Tabitha watched Grant Armiston and his new bride Jenna dance. They were a lovely couple and a good match. Grant's family and Jenna's family had planned their betrothal from birth. The blending of the two families would mean good things for both of their villages. This was the way things were done. And it was a good way. Tabitha knew if she kept telling herself that then eventually she might believe it to be true.
Her grandmother Luella came behind Tabitha and placed a hand on her shoulder. "You should dance with one of the Graystone boys. If you start with the youngest you will have four other dance partners all waiting their turn. Your feet will give out before the evening is over."
Tabitha smiled at her grandmother. She knew what she was doing. Distraction and then exhaustion. That's what she needed tonight. Anything to stop thinking about what might have been.
She had first noticed him watching her while she hung out the laundry. It had been a breezy day and she was trying to hang the sheets. The wind kept catching them like a sail as she would fight to get them on the line and secured. At one point she was wrapped in her grandmother's pink sheet like it was a dress, trying to untangle herself without letting any of the sheet drag on the ground and thus need rewashing. As she finally danced her way out of the mess she heard a laugh. A deep solid laugh. She swore that she could feel it vibrating in her bones as much as she heard it. She turned and there was Grant Armiston laughing at her.
"You know instead of laughing you could have helped!"
"I could have, but this was much more amusing."
And then he smiled at her, tipped an imaginary hat and walked on his way. She had felt herself blushing. Blushing. Just because Grant Armiston had spoken to her? She was being silly.
But no matter how silly she knew it to be she couldn't help replaying the way his laugh had sounded. How he had looked leaning up against her grandmother's fence watching her. And every time she thought about it she smiled.
She also started volunteering to run any errands that would take her in to town. And she might have made sure to take a slight detour to walk past the Armiston's house. Just because it was a lovely house and she enjoyed looking at the garden. That's what she told her grandmother when she had asked Tabitha about it anyway.
And more and more often when she walked by the house Grant would be outside. Reading. Or working in the garden. Or just getting ready to walk in to town and would she mind too much if he joined her. She never did mind, of course. And oddly enough he never seemed to have any errands to run that weren't at the same places she needed to go.
This went on for awhile until one day her grandmother asked her to come sit with her in the kitchen and talk.
Tabitha sat at the table while her grandmother tended to the fire in her stove. "Fire is an interesting thing, isn't it?"
Tabitha smiled, sometimes her grandmother said odd things like this, "Yes, I suppose so."
"In the stove like this it's a good thing. A helpful thing. It cooks our food. It boils our water so it is safe to drink. Heats it so we can take warm baths. During the winter I can use the charbox to put an ember in each heating stove and warm the house. But if I were to drop that ember out of the box on to the floor what would happen?"
"You would have to put the ember out before it caught on fire."
"And what about if I asked you to carry an ember to Mrs. Livingston if her fire had gone cold? How would you do that?"
"I would put a coal in the charbox and take it to her." Tabitha said in a tone that clearly reflected the thought that her grandmother might be losing it just a touch.
"You wouldn't carry it in your hand? Why not?"
"Because it would burn me. You cannot carry fire in your hand."
"That is true. In the proper place it's a wonderful thing but you cannot use it in an improper way or you will get burned."
Tabitha gave her grandmother a confused smile, "Yes..."
"You have been spending a lot of time with the Armiston boy lately."
Tabitha looked down and blushed.
"You know he is betrothed to another don't you?"
"It's not like that, we are just friends."
"Is that so?" Tabitha's grandmother put her fingers under Tabitha's chin and lifted her face. "Do all of your friends make you blush?"
Tabitha looked down again, "No..."
Her grandmother sat down across from her at the table. "He's a fine boy. I can see that. And he can see that you are a lovely girl. But I need you to listen to me. He is betrothed to another. That is not going to change. No matter what you are thinking. He is spoken for. His parents have made those arrangements. And they are good arrangements. If you try to steal that coal you will end up burned."
"I am not trying..."
Tabitha fell silent as her grandmother looked at her. It was a stern look, but not an angry one.
"Child, I know. I do. I know how you are feeling. I know what you are hoping. But it is not going to happen. His family will not allow it. And he is a good son and will not go against his family. You need to take that ember and put it deep inside a charbox right now and don't let it back out. Do you understand me?"
Tabitha nodded and a tear spilled from her eye.
Her grandmother reached out and wiped it away, "Yes, I see that you do."
It took awhile. Tabitha stopped going in to town unless she was with her grandmother. She did not venture in to her own yard when she saw Grant walking by the house. No matter how many times he walked past and no matter how badly she had wanted to. She knew her grandmother was right.
Now two years later Grant was dancing with his new bride and the world spun on as it was meant to.
And the fire in her chest burned.
She closed the charbox down tightly and asked the youngest Graystone boy if he knew how to dance.