Mary had brought me to the garden this afternoon, although today seemed not like the others, something about how it felt… We walked, arm in arm, along the rosebushes, my eyes following Mary’s fingers as they traced the delicate petal of a rose, before she closed her hand around my own.
“Lavinia, how does this rose smell to you?” she seemed to want my opinion, so I bent slightly, slipping my palm under it to steady the fragile stem, and inhaled, the petals brushing my lips. It was beautiful, there was something that tickled my senses, and at the same time, drew me in, it was almost mouth-watering.
“Wonderful.” I pulled back to smile at her, noticing how her hand tightened around mine as she bent to smell the scent of the rose. She opened her eyes and said as she straightened up, “I prefer not to pick flowers. I think they should be left to live out their short existences…and not have someone wrenching them from their stalks.”
It was an odd thing to say, true enough, but it was something even I had thought of. There was a garden bench nearby, and Mary led me over to it, our arms still linked. She lowered herself to the seat elegantly, and I took a seat next to her, though with somewhat less grace.
She turned to me, “So, Lavinia, are you enjoying your stay?”
“Yes,” I said, although my voice was more enthusiastic than I had intended, “it’s beautiful here, the house, the grounds, the gardens, and everyone has been so welcoming… well, not everyone.” I felt my face grow hot as I remembered how Mary’s grandmother had reacted to my presence.
“Oh, don’t mind Granny. She doesn’t like change.” Mary smiled.
“Well, by what she says, it seems she doesn’t like me.” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Some of her comments had been very hurtful, about how I had met Matthew, his reasons for proposing to me, my upbringing, and my family. Perhaps she meant them as jokes, but that wasn’t how they sounded to me.
Mary slid her arm from in mine, but held my hand, and shook her head.
“Oh, Lavinia. She means… well, I won’t say she means nothing by them, but don’t pay attention to the things she says. She’s just bitter at the moment.” Mary’s mouth was a thin line, perhaps she felt upset that I was?
“Mmm,” was all I could say in return, nodding silently.
“So when is Matthew next on leave?” Mary asked, I noticed somewhat stiffly, with a sweet smile that didn’t suit her.
“In a few months, I suppose. He hasn’t said anything in his letters.” He hadn’t, all he had written of was how he missed me and wished he were back home, to be with me. I couldn’t describe how that made me feel.
“I noticed how tearful your last farewell was.” she did seem actually curious, and not just feigning interest or making conversation.
“Yes, well, he never knows when he’ll be coming back, if ever.” There was a time when that thought would make me cry, the idea of him never coming back. But now I didn’t want to cry for that reason. It just didn’t feel like romance, being engaged to him, it felt like a duty. Not that I didn’t care for Matthew, I worried for him, but-
“Does Matthew…kiss you?” Mary’s head was down, and she was twisting her fingers together, and she looked up at me through her eyelashes.
“Yes.” my cheeks felt cool, although I was sure I was blushing.
“What’s it like?” Mary lifted her head and looked at me, her face soft and inquisitive.
I imagined that Matthew must have kissed her, he had told me that he loved her. I wonder if she had any ill feeling towards me, I was engaged to him, after all. I wonder if she wished she was?
“It feels- Matthew is very kind and gentle, but it-”
Mary said nothing; her eyes were calm as she waited for me to continue.
“It doesn’t feel how I thought it would feel.” It felt strange, uncomfortable and dare I say it, unwelcome. It was something I dreaded whenever Matthew neared me, of course, I knew he would never hurt me or force me into anything. It just didn’t feel…
‘How did you think it would feel?” Mary asked me, leaning closer; I suppose she was eager to help, to assure me.
“I don’t know… but it didn’t feel what I thought a kiss was supposed to feel like.”
Mary wiped the tears that had begun to trickle down my cheeks, her thumb brushing my skin wetly as she dabbed away my tears. I noticed how close Mary was to me, her hand was still in mine, and she was looking at me, her eyes full of something I did not know.
“How should a kiss feel?” she murmured. Her lips moved as she spoke, and the tip of her tongue brushed her teeth as she spoke the last word. I was blushing again, I knew I was, and looked up to see her brown eyes, dark and deep as they met mine.
“It’s supposed to feel…” my voice was no more than a breath now.
“Like this?” Mary whispered, and then her lips were against mine, as soft as the rose that we had both admired, and as warm as her hand that I still held in mine. I parted my own lips to breathe, it came out a gasp, sharp and sudden, and Mary’s hand that wasn’t holding mine cupped my cheek, her fingers brushing my hair as she brought my mouth back to hers.
My heart felt about to stop in my chest as I kissed Mary, and, without thinking, how could I possibly think? I moved my hand to touch her arm, wordlessly encouraging her to show me this unfamiliar affection. I could barely breathe, and when she took my bottom lip into her mouth I nearly cried out, the moist warmth of her tongue brushed my lip. I gasped, and as I did, Mary’s open mouth met mine, and my breath mingled with hers… I didn’t know anything could feel like this, a sigh… from Mary or from me? Our knees were pressed together, our thighs touching, but it felt nowhere near close enough, not enough.
Mary’s hand left mine, and with her other hand, she stroked my hair, trailing her bare fingers to my neck, caressing my skin until I shivered, and I clutched at her, my fingers taking hold of the lace on her sleeve, trying to hold onto something so I wouldn’t lose myself. Her sweet breaths, her gentle hands, her soft lips drawing from me what I thought I would never feel, it was all Mary, her warm brown eyes and freckled cheeks, her sweet pink lips and dark hair, it was Mary who embraced me so passionately, Mary who felt with me what I wanted to feel, needed to feel.
Her mouth caressed mine, her lips brushing, stroking… She sighed, and I held her closer, putting my hand to her cheek, as my other hand went to her hair, my fingers sliding across the strands that felt like silk. This kiss we shared grew deeper, lips and tongues kissing, touching, tasting. Mary let out a moan, my chest grew tighter and I held her to me, I had forgotten what the world was. I was going to break apart in her arms; I was going to shatter against her lips, and then I knew, as Mary and I held each other as lovers would… this was what a kiss should feel like.