Chapter Three: A New Face
Finding Susan sprawled on her floor, covered in paint and powders in a desperate attempt at hiding her pain had happened three days ago, but the memory was still burning a hole in my mind's eye when I boarded the train headed toward Professor Kirke's house. I had said goodbye to my siblings at the station-Lucy with many tears, Edmund and Susan with half-smiles, although Edmund's was a little more, well, real than Susan's-before we all separated for the summer... for the first time since we were all born, actually...
It was an interesting feeling, both lonely and somehow liberating to be by myself for the first time in my life... It was such a unusual feeling that I hadn't realized that I wasn't the only one sitting in the compartment until the other occupant called out to me for what I'm sure was the fifth time. "Um, hello? Do you understand English?"
Jerking away from my thoughts, I moved my gaze from the window and the passing scenery that I wasn't really looking at, to the girl that called out to me: She looked about my age, had light brown hair, light blue eyes, very light skin and was overall a very pale person who was looking at me like she wasn't sure if I was going to jump at her or not; if I didn't know for sure that I was in England, I would swear to Aslan himself she was a wood nymph... An elm wood nymph...
She was holding out a small red canteen, shaking it slightly so I could hear that there was liquid in it, with a small, politely puzzled smile on her face as she quietly enunciated, "Are-you-thirsty? Do-you-want-a-drink?"
Feeling my face heat up from both the fact that the first girl I met outside my family thought I was slow and the fact that I had been staring at her for a while, imagining her as a magical creature, I somehow managed to stammer out, "N-no, thank you, I'm not thirsty."
"Ah, he speaks!" She had a nice laugh, as well as a nice American accent that I never heard before, making her cut her vowels a little. It was interesting to listen to, despite the fact that I only heard her speak a few words...
"Sorry about that," I smiled at her, trying to think of something to say before my mind took off again. Considering the fact that she seemed to be bored and decided that I was the best way to relieve that boredom, I had a good way to keep from going off into another Narnia induced daydream: We were the only ones in the compartment and, speaking from personal experience, staring out the window added to boredom, it didn't get rid of it. "I was just... thinking."
"Hmm..." It was a noncommittal noise that said she wasn't going to press for details and I was grateful for that. Living in Narnia for the years I had gave me a skill that I could use in England as well; I could read various forms of communication and could keep it going even if I didn't have any interest in it, though something told me that talking with this girl wasn't going to be like the boring conferences I normally had to sit through...
Thankfully, the girl was more than willing to switch the subject and prove my assessment of her, as well as peak my interest in the subject as well. "Well, it looked like it was a pretty big thought, so maybe you should think about something else; do you think dragons ever existed?"
It was a good thing that I had refused her offer of water before, or else I would have probably sprayed it all over the compartment and possibly even her. It was interesting that her first question involved magical creatures(something I actually had some knowledge of)and not what my name was, which was the norm for when one was questioning another... "What do you mean, 'do you think dragons ever existed'? What kind of question is that?"
She looked a little embarrassed at that, making me feel like a bit of a heel for asking the way I did, but she still pushed on with her question as she fiddled with a blue book that she picked up off the seat beside her. "It's a little odd, I know... I used to get teased for asking questions like that back home, but it's just something I do... So, dragons! What with all the stories that people make up about them, don't you think that there might be some kind of...well, truth to it? Maybe... maybe, someone saw one, somewhere, and they wrote a story about it... Maybe, maybe, people don't believe in them because it made the dragon so popular that it had to hide from everyone who wanted to hurt it...?"
As she spoke, the girl's eyes had lit up with a bright, hopeful light that made me almost want to tell her that 'yes, dragons do exist' and explain that there was even a magical land that housed more magical animals than a zoo, that I had been to that land and even been a King of it for some of the best years of my life... It was such an overwhelming feeling that I opened my mouth to say something, before the unbelievability of the whole thing hit me and made me snap my mouth shut with an audible click that had the girl looking at me in curiosity.
"Um, maybe?" She still was looking at me in that politely puzzled way she had when she had offered me a drink, so I thought that perhaps the best way to get out of this was to take my turn changing the subject, so I asked the first question that had popped into my head, the question that we decided to completely overlook: "May I know your name? Because, as you know, most people introduce themselves before they start asking complete strangers random questions... My name is Peter, by the way, Peter Pevenise."
She turned a rather bright shade of pink before giggling and tucking her hair behind her ear, something telling me that was a nervous habit, for her hair was already pulled away from her face by a blue headband. "Of course, you're right about that... I just forget to do that sometimes; well, all the time, really... Sometimes I have two or three conversations were I completely forget to ask someone their name and just get their attention by yelling 'Hey, you!' at them or running up and grabbing their shoulder while saying 'Hey!' or 'What's up?' or something stupid like that... It drives some people... absolutely... bonkers... I still haven't told you what my name is, have I?"
I simply shook my head in denial, knowing that if I opened my mouth that I would burst out laughing at the eccentrics of the girl sitting across from me, and I did not want the girl to think that I was laughing at her(even if I was). She was red enough as it was and I did not want her to pass out due to a rush of blood to her face, considering the fact that the way she was sitting would have her passing out in my lap and then I would be the one that was embarrassed...
"It's Victoria. My name... is Victoria, I'm Victoria. Hi..." The pink had faded from her face, but she still looked embarrassed by her introduction, which was proven a second later when she dropped her face into her hands and muttered in a voice so muffled that I had to lean in to hear what she had said. "Wow, okay... I am now officially mortified and am going to pretend that the last few minutes haven't happened. Would you mind doing the same, please?"
"Would you mind if I remembered the part where I learned your name? That way we don't have to do the whole 'I'm Peter, I'm Victoria.' thing again...?" I asked, laying a hand on her knee to get her attention, to get her to look at me and see that I wasn't laughing anymore. She did peek up at me, slightly uncovering one of her pale blue eyes to show me half of her smile, almost as if she wasn't sure if she should show more or if she was sure that I would start laughing again. She looked so vulnerable like that, so much like we had before we all grew up-both in England and in Narnia-that it made me want to protect her, to make sure that she didn't end up like Susan did; hating the world to avoid getting hurt again. "Please?"
"Sure," She was looking at me like she wasn't sure what to think of me again, but this time I was pretty sure I knew why and couldn't find it in myself to really care... I wasn't sure how to explain it though, how to tell her without sounding like a complete and utter nutter, so I just gave her a half-smile that she returned. She raised her head away from her hands before freezing in her seat like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, a look of slight confusion and anticipation taking over her features, her eyes as wide as the saucers my mother used for fancy dinners. It took me only a few seconds to figure out the reason why she was looking at me like that:
We had been sitting across from each other for the entirety of the train ride and now I had leaned forward to hear her, then she had lifted her head up after I had pushed away her embarrassment, so we were sitting mere inches away from each other. I was struck again with how magical she looked, as if she had followed us out of Narnia and into England, stilling me where I sat just as she had been stilled. I was aware of every move she made, the way that she had drawn in a breath when she realized I noticed how close we were, and the way a single strand of her hair slipped past the headband to float against her face...
Why? Why did I feel like this? Was it because she made me feel protective? Was it because she reminded me of a land that I could no longer go to? Or was simply what my father called 'a young man's urges'? I had no idea and I didn't want to do anything before I found out, so I pulled away from Victoria as fast as I could without offending her and pretended not to hear the sigh that slipped past her lips as I put some distance between us.
Her eyes were hooded and she seemed a little confused, but one blink and she looked like she had before; bright and happy, with a slight blush on her cheeks. I felt guilty that I had let my confused feelings get the better of me, but just as I was about to change the subject again when the conductor's voice rang out that there was just one more stop before mine, so I just gave Victoria a smile and started to get my things from the luggage rack, only slightly surprised when I saw that she was doing the same thing on the other side of the carriage. We got our things together in silence, but it was a nice silence and neither one of us tried to break it.
It was amazing how a few hours ago I was miserable and upset about the fact that I would be away from the only people who knew about Narnia, as well as the siblings that I loved and admired, yet now I was actually looking forward to this summer and having a kind of adventure on my own...
The carriage rumbled into the station and Professor Kirke's maid stood there next to a woman that I had never seen before, but one that the maid apparently knew because of the way the woman was talking with her; stifled and slightly stand-offish with an air of familiarity that I had never thought the woman capable of. As the train finally coasted to a final stop, Victoria put a hand on my arm and questioned, "Will I see you around?"
I must have looked surprised, because she was quick to add on to her statement, "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to and it doesn't have to do with what happened in the carriage..." A blush infused Victoria's cheeks again, reminding me how easy it was for her to be embarrassed and just how vulnerable she was, "I just feel like I need to get to know you better, that I was suppose to meet you... as crazy as that sounds. Never mind, it was stupid of me to ask, just forget I even said anything-"
She made to exit the train, struggling with a piece of luggage that was almost as big as her, when my hand shot out almost of its own accord and wrapped around her wrist so suddenly that it startled both of us. Victoria just barely kept a grip on her own luggage and mine missed her foot by mere inches, but I kept my grip on her arm-not too hard to bruise, but tight enough so that she wouldn't get away-and made her look at me, "Yes, yes, I want to see you again... I mean, I'll see you around. If you still want to, that is..."
Victoria laughed, breaking the tension that had sprung up and making me smile as well, before quipping, "Now it sounds like you're the one who wishes that this hadn't happened!" It made me laugh and soon we both going on like loons, tears streaming down our cheeks and everything. When the conductor came checking to see if the seats were empty and saw us laughing like that, he gave us this look like we were going to go running down the streets, screaming like mad men. It only made us laugh harder and pretty soon we were leaning on each other for support, nearly falling over in our glee...
"Aunt Polly!" Victoria went to raise her hand in greeting and I felt my hand lift as well; looking over, we saw that some time during our laughing fit, our hands had ended up clasped. It sent us howling off again as Victoria used both our hands to wave to her Aunt, which in turn caused her to laugh and wave as well. After a few silly minutes, we all got ourselves under control and made our way onto the platform, unraveling our hands as we did so. Professor Kirke's maid looked a little less than pleased at the interaction, but I couldn't find it in myself to care...
"Peter!" I turned and saw Victoria looking at me, eyes bright and cheeks pink, and instead of seeing a magical creature, I saw a girl who wanted to hang out with me. A girl who wanted to get to know me, Peter Pevenise, and who wanted this even after the awkwardness in the train. I smiled, knowing that before this summer was over, my life would change; maybe it would be even better than before, maybe I would finally feel like I could be happy again... "See you later?"
I smiled back even bigger, feeling my own cheeks warm and Miss Creedy's eyes on me; but yet again, I couldn't find in myself to care. I wanted this adventure, this new face in my life, and I wasn't going to give up just because we had a bumpy start... "See you later."
With matching smiles, we went our separate ways, somehow knowing that we would meet again. I was going to have something to tell Professor Kirke when I got to his house, and Victoria was already telling her Aunt about 'the nice boy' she met on the train, completely unaware that her bright, happy voice carried over to me...
"His name is Peter and he was such a gentleman, Aunt Polly!" A laugh followed this, coming from both her and her aunt, so it must have been some sort of private joke between the two of them, "He didn't even laugh at me when I put my foot in my mouth and you know how often I do that... He was looking out the window when I came in and he looked so down that I thought 'maybe I should talk to him!' and I had to call him five times, but then he-"
Her voice faded around the bend after a little while and I rode in silence for a moment before Miss Creedy spoke for the first time since she picked me up, almost making me fall out of the buggy, "It seems that you've made a new friend, Mr. Pevensive."
"Yes, ma'am." Why was she bringing this up? Oh, Aslan, tell me I'm not going to get 'the Talk' from the Professor's caretaker! That talk was awkward enough when my father gave it to me, was awkward enough when Mama added her bit in and awkward enough when one of my teachers made sure that I knew of every single consequence that could happen from me being 'indiscreet'... Please, please, please, don't have Miss Creedy add her two cents in!
"I expect that she'll be visitin' the house sometime in the future?" Did that scowl mean that she was expecting us to be up to no good, or that she just was unhappy at the fact that I would be bringing another 'child' into her household? It was times like this when I wish I was still a King; I could just order her to tell me, instead of all this useless second guessing... I suppressed a snort at the thought of the look on her face if I ordered her to tell me what it was she was thinking... I'd probably give the old bird a heart attack!
"I expect you to inform the Master before you have any guests, Mr. Penvenise."
"And for you and the Missus to be on your best behavior and as quiet as mice when I have my ladies over."
"Yes, ma'am." Was that it...?
Apparently not, for Miss Creedy suddenly shifted in her seat; looking uncomfortable, but seemingly steeling herself for something that she did not want to do, Miss Creedy gave me one of her stoniest looks yet-which was saying something!-and began; "Mr. Pevenise, I know that you are a young male and your guest is a young female, and I understand that children these days are much less reserved than during my time-"
I dropped my face into my hands, much like my 'young female guest' had before, utterly embarrassed and completely unable to stop Miss Creedy from doing exactly what I had been dreading; giving me her own version of 'the Talk', complete with threats of what she would do to me if I had the audacity to leave the girl in 'a bad way'. I could no longer hold my tongue at that point, and pointed out that I had just met the girl and that I was not that kind of boy. She simply said 'Good' while giving me the stink eye and continued on with her lecture.
This was going to be a long ride...
A/N: I figured after the first chapters that you guys would want a bit of a laugh, so I added in a bit at the end. No, Victoria is not one of those Mary-Sues that Peter automatically falls in love with; he's just seeing things through rose colored glasses and I think he needs a friend for the summer he's at the Professor's house, considering that is where his adventures started and all... If Victoria receives positive feedback, I may give her a larger role; if not, she'll just pop up every now and again.
As always, I would love to hear what you guys think!