Adam and Eve Tamara de Lempicka
Claire took a steady breath then placed her hand in his and said, “Your mother leaves in two months. Do you suppose that you could have an answer for me by then?”
“You mean to be free of me don’t you?” he said after thoughtful pause.
“There is but a wound where my heart used to be and I long for the peace I knew before I started to dread losing you,” she could feel the tears anew but refused to shed even one in front of him. “I don’t want to bleed for you anymore.”
“What do I do? How do I see us well?”
“I don’t know that you can.”
“But this is madness,” he protested. “For us to end here after all the laughter and confidences would be criminal. We are friends though you deny it. You have all my secrets and I have all your good advice. All we are missing is balance.”
“There isn’t time my lo –”
“So help me Claire if you address me as your Lord once more I shan’t be responsible for what will follow.”
“I’ll concede to Westmorland.”
“Concession suits you my dear. Now tell me. How do we marry this contention with our usually easy rapport?”
“If I knew the answer to that I would have employed it ages ago,” she said with a weary smile.
“Consider me Claire,” Henry said with urgency. “I like you and not only because I’m able to count on your ear either. You make me smile and have my best interests at heart. My family adores you, I adore you.”
“Here let me pour your tea before it gets cold,” she said quickly pulling her hand from his and averting her eyes.
“Won’t you look at me, chérie?”
“Yes, my angel.”
“Will you do something for me?”
“You need but ask Claire and I’ll do all in my power to see that it is done.”
“At Christmas when you brought home Miss Winchilsea and her parents,” Claire said uncomfortably, “We all felt certain that you would have made her an offer… I realize what an imposition it is what I’m asking.”
“You want to know if I loved her?” he supplied.
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
“Right from the start she had been easy to know and I kept feeling I aught to love her but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to,” he said candidly. “I felt like a failure but more than that was the distance it had caused between you and me. I couldn’t bring myself to discuss her with you and that had been the most difficult part of it for me.”
“She knew you know? I had been unsure but she knew and told me so.”
“How do you mean she told you, what did she tell you?”
“She said she hadn’t understood what was keeping you from loving her until she saw us at tea that first afternoon she was in
explained. “She said our natural ease and clear strain to keep proper distance
struck her as a living thing. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that you were
an active participant in what was between us.”
“It isn’t uncommon for me to find lust in friendship, but love, well that seems to run contrary or so it seems in my life at any rate…”
“You believe I could hurt you?”
“You know everything of me and I know nothing of you. Besides, your claim of loving me,” he said simply.
“And still I’m the one laid open and vulnerable. It’s true you tell me all but you never share with me how you felt, it’s always ‘Claire my fascination with Miss Lady of the Hour as died a grim death,’ but never once did you tell me if it was sadness, joy or relief that you felt at the loss.”
“Despair, I’m often filled with despair at the thought of love. Sometimes weak always destructive but ultimately and for the most part I feel nothing but despair.”
“Because of the Countess?”
“I suppose some of it could have to do with the vicious nature of my relationship with Viola,” Henry said candidly. “We were toxic together. Vindictive to the point cruelty, Christ our friendship was over long before we realized it and it lead to a lot of pain.”
“Do you not miss her?”
“The friendship we had before it went sour maybe but by the end there was but wilderness between us and her betrayal is now more that I’m able to get pass.”
“I’m sorry for it,” she said with kind hand on his arm and he covered it with his own.
They stayed thus, holding hands and eyes until he said, “I’ve been nothing but proud to be your friend and it distresses me greatly to know I’ve caused you to suffer because of my selfishness.”
“We’ve gotten it so very wrong. Haven’t we?” she asked with weary smile.
“Yes we have but it’s not irrevocable.”
In the spirit of this new hope, the two in a grand effort spent the weeks that followed attempting to bridge the gap between love, lust and lack of communication. By the second afternoon, Claire had decided to give up Lord Addison. She sent him a note begging him to call on her at his earliest convenience so she could tell him in person.
It would take Lord Addison ten days to call. By then Henry was certain he and Claire were well on their way to each other so he was quite surprised when he arrived at his mother’s one bright afternoon to find Claire in company with the sensible, reliable
She didn’t tell Henry of her intent to break with Lord Addison because he had asked for time to come to terms with his feelings for her and she felt certain this added knowledge would force his hand. She loved him and could no longer pretend otherwise nor could she marry elsewhere but neither did she want to pressure him into loving her.
Claire was explaining this to a most sympathetic Lord Addison when Henry turned up, his blue eyes as calm as the deadly sea. Lord Addison was just then holding her hand in reassuring understanding in order to wish her well when Henry entered the little salon and extended his hand in greeting to
“Here, Westmorland how’ve you been?”
Addison said with a kind
“I’m without complaint,” Henry said easily, murder pulled over his genial smile, “And you my lord. You are well?”
“I’m better for the company,”
Addison said with a nod to a
still seated Claire and Henry gave her a curt bow of acknowledgement. “You will
join us for lemonade Westmorland?”
“Time doesn’t allow it I’m afraid,” Henry said his eyes holding Claire’s with something like righteous anger, “I have an audience with my mother and must not tarry. I only came this way for I felt certain that she was in attendance but now I see she is not, I beg your leave.”
He was gone the instant
Addison conceded and without so
much as a backward glance for Claire. It never even occurred to her that he was
jealous until Addison said, “Now my dear you
must go now and see that he doesn’t have the wrong impression of what it was that
he arrived to.”
“He will not,” Claire said miserably.
“You love him very much?”
“I do,” she said with sad apologetic eyes.
“And he loves you,” Lord Addison said as if it were obvious.
“He could one day if I’m very patient I think.”
Addison said dismissively, “If he loved you anymore he
would have murdered me where I sat holding your hand.”
“You really believe it so?” she prompted with open elation.
“I’m certain of it,” he said with a confident smile, “Now come see me out and go make him understand your indifference for me.”
“I shan’t forget this you know.”
She saw Lord Addison out then went in search of Henry. He was not with his mother nor had any of the servants seen him. It was as though he vanished, the instant he left her in the salon with Lord Addison. She worried that
was right about him having the wrong impression.
By the time, his mother and Lord Marcel left for Madam Guerin’s for afternoon tea, she had decided to send him a note. She went to her private sitting room and sat at her writing desk with quill in front of blank paper for a quarter of an hour before giving up.
She simply could not find any words that properly conveyed her feelings without it having sound presumptive of his feeling so she kicked off her slipper and grabbed the copy of Jane Austin’s Persuasion he had given to her for Christmas from the desk.
Claire fully intended to spend the afternoon lying across her bed reading but nearly expired from heart failure when she entered her bedchamber to find Henry sitting on the bench at the foot of her bed.
He had left her and Addison in the salon for his mother’s private salon and was struck at the sight of her door when it came in view, as he entered the corridor of the family quarters. He was inside her rooms before he fully realized it, there among her belongings.
He passed the writing desk with the half dozen Austen novels he had given her for Christmas and birthdays. Stopping briefly to hold and smell the soft, too large shawl her mother had knitted for her that she always wrapped herself in on brisk evenings when they were at home in Devon. Her little this and thats, here and there and then he was in her bedroom.
He could not think why it should feel like such an intimate thing when she wasn’t there and after all the women’s bedrooms he had been in without thought. He sat there on the little bench at foot of her bed a million miles away not even hearing her when she entered her sitting room just outside the bedchamber.
He only looked up once she entered the bedroom with a startled little, “Good God!”