James looks at her like she'll make all of his dreams come true.
It sounds like the sort of thing you'd read in a novel featuring a barely-clad heroine with windswept hair on the cover, and when Caroline thinks about it, it sounds selfish as hell: she is a woman, not a falling star. When she thinks about it, she can feel parts of herself being chiseled away in order for her to rest more easily against James's arm.
The thing is, she's tired of being at the edges of everyone else's happiness, wishing she could just breathe it in. Maybe this time this won't feel wrong; maybe it doesn't just now, just yet.
So she smiles for the thousandth time, feeling like she'll burst from the resounding maybe, maybe, maybe…
…and doesn't think about it.
Jane Bennet is the first person Caroline tells about the engagement.
It isn't supposed to be that way; Jane just happens to answer Bing's phone, and suddenly the words are spilling out—the easier to utter without self-reflection.
Her congratulations include the word "surprise" in the politest way possible. Caroline knows it's cover for more honest words like "rushed" and "mistake" and "hypocrite", and contemplates candor in kind. She could say she's wearing a ring that's been perfectly sized and still feels too loose around her finger. She could say the inside of her chest has never felt so cavernous.
Instead she says: "Thank you. We couldn't be more blessed."
Caroline knows the way the world works, when you look the way she does; has known since she was fifteen and learned her name could be pronounced like an innuendo. Those rules are familiar, and they will not work in her favor forever.
She whispers to a ceiling that disregards her: "I'm so tired."
No one ever mentioned how protracted and exhausting it is to wait for some so-called 'real thing' everyone else deserves. No one ever mentioned how much easier illusions can be.
She looks at James asleep beside her; runs her fingers across the bumps of his spine with something approaching tenderness, and thinks of rosary beads, remembering all of her sins.