The Jubilee is a blur of color and movement. Brilliantly colored skirts swirl in the streets. Music notes dance on the air. Some people spin and twirl to it in the square; others sway casually, enjoying the bright cheerful scene, or stay to the sidelines munching bittersweet blueberry cookies.
This year, there are more musicians than even I am used to. They play in the traditional fashion, in a harmonizing ring around the central square. Couples dance in the square, at the heart of the music. The instruments play loudly enough to reach the whole Market. The intermittent troubadour plays on their own, somehow in perfect harmony with the others. Some play vrilains, some yzles… and even a few five-stringed corioles, this year, a beautiful stringed instrument I’m quite fond of. I haven’t played mine in years because I prefer to sing.
Paeline pokes me in the arm. “Play dove-frog with me!”
I shake my head. I’m watching the crowds intently to see where Peter is among the flood of people. He’s probably here already, searching for me in the chaos of people, or engaging in a conversation as he usually does. I suppress a shiver. My vision sways.
Paeline pouts. “Last year, you made me play dove-frog with Grehg’s two-year-old brother. That wasn’t fair. I tried to get Ro to play with us, but she was too busy drooling and staring at Kai T’Dar. Then Kai went back to his girlfriend and kissed her, and Ro cried. I blame you! Play dove-frog with me!”
I give her a weird look. “Why is Roinae’s bad taste in boys my fault?”
She crosses her arms and glares at me, laser-eye style. “Fine. I’m going home.”
I shrug and go back to looking for Peter. “Suit yourself.”
With another huff, she stomps over to Roinae, whose red hair is braided elegantly over one shoulder. A silvery dress falls to her feet, so fluffy that it makes her look like a puffball. The two girls strike up a conversation, then commence to run around in circles.
Suddenly, there’s a tap on my shoulder.
I whip around, instantly on alert - but it’s only Peter, grinning at me. I smile back, releasing a held breath from my lungs. A delayed rush of dizziness fogs my brain. “You scared me,” I manage.
“Sorry,” he says, though he doesn’t look particularly sorry. “You look beautiful.”
“Why thank you, sir,” I say, shaking my head at him. I turn around to face him more fully, letting him take my hand and raise it to his lips.
“You were late,” he says once he has lowered my hand.
“Yeah, there were…” I struggle to find the right word. “Complications.”
“Complications,” Peter says, seeming to turn the word over. “Like the time when Paeline pitched a fit over a dead grasshopper, and you missed my ninth birthday party?”
“Exactly,” I hedge.
He smiles. Taking my hand, he starts to pull me toward the square. “Do you want to dance?”
I stay quiet. A furrow appears between Peter’s brows. “Is something wrong?” he asks.
Yes. Something is wrong. I’m getting sick. I open my mouth to tell him so, but I can’t get the words out.
A spiral of pain shoots through me, and I fight down a weak noise in my throat. When I can finally speak, I say, “N-no. I just wanted to talk to you.”
The furrow between his brows deepens. I think he can see it in my eyes… that something is off. There’s a cloud of worry hanging around him, barely an echo of my own fear. “About what?” he asks softly.
I hesitate again.
The look of worry in his eyes shifts and he pulls away just a little bit - the difference between affectionate and respectful. “If this is going too fast…”
“No. No.” I laugh almost hysterically at the thought. “It’s nothing like that. Actually…” I trail off.
Tell him. You know how words work, don’t you?
But the words won’t come. I don’t know how to explain this fear that envelops me… the feeling that something, somewhere, is about to snap.
“Actually, I… I’d love to dance.”
Peter’s worry fades to a ghost of unease. “Are you sure?”
I nod as firmly as I can through my swimming vision. “Yes, you idiot, I want to dance,” I say with a smile.
He seems like he can tell I’m lying, but he doesn’t utter a word. Instead, he leans forward to plant a kiss on my lips, and I steady myself against him for a moment, my dizziness easing.
He pulls back and we move toward the music and dancing, quickly falling into the rhythm. The movements ebb and flow, fast enough to make me dizzier than I had been a minute ago. Peter takes one of my hands in his and uses his other to cup my waist, swaying almost idly.