a kind of vindication
It was only coincidence when I locked eyes with his upon entering the room. It was only innocence when I felt a blush taint my cheeks at the sight of his appearance. It was only reluctance and respect that kept us within a few feet from each other. And it was only desire that filled his eyes when he looked at me.
I kept my posture and distance, not daring to be the first to break the silence. Why had Maria have to send me here? It was all a plan, I figured out. I always knew what she was up to, but I never thought she'd pull something like this so unexpectedly.
Maria, my sister; she was supposed to be on my side: understanding and comforting. But she would only do otherwise. She rarely saw a sense in anything I did, and would only try to fix my conflicts rather than gladly leave them alone. She was too protective and too bold. I had no other choice but to deal with the outcome of her doings.
And now, as me and him stood before each other, I really wished I hadn't listened to her naggings to report to the drawing room at once; foolish me, not even bothering to ask her why. So here I was now, in regret and embarrassment, face-to-face with the man I am possibly still in love with.
Suddenly, the air between us cracked, and he spoke, his voice sounding like sweet velvet to my ears.
"James," I breathed out almost automatically. I couldn't believe that instinct to respond with his name still overtook me after all those months.
Our gazes stayed locked on each other, and the cursed silence came back after a moment. What now? Do we start a normal conversation? I always knew him to be an amiable gentleman, but as I stood there waiting for the bid of well wishes, he was quiet as ever.
My mind racked for something to say. Perhaps something witty? No, humor wasn't the time for this kind of atmosphere. But before I could open my mouth to say something, he beat me to it.
"I've…" he began and stopped short as if contemplating for the right words. "I have missed you," was his statement, and he sighed weakly at that confession.
I nodded slowly, letting the words sink in. "I've missed you too."
It was the truth. Not a single day passed that the thought of him ever entered my mind. Memories mostly haunted my thoughts and my dreams. They were all pleasant certainly, but it was the pain and heartache I had to endure that kept me in dread.
He had invaded my thoughts, distracted me from any work for the whole of the past year. The beginning was the worst as it should be, just the weeks following after our heated farewells. Then I remembered the whole reason for my heartbreak in the first place, and I felt my face harden at the memory of it.
I'd caught him in an affair while he was courting me. I would see them, during dinner at the castle, casting looks of lust at each other. Foolish of them to think I wouldn't notice. Even the shortest of glances could be said with so much just by the eyes.
I thought he'd been so in love with me, I thought we were inseparable. I thought many things except complications. I had acted like a fourteen-year old girl in love for the first time. I was silly and naïve, and so was he. I thought our separation was for the best.
I was doing so well. I was finally recovering and getting my life back on track again. I never considered I'd have to cross paths with him for a long time. Until this one unfortunate day when he happened to be in town by orders and Maria had invited him over.
Did she not see my happiness at all? Did she not see that my sorrow had subsided towards the end of the year? I knew she did probably, but it was typical of her to rebel against it.
James took the first step forward, never letting his eyes leave my face.
"That's good to hear," he told me.
"Yes," I said. "How is…your life?" I asked feeling only politeness.
His expression changed, just slightly. "Good, eventful. Busy. How is yours?" He returned the question, but his face told me that he didn't at all understand the current conversation.
"Same," I smiled, "Anna and Louisa have just gone off to a university last month."
"Oh? Well, that is good of them."
"Yes," I repeated awkwardly.
Where is this talk leading? Why was he here anyways? And how come nobody has come in the drawing room for an unusually long time? I didn't understand just as much as he did.
He took another step toward me, and I remained standing there, still as stone.
Why am I even allowing this kind of scene to unfold? I should be yelling now, cursing at him for having an affair with another woman. Had I finally forgiven him? No, forgiveness wasn't quite the right word. I'd moved on. I'd moved on from him. Our past is past, a long time ago. I had grown up during the previous year, and I dearly hoped he had too.
"Hm?" I looked at him with a curious expression.
For some reason, I could already predict what would come out of his mouth, and I feared it from happening.
His stare was so intense, a slight shiver rippled down my spine. His ocean blue eyes gazed concentrated right into my own. I let an unexplainable sigh escape my lips, and cursed myself inwardly. He'd always had that effect on me: searching into the depths of my eyes right into my soul. I wasn't sure anyone else in the world could do that but him.
But it was over, I repeated in my head. We were over, done, finished. He had been unfaithful to me, and I had trusted him. How could I? How could he?
I'd grown up now. I was over with my complaints for him. I stood straighter and tried with all my utter strength to toughen my eyes and possibly block the emotions behind it. It did not seem to work as fully intended, but he did blink and looked away for a bit from my tense figure.
"I…" he looked back at me and stated with a struggle, "We have not had the most kind goodbyes on our last meeting."
There. He had brought it up, and there was nothing else I could do to avoid it. I furrowed my brows in slight disappointment for the subject change and crossed my arms indignantly.
"Yes," I agreed. "And I wonder why."
He sighed and looked down sheepishly.
This was something I had an effect to him; my personality could get stern and he'd end up looking like he were being scolded by his mother.
"You don't fully understand, Emma," his voice suddenly deepening.
"Understand what?" I almost scoffed, losing my fake and polite demeanor. "Understand your imprudent actions? Your demeaning immaturity toward me at that time?"
He was glaring at the floor now, thinking hard. Well, it was his fault. He knew my temper and yet he had the audacity to bring up the topic that would surely cause us both dismay.
"James," I told him softening my tone, "You don't even need to explain."
"Yes, I do," he persisted. "You see, Emma, that's it. I do need to explain. You never gave me the chance. I…" his eyes darted around anxiously now, his voice ascending. "It was only one night, one night, and she was in trouble--"
"Don't you dare even talk about this!" I exclaimed in warning, cutting him off, but he continued on.
"I admit, we were young, I was young, I didn't know what I was doing--"
"You were young?" I cried in disbelief. "How old do you have to be to understand what is right from wrong?" He began to speak, but I interrupted, "You said you loved me. We were in love. Did you not know what that was?"
"No, yes—I did, but I made a mistake," he stumbled over his words and pleaded in my eyes.
I scorned at that, refusing to listen to this load of prattle.
"You did, and yet you went right on forming the scruples in our relationship by running away and opening your arms to another woman," I retorted, my voice rising with every word. The ferocious growing emotions surged through my body, causing all my overdue energy on the current situation. My constant fidelity to him, did he not appreciate it?
The impetuous hurt and distress soon overwhelmed me, the feelings locked up and hidden for so long, and now that it was finally freed, the outcome was like the sudden eruption of an unexpected flood.
"I believed in us, you must perceive this," he implied. "I never once doubted our relationship. That woman, she needed my help at the time, she needed hope again. I never knew she would grow so fond of me, Emma, before I knew it…"
"And before you knew it, the both of you were in bed," I finished sounding sardonic, and I praised myself for my unexpected satire.
He sighed heavily in frustration, obviously not favoring my mockery at the moment.
"I did not bed with her." He enunciated each word clearly. The finality and austere emphasis in his statement caught me slightly off-guard, and I struggled searching for my response.
When he caught my sudden silence, his stare moved from the marble floor to my twisted face, and we were both breathing erratically from the heated discussion. I could still hear his last sentence echoing in my mind, as if it resonated from all the walls of the room.
I refrained from replying right away, and took a pondering look around the room. The big, heavy mahogany doors; I already imagined the whole of my family eavesdropping behind them. The walls, pastel-coloured, and I let the calming colours soften my mood. The beautiful stained-glass windows, decorated with intricate art and abstract; with the roll of hills as the lovely view, where I wished to be, not here where I stood stupidly and rigid, not able to even find the right words to such a simple declaration.
My eyes then diverted back on James and I read his expression. His face was sympathetically contorted into such a perplexing mix of emotions: his forehead was crinkled, frustrated for me to understand. His eyes, hopeful and sincere: he meant everything that had been said. His partially open mouth, wanting to speak, but did not do so, as to wait for my response first.
Suddenly, I felt sorry for myself, for him. I felt sorry for us. I felt like laughing insanely at myself in ridicule.
All those months. All those months of trying to get over him, it all came down to this. And nothing had changed. Nothing had changed with us at all. I thought I'd grown up, when in reality I had only created a completely fake exterior only to hide my actual inner feelings. I thought I had been able to deceive everyone with this false façade of mine, but I had only deceived myself.
This, this was how we sadly treated each other after a year of no contact; an argument. It was painfully childish, but at the same time, necessary. Our dispute seemed needed, and I couldn't quite explain why.
When our breathing was back to even, and the air around us was deathly still, I opened my mouth to say something.
"You did not bed with her," was what came out, plain and resonant. It was meant to come out as a question of certainty but instead sounded like I was repeating the truth to myself.
James nodded slowly, and a kind of hope lit up his troubled face, grateful that I was finally comprehending. But my eyes remained tempered like I was protesting against his honesty, and I asked him with a blunt attitude, "So what have you two done then?"
The light fell from his features, my interrogation was unanticipated. When he didn't answer at a reasonable time, I shouted incredulity, "So you did sleep with her?"
"No! No, Emma, I did not," he bellowed instantly, truth clearly written all over his eyes, and gulped when he saw my expression grow impatient.
"So what did you do then?"
"We kissed," he confessed, and his composure fell from the burden. "We have only kissed," he repeated with more strength. "That was all, Emma. I don't know what presumptions or misunderstanding you must have had, but that was all."
I kept my equilibrium, and held my gaze on his weak state. Now I had absolutely no idea with what to say. I already knew they had kissed; it was not new news to me. So why did I have to selfishly coerce him into such distress for my own scrutiny? I was the one in the weak state here now. I abruptly felt in fault and ashamed. My misinterpretation was apparent. I had just thrown him out—kicked him out of the house once I discovered him and her alone in the same room.
The memory was terribly poignant, and I found myself disturbed by my past actions. James's upset face flashed in my mind, and then my own tearful one shouting at him to get out. The scene was unsettling, and I pictured the sea of faces that had to witness it. I had not let him elucidate. I had not let him clarify. I had not let him explain.
I looked at him now, with watery eyes, the unwavering look of vindication etched upon his face. But mixed in with the vindication was something else; once he observed my appearance, I spotted an unmistakable hint of longing and compassion.
Before I could quite verify what I'd just seen, he took two long strides, finally closing the remaining gap between us, held my face in his hands, and pressed our lips together. The kiss was strong and eager, and yet he was careful. I felt all the emotions that were shared from him in just that one moment. Regret, desire, sorrow, guilt, passion, and finally love.
We broke off, and I was sure he could hear my heart hammering madly in my chest. All I could see were only the oceanic depths of his eyes, which were gazing profoundly into mine again. "Emma," he breathed out, "Emma, I'm sorry."
Story title taken by the Coldplay song. No copyright infringement intended.
I scrawled this whole thing in a red notebook everyday in the cafe near my house. Reviews, please?