With a statement like there, I had no polite way of backing out. Not that I would. These kids needed me,
and Elva was already having fun with them, playing on the slides.
Nicholas and I would just have to put aside our differences long enough to help the kids. After that, we
could go back to not getting along as usual.
After confirming I would be staying, the caretaker offered to lead me and Mark inside.
“I’ll stay out here,” Mark said. “Keep an eye on the kids.”
I was grateful. If he watched Elva, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry.
Inside, I joined Nicholas in the kitchen. He was washing dishes, preparing for the day’s main event:
lunch. And what an extravagant lunch it would be, if the piles of containers were any indication.
“Did you bring all this from the palace?” I peeked under the aluminum foil on one of the containers. Inside was at least ten servings of garlic potatoes.
“One of the cooks is particularly fond of me,” Nicholas said. “She makes special servings when I ask.”
“She must really like you. There’s a ton of food here.”
“She knows it goes to a good cause. Plus, I make sure she’s well compensated for the extra effort.”
More money? No wonder she liked him.
Nicholas finished washing a plate then set it aside on a wet stack. Grabbing a towel, I went to his side
and began to dry.
This was… domestic. Him washing and then passing the dishes to me to dry. It reminded me of when we
had been dating. How many times had we shared moments just like this?
Even the location wasn’t all that different.
“Do you remember at the Academy? We used to help out the kids at the orphanage like this all the time.”
I had felt that with all my good fortune from being there, it was the least I could do to pay some of it forward and help the less fortunate.
Nicholas had always accompanied me. Often times, he went even when I couldn’t.
never stopped,” he said.
I wished I could say the same, but after Elva, with her sickness, we couldn’t always go like I had used to:
“Once a year, Elva and I help out at an orphanage closer to home. For the holidays.”
Nicholas grunted in acknowledgement.
He probably didn’t want to reminisce, but it was hard not to.
“You and I had some of our best conversations like this,” I said. “Do you remember that time when you
dropped that dish and I caught it? I’ll never forget. I felt like a superhero with quick reflexes.”
“I’d asked you a question, and you knew you were going to surprise me. You were ready for me to drop
“I was?” I didn’t remember that. “What was the question?”
He stopped scrubbing at a dish to glance at me. His face was entirely passive, but his eyes almost
I tried to remember on my own.
We’d been–talking and laughing. Someone had mentioned the future. Had we been talking about kids?
“So what about it? If we had kids someday, how many would you want?” Nicholas had asked me. He’d been holding that dish right in front of his chest. It was wet and he was gripping it too tightly, like he was
“Ten, at least,” I’d said with a cocksure grin, only half–joking. If he’d wanted that many, I would have gone
for it in a heartbeat.
His eyes had gone wide. That plate had fallen.
And I had caught it.
Now three years and a handful of days later, we stood in a different kitchen, in a seemingly different life,
staring at each other. Frowning.
The air between us was thick. Just like then, I could tell he was building up to asking me something. But
unlike then, this time I was sure to dislike the question.
“Piper, did you break up with me so you could marry and have children with someone else?”