Nadja and Maryann sat awkwardly on opposite sides of the room. The situation probably would have been less awkward if either of the twins had been there, but as the situation stood, they were not. So they sat and fidgeted, and each hoped that the other would talk first, for neither knew quite how to begin what would have to be a conclusion to their long-standing rivalry. (And here Nadja found herself tensing, for she rather felt like the rivalry had entirely been crated by Maryann to begin with anyway).
"It is a beautiful day," said Maryann, always the more proper one.
Nadja flushed a little. "That it is."
"I'm still not giving you Francis."
Nadja wondered when she had fallen back into the land of childhood squabbles over little objects that seemed so very important. Not that Francis was a small, unimportant object. But did it not amount to the same thing? She knew, and Maryann knew, that Nadja would never have Francis. Nadja wondered if Maryann was merely attempting to assert superiority over her engagement.
So Nadja smiled.
"That was never up to us to decide—it was Francis' decision."
Maryann stared at Nadja for a moment, then narrowed her eyes. "Why are you so calm?"
Despite everything, Nadja thought about the night of the ball when she had met Francis. She thought of the beautiful conversations they had had, the sweet kiss they had shared. She thought of living the rest of her life as Duchess Francis Harcourt, beloved wife of Duke Francis Harcourt.
Once and for all, she knew that she would never regret the way things had turned out.
Thus it was that Nadja could fix Maryann with a steady eye and say, "I'm certain that I never truly wished him to pick me."
Maryann looked surprised, then her lips thinned. "If he did choose you, you would have broken his heart."
"But he did not."
Maryann stood, slamming a palm down on the surface of the table. "All's well that ends well, is that it? If he'd chosen you, it would have been because he loved you—because he believed you loved him! How dare you lead him on that way only to decide you don't want him after all! And if you pick Keith after this—well, then you may as well rip out Francis' heart, throw it into the snow and stomp it to pieces!"
Nadja averted her eyes, and after a moment of silence, Maryann sat back down. Maryann wondered if she should have just stayed home after all. Nadja wondered why Maryann was so fixed on this hypothetical situation.
"What do you wish of me?" asked Nadja. "When I wanted to be with Francis, you wanted me to back off. Now that he chose you, you tell me to love him. What do you want me to do?"
Nadja regretted her words at once. She knew what Maryann wanted: that she could go back in time and eliminate Nadja from Francis' life altogether. But, of course, the well-bred lady would not say that.
"I want you to make up your mind," said Maryann. Her voice was calm, but her eyes bored into Nadja with a fierce will. "I have told you that I've loved Francis since childhood. In all these years, not once has my heart wavered. I want you to make up your mind once and for all, and stick with it. If you truly loved Francis, then continue to love him, rather than pulling this whole "I'm happy for you" charade. If you do not love him, then leave his life and never return."
Nadja looked at her knees. "What if I can do neither?" She went on quickly before Maryann could start smoking at the ears in her obvious rage. "I never lied about loving Francis. It only...it seems that I was mistaken in the...intensity, or something... I love Francis. I really do. But—I don't think that I could be happy spending the rest of my life him. We share ideals, and are very much alike, but—no, perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps I want someone to compliment my views, not share them, and-"
"You need not say anymore," said Maryann cooly. Nadja cringed. A silence followed. Nadja snuck a look at the woman sitting across from her—and to Nadja's surprise, Maryann seemed to be on the verge of a smile. "I understand. You need say no more."
Nadja met the woman's eyes. After a moment of hesitation, the two women smiled at one another for the first time.
By the time that the Harcourt twins returned to escort the women to the fair, the pair was engaged in a lively conversation about tree climbing (which, Nadja had been surprised to learn, Maryann had done her fair share of as a child). Francis merely cocked his head and smiled, wondering at the different atmosphere. Keith immediately noted the lack of malice in the air, and chuckled aloud. Then the moment passed, and each man walked up to his lady loved and offered her his arm.