It was an exceptionally warm night in February, warm enough that Jean did not bother to put anything on before she slipped back into bed with a sigh. Usually the hot days cooled to bearable nights, but the air remained thick and heavy enough that they were sleeping under a single sheet.
“Come closer, dearest.” Lucien patted the space between them, a languid, almost diffident gesture that didn’t do much to convince his wife.
“”S too hot.” She turned her pillow over to the cool side and settled down, but extended a conciliatory foot, stroking her toes against his calf. “Haven’t I done my duty by you?”
He laughed, almost giddy despite the heat. He turned himself closer, keeping the buffer of space between them to keep their individual warmth to themselves under the thin cover, as he drew himself even with her. “Indeed. I have been well done by.” She wrinkled her nose, and he leaned closer and kissed it, first the bridge, then the tip, keeping his hands to himself as his lips slid gently against hers.
Jean sighed again as she leaned her forehead against his. She wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms for the night. “Oh, blast this heat.” She turned over, tucking her knees up, and thumped her pillow. “Tell me something that isn’t hot.”
“I’ve been thinking, our anniversary is next month. We could go away. All the way to Antarctica, if you like.”
“It would be cooler there,” she agreed. She reached back for his hand, and threaded her fingers through his. “By next month I had rather hoped it would be cooler here.”
She could feel him shifting closer, his words close. “Truly, Jean. Where would you like to go?”
“Oh, Lucien.” The idea of traveling sent an excited flutter to her stomach. She had considered their honeymoon a trip of a lifetime, four months of extravagance and indulgence. She had hardly ever left Victoria, and he had taken her to London, to Athens, to Rome, to Vienna, to *Paris* with its boulevards and gardens and its liberties. The thought of more so soon… “You took me everywhere I ever dreamed of going.”
“There must be somewhere left on your list.”
In her mind, there were images gleaned from old movie magazines… the wide palm-lined streets of Los Angeles… the Empire State Building. But it was too much. Too much to want, too much to allow, too much to explain. “Maybe… some other time. We were away for so long. I would like to spend our anniversary here, in our home, in our life together.”
He hummed, and pressed a gentle kiss along the line of her bare shoulder. “That does sound rather nice. So long as it cools off enough to get a little closer.”
Having agreed not to make grand plans, Jean’s thoughts didn’t often return to the anniversary as it approached. Truth be told, with Christopher, things like anniversaries had often fallen by the wayside. A few times they had managed to escape together for a cheap night out, but there were usually more pressing matters in life to occupy them. When the boys were young, it happened more often than not that she would glance at the calendar a week after the date and realize that it had long passed her by.
And so it happened this year that she didn’t think much of it, when Lucien announced in the kitchen in mid-March that he had to go out of town for a few days, to consult with the Commonwealth Police. “Will you stay overnight in Melbourne?”
“They’ve asked me to come to Sydney.” He slipped his hand over hers, between the saucers and the teaspoons. “It’s only for a few days.”
*All the way to Sydney for a few days,* Jean thought, but something made her catch her tongue. So much had changed since their marriage, but all inside the architecture of a life that essentially remained the same. His work was his business, even if his life was hers, and the way the two bled into each other was unaccountably messy.
She ran her fingers through his hair as she got up to wash the cups, comment enough. She had enough to keep her busy that her husband leaving for a week was of no special concern.
She kissed him goodbye in the drive, and then went back into the house. Over the next few days, she vacuumed the drapes and the rugs, all of the upholstery, and the inside of the piano. She pulled aside four boxes from the attic that various boarders had left behind that she had been meaning to sort through, and put aside some items for charity and others simply to toss.
Jean tried not to listen to the quiet noises of the house as she worked, to notice how they were different now that it was just her. She had spent many days by herself in the house while Lucien was on a case, and Mattie and Charlie were at work, but never before had she tried to sleep alone in the wide silence of the studio. With Lucien’s appointments all canceled, the house hadn’t been so asleep since the late days of the elder Dr. Blake’s illness, before Lucien returned.
The energy of never knowing who would be coming through the door next suited her, but they hadn’t had any lodgers since Matthew had decided it was time to move out, and so everything sat as she washed the floors and the windows, and cleared expired supplies from the surgery, and then went to her pantry and did the same with the food there. She set aside two boxes to send to the convent school, and sat down at the kitchen table with a fresh pot of tea to make a shopping list to replace what she had culled.
It was only when she returned from her marketing, and nothing had awoken, no friendly face had dropped by for tea, no emergency has stirred the residents of the house, did Jean put the groceries down on the table, sit, and put her head in her hands.
She sat there until the phone rang. “Hello?” The sigh she heard on the other end caused an unconscious smile to spread across her face.
“Darling. It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“How are things in Sydney?”
“Not well enough, I’m afraid. I’ve been asked to stay on a few more days.”
“Oh?” Jean made an effort to swallow her disappointment. “I’ve missed you,” she said, trying not to allow the full measure of it into her voice.
“I’ve missed you, too. How is the homestead?”
Jean cupped the receiver in her hand and cut her gaze across to the window, where the sun was shining into the kitchen. “Just as you left it.”
After Lucien’s call, Jean had to admit two things. One was that, as she continued to busy herself to distract herself from his absence, that was what she was doing. She had finished most of the brute work around the house that she had to keep herself mindlessly occupied.
The second was that her loneliness was not just about missing her husband. As much as she did, the empty house and the lack of people to turn to around her were weighing on her. Jean had never been the kind to have a true confidant, not until Lucien learned the ins and outs of her heart. But the church friends, the women who worked in the school canteen, those kinds of connections were missing now. As confident as she was in her choices, a part of her missed knowing her place in that world. Now the same people who thought she had got above her station were the first to look down their noses and whisper in the corner of the store when she did her own marketing.
She edged open the door of the studio the next afternoon. For all of the years she had lived under this roof, she had never spent much time in the room without Lucien. Even now, there were echoes of his mother in the space, which intensified in his absence. There was no point in not making some sort of peace with these ghosts if they weren’t going anywhere, so Jean sat on the sofa in front of the cool fireplace with her box of photographs.
There weren’t so many to sort through. Neither of them was an avid photographer, and so they had only remembered to bring a camera along some days of their trip. So there she was in front of the Colosseum, but not the Parthenon. At the Eiffel Tower, but not Big Ben, dressed smartly, posed a bit stiffly she could see now, and smiling brightly for the camera.
No, not for the camera, she thought, tracing a finger across her own face, taking in her bright eyes. For him.
She had an album that she had bought herself at the market in Paris, with a notion of filling it with photos that would paint a picture of the trip she had experienced… the new scenes, the thrill of hearing her husband slip into other languages, his joy in being able to give her so much of the world that she hadn’t seen, the way that their beautiful wedding and then being so far from home let them become something other than what they had been, together. Perhaps that was why she had put this off for so long, knowing that the rolls of film didn’t quite capture it, although they were dear.
She sighed and stacked them back in the box for the time being, frowning as she had trouble making them fit. Something was wedged into the bottom of the box. And as she worked it free, it became clear it was something familiar.
She traced over the date she had circled for him the year before on the calendar, counted back a single square with her finger to today’s date, and looked up at the wooden molding and its haunting spirits for some hint of affirmation.
That evening, she dressed in her second best suit for traveling and took a suitcase that was scandalously light with her to the station. She was waiting in the queue for her ticket when she felt a tap her on the shoulder.
Jean turned, and after only a moment’s stunned surprise, threw herself into her husband’s arms. “What are you doing here?” they both managed to ask, at the same time.
Lucien couldn’t stop smiling long enough to answer first.
Jean circled her arms loosely around his neck. As vulnerable as she felt, as aware she was that they were in public where anyone see, she wanted to tell him. She wanted him to know. “I know we said we wouldn’t make a fuss over our anniversary. But I thought, there was no reason in the world I shouldn’t be wherever I wanted to be, and that was with you.”
Lucien’s beaming smile and adoring eyes were world enough. “You don’t know how happy that makes me, love.”