More Than Words
Page 18

 Mia Sheridan

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We were going to eat a picnic lunch and maybe fly a kite. I didn’t think I’d been this damn excited when I’d taken the stage to accept that French award months ago—the biggest award I’d ever received. Weird. Inexplicable. But true.
We walked a short way, and then Jessie turned down a dirt road that led to the edge of a flower field. She let go of my hand, and I immediately missed her fingers threaded through mine and the warm clasp of her palm against my own. “Look, it’s over there,” she said, pointing.
All I could see was a strange pile of rocks at the edge of a cliff overlooking the river. “When you said remains, I thought there’d be more to look at.”
She shrugged and started walking, and I followed. As I always did when Jessie took me on an adventure. When we got to the site, there looked to be an old tile floor peeking out through the rubble, but other than that, it really was just piles of collapsed rock. “There’s nothing left.”
Jessie was looking around with interest, though I had no idea why. “Not much. But I can tell it was beautiful once.”
Whatever evidence had led her to that conclusion was obviously lost on me. “Well, it definitely had a nice view.” I looked out to the river, where the blue-green water moved peacefully by, the trees that grew along the shore casting light green and yellow reflections. Sunlight sparkled on the surface as if a handful of diamond shards had been casually tossed into the water. For a moment I was lost in it, lost in the beauty. When I tore my eyes away and glanced at Jessie, she was smiling softly at me. “What?”
She shook her head, the smile remaining. “Nothing.” She turned, setting the bag of food she was carrying near some rocks, and I followed suit. Apparently her hunger was momentarily forgotten as she explored the area, picking up tiny pieces of rock and rubble and examining them for a moment before carefully replacing them on the ground. She squatted and ran her finger along a piece of broken tile, leaning in to look more closely.
“So, tell me about the work you’re here to do.”
She looked my way and stood, walking toward a pile of rocks that might have once been a piece of wall. “There were some documents found in a cave in the area that are thought to have been written by someone close to Joan of Arc.”
“Joan of Arc?”
“Hmm,” she hummed, running her finger along a rock sitting at the top of a pile. “Do you know anything about her?”
“Not off the top of my head.”
She looked out to the river, her finger continuing its movement. She had always been tactile like that, always exploring things with her hands, her fingertips. I wondered now if she’d express herself in bed like that, too, and just the thought was so exciting I almost groaned. I suddenly remembered her as a young teen and the way she would find my hand as she read and trace a fingernail with the pad of her thumb. She hadn’t even known she was doing it, and I’d found it so arousing, I’d all but come in my pants. I took a deep breath, willing myself not to get hard, not to let her know how sexy I found her as she picked up a pebble and rubbed it slowly between her thumb and index finger. I instinctively knew letting her know how turned on I was would scare her off and she wouldn’t respond well. At least not in this moment. Maybe never.
“Joan of Arc was a French peasant girl who believed she was acting under divine guidance when she led the French army in a victory over the English during the Hundred Years’ War.”
“Divine guidance?”
“She reported hearing voices sent from God.”
“Ah. Lucky girl.”
She looked at me, raising a brow, obviously hearing the sarcasm in my voice. “You think?”
“Don’t you?”
She appeared to really consider the question for a moment. “I think it sounds like an incredibly heavy burden to bear.”
“Because if God calls you to do something, you better do it. And do it well. No matter what it is. Joan claimed God’s mission for her was to save France from its enemies and ensure Charles the Seventh was crowned as rightful king.”
“No pressure though.”
Jessie laughed, and my heart gave a small jump. “I don’t think God messes around when he’s doling out missions. Joan, a seventeen-year-old girl, set out from her village with not much more than the clothes on her back to follow his instructions. And in this circumstance, the thing God called her to do ended up getting her burned alive at the stake.”
I made a show of shivering. “No thanks. God can keep his divine missions.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Exactly my point.”
“Did others believe she, uh …?”
“Heard heavenly voices?” She smiled. “Many did. According to popular prophecy of the time, a virgin was destined to save France. It’s said that when she first gained an audience with Charles and asked him to give her an army, she revealed things to him that only God could have known.”
“A seventeen-year-old peasant with no military training walked into court and got an audience with the king, who then gave her an entire army? Just like that?”
“He wasn’t the king at that time. He’d actually been disinherited by his father, who was known as the Mad King, and needed a different way to inherit the throne he felt was rightfully his. But yes. Whatever Joan said to him to get him to give her an army, it was obviously very convincing. At her trial, she asked not to be pressed about it because she wouldn’t tell. She only said that he received a sign that what she said was true. It’s one of history’s great mysteries. In any case, she led the army that had, up until then, only known defeat and humiliation to immediate and repeated victory.”
“Huh. That’s pretty unbelievable. The Mad King? I can see why history fascinates you. It’s like a real-life fairy tale.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” She blushed and looked down. “And to be here, where it all happened, is just …” She turned her face to the sky suddenly and smiled before looking back to me. “Do you want to eat or fly that kite?”
I was taken off guard by her change of topic and tilted my head, my brow furrowing. “I thought you were really hungry.”
“I can wait. I feel a breeze we should take advantage of.”
I paused, tilting my head upward as well, and felt the wind ruffling my hair and flowing across my skin. “You’re right. Let’s do this.”
I unwrapped the kite quickly and unraveled the string. It seemed pretty straightforward, but I’d never flown a kite before. “Come on, we need room,” Jessie called, jogging toward the wide-open field. I followed her, letting the kite drift into the sky, caught by the breeze now coming off the water. I let out a half laugh, half holler when the kite suddenly whipped higher into the sky, dragging me along with it and causing me to have to jog to keep up.
I passed Jessie as the wind blew harder, and I began to run, my baseball cap whipping off and flying away, the kite leading me as I ran along behind it. I could hear Jessie’s breathless laughter behind me, and a sudden, sweeping joy filled my body. I let out a loud whoop of delight, the wind in my face, the high grass swishing against my shins, the kite above my head making me feel like I was flying along with it.
I looked ahead and saw the edge of the field was coming up quickly and attempted to turn, but the wind was in charge and it wasn’t changing course. “Oh, shittttt,” I yelled, having no choice but to let go of the kite as it whipped higher and moved out over the river. I collapsed on the ground, laughing and trying to catch my breath.
Jessie’s shadow came over me, blocking out the sun, and I grinned at her, my breath still coming out in sharp pants. She was laughing, too, and shaking her head. “You lost our ship, Captain.”
I squinted my left eye, peering up at her with only my right. “Aye, matey. But it was worth it.”
She reached out her hand and I took it, rising. I came to my feet directly in front of her, so close that I could feel the soft exhale of her breath. Our laughter dwindled, and for a moment we stood staring at each other before she stepped back, glancing behind me toward the water. I turned so I was standing next to her, and we both looked out over the river, our ship only a bare speck on the horizon now, off to sail to warmer seas.