He sipped the dark wine blankly, as he did with most things and barely glanced around the noisy parlor room. A pool table lingered in the back, unattended, on any other day, he would have been there, even playing alone, but today, even emotion for that had been drained from him. It was a cold day for the spring, but the heat in the parlor was suffocating. Peals of laughter penetrated his ears, giving his headache strength. He was alone, seated by himself, amidst manly gamblers, ladies and lords. He had told Amelia he was going to the park for a walk, not a complete lie, since there was a park a mere 5 minutes walk from here, and though he had intended on a walk, the parlor and sweet scent of liquor won the battle, drawing him in.
He heard an unmistakably familiar laugh, but shook it out of his head, thinking it was a mere memory and hallucination. He had been thinking of her lately, and that day 7 months ago in which he had so wrongfully asked her to be with him, a day after her husband died! It had been ridiculous, he speculated now, since she could have come to him, if she wanted him, he had given her a letter. As much as he had told himself to stay away, he had not been able, drawn towards her and the passion which he imagined they could share.
He turned his head, lord only knows why and saw, for certainty that Rebecca Crawley was seated a mere 6 feet from him. He took another sip of his drink, watching her in her dark lavender gown and wondered how long till she saw him. She seemed happy, extremely and making up his mind, he threw a coin on the table, got up and made his way to her, one purpose in mind.
"May I a word, Ma'am?" he asked, sincerity in his voice and she looked up and matched his gaze.
"George!" her excitement was fake, that much he could tell. "How are you, where's Amelia?" the second question clearly the one she wanted to ask.
"Well, and she's at home, I'm here alone, can I have a word in private?" he asked, wondering if she would ever let him the chance to be alone with her again.
She saw the softness in his gaze and nodded, bidding a quick farewell to her party of friends with whom she had been joking and gambling with a few moments ago.
They sat a secluded table in the corner of the room and she watched him impatiently, not expecting in her wildest dreams, the words he spoke.
"I have to apologize for my behavior" he looked up from the table to meet her shocked eyes. "let me continue" he asked and she nodded, so he resumed. "It was so wrong of me, to think that you could drop everything, especially at the time that Rawdon, I just need to say sorry and for you to understand that It was a serious wrong doing on my part and I do hope you can still be friends with Amelia in spite of my dreadful actions"
There were moments of silence, as he watched her stare abstractly at the table and trace the wood's age in circles.
"I do, forgive you" she spoke, still not looking at him. "And I hope we can be friends too, I am lost without Rawdon" for once he knew she was bare, stripped, saying what she truly felt, no longer behind a mask. For one moment he saw the true her, her pain and anguish and it was unbearable, sending all the rushing feeling back to his heart. He had truly been sorry, wanted to move past it and had not thought about her in relation to his feelings for months, but now seeing her true self, in that instant, he fell deeper in his feelings than he had ever known, but now knew he could not say a word of it.
"I am" he choked on the words "your friend and here for you" he whispered and she looked up in his eyes and he saw that her eyes held tears, on the verge of falling.
"Perhaps you will come to tea then" she whispered and rose and he followed.
They walked the busy bustling streets to her residence and inside, he felt intoxicated, trapped, the familiar feelings, pulling him closer to an unachievable goal. It all came rushing back, passion and emotions he'd not felt for months. He was silent during their visit and when she rose, he thought she meant him to leave, but offered him another cup. He stood up abruptly. She was holding his full cup of tea and gazing at him curiously.
"I can't" he answered, forcing himself away from her, against the opposite wall.
"George, what's come over you?" she asked, her voice gentle, soothing, too soothing.
"I can't tell you, you'd hate me" he answered, cowering away, taking all his power not to grab her and pull her into his arms and press his lips against hers.
"I wouldn't" she answered. "we're friends now, I couldn't hate you"
"I thought I didn't feel it." he paused, barely able to go on. "well I didn't, for months, feel it"
"go on" she asked, curious to see what he would say and terrified of her affect on him.
"but being here, with you, seeing you cry, well almost cry, seeing you exposed, I-"
"what?" she asked, curious more than ever.
"I think I love you" he responded, whispering. The full tea cup in her hand crashed to the floor as the words resonated in the silence. The red tea glistened on the floor, a perfect puddle surrounding the broken China pieces. One of Becky's gifted collections, meaning nothing, and though there had been a crash, neither of them had heard it, silence filling the air, pulling air from them, suffocating silence. She didn't want to ask, to hear it again. She couldn't and yet part of her wanted to hear it again, so long since she had heard it.
He couldn't look up at her, he couldn't grasp what he had just said. They both stared at the floor in silence.
"I don't know what I'm saying" he said to break the silence, but as the words left him, he realized their lie. "I'm sorry" he whispered, unable to look at her.
"what?" the suffocating silence broken by Becky's uneasy question.
"I didn't know that" he responded "until I said it, I'm sorry, I should go, my deepest apologies Ma'am" She nodded vaguely, still staring at the floor. He was at the door when she spoke.
"your certain of your affections?" she asked, still gazing at the puddle.
"Yes" he choked out the word
"I'll stay with her, obviously, there is no way that you and I-" he stopped, unable to realize what he was saying.
"She loves you" It was a statement from her lips.
"are you mad?" he asked, cautious, as if scared to wake a sleeping lion.
"I don't know"
"I should go"
He left, closing the door softly and bounding down the stairs so quickly that his steps matched his racing heart. He ran as fast as he could, past shops, homes and parks until he got to a small alley, he fell to his knees and caught his breath.
Inside the home she was trying not to think of it. How could she? Could she say that she was curious? Not that she loved him but wanted him, wanted to experience it? No, she had told herself, this is one thing you can never had, and yet she tried not to think of the pain he most probably felt, that she had devised in rejecting him. But had she rejected him? She hadn't, he had left. And yet, scared and guilty as she felt, she hadn't made a move to accept him, had not put him out of his misery though she had certainly wanted to. If he had touched her, he may have still been here now, though without his jacket, or shirt, or shoes....she stopped herself, as she picked up the remains of the cup. She shook her head and tried to think only of Amelia, but her thoughts could not help returning to his eyes as the words repeated in her head, time and time again, never giving her a moments silence or rest.
The puddle on the side of the road that now had washed the dirt onto George's shoe was unmoved, just glistening in it's foreboding darkness. It reminded him of the spilt tea and broken cup, broken shards of his heart, spread on the world and she just stared! Just stared at his broken heart! He couldn't go home, just couldn't face Amelia after his words had left him, after he'd realized the real reasons behind his fantasies and yearnings of Becky. His imaginings had left him bare and now he felt as if the air of the world had been sucked up by the silence that had followed his words.
He felt outraged, at himself more than anything. How could he have let this happen? He had apologized! He'd felt nothing for months! And now a confession of love? What was wrong with him! He reviewed his thoughts, really thought about them and though he told himself and Dobbin that he hadn't thought about her, he knew these were lies, perhaps he had not purposely thought of her, but had been reminded, small things. Traces of red fabric, a secret note, the smell of summer, a deep apple scent. And his dreams, if he looked at them clearly, held nothing but images of her, glimpses of their life together.
As he reviewed the events that had just transpired in his mind, he made up his conclusion, a frightening one at that, to go back and see her. She had not asked him to leave, but just stood there. He would go and resolve this, he was not one to sulk! She would answer him! They would talk about it and resolve the issue, perhaps parting forever, though he certainly hoped that was not the case.
The knocking awoke Becky.
"Rawdon, 5 more minutes!" she called, still in her dream. There was another knock "I swear Rawdon, your incessant waking shall be the death of me-"
"ma'am?" the maid had let herself in, and listened to Becky's cries.
"what?" Becky snapped, as her dream Rawdon vanished and she came into reality.
"Mr. Osborne to see you" she said and Becky nodded.
"Let him in" Becky called. She was still in last night's clothes. Not remembering when she had gone to sleep. She had paced, cleaned and cried much last night after George left and must've fallen asleep in her same attire as the night before. He walked in briskly and immediately regretted his decision to come see her now. She sat up and made her bed, then sitting on it, addressed him.
"George" said she.
"Ms. Sharpe, uh, Crawley" He bowed uncomfortably.
"What is the purpose of your visit?" asked she, rising from her bed, to pass towards him, keeping enough distance from him.
"to speak to you and perhaps borrow a book from your library?"
"whatever you enjoy to bide the time away with"
They passed the large, windowed living room on their way to the library. She turned, stopping him in his tracks, half way through the room.
"And what do you wish to speak of me about?" asked she and in response, he took her wrist in his hand's grip and pulled himself closer to her, drawing the gap between them smaller. She pulled her hand away and walked past him, back towards the bedroom, before she reached the door, she stopped and turned for he had spoken 4 words that had stopped her so.
"I need you Becky" he whispered
He came to her, as her back rested on the wall and gently pinning her to it, he looked into her eyes, as if asking her permission. He took her hand in his again and kissed it gently, ever so softly, watching her expression, his own filled with hope. She made no reaction, but no opposition neither. He kissed the palm of her hand now, and then her wrist, then a trail of light kisses along her forearm, before letting her take it back to her side.
"I should not have left last night" he whispered, putting the back of his hand to her cheek, pressing it gently, he traced the back of a few fingers down her jawline, her neck. He pulled his hand away, slowly, tracing parallel to her shoulder, inches above the line of her dress.
"George....." her silent whisper trailed off into nothingness. She met his eyes, and he watched her, as if waiting for an opposition.
"We can't" whispered she, though she knew that she would not oppose his touch, now. There was no going back. He rested his hand on her waist and with his other, pulled his fingers through her loose, wavy strawberry hair that hung in front of her ear, falling to her waist. He moved in closer, and his greedy lips touched against the skin of her smooth, white neck. The sun hit her face now, basking her in a beautiful golden light. He moved away slowly, scared with his every move, he looked into her eyes, for what seemed to be an eternity. He looked from her lips to her eyes again and again, desperate to lock his lips with hers, but fear grew inside him and he kissed her soft cheek instead, lingering his lips on her soft, rosy cheek. Her big eyes, eager, though he knew it not, watched his every move. It was if they had never been touched before, never touched anyone before, and true, though it was their first ever action save for a chaste handshake or a kiss on the hand, their fear was if the world was changing with their actions, and perhaps it was.
"I need you" he heard himself whisper, though he could barely register his actions. Again, he looked to her eyes, her big, eager awaiting eyes and then down to her lips. Moments past, his gaze shifting slowly between her beautiful eyes and ripe, red lips. He could not read her emotions from her eyes, and only continued since she had not opposed him thus far, he tried desperately to send a message with his eyes, looking into her eyes and then to her lips. He leaned in, so slowly, a tock clicking moments away as he leaned closer and closer till he could taste her breath, centimeters away from her lips. He didn't remember moving, and was sure she had not either, but finally, their lips met. Sweet apple flavor he tasted and he held on, only for a moment and pulled away only slightly to study her face. He wanted to say her name, but the words would not present themselves. Her eyes were closed now, having closed during their soft kiss. She whispered his name softly as her eyes fluttered open to meet his gaze. He didn't dare move, still studying her reaction. She surprised him, by placing her hands on his shoulders, moving her hand down to his lapels. Startling him, she pulled him quickly and forcefully by the lapels, so that their lips met in a searingly passionate kiss. His tongue forced way into her mouth, playing with hers and exploring her touch. She intertwined his fingers in his hair, pulling him even deeper in their embrace. He was pinning her against the wall now, furious with passion as he still kissed her strongly.
What seemed to be hours later, they pulled away, breathless to look at each other. His lips curled into a genuinely happy smile and he brought his head down, kissing her lightly on the neck and then giving her a light kiss on her bare shoulder. Her arms still wrapped around his neck, she was finally able to smile as well.
From across the street, tear filled eyes stared across at Becky and George's embrace, as all had been seen through the giantess living room window.