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Love on Wheels, Part 2

June 1909. Victoria stared dreamily out of her bedroom window. The Clair estate had been famed for chocolate making. Other than her parents and herself, there were many servants and workers living in the household, as well as her relatives. The estate was always filled with the sweet scent of chocolates and the endless activity of the household. Handed down since her great grandfather’s time, the grand stone building had witnessed every ups and downs of the family.

Victoria wished that she could go down to the family fountain and feed the fishes. Or maybe even to the storage room to chat with her old grandfather. Or perhaps to the garden to pick some lovely flowers for her mother. Or even to the horse shed to bathe the horses. Victoria loved to be in the open with nature. In a small town far away from the city centre, the dense forest growth and the numerous walking paths that surround the estate, had always been Victoria’s favourite escape ventures.

Best of all, she loved to spend time with Tristan. Tristan’s family lived in the estate as well. Their fathers grew up together since young and had worked hard together to build and expand this chocolate empire. It was a wonderful life living in the Clair estate. Everyone loved everybody.

Today, her father had forbidden Victoria to go out to play. Being a mischevious thirteen-year-old little girl, she had spilled her father’s new chocolate recipe all over the kitchen, leaving a dirty mess for Tristan’s father to handle. She did not mind being locked up in her room as her punishment, but somehow she missed Tristan. It had always been fun with him around. He was just the perfect brother for her. Someone to guide and protect her. For she had no siblings and neither had he. Just as she was thinking about how to spend the day without him, she heard the tiny tinkling of a bell from below her window.

“Hey, look what I’ve found!” came the excited whisper of Tristan, as soon as he saw Victoria’s face popped into view.

“A bicycle!,” shrilled the ecstatic Victoria, clearly in the heat of Tristan’s excitement as well. “Where did you get that from?” Victoria gradually lowered her voice as she remembered she was still being placed under custody.

“I found it. Among a pile of woods. I think it’s unwanted. Hey, want to catch a ride?”

“I’m not sure. My dad’s not letting me out today. Besides, I can’t ride a bike, you know that.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I’ll get my dad to tell your dad. You’re safe with me. You know that. Come, let’s not waste time,” persuaded the sincere Tristan.

“Alright, I’ll come. But you’ll have to help me out of the window.”

“Sure, we’ve done that too many a time,” chuckled Tristan. “You’re Romeo’s Juliet, right?”

Before long, the two were quite some distance away from their home. The young Tristan looked almost a promising lad for his age. Youthful looking and bright, he had grown sturdy and strong and was a sensible and responsible fellow like his father. Since graduation from school, he had been a great help with the “Clair Chocolates” business. His father had been wanting to send him abroad for further studies, but Tristan had been rejecting the offer. He had been so used to his home place that he did not really feel like leaving it. Besides, he felt a deep sense of belonging, wherever Victoria was. Although the difference in their age was a gap of seven years, there was never a barrier between Victoria and him. He did not want to leave her yet. She was still so young and he felt that she needed him by her side.

“Hey, you really don’t want a ride?,” asked Tristan, as Victoria finally caught up with him from behind.

“Well, you know I’m afraid of falling. I don’t want it. I can’t balance for goodness’ sake!,” came the panting reply.

“You never know if you never try. C’mon, I can teach you. I’m always the one riding and you’re always the one chasing after me and the bike. Surely you must be tired now.”

“Well, I enjoy running. I enjoy the fresh air. I enjoy chasing you,” laughed Victoria. She spread out her arms into the sky, tilted back her head and took a deep breath.

“She’s so beautiful,” Tristan silently thought to himself, embracing the sight. He watched as she let her flowing hair moved with the wind and could almost smell her fragrance from afar. She was so light and cheerful. Everyone in the household were delighted in her. She looked so sweet wearing the simple floral dress. She shone like a jewel in the sun and Tristan knew, she was his treasure. He admitted to himself that she was still very young, but he was truely getting fond of her.

He had known her all his life and no one from his high school could compare with this charming little darling of his. He carried her in his arms when she was only a little baby. He held her hands where she first tried to walk. His name was being uttered when she first tried to speak. He read stories to her at bedtime when she was seven. Then at eleven, they rode a horse together. And now at thirteen, she was still unwilling to learn how to ride a bike. He just silently watched her as she grew everyday. He knew that one day, she would soon grow into a woman he loved

“What? What are you looking at? What?,” pestered Victoria for an answer.

“Nothing, nothing. Alright, it’s nothing,” laughed Tristan, putting his dreamy thoughts aside. “Hey, c’mon, let me teach you how to ride. You can trust me. I’ll hold you, so you won’t fall. Try?”

Victoria finally gave in to his pleas. She remembered her father used to teach her how to ride a bike, but after a terrible fall, she never dared to try again. This time, even though the bicycle which Tristan found from a heap of refuse was old and feeble, she was somehow willing to try to conquer her fear of cycling. She knew she could trust Tristan.

Tristan gently helped Victoria as she propped herself unto the metal vehicle and for a couple of hours, the coaching went on very smoothly. Soon, Victoria was happily riding the old bicycle in circles, round and round the smilingly satisfied Tristan.

“Look, I can do it! No hands! Arrghaa…,” Victoria gave a loud screech as she quickly replaced her hands on the handles, almost losing her balance. That was a close shave for Victoria, as Tristan slowly let out a breath of relief.

On the way home this time, it became Tristan chasing after Victoria and the bike. She happily rode her bicycle and he steadily gave chase. Then it all happened in an instance. It started to rain and Victoria, in all her anxiety, was riding too fast and soon Tristan lost sight of her. Victoria came to a sharp turning and lost control of the bike. Both Victoria and the bike went falling very fast down a steep slope. Tristan immediately hastened his pace as he rushed to Victoria’s screams. His running steps felt heavy for his heart was sick with heaviness. The heavy drops of rain beat against his chest and the wind seemed to be against his direction. His Victoria was very important to him and he certainly did not want her to be hurt.

By the time Tristan arrived at her side, he was shocked at the sight of what became of Victoria. The bicycle was ruined and she laid unconscious beside it. Her limbs were badly bruised and her face suffered a few scratches. Her breathing could barely be heard. She had been in shock and fainted before Tristan could come to her aid.

The rain kept pouring and for some moments, Tristan felt totally helpless. He felt utterly confused and did not know what to do. There was no one around who could help them and home was still quite some distance away. Finally, he picked Victoria up in his arms and in the midst of the storm, ran all the way home, as fast as he could.

Once home, the whole household got caught up with the tragedy. A doctor was being sent for late in the night. Everyone was tensed and worried. Tristan felt worst. He was supposed to take care of Victoria and she trusted his care. It was all remorse and anxiety for him. He bore all the scoldings his father had lashed out at him that evening. The whole night, Victoria’s critical condition was the only thought that filled his mind. He was sleepless that night, no one in the household slept well that night. The doctor said Victoria almost broke her spine and that her fractured arm had to be bandaged.

It was a dreadful accident and due to the storm, Victoria came down with cold and fever for almost two weeks. During the time, Tristan was not allowed to see her and he felt really miserable.

Within two months, Victoria’s injuries were almost recovered. Although after the incident, no one mentioned about riding bicycles again, Victoria somehow did not develop any fear of cycling anyway. In fact, she still attempted to ride by herself despite what she had been through.

Victoria did not want to upset Tristan and cause him to be guilty all his life over the incident. She wanted him to see that she had fully recovered and could ride again. Tristan was clearly consoled that the accident had not affected Victoria too deeply.

Strangely, the incident actually brought the young couple even closer together. There was an enigmatic sense of comfort and trust that gradually blossomed between them. That year for Christmas, both Tristan and Victoria unknowingly bought each other a bicycle for the season. To everyone else, it was clearly not any coincidence, but a match made in heaven.

©1998 Jessica Yeow