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Beautiful to Me

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The wedding was lovely, from what Lily remembered of it. It had been the whole, big, fluffy, white affair with oodles of flowers and even more people. People Lily had never seen and certainly did not know. But these affairs called for such things, Archie’s mother had said. The villagers did so love when events happened at Misslethwaite, and this one would top them all. Archibald Craven was to be married! Married to none other than their own little Lillias Tottenham.

Lillias who’d been Archibald dearest friend for all of childhood, and it seemed everyone had anticipated a marriage except for Lily. It had not even crossed her mind, damned thing, until he’d kissed her upon her eighteenth birthday and she’d grown absolutely mad for him. For he was so perfect, how had she not noticed? He was sweet and good and looked at her like she were simply the most interesting thing in the world. Yes, that look he’d given her as she walked down the aisle to him was something she was certain to never forget. Why did he love her so? Lily could not believe that someone could be so absolutely infatuated her, especially someone who knew her so dearly. Yes, Archie knew absolutely everything about her and still looked at her like she was endlessly fascinating.

So she put up with the exhausting wedding and overwhelming affairs. She greeted all the people she did not know with the largest smiles she could muster, and tried not to faint even though she did not eat during the entire party. She hardly had a moment to even bid a goodbye to her family before they were ushered out the door and Lily up the stairs. How very queer to not be leaving with her family. It twisted at her heart in some odd way.

Mrs. Medlock, the old housekeeper, brought Lily up the stairs she'd run as a child, but the feelings she was having now we're a far cry from the feelings she'd had then. A strange cocktail of excitement, nerves, melancholy, and sickness was brewing in her stomach as she followed Mrs. Medlock to her room. Her room. Lily had never thought she'd have her own room at Misslethwaite. A room like Archie's or Neville’s or their parents. His mother had already made her leave to the state across the way. I know you will do this house a wonderful service, Lily, Lady Craven had said earlier that night. The house. Lily had forgotten that she'd also married Misslethwaite in this arrangement.

Of course she need not worry about that until next month, but she was awfully certain it was all she'd worry about while they were in France. Lily, calm down. Running a household shan't be that hard, you've watched mother do it all your life.

Yes, but never do grand a place as this. And not a place everyone knew about and went to and what if I make an awful fool of myself? And certainly Mrs. Medlock will be breathing down my neck about everything the whole time, for she’s known me since I was girl, why would she trust me with her household-

"Here we are, Miss Lily," Mrs. Medlock stopped so suddenly that Lily nearly knocked into her. Rocking on her toes to gain balance, Lily tried as gracefully as she could muster to go into her new bedroom.

It was horrifically beautiful. Pale pinks popped out among the whites and gold of the room and furniture. Lavish wood vanity and dresser made Lily soon realize that she'd never seen a room so very fine. How does one even sleep in such a place? Lily felt wicked to have it. My room. But where was Archie? Lily had a talking from her mother about what a lady was meant to do upon her wedding night, but she had not considered that she and Archie would have separate rooms. That’s how these grand houses are, Lily. You knew this.

“Forgive me,” Medlock spoke suddenly. “M’lady.” She sighed in some sentimental way, “One’s just so used to calling you Miss Lily-“

“It’s forgiven, Mrs. Medlock.” Lily realized her own folly. “Just Medlock, I mean.” She tried a warm smile, “I suppose I will have some adjusting to do as well.”

Medlock didn’t smile back. “Yes, m’lady.” She stepped into the room, shutting the door behind them. The bright moonlight along with the lamps upon the walls illuminated the grand space. Lily moved in, her dress making a sound as it drug upon the carpeting. The damned dress weighed more than Lily did with all its lacy and frills. She’d never worn anything so very fine.

Medlock spoke again, “You’ll have your own lady’s maid very soon, m’lady. The young girl we’ve hired had to stay an extra day to take care of her ill mother.” It struck Lily so very oddly to hear Medlock apologize for such a thing. “So I shall help you with your dressing, m’lady, until she comes.”

“Yes, thank you,” Lily said, worrying greatly for this young maid’s mother. Medlock was very quick to move into the room, helping Lily remove the endless layers of her white wedding gown. Lily wondered if Medlock had ever helped Archie’s mother dress and if it was strange now to dress Lily in her stead. Back at her home—er, old home—Lily had dressed herself. They had means for a housekeeper and cook, but lady’s maids were a fund her family could not afford. Which was not a hard thing to live without in most cases, but Lily was grateful for Medlock’s help in removing the beast of a gown.

Once the layers and corset were removed, Medlock helped Lily into a white nightgown that was fine enough to be worn as daywear. Lily was certain she’d never worn anything to very soft before.

“Your hair, m’lady,” Medlock said, gesturing to the vanity chair. Yes, of course, Lily was not meant to sleep in her updo. Medlock removed the pins, as Lily felt the truly euphoric feeling of one’s tight hair being let down after hours of it being up. It fell loosely in blonde curls upon her shoulders, which Medlock brought into a braid down Lily’s back.

She studied herself in the mirror. Did she look any different? Lily thought she looked rather the same as she always did. The people in the village called her a beauty, and Lily liked to think it was true. Not in a vain way, but an admiring way. She had soft features. Soft light features with pale skin and pale hair. Collars bones as small as bird bones that stuck out and slim figure like all the women in her family. Yes, Lily was beautiful, but solely for the sake of family likeness. It was just a thing about her, like the color of one’s eyes or one’s skin.

“Will that be all, m’lady?” Medlock asked.

Lily pulled back to reality, “Yes. Thank you, Medlock.”

The housekeeper nodded, and with the click of the door Lily was alone in her bedroom.

Lily was alone in her bedroom.

This was not at all how her mother had painted it. This was not at all like her sister Rose said it would be, or like the other women said it would be when the giggled and prodded her about her wedding. Lily did so hate their mocking of her, for she knew how children were made. She was not so ignorant as to have no idea of it. She knew the physicality of it from Anatomy Class and the beauty of it from romance novels. Yes, Lily had a fairly clear picture of how the ordeal was meant to be, but this picture she had now was nothing she had expected.

Alone. Alone in her bedroom with absolutely no idea where Archie was. In fact, she had not seen him since before she said goodbye to her parents. Now, as Lily sat in her chair, she felt her stomach rumble in the desperate need for food. Food, though her nerves were so high she thought she might scream from it. For the idea of love making was an entirely different beast to actually doing it. Oh God, what if she did it wrong? What if she didn’t like it? What if she was a horrible disappointment to Archie?

It would hurt. The women all talked about how it would hurt and then it would be fine. It was meant to feel good, this love making, and the thought of that made Lily’s scalp tingle and face flush. Archie had been her friend since childhood and now she knew everything about him, but to know him intimately was an entirely different thing. A wholly different affair that she was not entirely sure she was equipped to handle.

Hours passed, or maybe just minutes. Lily could not tell as she paced in the room in naught but her nightdress. It was a rather pretty thing, this nightdress. Far nicer than any she had owned. She caught her reflection in the vanity mirror once again. Lily did not look like anything she would call alluring. Not like those women in the penny romance novels with short dress and weak knees and hair that fell in waterfalls. The blonde hair she has was done back in a plait so tight she felt she couldn’t move her eye brows and her dress was anything but sensual.

She considered taking her hair out of the plait, and then did it despite her better judgement. For her hair came out in large waves that did not help whatever look she was trying to achieve. She looked like a madwoman. God, what was she doing?

“Being a damned fool,” she cursed at her reflection. Lily picked up a beautiful silver handled hair brush and began to brush out her locks. At least now it looks semi-decent, she thought to the blue eyed girl in the mirror. How long had it been? Was she meant to go to him? Lily didn’t even know where his room was in the first place. It would’ve been nice if Medlock showed me. Lily dismissed the idea immediately. The thought of Medlock dropping her off at Archie’s room was more mortifying than the thought of being left alone all night.

She stood. Lily grabbed a red robe from inside the dresser, a candle from her night stand and left the insufferably beautiful bedroom. Down the hall the way Medlock had led her she went, though it seemed somehow different now. The air of the party had vanished, leaving not but stark walls with paintings of Archie’s family members on them. Would she have to have a ghastly portrait painted too? All these gloomy people with gloomy expressions. I shall smile in mine, she thought as she moved down the stairs.

Feeling desperately nervous to be caught, Lily walked as silently as she could manage to the old house’s library. Down the hall, she could hear the servants clearing up the remnants of the wedding party. Per Archie’s order, the library had not been touched by the event. That was his place. It had been his fathers and now it was his. In their teenage years, it was where Lily and Archie spent most of their hours together. They’d read fantastical novels and drink Medlock’s tepid tea and talk about this, that, and the other thing. Entering the familiar space filled her with a wonderful warmth even though she knew she was not meant to be in it at such an hour. Placing her candle upon a side table, Lily set in her usual large green chair and curled up into herself.

“M’lady?”

Lily stirred as violently as a thief caught with the best silver. She stood, turning to see Medlock starring at her from the doorway with the same looked she’d had when Lily and Archie had come back from the garden one day covered in mud.

“I saw the light and thought one of the servants had forgot to put it out. Forgive me, m’lady.” Medlock’s words spoke as though she had been impertinent, but her eyes showed that the puzzle was Lily herself. She knew she needn’t explain herself. Lily was the lady of this house now and had nothing to fear from Medlock. Medlock could not chide Lily and then tattle her sin’s to Lily’s mother anymore. Yet still the fear of a schoolchild came into Lily with the raven look of the woman’s eyes.

Lily spoke, “I had forgotten my novel.” She picked up the nearest book, which happened to be one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s. “I was just coming to get it. I was fearful if I did not get it now I’d forget it and miss it for the whole honeymoon.” Lily clutched the book under her arm and scooped up the candle like she meant to leave. Which you should, you infinitely stupid girl. This is your wedding night, not your execution night.

Medlock nodded, “Very good, m’lady.” She held open the door in a not-so-subtle gesture that Lily needed to leave. Which she knew. Stupid, stupid. Lily brushed past the old woman and felt the fear of God in her at the icy gaze. She thinks I’ll be awful. She does not want to work for me. Medlock always hated me. Lily bustled up the stairs again, down the hallway again. Such in a rush was she that she did not see the person standing in the hall and crashed right into him.

Her husband spoke, “Good God, Lily. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She felt surprisingly awkward in his presence now. Her book slipped from her arm but she readjusted it. The candle had gone out so that the only thing she saw was his slumped silhouette in the moonlight. Why are you fearful, you silly thing? This is Archie. Your husband. Your dearest friend.

He held her arm, “What are you doing out here? Is something the matter?” His hand moved to the book, flashing the title to himself. “And why are you holding A Study in Scarlett?”

His tone was familiar, sweet and teasing. Yes, her friend. Her Archie. Nothing to be frightened of. Lily had gotten so caught up in her own stupid thoughts. A terrible habit.

She laughed, “Because I am completely and utterly ridiculous. Shall I tell you what I just did?”

Lily recounted her tale of being left alone in the bedroom and then running off to the library. She told of being caught by Medlock and even did her very precise imitation of the housekeeper’s voice. Archie laughed like he always did and interjected little comments. Lily had grown so at ease that she had hardly noticed they were walking. She hardly noticed they’d reached the door of a bedroom until they did. He walked in first. Just go in. It’s just a bedroom. Lily stepped in after him and ever so lightly he shut the door.

Not strange, it doesn’t have to be strange, Lily told herself as she edged into the room. She and Archie had sat in bedrooms as children before and it was never odd. Yes, but that was entirely different circumstances. Lily sat the book and her burnt out candle upon the bedside table. Lily thought about sitting but could not bring herself to do it. She began to pace.

“Medlock hates me, I’m certain of it.” Lily interjected because she did not know what else to say. Archie had sat down upon his bed. Which she supposed could mean nothing because it was his bed of all things. She was sure he sat upon it quite often. He was staring at her, she could feel it. Yes, well it might be because you’re speaking.

Speaking she was. Lily began speaking at such a rate that she hardly had time for air.

“Or she thinks I’m an idiot. You know, I’ve always felt that Medlock disliked me, but I really feel it now. She probably thinks I can’t run the household. She probably thinks I’ll manage to make the whole thing fall apart.”

“Medlock doesn’t hate you-“

“And she wouldn’t be wrong. I’ve never run a household such as this!” She finally looked at him. Her husband. Her wonderfully handsome and kind husband with his hunched shoulders and beautiful face. His dark hair and dark eyes that looked at her with such warmth always. Lily’s heart was fluttering to the heavens as she spoke.

“I have no idea what I’m doing, Archie. You must not hate me.”

He stood, “I could never hate you.”

“I will be no good at running Misslethwaite! I went to the library in the middle of the night, for God’s sake! I didn’t even think to call the servants, which I should have. I’m not used to having servants I-“

“Lily!” Archie grasped the sides of her arms, looking down at her with a light laugh in his voice. “You must calm down. You will give yourself a heart palpitations.” Lily was very certain she already had them. He continued, “And Medlock does not hate you. Medlock thought that you would never accept my proposal and now thinks you’ll flee at the first possible moment. She probably took your library excursion as an escape attempt.”

“Ha, ha,” Lily deadpanned as his grip on her arm realized. She moved past him, walking to sit upon his bed for no other reason that she did not wish to be standing anymore.

He moved next to her. “It’s true! Medlock knew I’d been in love with you since I saw you and thought you coming here every day was for no reason but to torture me. She certainly never thought you’d marry me. I think she thinks you’ll pulling a very cruel joke and will someday reconcile it.”

Lily turned to him, “Are you in earnest?” He nodded, but it did not ease her stomach. “Medlock truly thinks I am so terrible?”

“No, no!” Archie said, immediately realizing his misspeaking. “She just… She doesn’t believe you wanted to marry me.” He took her hands, kissing them kindly in an obvious attempt to make up for his words. “I hardly do myself.”

“Well, I did,” Lily spoke softly. “So ‘ha’.”

He laughed again. A deep, quiet one that seemed to vibrate through him and into her hand. They were sitting awfully closely. Which, of course, they had done before. His breath was very near upon her, and for some reasons Lily remembered that she had felt dreadfully hungry moments before but did not feel so now.

“Well…” she murmured, but realized that this was not a time for speaking. Odd, she did not feel so fearful anymore.

His hand moved to the side of her face and soon their lips were touching. They had kissed before. Quick pecks during their engagement and one long, lovely kiss just a few days ago in the garden. Lily had thought no kiss could be more wonderful than that one until she felt this kiss. It was deep and wanting and with no more reservations to be had. They were married now. There was nothing to be shameful about or frightened of anymore.

Lily’s hand rested on his side as the kiss continued and she found that she wished still to be closer to him. He seemed to want the same as she tried to be nearer but found their legs getting in the way. She could help but laugh a bit at the whole thing.

“Sorry,” Lily muttered as their brief sensual moment dissipated. “We’ll try again.”

“We should probably lie down upon the bed,” he suggested. Lily found herself giggling again. With her fingertips, she tried to cover her lips but louder and louder laughs escaped. Archie was laughing too, though it seemed he laughed more at her than anything.

“What is so funny?” He asked, a smile in his voice.

“We’re talking about it like we’re arranging furniture!” Lily noted, to which she laughed again and he did too. It was wonderful, this laughter. None of the women had talked about it. Perhaps they had not laughed upon their wedding night. Lily decided then that everyone should laugh upon their wedding night.

He spoke, “Well, I’ve never done this before!”

“Neither have I!” Lily rebutted, a smile still on her lips. She moved and kissed his lips quickly again. All her fear had gone now, for this need not be fearful.

Lily stood, turning away from him. “So…First step: help me with the laces because I cannot reach them and Medlock tied them ridiculously tight.”

Her husband stood, standing behind her and running his fingers on the white laces of the gown. She lifted up her hair, for it fell in droves behind her. Lily had not truly realized what she had just instructed until she felt the loosening of the laces behind her. She was going to be stark naked in a moment, how very odd. Lily had not been nude in front of many people. Her body was quite normal she imagined. She was long and bony but that would matter not. Slowly but too quickly her breaths came back to her as the laces were undone and the dress slacking from her shoulders. Lily turned back around before it could fall. The fear had come back. She wished they were laughing again.

“Are you all right?” He asked so sweetly that the fear left again. As though to prove it to herself, Lily left the gown drop. She could see his face visibly changing and it made her heart flutter in an entirely different way. But before he could say anything, Lily spoke again.

“Your turn now.” She said, nodding to his clothing. Whatever light had come into his eyes changed now. His hunch. The damned hunch. He was worried about it, for he was always worried about it. He thought it would repulse her. Everyone thought it would repulse her. Her mother had warned her not to pull a face at it, to which Lily gave her mother a cold look. I love Archie, Lily had insisted. I love him however he looks.

What if your children turn out like that? Rose had said maliciously the night after Lily announced the engagement.

He sighed, “Lily-“

“No,” Lily told him sternly. “No, you are not going to make me stand here freezing while you keep all your clothes on.” She reached again for her husband but he averted her like a child slinking out of her grasp. Like a child now he seemed, collapsing in upon himself in his shame.

She pursed her lips, “Archibald, I am your wife. I love you.” The words seemed to slightly soothe his sinking eyes. Lily moved near again, feeling so odd to be so bare but less so when she rested her hand upon him. Beneath the white shirt she saw the large curving of his spine. Lightly, as to not upset him, she ran her hand upon it. It looked like he was going to cry.

Her arms slid around him, “I love you.” Lily repeated the words though his arms did not go around her. “And I’m not going to be stark naked whilst you stay in your clothes. That is unfair.”

After a moment, she felt his arms rest around her. His hand was warm as it rested upon her hair. Tightly, she clung to him.

“But you are beautiful,” he said in a voice like a whisper. “I am not.”

Lily damned him. She damned him and his sad eyes that made her wish to cry. She damned him for calling her beautiful as she stood in front of him as naked as a newborn. She damned him for not thinking himself beautiful as she saw him.

Lily pulled back, “Nonsense.” Her fingers moved to the top button of his shirt. She believed he might stop her but he did not. “I’ll hear none of that on my wedding night.” Her fingers worked down, undoing every button until she reached the last one and pushing the shirt from his shoulders. As she did, she felt the strong curve of his spine once again and saw his face fall. Damn him, Lily thought again wanting him to not make such a face.

She pressed her lips against his, wrapping her arms around his neck. If he would not listen to her words, perhaps she could convince him in this new way. They were soon back upon the bed, laying down this time as Archie had so suggested. Lily pulled the strings at the front of his trousers and discarded this last article of clothing. When they were one, it did hurt like the woman had said it would. It was not a pain she’d ever felt before, but it soon fell away as they were together. Through the night it stopped hurting until all she felt when they moved together was pleasure. A strange, new feeling that she found she greatly enjoyed.

In the morning she awoke with him lying next to her and a wonderful smile upon her lips. Her husband. She ran her finger upon the odd curve of his spine and soon felt him awaken. He turned to face her and she instantly placed another kiss upon his lips. She was certain they’d only slept for about an hour. It mattered not. Soon they’d be upon a train and could sleep as much as they liked.

“Good morning, dear husband.” Lily said with her another kiss.

“I fear I am still dreaming,” he said, brushing the hair upon her cheek. It was a silly line, though he said it with such sincerity that she found herself flushing from it. “Good morning, beautiful wife.”

“Shall we call for breakfast?” Lily asked. They were to leave soon for France, she thought giddily. France with her husband.

“Not yet,” he said. “I don’t wish to wake just yet.”

He stared at her with that perfectly wonderful look in his eyes. Lily had no idea what she’d done to be looked at like she were so wonderful, but it did not matter. For he was her husband and all would be well. She need not fear Misslethwaite, or Medlock, or any other bloody thing so long as he was there. Her husband. Her husband.

She smiled.