half of his heart.
The sea felt right, but something held him back.
Something at the edge of his memory; something at the edge of his heart.
Troy pressed the last shingle on to a tiny, perfect roof. He smiled.
He looked over top of the roof and took in the royal blue dress that Heaven was wearing, gazed at the pure white heels on her feet. Heaven Leigh Casteel.
Heaven Leigh Tatterton.
He would figure out the rest.