After catching our breath in my bedroom, Willow and I quietly exited the floor thorough the back staircase. As we passed Anne's room Willow reassured me that she was tied up all night with Harris going over some finances. She also noted that while she had once been involved with these meetings after her father and brother had died, she was subsequently asked not to come back when her large charts and graphs frustrated and annoyed Anne and Harris. I could picture Willow in my mind; writing on a portable version of her shrewdly invented white board with various different colors of wax. Though charming, I could see how her detail could get in the way with Anne and Harris' personalities in the room.
We held hands as we descended the dark staircase; it was a small luxury. I wished that it wasn't so illicit. When we reached the bottom floor, Willow retrieved my large winter coat, hat and gloves for me and helped me put them on. I smiled at her lovingly as she carefully buttoned my coat up and made sure all my vulnerable skin was covered. Her rapt attention to my comfort was adorable. I then helped Willow with her own overcoat, which I found to be very dashing on her.
Exiting the Institute from the back staircase put us along side the building, where the stable entrance was conveniently located. The freezing night air was an immediate shock on my face. I took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, lit only by a cloudy moon filled sky. Willow had already arranged to have a small coach ready for us; it was just large enough for two people to comfortably sit in and was pulled by one horse. It was a beautiful gray mare. As Willow double-checked the reins and leads, I gently approached the horse to pet her soft nose.
"Tara!" Willow harshly whispered, "Don't get too close, she'll bite your whole arm off!"
I stepped back slightly and looked back and forth between the mare and Willow.
"Is she mean Willow? Why would you use a mean horse as a coach lead?" I wondered aloud.
"I have no idea if she's mean, I try to avoid getting close enough to her mouth to find out. Horses are just plain evil." Willow was completely serious and her stern look in the mare's direction was so plantative that I had to hold back a laugh.
"I'll be careful Willow" I smiled at her and she smiled back, taking my hand to lead me towards the step of the coach. She held my hand and helped me step up onto the small bench.
I almost jumped when I sat down. I had expected the bench to be ice cold, yet it was warm. I exhaled in a puff of steamy breath and took off a glove to touch the seat under me in wonder. Willow was just finishing climbing in next to me and arranging the leads on her lap.
"The bench is warm Willow!" I stared at her in wonder.
"Oh! That's the from the hot water compartment you're sitting on. It's pretty neat. See, look at the valve over there," she leaned over me to point to a small covered opening on the side of the coach "A few minutes before you depart, you have steaming hot water piped into that opening which goes into a copper tank. It's wielded out of the thinnest copper I could find so that it distributes the heat more effectively. There's a layer of thick foam padding above it and then the leather of the bench. Instant butt warmer!"
Willow was grinning proudly. I shook my head in wonder and leaned close to her. Confident that nobody could see us in any detail in the dark night, I kissed her on the cheek and sighed into her ear.
"I love you Willow and you are just amazing."
Her grin grew impossibly wider and she squeezed my hand where is still lay on the bench.
"You'd better put your glove back on Tara. And if you think the butt warmer is special, wait until you see this."
Willow then leaned forward to her left and uncovered two items under a small tarp. One was a lantern, fastened to the outside edge of the coach. She had rigged it in a similar fashion to those in the house, but had added a shield behind it so that all the light was reflected forward. She rolled the flint to turn it on and grinned at me again. Then she moved to the second item she had uncovered. It looked like a small wheel split into two parts. On it each part there was a very small handle and rope wrapped around the wheel portion. She patted it lightly and smiled at it like it was a small child that had just done something precious.
"It's a crank for the awning!" She exclaimed.
Clearly not sure what she meant, I stared expectantly. I was just waiting to be amazed yet again by her ingenuity. She unlatched some kind of switch on the left handle and began to turn it slowly. I started when there was a scratching noise behind me. I turned in my seat to see a coach's awning being slowly raised to cover us completely. When Willow was done turning the wheel and the awning was completely in place, she flipped the same switch and then did up two buttons to keep the awning attached to the coach on either side.
"Amazing," I sighed and my eyes flickered over her face. I was filled with such pride and love for her then, that I had to touch her. I ran my gloved hand down her cheek and repeated myself.
"Amazing," I signed again. She smiled back sheepishly at me "And cozy too Willow!" With that I snuggled up next to her side, linking our arms and resting my head on her shoulder. She sighed in what I assumed to be contentment and picked up the reins. With that, we started off towards downtown Chicago and the apothecary in a warm, well-lit and covered coach; my dapper lover at the helm.