Carrie was playing Christina Aguilera’s Hurt on her piano when she heard the door bell ring. She didn’t think anything of it since she had a pupil due shortly and she continued to play while Dixon answered the door. The song was one of her favourites. She lacked the voice to do the song justice so she just played an instrumental version, enjoying the melody and silently singing the words in her head. She’d been playing this song a lot recently, so much so that the other evening Mr Hale had asked her if she was all right since the tune was so melancholic. She had assured him she was fine but on more than one occasion recently she had been reduced to tears while playing.
The song had a special resonance for her now. It reminded her of how she used to scorn her family and blame them for so much; now she longed to be able to argue with them again. She wondered if her Aunt Immy was looking down on her and was proud of her. Probably not, she realised. Immy had given her the chance of a lifetime and here she was, miserable by her own hand. She had begun to think that perhaps she had over reacted when she sent Mr Thornton away, perhaps his reaction had been understandable and she was simply being a coward, as usual.
When she finished the song she heard someone clapping behind her and turned to see Mr Thornton standing in the doorway. Her heart skipped a beat and her stomach filled with butterflies as she looked at him, for she really did love him more than she could say. She swallowed her feelings down and tried to remember why she didn’t like him.
“That was beautiful,” he said.
“If you are here to give me the money back, I won’t not accept it. You need to swallow your pride and take it for the good of your workers as well as yourself.”
“Well that told me,” he said, his voice warm. “I thank you for your faith in me.” He had decided to keep the money since he did view it as a sign of her faith in him and he would not throw that gesture back in her face. He also thought that she expected him to fight her over the money, but Mr Thornton had learned his lesson and had no desire to ever fight with her again.
“It’s nothing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pupil arriving shortly.”
“No you don’t. Forgive me but I knew you taught Sarah Caulfield today so I asked her mother to cancel her lesson this week. I explained that I needed to see you on an urgent matter of business.”
“I believe we have discussed our business.”
“Perhaps, but I have been trying to understand why you are so afraid of me.”
“I… I have told you why.” She looked down at her hands where they rested in her lap.
“Yes, but I don’t believe you,” he said, stepping further into the room and closing the door behind him. “I don’t think that you are afraid that I will harm you.”
“No. I also don’t think you stayed with Mark for so long because you didn’t want to be alone. I think you stayed with him because you didn’t love him.”
Angered by his words, Carrie looked up at him.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“I don’t think it is stupid, Carrie.” He was slowly edging closer to her, almost as if she was a wild animal that he needed to be cautious around. “You told me your society is more evolved that mine and that it studied relationships, but if that’s true I don’t think that you gained much insight from it. I think that you felt safe with Mark because you didn’t love him. He can’t break your heart if you don’t love him.”
Carrie looked uncomfortable but she didn’t deny it.
“I think that I terrify you because of how much you love me; because you know that I could break your heart.”
“You already have,” she said sadly.
“And I have apologised. I think you know me by now, Carrie, and I think that you know my behaviour then was out of character.”
“You hurt me once, you could do it again.”
“Yes, but then it’s not every day that you find out your beloved is from somewhere so very different. There is a reason you haven’t told anyone else where you are truly from, Carrie, and that’s because you fear their reaction. You understand that everyone else would be shocked and yet you allow me no leeway to come to terms with your revelation at all.”
“Do you think it’s easy for me to put up with living in this backwards time where I’m considered little more than chattel?”
“No, I do not,” he said, keeping his voice warm and reasonable. “I have seen you getting angry at the restrictions placed on you, resenting the judgements others make about your behaviour.”
Carrie looked at him, wondering where he was going with this.
“You told me that you had read about my time and my life in history books, so I could argue that you knew what to expect when you came here and have no right to get angry.”
“Reading something and living it are two very different things,” she said.
“Quite,” he agreed. “And yet, although I have not had the luxury of reading about your time, I am expected to accept it with perfect equanimity. To not bat an eyelid at the lack of clothing or loose morals, to simply understand that things are different in your time, even though I have never experienced your life in any way.”
She realised that he was right, she had been expecting an awful lot of him. In fact, considering how angry many things in this time made her, she was a hypocrite herself for not allowing Mr Thornton a little anger when he discovered how different a place she was from.
“When did you become so insightful?” she asked.
“Around the time that you broke my heart, and your own.”
She was about to reply but he cut her off.
“Don’t deny it, your misery is etched into every feature. Perhaps those who don’t know you well can be fooled but not me. I know the pain you feel because I feel it too, every hour of every day.”
He had been getting closer and closer to her and now stopped a few feet away.
“I know that trusting me is a risk, Carrie, and I know that I have behaved shamefully but look at me; I am a broken man. I will never love another, as I am sure you will not either. Why should we continue to be miserable when what we want is ours for the taking?”
“You make it sound easy,” she said.
“It isn’t, I know it’s frightening for you. Once we are wed you will cease to have any rights as an individual and in the eyes of the law, you will be nothing more than my wife. Your property will be considered mine and my word will always trump yours.”
She nodded, for he was right and that was how marriage worked here.
“Do you honestly think the letter of the law means anything to me?” he asked her. “Just because it says I can overrule you, does not mean that I ever would. The look of hurt I would see on your face is a bigger deterrent than any punishment you could dream up. I am also shrewd enough to realise that you are strong and independent. I have no doubt that if I were to ever mistreat you that, lawful or not, you would leave me and probably do a more than fair job of keeping yourself hidden from me.”
“I would,” she confirmed.
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he assured her. “For any man who would mistreat you does not deserve you, myself included. I will never risk losing you.”
Carrie could feel herself giving into his words, wanting to believe him and wishing that she had the courage to fall into his arms.
“I love you, Carrie Preston and I always will, whether you accept me or not. I suspect that you will always love me also, so let us end each others torment and take a chance.”
Carrie felt tears stinging her eyes. She so much wanted to believe what he said.
“I don’t know if I can,” she said honestly.
“I am not asking for much,” he said, taking another step closer. “Not yet at least. Let me court you, Carrie, treat you as a lady should be treated and prove to you that I will never hurt you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do but you’re scared. Don’t let that fear keep you from the life we could have, Carrie. Fight back, fight for me, fight for us. I know you are capable of it.”
His eyes were so warm and filled with such love and tenderness that she found herself wanting to trust him, only the words wouldn’t come. Instead she suddenly reached out and grasped him, wrapping her arms around his waist and lying her head against his chest. John wrapped his arms around her also.
“Take care, Carrie, for if you do not speak I shall claim you as my own. If I must go, send me away now and do not continue my torment.”
“Stay,” she managed to say.
John’s heart soared and for the first time in a long while his smile was genuine. Slowly he pulled away slightly and, placing one finger under her chin, gently tilted her head up. She didn’t resist and slowly he bent his head and kissed her softly. To his immense relief, she responded. When he pulled away she was also smiling.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“As am I,” he agreed. “But let us not waste time dwelling on our wrongs, they are in the past. Come for a walk with me and tell me more of where you are from.”
“Are you sure you want to hear it?”
“That place created you. Beautiful, wonderful, obstinate, strong and courageous you. I want to know everything about such a place, no matter how alien.”
He slipped his hand into hers and silently they headed out for a walk. Strangely they did not speak for a long while, only sneaking glances at each other and smiling when each caught the other staring. They headed to the hill and stopped when near the top to look down over Milton. Carrie wrapped one arm around his waist and leaned into him as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
She looked down on the town below her and silently thanked her Aunt Immy for this gift.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked him.
“Absolutely certifiable,” he said, though his voice was warm with mirth.
“What does that make you then?” she asked.
“A raving lunatic?” he suggested.
“At least we’re in good company then.” She tightened her hold on him.
Yes, she thought to herself, she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
“Though if you really want to talk about crazy, you should have met my Aunt Imelda.”
By unspoken agreement they sat down on the hill side and John listened with a mixture of amusement and awe as Carrie told him all about her favourite aunt; how she was the black sheep of the family, how oddly she dressed, how wildly she behaved and finally, how she had granted Carrie her hearts desire, namely the chance to be with Mr John Thornton.
When she was done she looked up at the sky.
“So what do you think, Aunt Imm?” she asked aloud. “Did I do good?”
Only slightly perturbed by Carrie talking to a dead woman he drew her close to him and kissed her cheek.
Carrie heart skipped a beat as she thought she heard her aunts hearty laugh, though it was soft, as though carried on a breeze. Maybe it was real or maybe she had imagined it, but either way she took it as a good sign.