Lara never came. I slept that night with Flower tucked in my arms and her drool staining the collar of my dress. I went to Seawald the next morn. There I sat, watching him move around his chambers, tidying his medical supplies. Flower chased after him and tried to gnaw his gimp leg. I called her off but the puppy blinked at me, ignored me, and went on romping around Seawald's chambers, chewing and shedding hair. "I thought he said it was trained," I sighed, tugging at my hair.
"Trained to listen to him, probably," Seawald commented.
"Like me," I said.
Seawald sent me a glance. "Stop being bitter."
"Me?" I said. "You're the bitter one here."
"No, I'm the disabled one. You're the bitter wife."
"Well," I said, at loss for a reply. "I'm the pretty one."
"Which makes me the smart one," he said, with a ghost of a smile.
Seawald never smiled. That one glimpse elated me. I leaned forward and continued the game. "I'm the social one."
"I'm the trustworthy one."
"I'm the fashionable one," I said, twisting my skirts to flaunt their spiel of color.
Then, he laughed outright. I grinned; it pleased me to see him that way. "You are certainly that."
"How so? You sound so certain. You've thought this before? Of my fashion?" I made it out as scandalous, grinning slyly, eyes flashing and cocking my head to my shoulder. "You notice my dress?"
"Do not look so surprised," Seawald said, rearranging a box of supplies. He threw me a look over his shoulder; both sharp and rolling and unimpressed in one. "You dress in a way that keens to be noticed. Very.. form-fitting."
"Why, Seawald, you notice my form?"
Those eyes. He turned and they darkened and I forgot to breathe. "You're a very beautiful woman."
I had him right there, right then. In an awkward coupling, in a chair, me astride him, avoiding his defaulted leg. It was rough, and quick, and full of grappling hands in my hair and on my breasts, his mouth hot on my neck. Afterward, Seawald tugged on his pants and led me to another chamber, pressing a cup of tea into my hands that assured nothing bad would result from this affair, such as the last.
But that's what it became. An affair. My second affair in my marriage. Not so warm as the first, nor accompanied by friendship. Just a sex-centered affair that happened in sharp, sudden bursts in random chambers about the mansion. Much like that, Seawald would be. Sudden flares of affection for me, then he would be his normal scowling self. Dark and brooding, while I moped around him.
I didn't mind it. In some ways, I liked him more than Ean. He was less obvious in his affair. No servants or Avoxes ever happened upon us, and no one would suspect the physician of such an act. Even if we were found out, I was sure of Seawald's safety from Coriolanus' anger, because Seawald was a favorite to Mr. Snow and he would never allow the physician to die. The only living thing which had ever witnessed our love making was Flower, who made nothing of it, and that caused both of us to laugh over once; because only if the pup could speak, then it would certainly tell Coriolanus.
Did I love Seawald? Did he ever love me? To that, I would have said no. Not truly. He loved my face, my body, my laughter, the sound of my voice, and the pleasure of knowing that I did not recoil from his misshapen leg and hip. I loved his precious few smiles, his miraculous knowledge of healing, and the way he treated the Snow's with distant disdain, while still being paid for his service to them.
I never told Lara about him, nor Ean. But she certainly told me of her own victor lovers. Near all of the men, and half the women, have been paid to be within Lara's company. She favored the victor from District 2, named Garnet Grantson. A strapping young man, three years younger than her, orange eyed, all bicep and jaw. While she guttered about Garnet's finesse and prowess, I thought of Seawald's awkward embraces in bed, the kisses that were sloppy and not sparked, the slow way our hips rolled together, then apart. No two men could be more different – then I would remember my husband.
I think that was what compelled me to roll toward Seawald, abruptly, afterward a session of lovemaking. I had never spoke of Coriolanus to Ean, but Seawald was different. He knew more than Ean ever did. So when I said, "Did you know my husband never touches me? Never has. Has not kissed me since our wedding and we spoke vows of love?" I felt winded once they were out, to a point of regretting every word.
Seawald's expression was carefully cool. "I did not know." His hand raised and brushed hair from the sweat sticking it to the side of my neck, kisses the edge of my chin. "That is.. relieving."
"Relieving?" I whispered.
A smile, I felt, on the skin beneath my ear. "It is nice, to know. I will no longer be disgusted whenever I think of that man's pale, blood-stained hands gliding all over your body."
"You think about that?"
"Why do you think I cannot stand being in his company?" Seawald pulled back to look me in the eyes; I felt my stomach wither. "I do not like the thought of another man touching you."
My fingers graced the blonde stubble on his rather weak jaw. I thought of Lara, of her impossible love, the ones she could not have. I felt my heart shatter for Seawald. "But I am not yours," I whispered.
I saw the sting in his eyes. I had thought he'd known; that he understood that it was not love, that he knew I did not think, nor expect his committed affection (did not think him capable). "You could be," he said, the words twisting into the lining of my throat, choking me.
"How?" I breathed, and felt the urge to cry. "I am Coriolanus'. Always. Forever."
Seawald gripped me by both wrists and held me there, in a desperate sort of clutch. His eyes were certain, though, sure and intelligent and dark in that way that held me in place, still, holding my breath. I recalled how he was there to comfort me in my anguish, the man whom had given me pain killers when I was suffering, the man whom made sure I was waned off of such drugs when I threatened to be addicted. I did cry. The tears burned down my cheeks and I buried my face into his neck. "I cannot be yours," I told him. "Coriolanus will never let me go. He said so. I am his. His rose. I shall never be free. I shall never have you, my love, nor you me."
Seawald... Seawald.. I never got over him, I don't think. Not the way I did for Ean.
He loved me, in a different way. I loved him, too, eventually. But I never allowed myself to accept it, not truly. I knew all along I was Coriolanus' and would never be anyone else's rose. Seawald was not strong enough to face my husband, and I would never allow him to try, I could not live with the thought or possibility.
After that night of tears and truth, slowly, our affair died away. We met less. Every time I saw him my tears would renew and he grew tired of comforting me. His scowl became so deep, his words so sharp to my husband and the family, that he was dismissed from his service, despite his great knowledge and healing hands. I never saw him again. Yet, I still remember those dark eyes, that rare smile, and the endearment that consumed my heart whenever I saw him.
When I turned twenty, during the celebration Larentia had put together in my honor, I met The Victor again. It would be the first time I saw him since my wedding – though I am sure he saw me plenty of times since that date, unbeknownst to me. At my birthday, that time, I noticed.
He gave me a gift. Not the usual gifts to my taste, either. Not nice silks or glimmer jewels, such as Coriolanus gave me. Better. Flower had growled and snapped at Grier the whole time the man stood in my orbit, staring at me with those impossibly flinty eyes. I smiled, as befit someone in political circles, and Grier merely took my hand and kissed it chastely.
His hands were surprisingly warm, sweaty. I felt a flush rise in my face as Lara hollered at my side – even she had not conquered this victor's time with her money – and cameras flashed, assuring me that Coriolanus would see this on the next day's paper. I didn't care.
The smile ached across my face, and Grier merely stared on coldly.
"Miss," he said to me, one word, bobbing his head.
He left immediately after that, and I wanted to see him again.
I wanted another affair. I wanted to forget Seawald and indulge myself into Lara's sweet pain.
"I must have him," I told her that night in our apartment haven. I pulled her to the coach and straddled her lap and begged my sister-in-law. "Oh, please. Buy him and put him in this place and let me come to him in private. For me, sister. My birthday."
Lara laughed and sighed for me, all in one. Her head shook. "Grier cannot be bought."
"Every victor can be bought!"
"Not this one, Rose." Lara gripped my shoulders, twisted us, and pinned me beneath her amongst the cushions. Her smile cut. "I can get you Garnet, though. He is ever eager for someone new in our bed." The back of her knuckles soothed the mass of my hair next to my face. "Come tonight," she sung.
I laughed, heartily, and I touched my cheek to her flushed ones. "You are drunk."
"And you are very attractive," Lara said.
Her knee pushed apart my legs and her knuckles glided down the waist, to caress a thigh. I sucked in a breath, tried not to twist closer or even away, and laughed further. "Larentia," I said, a bit sharply, shaking myself mentally, thinking of Coriolanus. "This will not happen."
"Why ever not? You are always wanting affection and attention." Her lips dragged across my jaw.
Yes, but not from a Snow. "Men," I said, muffled. "Only men."
Lara pushed herself up on her hands, to either side of my face and tilted her chin, considerately. Her hair tickled the side of my face, her warm breath clouding between us. "You really want this Grier, then?"
"Yes," I breathed. One of my hands clutched her by the shirt. "Please."
Lara's smile was small, but loving. "I shall try."
She moved to roll off of me, but I caught her wrist, and forced her to meet my gaze; there was no resentment, nothing that bespoke offense. She understood. She was not feeling rejected. "Why are you so nice?" I asked, then, stupidly. "You do this for me. You always rush forward to please Coriolanus. To agree to Dorianna and uphold anything she orders. Why do you allow it?"
Again, that small loving smile. "Because I know how to love where the rest of my family does not."
Underneath, I heard the admittance; not even you.
It was true. I didn't know what love was, and did not know how to participate in it.
Two years into my marriage, I found myself having my third affair. This one was not so wonderful as the first two, nor as long-lasting. It happened maybe twice, with my driver. His name would come to fade in my memory, so much so, I would not be able to recall it even five years later. It ended a week after the week it began. Lara found it hilarious.
"You are so desperate," she said.
I knew it. I knew it and I pretended to scuff. "I merely enjoy sex."
Outright laughter. "You'd enjoy sex with Grier, that's for sure."
I flushed. "Stop."
"What? Teasing you about your little crush? Never."
"It's not a crush," I said.
Lara sat up from where she lounged, clutching her heart and fluttered her eyelashes in a poor imitation of me. "Oh, Lara, please. I must have him. Get him for me. I want him so bad! I need him!"
I threw the nearest thing; Flower's gem-encrusted collar. Lara easily dodged. "That's not how I sound."
"Is not." I pulled my legs onto the coach and curled them underneath me, Flower snuggling in the space there, and I stared sadly down at her floppy ears. "Women like me don't have silly girlish crushes."
"And what does that mean? 'Women like me'? What kind of woman are you?"
I thought of Ean; he would have called me a beautiful one. Seawald would have called me a bitter one. Coriolanus would have merely called me his woman. I could not know what the driver thought of me, for I had rarely spoken a word with him. "I guess I meant at my status. With being a wife and Coriolanus could never.. would never.."
"Coriolanus would never hurt you, you know that?" Lara said.
"He's already hurt me."
That jolted through Lara like a blow. "What? He's hit you? But he's not–"
"No, I didn't meant that. I mean.." I sighed, because I tried to conjure up any point in time when Coriolanus hurt me, and I found two distinctive memories. One, the wedding and engagement. Two, Ean and the baby. "He's trapped me."
"He is scared of losing you." Lara was sympathetic for her brother. It unnerved and angered me, but I made well to hide this. "If you were he, with such a beautiful wife, wouldn't you fear to lose her to another?"
She flopped back against the pillows. "Fine, don't try to see it his way."
"It's not as if he tries to see from mine!" I said, stung into indignation. "He never even looks at me. When I'm around, I feel insignificant, invisible. He looks over and around me, never meets my eyes, rarely speaks. The last we shared a bed was six months ago, for one night. He crept in while I pretended to sleep and he lay with a yard between us. A whole, entire yard! Then left in the morning without so much as glancing at my face. If he had, he would have found me smiling, and he would have found me willing to try. To make things pleasant. I want to be happy, don't you see that? I want to forgive him his wrongs and hear his words as I do yours, but he will not allow it."
Lara thought me wrong. "He loves you. I know he does."
"He has not shown liking or even desire for me since before we were married. When I was sixteen or so. The night of our wedding, you know what he said to me?"
"'I find you most displeasing.' And then he turned his back to me and has not once turned back since."
"Have you ever thought that you were the one to turn first? Maybe you should be the one turning to him," and with that Lara pushed herself up from the coach and slammed the door after herself when she left. I stared dumbly after her; unable to understand.
Oh, if only I had.