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David looked down at the empty bar stools beside him. A little absurd for the girl to climb up.
"I suppose it would be alright for you to stay a little while," David said. His voice betrayed tingling nerves. "You'd probably like to sit down."
He gestured toward the deep chairs in the corner. She smiled and turned, flashing a blood-red ribbon trailing in her hair.
"Shouldn't I call back to the wedding party?" David asked, trying one last time.
"Has someone been married?" she asked.
Well, that's settled at least, David thought. She's not from the wedding. Must be just another guest.
They both sat. David slid his chair a bit farther away, although she was comfortable being close to him. Those bluest eyes pinned him again, and he tensed.
"Do you come here very much?" she asked.
How easily she picked up responsibility for the conversation.
"No," he said. "My first time."
"Yes, I didn't recognize you."
David frowned. "Recognize me?" he asked. "Do you come here that often?"
She smoothed her dark dress. Blue like the sky drifting to night.
"My father comes often. Now that I'm old enough, he brings me with him."
"Does he travel? Is he in business?"
David knew he shouldn't be interrogating the child, but he couldn't feel protective when she was the one in control.
"He's a writer. He loves it here," she said. "It inspires him."
She leaned forward.
"Really, I think it's only because his writer friends come to," she confided. "They talk an awful lot about art and philosophy and religion. They talk even more about the wine in their glasses. I've never seen any actual writing get done."
David laughed. "So what do you do?"
"Oh, I love to debate with them," she said. "I used to sit on my father's lap, but now I get my own chair. They think I'm entertaining."
"You're kidding! You debate about art and philosophy and religion? Do you even know what philosophy is?"
"Of course. I listen a lot," she said, undaunted. "I learned from them. Besides, they're so busy getting angry they don't realize when they've answered their own questions. I love it when I shock them."
David chuckled. He had no doubt.
"My name is Caroline, by the way."
She smiled, and it was the most bewildering thing he had ever seen.
"Glad to meet you David," she said, and they shook hands. A chilly formality. When they broke apart, they glanced at their hands for a few moments. David cleared his throat.
Caroline recovered first.
"So what do you think of this place?" she asked. "It being your first time and all."
"Very impressed. There's something very...odd about it. It's one of the most striking places I've ever been in."
"I know," she said, nodding. "I'll tell you a secret."
The corner of his mouth tipped. "Yes?"
"I often dream about this place."
"You do? What about?" he asked. "Trips with your father?"
"No. Not like that." Her eyes drifted toward the ceiling, and she breathed deeply. "More like this. Empty rooms in the evening. Roaming the halls. Quiet. Like it's just my own."
Free of her attention, David adjusted himself more comfortably in the chair.
"My father dreams about the gardens outside," she said. "Isn't that strange?"
David thought for a moment. "Well, I suppose each person takes away something secret, something special for themselves."
"Something special for themselves.... You sound like my father," she said.
Her eyes dropped back down to him. David stared back, unwavering. When his conscience caught up to him, he would chastise himself for beginning to fall in love with a child.
"I'm not a writer," David said.
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I have written a little. A long time ago. It was awful. Believe me, it was a good thing I stopped."
"It's never a good thing to stop," she said.
Caroline certainly had an uncanny knack for slamming the door on an argument. David pitied her father's friends.
Caroline propped her elbow on the chair and rested her head on her palm. David uncrossed his legs and leaned back.
"So where is your father?" he asked. "Were you alone very long before you came in here?"
Her eyes tipped down, and for the first time, a gravity hardened in her face.
He regretted his words.
"I don't know how long I've been here," she said softly. "It mustn't have been more than a few minutes. But it seems...very long."
Her words dragged slower and slower, until they stopped.
"Caroline? Are you alright?"
David edged forward. His heart was thumping.
Those same breathtaking eyes registered something new.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
He saw calm arise. Reassurance.
"I thought I was dreaming just now. But I'm not."
She wasn't making sense.
"I'm glad I found you, David."
"I am too," he whispered.
"Can I show you something?"
"My most favorite place. Come on!"
Now excited, she slid from the chair and spun past him. Her dressed billowed and brushed him.
Not nearly over his scare David hesitated.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
She had already hurried from the room into the parlor. He hauled himself out of the chair.
On to Part 5
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