Hey! I am so sorry this took me so long! My life got seriously chaotic with projects and finals, but I'm back now! So without further ado...
I own nothing.
They cross the park in silence. Mary's lips have pulled into a thin, firm line lending a sort of grimness to her face that Bert has never seen before. "Mary," he asks carefully. "Do you… do you want to talk about it?"
"Not particularly," she says bluntly. She sees his look of shock and disappointment and relents a little. "You never mentioned that you know my sister."
"You never mentioned that you 'ave a sister," he replies.
"I suppose that's fair," she sighs.
"So…" he says after another round of silence, drawing out the word as he tries to figure out how to broach the subject. "Mary Doolittle?"
She turns sharply to face him, "Not. Another. Word."
"I know, alright? I know that I've kept that part of my life from you and I apologize for that, but I won't apologize for the way I handled myself with my sister. I am sorry you had to witness it, but there are things about my past that I prefer to keep there."
Bert sighs and resigns himself to the fact that she won't be telling him anything any time soon. He's already pushed her harder than he's comfortable with.
They continue to walk in silence and reach the park that Bert has affectionately dubbed theirs. Mary bites her lip and nods to a bench under a lamp before moving to sit there. Bert joins her almost immediately and just waits. Mary stares off into the park, not meeting his eyes. "I wasn't born a Poppins," she whispers after a moment. "The Poppins family adopted me when I was fourteen."
He stays quiet, hoping that she'll continue. And she does, staring off into the distance, her words wrapping around her, creating a barrier to the outside world so that she seems to have even forgotten he's there. "We had been in the orphanage for nearly four years by then. My father used to drop us off there when he spent our money on drink and couldn't feed us. One day, he simply didn't come back."
He wants nothing more than to reach out and touch her but he's afraid that it will break the spell. "I was ten at the time," she continues. "Eliza was hardly six."
When he hears the hitch in her breath, he can't leave her alone in her head anymore and he puts his hand on her arm, just to let her know that he's there. "We were tormented by the other children and Eliza would spend hours crying. I refused to give them the satisfaction. I tried to protect her, but that only made things worse. Children can be so cruel when they're lonely and scared. As we grew older, Eliza began to act out. She wouldn't accept that our father wasn't coming back and I think she believed that if she misbehaved enough, he'd have to come back. It became so bad, I was forced to start helping with the chores beyond what we were responsible for daily so that we weren't in danger of being thrown out on the streets. I hated the work, but we needed a roof. Worst of all, Eliza began resenting me. She blamed me for everything and I believe she still does."
"Please let me finish," she requests gently, her eyes expressing the sudden need to finish the story. "I've never told this to anyone before."
He nods his understanding, his heart swelling with a perverse sort of pride that he's the one she's choosing to share with.
"My… unusual qualities began manifesting after my thirteenth birthday. By that time, Eliza wouldn't speak to me and I was spending nearly all my time on the chores. I hardly attended school and I never had time to read. I was woefully behind in nearly everything. But I couldn't stay there. When Uncle Albert appeared, so enthusiastic about my prospects, I couldn't say no. I was miserable. But he couldn't adopt the two of us and Eliza never had shown a shred of magic. Uncle Albert and his sister adopted me to make the whole thing official. I left the next week. And I never did look back."
She looks so sad, so broken, that Bert wants nothing more than to just lock her in his arms and never let go, but he keeps his hands to himself, certain she would never reciprocate his feelings.
"Perhaps Eliza is right," she whispers. "Perhaps I really am as selfish and awful as she says."
Bert has known Eliza for several years now and considers her a dear friend. But in this moment, he's almost certain he's never despised anyone quite so much and for him to despise anyone feels wrong. But while he likes Eliza, he knows in his heart of hearts that he lovesMary and he'd do anything to keep her from getting hurt.
"Oh, come now, Mary," he says, trying to catch her eye. "You know that isn't true. You're the most caring, selfless person anybody could ask for. An' if Liza can't see it, that's 'er fault, not yours."
She shakes her head. "I've failed her as a sister."
"That's not true," he insists.
She stands up. "I really must be going."
"Really, Bert, I can't dawdle. I've already stayed out far too late as it is. I need to go home." There's a certain edge of desperation in her voice.
"Alright, then. I'll walk ye the rest of the way."
"Bert, that really isn't-"
"I won't sleep unless I know you're 'ome safely, Mary. So just 'umor me."
"Come along then," she sighs.
He sees her safely home and they hover at the gate. "Goodnight, Bert," she says.
"G'night, Mary," he replies. Impulsively, he reaches for her hand and gives it a squeeze. "I'll see you in the morning."
She smiles gently. "I look forward to it."
He kisses her cheek, certain that he's pressing his advantage and for once, not caring one whit. He walks away before she can say anything.
If he were to turn around, he'd catch her staring after him, her gloved fingers lightly tracing the spot where his lips had been.
Bert hasn't been home for ten minutes before there's a knock on the door. He opens it and frowns. "What'd'ya want, Eliza?"
"'ow do you know my sister?" she asks.
"Please, come in," Bert says under his breath as she pushes past him into his apartment.
"I've known 'er forever, Liza. Longer than I've known you. I didn't know she's your sister."
"She's not 'oo you think she is, Bert. She's not a nice person."
"Eliza, stop it," he commands.
"No, Liza. I won't stand 'ere and listen to you air your grievances."
"She left me, Bert! Left me in that orphanage to rot!"
"Maybe if you talked to 'er…"
"'ow could you pick 'er over me? A right bloody bitch she is, make no mistake about it."
"That's it." Bert slams his hand down. Even Bert has a breaking point and hearing Mary called such an awful word is it. "You've got a chip on your shoulder, Liza, an' like it or not, it's made you an ugly person."
Eliza's face hardens, her mouth setting into a thin, grim line. Bert now recognizes it as the same steely gaze that Mary often subjects particularly controlling and stubborn parents to. "Well, she's got you under 'er spell, I can see that right proper now. You know what, 'erbert Alfred? I've done just fine without you for years an' I can keep doing it. You can go rot in 'ell."
She storms out and Bert sighs, realizing that he's officially chosen sides in this familial battle.
I'm a little nervous about this (Eliza is such a pain to write and I'm worried I'm not doing her justice), so I would love to hear what you think!