"Dinner time!" Cosette announced to grandfather and Aunt Gillenormond and their guests for the evening, a former admiral in the army and his wife. They were having drinks in the parlor. "Oh, goodness, where is my husband? Honestly, he's so difficult to find sometimes, buried in books the way he is… I do apologize for his not being here. Marius!"
She trekked up the stairs in their large house in the Marais, locating he husband in his study, indeed buried in a book.
"It's time for supper, dear," she said, beckoning him out. "You've been neglecting our guests."
"I'm sorry, darling, I was just wrapped up in my reading, I didn't notice the time-"
"Of course not," Cosette dismissed, shaking her head amusedly. "But go on, no excuses now-"
"You are very pretty when you are annoyed with me," Marius said, attempting to pull Cosette into an embrace as they passed the couch in his study.
"Oh, no no no," Cosette said, slipping out of his grasp. "You will not distract me tonight, Monsieur, we have entertaining to do. Now, let us go downstairs, please." With that, she fluttered out of the study and Marius was forced to follow.
Dinner went well, boring chatter mixed with some witty moments. After the guests left, Cosette escorted grandfather to his bedroom, chirping away to him.
"My dear girl, you are such a wonderful addition to this home," he exclaimed, kissing her hand with relish. "You add such beauty and light and humor here—it's been missing for far too long, ever since Marius' mother left all those years ago!"
"I am glad to be here, by darling grandfather," Cosette said, smiling.
Marius came up the stairs then, greeting them.
"I was just telling Cosette how happy I am she is here," he told his grandson.
"A daily conversation you have, I see," Marius said, smiling at the both. "Though one true for all of us." He took her hand reflexively.
"I am so glad you didn't make her your mistress like I originally suggested! You young people do know better, marrying for love really is the right way about it—"
It was apparent to Cosette, even while grandfather blathered on, that her husband was very upset.
"Please excuse us, Cosette dear," Marius said sternly, his eyes on grandfather still.
"Are you alright?"
"I need to speak to grandfather, love, I'll be back downstairs shortly."
Cosette nodded, and went downstairs, curious. She heard Marius' voice, stern and low, from the stairs behind her.
"Marius darling?" Cosette called from her boudoir where she sat brushing her hair in front of the vanity.
"Yes, Cosette?" her husband said back, entering from their bedroom and tying his robe around his waist.
Cosette put her brush down and turned in her seat to look at him. "What's a mistress?"
Instantly Marius' face darkened. "I can't believe he mentioned that—the nerve of that man! The first time was bold enough, and now that we're married…!"
"Marius, I'm sorry if I've upset you," Cosette said, taken aback by how harsh his tone became.
"Darling," he said, his demeanor softening. "You didn't upset me at all."
He perched on the side of her vanity and put a hand on her head, stroking her hair. "Grandfather did, earlier. Remembering what he said made me upset again, not you. I'm sorry if I snapped at you."
"You are quite forgiven," she said. "But, Marius, why did that make you so angry? I still don't understand."
She turned her blue eyes up towards him questioningly and watched him take a deep breath, his thinking evident on his face.
"It's not an honorable position," Marius said to her finally. "There are worse ones for women, certainly, but for someone as virtuous as you, it is unthinkable."
Cosette furrowed her brow. Her husband, bless him, had the habit of shielding her from anything he thought would upset her, and usually his filter was too thorough. "I don't understand what that means, Marius. What position? Please, just tell me what it is and I am sure you are right about it not being honorable."
"A mistress is a woman who acts as if she is a married to a man when she is not. So they go out together, he buys her things, they go to bed together, but they are unmarried."
"Oh," Cosette said. "I see." She was quiet. "Do they love each other?"
Marius stared at her a moment as if he had never considered this before. Finally, he spoke. "I suppose some do. There's no reason they wouldn't. Many probably do, in fact. But most of the time it's just a short relationship they keep either outside of a marriage or before they are married at all…. It's more the result of a man's unfaithfulness to his wife—current or future—and frivolity. That's how I see it anyway. Regardless, that would have never happened between us, I would never have dishonored you that way."
Cosette nodded, and then resumed readying her hair for bed, plaiting it loosely and tying it with a ribbon. Meanwhile Marius went back into their bedroom and finished polishing his boots, which he still insisted on doing himself even though he was rich now. Something about the honor of caring for your own possessions. Cosette did not quite understand everything Marius did, but she loved him and loved his oddities. He was such a stern and decisive young man, which made her feel safe as his wife; she knew exactly where she stood with him, and his values were very clear. Marius would not lie to her, because he believed dishonesty was the root of immorality. She could trust him immensely because of the nature of his personality, but sometimes he took the romance out of their love, as impossible as that could be.
A few minutes later Cosette crawled onto their big bed, tossing some of the overstuffed pillows aside. She let out a little grunt as she attempted to pull back the thick comforter while sitting on it. Marius, already in bed and reading a thick book that looked uninteresting to Cosette, chuckled and helped with the blankets so she could get in more easily. Satisfied, Cosette lay down close to Marius. She wanted to lay in his arms, but he was reading and propped against the headboard, so she couldn't get too near to him.
After a minute or two of this, Cosette grew restless. Her thoughts were running rampant in her head, imagining people laying together like this who weren't husband and wife. She had honestly never thought that was a possibility! Before she and Marius were betrothed, the thought of sharing such an intimate place as a bed never even occurred to her, let alone everything else that happened in the bed. Her desire for Marius to hold her grew stronger.
Usually when they made love Marius was incredibly gentle and loving, and would speak soft words of affection to her throughout. He would kiss her tenderly, touch her body as if she was sacred, and enter her slowly and gently as if it were the first time. Usually that was perfect; he was always conscious of making her feel loved and always spent time on her so she felt pleasure. But once, about ten days after her father died, it was different. They had not made love since Jean Valjean had passed, and Cosette was having a difficult time to say the least. She felt a little betrayed that he left her so suddenly, as if he could plan his death and chose to hurt her with it. Ridiculous, but she couldn't control her feelings. Anyway, that night she was angry, and crying. Marius was comforting her, but she couldn't make use of his soft speech and gentle touches that night. Her father had been so loving and present in her life one day, and it seemed like a blink of an eye before he was gone. How short life was! Without thinking, Cosette threw her arms around her husband and kissed him with more passion than ever before. Fueled by the emotion of the past week and half, she and Marius furiously undressed each other and experienced each other intensely, with lust and no regard for anything but that one moment they had together. She had never felt more fulfilled by her husband, and the intimacy resulting from their total lack of inhibitions that night had helped her move into the next stage of her mourning, and begin to heal. But after that night, Marius had only ever been gentle and slow, like usual, endlessly sweet and careful.
The thought that people were together just to go to bed together opened her eyes. There must be pleasure in that act alone, and they were silly not to enjoy it more! The thought of being so vulnerable for anyone but Marius was unthinkable—he was her husband and she would never break her vows to him, but it was more than that. She loved him and trusted him and could not imagine deriving pleasure from anyone she did not love as completely as she loved Marius. But if people who did not share what she and her husband did were able to enjoy themselves, than the two of them should be able to enjoy themselves that much more!
She sat up and kissed Marius on the cheek. He smiled and gave her a light peck back, putting an arm around her and going back to his book.
"Marius," she said.
"What if we weren't able to marry?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if… say my father never wanted to go to England, and we continued meeting in the rue Plumet, but we were not able to marry. We wouldn't be separated, but we wouldn't be married."
"Yes," he said, confused. "What are you asking me?"
"Well, nothing really," Cosette said, growing shy for some reason.
"Come now," Marius said, squeezing her to him briefly. "What are you thinking?"
"Well, we adore each other. I'm not really asking a question, I'm just telling you… I think I would have gone to bed with you eventually, even if we couldn't marry."
Marius widened his eyes. "Cosette!"
"I'm not saying this to upset you, I'm saying it because I love you so much," she said, blushing.
"I love you too, but Cosette! Really!"
"I'm sorry I said anything," she said, turning away and feeling ashamed.
"No, no, no," Marius said, reaching for her and looking guilty. "I don't mean to embarrass you, please. I'm just… shocked, I suppose."
"Well, it doesn't matter because we are married, and I really couldn't have gone to bed with you anyway because I had no idea what that even meant until six months ago, and you never would have. I just mean that… well… There are so many married couples who do not love each other, and we are meant to be together. God loves his children so, and I don't understand why He would believe that two people who love each other truly and completely should not be together, while two people who do not love each other should. If we couldn't be together because of worldly things, surely our souls were connected enough to defy that, and it wouldn't be a sin? Because I have never felt as close to God as I have, loving you."
Marius had plenty to say bubbling to the surface, but upon her last sentence, had to kiss his wife before anything else.
"I have also never felt as close to God until you. You've taught me everything I know about honoring Him through loving others. Well, you and your father, my love. But Cosette, our souls are meant to be together, and nothing could have stopped that. It is surely not a sin to be together emotionally. But if we were not blessed by the Church, our bodies could not be."
"I understand," Cosette said. "In practice this never would have happened. I am only telling you what I'm thinking."
"I want you to, always," he said. They fell silent. Marius had a lot to think about, mulling over her words. He put his book down and lay back, Cosette laying against him.
She was an extraordinary person, his wife. He always assumed she was so pure and white, but she was so much more… She was free and loving and brave, and he was so stuck in his ways. Cosette challenged him to be adventurous and trusting and to expect happiness from life, to make your own happiness. Saying things like this, with her optimism about love and the boundless freedom it offered, it daunted him. Life had rules, and Cosette just undercut them all with her simple, clear, feminine reasoning: love matters most, not mankind's rules. Why were women so good at discovering things like that?
Marius' rulebook was multilayered, but as his wife lay against him, the shapes of her beautiful warm body against his own, he could not deny that her devotion and passion aroused him. This gorgeous, virtuous woman just declared that she loved and wanted him enough to break the most ironclad of restrictions placed on young women; how could he ignore that?
He couldn't, of course.
It didn't take much; obviously Cosette was ready for him to kiss her and was expecting his touches. With his mouth against hers, he eagerly unbuttoned her nightgown and drew it off of her until his wife was naked before him, her beautiful, soft body one of his greatest joys now that they were married.
Cosette was not inactive; she undressed Marius and touched him greedily, unafraid, the two of them doing all the things they'd discovered in the past few months that they both liked best, but this time reveling in the blessing it was that they desired each other so. Marius had always been so worried about wanting Cosette; he loved her, was it wrong to want her too? Would she be afraid if he was too passionate? Those fears gone, the two came together in an incredible way.
Once they finished, Cosette lay breathless in the bed, warm and a little sweaty, dazed and overwhelmed. That felt too good to not be a sin, and yet she knew it wasn't. Smiling to herself, Cosette knew that if this was the beginning of their marriage, she couldn't wait for the rest of it.