Part 18

Muse walked into the music store, too late for breakfast, too early for her first student.  Love stood behind the counter, looking glum, but he brightened when she entered.

“I thought you might not show up until a minute before your student walked in the door,” he said as she passed the counter with a brief hello.

Muse stopped by the door to her lesson room.  “I do like some time to settle in.”

He’d been reading a music catalogue, laid out on the counter, but now flipped it shut and cleared his throat.  “I stopped by your cottage the other day, but you weren’t home.”

Muse had her hand on the door handle, but froze without turning it.  She looked at him curiously, but couldn’t force out the incredulous question which rose to mind; “In the other world?”

“I waited for you,” he said.  “But it got to be very late, and I had to go home . . . for my nightly revel, you know.”  He smiled apologetically, but there was an accusatory undertone to his words, as if he meant to say “Where were you?  Why didn’t you come home?” with them.

“What did you want to visit me there, for?” she asked.  “That you couldn’t wait to see me today.”

“Nothing in particular.  I was returning your visit.  When you came with Dream.”

“Oh.”  She nodded, though she hardly believed him; he had made it so clear before that he was loyal to Beauty in the other world, and a trip to her home could barely be considered a polite visit.  “I won’t be home for a while,” she told him, casually.  “I’m taking a vacation.”

“Ah.  A vacation . . . .”

“That’s right.”

“Where?”

Muse allowed herself a smile, and opened the door.  “Not far.  It’s a rather small world, after all.  But I needed to get away from being Muse, for a while.”

“Muse—”

“I’m still here, working, in this world.  You see me every day.”

He stepped out from behind the counter.  “I wanted to see you in that world,” he said.

She shrugged.  “I suppose I’ll return to my cottage eventually.”

“I see.”

She cocked her head to the side and added thoughtfully; “Or perhaps I won’t.”

“What?”  He frowned.

“Nevermind.”  She moved into her lesson room, and he followed, lingering in the doorframe.  She glanced at the banjo wallclock; it said 15 minutes until her first student arrived.  If he was on time, which he often wasn’t.

“Do you think you might tell me when you come back?”

“I might.”

“Muse . . . .”

“For heaven’s sake, Frances, I’m here right now.”  She sat on the piano bench and looked up at him.  “You act as if you have something important to tell me, so tell me here.  I am the same person you would meet in the other.”

“I had nothing to tell you.  I just wanted to see you.”

She looked away, then looked back, challenging.  “And what of Beauty?  Aren’t you supposed to be enjoying her company in the other world?  Isn’t that when she allows you to be with her?”

“You seem to care more for Beauty than I do,” he said suddenly, a flash of anger surfacing.  This surprised her, as Love was usually so even tempered and patient, even when arguing.  It was part of his nature.

“It only seems strange that you should miss me when you have all that your heart desires with you.”

“I miss you even now, when I’m with you.  It’s not like it used to be.”  He shook his head sadly.

She looked down.  Of course, things had been different between them since the evening she went to the revel and found out about Beauty.  She’d been colder towards him, she’d gone so far as telling him she didn’t want to be social with him at all.  Of course he missed their time together at ease, friendly, eating breakfast and lunch or talking between appointments with students or visits from customers.  But it was his fault that had changed, his fault for loving Beauty.

“What do you want me to do, Muse?  If I were to forsake Beauty, vow to never even see her again, and swear to love only you, you would still accuse me of loving her best in my heart.  You would still hold me at arm’s length and say it isn’t good enough.”

“Have I said that?”

“You have said as much.”

She stood up, color rising to her face.  “Do not not put words in my mouth, Frances.  And don’t stand there, playing the martyr for love, as if you have made every effort to win me and failed.  In fact you have made no effort at all, not truly.”

“I—”

“You still live with another, profess to love another, and only once sought me out in the other world, when you could be with her.  In fact you have not answered my question about where Beauty was that day; why you left her.  Was she gone?  Did you have no one else to be with, and so you decided to grace my humble cottage with your glorious presence?  Love, greatest of all emotions and purest of all actions, what—”

She broke off, for he suddenly stepped toward her, reaching as if to take her in his arms and kiss her.  And that was no way to win an argument.  No way at all.  She backed up reflexively and tripped over the piano bench.

He ended up catching her before she fell, and then released her, stepping away.  Without kissing her.

“Am I to understand, then, that you have an idea of how one should win you?” he asked, his demeanor curiously distant and formal.  But his gaze on her made her look away as she sat back down.

She took a breath, like a long sigh, and answered; “If you really wish to know where I am, in the other world, you must look for me.  But first you must leave Beauty behind.  You must tell her that you wish to be with another, that you love only Muse.  Then you must find me.”

He smiled faintly.  “And what happens when I find you?”

She answered without speaking, only gave him a look from under her lashes, then turned away.  It could mean anything, everything, or nothing — he must find her before finding out what promise lay behind that look.

If he was going to say anything, he was cut off by the sound of the bell jangling above the shop door.  It was not her errant student — a customer, rather; still it brought their conversation to an end.

She did not tell him so, but Muse knew then that she would not be returning to the music store the next day.  She would leave this job, this town, and her room in the old farmhouse.  She would leave no word of where she went; he could ask her landlady, but she would not know.

Nor would she be returning to her cottage in the other world.

If he ever wanted to see her again in either world, he would have to search.

She was Muse, after all.  Gone when you wanted her most.

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