"Beautiful," he whispered as his shoulder skimmed mine.

"Rascal," was my reply next pass.

"Determined." He offered a wink.


The dance proceeded to other movements, silencing our verbal banter. Two dozen couples rose upon their toes, then lowered themselves to just height as they swept up and back, not one step missed, all ably immersed in the elegance of a common sway and parry.

To others it may have been a lark, an amusement on a cold December evening, but for Tom and me it was a sparring, a deliberate caracole, turning, ever turning towards each other and away, despairing of steps that forced time and space between us. I became heady with the sustained implication, as well as the anticipation of more.

But suddenly, as one dance ended and the musicians began the prelude for another, Tom took my hand and said, "Let us hide away."

He pulled me into the foyer, to a bench leaning back against the wall of the
mighty staircase but slightly hidden by a tall stand set with a porcelain urn.
We fell onto the seat, a jumble of conspiracy, motion, and laughter.

"There," he said, setting himself aright. "Now I have you where I want you."

Before I had time to respond, he leaned forward and kissed me. ...

Now ... I put my fingers to my lips, hoping their light pressure will help me
remember the one and only. ...

I do admit that Tom and I behaved in a most shocking manner, dancing with no thought or eyes to another, sitting down together, head to head, knee to knee, discussing Tom Jones, and laughing in a way that caused many a matronly stare. That we did not care was shameless. Yet I would not change one moment of our time—which was too fleeting.

Before the third ball, I visited the Lefroy home in Ashe on the auspices of visiting Tom's aunt Anne, a dear friend. Of course, I had hoped to see Tom ... just to see him would have fed and sustained me, like partaking in one meal, all the while knowing there will be another.

But Tom had fled the house—as if avoiding me? And though I enjoyed my visit with Anne, it did not hold the delicious delicacies I had expected. I now hold on to the hope that Tom was truly called away. Or did he flee because his family teased him about our attraction? Families can be relentless and cruel even as they try to be delightful.

The next day, my feast was complete, as Tom came to call. The presence of his little cousin George was not the ideal—and was a surprise I did not quite understand—but I was so pleased to partake of Tom's company that I told myself I did not mind. And yet ... I sigh when I allow myself to imagine the meeting I would have desired versus the one that transpired with a thirteen-year-old chaperon who talked about nonsense when I wanted to talk about ... other things of far more import.

When a fourth ball was planned at Ashe, I held hopes that it was called to honour our upcoming match. In my anticipation I prepared many sets of dialogue that revealed how I would have the evening play out. Tom and I would return to our own special corner behind the urn. As he made his intentions known, he would combine his wit and charm with an eloquence that would impress me to such a degree that I would find myself willing to marry him just in hopes of hearing such eloquence again. And again. ...

Ah, the burdens of imagination ... when the evening did not play out according to my carefully created dialogue and staging, my disappointment grew to such an extent that others asked of my infirmity. I found a quiet hall and gave myself a good talking to, faulting myself, chiding myself. ... For in spite of my intense wishes, it is a known fact that people are not characters in a story, bidden by my whim to act and be according to how I wish them to act and be.

A few days after this fourth ball, dear Tom was sent away to London to continue his law studies. He had spoken of them, so I was not surprised. Not completely surprised. He had also spoken of the pressures of being the oldest male of his generation. His father had married for love and lost his inheritance, and as such, had no fortune to pass along. But Tom's great-uncle Benjamin in London ... ah, there is the fortune he needs to cultivate. It is the prudent thing to do for Tom's future—and mine. It is not unusual for the responsibilities and expectations of his gender to take precedent over the needs and desires of a young female with aspiring plans of her own. One's future must be nurtured and finalized to the best of one's ability, in fate's time, not ours.