I just stood there staring until he asked, “Would it be all right if I came in?”
I peeled the cobwebs off of my brain and then by way of answering stood back so he could enter. He turned and then with a look at me, shut the door and after another quick glance my way, threw the latch.
My toes curled under my gown and I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to say. He slowly put the rocker in front of the fire and then like he wasn’t sure whether I would accept or decline he picked up a chair that had been against the wall and brought it forward and sat it beside the rocker. He looked around but then scrunched his eyebrows and said, “We’ll need to find a little table to … uh … I … er … well … I mean if … hmmm …”
His hesitancy finally broke my silence and I gave a small grin and shook my head. The was Cor, I knew the man, warts and all, and he was worried that I was going to pitch a fuss over a thing as simple as a table and he’d still risk the kick just to please me even if it embarrassed him. “It’s all right. We don’t have to have a table.”
He seemed to relax a little bit but then instead of sitting in the rocker as he normally would have he went around the room touching things. Stopping at the little table that held the pots and bottles he said, “This is ... I mean was ... my mother's room."
Startled I said, "Someone should have said. You should have said. I'll move. I really don’t mind being up in the …"
"No. I ... I just ..." He stopped at a loss for words. Then he started up with another strange statement. "The room through that connecting door,” he said pointing to the third door that I hadn’t opened. “It was my father's study. He ... uh ... slept in there most of the time. I ... I was ... thinking ..."
He fell silent again and I finally asked him, "What were you thinking?"
He was silent another moment and I could see he was channeling his emotions or mustering his courage. "Fel, if I move in that room, will you stay here ... in the house ... with me?"
I opened my mouth even though I didn't have the least idea what I was going to say. But I didn't have to come up with anything because Cor kept talking. "Please Fel, hear me out. I ... I know you don't have a lot of reason to listen to me by now, probably lost a lot of trust in me if you have any left at all. I'm just asking for a chance."
I just looked at him but he kept waiting for me to say something. Finally I sighed and told him, "I'm not stopping you. If you want to talk then talk."
He swallowed. Blew out a breath then began. "Back … back when … when the baby … died … I never should have said what I did. I didn’t mean for it to come out the way it did and I said it in the heat of the moment out of shock and hurt. I said it to you when I should have been saying it to Francine if I said it at all. I was half out of my head but that’s no excuse. I know I've messed up, probably to the point things will never be what they could have been. I'd ... I'd still like to try ... that is if you ... you don't ... I mean if you are willing."
My head felt suddenly full of air. I had to sit in the chair because I was so stunned by his words. It sounded like one of those fairy stories I used to read to my sisters. But the problem was my life had never been a fairy story and I knew it wasn't likely to start being one out of the blue. Then I had a thought. "Cor, if this is about you thinking you'll never be free to marry if I'm around so you’ve decided to make the best of it ... well … we can work something out. You don't have to sacrifice your honor or the coin from the estate. I can ... just fade away. No one has to know. They'll forget about me and ..."
He walked away from me and leaning on the fireplace mantle while looking into the fire’s depths asked, "What if I'll never forget about you?"
Still not sure what he was getting at and refusing to believe in the impossible I told him, "We've never really been man and wife, not really ... just on paper. Your conscience will be clean."
He shook his head forcefully. "No it won't. Not my conscience ... nor my heart."
That sure shut me up.
He finally seemed to find it in him to look me full in the face. "You told me once to fall in love again. Do you remember what I told you?"
Quietly I answered, "Yeah. You said you didn't want to."
He gave a self-derisive laugh. "More like I couldn't Fel. I was already in love ... with you. Only it's taken me forever to admit it ... to myself, to you. I ... I wasn't free to feel the way I did for you. I wasn’t free to do the things I wanted to do with you … to you. I came close so many times … all I would have had to do was reach out … touch …” He shook his head and slammed his fist onto the marble he was leaning on. “But I don't care what the council said, what anyone said ... I wasn't free. I had obligations of honor to the vows I spoke with Francine." He looked away again. "Then things got even more messed up ... the baby, Francine, coming to terms with what she did, my injuries, her leaving us ... I wasn't fit to try and make the decisions that needed to be made. I couldn't make sense of anything, much less understand why you were still here.” Breathing heavy he said, “God forgive me Fel but by the time we went to the festival I was eager for it to be over with. I was tired of making excuses for her, tired of making excuses for myself … tired of denying myself the one thing that I wanted that half way made any sense in my life. Then when I missed the dance I ... I was sure that I had lost you, that I had hurt you so badly on top of all the other times I had hurt you that … that ... I just kept waiting for you to find a good enough excuse to leave. I kept waiting for the pain of the idea of you leaving to carry me off. Then I thought maybe you were just waiting for me to leave so there wouldn't be a scene.” He swallowed then quietly added, “I knew you deserved your chance so I made up my mind that one way or the other you were going to get it."
He turned to me and I could tell he was confused. "But then you didn't want me to go on the run with Luke and you didn’t leave, not even after having a chance to go with your father's family. I ... I still don't understand that. The night after they left – when my rights I should have been mourning you leaving me forever – I was left grappling with what you had said. You had made a commitment. You said you wouldn’t abandone Corman but I couldn’t decide if you meant the estate, the people of the estate, both … or if you … possibly you could mean me.”
He started pacing. “My head was so full, and the memories in that other room where people expected me to live as if nothing had happened … gah! ... I couldn't sleep. It felt like my head was going to explode so I went for a walk. It felt like I was out for hours and then somehow I wound up at the cabin.” He stopped and got down on his knee beside the chair I was sitting in, “I can't sleep without you here Fel. God knows I shouldn't ask, but don't leave. Only … only there’s more ... I'm asking that ... God Fel … this is so hard."
His head was buried in his hands and I worried his hair wasn't long to stay there the way he was tugging on it.
"Stop doing yourself damage," I told him reaching out and untangling his fingers from his locks. I felt again that rightness that I had felt when I had given my Da’s family my answer. "I'll stay as long as you need me to. But no ... no make believe Cor. I don't need fairy stories and don't believe in them. I'll stay if you need me to and I'll stay for the people on the estate.” I brushed his hair with my fingers so it looked less like a rat’s nest and told him bracingly, “There now, it's obvious you are just out of sorts. If you want to sit in the rocker that's fine. If you want some companionship or warmth I reckon we can both fit there on the bed; either way neither one of us needs to take on so."
He wasn’t finished however. "But what about you Fel? What do you need? Just tell me. I'll do everything in my power to ..."
Feeling uncomfortable I told him, "Oh don't. Don’t take on so, it isn’t healthy. I like being needed I tell you. I don't want to cripple anyone by making them need me; just I like being needed is all. That’s all."
“But what do YOU need?” he persisted.
I could see he wasn't going to turn loose of the question so I sought an answer to satisfy him and found one that was surprisingly simple but honest. "I need a place and people I can belong to. And I already have that here. I will leave if that's what you need but I'll be honest and tell you that my druthers are to stay in some capacity."
His breath caught for a moment then he let it our slowly. Quietly he asked, "What if that capacity is as my wife, my real wife? Not ... not just a paper wife."
He'd left me speechless again.