I suppose there are parts where it could be broken up, but I like it all together, so here it is. I won’t apologize for it. 😛
Yes, I’m trying to be funny since the prompt was the apology. And, of course, I go to title it and can’t escape from hearing Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Oops?
“I am sorry,” Violet said as she tried to settle on the bench, disconcerted by having him arrange the cushions for her. He’d taken all the ones from the other chairs and attempted to prop up her back and her feet, and she did not know how to react to his fussing.
Would it have been like this for her if her “husband” had been true and was at her side now? Would he do such things for her and care for her through the trials of this pregnancy, or would he have ignored it all and joined the others in the opinion that she should not rise from bed at all?
“Yes. I have to apologize for the behavior of my aunt and even my mother. I told you—I am not your responsibility, the child is not yours, and the burden does not belong to you. I would not ask you to… You do not have to marry me, no matter what they said, and do not think that we are alone here so that we may… court. That may be what my mother is trying to arrange, but it is not what I expect.”
He gave her a smile, adjusting a pillow for her back. “I know. You were quite clear, and I think it is more incumbent upon me to apologize, not you.”
He sat down in the chair across from her, rubbing at his left arm. “It was extremely foolish of me to come here thinking that I could ‘fix’ everything, to assume that I could find the man who had stolen my name and right every wrong, and then not think that everyone would expect that fix in my marriage to you. I went on and on about the situation that you were in without once thinking of what everyone would assume the obvious solution to be. Then when it was discussed, I did not behave as a gentleman should—more like a startled jackrabbit with extremely poor manners. I must have insulted you with my refusal, and that was not my intent.”
She shook her head. “Oh, no, I am not offended. A part of me is quite relieved.”
“And the other part of you?”
“Is terrified and thinks I should marry you just to save myself,” she admitted, and her hand flew to her mouth. Horrified, she felt her cheeks burn with shame, not sure why she’d been so foolish as to give voice to all that. It was not proper, and she had not wanted to tell him it.
“I cannot blame you for thinking that, though I doubt I qualify as any kind of salvation.” He looked down at his arm, and she shook her head.
“I think that you are allowing your injury to poison your mind towards yourself. You are not crippled, not as badly as some, and even with your difficulties, you are not useless. Do not think of yourself that way.”
He looked up at her. “You are so strong. How did he ever betray you like this?”
She lowered her head. “I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I did not mean to make you feel ashamed. It was not meant as any kind of censure toward you. I find you quite admirable.”
“You are. Not so long ago, they would have condemned me as a coward,” he said, his hand on his arm. “The things I saw, the things I did… They… I am far more useless than you think.”
She sat up, putting her feet on the ground. “Shell-shock. You have shell-shock?”
“If you want to call it that. I think cowardice fits it better. Even my dreams terrify me.”
“I do not think that we are meant to go to war, to see and do the things that you have done. Why should it be such a thing that you are expected to be courageous about? We are told not to kill, are we not? So then why should we push for war? Why should we say that the people we send to fight in such conflicts should feel nothing when they are forced to take a life? That is the most illogical thing I have ever heard. Fighting for one’s country does not mean that one immediately becomes able to accept the death all around them as… nothing. Even if the enemy is trying to kill you, a part of you must be aware that they are a person. The men dying around you are human whether they are comrades or the aggressors. How is not feeling something for those lives lost right?”
“I think I am starting to understand why he would have taken this ruse with you as far as he did.”
She blinked. “What?”
“The man you thought you married, the one who stole my name, I do believe I see what he must have seen in you.”
She flushed. “Why—No. You are not attracted to me, not as he must have been to push for marriage even with the sort of deception that he was employing, and when I think of what he did… No, you are not like him. It is… You do not treat me like a flower.”
She nodded, gesturing to the garden. “It may surprise you because of my current condition, but this is my work. This is where he met me, and he used to say my name suited me because I was so close to the flowers, always planting and pruning… There were times when I thought he saw me as some kind of… sprite or something.”
“Then I was wrong. He did not see you at all. Your name suggests something delicate, but you are are stronger than that, no flower to be crushed by the elements or by him. Your words express a greater comprehension of the world and things that no one else has even tried to speak of with me than I would have thought, and that is more valuable than he could have known.”
“I do not think it wise for you to flatter me.”
Mr. Winston frowned. “Forgive me. I did not mean to flirt or seem insincere.”
That, she thought, was the dangerous part. He was altogether too sincere, and after her poor choices before, she was afraid of what that might mean for her. “It—I am sorry. You had questions about him, and we have not spoken of it at all. That is my fault, having taken the conversation in the wrong direction. Please, ask me what you will about him and I will attempt to answer.”
Mr. Winston rose. “I think that I should go. I came in uninvited, and I have overstayed my welcome. Please excuse me.”
She thought of asking him to stay, but after all that had happened since he arrived this morning, she did not think it wise. “I am sorry. I should not have assumed—you are not unwelcome, though has been quite awkward since my aunt voiced her opinion, and that will hang over us for some time, I think.”
He nodded. “Yes, I imagine that there will be no avoiding the knowledge that nearly everyone expects to marry. Perhaps we should continue our discussions through correspondence from now on.”
“You are leaving?”
“I do not know. It might be best.”
“For you. You can leave and be free of all entanglements and gossip, and you are not pregnant and abandoned, and if you never find the man who stole your name, your life will be little altered, but mine will never be what it was. I should have more sympathy for you after the things we spoke of, because of the war, but this—this is cowardice on your part, and I will not apologize for thinking that.”
He met her gaze, and she rather thought she understood some of the horrors of shell-shock in the darkness that he betrayed in the look. “You are very bold.”
“I have already fallen about as far as I can. My reputation is gone. I cannot get it back, so why should I stick to things that decorum demands? I shall be talked about whether I am good or I am bad, and though I made a poor choice, I thought I had done the right thing. I should be married now. That’s what I thought I was until your letter. Now I am not. I am pregnant, and it has been a difficult pregnancy by anyone’s standards. You say I am strong when all of these things terrify me, and I am not because I want to hate you for suggesting that you go and leave me alone again.”
He came over and sat down next to her. “No one has given you a chance to express your true feelings over any of this, have they? All the fear and anger… You have it all inside you still.”
She lowered her head. “I couldn’t cry when they expected me to weep—when he left—and I am not sure I want to cry now, but I never know what I feel anymore. Between the baby and this whole disaster, I have become completely lost.”
He drew her close to him, letting her rest against his shoulder, and despite the impropriety of the moment, she did not pull away from him. She couldn’t.
“I’m sorry. I do not envy you that at all. I felt that way all through the war, and even now that it is over… There seems to be no place for us veterans—none for cowards or cripples, not even in our own homes. Why would anyone steal my name when my life is not hardly worth living?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know why he did this to either of us.”
Robbie—the inappropriate name fit the inappropriate situation—took her hand, covering it with his bad one. “I swear I will not make you feel alone again.”