Written for the 12-stories challenge on Livejournal. Prompt is '02. comfort'.
'Angela? Mrs. Ascot? I'm home.'
Even from upstairs, Angela could clearly hear Henry's voice ringing through the house. She smiled, shut her book, and went to greet him. It didn't matter that their marriage wasn't 'real', it was always a relief to have him home.
When she came down, Henry was just bidding 'good night' to Mrs. Ascot, who wanted an early night. Mrs. Ascot smiled a greeting at Angela and wheeled away.
'Good evening, Henry,' Angela said, stepping forward to help him with his coat. She used to be shy about doing it and Henry had never wanted her to, but she was his wife, and there were some duties that couldn't be neglected.
'Good evening, Angela. Did you have a good day?'
'Yes, I did. And you?'
Henry hesitated. 'Another expedition just came back today. Still no news and no sign of Master Randall, but with several weeks' more preparation, they intend to follow the river and see what it yields. I have a few hopes about that river.'
Angela mentally sighed as she followed Henry to his study. It had been a good day because she hadn't been reminded of Randall from the morning. Sometimes, she wished Henry would just let go and forget about looking for Randall. She had mostly lost conviction that Randall would ever return a long time ago.
Yet she could never say anything to Henry. She was afraid that if he lost his faith in Randall, he would lose the drive and motivation that had morphed him into the young man he was now.
'I suppose that's good news,' she said. She poured out a cup of tea and set it in front of him on the table.
'Thank you.' He smiled and sat down. 'Is there anything else I can help you with, Angela?'
'Well – no. I'll ... see you at dinner, Henry.'
He nodded, and she left, feeling annoyed.
In the beginning of the marriage, it had been awkward, of course, a thick tension as the realisation that they were legally married stewed in their minds. Angela had tried to laugh about it, but the laughter felt forced and she stopped. In time, the tension turned into something else: a kind of mutual attraction both were afraid to talk about.
She was sick of it. She wanted to try this thing with Henry, some days could even envision herself as his wife instead of simply his legal spouse, but would always somehow be reminded of Randall again, and the reasons why it couldn't happen came back to her.
The thoughts haunted her, right up until it was time for bed and Henry was about to say good night to her.
'Henry, wait,' Angela said. 'I – I need to talk to you.'
'Very well, then,' Henry said and made to sit down, but she stopped him.
'In private, please.'
'Ah, alright. In my study?'
'No.' She let herself pause only for half a second. 'In your bedroom, if we may?'
'Oh, ah, that is, um, well –' he blushed red and he looked away in embarrassment. 'O-of course, if that's what you want, Angela.' He turned and led her upstairs, and she followed with a hammering heart.
Henry's bedroom was as clean and neat as she had always imagined it, but it was also much simpler. There were few furnishings and nothing was extravagant – just like the rest of the house unless it was Angela who had done the decorating. As a servant, Henry had never been used to a lavish lifestyle.
He indicated for her to sit on a comfortable armchair and took the one opposite it. She sat down and folded her hands in her lap, suddenly finding herself shy in his presence.
'Is something bothering you, Angela?' Henry said gently.
'Aren't you ever lonely, Henry?' she said, looking up to meet his gaze.
'I-I'm sorry?' Henry said, taken aback.
'Aren't you? All you do is work. Half the residents of the city work for you, and yet who do you call your friends?'
'I'm not sure what you mean,' he said anxiously. 'I only work because I can't be at peace until –'
'- you find Randall, I know.' There was a hint of bitterness in her voice. 'Why don't you take a day off someday and spend it with me? We could go to Pumpkin Park or the racetrack and have lunch together. I don't want you to work yourself sick.'
A warm smile immediately spread across Henry's face at her words, although there was a touch of confusion in it. 'Angela, it's very good of you to say so and I would indeed like to spend a day off with you. Just tell me when you'd like to go and I'll be happy to make arrangements.'
She gave him a rather funny look. It was exactly what she'd been saying, and yet he apparently hadn't heard the true meaning of her words. But what else had she been expecting? This was Henry, after all. Even if he suspected, he wouldn't say anything because he believed her to belong solely to Randall. She stood up and he hastened to do so too.
'Is that all?' he said quickly. 'Do you need –'
He was abruptly cut off when Angela stepped forward, placed her hands on his shoulders, and pulled him down for a kiss. He froze underneath her hands. He didn't return the kiss or make any move to pull back, simply staying still on the spot until she reluctantly pulled back.
'An...gela...?' Henry said in a very small voice. He looked more bewildered than ever.
'Did I do something wrong?' she said a little coldly.
'Do you mind if I continue?'
Henry abruptly shut his open mouth, looked at her a moment, then said, 'No,' as if it was a self-rebuke.
'Then don't say anything else,' she said. 'And maybe it'll be alright.'
Angela kissed him again, and slowly, tentatively, Henry wrapped one arm around her waist and returned the kiss. It was a little awkward, Henry timid and Angela inexperienced, but she hugged his neck and was encouraging, almost insistent, gently pushing for more.
When they pulled apart for air, Angela reflected on how she'd always acknowledged, in the back of her mind, that Henry was a handsome man, but had never appreciated until now just how handsome. She thought of the young women she sometimes had tea with who would admire her fortune in having such an attractive husband, and she had always shrugged them off. Now with his face flushed, their bodies pressed so close she could feel his chest rising and falling with every shallow breath, she understood.
'Is this alright?' he said quietly, looking into her eyes.
'Master Randall –'
'Forget about Randall for a while. Please.'
'Very well,' Henry said. He allowed himself to be lead to the bed, shut his eyes as Angela kissed him again, and for a few hours, he was at peace with the world.