by Jewel Zahn
"This castle is haunted," Elly announced.
"You think every castle is haunted," Dean returned. "Seriously."
"Not every castle."
"You've dragged me through at least a dozen sightseeing tours of a dozen castles, and you' made the same declaration every time." Perhaps he was a bit too gruff with her, but apparently every old building in the British Isles was haunted or cursed or some other such nonsense. Dean liked travel, he liked castles, and he liked Elly. When she invited him on this trip, he thought it would be ideal. He couldn't even conceive of a better vacation, really. He'd been looking forward to it for the past three months, and now it felt like the vacation that would never end.
"You're being a grouch. How do you know there isn't any such thing as ghosts?"
"Because I live and operate in the real world with reasonable people. This is just a very old place. It feels old. The air smells old. But that doesn't mean it's haunted."
Elly shook her head, clearly not convinced by his logic. "Think about how many people must have lived and died here. Thousands over the years. If there's going to be a ghost anywhere..."
"Fine. I'll concede that. If ghosts were real, then yes, they'd probably be found in a castle. But can we stop talking about it?"
"No. I think it's interesting."
"Well, you're morbid."
"What do you think is interesting then? What do you want to talk about? The weapons and violence?"
"That's why castles existed, right? For the violence and the wars. You're the one who thinks of Cinderella's magic castle every time you hear the word."
Elly frowned, and he realized he might have gone too far. She wasn't a stupid girl--she was studying history, just like him. She was probably better informed about the castle, the people, the weapons, the wars, and everything about the place. But at the end of the day, she was distracting him from these delightful details, and over looking the actual lives she claimed to be interested in, when she babbled on and on about ghosts.
"I just like the thought of it, you know? Having that connection to the history."
"I get that," Dean said. "But it's wishful thinking, isn't it? You want a real physical connection to the past, but this..." He knocked on the castle wall. "Is the closest thing you're going to get. Humans can't overcome death. Only stone."
Elly tilted her head. "I always wondered why you were a history major. Alll your friends, aren't they in things like psyche and business?"
"Yeah, and they think I'm wasting my time, too. But...it's a connection. A link to the world. I don't know. That probably sounds stupid."
"It doesn't sound stupid." Elly smiled, all hint of irritation gone from her fine features. "I guess I should have asked about that sooner."
"You probably just thought I was a dumb jock, right?"
Dean shrugged. "It's okay. Most people do. And big dumb jocks do serve a purpose don't they? That's why you invited me, right?"
"I didn't want to travel alone," Elly admitted. "And you're the only guy who...you know..."
"Act likes a gentleman? Treats you like a lady?"
"Exactly. Though it's not very gentlemanly when you call me stupid."
"I never called you stupid."
"You think ghosts are stupid."
"Ghosts are very stupid. And I don't understand why a girl as smart, as sharp, and as bright as you would even believe in them."
"Did you just use three different adjectives to say that I'm intelligent?"
"You are intelligent, but I wasn't just talking about your intelligence." Dean smiled. "Let's keep walking. The tour is probably way ahead of us by now."
Elly took his arm. "I'd rather hear what you have to say. You've been pretty quiet on all these tours."
"Just soaking it all in. I did come here to learn something, you know." Elly's proximity was suddenly more than he could bear, but he didn't release her or step away. It wasn't the first time she touched him, but it was the first time that the touch was completely distracting. He couldn't even pull his thoughts together.
"And have you learned things so far?"
"I've learned more than I ever expected I would." Like the fact that Elly's hair was three different shades of blond, and her eyes danced a certain way when she talked about ridiculous things like ghosts. Actually, maybe it wasn't so annoying when she talked about ghosts. Maybe he kind of liked to see her so excited.
"I always wanted to live in a castle. You're right, I do tend to think of the Sleeping Beauty or the Cinderella castle. Huge spires and towers, well-dressed and happy servants, and of course, an adoring kingdom who worship at my feet and write praises to my beauty."
"Most of that is doable without a castle."
"Who will worship at my feet?"
"Anybody who has the chance," Dean said.
She laughed and slapped at his arm, and the sound went right to the core of him. He never made her laugh before. Well, not like that. Maybe he'd be able to do it again before the end of their sightseeing trip. How many castles were left on their itinerary?
"Having an adoring kingdom isn't all it's cracked up to be. Too many problems with that. It's much nicer to have a Prince Charming."
"I always wanted an errant knight, actually."
"Somebody to love you from afar?"
No." She smiled up at him. "Somebody who'd love me even if I wasn't a princess."
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