- - -
- - -
I had never really thought about what my wedding would be like. When I was a little girl and a young teenager, I was resigned to the fact that I would probably not be in love with my husband. Perhaps it was because I had never fantasized about my future wedding that I did not mind being married late at night and on a spur of the moment. Anthony and I had found a church quickly, but it took some pleading to get the sleepy looking priest to consent. He looked a bit suspicious, but he did not question us when Anthony explained that my parents were dead and that I was fleeing a cruel guardian. Before he performed the ceremony, though, he asked:
"Are you certain you do not want to wait until morning?"
Anthony and I glanced at each other and smiled faintly. I shook my head at him, and Anthony nodded, telling the priest we were certain that we wanted to get married that night. The priest sighed in a resigned sort of way and nodded. The priest performed the traditional ceremony while Anthony and I held hands, not taking our eyes off of each other. Standing with only Anthony and the priest in the quiet church, bathed in candlelight, with moonlight filtering in through the windows, I could not have imagined a better wedding. When the priest was finished, I felt more than a bit surreal.
I'm married, I thought giddily. It was a strange feeling. It seemed like the past few months…years had been nothing but endless misery and hopelessness. Only a week ago, locked away in the asylum, I would have thought that moment to be impossible. But Anthony stood in front of me, real as anything, as my husband. My husband…how odd. Anthony must have sensed what I was feeling, because he gave me a lovely, encouraging smile before he kissed me. The horrors of the past twenty four hours seemed to melt away as we exited the church and walked back towards the inn. I did not loosen my grip on Anthony's hand as we walked, and I resisted the urge to smile broadly at everyone we passed. My happiness seemed to outweigh the misery from the rest of the day that had threatened to drown me. Never before had I felt so free. I was walking around London with a man who loved me, and who I loved in return.
I looked over at Anthony's handsome profile and felt another rush of giddy happiness. I was not sure how I ever could have lived without him. He was the only genuinely good man I had ever known, and yet…
My thoughts strangely drifted to my father. I could not bring myself to hate him, but I was not sure that I could exactly love him either. Given the discovery in the meat grinder, the brutal killings of the Judge and the Beadle, not to mention my mother…I could not stop my train of thought that time. Though I was not sorry for the deaths of the Judge and the Beadle, I could not stop thinking about the wound on my mother's neck. All evidence suggested that my father had killed her…but why? Had he not known it was her? But even so, why would he kill a defenseless beggar woman? Then again, why would he kill all those innocent people who had become food for the city? I had a million questions running through my mind, but there were no answers. What was worse, there was no way to get answers. My parents were dead; they could not put an arm around me and explain everything.
As we approached the inn, my thoughts became more practical, and I felt my nerves act up inside of me. Despite my passionate reaction to Anthony earlier, I knew what was expected on the wedding night and I felt afraid. Anthony and I did not speak as we walked up the stairs to our room. When we entered the room, I was reminded of the awkwardness between us the previous night, only there was no longer a cloud of doom hanging over us. I glanced at the bed, which I reluctantly went over to and sat down on. After shutting the door, Anthony looked at me quietly for a few moments. Then, he sighed and came over to sit by my side. I did not stop him when he idly reached over to stroke my arm.
"Johanna," he murmured my name like a prayer. He looked shy, like he had been when we'd first met. "Johanna, I do not…expect anything tonight."
I made a noise that came out somewhere between a choked sob and a laugh. Anthony looked concerned for a moment, as if he'd said the wrong thing…as if. I smiled at him to ease his anxiety. Then I raised a hand to his face to stroke his cheek, "You're a good man."
He smiled a bit at that and leaned into my hand. "You're a good woman."
I did not know whether to laugh or cry at his response. His sentiment was so unlike anything I had heard from the other men in my life. The Judge had treated me as something to be controlled, to be possessed. The Beadle and the Judge's other acquaintances had eyed me in a similar way. At the asylum, I had been constantly informed of how "bad" I was, how sinful. Anthony was the only man I knew who seemed to cherish me and to think of me as something of value.
"Anthony," I whispered his name before I pulled him in for a kiss. He responded carefully, barely applying any pressure as he held me, as if he thought I might break. For a few minutes, we did nothing more than kiss and hold one another. I was only vaguely aware when I lay back on the bed, taking Anthony with me.
"Johanna," he sighed as I adjusted my body underneath his. He looked at me questioningly for a moment before his hands moved beneath me to reach the laces on the back of my dress. I swallowed nervously before I nodded my consent. As I felt Anthony's fingers undo the laces, I looked into his eyes, which never left my face. I felt my nervousness melt away as he smiled softly once more and kissed away any lingering doubts.
That night was a wonderful blur, as so many of the truly blissful things in life are. But what stood out in my mind above all else was that, for a few hours at least, all of my demons were kept at bay. I could only pray that the incredible sensation would last.
- - -
When I awoke the next morning, I realized that I had slept much later than I had the previous day. Sunlight poured in through the window and splashed the walls. I looked over at Anthony's sleeping form and smiled. He looked extremely peaceful, lying on his stomach with one arm carelessly thrown around his pillow. I had never really noticed how brown his skin was until I noticed its obvious contrast with the pale sheets. I rolled over onto my side and idly reached over to trace the occasional scar on his back, starting a bit when I heard him chuckle.
"That tickles," he murmured against the pillow, his eyes opening and blinking in response to the bright sunlight. He propped his head up against his hand and smiled. "Good morning."
I blushed a bit as I pulled the sheet up higher on my body. "Good morning."
He reached over to brush a lock of hair out of my eyes. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, fine," I answered, feeling my cheek instantly warm in response to his fingers. He chuckled at my blushing and leaned forward to kiss me lazily. It felt strange to be so at ease. I was still unused to the idea that Anthony and I were completely free, that there was no one chasing us, that there was no need to rush. All the same, I kissed him a bit more urgently, bringing my hands up to tangle in his hair. He chuckled again as he pulled me to him.
"Patience, love, we have all day," he murmured against my mouth. "We have all of our lives."
I hummed in pleasure as we traded lazy kisses, but then I pulled back gently. Anthony relaxed back onto his stomach again, and his eyes shut gently, a content smile playing about his lips. For some reason, the beautiful image brought tears to my eyes. Marrying Anthony had given my life some peace, but I still felt that I was carrying an enormous weight on my shoulders. Before I could stop myself, I whispered, half crying, "He killed her."
Anthony opened his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows, looking appropriately concerned at the abrupt change in my mood. He reached over to stroke my forehead, his thumb reaching down to wipe the tears from my eyes, before murmuring, "You don't know that…you don't know-"
"Why he did it, but I know that he did it," I cut him off. To that, Anthony had no reply. He continued to stroke my forehead idly, occasionally pressing a soothing kiss to my right temple. Finally, I spoke again, half to myself, "All my life I wanted to have parents. I wanted a mother and father who loved me. And now I know them…and I…" Tears sprung to my eyes again and I could not finish my sentence. After a moment, I tried again. "I just feel as though no matter what I do, things are going to end badly. I finally found my parents, and they're dead. Worse than dead…And I keep seeing their faces…there's so many dead faces…" I pressed a hand to my forehead as the tears came, my fingers meeting Anthony's. Anthony pulled me back to his chest and waited patiently for me to finish crying. When I was finished, I sighed a bit. "I'm sorry…I don't mean to-"
"Don't apologize," Anthony murmured against my hair. "You have nothing to apologize for."
I let out a shaky sigh and wiped the rest of my tears away, before continuing, "I feel so…damaged. You do not deserve-"
"Johanna," Anthony cut me off sharply. "You're absolutely perfect. You're not damaged in any way."
I wanted to laugh at the irony. Anthony would never know how damaged I really was, because he would never look for it in me. What would he ever know about my years locked away with the Judge? He would never know what it had been like for me in the dark for all those years, never know about the dark corners of myself that I knew too well. He would never understand that I had felt akin to Lady Macbeth since I had seen the Judge killed, unable to wash blood off my hands, even if there was nothing there. And yet…though it saddened me to admit it, a part of me felt better knowing that Anthony would never completely understand me. Perhaps it was that way with all people, hiding a part of themselves at all times, even from those who truly loved them.
So I did not argue with Anthony's statement. I took comfort in his thoughts, and merely made myself comfortable in his embrace. Finally, I knew I could not avoid what had to be done. "I have to see them buried later today."
"I know," Anthony replied, nodding in understanding. He pulled me closer to him so that I was splayed across his chest. For the longest time, Anthony idly played with my hair while I traced random patterns on his chest. I did not pay attention to the sun steadily rising in the sky outside, marking each passing hour.
- - -
When we finally got out of bed, we quickly dressed and prepared to see my parents buried. The early morning sunlight was quickly overtaken by stormy clouds that loomed ominously. Sure enough, by the time I was watching my parents lowered into their graves, there was a light rain pattering down. I did not take shelter from it. Instead, I held Anthony's hand tightly like a life line as I took one final look at my parents before their coffins were shut. They were buried in unremarkable coffins in an unremarkable cemetery. I was not sure as to whether or not they would have liked that, but I found the normalcy of the whole thing comforting and somehow appropriate.
The afternoon my parents were buried was the day the news broke about the "Scandal of Fleet Street." My father and his landlady, a Mrs. Nellie Lovett, were called awful things in the street. Shortly thereafter, the gossip started about the whole sordid tale: who my father really was, that my mother was found alongside the Judge's and the Beadle's bloody bodies, the meat in the grinder…I felt ill each time I passed someone whispering the story on the street on the way to the cemetery.
"His wife, if you can believe…"
I blocked out the whispers, retreating back into my own world, a skill that I had perfected over the years. I watched in silence as the coffin was opened for me to look at my parents a final time, as my parents were lowered into the grave, and as the gravediggers began shoveling dirt over the coffins. Anthony did not press me. We watched for nearly an hour for the graves to be filled again. Then Anthony and I were left alone with the dead. We marked my parents' side-by-side graves with two stones and a few red roses. Elsewhere, the Judge was having a lavish funeral that only a few dignitaries attended. People showed up out of duty, I'm sure. The Beadle also had a funeral, a bit more quiet, but with plenty of obligated people nonetheless. The Judge was placed in a family tomb, as if he were royalty.
To this day, there are no flowers there.
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Sorry for the delay! I've been working on another Johanna-centric story (but Alternate Universe, and significantly darker than this one), which has been taking up some time, in addition to the always present monster, school.
Only two or three more chapters to go!