Challenge: Guava #10: It's A Guy Thing; Papaya #15: Fancy Meeting You Here
Word Count: 1577
Summary: Ghost reacquaints herself with the Bulmer family and gets to work.
Notes: Had no idea what The Thingy was until I got writing, and it turns out that the prompt I'd been aiming for with regard to Raphe, actually fit The Thingy too... ahah. Literally.
Also, must start being inspired earlier in the day, so the writing actually comes out sensibly... and so I don't get a hint of the Mr. Darcy coming on again.
In silence Ghost followed the broad Mr. Bulmer along the curved country lane, listening with half an ear as he described an incredible, and likely exaggerated, catalogue of woes that had befallen his various toys since her last visit. Excursions to the world outside of the big city were always a treat and this walk one of her most favourite parts; she felt herself actively basking in the leaf-dappled light where it touched her face, revelling in the cool autumn breeze.
"And then it just wouldn't move!" Bulmer finished, with an expansive gesture that took the young woman quite by surprise. "And I was at a loss, so I thought I had perhaps better call you, Ms. Ghost." He treated her to a good-natured smile.
She smiled in return, feeling more relaxed now than she had for weeks. "Of course I'll see what I can do, Nathaniel. Although I can't promise anything, as you know."
"I know, I know, Ms. Ghost." He let out a sigh that could have shamed the north wind, then visibly perked up again. "Ah, did I tell you that Raphe was home for the weekend?"
She didn't know whether to laugh or let out a sigh that would have rivalled Bulmer's own. "No, I think that one must have slipped your mind, Nathaniel." The trees around them thinned and as they crested the hill the familiar view was laid out before them: the fashionable lake and, just beyond, the broad white facade of the Bulmer country estate. The first time Ghost had seen it she had been at a loss for breath. The sight still awed her now and they spoke companionably about trivial matters as they ambled down the grassy slope toward the house.
Mr. Bulmer's wife was waiting for them at the steps to the house, as slender as he was wide but no less sweet-tempered. "Ghost," she smiled, holding out her hands to the younger woman, "it's a pleasure to see you again."
The first time Ghost had met Allegra Bulmer she had been surprised by both her beauty and by her genuine manner. Expecting the elegant foreign wife of a rich man to be stand-offish when it came to an oil-smeared tomboy of a mechanic, her second shock had come when Mrs. Bulmer had enfolded her in a hug and exclaimed, "so you are the little wonder my husband speaks so fondly of!" As first impressions went, Ghost had yet to find one that topped it. She took Allegra's hands and allowed her to plant a gentle kiss just shy of her cheek. "It's really nice to see you again, Mrs. Bulmer."
"Oh, I beg you," the lady smiled, "please call me Allegra."
An uncommon shyness settled over Ghost every time she met Nathaniel's wife and she could only nod her acquiescence as Mr. Bulmer kissed his wife's cheek and then took Ghost by the arm. "Come, dear Ms. Ghost, I implore you. Please see what you can do for my Bessie."
"Bessie?" She gave the large man a curious look as he led her toward the stable block.
He raised an eyebrow in clearly what he had been intending to be a nonchalant manner - unfortunately it instead gave the impression that one of the twin caterpillars on his brow bone had grown bored and set off in search of pastures new - and said, "why, my golem, of course!"
Somehow, Ghost thought, it shouldn't have come as a surprise.
Golem wasn't quite the right word, she decided as she stood with hands on hips and surveyed the lop-sided shape propped against the wall of the yard. Perhaps it was accurate in that it was a large and mostly automated figure, but it didn't wholly convey the oddness of a half-sized brass centaur with one hind leg facing in the wrong direction and its chin resting on its decidedly masculine chest. It took her a few moments to think how to phrase her immediate thoughts. "How did it, er, come to be in this state?" She let the question of its name slide.
"The leg was like that when I received it," Nathaniel said, giving the machine a critical stare. "It doesn't move much though, purely a decorative piece, so it's of little concern. But," he said, letting out another of his hurricanes of a sigh, "it no longer sings."
Nathaniel Bulmer was prone to buying some strange things, but this, Ghost thought, took the biscuit. "I think perhaps," she said carefully, "Bessie and I should acquaint ourselves." She smiled up at him and he took her none-too-subtle hint with good humour and retreated back toward the house with assurances that should she require his assistance, he was ready and willing at any time to leap into action.
It was blessedly peaceful when he had gone. Ghost ran a hand gently across the golem's flank, feeling the cool smoothness beneath her touch. It was a beautifully made contraption with handsome features and the kind of improbable physique usually found on ancient Greco-Roman statues and she felt a little pang of pity that something so beautiful appeared to have been once so ill-used. Moving as much by rote as anything else, she carefully unhooked the catch at the back of the golem centaur's head and let the back of his brass skull squeak open.
To many people the tangle of cogs and cables that made up the inner workings of the intricate machine were a daunting puzzle. To Ghost the pattern of shapes and forms called to her, demanding her dextrous fingers unravel their mysteries and set their little worlds to rights: a job she was both willing and eager to set to.
So lost in her work was she as she untwisted a loose cable that had snapped and tangled itself around another, preventing both from functioning, that she didn't register the sound of booted footsteps on the cobbles of the stable yard until two large hands pressed themselves firmly over her eyes.
She almost leapt from her skin. Her heart hammered a jig against her ribs; her throat constricted.
Behind her, a soft male voice said inches from her ear, "I'm disappointed you didn't come to say hello, Ghost."
The crushing pressure of her chest subsided and she spun on her heel, aiming a playful swipe at Raphael Bulmer's handsome cheek. "Raphe Bulmer, don't you dare do that to me again!" She caught herself blushing as he laughed and gently patted her shoulder. "That was not funny!"
He grinned broadly and tucked a loose strand of unruly blond hair behind his ear. "Well, I can hardly help that you weren't paying attention." He shrugged, then, easily distracted as ever, peered over her shoulder into the workings of the golem's head. "Oh, that's why it didn't work?"
It was awkward to turn to follow his gaze. Raphe was, no doubt deliberately, leaning close across her as he stared intently at the mechanism. Instead she leaned back, away from him, and tilted her head to see. "Yes, it was more simple than it appeared." No need to exaggerate, it was a relief that it had been an uncomplicated matter. Particularly now... "I don't think it will be too hard to fix the leg, either."
"You can fix that too?" He shifted his weight to look at her and Ghost took the opportunity to duck out from beneath him; his expression of disappointment confirmed her earlier belief. "It looks a little... broken."
"It's just twisted, nothing more." She slipped around the other side of the machine and closed the back of the handsome head, making sure it was still switched to its 'off' position. "It won't take long to fix."
Raphe's expression brightened again. "If that's the case, then I'm sure you can't object to perhaps a meal with me later?"
Ghost hurriedly revised her verdict. "Although if the wires have bent..."
He sighed and looked downcast. She would almost have felt sorry for him, if it wasn't what he had done each time she turned him down. She knew why he kept asking - the thrill of the chase, and the belief of a young man who had everything in the world to live for - but it didn't mean she intended to say 'yes'. It wouldn't have been so bad if he was a lovelorn young teenager, but the man was in his twenties for Heaven's sake. Ghost thought he would have learned to accept repeated rejection by now. She shifted around to the back end of the golem and knelt down on the rough stones.
"Oh," said Raphe brightly, "I'd almost forgotten."
"Hmm?" Ghost, running her fingers over the malformed joints of the machine's hind leg, didn't look up.
She heard the sound of Raphe's riding boots scrape over the stones. "I was in the village when I saw a man coming out of a shop who looked damn familiar. An old school friend, in fact. I invited him for tea and-"
The sound of shod hooves on the path approaching the stables filled the air. Ghost glanced up from her work as a riding sitting easily on a tall bay mare entered the yard. Raphe grinned boyishly up at the visitor. "Perfect timing! And, oh, let me introduce you to our wonderful mechanic, Ms. Ghost."
Her heart didn't just sink, it positively plummeted into the ground.
Sable stared coldly down at her. "We've already met."