As Mary stepped out into the dark, cool night she shivered a bit. She shut the thick wooden door quietly behind her. It was quite chilly, she realized as the gentle wind blew calmly across every bit of uncovered skin. Little bumps rose up all over her arms, and she could feel them too on her legs. Uncomfortable as they were, they did not, however, convince her to return to the contenting warmth that the house provided.
The last thing she wanted was to go back into that ballroom with James. She still couldn't believe her uncle would tell someone something that was so private to her. The thought made her colder still.
Nevertheless, she knew that the sight of Dickon and the high walls of the garden (which kept a lot of wind out) would warm her well enough. Sighing inaudibly, she made her way down the winding stone path that led to the gardens. She could navigate it just fine in the shroud of darkness, after using it nearly every day for many years.
Though, when it came time to transfer from the hardness of the path to the soft grass, Mary gave a startled yelp when the heel of her beige satin shoe sunk about a centimeter into the ground below it. Miraculously, she managed to keep her balance with her flailing arms and all. Which was a good thing; because she feared that she never would have been able to stand up again in the rigid gown.
Snorting, she mumbled, "Proper lady indeed."
She chuckled quietly; half-wishing Medlock could have seen her.
Bending down somewhat less than gracefully, Mary removed the heel of her shoe from the moist soil, and took the other off as well. Clutching them in one hand she used the other to hold up her gown, and made her way to the garden in her stockings. She felt a strange satisfaction knowing that she was getting them dirty. It served them all right. Also, her feet felt wonderfully relieved.
When Mary reached the intricately carved doorway, her hand paused on the way to opening it. Some strange wispy feeling engulfed her stomach in that moment. It made her feel remarkably light and odd.
What was this feeling?
It was internal, and spreading swiftly from the stomach and navel to all regions of her body. The fingers that curled around the heels of the smooth shoes suddenly fell limp and sent them tumbling into the grass. But, she hardly heard them.
She withdrew her hand from the decorated door slowly, and placed it over her stomach. It felt so strange that she was made a bit anxious. Nervous? She had rarely been so, especially on her way to the garden. And yet, why was she now? It was only Dickon. The calm, sweet boy she had come to know so many years ago.
Only Dickon, she thought. Was this the same Dickon who had awakened these new feelings within her; was it he who was doing this to her? The one who had only become more beautiful with age? She couldn't deny that he had been in her thoughts quite a lot lately.
Perhaps she would ask him about it. Maybe if she felt this way, he would surely be feeling the same. And he knew the ways of things much better than she. He would understand what was happening to her.
Swallowing a curious lump in her throat, Mary pushed the door open.
The garden was only a little bit warmer than the air outside its walls; the wind's chill almost non-existent. She gradually descended the meandering stone steps. The pleasant and fragrant scent of the large white moonflowers wafted through the night air.
Then she saw him. Dickon's back was to her as he knelt in the moonlight, pulling weeds from a bed of budding lilies.
The dear just never stops working anymore, she thought to herself. But then again, that bed had been looking ghastly for days. He was quickly gathering a large pile of weeds next to him.
However, she didn't make her presence behind him known. Mary took the rare moment to study him; her dearest friend. He was wearing a white shirt and his brown woolen vest. His sleeves had been rolled up to his elbows in a futile attempt to escape the day's worth of earth marring his forearms. She felt her ears go strangely warm when the muscles there tensed as he yanked up a particularly stubborn plant.
An un-combed mop of dark hair topped off the scene, sticking out arbitrarily in places.
It was not a finely polished and groomed prospect; not rehearsed like the dreary debutante conversations in the ballroom. Not special in any way, or it shouldn't have been. But in that moment it seemed to Mary that nothing was more captivating than watching the simple young man before her, meticulously at work in their garden, with the moonlight streaming onto him through the boughs of trees overhead.
Abruptly, she was ripped from her daze when Dickon stood, clearing his throat quietly and swiping an arm across his forehead. Mary felt her body go tense, and the strange feeling in her belly returned tenfold. He didn't see her yet. Why didn't she say anything? She felt as if she couldn't speak.
Bending over, he gathered the pile of weeds in his arms and turned towards where she was standing. Visibly, he started, and the wiry serrated plants tumbled back onto the ground with a soft noise.
Dickon's eyes widened, when he recognized her. A heat like nothing else swarmed her neck and face in an instant. Perhaps she should have changed into a different dress, she thought as his wide blue eyes traced her form, and his mouth hung open slightly. It was not like him to look at anyone that way, and it made her knees go weak.
She would have laughed at his expression, if she didn't feel so utterly naked under his gaze. It was nothing like how she felt when James or Colin had seen her that evening. She wished again that at least her hair was down to cover her neck.
Then, he seemed to come to himself, and a sweet blush crept onto his freckled cheeks. He smiled like only Dickon could, and she suddenly felt a bit more at ease. At least at ease enough to breathe.
"Miss Mary," he said quietly, "Tha' looks as lovely as the moonflowers."
If it were possible, her ears flamed even more, and she smiled at him coyly, having to avert her eyes to the ground lest she would collapse under his stare.
"Tis earlier than I expected thee." He said tentatively coming closer to her, the weeds forgotten on the grass.
Nodding, she looked up at him. She couldn't speak. She didn't trust herself to speak. How could he be doing this to her? He was making her into a nervous blushing fool.
Dickon seemed to realize her predicament to an extent, and extended his elbow to her with a small teasing smile, straightening his posture.
"Willst tha' accomp'ny me for a stroll, Miss?" He asked, "I believe this is 'ow a proper gentleman does it."
Oh, she could have simply melted inside.
"It is." She replied demurely, finding her voice. "And I would love to."
Mary placed her hand in the warm crook of his arm, and they set off through the garden together. Their pace was slow, and Mary found herself getting lost once more in the absolute beauty of the garden. Its loveliness in darkness was only barely surpassed by the way it looked in bright daylight.
"How was the party?" Dickon inquired, she could feel his eyes looking down on her and the warmth radiating from his body being so near. Abruptly, it occurred to her how much closer he was to her than Colin had been earlier; they were nearly touching. Heavens… She wondered if he noticed.
Groaning, Mary pushed her anxious thoughts away and relayed to him how exceptionally awful the ball was.
"Oh, Dickon, it was so dreadful! Of course it was beautiful, but I just couldn't spend another moment around those people."
She knew how hard the servants had worked to make it special for her, or rather the important people in attendance, but she didn't want to appear to be unappreciative.
"All of the forced conversation, a-and the stiff clothing and dancing. It was so terrible! But the music was not so bad, and the hall was truly lovely. And then of course Colin left me all by myself when his dear Miranda showed up and whisked him away. I couldn't blame him though, for she really is as beautiful as he says. And-"
Looking at him, she thought she saw his lip twitch upwards as if he was trying not to smile, and he turned his head. Whatever it was he found humorous she wasn't sure.
"What is so amusing about this?" She demanded half-heartedly.
Dickon turned back to her and grinned.
"'Tis nothin' Miss Mary, ye were just ramblin' is all." He answered.
"Oh. I apologize. I got carried away." She said, her ears reddening.
"Aye." He laughed good-naturedly. "I am sorry tha' yer party dinna go so well. But I am glad ye' are here now. What made thee leave so soon? I was not expectin' tha until another hour or so."
With a sigh, she told him about James Abbott and how her uncle had been corresponding with him.
"He said that Uncle Archie believed we could be wonderful friends." She said venomously. "As if that is what he took it to mean. And who knows what Uncle Archie expected from it. Well I can certainly say now that nothing can be expected."
Mary stopped when she felt a warmth overtake the hand that was grasping onto Dickon's arm. His rough fingers were gently covering hers.
"Miss Mary, the fierce grippin' o' my arm 'as got to stop." He said pointedly, fixing those damnably blue eyes on her and his lip tugging upward.
Feeling the flaming of her cheeks for the thirtieth time, she released his elbow, feeling embarrassed, and their stroll came to a halt in front of the old swing. Regretfully, the air seemed to chill considerably without him nearly pressing against her side like he had been. An irrepressible little shiver pulsed through her body.
Thankfully, Dickon did not seem to notice as he was looking anywhere but at her. Oh, how he looked so sweet with his fringe messy on his forehead. Swallowing her fear, Mary decided to find out what he knew about these strange feelings. Pensively, she sat down on the swing and chewed on her bottom lip.
"Dickon?" She asked, wincing inwardly at the crack in her voice.
"Yes, Mary?" The piercing azure irises fixed on her again.
"Have you ever felt strange?"
"Strange? Yes, I suppose I 'ave." He said with an air of confusion. "Wha' do tha mean?"
Oh, dear this is more difficult than I thought.
"Urm, well, there is this one person, and whenever you see them you feel just… strange."
"Strange, like ill?"
"Not really, but sort of. Your legs feel as if they will melt, and there is this fluttery thing in your belly that happens whenever you see or think of them. The smallest things and details remind you of them."
"Perhaps tha' art worried about this person." He offered.
Mary shook her head.
"No. I do not believe that is it. It feels not so frantic as worry; more like an anxiousness that won't disappear. But it is not trepidation so much. Actually, it can be somewhat pleasant, but then again not. Sometimes your heart feels as if it is soaring, and other times running so quickly that you fear it will stop."
Dickon's brow furrowed and his lip turned down in thought, his hand gripping the rope of the swing.
"Well," he said at length, "It sounds as if tha' art in love."
"Love?" Mary squeaked meekly.
"Assuming that… it is a man that tha' feels strange for." He said steadily.
Feeling quite flustered, Mary cleared her throat.
"Oh, yes. It is."
"Ah." He conceded softly.
Mary knew that she felt something different for Dickon, but love? She found herself rising from her perch on the swing in bewilderment and moving a few paces away. She clenched her fists together nervously. Could he possibly feel the same?
"Mary?" his hushed voice sounded concerned as it floated over from behind her.
Dickon silently took one of her hands from behind and unfurled it gently, holding her palm against his.
"Who is it tha' loves?"
Once again, Mary's breath caught in her throat and her vision blurred. He sounded almost… sad.
"I-I…" She struggled to find the right words, but she couldn't see straight; the weight of the revelation was taking a toll on her thought process. The callused roughness of his hand felt so completely different from James' silky grip, but it was so perfect to her. Mary was barely aware of herself being turned around to face him. He looked at her for a long moment.
"Colin." He stated with the emptiest expression that she had ever seen on his face. He thought she was in love with her cousin? What could have made him think that? Colin and she had gotten over their childish attraction to each other years ago. He had Miranda after all.
"No!" She declared as soon as she gained use of her voice, shaking her head. "No. No, of course I am not in love with Colin."
"Oh." If it were possible, he seemed even more deflated than before, his eyes downcast and his mouth frowning. The ever-present color even seemed to flee from his cheeks. What was the matter with him? Couldn't he see?
"I-I think… that I'm in love w-with you, Dickon."
Dickon and his eyes immediately flickered up to meet with her uncertain ones with a fierce intake of breath. He looked as if he was taken completely off-guard. Stunned, he dropped her hand to bury his fingers in his hair, searching her face for signs of a lie.
Never, that Mary could remember had she seen him so flustered. Dickon Sowerby was not one to stutter.
Apprehensively, she gnawed on her lower lip and nodded. Surely he was going to turn her away; things would never be the same between them again. The beginnings of tears stung behind her eyes. He did not return her feelings. She hoped that he was not disgusted with her. How could she have been so daft?
She certainly hadn't been expecting him to grin.
Dickon's grin only grew wider and he took her face delicately in his hands.
"Miss Mary, tha looks like ye' want to weep. Why?" he asked, breathing heavily.
"You mean- you mean to say that you return my feelings?" Mary whispered incredulously.
"Oh, Mary. O' course I love thee." He breathed. "I always have. But, why me? I am only a poor moor lad, and there is little I could ever give tha. Tha could have any one o' those rich men at that ball, but me?"
Mary's heart swelled with a mixture of relief and love. It began to pound mercilessly at her chest, and she could hear the thump of it in her ears.
"But I wouldn't love them." She stated softly. "If you are right about these feelings being love, then I presume I have been in love with you for a long while now. I have never felt it for any other person."
Dickon looked elated, though his smile had receded and he looked more serene than maniacal, more like himself.
"Nor I, Mary."
Finally, she allowed herself to smile. She barely realized that they were once again nearer to each other than they had ever been. Her face was still encased by his large warm hands. It was intoxicating, and he appeared to be glancing down at her mouth.
"Mary?" He murmured.
"May I kiss tha?"
After he asked, she couldn't stop herself from looking at his own lips. They were perfect, like a cupid's bow, and she had never experienced the touch of another person's mouth over hers. She realized how much she really was curious to discover how it felt.
Slowly, Mary nodded. She supposed that since they loved each other, that it would be alright. Lovers did this sort of thing, she heard.
When he leaned down, he moved slowly, and the anticipation was doing its part to make her legs begin to wobble. His eyes closed, and Mary figured that she must do the same.
It was like nothing that had ever occurred to her before. As Dickon's lips finally covered hers, in as light a kiss as she could imagine, she was taken aback by their softness. They felt like silk on her mouth. A small noise of pleasure escaped her throat before she thought to suppress it. This seemed to encourage him to press his lips more firmly against hers, and to tentatively move his hand to graze the nape of her neck. No one had ever touched her there like that before. It sent a tiny shiver down her spine, and all of the little hairs on her began to stand on end.
Timidly, Mary raised her hands to clasp at the fabric around his collar, to make certain that he was tangible and real. Their lips began to move together in an unsure pattern of bashful inexperience. He tasted so very sweet and exactly as one would imagine he tasted. It could only be described as heaven, with the blissful floral scent of the garden surrounding them.
After a few moments that seemed much longer than they really were, the two separated. She noticed that Dickon's lips were slightly swollen and red. She could hardly fathom that she had done that to someone, let alone that he had done the same to her. He leaned his forehead down to rest against hers.
Dickon just kissed me.
Mary found herself beaming like the universe's greatest idiot. Luckily, Dickon looked just as euphoric, his eyes dancing.
"Mary?" He murmured once again.
Then he leaned in to kiss her once again.
A/n: Ah, alas it is finally over. I cannot apologize enough for the ghastly long wait, but I had quite the case of writer's block halfway through writing this chapter. Let me tell you, you don't understand that stuff until you experience it. I hope that it turned out well enough for your liking, but please send me a review to let me know what you think. All of my reviews are greatly appreciated, and I thank everyone who took the time to send one. They often played a roll in inspiring me to update. Thanks for reading!