He thinks that I think he’s sleeping. That’s the game we play, never sure who’s winning. Even now, he could be musing: “She thinks that I think that she thinks I’m sleeping”—I’ve no way to tell. But he is definitely awake; the lines around his mouth twitch a bit, so I know. If he were truly asleep, they would be nonexistent. Maybe…then again, perhaps those lines have etched their way permanently onto that perfectly chiseled face. Perhaps I haven’t noticed. When is the last time he’s spent the night with me, and not risen before dawn to make the three a.m. tide? Never again.
An eyelid flutters ever so slightly. He’s peeking at me.
Never again—this time, it is not a vow, but a statement of fact.
I let an amazed laugh bubble out from some frightened, ecstatic, newly freed place inside, and all at once I cannot live another moment without covering his face with kisses, tickling his stomach to make him ‘awaken.’
He captures the offending hand in his own. “Sink me if it ain’t a flock of kisses alighting on my face!” Heavy eyelids raise, now alert, opening windows through mischievous blue eyes. “Who would imagine such exotic birds to be up and about at this time of morning…”
He trails off to stare at me, face tightening with emotion. Love, what is so breathtaking about the sight of me yawning, swaddled in one of your nightshirts? Then again—the gold silk of his hair, the deeper gold of his skin, the gold of sunlight glinting off the line of that straight nose—perhaps I understand. His throat works as he swallows.
A memory—the church of St. Roch—“Now and forever.”
“Je t’aime,” I tell him simply, an affirmation of something as solid as his presence at my side. He draws me down beside him, and I find myself held quite willingly in a maddeningly long kiss, which stretches into something more. “Alors, bon matin to you, too!”
“Marguerite, my sweet,” he begins, between kisses to my temple. “You taste of dewdrops. How is that?” Realizing the rhyme, he laughs. “I shall compose another piece of verse, first thing upon reaching home. It shall begin: ‘My Marguerite /Is dewdrop sweet,’ and I solemnly vow, milady, I will recite it at the next ball unless you can bribe me out of the notion.’”
I smack him lightly on the shoulder. “I may threaten you out of it, silly man.”
He is very close to my ear now, murmuring suggestively, “Bribery, threats—it’s all the same, what?”
The hoofbeats ring clearly from the street below. “Company, halt!” The sharp sound of a horse’s whinny, the clatter as they obey their captain. A harsh voice—“Halt, in the name of the Republic! Do you stand with Robespierre, or Tallien, Citoyen?”
The citoyen’s muttered answer evidently satisfies the captain of the guard, for with a sharp order, they are off again, patrolling the streets.
I slip from my husband’s embrace to shut the window. The Rue de l’Anier is deserted, except for the early morning sunlight, which has already begun to heat the cobblestones, preparing another sweltering, late-July day.
“Marguerite, come away from the window. I don’t want you standing there if something happens on the street.”
“Percy, it’s so deserted today. Do you suppose everyone has been frightened inside?”
Wanting me away from the window—or perhaps back with him—as soon as possible, he changes tactics. “Come here, heart of my heart. I have something for you.” Dressing robe clad, he’s searching the pocket of a deep blue jacket that hangs in pristine condition over a chair, waiting for its wearer to claim it.
Very well; he has earned the right to bribe me. Curious, I return to the bed and sit cross-legged like a Buddha, making a great show of my patience.
He retrieves a jewelry case. “Percy, you carried a present for me with you to France?” I give him a teasingly admonitory look. “You weren’t planning for me to be kidnapped, were you?”
Percy has an artist’s eye for jewelry, and although he makes every day an occasion to lavish me with some gem or another, some things are special—my wedding ring, which took the jeweler a solid month of perfecting his design to meet Percy’s approval. The ruby diadem of a scarlet pimpernel, although I did not know it at the time. And this. His face remains as serious and reverent as a knight in some elaborate ceremony—Sir Percival holding the Holy Grail. “I’ve had this with me ever since last January, when it wasn’t at the jewelers. I won’t wait a single minute to give it to you, now.”
Now I am truly curious. He holds the sizeable case to his chest, staring at me as if frozen. He’s realized the same fear that grips me, just behind the bliss.
I keep my voice soft, so as not to startle him. I speak as much to assure myself as him. “This is real, mon amour. You won’t burst the bubble by daring to be happy. This is real.” I reach out a hand to where he stands, and twine my fingers in his. “I am real.”
The spell breaks. The joy remains. “Oh, Marguerite!” It is barely a breath. He raises my hand to his lips and kisses just the fingers, over and over.
“May I have my present now?”
He laughs, and relinquishes it.
Gleaming alabaster, row upon row of pearls. “Oh…Percy…this is exquisite.”
“One for each person who took me away from you,” he explains. “It’s not quite finished yet; I need to take it to the jeweler’s one last time. Pearls are tears, I know, but I couldn’t have the man add one for each tear you’ve cried these last few years. ‘Twould drag you to the ground like a suit of armor.”
I run my fingers over the smooth beads. I meet my husband’s now serene gaze. Sometime last night, those ice walls I’d built around everything inside in a pathetic attempt to numb the pain of his absence melted. The core of that pain, though, the solid caution of an injured animal afraid to trust in the safety of the world, wouldn’t melt away on its own. Now, every desperate argument I made to defend myself cracks and slides like a late thaw—tears.
“My love, my love, don’t cry!” The bed sinks as he sits beside me, wrapping an arm around my waist and cradling my head to him. Gladly, I lean into him. “Don’t cry! ‘Twould break the Blakeney fortune if I had to start a new necklace for tears.”
Laughing ruefully, I wipe my nose on the cuff of the nightshirt, which hangs well past my hands.
“I want that back eventually, m’dear. ‘Tis bad enough that I found it in your bureau this last time.”
I answer him with a blissful sigh. “I wear it when you’re away. I wipe my nose on it all the time, and I never have it washed, either,” I tell him vengefully. “It smells like you.”
“Egad, I hope not, after that treatment!”
“Yes, it does.” I stretch upwards to sniff his hair, and end up running my fingers through it, marveling at the silkiness.
“Hmm…I’ll be the judge of that, madame.” He leans in towards my shoulder, but at the last moment, his hands come up, and he tickles me mercilessly into a state of utter helplessness.
“Oooohhh…you’re not out of danger yet, M. Mouron Rouge!” I manage to gasp out.
“No? Did you think I hadn’t noticed how you chose to wake me this morning?” He relents—for the moment.
“You were already awake!”
“Yes, well, that’s not the point.” This is the kind of moment I want to have every day for the rest of my life. We smile at each other in something akin to camaraderie.
I married a man who worshipped me from afar. I loved a man whom I worshipped from afar. Never again—Fate whirled me into happiness despite my own ever-so-superior judgement.
He drops his head to my shoulder in a crushing embrace. “Percy, mon coeur, are you crying?”
“I am happy.”
"Sweet night, fill me with light. Take me home again."