The record ended but they continued to sway in time to the rhythmic static as the needle skidded over the smooth center of the gramophone record. Eventually, Georgina pulled her head from his shoulder and stepped back from their close embrace. He did not flinch as her eyes traveled over his scarred flesh but she could see the fear in his eyes when she locked onto them.
They were a rich, olive green, flecked with gold: beautiful eyes.
Strange, she had forgotten how handsome he had once been; tall and elegant with his wheat-gold hair flopping over his forehead, but beauty was more than skin deep. He had been a gentle soul, quaintly old-fashioned in both word and deed and yet filled with hidden strength and a poet's heart. He had been her childhood sweetheart, and yet it was not he that she had sought for a husband when the time came. Garnet had been too close to her, like a surrogate brother, and her love for him had been the kind shared with a sibling. Despite his good looks and his gentleness he had never inspired passion in her. Instead, it was Lloyd Rance who had been the one to make her heart beat faster, the one to whom she made her interest known, and to whom she gave her hand in marriage--and her virginity.
Her eyes flicked around the deserted dance hall, recalling its heyday when they had all danced to the latest music; so full of life, and so full of a love for life. She had celebrated her first wedding here, had twirled until she was giddy, laughing in delight when Lloyd swept her off her feet to carry her from the celebration to their nuptial bed.
Two days later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he was gone, his passion igniting the others to follow in his call to arms, and they went to enlist--all of them--even gentle Garnet. The telegraph message had come five months later informing her that she had become a widow before ever stepping away on her honeymoon. Douglas Rance took leave to attend his brother's funeral, and they found consolation for their joint grief in each other's arms. They were married before the end of his furlough, raising eyebrows in this tight-knit community at this seeming disrespect for her late husband. She gave a small, sardonic smile. Lloyd had been in his grave but three days before she lay on her new marriage bed with his brother, and yet Garnet had been one of the very few to write. He had sent her one of his quaint letters to offer his blessing even though it must have hurt him to see her marry yet another. Everyone had expected her to wait a respectable length of time and then allow Garnet to court her.
She came back from those memories to find slight puzzlement in the eyes still locked with hers.
Her own eyes narrowed, seeing past the burned flesh, seeing deep into the core of this man who had never stopped sending her love letters in all these years, though they had been disguised as pleasant communications. It had given her great pleasure to write back, to lead him on without giving him any hope. Then there had been a gap of several months that had perturbed her but only because she had reveled in his unrequited love, had adored being admired and courted, pandering to her vanity. How she had missed being the center of his universe, basking in his adoration.
The cause of those missing communications was evident in his scarred flesh. When he returned to Virginia, a veteran of action in the Pacific, the letters had resumed and, though the handwriting differed from month to month, the quaint style was so uniquely his that it was impossible to believe that they could have come from any other man. He had refused to allow her to visit him and, truth be told, she had not cared to do so. Word of his severe disfigurement had pulled at her vanity, tarnishing that feeling of power she once held over him. Not once did she respond to his missives. Not once did she take pen in hand and write him back and yet, ever faithful, the letters arrived on her doorstep.
Her smile faltered as she thought of his last messenger...of Potter Daventry.
Daventry had re-ignited the flame of passion in her heart and soul. His soft dark, curly hair, his pretty features and strong, athletic body: these had caused her heart to beat faster. He was beautiful, his lightly-tanned skin so smooth and silky to the touch, his mouth slightly puckered as if waiting for her kisses, and yet he had shied away from taking her to his bed. She recalled that last night, the way his small hands had drifted over her skin, cradling the fullness of her breasts, seeking the wetness between her thighs - and then nothing.
At the time she had wondered why.
She had already gained Garnet's blessing for them, knowing that Garnet could refuse her nothing. She had taken such delight in relating her visit to Garnet, and she had tried to kiss away the confusion in Daventry's eyes as she pushed the clothing from his beautiful frame. Instead he had pushed her away, crying out Garnet's name before plunging into the darkness of the coming storm.
Georgina had cried out to him, told him not to go. She had tried to warn him of the violent storm that was brewing, and she had heard his answer, that he needed to go to Garnet.
It all became clear soon after Garnet came looking for Daventry. The undertaker had taken away the body and she had been left with a bag containing his few belongings--and the journal.
She had read it avidly, seeking words of comfort but found only more grief. He had not loved her. Instead he had wanted her as a surrogate for his one true love: a love that dare not speak its name. Now she wanted the object of that love, aware that this would be the only way she would ever have Daventry, aware that she wanted Garnet for the same reason that Daventry had wanted her: to fill the ache of unrequited love.
Garnet did not resist when she began to undo the buttons on his shirt, slowly stripping him, though he averted his eyes, staring off into the distance. She could feel the tremors running through him, could smell the fear coming off him in waves, afraid that his scarred body would repulse her. Her hand drifted across smooth, unmarred flesh before trailing over the ridges of scar tissue. He gasped softly before swallowing hard, and she could see the knuckles on his right hand turning white as he fought against an urge to stop her.
Once he had been bared to the waist, her fingers worked busily on his pants, the loose-fitting material dropping in a puddle at his feet, revealing him to her. She stared at his body, at the incongruity of these two halves; one side perfection, the other side marred by burned flesh, and then her eyes lowered to focus on his still-soft penis.
Disappointment rose within her. It had not occurred to her that his injuries might have affected him in that way, even though his groin seemed unblemished compared to the scarring that followed a path down his left flank.
She reached out and stroked the soft shaft, smiling when it began to respond to her touch. Perhaps there was hope after all. Her fingers wrapped around it, squeezing gently, her thumb teasing over the head, exploring the soft ridges. Her smile became a grin when she realized he was breathing harder, his shaft becoming thick and rigid in her hand. He sobbed in dismay as she let go but she shushed him, offering reassurance before disrobing. She took his unblemished hand and placed it upon her breast, sighing as his fingers grazed across the nipple sending wondrous flashes of delight through her.
"Make love to me, Garnet."
He needed no further reassurance, quickly pushing off his shoes and stepping out of his clothing. He hesitated for a moment before lowering her onto the small stage, leaving her legs dangling over the edge, and then he covered her upper body with his. She felt his fingers playing with her, pushing into the moistness below, rubbing against the small bump that sent currents of electricity tingling through her entire body from head to toe. He lowered his face, lips caressing her throat but she did not want his kisses. She caressed the unmarred side of his face, pushing gently against his cheek to force the scarred tissue from her vision, and then she moaned as he guided himself into her body. His hands caught at her hips, drawing her closer to where he still stood draped over her. She cried out as he thrust into her, wrapping her legs tight around his lean thighs, watching as he arched upright. Over and over his shaft filled her to the hilt and then he would withdraw almost all the way out before plunging back inside. The sound of flesh slapping against flesh echoed around the hall, the grunts and soft cries of pleasure filling the air as their bodies began a new dance within the rhythm of static from the gramophone.
Georgina looked away from his face, not wanting to see Garnet Montrose--beauty and beast--poised above her, her eyes focusing on the Pacific island mural that ran the length of the stage. She imagined it was Daventry's hands upon her, Daventry's cherubic beauty poised above her... Daventry's body moving inside her.
She moaned his name softly, over and over like a mantra, finally crying out as her pleasure overtook her. Liquid heat filled her, spilling over to flow like lava through her veins, sending her spiraling into ecstasy at his eager touch.
Her whole body thrummed with satiated pleasure as he slipped from her, and she held up her arms to receive him but felt only emptiness. Georgina opened her eyes and watched in bewilderment as her fantasy vanished leaving only a vision of the disfigured Garnet Montrose dressing quickly.
He half-turned, and she watched as a single tear spilled over the edge to trickle down his scarred cheek.
He walked away without once looking back, leaving her lying naked, bathed in dappled sunlight as if lounging on that Pacific Island. She tried to figure out what had happened, tried to understand why he had gone without a word--and then she remembered her ecstatic cry, and she closed her eyes tightly to try and stop her own tears from falling.
Quintus was reading aloud again but Garnet did not hear a single word. He was lost. She had given him everything he had ever dreamed of. She had pulled him into her arms, had wrapped herself around him, had let him fill her with his essence--or so he thought until her final cry.
"You ain't listening to me again, are you?"
Quintus sighed and Garnet felt a start of guilt as he realized that he had been ignoring his one and only friend. He thought back to that night when they had both gotten drunk on his bourbon.
"He don't love the widow."
That is what Quintus had said before telling him how he and Daventry had followed him to the deserted dance hall and told him how they had watched him lighting candles and dancing all alone.
"You looked like a fine, young white man... and Daventry said 'I love Garnet'."
Garnet wondered anew if he should ever tell anyone about that final, fateful night, of how Daventry had rushed into the dance hall, of how he had held the shard of glass to Garnet's throat. He wondered if he ought to tell Quintus how Daventry had held him close and had danced with him as if they were lovers.
"Never leave you cos we're one. One soul, two tormented halves."
Garnet shivered as the words echoed through him. Until then he had assumed that Daventry had not consummated his affair with Georgina out of respect for Garnet's love of the Widow Rance. Now he knew differently. Now he understood why Daventry had shied away from enlisting, and why the two soldiers had attacked him. Now he understood why Daventry had put up with all his meanness and his bitterness, contacting the Veteran's society in time to stop him being dispossessed of his land through non-payment of taxes.
"He don't love the widow." Quintus had said, and then Daventry had shared more. "I love Garnet."
Garnet gave a ragged sigh, wishing he could understand what had happened.
"What a triangle we made."
"What do you say?"
"I said, what a triangle we made... me, Daventry and the Widow Rance."
"Yeah." Quintus shuffled in his seat and Garnet picked up on his unease.
"What is it?"
"It's not nothing. You got something to say then say it."
He watched as Quintus withdrew a small black booklet from his pocket and accepted it with some curiosity. Garnet opened the cover and saw the title: Potter Daventry, a Journal.
"Widow Rance gave it to me the other day. She figured it belonged to you some how. I marked the page from where you both met."
With trembling fingers, Garnet flicked through the booklet until he found the marker, and slowly he began to read.
He scared me, and I felt so ashamed of my stupid reaction once I had time to gain my senses, but then I'd been running scared for some time. He mentioned something about an applicant, and I needed a place to call home for a while. I needed a bed, food... all the comforts I gave up when I went on the run.
Despite his gruff attitude and harsh words I could still see to the inner core of his being almost straight away. Those beautiful eyes gave him away, revealing this gentle spirit... and those quaint, archaic words he made me write just made me want to hold him tight in my arms.
She made me sit with her while she pretended to read his letter over and over, but I could see her eyes flicking up at me all the while, checking me over. Such a shame all that hidden passion is wasted on that cold, unfeeling bitch.
He was like a fairy prince with a magic spell cast over him; a prince whose beauty could only be seen by moonlight. He moved with such grace, swaying in time to the music, the dappled light reflecting off that revolving mirrored ball, bathing him in little pinpoints like starlight. Never seen anything so beautiful, never seen any man so beautiful. I wanted to hold him in my arms. I wanted to press my head against his shoulder and dance with him. I wanted to kiss him to see if I could break the spell and turn the Beast back into Beauty.
I remember whispering to Quintus 'I love Garnet'. I meant it.
I wanted her. I wanted her because HE wanted her. I wanted to touch her because HE wanted to touch her. But I couldn't do it. I felt my heart twist when I tried, and I told her I'd never leave him. Told her that HE needed me, and she said she would speak to him, would ask his blessing, ask him to release me. I wanted to laugh in her face. Only death would release me.
Beauty is more than skin deep. Despite all his scars I could still see the physical beauty as an echo of that photograph in his bedroom. He was so handsome in his uniform and yet, to me, he is more handsome still in the flesh, even with his disfigurement.
I was so scared when I came back after four days to discover he had been ill. His eyes were haunted and bitter, reflecting the unfairness of the world in which we live. I would kiss away that bitterness, show him that he is cherished... show him that he is loved.
It frightens me that he could have died while I waited for him at that old dance hall. I tried to explain it to him, how I had run from the Widow's advances. I tried to tell him how much he meant to me. Stupidly, I told him about the dance hall. He was so shocked that I had discovered his secret place that he leaped from his sick bed, became entangled in the sheets and fell through the open window. He lay on the ground below, so still. So very still. My heart was in my throat, I felt sick, terrified that I had lost him forever but, by the time I reached his side, he was sitting up all dazed but otherwise unhurt.
My fairy tale prince.
God help me, I want you so much, Garnet. Only you. I'll never leave you again, my love. I swear it. I'll stay with you forever. Not even death will part us.
Garnet closed the journal. Now he understood why Georgina had come to him, why she had given herself to him that day. Daventry had been right about one thing. There had been a spell to break; the one that Georgina had held over him since childhood.
"No." His voice was rough with emotion, with loss and he hated the weakness he heard in it. "But I will be. I will be."
The wedding was a quiet, reserved affair with just two witnesses and a priest. Quintus served as his best man and Georgina's sister served as her maid of honor. Of course Quintus was dead set against the marriage and Garnet had to warn him to make no response when the priest asked if anyone knew of any reason why they should not be married.
Truth was that they needed each other, so the fact that they did not love each other was immaterial.
They married because it was the right thing to do, and they married quickly before the gossip mongerers, like the awful Mrs. Gondess, set their tongues to waggling over how swollen the Widow Rance was becoming.
Georgina carried his child; a child conceived in their one moment of passion.
He looked at his new wife, an overwhelming sadness filling him as he gazed upon the beauty that had once so captivated him. Echoes of that unrequited love still reverberated deep in his soul but he closed his heart, hoping to find contentment in what little he had been granted. Just as he started to look away Georgina looked up at him, their eyes holding for the longest time until he broke the contact in confusion.
Had there been something there? Some sparkle in her eye that had been missing before?
As they walked slowly down the overgrown church path that meandered between the rows of gravestones--both old and new--Garnet startled when he felt her warm hand slip into his. He glanced down once more, his heart skipping a beat as he recognized the thaw in those icy blue eyes and realized that they were shining for him. Behind them, the organist started to play, the rich notes filling the air, and Garnet felt his heart lift with them as he and Georgina moved together, hesitantly beginning their new dance.