I barely managed to wait before Jemis had closed the door behind The Honorable Rag before I blurted out the question that had been tumbling through my head since the discussion about the expedition.
“Have you written to your friend Hal since you came back?” I demanded of Jemis, before he had even turned back from the latch.
“No, I haven’t written anyone,” he replied. “I don’t think I’ve written since I left Kingsbury. I saw a book and thought he’d like it. And then I went along the coast to Ghilousettte and just felt so...down...I didn’t write.” My stomach felt unsettled with a mix of irritation and some other emotion I didn’t know the name for yet.
“Kingsbury was when you last wrote me, too.” I informed him. “You went to a museum of naval architecture and sent me that funny booklet about ship’s figureheads. With no return address or hint of where you planned on going, except for a certain suggestion that you wanted to go away and not see anyone ever again.” I kept my tone as mild as I could, although I suspected I did not succeed based on Jemis’ answering frown.
“Did I say that?” he asked, and the queasy feeling in my stomach settled out into a snarl of dread and anger.
“You were so poorly that you don’t remember your friend talking about an expedition across the western sea he was sponsoring–”
“I do,” Jemis protested, interrupting. “I remember him mentioning it, now that I'm thinking about it. When we were looking at his estate he told me where he was going to put the arboretum. I thought he was joking but he must have been serious. I kept going in and out of things.”
I found myself barely attending to his excuses, overwhelmed with memory of emotion. I had spent the summer sick with dread, a fear constantly teasing at the corner of my mind no matter how I distracted myself with my own problems and affairs – a fear that had erupted past any of my attempts at control after I learned that Jemis had not been in contact with anyone after leaving Kingsbury. (With my emotions so out of control, other things had started to slip as well, things upon which I wanted to dwell only slightly more than on what I thought had befallen my dear friend–namely, himself).
“He must be worried sick,” I told Jemis bluntly. I was perhaps projecting, but, from the many mentions of Jemis’ friend and roommate in our exchanges over our university years, I knew them to be quite close. Furthermore, Jemis clearly held him in high esteem, and, Lark (and associated drugs) aside, Jemis was usually an astute judge of character. I could not bear to think that someone with the unimpeachable integrity that Jemis ascribed to the Duke would not be worried for his friend.
Jemis sat down in the other armchair, managing to convey a sense of bristling as he did it. “I beg your pardon.”
I fidgeted with the knot on my sling, because the other options were to either shake him or embrace him, and I wasn’t sure which I would do if I reached out.
“I was afraid your last letter had a-a melancholic tinge to it,” I explained, reaching for patience and finding mostly horror and grief. Was Jemis truly so ignorant to the fact that others cared for him? That I cared for him? “It was only when Ms. Buchance asked me if I had any idea where you were, after your stepfather died, that I learned no one had heard from you all summer. By then it was too late to find you easily.”
I set aside my questions, focusing on achievable action instead of asking him where I had failed as a friend. “You must write to Hal. Immediately.”
“What? Why?” Jemis asked, but it was more of a show of resentment than an actual question. I ignored it in favor of ripping a page out of his notebook and thrusting it at him.
Even stripped of as much emotion as I could manage, this conversation was enough to make both of us belligerent and prickly. Jemis clearly lacked the words or desire to properly express his emotions on the matter. I myself had likewise been raised a modern, well-mannered gentleman, and knew it was hypocritical to wish otherwise for Jemis. And yet, it felt…unresolved. Jemis was unwell, clearly. Had been even more unwell earlier in the season. Was preoccupied with his not-inconsiderable worries and revelations. Obviously depressed, and seemingly unable to comprehend the mechanisms of friendship. It was irrational for me to be angry with him for these things, which were certainly not of his choosing.
“Write. Now. We can still make the last post if you hurry.”
“What am I to say in such a hurry?”
“That you’re alive and sane and sorry you haven’t written since June but as you learned last week you were recovering from Lark drugging and bespelling you.” I wasn’t actually angry over Jemis’ petty resistance. Nevertheless, I was attempting to stifle a growing fury, which was being fanned by his obstinacy. The anger was half directed at Jemis, for not caring to write me (or Hal, on whose behalf I was angry as well) to inform me that he was alive. The other half was directed at myself, for having the selfish audacity to be angry at my friend when he was so obviously struggling. Both halves, I knew but refused to admit, were just being used to paper over that old indelible fear of being left behind, of sudden loss. A gift from the fall and the interim. A wound I could see reflected back at myself from the face of my friend, even as he avoided my eyes.
“I can’t just leave a letter there.”
“You said he doesn’t know your surname–nor more than you’re from Fiellan, either, I wager? Come now, Mr. Greenwing. He has no way to find out what happened to you.”
Jemis squirmed in his seat, and I recognized my imminent victory. I gestured at him to hurry. “Go to. There’s no post after this till Monday,” I reminded him, and he stalled and grumbled but did finally write. I suspected that he must be managing not insignificant emotions as well, as he is usually much more amenable to instruction.
We did, miraculously, make it to the post office before it closed. I waited outside, ostensibly to detain the coach if necessary but in fact in order to take some deep, calming breaths out of Jemis’ sight. He was home now. I did not wish to be angry at him, which would run counter to my goals of getting him to comprehend the high esteem and regard in which I held him. It was unbecoming and unhelpful of me to doubt his in return. In fact, I realized with some wryness, Jemis’ current distractions served me well, as there were several conversations about myself and my affairs that I desperately wished to avoid. Stubborn and perceptive man that he was, it was only his preoccupation and good manners that spared me, the latter of which I did not doubt he would ignore if he deemed necessary. This thought was somehow the one that allowed me to regain my emotional equilibrium, and so I was shortly able to greet the arriving coach with good cheer.