She passed her own house, the McKellan's humble abode, and Johnny's office, and finally her destination became clear. So she turned the corner, and ran down the street until she reached the house. From being there so often before, she knew the extra house key was kept beneath the loose porch floorboard. Wiping away the snow, she retrieved the key and opened the door, making sure to lock it once she was inside.
She gave a sigh of relief and looked around Mrs. Loring's neat, quiet old house. To Elizabeth, this seemed the most logical place to come at a time like this. Mrs. Loring wouldn't implore Elizabeth with questions or scold her for acting improperly and rudely or even question Elizabeth's intentions. She'd understand; Elizabeth was sure of it. And hopefully, the old woman wouldn't even come home for a good while.
Not exactly sure of what to do, she took off her shoes and set them on the rug, unattached her veil and set it on the table, and lingered into the parlor. A large brick fireplace was on the opposite wall, and facing it were two winged armchairs and in the center, a large, cream-colored couch; she could only see their backs. A black cane leaned up against the side of the couch.
Elizabeth froze, and almost instantaneously, the most astonishing thing she could ever imagine occurred. Christian's mop of messy brown hair, pair of emerald eyes, and bright smile popped up from behind the back of the couch, where he had been lounging.
"Why, Elizabeth!" he exclaimed, "It's been so long!"
"Christian," she said, assuring herself that it truly was him, before asking breathlessly, "What are you doing in town?"
"I'm here for the wedding of course, my dear Mrs. McKellan."
"How did you know about it?"
"I've been keeping in touch with Mrs. Loring," he explained, "She informed me of the joyous occasion and suggested I stop by. She's letting me reside in my old room while I'm in Darcidy."
"How long are you planning on staying?"
He shrugged, "I'm not sure yet."
"Really?" she walked around to the front of the couch, "Or are you just keeping your departure date a secret like last time?"
"I honestly don't know when I'm going home," he paused, "And now that you've brought it up, I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was leaving, but I didn't think you'd really care considering, well, considering what happened earlier,"
"It was still awfully rude of you," Elizabeth replied bluntly.
"I know," he agreed, not seeming at all affected by his past actions. In fact, he appeared rather cheerful and content, "But what's done is done," he added, "Now let's get back to current times. You've been doing well, I hope?"
"Quite well," she lied.
"Good, good," he gave her one good look over, from her head to her toes, before commenting, "Interesting dress choice. Care to explain?"
"No, actually. I don't," she crossed her arms across her chest, and hoped to God that he wouldn't ask much more.
"Funny," he glanced at his watch, "I believe the wedding began a half hour ago."
"That it did."
"A wedding cannot commence without the bride present. Correct?"
"Correct," she concurred.
"Well then why, might I ask, has this bride run away?" he questioned, "I don't believe the wedding has finished yet."
"It hasn't," she replied slowly, and embarrassed, she looked towards the floor.
"From the way you're trying to avoid my questions and answer with as little detail as possible, I presume you're not planning on telling me what you've done," Christian said, but it was more a question than a declaration.
"What I've done?" Elizabeth defended angrily, "What I've done? Why do you always assume it's me that's caused the problem?"
"Well for one thing, I don't assume, I know, and for another, you've admitted there's been a problem with your matrimony to Mr. McKellan. Don't try to deny it."
"Oh, come, Elizabeth. Tell me what's wrong," he pleaded.
"I don't have to tell you anything."
"Fine then. Let me introduce a new topic. Your betrothal to Roderick was surely a surprise. I thought you told me you and he were just friends."
"We were," she began slowly, "And then he decided to propose and I unsurely accepted. It wasn't anything I'd expected and it was definitely a surprise to me too."
"So you were unsure about the betrothal! Aha!" he smiled, "Another piece of the puzzle slides into place. Let me repeat the clues recovered so far: One, you're still wearing your bridal gown. Two, the wedding began only a half hour ago. Three, you're young- happy belated birthday- and unsure about a lot of things, including your betrothal. And finally, number four, you ran up to the house looking like a frightened, out of breath bird. Don't try and deny it," he laughed, "I saw you through the window."
"That's enough!" Elizabeth shouted, "How dare you say such things about me! And on my wedding day!"
Christian laughed, "It's not exactly your wedding day any longer is it? Well, I'm sure you conducted yourself civilly if nothing else at t'all. At least you didn't run out on the man," he laughed harder.
Elizabeth looked down again, not sure what to say.
Christian's smile faded, "Oh Elizabeth, you didn't! How horrible of you to do such a thing. How would you feel if your beloved ran out in the middle of their vows?"
"Like a fool," she mumbled.
"I'm sorry for what I did," she explained, "Dreadfully sorry, but I'm still glad I did it. If it hadn't I would surely have regretted it for the rest of my life. I just hope Roddy forgives me. I hope he knows that I didn't really intend to hurt him."
"You know," Christian pondered, "I think you're right. You would've regretted marrying Roderick. I've never met him, but from hearing the way you speak of him, it's obvious to me you don't care for him romantically, as a lover would. You talk about him the same way you talk about your brother. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the majority of successful marriages are built on love. Absolute and true love. Just imagine what it would've been like if you hadn't left him. You'd have to sleep in the same bed with him, tonight, and every other night for the rest of your life. Could you handle that? And you'd have to kiss him too, of course. It'd be like kissing Terrace. Can you imagine?"
"And what? You think you could kiss me better?" Elizabeth asked defensively, secretly hoping he'd forget about Denise and prove to her he could.
"Surely so," he replied casually and then he joked, "Pity I can't show you."
"What makes you think I'd let you kiss me anyway?"
Christian laughed, "What makes you think I actually want to kiss you?"
A short silence followed, as Elizabeth couldn't think of an appropriate response. So she changed the subject and asked a question she'd been thinking about throughout their conversation:
"Why weren't you at the wedding, Christian? You came all the way here for it, and yet didn't grace us with your presence."
"Oh I tried to come, but those silly men standing at the door wouldn't allow it," he explained, "First they asked who I was and where I came from, having not seen me before. And when I told them I was from Chardin, they wouldn't allow me to enter. I told them I was a friend of yours, and that if they just asked you, you'd verify that, but they didn't want to disturb the bride. I waited at a nearby café to see if they'd leave once the wedding commenced, but they didn't, and I was forced to return here."
"Oh," she paused before asking unsurely, "Umm . . .Christian?"
"Did," she paused, "Did you see the ceiling?"
"Of the church," she defined, "The ceiling of the church. Did you see it?"
"No," he shook his head, "I don't believe I did."
"Do you remember the night you took me to the park to see the stars?"
"It was painted just like that, Christian. Not a detail differentiates the two. Deep blue adorned with clusters of stars. I could recall the names of the constellations you taught me too. They were all there, Christian, all of them," she described, "And the moon! It was big and bright and . . ."
"A blue moon?" Christian interrupted.
"It was! Or at least it looked like it was, because it resembled the moon we saw exactly."
"I'm sure it was beautiful. I wish I could have seen it."
Elizabeth nodded and decided she didn't want to beat around the bush any longer. So, she came right out and asked, "Why didn't Denise join you on your trip?"
"Denise?" Christian questioned curiously, "Why would I have her accompany me?"
"Because she's your wife, of course."
Christian laughed heartily at that, "You've gotten your information from an inaccurate source, my dear, for Denise married my little brother Colin. I, myself, would never marry the girl. She's a gangly little beanstalk with the wit of a child, the highest voice I've ever heard, and for all the days I've spent with her, she hasn't spoken more than a few words. But Colin loves her all the same, and it's not my place to criticize, so I should mention that she is a beautiful young lady, very charming, and very ladylike, but just know that I speak not a word of truth ."
"So," a shocked Elizabeth asked, "You're not married?"
"Of course not," he laughed, "Whom could I ever convince to marry a 'scoundrel', as you once referred to me? And in so little time, why that'd be impossible, but of course you were asked to be wed only a little more than two weeks after I left, or so I've heard from my correspondent Mrs. Loring," he paused, "Who told you I was married?"
"Ummm . . . I don't recall her name," Elizabeth replied, trying to remember. And then it dawned on her, "Her name was Lynette. Her last name I can't think of, but that's her first name, I'm sure of it."
"Lynette?" Christian asked curiously, "She didn't have big, puffy white clouds of hair and frighteningly sharp, light blue eyes, did she?"
"But, how?" he asked in wonder, "She lives in Chardin, quite near to Colin and Denise's new home. How could you have ever met her? I don't understand. You weren't in Chardin, were you?"
"Actually, I was," Elizabeth replied softly.
"And whatever for?"
"Terrace told me the town he was staying in and knowing he wouldn't be getting home very soon, I decided to go find him and Rod myself," Elizabeth lied, "They ended up catching a quicker boat home, and I came home alone. I met Lynette in her little café and when I asked about the whereabouts of a Mr. Christian Quaid, she told me you were married."
"Well, first, I'd just like to explain that Lynette couldn't hear if her life depended on it. So she most likely just got mixed up, and when she heard Quaid she thought you meant the closest Quaid boy to her, which is Colin," he smiled, "And secondly, don't lie to me, Elizabeth. I know you as well as the back of my hand, and when you don't speak the truth, it stands out like a black sheep. You weren't in Chardin to find Terrace and Roderick, were you?"
"Don't be conceited, Christian, it's not an amiable trait, you know," Elizabeth retorted, ignoring his question, "And you don't know me as well as you think you do, so don't try and behave as if you do."
Christian laughed, "Don't be so sure of yourself, my dear. And you never answered my question. Were you in Chardin to see Terrace and Roderick, or weren't you?"
Elizabeth knew she couldn't lie to him, and he knew it too. She tried to avoid responding, "I don't have to answer if I don't wish to. You can't make me answer."
He smiled again, "I'm going to find out soon enough. You know that, love."
"I hate you, Christian," she lied, "I honestly do."
"Why'd you go to Chardin, Elizabeth?" he asked louder.
"I hate you," she repeated.
"Why'd you go to Chardin?" he said, louder still.
"Because," she paused and stammered, "I, I wanted to see you."
"Ah!" he smiled, "Now there's the truth! That wasn't so hard now was it?" he joked, not understanding exactly what she meant, "But if you came to visit me, why didn't I ever see you, or even know you were in the country?"
"Christian, you don't see what I'm saying," Elizabeth whispered, "I came to see you because, because I made a mistake."
"What are you talking about, my dear?" his smile faded.
"I came to tell you that you were right, but then I met Lynette and decided it'd be best if I didn't come to see you."
"I was right about what?" he sat up from his lounging position and waited intently for her answer, making her a little nervous, but she'd come this far and she'd regretted so much of her past actions that she had to tell him, and she had to tell him now.
"You were right," she began slowly, tears coming to her eyes, "You were right about everything. When you left, I cared. I minded it. Thoughts of you kept me up all that night, and I dreamt about you for the two weeks following that horrible day at the train station when I realized you'd already left. I regretted turning you out so much that I went to Chardin to tell you. And I don't think refusing your proposal was the right thing to do," she wiped away a tear, "It was absolutely the most horrible thing I could have done, and the worst decision I've ever made in my life. I was a fool. I know that now," she sighed and dried her tears on her glove, "But I don't know why I'm confessing all this now. If I think about it, we could never be. At least not until a good many years from now when the people's resentment toward Chardin has diminished. For if I ran out of my wedding vows with one man to run off with the enemy, I'd surely be hated. People wouldn't understand. I thought I could handle that, but now I'm not so sure."
She hadn't expected this to happen. She thought that she'd learned from her past mistake, but when she imagined all her friends and family loathing and despising her, her mind changed. "Why is this so hard?" she thought sadly, "If only Christian wasn't from Chardin, everything would be so different. But he's not. And that's just the way it is."
Christian just sat and thought for a moment, taking it all in, before answering, "Well," he paused, "If that's the way you want it," then a little glimmer flashed in his eyes, and he directed, "Come over here, Elizabeth."
She obeyed, and wiping away her last tear, she came to stand in front of him.
In one swift motion, one hand grabbed her arm and the other wrapped around her waist, and pulled her down onto his lap, which was a little hard because of her big dress, but he managed.
"Let go of me," she ordered instantly, wriggling around, and trying to break free, but he only tightened his grip and pulled her closer.
"If that's the way you want it," he repeated, letting his lips meet hers in one passionate kiss. His lips were so warm, and she felt so small, and weak, and she thought she might faint. This was how his touch always made her feel. The way no one else could. Despite her heart, which told her to yield to the temptation, she still tried to break free of his arms, but it was no use.
"Stop, Christian," she pleaded in a whisper, "Stop, I feel faint. I feel weak. Please, let me go."
"No one's ever kissed you like this before, have they, Elizabeth?" he returned, "No one's ever made you feel this way, have they? Not your precious little Johnny or your fiancé Roderick. Isn't that right, Elizabeth?"
"No, stop," she murmured as she surrendered her lips to his, but she knew it was true.
"Someday you'll see, my dear, that you were a fool. That you pushed away the one you loved for a reason that's not even important, and that before you could stop him, you'd made the mistake again, and he was gone."
"What?" she bit her lip, nervously, "You're leaving? When?"
"I've got a train ticket leaving tomorrow at noon, but I thought I'd head out there tonight so that I've got some time to relax a little, and not be rushed. And besides, there's nothing keeping me here."
"But . . ." she whispered.
"I won't let you make that mistake again, Elizabeth," he said firmly, "I'm taking you home with me, and that's all there is to it."
"No," answered she, "I won't go, and you can't make me."
"You want to go, you know you do," he smiled, "You're just going against me because you don't like to give in to or agree with what I say, but you know you want to come. Just think of it. You could leave behind the mess you've made of yourself here, and come back when people have had enough time to calm down and forget. It would be a nice break from your society. A nice break from Roderick, the man you've hurt."
"I don't know."
"You're going, and that's all there is to it," he declared, kissing her again
An hour later, Mrs. Loring arrived at home; still smiling slightly, for she knew Elizabeth had made the right decision. She opened the front door tentatively and smiled a little wider when she found an empty house.
"So they've gone and done it, have they?" she laughed shortly.
And it was true. That very moment, they were rowing to a little hotel near the train station, and the next day they'd board the train, and when they arrived at the coast, they'd take a ship to Chardin. For an entire year, they never returned to Darcidy, or Nordant. Terrace visited first, then Johnny, and finally Roderick. They all forgave her when they saw how happy she was in her new life with Christian.
Roderick found love with another young maiden, as did Terrace, and the couples moved into houses next door to one another, so that they were neighbors and best friends for the rest of their lives.
Christian and Elizabeth set out on a search in Chardin, and they soon found what they'd been looking for, Lucien and Whitey. And all though the war may have been horrible, Elizabeth was thankful that it had brought her such wonderful friends, and of course, her husband.
After that first year had passed, Elizabeth missed Darcidy more than she could say. So, Christian and Elizabeth Quaid packed their bags and moved back to the town they'd left so long ago in a house near those of Terrace and Roderick and their wives. The townspeople respected them, but they'd never forgiven Elizabeth fully and they still hated Chardin just as much as ever. But Elizabeth didn't care, and neither did Christian. For as long as they had each other, everything was all right. Their love withheld the troubles of their time, the abuse of society, and the differences of two nations. And, as requested in her will, on Elizabeth's dying day, she was buried wearing the little golden locket engraved with holly that Christian had given her so many Christmases ago.
I'd like to thank all my reviewers:
ally, Nep, gram, Lady of Enchantment, Stephanie, risarisarisa, kilpty, tffny012, Lady Fortunata, unthinkable, evilcleo, icemaiden, lonelywriter09, mez1, Limegreenqueen, R. M. Whitaker, Akia Blakemore, ShadowWolf09, Em Crosthwaite, anonymous, Ngsiyrnlcy, happyeverafter, Lola, 123, Siffy, AVision, and aims80
I'm glad you liked it! Thanks for all the reviews!
- S. Renee