A light chill had stung the roads in a glimmering frost. It was a pale morning, the brisk air punctuated by the reclining trill of birdsong. The sky was a milky blue, fending off the reproach of grey, wispy cloud.
Christine’s fingers were fixed around the bouquet. Yellow roses, tied with purple ribbons. Without gloves, her knuckles were tough and cold. She shifted her forefinger and cut herself. Her lips buzzed from the cool, dry pressure of Raoul’s kiss.
It had been a small wedding. Private. No giggling clusters of women, so she handed the bouquet to an old lady who sat and watched them from the bench opposite the churchyard. Not even any immediate family. She was a Prima Donna, not a chorus girl, but her past followed her like a bad smell and Raoul had stood resolute in the frowning faces of his proud bloodline.
Madame Giry had taken into consideration the gaiety of the occasion, and so had swapped her black ballet mistress attire for a cheap grey gown. A feathered hat was grasped in her hands. She managed a small smile at Christine, yet looked long at Raoul. Held adrift in Giry’s hand, half hidden by the large hat, was a fresh rose. A fallen petal had become crushed into a bloody smudge on the path.
Raoul ushered Christine towards the carriage. The horses, fine and sturdy beasts, scuffed their hoofs on the icy road, snorting. Christine gathered up her skirts, shook her curls free, and went to take a step inside. A crunch on the gravel pricked Raoul’s ears. Giry had moved forward, the rose emerging fully from its hiding place. Raoul shut the door on his bride, and caught the woman’s wrist as it brandished itself at empty air.
“Madame,” He closed his other hand over hers. His voice struggled to stay even. “Please.”
Giry stared at him with glazed eyes. Loosely, she poked the rose through his button hole. Raoul felt the thorns catch on his shirt, pricking the skin underneath, and the warm bloom of blood made him shiver.
Without a word, Giry released herself from his grip and retreated to the church. She pulled back a wisp of black hair that had fallen astray over her eyes.
Christine watched Raoul enter the carriage, her attention wavering on the rose. The horses sprang to life and the clip of their hoofs shattered the silence like lazy gunshots.
The bright, cold sky passed the windows like a dream. The countryside with its fresh, bewitching air. The smell of honeysuckle and sweet hay. Wide spaces. Earth bound people. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
The space next to him creaked. Christine’s chocolate curls brushed his cheek.
He’d taken the stinging of his eyes to be the rush of wind against his face, but the day was mild and still. The creak of his neck may have distracted him, save the ugly purple bruise that cut a perfect circle above his shoulders.
His breath caught. He drew his head to her shoulder, and her fingers softly entwined themselves in his hair.
“Just think of it,” she whispered. “Look. Your bride. Our future. Just think of it.”
Christine slid the rose from his button hole, and cushioning Raoul against her shoulder, pressed it between their locked hands.
The horses took them both away.