Authors's note: Thanks to imaidenpride for this S1E6 AU prompt.
Jean did not know what was wrong with her. A feeling of dread had settled on her during the first rehearsal of the church's new play the moment she noticed Robert's longing glance. Robert Manifold was everything she should want in a husband...kind, reliable, handsome. Perhaps, even more than those things, he wanted to marry her. Jean had never completely given up on the idea of remarrying, but offers were few and far between. She knew she wasn't getting any younger. The phrase "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" crossed her mind more than once in the ensuing weeks.
Robert had been surprisingly forward for a normally soft spoken man, always there with a hand on her shoulder or an offer of a ride home. He had tried to kiss her on several occasions, as if it were the natural and unusual thing between them. With each attempt Jean felt a tiny wave of revulsion followed by a bigger wave of guilt. She aught to be grateful for the attention, at least someone wanted to kiss her.
But the misery persisted and so did the guilt. It became so bad that one night Jean crawled into a bottle of sherry and made an embarrassing scene in front of Lucien and Mattie. Jean was mortified the next morning and served breakfast with a mournful demeanor and a splitting headache. She knew afterwards that she needed to end things with Robert. Their charade of a courtship was hurting both of them.
In the end Jean could not bring herself to reject him outright and instead chose to quit the Drama Society entirely. It was not like Jean to avoid problems, but this seemed to be the easiest way to escape his attentions and avoid needless gossip. After he drove her home from rehearsal Jean invited him in for tea. Under his uncomfortable gaze she offered up her pathetic excuses but he saw through them immediately. Robert took the rejection gracefully, and Jean wondered yet again if she was a fool to spurn such a nice man. Perhaps she aught to at least make an effort to get to know him better. But it was too late then. She said no and he was walking out the door.
As if the whole thing weren't horrible enough, Lucien blundered into the room mid-conversation. With a mind as bright as the sun he was so oblivious to other people's feelings Jean had to marvel at it. Suddenly the man who barely noticed she was there most of the time was playing lord of the manner, making introductions and all but granting Robert formal permission to be speaking to her. If Jean was not so unhappy she would have been furious.
Robert left soon after and as Jean watched him walk away her dread of a life with him suddenly became dread of a life alone. She realized she was watching her only chance at a future walk out the door. She wanted to cry out for him to stop but pride held her back. She stood rooted on the spot, paralyzed with fear and the realization of what she was losing. Jean was so lost in her own thoughts that she failed to hear the phone or the sound of Lucien's concerned voice trying to reach her over it. In a blur she finally turned to him. He was asking if she was alright and she could not answer, so she picked up the phone instead. Not paying attention to who was on the other line she handed it to Lucien and retreated to her room.
Jean barely made it to the top of the stairs when the tears started flowing. She paused at the door to her bedroom. If she walked in and burst out crying Lucien would hear her for sure. The sound of his feet leaping the stairs two at a time told her it was too late. He was right behind her, his voice softly calling her name. She did not turn around. All she wanted was some time to mourn her loss in private, not humor her nosy employer. He spoke again, this time with the lightest touch on her shoulder. Choking down her tears Jean whirled around, forcing a giant grin she knew would fool no one.
"Can I help you?"
"Jean, are you alright?"
Lucien looked at her with a mix of skepticism and alarm. Jean wondered if he was more perceptive than she gave him credit for.
"Jean, did Robert hurt you? If so I want to know about it."
"No Lucien," Jean sighed, touched that he cared, "Quite the opposite. He wants to marry me."
Lucien smiled brightly.
"Well that's wonderful!"
As Lucien studied Jean's face his smile fell.
"I said no."
"I see. Well if that's what you want."
Jean hung her head. She knew she aught not trouble him this but she was utterly spent, and he seemed willing to listen.
"That may have been my only chance. I'm not getting any younger."
Jean felt a wave of sadness wash over her and this time could not stop the tears. She looked away. Lucien gently tugged on her hand, running his thumb across her palm. She should have been shocked, but was too overwhelmed to care.
"Jean, any man would be honored to have you as his wife. If you ask me, Robert is a fool if he lets you go so easily."
Jean looked up at him, about to dismiss his platitudes. His brow was furrowed with worry. His eyes reflected nothing but compassion and kindness. Suddenly Jean recognized the nagging doubt that had plagued her throughout Robert's courtship. That doubt was HIM. Jean could not love Robert because she loved someone else. Lucien, all arrogance and impulse, who filled up her mind and her heart every time he walked into a room. Lucien, who drank too much and cared too much and was standing too close holding her hand because he knew she was upset and he wanted to make it right. As painful as the prospect was, Jean would rather give up her last chance at marriage than leave Lucien.
It was almost too much to bear. She had as much a chance with Lucien as she did with a royal prince. But he was here now, holding her hand. That was enough. Her mind returned to the phone call. It was only minutes ago.
"Lucien, didn't Mr. Gorski need you?"
Lucien lowered his eyes.
"Yes. In fact it's rather urgent. I should go."
"Yes, you should."
Jean pulled her hand away. A shadow of a frown crossed Lucien's face but he took a step back, resuming his usual formal posture. Jean managed a weak smile.
"Lucien I'm fine. You need to go. I'll see you at dinner."
Lucien opened his mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it. He nodded curtly and turned on his heel towards the stairs. For the second time that day she felt her heart constrict in her chest as she watched a man head out the door.
"Thank you, Lucien," Jean called out into the dark hallway, though she knew he did not hear her.
Finally alone, Jean entered her room and silently shut the door behind her. She had a lot to think about.