Happy holidays, dreamofragtime! This one's for you.
Jean couldn't remember the last time the prospect of a date set her heart to racing.
Don't be ridiculous, she told herself as she pinned on the jade broach Lucien gifted her years ago. Really, considering that she and Lucien lived together, saw each other every day, shared meals all the time, there was no reason for her flushed cheeks and fluttering pulse.
But tonight, after years of listening to gossip about the impropriety of their situation, after months of waiting for the judge to grant Lucien and Mei Lin a divorce, Lucien was taking her on a night out, a proper date. For a couple whose courting had been as unconventional as theirs, tonight would be a treasure. All day, she waited for his phone call, breaking the news that they would have to postpone because of a case, but when the phone rang at half past three, Lucien had only rang to promise that he hadn't forgotten and that he'd be home in plenty of time to make their reservation.
When Jean hung up, she stared down at the phone with a hand on her cheek and a wistful smile on her face. Maybe, just maybe, this was the new normal for them.
Jean indulged by turning on the radio while she dressed, so the dulcet tones of Ella Fitzgerald filled her bedroom as flitted about. She hummed as she donned new stockings with lace trim and new lingerie that gave her a little thrill to wear even though she knew Lucien wouldn't see it tonight. As the final notes of "At Last" echoed in her small room, she even twirled a few times in the periwinkle blue dress Lucien bought her when he was last in Melbourne.
"Lucien," she'd gasped. She folded the fine gown back into the box. "This is too much—"
"Let me spoil you a little."
Lucien leaned down and bestowed a lingering kiss on her cheek. "Get used to it, darling. I love you and I want to give you everything you want."
What he didn't seem to understand was that Jean didn't want to be spoiled, only loved and attended to. This evening, perhaps, when she proved happiest when she hung on his arm or blushed under his heated gaze, he would begin to believe her.
As she applied her lipstick, her mind wandered to Lucien's lips, and lingered there for far too long. The closer to the wedding they came, the bolder they grew. There had been many more kisses like the one in the kitchen, when she'd given in for a few precious moments and left him chasing after her at the end of them.
Her lips tingled with the memory of their last tryst, on the couch in the studio only just the night before. Lucien suggested they sojourn there for a drink after Matthew had gone up to bed (rather early, if memory served). They hadn't been alone since Lucien had stumbled into the kitchen before dinner, the signed court documents and official papers in one hand, a note from Mei Lin in the other. By the time she pried the news from her shocked fiancé, Matthew came home.
Alone with Lucien in the firelight, Jean had leaned into Lucien's touch as he cupped her cheek, and pulled him down to meet her. She sighed into his mouth and winded her arms around his neck. Surprised, it took Lucien a moment to catch up, but soon his stuttering hands roamed from the middle of her back down to her hips—
The clatter of her lipstick cap falling from her fingers onto her vanity interrupted her daydream. Even as she chided herself, she couldn't help but smile. She'd never felt so powerful. She hoped to get a taste of that delicious power again tonight, and as she fluffed her curls and gave the bodice of her dress a little tug, she knew she was on track to succeed.
Rising from the vanity, Jean took a deep breath and strode to her bedroom door. If she hadn't looked up after opening it, she would have run smack into her fiancé, who waited on the other side with one hand poised to knock and the other clutching a small bouquet of daisies. He wore a rather dashing three-piece navy-blue suit with a matching tie. She expected him to say something cheeky, ask her if she had plans this evening, but he simply stared at her, slack-jawed and flabbergasted, as if he'd never seen her dolled up before.
"Good evening to you, doctor," Jean teased. "You look wonderful."
Blushing as she broke his reverie, Lucien chuckled nervously. "Not half so wonderful as you do."
Perhaps she would be the cheeky one tonight. "Any plans this evening?"
As Lucien beamed at her, Jean remembered the angry man who'd stormed into her life five years ago, and suddenly her heart was so full she could cry. "I'm taking my best girl to dinner and the pictures."
Jean's tinkling laughter was louder upstairs, in closer quarters. "Girl," she chided. Emboldened by their flirting, she ran her fingers down his tie, smoothing imaginary wrinkles. "Are those flowers for me?"
"Yes. I wanted to get you something you haven't grown in the sunroom."
A few of the petals kissed Jean's cheeks as she buried her nose in the blossoms. "Thank you, Lucien. They're beautiful."
In the first of undoubtedly many smooth moves of the evening, Lucien plucked one of the buds from the bouquet and slid the stem through a curl behind her ear. "You are beautiful."
"Flattery will not get us to the restaurant on time, doctor."
"Quite right. Shall we?" When Lucien offered Jean his arm, she took it with a smile almost as giddy as his own.
Lucien insisted on the details of the evening being a surprise, so he revealed only enough for Jean to know how to dress. Therefore, Jean maintained her shocked silence until the maître d pulled out her chair and asked if they would like to sample the wine list. Lucien answered in the affirmative, and Jean thanked the young man.
"Lucien, isn't this all a bit extravagant?" Perhaps it was the atmosphere or the cost of the dishes on the menu or the patrons Jean only knew by reputation as high society people, but Jean felt the need to whisper her admonishment to her fiancé, seated across from her.
Naturally, he disagreed. "Nonsense," he said without bothering to lower his voice. "It's high time I started spoiling you."
When Jean only offered him a tight smile, Lucien sighed and extended his arm along the white tablecloth, palm up for Jean to take. After weeks of wearing her engagement ring without being able to show affection in public, Jean relished in the freedom of taking his hand in a crowded restaurant without a cloud of shame smothering her joy.
She squeezed his hand as he ran his thumb over her knuckles. "I'm just not used to being spoiled."
Lucien kissed the back of her hand. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life spoiling you. Speaking of—" He broke off, as if the calm down before his haste ruined any finesse he'd planned. "I was thinking about where to go on our honeymoon."
"Oh were you?"
Jean's lilting tone and smile made Lucien grin. "Yes. Well. I was thinking that perhaps we don't have to restrict ourselves to just one destination."
Her first honeymoon had been a hasty weekend in Melbourne paid for by Christopher's father, and while she knew Lucien hated to be outdone, surely there were limits.
"You've always wanted to travel, Jean," Lucien continued. "I want to take you everywhere you've ever wanted to go. And I know this is a lot to lay on you right now, so we can talk about it later. But…I just want you to know that adventures can still await you if you want them."
If they weren't in a restaurant full of townsfolk, Jean would have curled up in his lap and wept, but in the absence of that freedom, she lifted his hand to her own lips.
"Sir, madam. The wine list, if you please." The poor waiter's timing couldn't have possibly been worse, but with the rest of their lives together stretched out before them, Jean didn't mind being interrupted. These moments weren't stolen anymore.
"This was such a lovely evening, Lucien," Jean sighed as he helped her from her chair. "Thank you so much."
With one arm in the small of her back, Lucien guided her through the maze of tables and curious couples. "You to assume we're done already, my love."
If Lucien hadn't been guiding her, Jean would have run smack into a table for staring at him so curiously.
"It's not far from here," Lucien explained, nodding to the hostess as they neared the door. "We're not far. I'm going to just get us outside here, and then you'll have to trust me."
Stepping into the warm evening air, Jean narrowed her eyes at him with the hint of a smile in her eyes to let him know she wasn't truly vexed. "There are only so many surprises I can take this evening, Lucien."
"Close your eyes."
"Give me your hand and close your eyes. I'll guide you."
Reluctant but curious, Jean complied, holding tight to his hand as the warmth of his other hand returned to her, this time on her upper arm. As they took their first steps, Jean struggled to remember which direction they were facing when she closed her eyes, but for the life of her, she couldn't seem to orient herself in a town she'd lived in all her life.
"Steady on, now." With her eyes closed, Jean was more keenly aware of what Lucien's breath on her ear made her feel. "We're taking a little step down here."
"Are we crossing the street?" Immediately following her gasp, Lucien's hand slipped from her hand up to cover her eyes in case she peeked. "Lucien!"
"Trust me. I've got you. Not a car in sight."
After only half a minute more, Jean's heels scuffed against the pavement on the other side of the street, and Lucien surprised her once again by, instead of saying something cheeky about her learning to trust him, whispering, "Open your eyes."
The round fluorescent bulbs of the Ballarat Cinema nearly blinded Jean as her eyes fluttered open, and she beamed at the sight of the massive letters on the building's letterboard: North by Northwest.
"Oh, Lucien!" Jean gasped. "I missed this film when it came to the cinema last year."
"I remember how torn up you were—" Lucien broke off, glancing down at his feet, and Jean knew he was thinking about the last several tumultuous months—first Jean's move from Ballarat to Adelaide and back again, then Mei Lin's surprise arrival, then everything with Derek and the divorce. "About…many things at the time, but this—this is something I could fix."
Moments like this, when Lucien proved that he could pay attention, that he did pay attention, that filled Jean's heart to bursting with love for this man who she could finally look forward to spending the rest of her life with. So right there, on the street outside the theatre, she gave into the impulse she'd been suppressing all evening and kissed him. Lucien's surprise left his mouth open to her, so she teased his tongue with hers for just a second before pulling away.
Tucking a stray curl behind her ear, Lucien grinned. "I told you to trust me."
They sat together in the middle of the middle row, surrounded by young couples and families, and Jean cherished the feeling of her hand in Lucien's, of a warm familiar body close to hers. She'd only been to the pictures a handful of times, but each time, she'd gone alone. All around her had been these deliriously happy couples or affectionately bickering families, and she'd never felt so lonely in a room full of people.
Now, she made up half of one of those deliriously happy couples.
Unsurprisingly, Lucien did not behave during the film. He constantly leaned down to whisper something in her ear just loud enough to disturb their fellow moviegoers. (Though, to their credit, the patrons only shushed Lucien after the fourth or fifth interruption.) When he wasn't asking impertinent questions or cracking jokes, he was wrapping his arm around her or bouncing his knee or looking at her with so much adoration she could feel it. She chided him only once for bouncing his knee, by sliding one hand off the armrest and onto his lower thigh, and she could hardly call that chiding. Indeed, he was rather pleased, but his legs didn't move for the rest of the film.
They left the pictures hand in hand, separating only so Lucien could open the car door for Jean. As soon as he was behind the wheel, her hand wandered to his arm and slid up to the nape of his neck.
"Thank you, Lucien. This was such a lovely evening," she sighed.
"Truly, my darling, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an evening so much."
Jean withdrew her hand as soon as he started the engine, noticing the flush of his neck, but a yawn prolonged her silence. "Would you mind terribly if I went straight up to bed? I'm exhausted."
"Of course," Lucien said as he pulled out onto the main road. "I'm rather knackered myself."
When Jean only hummed in response, Lucien draped his arm across the top of the front seat. "Why don't you give here and shut your eyes for a bit? I'll wake you when we're home."
Jean hesitated only briefly, out of habit more than genuine concern for propriety, before remembering that falling asleep against him was no more scandalous than putting her hand on his thigh in a dark theatre. So she slid across the vinyl seat and rested her head on his shoulder. As soon as she settled, Lucien's arm curled around her and he dropped a kiss to her hairline, as he had all those months ago when he chased after her. Wrapped in the security of the present and the warmth of the past, she closed her eyes and let the road rock her to sleep.
The featherlight caress of Lucien's fingers against Jean's cheek woke her, and when her eyes fluttered open, she found him smiling down at her from the driver's seat.
"We're home, my love."
As Jean sat up, Lucien leaned forward to turn off the car, and she slid back to her side of the vehicle, missing his warmth already. He opened her door for her, offered her his hand, and led her inside in the easy rhythm of habit, the feeling all the more welcome after their first night on the town.
"Shall I walk you up?"
Jean tutted at him as he hung his hat and suit jacket in the doorway. "I had my sherry two hours ago, Lucien. I can make it up the stairs."
"I know, I know." Lucien stared down at his feet, a blush tinting his cheeks. "It's just—I'd walk you to your door, ordinarily, but as we live together—"
Before he could stuff his foot in his mouth, Jean slipped her hand into his and took the first steps toward the staircase. She nearly sighed when Lucien lifted their joined hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to her fingers. After everything they'd done tonight, this walk to her bedroom felt the most charged. The meagre gap between their wrists buzzed with such energy that if their skin touched, Jean was sure they'd jolt from the shock.
When they stopped in front of her door, Lucien surprised her by reaching for her other hand, turning her to face him.
Before he fell in love with her, Lucien never seemed to struggle with words, so Jean watched him with a patient smile as he did so now.
"I…I can't wait to make you mine." The intensity of his gaze sent a shiver down Jean's spine, and when she stepped back, Lucien's jaw dropped. "No—I didn't mean—that is, I—" He released her hands to skim his hands over his face and into his hair. "What I mean is…there's so much I want to share with you, and I can't wait to start."
Jean stepped forward, regaining her ground, and cradled his face in her hands. "I know," she whispered, letting her gaze drop to his lips. "I know." She had time for one more deep breath before Lucien kissed her, and God how she longed for the foolishness and recklessness of her youth that made her free enough to take a man she loved to bed. As she opened her mouth to his gentle prodding, that sense of power from their tryst in the studio returned, the feeling of being exactly what Lucien craved.
Jean felt that power in Lucien as well, and it took everything in her to pull back and bring them both to their senses. Resting his forehead against hers, Lucien nuzzled her nose with his. "Two months," Jean whispered. "Two more months until we can start, and we never have to stop."