The next day was a beautiful sunny spring day. I ran through Pierre's front lawn.
"Esmeralda! No fair! You cheated!"
I held on to a pole and swung around it by my arm. I stuck out my tongue at him. Feeling like having a little fun, I walked toward him and staggered to the ground.
See, I was a superb actress. I always had been. But every time I pulled a fainting act in front of Pierre, he would totally fall for it. It never failed to fool him. And I loved it.
What I had said last night was purely for revengeful purposes. I knew I had extremely fond feelings for him, but I wasn't sure if I wanted more for us. All my girlfriends said he had a crush on me. However, I was cautious with this label they applied to my best friend. I had seen small crushes harm wonderful friendships and was not about to mess up what we had on a whim. Nonetheless, I enjoyed his reaction to my supposed illness.
"Esme? Esme! Are you okay?" He sprinted to my limp form and kneeled over me. "Jacques! Quick! Miss Navarre is ill!"
I popped an eye and peered at him. He looked so concerned. I decided that he was not a normal sixteen year old boy. He was special.
He heaved a sigh and called off his butler. "Never mind, Jacques. She's fine." He looked at me admonishingly.
I giggled and re-closed my eye.
"Why, you!" He cried. He reached down and tickled me.
I shrieked and picked myself up off of the ground. I ran to the other side of the yard and into an enclosure surrounded by trees.
I hid behind a particularly thick tree and waited for him to enter the clearing.
"Esme? Where did you go?"
"Boo!" I popped out from behind my tree to frighten him.
"I knew you were there!"
"Ha! You were scared! Admit it! Scared like a little child!"
"I was not!" His face grew red.
I laughed and sat on a fallen log. He stood over me.
"You're not very lady-like, Miss Navarre."
I attempted to match his deep voice. "Neither are you Monsieur Davants."
He smiled and knelt in front of me. We sat in silence for a minute.
I had finally decided to see if the rumors were true. Could I love Pierre? Sure. It was easy. Just a step beyond friendship. Did I love him? That was debatable.
I spoke up. "If I asked you to do something, would you?"
"Anything, Esmeralda. Ask anything."
"I ask you to tell me your most closely guarded secret."
"Secrets don't make friends."
"Ah. But friends make secrets. We are friends aren't we?"
"Yes, Esme." He grinned and sat on the log beside me.
"How do I know you will keep my deepest secret?"
"You'll just have to trust me."
He looked me in the eye.
"Alright. But only if you tell me yours."
"Deal." I turned to fully face him.
"Um, well, I…" He faltered.
"Out with it, Pierre. I won't laugh. I promise."
"I know. I…" He drew a deep breath. "I love you."
I started. He looked away for a moment. Then he looked at me for my reaction.
I didn't know what to do. My face remained stony and I processed his words. I again imposed the question on myself. Did I love Pierre? Then I realized something. I did.
"Guess what?" I said in a sing-song voice. "I love you, too."
He grinned. He drew in closer and I closed my eyes.
He was going to kiss me. I didn't care about the rumors anymore. I had found someone I really loved and cared about. No one else could ever come between us. He gently touched his lips to mine. It wasn't a real kiss, but it was as close to one as either one of us were truly ready for. I opened my eyes and he pulled me to my feet.
"I was afraid to say it before. But now, I feel free! I love you! I love you so much!"
I laughed. He grabbed me around the waist and hugged me. He twirled me in the air and I held on to him as my feet lost their hold on the ground.
It was a perfect moment.
He set me down and took me by the hands. "I love you. I will always love you. You and no one else."
I sighed with pleasure.
"Let's go inside. I'm parched. And you must be as well. After all, you did beat me in that race. In which, I'd like to point out, you so cheated!"
"I honestly thought we were past this! I won! Fair and square. And to prove it to you, I will race you to…the fountain in the drive. Ready, set, go!" I didn't wait for him to protest. I ran. I was filled with new energy. The rumors were true. And our friendship was not in the least bit changed.
I felt him come up beside me and I pushed myself to go faster.
I was almost off of the lawn when I tripped. I mean, genuinely, tripped and fell. But I didn't hit the ground. Pierre had come up behind me and caught me. So romantic! Then he playfully dropped me to the ground and lay beside me. I propped myself up and looked into his eyes and muttered a thank-you.
"Anytime." He returned. His hand hesitantly inched its way to my face and brushed back some loose hair. I made a silly face and wrapped my arms around his neck.
"You promise you love me?" I said softly.
"Forever." He said back.
"But you promise?" I wanted to make sure.
"I promise. And I always keep my word." He smiled.
"Promise you love me?" He asked.
"Definitely. And here." I cut off a tassel from my dress and tied it around my finger. "I promise. And I'll always wear this ring as proof." I grinned.
"Well, then, we're going to have to get you a more sturdy ring! What's your favorite? Gold or silver?"
I swatted at his chest. "Seriously! This is serious! I just pledged my love to you and you're already trying to get me to wear a fancy French ring."
Finally, we stopped talking and resolved to just lay there, looking in each other's eyes. Eventually, I righted myself and re-strapped my heels. Then we broke out into a bout of laughter. He took me by the arm and led me inside.