When Amy March was accepting a second proposal to become Mrs. Fred Vaughn, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence was in Munich, Germany, precisely, at the Munich Hofoper Opera House at the premiere of Wagner’s “Die Walkϋre”. At the end while he rose with the crowd to give his unrestrained ovation, Laurie immediately, and as usual within the last six months, thought of Amy. She was right. It was either genius or nothing. This opera was genius! His entire life he wished to aspire to such greatness and here was Wagner who just showcased why it was important for Laurie to give up on his own melodramatic self-reflection manifesting in the form of a middling opera. Far from inspiring to greatness, Wagner only served to highlight how mediocre Laurie’s own solipsistic musical endeavours were. He immediately understood Amy’s point of view on her own artistic undertakings and he desired to write to her at once.
He poured out into the courtyard with the rest of the giddy crowd which were characterized with many interruptions, lots of effusive talking, high pitched drunk laughter, slightly erotic caresses from delicate gloved hands on black, velvet clothed arms. It was nearly midnight and all around him the glittering and talkative people of the opera got into carriages, laughing and making plans to meet at this restaurant or that hotel for a nightcap or maybe heading to the after party at Liszt’s hotel. As Laurie entered into a carriage early, begging off by feigning sickness from a late dinner at Liszt’s with Saint-Saens and his companions, he started composing his letter to Amy in his mind.
“June 26, 1870
Please accept my sincerest apologies for the lack of correspondence after my sudden departure. I must confess I was ashamed after the second rejection by a March sister. I’m making quite a habit of rejected marriage proposals from the March ladies with alarming frequency! While the last time I weighed my options as suicide or fleeing to Europe and composing an opera, this time after my latest March girl marriage rejection, I’ve decided my options were suicide or flee to England and work for my grandfather. Well there appears to be worse things than death. I’ve just realized my utter mediocrity in opera composition. Thankfully my work in London has been invigorating for both mind and spirit. And it is all thanks to you.
"Were it not for you I would not have had the courage to become better. You have unleashed a potential by striking hither fore untapped reserves of industriousness and tenacity. You have inspired me to become better, be better. The ironic thing is that for centuries women such as yourself have been muses to so many, inspiring greatness and truth, but the truth that you have inspired within me is that I would have to do the work myself. The way I thought was clearly faulty and you have been the person to show me the way.”
By now Laurie had arrived in his hotel room. He immediately sat down at his writing desk to compose his letter, loosening his cravat as he did so. He flung off his coattails and the top hat too, rolling up his shirtsleeves with determination as he put ink to paper.
All worries of Amy rejecting his romance of her was tamped down with a stiff drink that he poured himself. He went to stand at the window staring at the dark early morning sky. Who is to say what or when reminders of a lover or almost lover would present itself? He ran his tongue over his top teeth as the notes of citrus and rose from his drink wafted over him and his mind catapulted him to an early evening with Amy at the hotel in Paris in February.
Aunt March had already dozed off in the armchair near the fire, the flames casting flickering shadows adding to the depth of beauty of the hotel room. The room had been plunged into a quiet sedative as he sat at the piano, Amy bent against it, chin propped up by her delicate fist as she languidly sketched. The conversation had grown sporadic but conspiratorial. Now both their heads were down, absorbed in their art. Arched over the piano, his shirtsleeves rolled up, his notes were raw and sombre and stilted. He looked up and was caught off guard by the image he saw. There she was, head bent over while she sketched, as she stood underneath the overhead lamp, the light framing her blond curls just so resulting in the image looking like sunlight was breaking down from the clouds and shining down on her. His notes changed, seemingly without his intent and she looked up. He was staring right back at her as his long fingers skimmed over the keys. She looked amazed, at his talent? At his beauty? Her lips parted slowly as he watched her, absorbed her. Now the music was a bit sultrier, full of yearning and romance, the dynamic still very soft but slowly reaching. His gaze slipped down to her throat and further still to her low cut evening dress. He saw the goosebumps crest upon her bosom like a sensual wave. He locked his gaze with her in time to see the rise of slight colour on her cheeks, like a peach in the first snowfall.
“Oh Laurie, that piece is quite stirring. What is it called?” Aunt March said and the spell was broken.
“I was just about to ask that.” Amy said as she straightened up, her voice duskier than usual.
Amy handed him his nightcap which he took gratefully, the notes of citrus and rose hitting him first. Laurie only smiled like a loon as he muttered purposely in German knowing that neither woman spoke the language, “Heaven can’t help me now” and licked his top teeth as he looked at Amy. She immediately took up her fan and fanned furiously as she moved away from him. He smirked into his drink as he knocked it back, the liquid burning his throat, which he relished.
“I’ve never heard of it.” Aunt March said and Laurie smiled some more. Even if he hadn’t composed the piece on the spot inspired entirely by Amy’s beauty and his yearning for her, Laurie was positive that Aunt March would not have recognized it – and he truly believed this – because she did not know that such feelings were possible.
Now, he had abandoned his hosts at the opera with a single goal on his mind – he must write to Amy, he must beg her forgiveness for his shameful behaviour, he must change her mind. He turned back to the writing desk. He had ended up in Germany for just a short bit after receiving an invitation from Cosima von Bϋlow, who was Wagner’s mistress, for him and his grandfather to attend the premiere of Wagner’s opera. His grandfather declined, but Laurie decided not to let the opportunity slip. Originally his plan was to invite Amy to the opera, to meet him in Munich so that he’d have a chance to beg her to reconsider. His plan had some merit since he had heard that Amy rejected Fred’s proposal and Fred had fled to London in shame. Laurie smirked in smug satisfaction. When he heard the news he didn’t immediately run to her side because then he would come across shallow and like an opportunist trying to capitalize on her suffering. Now was the time to prove that he was willing and able to listen to her. He had gone to London to join his grandfather’s company and he had even refused a cushier position, but instead started at the bottom of the ladder, joining his granfather’s legal team as their assistant. He had even joined one of the women’s groups in their support to abolish coverture. After Amy’s speech on why she had to marry Fred Vaughn, he genuinely believed that a woman’s legal rights and obligations shouldn’t be subsumed by her husband.
But he hesitated and wavered. Should he risk calling on her? Did she still despise him? Their friendship was precious. He couldn’t afford to lose the friendship of both Jo and Amy. Two weeks passed and he never sent the invitation, instead saying that he would send a telegram. He never did that either. How coward was he?! She had once told him that she would be respected if she couldn’t be loved, but he seemed to be failing at both fronts.
It had been months since he thought of Jo in any sort of romantic way, but he knew it would be Amy’s biggest concern. They were sisters and his love for Jo would obviously invite comparison from Amy. The idea now seemed preposterous! And his rather histrionic flight to Europe equally shameful. But for all things a purpose, since were it not for Jo’s rejection he would not have fled to Europe to drown his sorrow in women and alcohol and he would not have met Amy who would not have been able to cut through his fog of melancholia and bring light to his eyes again.
He began to write feverishly as he told her of his love for her. “There was no other in this heart. My darling, I get so lonely just thinking of you. I can feel you in every fabric of my life, deep in my mind, my heart, my bones. I see you in my dreams. I see you when the morning clears. Every time I hear your name, every time I see a woman with your golden hair colour, every time I get your phantom scent. Imperceptibly you have stolen into my heart like a thief in the night and brought me to my knees. You are the one that lives within me. I want no one but you. I loved Jo as a sister and my love for you, Amy sweetheart, is different and deeper. My Raphaella, in the depths of my darkness, you have driven her out of my depressed, indolent fugue-like mind. You’ve left your mark, driving out all interlopers, reminding me to forget any before you. You have claimed this heart as yours. Only love could do that, true love.”
Laurie paused. A sense of urgency overtook him. He should say these things to her in person. He should take the next train to Paris. Fred Vaughn was still in London licking his wounds last he heard.
He stood up abruptly. This was madness! He felt giddy with excitement. He was being irrational. His eyes skittered over the objects in the room and he felt a spasm in his heart. Yes, yes he was going to do it. No more dillydallying, it was time for action. It was time to chase her.
When he woke a few hours later he thought his impulsiveness would have ebbed, but no, it was only heightened. He hurried to the train station only stopping at the post office to send a quick telegram to his grandfather to let him know that his presence in London will be delayed, heading to Paris. He debated sending a telegram to Amy, but he didn’t want to spook her. He hurried to the train station, his usual loping gait uncharacteristically quickened. He smiled at every passing face and even laughed to himself at the questioning looks.
“I’m in love!” He shouted.
“Good for you! Congratulations!”
As he tried to rein in his beating heart and tamp down his smile with a great trembling effort, unbidden, a memory came upon him. He remembered a beautiful day he spent with Amy in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais.
Again, Fred Vaughn was away for two weeks in London on business. Aunt March and Amy travelled to Nice for the warmer weather. Laurie travelled with them, as he tended to do of late, becoming a March again. The women were grateful for the male presence as they travelled and Laurie was only too happy to inject some masculinity into the party.
The Promenade des Anglais was packed during the spring, the temperature a comfortable 23 degrees. They stayed at the very luxurious and very English hotel, The West End Hotel. It was a Tuesday afternoon and on Tuesdays on the Promenade there was music in the Jardin Public and a crowd would appear. Aunt March hated crowds and instead chose to sit on the veranda of the hotel and sip at her tea while Laurie and Amy walked down to the boardwalk to wait for the musicians to set up. They took to strolling along the boardwalk where they bought shaved ice drowned in syrup in paper cups and looked around at the bevy of women all garishly dressed in bright jewel-toned colours of green, purple, red and blue. Laurie couldn’t help but compare Amy to these women. Usually her colours were subdued, but she was no shrinking wallflower, for when she passed heads turned appreciatively. She was dressed in white with tasteful black trimmings. Despite the high neckline, the sleeves of her dress and the back of her gown was sheer white lace that tapered to her waist lending her an elegant eroticism to the otherwise demure gown and that he found electric. When he faltered in his step and walked behind her for a moment he caught a glimpse of the mole on her lower back. His eyes travelled down as the lace narrowed to her petite waist and his mind’s eye wandered. The muscles at the base of his stomach tightened and he hurried her to a seat.
“This entire place looked inspired by a postcard.” Amy said as she gazed out at the sea. “I almost wish I could paint it, but I wouldn’t be able to do justice to God’s exquisite workmanship.” She stared forlornly as she gestured and for one mad moment he thought her gesture encompassed him.
So many discussions they’d had on art subsequent to that fateful conversation in her studio when she decided that she wanted to be great or nothing at all. Honestly, it was one long debate that they’d been having for months and he looked forward to it every time.
“Is it only beauty that can be considered art? Or is it beautiful because it is called art?” He looked at the garishly dressed women with their sombrely dressed companions. They looked like crows at a feast. He slouched and stretched out languidly on the bench.
“I suppose art makes you pause. It makes you think, it keeps you up at night.” Amy hit his thigh with the back of her fan and he hurled himself upright immediately.
“Sounds like you’re describing love.”
“Oh? Is that how love is supposed to be?”
“You’re supposed to feel indescribable chemistry, butterflies and deep longing. The world around you is supposed to disappear. You think of them and a smile comes to your face. Or so they say.”
She opened her mouth as if to say something but decided against it. Eventually, she settled on,
“Is that how you feel about your opera?”
He laughed out loud at that. He thought she was going to bring up his dead and dusty love for Jo, but her courage either pittered out or her compassion won. Both reasons were amusing to him. “My Raphaella, did you feel that way about your paintings? Do you feel that way about Fred Vaughn?”
She did not take his obvious bate. “Are you saying that art and love are equals?”
“Hmm, I believe that genuinely, they inspire each other. What really connects us to the world is suffering and love. The most fundamental of all feelings are suffering and love. You give your charity to these beggars because you know what it is like to not have. So many times we suffer and think that we are alone or we fall in love and want to shout it to everyone because we want everyone to know how we feel. That’s how art has come about. We want people to know how we feel. Whether it is through music or poetry or painting or words, we want people to feel that emotional resonance, that visceral kick. Deep down we want to share, we want to know that we are not alone in either suffering or love. That’s why artist produce. And that’s why people flock to art no matter the medium. People need to know that they are not alone in what they feel.”
Amy was silent for a while, turning over his words.
“Then, I should be able to produce something noteworthy and exceptional.”
“Why? Because of your love for Fred Vaughn?”
“No, I need to tap into my suffering.”
Laurie’s grin broadened.
“Oh? And how have you suffered, my Raphaella?” He grabbed her hand in a parody of emotional empathy.
She looked at him, really looked at him and he stilled. She heaved a sigh and looked out at the ocean waves. She pulled away her hand and he decided not to put her emotions up for slaughter, not yet. Instead he said,
“I suppose life is most painful with that,” he said as he touched her chin. “What?” She looked down reflexively. “That nose,” and he flicked her nose.
“Laurie!” He laughed heartily and ducked away from her as she attempted to throw her shaved ice at him. She chased after him laughing.
That was a good day, he mused with a quiet smile. He took out his pocket watch and noted that when he got off in Stuttgart he would have to hurry to catch his connecting train to Paris. There was only a break of 10 minutes to catch the connection, no time to buy a snack or have a tea or use the WC. There was no time to waste. So of course the train endured mechanical problems somewhere in the middle of a wetland in Germany. One couldn’t even get out to stretch the legs as they had shut down in the middle of nowhere! Two hours later the problem was fixed, but by then he had to overnight in Stuttgart. The next available train was at three the next afternoon. Despite this setback, he was still optimistic, maybe even delusionally so.
He arrived in Paris late in the night, tired and hungry. He missed Paris. The sound of hooves on cobblestone, the cracking of a whip. Theatre scalpers cried that they had the last few seats of the latest opera and of course the water carriers whose shouts sounded like the wail of a cow whose calf was just taken from her. He loved Paris for all of its sights and sounds, but he knew that he loved the city because it was where he fell in love with Amy. Before when he was passing his time with hedonistic pleasures, supposedly writing his opera but in truth doing nothing more than drink, smoke and lay about, he did not even notice the city. But Amy opened his eyes once more to beauty. “You look beautiful, you are beautiful,” he had told her and he meant it. She gave beauty its anatomy. He tried to stay at the hotel that he knew Amy to be staying at, but they were full so he went down the street to the next, a little annoyed at this latest setback, but not dejected. It was too late to call on her anyway, but he would do so first thing in the morning. Laurie went to bed that night with the dream of white lace, pale skin and shrieks of laughter – all good things.
When he came down to the lobby the next morning there was a telegram waiting for him. It was from his grandfather. He stood there in the hotel lobby looking like he just got hit upside the head. Beth was dead.
He’d known the possibility of this happening was high. Yet when it happened it still shook him. Beth with her compulsive desire to help others and whose personality was honey sweet was too good for this world. Oh Amy, he immediately thought, you must be devastated. And Jo and Meg and Marmee! Oh dear Marmee to lose a child is to lose a part of your soul. And Grandfather! To have to suffer through such loss again. Beth’s life had touched so many for the better.
He immediately set out to offer condolences to the March family via telegram. After, he took off down the street to Amy’s hotel. He knew that Aunt March had not been well the last time he was in Paris nearly two months ago, so he wondered if she would be fit to travel. It was summer in Paris and the heat was nearing unbearable. If Aunt March could not travel he would accompany Amy. He could not let her travel alone.
When he called upon them, Aunt March was unable to even get out of bed.
“Oh Aunt March, please accept my most sincere condolences.” He said as he kissed her cheek and she swatted him away.
“Thank you. I’m afraid Beth was too good for this world and the dear Lord has requested her presence sooner than we thought.”
He nodded in agreement as he took up a seat next to the bed. “How have you been? Has your health improved in any way?”
Aunt March gave him a look of unamused consideration. He shrivelled under her no nonsense gaze.
“My dear boy, quit with the pleasantries. She has left already.”
“What?” A sense of dread had begun to creep in.
“Amy has left already. She may already be on the boat.”
“But she shouldn’t travel alone.” He weakly protested at this windfall. He felt her absence like the sudden drop in temperature and the sense of dread only heightened. Everything was so calm like the silence after a gun fires.
“Oh but she’s not alone. Mr. Vaughn has returned and will accompany her as her intended.”
“What?!” He flew up off the bedside chair so violently that it fell leaving in its wake Aunt March’s stunned expression in the face of Laurie’s outburst.
“But he was in London,” He objected lamely, petulantly. He stared at her as if he was asking for a miracle. Tears were already beginning to well in his eyes.
“Yes and then he came here yesterday morning.” He said patiently as if talking to a particularly slow child.
Laurie began to pace the room wildly. He was supposed to arrive here yesterday. If it wasn’t for the damned train! I should have never have gone to the bloody opera in Godforsaken Munich. I should have written to her. How could she reconsider Fred Vaughn’s proposal? She wasn’t in love with him; she was in love with me! All of her life she’s been in love with me!
“Mr. Laurence get a hold of yourself at once!”
He stopped and stared at her but really seeing through her and through her. Aunt March grew concerned and in a rare showcase of sympathy asked, “Laurie, are you alright?”
“I was a coward before. I won’t flee this time. I won’t give up for this is worth it.”
“What on Earth are you on about?”
“What’s the name of the ship?”
She stared at him in shock. Was he really going to chase after Amy? The scandal this would bring. “Get out. Don’t you dare sully Amy’s good standing with your tempestuous Italian wildness! So inconsiderate! Careless!”
Laurie only heard the tail end of Aunt March’s rant as he ran out the door and took the stairs two at a time. He flung himself into the nearest carriage, cutting off a gentleman who was about to clamber in.
“Get me to the port now! I’ll pay you whatever!”
No need to be told twice. With the harsh crack of a whip the carriage took off at full speed.
Laurie sat in the carriage with his face set into a rictus of determination. He was not going to give up on Amy. She had told him to make something of himself. Well then he would make himself hers.
By now Laurie was getting used to the universe’s naysaying voice. The train will have just taken off, the theatre tickets sold out to the person in front of you, the person you want dead or engaged to another man and moving to another continent.
He sat in the speeding open-top carriage and stared desultorily at the passing scenery as he tried to maintain that febrile pitch of optimism that propelled him from Germany to France in search of Amy. Why was life so cruel, he mused. Was this some sort of test for his love for Amy? If so, then he couldn’t be demotivated so early on in the universe’s petty examination on the validity of his love. Was he being dramatic? Possibly. He closed his eyes briefly and tried to calm himself and think objectively. By profession, he was a legal mind and an aspiring businessman. In his heart he was a musician, a composer, a man of the culture and arts, a romantic. He supposed that it was only right that the universe question him because in his quiet moments he too examined his love for Amy, holding it up to the light and turning it around to see all sides. He believed the very act of this meant that he wasn’t completely ruled by impulse, that he was capable of logical reasoning.
Maybe he was simply getting ready to defend himself to the people who would question him. People like his grandfather and Jo March. But it’s only been a little over six months, his grandfather may gently protest. Yes, but who is to put a time frame on love? People who argue that he only spent six months with Amy in Europe would have failed to note that he had known her for nearly all of his life. But you didn’t truly care for her then, your mind was focused on Jo and Jo only. While true that his first interest back then would have been Jo, it wasn’t his only. He too cared for each and every one of those March girls. Do you think that I don’t care about Meg and Beth? Meg, a true romantic like himself, was his conspirator in that regard. They held a connection in their idealistic pursuit of love as they discussed the latest dime novels and how to act it out – Jo arguing to act the more dreadful and gory ones while Meg wanted to act out the romance. And there was Laurie, playing advocate for the romantic Meg as he tried to also encourage Jo. It was Meg who inspired him to confess his love to Jo.
And Beth, sweet Beth with her angelic innocence and sweet sincerity. He reserved a quiet place in his heart for Beth. She was the one to bring back his grandfather from the depths of his depression. She was a fragile, beautiful and innocent butterfly whose wings were clipped by the heartless universe for what? Because heaven needed another angel? What misplaced wealth, Laurie mused.
Are you in love?
That’s the question that Jo would ask and he would understand the underneath of the underneath of her question. Do you love my sister or are you doing this in a misguided effort to stay close to me?
To Laurie, the answer was simple. Yes, he loved Amy. When he held his love for Amy in his hands and compared it to the love he had for Jo, he saw clearly the differences, because that was where the distinctions lay, the differences were in the details. The amber hued and nostalgic love he had for Jo shone differently. It was heavy in his hands, weighed down by the past and the desire to remain there as a child – innocent and carefree. His love for Amy was brighter, the red hue lighter on the edges, but deepened as you looked more closely, carefully. It felt light in his hands, filled with hope and the desire for more, to be more, to be better. His love for Amy when scrutinized will reveal a beautiful sensuality that swirled and drifted like nacreous wisps of smoke. He smiled. Songs of Innocence and Experience. He smiled tenderly. He would love to discuss his musings with Amy.
As Laurie sat there ruminating and pining with a small smile on his lips and hope in his eyes, his thoughts were suddenly cut off. On his way from Les Jardin du Luxembourg hotel to the Gare de L’est station Laurie saw what happened next as if to some other man instead of happening to himself. The carriage horse shied away from a runaway ball that a group of children were playing with near the corner of the Boulevard de Sébastopol and the Rue de Bourg l’Abbé. The horse backed up suddenly resulting in the coachman being thrown out the carriage. The horse then dashed around the corner, overturning the carriage and throwing out Laurie. The sky hurtled across followed by a tree spinning wildly in front of Laurie’s vertiginous sight. For a brief moment when he landed he didn’t know or feel anything. There was only silence.
She emerged suddenly in front of him, like a dream, no beginning, just there. Amy was in part always like this. Suddenly appearing like an angel; always when he least expected her. He remembered her appearing in front of his window as she cried dramatically of the cruelty she faced at the hands of her wicked teacher. He remembered hearing her call out his name as he strolled along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, his mind far and his head down. If life was like an opera there would be some sort of spritely and romantic introduction music swelling in the background allowing the audience to know that this was The Girl. But in reality, neither Laurie nor Amy seemed to know that they were The Boy and The Girl. Maybe it was because they’d been kept apart for so long or because he spent the first Act of his life being in love with another woman. Either way, Laurie was beginning to suspect that if his life was an opera, it was a tragedy. But there was hope, wasn’t there? For in the Second Act when our hero was down and out, depressed in Europe after being rejected by the love interest of the first Act, there appeared Amy. It was only fitting that he meet her in Paris, a city where every view could be the background to an opera.
And here she was again emerging frantic as she called after him. There was no aria in the background though as she approached, only a high-pitched ringing sound. He tried to get up but had some difficulty.
“Sir! Sir, are you alright?!”
Sir? Amy never called him that. That wasn’t her name for him. How odd he thought as he drifted off.
– – –
When Laurie woke he was relieved to find that the ringing sound in his head had stopped, but panic replaced it when he couldn’t figure out where he was. He looked around and took note: cream coloured brick tiles, rows of beds made up in white linen, a few of them occupied by sleeping men, himself dressed in a pale and flimsy gown and his final piece of evidence – a nurse walked by.
A young girl, probably the same age as Amy, but with red hair peeking out from her white bonnet and big green eyes turned to look at him harshly at first, but her features softened when he smiled tentatively at her.
Laurie was not vain, but he was aware of his fortunate looks. He knew that he had the profile of an eagle with soulful eyes and a mischievous grin. It was a particular combination of features that tended to make women’s hearts flutter. She immediately came over to him.
“Could you perhaps tell me where I am?”
“I thought it was obvious, sir. You are in a hospital.” Oh the French and their dry humour…
He smiled in that aww-shucks way and she blushed fiercely. “Of course, how silly of me. It’s only that I do not remember how I got here…”
“You do not remember the accident?” He stared at her for a moment, blankly, but then he slowly nodded. It was something to do with the horse running away and tipping over the carriage. “You have suffered a concussion and a broken arm. You have broken it in three places.”
Laurie looked down at his right arm, noticing the heavy white plaster of paris cast for the first time. It was also upon sight that the pain registered. That sense of dread gripped him. He felt like he was being stifled.
Cautiously, he asked, “What time is it? How long have I been here?”
She took up his chart that was clipped onto the foot of his bed. “You were brought in at around 11 this morning. It is now near 11 p.m.”
Twelve hours. He had lost twelve hours. Laurie immediately felt sickened. His attempt at being charming fell out like his patience.
“Where are my clothes?” He asked harshly. She looked taken aback.
“Monsieur Laurence, you cannot –”
“Where are my clothes?!”
She flinched and pointed to the little cabinet next to the bed. A few heads looked up in curiosity, someone cleared their throat, the girl harrumphed as she walked away loudly.
He didn’t care. He had to get to the port. Dear God, please don’t let her be on that ship already. Please Father, I beg of you.
In retrospect he should not have shouted at the nurse because it took him twice as long to get dressed and in the end he looked like Meg’s one-year-olds dressed him.
Laurie walked slowly to the train station. His arm ached like something kind of fierce and he felt dizzy and a little confused. There was bruising on his left knee and the pain pulled and dug in with each step that he took. He wondered whether his misfortunes were just some spate of light comedy to the Lord. If so, well at least someone thought his life was entertaining. Eventually he managed to drag himself down to the train station and fall gracelessly into a train headed for Le Havre port. When he disembarked at nearly midnight it was because someone was touching his arm to alert him that he had arrived at his destination. “If only,” he muttered sardonically as he got up with quite an aching and moaning.
He asked around and there was a ship leaving to New York at 11:30 in the morning, and yes, one left earlier yesterday at around the same time. Laurie didn’t even have it in him to react. He expected it. Of course she had left on the last ship. Of course the universe was personally intervening to wreak havoc on his life. He would simply have to get the next ship.
The ticket counter, of course, was closed until six in the morning so Laurie had to find somewhere to spend the next few hours lest he be taken in for loitering and vagrancy and wouldn’t that be a fine end to the day he’d had. Of course his options were limited. The closest and cheapest lodging seemed known to hold characters of suspicious repute and even more doubtful cleanliness, but as mentioned, options were limited. He took a room, asking that his luggage be transferred from his last hotel stay. He was promised it in the morning. Laurie was fast losing hope in promises given his recent luck.
The room was simple. A bed, a bedside table, a wardrobe, a writing desk and a table with an ewer and basin, a pot under the bed. What more could he desire? He sat down heavily in the hard wooden chair at the writing desk and contemplated whether sitting on the floor would have had the same effect. Nevertheless, he pulled out the room’s cheap paper and wet a pen in ink.
Laurie huffed out a wry laugh as he looked at the two words that took him nearly a minute to write legibly. It was a good thing that sleep eluded him since writing with his left hand was going to be a vigil, he morosely thought. And his left-handed penmanship was downright atrocious! Oh how he wished he were ambidextrous like Jo. Still, he persevered.
“My darling, please don’t be alarmed by this chicken scratch that I’m trying to pass off as my handwriting. It is no fakery, but truly me. Shall I prove it to you? Do you remember that afternoon spent in Nice at the West End hotel where we danced the Viennese waltz? I alone know how you got that strawberry stain on the inside of your dress.”
Laurie threw his head back and closed his eyes. Now both hands were aching, one more so than the other, but he was in agony nonetheless. He chose to remember that day. That spring that they’d spent in Nice full of brightly lit idle afternoons brimming over with syrupy sweet shaved ice, cool sea breezes and frolicking music at the Jardin Public.
“Oh this makes me feel to dance.” Amy had exclaimed at the brass band in the centre of the gazebo.
“Then we shall! M’lady,” He smiled and offered his hand. She batted it away and laughed. He pretended to be affronted and she spent the next few minutes bribing him with sharing her shaved ice.
“I’ll not have it. I already have my own.” And he stuck his nose up at her in mock hurt.
“Well fine! Be like that, see if I care.” And she too turned away from him in pretend insouciance.
Laurie had smiled wickedly at the back of her for an idea took him to drop a bit of ice down the collar of her dress. He paused for only a moment, not because he was wretched with indecision about his mischief, but he paused to view the little strip of skin exposed by the keyhole cutout at the back of her dress. He looked at her hair done up in a complicated knot that was quite stylish. Wisps of hair that was too delicate to be worked into the intricate hairstyle, escaped at the base of her neck and all he wanted was to press a light kiss there, as light as a feather. Instead, he settled for blowing a bit of air. She spun around immediately, just slow enough for him to see the hair tremble at his doing.
She looked up at him in wonder, touching the back of her neck like she wasn’t sure what had just transpired. She looked around briefly at the crowd around them, but settled on him being the culprit.
“Forgive me, my Raphaella, but you said you wanted to dance.”
“Wha – ”
He stretched his arm and put the little piece of syrup-laden ice down the back keyhole of her dress so quickly that she had no time to foresee his intentions.
“Laurie!” She screamed, but it was drowned out by the loud brass of the musicians and the applause of the crowd.
“I’d help you, but I think Fred Vaughn might be offended by my gesture.”
She rolled her eyes at him and walked away from him, but from his position he could see a slight smile and a blush. She had taken out her fan, despite the chill of the ice currently sliding down her back.
Laurie smiled at the memory and began writing again. “I also remember what happened later that night. I’m the one with whom you first danced the Viennese Waltz.”
When one vacations on the Mediterranean Sea at Nice one tends to more or less know everyone, and if one didn’t then introductions would have to be made. That was how they had ended up with an invitation to the penthouse suite of Countess of Castiglione, Virginia Oldoini. Aunt March took some convincing to attend as she spent at length talking about the Countess’ famed endeavours with the sort of disdain one would reserve for murders. Aunt March couldn’t decide which of the Countess’ sins was worse – her obsession with photography, in particular her risqué prints of her bare legs and feet or the period in her life where she served as Napoleon III’s mistress.
“Why should I cavort with the likes of her?”
“Aunt March, a Countess has personally extended an invitation to us. It would be rude of us to refuse.” Amy protested gently. She was already dressed in a dark blue silk moiré evening dress. She looked breath-taking and she knew it. Laurie knew that Amy was going to that party one way or the other. She would never miss out on a chance to acquaint herself with Europe's finest.
“She’s probably going to spend all night talking about her vulgarities to make up for her lack of wit.”
“Shouldn’t we show her what true class is then?”
They’d gone back and forth for almost a half hour until finally Aunt March compromised. She won’t go, but Amy could with Laurie as her chaperone. Amy looked over at Laurie who smiled sweetly at her. She huffed out a resigned “Fine,” as Laurie offered his arm. She shook him off as soon as they were out the hotel room’s door and Amy took to the stairs ahead of him.
“You haven’t said a word to me all night.”
“And why should I? I’m still cross with you.” She said as she laboured up the stairs holding up the massive skirt.
“Oh Amy, don’t be angry with me. It was only a joke.”
“There was strawberry syrup inside the back of my dress!” She fiercely whispered as she turned to look at him. Laurie momentarily blanked out as he imagined licking the syrup off, his tongue dragging from the base of her spine to the nape of her neck. “ – to explain that to Aunt March if the maid tells her. I don’t know why she thinks I need a chaperone to climb two flights of stairs to the penthouse. What does she think will happen in five unguarded minutes in a stairwell?”
“A man could do a lot to a woman in five minutes.”
Amy looked at him and rolled her eyes and continued her ascent. “And Aunt March was worried about the Countess’ vulgarity.”
“Maybe she should worry about yours. You’re the one that caught the reference.”
“I am nothing but a pure lady!” She stopped again to face him. Laurie climbed the stairs to stand on the step below her. She was so short and him so tall that he was face to face with her.
“No one is more interested in the vulgar than a pure lady.”
“That’s not true. Your argument has no merit. A lady has no interest in vulgarities or scandal.”
“Oh, just look at the Countess. She’s a Lady defying your logic.”
Amy could brook no argument there and so she huffed and turned away from him. When she arrived at the penthouse she turned to face him. “Promise to behave, Laurie. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Well that should give me plenty room to manoeuvre, my Lady.” Against her will, she smiled, shaking her head at him. It seemed all was forgiven after all.
When they arrived they went around the room making introductions. Laurie, unsurprisingly, had known quite a bit of persons in the gathering, especially those in the musical social circle, and engaged Amy in conversation with everyone that he knew. All was well until the Countess made her dramatic entrance down the stairs with a dress with such a low neckline that should the Countess sneeze then the party might turn indecent.
It wasn’t long before she made her way over to Laurie and somehow he found himself separated from Amy. The Countess flirted with him shamelessly and he flirted back a bit halfheartedly. When he had first landed in Europe he would have bedded the Countess before the night was over. But now, he desired more than just a tumble in the sheets to distract him. Instinctively, he desired a woman who strengthened him, who made demands on him because she did not doubt his capabilities, who did not treat him gently because she thought him too young or too foolish, but who considered him enough to treat him with respect. He desired a woman who wanted a relationship that was built on mutual admiration, respect, physical and emotional satisfaction. That woman was Amy and it was she he was attracted to in every way.
When he cast his eyes about for her he found her sitting with a group of young women chatting animatedly. The Countess was used to be the most captivating creature in a room what with her wavy, brunette hair, pale skin and extraordinary violet eyes. Thus, when she noticed that Laurie’s gaze kept flickering to the petite blond sitting near the balcony, she devised a way to keep his attention diverted from Amy.
“Mr Laurence, you play the piano don’t you? Why don’t you play something for us? We can dance the waltz.”
He was hardly in a position to refuse a Countess. Soon the chairs and tables were pushed aside to make room for dancing and Laurie was practically strong-armed to the nearest piano. He played a few tunes that they could waltz to and a few that were livelier, like the polka and the Charleston. Eventually, he stopped and someone else took over the set. He looked about for Amy and found her outside on the balcony.
He walked up to her and for a while they stared at the darkness ahead of them, only the pinprick lights of the lamps below could be seen, the ocean waves loud, but soothing. The night sky boasted many stars like jewels in a black velvet cloth.
“Aren’t you cold?” He asked.
“Quite the opposite really.” She replied enigmatically. He looked at her. “I had two glasses of champagne. I feel a bit flushed really.” And she pressed her palms to her face to cool down.
“Oh, is that why I didn’t notice you dancing?”
“I’m surprised you noticed me at all.”
“She can’t hold a candle to you. She was jealous, that’s all.”
“Jealous? Whatever for?” And she giggled again, almost hysterically.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m just –“ She took a deep breath and settled, “I’ve never really danced like that before.”
“Don’t you know the Viennese waltz?”
“Of course I know it.” She huffed indignantly. “It’s just that no one has ever danced like that back in Concord.” She admitted a bit sheepishly.
“Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not in Concord anymore. I know, I know, you’re a true lady. Saint Amy wouldn’t dare.”
“Alright, fine! Dance with me.”
“A true lady wouldn’t proposition a gentleman.” He teased.
Amy rolled her eyes and walked away from him.
He caught her by the hand and brought her to him in a spin and she stopped in a whirl of blue fabric. Amy assumed the position with her right foot slightly forward and her left back as Laurie put his hand on the middle of her back and took hold of her right hand in his left. He began to take her around the balcony. The balcony was not massive, but impressive for it stretched the length of the room and jutted out a few feet ahead. Amy followed him flawlessly, unsurprisingly. He didn’t mind her taking the lead in most things, but the dance floor was one place where he had to assert his authority over her. It was the only place he allowed it, for he didn’t mind being ruled over by Amy March. In fact, he rather liked it.
He dipped her slowly and upon righting her, maybe it was the champagne, maybe it was the amount of force he used, either way, Amy was unsteady and soon she found herself flush against him. He steadied her shoulders and she clung to him, tucking her face under his chin, her bosom pressing into him as she wrapped her arms around him. His hands shifted to her waist and he rest his chin atop her head and they swayed like that for a while as the music died down. He rubbed his thumb against her waist and a moan so slight, so gradual as to almost not to be perceived, escaped her lips.
She pulled away from him looking slightly alarmed, wondering if he heard her. His hands roamed from her waist to her neck, his index fingers caressing the fine hairs at the back of her neck. They looked into each other’s eyes, wondering what the next move would be, if it would be what they were both thinking. His sensibilities were erotically charged.
Just then a man burst through the balcony doors and threw up violently over the bannister.
Amy pulled away from Laurie in disgust, while Laurie seriously considered defenestration.
She paused at the door to look back at him. “I think I might be a bit drunk.” She giggled. “Don’t just stand there, take me home.” He stood there staring at her, aroused at her command, which she mistook for him being petulant about it, so she added more gently, “Please, my lord.”
In his delicate state, Laurie’s pupils dilated and the strain against the front of his pants tightened.
“Of course. A lot can happen in five minutes in a lonely staircase.” Amy looked up at him, her face upsettingly unreadable. Was she so oblivious to his flirting because she really was that innocent? Did she honestly not realize that he was flirting with her? Or was it because her love for Fred Vaughn gave her blinders to his affections?
In the end nothing happened. As they were leaving, so too were other guests and a group of them went down the staircase together, making Laurie’s role as chaperone moot and his plans to seduce Amy in an empty stairwell undefined and unrealized. He supposed it was fine. She deserved better than a hurried kiss in an empty stairwell.
The next day, Amy sobered up and absolutely no mention was made of champagne or close encounters.
But for Laurie the events of that day lingered, even now as he sat in his cheap hotel room and he struggled to write a letter to her. His sensibilities were indeed aroused, but there was nothing he could do about it now.
“Do you remember that day?” He struggled to write. He decided that he would not give her the letter, so therefore, he would write what he wanted, or at least try to, in an attempt to release the energy inside him.
“My love, I remember wanting to kiss the back of your neck. I wanted to nibble on your collarbone. I wanted to bruise your lips with mine and when it hurt, I would have poured sweet syrup to suck away at the pain. I wanted to hold you in my arms and take your breath away. I wanted to taste you. I wanted to push you up against the way and lift up your skirt to feel the heat between your legs as I licked the salt off your skin. I wanted to hear you moan. I wanted to caress the goosebumps on your bosom with my tongue. I wanted to make love to you.”
Laurie smirked and bit his lip in frustration as he imagined himself undressing her. His mind returned to that afternoon in the studio. What would have happened if Fred Vaughn hadn’t showed up?
Laurie cursed his treacherous mind. His fantasies were now interrupted with thoughts of Fred Vaughn touching Amy. He returned to the letter.
“Amy, how could you? Why didn’t you wait for me? My darling Raphaella, please wait for me. I simply miss you in a desperate way. Please wait for me.”
Laurie moved from the writing desk and went to stand at the window. He was slightly alarmed to see the light of the early morning sky turning from that dark blue that signalled the night to a light and welcoming blue tinged with yellow that beckoned the morning.
He took up the letter and folded it neatly and put it in his jacket pocket along with the other letter he wrote to her while in Germany. He washed his face as best he could and when he chanced a look in the mirror, noted that he looked a right fright.
At six o’clock, Laurie walked over to the ticket counter and purchased his ticket for the SS La Bretagne on route from Le Havre to New York. Surprisingly, his luggage was transferred to his current lodging, so he was able to board the ship looking like a proper gentleman. He looked like any other gentleman, but inside his heart he wondered whether he would sink the ship with how powerful and heavy his emotions were right now. There were too many emotions trapped in one man and he longed to share them with Amy. And so with determination he boarded the ship bound for New York as the next part of his odyssey began.
The idea of returning to Concord as a desperate spinster on the prowl was an appalling thought to Amy. She had seen the way it would have played out. She would have spent the last of the allowance Aunt March bequeathed to her on a stylish European wardrobe to negotiate balls and dinners and theatre dates in the pursuit of a suitably affluent matrimonial partner. It would have been just like her early days in Europe except this time she would have been whispered about as being “difficult” and “hard to please” and worst of them all, “used”. Rejecting a marriage proposal from a man like Fred Vaughn, who was perfectly suitable in every way, was inexcusable, if not downright inconceivable, and for two months after she had refused Fred’s perfectly proper proposal, Amy had to live with that scandal. All invitations to balls and dinners and theatre dates stopped as everyone thought her eccentric and flighty.
The day before, she had fled to the hotel, hurriedly drying her tears and schooling her face into something neutral by the time she got back inside the hotel room.
“Amy dear are you alright?” Aunt March had asked.
“I’m not feeling well. I’m going to lie down a bit.”
“Do you want Esther to –”
“No! Umm, it’s just a headache. I just need to lie down.”
The door was shut before she even properly finished her reply and Amy took a deep breath as she sunk down with her back against it.
Her dream had manifested right in front of her and she refused it. Here was the romantic ending that she wanted and she fled. How often had she dreamed of Laurie professing his love for her? But he didn’t do that did he? There were no roses and whispered sighs with effusive compliments and outrageous declarations of devotions. Instead, she got a half-hearted attempt with soft and lazy platitudes: “Don’t marry him,” and “You know why.” Lost gloves were sought after with more fervour. How typical of him. She hated him in that moment, for even with a half-hearted weak attempt at her love he was able to pull out her deepest secret like it was no more than an irritating weed. She had been trying so hard to bury what she felt for him. He himself had handed her the shovel when she saw him in Europe. His soulful eyes were despondent with rejection over her sister’s lack of romantic feelings for him. She had meant it when she had said that she was sorry. Despite her love for Laurie, Amy hated that Jo had refused him because to see him so heartbroken broke her heart. She only wanted the best for him. Jo wasn’t the best for him. Amy could have clearly seen that, but she doubted her opinion because of the love she had for him. She dismissed it as jealousy and spoke nothing of it to him when she saw his wistful sighs and longing looks that he practically slammed down in front of an oblivious and uninterested Jo every time she entered into a room. But to see his mournful eyes as she spoke to him – she bubbling with barely contained excitement and glee at seeing him in Europe, and him grieving over the rejection from her sister – Amy knew. Amy knew that she could never be with him because even if by some divine intervention he happened to fall madly in love with her, she would always be second best. He was her first love, but she was not his.
But…but would it be so bad, a dissenting voice quietly questioned.
“You know why.”
Memories followed her around as she moved from the floor to fling herself onto the bed. Paris, Nice, Bordeaux, Vevey, Geneva. He did it so easily, so insidiously it was easy to dismiss his flirtations as genuine. Of course it meant nothing. He was simply an incorrigible flirt that needed some amusement from his broken heart. She was willing to be his salve, his temporary distraction. She allowed him because quietly she relished his attention and cherished it, but each night she reviewed it bitterly and buried it along with her feelings for him.
But why won’t these buried feelings stay down?
She knew what he would say - You can’t bury true love. Right as she doubted him, her love for him crawled up out of the dirt, clawing up through the pounds of denial and repression she shovelled onto it.
Are you so desperate for him, another voice challenged.
Yes. Yes, she was. The admission of it even to herself was so powerful that the thought of it nearly doubled her over like an acute heart attack and she clutched at her chest, in shock that her love for him could physically affect her so. It frightened her to know that she loved Laurie so much that she was willing to consider being his wife even if he didn’t love her genuinely and completely.
For years she was just to the side of him, close enough to pick up any stray crumbs of his affection. When she thought back on those days, she felt ashamed at her audacity, at her blatant and shameless display. The time she made a mould of her foot for him. Ugh the mortification. She closed her eyes in shame. And wasn’t it embarrassingly obvious when she only agreed to stay with Aunt March after Laurie said that he’d visit her every day? She actually was grateful that Aunt March intervened in her schooling, teaching her how to wrangle her emotions and not display her love for him like she was holding a theatre production on unrequited love. After Aunt March’s teaching, on the outside when Laurie visited, Amy was now cool and disaffected. But after months of carefully controlled interactions with him he was able to make her explode in a fatal display of emotion with a few careless words.
Still, everything came crawling up from the depths of her heart and she could no longer deny it. She wanted him. She loved him. She had spent her entire life loving him. She was willing to accept him in any way that she could have him.
She made up her mind then and there. She would refuse Fred. He was coming tomorrow to see her and she had a fair idea of what he was going to do. He was a sweet man, but not the man for her. She just didn’t love him as she should. She allowed herself to hope for Laurie, she dared to dream.
In retrospect, Amy thought, she should have seen it coming. It was diabolical of the universe to set her dream so close to her only to snatch it away. She should have let her love stay dead and buried.
“Why? What do you have to discuss with him?” Aunt March had asked casually, unaware of her simple words slaughtering her niece’s hopes and dreams.
How was it possible to be so deep in love, yet be freezing cold inside, Amy thought. She could feel it, the slow ascent of the ice snapping her blood solid cold as it ominously journeyed to her heart. She felt herself going under when Aunt March told her that Laurie had left for London. Soon she would become a block of ice and keel over right in front of her aunt and shatter into a million pieces.
And still she waited like a lovesick fool! She waited for weeks for some sort of telegram, a letter, a message from a travelling friend, anything! He never wrote to her. Is there anything more pathetic than to finally take a chance on love, only to have it snatched away from you because of your own hubris? She should have never have doubted him. And now she was alone.
Scandal followed her everywhere. And Aunt March was furious, to put it mildly. However, Aunt March’s anger was not one for pyrotechnics, but instead her rage manifested as cutting disappointment that was able to freeze oil and fill Amy with an impending sense of doom. Amy didn’t know what she was going to do. Aunt March was right, she was her family’s only hope. Jo was unwilling and Beth was unable. Meg was a lost cause having already fallen for Laurie’s penniless tutor, no doubt her thoughts on marriage influenced by their parents who married for love with no regard for their future. Aunt March was right, they couldn’t eat their love, so it was up to Amy to do what she must. Except…with her recent rejection of Fred Vaughn her options of marrying a man of a particular social standing who was also of her age was slim to none. At that level in society her scandal left her with only the leftovers – the aging and infirm or the worst option of them all – being someone’s mistress. She perished the thought with a shudder.
It was only natural then that when Fred returned, again on bended knee, she snatched up the opportunity. Did she feel sickened? Yes. She didn’t love him as she should, but neither did Laurie love her as he should.
As she waited for Fred to sort out everything with the carriages, Amy slouched against the armchair on the balcony of the Luxembourg hotel overlooking the gardens. Dressed in black for mourning, her chin sunk into her chest as her feet were stretched out in front of her. Her hands hung limply over the arms of the chair, her mood sunken into a listless stupor. She watched over the gardens and tried to tame her grief, pity and resentment. For Amy had decided that she was going to experiment with a coping mechanism, that is, instead of studiously avoiding all memories of Beth and Laurie she would drown herself in them. All of last night she leapt headlong into the memories of her sister and her love for Laurie. In order to give up on these things long gone and never to return, she would have to give in. Oh if she could take back time! She would rip out a day or two and rearrange things just so.
“Darling, are you ready to go? Everything has been sorted.” Fred asked when he returned.
Amy stood and politely smiled outwardly and shrivelled inwardly as she took Fred’s hand.
– – – – –
Laurie felt exhaustion from deep within his bones. As soon as he entered the first class compartment on the train from New York to Boston he stumbled onto a seat and threw his head back on the seat. His right arm was itchy and the cast looked a bit worse for wear after six weeks on the seas. After six weeks in a cramped ship, he too looked a bit worse for wear. Unable to dress himself properly or shave due to the broken arm, his clothes were dishevelled and he had managed to grow a rather decent beard in thickness if not neatness. On his person he kept the letters he had painstakingly written to Amy every day of his travels. There were forty-four letters in all, haphazardly shoved into a brown paper bag because he was in no position to tie them neatly with string with his one good arm. It was good enough that he was able to write them at all with the barely legible penmanship of his left hand.
The train began to move with a great hissing and steam swirled all along the platform obscuring the views periodically. He felt his eyes already drifting close, already his mind conjuring up his latest and most recurring fantasy – how his reconnection with Amy would play out. In his mind, the carriage would come to a stop in front of Orchard house. A curtain would move from upstairs just as he would alight from the carriage. He would hear the shrieks of the ladies, “It’s Laurie! Laurie is here!” Jo would come barrelling down, embracing him fully. Marmee would have a sweet and sad smile to see the return of her adopted son. Meg and John and the twins would be there too. She would envelop him in a hug as well; John clapping him on his back, the twins clinging to his legs. And then quietly and away from all the melee Amy would be at the door. They would stare at each other from across the way – him looking dishevelled enough to signal the trials he endured to get to her, she looking stylish and captivating even in a simple tea dress. He would see the hesitation on her face, the initial fear that she shouldn’t allow herself to hope that he came back to her. But then he would whisper her name and she would break into the widest grin, hitch up her skirt and come running towards him to hold him in her arms, while Fred Vaughn would appear in the background with a look of forlorn understanding. Laurie figured if he allowed himself this one realism in his fantasy then all other aspects of his daydream would be realized. He had conjured this fantasy in his mind so much that he really couldn’t see it going any other way.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
For one thing, it was raining. God apparently had his entire staff of angels pouring huge bucketfuls of the stuff down from their great height. Another carriage passed him on the road and he could hear shrieks of girlish laughter and he immediately thought of the March sisters. He wondered whether there would still be room for innocent laughter at Orchard house now that Beth was gone. The house would still be in mourning, it had only been about six weeks after all since Beth had passed, so Laurie wondered whether his proposal to Amy would be welcomed or considered ill-timing. Either way he intended to propose.
The carriage pulled up to Orchard House. He did not have an umbrella and apparently the coachman was in the process of making one, the length of time he took to discover it. Laurie didn’t bother. He simply opened the carriage and for a few bewildering seconds stood in the rain and looked at the house. No one came barrelling outside to greet him, though the lights were on in the house. He could see the golden glow of lamplight from behind the curtains on the ground floor; but not even a curtain shifted. He supposed it was the rain and no one was able to hear his approach over the thunderous downpour.
Suddenly the door opened.
“You girls are back already? How’d it –”
Both men stood on the threshold looking at each other with barely concealed surprise and disappointment.
“Well don’t just stand there! It’s raining. Come inside at once.”
Laurie resented Fred inviting him into the March house as if he lived there, as if he belonged there and couldn’t even smile politely as Fred helped the coachman tote Laurie’s meagre luggage inside.
“Look what I found, everyone.” Fred announced cheerily as they entered the living room.
“Laurie!” Marmee smiled her heartbreaking smile as she rose to embrace him.
“My boy, I had no idea that you were coming home.” A gruff old voice said from behind Marmee and Laurie was shocked to see his grandfather there.
“Grandfather! I came as soon as I got the news.” He said still embracing Marmee. He pulled away to look into Marmee’s eyes. “I’m so terribly sorry.” Marmee didn’t seem to have the capability to respond, so she just nodded sadly and turned away.
The mood dipped considerably and it was only then that Laurie noted that the atmosphere before had one of palpable excitement, which was strange given the recent death, but especially so since the March girls were absent.
The living room was filled with everyone – Marmee, Mr. March, Mr. Laurence, John and the twins, Hannah and even Fred Vaughn – but the girls were noticeably absent.
“Where umm…uh, where’s –”
“Jo?” Fred asked with a most inexplicably pitying look.
“And Meg and Amy?” Laurie finished as he looked to everyone else for an answer, not bothering to spare Fred his attention a second longer than necessary.
“Oh well!” Marmee said practically bouncing in her seat as she took her husband’s hand in hers. “Oh Laurie you wouldn’t believe it. Sit down. We have so much to tell you. We’ve been so rude, please forgive me. You must be tired. I mean look at you! You’ve grown a beard and what on earth happened to your arm? Why is it in a sling? Oh but one thing at a time. Please have a seat. Oh where to start?” Marmee babbled and everyone started to talk at once.
“Jo has gone after Professor Bhaer,”
“Professor Bhaer was staying at the same boarding house as Jo in New York.”
“He clearly came here to woo her.”
“Yes, it was my wife who noticed how in love Jo was. Amy is such a romantic.”
“So the sisters immediately – ”
“Wait, what? Stop. What? What did you just say?”
“I was saying the girls immedi– ”
“Not you, Mr. Brooke!” Laurie turned his full attention on Fred Vaughn. “What did you just say?”
Fred looked sheepish as he tried to keep down a proud grin from escaping, while Laurie felt like he was sinking and sinking.
“Yes, Amy and I are husband and wife. We only got married on the ship, just to make things easier…”
There was a ringing in Laurie’s ears. For weeks Laurie tried to keep crushing self-doubt at bay with delusional confidence denying the realities and facts of his situation. He honestly believed that he still had time, that he still had a chance. Laurie suppressed a violent reaction when he realized that the room had gone silent, that they were waiting on him to say something because apparently Fred had finished relaying the story of his romantic pursuit of Amy.
With a disingenuous rictus, Laurie managed to eke out a weak, “Congrats.”
Fred, oblivious, beamed like a fool, like a fool in love.
Just then carriages could be heard pulling up outside and before Laurie could get time to brace himself, the girls were there along with a man he had never seen, but which he quietly assumed to be Mr. Bhaer.
“Oh! Christopher Columbus!” And suddenly Laurie found himself enveloped by Jo and Meg in a flurry of wild hair and fluttering skirts.
“When did you arrive? What happened to your arm? Is that a beard you’re growing? You’re soaking wet! I can’t believe you’re here! Laurie, you’ve gotten so thin! Yes, he has, hasn’t he? Careful Teddy or you’ll slip through a crack in the floor.”
Laughter rang out in the house as Laurie stared at Amy from across the way. Amy stared back at him, her face a picture of anguished beauty. Then Fred Vaughn came to embrace her and she smiled that dead-behind-the-eyes smile all the while never taking her eyes from Laurie and Laurie was honestly perplexed that Fred missed that look in Amy’s eyes.
Despite looking like a visual representation of pain, Laurie managed to pull it together just enough to croak out, “I understand congr- ahem – umm congratulations are in order.”
His voice nearly broke again at the end, but he turned it into a cough.
“Yes! Oh Teddy, I have someone to introduce.” Jo said and Laurie was forced to tear his eyes away from Amy to meet Mr. Bhaer.
Laurie was only able to manage a “please to meet you” before he couldn’t take it anymore. He felt like he was going to collapse with disappointment and despair.
“I’m terribly sorry, but I’m feeling very tired.”
“Oh Laurie, you must stay for dinner.” Meg and Marmee protested.
“I – ” He looked down and willed the tears that were threatening to spill over to not embarrass him further. He cleared his throat and hoped that he was presenting a suitable face.
When he looked up Jo was looking at him questioningly. “I’m really happy for you, Jo. I sincerely am.”
She smiled softly at him, but still gave him a look of quiet contemplation.
He begged off immediately, just barely doing enough to not look suspicious. He didn’t look back at Amy for he would have seen her clutch onto the wall as she put a hand to her chest, nearly faint. He only heard the tail end of Fred saying,
“What is it, Amy? Are you alright?”
Laurie slammed the door shut behind him.
– – – – –
Jo thought that this was getting ridiculous for it had been nearly two weeks since both Amy and Teddy returned from Europe and neither one of them had sat with her to tell her their stories and make her steam with jealousy. Whenever Europe was brought up, Amy only spoke about art somewhat vaguely, like she was telling a story but wasn’t allowed to mention key information. If you pressed her she immediately remembered that she had something to do and begged off. It was most strange. Though, it wasn’t as strange as Teddy who was never available whenever Jo came to call and since he returned had yet to set foot at Orchard house. Not even a note. Jo was determined to settle this.
It was ten on a Saturday morning and from her vantage point across the road near the maple tree, Jo could see that the window in the library of the Laurence manor was open. She knew Teddy was there because earlier she saw Mr. Laurence leave. It could be a maid cleaning, but she doubted that since a maid would have opened all of the windows if she were cleaning and airing out the room. A wicked smile graced Jo’s features. She was going to give Laurie such a fright she could barely contain her excitement. She immediately set off for the trellis that was framed with ivy and went all the way up to the second floor of the house. She pulled on the trellis, testing its durability, and satisfied that it could hold her weight, she began to climb.
– – – –
Laurie took a sip of his bourbon and flexed his fingers as he looked down at the lines he wrote with his right hand. “I am a fool” written five times in a row and he could go no further. The handwriting itself was beyond atrocious and even worse than his left-handed penmanship. It had taken him almost fifteen minutes to write those five lines and now his fingers on his right hand were trembling from the effort. He was in a foul mood and had been in one for the last two weeks. He was holed up in the big empty house, rattling around in it like a depressed ghost. But still, he wasn’t quite ready to quit yet as he looked at his law books strewn across the table. He was in the process of continuing his research and was getting quite absorbed in Massachusetts marriage laws when he saw a random leg sticking its way through his window.
Jo March came tumbling into the library and Laurie breathed a sigh of relief. She, for one, couldn’t help but dissolve into peals of laughter.
“I’ll get you back for that.”
“You should have seen the look on your face!”
“Yes, well most people I know don’t come through the second story window, so pardon my surprise.”
“Oh Teddy, I missed you.” She said as she collapsed into the loveseat and wiped the tears from her eyes.
He came to join her, taking up his drink with his left hand. “Oh Teddy, it’s 10 in the morning and you’re drinking already?”
“Well I don’t see an a.m. or p.m. label on this, so…”
She gave him a look of deepest disapproval.
“Stop it. You’re beginning to look like Aunt March,” and Jo scoffed in offense. That shut her up on the matter quickly.
“But really, what’s the matter? You don’t come around anymore and something was wrong with you the night you came back. Tell me…is it…” She began to fiddle with her dress, “I thought that business was behind us.”
Laurie looked at her quizzically, wondering what Jo was possibly talking about. After his silence she looked up at him questioningly and then it came to him. Oh right! That little matter of a rejected marriage proposal. “Look Jo, I want to say one thing and then we’ll put it away forever. I have always loved you, but the love I have for –” Laurie cut himself off, unable to speak his heart, “You were right, we would have killed each other. I think it was meant this way. Could we…could we still be friends?”
“Well I sure hope so, I just climbed through your window. If friends can’t climb through each other’s windows then I don’t know who can.”
“Well I think a bandit might disagree, but I digress.”
Jo laughed, shaking her head at him. “Oh Teddy, I missed you. Tell me about Europe. Tell me about Amy. How did you meet up in Europe? Did you two meet up a lot? Where did you go? Did Amy bother you in Europe with her preening? What happened to your arm? That looks like a story. And why have you been avoiding the house these two weeks?”
All of Jo’s story requests made the list of Things Laurie Did Not Want To Talk About, but Jo was here and he was grateful to have back his friend, so the least he could do was give her some semblance of honesty.
“I’ve been sick,” Lovesick, his treacherous mind supplied.
“Oh no, I wonder if you and Amy caught the same bug.”
Laurie snapped his attention to her, “Is she not well?”
“Oh I don’t know. After you left, she got violently sick. Fred says she’s withdrawn and every time he asks what’s wrong, she says it’s a headache. Marmee thinks it’s the grief that’s just hit her. Leave it to Amy to be more dramatic than Mother and Father who lost their child. She’s always so desperate to be the person who gets the most attention in a room. Honestly, I think she’s just pining for Europe. Every time you ask her how was Europe she’ll talk about the art and food, but it’s…oh I don’t know, like her heart’s not into it, you know? Amy loves art and fashion and all those things, so for her to be so downtrodden. I’m worried about her. How was she in Europe? Did she take to it well? Did you two get on well?”
“She was…amazing. She fit right in. Her French was perfect. She was a real lady.” He took a sip of his drink and stared into its hazel-coloured depths as memories of his time with Amy in France and Switzerland throttled his mind. He wanted to drown himself in the depths.
“Teddy, look at me. Teddy, please.” Laurie looked at Jo and gave her a small smile that he hoped made him look less like how he felt, which was absolutely miserable and caught in a bubble of irreversible despair. “What’s going on, my boy?”
Laurie opened his mouth, but couldn’t get out the words. He knew how he looked – like an unruly, unkempt, drunkard. He wanted to tell her everything, instead, he settled for half of the story. “I got in an accident on my way here. Remember my sling? Well the doctor removed the cast last week and the recuperation has been a bit trying. It’s nothing really, but it’s been on my mind.”
“Oh Teddy. I’m so, so sorry to hear that. But…How did you get in an accident? Was the coachman speeding?”
Laurie nodded, not liking the direction this was headed. He needed for Jo to stop asking questions, because if he was honest with himself, he could not keep a secret, even his own.
“Why was he speeding? Were you late?”
“Umm, I was rushing to catch a train to…” He trailed off uncertainly.
“To what?” Her eyes bored into his and he took another sip of his drink to avoid her scrutiny.
“I was trying to meet up with Amy, actually. I thought that we could have travelled together.” He didn’t know how long he was going to last under this interrogation. Maybe he should stop drinking, he was positive it wasn’t helping. He put down the glass.
“Oh. But wasn’t she travelling with Fred? I thought for sure that you would have heard of the engagement. But then, the way Fred tells it, it sounds like it happened very quickly.”
“Too quickly, in my opinion.”
“I knew it!”
“Knew what?” Laurie asked, alarmed.
“I knew that you would agree with me.” Laurie narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously.
“You see, I told Mother that I think this whole Fred and Amy married business happened a little too quickly. It’s just a hard pill to swallow. I mean, even if she had come to say that she had suddenly married you it would’ve been easier.” Laurie looked at Jo slyly.
“Me? Why me?”
“Just an example.” She said dismissively. “Anyway, I mean, if they really loved each other they should have been able to wait and really test their love, you know.”
“Anyway, I honestly don’t know if she’s happy. I mean, Fred seems like a lovely and considerate fellow and he’ll be able to provide for her, but oh, I just think she’s being completely selfish.”
“Selfish? How so?”
“Because she’s only marrying him for his money!”
“I still wouldn’t say that she’s selfish. If anything, she’s being rather selfless because she could have married for love and money when I proposed, but instead she felt the need to marry Fred Vaughn because you and Meg both decided to be selfish and follow your hearts with no regard to your family and how they might survive. And now she’s stuck with him because she did refuse him, but I imagine her prospects were limited after that scandal, but in the end she decided to do not the “right” thing for herself, but the “right” thing for you and her parents. So no, I don’t think she was being selfish. Impatient yes, selfish no.” He finished almost at shouting pitch, barely masking his annoyance.
Jo simply stared at Laurie triumphantly.
“What?” He asked peevishly as he felt acutely self-conscious under her gaze.
“When you proposed?”
“Oh damn it! I’ve really done it now. You sly fox you. How long have you known?”
“I didn’t know anything until you told me.” She said smugly, looking like the cat that got the cream.
Laurie closed his eyes in shameful defeat and sunk further into the chair. He knew he wouldn’t have been able to survive Jo’s interrogation. And Amy was right, he had to stop drinking because clearly he turned into a bumbling idiot when he did.
“I suspected something was off when Amy seemed to get sick at the sight of you. She thinks I haven’t noticed, but every time she hears your name she looks so forlorn, when before just the mere mention of your name was enough to brighten her spirits.”
“Wait, have you known all this time that she –”
“No, I thought it was just a silly, childhood infatuation. I didn’t realize how deeply she felt. But are you…are you in love?”
“Yes,” Laurie looked at her, desperation shining in his eyes. “Jo, the love I have for her is different. She compliments me. When I’m evasive, she is direct. You find her vain and selfish. I’ve seen her grow into someone who is conscientious, not vain. She is sacrificing, not selfish. If I speak halfway, she finishes it all the way. Even if we don’t agree, we could spend hours debating ideas. When I’m directionless, she sets me straight. It’s more than just being in love. She motivates and inspires me to become a better version of myself. She has disarmed me completely. I’ve never felt love like this before. And I have never been more attracted to someone the way I feel for her.”
“Teddy, please.” Jo began to blush at his frank words. Laurie ducked his head and blushed too. “You know you’re the only person who calls me Teddy.”
“What does Amy call you?”
“My Lord,” And he smiled and blushed some more. Jo rolled her eyes to dismiss her discomfort.
“Yeah that sounds like Amy.” She felt as if she was getting an insight into a very private love affair of her best friend and sister and she had seen enough, too much. “Well, I’m so sorry, Teddy. It’ll be difficult, but eventually you’ll be able to move on and find someone lovely.”
Laurie nodded distractedly.
“Teddy? You have to give up on this. Amy is married.”
“I didn’t say anything!” He protested.
“No, but that’s exactly the problem. Teddy, please don’t create any problems. I mean, if this gets out, it could cause a scandal.”
“I’m already trying my best, Jo. Grandfather wants me to go back to London. He’s tired of me moping around and not a little angry that I left London and didn’t return.”
“And will you?”
Laurie sighed and shrugged. He’d had an idea and it would involve some hurt on everybody’s side for a while, but he needed to speak to Amy first and to do the legal research into marriage laws.
“Oh Laurie, I would have been thrilled for you to marry Amy. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out. What happened?”
“I was a fool. She doubted my sincerity. She thought I was using her to rebound from my rejection from you. And then I was foolish with my timing. I was giving her time to reconsider. I was giving her space, but I came back too late.”
Laurie closed his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. For the last two weeks regret saturated and oozed out of every pore. When he was traveling to Amy he often wondered to the Lord whether he was doing the right thing. His grandfather was very much on the verge of firing him, he had lost his ability to play his passion in pursuit of the girl and in the end he still lost the girl. When he was feeling particularly sardonic and cynical, he wondered what worse things would befall him when he pursued Amy now that she was a married woman. But he wasn’t going to tell Jo that! He was pretty sure she would faint in shock and what a fall that would be from that high horse she sat on.
“Well tomorrow we’re having a luncheon to celebrate Amy’s marriage and my engagement. Am I to assume that you won’t attend my engagement party because of Amy?”
Laurie looked at her softly, “Jo, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
She smiled at him and he was genuinely happy for her. He wanted to share in her happiness and he knew that he would achieve it, but his trials were not yet over.
– – – – –
Laurie dressed carefully for the luncheon. He attempted to shave his beard, but his right hand was simply too weak, so in the end his valet did it for him. He did not slick and part his hair as he knew was the order of the day because he knew that Amy mentioned once offhandedly that she rather liked his mop of unruly curls. He wore his black double breasted vest with a crisp white shirt and his grey herringbone tweed frock coat with black pants. He needed help to tie his cravat and when he looked at himself in the mirror he again wondered what else he would lose in his pursuit of a married woman. He only hoped that the Lord could forgive him because he was in the pursuit of true love. That had to count for something, right? He stepped out of his dressing room not sure whether he was one step closer to his happiness or despair.
– – – – –
The luncheon was being held in the backyard of Orchard House. September was just beginning and the air was crisp and cool. As much as Amy loved Europe, she loved Concord best. She fell in love in Europe, but she realized what love was right here at home. She was dressed in the white dress that had the strawberry stain on the inside back of it. She didn’t know why she chose that dress and if anyone pressed her for an answer she would be speechless…except to Laurie, for only he would realize the memories that particular dress held.
She had been wholly unprepared to see him that night he returned. He looked like warmed over death. He had obviously lost weight and was not sleeping well. His arm was in a sling and his hair was mimicking a bird’s nest. And that beard was…well, the less said, the better. And still, if he had asked her then and there to run away with him she would have and she hated herself for it.
So of course she felt like throwing herself off the nearest precipice when she saw him strolling across the lawn dressed in all black looking like dangerous romance manifested. Fred came up next to her and she just barely managed to resist the urge to throw off his casual touch. She never took her eyes off of Laurie walking across the lawn, looking happy enough as he spoke to Jo and Mr. Bhaer. She felt drawn to him, but then felt sickened at herself. She was supposed to be stronger than this. She willed herself to look up at Fred and smile. He was really a sweet person and didn’t deserve someone like herself with her treacherous heart. I’d be respected if I couldn’t be loved. She didn’t even respect herself as Fred leaned down to kiss her and not for the first time she thought of Laurie whenever Fred touched her. She opened her eyes and saw Laurie staring right at her and she felt that pain in her chest again.
The festivities began with a prayer from Mr. March and they all stood in a circle and Amy begged forgiveness in her heart for her lascivious thoughts of another man when Fred touched her at night. She knew that the Lord would forgive you if you were truly penitent in your heart, but she also knew that she wasn’t truly penitent because her mind would go back to Laurie at every turn. She needed atonement, but she didn’t deserve it.
They sat down to a rather elaborate lunch which Amy contributed to generously with her allowance from Fred. The dining table was loaded with mince pies, steak, buttered fish, bread, ham, biscuits and scones with jam as a little treat for the very English Fred. Mr. March even caused a minor scandal when he opened a bottle of champagne, purchased by Amy for the celebration. The girls had never had it and Amy cautioned them to be careful.
“Amy you know your limit is two.” Laurie said to her and she felt the bottom of her stomach drop out. When she chanced a look at him he looked so filled with regret that she immediately forgave his slip.
“Oh Europe seems very wild.” Marmee said giving Amy a disapproving stare. “Did you drink a lot in France?”
“It was only for the New Year, Mrs. March. And I kept an eye on her.” Laurie hurried to explain and save Amy.
“Oh, well a little celebration for the New Year is understandable.” Mr March said and proceeded to launch into why frequent alcohol consumption could lead to a state of ruin if not nipped early.
Laurie looked at Amy and winked and she shared a wicked smile with him as they remembered all the times that they’d had champagne in Europe. In the upper echelons of Parisian society champagne was as common as water.
“Oh it’s so nice to see you smiling,” Meg said from across the table and Amy’s smile fell as she snapped her attention to her older sister. Amy felt the tips of her ears burning. She felt like she’d been caught out and she resolved to say nothing to Laurie for the rest of the evening, for the rest of her natural life if she could help it.
“Fred, have you decided whether you and Amy will live here or move to London? You can’t live at your aunt’s house forever.” John asked.
“Well we were thinking of moving back to London. It might do Amy some good. She’s been so depressed lately.”
“London isn’t known for its uplifting atmosphere,” Mr. Bhaer commented and Jo laughed like it was the funniest thing he ever said.
But he was right, Amy thought. She needed to get as far away from memories of Laurie. In her mental world map she had crossed out America and Europe as safe spaces from him.
“Well I might see you often, Fred. Grandfather wants me to return to London to see after the business.”
Amy’s heart sank. She was running out of countries and at this rate she and Fred would have to settle in some far reaching place where no one spoke any of the five languages Laurie was capable of speaking.
“We haven’t settled on that though.” Amy muttered and Fred looked at her bewildered. Amy chanced a look at Laurie and she wanted to pinch him. He seemed to be having the most amount of teasing fun.
After lunch Amy made sure to keep a wide berth of Laurie and contrived to be as far from him as possible especially since Jo’s eyes seemed glued to her sister’s back. The party moved inside where a pot of tea was brewed filled with warm spices like cinnamon and clove. The entire house smelled lovely. Someone begged Laurie to play the piano and Amy came to stand at the door, leaning against the doorjamb, because even if she didn’t want to be within arm’s length of him, she missed him playing for her. Every night when they were in Europe he played for her while she idly sketched and when he was done she would hand him his nightcap. It was a routine that she found herself missing deeply and only in its absence did she realize how he had intricately sewn himself into the very fabric of her life.
But Laurie hesitated.
“Oh I’m very tired. I think it’s the champagne…” He said with quite a show of yawning and collapsing into the nearest chair. Meg called him a spoilsport and took up a seat at the piano instead. Everyone gathered around the piano as Meg belted out known tunes for them to sing along.
Amy wondered if the entire room was hearing her heart break for Theodore Laurence. Because she understood that he wasn’t saying something. She had noticed him eat only a little and what he did eat were things he could pick up with his left hand, like the sandwiches and the scones. She noticed him flexing his right hand regularly. While everyone sang happily along with Meg as she played, Laurie sat quietly and stared through and through.
Laurie had refused, not because he was unwilling, but because he was unable.
“Daisy and Demi?” The children who were sitting on the floor next to where Laurie sat, using an old stool as their writing desk, were scribbling on a piece of paper.
“Yes Aunty Amy?” They answered somewhat distractedly.
She handed them fresh paper and said, “Let Uncle Laurie help you write your letters.” Laurie looked up at her questioningly and she felt her stomach somersault at his piercing eyes. “It’ll be good practice and you will get better.” She said to the children, but she never took her gaze from Laurie.
She could see him realize that she knew his secret, his eyes softening with gratitude and understanding.
But she didn’t allow him to get further. She moved away from him immediately, terrified that if she lingered, she would do something desperate.
Amy found herself in the kitchen then, readily helping with anything Hannah needed. She felt safe enough from him there because anyone who dared enter the kitchen was instantly saddled with housework and Amy was pretty sure Laurie wouldn’t know housework if it came up to him and slapped him in the face. While she was busy setting a tray of cake, little Daisy tugged on her skirt and handed her a little brown paper bag.
“Is this for me?” She smiled brightly.
“Uncuh Aurie.” Daisy smiled proudly and Amy looked up to see Laurie standing in the doorway. He was gone the next second but it was enough for Amy to feel her chest constrict and her stomach flip up into her throat.
“Thank you, Daisy-bell.” She tickled the little girl and she squealed with delight and ran back into the living room. Amy attempted to chase after her and use that as an excuse to escape the kitchen in order to see what the package was about. She ducked upstairs surreptitiously into her old bedroom, but immediately walked out, unable to stand the memories she shared there with Beth. Instead, she kept walking to the attic.
The attic was dusty with more palatable memories. She realized her decision to drown herself in memories was too much pain but she didn’t know what else to do. When she avoided all reminders, they only piled up like debts and came to collect in the most inopportune times.
Amy sat down on an old rocking chair and took a deep breath before she removed the contents of the brown paper bag. Inside was a thick stack of letters. She opened the first one with a date of June 26, 1870.
“Dearest Amy, Please accept my sincerest apologies for the lack of correspondence after my sudden departure…”
Her heart was pounding as she read it. She pulled out another randomly. The date was July 15, 1870.
“My darling Amy, Are you still mine? Sweetheart, please wait for me. I feel like there’s a storm inside of me. It is my fear that I will arrive too late, but I try my best to calm myself with memories of you. You are my medicine. I am trying to be patient and optimistic, but if I am being honest, this is a tall order. I am scared. I am scared that I have pursued you for nothing. I can barely write as you can so clearly see. I am afraid as well that I wouldn’t be able to play the piano again. Please be patient for me. Everything I do is for you. I am on my way.”
Tears began to fall from Amy and landed as fat drops on the letters even as she pulled out another.
“Dearest Amy, Time has lost its meaning here on this ship. A thousand miles you may be from me, but you are in my heart, a thousand miles deep. On this endless expanse of ocean I have lost my sense of measuring time. My days began with visiting you and teaching you the French word for the day and setting out to the city to find any excuse to utilize the word. My days ended when you handed me my nightcap after I played for you. Darling, believe me when I say that I never wanted to leave you. I wanted more than anything to end the day in your bed, in your arms. Without you to mark my days, everything has melted into one unremarkable expanse of nothingness.”
“My love, How dare you make me dream of you? I dream of your smile, of your skin, of your sighs, of your moans. What does your heart desire? What do you taste like? I want to have my tongue inside you. I have the same dream every night. You and me, happy forever. I cannot wait to taste you. You are butter and wine and honey and sugar and all good things. I cannot wait to make you call out my name. I wish I could compose our love or that you could paint it in the vibrant hues it deserves. Our love cannot be contained not because of our inability, but because beauty so divine cannot be contained by man alone.”
“Amy my sweet, I see nobody but you in my future. I want to wake up next to you every day for the rest of my life. You have settled into my heart and made your home there and I welcome it. It should be a paradise for you. For there in my heart you are most truly loved. I worship your mind and body. You give beauty its anatomy. You are perfect to me.”
“Darling, If I arrive too late, please note that nothing will keep me from you.”
This was the last and shortest letter and by now Amy was a sobbing mess. With tears in her eyes she looked up and there was Laurie standing in the doorway.
“How dare you?!” She walked over to him and he met her halfway. The letters fell from her lap and were strewn across the floor. “How dare you?!” She halfheartedly pounded her fists against his chest and he instead embraced her. She sobbed into his chest.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” he asked quietly.
She pulled back from him, tears clinging to her eyelashes.
“No, no you don’t get to put me up for trial. You’re being mean. Why didn’t you wait for me?” She flung the question back into his face.
“You’re right. I should have given you time to think. Do you believe me now? Do you understand that my love for you is true?”
She nodded and smiled ruefully. “A little too late, I reckon.”
“Amy,” His somber tone made her look at him, really look at him. “I’m sorry that I’m late, but I’m willing to do what it takes.”
“Laurie, I cannot divorce him. For me to get a divorce I would have to –”
“– prove that he is either incestuous, physically cruel or bestial and that’s in addition to him being an adulterer. I know. I have done the research. It would be easier for him to divorce you, but he would need a good reason because he loves you. I need to strike a delicate balance.”
A deep sense of dread filled Amy like water filling up a sunken ship, “My lord, please tell me that your plan isn’t to expose me as some sort of adulterer.” She asked carefully as she backed away from him and Laurie almost laughed, almost.
“No, my dear, the burden would be on me. It wouldn’t be pleasant for anyone involved, but the burden would be on me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Alienation of affection. It’s when a person in a marriage believes another person has willfully interfered with the marriage. It’ll be his best bet because he wouldn’t want the scandal and he wouldn’t want you to look like a wanton nymphomaniac, but it’ll be a good reason for him to divorce you if he believes that I have turned your head.”
“But how will they prove that?”
Amy and Laurie looked at each other and then at the letters strewn across the floor and then back at each other.
“Oh Laurie, I don’t know if I want your emotions splashed across the papers. And what will everyone say? They’ll eat you alive. You know how people can be.”
“Honestly my biggest fear is that they think I write like a five year old.”
“Laurie be serious!” Amy protested, but she was smiling. He pulled her into him and she rested her head on his chest. She could stay there forever. “What happened to your arm?”
“I got in an accident pursuing you. I broke my arm in three places.”
“Will you be able to play the piano again?”
“I don’t know.”
“You will be once you work hard. I will support you. You will play again.” She said with such determined finality he couldn't help but believe her.
Laurie hugged her tighter. Oh how he missed her!
“Did you mean what you said?” She asked and he pulled back to look at her. “Honestly, it’s not too late to back out. No one has to know what happened. We don’t need to discuss it. You need not say anything. My only request is that you will remember me – ”
Laurie stopped her babbling by seizing her mouth with his. It was slow and gentle at first, but soon there couldn’t be enough skin on skin. She pressed herself into him and he drifted to her neck, the way he wanted to, and when she moaned against him they backed up against the wall. Her hands drifted to his hair, the way she always wanted to. He took her breath away when he hitched up her skirt and his hands roamed below her under things and between her legs. Before she could even dream of protesting, he hiked up her skirt a little more as he kissed her ferociously.
There was a sort of unsaid competition that Laurie was partaking in of his own making, to prove a point to Amy, that he was the better man. He didn’t realize that by this very action of pushing up Amy’s skirt to push aside her split drawers and feel the wetness between her legs and hear her breath hitch and rise with every thrust of his dexterous fingers that he had already set himself apart from Fred Vaughn. For Amy had never felt this way with her husband. She felt a sense of urgency and then lost complete control of herself. Her hand gripped the back of his neck as her other clutched at his shirt. She felt herself barely cognizant of reality except Laurie’s fingers inside her and his lips on her skin. He pulled back a bit when she was at the edge and all she could breathe out in protest was a breathless, “My Lord, please!” He smiled devilishly at her and Amy felt herself melting from the heat. The sensation was overwhelming and she tried to move away, but he was relentless. She felt herself crashing headlong into him, then she came into him, feeling like she was floating. She felt overjoyed, terrified and weak-kneed.
Laurie looked at her, waiting for her to come back to him. She was clutching him like she was about to fall, her face buried in his shoulder, her breathing laboured. For his part, he was ecstatic, but he worried about her. Now that she was coming down would she regret it? He was ready to risk it all, but was she?
She pulled back from him and he looked at her, really looked at her. She clung to him.
“Don’t leave me, please.”
“I’ve no intention.” He whispered as he stroked the stray hairs away from her forehead. “Amy, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you and it honestly frightens me.”
They stood in silence for a while, simply enjoying each other’s heartbeats, keeping guilt and fear at bay for just a moment longer. But the loud, clanging knock of anxiety could only be kept at bay for so long.
“My lord, what are you going to do?”
“Do you trust me?”
“That’s all I want to hear.”
– – – – – –
The letters were found in short order by Fred, just as Laurie had planned. But before that Amy had asked her family, a few days after the attic incident, as she had gotten used to calling it, what were they willing to do for love. They had all gathered at Orchard house to discuss Jo’s wedding to Mr. Bhaer, so Amy thought it the perfect opportunity to test the waters for the storm to come. They girls were sat on the living room around the coffee table discussing wedding things and love and everything romance while their parents sat on the sofa reading and chiming in intermittently with their opinions. Amy seized her chance.
“How far would you be willing to go for love?”
“What wouldn’t I do for John would be a better question.” Meg answered and Marmee nodded approvingly as she squeezed her husband’s hand.
Jo looked at Amy shrewdly. “What would your answer be, Amy?”
“Well, I think I would be willing to do the unthinkable. I’d be willing to go the distance, let my name be dragged through the mud even if it meant that in the end I’d end up with the one I loved.”
“What if it meant that you would end up with no money?” Jo asked, looking at her sister carefully.
“I’d still marry him.”
Marmee and Mr. March nodded sagely, proud that they had brought up fine daughters. But still, Jo persevered.
“But what if, just saying, what if you realized that this true love was not your husband?”
The living room erupted in cries of dissent from everyone.
“Jo, what are you saying?!”
“You watch yourself with that kind of talk, young lady!”
“Oh Jo stop being scandalous.”
Jo looked across the table at Amy and Amy’s countenance grew grim and obdurate.
“Marriage is the act of uniting man and woman, as husband and wife, for life under the sanctimony of God.” Mr. March supplied and Meg and Marmee nodded solemnly. Amy felt the guilt of what she did with Laurie in the attic pulling away at her happiness like someone pulling at a dining cloth to leave the table exposed, bare.
When Father spoke like this, Amy found her voice growing thin and her desire to be a penitent good little girl almost always overwhelmed her. She took a deep breath and steeled herself, for tomorrow it would be all over the news. If she couldn’t face her family, how was she going to face the world?
“Umm…I have something to tell you.” She said quietly.
With the full attention of everyone, Amy seriously considered in that moment fleeing to Europe with Laurie where she could live her life in the shadows as his mistress.
“Fred is umm…he’s going to divorce me.”
“Oh my God!”
“And when everything is finalized, I’m going to marry Laurie.”
Instead of the uproarious complaints there was an absence of any noise whatsoever. Finally, Meg spoke. “Laurie? You and Laurie?”
“Oh Meg,” Amy fell at Meg’s feet, “Please understand. I love him so very much. Nothing compares.”
“Amy darling,” Marmee finally found her voice, “We know. We have all known how you feel about him and if we’re being honest, it was getting a bit obvious how he felt about you too. It’s just that…Well…this is not something to take lightly.”
“Lightly? You think that I have taken this lightly?” Amy flew up from her position on the floor. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Mother, I have spent years suppressing the way I have felt for him. Do you know how difficult it was to be right next to him while he sighed over Jo? Do you know that I doubted him when he eventually saw me? I have made mistakes. I have ruined a man’s life and I am willing to face ruin in return. Laurie is risking his reputation, his grandfather’s reputation and his fortune. In his quest to come back to me he has ruined his chances of ever playing the piano again. That may not mean much to you, but to him and me it is devastating because he is genuinely talented. So do not say to me that we are taking this lightly. I would love your support, but I do not require it.”
More silence followed and tears flowed down Amy’s cheeks. She gathered her things from the living room wishing that she was already divorced and she could go to Laurie all now and curl up next to him in his bed. She was getting ready to walk out when Jo spoke out.
“It would make us hypocrites not to support you, Amy, especially when you would need us the most and what you have sacrificed, for us.”
Amy turned to look at her sister. Jo rose from her position near the coffee table to come hug her sister. Soon Meg joined her, followed by Marmee. Amy couldn’t help but cry in relief and in dreaded anticipation of what was to come. Tearfully she looked at her father, despair filling her heart until he too got up from the sofa to embrace her.
“I do not agree, but I support you. I only want that my daughters are happy and healthy.”
That seemed to set off the girls in a fresh wave of tears and so the night ended – with joyous tears surrounded by those they loved.
– – – – – –
Friends disappeared, business was very bad for a while and the gossip set Concord and London aflame with titillating scandal for three months. Laurie became a social pariah and his grandfather even threatened to disown him. But Laurie only pressed himself harder and kept his head down and thought of Amy. He measured the success of his goal with every letter filled with words of encouragement he received from her during their trying time. Even if he was welcomed nowhere else, he was glad that he still had her support and the support of the March sisters.
In the end, he suffered months of having his name slandered across every paper as the man who tempted another’s wife and was commanded by the law to pay $200,000 in damages to Fred Vaughn.
The amount was outrageous, but Laurie somewhat expected it.
“You expected that I’d be worth that amount?”
“My darling no, you misunderstand,” Laurie said desperate to avoid provoking her on this sensitive issue.
They were standing in the middle of the drawing room of the Laurence manor, what was left of it. Laurie had had to liquefy a lot of assets to pay Fred Vaughn $200,000.00 in damages in the case of Fred Vaughn versus Theodore Laurence for alienation of affection against his wife. The only thing left in the living room was the piano and its seat. It was the one thing Amy insisted that he not sell because she meant it when she said that he would play it again.
“You see I anticipated that he would call an exorbitant amount for the divorce.”
“Oh so now I’m exorbitant?”
She laughed genuinely, brightly and he marked the moment in his mind.
“What was obscene was the furniture in this house. I’m glad to see it go.”
“I think Grandfather might disagree.”
“Is he still cross with you about everything?”
“He’s no poet, but he understands that I was willing to do whatever it took for love.”
Amy smiled warmly and ducked her head blushing. Laurie was glad that he could still have that effect on her.
“Well I’m glad that he’s forgiven you.”
“Forgiven? I wouldn’t go so far. I still have to work like a dog for the rest of my life to pay him back $200,000.00, but that’s barely an inconvenience if it means I get to spend the rest of my life with you. Come on, let’s head outside.”
He took her by the hand and led her to the balcony. It was nearly midnight on New Year’s Eve. All around them distant skyrockets could be heard along with the sounds of pistols being fired into the night sky.
“I know that I didn’t it do it properly last time, so let me rectify that immediately.”
Laurie got down on bended knee.
“Amy March, will you mar –”
“Oh come on Amy, you didn’t let me finish.” He whined as he stood up.
“My Lord, by now you should know that I am impatient. Look what happened last time when I didn’t wait for you!”
Against his will, Laurie laughed. “I can’t believe you would joke about that.”
“Is it too soon?”
“Yes! I mean, look at my house!”
“I never liked those chairs anyway.”
He laughed again. He felt giddy in love and he hugged her close, but she pulled away from him to look into his eyes, her arms still around his shoulders, his on her waist.
“Are you sure that you’re happy and you have no regrets?”
Laurie opened his mouth to answer but the loud boom of fireworks interrupted him. Amy startled and squealed in delight. He bent to kiss her and then whispered in her ear, “If it means that I get to see you smile like this again with me, then I would labour for your love all over again.”
“Well I sincerely hope that life onward with me will be easier for you.”
“My darling I have no doubt that there stretches before us long decades of matrimonial bliss.” He kissed her then, freely as he always wanted to because Amy March was going to be his wife and only hope and happiness were on the horizon for them.
- $200,000.00 in 1870 would be nearly $4 million in 2020.
- Alienation of affections is a common law tort and still exists in many states in the US today.
- This was my personal labour of love, so I am deeply interested in hearing what you thought of this chapter. What was your favourite part, if you had any. Send me a comment.