Part 17: link
Gwen blinks her eyes open. Where am I? Oh, right. Milwaukee. Arthur’s uncle’s house.
She looks at the clock. 9:37! I haven’t slept this late in years!
She swings her feet down, sliding them into her slippers. She looks around the room. I didn’t bring that many boxes, why do I still have half of them left? Oh. Right. After Arthur went to bed I spent the rest of the evening in Morgana’s room till far too late.
Gwen has decided that she definitely likes Morgana. She’s exuberant and witty. Arthur said she can be a bitch in court. That must be something to see,
she ponders, standing up finally, shrugging her fuzzy robe on and padding across the hall to the bathroom.
I suppose, she chose what is largely a man’s career, so she needs to be able to hold her own with the boys.
She uses the toilet and studies her reflection in the mirror. After deciding that moving 600 miles to elope with a white man doesn’t show on her face, she takes a drink of water and heads back out into the hallway.
The house is quiet. Morgana’s door is still closed. But surely Gaius and Alice would be up by now, wouldn’t they?
Their bedroom door is open, but there is no sound coming from within. She decides to investigate, walking down the hall towards the kitchen and living area.
There is no sign of Alice or Gaius, but she hears a faint rumbling sound. Rattling. Sounds like one of Elyan’s power tools.
She moves towards the sound, following it to the door of the den.
He didn’t snore in the car yesterday…
She pushes the door open a tiny crack to see Arthur sprawled on his back diagonally across the hide-a-bed, mouth open, snoring away, blankets a tangle around his lower half, his one foot sticking out.
He has no shirt on. Suddenly the snoring doesn’t matter so much. Suddenly Gwen finds herself wondering if he has pants on under the blankets, because all she can see below his waist is his left foot. And even that intrigues her.
He snorts and stirs, and Gwen closes the door again, quietly but very quickly. If he caught me lookin’, I’d never hear the end of it. He wouldn’t care, but he’d tease me to no end.
The image of her shirtless fiancé firmly branded on her brain now, she heads to the kitchen, feeling mildly smug with the realization that her future husband has a very
Not that it matters. But it sho’nuff helps.
Gwen looks around. Still no sign of Gaius or Alice. Finally she spies a note on the table.
Kids, we’ve gone to church. Be back after 10.
“Well, that explains it,” Gwen says softly to herself, setting the note back down. Hungry.
She stares at the kitchen, biting her lower lip, not sure what to do. This ain’t my home, but it is now, sort of. At least until Thanksgiving. But I don’t want to go delvin’ into their cupboards…
“Morning, Gwen,” Morgana’s sleepy voice saves her from her dilemma.
“Hey,” she says, turning. “Your folks went to church,” she says, holding up the note.
“I figured as much. Did you sleep well?”
“Surprisingly so, yes,” Gwen nods. “I must have been tired, ’cause with all the excitement of movin’, I didn’t think I’d sleep.”
“Well, staying up past one certainly helps with that,” Morgana grins, and Gwen giggles. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Gwen nods. “I was, um, just tryin’ to decide what to do about that…”
“Gwen, this is your home now. For the next month, anyway. Don’t be shy. Mom and I went to the market yesterday and bought a bunch of food, because, well, Arthur’s a pig.”
Gwen giggles at this. “He certainly sounds like one right now,” she says.
“He didn’t warn you about that?” Morgana says, lifting her eyebrows.
“No. He slept in the car some, but he was quiet then. Drooled on my leg a bit, though…”
Morgana laughs now. “Near as we could figure, he snores when he’s on his back. Just give him a shove and he’ll quiet down. He must be on his back now. I can hear him from here.”
“He is,” Gwen says, the words falling out before her brain can stop them.
“Peeking?” Morgana smirks at her, and Gwen blushes.
“So what should we make for breakfast?” Gwen asks hurriedly, ready to change the subject before Morgana delves further. She heads to the refrigerator and opens it, looking inside.
“Gwen,” Morgana presses, “why are you blushing?”
“You are. Did you get more than you bargained for when you peeked?”
“It’s so late; probably just cereal and toast. I gotta make y’all some biscuits and gravy sometime, though…”
“Gwen!” Morgana exclaims, laughing now.
“I didn’t see nothin’ improper,” Gwen finally answers, exasperated. “He just had no shirt on.”
“Yeah, I don’t suppose you would have seen him without a shirt at this point…” Morgana muses.
“No,” Gwen says, finding a box of Cheerios and a banana.
Morgana shows her where the bowls are and gets the milk. “So I take it you liked what you saw, then?”
“Morgana!” Gwen giggles again.
“Ooo, you did,” Morgana says, fixing herself a bowl as well. Gwen peels the banana and slices it on top of the cereal.
“Want half?” Gwen offers.
“Sure,” Morgana says, sliding her bowl over.
“He has a very nice chest, yes,” Gwen admits quietly.
“If you say so. He’s my cousin, so I, of course, have no opinion,” Morgana chuckles. “Orange juice or apple juice?”
“What’s for breakfast?” Gwen and Morgana are so busy chatting and making breakfast that neither of them noticed that the distant noise has stopped. They jump.
“Arthur!” Morgana exclaims.
“Um… Cheerios with banana,” Gwen says, vehemently not
looking at him, standing there, all adorably sleep-rumpled and shirtless and barefoot, wearing only a pair of light blue pajama bottoms. It suddenly feels a lot warmer in this kitchen.
“Arthur, go put a shirt on before your fiancée dies of embarrassment,” Morgana says, waving her hand at him.
“You’re embarrassed?” Arthur asks, curious.
“Well, perhaps distracted
is a more accurate way of putting it,” Morgana grins now.
Gwen would very much like to climb into the refrigerator and close the door behind her.
“Oh, is that so?” Arthur grins now, but Gwen is still stubbornly looking everywhere but at him. “Okay, I’ll go put something on,” he says, relenting. He turns and walks away, and Gwen looks.
Lordy, the back is as good as the front.
“Guinevere, you are staring,” Morgana whispers, highly amused.
Monday, Arthur goes to the office with Gaius. Gwen finishes unpacking her things and starts unpacking the rest of Arthur’s boxes for him while he’s gone.
Alice has a couple adult piano students during the day. Gwen had gone into the large living room and admired the shiny brown grand piano dominating the space, idly wondering what Merlin would make of such a beautiful instrument and also realizing that such a piano probably cost more than her car.
The first of Alice’s students wasn’t very good at all. Just a beginner; still learning. The second is much better, and Gwen finds herself humming quietly along with the music.
The phone rings in the middle of the lesson, and Gwen stares at it, unsure if she should answer it.
“Gwen, would you answer that please?” Alice calls.
All right, then.
“Hello, Pendragon residence,” she says, deciding to identify the house to whomever it is on the other end. Just in case.
“Arthur!” she exclaims, careful not to be too loud.
“I’m glad you answered, ’cause I was callin’ for you,” he says.
“I only answered because Alice is teachin’ a lesson right now.”
“I can hear it,” he says. “I just got a call from Geoffrey.”
“He confirmed that our accounts have been transferred to the M&I Bank up here,” he says. “I have account numbers written down. Let me tell you yours so you can head over there and sign the paperwork.”
“Let me get a paper and pencil, hold on.” She sets the phone down and gingerly rummages through drawers until she finds a scrap of paper and a pen.
“Okay,” she says. He tells her the number and also gives her the address. “I’ll probably wait until Alice is done with her lesson and have her go with me. I want to drive, though. Need to learn my way around.”
“That’s my girl,” he says. “I’m goin’ over in just a minute. Uncle gave me his blessin’ to go take care of it. Got a lot of assets to look after, you know,” he says, sounding a little overwhelmed by the fact that he suddenly has so much money.
“I can’t imagine you have a lot to do right now anyway. Least not until your things come.”
“Exactly. I’m tryin’ to decide what I want to do, though. If I want to specialize in somethin’. You know, other than traffic tickets. I have an idea, but I need to think about it a bit, and I want to get your opinion, too.”
“Well o’ course yours, Guinevere. You’re going to be my wife, and I value your opinion more than anyone else’s.”
“Oh,” she says softly, but she is smiling. “I should let you go. I’m unpackin’ your boxes.”
“Oh. Thank you,” he says, sounding a little surprised. “You find my underwear yet?” She can hear him grinning over the phone.
“Arthur Pendragon, you are preoccupied with underdrawers,” she says, looking at the ceiling.
“Well, you’re just so pretty when you blush, I can’t help it.”
“You can’t even see me.”
“Ah, but the memory of how you looked yesterday mornin’ is still quite fresh in my mind,” he teases.
“I’m hangin’ up now,” she says.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.”
“Get back to work,” she says.
“If I must.”
“See you later, Baby.”
“Love you. ’Bye.”
“Love you, too.”
The rest of the week passes slowly, but somehow quickly too. Gwen finds that she likes listening to Alice give lessons. Most of them are in the late afternoon, teaching children after school. She has just a few students during the day, scattered here and there.
Alice takes Gwen out, Gwen driving, showing her the places she might like to know. The bank, on Monday. The Piggly Wiggly. The Lutheran church they belong to. Gwen is interested in this; it seems that everyone in Milwaukee is either Catholic or Lutheran. She sees a few Baptist churches as well, but she asks if they can go with them to their church the next Sunday.
“Of course, Gwen, we’d be happy to have you join us. We didn’t ask this week because you both were still sleeping and you had just
“That’s what I reckoned. I would like to get married in a church, of course. I was raised Baptist, but I know the Lord looks after the Lutherans, too,” she jokes.
“Yes, he does, Gwen. At least we hope so,” Alice laughs. “We can mention it to Pastor Gary. Gaius and I have been members there a very long time, so if you and Arthur wish to get married there, I’m sure there won’t be a problem.”
“Thank you, Alice. I also want to say thank you for taking us in like this. You didn’t have to, and it means everything to me that you did.”
“Oh, stop, now, Gwen, it’s nothing. Arthur is always such fun to have around, and you’re just a ray of sunshine yourself.”
“Thank you,” Gwen says, embarrassed now.
“You’re not accustomed to compliments, are you?” Alice asks.
“Not from white folks, not really,” she admits. “Aunt Alice?” Gwen asks, pulling her car onto their street now.
“Would it be all right if I cooked Sunday dinner for y’all this week? I do really like to cook, and I’d like to help out around the house since we’re stayin’ there, and…”
“Of course, that would be fine, dear, what did you have in mind?” Alice asks.
“Well, Arthur is dyin’ to try my fried chicken. I thought I’d do that.”
“Sounds delicious. Real southern fried chicken, I can’t wait. We’ll go to the market on Saturday, then.”
They climb out of the car and head towards the house. “Can we do Saturday morning? Morgana is takin’ me to Gimbels in the afternoon. I need more winter clothes,” she chuckles.
“Saturday morning it is, dear,” Alice answers, waving to a neighbor who waves back, but he looks a little confused seeing her there with Gwen. “Do you need anything for the wedding? Like a dress or a veil or…”
“I have a dress, actually. It was my mama’s and it’s hidin’ in Morgana’s closet.”
“Good place to hide,” Alice smirks.
“But I might look at some new shoes to go with it. And Morgana mentioned a shawl or a wrap, but I might make that myself. And maybe a nightgown…” she trails off, blushing now.
“Of course, you need something special for the wedding night, dear,” Alice says, completely at ease.
“I… haven’t decided about a veil yet. I might not wear one. My mama didn’t,” Gwen says, shifting the topic back. “Would you like to see the dress?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Alice says, her eyes lighting up now.
Arthur’s boxes arrived Wednesday, as anticipated, and by Thursday he’s nearly settled in his new office. Gwen is beginning to think that he forgot about talking to her about his possible legal specialty, because he hasn’t mentioned it since Monday afternoon on the phone.
After dinner, Gwen is puttering in her room, still trying to decide where to put things. Two boxes arrived at the house today as well, one for Arthur, one for Gwen. She numbered her remaining boxes so that Elyan would know what order she needed them. This box was quite heavy, as it was mostly books. Her summer clothes are, of course, in the last box.
She heaves the half-empty box onto her bed so she doesn’t have to bend over so far.
“Ow!” she exclaims as a sharp pain shoots through her shoulder. She drops the box on the bed and lifts her arm, holding her shoulder.
“Are you all right, Guinevere?” Arthur seems to have magically appeared in her doorway.
“Ambulance chaser,” she teases, but she is still frowning, moving her arm around, trying to find the sore spot with her other hand.
“I was on my way to come and see you and I heard you yell, for your information,” he says, walking in. “Sit.”
She does, and he slides onto the bed behind her. “You’re overdoin’ it, darlin’,” he says as he starts rubbing her shoulder, his strong hands gently prodding, trying to find where it hurts.
“I am not. I just moved a box,” she protests. He reaches out and grabs the box with one hand, trying to move it.
“A box that is too heavy for you to be liftin’,” he declares. “How many books you got in there?”
“Not enough,” she giggles. “And that’s not even all of them. Ohh… ow… right there…”
“That’s the spot,” he agrees, running his thumb along the edge of her shoulder blade.
“Ohh…” she groans, and he eases up some. “No, keep going,” she tells him.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says, sweeping her braid over her opposite shoulder so it won’t be in the way.
“You’re not,” she says, groaning again.
She has to stop making those noises.
“Guinevere, my aunt and uncle are going to think we’re up to something in here,” he mutters.
“With the door hangin’ open?” she asks. “Ooo. There.”
He runs his thumb up, pressing the side of her neck, easing the tightened muscle along the side.
“Did I ever tell you that you have really beautiful skin, Guinevere?” he asks softly, his eyes glued to the soft curve of her neck.
She hesitates before answering, taken by surprise. “No,” she finally says.
“You do,” he says. “It’s soft and smooth and just flawless.”
Gwen gasps and her eyes drift close when she feels his lips on her neck. His hand has stilled on her shoulder, but his lips are busy, moving first up her neck then down, trailing kisses that make her head swim.
“Arthur,” she whispers, dropping her head to the side. She leans back into him as he wraps his arm around her waist.
“Mmm,” he hums against her, thoroughly enjoying himself.
They jump apart. Arthur clears his throat awkwardly and Gwen hops off the bed, looking anywhere except at Arthur’s uncle standing in the doorway.
“We were just—”
“I know perfectly well what you were doing,” Gaius chuckles. “And as long as everyone’s clothes are on, I don’t care. It may be hard to fathom, but I was young once, myself. I just stopped to see if you wanted any popcorn. Alice is going to make me some.”
“No, thank you,” Arthur says. “Guinevere?”
“No, thank you, I’m fine.”
“Another time, then,” Gaius says, walking way, still chuckling at them.
Arthur looks over and sees Gwen’s shoulders shaking. “Guinevere, are you all right?” he asks, alarmed. He bounces off the bed and goes to her.
She is giggling, her hand over her mouth. “That was so embarrassing,” she manages.
Arthur breathes a sigh of relief and wraps his arms around her, laughing a little now, too. “I actually came in here to talk to you,” he says. “But you are very distracting.”
“Yes, Baby, it’s all my fault,” she says indulgently. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Remember on Monday when I mentioned about specialization?”
“Yes, I was beginnin’ to think that you’d forgotten,” she says, sitting on the bed again. She flexes her shoulder a few times.
“Still sore?” he asks.
“A little,” she says. “I’ll take some aspirin before I go to bed.”
“I could rub it some more,” he offers, grinning at her.
“You best keep your hands to yourself, Arthur Pendragon,” she says, but she can’t keep a straight face.
“You’re probably right,” he laughs and sits on the bed with her again. “Anyway. So at Uncle’s office, Morgana does divorces, Alvarr does personal injury, Uncle does the big high-profile tricky things, and Cenred handles business and tax law.”
“I was thinking… after doing your case, I really liked helping you and Duncan and Ezra. Callin’ people out on their shit.”
“And by ‘people’ you mean rich white folks,” Gwen says.
“Mostly,” he shrugs. “I’d like to specialize in civil rights law, I think.”
Gwen says nothing, pondering this a minute.
“It’s going to be tough for you. As a rich white man yourself,” she points out. “You’re gonna have a hard time gettin’ clients, and gettin’ them to trust you.”
“I know. But I won you over, didn’t I?”
“Not really an apples-to-apples comparison, Arthur,” she points out.
“All right then, I got Elyan to trust me. That
should count for somethin’.”
“You got a point, there,” she nods, half-smiling.
“Uncle gave me a name of the man who does most of the civil rights cases in town. I’m going to get in touch with him and see if he’ll be willing to work with me. You know, give me his overflow. Uncle says he has more than he can handle.”
“That’s… too bad. That there are that many cases that need attention,” Gwen says.
“You’re right. I never thought of it from that perspective,” he says, angling his head and frowning thoughtfully. “But, see, that’s why I value your opinion. You make me think in ways I wouldn’t normally think.”
“Well, it’s to be expected. We come from very different places,” she says, reaching for his hand.
He lifts it and kisses it. Then he prods her engagement ring. “We still need to get this sized,” he comments.
“Maybe I’ll take it Saturday when I go shoppin’ with Morgana,” she says.
“Ah, yes, the big shopping trip,” he nods. “Can I… can I give you some money? I mean… I know you have money, but I’ve got all that just sittin’ there, and, well, we’re gonna get married pretty soon anyway and then half’ll be yours, too, and… Lord, this ain’t comin’ out right. I’m tryin’ to offer you money for your shoppin’ without insultin’ you, all right?”
She blinks at him, his avalanche of words rolling over her. “Half will be mine?”
“Of course. We’ll be married.”
“But… that’s yours,
Arthur. Your Mama left that to you.
“Yes, for me to use as I see fit. I see fit to share it with the woman I intend to spend the rest of my life with.”
“Guinevere, you’re gonna be my wife. What’s mine is yours. You already have my heart and my soul, so what’s a few bucks?” he asks, bringing his hand to her cheek.
Damn him. I can’t argue that.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “You don’t have to. I don’t want you for your money. You know that.”
“All the more reason why I wanna share it with you, my love,” he says. “I’ve, um, actually got it already set up to consolidate our accounts after the wedding anyway,” he admits.
“Arthur!” she exclaims, shoving him playfully.
“So do you need anything for Saturday? I’d like to know before tomorrow so I can go to the bank for you.”
“Maybe. I’ll think on it.”
“Best I can hope for, I guess,” he says. “Now. What are you doing with all these books?” he asks, peering into the box.
An hour later, Gwen is yawning and she wants to take some aspirin and go to bed. She kisses Arthur goodnight, and he turns to leave.
“If I didn’t say before, I would be very proud for you to specialize in civil rights law.”
“Thank you. That means a lot. I’ll contact that guy.”
“Goodnight, Guinevere,” he says, and her stomach does that curious flip thing again at the sound of her name on his lips. Only this time it’s slightly different. Deeper, with a bit of an ache to it.
Part 19: link