Evan watched her face cloud and realised he’d inadvertently hit a raw nerve. She covered it quickly by sipping her tea and smiling. “No master plan… lofty long-term plans have never worked for me. I go more for a month by month one nowadays. This month I’ve set my sights on a new frock. My ma’s promised to make me a proper fancy one if I can buy the material.” Then she waved it away, pretending the hurt he could see in her eyes didn’t matter when he could plainly see that it did. “But I doubt you’re that interested in my wardrobe and I’m still intrigued by your five-point plan. Talk me through it and maybe it’ll inspire me to make one too.”
“Well…” He downed a big gulp of tea then set it aside. “Number two was to get a trade behind me and three was to learn everything there was to know about it before I could branch out on my own. Four is this.” He jerked his head towards the ceiling again. “And to be high enough on the ladder that I’m basically my own boss. The Brookes stable might be small but it’s all mine for now, and I can run it as I please, within reason. Now what I need to do is save enough money to attempt five—which is start my own business in a place that’s green and smothered in fresh air and hopefully earn enough to buy a little house close by. I’ve given myself another ten years for that one, but like I said, I’m already three years ahead of schedule.” A fact which pleased him immensely. “If I can truly be entirely my own boss by the age of thirty-seven, then forget this palace, I’ll be king of the castle.”
Something about the way she smiled did odd things to his insides. The dimples maybe. Or the freckles. All very distracting, so he grabbed his tea again to give him something else to do rather than stare at her.
“And what about number one? You skipped over that part of the grand Temple master plan.”
“Oh, that was the hardest bit.” And the part he was quietly the most proud of. “I had to survive the Foundling Hospital. I couldn’t have achieved any of the rest if I’d allowed the place and all the rampant diseases within it to kill me.” As they had so many of his friends. A raw nerve of his own, so he deftly changed the subject. “But enough about me, tell me a bit about you. Why, for example, don’t lofty long-term plans work for you when I clearly swear by them?”
Like him, she used her tea to think carefully about her response. When she finally answered, her tone was dismissive. “Because life always throws a stick in the spokes. Surely it’s done that to you too?”
“Of course it has, but I take the stick out, fix the damage and the wheel turns again.” To prove it, he slotted the new piece of wood he’d been slaving over into the gap he’d cut in the carriage wheel. “A stick in the spokes only slows me down, it never holds me back.”
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