Marcus stopped abruptly in the middle of the grass. A woman in a blue dress was already sitting on the Crisis Bench. He didn’t recognize the dress. She looked up from where she was sitting.
“Sorry,” he said, holding up his hands. “I didn’t think anyone would be over here.” He didn’t think he remembered an introduction to anyone in that dress. It was a memorable sort of a dress. “I believe I ran into your mother inside?” he ventured, because he ran into so many mothers.
“She’s not here,” she said, which was not what he wanted to hear and which he absolutely could not handle at the moment.
“Right,” he said, trying to recover, pretending as if he’d just remembered something. “Your father–”
“We haven’t met,” she interrupted. “I’m not anyone.”
“Oh thank god,” he said, abandoning propriety to collapse onto the bench, dropping his head between his knees. “Thank you.”
“Too many people?” she said sympathetically.
“I’m really bad with faces,” he admitted.
“A lot of people are,” she assured him.
He dragged his hands down his face. “I just confused a Duke with a waiter.”
She bit her lip. “As long as you aren’t rude to waiters, you should be fine,” she said.
“I wasn’t rude,” he said. “I’m never rude. It would have been better if I was rude.” He buried his face in his hands. “I tipped him,” he said, anguished, muffled by his palms. Why had he been dressed like a waiter?
She burst out laughing, loud and with her head tipped back, overwhelming the empty garden. He separated his fingers to stare at her.
“Sorry,” she hiccuped, which immediately descended back into snorts. She laughed like she was hunting for truffles.
“Thanks,” he said, though he almost did feel better. “I’m feeling very supported in my time of need.”
“There’s only one thing you can do,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, trying to dab at them to not destroy her makeup. Reflexively, he offered her a handkerchief, which she accepted. “You have to flee the country. It’s the only way.” She checked the handkerchief for signs of smeared eyeliner. “Leave your family. Change your name. Get a new family. Never tell them your dark secret.”
“I think my old family might notice if I got a new family,” he said, now resting his chin in his hands, elbows balanced on his knees.
“That’s why you have to burn your house down,” she said matter-of-factly, now holding his handkerchief in a neat fold in her lap. “Just burn the whole thing. Everything but your favorite hat. You leave the hat on top of the ashes for your family to find. ‘This must be him’ they’ll say. ‘He would never have left his favorite hat’. It’s the perfect crime. Once it’s done, you become a pig farmer. Anyone comes around asking questions, you feed them to the pigs.”
“You seem like you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” he observed. “How are your pigs?”
She looked him over sidelong. “Hungry,” she said primly.