“Do you think…” I licked my lips, choosing my words very carefully. “Do you think maybe he had a good reason, and we just don’t know what it was?”
“He could’ve killed you, Bryn, and there is no reason in the world that would’ve been good enough for that,” Dad said simply, and I couldn’t argue with him.
If Konstantin had killed my dad, I wouldn’t even be asking what his reasons were. They wouldn’t have mattered. But since he hadn’t succeeded, I allowed myself to entertain the idea that something much larger was in place, something that made Konstantin an unwilling agent of evil.
Even though I should only have vengeance in my heart, I found myself struck by something my dad had said. Or, more accurately, something Dad had said that Konstantin had told him right before he stabbed him: I have nothing I can say.
Not there’s nothing to say or we have nothing to talk about. No, there was nothing that Konstantin could say, as if he hadn’t been allowed to.
The more I researched Konstantin, the less I seemed to know. For the past four years, I’d been haunted by the fact that I had no idea why he’d gone after my father, and now his motivations left me even more baffled than ever before.
He hadn’t even known my father would be there that late. Konstantin happened to stumble upon us in the hall. If Dad hadn’t been waiting for me, Konstantin wouldn’t even have had a chance to do anything.
So why that night? Why that moment, when it wasn’t something he could’ve planned for? And why try to kill the Chancellor, and not the King or Queen?
My mind was still swimming with what my dad had told me as I made the trek home in the darkness. The air was crisp and clean, even if it did leave my face icy, and I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets. The moon had begun to wane, but it was still bright and rather fat, illuminating the clear sky.
It was late enough that the cobblestone roads leading away from my parents’ house were empty. Even the chickens and goats that frequently wandered the area had gone home to rest for the night.
I heard another set of footsteps, echoing off the stone, coming toward me from a cross street, but I didn’t really register them. I was too lost in my thoughts, trying to figure out what I was missing with Konstantin.
“You don’t see enough of me already, so you’ve resorted to stalking me?” Ridley asked, and I glanced up to see him walking over to me, grinning crookedly.
“What?” I was startled by him, and it took a second for me to realize he was joking. Then I smiled back and motioned toward my parents’ place. “No. I was just coming from my parents’ cottage.”
“Likely story.” He’d reached me, and we both stood in the middle of the empty road. “Care if I join you?”
“Sure.” I shrugged and started walking north again, and he fell in stride beside me. “We’re gonna have to split off soon, though. Your place is west, and mine is east.”
“We’ll worry about it when we come to it. For now, let’s just enjoy the time we have together,” he said simply.
We walked for a little while, neither of us saying anything. I wished that silence had felt comfortable and easy between us, like it used to. But now it felt thick and heavy, filled with things that I didn’t want to say.
“Aren’t you gonna accuse me of being the one stalking you?” Ridley asked finally, and he’d fallen a bit behind, so I slowed to meet his steps.
“No.” I stared down at the road, watching pebbles crunch underneath my feet, and I found myself saying something I’d been trying to pretend wasn’t true. “I assumed you were coming from Juni’s.”
“I was,” he admitted. “You don’t like her very much, do you?”
“No, of course I like her,” I said, probably too quickly and too enthusiastically, but that had to be better than confessing how I really felt. “She’s fantastic and probably the nicest person that’s ever lived. What’s not to like?”
“You say that, but you sound annoyed.”
“I don’t mean to. I’m not.” I looked over at him, forcing the brightest smile I could manage. “She’s great. I’m happy for you. For both of you.”
“Thanks,” he said, sounding as halfhearted as I had.
“Just…” A lump grew in my throat, thick and suffocating, and yet I continued to talk around it, asking a question that I knew I shouldn’t ask. Even as the words fell out of my mouth, twisting my heart painfully, I wished I hadn’t said anything at all. “Why her?”
“Why her what?” Ridley asked.
“You dated all these girls for so long, and when I say ‘dated,’ I’m using the word very liberally.” Words kept tumbling out as I struggled to explain away what I really meant. “Because you had a string of girls you saw maybe once or twice, and I get that Juni’s perfect.” I paused, remembering that she was actually amazing. “I mean, she is perfect. But…” I trailed off. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m asking.”
He didn’t answer right away, which only made me more nervous. My stomach churned, and my heart had begun to beat so rapidly, I’d begun to feel weak. Why had I said anything at all? Why couldn’t I just forget that I felt anything for Ridley? Why was it so hard not to want something I knew I could never have?
“Things changed,” he said at length. “I’m getting older, and running around doesn’t have the same appeal. I realized that I don’t wanna do that anymore. That I don’t want to be that guy, and I’m sick of living like I’m just a kid without a care in the world. I care about things, I have responsibilities, and I want just one girl.”
“That all makes sense,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure if it did or not. I just wanted to end the conversation and move on to something that felt much less terrifying and painful.
“Does it? I hoped it did. Sometimes I just ramble.”
“I’ve long since suspected that.” I tried to keep my tone light, to make a joke of things, but I wasn’t sure if it worked.
Either way, we didn’t say anything more, and we’d finally reached the fork in the road. A small, triangle-shaped sweets shop diverged the road into two paths—one going to the west end, where Ridley lived among the mansions, and one to the east end, where I lived in my loft above the barn.