Chapter Sixteen: Revelations
Julie looked around at the people assembled in the small church. She was pretty sure the entire town was sitting in the pews for the wedding. Even Lauren and Zander had ridden down for the event.
Julie fought down the regret that Xavier didn't come with them. She was over him. She had spent the last three months crying and sitting around in her house, moping. Well, no more. She was turning over a new leaf today.
She adjusted the bouquet in her hands, hoping that the flowers weren't too pollen-y. She didn't want to be sneezing during the wedding. Another flower had been tucked behind her ear.
Luckily, her hair seemed to grow rather fast, and in the past three months, it had reached her ears, although it had a tendency to wing in every direction, no matter how many pins she put into it. Julie frowned. She wasn't sure whether it was nicer to have the short easily managed hair, or the long, stylish hair.
She noticed Lauren looked at her, and she gave her cousin a small smile in reply. Lauren grinned broadly at her, before they both turned their attention to the priest. The wedding was about to start. Julie shifted her flowers to her other hand.
"Dearly beloved," he began as Devon took his bride-to-be's fingers.
The entire group gasped as a collective, and turned to where the doors had been thrown open.
Julie's hand went to her mouth. It was Xavier. And he looked awful, as if he had ridden here straight from Drewery without stopping.
"I don't think this is the part where you can object, Xavier," Zander remarked with a smile.
"What's the meaning of this, my lord?" Devon asked from up on the dias.
"I'm sorry, Devon, but I cannot let you marry…" The woman with whom Devon was holding hands with turned. "Miranda?" he finished, surprised.
"And why not?" Devon asked, giving him a bit of a glare.
Xavier just then noticed Juliette standing beside Miranda, holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand, the other hand thrown up in front of her mouth, but whether to hold back shock or laughter, he wasn't quite certain.
Xavier's glare turned to Lauren, who wasn't being nearly as discreet in her laughter. "You told me that Devon was marrying Juliette," he accused.
"I never said any such thing," she protested, still laughing. "You came up with that on your own, and I merely let you continue to think they were in order to appeal to your jealousy." She looked at her husband. "I would say that it worked."
Zander was openly grinning at his wife. "You would make a great addition to my staff, my darling."
"While I appreciate your saving my life," Devon said, a bit peevishly, "I am allowed to marry whomever I please."
"Yes," Xavier agreed, stepping into a pew. "I'm sorry. Please continue."
"Thank you," Devon replied, slightly sardonically, and turned back to his bride-to-be with a large smile.
The wedding seemed to take forever in Julie's opinion. She couldn't help glancing over at Xavier at every possible moment. Why was he here? Why did he object when he thought she was marrying Devon?
Then it was over, and Miranda and Devon were walking back down the aisle, holding each other's hands.
Xavier slowly approached Julie, and she began to nibble out the tip of her glove nervously.
"We need to talk," he said seriously.
Julie's mouth went dry, but she swallowed and nodded. This was so confusing. And painful. She had just finished giving up on Xavier, and then he had to return and make all those emotions bubble back to the surface.
She handed her bouquet to a maid, and signed something.
"This way, your highness," the maid said, and lead them to a parlor that contained an easel with a half-painted landscape on it, and a piano littered with papers.
Thank you, Petunia, Julie signed. If you would be so kind as to get us some tea.
"You need to sit, my lady," Petunia said, ignoring her. "I'm not sure what the sun has been doing to you, but your hands are trembling."
It wasn't the sun that was causing her hands to shake. Tea, Petunia? Julie was growing frustrated. As kind as Petunia was, she was one of them who mostly ignored her wishes and did what they saw fit.
"Oh, and look, you've nibbled through your gloves again. I swear, you have a new pair every two days."
"Petunia," Xavier interjected smoothly. "I would adore a cup of tea, please. Would you, Juliette?" Julie nodded emphatically.
"Of course, your highness," Petunia said with a bow. She set the bouquet down on the table, but then paused. "Should I really be leaving you two alone, though? It would be most improper."
Julie sighed. No one will ever even hear of it. You can leave the door open if it makes you more comfortable.
"I mean, you are a beautiful young lady, Lady Juliette, even with your hair cut short as it is. Why on earth did you cut it?"
Julie's eyes hardened. I told you, I was tired of fussing with it.
"I would understand if it was the fashion – if it's one thing Lady Juliette can follow, your highness, it's fashion – but it's not."
"The tea, Petunia?" Xavier asked, a little resignedly. "You may leave the door open. I promise not to do anything that might compromise her."
"Of course. I'll be back soon."
Julie did sit down on the sofa as soon as her maid was gone, touching her fingers to her chin and lowering them palm up.
"I need to talk to you alone," Xavier said by way of explanation.
Julie nodded, her heart hammering. Her glove tips made their way into her teeth.
"Is this yours?" he asked, surprising her into looking at him. He was standing in front of her half-finished painting.
"Ess," she replied suspiciously. Surely, he didn't come to talk about her artwork.
"Why did you come with me to Equilian?" he asked, switching topics abruptly again. It was a bad omen. It either meant that he was distracted, or that he was forcing himself to be distracted because he was nervous.
"Ah told yhou, Ah want-hed to hhhhelp," she said, trying to make her voice sound as normal as possible. She had been practicing for three months, and she could almost stop making all the strange 'h' sounds in the middle of her words.
"Juliette, what's wrong with your voice?" Xavier turned to her, a frown formed on his face. "It sounds positively hoarse."
She shrugged. It was already awful sounding. What difference did it make?
"Ah b-heen pher-actissssing," she said proudly.
Xavier looked away. "You sounded better before."
Julie's eyes widened in surprise. He thought she sounded better?
"You wanted to help. Whom?"
Julie stared at him, but he wasn't looking at her. He was jumping from topics so fast, she was barely able to catch up.
"Whom did you wish to help, Julie, him or me?"
"Yhou," she replied finally, not knowing what it meant, but having to say it. "Ah w-hent to hhhhelp yhou."
"Ah c-houldn't l-het yhou g-het s-hick ahgain." If her voice sounded bad before, it was positively atrocious now. But she continued. "Ah kn-how ahbout mah br-hoth-her, he ber-hibe yhou. B-hut…" she trailed off, her gaze swimming.
Julie shook her head. How could she just blurt out her feelings? It wouldn't change his, and it would just cause her unneeded pain. Her voice was a black mark against her. There was no way that she could even attempt for him.
"What's this?" Xavier asked, picking up a large tied notebook.
Julie gasped. "N-ho!"
It was too late; Xavier flipped it open.
His face was completely shocked as he perused her private sketchbook and found picture after picture of him. She captured his expressions perfectly, as if she had stopped the moment in time merely to draw him. There was a picture of him on top of the battlements, his hair shining, another of him sleeping on a cot, looking remarkably, yet somehow disgustingly cute, and even him standing on the prow of a ship, his head slightly turned as if listening intently to something.
"What are these?" he whispered, not even realising that he had spoken out loud.
"Ah n-heed yhou out of mah hhhead," Julie replied, her voice even thicker with tears. "Ah tr-hy to dr-haw yhou."
Xavier was still looking at the book. "But why?"
"B-he-cause Ah l-hove yhou," she whispered, not even caring anymore. What was the use? He'd be out of her life again in no time anyway, and she'd spend three more months crying, and then go on, always, probably, loving him.
"What?" Xavier finally looked at her, his face completely open with surprise, and looking more boyish and innocent and lovable then ever.
Tears were already running down Julie's face, despite her best efforts to mop them up with her gloves.
"Pah-lease," she cried. "N-how yhou kn-how. Pah-lease leave m-he to m-hy m-hisor-hy."
"How can I leave the woman I love in tears?" he asked tenderly, setting the sketchbook back on the piano.
Julie looked up surprised. Xavier threw aside his cane, and with only the briefest grimace, got down on one knee in front of her and used his handkerchief to wipe up her tears.
"Yhou l-hove?" she croaked.
"You've tired out your voice, Julie," Xavier scolded softly. "We can't have that." He took her hands in his and pulled off her fingerless gloves.
"B-hut, yhou c-han't l-hove m-he," Julie protested, noting that Xavier had dropped the formal use of her full name to the intimate of her shortened. Her heart skipped three beats before coming back to pound strongly in her ears.
Xavier chuckled dryly. "Julie, I tried to cancel what I thought was your wedding, just to tell you."
"B-hut m-ah v-hoice?"
Is as beautiful to me as the morning sun, Xavier signed, his fingers rather slow and clumsy.
Her mouth fell open. You can read my hands?
"I had Lauren show me for three months. Hell, I even had your brother teach it to me," Xavier said with a wry grin. I'm slow and still learning, but I have a knack for… "Damn it, I don't remember the sign for language."
Julie showed him with a shaky smile.
"I figured, you already came into my world, it was about time I ventured into yours a little." He shrugged, and his hand came up into Julie's short hair.
You knew what I was saying to Petunia all along, didn't you? her fingers accused.
"Most of it, and I guessed the rest," Xavier admitted, still toying with her hair. "I think I like it this length, what do you think?"
Julie stared at him, a confused look in her eye.
"It'll be quite the rage, I'm sure, when my wife sports a new shorter style," he remarked casually.
Julie's jaw dropped. You mean?
"Marry me, Julie?" Xavier asked, looking into her eyes.
She bit her lip for a second, then threw herself into Xavier's arms, and laughing, they both fell backwards.
Grinning charmingly, Xavier touched his hand to his lips, and then his cheek, raising his eyes in question.
Julie complied happily.
Lauren softly closed the door on the new couple.
"And I thought you were against lying," Zander said from behind her.
"I'm against you lying to me," she replied, turning to him. "But a little manipulation towards the betterment of both parties – I think I can live with that."
"They'll be happy together," Zander remarked, offering his wife his arm.
"I'm sure they will," Lauren said, taking it. "Xavier is the best man I know to look after my Jules. I do notice, however, the tendency of the Drewery men to give out their proposals as orders. That we might have to work on."
Zander grinned, unrepentant. "It comes from being royalty. I'm sure you'll be able to cure me of it… in fifty, sixty years." A half-frown formed on his face.
"What is it?" Lauren asked.
"Oh nothing," Zander sighed. "I'm just thinking that Eric will be absolutely impossible to deal with after this."
"He'll have his new child to keep busy," Lauren said firmly.
"Speaking of children," her husband said, with a devilish twinkle in his eyes, causing Lauren's knees to turn to butter, "I'm awfully fond of them."
"Oh?" Lauren replied demurely.
"I'm even fonder of making, them, however."
"It does take practise to get the technique just right, though." Zander gave her a mock serious look, but it was ruined by the golden sparkles in his eyes.
"To make or rear?"
"Make, of course." A hint of a smile was playing about his lips, and Lauren wanted to catch it with hers. "Very difficult. Sometimes, it takes many tries to get it exactly right."
"Perhaps we should go practise?" Lauren asked sweetly.
"I thought you'd never ask."