Love had never been enough to reconcile Miss Audrey to the thought of marriage. There was so much to lose, and love was no replacement for independence. She loved Edmund very much and knew that he felt the same, but that was not enough to base a life on. It never had been.
Therefore when she made up her mind to ask Edmund to marry her, it was not a natural step but a calculated risk, the far better option in a choice she did not want to have to make. But there was Denise, who shone so brightly and burned with such ferocity that all others in her path were obliterated. Denise, who in her youth and in the thrall of her vision did not see that Miss Audrey must be surely cast off, borne away as a casualty of Denise’s genius.
And Denise was brilliant, she knew. Denise was better than her. She admired her for it, even as she feared for her own future.
Is this not my home and life’s work as much as it is becoming yours? Miss Audrey had cried privately, in her heart. Have I not proven my worth over and over again? Am I to lose everything because I am only good but not brilliant?
It was not to be supposed that two people, uniting in matrimony under such circumstance, and so long accustomed to their independence and solitary existences, would deal comfortably together. She had not asked of Edmund anything that she had not asked of herself, but perhaps she had asked more than either of them could give.
The wedding had been neither as small nor as quiet as Miss Audrey could have wished, for many of staff had come to wish her well.
There were a terrifying few minutes in which she thought she could not go through with it, in which she thought she would surely rather face poverty and the workhouse. Then Edmund leaned over with an encouraging smile and said softly “I’m not kidnapping you, you know,” which startled a very small smile out of her.
Her hands shook so badly during the wedding ceremony she wasn’t sure Edmund would be able to slip the ring on her finger, but he managed it, finally, and gave her hand a light squeeze as they turned back to the priest.
Then they were married, and she felt a moment of panic as the door to her old world swung shut with a bang. She reminded herself of what her alternative had been, and at least they did love and care for each other. But love, another part of her whispered, is never enough. Love creates problems, it does not solve them.
In all the thinking Miss Audrey had done prior to their marriage, she had not considered that marriage could be hard for Edmund as well, for he was the one who had asked her, all those years ago. But they struggled, both of them, first in the first days and weeks and as the weeks passed into months it did not get easier.
They could not compromise with one another. She and Edmund both were too accustomed to their own space and their own ways, and too little accustomed to accommodating those of others. A happy marriage demands compromise, a give and take. They, who had both fought so hard to maintain their independence and pride, and who had lived so close to the precipice so many would have been glad to shove them over, were afraid of giving anything, lest the ground crumble beneath their feet.
This new life terrified her in its smallness, in its unfamiliarity, in its intimacy. She could not think of herself as Mrs. Lovett – Mrs. Lovett was a name on a piece of paper, but Miss Audrey was dead as surely as if she had starved in the streets. “Mrs. Lovett” felt like an act, but she no longer knew who was playing her. Her old life haunted her with a vividness so lifelike that she sometimes wondered if she was going mad.
Neither she nor Edmund knew how to be married, how to negotiate their shared space. And as they could not draw together, they drew more firmly apart.
The more they drew apart, the more the edges of her world pressed in on her, shrinking, shrinking, crushing her, until one day to go beyond the boundaries of their little village seemed so unthinkable that it was hard to believe that she had been Miss Audrey once, for surely that woman and this could not be the same person.
I knew not what I did, she thought. We have ruined both our lives. Yet if we had not married we surely would have been ruined separately.
She saw reflected in Edmund’s face the same haggard weariness she knew to be in her own.
“Oh, my dear,” she sighed, reaching a trembling hand to grasp his and pressing an impulsive kiss to it. As she drew back she felt a suspicious wetness as the corner of her eyes, and then Edmund wrapped his arms around her and she around him and together they wept, great heaving sobs.