Jean gazed absentmindedly out the passenger side window, dreading what was yet to come. Robert seemed to be taking the long way home and she knew it. He made small talk about the wedding and Jean agreed without really hearing him. She shifted to look out the front window of the dusty yellow Ford Prefect, at least ten years old. They were driving slowly down Lydiard Street. The stores and restaurants were long closed, dark save for the street lamps illuminating the pavement which was slightly damp from some earlier rain that had passed by while they were indoors celebrating. In many ways the car reminded Jean of Robert: Humble and reliable, but down at the heels and not really going anywhere. Finally they pulled into Mycroft Avenue. Jean swore she could hear every pebble as they rolled up the gravel driveway. As Robert stopped the car and turned off the ignition, Jean forced herself to smile and hoped she looked sincere.
"Robert, thank you so much for escorting me tonight. It wouldn't have been the same without you."
Robert's face beamed. "Thank you Jean. I had such a nice time. You know, I enjoyed dancing with you."
Jean suppressed a snort hoping it sounded like a giggle.
"Yes, so did I."
Jean held her breath through the awkward silence that followed. She did not know what would encourage him the least, platitudes or the absence of them. She felt like the distance between his car and the house was cut off by a moat she might never cross. She was about to attempt her goodbyes when he spoke.
"Jean, as you know we have a new show starting in a few weeks. Perhaps after one of the rehearsals you'd let me take you out to dinner?"
Jean groaned inwardly. He definitely had ideas about the two of them, and seeing that she had asked him to a wedding she was certainly responsible for them. After all he had done for her today, it would be ungracious to reject him. Besides, it might finally let her end the evening.
"Yes Robert, that will be lovely. Once rehearsals have started we can decide on a day."
An awful silence fell again. Jean decided not to prolong it.
"Well, I had best be getting inside. It's late and I don't want to wake the whole house up."
Jean hoped he wouldn't notice that nobody was actually home. Danny was at his place, Mattie was staying with a girlfriend, and Lucien was, well she didn't want to think about that right now.
"Yes, I suppose so. I hate to end such a bonny evening."
Robert hopped out of the car and walked swiftly around, gallantly holding the door. He walked half a step behind, following her to the door step. Jean did not turn around until she had unlocked the door and opened it a crack.
"Thank you again Robert, I had a lovely night."
"So did I."
Robert stepped forward to kiss her and Jean turned her head and leaned in quickly, ensuring that it was a chaste peck on the cheek. Before Robert could respond Jean bid him a final goodnight and rushed through the door.
Jean stepped inside and heaved a sigh of relief. It was done. She wasn't sure how a simple social obligation had taken up so much of her attention but it was over now and life could return to normal. She stood with her back to the door until she could hear Robert's car retreating down the driveway. Jean put her hand bag and her bolero jacket on the kitchen table and filled the electric kettle. It was well past midnight but she was not ready for bed. She felt agitated.
The rustle of her peach satin dress seemed unusually loud in the silence of the kitchen. Sitting at the table she mulled the evening over with a cup of tea. She was relieved to have got away without asking Robert in but she felt a little guilty for brushing him off. He definitely read in to the evening far more than Jean had intended, but he was such a kind man and Jean did not wish to hurt his feelings. She regretted inviting him but he was one of the few single men her age she knew who wasn't a complete rotter. Ultimately Jean knew it was her pride that had led her here. She didn't want Lucien to think she was a hopeless old maid who needed him to keep her from looking foolish. Jean Beazely did not need a pity wedding escort. She snorted at the vision of poor Robert's hopeful face in the driveway. If she were honest with herself she might admit that she probably would have had a better time with Lucien. She knew if he'd asked earlier she'd have probably said yes, after a suitable amount of feigned hesitation. Then she thought back to Joy, sliding her hand over his, whispering into his ear about a night cap. Jean clenched her jaw and felt her chest constricting. She was fooling herself. It was perfectly clear Lucien was happy with his current arrangement. Jean was lucky Robert was willing to come at all. These were all foolish thoughts anyway. Jean was his housekeeper and his personal life was none of her business. It was time for her to get out of this dress and go to bed.
Jean took her tea cup to the sink and left it there. Standing at the table she removed her earrings and started pulling pins from her hair. When it was mostly free she tried to remove her necklace but found it surprisingly difficult. The heavy old clasp always got stuck. She spent several minutes fighting with it, debating whether it would be easier to try and remove it in front of a mirror.
"Can I help you with that?"
Jean whirled around, her hands still behind her head. Lucien was leaning in the kitchen doorway, arms crossed, watching her. He was in his shirt sleeves, his bow tie was undone and his hair was disheveled, notably more so than when when she had left him at the wedding. Jean slowly lowered her arms and pulled her jacket to her chest, suddenly feeling exposed.
"Lucien! I didn't hear you come in."
"I was careful, I was afraid I would wake you."
"I didn't expect you home tonight."
Jean immediately felt her cheeks flush at the impropriety of her own words.
"Forgive me, I..."
"That's quite alright, Jean. It was getting late."
Jean felt the weight of his words in the pause between them but knew better than to ask. Lucien nodded in her direction.
"Do you need help taking that off?"
Jean stammered in shock, finally settling on "What?"
Lucien smiled slightly.
"The necklace. Do you need help with it?"
Jean giggled nervously, trying to sound light.
"No thank you, I'll deal with it upstairs."
Jean hastily gathered up her hair pins, purse, and jewelry into an untidy bundle.
"Would you like me to make you some tea before I turn in?"
Lucien straightened up and dropped his hands to his sides.
"No thank you, Jean. I think I am going to have a drink in my office and head to bed myself."
"Alright. Well, good night."
Lucien was still taking up most of the passage to the hallway and as she approached he made no move to give her more space. She smiled shyly, not daring to look him in the face as she squeezed by.
As she passed close to him he breathed, "Good night Jean."
She would have barely heard him had she been standing further away. As Jean headed down the hallway and up the stairs to her bedroom, she could feel his eyes staring after her. The look on his face as she left him in the kitchen would inhabit her dreams for many nights to come.