Elizabeth Swann was nearly sixteen years of age and felt a very great sense of righteous indignation that she had never been kissed.
Letitia Carlington and Charlotte Rochester and all the other young ladies whose society she frequented had been kissed, and all their tittering over it behind their fans had begun to grate on her nerves. In truth, at least gossip was mildly interesting. After all, it was a great deal better than embroidery or sewing—Elizabeth would infinitely rather stab someone than sew silly little flowers onto silly little handkerchiefs. She did rather like dancing—in that at least she was allowed to be active, rather than simply sitting around like the boring young lady she was supposed to be. Yes, gossip was a vast improvement over other ladylike pursuits.
Lieutenant Ridgefort had kissed Charlotte behind a hedge in the gardens at the governor's last ball, and she had talked of nothing since. From how she described it, it had been barely even a brush of the lips, but she regularly swooned over it nonetheless. Elizabeth had read far too many daring romances (unbeknownst to her father, of course), and thus she knew it was hardly a real kiss. Real kisses were supposed to be long and passionate—passionate being a relative term in her limited experience—and there was always a sunset or a golden beach in the background, not a boring old garden. Real kisses took place after a perilous adventure, like once the hero rescued his ladylove from wicked pirates or a fearsome dragon. That was the type of kiss Elizabeth yearned for.
Quite simply, it wasn't that Elizabeth wanted to be kissed—it was that she hadn't been—and she liked few things less than listening to others' exciting adventures (even when said adventures were so unimpressive in quality) when she herself had had none. Equally infuriating was the fact that Charlotte and Letitia and the others would tease her about her inexperience, and all she could do was smile politely and change the subject while inwardly she seethed. Hitting one of them with a chair would be quite satisfying, she decided.
What she could not decide was how to rectify her unfortunate situation. The obvious solution was to kiss someone, but she had no idea whom. The officers her friends fancied were all either too old or too dull to capture Elizabeth's interest. George Bertram was an arrogant knobhead, Tommy Kingsley was an empty-headed dandy, and Edmund Carlington treated her like a baby. None of them were any good whatsoever; she could hardly endure their presence, much less the idea of kissing one of them. She made a face.
But who else was there?
The answer came to her in the form of a visit the next day.
"Elizabeth, do at least endeavor to remain still, please!"
Elizabeth sighed and tried not to slump in her chair as her father finished his breakfast. There was no point in remaining still; being still was boring. Besides, she had already eaten, and it wasn't her fault if her father took twice as long. At least they were the only ones at the breakfast table—when her father had company, she was forced to sit and listen to them all drone on for hours and hours. It had been better when she was younger—then Father had allowed her to excuse herself after a certain hour and she could escape to her bedchamber and surreptitiously read pirate novels by candlelight. But now she had officially been deemed a young lady, and as such she was required to play the proper hostess. It was ridiculous.
She raised her head at her father's exasperated voice. "Yes?"
Governor Swann closed his eyes briefly, a pained expression upon his face. "Child, please pay attention when I am speaking to you. I was in the process of telling you that Mr. Brown is paying a call this morning to receive details of a commission I have for him, and I would ask you to keep yourself occupied during that time."
"Of course, Father!" Now she was all but bouncing in her seat. If Father was receiving a caller, she was free to do as she pleased for the morning. Today was her governess' half-day, so Miss Barrett would not be there to hinder her, and the rest of the servants never dared question her when her mind was set upon something.
Perhaps she could read, as she often did, and then there was always the garden (the proper thing to do in a garden was make-believe the trees were terrible foes and fight them off with her stick-sword, but her father had put an end to that long ago, so the garden no longer held much attraction for her). After a moment of deliberation, she set her mind upon reading in the garden. A lovely compromise, that.
Below her, a door closed. Peeking around the corner, Elizabeth discerned that the coast was clear and scurried to the staircase, only to stop short at the top. Waiting quietly in the foyer was a boy hardly a year older than her, dressed in roughspun browns with flecks of dirt on his well-worn shoes. He seemed to be studying the tiled floor, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
A bright grin spread across her lips. "Will!"
The blacksmith's apprentice looked up sharply and almost instantaneously turned beet-red. "M-miss Swann!" He bowed, his growing limbs as gangly and awkward as a newborn colt. Worse, honestly.
"Will, it's been ever so long!" She clamored down the stairs in what her father would most certainly deem an unladylike fashion, her skirts hiked halfway up to her knees. Will swallowed and suddenly became intently fascinated by the potted flowers across the foyer. "You really ought to call more often! I have a thousand things to tell you!"
"It's always a pleasure to see you, Miss Swann," he managed, his eyes flicking between her face and the tiles.
"Oh, don't be so formal!" she teased, swatting his arm. "I've asked you to call me Elizabeth."
"As you shall have to do at least once more, Miss Swann."
She pretended to pout, and he turned even redder than before, although she could not previously have imagined that possible. "Did you accompany Mr. Brown?" Obviously, he had. Before he even had a chance to open his mouth, she added, "Will, you make swords, don't you?"
He nodded mutely, and she continued, "Could you make me one?"
Will's eyes widened. "I don't think that would be proper, Miss Swann."
"Why does everyone care so much about propriety anyway? All it is is a lot of silly rules somebody made up for silly reasons to prevent people from doing perfectly nice things. I don't at all like propriety," she finished firmly. "So, I ought to be able to have a sword."
Will offered a shy smile at that—the first he'd done other than look like a skittish tomato all day. "Nonetheless, I imagine your father would be very cross about it, Miss Swann."
"Oh, forget my father." Sighing exaggeratedly, she grabbed his hand and began pulling him along into the dining room, ignoring his exclamations of surprise and protest. Finally releasing her grip, she pointed at the fixed swords above the fireplace. Why they needed a fireplace when they lived in the Caribbean of all places, Elizabeth could not say. They were hardly likely to catch a chill here, were they? "Do you see those?"
His eyes followed her finger. "Yes, Miss Swann."
Heavens, could he speak in more than three syllables at a time? And would he stop calling her "Miss Swann"? She was almost quite ready to give up all hope. Almost.
"I want one like those."
"A rapier?" he supplied doubtfully.
"Yes." She planted her hands upon her hips. "It's the sort of sword used by pirates and cavaliers and swashbucklers of all sorts. It's a very romantic sword, I think."
"I'm not sure pirates are at all romantic, Miss Swann." He reached up and tugged at his collar. Perhaps it was buttoned too tightly. "They do quite terrible things."
"Not in the stories I read," she insisted. Well, sometimes they did, but in those stories there was ofttimes one good-hearted pirate who refused to let his comrades get away with their villainy, and there was always a dashing hero who saved the heroine from an evil fate at the last minute. As romantic as that was, Elizabeth always found herself frustrated that the heroine seemed incapable of extricating herself from said evil fate without the help of said dashing hero. That sort of helplessness was entirely stupid and not at all impressive.
Which reminded her… She looked sidelong at Will. It was almost incomprehensible, really, that she hadn't thought of it before. Of course! The solution to her intolerable predicament had been staring her in the face all along!
Scrutinizing him carefully, she reached out and grasped the lapels of his coat, pulling him with her as she maneuvered them out of sight of the doorway.
"Miss Swann, what are you doing?" he stammered, again blushing furiously. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down.
"Will, I am going to kiss you." Her hands remained fisted in the fabric of his coat, keeping him close. Beneath it, his breaths were coming quicker. "I am warning you in advance so you are not taken by surprise."
His puppy-brown eyes were wide as saucers. "Miss Swann, we can't—!" he squeaked, positively scandalized.
"So, you don't want to kiss me?" She looked up at him through her lashes, amused by his fawn-like expression. She had never actually seen a baby deer, but she had seen illustrations in one of her father's books, and at the moment she found Will very reminiscent of them.
"I—Miss Swann—it's not proper—!" His eyes were no longer saucers—they were dinner plates.
"Propriety is stupid."
With that, she stood on the tips of her toes and pressed her lips to his. All the books she'd read had expounded at length on the wonders of kisses and the feelings they generally produced, but never had they actually detailed how precisely one went about it. So, when left to her own devices, Elizabeth could only hope for the best.
Will's lips were soft and tasted vaguely of tea—she decided to imagine it was rum instead. Not that she knew what rum tasted like from her own experience, of course, but it sounded a good deal more romantic. Honestly, she rather felt like she was doing something wrong. Real kisses were supposed to be better than this. Nonetheless…
"That was nice," she murmured once she'd pulled away, gasping in much-needed oxygen.
Will's eyelids slowly fluttered open, and he managed a nod. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then he closed it again. Clearing his throat, he tugged his coat closer about his middle. "Yes. Very nice, Miss Swann," he choked out.
Well, that hadn't been so difficult, had it now? Elizabeth was quite pleased with herself. Let Letitia and Charlotte and all the others laugh and tease all they wished—she had been kissed, and she wasn't even sixteen! She hadn't kissed a boring old naval officer either—she'd kissed Will! Will wasn't truly that exciting, of course—she may have thought him a pirate when first she met him, which had been devilishly thrilling, but he was really just shy and even more proper than her father. Nonetheless, he was her friend, and she liked him a great deal better than any other boy in Port Royal, and she was perfectly satisfied that he had been her first kiss.
They both jumped at her father's voice coming from another room, and she hastily smoothed her skirts and grabbed Will's clammy hand, dragging him with her into the foyer. "We're just here, Father! I was showing Will our sword display."
Governor Swann's lips pressed into a disapproving line. "Child, please do not pester young Mr. Turner."
Elizabeth barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Pestering, indeed. If it took a bit of pestering to break him out of his shell, as had been her aim since they were children sailing to Jamaica, she would do so. It had not yet been accomplished, but it would if she had anything to say about it.
Small, stout Mr. Brown was frowning. "Oi, boy, you were told to wait here. Come along now." All but tripping over his own feet, Will hurried to his employer's side, murmuring earnest apologies as they left the mansion.
She watched them go until their figures disappeared down the wide lane, and, remembering the book in the pocket of her skirts, she set off for the garden as originally planned. Now, she would be so much more enlightened when reading her forbidden romances. Reading about a kiss must, as a matter of course, be more affecting when one had one's own experiences to compare it with. She could only be disappointed that hers had happened in a dining room of all places—even a garden was better than that. Oh, well.
Elizabeth Swann was not yet sixteen, and she was possessed of a great certainty that a grander adventure would come along one day, sunsets and all. Then she would experience a real kiss.