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suffer me to take your hand

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“You can’t,” Chris tells me, when I tell him I want to marry Jeremy, his green eyes flashing with something I don’t understand.

“Why not?” I ask. 

My father closes his eyes, rubbing his forehead. His book has fallen closed in his lap.

“You just can’t,” he says, and nothing more.

Jeremy looks sadly at the ground when I tell him. I already know that he isn’t going to argue with Chris over my hand. Even though he’s more confident that he used to be now that he’s studying to become a lawyer, he’s still Jeremy, too passive to be comfortable fighting with someone directly.

That’s why I actually do want to marry him. He’s been my friend for as long as I can remember, and even though I’m not sure that what I feel for him is love, he’s the only boy I can be sure won’t treat me the way some men treat their wives. (The way Mr. Durand treated Adelaide.)

“Maybe he’ll change his mind,” I suggest. “You asked me to marry you after you finish school, didn’t you? How long will that take?”

Jeremy’s eyes light up. “I only have one more year after this one,” he told me. “Do you really think you can persuade him?”

I shrug, adjusting my parasol as we walk. “He’s just being bitter. He wants to keep me in the house forever.” I don’t resent that most of the time, now that I understand he’s trying to keep me away from a world filled with would-be husbands who want a servant rather than a wife, and people like my great-aunts who think that willful, unladylike girls are destined for asylums. I try to be more ladylike than I used to, but sometimes I just need to yell at Chris or climb a tree. “I bet that if he realizes I still want to by then, he’ll fold.” 

Chris is still passive, too, just like Jeremy, except for the times when he’s unbelievably stubborn. All he does is sit and drink all day. A year and a half from now, he’ll probably have forgotten that I asked about Jeremy at all.

Jeremy smiles. He has a nice smile, gentle like his green eyes. “I’ll write to you,” he promises me.

Jeremy keeps his promise. He’d written to me before, but his letters are different now. He doesn’t just write about the people he meets and the things he’s learning in his classes. Now he writes about me, how special I am, how beautiful, how he thinks that I’m smarter than half the boys in his classes, and how much he misses me and can’t wait to see me again.

I’m not sure what to think about all of that. It’s one thing for my great-aunts to coo over my brightening skin and call me beautiful, but another for Jeremy to say it after so many years of thinking about myself as Christopher Blais’s ugly daughter. I bet he’s right about me being smarter than some of his classmates, but I don’t know how to feel about that either, since it doesn’t matter and that stings—women can’t be lawyers, after all. 

I do write back to him, though. It gets pretty boring in the house, when I manage to escape my great-aunts. Chris spends all the time that he doesn’t spend drinking with Victor, now that Victor’s wife is gone.

I don’t bring up Jeremy’s proposal. The more times Chris and I argue over it, the more he’ll dig his heels in. Better to wait until the last minute and take him by surprise, I figure.

A year passes, and Thanksgiving comes around again. This time I count the days until Jeremy returns. As my great-aunts help me into my dress, it occurs to me that they could be my allies in this—they’ve spent their entire lives fretting over whether any man would ever want to marry me, and they aren’t above going against Chris.

Jeremy looks much the same as he did last year. He’s maybe a little taller, but he still looks a bit like a boy playing dress-up in his father’s suit and bow-tie. He smiles when he sees me, and then blushes a little, ducking his head. I can’t help but smile back. As our families settle in to chatter, his eyes keep catching mine across the room. 

But I do notice that he looks sad, sometimes. I ask him about it when we finally get the chance to walk alone with one another.

“I keep thinking about my mother,” he says.

Oh. Right. It’s been a year since her disappearance. I wonder if it would make Jeremy more or less melancholy if I told him I suspect that she ran off of her own free will to get away from his father.

“Sorry,” I say. “This must be a hard time of year for you.”

“It’s not so bad,” he says. “It’s the time of year when I get to see you, Pandora.” He picks a flower from a nearby bush and offers it to me.

“You don’t have to court me,” I say to him. “I already agreed to marry you.” But I tuck the flower into my hair.

“I want to,” he says. He offers me his arm, like a gentleman, and I take it as we continue to walk.

“Have you talked to your father?” he asks me.

I shake my head.

“Is there...Is there anything I should do?” His voice is nervous. I picture it: Jeremy stammering and Chris drinking, and both of them arguing over what I should do with my life. Even if the outcome would be the same, I’d rather argue over my own life.

I shake my head again. “Let me handle it.”

 But when I finally do bring it up again, in May, a few weeks before Jeremy is set to graduate, Chris says no.

“But why? ” I ask. “You know Jeremy. His father is your best friend. Do you really think he’ll mistreat me, or take my money?”

“No, of course not,” Chris says. He takes a sip of wine. 

“So you want to keep me in this house forever, is that it?” I demand.

“It’s not that, either!”

I resist the urge to hit him. “Then why not?”

“You can marry any man you want,” my father says. “As long as it isn’t Jeremy.”

 Jeremy returns in June. I congratulate him on passing the bar exam in front of the others, then pull him aside.

“My father still won’t give his permission,” I tell him.

“Oh,” says Jeremy. He bites his lip.

“But I’ve decided I don’t care whether I have his permission or not,” I add.

Jeremy’s eyes widen.

Eloping is actually easier than I expected, with the help of the great-aunts. I’ve never been to church before, so it’s odd having the minister—who clearly knows and recognizes Jeremy—signing our marriage license. But if he’s taken aback by my dark skin, he doesn’t let it show, only smiling fondly at Jeremy and offering us congratulations. Behind him, I can see my great aunts are going into paroxysms of joy.

Afterwards, I lean forward and kiss Jeremy on the lips. It’s nice, I suppose. I kiss him again. My great aunts seem to be going into a different kind of paroxysms, so I stop.

I take Jeremy by the hand for the first time in years as we enter the courthouse. The judge puts us on the marriage registry, and just like that, it’s done.

Victor is visiting Chris when we return to the house. One fewer announcement we’ll make to make, I guess. 

“Jeremy and I are married,” I announce.

My father goes pale. “What?” he says. Victor goes pale, too. I wonder what his problem is.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Aunt Bridget says, delighted.

“No,” Chris says. He stares at me. “You can’t have. Tell me that you didn’t.”

Even though he’d made it clear he didn’t want me to marry Jeremy, the horror in his eyes makes my stomach turn a little. I thought that he was just being bitter and obstinate; I hadn’t realized his opposition was serious.

And then I’m angry. “Just because your life is miserable doesn’t mean that mine has to be!” I shout at him. I stalk forward. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you want me to be happy?”

And I had been happy, just a moment before. It occurs to me that I actually do love Jeremy, which is a funny thing to realize about someone you’ve already married.

“Pandora,” my father says helplessly. “Pandora, I…” He trails off, looking from me to Jeremy. Then he takes a deep breath. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

But Victor steps forward, putting his hand on my father’s arm. “Chris,” he says. “Chris, it’s too late. What’s done is done. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

My father looks up at him. “How can it not matter, when what’s done is, is—”

“I told you I’d take care of it, didn’t I?” Victor asks. He rests his other hand on Chris’s shoulder. “The best way to take care of it now is to just let them be happy.” 

I frown as I watch the exchange, then look over to Jeremy. He looks as confused as I do.

My father closes his eyes, hanging his head. He looks small and frail. I wonder if he’s going to faint again. But when he looks up,he only looks resigned. He walks up to Jeremy. “Well,” he says, and sighs. “Welcome to the family.”

But I can’t let it go. 

Jeremy can’t afford his own house yet, so I’ll just be moving in with him and Victor. Though Victor spends so much time with Chris nowadays, I expect it’ll be like having a house to ourselves. 

As the sky darkens and Victor and Jeremy carry the last of my bags over, I track down Chris. Unsurprisingly, he’s drinking.

“Tell me what your problem with Jeremy is,” I demand.

He doesn’t look at me. “Jeremy is a perfectly nice young man.” His voice slurs as he says it. He’s been drinking a lot.

I roll my eyes. “I know you’re hiding something. Tell me.”

“You don’t want to hear it,” he warns.

I walk right up to him. My fists are clenched, but I try to keep my voice calm. “That’s for me to decide.”

He tells me.

Jeremy finds me sitting on the steps outside Victor’s house. I’ve been sitting in the cool evening air watching the light fade from the sky and trying to decide what I’m feeling. Shame, maybe. Of all the men I could have chosen. Anger, too—why didn’t Chris tell us sooner? Why does he always have to be such a goddamn coward? And frustration—I had really thought I’d finally figured out my life, made a plan for a future that might not be be completely unbearable.

Now that future is more complicated. If it still exists at all.

“Did you talk to him?” Jeremy asks me. He’s biting his lip. I look up at him. Those green eyes—he does look like Chris. I should have seen it before. 

I nod.

“What did he say?” Jeremy’s voice is tentative.

I consider him. My husband. My brother. Half-brother, but that’s still pretty bad. We haven’t consummated anything yet. It isn’t too late to end this. I know Jeremy—he loves me, but if he knew the truth, he’d want to end it. To get an annulment

He looks back at me. His green eyes are wide and trusting. If I tell him, he’ll be devastated. If I tell him, he’ll leave. If I tell him, I’ll either have to marry another man, one I trust less, or resort to the few options available to unmarried women, and none of those are good.

If I don't tell him, it'll never even occur to him to wonder.

“He apologized,” I lie. “It’s like I said before—he was just being unreasonable because he wants to keep me in the house.” 

Jeremy’s face breaks into a relieved smile. He holds out a gallant hand to help me to my feet, and I stand.

“Ready to go to bed?” I ask, and his smile widens.

I feel guilty when I press Jeremy down against the sheets—but only a little.