By Laura Schiller
Based on: the Emily trilogy
Copyright: The heirs of L. M. Montgomery
Teddy Kent had locked himself into the Burnleys' spare room to escape the throng of wedding guests – voraciously curious, annoyingly sympathetic, or odiously smug according to their natures. He'd thought if he had to hear one more second cousin or aunt tell him either "Don't fret, dear, I'm sure they'll bring her back in no time" or else "I had a bad presentiment about this wedding from the start", patting his shoulder or squeezing his hand – he'd scream. Being alone with his own thoughts, however, was hardly better.
He might have seen it coming. He'd always known Ilse didn't really love him. But to bolt at the last minute, leaving him at the mercy of the clan! If she was going to jilt him, she might have done it sooner and in a less humiliating fashion. But of course, the flamboyant Ilse Burnley could never do anything without making a splash – common courtesy be hanged.
He paced, hands behind his back, wishing he dared to shout, curse or smash something as his...former fiancée was in the habit of doing when something vexed her. His mother's training in manners was too strong, however, and so all he could do was stride back and forth like a caged panther, muttering disjointed sentences that made no sense even to him.
Why couldn't the comfortable old friendship they had be enough for her? Why couldn't he be enough for her? He glanced at himself in the mirror: sleek black hair, dark blue eyes, a handsome, tanned face with an almost Mediterranean charm. His tuxedo fit perfectly, and the orchid in his buttonhole matched the ones he had bought (at an outrageously high price, too) for Ilse's wedding bouquet. He did not look like a man who would make a girl run from the altar.
Recognizing the train his thoughts were taking, he laughed at himself and turned away.
Perhaps it serves me right, he thought, Thinking no girl could resist me. As if Emily's snubs weren't enough!
Emily. Even now, he couldn't forget her – the haunting purple-grey of her eyes, the elfin charm of her pale, pointy-eared face, the way her smile began at the corners of her lips and flowed out to illuminate her entire face. Emily, his guiding star, whose friendship and belief was the rock his success as a painter was built on. She was the pen to his paintbrush, the words to his image, the reflection of his creative spark. And she had never even answered the love letter he wrote her, several years ago.
She was out there in the house right now in her harebell blue bridesmaid's dress, the only voice of reason amid the uproar of Ilse's disappearance. As brilliantly remote and unattainable as her family name, Starr.
After a few years of emotional pain he didn't care to think about, he had believed to finally find at least a decent substitute in Emily's best friend, who was pretty and entertaining even if she did fly into childish tantrums and had not an ounce of poetry in her soul. And now Ilse had rejected him as well.
What was wrong with him, that he was seemingly incapable of winning a girl's heart?
A knock on the door made him jump.
"It's me," said Dr. Burnley. "Open up, man. I've found Ilse."
Teddy opened the door and found himself looking rather awkwardly up at Ilse's father. What do you say to the man who almost became your father-in-law?
"Where is she?" he asked.
Dr. Burnley scowled, his eyebrows bristling like furry caterpillars. "In the hospital in Charlottetown, playing watchdog to Perry Miller and telling everyone she'll marry him and no one else."
It had never been the doctor's habit to mince words, but now his directness struck Teddy like a blow. He stumbled back and all his vaunted eloquence, which had earned him such success with the young ladies of Montreal, was reduced to one word.
"Just as I said," the doctor growled. "And after all the trouble I went to, organizing this three-ringed circus of a wedding. If you ask me, boy, you're well shot of her – shameless, heartless, ungrateful little hussy! If I never speak to the chit again, it'll be too soon!"
Ilse had certainly come by her temper honestly, Teddy remarked, listening to Dr. Burnley rant until he cooled down.
"Ah, I suppose it's partly my fault," he wound up. "I've spoiled her. It drives me wild to hear the old ladies say it, but it's true all the same. I'm sorry, Kent. I know you...thought a great deal of her."
Teddy, whose father had died before he was born, had been secretly hoping to find a sort of paternal guide in Dr. Burnley. Now, as one more disappointment added itself up to the pile weighing down his shoulders, he accepted the older man's pat on the shoulder without comment. He felt a little guilty too, letting Dr. Burnley think his set lips and stiff posture were due to a broken heart. He couldn't very well say: Quite frankly, sir, it's not that I'm devastated to lose your daughter. I'm actually rather relieved to be free again. It's only my pride and vanity that's hurting. For this was the truth.
"How long has her...involvement...with Perry been going on?" he asked, feeling curiously detached from the question. A loving bridegroom would, at this point, be boiling with jealousy – but Teddy found that all he wanted was the facts. If Ilse had been unfaithful, perhaps later he would find the time to be angry. Or perhaps not.
"Blessed if I know," said Dr. Burnley, his amber eyes beginning to smolder again at the thought of his daughter's alleged deceit.
The weeks of his engagement began to flash before Teddy's eyes. The awkward silences. Ilse's butterfly restlessness and over-the-top gaiety. Her moonlight car ride with Perry at one a.m. and too-casual dismissal of Teddy's concern. Her refusal to name Perry as best man, when the three of them had been friends since childhood. Her habit of fiddling with her sapphire engagement ring and scowling as if she had a spider on her finger. It all added up.
"I thought we were a good match," he said, speaking as if in a dream. "We were...comfortable together. I thought we could make a life together, but...I've been so blind."
"You can say that again." The yellow sparks faded out of Dr. Burnley's eyes, replaced by a certain weariness Teddy could not remember seeing before.
Suddenly the doctor reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a cold, blue, glittery something: the sapphire ring.
"Before I forget," he said gruffly. "She asked me to give this back."
Apparently even fearless Ilse did not relish the thought of going face-to-face with a jilted lover; not that Teddy had ever been much of a lover.
Sapphires for truth, he thought. I can't escape it. The truth is, I was wrong to ask Ilse to marry me. I should have known I wouldn't be enough for her... and she could never be enough for me.
The truth is...I can never love anyone but Emily, and I shouldn't even try.
"Thank you, sir," he said, pocketing the ring.