Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Cookies & Cream 3 (spin).
Toppings/Extras: Gummy Bunnies (also for genprompt_bingo square “revelations and concealments.”)
Word Count: 1921
Notes: Nov 1949; Edward Iveson/Julia Graves. Follows on from Sent to Coventry (in which Edward and Julia finally confess their feelings for each other).
Summary: Everything has changed between Edward and Julia – but the rest of the world mustn’t know.
“We’ve got to behave normally,” Edward had said it to Julia before he left that morning. She had already pointed the fact out to him last night. Since they’d been pretending to the world that their marriage of convenience was a love match, now that it had turned out it never truly was a marriage of convenience, they couldn’t suddenly give the game away with unexpected, belated shows of affection. It was perfectly simple. In theory.
In practice, however, Edward had only just arrived at Whitehall when he reached for the telephone, searching for an excuse to call Julia. He’d say he would certainly be home early that evening. He wanted to hear her voice, to know that he hadn’t been having some wild dream last night; that it wasn’t a trick after all.
He’d got through before he realised that there was really no excuse, and he found himself rather lamely telling Julia that he had arrived safely in Whitehall, when Amyas Harding strolled past.
“I haven’t forgotten I promised to be home early,” he said into the telephone.
Julia sounded amused on the other end of the line: “Yes, so you said when you left, which wasn’t all that long ago, darling.”
“No, well –” Edward couldn’t think of anything he could say with Harding and a secretary at his elbow. “I’ll, er, I’ll see you then.”
Harding shook his head at him. “Iveson, the meeting awaits us. If you can spare us the time, that is – unlike yesterday. Not that I blame you, but it has been six months. Can’t let her tie you to her apron strings, you know.”
Edward escaped later into his office at Westminster and signed some letters, a task which needed little of his attention. Perhaps that had been a bad idea: the meeting had at least had the virtue of forcing him to sober up and take part in the usual discussions; now he was free to marvel at Julia’s confession of love again. And the relief of it, when he’d thought last night that she had left him – it was a kind of intoxication, and he must be more careful.
He remembered last night, smiling to himself, before he recalled how she’d still been trying to assure him she was telling him the truth, sitting on the bed, trying to convince him yet again, when she shouldn’t have had to do it in the first place, and the writhing sense of shame he’d felt within. He’d pulled back from her, wanting to find a way to apologise.
“You don’t trust me,” she’d said, letting her hand fall back to her side. “How can you not see that I mean it?”
He’d shaken his head. He did believe her now, but she should never have had to work so hard to convince him. It wasn’t fair, what he had done to them, with his idiotic proposal. It should have ended in disaster, and it was only thanks to Julia that it hadn’t, and that was nothing to be proud of.
“No, no,” he said, gripping her hands. “I know. I’m sorry, Julia.” He’d shaken his head a second time, unable to express his conflicting emotions, kissing her instead, refusing to let her needlessly protest her sincerity any more. He knew it was true; somewhere he’d known it for some time. But he was the same coward he’d been when he’d made this arrangement and he hadn’t dared to believe it. He’d hurt her with his hesitancy and doubt; he’d hurt them both, and nearly driven her away.
She shouldn’t love him, he thought. But since she did, all he could do was try and make it up to her. With that, he shook himself, returning to the here and now, sitting at his desk, and realised that he’d finished up by signing the blotting paper in his abstraction.
He arrived home at last, only for Julia to open the door for him even as he went to unlock it, leaving him momentarily off-balance.
“Edward,” she said, and hugged him. She didn’t give him a chance to speak, kissing him and then putting a hand to his mouth with a small shake of her head, leading him into the study.
He watched her in bemusement. “Julia –?”
“Ssh, ssh!” she said with a jerk of her head towards the door, ajar into the hallway. She kept her own voice low. “Mrs Crosbie’s still here.”
Edward fought laughter. “Well, she does know I live here, darling.”
“Yes, but that’s not the point –” Julia raised a finger to her lips again and then dashed out into the hallway, pulling the door not-quite-closed behind her.
Edward could hear the conversation that ensued: Julia asking Mrs Crosbie if she’d finished, and Mrs Crosbie contemplating cleaning the spare room – giving it a proper go-over.
“Oh, not today,” said Julia. “Next week. It’s Friday, and Mr Iveson will be home any minute I shouldn’t wonder – you take yourself off and have a lovely weekend!”
Eventually, once Mrs Crosbie had gone, Edward dared to emerge into the hallway again, carrying the coat and scarf he’d removed while in hiding. “What on earth’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” said Julia, taking his coat and hanging it up, before putting her arms around him again. “But I’ve been waiting for you to come home again ever since you left and I really don’t think I could have been normal in front of Mrs Crosbie.”
He laughed. “I don’t suppose Mrs Crosbie would bat an eyelid, darling, although I am flattered –”
“I can’t have her knowing,” Julia said, pulling back, her gaze darkening. “Edward, not Mrs Crosbie, and not any of your family. They can’t ever know. I don’t suppose she would make anything of us being foolish – but I couldn’t bear it if she did.”
He stroked her hair, not much interested in Mrs Crosbie. “No, no. Of course, we will have to try and be careful, but it’s only today – one odd day.”
“What do you think she’d think if she knew?” said Julia. “Or Aunt Daisy, or Nancy, or any of them? They’d hate me.”
Edward closed his eyes. Yet another consequence of his folly – their folly, perhaps it was true to say that, but it was still his damned suggestion. “Not now they know you. They couldn’t.”
“If I knew that someone had married my brother as a matter of convenience – for the money, for my own safety – I’d find it hard to trust her.”
He knew what she meant: what if it were Nancy or Amy who’d made such a match? He’d be suspicious himself; anyone would. “Julia,” he said softly, having little else to offer.
“Yes, well, that’s why we must be careful,” she said and pushed him away with a smile. “Go upstairs and get changed – I’ve a few last things to do in the kitchen.”
When Edward crossed back from the bathroom to the bedroom, in more casual shirt and trousers, he found her sitting on the bed, unbuttoning her blouse. She beamed up at him.
“I set a trap for you.”
He laughed, screwing up his face, as he sat beside her. “Silly. What do you need with traps? You’ve already got me.”
“One likes to be sure,” said Julia, po-faced but with a definite spark in her eyes as she put her arms around him and Edward thanked God it was the weekend at last.
In the morning, Edward slipped out, ostensibly to buy a newspaper, but he had determined to get Julia something to mark what was in some ways, the official beginning of their marriage. It couldn’t be anything that somebody else would notice, but he had an idea or two, and when he came back was able to press a small box into her hands.
“Oh, no!” she said, in genuine dismay. “Oh, Edward. Please don’t.”
He shook his head. “Darling, I got it from a market stall. It’s only something small to mark the occasion. I want to do things properly from now on – take it as my promise that I will.”
“I hate you,” she said, blinking back tears, and he supposed that she meant the opposite. “You’re very unfair sometimes.”
She opened it up. Inside was a small silver – or presumably, silver-coated – brooch in the shape of a rose.
“Because you told me,” he said. “About the messages in the flowers. And I’m not up on the language of flowers, but I’m fairly sure a rose is for love.”
Julia laughed, and stretched up to kiss him. “Well, I thought that, too, but the florist said it was more complicated. Some of them are almost ominous.”
“Whichever one is the right one, it’s that. Love, I mean,” he said, and then hesitated, second-guessing himself. “Not ominous. Of course, if you don’t like it –”
Julia curled her fingers around it. “Oh, no, no! You don’t get to take my present back – or what you just said.”
“Do you realise that was the first time you’ve ever actually said you love me?”
“Now you’re being silly. I told you even before we were married – you asked me.”
Julia leant back against the wall. Her mouth curved into a small smile. “Oh, yes, I did. I asked you whether you’d fallen in love with me in Paris or Berlin. And you said that you wouldn’t put it as strongly as that, but it might have been Berlin. And even the other day, it was only things like, ‘well, you already know what my feelings are.’”
“I wasn’t at all sure for a while, up until then,” said Julia. “It doesn’t hurt to say so, at least on occasion.”
“I’m sure I must have done – since Thursday, at least.”
She held his gaze. “Oh, no. I would have remembered, believe me.”
“Then I’m sorry for that, too,” he said, and caught at her hand with a grin. “Obviously, I love you.”
Julia moved nearer in response – and then suddenly turned away, facing the still partially open front door and said, “Oh, hello, Nancy!”
Nancy paused, hand upraised, ready to ring the bell, blinking as Julia pulled the door open. Isabel was close behind her.
“Nan,” said Edward, trying to hide his dismay. Judging by the way Nancy raised her eyebrow in his direction, it probably hadn’t been all that successful. “What are you doing here? Not that it’s not nice to see you both, of course.”
“Had you forgotten you invited us round for coffee?”
“Oh,” said Julia, joining Edward at the door and taking his arm. “I – er – yes, that is, I think I did! Earlier this week. I don’t think I told you in the end, what with everything else.”
Nancy looked from one to the other. “Is this is a bad time?”
“No,” and “Yes,” Julia and Edward said simultaneously and then looked at each other.
Isobel was trying not to laugh, from her position on the step. “Come on, Nan,” she said, putting her arm through Nancy’s. “Clearly it is a bad time. We’ll go for a walk and I’ll treat you to coffee – and we’ll arrange another time for a social call.”
Edward shut the door behind them and glanced over at Julia.
She was trying not to laugh again. “I’m sure,” she said, “that nobody will notice anything odd at all, darling. But in the meantime, do you think we should lock the door and disconnect the telephone, just in case?”