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A Very Victorian Story of Two Girls in Love

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A steadily moving ray of sunlight engulfed Clarke as she sat on what she started calling Lexa’s settee in her thoughts, her legs bent at the knees to allow her to angle the bed tray in her lap to her comfort. It was a simply decorated mahogany tray designed to allow its owner to breakfast in bed if they so desired but was somewhat ill-designed to fit Clarke’s current purpose. There were several sheets of paper scattered around her, all of them heavily marked with her neat handwriting. She had been composing a letter to her closest confidant for the better part of the morning but found that the way the sheet of paper was now illuminated made writing increasingly difficult.

That the ink was barely visible in the almost painfully sharp sunlight was the smaller of Clarke’s difficulties, easily remedied by a shift in her position. Her more challenging hindrance was her inability, or, if she were being honest with herself, her unwillingness to banish from her mind’s eye the image of Lexa engulfed in the very same sunlight. Clarke found herself daydreaming about Lexa tipping her head back in contentment to enjoy the warm glow on her face, Clarke tracing her nose, lips, and eyelashes with her gaze, imagining hastily sketching the spectacle before it vanished. Before soon she was surprised to find herself actually sketching her friend from memory, the corner of the sheet of paper she had been writing on now adorned by an acceptable ink sketch of Lexa. 

Clarke bit her lip in hesitation as she contemplated switching to a new sheet of paper and copying the words she had already written. She could detect a vague sort of apprehension compressing her chest as if she were doing something that ought not to be revealed lightly but she could not pinpoint what it was exactly that made her feel this way. The majority of her letter was, in fact, composed as if one were writing a private journal rather than a letter to a correspondent. While she recounted the surprising events of the weeks she had spent at her aunt and uncle’s and her increasingly close friendship with Lexa she also wove into the narrative the inexplicable feelings the brunette stirred in her. Deciding to leave the sketch in her letter she went on to describe the fluttering of butterflies in her belly when Lexa kissed her cheek, and how whenever they touched she felt her bodily senses sharpening, being acutely aware of the patch of skin where they touched. Words of confusion flew from her pen and flowed down the sheet of paper covering the available space next to the sketch of Lexa. Clarke had decided that the drawing was the perfect illustration of her confusion and served to underline the urgency of her unasked question: Why does she affect me so?

It was not the physicality of their attachment she marvelled at. She certainly had an abundance of experience in physical affection for her friends. She had a number of passionate friendships, Raven being one of them, with whom they hugged and touched one another constantly, shared chaste kisses or even a bed on occasion.* It was the feelings Lexa’s touch evoked in her that she could not quite place. None of her friends she had ever caressed, regardless of the overflow of affection she felt for them, ever produced such a reaction from her as Lexa had.

An unexpected knock jarred Clarke from her thoughts and she nearly spilled the bottle of ink she had precariously wedged between her hip and the cushions. “Enter.” She called by way of acknowledging whoever was on the other side of the door.

To her surprise it was not a handmaid or footman at the door but her cousin. Clarke’s brows furrowed in confusion, not understanding what prompted Finn’s untimely arrival home. Immediately after lunch he had left in rather eager haste to spend the day with Lexa. Clarke had known of the plans Finn had secured a day in advance yet the reminder of his imminent departure left her in a state of longing, prompting her to write the letter to Raven. She had had close friendships with a number of women at Girton but none of them stirred quite such a strong emotion in her, not even Raven, her closest confidant. No distress ever plagued her over Raven spending time with someone, not in the way Lexa had.

“Finn! What is this? I thought you were spending the day at Woodfield?” She asked.

“That had been my design, yes.” Finn answered in his usual measured tone. “However, Miss Woods entreated me to take her to the city.” 

“I see. The weather is rather fine, the air will do her good. But…what are you doing here?” Clarke probed further.

Finn let out a sigh as he stepped further inside, closing the door behind him before approaching. “Miss Woods was also…quite adamant that I ask you to join us.” His eyebrow twitched as he said the last two words. Clarke caught the telling sign and found herself caught between the conflicting emotions of bubbling excitement and curiosity over her cousin’s apparent lack of enthusiasm. 

“However, you do not seem to share her sentiment?” Clarke asked.

Finn was silent for a moment, staring out the spacious window to compose himself. “I am somewhat conflicted about my feelings.” He blurted out eventually. There was a tension about his presence that neither of them could really explain.

“Do you not want me to go?” Clarke asked. She was eager to say yes but was conscious of her cousin’s apparent discomfort. While she would happily oblige any of Lexa’s whims she thought it would be proper to decline if Finn would rather want a day of privacy with her. The word privacy assaulted Clarke’s senses and left her with an uncomfortable pang of annoyance. It was in that moment that she realized that her sudden attachment to Lexa far outweighed her affection for her cousin. Yet another conundrum over which she will have to confer with Raven. She held her breath as she waited for Finn’s answer.

Finn turned to face Clarke after a few moments of silent contemplation and let out his breath in a defeated sigh. “It is not that I am opposed to your company, Clarke. I beseech you to believe that. It is merely… I am… perplexed, perhaps.” He said in a spell of honesty, deciding to open up about his lack of understanding, hoping that his cousin might shed some light on it. “About your fast attachment.” He elaborated. “I have never seen Miss Woods quite so attached to anyone. Nay, I have never seen her attached to any of her peers in the way the two of you have seemed to bond. I can scarce catch her alone in the last few weeks.” Words of confusion spilled from his lips as he recounted the image he had previously conceived of the woman he was courting. “What I mean to ask is… do…women… is it customary for women to bond so strongly? Have I been fortunate thus far to have been able to court her without another by her side at all times?”

Clarke listened to his words, his questions prompting memories of some of her schoolmates, their affection quickly attaching them at the hip. She had always taken those friendships in stride, accepting the silent understanding that from the moment they were so attached they were to be considered one unit, always appearing at social gatherings together, sitting together at dinner, and as Clarke only now realized, most importantly, their physical demonstrations of affection were exclusively reserved for one another.

“It… does happen, yes.” Clarke replied slowly, her mind reeling from the realization that perhaps some of her friends had felt exactly the same things she was experiencing with Lexa. Always having been on the outside of such strong attachments, her friends’ bonds had always fascinated Clarke but at the same time turned her uncharacteristically timid, shying away from asking them anything of it. It had always seemed to Clarke that such a line of questioning would have been entirely too intrusive. Those friendships appeared to Clarke as if they were of a higher level than one would experience with most peers, feeding upon a range of emotions one might only share with the rarest of kindred spirits. “I have seen a few friends form such fast attachments. It is quite impossible to resist its pull, as if your soul yearned to share its existence with that person.”

Finn’s eyes rounded in surprise as he listened to Clarke’s description of their friendship, both fascinated and disturbed at the close similarity to his own growing feelings for Miss Woods. “That sounds uncannily similar to my growing affections for Miss Woods. But… a woman’s soul cannot attach itself to another woman’s the way a man’s does. The very notion is ridiculous.”

“I am fairly sure my friendship with Lexa bears no similarities to your relationship with her, cousin.” Clarke replied, recalling the scarce few sentiments Lexa shared with her regarding her cousin. It did not seem to be as consuming as she imagined being in love might be but she could not conceive any other explanation as to why her friend would accept Finn’s attentions. ‘And yet our friendship seems to be of a more passionate nature. At least to me. I would certainly prefer such a friendship with a woman if that is the alternative one can have with a man…’

Her reply seemed to have placated Finn, his stance relaxed as some of the vibrating tension left him even as his confusion remained. “And yet what you just described seems so…” Finn was at a loss for words.

“It is most likely a quality of the female soul, the ability to induce this yearning. But surely men yearn to share different aspects of existence than another woman?” Clarke asked aloud the questions on which she wished she could ask Raven’s counsel. 

“Ah, you are quite right in that regard, cousin.” Finn replied, smiling. He felt reassured that there must be a fundamental difference in these yearnings that he does not understand for he only possesses knowledge of half. All tension left his shoulders and he clapped smartly. “Well… shall we then? It would be quite rude to let Miss Woods wait too long in the carriage.”

 


 

Always the model gentleman, Finn sat across from his company sitting in the front seat that forced him to travel with his back facing the road in order to allow the two ladies currently under his care to take the front-facing seats. While Clarke had an immense amount of affection for her cousin, mostly owing to her fond memories of their peculiar childhood, she could not help but chuckle good-naturedly at his precisely gentlemanly behavior. To no one’s surprise he was out of the carriage the moment it lurched to a halt, his arm outstretched to help the ladies in his care alight. Clarke and Lexa shared a knowing look, neither having a doubt that the other was also remembering the first time they had shared the open carriage much the same way. Clarke had been on the verge of protesting when Finn offered to drive them and Lexa could have sworn that she actually saw Clarke roll her eyes when Finn offered her his hand to help her into the carriage.

“After you, dearest.” Clarke said affectionately.

Lexa smiled at the display of affection before she briefly bowed in consent and moved to take the offered arm with one hand while holding the hem of her dress in the other. Clarke followed immediately after, taking care not to roll her eyes this time. While Clarke certainly lacked an enthusiasm for commonly accepted etiquette between the sexes she was not in the least devoid of knowledge of it and she wished to make their outing as socially acceptable as possible for all parties concerned. 

Finn offered an arm to both women, offering his right to Lexa while his left to Clarke who was left with yet another uncanny pang of annoyance. ‘Is this really what those friendships felt like on the inside? No wonder Ophelia and Margaret were so inseparably attached by the waist…’ Clarke thought of the two women Raven had introduced her to just before term ended earlier in the year. She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she listened to her companions’ debate about their entertainment for the day only half-heartedly, mostly agreeing with whatever Lexa suggested.

It was not until after consuming a most pleasant tea in the same little restaurant she had declined to visit with Aunt Helen per force of not wishing to intrude on present company’s outing that she learnt that their evening’s entertainment was to be had at the theatre. Clarke was not necessarily opposed to the idea although had she paid more attention at the time she would have certainly asked if either of them had a private box to their name or if they were to be sat in the gallery. Her consolation was that she was fairly sure neither, but especially Finn, would be willing to sit in the pit to endure the noise and heat of a rowdy crowd.

Upon entry Finn produced a gentleman’s ticket that permitted him one visitor and he requested an additional ticket with haste, a sudden weariness coming upon him that Clarke may attempt to buy one for herself. Upon payment which Finn insisted to be his duty they were shown to a rather well placed box. There were three quite comfortable looking seats. Clarke hesitated a moment, unsure which seat to take. Her senses were overwhelmingly flooded with a desire to sit next to Lexa but she felt powerless to voice such a desire.

“Oh Mr. Collins, would you mind dreadfully if I sat in the middle? I do so like the view from here.” Lexa chimed and beamed at Mr. Collins when he consented by taking the leftmost seat so as to maintain having the ladies in his company to his right. It was but a few minutes later when Lexa asked if Mr. Collins would be kind enough to procure some oranges from the girls traipsing up and down the rows in the pit. “Oh do be a dear, Mr. Collins? I overheard one of those scrawny underfed souls selling them and now I have quite the craving for one.” 

Once Mr. Collins had departed Lexa immediately turned her attention to Clarke and leaned over the side of her chair to clasp Clarke’s hand in both of hers. “Oh I have been contriving to get a moment with you alone since we stepped out of the carriage, dearest, but not one opportunity presented itself until now. I saw that faraway look in your eyes and you were scarcely paying us any attention when we decided to come. Whatever was the matter? I have been dying to learn what was happening inside that head of yours.”

Clarke was momentarily stunned by her friend’s cunning but the sentiment was swiftly replaced with a surge of affection that she would go such lengths to secure a moment with her to ask such a trivial question. “Oh Lexa it was nothing to worry about. I was merely carried away in thought, trying to commit to memory what I wanted to write to a friend.”

“A friend?” Lexa asked, piqued interest marking her face.

“Yes. A friend I met at Girton.” Clarke confirmed. “I have found her to be quite knowledgeable in a range of subjects.” She elaborated somewhat elusively. She had opted for a half-truth but was rather disinclined to broach the subject in detail until she had had the opportunity of her friend’s counsel.

“She must be a very intimate friend if she commands your attention even when you are in company.” Lexa commented, her tone souring moodily, losing some of the glowing warmth Clarke always stoked in her soul. Her mind reeled to say more, to soothe the clipping tone with humour so as to protect her unintentionally revealed vulnerability but Mr. Collins chose that inopportune moment to return with a plate of oranges.

“Oh, Mr. Collins you are so good to us!” Lexa exclaimed, untangling her fingers which Clarke had woven together with her own, feeling the slight pull as her friend’s grasp firmed in a moment of unwillingness to let go. ‘Good god, what if she thinks I am a beast for my jealousy? And what of this friend? Could she be more taken with her than with me?’ Lexa’s mind conjured dreadful predictions of an imminent catastrophe as she attempted to make small talk with Mr. Collins, oblivious to Clarke’s distress at her clumsily hidden jealousy.

Clarke was caught in a whirlwind of emotions, equal part grateful that Finn’s unfortunate timing provided her with time to consider how to mend the unexpected injury she had caused but also anxious of what untruths Lexa may convince herself of before she had the opportunity to have her to herself again. ‘And what shall I say? Raven IS a dear friend, the closest I have,  but she had never conjured such a flurry of emotions. Oh how dreadfully inept I am to explain this difference…’ Clarke found herself annoyed with her own lack of experience, silently chiding herself for her timidity regarding asking Ophelia, the more approachable of the Margalia dyad, all those questions for which she was in desperate need of an answer.

The curtain had rolled up before another opportunity had presented itself for them to confer with one another and Clarke attempted to force herself to pay attention to this rendition of A comedy of Errors. They were halfway through the first act when Clarke’s mind was assaulted by the revelation that if Lexa was distressed by such jealousy that she was unable to hide it from Clarke surely it must mean that she was quite as taken with her as she was with Lexa. A warm blanket of calm enveloped her in that moment and she resolved to reassure her darling friend by any means possible. 

Clarke leaned over her armrest as she reached out to caress Lexa’s gloved forearm to draw her attention. “This is quite a good rendition is it not?” She asked experimentally. 

“I suppose so. Will you tell your friend about it?” The question was out of Lexa’s mouth before she could think better of it. Her body tensed as she realized her error and her lips thinned as she pressed them together to avoid further unwanted outbursts. She could feel her cheeks heat up and was grateful that they were seated in the dark for her only consolation of the moment was that Clarke could not see what was surely an unbecoming blotch of red tint in her cheeks. Not having the courage to look at Clarke Lexa glanced to her left and was relieved that Mr. Collins appeared to be entirely oblivious to their interaction.

Not having much experience with jealousy Lexa knew not how to calm her nerves, she blinked rapidly as she stared ahead. She had just resolved to  excuse herself upon some pretext but the words froze and melted on her lips when she felt the soft press of Clarke’s against her heated skin just beside her earlobe.

“Yes. I shall tell Raven what a marvellous evening I had been treated to by my new friend who has made the deepest impression upon me.” Clarke whispered closely, her carefully chosen words caressing Lexa’s soul as her breath brushed against the sensitive flesh of her ear.

Lexa’s heart raced and she was fairly sure it would leap out of her mouth unhindered for she was unable to move her slackened jaw. Emboldened by Clarke’s words she turned her head to look her friend in the eye, seeking confirmation that the words she had just heard were not falsely conjured by her own desire. 

She was somewhat surprised when she met smiling sky blue eyes from mere inches away. Clarke had maintained her position even as the tips of their noses brushed and shared breaths tickled the other’s lips. There was a kind, playful shine to Clarke’s gaze that moved Lexa. Her eyes closed per force of the relieved happiness swelling in her chest and she tipped her head forward to touch their foreheads together.

Not a second later the moment was broken by Mr. Collins’ enthusiastic bellow of ‘Bravo!’, his claps mingling with the increasing noise from the crowd below. The two women jumped apart in fright of the unexpected sound, cheeks flushing crimson as they both glanced at the man who had been blissfully unaware of their interaction.