Departing from Mr. Beebe, Freddy strolled down the dirt path surrounded by evergreens and stout shrubs. He was not very enthusiastic over the fact that it was apparently his responsibility to take Cecil Vyse to the station, but he supposed that he should feign a sympathetic expression. In truth, it would not be feigned. Despite the fact that Cecil had proven himself to be a very unpleasant sort of fellow during these past several moths, it seemed uncharacteristically cruel of Lucy to end the engagement so unexpectedly, without so much as a brief explanation. Lucy seemed resolved to remain enigmatic and Freddy certainly could not ask Cecil for details. Freddy had never been particularly tactful; in fact, he often came across as slightly rude. But even Freddy realized that prying, at this point in time, would be in very bad taste.
Quickening his pace, Freddy eventually caught up with Cecil, who had been briskly moving towards the carriage at the end of the path. Perceiving Freddy approaching him, he briefly glanced in the younger man's direction, a somber expression upon his face.
"It will, in all likelihood, rain today. How fortunate that your mother had the covered carriage prepared for us." Stepping up into the carriage, Cecil seated himself as close to the opposite window as he could. Freddy quickly followed, sitting directly in front of his companion. Cecil apprehensively glanced towards the clouds. "I do hope the train will leave promptly on schedule. I do not recall there being a decent place to wait during a delay where I will not be vulnerable to this oncoming deluge. I was rather absent-minded this morning and seemed to have forgotten to take an umbrella, or even a cap, for that matter."
Immediately annoyed by Cecil's continuous grumbling, Freddy removed his cap and tossed it towards Cecil, who immediately flinched. "Well, go on. Take it. I have plenty more at home. It might be enough to keep your head dry, at least."
"I thank you, no," Cecil replied stiffly, gently placing the cap on the seat next to Freddy. Freddy could not suppress a slight smirk, which did not go unnoticed by Cecil. "What, may I ask, is so very amusing, Freddy?"
Freddy's eyes immediately lit up. "Oh nothing. It's just that, for some reason, I always pegged you as the sort of chap who wouldn't wear another man's cap."
Clasping his hands around his shiny black cane, Cecil immediately furrowed a brow. "How very queer." Freddy briefly considered stating that he felt the same adjective could be used to describe Cecil, but could not bring himself to say it. The ride proceeded in silence. Cecil appeared to be deeply engaged in a novel and Freddy felt his eyelids grow progressively heavier. Suddenly, the sound of Cecil's voice abruptly pulled him from his peaceful state. "I suppose I have you to blame for my failed engagement," he said in a detached tone as he flipped a page.
Freddy, now quite astounded, racked his brain, unable to understand how Cecil could possibly be putting the blame on him. "You'll have to explain yourself, Cecil. I don't have the vaguest idea why-"
"You wouldn't stop badgering me about tennis. Apparently my refusal to play confirmed Lucy's suspicions that I would not be a suitable husband for her. For this reason, I put the blame on you." Freddy rolled his eyes. How did he, at any point, feel sympathy for this sneering, pompous ass? Inwardly seething, he thought it best to remain silent. Meanwhile, Cecil continued to reread the same paragraph several times, glancing up at Freddy in agitation. Finally, he slammed his book shut with enough force to make Freddy jump. "My apologies, Freddy. Though your persistent begging did prove to be a constant source of agitation for me, I cannot blame you for Lucy's change of heart. I really have no one to blame but myself. Everything she said about me… is true." Freddy sort of hoped that Cecil would elaborate, but he seemed to have forgotten that Freddy was there. Staring out the window, Cecil seemed consumed by his own daydream and hardly noticed Freddy, who was squirming in his seat. "I'm the sort of man who could never know anyone intimately… least of all… a woman…" Clearly Cecil was mumbling to himself, but Freddy was now even more intrigued, though he certainly could not explain why. "It's quite true, you know," Cecil whispered, leaning forward ever so slightly. "I've always thought of myself as a relatively pleasant sort of fellow… Until last night. It suddenly became obvious to me that I haven't a friend in the world. And what makes it worse is that… I have no one to blame but myself. I've had this silly idea of what the perfect woman would be like, and yet I now know that this sort of woman… would never have me." Suddenly, Cecil sat up straight, awakening from his daydream. He stared at Freddy. "I don't know why I am troubling you with all of this. You certainly are not interested."
Freddy glanced down, his face flushing, though he still could not explain his sudden bout of nerves. "On the contrary," he muttered.
"I suppose you must be quite pleased," Cecil stated, shifting in his seat. "You never liked me. You candidly told me so the day I asked for your blessing."
"That's not true," Freddy quickly responded. "I never said I did not like you. I said I did not want you for a brother-in-law. There's a difference."
"Yes," Cecil replied with a strange grin. "I suppose there is a difference, isn't there? A… very significant difference."
Freddy glanced up, the peculiar expression on Cecil's face causing him to shift uneasily. Freddy felt his stomach churning, irritation pulsing through his brain. What was it about this man that agitated him to his core? Was it his condescending tone and the way that he always sneered down at people through his pretentious gold pince-nez? Or was it his stiff, tense demeanor that caused everyone to feel on edge? Or… perhaps it was just the fact that, though he certainly did not want to feel this way, Freddy was struck with inexplicable sympathy for this undeniably pitiful creature before him.
"I've given the issue much thought," Cecil continued. Freddy stared blankly, uncertain of that to which Cecil was referring.
"What issue?" Freddy asked nervously. "The fact that I did not want you to marry Lucy?"
"Partially," Cecil began hesitantly. "But also… I've been thinking of all my ridiculous notions of what the ideal woman would be like. How could I have been so blind?"
"Well…" Freddy was now becoming even more anxious. "Perhaps… Your ideas were not ridiculous. But perhaps… this sort of woman is not the type of person you should marry."
Cecil's eyes shot up, a disconcerting smile upon his lips. "Precisely," Cecil replied. "And what sort of person would you suggest I marry?"
The question caught Freddy completely off guard. "How on earth should I know?" he asked, his pitch rising with frustration. Something about this conversation was troubling him immensely. "I really don't know why you are asking me-"
"I have an idea," Cecil interjected, the bizarre grin remaining on his face. "I think that the person would have to complement me. The problem with my former ideas was that I expected my mate to resemble me. I now believe that this idea was absurd. The person I want to- Or…rather… might like to marry someday…would have to differ from me in practically every particular."
"Not every particular," Freddy quickly corrected. Really, what was causing him to feel so alarmed?
"No, perhaps not," Cecil agreed, his grin darkening as he reopened his book. "I suppose we will need to have something in common… A hobby, perhaps." At this, Cecil nonchalantly lifted his book in order for Freddy to perceive the title. Curiosity consuming him, Freddy eventually read the title and immediately balked.
"Now you are learning how to play tennis?!" he exclaimed.
"Why, yes," Cecil replied innocently. "Apparently it is a very popular game. At least that's what these last few months have led me to believe. And though I certainly cannot explain my reasons, I have the strangest feeling that the person I love- Or rather… might love someday… will be very fond of the game."
Freddy felt his chest tighten as he was struck with the terrifying realization of why, perhaps, he had been displaying an unprovoked level of hostility towards Cecil. More importantly, he now had the smallest inkling of why, perhaps, Cecil was choosing to tell all of this to him. What disturbed him more than anything was the fact that, for some odd reason, none of his suspicions bothered him. In fact, it was quite the contrary…
"It appears that we are approaching the station," Cecil commented. "You know, Freddy, it's really quite a shame that we were not able to get along better during my stay. Under different circumstances, I think we could have become… on very good terms. Do you agree?"
Freddy wiped a bead of sweat that was dripping down his forehead. "Yes, I do," he mumbled, his voice cracking.
"Also…" Cecil stared at his companion over the rims of his pince-nez. "If you don't mind my saying so, you have the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. Lucy's are nothing in comparison."
Freddy's bright blue eyes had widened considerably. "Thank…you…" he muttered, his palms moistening.
Suddenly, the carriage came to an abrupt halt. "Well, Freddy, our journey is over… Or…" He glanced down at the page of his book, finding an appropriate part at which to stop. "Perhaps… it is just the beginning…"
*45 Seconds Later*
Freddy was completely frozen, his entire body hovering over Cecil, who was currently pinned against the window, breathing heavily as he clutched his cane threateningly.
Freddy certainly could not explain why he had done it. He certainly never thought of himself as… that sort. As a matter of fact, he had always been quite fond of the young women he met. But…
Cecil had said something… provoking. Only, it certainly did not prompt aggression from Freddy, in the general sense. At one moment, he had been sitting opposite of Cecil, squirming uncomfortably as his latter rambled. The next thing he knew, he had thrust himself across the carriage, unintentionally bashing Cecil's head against the window. What happened next… Freddy could not put into words… even in his own mind. All he knew was that it resulted in Cecil flailing his arms like a terrified chicken, inadvertently (or perhaps advertently) bludgeoning him with his cane.
"FREDDY!" Cecil screeched, prying the young man's fingers from the collar of his overcoat and promptly pushing him into the seat adjacent to his own. Taking a deep breath, Cecil dramatically held his hands out, as though he were steadying his balance. He slowly turned his eyes to his companion with a piercing glare that shot daggers through Freddy's miserable soul. "What the HELL?!!!"
If Freddy had not been feeling so completely suicidal, he might have been somewhat amused by Cecil's uncharacteristic vernacular. But at this point, there was nothing the least bit amusing about this utterly humiliating situation. "I'm… sorry…" he stuttered at last, his entire body shaking. "I probably… should NOT have done that."
"Really?!" Cecil snapped sarcastically, rapidly searching for the pince-nez that had flown off during the altercation. "Is this your reaction when people start to express their feelings to you?"
"No! No!" Freddy cried, shaking his head furiously. "I swear, under any other circumstance I would never have done that. You must believe me! I love women! It's just…" His words trailed off. Suddenly, he felt himself leaning towards Cecil, his nose twitching like a curious rabbit. "Cecil, what is that scent? It's absolutely ravishing! Like the sweet aroma of apple blossoms- NO! WAIT!!!"
Cecil, clutching his book and cane, made his way for the door. "You are one sick son of a-"
"WAIT!!" Freddy pleaded, clutching at Cecil's arm. "Really, I am sorry. I can't imagine what's come over me." At this, Freddy slumped over, his fingers tearing at his hair. "There has always been some… bizarre tension between us, and… Well, you're always telling me how athletic I am! And now you're complimenting my eyes! It made me very uncomfortable!"
At this, Cecil's mouth opened in disbelief. "And that was your way of making it less uncomfortable?!!"
"No. I've told you! I don't know what came over me. Oh, if only… If only you were a woman… I would take you in my arms and-" Freddy heard the words come out and wondered who had said them, for it certainly could not have been him.
His eyes bulging, Cecil mitigated his feeling of shocked abhorrence to a vague sense of startled disgust. "Well, apparently my gender is of no consequence to you."
"Why did you start telling me all of those things? Why did you have to start your tangent about your stupid ideals?" Freddy was once again slumped over pathetically. "What were you thinking, Cecil? How did you expect me to react when your new description of your ideal mate was a perfect description of me?"
Cecil scoffed, straightening the pince-nez on the brim of his nose. "At what point, sir, did I insinuate that my ideal mate would be the new Mr. Vyse?! Dear heavens, man! You were almost my BROTHER!"
"Brother… in-law," Freddy corrected meekly. He knew that this would not help him, but he still felt it must be noted.
"I was engaged to your sister! How on earth did you think that I was insinuating-"
"It was a mistake!" Freddy repeated defensively. "Please listen to me. I normally am… not like that. I assure you!"
"Yes, well…" Cecil collected his belongings huffily. "Actions speak louder than words, my dear boy!"
At this, Cecil exited the carriage and made for the station, an air of flustered offense in his step. Freddy watched desperately, uncertain of what to do. "I'll write to you!" he bellowed, opening the door to get a better look at the tall, refined figure as he faded into the distance. Distraught, Freddy prepared to close the door when something of significance caught his eye. Thinking himself out of Freddy's view, Cecil allowed an unprecedented smile to spread gleefully across his face. The smile was very wide indeed. And to Freddy, it did not seem to be malicious, as though he had purposefully led Freddy into a very cruel trap. Rather, it seemed to be delighted… overjoyed… triumphant, perhaps. Closing the door and signaling for the driver to proceed towards Windy Corner, Freddy wondered if the smile had become contagious.
"Tease," he muttered with a soft chuckle, reaching for his cap. But to his pleasant surprise, the cap was gone.