How right, she had thought when she saw them together that night. She thinks it again at her breakfast table in London when a cousin who has come to stay turns over the newspaper and pales, gasps, squeaks out with wide eyes (and a glimmer of delight at the prospect of such melodrama) that the engagement of Mr. Matthew Crawley to Lady Mary Josephine Crawley, eldest daughter of the Earl of Grantham, has been announced. Lavinia thinks, how right.
And then she thinks, Josephine – perhaps she was named for Jo March, proud and fierce, the bravest of the sisters. She imagines what she has a hundred times, a scene she did not witness and merely pieced together from a few lines of Mary's (I have broken my engagement to Richard but it was easy – I only followed your example. It was awful, too, of course. We have all been so very foolish.) In spite of Mary's dismissal of the situation, Lavinia knows Richard Carlisle, knows that he will have raged and threatened, that his voice fills one with doubts, makes one feel utterly helpless. And his eyes are always sharp, all-seeing; they have a knack for spying weakness. (She felt them search her more than once in the drawing room or the library as Matthew and Mary talked together, and she took some small comfort in the knowledge that there were things they did not, could not discern.) Lavinia knows Mary Crawley, too, and she is a storm-braver, fierce and proud, Diana the huntress in lace and pearls. Jo March ought to have been named for Mary Crawley.
"Well?" prompts the cousin, a tiresome spinster with a round, childlike face and a voice to match. She has come to London to Lavinia's father's house – Lavinia's house, now – to fill the space after his death. He is nearly six months buried now, and it has been almost a year since Lavinia stood up from her sickbed and left Downton for good.
"Well what?" Lavinia busies herself buttering toast. "We would never have been happy, Matthew and I." She does not know why she bothers with this cousin, whose eyes grow, if possible, even bigger and more incredulous.
"Not with her around, I shouldn't think. You poor dear."
Lavinia does not correct her. "I wish them every happiness."
Once the gown has been fitted and Mary fancies she can still feel the whisper of fine silk flutter along her shoulder blades, she and mother and Aunt Rosamund walk together under the trees of St. James' Park. Mother frets over the guest list saving her most dejected tones for the American relatives that will soon be crossing, and adding in a desultory mention of that poor, dear Patrick from so many years ago. Aunt Rosamund says there is no need to be morbid and goes on instead about the trousseau, and they quickly transition to Isobel Crawley and how insufferable she is likely to be when they return tomorrow.
"I shall go and call on Lavinia," Mary says, stopping in the middle of the path. Her two companions turn to look back at her – Mama's mouth is a perfect o and Aunt Rosamund's is hard as a needle.
"What ever for, Mary? Certainly even you don't wish to pour salt in the wound," says her aunt. Mary ignores her.
"Perhaps it would be a nice gesture," Mama muses. They are all too happy to let Mary go alone, to avoid that little bit of unpleasantness and complication in favor of a few more hours' discussion of rings and flowers and difficult guests.
Mary slides into a cab quite alone and it makes its way toward the house that is now Lavinia's own – she had written, It is queer, isn't it, to have things of one's own. Real things, I mean – a house, a life. Mary would not know the feeling. She thinks of the pale face on the last morning she saw it, half turned toward her, half smiling in the motor as it pulled away from Crawley House. Matthew was there in the car too, and Mary could see his lips moving (more fervent protests no doubt; Matthew's sense of honor never does seem to rest even when the battle is already lost.) She had wanted to give them that time alone, a proper, private goodbye in a cloud of steam as the train left the station. Perhaps it was her penance for the day she had stolen from Lavinia, when she had wanted to be his last memory of home. The day she gave him the toy dog and it took all her strength to kiss his cheek and leave it at that. Maybe it was only that she did not have the strength for another goodbye.
Lavinia has only just arrived home with an armful of books and her hair coming loose. The books are about places like Venice and Florence and the French Riviera – places she has never been and never really thought of going, yet there is only so much taking tea with cousins and smiling sweetly at dinner parties one can stand before one needs a change of scenery. A change of air. She is tired of breathing stagnant, muted London and longs for the sweeping countryside, the sting of salt.
Lady Mary Crawley is announced by her solitary maid as Lavinia is removing her hat and batting ineffectually at a few stray wisps of hair. She looks almost unsure of herself in the doorway in a finely cut dove grey day suit, her cheeks a little flushed from the warmth of the day.
"I hope you don't mind," she begins with a tremulous smile, "But I came up on business and I thought…"
"Wedding business?" She's said the words before she realizes how they must sound and she hurries on, "But of course I'm delighted to see you. You must stay to tea, please –"
"Lavinia," Mary's voice is low and firm like a hand on her shoulder. "Please, I don't wish to be a reminder of something you'd rather forget."
"You could never be that," Lavinia says, and a genuine smile blooms on her lips.
"I only want to be friends," Mary says, and from then on, they are.
Mary stays for tea, during which they flip through the new books, chatting idly as they used to do. How easy it is to forget that they were once rivals, how they eyed one another in search of flaws, fine cracks to be caught at and widened – but that was long ago, before they recognized themselves in one another.
There is an awkward moment when Lavinia asks about the gown but it passes, smoothed over by her honest curiosity and Mary's little flush of pride when she unrolls one of the sketches and Lavinia says, "Oh, Mary." She takes the sketch reverently and brings it to the window so that the afternoon sunlight glows around her bright hair and slides warm over her face. Mary watches as she rolls the sketch deftly and for the briefest of moments, she sees Lavinia at seventeen with her hands full of stolen papers, heart raging in her chest like a storm. Lavinia years later in the library at Downton, speaking the truth without shame, with only a newly unfurled pride like a small, white snowdrop.
After placing the swiftest of feather-light kisses on Mary's cheek and watching her slip out into the twilit street, Lavinia runs up the stairs as she has not done since she was a small girl. She clutches the windowsill in the front bedroom and holds her breath against the dusty curtain as below a cab pulls up. When Mary ducks her head to step into it, Lavinia's breath catches at the shape of her slender shoulders, her fingers splayed on the door. It is almost painful how beautiful she is, perhaps because Lavinia can remember the acute ache born of seeing Mary as Matthew must have done. Of wanting, almost, to be her. Now in the upstairs bedroom she cannot quite understand why she should feel such a desperate loneliness as the driver bears this other woman away into the darkening city.
Letters flit like birds between Downton and London for the next few weeks. Mary says, The country is beautiful this time of year and means, I wish you would come and see it. Lavinia says, I am still thinking of Venice and means I am thinking of you.
I am sick to death of wedding plans, wedding talk, I am bored to death of Downton, Mary says. Come and stay with me, says Lavinia.
Mama says it would be kinder to leave Miss Swire well enough alone, Aunt Rosamund that she really must get on with her own life. Papa says the decision is Matthew's, which makes Mary furious. Matthew very wisely denies that he has any hold on Mary whatsoever and says that she must do as she thinks right. He and Lavinia have made their peace and decided to be friends but still, Mary sees worry lurking at the corners of his eyes. She pretends not to notice it as she kisses him at the station and watches him grow smaller on the platform as the train pulls away.
That first evening they go to the ballet. It is only the two of them in Aunt Rosamund's box and they lean their elbows on the balustrade like little girls, watching with chins in hands. As a child Mary had wanted to be on the stage – she had been a much more accomplished singer than Edith (who was too self-conscious) and Sybil (who had never been able to keep a straight face for the length of an entire song.) The piano was easy and dancing had come as naturally as running, though the steps they'd learned in their London ballroom had little to do with the lithe bodies that leap and spin on the stage below. Mary whispers to Lavinia her jealousy of their freedom of movement, how exquisite it must be to wear so little. Lavinia smiles wryly but does not remove her gaze from the dancers; Mary's eyes trace the curve of her pink cheek, the lines of her neck and the one shoulder, veiled in lace, that is visible to her.
"I wish I'd been a dancer," Mary says, not quite meaning it anymore and wanting only a reaction, watching Lavinia out of the corner of her eye. Lavinia gives a low sound that thrums in Mary's ear, vibrates through her bones. Mary says, "Let's run away and join the ballet, what do you say?"
Lavinia looks conspiratorial but says, "The ballet? I'm not sure they'd take us. And one generally runs away to the circus, you know."
"Perhaps we could," says Mary, leaning close to whisper, "Would you ride elephants while I tamed the bears? How charming." Their laughter rushes hot between them and their bowed heads barely touch.
At the house they don't want to sleep, grown giddy as children with a sense of their own freedom. "What shall we do?" Lavinia asks, sitting against the pillows on Mary's bed.
"We ought to have gone to a music hall," Mary's voice is gay and bright as it always is when she is in high spirits, the indomitable Lady Mary who does just as she likes. "Or a midnight walk in the park. We could dress as boys," Mary breathes, her eyes bright, beautiful as midsummer.
"We ought to cut our hair," Lavinia says, padding on bare feet to the dressing table and swallowing a shivering knot of fear and unbearable anticipation as she reaches and pulls out the first pin. Mary's only response is a raised eyebrow; she leans forward on her elbows and waits, lips quirked, for Lavinia to go on. Mary's hair fills her hands like dark water as Lavinia shakes free the pins and they strike the dressing table and the floor with hard little ticks. When they are all out, Mary runs her fingers through the mass of shining hair. Lavinia watches, unable to name her own feelings – she is breathless, painfully aware of how very fond she is of Mary, how extraordinary glad that she has come and how much she already fears her imminent departure in a week's time. And yet a part of her is perfectly calm, infused with a sense of rightness, of her own certainty when she lays her palms on Mary's shoulders.
Their eyes meet in the glass, two dark and two green. When it happens, it seems unnaturally slow, languid in the flickering candlelight; Mary turns her head so that the mirror shows the fine line of her jaw, her exquisite brow, and lifts Lavinia's hand to her mouth. They both hold their breath. Their lungs and the room itself seem to fill with a frantic hope, a thing that expands and threatens to shatter them, to make them shards and dust together. Lavinia kneels amidst the ruins to lay her head in Mary's lap.
They learn to speak first with wrists and fingers, to address themselves to the backs of knees and the soft underside of the jaw. Most days they walk in the park and take tea in a crowded room where Mary's lips on the rim of a cup are like a promise, Lavinia's nails dimpling the white linen napkin an unmistakable message. Later they undress one another – a new joy for Mary, who has never dressed herself let alone another person. They progress in leaps and bounds from the first time, when they could find no words, only the futility in searching. There was only touch that time, how they moved together like small things shaken by the same wind.
Now they talk as they seldom have before, with abandon. A year ago when Matthew paced the library in the closest thing to rage he had ever shown her, Mary felt a wave of nausea at the realization that Lavinia knew. All their secrets, all her careful pretense, the act she had blindly thought well played – all of it reduced to ashes in a pair of delicate, girlish hands. She had felt naked, as though she were a child again and the game was up, could visualize with a flush of shame a patronizing smile. Only with Lavinia, there has never been one. She finds, for perhaps the second or third time in her life – though it stings with the shock of the first – the relief in being understood.
One morning Lavinia wakes and says, "What is this?"
With eyes still closed Mary lets two fingers brush Lavinia's mouth. "This?" she asks. They slide down to chin, throat, clavicle – "This?"
Before they reach the bone between her breasts Lavinia says, "No." She is pensive, regretful for the first time. "I mean this. What have we done?"
Mary is still wrapped in the bliss of bare skin and freedom, albeit temporary. She stretches and rolls onto her stomach, props herself up on elbows to say, "Nothing I would not do again."
After ten days there is a call from home, Mama's voice approaching urgency. She must return, now is not the time for games and flippancy, nor for setting Matthew's nerves on edge by making a confidante of the woman he nearly married instead. She can see her mother rigid and hissing into the telephone – probably she is down in Carson's pantry so as not to make a scene in the hall. She speaks in low murmurs, afraid that the servants will gossip. Mary's mind wanders to Downton and begins to craft an adolescence spent there with Lavinia – she does not bother with the practicalities, only sees them playing croquet and riding together, losing themselves in the woods and flitting barefoot into one another's bedrooms at night. In her hand the telephone crackles; home is so very far. Miles away, a whole world apart.
When Lavinia comes in from the drawing room with her finger tucked into the page of a book, talking absently of a line she thinks worth notice, it strikes Mary for the first time. Exactly what it is she does not know – something that dances perilously close to shame, an awful sinking in her gut and above all, a wild fear that tears through her like fire. It is not so much fear of what they have done – an occurrence for which there seem to be no words – as the knowledge that it will end, must inevitably cease, stop, die a kind of death. How foolish they have been not to see that all along, she thinks.
Mary tells Lavinia, "We have been so stupid."
Lavinia says, "Maybe we have been brave."
They are not afforded the luxury of a proper goodbye at the train station, nor even one in the street as Mary disappears into the cab. That morning they do not fall to pieces or into one another's arms in the front bedroom between a half-packed trunk and the made-up bed Mary has never slept in. The night has disappeared like mist burned away in the sun, and they are left blinking dry eyes, heavy-limbed and so very tired.
She is married at Downton in September and she is truly happy so long as she does not think of Lavinia, who is gone abroad. The sea of guests fawn over her and she dances with Matthew nearly all evening, her reward for all those years of dancing with men who bored her to tears. When they are shut away together and Matthew peels her dress delicately away as if she is some new fruit, she feels a flutter of pleasure but cannot quite keep her mind from wandering.
He carries her to bed and learns surprisingly fast what to do; she tries, perhaps unsuccessfully, not to seem as though she has done this more than once before. When she begins to lose herself in him – blue eyes and arms tensed on either side of her, penning her in protectively – she remembers something of that other lover. Not Kemal Pamuk, who has become a blur of sleek skin and dark hair, but Lavinia. She remembers a fall of soft hair and the whitest skin stretched between her shoulder blades, feels fingertips light on the inside of her thigh as if burned there. She hears, buried at the center of her own low cry as Matthew shudders and her nails scrabble at his back, Lavinia's sharp gasp, her own name in that hoarse, sweet voice.
Lavinia has had weeks of Rome and Florence, strolling through market squares and pausing beside fountains, wandering through dim churches and paying only minimal attention to the open guide in her hand. She has had days on end of countryside, dirt roads and fields of flowers just like in the novels. She has attended concerts, walked for miles through galleries and even taken up sketching to pass the time. And now here is Venice, green sea quietly lapping at carved stone, the music of water seeping into her the moment she steps from the train. There are acquaintances of her father's here, an elderly solicitor who did well for himself and spends his days traveling now with a wife and unmarried daughter. They have taken to Lavinia, and some evenings she finds it agreeable to dine with them in the place they have let. Tonight the daughter and Lavinia take turns at the piano, softly plodding through uneventful melodies while the vast windows stand open to the canal.
When she hears the name of Crawley Lavinia finds it impossible not to stiffen; a note falls short and the song stumbles. The solicitor's wife regards her apprehensively, but she is not the sort of woman to sidestep the truth. The newly married heir and eldest daughter are expected in mere days – in a flash Lavinia imagines them a loosed bullet, herself a floundering, winged creature made to fall. The old solicitor shakes his head and the daughter looks sympathetic. They are aware, naturally, of her failed engagement; that, along with the subsequent death of her father, is in large part what prompted them to invite her into their circle. They have since grown fond of her quiet good humor and sensible nature, and this fondness, perhaps, is what compels the solicitor's wife to say, "I expect he had little choice in the matter, poor fellow. The family will have done just as they liked and married her off to the only man who couldn't say no." She speaks in measured tones and she is a practical woman, really, a woman who has adopted this manner from her husband. Lavinia knows this and yet the words make her want to clench her teeth, her fists, every muscle. In her mind there is Mary, the jut of her hip the only real thing in the world, holding her like an anchor.
"I love you," Matthew says, again and again as though she might forget and with an awe in his voice that suggests he cannot quite believe she is real. It makes her feel immeasurably happy and horribly guilty both at once. She cranes her neck to look up at the cathedral and the sky mellowing to deep blue so that she does not need to meet his eyes. When she looks back at him she says, "I love you," and it is perfectly true.
He does not know that Lavinia is here, indeed the thought of her has not crossed his mind in weeks. Not since, on the second night of their marriage when he observed a shadow on Mary's face and pressed her to speak she said, "I only hope Lavinia will be happy. As happy as we are. She does so deserve it."
He had said, "Her life will be far better without me in it. I could never have made her happy – not with you in the room." He kissed her forehead and in that moment the thought passed so tantalizingly close to his lips, fluttered at the inside of her skull, No, you could not. They have not spoken of her since. Perhaps Matthew feels a brief twinge of sadness when the thought of her crosses his mind, but Mary does not know.
What she knows is that she should not have suggested Venice. That she did it with the full knowledge of what she would find there – sea and stone, quaint little boats gliding down quaint little canals, a painted city full of painted people. And Lavinia, waiting with apprehension in her grey-green eyes and a perfect frown turning her face more childlike than ever. At this image Mary must shut her eyes. Oh, my darling. She does not know what she wants, what she plans to do or say, only that she could not help herself from orchestrating this reunion that feels like a laid trap, a clever farce. And a farce it certainly shall be, she thinks, both of them – the three of them, really – together in Italy like something out of Shakespeare.
Knowing it will happen eventually, she does nothing to prevent it. She had thought they might find themselves in the same church or gallery, or perhaps invited to the same dinner by an unthinking hostess. In the end it happens on the Grand Canal in the late afternoon, and she sees them before they see her. They are walking toward her through a crowd and for a moment Mary is all that fills her eyes, her whole being beginning to fray at the sight of her. Her head is bent as she fusses with one glove and the sinking sun glows brilliant gold behind her, sending fingers of light into her hair and down her long neck. Lavinia does not forget that Mary has cornered her here, has disregarded and thrown aside the unspoken agreement of months before. She does not forget, but all the same, for the space of that moment she can feel nothing but tenderness and a deep, pervading ache that starts beneath her ribcage.
It is Matthew who recognizes her and (she cannot help but feel that same fondness for him even now) his eyes widen with surprise and genuine pleasure. He bounds forward brimming with words and over his shoulder Mary is pale as a ghost. She watches as Lavinia smiles so that her cheeks hurt, greeting Matthew's enthusiasm with grace and only a little awkwardness. Mary presses one hand to her chest where her heart shivers disconcertingly.
When they clasp hands and kiss one another primly on the cheek, electricity crackles through them both; it burns their breath away, and fear evaporates in its heat.
Mary says, "It's been too long," and Lavinia can hear it in her voice, the truth of it and how she means to say, I am sorry for this. I am sorry, but I would not take it back.
Behind Mary and Matthew the sun dips toward the sea and light skips along its green surface in a thousand searing points. Lavinia would not take it back either.
They make an odd party, but it does not stop them from seeking each other out most days. Any way Mary looks at it, they are always a perverse tangle of complications – always essentially one heart split between two lovers – and there is no way to make it right. Matthew, she thanks God, does not catch on. When they are alone he flops down on the bed and laughs, smiles up at her as he says, "I'm so very glad that we can all be friends." He breaks her heart with his sweetness, as he always has; she holds his face in both hands and kisses his eyes.
She had thought that being near Lavinia would be better than being without her, that it might ease the heaviness that has been gathering in her bones since the summer. To her dismay it is just the opposite – there is a kind of soaring joy in seeing her each day, in the ability to kiss her cheek and sit beside her at dinner, but there is loneliness in equal measure, and it is crushing in its irony. It comes, she imagines, from the closeness of Lavinia's tensed back in a swaying boat and the sheer impossibility of ever touching it, of pressing her lips to the delicate ear and whispering what she now knows to be the truth – I love you. She repeats it silently to herself until she falls asleep each night, but in the morning the need to speak the words is no less urgent, no easier to bear. She suffers fits of melancholy during the day and tries, often unsuccessfully, to hide them. Matthew frets when he catches her face turned down in a frown, and Lavinia says nothing, knowing the cause.
Sometimes she wonders what they have done, what she has created or ruined in coming here. Sometimes she regrets one thing or both, but she reminds herself quite sensibly that it is too late for reflection now, that all her ineffectual second thoughts are poised to scatter like leaves in the wind.
On a gloriously sunny day when they are meant to join Lavinia's friend the solicitor and his family for an outing to a nearby village, Mary wakes and cannot stand the thought of pretense any longer. If she sees Lavinia any semblance of resolve will crumble, the mask she has cultivated for so long will split apart and reveal her for what she is. She remembers the scandal, her shame spelled out in the papers for the world to read. She had thought that was what she feared the most, but this would be far worse. Even Matthew – with his blind faith in her and his love that he keeps in plain sight as if daring anyone to question her worth – could not save her from it.
She cannot trust herself. She knows this, so she lingers in bed and when Matthew stops dressing to fret over her, his forehead creasing with worry, she says that she is ill. She lies so well that she convinces even herself that she feels rather poorly.
"But you must go," she says. "We mustn't snub Lavinia's friends." He does go, after what seems like an unending stream of admonition and reassurance on her part. When he is gone it is a relief to lean back into the pillows. The windows stand open and in their quiet street – not a street, really – she can hear the ever present movement of water. She thinks only of the coolness of stone as her eyes slide shut, the bright vase on the window ledge winking at her, knowing what she will dream.
Lavinia knows that Mary is not ill. The solicitor, his wife and the unmarried daughter have come to fetch her and Matthew is in the boat with them already. He smiles good-naturedly even if there is still a little uncertainty in his eyes. Lavinia cannot think – the chance glimmers before her like a bright coin, like a struck match.
"Do you know," she says, "I don't feel at all well myself."
They protest. She insists that they simply cannot allow her absence to ruin their plans. Arrangements have been made, and she understands that they must go on without her. And Matthew must go too, as he has not yet visited the country – on that they agree at once. She feels a pang of guilt at the anxiety showing itself in the lines of his mouth, but only for the most fleeting of moments.
The foreign maid is all too happy to go on chattering to the butcher's boy in the courtyard and to let Lavinia show herself upstairs, where my lady is resting. Her step is quiet and she finds Mary sprawled in a bed that is a froth of white sheets, her hair fanned dark on the pillow. Her face – but Lavinia can hardly stand to look at her face. It is still very early and the sun is only just beginning to fill the vase on the sill with a many-colored glow. Bells chime not far off – it is barely half an hour since the others have gone, and they will be in the train now, talking amicably amongst themselves. They will be gone all day.
Lavinia is not greedy. She has been taught to desire only what is needed, what is indispensable. Only what she cannot do without. But she has never felt such wanting – never fully appreciated the word, the drawn and longing vowel – as when she looks at Mary. In this alone, she has never learned to want only a little.
The chill from the stone walls seeps through her light dress as she sinks onto the bed. This moment, she knows, is hers to do with as she pleases. It is like the moment in which Matthew proposed to her, down on one knee and beaming, a lock of hair fallen across his forehead. It is like that other moment, too, when Mary turned – slow, the loveliest gesture – to kiss her hand. It is most like pulling the first pin from Mary's hair though, and she feels her heart whirring too fast to escape the fear that this will destroy them both, that it already has.
She could leave now, go and pack her bags and take the late afternoon train before Mary wakes and the others return. But she cannot go home where the Crawleys are known and she with them, where the sight of every dark-haired woman in the street would close like a fist around her lungs until she realized with numb disappointment that none of them was Mary. She could go elsewhere perhaps – Paris, Berlin, or maybe America would be best, an ocean between them for good measure.
Or she could reach out, as she does now, to run trembling fingers along Mary's jaw. She stirs and is like a flower unfurling as lips part and dark eyes open. Her gaze is steady; it calms Lavinia's doubt.
"Where are they?" Mary asks. Her fingers trace the finely veined inside of Lavinia's wrist.
"Have I dreamt you?" Her hand is warm as she threads her fingers through Lavinia's.
"Maybe," she says leaning in, arranging herself in the nest of sheets alongside Mary. "If you tell me to go, I will."
"Don't," Mary says, and kisses her on the mouth for the first time in months. This is what she has been looking for in Rome and Florence and a hundred places in between – Mary's lower lip between hers and the familiar half-sounds that circle at the back of her throat as they kiss. Mary shifts closer and the room seems suddenly cold, her skin through the delicate nightgown marvelously warm. Lavinia feels the moment catch like fire.
Mary slides from her nightgown like some exquisite butterfly from its chrysalis, hair falling about her face as the white silk is pulled over her head. As her hands work at Lavinia's dress, she bends her head and even Lavinia does not hear the words Mary whispers to her collarbones and the v of her throat, the bone between her breasts. Mary's mouth to the flat plane of her stomach, Mary's palm on her hip. Mary's nails dancing along the bend before her thigh. Mary's mouth.
There is no clock in this room, only the rhythm of their breath and the vase full of sunlight. They kiss and knot themselves with tangled limbs and handfuls of one another, and for a long time they cannot let go. Lavinia thinks she will fall to pieces if they do – perhaps they both will. They tremble, gasping wordlessly for breath, for more. Mary feels her body seize in that almost-pain which threatens to shatter her; with one hand she grips Lavinia's shoulder hard enough to leave bruises, perfect fingerprints as if to mark what is hers. Her cry finds the curve of Lavinia's neck and afterward there is silence and the sweet lull of water from outside.
Lavinia says, "I meant to leave. I meant this to be the last time."
Mary gives a hoarse laugh into the pillow. "You did leave," she says, "But I followed you."
"It's like a novel," Lavinia says, and she is amazed to find herself laughing despite the sense of reality that is creeping resolutely back. "What happens now? Marriage and a happy ending?"
Mary rolls onto her back and Lavinia is relieved to see her smile languidly at the ceiling. "Marriage? I daresay we've done things out of order. I rather think this is when we run away to the circus, don't you?"
When their laughter quiets, they reach for one another's hand at the same moment. Mary breathes, "We have time."
The midday bells do not wake Mary. Lavinia lies for a long time beside her examining the lines of her face, the lovely brow and bowed lips. There is a kind of controlled radiance simmering just below the surface of her skin, something she cannot quite name. No sooner has Lavinia thought it than she knows; she feels her heart constrict and sink like a stone between her ribs even as she wants with every inch of her body to wake Mary, to tell her what she cannot possibly know, not yet.
She dresses silently as a pool of light begins to inch across the tousled sheets. At Mary's dressing table she arranges her hair into some semblance of order, and makes her face neat. In the mirror, she does not take her eyes from Mary's sleeping form. She will wake long before the others are back, and perhaps they will all dine together. Lavinia will be gone.
Perhaps she will write to Mary one day. If she does, she will say, I am thinking of Boston or New York. I am thinking, west. But surely it would be better not to, so perhaps she will keep silent. She will think of this room filling with sunlight, of the pieces of herself she leaves behind when she goes.