“If marriage is truly an economic proposition and nothing else, then is there any real difference between marrying a moderately wealthy man and an inconceivably wealthy one?” Laurie drawls, leaning back upon the blanket and staring up at the crystal blue of the Parisian sky. He was not invited to this little outdoor sojourn, yet he took it upon himself to appear anyway.
Amy feels as though he is haunting her — the specter of another life and another world and a love that will always be denied to her. She has always loved Laurie, and she suspects she will love him still long after he is gone from her life, however, she stubbornly refuses to accept her sister’s castoffs. She has seen the way he looks at her, listened to the pining, watched his hands skate across the fabric of Jo’s dresses, and as far as she sees it, starry eyes do not turn clear upon the moment of rejection. On the contrary, such adoration must only increase with time.
Besides, she is not her sisters. She has always assumed herself to be the lesser of them, though she hides that doubt beneath a smile and a certain feigned confidence. Sure, she is beautiful, but the other March sisters are beautiful and something else besides. Meg is beautiful and agreeable. Jo is beautiful and independent. Beth is beautiful and kind. Amy, however, intensely fears that the only descriptor that could aptly apply to her is beautiful and difficult, and it is a terrible thing to be considered a difficult woman.
Difficult women are hard to place. Hard to wed. Hard to love. She has no false aspirations that Laurie might be able to love her as much as he loves Jo. Though she fears being seen as difficult and horrible and unloved, she fears being settled for just as deeply. If she is to be in a loveless yet amicable relationship, she thinks she best ought to aim as high up the ladder as possible, and Fred Vaughn has much deeper pockets than do the Laurences.
Though she is still stubbornly refusing to look at him properly, Amy cannot help but feel her gaze sliding ever so slightly sideways at the man’s words. Her lips part in a huff of a breath, and unhappiness scribes itself deeply across her brow. “Means and money is, in and of itself, a difference.”
“I possess both means and money,” Laurie observes, idly rubbing his thumb across the tips of his fingers, as if polishing an imaginary coin.
“I fear you miss my point,” Amy begins to protest, but Laurie interrupts her, rolling onto his side and propping himself upon a single elbow.
“I fear you miss mine. Is it not better to be comfortable and loved than to drown in the loneliness of excess?”
“I would not be lonely,” Amy scoffs. For the first time in the conversation, she turns and offers him a proper, angry stare. The fire in her expression buts up against the cool amusement in Laurie’s. “Fred Vaughn is more than amicable.”
There is a slight hitch at the corner of the man’s lips, and he pushes himself into a seated position beside her, breath gently caressing the side of Amy’s face as he observes, “Ah, but amicable is and always will be boring, and if there is one thing I have learned from the March girls, boring is perhaps the worst thing a person can be.”
Amy, stubbornly choosing to ignore the delectable shiver that rises across her skin and the warmth infringing upon her heart, merely scoffs.“So you do not consider yourself amicable?”
“I would be terribly in love with you, and that is far better than mere amicability.” The word spins from his tongue with such an overwhelming degree of disdain that one might equate it to a curse. It piques Amy’s interest and pricks her ears. “Besides, I am hardly a demanding individual, all things considered.”
A thought works its way across the set of Amy’s expression, there and gone in an instant, crushed by the force of her will. She has plans, and she will not allow them to be squashed by the charms of a man who she ought to view as little more than a fly nagging about her face on a hot day. “No, but I am.”
Laurie raises an eyebrow, curious. “In love or demanding?”
“Demanding, of course.” One must be, to hold one’s own against the pillars that are Jo and Meg. “You would grow terribly tired of the fuss, no doubt.”
Her arguments are growing weaker, and they both know it. She is able to hold his gaze for only an instant before she grist her teeth, sets her jaw, and stubbornly stares out across the garden, witheringly glaring at the poor couple promenading through the roses.
Unfortunately, however, she cannot stuff her ears and blot out Laurie’s words as he says, “I wouldn’t. On the contrary, I think we might complement each other well.”
“Does that matter greatly, in an economic arrangement?”
Laurie grins, eyes alight. “Indeed. People rarely engage in business with people they cannot abide. Deals between enemies often end in failure.”
Much against her will, her eyes roam back to her companion, pulled as if by gravity itself. “And deals between people who are interested in partner’s sister but not in the partner themselves?”
Laurie tsks his tongue against the back of his teeth. “Do stop placing your fears in my mouth, Amy. It is rather unfair.”
Amy bristles. “Would you rather keep your nonsense?”
“I do not consider it nonsense.”
“Well, that is completely and utterly beside the point if I do, isn't it?”
Amy stands with the intent of storming off, much the way she might have done as a child, but she trips over her skirts, and finds herself tumbling into Laurie’s lap.
It is both an unladylike and undignified position, and yet, she finds herself frozen in it. There is a certain warmth to him, a certain familiarity, and when she looks up at him and he looks down at her, she feels a distinct flutter in her heart.
Neither of them dare speak.
After what seems to be half an age, when reason and stubbornness and pride retake her in their unforgiving grasp, she pushes herself back to her feet and finishes her storming off.
It is, however, significantly less impactful than it might otherwise have been.
Behind her, Laurie gazes at her retreating back and smiles.