If you be landsman, come down the strand;
If you be sailor, come up the sand;
If you be angel, come from the sky,
Look in my glass, and pass me by;
Look in my glass, and go from the shore;
Leave me, but love me forevermore.
~ from Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
The alcove on the stair landing was overcrowded with potted palms and ferns and cyclamen, and the long narrow mirror in the back deepened the illusion of a grove. Laurel paused there on her way down and looked into the mirror, her back to the stairs and the tips of palm fronds touching her shoulders, taking stock of her appearance. The downstairs hall was dark and the single hanging lamp over the staircase was dim; the pale green of her gown and the whiteness of her face seemed to gleam out of a mist in the mirror. The gown had a fine, iridescent sheen to it, and her earrings, droplets of Austrian crystal in the same shade, glistened against the crisp dark chin-length wave of her hair. The rhinestone clip that held a smooth swirl of it back from her temple was a fraction of an inch from where she wanted it to be. She lifted her hands to it, slowly in the first seconds of adjustment to the disconcerting reverse properties of the mirror. Her fingers engaged with the clip; her gaze drifted slowly from them, to her own eyes, into the dim background—and met a second, teasing pair of eyes, jolting her so her fingers slipped nervelessly from their task.
She whirled around. “Kenneth!”
“Obviously,” he said, coming up the last few stairs.
Laurel was already facing the mirror again. “What in the world are you doing?”
Kenneth looked over her left shoulder into the mirror and grinned provokingly. “Consulting the oracle?” he said. “I thought I’d make sure mine was the first face you saw over your shoulder in the mirror. I know how superstitious you are.”
Laurel gave a short, contemptuous laugh. Then she retreated into what she felt was safe ground in the mundane. “You almost spoiled my hair.”
“You are past mistress in the art of the anti-climax,” said Kenneth.
He moved around and looked over her right shoulder. Laurel glanced up at him, exasperated, through the crook of her elbow. “Do you mind?”
“‘Look in my glass, and go from the shore; Leave me, but love me forevermore.’ That’s about it, right?”
“You can omit the last part if you like,” said Laurel.
“But I can’t,” said Kenneth simply. He leaned against the polished woodwork of the alcove with his hands in his pockets, the palms crowding forward on either side of him. “That’s your main objection to me, isn’t it.”
“My main objection to you is that you’re a nuisance.”
“Oh-ho,” said Kenneth as if enlightened, “then it’s my invasion of the green-room that’s the crime.” He batted at a green frond of palm hanging near him. “One has to have those few moments of meditation before the opening curtain to get into character, not to mention costume. Decided what role you’ll be playing tonight?”
He moved forward a step and looked her up and down critically. “Sea-green queen—cool, aloof, and just a hint tragic. Nice touch having those drops of salt water in your ears. A dignified allusion to tears unshed.” He grinned again suddenly. “Don’t worry, I won’t blow your cover.”
“You’ll be too busy playing the fool for me to worry in the least about that,” retorted Laurel.
“No, not the fool. I always play variations on the same stock character: the Spurned Suitor. What’ll it be tonight—acid-tongued cynicism or hound-dog devotion? I don’t really care for dumb misery.”
“Yours is certainly never dumb,” observed Laurel with comparable acidity.
Kenneth moved around to her left again and looked sideways at himself in the mirror. “One thing’s certain, anyway; none of those variations ever wear a perfectly straight tie.”
Laurel, still working at the hair clip, stole a short glance in the mirror at his crisply curling light hair, and the lazy but keen flash of his blue eyes. A perfectly straight tie would never suit him in any case; he was too maddeningly unpredictable.
Under the shelter of a forearm, she had momentarily forgotten the properties of a mirror that worked both ways. Kenneth’s eyes turned toward hers unexpectedly, and as they met he grinned again. Laurel instantly looked the other way and concentrated solely on the hair clip. She could not see him, but knew he had taken up his position leaning against the woodwork again, this time on the left. There was a moment’s silence.
Kenneth broke it. “Oh, all right. Can we call it a draw?”
“You’re going to ruin your hair completely if you keep fooling with that thing any longer. I know you’re just delaying hoping I’ll get bored and go away, because you don’t want to go downstairs with me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Laurel, who had just discovered she was quite close to ruining her hair and was rather piqued by that fact.
“I wonder, now,” said Kenneth, “what you would do if I took you at your word.”
Laurel’s fingers faltered, and stopped, and she stared for a minute at her own reflection, the only thing that happened to be in her vision; her own eyes asking a puzzled question and frowning back at her because she did not know the answer.
She heard a chuckle somewhere behind her. She turned, her earrings swinging and her hair whisking against the palm fronds, but Kenneth was gone.
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image: 'Flowers and Mirror' by Albert Fuller Graves