Yuanfen (Chinese) a relationship by fate or destiny, the binding force between two people, that apportionment of love that is destined for you in this world
25th March 1961, morning
Jean woke to the sound of the birds chirping on the trees outside the window. She had always been an early riser, but today she had decided to indulge herself a bit. To tell the truth she hadn't slept much that night, her mind had been swirling and a multitude of thoughts had invaded the precious hours that she had intended to sleep. Stretching her tired limbs she turned her gaze from the ceiling of her bedroom to the left side of her bed. Not that there was much space in it, but she extended her arm, nonetheless, toward the empty space on her pillow. The gleam of Lucien's engagement ring caught her eye. With a sigh, she brushed her fingertips across the soft fabric near her head and her heart started thrumming in her chest. Tomorrow morning she would wake up with somebody else next to her, not here in this bed, but in their room, in their bed.
She had always valued her independence, had always treasured those few hours she was able to "steal" for herself during the day, even more so when she came to work and live in this house, when she could retreat to her beloved sunroom or find refuge into the sanctity of this room. Her very own room.
It was an odd kind of feeling to think that starting from tomorrow...well tonight she thought, blushing, she would be sharing a bed, a room, an entire life with another person after so many years.
The topic of her independence and freedom was not going to be an issue, not with Lucien. Marrying him that afternoon wouldn't take that away from her, if anything, he's always appreciated those aspects of her character as her strength and determination. The question of sharing such a personal space, like a bed or a bedroom, it was something she would have to get used to, once again, but at the same time it was something she was very much looking forward to. They both knew what it would take to make a marriage work and she was sure that having the chance to see each other every day without any barriers or make up or even clothes, in a room that would only be their own, where they could be just Lucien and Jean and the rest of world would be forced to wait outside that door, could be counted as very special moment indeed.
Taking a deep breath she sat on the bed, yes she could do it and soon Alice and Rose would be arriving to help her getting ready for the big day and they would surely send Lucien and Matthew away, so that they could fuss over Jean without the concern of having to keep the groom under control. As her feet hit the floor she could hear something outside the door. A glimpse in that direction confirmed her suspicions. There, on the other side of the glass she could spot the unmistakable shape of her love, cladded in his navy blue pyjamas. She could see he was hesitating, even if she couldn't see his face. She decided to solve the dilemma for him and she took a few step and reached for the handle, unlocking the door without opening it. After all, they had settled on respecting tradition and they had put a lot of effort into not seeing each other the day before. It had cost them greatly not being able to share their evening together, not to mention restraining from any kind of kissing or touching or simply holding hands. At first, when the decision was made she thought she could do for a day without him, but as the day and then the night wore on, she had longed for his presence and his touch. She could imagine the effect a day without her could have on him, too.
"Lucien" she whispered "what on earth are you doing?"
"Oh..Jean, I...I'm so sorry, I hope I didn't wake you" he whispered back, pressing his forehead on the glass. It was clear now that they were the only two people already awake in the house and hearing him so defeated sent a chill down her spine. As a reflection, she pressed her forehead to the glass, as well, trying to find some sort of physical contact. "Are you alright? Are you having second thoughts?" her voice trembled as she spoke the words she dreaded so much.
He let out a small laugh that seemed more like a sob towards the end and she couldn't help but hold her breath.
"As a matter of fact, I am the happiest man alive and no, I'm not having second thoughts. I just wanted to surprise you"
Jean let out a breath as she felt a weight lift off her chest. "Oh?"
"Yes, well I thought you might like something to eat, so I made breakfast"
"Oh Lucien..." she was completely at a loss.
"And I know it's not as good as any of yours and I promise I didn't burn anything down and the house is still standing..." they couldn't help but laugh at the last part, "but I wanted to pamper you especially today" he continued.
"I don't know what to say...No one has ever done anything like that for me". She wanted to open the door so much in this moment and flung her arms around his neck, but she let slip one of her hands outside the door, desperately looking for his touch.
"You don't have to say anything. The truth is, I have something to say and I need to tell you all these things right now, because this is the best moment of my life." He took her hand in his and as he spoke she could feel his thumb drawing small circles on her skin. "In this moment, my life is full and marvellous and I've finally learnt that I can forgive myself and make peace with my past. I know that put like that it can sound selfish, but what I want you to understand is that thanks to you, I've become a new person, a person I can be comfortable with, a person you're about to join your life with." She didn't think she deserved such a praise, after all she had only looked after him. At the beginning because she had promise his father, later because it was the only way she had to keep him safe and close.
He took a deep breath as if to prepare himself for what was coming, as if he was almost afraid to speak the words and when he did she could hear his voice falter slightly "So, here I am, Jean, devoid of any armour or protection telling you I love you and I promise I'll try my best every day to be worthy of your love".
She squeezed his hand, tears he could not see were running freely down her face, her heart singing and longing for him, for this man who had unknowingly breeched through her defences and held her heart in his hands, but still she couldn't speak.
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, then he let it go. "Here take the tray. I promise I'll keep my eyes closed".
She opened the door just enough to take the tray from him and she couldn't help but smile, he had really kept his promise. His eyes closed! She lifted herself on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, then she slowly closed the door behind her. She still couldn't believe what he had done for her.
She put everything on the bed and there among a steaming pot of tea, toasted bread, marmalade and a single red rose, she spotted a small sheet of paper folded in half. She opened it revealing a short note addressed to her in his perfect handwriting.
"You are everything I wasn't capable of saying, of seeing, of understanding.
You are the life that was waiting for me behind a door I hadn't the courage to open.
But, finally you are here.
See you this afternoon
Before a new rush of tears threatened to fall, she ran to the door and swung it open, revealing Lucien's retreating form.
"Wait!" she exclaimed and he stood still, his back to her. She could see the tension settle in his jaw and all his body. He was trying so hard to keep his word for these last few hours that still separated them, and not turn around, wrap her in his arms and kiss her senseless.
The house was silent, safe for Jean's frantic breaths and the rhythmic thrumming of her heart. For one moment more she lingered there, her eyes glued to him and her hands gripping the doorframe, then she ran in his direction and she collided with his back embracing him from behind. Her hands sneaking around his waist and he lifted his arms so that she could take his hands and lace their fingers together on his belly. Her body was completely flushed against his, her cheek resting on his back. She inhaled deeply, his scent, his warmth, so familiar now, giving her a profound sense of home. It was curious how a man like Lucien who could be reckless and adventurous could inspire this feeling of safety whenever he was near her.
For the first time in a very long time, she felt how beautiful it was to be finally found and how liberating it was to stop pretending she had to be someone who wasn't even there anymore.
That's what Lucien meant only a few moments before and now she understood it, too.
She had given herself the luxury to spend the rest of her life with this man, she had risked everything she had, everything she was in the process, despite what was expected of her.
For once, she had allowed herself to throw caution to the wind and love this man who had conquered her heart with trembling hands and disarming compassion.
She had tried to settle for less; for a less demanding job, for a less adventurous life, for a life of contentment . In the end, she couldn't.
There were lots of people who, instead of being alone, were happy with the second prize, the silver medal. But Jean, Jean was a different kind of woman entirely and she couldn't spend her life with a man she didn't love.
Lucien was the one meant for her and despite her attempts to suppress her feelings for him, after all the pain and the waiting, it seemed that in the end fate had declared that it was him, it had always been him.
He was for her that most welcome slight loss of balance, she was the equation to his chaos.
Jean pressed a kiss to the soft fabric of his pyjamas "I love you so much". As the words left her lips she sensed all the tension leave his body and she grinned, knowing that if she could look at him right now he would be wearing that boyish smile on his face that she made her feel as if she was his entire world.
The path which lead them to this day had been long and covered in false starts and delays, but when she looked back at what her life had looked like years ago and the happiness that lay ahead she could declare without a doubt that it's not the time you spend waiting that counts in the end, but for whom you are waiting.