Disclaimer: This story is set during the final novel in Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series, Last Term at Malory Towers. Bill, Clarissa, Thunder, Malory Towers and all associated concepts and characters belong to that venerated and vilified children's writer, Enid Blyton. I'm merely filling in the gaps.
AN: Apparently no one had any idea what a "stunning" green Clarissa's eyes were until she took off her glasses. Don't blame me for that bit of anti-spectacles propaganda, blame Enid Blyton.
The title is from a certain passage in Last Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, in which the girls are amazed and interested at Bill and Clarissa's projected future.
"Amazing and Interesting"
For my wife. I love you.
The stables stank of horses and leather and all the odorous, organic business of equestrianism. It was against all logic and reason that Bill could still detect Clarissa's fragrance, hanging around her in a delicate miasma.
It was not artificial scent. Vanity was frowned on as a mortal sin at Malory Towers, and in any case Clarissa, despite her wealth and breeding, was not the kind of girl to bother with cologne, despite her family and wealth. Bill was glad. She never knew quite what to say to girls like Gwendoline, who specialised in prinking and preening, and she never had any trouble finding anything to say to Clarissa.
They were alone now in the stables, the grooms knowing that if no other girls could be trusted to take proper care of their horses, these two horse-mad ladies could. Bill had always felt more relaxed alone with Clarissa than she ever felt when she was around anyone else at the school. Even Miss Peters. Even Darrell, who Bill had loyally adored for years.
Until very lately. Bill clenched her shoulder-blades under her jacket, then slowly released them, willing the itching tension to go away along with the knots. She was not used to dealing with emotions or deep thoughts, and she certainly did not want to deal with complicated feelings in her closest friend's presence.
If only she could stop fancying the fragrance at the corner of her senses. It was a familiar mixture of school-issue shampoo, plentiful soap and warm perspiration, despite the fact that it was clearly impossible to detect her special friend's personal notes above the nasal clamour of the stables. But, there it was. Clarissa was a few steps away from her, rubbing down her own horse, and Bill caught herself straining for the reminder of her presence, even while chiding herself for imagining it. It was only that she was overly conscious of the other's presence, these last few days, noticing every small detail even as she mentally harangued herself.
It was not imagination, surely, that Clarissa seemed more fragile day by day. Bill covertly studied her as she cared for her horse, noting even in the dim stable light that Clarissa's cheeks were more pallid than usual after riding, and their curve more hollow than they had been only weeks before. Her scent, faint and probably imaginary as it was, still had the most physical presence of anything about her. She sighed now, as if she was exhausted beyond endurance.
Bill frowned, dropping her hands onto her hips. "What's wrong? Is your heart giving you trouble again?"
"No more than usual." Clarissa gave an odd grimace.
"You mean you've been feeling murmurs?" Nausea clenched in Bill's stomach. It was such an old fear, one she had put aside long ago. Protecting the other girl from over-exerting herself had become second nature. There was no longer any point obsessing over her weak heart. Now, the dread welled up again.
"Don't be silly." Clarissa shot her a glance that, if it had not come from a mild-mannered girl who had never in her life displayed ill temper, would seem decidedly irritable. Bill had to be misreading her. "I'm just tired today."
"Maybe you should go lie down." Yes, she had definitely lost colour, and weight, too. Her movements were more languid than they had been for years. Bill remembered Clarissa as she had first seen her, a sickly, uninteresting little thing, and anxiety tightened her throat. "Do you want to see Matron? I'll take you as soon as Thunder is settled."
"For goodness' sake, don't fuss, Bill! You're worse than Mother!" Bill blinked and took a step back. It was unheard of enough for meek little Clarissa to snap at anyone, let alone her special friend. She seemed to pick up herself that she was acting oddly, because she gave Bill a weak smile. "I'm sorry. But I'm so much better. I'm sure exercise is good for me."
Bill grinned back, relieved. "I just don't want you knocking yourself up too much and being banned from riding. Can't have you leaving me all alone."
"I won't." Clarissa's smile was more natural now, even if her movements were still fluttering. The tip of a pink tongue touched her lips. "Bill, I…" Her voice trailed off. She expelled her breath hard, in a frustrated puff, and said, "Thanks for looking after me. Not just now, but – always."
Bill, speechless, turned to caress Thunder's nose, but she was sure her friend could still see the redness glowing at the tops of her ears. She found herself searching for some reason to call Clarissa closer. Just to ensure she was not imagining that she could smell her. "I think Thunder looks… restless and unhappy. Do you?"
It was a shameless falsehood, and one that worked like magic. Clarissa materialised by her side. She was almost as devoted to Thunder as Bill. "I don't think so… He seems much as usual, don't you think?" She ran a loving hand over the horse's glossy neck. "First me, now Thunder. Why are you so concerned?"
She turned her head from Thunder to meet Bill's gaze. Clarissa's attraction was all eyes and hair and not a judge of female beauty would say, much else, despite the expensive efforts of the Carter family dentist. Of course, the same judge would point out that Bill was all freckles and teeth, and Bill would have flashed the same large white teeth in uncaring response. Nor did she care that it was not a conventionally lovely face that was turned up to her own, especially with Clarissa's brow creased and her bottom teeth pressing gently into her lower lip.
Bill found herself wishing that the other girl still wore her ludicrously thick glasses. Somehow, Bill had never noticed through the shielding glass that Clarissa's pixy-green eyes had little flecks of grey and amber and gold marking the iris, and that if you stared closely enough, they seemed to flicker like sunlight through leaves. There was no real excuse for not having discovered that fact until very lately, in any case.
"Clarissa," she said, helplessly. There was no way to ask what she wanted to ask.
She was patient, as always, one hand coming out to lie soothingly on the arm of Bill's jacket. "You know as well as I do that Thunder is bursting with health. Won't you tell me what is truly worrying you, Bill dear?" Her other hand came up to brush one of Bill's close-cropped curls back into place, and her friend fought the urge to panic and run from that sweetly concerned expression. Bill imagined the bones in her calves had melted to fluid, long liquid shudders rippling up and down her legs. There was no other explanation for her response to a simple gesture.
A few moments from the last summer flashed irresistibly into her brain. They were never far from her thoughts. She had paused by the stable door at home and spied her eldest brother, his arms wrapped around one of the village girls and his face brought down to hers. Bill had flushed with shame. Tom had been so intent on the girl that he had not noticed his little sister's presence, and the girl's hands had been linked in the nape of his neck, and Bill had blushed and bolted, to spend the next half hour weeping on her bed. Like some stupid girl.
Envy caught in her chest, and her painful sobs were not quite enough to dislodge it. The worst thing was that she knew she did not begrudge Tom some kisses from a pretty village girl. Bill had been honest with herself and everyone else for so long that she did not know how to lie to herself, so that there was nothing to do but face the fact that she was crying because she could never kiss Clarissa in the same way.
The most acrid knowledge was that one day, someone would be kissing Clarissa, and it would not be Bill, even though Bill had always been the one to look after her and share with her. Maybe it would even be one of Bill's brothers, although Clarissa had tended to cling shyly to her in their noisy presence and they had tolerated her in return, but more likely someone judged more worthy of the Carters' only daughter. Some boy.
Sometimes, Bill could not sleep for dreaming of it. And now, with Clarissa's face turned up as if for kissing, she wanted to turn and run again.
And, once more, she wanted to cry like some stupid girl. That had always been the problem with Bill, that she was some stupid girl. It had never been much more of a minor irritation to her, until she had faced squarely what Clarissa meant to her. Sometimes, it was a disadvantage to be ruthlessly honest, even with oneself.
Maybe, the relentless thought came, she should try being more honest with her friend.
"Do you think," she began, and she was forming the words awkwardly, as if this was some pretty, fashionable, terrifying girl and not her Clarissa at all, "that it's really something to count on, running the riding school together?" She felt a traitor to herself as she brought the question out. The riding school was her most cherished plan, the masterstroke that would ensure that Clarissa would stay by her side. It was better, she told herself miserably, if she knew as quickly as possible if she was fooling herself. The cleanest cuts hurt the least.
"It is what we decided on, isn't it?" The vertical dents between Clarissa's eyebrows deepened. "Are you trying to tell me you've changed your own mind?
"No! Only… what if - one of us - gets married. Then you'll leave. We'll leave." Maybe it had been a mistake to fall into the habit of letting Clarissa speak for them both, to stand back grinning while the other girl said "we." Shy as Clarissa was, she still had more social graces than her friend. Bill had painfully learned that her directness, once considered charmingly frank, tended to cause consternation now she was no longer regarded as a child. It was easier to leave things to a girl who had been brought up in the correct manner since early childhood. Now that Bill needed so vitally to communicate her feelings, the words were slipping beyond her grasp.
"Maybe we should think things over," she finished, aware of how weak she sounded.
Clarissa shrugged a narrow shoulder, but Bill could see that her fingers were curled tightly into her palms. "I won't leave and marry, if you won't. I honestly don't care what we do after we leave Malory Towers, as long as we're together. I love horses as much as you do, but… I just want to be together with you." Those eyes with their deliciously fractured irises were searching Bill's own, ordinary and unimpressive eyes. "Do you understand what that means, Bill?"
There was a helpless silence. "Obviously not," Clarissa sighed at last, and turned away. Her face was flushed, and her friend was almost sure she caught wetness at the corners of her heavy lashes. "Bill, you have rather more male friends than I ever will. Are you the one planning on marrying and leaving me?"
"No. Could you imagine me as a bride?" Bill laughed, but the tension did not ease, and her laughter fell unpleasantly on the warmly scented air.
"Only too readily." Another long, awkward silence, as they finished what they needed to do and prepared to leave.
Bill decided she could not bear it any longer, and sought for a joke, petting Thunder's velvet nose one last time in order to have something to look at that wasn't Clarissa's oddly tense form. "You know, if I was really Bill rather than Wilhelmina, this wouldn't be a problem. We'd probably have to marry each other before we could run the school and live together. It wouldn't be respectable otherwise." The words seemd like less of a joke than she had intended them to be, once she had brought them out.
"I like you exactly how you are. And I would be more than happy to marry you, Wilhelmina Robinson." Clarissa had turned back, and she was definitely in tears now. Laughing, too, although she did not seem particularly happy. "Most of the girls think of us as married already."
Bill watched tears slide from those extraordinary eyes, and felt sick with guilt. She had made the gentlest and dearest creature she knew cry. What kind of monster was she? "I wish we really could get married," she blurted.
Clarissa made such a queer sound that Bill was momentarily afraid her friend was going to be sick. "Do you mean that?"
"Do I mean what?" Bill was divided between apologising and running for Matron. Clarissa was looking decidedly strange. She wished someone would come in and take over the situation. It was better to have someone know she had reduced her friend to tears, than to let the girl who meant more to her than anyone in the world, a girl who had suffered more than enough ill health already, fall sick again.
"Bill, sometimes I could kick you!" But there were no blows. Instead, her arms came up around Bill's neck and her hot wet face was pressed against the other girl's lips and Bill was kissing her without even trying. Her lips found her way across salty damp skin, dropping kisses all the way, to Clarissa's mouth, kissing her so hard she could sense her teeth behind her lips. Thunder was blowing warm air down her neck, warmth that could not compare to the heat flaring just under her skin. When Clarissa's lips pressed clinging kisses against her own mouth in response, it was far sweeter than anything seeing her brother had put into her imagination.
After all, it was Clarissa she was kissing.
After long moments, Clarissa pulled her mouth away, and snuggled her auburn head against Bill's shoulder instead. Which was equally sweet, in an entirely different way. Bill wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller girl, and held her close.
"You're such an idiot, Bill." Clarissa's voice was muffled by Bill's jacket, but the warmth still shone through. "And we should stop this right now."
"Why?" Panic rose in Bill's throat, although she felt that not even for Miss Theobold would her arms unwind themselves from the precious shape in her arms. She was delightfully warm, and her senses were full of the smells of horses and stables and above all Clarissa. "Didn't you want me to kiss you? Darling, don't be cross with me." She was dimly aware that an apology for kissing her might work better if she could bring herself not to hold her quite so close.
"Bill, you – dear fat-headed idiot." Clarissa lifted her face again, and though it was not any prettier than it had been a few moments ago, it was definitely shining. "I've wanted you to kiss me for years. I want you to kiss me right now more than anything in this world. But –" She disentangled a hand quickly enough to forestall Bill's mouth coming down on her own again. "Not here. I don't think the others would understand. Well, I'm certain of it."
Bill understood, but releasing her from the embrace was still entirely out of the question. Clarissa felt too nice, snuggled against her like that, her body shaping itself perfectly to Bill's taller form even through their bulky riding clothes. "You said yourself, they consider us married."
Clarissa giggled, standing on her tiptoes to steal a butterfly-soft kiss. "Yes, but it is rather easier for all of us if they don't think too hard about what that means. It's not for long, dear, after all. And I've waited so long already." Bill wanted to caress her face, although that would mean letting go of her with one arm, and Bill did not think she could manage that. Clarissa's impossibly long lashes dropped over her impossibly huge eyes, and then darted back up, her thin cheekbones flushing. "I love you."
Bill kissed her again, more deeply, their lips already learning when to cling and when to part. Foolish to kiss so intimately when someone could walk in at any moment, perhaps, but what chance had commonsense against hearing the girl you had yearned after saying something like that? "I love you too, Clarissa."
"I know. At least, I hoped. But I was beginning to despair of ever getting it through your thick head." Clarissa pressed her face against Bill's throat. "Don't ever talk about either of us marrying anyone but each other, ever again. Promise me?"
"I swear it." Bill grinned down the bright coils of braided hair, all she could clearly see of her girl, and hugged her possessively. The girls' scent was very strong in her sense, now, drowning out the rest of the stables entirely. "Hie, Clarissa?"
"Will you do me the honour?"
"What?" Clarissa's head came back, her eyes even wider.
Bill stole one last kiss, then released her and dropped to one knee, taking Clarissa's grubby hand in hers. "Wilt thou, Clarissa, take me Wilhemina?"
In response, she pulled Bill to her feet, and clasping both of her hands, her voice shaking but her gaze very direct, said, "Till death, you adorable idiot. Now come inside before we're caught."
"Yes," she agreed, with more than a little reluctance. Something would be ended as soon as they entered the building, even if better and sweeter things were to come. She was glad, somehow, that what had just happened had happened witnessed by their beloved horses. It was a fitting beginning to their marriage, after all. "Clarissa, you will eat all your supper tonight, won't you? You're becoming rather thin and pale."
"I promise." An amused green sparkle, recognising Bill's own recognition of the cause of her depression. "Suddenly, I feel like my appetite has come back. Do I look so awfully thin and ugly?"
"Awfully." Their mouths met in one last slow, lingering kiss.
The outside air was cold enough to cut like a knife, after the shelter of the stables. It hardly mattered. Not all the wind in the world could compete against the warmth of Clarissa apparently deciding it was permissible for special friends to at least link arms. Bill covered the hand on her elbow with her own, and met Clarissa's upward tilted smile with one of her own, and it was almost as intimate as kissing.
In any case, it was not for long. For the first time, Bill felt deeply happy at the idea of leaving Malory Towers. Somewhere in her friend – her wife's, she corrected with a little bubbling of excitement – smile, she seemed to catch a glimpse of their future. Years in which walking with their arms around each other would be more natural than walking alone, years for Bill's hair to fade to iron-grey and unborn nephews to tower over Clarissa. Happiness fluttered deep inside her at the vision.
And until then, they were young, and in love, and it was not so very long until their first night in their shared home would let them learn something of what being married meant. The waiting would be very sweet.
"Bill?" Clarissa paused on the threshold of the school. Her voice dropped very low. "I'm rather glad you're Wilhelmina, not Bill. I hope you realise that."
She did not dare to kiss her in response, but she smiled very tenderly back down at her, not her usual grin at all. "So am I, to be perfectly frank."
They stepped into the warmth, arm-in-arm.