| 'Shall we head in, then?'
'Yes. You definitely should.'
Low, quick, barely skimming the syllables and punctuated with a touch of impatience. Agatha. If she were a betting person, she'd put money on him being sat with his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes shut in frustration. Archie was infinitely predictable.
A long moment of silence passed between them, during which she was able to make out sounds from the outside world. Low chatter, rumbling engines, the crunch of rubber on asphalt. Feminine laughter. Music, as a murmur, carried from somewhere afar.
'When do you plan on joining the festivities, then?'
'Preferably not at all.'
'Right.' She heard him twisting in his seat. 'Let's assume never isn't a viable option-'
'It's always an option.'
Silence. A smile slid onto Agatha's lips as she sat with her head tipped back against the headrest, eyes closed. She knew she was being petty. She didn't care. Call it a dark sense of humour; the thought of him squirming and having regrets so early into the evening was too deliciously ironic to let go unappreciated. It also appealed to her sense of justice: it was, after all, largely Archie's fault she'd been uprooted from the cool, isolated woods of north and dropped here, in the smotheringly sultry swamps of the dirty south. If she were to suffer because of him- and she was- it was only fair that he suffered, too.
The thought strengthened her smile. Few things in life were more gratifying than retribution.
'What are you smiling at?
'Nothing.' She opened an eye to look at him. With an elbow on the wheel and a hand on the side of his head, he'd twisted to look at her, his other hand planted on his hip. His hair, overdue for a trim, had been frustratedly pawed away from his face- slightly flushed from the heat- and the simple black tie he'd neatly arranged earlier had been wriggled loose, freeing the top button of his shirt in the process. He looked hot and bothered, and not in a good way. 'I don't know why you didn't get your hair cut today. You look like a mess.'
'Thank you, Agatha. Thanks awfully.'
'Your tie is askew.'
'It's bothering me.' He ran a finger under the loop, pulling it away from his neck. 'It's the heat. I don't know how they put up with it.'
'Get rid of it, then.'
'I thought I'd need it to make the right impression. Fit in with your high society crowd and that sort of thing.'
'They're not my crowd,' she snapped. She turned to look at him when she spoke this time, making no effort to mask her feelings. As it was, the anger in her own voice surprised her. 'And you should never want to fit in with those people.'
As he began to ask why, Agatha felt old feelings beginning to rise up like tidal waters. Archie couldn't be made to understand. There was no explanation, no reason, no assemblage of words she could give to make him satisfied. It would require the ability to give him that inner part of her person, the part which kept hold of memories and the emotions belonging to them, for him to pour out and pick through and piece together for himself. He'd need to see them, live them. There would need to be a way to fill him with her feelings, to make her emotions his. His hair would need to stand on end when she had goosebumps, his stomach would need to turn and tighten with the flaring of her nerves. He would have to look at her memories and feel his lungs shrivel when she struggled to breathe. He'd have to feel the throbbing of her heart in his chest.
Maybe then. Maybe then, he might get it.
'Don't call me that.' She snapped back into the moment, where Archie sat with a softened brow. When he saw he had her attention, he threw a pointed look into her lap. Agatha dropped her eyes.
Her hands were trembling.
'Are you alright?' he asked, his voice low.
'I'm hungry.' Not a complete lie. She hastily folded her arms, tucking her hands out of sight. 'I'll be fine after I eat something.'
The look on his face said he didn't buy it, but he let it be. Agatha cast her eyes out the window. It was more dark than dim now. In the west, the sun was little more than an eerie yellow-orange glow, clutched in the claws of moss trees growing at the edge of the lawn. In the east, through a gap in the trees, sat part of the twinkling township: Twinbrook, a mirage after dark. There was something ethereal about the little hovering lights of the town. Almost like will-o'-the-wisps, shimmering and vanishing. Something alluring. Ghost lights of the swamp.
She turned to find Archie watching her.
'Are you going to sit there looking at me all night?' she scowled.
'That very much depends on whether you intend to sit here all night.'
Bloody hell. Agatha unclipped her seatbelt and looked him dead in the eye. If she was going to do this, it sure as hell was going to be on her terms. 'I leave at nine.'
'Don't you think nine is rather-'
'I'm not asking you. I'm telling you.’
Clicking the door open, she stepped out into an air thick and sticky, like tender butter. Breezeless, it smelled of earth and recently cut grass, laced with the mechanical scents of motor oil and overheated metals, and it hummed with the whirring of insects. Spurning Archie's offered arm, she made her way to the foot of the porch stairs, where she waited for him in a rectangle of light falling through the door, cradled in an equatorial warmth. He ambled on up, wearing an annoyingly pleased expression.
'Stop. You can't go in looking like that.'
'Why? What's wrong with the way I look?'
'You're representing me. You have to look the part.' With a deft movement, she yanked free the defeated tie and began coiling it into a tight ball. 'Fix your collar,' she instructed. Naturally, Archie did as he was told.
In the midst of the tie-fixing business, they paused to listen to a booming, unmistakably Irish voice carry down through the doors.
"... this is for you! Happy new home and all that shite."
'What is the customary thing to say when one attends a housewarming party?' Archie asked, eyes amused.
'Not that.' She tucked the bundled tie into the pocket of his coat. 'There.'
'Be a man and do it yourself next time.'
'The next time we attend a party together?'
'Don't push it.'
Again ignoring the offer of his arm, they climbed the stairs together, and crossed into a new- and old- dimension of Agatha's personal hell.