Susanna stood in her bedroom one morning, pinning up her hair.
“Going already?” Figaro came upon her from behind and kissed the side of her neck. “So soon?”
“Yes. Stop it.” She batted at his hand. “I must.”
“For what reason? The day is young.”
“And my lady will be calling. Husband, stop.” She laughed as she said the last, but still stepped out of his grasp.
Ding, ding, came the sound of a bell.
“There, you see? The contessa needs me.”
“My heart, don't go!” Figaro clasped his hands to his chest.
“Goose.” Susanna kissed his cheek. “Until tonight, my love.”
Susanna entered to find every piece of furniture in Rosina's chamber strewn with clothing: gowns, bonnets, ribbons, and underclothes were piled on tables, chests and chairs. The bed was almost hidden beneath yards of fabric and lace.
“Ah! My little Susanna, come in.”
“You needed me?”
“Yes. I need your taste.” The contessa held up the nearest gown. “Should I keep this, do you think, or has the style past?”
“Not the style, perhaps, but the color.”
“It doesn't suit?”
“It suits the young Rosina, if I may be so bold. But you, the glamorous contessa-”
“Might like to be reminded of Rosina. It stays.” She folded the gown, setting it on a pile to the right. “And this?”
“It suits a goat girl,” Susanna said under her breath. Louder, she continued. “It is the least of your pretty things. If you wish to make room for the new season-”
“Quite right. It goes.” The contessa tossed that gown carelessly on a pile to her left.
“But wait!” Susanna lifted the offending garment to peer, instead, at the item below. She picked up that one, ran her fingers over the folds of silk. “And this?”
Rosina shrugged. “It suits a young thing.”
“Indeed.” Susanna smiled fondly.
“Don't you remember? Our page, our Cherubino, three years gone?”
“Of course.” Rosina clasped her hands. “Dear Cherubino.”
Susanna held out the dress with both hands. “Keep it. For his sake?”
“You keep it.” Rosina pressed it back into her arms. “I can't bear-”
“My lady.” Susanna gripped her by the arms, crushing the dress between them. “If our boy should return-”
“Cherubino may. But he'll not be our boy.”
“No? I've had a letter.”
“Yes?” Rosina sucked in her breath.
“Yes. Shall I get it?”
“Yes. Dear girl.”
“Keep this, then. I'll be a moment.”
As Susanna left the room, Rosina pressed her cheek into the gown and breathed deep.
Susanna returned shortly with a letter in her hand. “Here!”
“What does he say?”
“Let's find out.” She turned the letter up so the contessa could see the seal, unbroken, on the back.
“You've not read it?”
“And have Figaro worry, if the words should make me blush? No. Let's read it now.”
“Should I not worry, likewise, if you blush?”
“Not at all, for you'll be blushing too.”
Susanna took a pin from her hair and used it to slit the envelope. As she unfolded the page, Rosina leaned against her shoulder, where she could also read Cherubino's words.
“Well!” Rosina said after a moment. “That changes things. Our Cherubino's coming home.”
“The date!” Susanna looked back to the letter's first page. “'In a fortnight,' he says.” She held up fingers, counting. “That means.... today! Why haven't we heard? The house should be abuzz.”
“The count. He must have meant to keep it from me.”
“Then he will not know you know.”
“How can we see him?”
Susanna considered. “I know! We'll meet him at the gate.”
“The contessa can hardly wait by the wall for a soldier to come home.”
“No. But a goat girl can.” She held up the dress the contessa had discarded earlier. “Try it on.”
“Yes, that could work.” Rosina stepped behind a screen, and Susanna followed with the dress. A few moments later they both emerged.
“There!” With her hand on Rosina's waist, Susanna spun her to face the mirror. “Perfectly charming.”
“And shall I braid my hair like a goat girl?”
“You shall wear a bonnet. Here, the very same Cherubino wore.” She placed it over Rosina's pinned up hair, and said in her ear, “All the soldiers will fall in love with you on sight.”
“That could be a problem.” Rosina looked at Susanna sharply. “Two maids, alone, by the gate, when the soldiers come home...”
Susanna considered. “A goat girl and a footman, then? No one will find it odd.”
“Who is this footman?”
Susanna swept into a bow. “I shall borrow some clothes. You'll see.” She took Rosina's hand and kissed her fingertips. “I won't be long.”
A dozen soldiers strode toward the Almaviva estate, singing of their joy at returning safely home. Some distance back from the gates, a young sergeant stopped. “Go ahead. Don't wait for me,” he told the others, smiling ruefully. He looked up at the gates and the house beyond with a sigh, then clasped his hands before his chest. “Oh, happy home! And happy Cherubino, returning to it. But I wonder, do they remember – my dear Susanna and the glorious contessa?” He squared his shoulders. “Well, I'll find out soon enough.”
Rosina clung to Susanna's arm and studied the group of soldiers, while Susanna kept her head down to escape attention. She wore a footman's livery and her hair was tucked under one of Figaro's hats.
“Is he there?” she hissed.
“No,” Rosina said in her ear. “Not yet. There's only one with a sergeant's stripes, and it's not him, unless he's grown a mustache-”
“He could have.”
“-and it's grown gray.”
“Oh. Where is that letter? Did we count the days right?”
“Wait. Someone else is coming. Is it? Yes. That's him!”
Susanna looked up as Rosina dropped her arm and stepped forward, toward the young officer who approached them now.
For a moment he studied her, trying to ascertain which of his past admirers approached him now. Then his face lit with understanding. “My lady!”
She embraced him, then stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. “You are quite the officer. And now I must look up to you.”“It's true I've grown, but it is I who looks up to you. As always.” He stepped back enough to bow. “I wondered if I'd see you.”
“You doubted it?”
“I doubted you could get away.”
“So I see.” He kissed her hand, then dropped it quickly, his smile fading. “And who's your friend?”
“Are you jealous? Don't be.” Rosina turned back to the disguised Susanna, beckoning her forward. “Come, my dear. Here's my old friend, Cherubino.”
Susanna approached, grinning. She doffed her hat and bowed. “Any friend of Rosina's is a friend of mine.”
She made no effort to disguise her voice. Cherubino blinked at her, then began to laugh. “Susanna!” He swept her into an embrace, kissed her on both cheeks, and then stepped back. “Then you did get my letter! Most beautiful, most lovely ladies, it is good to be home.”