There You Were
I do think back occasionally with wonder. I wonder how many things I would have done differently. Would I have avoided meeting you all together?... Or would I have arranged it so that you never knew the circumstances which would eventually force us apart? I do not know, Jane. I do not know if I would have done the honorable thing and left you in peace, or if I would have kidnapped you in your sleep and married you at the first available opportunity. After all this time, I still am unable to piece together a life for us that would have worked out. Perhaps things happened the way they happened because they could have happened no other way. I... do not know.
I only know that I loved you. I have loved you all my life.
I stood in front of the second floor window at the Ghresham ball for half an hour awaiting your arrival. Carriages and people came and went, and still I stood. I am not sure what I must have looked like standing there and peering out through the dark pleated drapes - silent and still. I only knew I did not want to miss you. This was my last night... our last night. Even if I was to never tell you of my feelings, seeing you and being near you was all I wanted.
There, another carriage... and yet another sigh, for no - it did not carry you.
But wait, could that be...? No. Not nearly as beautiful.
But there, that carriage must have been yours... No? Just how late were you going to be?
"How long do you plan on standing here?" Lucy.
"As long as it takes, my love." I answered her blandly without looking at her. There was a long enough pause before she spoke again to make me think she had walked away, but she had not.
"I understand what you did." She said, surprising me slightly by still being there. I took a deep breath and looked at her only briefly before returning my gaze to the window.
"Oh yes?" I asked. "Do enlighten me."
"You tricked me."
I nodded shortly, grimacing as though I'd been caught at something shameful.
"Please do not think ill of me for it, Lucy. I only meant to show you what you would not see for yourself."
She shrugged slightly, waving her fan around unconsciously.
"I suppose I should thank you then. For it is obvious that I do not love you... I believe I never did." She paused. She did not seem angry with me or spiteful, she was only a young girl telling me the truth of her emotions. "Is that not funny?"
"Shall you dance with me tonight?" She asked cheerfully, still wanting to show me off I gather.
"Lucy, how very forward of you."
"How can I possibly be forward with a man who was just last night willing to run away with me?" She asked playfully. I do confess I found that to be quite funny and found myself thinking that Lucy was more clever and interesting than people around her might have been predisposed to believe.
"True enough." I responded, then finally did meet her eyes as I bowed fully to her. "Of course I shall dance with you. It would be an honor."
She smiled, curtseyed and was gone.
If she had left any later than that, I might have missed you, my dear... for as soon as I turned back to the window - there you were. The footman helped you down from the carriage. I thought I would be able to observe the whole of your walk in to the house but you looked almost immediately up at me... it was almost as though you had known I was going to be there. I stepped out of sight before you could have been sure it was me and walked away from the window. My heart beat rapidly as I hid myself from view. My sudden nervousness was due in large part to one fact I had forgotten; you had not been exactly pleased with me the last time we parted ways. Would you still be cross with me? Would you ignore me?
I watched you ascend the staircase from a concealed vantage point - realizing even as I did it that I was behaving strangely. Even for me. I had never before stalked around in the shadows so that I might catch a candid glimpse of someone. The hold you had of me was... frightening.
I followed you in to the ball room and observed as you visually swept the room for... I did not know what. Or whom. For a short moment I allowed myself to think it was me for whom you searched, but told myself it could not have been. Why would you want me? I was nothing like you. I offended your sense of propriety and honor - had done nothing to raise your opinion of me at all. You could have had any single man in the room and so now I was only one of many. I had not remembered you out of a crowd, so why would you choose me out of one?
But still... you did seem to be seeking something hidden to you. You looked and looked, moving from one area to another - peering past face after face. You did not see me. Perhaps...
But then there was Wisley. You saw him and stopped. My heart tightened as I watched him bow, you curtsey - as you began to dance. Had you been searching for him all the while? Wisley? Had his money and stature finally managed to sway you? Did you love him for all the ways he was different from me? I nearly hated you just then, imagining that you could be bought so easily - for the Jane I thought I knew had no price. She was above such pettiness. Had I been wrong about you?
I continued to watch.
No. No, you had not been searching for him... for I could see, even as you tried to conceal it from your dull dance partner, that you were not interested in him in the least. That was when I knew. It was me. I knew it was me.
I asked, perhaps offending Lucy in doing so, the nearest idle husband seeker to dance and we joined the line without you noticing... and a few moments later we were face to face, you and I. I had not to wonder if I had been wrong in my earlier assumption for the look of surprise on your face was confirmation enough... and I had to smile. You looked, not embarrassed, but... happy. No, you were not upset with me at all. We danced and I held your hand, touched your back, could scarcely take my eyes away from you. Though, every instance I looked to you, you were looking to me as well. If only we could have just gone on that way all night, no... for the rest of my life. You were mine and I was yours and we were together. Your soft hand in mine, your beautiful brown gaze upon me.
I loved you so much it hurts. Yes, even now... hurts.
When the dance was ended and I bowed to my partner, I allowed myself a sidelong glance at you. I was awarded with your eyes meeting mine and a slight smile upon your lips. I looked away from you and back to the woman in front of me. Ignoring the screaming impulse I had to grab you and ruin your reputation forever, I smiled and tried to push my feelings for you away. That dance was all we would have - all we could have. I was leaving and I would not torture myself with you all night.
Yet, somehow, we came to stand almost back to back. Had it been accident or subconscious design? Had we both unwittingly maneuvered our circles nearer to one another? I tried to ignore your body so close to mine, but could not... and ended up muttering something about your dancing. Oh, yes. How could I forget? My words had sent you fleeing from the ball room. Passion. You danced with passion - a passion, might I add, that I had not noted from our previous foray together. I can not remember if you laughed, but I do know you thought the idea of a woman demonstrating passion to be of little point. A woman need not demonstrate passion to catch a husband... a sensible woman would not. That was what you said. No, not a husband. Not in the case of many of your peers, I'm afraid. Neither passion nor love was very commonplace in marriage.
I looked at Wisley, knowing you meant him. What a dull husband he would make... No, I supposed you would not demonstrate passion to catch a man such as him. But a man such as me. A lover, Jane...
No, my intention had not been to hurt you. My words had not meant much - just simple flirtation, really (If I had said what I had truly wanted to say, I might have scandalized you beyond repair). Even so, you excused yourself from your company. I cursed silently at myself for not being more sensitive to what I was saying - and then took several moments to decide between staying where I was and going after you. I should have stayed. Everyone would have seen you flee, and would know I was following you. There was enough talk surrounding us by then, did we really need any more? I followed you anyway. What did their talk matter to me? I would be gone in less than a day and I had hurt you. How could I not follow?
I made it to the top of the stairs just in time to see you brush John Warren aside. Good on you, Jane. I dare say you could have been a bit more rude... but you did not know what kind of low person he was then. Neither did I. When I saw how you passed him over, I realized you might well do the same to me if I approached you. Perhaps you needed to be alone. John looked up at me and I turned around, putting on my best show of not caring what it was that ailed you. I did have some inclination that my behavior might get related back to your father by way of John's mouth, and that I did care about. I would not have your father knowing I chased after you in a most undignified fashion for us both.
I stepped back in to the ballroom and Lucy was upon me in an instant.
"Tom, are you enjoying the ball?" She asked. I smiled tiredly. I was fast forgetting that I had so recently thought the child to be clever or interesting.
"No." I decided to tell her the truth.
"No?" She asked - apparently not having expected anything but, yes of course. I looked at her and bowed for what felt like the hundredth time that night. The millionth time in my life.
"But I suppose a dance with you would remedy that." I continued. She smiled widely, and I accompanied her to the dance floor as I had promised I would... dancing, bowing, holding her sweaty young hand. All the while I thought of you, and I grew sad. This was to be my life, wasn't it? Attending balls I did not wish to be at, dancing with women who I did not wish to dance with; women who were not you. A life full of polite and compulsory behavior. Devoid of happiness. I had never known myself to have such melancholy thoughts or emotions and it was quite disturbing.
When the dance was over, I made sure to acquire myself the nearest glass of wine... and just as the glass was in my hand, I caught sight of you, along side Lady Gresham - walking past the east entrance of the ballroom. I was at the balustrade by the time you were speeding down the stairs again, Lady Gresham having already parted ways with you. I watched you this time without any intention of going after you at all, instead wondering what it was she had wanted with you... and why you appeared to be so upset. My aunt and her daughter solved the mystery for me almost right away.
She - my aunt - called Wisley a good opportunity for you. I made a quiet noise of contempt... I was tired of such talk. As though marriage was all politics. It was not just the idea of a person spending their life with someone they did not love, it was the idea of a person selling their self. Perhaps that it what you meant when you spoke of being bought at the fair. Blatant prostitution with a prettier name.
At least Wisley had not proposed, of that I was grateful... until Lucy solved the rest of the puzzle for me. She believed you should have accepted Wisley at once. I looked at her suddenly. She seemed to realize right away by my reaction and the reaction of her mother that she had said something that was not supposed to be said. She had not understood why that news was to be kept from me... but my aunt understood. I wanted you, she knew. I wanted you and was standing in the way of you and a good marriage. She knew that I could not hope to propose without my uncle's consent and, close as she was to you, most likely wished to protect you from disappointment. She dragged Lucy away, but the damage had been done. Now I knew. I clenched my jaw and dropped my glass, not caring about the mess of wine and shattered crystal, and took to the stairs in search of you.
Why? Why had you not told me? We were friends, were we not? You loved me, did you not? You must have. God, you must have. I could not have imagined all that lay between us.
I stopped outside and reigned in my breathing, my hand over my heart. I was making a fool of myself, and for what? You had always been meant for Wisley. He was a good opportunity for you and I was not. He had the money to marry you and to keep you, and I did not. No one wanted us to be together... except for me, and it was not usual for me to get what I wanted. Not really.
After a minute or so, I regained my composure and continued to look for you.
When I was sixteen years old, still living in Ireland, there was a girl. Milky white skin, cheeks always flushed red... long auburn hair that she never seemed to wear up. Her name was Abigail and she was beautiful. Headstrong, opinionated, stubborn - everything a proper lady of her position should not have been, but these traits were exactly what attracted me to her. Hers were the first lips to ever touch mine, the first hands to ever caress my skin. My first lover. I was young and thought myself to be in love.
I proposed to her in the rain, underneath a tree. I promised her the world and more, and she accepted. She threw her arms around me and placed kiss upon kiss on my cheeks. I smiled, trying to catch her mouth with mine. She laughed and cried and swore her love to me. To the best of my recollection I do not believe I ever told her I loved her. I am uncertain of why this was, but the words were never said. I showed her in other ways, with my actions. With my body. We knew it was wrong to indulge in each other the way we did but youth knows little of anything but its own blindingly strong emotions... and so we made love under that tree, shivering in the cold.
I walked her home later that day. I remember that I kissed each of her eyes in turn, softly... tenderly. It was the last time I would touch her. There, in her garden, was the last time we would see each other. I was never quite sure of what had taken place, but Abigail had been sent away shortly after I helped her home. I do not believe a single soul had ever known of our short-lived engagement, but I do believe her being sent away was a result of the amount of time she had spent with me. Had I been a more suitable match from a better family, we would have been married. While I can look back on the incident now and know I did not love her, that I did not know enough of myself much less of anything else to engage in such a relationship - it did leave me heart broken at the the time. It changed me irrevocably and, though I would leave for London the next year and experience much more that would shape me in to the man I was to become and be when you and I first met - it was then and not in law school that I learned what I knew of justice.
It was then that I learned the cruel nature of the world and my place in it.
At length I found you standing at a fountain. It was dark, but I was sure it was you. I approached you slowly, swearing to myself that I would not give away my emotions. Neither my pain nor my anger.
Do you remember? I told you I had just learned of Mr. Wisley's proposal, I congratulated you - hating you, hating myself. You threw my own words back at me... was there an alternative for an educated young woman of small fortune? Were you trying to goad me? I spoke next with words of disbelief, though my calmness belied the raging emotion my face tried to conceal. How? How could you consider marrying Wisley? Even with all the familial pressure? Even with Lady Gresham and her particular talent at forcing what she wanted? Even with all his money and everything he could give you? You, marry without love. I asked you, you of all people I said, how could you throw the rest of your life away by marrying a man whom you did not love? What I really meant was, how could you do this to me?
Ah, but there was no use for you in considering the alternative... because I was leaving the next day. Somehow you knew.
Who told you, I wondered vaguely. I had not wanted you to know. Though I did not really think about it. I only looked at you, hoping your words were, but at at the same time hoping they were not, an admission of your feelings for me. Was it true? Was I your alternative? You looked at me, sadness in your eyes - and for the first time I was aware that I was not the only one suffering from my situation.
Then you leaned in, Jane. You leaned in to me and I did not know what to do. I had kissed so many other women - had all the experience in the world, the experience I had teased you for not having so many times. And now. Now... I felt like a boy who knew nothing of anything. I was scared, and I hesitated. Could I let this happen? For if I did, there would be no going back for me. You would know my feelings and I would have you, Jane. I did not know and nor did I care how. You would be mine, for I could not bare anything otherwise.
Our lips met and I felt my body dissolve under the wave of emotion that assaulted every one of my senses. I went hot and cold with each gentle caress of your tongue - so tentative, so sweet. If ever there was any small doubt in my mind of my love for you, this kiss shattered it beyond all recognition. I loved you - indeed it was hard for me to conceive of a time that I did not love you. Somehow I always had. My world was nothing but you...
So when you pulled away and asked if you had done that well I had not even to think a beat before assuring you that you had. Very well. It had been a defining moment of my life. I held my hand against your neck lightly, suddenly so happy - my mood completely having changed. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. This was why people wanted to fall in love. For all the pain it could cause, there was no matching it in the elation it could cause also. You said you had just wanted to kiss well at least once and I smiled at the endearing sentiment. Jane, I planned on kissing you again and again, not just once. I might have said so, but we were interrupted by some passers by. I pulled you away quickly without thinking, not wanting the moment to end. Beneath the shadowed safety of a tree I hid us under I professed my feelings to you. It seemed so natural to finally tell you that I belonged to you, that everything a part of me was yours. I had nothing to my name and could not hope to marry you until it was settled away with my uncle, but you had to know. Even though I was worth nothing...
Though you did not seem to think so. With a smile you asked me to let you decide my worth, and I knew you thought me worth more than I deserved you to think. Oh god, you felt for me what I felt for you. I could have died then a there a happy man.
The group of people nearby grew closer and I pulled you away yet again. I asked what we would do for I was at a loss. Again, you repeated my own words to me... What we must. We would do what we must. Not what we desired. You seemed so hopeful, but I could not dare to hope just yet. Doing what we must implied speaking with your father, speaking with my uncle. Most likely my uncle first. It would be difficult and we would have to be careful in the way we approached the matter. You took my hands in yours and kissed them, the act was so tender and so... loving.
I smiled and took your chin in my fingers, wanting nothing more than for our lips to meet once again. You appeared shy - nervous - this time, for it was me and not you who had the confidence to pursue a kiss now.
I pressed my mouth to yours and your arms went around my neck almost right away. I was pleased by how comfortable you were showing yourself to be with me. You were perfect and I would not have guessed that you had never done this before. As I wrapped my arms around your back pulling you tightly in to me, you let out just the slightest sound of pleasure and then pulled away. It was a good thing that you did so because that noise was enough to sending my head spinning with lust and had we kept on the way we were, I am not sure that I would have been able to stop. I ducked my head attempting to meet your downcast eyes, but I could tell from your flushed cheeks and embarrassed smile that there would be no more kissing of that nature for the night. I grinned and held your chin so that you would look at me. You held my hand against your cheek.
The voices grew nearer to us still and I dropped my hand, stepping back from you. A few moments of silence between us were enough to allow reality to set in. I was still leaving the next day. This night would be the last we saw of each other for quite some time.
"I will write to you." I swore, wanting to reach out but too aware that we could be spotted. You nodded, your eyes wet - though you did smile.
"A letter seems such small consolation when I will not see you or..." You did not seem to have the words, which struck me as odd. You always had the words. I was elated to see that you would miss me.
"Can I hope that you will write to me?" I asked.
"You need not hope, for you should know that I will write to you." You responded, and my heart felt so full I feared it would burst. I looked around quickly and risked taking your hands once again.
"I will work out a plan, I promise, and I will marry you, Jane. If you'll have me." The words came from my mouth in a nervous jumble, much the same as my confession of belonging to you had come not even five minutes before. You squeezed my hands in yours and the expression of joy upon your features made me so happy.
"I thought you could not yet offer marriage." You said. I laughed.
"Indeed, I can not." I responded taking one of your hands and pressing it against my chest with both of mine. "But I can offer you my heart as a promise that I will ask for your hand one day, properly."
"Then accept my heart as a promise that I will give you my hand on that wonderful day when you are able to request it."
"I accept what is so kindly given to me." I kissed you firmly upon the lips without thinking, and then pulled away from you completely. I bowed, and you curtseyed. "Miss Austen."
"Mr. Lefroy." You responded. I could stay out there with you no longer, for your family and mine had no doubt noticed by now that you and I both were absent from the ball. I turned to go, feeling my heart sink immediately - I was not ready to leave you. I prayed that this would be different from my previous ill fated attempt at love. It had been painful to learn that Abigail was gone - that we had been so easily separated... but by the time I had made my move to London, I could no longer remember the exact color of her eyes or even the shape of her face. I had recovered almost completely. Had something happened and I was to be parted from you, it would have destroyed me.
No, I was not ready to leave you.
Though leave you I did - and I returned to the party alone. It had been unspoken between us, but we both knew that returning together would not have been wise. I took my place amongst a circle of acquaintances and tried to keep up in dull conversation, but my thoughts were hopelessly and understandably elsewhere. I took great pleasure, however, in knowing what we had shared outside... what only you and I knew. You were mine and I was yours and we were in love, and no one could take that away from us. I watched you from across the room, as you moved gracefully from circle to circle. As you chatted with some friends. As you danced with Wisley once more.
I narrowed my eyes, unable to keep down the sudden flare of jealousy that made my face go hot. I do believe I hated him.
"What about you, Mr. Lefroy?" Someone or other had said. I looked at him and at the other three faces whose eyes rested on me awaiting an answer abruptly, having not the foggiest idea of what I had just been asked. I cleared my throat.
"Er... I suppose I... would have to say, I have never been one for that sort of thing myself."
And then, dear Jane, they - all of them - stared at me silently. Either my answer had been offensive or it just did not relate to the question. I cleared my throat again and took a sip from the new glass of wine I held in my hand.
"Yes, well." The man who had questioned me said, looking rather confused.
I paused, and then... to hell with it.
"I apologize, I have no clue as to what you were saying. My attentions were otherwise preoccupied." I responded truthfully with a smile, there was more silence... and after a moment I bowed and walked away. Managing to meet your eyes as I made my way back to the refreshments, I grimaced amusedly. You furrowed your forehead in question, but did not approach me. Even as every part of my body ached for you, I knew the importance of keeping our distance.
"I've noticed a bit of flirtation between you and the Austen girl." George Lefroy commented as he came to stand beside me. I smiled.
"There are only so many walks a man can take before he gets bored and searches for something else to keep himself occupied." I replied as I smiled and bowed at a pretty young woman who walked passed me, she smiled shyly in return and curtseyed in response. A moment later I looked at George with an ironic smirk.
"I see." He said. "Well, take care. She is all but promised to Mr. Wisley. Mother and father believe that they will be married in the fall."
I had to grit my teeth to keep from saying what I wanted to say. Why did he, did any of them, think they could go around planning your life for you? Wisley had proposed so therefore you were to be married. No one seemed to take in to account that you had your own mind with your own thoughts.
"She has accepted him then?" I asked a bit shortly, knowing it gave me away slightly - but I could not help it. Now that you were really and truly mine, I was finding it very difficult to keep it to myself. You loved me, not Wisley.
"Well, I have not heard of her accepting quite yet but I am certain--"
"I wish them both very happy." I interrupted him. "You need not warn me, George, for to-morrow I will be gone. What I do today is of little consequence."
"But you have more than yourself to consider, cousin."
"Let me explain something to you, cousin. I have had this conversation already, and allow me to lay your fears to rest, for I have no intention of hurting Miss Austen or--"
"Miss Austen?" He asked, confused.
"Yes, what were you--"
"Tom, I speak to you of my sister." He said. I was silent. "Surely you must have noticed how fond of you she has come to be. Have you not thought of how your frivolous flirtation with other women effects her?"
Well, this was funny. What was it with Hampshire men and their unyielding need to protect their sisters from me? I all but laughed as I pat my cousin on the shoulder.
"George, you are a good and caring brother, but do not worry about your sister. She will forget about me the moment I am gone." I took another drink from my glass. "Lucy and I have an understanding."
"An understanding?" He asked. "What sort of understanding?"
"The sort of understanding where I threatened to run away with her to scare her out of her feelings for me." I answered. I am not sure what I had expected him to say or do in response to that, but he laughed a bit.
"And what would you have done if she said she would go with you?"
"Well let us both thank God that is not the course she chose to take." I took yet another drink from my glass. George nodded.
"You do not care much for people other than yourself, do you?" He asked. I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued. "Forgive me, cousin, for being so blunt... but your actions seem often to stand great chance of hurting some poor girl irreparably." He looked briefly to you who did not notice, then back at me. "And this time I do not just speak of my sister."
I looked down and he walked away. Taking a deep breath I looked at you once more - your smiling face looked to me as well... though the smile slowly went from your face as you met my eyes. I tried to smile for you, but do not know how well I pulled it off. I should have been a strong enough man to leave you be - to flee from Hampshire and never see you again. I knew what lay ahead of us and how difficult it could prove to be. If my uncle denied his consent I knew it was not just my own heart which stood to be crushed.
But I had you finally... how could I give you up?
I found Henry outside with Eliza, they seemed just to be coming back to rejoin the party from wherever they had just been.
"Henry." I said, addressing him informally - not bothering with a bow. Eliza looked at him as though she knew something was wrong.
"I'll follow you." Henry said to her, gesturing that she go on without him. She nodded, and was gone. He looked at me, his face showing obvious concern. "What is it?" He asked.
"I must ask of you a favor." I responded, taking care to keep my voice down.
"What sort of favor?"
I took a very deep breath and bit down on my teeth.
"Your sister has given me her consent to write to her." I started. "But I am worried that my letters may not reach her, you understand."
Your brother sighed.
"Yes, I believe I do."
"I know what liberty I am taking by asking this of you, Henry, but I must. If I address my letters to you, will you see to it that they make their way to Jane?"
"Tom, I must ask you... what are your intentions toward my sister? Will you write to her for a week, two perhaps, and then forget her once you settle back in to your city life? If so, then I can not agree to this. I will not see her hurt."
"I love her." I answered honestly, knowing that if he was to help us he would have to know the whole truth. "My intentions toward her are honorable, I assure you."
Henry was silent for a moment.
"Do you intend on asking her to marry you?"
"Well, I suppose I already have in a way..."
"What?" He asked in an outraged whisper. "How does one ask a lady to marry him in a way?"
"I have promised myself to her. I..." I paused and took a short breath in and then out. "I can not pretend that there are no impediments to a marriage between us, but I will devise someway. If I somehow find a way to introduce her to my uncle - if he only knew her without knowing the circumstances..."
"And if you can not? What then? What will happen to Jane?"
I looked down and clenched my eyes shut, not wanting to imagine what would become of either you or me if my uncle denied his consent. I looked up and met your brother's eyes.
"I would never injure her - it would be the same as injuring myself." I said. " Please... please do this for us."
After a moment... Henry nodded, a small smile spreading slowly across his face. He put his hand on my shoulder.
"I must say I did not expect this." He laughed a little. "But I will help you in any way that I am able."
I smiled, fighting to hold back tears of relief and joy. I shook his hand.
"I am indebted to you."
"Oh, just knowing I was right all along is enough."
He clasped me on the shoulder once more before walking away, laughing as he did so. It was a comforting feeling, knowing he was happy for us - that he would help us. We were not alone, Jane.
"Henry." I said, turning to him. He stopped and looked at me, a smile still on his face. "Will you do one more thing for me?"
I walked the path up to your door quietly, hoping that you would be there awaiting my arrival - hoping that Henry had given you my message. He had hesitantly agreed, but seemed weary of the trouble we could stir up if we were to be caught. It was late and this was a risk, but I had to see you. I would call the next day before I left, but it would be a quick and formal farewell. I could not allow that to be how we said goodbye. So as I approached your door, I was worried that you would not be there - that Henry would have judged the risk too great. Or perhaps he told you of my plans to come to you that night, and you would choose not to see me. What if you thought it was all a mistake? What if you regreted everything?
I stood in front of your home, quiet as the grave. You were not there.
Sighing, I looked up at your window and then I looked down. This had not been a good idea. What had I been thinking? Of course you would not be there. What if your mother or father caught me there with you? The scandal it would cause! Your reputation would be lost completely. It had been wrong of me even to suggest a meeting in the dead of night - and at your home of all places.
I turned and prepared to go.
But there was a rustling behind me.
I turned abruptly and smiled. There you were - ushered by your brother, silhouetted in the moonlight, a wrapper pulled tightly across your chest, your hair spilling in cascades over your shoulders. I had never seen it down before that moment. You nearly took my breath away.
"... Yes, but I do not understand what I am doing outside in my nightgown--" You stopped suddenly as you caught sight of me, and suddenly you were beaming. "Tom?"
"Jane." I said, and closed the distance between us immediately. My arms were around you and my lips upon yours before another word was spoken. Again, I could feel myself dissolve - waves of hot and cold breaking over me as you touched your tongue to mine.
"Lefroy." You brother whispered contemptibly. I stepped away from you, clearing my throat, realizing what I had just done. You put your hand to your mouth - hiding an embarrassed smile. "Good God, man. Have the decency to wait until I've gone inside."
"How long do we have?" I asked.
"I will keep look out but I would not suggest more than a few minutes." He shook his head, letting out a breath. "I do not know how I let you talk me in to this."
I gave him a small appreciative smile, he nodded shortly as well - looked to you for a moment, and then turned back to the house - leaving you and I alone. I turned to face you and took your hands - pulling you further in to the garden and away from the house, further in to the darkness, where we would be safe.
"Why did you not tell me you were going to do this?"
"I wanted to surprise you... And if I was unable to make it here, I did not want to leave you disappointed." I paused, a small nervous laugh. "You must think me mad."
"Yes, but it is a magnificent madness." You responded, I smiled and kissed you again - deeply and passionately. It took all the restraint I had to keep myself from pushing you against a tree and pulling your nightgown up over your hips. I had never wanted a woman the way I wanted you, but I was not going to trample over your innocence. Not just yet. There would be plenty of time for that when we were married.
Would it not have been glorious, my love?
"Must you leave, Tom?" You asked, pulling away - resting your head on my chest.
"Yes, I must." I said, holding your chin so that you looked in to my eyes. "I must begin our work of convincing the judge. I will send word of my progress to Henry. He has promised to help us."
"Yes, I know." You said. "And do you promise not to forget me?"
I swept a curl from your forehead.
"You have an even greater imagination than I thought if you can ever conceive of the possibility that I would ever forget you."
You embraced me tightly.
"I can not believe that you are here. Is this really happening?" You asked. Closing my eyes, I held you to me. "Now that we are together, how could we ever part?" Sadness enveloped your words - breaking my heart.
"We will be together again." I whispered in to your hair. "If all goes well, we will be together always." I withdrew from you a bit to look you in the face. "And I can think of no reason why all should not go well."
It was a lie, you understand. There were plenty of reasons, reasons in excess, why all may not have gone well. Please know, Jane, that my uncle was quite capable of great kindness and generosity. His actions, though they may have at times seemed cold hearted or cruel, were justified always at least to the extent that they were done with my best interests at heart. It was upon him whom I depended because he allowed it. He did care for me... but this was precisely the trouble. What I wanted and what he thought to be best for me may not have been the same - and he was, unfortunately, exceedingly unpredictable.
I would not voice my worries to you just then... I could not bring myself to do it.
"I wrote to my sister." You whispered. "I explained that the day has come that I would flirt my last with you. I wrote that tears flowed from my eyes at the melancholy idea..." You shook your head, looking down.
"They did." You said, then looked back up at me - your eyes bright with pain and tears. "They do."
I felt the sting of tears behind my own eyes as I cupped your face... I pressed my lips to yours gently and enveloped you in my arms. I was not sure how I was ever going to be able to let you go.
"Why do I fear that I will never see you again?" You asked.
"You need not--"
"Jane!" Came a harsh whisper from near the house. It was Henry. We each looked at him suddenly - my heart racing.
"Henry, what is it?"
"Someone's coming." He answered. You turned suddenly back to me, looking stricken. This was it then, I had to go.
"When will I see you?" You asked urgently.
"Tomorrow. I shall call, I promise."
You did not look happy about it, for you knew as I did that we would not be allowed to Jane and Tom the next day. We would have to be Miss Austen and Mr. Lefroy, and that would have to be enough.
Henry grabbed your arm and began to pull you away.
"Jane!" He whispered again. I kissed you once more quickly, and then you allowed him to pull you away. I hid deeper in the shadows, watching. Just as the two of you made it to front stoop, the door creaked open.
"Jane? Henry?" Came your mother's voice. You and your brother looked up to her. "What are you doing?"
"We were just..." Henry started, but apparently knew not what to say.
"Enjoying the view of the stars." You interjected.
"In your night gown, Jane?" She asked. "I've never heard of such a thing." She said as she turned back in to the house. Henry followed after her... but you turned to look back at the dark garden that hid me from view. I knew you could not see me, but you must have known I could see you. You smiled for me and I smiled for you - and then you were gone.