Even all these years later, Jonathan could still remember the first time he’d met Mina. It was a spring morning, cool and crisp, and he been just nine years old. The Dame of his little class announced they were to have their lessons outside since it was such a fine day. Her garden was full of flowers and bumblebees, and a large beech tree sat in the center. The children all settled themselves among the tree’s roots while the Dame instructed them on writing and arithmetic. Jonathan, however, was finding it very difficult to pay attention.
It was Ms. Mina Murray’s first day at school, and he couldn’t stop glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. The sunlight falling through the leaves dappled Mina’s skin with flecks of gold, and seemed to snare itself in her black hair. All he knew was that he felt very queer when he looked at her, not understanding that these were the first stirrings of love.
As Jonathan watched, the Dame strode over to Mina and promptly whacked her wrist with a wooden switch, declaring her handwriting to be too sloppy. He and the other children winced in sympathy, all of them being quite familiar with the switch’s sting. Amazingly, Mina did not cry out, only murmured an apology and wiped her slate clean to start the exercise again.
Later at tea, the students all lounged about the garden with their saucers and tarts. Jonathan and his friends were playing jacks, and he wondered if the new girl would like to join. He looked about the garden for her, but didn’t see her anywhere. After some searching, he eventually found Mina hidden away in the white rose bush. She sat curled up into a little ball with her face pressed between her knees.
It was this same position that Johnathan found Mina in now, hidden away in a guest bedroom. And, just as it had all those years ago, the sound of her muffled sobs sent a bolt of pain shooting through his heart.
Jonathan rapped gently on the door frame. Mina gasped loudly, her head jerking up, eyes wide with fright. When she saw her husband, a shaky calm fell over her features. She smiled, or attempted to, dashing away her tears hurriedly.
“I’m sorry, my love. Has the time come for the meeting?”
Jonathan shook his head. He entered the room and closed the door behind him, drifting to sit beside Mina on the bed. She sat up straight and uncurled her legs, her smile even wider now as she leaned forward to kiss him. Jonathan accepted the kiss, but her happy demeanor didn’t fool him. When she pulled away, he could still see the pain lingering behind her cheerful expression.
She was ashamed, he could tell, that he had found her crying. Mina never cried in front of others if she could help it. She had admitted to him once that it made her feel terribly guilty. When I know that those dear to me are struggling with sorrow, she’d said, how can I, with a clear conscience, burden them with my own?
His dear, sweet, love... His wife... He would not let her suffer alone if he could help it. Jonathan took Mina’s face in his hands and laid a kiss upon her forehead. She squirmed, twisting away, covering her face with her hands.
“Please, don’t,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Jonathan said, internally cursing at himself. “I just wanted--”
“I’m being punished.”
Jonathan was momentarily struck dumb with shock.
“... punished? Mina, for what could you possibly--?”
“For abandoning Lucy. For abandoning you.”
“Abandoning--? Love, you didn’t abandon me! Or Lucy!”
“I did!” Mina insisted, nearly screaming. “I left you to the Count’s mercies for so long! And Lucy!” Fresh tears began to flow down Mina’s cheeks. “I wasn’t there for her at the end... my dearest friend-- my sister!”
Mina let out a wail and began to tear at her clothes.
“I can still feel his hands upon me!” she cried. “I can still hear his voice in my ear! And, oh God, his teeth-- Why else am I being tormented this way, if not for some transgression?!”
Jonathan gathered Mina into his arms. She fought against his embrace, wailing:
“Don’t! I don’t deserve your kindness! I don’t deserve it! I don’t--”
He held her even tighter, and Mina eventually stopped her protests, crumbling against him and sobbing into his shoulder.
“Mina,” Jonathan whispered, stroking her hair, “Please listen to me. Do you remember when I proposed to you?” Mina nodded. “Do you remember the white roses?” Again, she nodded. “I chose those because it was in a white rose bush we first spoke to each other, all those years ago. Dame Prudence had struck you with the switch and you hid so none of us would see you cry. Do you remember what I said to you? I said ‘it’s alright, when she first hit me I didn’t stop crying for the whole day.’ And I sat with you until you were able to dry your eyes, because I didn’t want you to be alone. I never want you to be alone. I want to be by your side, always. That is why I proposed to you with white roses, to commemorate the day when I realized that fact.”
Jonathan pulled back and tilted Mina’s face up to look at him.
“You are the most virtuous and most beautiful woman I have ever met, and I thank God every single day that you are my dearest love. It was only by thinking of you that I had the strength to escape that wretched castle! Why, and then, you came to me and brought me back from the brink of death! Mina, in my darkest hours you have always comforted me. Please, let me be the one to comfort you now. Smile for the others if you wish, but do not feel as if you must smile for me, when I know that your heart is in anguish. I will hold you so tightly that you need not fear breaking.”
Jonathan squeezed her cheeks together gently to emphasize his point. Mina let out a watery chuckle. She smiled up at him, her first true smile since the terrible ordeal had occurred.
“Oh, Jonathan...” she murmured. “I must remember that it is in trouble and trial that our faith is tested. For how silly it was of me to doubt God’s love when he has blessed me with you as a husband!”
Jonathan kissed the tears from Mina’s cheeks, then laid a kiss upon her mouth. Mina twined her arms around his neck and pulled herself closer, deepening the kiss, clinging to him for dear life.