Complicated. That's what life's all about. Perhaps the meaning of life is complication.
With a heavy sigh, Oscar tried to pick up the pieces of herself. It wasn't easy, and it was an endlessly long task, like cleaning up broken glass. She had never felt as weak in her entire life as she did standing in front of the fountain. Why did she even bother to come to the stupid ball? She sighs again, the sound rasping from her throat with the threat of more tears to come.
It wasn't her fault that she wanted to become a woman. But who, she wondered as she collected her senses and hurried to the only unmarked carriage parked outside of the mansion, was she doing it for?
She was so selfish, she thought as she climbed inside, remembering at the last minute to pull her skirts up beforehand. The wheels started to turn as the horses pranced away from the brightly-lit party, and all she could feel was relief. She swore to herself that she would never wear another dress again, not for anyone, not even for herself.
She felt so strange, so unlike herself, and she didn't know what to make of it.
Fake. She was so fake.
And why was it that she felt that she had to become someone else to dance with Fersen? What would he have said if she had asked to dance with him and she had been wearing a dressy military uniform instead? Would he have danced with her?
No, she doubted it. She could almost see his eyes crinkle in the corners as he laughed, amused. "Nice one, Oscar," he might say, nudging her lightly with an elbow before turning to look at the women in their dresses. Her shoulders slumped slightly.
"Stop," she suddenly called out, and when the carriage hesitantly halted, she climbed out. "I'd rather walk," she said, and her tone told the driver that she would not change her mind. He shrugged and continued on his way, leaving her alone.
She wanted—no, needed—time alone. She wished she had something to drink, but how many times had she gotten drunk over Fersen? And for what? For nothing…
She walked and walked and walked, not even noticing that the hem of her dress was in ruins, covered in dirt and torn from where she kept stepping on it.
She wasn't meant to live as a woman, but at least Fersen thought she—not the woman in the dress, but the one in the uniform—was beautiful. She hid her femininity, but there was a reason behind it. A reason her life was so complicated.
André had said that she was beautiful.
Not the woman in the military uniform, but the one in the dress.
She didn't know why, but she felt tears working their way down her face as her hands formed themselves into tight fists. Why did things have to work out so badly? Fersen thought Oscar the "man" was beautiful, hiding her feminine side, and André thought that Oscar the "woman" was beautiful. Fersen was unattainable, even though he recognized her beauty—if it could be called that—when she wore a military jacket. André was attainable, but he only recognized her beauty—if it could be called that—when she wore a dress.
Once. One time. She'd only worn a dress once and she'd never do it again!
She stopped walking for a moment; her feet were hurting her, and her chest struggled to pull in air due to the too-tight corset she was wearing. Why was she so upset? She didn't even know. She could never have Fersen, and he was such a good man, and, as she had found out, he saw beauty in her, even in a military uniform. But he'd never say it to her face, she told herself. She could have André, though, couldn't she? He had told her to her face that she was beautiful, but she had been wearing the dress. Did he think that she was beautiful without the dress, though?
She had never cared what other people thought before, but she found herself comparing the two men closest to her. One unavailable, the other very much available. One saw her beauty beneath the military jacket, one saw it when she wore a dress. One didn't recognize her with the dress on, the other did.
She blinked and sighed again, trying to wipe her eyes with the outer layer of her dress. Nothing made any sense. It was some kind of a game. A game of cards, perhaps, and she had pulled the joker. She had lost. Failed.
At what? Life?
She didn't know.
The sound of hooves pounding against the road caught her attention, and she didn't know what to do. If she had been wearing her uniform, she would not have thought twice about staying on the side of the road in plain view of everyone who happened by, but for some reason, wearing a dress made her feel insecure, and she wondered if she should hide.
It was too late, either way, and to her astonishment, the horse came to a stop right beside her. She looked up to see André's worried expression, and she almost sighed in relief.
"Oscar!" he exclaimed, one hand covering his heart. "The carriage came back without you… We were all worried sick!"
She shrugged a little bit to hide her despair. "I just wanted some time alone."
"It's not safe on the road at night."
She couldn't say anything. Would he have said that if she were wearing her military uniform? Would he have come after her if she had gone to the ball as Colonel Oscar François de Jarjayes, and not as a foreign countess? Was he only there with her now because she was wearing a dress?
Confusion clouded her mind, and she continued walking, not even bothering to lift her skirts up from the ground.
"Oscar," he said, kicking his horse forward to walk alongside her. "Do you want a ride home?"
She shook her head.
"You know I can't let you walk while I ride. It wouldn't be right."
She wanted to cry, but even though tears filled her eyes, she refused to let them fall. Crying over one man in one evening was more than enough, wasn't it? She had let Fersen go, and André was all that she had left. She couldn't let him go, too. Not André.
He was only being so nice to her because she was playing the part of a woman. She didn't deserve it, anyway. She made Nanny work far too hard to get a dress ready, she snuck around behind her father…and all for one dance. One. Only one dance. She wasn't very good at dancing like a woman, but at least she hadn't tripped.
She couldn't even finish the entire dance. Fersen's words both stung and relieved her. Her heart had wanted to break and she had left before it did so in front of everyone, in front of him.
She hardly noticed when André dismounted and led his horse behind him as he tried to peer at her face. "Oscar, why won't you talk to me?"
"I never said I wasn't speaking to you," she said, forcing her voice to remain even.
"But you won't accept a ride home. What did I do?" He almost sounded offended, maybe a little hurt.
She didn't answer him, couldn't answer him. He thought that she was beautiful, she told herself, and that's what he had done. He'd never say that about her on a normal day. Annoyed, she kicked at a stone lying in the road.
"I think I like you better without the dress," her childhood friend muttered, and it did not escape her hearing.
She stopped in her tracks, nearly making him run into her, and whirled around, wrapping her arms around him. She couldn't stop herself. I like myself better without the dress, too, she thought to herself, burying her face in his neck. I don't like feeling fake. I don't like trying to be someone I'm not.
"Let's go home," she said tiredly, and even though he was only offering her assistance in mounting his horse because she was wearing a dress, she accepted it, and sat uncomfortably in the saddle. "Dresses are impractical."
"You don't like wearing them?" he asked teasingly, swinging up behind her. "Well, I almost didn't believe Granny when she said that you would be wearing one. It's just not you, if that makes any sense."
She knew it wasn't her, and that was why she hated it so much. André had known her for years and years, and the Oscar he knew would never have agreed to wear a dress, let alone dance with men at a fancy ball.
"I know why you put that dress on," he said after a moment. His horse was headed home, and his words shattered the silence, startling her.
"You do?" She almost trembled, but she knew that he would notice it immediately, and forced her nerves to remain calm.
"Yes." She felt his arms brush her sides accidentally as he flicked the reins slightly, making Chevis go faster. "Oscar, if someone can't see you for you—on any old day, I mean—they're not worth going to so much trouble for."
She couldn't help but wonder if he was talking about himself in some way. She sighed for the millionth time that night, "You're right."
He was right, and she knew it. She had known it all along. But she couldn't help but hope that maybe, just maybe, Fersen would recognize her in that dress and…and… She didn't know.
How could she know?
It was love, the kind of love that made people idiots, and love was complicated, just like life. Like her life. Like the life of anyone who loved and was loved. Like anyone who wanted nothing more than to be loved.
"He didn't recognize me," she told him quietly, leaning back against him in defeat.
A slight squeeze, an awkward hug. It almost made her feel better. "I knew he wouldn't."
Only a fool would choose to play at the game of love, she chided herself, closing her eyes as she let André squeeze her a little tighter. And she was the biggest fool of all because despite the hope that she had felt deep down inside as she put the dress on, she had known, too.
Lame ending for the win?
The title comes from the song, It's a Heartache. I prefer the version done by Trick Pony, but it's also done by Bonnie Tyler. At any rate, love is a fool's game, isn't it?
And yes, André was talking about himself. It's my honest opinion, but if someone doesn't like you for you, doesn't love you for who you are, why would you want to change to get them to love you? Maybe I'll talk more about this in my journal.
Oscar's thoughts about André not seeing her beauty in the military uniform are her own thoughts. Obviously, he adores her, but she can't see that. Thank you for reading! Feedback is much appreciated.