This first time Lavinia sees Mary, she is so captivated ,that she cannot come up with a single thought about the woman that would make any sense. All of her feelings and thoughts seem to be jumbled up, pulled tight into a ball wedged somewhere between her ribs, in so deep that it is hard to breath.
No wonder Mathew is mad about her, she is extremely beautiful and captivating. Oh, Lavinia knows that Mathew is not indifferent toward his cousin; she can see it in his eyes. He tries very hard to neglect that feeling, to pretend that it is not there or perhaps just hide it so that she cannot see, but Lavinia sees anyway. She is far more perceptive than most people give her credit for. But, regardless, Lavinia tries to ignore this knowledge, after all, whatever might have been between them before is over now. It must be, because Marry is set to marry someone else and Lavinia does not think that Mathew, her Mathew, would be the sort to marry a woman he does not care for. He is far too…wonderful for that.
And yet, it is somehow hard to focus on that, hard not to acknowledge that Mary is a bit of an enigma and Lavinia is somewhat frightened by her. She feels a creeping trepidation in her body whenever she sees the woman. Mary is always polite but never exactly nice ,in the way that her other sisters are; there is always an edge to her.
At dinner, Lavinia can feel the other woman’s eyes on her and she cannot help but wonder if Mary simply finds her interesting or wants to devour her for being with Mathew. Before they leave, Mary takes her hands and says, “I’m so very happy, I really am. I think we are well met.”
“Yes, quite well, Lady Mary.” Lavinia blushes, she can feel the heat rise in her cheeks and intensify with every second that Mary holds onto her hands. She starts to think that perhaps this handshake is going on for a little longer than perfectly necessary.
“Mary.” Lavinia nods and takes Mathew’s arm to leave. Later, as she lies in bed, unable to sleep, her mind draws up images of Mary and she wonders if the hot, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach is jealousy, envy, admiration or something else.
Mathew has left for the front and Lavinia is set to go back to London the next day. After Mathew leaves, she wanders aimlessly through the garden, feeling terribly out of place among all this grandeur. It is strange that all of this will be hers one day. Well, Mathews, more accurately, but if they are to be married… Lavinia had never been terribly prideful. She had always considered herself a little person, meant to live an insignificant and cozy life, hoping only to bring joy to her father and someone she loved and maybe be a mother to a mischievous little boy or angelic little girl one day. To imagine herself as having any say in Downton Abbey seemed absurd. That was a job for someone like Mathew or the Earl or…
Lavinia’s gaze roams the gardens and finally settles on the small, shapely form of the young woman at a distance. She knows it is Mary even though it is to far away to see the woman’s face. Lavinia know by the way she walks and holds her posture and every elegant movement of her body. She blushes, berating herself for being utterly silly. Lavinia doesn’t know why but she gets terribly silly and flustered in the company of pretty women, much more than in that of handsome men. It is an odd thing, but it has been that way since she was a girl and Lavinia had long since stopped looking for an explanation.
They are headed toward each other and when Mary is finally within speaking distance, she stops and allows Lavinia to make the last few steps toward her. They exchange bland greetings and stand there looking at each other for a few moments. Lavinia’s mind has gone completely blank.
“Are you leaving tomorrow?” Marry asks finally.
“Yes, I suppose I am. Now that Mathew has gone…”
“You are welcome to stay if you’d like…” Mary seems hesitant and Lavinia doesn’t know what to make of that. Is she afraid to be shot down or unwilling to make the offer to begin with?
Lavinia decides to play it safe, although she is very tempted to make up some excuse to stay so she can be closer to Mary, to solve the strange riddle the other woman presents. “No, I should go back anyway. My father…he does get lonely without me.” Lavinia smiles apologetically. “But thank you for the offer; it’s very kind of you.”
“Oh, no, you’re always welcome.” Mary smiles and it looks slightly unnatural to Lavinia, as though Mary is trying to control some feeling that is rushing up from the inside. Lavinia watches the sun bunnies play in Mary’s dark, chocolate hair for a moment. Then, quickly drops her gaze as to not give the impression that she is staring. “You should come to dinner tonight,” Mary urges.
Lavinia opens her mouth to say something along the lines that she wouldn’t want to intrude but Mary cuts her off.
Lavinia can’t stop the tears that are overflowing her eyes even when Mary suddenly appears in her doorway. She is too broken and bowled over by everything that had happened to manage even this small amount of self-control. She can still see the pain and resignation in Mathew’s eyes as he pushed her away. She is certain that he didn’t really ,want to send her away, how could he? Why would he? But he feels that she can no longer love him and the fact that he thinks her so faint of heart is terrible. All she wants is to be with him. She’s sure of it.
Mary comes and sits on the edge of her bed and Lavinia spills her heart. She knows she must look terribly ridiculous doing so but she can’t help it. It is very easy, she finds, to be honest around Mary, even though Mary constantly says that they don’t often show their feelings at Downton. Lavinia’s heart is overflowing with grief and telling Mary – telling someone – ,about it makes the whole thing manageable at least.
“It’s probably obvious to anyone with a brain,” Lavinia says self-derisively as she explains to Mary that she and Mathew could never be lovers.
“No, it hadn’t occurred to me either,” Mary admits, and Lavinia believes the stunned look on her face more than her words. She reaches out and takes Mary’s hand on instinct.
Mary looks up, looking as though she wants to say something, but then their eyes meet and Lavinia sees her own mirror in them for just a moment. Mary makes herself vulnerable for just a single look but Lavinia reads it all: the love for Mathew, the strange mixture of jealousy, confusion and desire ,that lies between them… Yes, desire.
In the boldest thing she has ever done, Lavinia leans forward and presses her lips to Mary’s. Her hands come to rest on Mary’s shoulders very gently, as though she is afraid of being burned. After a moment, Mary kisses back. She tastes of strawberries, somehow, and something else. There is always something else with Mary. Lavinia imagines she must taste salty from her tears but Mary doesn’t pull back for a very long time.
When they finally do separate, Mary says, a little hoarsely, “Well, there we are then.”
“There we are,” Lavinia repeats, breathlessly. She is still holding Mary’s hand. She has no intention of letting go.