Author’s Note: So I didn’t want to post anything today, but I thought I should post this since the story is getting closer to the end. It’s important to have an end, after all.
“Would I…” Robert faltered, not certain how to answer her or if he dared do so. He was not able to know his own feelings, did not know what to think. So many things about Violet were admirable—beautiful, even—and she was someone he wanted to know so much more of, a person he hated hurting and wanted to see each day, someone he missed when she was not with him. Those things wanted to say one thing when a more reasonable side tried to remind him that he was penniless, that they were strangers, that their situation was too complex for them to expect any kind of uninfluenced decision, and yet he did not think himself all that biased. “Is that what you wanted to ask me when you said we should come outside?”
She shook her head, letting out a sigh. “I don’t… It’s not that, not precisely. It’s a bit more… Oh, I suppose it was rather cowardly to ask you instead of saying what I meant to say. I don’t know why it is so hard to do this. I’m supposed to be strong, aren’t I?”
“You are, though you’re looking quite peaked. Are you certain that you meant to ask me that?”
“I… I didn’t. I was not planning on it. You distracted me. Please don’t tease, not now. This is not something that I can say with… I can’t do it if you tease me, and I need to say it. I have to before this goes any further, before… before I lose my nerve.”
He frowned, taking her hand and placing his good one against her cheek. She trembled, and he withdrew his hand. “Violet, what is it?”
“I kept saying that I didn’t want to marry you, that I didn’t want to make another mistake. I didn’t want to do anything that would… No rushing, no making the same bad choice, even if I thought… It is true that now I see more of the little hints he gave me that he wasn’t who he said he was, and I should probably have seen it, but I did end up making that decision too soon. He kept asking, and I kept wanting to say yes just to stop him, and I did think I loved him, but I know if I had only been a bit stronger, if I’d waited just that short bit longer, then I’d never have married him. I wouldn’t have. That is part of why my aunt’s admission hurts so much. I had doubts. If I’d known, then maybe I would not have made the choice I did. Yet, I cannot blame her. It was my choice. I just don’t…”
Robert put his hands on her arms. “Calm down. You don’t have to—It’s all right. I understand. I’m not expecting you to marry me, and you don’t have to justify why you don’t want to. That is a valid choice. It’s not something you have to explain. Even if I had said yes a moment ago, you would not be under any sort of obligation to me.”
“I know. It’s just that… The more of the memories you said were yours, the more I learned that what I liked about him, what I loved, that it was you and not him—I thought maybe you were the one I loved all along. It was confusing, upsetting, so wrong… I don’t… Sometimes I still feel like that’s what it is, that it’s the parts of you that he stole that I… That am only attracted to you because of them.”
Robert sat back. That was a bit of a blow—not only was it difficult to control his reaction to her being attracted to him, she had confused him a great deal by saying she thought she loved Winston because of… well, because of him. How was he supposed to react to that? What did he say or think? Did he want to be the reason she’d loved that man? He did not know.
She grimaced. “I am sorry. I had prepared a whole speech, but when I started and you teased me, I lost it. All I could do was stumble and stammer. Then we were both distracted by the legal implications of what he’d done, and then you said something and… I didn’t… It… I sound so foolish, so stupid…”
“I don’t blame you for being confused. It… I don’t know how to feel about you, either.”
He returned his hand to her cheek. “Yes, about you. You are a strong, admirable woman, and you are beautiful because of that strength and all your other wonderful qualities. It’s… I didn’t want them telling me I should marry you, didn’t want that feeling to be anything like an obligation.”
“And is it? Is it an obligation?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so, and yet I don’t know if we would have this between us if we weren’t in these circumstances, if it weren’t for him stealing my name and doing this harm to you. I’m still trying to be sure, but it’s…”
“Hard. Yes. I know.” She rose, crossing with her uneven gait to the bush and taking a flower in her hand, closing her eyes. “That is why I almost wish that we could make that all disappear for a moment. That we could forget Winston and what he’d done. My aunt and what she didn’t say. The baby. That for a moment it would just be me and you in this garden…”
He nodded, standing. He thought perhaps he had better get her back to the bench before anything happened to her or the child. “That would make things seem so… terribly simple.”
She turned back to look at him. “Kiss me.”
“I know what it was like to kiss him. I think I had better know what it is like with you.”
He feared it would be too easy to acquiesce to that request. He would like to know what it was like to kiss her. This would not be some rushed kiss as he tricked a poor girl out of pie, no. He would be wanting so much more from Violet, taking so much more.
“This could be more confusing than what we were discussing before, you know. If we don’t do this, we might have an easier time ending our confusion. I think that we might not want to do this. I do want to, I want to more than I want to admit to, but I am afraid if we do, then we won’t know if it is love or not.”
She sighed, coming back toward the bench. “Yes, I suppose you are right. I don’t want to make this more confusing or to make another mistake. I can’t let that happen.”
He started to nod, but then he did the worst thing possible. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers—or he tried to. He bumped her stomach and missed his target, not sure if he had touched her cheek or her ear. “I’m sorry.”
She laughed. “No, no, that was… It was sweet and funny all at the same time.”
“How is it sweet that I somehow forgot you were pregnant when I tried to kiss you?”
“I think you are rather appealing when you are clumsy. It is honest and rather rare for a man to let himself be seen in such a way. You always have to be so strong and confident and not at all hesitant or clumsy. Or am I wrong about that? The only man I knew well before was… Well…”
He wrapped an arm her waist, stepping just a bit behind her, trying to make certain he accounted for her stomach this time, before he bent to meet her lips. He caught that scent of flowers, taking a deep breath as he prepared to see how she tasted. Sweet, perhaps like honey, though he would not know what that was like after being denied it for so long.
She pulled back, licking her lips. “You were right.”
“It is more confusing now.”
He smiled, caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. “Yes, it is. It’s probably the most confusing thing I have ever felt. I want to say that should make it love, but I think that is… That’s not an assumption that we should make right now.”
“No, it is not. Let us… We should take time and distance to consider this and all of its implications,” she told him, glancing back toward the house. “Tomorrow I shall speak to the lawyer. I should have waited, not asked for that before I did speak to him. I… I don’t know that I’m not married, and even with all Winston did—”
“You are not the only one who faltered. This is not your burden alone, and while I cannot help but think we have biased whatever decision you might have made after speaking to the lawyer, I cannot regret it as much as we both know I should. Even if that is all I ever have, I shall hold onto its memory—and yours.”
She blushed. “Oh, Robbie. If I were only certain—”
“As much as I think I’d want to hear that, we should stop now and go our separate ways. You have a great deal to think about, and I don’t want to bias you further.”
She smiled. “It might be too late for that.”
He returned her smile, knowing as he did that he shouldn’t. They had already taken too many liberties, come too close to things that they had no right to do, and he did not want that guilt for either of them.
“I will see you tomorrow. After you’ve seen the lawyer. Not before. Or… I think I should wait for the day after. That is better, isn’t it?”
“Come tomorrow,” she said, stepping up to kiss his cheek. He felt her stomach bump him, but it just made him smile. “Promise?”