Months passed and the Trimagnite pocket was capped and harvesting began. True to his word, Wil had told Orion to split the profit. Everyone from the supervisors down to the lowliest Miner One got an equal share.
Wil appeared very little, and when he did arrive, it was always a turn around trip. More often than not, he would even politely refuse a dinner invitation. When Ed finally approached him, he came up with a lame excuse about not wanting to intrude. It was nonsense and they both knew it, but after seeing the agonized look in Wil’s eyes, Ed did not pursue it. Whatever demon Wil was fighting, Ed wouldn’t put him in an uncompromising position.
“The invitation is always there, my friend.”
“Thanks, Ed. That means a lot to me.”
After several such conversations, Ed was determined to get to the bottom of it. Wil had made half a dozen different excuses and Ed knew they were all bogus. He decided not to take another one for an answer.
“The girls are asking to see you, Wil. Mary made your favorite, chicken and ham pie with all the trappings.”
“I’d be imposing, Ed. I don’t want to intrude.”
“Since when does family impose? Look, Wil, whatever is troubling you, let’s talk about it. We can work through this together.”
“Thanks, Ed, but it’s just not that easy.” How could he say to this man, “I’m in love with your daughter”? Clearly, he could not. Ed would never understand.
It’s Amie’s birthday, Wil. She’s your goddaughter, you can’t miss it.”
No, he couldn’t, he had not forgotten the obligation.
“I’ll be there, Ed. I”m sorry, I’ve had a lot that I’ve been dealing with. Tell Mary and the girls I’ll be there.”
“Party starts at 1900, don’t be late,” Ed said quietly, walking away.
Something was strained between them and Ed desperately wanted to find out what so they could discuss it. In Ed’s mind, no problem was without a solution, you just had to look harder for some than others.
Wil showed up for Amie’s party with an outrageously large stuffed toy for her, new chronograph for each of the other girls, a pearl necklace for Mary and a bottle of Morwellian brandy for Ed as a peace offering. He knew he had deeply offended this hard headed, generous man, but his emotions were in turmoil. Never having been very good at dealing with his feelings, he tended to avoid awkward situations, hoping they would go away. Unfortunately, they rarely did.
After the party, to which Bobby had also been invited, Ed and Wil sat down to open the bottle. Wil ceremoniously broke the century old wax over the cork and poured their drinks into two of the tiny glasses which came with each bottle. Morwellian brandy was incredibly potent and was carefully consumed.
Ed made a toast to Mary and the girls, which Wil joined self-consciously. Ed eyed his friend a long time, setting his glass down with a click.
“Something on your mind, Wil? My granddaddy used to say someone was as skittish as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
Wil forced a grin. “Sorry, Ed. I’m just afraid I if I really tell you the truth, you’ll never allow me back here.”
Ed’s brow furrowed deeply. “This sounds serious, Wil.”
Wil was thinking it was even more serious than Ed knew, but he had to say something now, before losing his nerve.
“I love her, Ed,” he mumbled.
Ed stiffened. “You’re telling me you’ve been avoiding us because you are in love with my wife?”
He rose from his chair, pointing at the door. His face was going red and his hand shook. Wil vaulted upward, calming hands on Ed’s shoulders.
“No! No, it’s not Mary I love, Ed. It’s Matilda… I’m in love with Matilda.”
Where it had been red with fury, now Ed’s countenance went stark white. His breath came in sharp gasps, like a fish out of water. Clasping his hand on his chest, his knees gave out and he collapsed in the chair.
“Swear to me, Wil, nothing ever….”
“On my honor, Ed, I swear! She’s like my own daughter!” He ran work hardened fingers through his dark hair, setting it on end. His eyes held the wildness of a mad man who’s been trapped by circumstances. He turned anguished eyes on Ed’s pale face.
“Nothing has ever happened between us. But I couldn’t… this is ripping me apart, Ed. I’ve never loved anyone the way I do her. It’s like someone tore my heart from my chest and cut out my lungs!”
Ed said nothing for a long time. Wil sat opposite him, leaning forward with elbows on knees, clasped hands seeming to beg for forgiveness, dark head bowed as if in prayer.
“Wil, soon this won’t even matter. Saltulle is all played out, there’s nothing left. Even the Trimagnite is gone, every drop. We’ll be leaving in a few weeks. Mary and I are going to Solaris and Matilda’s stationed somewhere else. Don’t try to find her, let her go. If you love her and if you have ever respected me, you’ll let her go.”
Wil’s heart sank to his feet. He gulped painfully, his heart seeming to rise in his throat. “I promise, Ed. I promise to try to forget her, but one day we’ll find one another again and for my sake I hope it’s soon. A man can’t live forever without his heart.”
He rose silently, placing a steady, comforting hand on Ed’s shoulder as he walked toward the door. Without looking back, he walked past the shed where the new, black floater cycle was stored. He wanted to leave a note, tell her how he felt, but knew Ed would never forgive him if he did. Instead, he headed to the space port and boarded his ship alone.