Chapter Twenty-Two

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Marigold said nothing about our snow angels the next day; in fact, she avoided me as much as she could, even in the small, cramped store full of last-minute shoppers.

Mr. Best eyed me warily, and then pulled me aside. "Is everything all right?"

"Fine, sir," I lied. "Looking forward to getting the day over with, and eating a hearty Christmas Eve meal at Miss Finch's."

"She's even brought in the woman next door to help her prepare the meal since Miss Sutton had to work today," Mr. Best said. "Prudence must really be enjoying Miss Sutton's company in order for such a change to take place in her. You really have no idea how extraordinary it is she invited us. We haven't had Christmas Eve dinner together since Sarah was alive."

"Maybe Marigold is magic," I whispered, to myself more than him. "Just as she is."

"Indeed," he replied, gently patting me on the back. "Just as she is."

A few moments later I saw Marigold disappear into the stockroom. Mr. Best was busy with a customer, and I with a second, though I could stall mine off while he browsed the gems in the showcase. I followed Marigold.

"Are you ever going to talk to me?" I asked. "Tell me what I did wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong," she answered curtly. "It's just you were right. You're leaving soon. You can't afford to let anyone or anything here matter to you."

"Who said nothing and no one here matters to me?" I tried to stop the motions of her hands as she searched for something on a shelf, taking hold. "You matter to me, Marigold, and it scares me to death."

"We have to get back to work," she whispered, quickly withdrawing her hands and disappearing from the stockroom in a swirl of velvet and lace.

"I love you," I whispered, banging my forehead against the shelf in front of me. "I love you, and I don't want to think about what is going to happen soon."

"Don't think about it," Mr. Best said softly, appearing at my side without warning. Damn him and his humble, kind ways. My eyes burned. "Tonight is for celebrating. So tonight, let's just celebrate where we are, and the company we're in."

I nodded, and he clapped a hand against my back. "Good lad. Now, help me, I need the ladder to get a clock down from the wall."

I held the ladder steady for him as he retrieved the clock for someone to purchase. My eyes never left its face, as I watched second after second tick away, never to be repeated.

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