It’s whisper in her ear and the first thing Lucien says on the morning after their wedding. He woke with the first light, her head on the pillow next to him and her hand gently grasped in his. He had watched her sleep for a while, bathed in the luxurious feeling of having her beside him now and knowing she will be always.
But he’s too excited now that he can’t wait any longer to wake her.
And it’s not just the it’s Jean in his bed, it’s that it’s his wife, Jean Blake. The name rattles in his head and he looks at her again like she’s someone new he’s never seen.
Jean in the early light of day is not new to him, of course; without her make-up, that squint of her eyes when she first steps into the hall during an early morning call. But this, this in-between, caught-off guard Jean, with a hint of black under eyes, faint red around her lips, the golden glow of the sun highlighting the freckles on her bare chest, the angles of her face, are all something new and beautiful and his alone to know.
He smiles and pulls her hand, still clasped in his, to his lips.
“How do you know?”
“I can just tell,” she says on a sigh.
When she opens her eyes, it’s to Lucien rolling her onto her back as he hovers above her.
This view, the sun getting higher in the sky and the sheets slipping behind him, is definitely new. He finds himself gazing, tracing over every dent and imperfection and beautiful patch of skin with his eyes.
“You’re staring, again.”
“I’m finding it quite hard not to, my darling.”
And because not touching is becoming unbearable, he reaches out with the pads of fingers and watches the goose-flesh rise and her muscles tremble.
“You know, I imagined this, before,” Jean says after a few moments of contented silence.
“Did you?” Her words are intriguing, but somehow, he finds himself unable to lift his eyes to hers to have a proper conversation.
“Yes, with Robert.”
Lucien’s eyebrows lift exaggeratedly, and he looks squarely at her then. Jean rolls her eyes.
“No, no, not-” she falters. As much as he fell in love with Jean’s unwavering strength, he does so love to make her stumble. “-not in the way you’re making it out.”
Now that his eyes are there, Lucien starts tracing the contours of her face, memorizing the movement of her jaw under the weight of his palm, the texture of the corner of her mouth under his thumb.
“What I mean to say is, I tried to imagine it. Being married to him.”
He feels her take a deeper breath where his fingers wrap around her rib cage with the hand that isn’t cupping her jaw.
There’s an intense gaze that is not new, but makes his stomach clench at what he knows will be a weighty revelation.
“And, well,” Jean steals herself and says with confidence again, “in my imagination, it wasn’t him I saw next to me.”
He raises his eyebrows again at the implication she leaves open.
“It wasn’t you either,” she’s quick to correct. Before Lucien can feel too disappointed, she continues, “not like this, anyway. Not right away. But I couldn’t imagine leading the kind of life he could give me instead of the one I had with you where…”
He smiles, in approval, and because he can’t help himself at the implication, he kisses her for a long moment, halting her words.
The confession startles him. Their long friendship and engagement ensured there to be less secrets to share than most newly married couples, but that doesn’t stop Lucien from realizing that Jean builds her strength by guarding pieces of her heart, even from those she loves. Each piece she shares he tries not to take for granted. A new, glimmering piece of Jean Blake for him to meet and treasure.
“I do love you.” It’s low and desperate and he can’t give her a chance to respond. Until their subtle touches become too intense to quell, that they begin what is all at once new and so achingly right that it feels familiar.
His darling Jean.
The words almost slip out of his mouth before he covers himself with a yawn. Jean is fixing breakfast as he blearily sits down at the table that next morning.
He lay awake most of the night- not unusual for him, but the reason for it had been.
The image of Jean dancing, singing Bobby Lee’s song and swaying her hips as she dusted the old furniture, plays in his mind like a dream. Seemingly unremarkable in its domesticity, yet it had felt like lightening striking on a clear sky, the way life changing realizations often do. An electricity building, a feeling of anticipation almost ignorable, and then suddenly, overwhelming there.
He loves Jean Beazley.
Is in love with her, in fact.
“Hmm,” Lucien hums. “Yes?”
“I said, would you like some tea?”
“Ah, yes,” he coughs as if it could clear his thoughts. “Thank you, Jean.”
He notices her red nails as her fingers press into the lid of the teapot, the curve of the muscle in her forearm where her cardigan is pushed up. The same thoughts he’d had all last night are swirling in his mind, unbidden. How precious, how dear she is to him. How much better his life is with her in it, how unbearable it would be without her. How had he not realized this feeling before?
He looks away from where he’s staring at her fingers curving around the tea cup and realizes she’s holding it out for him to take.
“Ah, yes. Thank you.”
“Didn’t get much sleep then, Doctor?”
He smiles to cover his secret as he takes a sip. “Not much, no.”
“Bad dream, was it?”
The concern in her eyes takes his breath away for a moment.
Waking today had been like finding someone new in his kitchen. Her silhouette by the stove, her soft laughter with Mattie, all things he’s witnessed hundreds of times before. His unabashed need to take her hips in hands, to feel her laughter on his lips- these thoughts are new in the way they’re falling freely, happily in his mind. He revels in them.
And today, instead of gentle friendly affection, her concerned eyes make him want to confess his feelings and protect her from them all at once.
“Not too, bad. No.”
She flashes him a small smile. He knows she’s biting her tongue to tell him he should go to bed earlier. Instead she stands, never idle his Jean, and starts to clear the breakfast dishes.
All he can do is watch as she turns to the kitchen sink.
And when she starts humming Bobby Lee’s song under her breath, up to her elbows with soapy suds, Lucien smiles to her back before she notices.
“Bloody hell!” Lucien shouts as his hip crashes into the side of the desk.
He’s drunk. He’s lost track of time, but he’s fairly certain it’s well past 3:00 in the morning by now. Well past time for him to consume enough whiskey that navigating around the dusty office is more difficult than it should be.
It’s only his eighth night back in this house, his childhood home technically, but what he’s come to think of as his father’s house. Whatever it is, it hasn’t been a home to him in a long time. And now Lucien finds himself sleeping here night after night, passing out on anything but a bed, ever since the funeral eight days ago.
Tonight, however, he may have over done it on the whiskey.
Earlier in the evening, not on his first drink but certainly not on his last, he’d finally found the courage to start organizing some of his father’s more personal effects. ‘Organizing’ might be a bit generous. While clearing away his father’s desk to at least make room to sign all the paperwork he’d been putting off, he’d stumbled upon a forgotten photograph and key. Memories attached caused a pain that had been too much to bear and he immediately shoved the items into a draw, all while popping open a handy bottle.
Earlier, when his thoughts were less throttled by alcohol, he’d been left wondering why his father’s desk had become such a mess. All his memories of this room were of pristine tidiness, beratement if youthful exuberance had caused anything to move even a centimeter from its place.
But that’s the thing about death- the daily rituals of life which once held a comforting rhythm then seem a meaningless dissonance, too much to contend with. Even, in this case, for his father’s housekeeper. Maybe he should enlist her to finish the tasks he had drunkenly started. It should be her job to do so, after all, shouldn’t it?
God, he needs another drink.
“Damn!” Lucien shouts again, the whiskey in his blood making it hard to control his movement and his volume. He pushes another piece of furniture with the weight of his body on the way to the bottle. When he turns around to straighten it, he hears the glass crash to the floor behind him.
He leans with his hands against the desk and is sliding to the floor when the door opens.
Oh, right. He’d almost forgotten she lives here.
Even in his haze, Lucien’s eyes widen at the state of her. Pink robe that she’s still fastening, soft, brown curls a mess trying to be tucked behind her ears, and stocking feet- of which he cannot stop staring.
“You can’t keep doing this, Doctor Blake.”
“I can if I, just, do my best,” he says with a flourish of his arms, and a slur of his tongue.
She grabs the hand he’s waving with hers, and instinctively he uses it as support to heave himself from the floor. There’s no hesitance from her- as if they’d known each other a lifetime a not just one week.
“This doesn’t quite seem like your best.”
It’s on the tip of his tongue to deny her knowing his best, knowing anything of him at all. For all she is to him can be barely be described as an acquaintance.
Finally on his feet, Lucien looks her in the eye for the first time. It’s not pity he sees, like he expects, but disappointment. She looks to his shoulder then to brush away the dust, and it’s the first friendly touch he’s felt in- he can’t even remember how long. And suddenly he feels loneliness wash over him, all while he relishes her touch like a man left thirsty in a desert.
“Right,” is all he can think to say. His mind is fuzzy for more than one reason now.
Her genuine smile, maybe the first she’s had since his father died, fills him with a warmth- and he tries his best to return it, tries his best to sustain this new, unsteady attachment between them. Her hand on his elbow, guiding him away from the broken pieces of glass, only adds to it. It’s not the touch of an overly concerned stranger, but of a tentative friendship.
“It’s Lucien,” he says suddenly. Thoughts swirling too much to keep track of the small conversation.
Jean exhales deeply, releasing his weight to lean him against the wall.
“Doctor Blake is,” he swallows and rubs his forehead, “was, my father. Please, call me Lucien.”
She must deem him able to care for himself again, as she turns to leave the room. She stops just before the door.
“It’s Jean, my name. Please, call me Jean.”
For the first time in a week, maybe longer, the weight on his chest feels a little lighter. He hopes he remembers this moment when he wakes up in the morning.
Lucien stares at the ring in the box, watching the light glint off the simple gold band before pushing the lid closed.
“Bloody fool,” he mutters to himself. He should have never bought the damn thing in the first place. He loves Monica, of course, but they may have rowed better than anything else as of late.
It was impulsive, to buy the ring. His father would think as much.
Sometimes he really could picture it though-Monica on his arm waving goodbye to Australia as they started an adventure together, until death do they part. An idyllic fantasy that will only ever be that- a fantasy.
None of that mattered now, anyhow. In a few minutes his bus would arrive, which would take him to his ship, which would take him to a new life in Scotland.
“Far, far, away from this wretched town-”
“You do know you’re speaking out loud? Loudly, for everyone to hear.”
Lucien looks to his right to the other occupant of the bench he hadn’t noticed until now.
A young girl with soft brown curls and a lightening in her eyes stares back at him. There’s a fire there he wouldn’t expect from a total stranger that makes him literally sit-up and take notice.
“I do beg your pardon,” he mutters out belatedly.
The girl nods her head and turns back to the novel in her lap. He doesn’t know the story, but he recognizes it as some romance Monica had tried explaining to him, and he can’t help the groan that comes out of his mouth.
“What’s the matter now?” she says with annoyance, and Lucien just catches the tail end of her rolling her eyes at him.
“It’s nothing, really.” Maybe it’s his awful mood, or the fact that he’s almost certain to never see her again, or the coincidence of her reading that same book- which all only serve to increase his foul mood. But Lucien can’t stop himself from saying, “a bit of advice, though? From one stranger to another?”
Surprisingly, the girl doesn’t roll her eyes or make any disapproving noises at this, but turns to him in curiosity.
“Don’t idealize anything from that,” he nods, indicating the book she’s holding her place in with her thumb. “Those sort of stories, the things they say about love and marriage, don’t happen in the real world.”
She huffs out a laugh, and turns away from him again, “Well, maybe not for you. Doesn’t mean they won’t happen for me.”
He really shouldn’t engage, she can’t be fifteen at the most, and who is he to squash the dreams of a young girl?
Something about the jut of her chin as she says not for you makes him want to argue his point further, however. But before he can, she’s turning back to him, “Besides, I already know who I’m going to marry.”
“Ha! Is that right?”
“Yes,” she replies indignantly. How would such a young thing know anything about marriage?
“And who might that be?”
“Well, it’s none of your business really, but his name is Christopher. Christopher Beazley. And when we’re old enough, we’re going to get married. We’ve already promised each other.”
The corners of his lips turn up slightly. Instead of reprimanding her, he suddenly finds himself jealous of her self-assuredness on the subject.
So, he indulges her instead, “And you love this Christopher Beazley then?”
“Of course,” she replies with confidence. “And he loves me. And that’s all there is to it.”
Lucien’s bus pulls up then and he stands to head in its direction.
“Well, I hope you’re very happy together.”
“I’m sure we will be,” she says with a false air of indifference. Then more genuinely, “but, thank you.”
However awful this day started, meeting this young woman has slightly turned it for the better. Her confidence and quick wit have inadvertently charmed him, even though he’s sure that’s the last thing she was trying to do. He’s about to step onto the bus when he turns, tips his hat, and bows in a dramatic fashion, and says in good-bye,