"Willow's Tail" 28
Dillon’s smile widened as he approached her and Martha’s heart slammed in her chest. He was their nemesis? “I can’t believe it’s you!”
“It’s me; guess you’ve learned to see the differences between me and my brother.”
“What have you been up to Dillon?” she asked with controlled anger.
Dillon’s brow rose at her sharp tone but his smile didn’t waiver.
“Nothing much,” he shrugged.
“Oh, I’d say you’ve been up to plenty.”
“Keeping tabs on me Martha?" His smile grew cocky.
“It’s more the other way around wouldn’t you say?”
Dillon didn’t deny or confirm her accusation; he nodded to an empty table and pulled out a chair for her. “Why don’t we sit down, share a cup of tea and catch up.”
“I don’t need to catch up; I just need to know why,” she reiterated, but she did sit down.
“Are you asking why I’m here?” He questioned as he sat down across from her. At her nod he continued, “I’m here visiting my parents and Percival suggested I check out the festival.”
A convenient alibi, Martha thought but she wasn’t taking the bait. “Don’t underestimate me Dillon; you don’t want to push my temper over the edge.”
“I would never do that Martha but I have a feeling I’m missing something, you seem upset, am I right?”
Her eyes held no hint of humor and she wasn’t accepting his bafflement.
“Percival asked you to come to the festival?” she repeated his words with calculated interest.
“He even sent me a ticket to attend.”
“Convenient again,” she mumbled.
“But…I was surprised to see you here.”
“Why, because you thought we’d lose?” She stated with vehemence. She had a strong desire to cause him a horrible havoc.
“Why do I have the feeling we’re not on the same topic Martha and why wouldn’t I want you to win?”
“I’d say because the truth isn’t something you’re comfortable with; we both know that's true, but now you owe me the truth,” she said with great satisfaction..
Dillon leaned forward but whatever he was about to say was interrupted by the waitress who’d stepped over to take their order. He turned a casual smile to the waitress and ordered raspberry tea and lemon scones for them both.
Martha didn’t dispute the order until the waitress walked away. “I don’t like raspberry tea,” she grumbled, sounding a bit churlish.
“Are you sure? Because I’m pretty sure you do.”
His words implied familiarity and she wasn’t amused.
“Don’t assume you know me Dillon.”
“I don’t need to assume,” he replied in a low, intimate tone.
Martha bristled with indignation but the waitress returned with a pot of tea, two cups and their lemon scones. She had to sit back and swallow her reprimand, for the moment.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” The waitress asked them sweetly.
“I think that’s all we’ll need for now,” Dillon replied with a friendly smile and the waitress nodded then walked over to a table of newly arrived guests.
Martha pushed the teacup away and crossed her arms.
“Stop pretending you don’t know why I’m here.”
“I assumed you were here to enjoy the festival.”
“You haven’t changed Dillon,” she said flatly.
“It wasn’t a compliment. The contests are over and won. So-”
“And I’m not surprised you won Martha,” he interrupted, “but I have to wonder...”
“If that made you happy; are you happy Martha?”
She gave a short cynical laugh. “Not at the moment.”
“That’s a pity; I remember how happy you were that summer.”
Martha’s eyes went saucer wide.
“I’m not discussing that summer with you.”
“Why not, who better to discuss it with?” He asked with a casual shrug.
“Who better?” She repeated in disbelief, “You don’t get to pick the subject Dillon, not after the paces you’ve put us through. I’ve earned the right to know the truth, so I’d suggest you stop this pretense and tell me.”
He eyed her with uncertainty. “What are you accusing me of Martha?”
“That you’re being deliberately obtuse, for one thing.”
“It’s not obtuse if I don’t know what you’re upset about.”
“You know what, keep your secrets; I don’t care why you did it; just admit it’s over and I won.”
“You did win but I would never doubt that your tea was the best.”
“I’m not amused by your boyish charm so keep your compliments. If you’re not going to tell me what this was about then we’re done here.”
“I honestly don’t understand what you’re asking me.”
His bewildered tone wasn't convincing to her and she'd rather leave then play his game but then, in periphery, she noticed another clue.
“Where’s your ring?”
“The one with your family crest; you wore it that summer.”
“Oh,” he looked at his hand and shrugged, “I haven’t seen it in awhile, guess I must have misplaced it.”
“When…when did you misplace it?”
“I don’t know but if I’d known you’d formed an attachment to it, I’d have been more careful with it.”
Martha scoffed. “Or maybe, you know exactly where it is. Maybe, you gave it to someone to taunt me with it.”
“And why would I do that?”
This time his quick denial sounded genuine but he’d played that innocent card before, over a couple of summer weeks, and she wasn’t going to be fooled again. He had to be the one responsible. Why else was he here at the meeting place?
She did have another clue to confront him with.
“What about this?” she asked, presenting him the business card the hired havoc maker had given her.
“What about it? It’s a blank card.”
Martha sighed and flipped the card over twice and the business name slowly appeared in embossed letters on the card.
“That’s impressive but what’s Incognito Inc.?”
“Are you joking? You hired that company to havoc me.”
“Havoc you? Why would I want to do that?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Why did you?” She grabbed the card back from him as he stared at her with a deeply confused look.
“Martha, I don’t know what’s gone with you but I promise you, I wouldn’t havoc you or hire anyone to havoc you.”
She heard the conviction and it became her turn to look confused.
“Why would you think I would?”
“Because the person responsible was supposed to be here after the contests ended, and you’re here.”
“So I’m condemned for wanting some lemon scones and tea?”
“I don’t know, but there isn’t anyone else here that it could be, only you,” she said looking around to be sure.
There was a family with two small children sitting at a large table near the window and a couple sitting cozily at corner table with eyes only for each other. Dillon was the only possibility.
“Even so, it’s not me Martha,” he said softly.
“Why did you bring up that long, forgotten summer?”
Dillon’s expression slid to skeptical. “Forgotten?” he scoffed, “Martha, it’s not like you to lie.”
She gave him a withering look. “You’re right, lying is your thing.”
Dillon’s smile faded; her words had hit a mark.
“About that summer, I want you to know I wasn’t happy with how I acted and I’d change that wrong if I could.”
“Which wrong?” She taunted, “There were so many.”
“Not if I’d admitted who I was from the start then you’d have no reason to be upset with me, or think me a villain capable of havoc.”
Martha gave an unladylike snort of disbelief. “But you didn’t do that.”
“No, I didn’t,” Dillon admitted with self scorn, his eyes locked on her as he added, “I’d heard you left soon after I did, is it true, you left your home because of me?”
“You flatter yourself.”
“I’d heard about Percival’s letters to Miriam but be honest, that’s not the reason you left.”
“Honest? How does that word even roll off your tongue?” She asked sharply, refusing to take a humiliating walk down this particular memory.
“Admit it Martha; you were angry at me when you left.”
“That’s true, and still true,” she said with indifference, “I was, and am, angry at you for the prank you played and for not telling Percival about it, but my leaving had nothing to do with you.”
Their eyes locked in an obstinate impasse until Dillon concluded with a smug smile.
“But you’re home now Martha and I’d say, you look happy to be back.”
Her eyes widened with a dawning understanding and renewed condemnation.
“So that’s the reason you did this? To challenge me so I’d come home? Was this done for your redemption, so you could forgive yourself? Just another summer prank for you Dillon? And maybe, it was you who switched those letters from Percival too, did you do that?”
Dillon shifted uncomfortably in his chair but his answer wasn’t a confession.
“I only know what I know because Percival told me.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“No, it isn’t, but let me ask you, if the letters hadn’t been switched Percival would have asked you to marry him; would you be happy married to Percival?”
“What has that-?”
“Would you have married Percival if he’d asked you that summer and, more to the point, would you have married him after those summer weeks we’d shared?”
Martha’s eyes burned into his but she was too shocked by his question to answer.
Dillon continued, “For what it’s worth, I believe you’d have been miserable if you had married him.”
Uncomfortable with the discussion of that summer, she mocked him. “Really, your crystal ball told you that?”
“Your kiss told me more.”
He’d said it with confidence and Martha blushed deep red; it was impossible to stop but her temper was white hot and quicker. She stood up and pointed a finger at him with a fury that needed no familiar to channel.
“I cannot believe you said that!”
“Deny it then,” Dillon demanded, standing up as well, his temper matching hers in volatility.
“Deny what, that you should never have allowed that kiss!”
“And why should I have denied it? After all, that first kiss was all you.”
“Because I thought you were Percival!”
“Did you? Did I kiss you like Percival?”
Her blush heated to the color of rubies but her voice was pure ice and grew colder as she warned him.
“You should have admitted who you were and not taken advantage of the mistake.”
“And you should have questioned the difference.”
Their mutual irritation trembled in the air and the dishes on the cafe’s shelf began to shake unsteadily. The café’s owner thought they were having an earthquake and told everyone to take cover.
Martha didn’t say another word; she turned and walked out of the café.
Dillon watched her go.
The dishes stopped trembling but the owner was unconvinced of their safety and took out his cell phone to check the news feeds for anything about tremors in the area.
Martha wiped the last of the stupid tears from her eyes when she spied Perfidia and Willow seated at a table near the hamburger stand. She took a deep, calming breath and walked over to them.
“Can we go,” she said without preamble when she reached them, “I could use a large glass of wine.”
Perfidia looked up in surprise but it was Martha’s obvious anxiety that sparked her curiosity.
“What happened? Who showed up?”
Martha didn’t want to talk about the ‘who’ of that meeting but there was no way to ignore Perfidia’s right to know.
“Dillon,” she said without emotion.
“It was Dillon?”
“I don’t know for sure but he was there and I did accuse him.”
“He denied it, denied knowing anything about it and denied hiring the havoc maker.”
“Do you think he lied?”
“I’m not sure of his complete innocence but I don’t think he was responsible for this summer’s prank.”
“So the culprit didn’t show up?” Perfidia asked, stopping short of saying ‘I told you so’.
“I guess not.”
“But they were supposed to meet you at the café.”
“I may have been wrong about that.”
“What do you mean? The festival flyer we received had the café clearly marked.”
“Yes, and it wasn’t a contest venue so I assumed it was marked as a meeting place, but now I think it was marked for a final havoc…a humiliation set up just for me.”
“I’m so sorry,” Perfidia said with true compassion, she knew how upsetting that had to be for Martha, “I know it couldn’t have been easy for you to see him again.”
“No, and it wasn’t cathartic either.”
“Well, you know what could be cathartic, getting to the reception where they’re serving your winning tea and celebrating all of our victories.”
Perfidia’s enthusiasm coaxed a smile from Martha.
“You’re right; we deserve to celebrate our victories even if we never know who perpetrated those havocs.”
“Oh I don’t know Martha, it is the summer solstice and the day is far from over. You never know what enlightenment might be revealed before the sun sets,” Perfidia assured her, hiding a small secrative smile..
Martha shrugged, “I don’t care anymore but I am looking forward to a cup of my tea.”
“Right,” Perfidia nodded and then suggested, “Or…maybe we can have that glass of wine you wanted and leave the first batch of your fine tea for the other guests, to give them a chance to taste your delightful blend.”
“I suppose,” Martha shrugged.
Perfidia smiled; her ploy had worked but Willow gave her a scolding meow.
Perfidia narrowed her eyes on the cat, silently reminding the feline that a fish dinner was still on the line for her compliance.
Willow quieted but, since she hadn’t had that fish dinner, she was going to keep her option of compliance open.