Public displays of affection
A vignette in two parts
A/N: I did not have a beta when I first published this one, and I thought it needed a serious review, and much more could be added to it. That is what I did, so I am re-publishing it, in two parts. I hope you enjoy a little bit of fluff!
Disclaimer: I do not own "The Sound of Music", etc…
It is the passion that is in a kiss that gives to it its sweetness; it is the affection in a kiss that sanctifies it."
Christian Nevell Bovee
Caresses, expressions of one sort or another, are necessary to the life of the affections as leaves are to the life of a tree. If they are wholly restrained, love will die at the roots.
After the events in the gazebo the previous evening, things had moved with incredible speed. Maria learned that, when the Captain had his mind set on something – her, in this case – he would turn into a veritable force of nature, and there was nothing that would be able to stop him, even the sacred social conventions the aristocracy seemed to live by. A small part of her had hoped that he would keep their newly found love a secret, to be revealed little by little, with the family and closest friends, so that they all had time to adjust to such an amazing turn of events in their lives.
She had been wrong.
"I was afraid you would change your mind and run back to the Abbey again," he would tease her about it, weeks later, when she would question him about the maddening speed things had moved.
The engagement had been announced to the children earlier that same morning. Afterwards, the Captain had suggested that they spend the day in the city, to which everyone agreed, wholeheartedly. Maria, above all, was glad that they would go for an outing, since she had barely began to adjust to her new role as a member of the family, and found the odd looks she was already getting from some of the servants distressing enough. Although there was no official announcement made specifically to the household staff, the news were inevitably overheard, and had spread like wildfire. In spite of Georg´s silent, gentle reassurance, she felt under scrutiny, as if every little gesture was being examined by unseen eyes, and that in any moment, she would be would be breaking some unwritten social rule she did not even know existed yet.
The announcement to the children itself had been nerve wracking enough for both of them. There was the obvious uncertainty about their reaction – it was one thing to have Maria forever around as a governess or as a playmate, but as a new mother, that was entirely another matter. After their cold, reaction when he had told them about the engagement to Elsa, even Georg was not quite sure what to expect.
Indeed, their reaction had been unexpected in the way, but not in any way negative. There was shock for the first few moments, and Louisa, in particular, looked cautious, as if she were not sure what to think. Nevertheless, five minutes after they gave them the news, the children were already speculating whether the next baby in the house would be a boy or a girl, and were already picking names for their little brother and sister. It had been one of those rare moments when Maria had wanted the earth to swallow her up, but Georg had been quick to notice her distress. Although he was clearly amused by the children's comments, he cleverly put an end to the subject with one of his witty remarks, saying that they should take care of planning the wedding first, before staring to choose baby names.
For Captain von Trapp, as Maria discovered soon enough, the excursion was part of a quickly designed strategy plan to minimize the effects of the rumors he knew would be coming. He left Max behind, with the free use of his telephone and an order to call everyone he knew and casually let the news about the engagement slip. The plan was to let the news out, even if unofficially, before anyone had a chance to start the really ugly and damaging gossip. Needless to say that Max had been delighted by the task. The Captain had actually commanded him, Max Detweiler to do what he loved to do most and did best - gossip!
"Go on now, all of you, have fun. But be back here in one hour to go to lunch," Georg said to the children, as soon as they reached the Pegasus fountain, in the heart of the Mirabell Gardens.
"And don't forget shopping," added Marta, her eyes shining.
"We won't forget, Marta. So don't be late, and that goes everybody." Maria made an instinctive motion to follow the children, trying to free her hand from Georg´s, but he kept his hold firm. "Except you, Fräulein," he said playfully.
Maria looked at him, a bit uncertainly. The children stopped in their tracks, also looking at the Captain with surprise. It was Liesl, as usual, the first one to catch the message in her father's cautionary glance - that he wanted some time alone with Maria and there was no one who would prevent him from doing that, not even his children.
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let us no waste no time then – the faster we run, the more things we will be able to do in one hour," she said, winking to a blushing Maria. "Right father? Erhm… Fräulein?" she asked Maria, not yet quite sure how to call her now. The truth was that even Maria was not sure yet how to call herself!
Liesl´s words were enough to convince the six younger children, so that they wasted no more time. While the boys headed towards the maze, the five girls went towards the wooden bridge to the Bastion Gardens.
"Please say hello to Leopold for me," Maria shouted after the little ones as they left.
"Do you know about Leopold?" Georg asked, intrigued.
"Of course I do. They told me the first week I was here." Leopold was the children's favorite dwarf in the Bastion Gardens. Liesl had nicknamed him after an uncle she was particularly fond of. It would soon become everyone's favorite – and their imaginary friend.
"The first week?!" Now he sounded absolutely baffled.
"Maria, Leopold was a well kept secret between the children and their mother. They have never told me about him. I wouldn't even know if my…" he hesitated, "… if their mother had not told me."
"Really?" It was Maria's turn to be amazed – and touched.
"Really. Yet they revealed their imaginary friend to you the first week you were with us…" he shook his head, his voice catching. "How can seven children outsmart their father? They already knew you were one of a kind while I was still busy yelling and glaring at you." Maria looked up to her right, and found him not glaring, but smiling down at her – that same seductive, half smile that he had directed to her the first time right after they danced the Ländler together, and that, for as long as the earth still moved, she was certain it would still have the power to make her knees weak. Unable to hold his intense gaze, she quickly looked around for the children. They were nowhere to be seen. There they were, as alone as they could possibly be, for the first time since the previous night. The one difference was that now they were in a public place, surrounded by locals who, just like them, had every intention of enjoying the sunny morning in the garden.
"I'll never get used to this, for as long as I live", she thought, as she experienced the rush of sensations that until yesterday evening she would give anything never to have felt. Now she wondered if she could ever live without.
She asked herself when she would descend from the cloud she was living in. She felt so light and in peace and dreamy that her only link to reality was Georg´s solid presence next to her. It would not be easy, she was not so naïve to believe it would be – not the classical lived happily ever after fairy tale ending. That they would be happy, and ever after, she hardly had any doubts. However, not without facing a few storms on the way. They both had strong personalities, and they were bond to clash once in a while.
There were also the other rather obvious reasons – she had agreed to spend the rest of her life next to a widower who already had seven children of his own and, by what she knew, a blissfully happy marriage in his past with a woman who was close to perfection. A man who had been hurt beyond belief by the loss of his first wife. A personality so complex that Maria wondered if one day she would be able to fully comprehend. Yet, that that fine and brave man, as the Reverend Mother had called him the first time Maria ever heard his name being mentioned, was, in a way hers now. She loved him, and he loved her. His hand would always be there, within reach, for her to take and hold whenever she wanted to, whenever she needed. If she were brave enough, right now, she would run her fingers through his thick, dark brown hair, and stand on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, maybe even his lips, and he would not push her away. His eyes told her as much, and the enormity of it was staggering.
As if reading her thoughts, he winked at her. She smiled back, and her left hand joined her right one, which was already holding his. It was all she could do for the moment. She still felt absurdly shy, although she knew he was doing everything to help her get used to him, as he had said, get used to the man that he was, not her employer, not the notorious Captain von Trapp.
As he would later admit to Maria, Georg, on the other hand, wondered what his bride would say if she knew he was probably just as bewildered as she was. The relief he felt after having hidden and repressed his feelings for months was nearly painful. Because of that, in spite of being an experienced man, he felt absurdly insecure, for the first time since he was a boy. It seemed that Maria would simply vanish if he were not holding her close, like the will-o´-the-wisp he had overheard the nuns calling her once.
To hold her hand was not all he wanted, however. Although he did have a strong, passionate nature, public displays of affection were not exactly acceptable in the world he was brought up in. In fact, his reluctance to touch or kiss his first wife in public, at least with the passion that she deserved, used to be one of their main sources of argument. His passionate nature had only been revealed in their private moments. However, with Maria, it had been so very different from the beginning. Maybe because he was now wise enough not to take her or their love for granted, maybe because life had taught him that the pain of loss was also a part of love and the hard learned lesson nearly had cost him his life, and the love of his own children.
"Weren't you wearing that same dress the day you fell off the boat?" he asked lightly, in an attempt to get some control over his thoughts.
Maria laughed, looking down at herself and patting her skirt. She was indeed wearing one of the frocks she had made with the material he had given to her soon after her arrival. "I can't remember exactly. I think I was. Maybe." The fact was that she hardly noticed what she had put on this morning, for she had been in such a hurry to go downstairs and convince herself that she had not dreamed the previous night. In fact, she had to stop half way down the main staircase and run back to her bedroom, since she had almost showed up at breakfast wearing her old sack of a nightgown and robe.
"O-ho yes, you were. My memory is astoundingly good when it comes to certain details about you."
"Oh, is it? What details for instance, Cap… Georg?" she asked.
"Hm mm." He pulled her towards the stairs that led to a rose garden, while he continued talking. "For instance, you let your hair grow a little while you were here with us, but once you returned to the Abbey, you cut it very short again."
"Hah, that! I did, yes," she touched the short hair brushing her nape. "With everything I had in my mind, the last thing I wanted while I was there was to have Sister Berthe pestering me about my sinful curls, so I cut it, just to save myself from another useless argument. I never thought anyone would notice."
"I did. Especially after that enlightening conversation we had about your hair and the seven deadly sins, remember (1)? You've lost a little weight as well, which is not surprising because you are barely eating enough to keep a flea alive."
"So have you," she noted, tenderly, squeezing his hand.
"Not to worry, we'll start to remedy that today at lunch. How does a Salzburger Nockerl for dessert sound to you?"
"Absolutely wonderful," she sighed. "Will you share one with me?"
"Not even in your dreams!" Then he added. "I never share my desserts!"
Maria giggled, as her stomach reacted to his suggestion as well, and only then she fully realized that she had not yet eaten a decent meal in quite a while. Ever since the night of the party, in fact. He was right, of course, she had lost weight. Her dress, for instance, did not fit her so perfectly as it did when she first made it – it was a bit loose around her bosom, and around her waist.
He followed the direction of her gaze, as she rearranged the loose skirt. "But this dress… I remember well how beautifully it clung to your body after your unscheduled dip in the lake."
"Captain, really," she exclaimed, straightening herself, trying to feign shock to disguise her embarrassment.
"Why? Do you think it was only anger that made me yell like that at you and call you Captain?" Maria wrinkled her nose at him.
"Honestly, I though you were too angry to notice anything else other than your seven soaked children wearing clothes made of old curtains."
"I am just taunting you. You are right, I was so madly furious at you for daring to challenge me that I hardly noticed what you were doing to me at the same time. Yet later, that same evening, I remembered quite vividly and the memory of you dripping wet tormented my dreams for weeks to come." She gave him a mock slap in the shoulder.
He took her to an empty bench, in the rose garden overlooking the Pegasus fountain. She leaned her head against him, trustingly, while he placed an arm around her shoulders. His fingers lightly played with the short curls on her nape.
"Is it me, or aren't the roses especially beautiful today?" she asked dreamingly, trying to focus her attention on the flowers, and not in his fingers on her neck, that were simply making her burn. To have him touch her like that, in the solitude of the moonlit gazebo was one thing. But not they were in public, in one of Salzburg busiest spots. She was not yet sure how to handle that,
"It is not you. They are, aren't they?" His fingers stilled, and his hand moved to her shoulder. Maria was caught between relief and disappointment, but he kept talking. "And to think that only weeks ago I would look at them and think that all rose gardens I had ever seen in my life were the same. Seen one, seen them all, that is what I would probably say. I haven't been here in years, and I had forgotten how magnificent this place is."
"The gardens are one of my favorite places in Salzburg. When the nuns sent me out on errands in town, I always came here for a bit. Of course most of the times I forgot myself, and spent hours exploring it, but it would be worth it, even though I was punished for being late. The children love it too. I first taught them about the seven musical notes on those stairs over there, " she pointed. "The girls named it "the Do-Re-Mi stairs" after that day. But it's the roses that always take my breath away."
"White and red," said Georg, pensively.
"The colors of Austria. Very patriotic, don't you think? I like that."
"Patriotism is not exactly what I have in mind at the moment, Maria," he retorted very seriously.
"What did you have in mind?" She looked up at him, a little surprised.
He lowered his head until his lips were close to her ear and whispered:
"And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips…"
Open admiration was shinning in her eyes. "So you are not only a naval hero and an accomplished musician – you are also a poet!"
"O-ho, slow down, my love. The little poem is not mine," he admitted, modestly, resting his chin on the top of her head. "It's by an Irishman named, John Boyle O´Reilly. For the love that is purest and sweetest/ Has a kiss of desire on the lips… Incredibly appropriate, don't you think?"
"Very," she agreed wholeheartedly, wondering if there was anything she could do to control those awful blushes. There was also a question burning in her lips, and this time she felt brave enough to ask him. "Georg?"
"How do you feel about kissing in public?" The question was out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
A/N: (1) See "Underneath her wimple".