Dried Nectarines

She was thin, emaciated and weak-limbed. He could see all her shoulder bones and knee bones and ribs and scapula, tibia, fibula (bones, bones, and more). Octavia liked to stand perfectly erect or bent down until she hunched over like a woman about to die. He could send shivers down her spine, poking at each vertebrae as her spine failed to realign itself properly.

"You're very pretty," he said.

Octavia looked away, embarrassed and annoyed. Marc Antony liked to joke, mother never lied (not about him).

"How old are you now?"

"Fourteen," and there was that salient whisper.

"Really. Are you married yet?"

And now she blushed. "No, sir. I'm only a child."

"Oh fourteen is not so young. I have a cousin who married last month. She was twelve."

Anxiously, her hands began to dance, skittering across her lap in search of purchase, of assurance, of an escape from this mad, mad circumstance. Antony only smiled benignly. He meant no harm (any disrespect). He was only here to pay a visit (his respects). Atia of the Julii was a great personal friend, and he'd been away at battle for far, far too long.

But for now, this was much more amusing. There was something about little nymphs—young and supple little devious things—that made his blood rankle. Soured over caustically, vacant veins soon constricting from disdain.

And Octavia was as lovely as they came.

"Have you kissed a boy yet?"

"No. I'm not allowed to have…male friends."

"But I'm your friend, and I'm a male."

Octavia blanched, eyes darting around fearfully. "But…we're not…"

"You don't consider me a friend? Why, I'm terribly hurt, Octavia."

"It's not that. It's just…mother would disapprove."

"Well, what she doesn't know doesn't hurt right?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but I must go. I have to find my tutor. My mother shouldn't be long now."

She gathered her skirts and rose deftly and backed out quickly. But he was fast (experienced) and grabbed her upper arm before she completely leapt from reach. Octavia winced from pain, saw the large blooms of bruising colors—blotches like those from a botched butchering. Antony just smiled even more pleasantly.

"Hurts doesn't it?"

"Please let me go."

"Only if you give me a kiss."

"I can't."

Antony sighed. He saw it clear in her face (damned little beauty). The girl wasn't going to surrender, not when all her damned morals and formidable fables called to her, this was reprobation.

"Fine."

He released his clutch but not before stealing a quick kiss on her chapped pink lips. Tasted like nectarines in the heat of summer, mixed with the rubble and mortar of a blazed countryside, and baked to the core until rot.

Octavia hurried from the courtyard. He merely reclined back against the soft cushions and hummed a cheery tune, still waiting for Atia to arrive.

The Julii family learned corruption very young.