Peyton stared for a long moment at the lump of clay in front of her then put her hands to the surface, her foot spinning the wheel. The clay squished and slid and clung to her fingers. God she loved that feeling. If she closed her eyes and just focused on the clay, the way it felt, the way it smelled, the way the pottery wheel sounded, she could almost have been back in the studio at school.
The studio had been her refuge, her hideaway. The one place she could be herself, just herself and not catch any shit for it. It would have surprised no one who had known her that she had more or less staked this little shed as her territory from about the moment that Tiffany had hung the door on it, pronouncing it safe to use.
She wouldn’t have considered herself a loner, she didn’t have trouble with being around people, she just had, from earliest memory, needed time and space to herself. She remembered stories of hiding in the toybox from her nanny, or when a little older in the big walk in closet, as a teenager, it had been in the attic. She’d lost that when she went away to school. Her parents and one of her mother’s “dear friends” had gone together and rented an apartment for Peyton and Laurell, her mother’s friend’s daughter. That could have been wonderful.
Except of course the reason her parents had done that. Apparently they had been expecting Peyton’s “out of the closet” speech since she was about fifteen. And that by setting Peyton up with Laurell, they’d be showing how with it and cool and liberal they were.
One teensy problem with that. Peyton wasn’t gay. She didn’t have the slightest interest in other women. So she liked sports and hanging out with the guys better than having her nails done and hanging out with the girls, it didn’t mean that she was gender confused, she just liked sports.
And it wasn’t that Laurell hadn’t gotten it, of course there had been a bit of embarrassment there when she realized that that was at least part of the reason behind the apartment and choice of roommates. (And the look on her mother’s face when she’d confronted her with the whole thing.) But Laurell had been a social person, she had friends over and lovers in and out and when she didn’t have someone over it wasn’t even a reprieve for Peyton, because Laurell was constantly dragging her out to spend time with people.
There was rarely time for herself. And–also–in the apartment she had always been reminded of the daughter that her parents were expecting her to be. The one who was working her way through pre-law, the one who was supposed to spend every spare minute thinking about the L-sats. That daughter.
The one that they more or less cut off until she came to her senses and put in her applications for law school, life wasn’t about being happy, life was about… fuck if she knew what life was about. How her parents could be so open about her possible sexuality and so blind to the idea that maybe, just maybe, she wanted to live the rest of her life the way she wanted to live it.
It didn’t matter who she wanted to fuck as long as she’d be going into her father’s law firm when she passed the bar. And the stupid thing was that her sisters were perfectly content going into the roles that her parents had imagined for them. Eleanor was in her final year of med school. And Alice was already climbing the corporate ladder soon to backstab and sleep her way into that vp position.
And Peyton, well, Peyton was the son who was a daughter, maybe that’s why they were so keen to have her make a monogamous relationship with Laurell. She could hyphenate their names after their commitment ceremony and they could adopt two kids or have them surrogated. Ugh.
She opened her eyes to look at the lump of clay in front of her. She supposed it was possible to sculpt a pot without seeing the thing–but she had always had better luck with being able to see it. But the first thing she saw when she opened them was–that thing. That thing that someone had hung, probably Jolene, who else would have made a pink quilt and put it on the wall next to Peyton’s pottery wheel?
Peyton was still brooding over the invasion when the door opened and closed behind her. Even if she hadn’t heard the door, the blast of arctic air would have cued her to the intruder. How long does winter have to last? Peyton stabbed a thought upward. It had been snowing for months straight it seemed like. Shouldn’t spring be peeking around the corners? Anything but unending gray skies and miles and miles of white mounds.
She expected to hear the sound of a chair scraping out by the loom or something, but no, just the soft rustle of a hem scraping against the floor, well that helped albeit minimally, it meant whoever was standing behind her was wearing a dress, or possibly a long cloak, come to think of it, that didn’t help much at all.
And it certainly didn’t tell Peyton who it was and what they wanted with her, so she expected that she should probably turn and find out.
Heidi. She supposed, if it was Heidi that she should turn around and find out what she wanted. “May I help you?” Peyton asked before setting her now finished pot into the cupboard to be fired later.
“Actually I came to tell you that you have a visitor.” There was something slightly calculating in her face. Well that actually told her more than Heidi probably thought it did. If it had been a social visit or even a semi-professional visit, like Fox coming to request some more fabric woven her face would be softer, she’d have been smiling. Nope that was a look that said something more was going on here.
“Oh. Who’d wanna see me?” Peyton asked, not expecting an answer but so she could watch the other woman’s face while she did answer.
“Just someone who’d like to talk to you, but you’d better wash your hands first.” Heidi said, reminding Peyton more of her father’s assistant, Maggie than of Heidi. Ah, it’s one of the nobles. But Peyton did as the redhaired woman bid and then followed her back to the barn.
She closed the door after her and turned to see–Lachlan. The King. Peyton’s stomach dropped. She couldn’t think of a single reason why the king would want to see her. Or–what if he thinks the same thing that my parents thought? What if he’s sending me back cause he thinks I’d rather munch bush? Would I care? She had been making the best of being in Shadowcrest, but she wouldn’t have made the immediate leap to happy. There didn’t seem to be much of a place for someone like here her.
Still, she didn’t want to be a failure in their eyes too.
“Why don’t you and Peyton talk upstairs, your majesty. The barn does sort of lack privacy.” Heidi suggested. Oh, God. Peyton’s stomach lurched, too much more of this and she was going to lose dinner all over the king’s boots. Heidi? I thought we were–friends. But she has to have something to do with this, she’s way too calm. Why… is she seriously turning me in for being a lesbian? She couldn’t have just asked.
The king nodded calmly and headed up the spiral staircase to the barn loft. With Raquel’s bed gone, the end of the loft had been turned into another sitting area. Come spring they’d probably be putting the bed back in, but for right now they needed more places to sit. Privacy as Heidi had said.
“This space is always changing, isn’t it?” Lachlan mused.
“Well, there are five of us here and I think we all have a want to personalize our space.” Peyton said, eying the bench for a moment. She didn’t want to have this talk. It wasn’t the staying in Shadowcrest or leaving, it was the failure. Her parents had said that she’d be a failure when she said that she didn’t want to go to law school, and here the first thing that really happened after that is her ending up as a failure. For something she wasn’t even.
“You don’t have to be nervous, Lady Peyton.” Lachlan said. His voice just sounded like a King’s voice, even if his words didn’t always. It was rich and steady and solid. Calming. Although she was sure it could sound intimidating, she’d never seen the king intimidate anyone. “Lady Heidi wished me to talk to you.” He said confirming her fears. Goddamnit.
“She said that you seem–despondent.” Peyton jerked and stared bewildered as he continued. “Lady Peyton?”
“Oh.” Just… oh.
“I–didn’t think you were going to talk to me about that.” She admitted to her hands.
“What did you think we were going to speak of?” Lachlan asked, looking puzzled.
“Oh, I dunno. My lack of–girl-ness.”
“Girlness?” She gestured sort of vaguely at herself and watched as Lachlan’s face bloomed past red to purple. “I’m sure–er, I’m sure that you’re quite feminine, Lady Peyton.”
He–does he think I’m talking about my tits? Peyton wondered and then realized that she was about to ask that of the king. Maybe Lachlan didn’t stand on ceremony, but still, big difference between talking plainly and then talking about boobs. “I meant femininity in a personality sense, not a physical one, your majesty.”
“Oh.” Lachlan didn’t bother to hide his relief. “Well, it’s just, I know that while this place is very unfamiliar to you, I do want you to be content, if not happy here. Lady Heidi came to me saying that perhaps all was not right with you. She requested that I talk with you, perhaps allay some of your fears.”
It was Peyton’s turn to say, “Oh.”
“Is something the matter, Lady Peyton? I know that Lady Heidi is certain of it, but I believe I should at least inquire.”
“I just,” There was something about the King’s face that seemed to invite confidences and so Peyton plunged ahead. “It seems to me, your majesty, that you need girls here. Women who are going to be ladies. And I’m not one of those women. I’m the girl you call when you want a third for a pick up game. I’m the girl you call when your goalie’s out sick. I’m not the girl who goes ‘Yay, babies! I want one–or seven.’ and can’t wait to be a wife and mother.” Lachlan nodded.
“I suppose it could seem that way. But, Lady Peyton, my spells to find you–all of you–were very complex. But foremost in my mind was to find those ladies who could help rebuild Shadowcrest, not just repopulate it. Your talents and abilities are going to be far more valuable than–to be crude–someone with round heels.” Lachlan colored again as if he’d said something he normally wouldn’t have said to a woman.
Except Peyton didn’t understand the reference and had to ask. “Round heels?”
“The sort of lady who is always on her back.” He said delicately. Peyton nodded in understanding. “Shadowcrest needs to be healed, reforged. Not just filled with squalling brats. Do you understand now?”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Is that perhaps a portion of what has been the issue?” The king asked.
“Well, yeah. I just–I can’t see where you’d need someone like me.” Peyton said with a shrug.
“If nothing else you can be a role model to those other girls who will come later and not want to say ‘yay, babies’ themselves. But Master Fox says that you weave very well and also that you are quite a potter, both of which are things that we have some need of. So I would not write your abilities off.” The King said with a reassuring smile.
“Thank you, your majesty. I’m sorry you had to come all this way just cause I’m mopey.”
“Not at all. The fresh air did me a world of good. Sir Wesley has commented that I’m beginning to resemble a vampire for all the sun I see.”
“Fresh air? Breathing outside is like trying to snort liquid nitrogen.” Lachlan laughed and stood. It seemed just wrong to hug the king, but seemed like something more was required here.
But Lachlan seemed to have that in order too, his strong hand gripped her wrist and he pulled her into his shoulder before heading downstairs. She could hear him murmur softly to–it sounded like Heidi before seeing him take to his broom and disappear in the direction of his home.
Her mind was a twisted, confused mess so it wasn’t Heidi ratting her out, but that the other woman was concerned. Mentally she apologized, as she hadn’t said anything and the way this had gotten handled had, after all, almost made Peyton lose her lunch on the king’s boots so she wasn’t apologizing outloud. Instead she collected her coat and boots and headed outside.
If nothing else, the wintery air did clear her head. And maybe it even felt a little less arctic and god forsaken. Movement caught her eye and she had to stop herself from gaping. What was Ren doing here? Probably come to see Kennedy. It wasn’t exactly a nice night for a walk.
He caught sight of her and started himself. His path altered slightly as he entered the gate.
“Lady Peyton.” He nodded with a half bow.
“How–how are you this evening?” He asked, his eyes flicking over her face before flicking off to one side.
“A bit–bewildered, I guess. Just had an interesting talk with the King.” The smith wordlessly mouthed Ah.
“Mostly my girlfail.”
“Girlfail, my failure to be much of a girl. You know, not adoring pink and puppies and cabbage roses the size of my skull.” Peyton kicked at the snow.
“There are girls and then there are girls, I suppose.” The smith said, something in his eyes that was gone before she could identify it, but she was fairly certain, whatever it was, that she hadn’t seen that look before. She just wished she could identify what it meant.
“I suppose there are.” Peyton agreed before turning once more to look out at the frozen pond. She expected to hear the snow crunch and crackle under Ren’s feet as he walked off, resumed whatever task had brought him here. But instead he stepped up beside her and looked across the ice himself. She could feel the warm, comfort of him, radiating out seeming impossibly more intense than a human should feel–or maybe it was her.