This wasn't too hard to write. I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted to have happen next. I decided to skip ahead a bit in time, to do something that, for once, doesn't involve any crying, and you see at least a few more characters.

Characters (with exceptions) © Disney

Story © unicorn-skydancer08

All rights reserved.

Chapter 19: A Good Night

"Well, that was an excellent dinner, Terence," said Arietta. "Thank you for inviting us to stay and share it with you. The food was absolutely marvelous."

"Please, no one mention the word 'food' again tonight," Armando said, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands over his very full stomach.

Giving her husband a playful poke in the shoulder, Arietta told him, "Hey, no one forced you to pile your plate that high, mister. It's your own fault you chose to eat that much."

"Could I help it if everything tasted so dang good?" he countered.

"Keep this up and you'll be as big as Bernardo one of these days."

"Ha, ha, not likely. I doubt a cow would be able to gain half as much."

Terence laughed and answered heartily, "Glad you enjoyed the meal, mates."

Rhiella also secretly wished she hadn't eaten so much, but the food had really been wonderful. She admired Terence's culinary skills, as well as her own, for she had pitched in some. Jiminy, too, was feeling quite pleasantly stuffed. Next to the table, Figaro was just polishing the last bit of gravy from his whiskers, and Duke lay contentedly on his side on the floor. Cleo swam idly about in her bowl, also savoring the satisfaction that comes from a nourishing meal. Pinocchio, while he hadn't eaten nearly as much as the grown-ups, had managed a little bit of everything and felt oddly happy—or, at the least, better than he had earlier that day.

"Bernardo could use a cook like you at his place," Arietta told Terence.

"I'll definitely keep that in mind," Terence said. "I admit I've developed a genuine pleasure in the art of food."

Armando groaned.

"So those two nice gentlemen from the inn are also friends of yours, eh?" said Rhiella.

"That's right," Arietta said. "Bernardo and Armando go way back. They're like brothers."

"I guess you could say that," Armando said. "A crazy brother at times, to be sure, but a brother all the same."

Rhiella smiled, but that smile faltered somewhat when she said, "Now that the weather's settled down, I suppose this means I ought to head back to the White Fish Inn tonight."

Terence didn't want her to go, but knew she couldn't very well waste good money on a place she wasn't even staying in. Furthermore, as they were yet unmarried, it didn't seem appropriate for them to be sharing the same roof day in and day out. Besides, he loved and respected her far too much to put her in any questionable situations. "Why don't you spend the day with us tomorrow," he suggested, "and you can return to the inn at night? This way, we can still be together, and you and I wouldn't be…well, you know."

Rhiella knew, all right. Much as she loved Terence, she too had her morals to uphold. "That's a splendid idea," she said. "And we can spend the day after that, and the day after that—"

Laughing again, he gently cut her off, "All right, dearest, all right—one day at a time."

"Sorry." To the others, Rhiella admitted, "Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself."

As Terence stood up, he asked, with a rather droll accent, "Mind if I escort thee to yonder inn, my fair lady?"

Now it was Rhiella's turn to laugh. "It shall be my honor, my good man."

"Armando," said Terence, "would you mind staying here for a little longer, to keep an eye on Pinocchio? At least until I come back?"

"No problem, Terence," Armando said.

"I'll stay, too," Arietta said. "I'm in no hurry."

Armando gave his belly one final pat as he said, "Need some time to let my dinner settle anyway."

"Thank you," Terence said. Seeing the look on Pinocchio's face, he gently assured him, "Don't worry, Pinoke. I promise I won't be so long this time. I'll be back by your bedtime for sure."

Pinocchio made no reply, but when Terence hugged him goodbye, he held onto the young man a little tighter than usual, and he turned away to avoid hugging Rhiella. Rhiella was a little taken aback. She knew she was still virtually a stranger to Pinocchio; she, herself, wasn't fully comfortable with the boy. Yet it surprised her, even stung her some, that he was a tad too obvious about evading her. But she said nothing about it.

Just before he headed out, Terence had Armando hold out his hand, and he placed a small linen bag into it. "What's this?" Armando asked.

"Your payment," Terence answered. "As Pinocchio's teacher, remember? A deal is a deal."

When Armando opened the bag, he and Arietta were surprised at the number of coins inside. While it was nothing too extravagant, it was definitely a lot more than they'd ever earned at the circus. "Wow!" Arietta whispered while Armando whistled through his teeth.

"Think that will be enough?" Terence asked.

"Oh yes," said Armando in a low voice. "Plenty."

"That's very generous of you, Terence," said Arietta, staring at him in awe and disbelief. "We…we really don't know what to say."

Terence smiled. "Well, you know what they say, mates. You can't put a price on a good education."

"It's more than we deserve," Armando said.

"Nonsense. You two just keep focusing on your half of the bargain, and I'll focus on mine."

Terence and Rhiella made it to the White Fish Inn in good time. It wasn't nearly so crowded as it had been the first time Terence visited the place; in fact, it was just Bernardo and Gahiji, along with a handful of people scattered about, some eating, some drinking, and two or three were chatting idly while playing a round of cards.

"Good evening, Bernardo," said Terence when they had met up with the man.

"Terence, m'boy!" said Bernardo in his usual jovial manner, greeting the youth with yet another rib-cracking hug. "Good to see you once again! Welcome back, lad, welcome back!"

"Thanks, mate," said Terence, giving his side a light rub when he was free again. "But, you know, there's got to be a less painful way to greet me."

Seeing Rhiella, Bernardo's eyes grew decidedly bigger, and his mouth formed a perfect O of astonishment and wonder. It took him but a second to get the picture. "Well, well, well," he said in a hushed voice, "what have we here?" To his companion, he said, "Can you believe this, Gahiji? Looks like Terence has snagged himself a little lady!"

Gahiji looked and sounded every bit as impressed as he said, "Well, I'll be—as they say—a son of a gun!"

"I presume you do know each other?" said Bernardo, his gaze shifting meaningfully between Terence and Rhiella.

"Yes, we do," said Rhiella, looking fondly at her beloved. "Very well, indeed." She leaned against Terence's shoulder for just a moment, and he responded with a kiss to her temple.

"Ah, young love," Bernardo sighed. "Ain't it beautiful?"

"Can we get you anything?" Gahiji asked. "A glass of wine, or something?"

"No, thanks," said Terence. "I just thought I'd bring her back here, bid her goodnight."

Gahiji nodded in acceptance. "Oh, all right, then. We shall leave you to it."

"But you should most definitely drop by for dinner sometime," Bernardo insisted.

"Thank you," Rhiella said. "Perhaps we will."

Gahiji went back to scrubbing the tables and countertops, and just before Bernardo returned to his work, he whispered to Terence secretively, "You take my advice, boy, and don't let this one get away."

"I won't," Terence whispered back; inwardly, he added, And I never will. Not ever again.

When he and Rhiella found themselves alone once more, Rhiella said, "I suppose this is where we part ways."

"At least until tomorrow," he said, tracing her jawline. "If you ask me, tomorrow can't come soon enough."

"Dream of me, Terence."

"I don't think I'll be able to dream of anything else tonight." They slipped into each other's arms, held each other as close as they could for as long as they could. "I love you," Terence whispered fervently, right before he kissed her.

"I love you more."

"I love you most."