The week before the wedding was pure chaos. Lucien somehow was unaware he needed a tuxedo, sending Jean all over town to find someone who could procure and alter one on short notice. She needed to deliver Angela's wedding dress and Robert must have called half a dozen times just to ask nothing in particular. Then several days before the wedding Joy arrived in town. She started showing up at the house unannounced just to talk to Lucien and seemingly to sneer at Jean. In fact Jean was suspicious that sneering at her was the main point of Joy's visits. This was all on top of Jean's usual household duties. Jean overheard Lucien one afternoon inviting Joy to stay for dinner and almost screamed. She was grateful when Joy suggested the club instead. Jean wondered how the wedding of a mere acquaintance had taken up so much of her time.
When the day finally arrived Jean got dressed with help from Mattie. She never could have managed it on her own. It was late in the afternoon and Jean only needed to put the finishing touches on her makeup and jewelry. She had gone to the hairdresser earlier in the day and had her hair swept up in a beehive suitable for the occasion. She set out a late lunch of cold meat and salad so anyone passing through the kitchen could take what they wanted. Her biggest task was pressing Lucien to get ready on time and reminding him he needed to be at Sacred Heart ninety minutes before hand.
On her way downstairs to clean up what was left of lunch she nearly bumped into Lucien in the hallway. His jaw dropped when he saw her. Jean tried to pretend she didn't notice.
"Well don't you look handsome."
Lucien cut a fine figure in his tuxedo with black cummerbund and bow tie. A fine figure that was still gaping at her. Jean stared him down. She did not have time for this.
"Right. Uh, thank you Jean. I need to go in a few minutes, though why I have to be there so early is beyond me."
"Weddings are like that."
Lucien laughed, "I'll take your word for it."
"Mmm. And don't forget to pick up Joy on your way there."
"Oh, I said I'd pick her up on the way to the reception. Since I'll be occupied for most of the ceremony it didn't seem right to make her sit all alone."
Jean almost replied that Joy would have been welcome to sit with her and Robert, but decided it was a platitude too far.
"If you're ready Jean I can give you a ride to the church."
"Thank you, but Robert is picking me up."
Lucien looked disappointed.
"I promised Angela I'd get there a few minutes early and look in on her. I'll keep an eye out for you as well."
Lucien looked relieved.
Jean nodded towards the kitchen.
"Well, I'd best clean up lunch and finish getting ready."
"Right, and I need to go."
Lucien turned away, patting down his dinner jacket in search of his wallet.
Lucien turned back to her.
"You will avoid starting a fight with anyone and watch what you drink, won't you?"
Lucien smiled and placed a warm hand on her bare arm. Jean tried not to look shocked.
"I promise I'll be a model citizen."
Jean nodded slightly. With his hand still on her arm she turned away from him and headed into the kitchen.
An hour later Jean was greeting Robert at the front door. She was disappointed to see him in the same blue suit he always wore. The pants were too short for him and somehow it always seemed dusty. He proudly presented her with a wrist corsage.
"Oh Robert, thank you! You shouldn't have."
Jean resisted the temptation to ask him if he thought they were going to a school dance. It was a sweet gesture and it had been a long time since any man had given her flowers.
Once they were seated at the church Jean excused herself to go check on Angela. In a small wood-paneled room at the back of the church Angela was crowded in with a large party of bridesmaids. Angela was prospering under the new transfusion treatments and had regained some color. Her eyes and her personality were as bright as ever, even as nervous as she was. Angela had chosen an elegant dress with long lace sleeves and bodice, ending in a flared satin and lace skirt. Her sheer veil had tiny bits of embroidery to match the lace pattern. Jean stayed just long enough to make sure no last minute adjustments were needed, wished her well, and left.
In the hallway the groomsmen were assembling. Lucien was lingering on the edge of a group of smartly dressed young men in tuxedos who were clapping each other on the shoulders and exhorting Anthony to run before it was too late. On her way back to the church Jean wandered over in their direction.
"Don't you all look handsome."
"Thank you Jean. Everything all right in there?"
A man in the back mumbled something about a hen house and received a swift elbow to the ribs for it.
"Yes Anthony, she looks beautiful and can't wait to see you."
Anthony was spared a ribbing for the dreamy look that crossed his face by the arrival of the mother of one of the groomsmen carrying a box of corsages. They set to handing them out and pinning them on. Jean smiled and continued on her way but Lucien called out to her.
"Jean! Would you mind?"
Lucien held out the corsage.
Jean set about carefully pinning the flower to Lucien's lapel and making sure it was straight.
"How are you doing?"
"Me? I'm just fine. I'm not the one getting married."
Jean laughed in agreement.
"I see you have your own corsage there."
Jean felt her cheeks flush.
"Yes. Robert gave it to me."
"Good. You look lovely, by the way."
Jean did not respond, stepping back instead to admire her handiwork.
"That should do it. I'd best be off. I'll see you later."
Sacred Heart had been Jean's church for her entire life but for as long as she could remember it had a gloomy pallor to it. The sanctuary was always in shadow and the air was heavy with decades of incense. Jean had been told by others that it reminded them of the medieval churches of England. She wouldn't know, but she was sure of one thing. The atmosphere of the church was greatly improved by the sight of Angela, radiant in white, walking down the aisle with Lucien beaming at her side. He looked every bit the proud father and Jean was glad. It had occurred to Jean, much too late for him to back out, that delivering someone else's daughter to the wedding alter would be a heartbreaking reminder of his own loss. She was sure there would be repercussions after in the form of long nights of drinking at home. However in this moment he seemed to be doing well.
The Ballarat Grande Ballroom where the reception was held lived up to its name. Built at the height of Ballarat's gold rush prosperity, the walls of the cavernous white room were covered in plaster reliefs highlighted with gold leaf, each centered in a rectangular recess. Dentil molding ran along the ceiling and six large crystal chandeliers completed the opulent design. In fact it was a joke around town that someone might never be able to attend events there because they didn't make enough money to afford the "e" in "Grande."
Everyone who was anyone in Ballarat and for quite a ways beyond was in attendance. Despite the absence of immediate family Angela and Anthony both had extended families present along with a wide array of friends, business associates, and prominent members of the community. Lucien and Joy were seated far from Jean at a table reserved for family. She was disappointed but not surprised. It made sense that he sit there but it was going to make it difficult to keep an eye on him. Angela had been thoughtful in the seating arrangements, placing Jean with friends from the church plus some other acquaintances. The conversation was lively if not engaging and Jean did not feel out of place.
The beginning of the reception began as these formal affairs often do. The presentation of the bride and groom, welcome remarks, and the first dance between Angela and Anthony. Jean did not think one could find a more handsome couple, but she hoped they were prepared for the trials ahead. Angela would not be any more healthy than she was in this moment. Jean found herself growing anxious for the second waltz. She couldn't see Lucien and was unable to check on how he was doing. No matter who she was with Jean needed to keep a close eye on him tonight. Jean was the guardian of two doctor's legacies now, and she wasn't going to let Lucien ruin either. This was a very public place and Lucien didn't always do well with people. She was determined not to let him get out of her sight for too long. When it was time for Lucien to dance the second waltz Jean followed the gazes of the guests to a table in the middle of the room. She watched in dismay as Lucien stood and drained a coupe of champagne. Was he drunk already? She felt her anxiety lessen as he walked calmly out onto the dance floor and took Angela's hand.
Dinner was a splendid affair the likes of which Jean had rarely seen. Oysters, followed by pumpkin soup, with chateaubriand in a rich sauce for mains. The oysters gave Jean some pause. They were popular but somehow she had gone her entire life without trying them. She was somewhat suspicious of seafood that had made it so far inland, plus by the time it did it was too expensive for her to consider. Several other people at her table seemed familiar with them and she followed their lead. However one bite of the well seasoned salty rubber and she decided that her life had not been poorer for missing them. Robert glanced over at her plate.
"You don't like oysters Jean?"
"I love them. I just don't want to spoil the rest of dinner."
The soup was excellent, and Jean found herself pausing over a slice of beef that was so tender it did not require a knife, admiring the wonder of it all. Angela was of the upper echelon of Ballarat life and Jean was just a housekeeper. She had been incredibly generous to invite Jean to her wedding.
"Everything alright Jean?"
"Oh yes Robert. I was just thinking, I don't think I've ever seen a dinner this fine."
Jean was not keen in reminding the other guests she was just a farm widow. She was confident in her ability to fake it for the evening, however she knew Robert would understand.
"Well I think you should be dining with royalty every night."
Jean did not know how to respond to that so she just smiled at him and cut a piece of steak with her fork.
"Will you dance with me?"
Jean looked up from her plate.
"Of course, Robert. It's what we came here for."
Robert's face radiated delight.
On the way to the dance floor after dinner Jean kept an eye out for Lucien but could not find him. Dancing with Robert felt stiff and awkward. It reminded her of the compulsory dance lessons when she was a girl at school, making Jean think the wrist corsage Robert gave her might be rather apt for the evening after all. Jean finally spotted Lucien out of the corner of her eye, dancing with Joy. Joy was wearing a pink ruffled swing dress, pretty but rather girlish. She and Lucien glided across the dance floor like a couple in a Hollywood movie and Jean found herself seething at the sight of them. She must have faltered mid-step because Robert noticed.
"Everything all right Jean? You seem distracted."
"Oh yes. I was dazzled by these chandeliers."
Robert looked up at the ceiling.
"Oh yes, they really are something. Lovely chandeliers for a wonderful night."
Jean groaned inwardly.
Between dances, drinks, and mingling with people they both knew, Jean was able to catch a steady stream of glimpses of Lucien. For someone who was concerned about surviving the wedding without her Lucien seemed fine on his own. He spent a lot of time dancing or otherwise fawning over Joy. He charmed Angela and Anthony's family and mingled with people from town. Once Jean observed Patrick Tyneman walk away from him with a sour face but that was the last she saw of it. Wherever he was he always had a glass of champagne in his hand, but he did not seem visibly compromised.
Robert seemed to never tire of dancing. It made sense given his love of theatre. Jean would have been content to stay at the edges of all the activity if she didn't think it would rude. He never missed an opportunity to complement her. Jean knew she should be flattered, thrilled even, for a man to pay her so much attention. She wasn't getting younger and this was a rare opportunity. However she had not harbored romantic intentions for the night and she was sure now that Robert definitely had the wrong idea.
Dessert was wedding cake and small, individual pavlovas served on tiny crystal platters. Everyone at the table was delighted with them. By the time the wedding cake was cut Jean became aware that it had been a long time since she had seen Lucien. Jean excused herself to powder her nose, hoping she could buy some time on the way back to look for him. As she re-entered the main ballroom she found Lucien not too far away. He was deep in conversation with a colleague from the hospital. Joy was not with him which Jean found a welcome change. Standing against the wall in shadow near the door, Jean observed him for a few minutes. She felt a rush of annoyance as she saw him take a drag from a cigarette. However Jean was in no hurry to return to Roberts's attentions, and she found herself absorbed in watching Lucien. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sensation of a small, cold hand taking hers.
"Angela! My beautiful girl. How are you?"
"Getting a little tired but I couldn't be happier. I haven't had a chance to talk to you all night! Are you enjoying yourself?"
Jean squeezed Angela's hand.
"Oh I am having such a wonderful time. And I am so happy for the two of you!"
"Now Jean be honest with me. Is the next wedding I attend going to be yours?"
Jean looked back across the room in the direction of Lucien.
"What, Lucien? No, I'm just his housekeeper. Besides I pity the woman who tries to take him on."
Angela gave Jean an odd look.
"No, I meant Robert. I saw you two out on the dance floor. He's barely left your side all night."
Jean realized Angela was not joking and struck a more serious tone.
"Well, it's early days yet. But we'll see."
The sound of Anthony calling Angela's name caught her attention. Jean squeezed her arm.
"You'd best go Mrs. Farmer, you have duties to attend to."
Angela smiled and walked away as Jean watched after her. When she looked back up at Lucien he was walking straight towards her with a grin on his face. Jean felt like it had been ages since they were standing together by the front door of the house that afternoon. He had not closed half the distance between them when she found Robert standing in front of her.
"There you are. I wondered where you'd gone off to. Shall we dance?"
Jean glanced over his shoulder. Lucien was gone. Jean sighed.
"We might as well."
During dessert Angela and Anthony made a grand exit dressed in their traveling clothes. As they left both the groomsmen and Angela's friends followed them outside shouting, no doubt for some final mischief. Jean could not help but smile, their enthusiasm for the occasion was infectious. As dessert and tea we're slowly finished guests started to trickle out. The champagne would flow and the music would play for a good while longer, but those who were not inclined to celebrate late into the night were now free to leave without giving offense.
"Well Robert, it's quite late. Perhaps we should say our goodbyes."
"You can't leave yet. I haven't had a chance to dance with you."
Jean turned in her chair to see Lucien standing behind her.
"Robert, would you mind if I borrowed Jean for a dance?"
"Not at all."
Jean would ordinarily have taken issue with two men making up her mind for her, but the whole thing transpired so quickly that she didn't have time to react. And with her remaining companions at the table watching, she decided to follow along. Lucien pulled out Jean's chair as she stood up, his hand ghosting along her back as he shepherded her to the dance floor.
The music was a slow fox trot that harkened back to a bygone era that Lucien and Jean knew too well. Unlike Robert Jean found dancing with Lucien easy, she was already so familiar with him. However while Lucien seemed confident Jean found herself incredibly nervous and she didn't know why.
"I hope you're having a good time this evening, Jean."
"Yes. I don't think I've been to a nicer wedding."
"Is everything alright? You seem a bit," Lucien paused, looking for the right words, "ill at ease."
Jean tried to laugh lightly. She was embarrassed that he noticed.
"It's just been so long since I've gone dancing. I hardly know what to do."
"You seem to be doing just fine. I was watching you earlier, you dance quite well."
Jean smiled and looked away. He'd been watching her. It probably meant nothing but she didn't know what to make of it. She was having trouble looking him in the eye. She focused on her steps, which despite everything felt natural with him. The small space between them felt like a refuge from the rest of the evening.
"I can't tell you how glad I am that you are here tonight. I don't think I could have managed without you."
Jean looked up at this.
"Me? We've barely seen each other all night."
"Yes, but at least I knew you were nearby."
Out of the corner of her eye Jean saw Joy, watching them with an arch smile on her face. Suddenly Jean realized how close they were dancing. Lucien's hand that should have been placed lightly on her waist was seated comfortably on the small of her back. Jean's arm and hand was flush against his chest. She was sure it had started on his shoulder. There was hardly any space between them. Lucien did not seem to notice anything was amiss. As the song ended she quickly backed away.
"Yes, well, it's getting late. I should probably be going. Thank you for the dance."
Jean turned away and rushed back to the safety of her table, leaving Lucien looking baffled in the middle of the dance floor.
Jean and Robert left a short while later. She was glad to be seeing the end of a long evening. Their path to the door took them past the family table where Lucien and Joy were also gathering up their things. Jean moved towards them, she felt it only proper to say goodnight. Lucien was draping a mink stole onto Joy's shoulders and Jean could not help but wonder how a journalist got such an expensive garment. As she drew closer she saw Joy squeeze Lucien's hand and lean into him, whispering loud enough for Jean to hear.
"You will join me at the hotel for a night cap?"
Lucien leaned in even closer.
Jean took Robert's arm and veered away before Lucien could see she was there.