It was a mild November day when she first strode past his post. The wind made the trees shiver, and leaves fell with a gentle yet firm resolve. It was hard for him not to flinch as the occasional leaf caught his hat or his nose on its journey to the ground. The wind, paired with the tasteless gray sky, made him feel a little chilly, but his red uniform kept the wind out fairly well.
He saw her hot pink scarf before he saw the rest of her. She was on the short side, and her too-big coat nearly fell to her ankles. Her wild black curls waved in the wind, and her brown cheeks were flushed with windburn. She held resolutely to her pink scarf to prevent it from blowing into her face.
She was right in front of him when a large maple leaf hit her squarely in the face. She tripped, but caught herself before hitting the ground. Biting back a laugh, he watched as she wiped the leaf off her face, spitting away remnants of it.
She suddenly seemed to realize that he was there, and her cheeks flushed even more in embarrassment.
“You just saw all that, didn’t you?” Her London accent had an almost musical quality to it. “Good thing you can’t talk, being a palace guard and all.”
She took a few steps toward him, studying his face. “I must say, you are a lot more handsome than the guards on the other side.” She barked out a laugh. “Sorry, I’m not sure why I just said that. I’m not usually so bold. I guess it’s just easier to speak your mind when you know a person can’t respond.”
She moved to lean against the wall next to him, “I wonder what it would be like to be in your position, being like a statue, not being able to move even your eyes. I couldn’t do that; I can barely sit still for five minutes. That’s why I work in a shop. Keeps me moving.”
He found it exceptionally hard not to move to look at her. He wished she would move so he could see her. He hadn’t been able to see much of her face when she had passed into his immobile line of vision, but he had the suspicion that she was very beautiful.
“The name’s Allie, by the way. I know you can’t tell me yours, but…” She trailed off.
Every muscle in his neck was screaming at him to turn his head and look at her. His jaw longed to open and inform her that her name was lovely and that he had a name too.
“Well, I better be off. My aunt is going out with some mates tonight and she wanted me to be home before she left.” She pushed off the wall and faced him. “See you around. And don’t tell anyone about my little stumble, you hear?” She wagged a finger at him in his peripheral vision, and he could tell she was smirking.
He didn’t quite understand the hollow feeling that rose in his chest as she walked away.
He didn’t really understand that warm feeling in his chest the next day when she came back either.
Allie was still wearing the same pink scarf, though this time she let it fly loosely in the much gentler breeze. He fought a smile as she approached him.
“Hello again! I was hoping you would be here. I do hope you haven’t been standing here all night.” Her voice was light and lilting as she joked. “On my way back from the shop again. I thought I would just stop by and see if you were still here.”
His heart felt like it was growing to twice its size.
“I was thinking about our conversation earlier, and it made me wonder if anyone has ever talked to you before. I mean, the guards here are practically statues; only the tourists seem to pay you lot any mind.” She tucked her hands into her pockets. “I guess you sort of get the worst ends of the spectrum, yeah? Either you get poked and prodded like an animal in a petting zoo, or you’re treated like you are little more than a decoration. I’d hate that.”
It was true; there were many days when he felt largely useless. There were some days where tourists would try and make him move or smile, and he would be left extremely irritated. And yet other days, as people walked past him with places to be or people to keep them company, he would long for someone to pay him some mind.
“I guess working in a shop is a bit like that. I get some customers who are really rude; sometimes they get a bit nasty if they can’t find what they’re looking for.” She let out a little chuckle, “Last week, there was this lady who got angry at me because we didn’t sell sunhats. I mean, she was genuinely ticked off! I tried to tell her that sunhats are hard to find so close to winter, but she was absolutely insistent that she needed one and that we should have them.” She laughed airily. “People are strange, yeah?”
He wanted with every fiber of his being to laugh along with her. He wanted to tell her a story back so that she would laugh again. For now, he would have to settle for her company.
She paused for a while, twisting her scarf between her fingers, and he simply savored her presence. He wondered if she liked standing next to him as much as he did.
“There sure are a lot of ravens around here. Ever had one land on your hat?” He battled laughter again. No one had ever gotten him so close to laughing before, and he had seen some pretty funny stuff.
“Did one of your face muscles twitch?” Allie moved in front of him excitedly, and stared into his face. It took every single year of his training for him to resist a smile. She stood close to him; he could feel heat radiating off of her.
“Nah. I must have imagined it.” A grin played at the corners of her mouth, and her voice sounded humored. “Well,” she announced, “I have to cook supper tonight, so I should go. Bye!” She gave a little wave before turning away and sending his heart back into its usual lull.
He waited eagerly for her return the next day; nearly every time he saw a flash of pink, his heart quickened a bit in hopes that it was her. He started to get a little worried that she wasn’t coming by, but perked up when he saw the pink scarf come around the corner on his left.
As Allie got closer, he realized that tears were streaming down her cheeks, and her eyes were rimmed in red. She didn’t give him so much as a glance as she hurried by, wiping her face with the end of her scarf. His mind turned turbulently. Obviously, she was too upset to talk, but what had happened? His heart broke as she rounded the corner; seeing her in pain and not being able to do anything for her hurt worse than anything he had felt before.
About 10 seconds later she came back, her eyes shining with tears. She stood against the wall next to him in silence for a minute. He wished he could reach out and comfort her, or even simply ask her what was wrong.
“Sorry.” She sniffed. “I had a bad day at the shop.”
She was quiet again for a moment, and he continued to fight his instinct.
“I don’t want to annoy or irritate you, but I need to vent.”
His brain was screaming out that yes, he did want to hear what was wrong, and that there was absolutely no way she could possibly irritate him.
“We got a new manager this morning. The one we had was transferred to a different location. The new one, well, she’s…” she trailed off and he could see that she was clenching her fist out of the corner of his eye. “She yelled at all of the staff, telling us we were disorganized; she called us stupid. Then she fired my best friend Jamie and her sister Sam for basically no reason.” Allie’s tone had shifted from hurt to angry now. “Oh, and I asked for time off next week a few days ago, and the new manager won’t let me take it off. Now I’m either gonna have to skip my niece’s ballet performance, or risk getting fired.” She wiped her eyes angrily.
Allie turned back toward him. “I know you don’t really have a choice, but you are a great listener,” she joked. “In all seriousness, I do feel a lot better. Thanks.”
Despite her tears and how awful he felt about her situation, his heart warmed at her words. Something inside him felt complete.
She stayed for a while longer, not saying anything, before bidding him goodnight and leaving him to wish she would stay.
The next day Allie came by with a thermos, and his heart quickened.
“Hey!” She was much happier today than she was yesterday. “I brought you something!” She lifted the thermos up and set it down next to him. “I know you can’t drink it right now, but it will stay warm for quite some time. I felt bad about unloading all my emotions on you yesterday, so this is my way of saying thanks.”
He felt a prickling warmness sneaking up his cheeks. He mentally said thank-you and decided that whatever warm drink she had made would be lovely with his supper. He wished she would stop seeing herself as a bother though, and realize that she was, in fact, the highlight of his day.
“Work was a bit better today. The new manager locked herself up in her office for the most part, so at least she wasn’t yelling at us. I did try to ask again about getting next week off for the ballet, but she still said no. I talked to my sister about what to do, and she told me it wasn’t a huge deal if I couldn’t come, but I was the one who got my niece into ballet, so I really want to be there.”
Allie stayed about an hour longer talking about everything from her niece to her tomcat, Mickey. When she did leave, she did so reluctantly.
The thermos she left was full of the best tea he had ever tasted. The next day, he set it on the ground next to him for Allie to pick up.
She seemed pleased that he drank it and even more so that he returned the thermos washed. She promised to bring him some more some time.
Over the next few weeks, Allie stopped by every day. Sometimes she brought tea; once she brought a scone. She told funny stories about her family, frustrating stories about her boss, and stories laced with nostalgia about adventures from her past. The guard hung on her every word, and found himself thinking of her more and more.
The other guards made fun of him whenever he spoke of her; they all knew her name by now. The head guard considered switching up the post order, but he had mercy on “Allie’s guard,” as the other guards called him now, and kept them the same. The head guard knew what young love could be like, and couldn’t help but smile and reminisce himself whenever Allie came up in conversation.
On one particularly cold day, Allie stood close to him, the pink scarf bundled around her chin. He could feel the warmth radiating off of the cup of tea she held in her hand, and the mist of her breath floated by his vision.
“It hasn’t been this cold in a long while.” Her voice shook a bit. “All we need is a bit of snow. I’d sure like a white Christmas, wouldn’t you?”
The guard wished he could turn and look at her; he was sure that the colored lights would shine in her eyes.
“I wish I could talk with you. I don’t just mean telling you stories like I have been, I mean talk with you. Like, have a conversation where you respond.” She sighed. “Maybe you don’t even like me coming by. Maybe you don’t even want to talk. I know my friends have told me that I can get annoying, what with how talkative I am. It really isn’t fair of me to take advantage of your inability to respond. For all I know, you could dread me coming every day.” Her head fell a bit, and his heart was nearly beating out of his chest.
She had no idea. How could she have not realized that he anticipated her arrival every day? How could she not know that he dreamed of her pink scarf at night? How could she not know?
He needed to show her somehow, but how can you show a person how you feel when your job is to be as a statue? He needed to think of something, or else she would leave and she might not ever come back.
He did the only thing he could think of, and gently grabbed her hand. As his hand met hers, electricity shot up his arm. The heat of her touch warmed his entire body.
Her head shot up, but she didn’t pull away. She looked at their linked hands for a minute, and a smile burst onto her face like the sun.
She stayed for a bit longer, keeping her hand in his, and he fought the smile that threatened his composure.
She gave his hand a squeeze, and, face glowing, left him to ponder as she walked away. Her step had a bit of a bounce in it; the pink scarf trailed behind her in the breeze.
Edited By: Bernadette Becker