This must be the longest anyone's ever gone between chapters. Well not really but I had thought Raspberry Jam was finished until this week when I received a lovely review which got me thinking: what did happen between the two acts of the original story?
I have more than enough on my plate right now and the very last thing I needed was another story to ruminate upon, but Brayne is quite insistent.
A plate of scones greeted Rachel when she came to visit that afternoon. Over her tea Marilla watched as Rachel's mouth stretched over the cream and as she licked the last remnants of jam from the corners of her mouth. "Mother preferred me to use my napkin," Rachel said with a rueful smile. "But why waste it?"
When she placed the kettle back on the fire in readiness for the next pot Marilla heard Rachel's short sharp inhalation of breath. Turning around she saw her friend holding her pointer finger out as the first drops of blood bubbled out looking for all the world like a blob of her glossy raspberry jam suspended on the tip. "Oh dear, let me see," Marilla said striding back to Rachel's side.
"It's nothing," Rachel said her frown belying her words.
"Shh," Marilla soothed taking the offended digit and pressing it to her lips.
Rachel babbled, "it's nothing, caught it in the blankets this morning, so stupid of me." She hadn't said a word to Thomas as he got dressed, after all it was only a torn fingernail, but it had brought an unexpected tear to her eye. She'd sucked it momentarily as it had stung at the time and smarted whenever she banged it.
Marilla meant merely to kiss it better as Rachel must have done a thousand times for her bairns but instead found herself drawing it into her mouth to provide comfort relishing the metallic taste of the blood combined with the residual tanginess of the jam. Rachel meant to draw away, but Marilla's tender ministrations were pleasant. She went to pull it out, but Marilla held on just a mite longer than necessary. Just a fraction of a second that meant everything for in that merest sliver of time was all the world. Their eyes connected and Rachel saw that their love was still extant; had not been quenched despite her betrayal. Her breath caught in her throat. "Still?" she whispered.
"Always," came the reply. The moment was lost when Marilla got up to the singing of the kettle though something had shifted between them.
Over the next cup Marilla critically examined Rachel's ragged nail atop her now crinkled finger. "That's going to keep catching if we don't do something about it. Now let me see." She rummaged in her sewing basket for a moment before finding her scissors. "Stay still, don't flinch," she said looking deeply into Rachel's now teary eyes. "Still painful?"
"It's not that, it's just no one…"
Marilla understood, rarely would anyone care for Rachel as she was doing. Taking the finger into her hand she carefully trimmed the nail taking care not to nick the skin. Then she took a piece of rag and wrapped the thing up neatly. "Shan't last long I 'spect, but at least it'll remind you to be wary."
"Thank you," Rachel said, and Marilla knew her gratitude was for more than the simple first aid.
Avonlea believed erroneously that the tragedy of Marilla Cuthbert's life was that she lost John Blythe, whereas her greatest heartbreak came when Rachel married Thomas Lynde.
Rachel always felt remorseful that Marilla had given up John for her, and that she had not been brave enough to reciprocate made it worse. She never forgot that awkward conversation when she'd told Marilla that Thomas had proposed. The hurt look on Marilla's face stayed with Rachel til the day she died. Despite that she ploughed on, asking Marilla to be her bridesmaid because to do otherwise was inconceivable. In turn Marilla had no choice but to play her part, despite it being just about the hardest thing she'd ever done or would do in her long life. Bitter were the tears shed in her bedroom before and after that day, but eventually she had no choice but to move on.
Out of guilt Rachel never mentioned it again. She behaved as though their promise had never happened up in the sand dunes that sultry afternoon. It had been a solemn occasion. They'd been booted from favourite hiding spot one warm afternoon but had found another deeper in the dunes where only the gulls witnessed their forbidden love. "Promise you'll never love another, that you'll be true to me for evermore," Marilla said crooking her little finger. "Pinky-swear."
"I swear," said Rachel her finger feeling safe nestled against Marilla's in that most binding of promises.
Marilla had gathered these fleeting moments as a guard against the future. When her mind was particularly troubled in later years, mentally she took herself back to that precious moment in the dunes. The ozone beachy smell of Rachel's hair and the raucous caarrrk of the seagull and the round globes of her oh so perfect breasts. Idly as she scrubbed the floors Marilla wondered how Rachel's breasts had changed over the years. Surely all that nursing had altered them, but she hoped, expected they'd still be magnificent. Not like my pathetic pair, she glanced down reproachfully. Her breasts had never been any use to anyone, not for milk nor for loving.
For the first few years Marilla had to distance herself from Rachel. Watching her flirt with Thomas was unbearable. Smiling outwardly whilst keeping her hurt close to her chest proved exhausting. When flashing lights overwhelmed her vision she retired to her bed and lay in a daze of hurt and sadness. These fits overtook her on occasion throughout her life and no one really ever understood why. Only her dearest brother Matthew had an inkling, though even he thought it was her upset at her failed relationship with John that caused her to shut down. It was better that way, Marilla thought sadly. Her brand of love was not appreciated.
One afternoon years later Rachel reached out to invite Marilla to tea. Not wishing to seem inadequate Marilla had tried and discarded all the dresses in her simple wardrobe settling on the least tired. She need not have worried. Rachel was busy with the children and had barely enough time to sit and chat between fussing over the latest of her infants while the older children ran in and out squabbling. They chatted about inconsequential matters and if Marilla thought Rachel might mention the old betrayal, she was to be disappointed for Rachel never commented. Perhaps, mused Marilla as she made her way back home, out of guilt. Somehow that made it better. She could not understand why Rachel had swapped her love for that of the boorish Thomas.
At least if they had gotten together, they would not be burdened by all those brats. Oh, she'd been polite enough at the time, but the children were of that objectionable over-familiar age when they thought you'd be fascinated by all their petty doings; thrusting their sticky fingers in your face. Marilla shuddered.
Still, it had been nice to see her darling once again though Marilla couldn't help but feel she had made the right choice. The thought of being with John in his bed and him doing the things men did to women did not appeal, not at all and she felt a little ill when she imagined Thomas doing it to Rachel. And then to bear child after child. No, really despite her loneliness Marilla felt vindicated.
They grew closer as Rachel's older children aged. Their maturity gave Rachel a mite more freedom. She was no longer covered in sticky stains of dubious origin. Marilla could invite her over or go to hers and they could have a good long chat virtually uninterrupted. Rachel's love of gossip which had been in abeyance while the children were small came to the fore once again meaning Marilla could keep up with all the local news. She never had the unceasing appetite for it that Rachel had but she enjoyed the snippets Rachel passed on.
By this time her parents had died, so it was just her and Matthew up at the old farm. Matthew farming and her minding the house. Theirs was a quiet life and Marilla relished her afternoons at Rachel's where the hustle and bustle of children popping in for afternoon tea when school had finished brought with them news of the outside world.
Her relationship with Rachel had changed. No more did they enjoy their schoolgirl infatuation, but they passed hours together in quiet conversation over their sewing or laying down preserves for the coming winter. Those were days that Marilla relished but as time progressed, she found she wanted more though. Her resentment was never fully quenched, and she found herself frowning inwardly whenever Rachel mentioned Thomas. Then she would stump home grumpily wishing she could stay longer. She had to tamp down her desire for her own survival. Though the old brushes of hands or shoulders might excite her, she knew nothing would ever come of them and she had, for her own sake, to ignore them though they made her core quiver.
"Do you recall," Marilla said one wintry afternoon when lowering skies promised snow. "That day up in the dunes?"
"Hm?" was Rachel's reply. "Dunes? Nasty things. Sand does go everywhere doesn't it. Last time we took the children down for a paddle I was finding it for days afterwards. This one likes to chomp on it," she waggled an accusatory finger at the latest toddler.
Marilla gave up if Rachel didn't remember why buy trouble.
Rachel did remember, but she wasn't prepared to stir up old animosities. Better to prattle on and let Marilla think she was oblivious. It was up in the dunes that their relationship went awry. She loved Marilla, always had but the thought of forsaking her familiar life for the sort Marilla suggested, well there was no way was there. Really, Rachel thought later as she tucked the last child into bed, Marilla had been foolish. Absentmindedly she picked sundry toys up from the floor and put the diapers into soak. Ridiculous idea, she mused as she ironed the laundry the next morning. Imagine giving up all this for her. She continued feeling that way, judging Marilla for her outlandish suggestion until the morning she snagged her nail.
The shift in perception then was all encompassing as Marilla's tender act forced Rachel to reassess their relationship. She realised then that she'd been living a lie, that Thomas while pleasant enough provided little in the way of romance or attention while Marilla, and at that thought Marilla's bright blue eyes twinkled in Rachel's inner vision, Marilla's simple act of caring for her in a moment of vulnerability meant everything. She could imagine Thomas' reaction; he'd have scoffed and told her it was nothing. But it had hurt, there was no two ways about it and really, she should be able to tell him that she was in pain without the fear of being mocked. She had barely said a thing to Marilla, yet her reaction was swift and sure and loving. Even now she could remember the feeling of her finger in Marilla's mouth, how soft and warm it had felt nestled in there. There was something sensuous about the interlude. The realisation caught Rachel by surprise and the iron stopped as she stood stock still thinking it through. Only the rising smell of burnt cotton bringing her to.
"Missing a shirt," Thomas complained the next day. "Where's my Thursday one gone?"
Rachel made some excuse but really that was a problem too. Where was the romance in a relationship that measured days by the shirts?
Years passed where the women could do no more than enjoy scant contact. Their inadvertent brushes against each other causing unacknowledged fireworks within. Until one glorious afternoon when everyone was out. The children at school and Thomas off to town. Finally, the pair could relish in each other's company for hours without fear of interruption. As usual it started with a baking session; in each other's company even such a mundane task took on a new joy as they kneaded the dough in time with each other. Pound, pound, pound, pound. Then rolled up, placed in the tins for the second rising and into the oven for consumption the next day. Two for Rachel's extensive family and one for Marilla.
Sitting down at the kitchen table as they waited for the bread Marilla took Rachel's hand in her own then she bent down to kiss, her lips merely grazing the palm of Rachel's hand. She felt the hand tense up and she looked up at Rachel who stared openly back. "Too much?"
Rachel inhaled a couple of times and pursed her lips, "no, but not here." She glanced around the room and up. The marital bed was the obvious place, but she was not ready to cuckold her husband there, not yet anyways. "The parlour will have to do," she said showing determination she barely felt. Marilla followed her out to the other room and pushed her down onto the sofa kneeling before her. She started where she'd left off kissing in time with the ticking of the clock tracing the creases on Rachel's left palm. All that could be heard was gentle breathing and the soft pucker of Marilla's lips against the skin. With each kiss Rachel felt the sudden coolness as the dampness condensed in the air. She shifted her bottom against the cushions and felt her legs part. Marilla looked up her eyebrows raised with the most beautiful smile in her eyes, then bent her neck to continue her ministrations to the right hand.
Thomas liked to think he was a good lover, but no one had ever paid as much attention to any part of Rachel as Marilla currently was. And we're still fully clothed, Rachel thought absentmindedly and just as she thought it Marilla finished this part of her love making, raising her lips to Rachel's for a long looked for kiss. They had not kissed since that long ago afternoon in the dunes and Marilla was at pains to make sure it was worth it. When Thomas kissed her in bed at night Rachel always felt somewhat scarred by his coarse whiskers. Kissing women, she soon found out, was far more pleasurable. Additionally, where Thomas could be rough there was nothing on earth as sweet and soft as Marilla's lips against her own. She found her mouth opening in response and easy as Marilla's tongue slipped in searching for her own. Must stop the comparisons, Rachel thought as she brought her hands up to cradle Marilla's cheeks her own tongue swirling in union with Marilla's.
"Don't forget the bread," warned Marilla as Rachel painstakingly pulled yet another button from its hole.
"Bother the bread," replied Rachel determined to finish her task. "Don't know why you insist on sewing so many, Marilla. We only have these scant moments I don't want to waste them undressing, it's all very well and good but I'm aching for more."
Marilla canted her neck back and gently inhaled through her nostrils shifting her weight as Rachel's fingers finally found their mark. "You have the most gorgeous breasts, have I ever told you that?" Rachel murmured. Marilla could only moan in affirmation.
"You know what I love most," Rachel said later as they bit into the crunchy bread, its top shaded a particularly dark brown.
"I can guess."
"Well that but really I mean I love that only I get to see the real Marilla. You portray such a stern image to the world but only I know that's an act. Only I see your true, wanton, self."
"And I yours." Marilla sat down petulantly, "this is driving me crazy. I wish we could stay together for always. Much as I adore these stolen moments, I want to be with you for all time. I want to make love under dawn's soft pink rays." She placed her arms around Rachel's shoulders feeling the weight of Rachel's impressive bust lean into her. "You know who has the beautiful breasts in this relationship," she said nuzzling into them. Reluctantly Rachel pushed her way saying, "not now my love, I have to get the dinner on."
Marilla was irritated that night wishing her life had turned out differently. Matthew sat across the table from her and ate his dinner silently like he always did. What do you think about? Marilla wondered. Matthew merely raised his eyebrows at her enquiring stare. Oh, for heaven's sake, it's like talking to a statue. Then he did surprise her, "been thinking of taking in a boy, to help with the farm you know."
It was dreadfully wicked, but Marilla's feelings shifted when Thomas began to fail at last. Inwardly she berated herself, but she had waited decades to be with the one she loved without impediment. She prayed and prayed seeking the will to change but the thought of having Rachel to herself after all this time was so very alluring.
If Marilla had an ulterior motive for going to comfort Rachel after Thomas's passing no one would ever guess. Their neighbours knew of the women's friendship though sometimes they marvelled at it. "They're nothing alike really. Rachel's such a gossip whereas I've barely heard Marilla speak a word. Can't see what they see in each other." Still when Thomas was finally called home no one batted an eyelid when Marilla spent hours up at Lynde Hollow.
Rachel snickered lightly as Marilla lay sated and boneless pillowed against her bare breasts under the covers. "Funny isn't it. They all think you're tending to a forlorn widow."
"I am, in my own way," drawled Marilla just barely conscious after her exhaustive morning. Her lips still glossy and slightly bruised with her hair most decidedly loosed from its tight pins.
"It's a rather specialised service, I hope you haven't tended to the neighbours in a similar fashion over the years?"
"Mr Harrison," Marilla said glancing up and grinning wickedly. "He didn't complain." She felt Rachel's body stiffen in shock then collapse in laughter. "You, you wicked tease Marilla Cuthbert. You must have missed the parrot when it passed?" Marilla scoffed in response.
"I am so very sorry," Rachel sobered up displacing Marilla when she turned to her side. "I should never have married. You gave up John for me and..."
Marilla put one finger against Rachel's lips to shush her. "No," she shook her head. "I didn't give John up for you. I just gave him up. The thought of laying with a man," she shuddered. "No, there was only one person for me and I'm lying beside her right now. I suppose I could wish I hadn't had to wait so long, but that made this moment all the sweeter. So, no more talk of guilt my love. I don't want to waste what time we have in tedious reproach. I just want to enjoy you." Tears came to Rachel's eyes and Marilla lent forward to lick them away, but when Rachel reached out Marilla murmured, "sleepy. I'll be up for more later." Rachel watched as her eyes slipped closed and smiled lovingly; it had all been worth it.