The Taverner Chronicles: Into Spring, Four
Millie found herself on the lawn. Sitting, with the others, on a table and chairs that were set up for the express purpose of being used for their tea party. Sitting, staring at her cup, knowing that all eyes were trained on her.
Sure everyone was talking, but... somehow, she felt the gazes of everyone fixed upon her face. Andrew and Gianna were probably mentally willing her to say something, to do anything to alleviate the unspoken anxiety that choked the conversation and prevented it from being enjoyable. Grandmother was probably pleased with the results of her talk with her, although she had no idea that her protege had, moments later, allowed herself to get 'involved' with someone.
And that man? That man who had just embraced Millie not half an hour ago, what was he doing? Millie was sure that he was giving her a longing look. For certain.
She raised her eyes for a brief moment to look at the house, but in the process of doing so, she stole a furtive look at the Doctor. Her heart sunk momentarily as she found that he was not only looking away from her, but he was smiling. How cold was he for smiling and talking distractedly to others when he knew how distraught she was! Millie let an obvious sigh escape her lips and went back to mulling over her cup.
And Anthony. Anthony Lang, the one who had gotten her into this sickly mess... he was chattering on about the weather. As if anyone cared to know his opinion of the atmosphere or the condition of the crops; any who had eyes could see that it was sunny and quite warm for a mid-April day, but Millie couldn't see the sunshine. All she cared about were the clouds that blocked the sun.
Often, someone would try to direct the conversation at Millie, but she merely muttered a terse sentence which would immediately quell any further discussion of the topic. Once, when she looked up to see what everyone was doing, Millie's eyes rested on Grandmother. Her look clearly said, Snap out of it, girl. You can't do this, not to me.
Millie 'bucked up' after that, as Andrew relayed to Mother afterward. She suddenly became animated and full of conversation, discussing the weather with Anthony and avoiding any and all eye contact with the Doctor. The whole company was visibly shocked at this abrupt change, but quickly recovered as the 'new' Millie told a most amusing story to Anthony, who was clearly rejoicing in his new-found attention.
After tea was finished, Millie suddenly felt ridiculous and silly. As the rest of the group became interested in a game of crochet, she wandered off to try and recollect herself. She had done exactly what Grandmother didn't want her to do by almost rushing into Doctor Rawlings with a silent complaint of her woes, and then, to make matters worse, she had flirted -actually flirted- with Anthony.
Of all people!
Millie slapped herself in the face as the implication of such actions came crashing down upon her. She had done the stupidest things possible, and if that wasn't bad enough, she had to fix the consequences of those actions before she returned to her own time.
Because it's now or never, she thought, with a sick feeling rising in her throat.
As Millie was turning to go back the house, she saw Anthony walking towards her. She felt the color rise on her cheeks as she realized that she was a distance from the house. And that Anthony was fast approaching. And that they would be alone.
Alone. That was good, right? Millie quickly formulated what she would say to him. Despite the fact that she did not like him in the least, she dreaded hurting his feelings and wanted the whole ordeal to be over as quickly as possible. For some reason, her thoughts rushed to all the books she had read to find the right words. But for all the years she had spent memorizing the words of Elizabeth Bennet and Molly Gibson, her mind could only remember Mr. Collin's ludicrous proposals. They would certainly be of no use to her in this case.
Her heart panicked as she saw that Anthony was in speaking distance. He called her name with a cockish smile, almost as if he was a hunter closing in a waterfowl. Millie gulped. This was going to be harder than she thought.
Anthony walked up to her with a flower in his hand, no doubt picked from one of Grandmother's highly manicured gardens. She wished she didn't have to take it, but accepted it and thanked him.
'Miss Taverner...' began Anthony, evidently relishing the whole situation and thinking that he had started a grand oration.
Millie sighed, and opened her mouth to speak. But before she could get any words out, Anthony began again.
'Even though we have known each other only for a month, I feel I know you so well. Your letters, your deference, your conversation- I cannot tell you how much they mean to me.'
Millie tried to smile and looked surprised, hoping that she would be able to cut him off, but her expectations were dashed when he continued yet again.
'I wish... Miss Taverner, may I be so bold-'
'Don't! Just don't!' Millie squeaked.
The whole situation was ridiculous, and Millie shuddered with the realization that she had just made it much worse.
'Lord Lang-' she started, but was stopped when Anthony interposed and said, 'Anthony. Call me Anthony.'
Millie flashed a waxy smile, then tried again, 'Anthony, I... I'm sorry. I can't accept your... friendship.'
A look of total shock crossed his face. Millie started when she saw that while his other emotions may have been a false front, his surprise was true. She felt horrible inside as he tried to speak, but knew she had to continue speaking.
'Anthony, while I've been extremely flattered by your attention, I... couldn't possibly...'
He turned away with a wave of his hand.
'I understand what you're trying to say. I am... going now. Miss Taverner, thank you for your time.'
With that, he was gone. Gone. Millie thought she'd be glad to see him walking away, but a part of her wanted to run after him and say sorry. She knew, though, that to do so would be ruinous to all.
She waited until he was out of sight before she went back to the house. However, instead of following the main path back, she sought out a short cut so that she could avoid meeting Anthony again. As she rejoiced in the solitude of the shaded path, she stopped short when a thought came rushing into her mind.
If it was hard to reject Anthony... how much harder would it be when she had to say goodbye to Doctor Rawlings?