"Your train leaves tomorrow?" Bran said.
Beside him, Jane tore her eyes away from the sun-dazzled, rippled water of the Bearded Lake and gave him a sidelong glance. His face was neutral, expressionless; what little emotion might have shown in his strange tawny eyes was hidden by the customary dark glasses. The wind off the lake ruffled his white hair; Jane itched to smooth it back into place.
"Yes," she said. She gave into temptation, reached out and brushed an unruly strand of hair off his forehead. "School starts again soon. I have to get all my books and things. But I might be able to convince Mum and Dad to send me back over the Christmas holiday." Bran said nothing, and his face remained blank, staring off at the lake. Jane sighed. "Our train doesn't leave until tomorrow evening; Simon and Barney and I will be able to see you before we leave. No doubt Mummy will want us out of the hotel anyway while she packs her paints and canvas."
Bran showed no signs of wanting to react to any of this, and Jane gave a sad little mental shrug and looked back at the lake, shifting to lay on her stomach, her chin pillowed on her crossed arms, her feet in the air. Silence hung between them for a few minutes.
Bran said suddenly, "I'll miss you."
Jane twisted to look at him again. His face seemed nearly as expressionless as ever, but now she could see the tension in his jaw, the sinews standing out in his neck, little betrayals of the emotion he didn't want her to see. She propped herself up on one elbow and gazed into his dark glasses, but he was still facing the lake and she couldn't tell if he was looking at her. She reached up and carefully, one-handed, pulled his dark glasses away from his face.
His tawny eyes flickered toward her as the glasses came away, but he didn't protest. She folded the glasses and set them in the grass between them, and when she looked up again, his gaze had returned to the water. For a few moments Jane simply looked at him, memorizing the paleness of his skin and hair, the flecks of amber in his eyes, the curves of his nose and lips and chin. A soft smile drifted onto her face unbidden, and she reached up to smooth another strand of hair back, and whispered, "I'll miss you, too."
Bran blinked hard and dropped his gaze to the grass in front of him, and it occurred to Jane that saying he would miss her was possibly the most intimate thing he had ever said to her; despite the adorable fond glances and the little gifts (she thought of the blue-green stone in her pocket) and the way he called her "Jenny," Bran spoke to her the same way he spoke to Will and to her brothers: as a friend, almost as though she were one of the boys.
She patted the grass in front of his gaze, inviting him to lay down next to her, but Bran didn't see; his gaze had locked once more on the Bearded Lake.
Disappointed, she said, "Won't you look at me?"
Slowly he turned his head to look down at her, and now she could see the reason he wouldn't meet her gaze: moisture glistened at the corners of his eyes. Touched, Jane sat up and cupped his cheek in her hand. She struggled for words to console him even as she remembered that the next night she was returning home, and she wouldn't see him again until at least Christmas, if not longer. "It'll be all right, Bran," she said, stroking his cheek with her thumb. He responded, finally, reaching one hand up to touch her hair. "We can all send each other letters, and I'll send you postcards from home, and you can send us postcards from Wales, and we can talk sometimes on the telephone, and I'm sure that I can convince Mum and Dad to --" she noticed distractedly that he was leaning in, his hand at the back of her head pulling her gently toward him, millimeter by millimeter "-- to let us come back to Wales for Christmas, or next summer, or to have you come to visit us, and I'm sure we -- we --" she was becoming flustered now, her face flushing as he drew her ever closer. She looked into his eyes, into the depths of gold, and forgot what she was saying, and then their lips came together.
The kiss was awkward, simple, sweet. It took Jane totally by surprise; she had never kissed a boy before, with the occasional exception of her brothers, and she was startled by how soft his lips were and how gentle he could be, this strange Welsh boy with all his pent-up passion. His hand on her hair was soothing, a caress. After a moment, he pulled away, began stroking her hair lightly, gazing into her eyes, watching her reaction. She was still shocked.
"I love you, Jenny," he whispered.
She pulled back, rejecting the idea. "Puppy love," she said uncertainly. Weren't they too young for it to be anything more?
"No," Bran said. "No, it is not puppy love, because this last week I felt as though we have shared something, the five of us. A challenge, or a danger, something we cannot see. Whatever it is, it has passed without doing any harm. And --" He paused, cocking his head to one side to look at her thoughtfully. His voice, when he continued, was softer, more tender. "I have come to realize that you are different from Will and Simon and Barney, who are like brothers after our time together, even if they are wholly English. But you are more than a sister, and if -- if there is danger, I want to be there, to protect you and guide you through it."
Jane had a sudden mental image of the Bearded Lake -- a hideous, monstrous face atop a long neck, rising from the water -- Bran's pale figure, upright and challenging, unafraid. She shook her head. It was a flight of fancy. But she looked into his eyes again, and saw how earnest he was, saw hidden in the wells of amber and bronze that same sense of challenge and lack of fear. And she believed him.
She smiled, her heart swelling with happiness and new discovery. "I love you too, Bran," she whispered, and pulled him closer for another kiss.
The sun was beginning to set; they still had a long walk back to Aberdyfi, where the Drew family was staying. Carefully they packed up the remnants of their picnic lunch and started back through the mountains, shyly holding hands. Tomorrow Jane would step onto a train and disappear from Bran's world, for how long they didn't know; but they had today, and that was what mattered.