--Chapter Fourteen: The Days Gone By

It was a surprise at first, but the more Isa thought about it, the more she realized she should have seen it coming. Till and Essa had just announced they were engaged. Both of them were at such an age (thirty-two and twenty-nine respectively) that they should not have been able to marry, but they had known each other for such a long time, and Isa had heard Essa talk about wishing she could raise a family... So really, there was only one question on Isa’s mind:

“Why did you wait so long?”

Till shrugged but kept his right arm around Essa as the two sat in one of the tavern’s booths. It was noon, so the rest of the tavern was empty.

“Better late than never,” he said.

Isa took this to mean that he finally got around to doing something he had wanted to do for years. This sounded like Till, alright. As for Essa, a rather plain and soft-spoken woman, she probably never had the courage to ask for anything from Till in the way of romance.

The couple must have courted strictly when they were off work, because Isa’s family and Jinn had no idea they were interested in each other until the announcement came. In such small towns, it was often very difficult, if not impossible, for people to keep secrets like this for very long. Yet, when asked, Till and Essa explained that they had been seeing each other for almost a full year as a serious couple. Most of the meetings between them would happen either at his or her home farm. While there were times when Till had considered telling the people of The Windmill Road, he kept silent, mostly because Essa would not have wanted all the attention on their relationship.

Essa leaned in further against Till and said, “I suppose there was no point to that in the long run, seeing as how we’re bound to get plenty of attention now through whenever the wedding is.

“You know, I was just thinking about that,” said Till. “We should try for late spring or early summer; that way the weather will be nice. We can go up north, then west to the beaches...”

“I was hoping we’d marry earlier than that,” said Essa. “Why not early spring? This winter’s been so mild, I doubt the weather will be an issue.”

Isa nodded. Essa rarely spoke, but when she did, it was usually because she had something sensible to say.

“We’ll need you both back here by the time things get busy in the summer months,” said Isa. “But I do like the idea of going to the beaches. The water will be cold, but the scenery will be nice. Some of the woodlanders say there’s a town up there called Quennebur. It’s supposed to be a good vacation spot.”

“I’ve heard of it, too,” offered Ewen, who had been listening in on the whole conversation from across the room, where she was at that moment wiping some crumbs off a table. “Gorgeous place, they say. A hotel room might be expensive, but I expect prices aren’t as bad during the early spring. You two should be just fine.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Till. He hugged Essa closer and kissed her forehead. “Can’t wait.”

Later that night, Isa was able to talk with Essa alone.

“I still can’t figure it out,” Isa said.

“What’s that?” said Essa.

“If you and Till were really interested in each other, why did this take so long? I could have sworn Till was a confirmed bachelor, and you never even gave us any hints! How did you keep this from us?”

Essa smiled as she sat on the tavern stool next to Isa’s. The women had effectively served each other’s dinner only minutes earlier, a common practice during the winter, when few customers arrived.

“Well, I’d known him for years. I just... I guess I never really thought of us being together until he asked me last year to come over to his place for a visit with his folks. We started seeing each other more often, and... as you’d imagine, it went from there. I guess I was nervous about telling anyone. Our families knew, of course, but I mean anyone else.”

“Aw, now come on. What would you possibly have to be nervous about?”

Essa blushed and looked at her feet, which were crossed at the ankles, since her dress was long enough not to make her cross her legs at the thighs.

“I was nervous because I’ve never been in love before.”

This struck Isa somehow. Up until this point in the talk, the sixteen-year-old had been treating the twenty-nine-year-old like a child in need of comfort. However, Ewen’s answer turned things around. Isa had never been in love.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” she said, “what’s that like?”

“Love? Oh...” Essa smiled. A gleam in her eye reflected her inability to find all the right words. “You’ll know it when it happens. For some, it comes in an instant. It sort of snuck up on me... You find yourself thinking about that person at the most random times, no matter what you’re doing. You sometimes end up going out of your way for that person. I once tried learning to bake a cake so I could impress him. It was a terrible cake when I’d finished with it—it was leaning to one side, and it was very dry—but he said he liked it anyway, just because of the thought that went into it. See, when you care about the person so much that everything else in your life becomes secondary to your relationship, that’s when you know you’re in love.”

Isa nodded. “So for you two, it wasn’t ‘love at first sight’ or whatever.”

Essa said, “No... No, I’m sure I don’t even remember the first time I met Till. It would probably be the first day I came to the tavern when my dad said I should get a job to help the family. I know I met all of you then, but that was so many years ago. I was seventeen, and you... You could barely reach over the bar!”

Isa laughed, but Essa went on.

“My first real memory of Till was... Oh, let me think... I remember when he had the problem with bumping into the hanging pots in the kitchen, so he built a stand to hang them on and put it on the other side of the room. But he forgot to tell your mom, and the next day, she had the hardest time finding her cookware. Turned out it was right under her nose, but since it wasn’t in the usual place, she couldn’t deal with the adjustment too well. Till almost got fired when he showed her the new stand and it was right behind her. Your dad and I were in the kitchen, too, and we thought it was the funniest thing; Till really thought his job was at stake, when Ewen was just playing up the event to get back at him.”

Isa did not remember this incident; it must have been a long time ago, though, since for as long as she had been old enough to notice such things, she was used to seeing the pots hang from the stand in the far corner of the kitchen.

“I didn’t know Till made that stand,” Isa said.

“Oh, he made that and quite a few other things around this bar. He could have been a good carpenter if he were quicker about his work. He takes his time, though, always acting like he has all of forever to get any task done—until the last minute, when he does it in an instant.” Essa snapped her fingers at that last word. Then she sighed. “I hope he doesn’t want to wait too long for us to have kids.”

“Something tells me you’ll just have to make him act faster. I know you can’t change him, but... I’m sure he loves you enough to listen.”

Essa’s blush deepened. Clearly it was one thing to be nervous about loving someone, another to be nervous about being loved.

The two talked late into the evening, but eventually, Essa had to head home.

Isa locked the tavern door and walked across the street to her house. There were too many clouds to see any dark blue in the sky that night, and the wind made it seem colder than the air actually was. Isa stopped in the middle of the road and looked off into the distance along the eastern road. There, above the horizon, was a break in the overcast, and through this break, Isa could see one star. She had wished upon stars as a child, but it never seemed to do her much good. Now that she was older, she knew why it did not help things... After all, a star was only a star. Wishing to it would not change the world. Such magic things just did not happen in reality...

With one exception.

While Isa stood looking at the star, she thought about what Essa had said regarding love. For all Isa could reason, there was nothing at all logical about that emotion. She could not see any way to explain how one fell in love, and the more she considered it, she could not see how she would fall in love. Would it just happen one day, or would it creep up on her as it had Essa? And even if it did, would she ever understand it? To Isa, the world existed in order to be explained. Events happened in order for stories to be told and history to be written. Because love did not fall into the general equation, Isa feared the emotion—though she probably would not have admitted that until this night.

So if love did not make sense, and neither did talking to a star... She would take a leap of faith tonight.

“If you can hear me,” she said softly, “I have a wish. Show me what love is. I want to know.”

The wind picked up to the point where Isa could no longer ignore it; she would have to go inside. Her last thought before going to bed that night was that she should not rush something like love. If it could happen for Essa at twenty-nine, then Isa still had time to work with. And in the days that passed between this night and her own wedding, she would just have to be patient.

So much of life was a waiting game... In the end, she wondered, what are we waiting for?