„Remind me again why I let them go so far and for so long?"
The jungle girl smiled faintly and lifted her gaze from the book she was reading. She knew Roxton was talking to himself rather than addressing her, his eyes trying with difficulty to penetrate the darkness that had swallowed everything beyond the Treehouse walls, his hands firmly gripping the railing of the small balcony. Still, she could not resist to answer.
„Officially? Because Challenger insisted on tracking down from where do those weird purple fireflies come from. Unofficially – because you lost the last screaming match with Marguerite four days ago," she replied as uninterested as she could make herself sound. Roxton´s face growing even more sulky signaled that she hit the target without fail. „What was it about, anyway?" Veronica asked innocently, but the hunter merely shook his head. Veronica returned to her book, but even as her eyes scanned the words, her mind has run off into another direction. Roxton and Marguerite. Their endless bickering and innuendos over the years have never interested her in the least. That they were attracted to each other had been apparent from the start. That they developed deep feelings for each other did come as a surprise to her though. She knew Marguerite was not without a better side to her, but why of all men Roxton, honourable, just and selfless, would actually fall head over heels with her was a big question mark for a long time. Finally Veronica decided she perhaps shouldn´t judge relationships of others by her own understanding. After all, it was her who had pushed away the one she cared for away. Willingly. And without any reason besides being too wary to take a chance. Oh Ned... She could almost see him in front of her. Scribbling something into his journal, occasionally lifting his eyes to her, secretly, unaware she knew. He had always done that, from the first evening he spent in the Treehouse. Back then, when she caught his gaze, he would turn red, burying his head into the journal once again. Later, he would hold her eyes for a bit. Then he would smile. And only then he would return to his writing. He was getting a bit bolder each day. And she … she began to stall. Now they were apart. God only knew if she was ever to see him again.
She felt tears stinging in her eyes all of a sudden. With one swift motion she wiped them away and redirected her thoughts closer to home. Roxton had left the balcony and was now sitting at the table. Since he had polished and cleaned every piece of artillery he could find in the Treehouse earlier, he was now mercilessly polishing all the boots. When he got to a pair of Marguerite´s, Veronica noticed with slight astonishment that although his face remained wrinkled with a frown, his calloused palms grew gentle, systematically polishing the boots, yet caressing them at the same time. The blond girl keeping him silent company wondered as she watched him. She could swear Roxton had been even more attentive and gallant to Marguerite than before, not to mention his over-protectiveness of her was at times almost ridiculous. Not only that. Through the constant fighting Marguerite and Roxton seemed …. less angry with each other lately. They bickered still, but forgot sooner. They always knew where the other was. And there were gestures, touches that nobody had really noticed until one afternoon Veronica happened to catch, from the corner of her eyes, a glimpse of Roxton running the back of his fingers up Marguerite´s back absent-mindedly. When she looked better, the intimacy of the moment had passed.
He had told her!
Veronica drew a deep breath as realization hit her. Roxton had told Marguerite what everybody could see except for her. He told her he loved her. And more astoundingly – Marguerite obviously accepted him. And in the true Marguerite fashion they kept it to themselves. But when? How? And how could the rest of the Treehouse occupants had been so blind? Now that she realized it, Marguerite seemed almost shy when near to Roxton at times. And Roxton Veronica had known just a year ago would hardly be polishing Marguerite´s boots with such amorous adoration. Veronica felt a rush of excitement at her discovery. She forgot herself and tried to rise from the couch. The sharp pain that shot through her leg sent her crumbling to the floor. Within a second Roxton was beside her.
„Veronica? What is it? Danger?" he asked, and as he carefully helped her to sit on the sofa again he quickly scanned the familiar surroundings of the Treehouse living room. He could not phantom what else beside an imminent threat would make his blonde companion try and stand on her broken leg. Veronica, colour drawn out of her face, merely shook her head.
„Nothing, I was just being stupid," she said apologetically. And not for the first time this week, she added in her thoughts. Really, she was still cursing herself for having agreed to Finn´s suggestion to go and explore an abandoned apemen settlement. Firstly there was hardly anything worth notice there, aside from bits of burned bones and foul stench coming out of two low huts of sticks and mud. Secondly she failed to notice a deep moat running along the settlement from one side for protection, carefully masked with branches and bits of soil. She could still recall feeling her fibula snap as it broke at the end of her unceremonious fall. Finn climbed down and practically dragged her up the less steep side of the moat, then supporting her all the way to the Treehouse.
„Did you want anything then?" pressed Roxton, worried. „You know you only have to ask."
Veronica considered inquiring further about her previous discovery, but ultimately decided this was maybe not the best time. Maybe she was just imagining things. And the British Lord seemed jumpy, restless and easy to become angry at the moment. Aggression was his way of dealing with worry and fear. Veronica did nto want to trigger it. After all, had she not needed a babysitter he would be out in the jungle somewhere, with their friends. But since he himself had suffered a slight concussion only days before Veronica´s accident, they decided that he would be the one staying home to tend to their hostess. Challenger was thus accompanied on his hunt for the strange, purple-glowing bugs they had encountered recently, by Marguerite and Finn. It was not that Roxton did not trust Marguerite and Finn to watch over Challenger. It was the fact he really trusted no one to protect Marguerite but himself. Their argument four days ago was ugly and she set out on the journey without reconciliation. The trip was planned to take seven or eight days. They were gone for half that time so far and Veronica could just feel the tension in the house rising with each passing minute.
„Could you help me to my room, please? I think I may as well try to sleep since I am so useless right now."
„You will be fine, as long as you stay off that leg," was Roxton´s only reply as he picked her up and made way towards Veronica´s room. As she settled in her bed and closed her eyes, she could hear Roxton´s footsteps as he left. She sighed and tried to picture the blond, blue-eyes journalist.
„Good night, Ned," she whispered and soon she fell asleep.