He smiled at her, and she smiled at him. His eyes crinkled into baby-creases and awkwardly he began toying with the cup. Determined, Milly ignored his manners. She looked splendid in pale yellow and lacey white.
"So, you're the girl I'm going to marry."
"What?" Milly asked, surprised.
He hadn't even proposed—officially, not really, not yet.
"Well, I just thought that we'd bygone these sentimental drivel and get to it. I'm figuring a nice eight carat diamond would do?"
She blushed, pink spreading violently crimson over her taut cheekbones. "Umm, I wouldn't know. I've never been engaged before," I've never been unfortunate enough before.
"Ah, neither have I. So that makes it perfect. I'm thinking…today is a lovely day. I'll call down a bishop or something."
"I—I beg your pardon, Earl Asplund?"
"Lloyd. I'm sorry. But I don't quite understand what you're saying."
Her words were careful and tone deliberately blithe. Posture poised, back arched and rigid like newly cooled steel. Eyes like daggers (leaning forward, trying to decipher the cryptic language). And hands, Milly's lovely, lady-made hands, rested in her lap (as was proper and dignified).
Except, all she wanted to do was scream. At her parents, at this lunatic. And say that she will never marry him, ever, ever, ever. Just as—
if she were given a choice.
"I want to get married today. There, I just proposed. Set a time, hopefully before seven. I get hungry around then."
"Earl—Lloyd—I can't marry you. Not on such short notice, I mean. Not that I don't want to marry you. I just. It's just—"
"Fine, tomorrow. I can wait another day. I've been waiting half my life."
By now, Milly's eyes were locked in rapid-glancing circles. Her chest constricted and heart palpitated, but still, she continued: elegant and graceful and full of that mademoiselle shit she's been fed since birth.
"How about a more reasonable deadline? Perhaps after I've graduated high school?"
Lloyd beams and agrees eagerly, "That would be wonderful. I'll wait for you until then."
Milly lifted her cup (shakily) and sipped tea through pursued, white petal-lips. Graduation. That would be an eternity away, she assured herself.
. . .
Lloyd was a tenacious if strange suitor.
He brought her mechanized arms and twirling fingers instead of chocolates, miniature robots instead of jewels. But he played the anticipatory part well: keenly (impatiently) waited for her responses with individual delights at each gift.
And somehow, as if by accident and some concocted ruse, Milly found herself grateful for the useless eviscerated Knightmare bodies and hacked off limbs. And as always, she quietly permitted him to kiss her on the cheek. And shivered when his cold lips touched her skin, wondering if he oh-just-happened to suffer from hypothermia.
"I'm fine, dear," Lloyd remarked, "Tea?"
She straightened immediately.
"Yes, thank you."
And they continued pretend-chattering away the day, like either one of them cared about banal human ordeals.
Milly sighed and counted. Ten minutes, thirty seven seconds and going.
. . .
She caught a cold once every winter and confined herself to bed for a week.
And during that year's week, flowers arrived daily, which she threw away immediately (allergic, damn those things). And attached to each lovely, posh bouquet would be a get-well note scrawled beautifully on creamy paper.
Precisely what Cecile assumed Lloyd would purchase for fiancées, mothers, daughters, whatever so long as it's female (that woman knew him so well).
And Milly would sigh and force her feverish hand to pen down a thank-you (but really, no thanks) letter back. Which, she assumed, Lloyd would toss upon sight.
. . .
"Did you like the flowers?" he asked (teased mercilessly).
She blushed (arrogant jerk practically read her thoughts).
. . .
The week before she was to graduate, he invited her over for tea. As per usual.
And as per usual, she complied, dressed meticulously (for no one), and arrived right on the dot. Now, that he noticed. Punctuality was a prized quality in machinery, and Lloyd understood his precious darlings like a clean slice through the neck. Efficiency was for the best.
If anything, he was an assassin too. Just of gadgets and gears, not vassals and vessels. But Lloyd was a fine practitioner with an artist's touch.
"How old are you now?"
"I'm…well, I'm much older than that. Does that bother you?"
Milly paused for a moment, decoding what he said, trying to extrapolate any hidden intents. And smiled and sipped a bit of tea.
"Not at all."
"Good, good. And seeing as how you'll be graduating next week. I was thinking we could get married that day, after the graduation ceremony of course."
"Actually, Earl—Lloyd—sorry. Actually, I won't be graduating this year," or any year, "Terribly sorry but I just did so awful on my exams that I have no choice but to stay on."
"Oh, that is terribly disappointing."
"But when I am nineteen and graduated, we can get married whenever you want."
"A deal's a deal, I suppose."
Demurely—in case he did notice this time—Milly averted her gaze and congratulated herself on the impromptu cleverness. Never daring to question why he took the news so calmly, so expectedly.
Like he had wished the very same response.