She should have said no the time when Jeremy proposed and really meant it, and she knew precisely why. It wasn't even because she knew they were related and she was at least fairly sure he didn't know that. It was because she knew he'd learned everything he knew about marriage from his parents. She knew exactly what that meant, for better or for worse. Very likely worse.
They spent their wedding night in one of the spare rooms in Chris's house - her house, she supposes, or at least it will be one day - one that her aunts had ordered cleaned and made up especially for them. Chris was still in his room down the corridor, where he spent most of his time on a daily basis. Victor was most likely either in there with him, keeping him forcibly from a bottle of gin though by then he didn't take much forcing, or napping in the room next door where he'd taken up residence since Chris had gotten sick. There were servants in the house, tidying away the plates and platters and glasses from the party the aunts had said they simply had to throw if they were getting married. The aunts themselves were probably on their way home, discussing the happy couple, planning out their lives twenty years in advance. She still wonders if they'd known Chris's little secret and just shrugged off the incest for the sake of one last good wedding before the great beyond, or if they'd simply never known about it in the first place.
They went upstairs together, past Chris's door and Victor's door, past hers, past her mother's, to the guest room with its crisp white sheets and plump feather pillows that looked sickly, dancing orange in the lamplight. When Jeremy took off his clothes and laid her down and tried very hard to make love to her in the traditional style, the grandfather clock began to chime the half hour at the bottom of the staircase and it took him so off guard that he came all over the bed linen before he got close to being in her. She didn't tell him it was fine, even though she'd learned the things men liked to hear women say when they weren't exactly true, but she didn't tell him what she really thought. She just frowned and walked naked out of the room. She walked down the corridor, back to her own room that she'd had since childhood. In a lot of ways she was still a child even then, but she's grown up.
Honestly, the whole thing hadn't even been half as bad as she'd expected it to be. The aunts told her she looked beautiful (though she remembered the ugly things they'd said when she was small), and Chris had even made it to the church to see the ceremony, though she knew how he felt about church in general and their marriage in particular. It wasn't as if she was bitterly disappointed that Jeremy hadn't performed the way he'd clearly intended to, either, given how generally disappointing she'd found that sex acts could be. She liked her own room better than the guest room, after all, and she didn't plan to share his bed every night now they were married any more than her mother had with Chris. People think she doesn't know what their marriage was like, but she does. Everything she knows about marriage she learned from Chris, and from the look on Jeremy's mother's face that night when Jeremy's father slapped her. She's honestly not sure if she's any better off for having that alternative perspective. It might be easier if her mind worked just like her husband's.
Jeremy said they should get their own house, just a small estate where they could raise a child or two, but she absolutely wouldn't have it. She scoffed and asked him what he thought the point of that would be - he was a qualified and moderately well-respected lawyer by then, with Victor's drive to excel though also Chris's squeamishness that kept him firmly out of medicine; he earned quite a lot of money, but he didn't make enough to buy a house like the one that she'd grown up in. When he spoke to his father about it, he seemed more concerned with his sick stepbrother than with the question of homesteads, and with that lack of support they moved into the Blais house with their fathers; Pandora returned to her childhood room and Jeremy took the guest room they'd tried not terribly hard to use on their wedding night. She sometimes wonders if he found his performance or her lack of enthusiasm to be the greater disappointment.
They put off the honeymoon - he'd wanted to take her to Paris, to see where her mother was from - so she could stay with Chris. In the end, they never went at all. She honestly can't say she's heartbroken by that; he thinks she wants to know her mother, but she doesn't need to walk where she walked for that. She only needs to see what devastation she left behind.
The first and only time that Jeremy hit her, Pandora walked out of the house and she didn't return for three weeks. When she came back, she looked him in the eye and she said, with complete and utter calm, "If you ever hit me again, I'll disappear for good just like your mother did," and then she went into the library to read a book in the window seat that Chris still liked to use sometimes, when Victor helped him out of bed.
There were other things she could have said to him, far uglier things, but she has always known Jeremy just a fraction better than he knows himself; there was nothing else she could have said that would have cut him quite like that did. He didn't try to follow her and he's never struck her since that. Fortunately, he's more like one of his fathers than the other.
In the daytime, Jeremy goes out to work. She hears he's very good at what he does, and she doesn't doubt that for a second; she always knew he'd be successful, given what confidence had been instilled in him since the time they were still children. He likes to invite his colleagues to dinner every now and then, and they bring their wives, and they say things only they can understand about the technicalities of law that make Pandora angry. She remembers when they were growing up together, when she saw how Jeremy's face blanched when Victor talked about his work, and she remembers knowing she could probably do that, too, if only women were permitted to. She'd have been as good a doctor as Victor is, she thinks, but she wouldn't have killed poorer women just to save richer ones.
In the daytime, she sometimes helps Victor with her father. She doesn't hate Chris, much as she'd like to, but it's a kind of bitter sadism that makes her read Othello to him, time after time after time, when it reminds him of her mother. Sometimes she takes him a drink, though they both know it makes him sick, and she drinks along with him when Victor isn't looking. It's not to get her through the day. It's not to bring him close to death. It's just something they share, just the two of them, Christopher Blais and his daughter, Pandora, who left for a while but came back to him.
Then Jeremy comes home and he says things she doesn't understand, and she doesn't try not to resent him for it. She resents him when he talks about the law with that same infuriating certainty that Victor still talks about medicine, because she's never had the benefit of the excellent schooling that he's had. She ought to have had it, not him. He's not smarter than she is and she knows that; he just knows more than she does and that's not the same at all. The one small consolation that she has is he's not smart enough to understand the difference. That, at least, is endearing in its way.
Then they go to bed at night, each in their separate rooms. Sometimes he knocks softly on her bedroom door and she chooses if she'll let him in; sometimes she does, because even she gets lonely every now and then, and he's still pretty if he doesn't speak. People say he looks a lot like Chris. Sometimes she can even pretend she doesn't know why that is. It makes her laugh to know that even now, he doesn't know the story. It makes her laugh to know that even now, their fathers didn't care enough to stop the wedding. They paid for it, in fact. They both attended it. Perhaps they think it's what they all deserve.
Tonight, Jeremy knocks on her bedroom door as the grandfather clock starts striking midnight. As she closes her book, she asks herself if she's going to let him in; she locks the door when she goes to bed and she's not sure he'd have the strength to force it even if he felt inclined. She thinks he's scared she'll leave him, but she thinks he's more concerned with the fact he'd have to live with explaining that to all the important people in the office who might even know his name if they give it some thought than he is about living without her. Sometimes, she thinks about leaving. She wonders where his mother went, and if she could go there, too.
She thinks she maybe understands now how her mother felt, because she's not sure either of them married for love. She'd have liked to, she thinks, and she doesn't think she's incapable, but she's nothing now if not a realist. And honestly, she doesn't think Jeremy married her for love any more than Chris really loved Veronica. She was just the first and only thing he'd wanted that he couldn't have, and her saying yes just soothed his fragile ego.
She opens the door. She lets him in. She's naked when she does it, and his eyes go wide; he wouldn't mind living without her, but there are some things about her he'd miss.
She should have said no when he asked her to marry him. Their fathers should have said no - they disapproved, just not enough. But the fact is, as they go to bed, as he blows out the light and lies down with her, she'd still rather live with him than without him.