Disclaimer: Someone else owns these characters and story. No infringement is intended or money being made.
This story is loosely based on the poem "The Look" by Sara Teasdale.
Strephon kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.
Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.
Colin heard her in the garden, laughing. He moved a tine of ivy quietly, and peeped in through the halfway open door, careful not to make a sound.
They were knelt over the small pond. Mary had a shameful amount of her skirt hitched up over her knees so as not to drag them in the sludge of the stones edging the pond. Strephon held her long, pale arm gently and had his arm around her back. Mary's left hand was stuck up to the elbow in the pond.
He was surprised at how much that small act of intimacy hurt him physically. Like a punch to the gut.
"There you are, Mary. Hold it still."
She laughed again, that tinkling, carefree laugh that Colin loved so much.
"Strephon, really, this is ridiculous…you can't tickle a fish."
"Oh really, Mary?" He touched one end of his tanned finger to her nose. "And how would you know?"
"I may not have attended Trinity College, like some spoilt scoundrels have…but that doesn't mean that you can fool me with this idiotic trick."
"It's no trick at all…I assure you that you can lull a trout enough to make him hop into a pan if you asked.
"My arm is cold."
"Patience, my dear."
Mary sent him an exasperated glance. Then, her back stiffened and her eyes widened a bit.
"Do you feel it?"
"Yes, it's…slimy and horrid feeling."
Strephon laughed heartily. He was the picture of the privileged son, with curly brown hair and a bright smile. Colin stepped past the door so that only one gray eye was peeking into the garden.
"Are you stroking its belly, like I told you?"
"Well, pull it out of the pond as fast as you can!"
Mary grunted daintily and threw her hand out. However, instead of a fish, her hand was full of pond water, which in turn soaked through Strephon's fine riding coat and turned his curls into funny little wet ringlets.
"Minx!" Strephon laughed good-naturedly. "I ought to throw you into the pond for that trick."
Mary grabbed onto his coat lapels. "Very well, I'll take you with me."
"Fine, then a forfeit, madam, for your strongly misguided sense of fair play."
Strephon looked down at Mary's saucy blue eyes and kissed her heartily on the mouth with a loud smack. She pushed him away quickly and couldn't help the giggle that escaped from her mouth as she smiled up at him.
Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Mary gasped softly as she saw the ivy around the garden door shaking.
"What was that?" Stephon helped Mary to her feet.
"I'm…not sure." She skipped quickly to the door and peeked out of it. There was a tall young man in a black suit rapidly walking down the path towards the house.
He either didn't hear her call or refused to answer.
"Wait, Colin!" Mary picked up her skirts and ran after him, soon catching up. Colin's health, while being better than the first decade of his life, was never as good as it might have been.
Nothing that could compete with Sir Strephon Fitz-Horace of the bouncing curls.
"Colin, please!" Mary grabbed his arm.
"Yes, Mary?" Colin turned to face his cousin.
"Were you just in the garden?"
"No." Colin answered her briskly and coldly. And stared deeply into Mary's eyes.
"I heard the door slam."
"Perhaps it was the wind."
"Oh, really? How convenient that you happened to be here at the same time as the wind."
"I'm sure you are aware we live on a moor."
She hated how his eyes never strayed from hers as he answered her.
Mary tsked. "Oh Colin, really…did you see Strephon kiss me? Is that what this is about? It didn't mean anything I swear, it was just a joke."
"I saw nothing. Go back, Mary.""
His brow was wrinkled as he stared at her, his lips pulled back into an almost wince, as if he was in pain. There was a brief moment where Mary thought she saw his eyes fill with tears, but no. That would be ridiculous. He shook off her arm and resumed his path toward the house.
"Colin, do you have something to say to me?"
Mary paused unhappily, and looked at the ground for a long moment. Then she tried again.
"But what you saw-"
"Was nothing! Just go!"
And suddenly Mary was reminded of the fine boy Rajah, commanding her to leave his room.
"Have it your way, then," said Mary acidly as she turned and stalked away from Colin, leaving him alone on the graveled path.
Mary can't remember the last time cider had been served at Sissy Henslin's Annual Cider Fete. As with most parties, cider season was simply an excuse to revel. Mary had dressed her hair with the help of Martha, who had arranged the last of the autumn pansies from the garden into her coronet. The golden-brown pansies matched her satin dress and presented a very pleasing picture to all in attendance.
"Flowers become you, Miss Lennox."
"Ah. Robin. Thank you." Mary took the glass of punch from Robin's hand.
"Flowers from that garden you love so, I imagine?" Robin Wexley had dark hair and sleepy eyes above a mouth that permanently smirked in one corner.
"You know when we're married I won't allow you to grub in that dirt like you do now," said Robin lackadaisically as he tapped a cigarette out of its box.
"Please. We'd kill each other before we reached the alter."
"True, my dear." Robin paused to light his cigarette. "Will you be joining us for the cloved lemon?"
"Really, Robin…twenty's too old for kissing games, isn't it?"
"Certainly not!" Robin dragged her toward the Green Parlor where the other young people were gathering.
"No, truly, Robin…I don't want it." Mary pulled against his arm.
"Oh, Mary you have to play! Even fine Sir Colin has deigned to join the ruffian crowd for a kiss."
"Your cousin is playing, I said."
Just then, Mary heard a loud chorus of laughter and a high-pitched shriek from the parlor, which generally meant that someone had just been on the receiving end of the cloved lemon.
Robin led Mary into the room to cheers of welcome from the rest of the young Yorkshire elite. All were settled in various pieces of furniture in the room, some of the lads with their ears overheated, the lasses with charmingly pink lips betraying the rounds of kisses that had gone on before. Mary and Robin stood standing behind a very tall chair.
And, just away from a corner, was her cousin. Tall and pale, and in his fine black suit, standing just away from the crowd in the coldest crook of the room. His eyes betrayed no sign of recognition toward Mary, but she could not help but to take in his countenance in the briefest of moments.
Why? Why was he here? Colin never joined in for these sorts of things, never had any sort of use for the flirting games that Mary and her set was so fond of.
"Mary! Robin! You're jusht in time," said a snookered Thomas Wellsmith. "Lishabeth's got to choose her kissh." He then gestured with his brandy glass toward a handsome girl wearing bright blue on a divan.
Elizabeth Hamilton was an accomplished coquette, leaving four broken engagements and a slew of almosts in her wake. She stood quietly from the divan, holding the lemon dotted with cloves in her hands and said, "Clove lemon, clove lemon, who has it, who cares?"
A chorus of male voices answered her and vied for her attention. "Here Lishy, I've got it!" called Thomas. Robin smiled and called to her that he cared as well.
Instead she strode purposefully over to Colin. Robin stifled a mocking snort. Elizabeth murmured something to Colin that Mary could not make out. Then Colin wordlessly reached for the lemon to pluck out a clove.
Mary's heart started to pound as Colin brought the clove to his lips. This was an impossible scene playing out before her eyes.
Elizabeth turned her face up to Colin's and Colin quickly, roughly almost, pulled her face to his own. He kissed her very swiftly on the corner of the mouth, and all but grabbed the lemon from her hands. Everyone in the room laughed and several of the men chided Colin to do it properly, but he ignored him.
"You watch Mary, he'll pick you. He's too shy to pick anyone else," whispered Robin sardonically.
Mary didn't hear him, because if her heart had been pounding before, certainly now it was all but coming out of her chest, drowning out every sound but her shallow breaths. Because Mary had known, had seen that Colin had not taken his eyes off of her since she entered the room. Not when Elizabeth had stood up, not when she had stopped in front of him, or even when he had perfunctorily kissed her.
But now, he held the lemon in his hand, and he was coming over to Mary. And she started to shake inside, little quivers that she couldn't control but prayed weren't visible to anyone.
"No man, no, you can't pick yer own coushin, that's no fun," said Thomas. "You can kissh her anytime you like!"
Colin either didn't hear or didn't care to listen. He stopped in front of Mary and held the lemon out to her, cradled in his slender hand. She didn't allow herself to look into his eyes before she plucked a clove from the lemon and bit it gently, signifying her consent to be kissed. Then, she felt like she was strong enough, willing herself not to be scared, she gazed into Colin's eyes.
"One day, we'll get married here, Mary, and I'll make you a crown of pansies."
"Will we have white cake, and dance, and will you kiss me?"
A promise that she never forgot…
"Yes, and I'll hold you, like this…"
Oh, dear God…
"Colin, kiss me now…why won't you kiss me now?"
That day in their garden…
"I'll kiss you when we're ready to be wedded, Mary, when I can say the words…"
That promise that she waited patiently to be satisfied, for the past ten years. And now, he was staring at her with the eyes of the boy that she had loved as long as she could remember loving anything, the gray eyes fringed in black that she loved more than her garden, more than her uncle, more than Dickon, more than everything in her trifling life.
"Oh honestly! This game will take ages if we have to wait for Sir Stretchback." Mary felt herself grabbed roughly, and then handily kissed with an exaggerated dip. Robin set her on her feet and plucked the lemon from Colin's hand.
All of this was completed before Mary could react.
"Hmm, now which lady shall be the lucky one," said Robin comically as he faced the group. The other laughed heartily and girls began calling out to him that they were that lady indeed.
Hardly anyone noticed as Colin pushed past him and headed for the door.
"Wait..." Mary followed after.
He had already grabbed his coat and was starting for the front door of the house.
"Colin, honestly, wait!" Mary grabbed his arm as he went through the door. It had just begun to snow outside. The blue twilight of the evening enveloped the two of them completely, save for the soft oil lamps at the end of the drive.
"Robin is an idiot. I didn't know he was going to do that."
"I didn't see you resisting in any fashion."
"Colin, I didn't know it was happening until it was over."
He was silent.
"There's nothing between us. And cloved lemon is just a silly game."
Mary shivered and rubbed her hands on the satin of her arms. He took an unconscious step toward her.
"You should go inside, Mary. I'll send the coach back for you when I get to Misselthwaite."
"Wait. Don't you have something to say to me?"
Colin continued to stare at her, his gaze unwavering. "No."
Mary was surprised that she could taste such bitter disappointment on this subject anymore.
"That's the problem, Colin. You never do. And I am tired to death of waiting for you." She watched him for a long moment and went inside.
The village matrons said that Mary's wedding day was as all girl's should be, full of laughter, good tidings, and just a few tears. The bride was at her most beautiful, carrying roses from her garden, cheeks pink with excitement. The groom couldn't stop smiling, and toasted his young bride so many times at the celebratory dinner that Mary's uncle had to call for more champagne.
The only blight on the day was when Mary's cousin Colin came to offer his congratulations to the couple. Colin shook his new cousin-in-laws hand briefly and stiltedly told him that he hoped he'd be very happy. The photographer called to Colin, telling him to kiss his cousin so he might take a photo to mark the family's happy day.
Colin only looked at his cousin, and then walked away.