Author's Note: I literally thought it impossible to get another chapter up this quickly but you were all so encouraging. Honestly, this is the first fanfiction I've ever written and so any encouragement or even honestly, critique, is most welcome. I love hearing what people are thinking about this story because honestly a few of you gave me a few ideas...We shall see.
Matthew spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly. If you asked him later where he'd gone, he wouldn't of had the faintest idea. He had too much to think about, to digest. Ironic really, when he considered that for all his claims of "wanting to catch up," they hadn't caught up at all. She had no idea what he had been doing the past two and a half years and frankly she didn't seem overly concerned about the matter. He wasn't offended. Hardly, considering she was very busy, very actively mothering a darling little girl. And yet, though they hadn't shared any confidences he felt as if he had a mountain of information to sift through.
On that night in January of 1920, he thought, seeing her on the floor, so broken and trembling with her closed eyes, that there couldn't be anything more horrible than seeing Mary this way. He'd been to war, for God's sake. He'd held men as they died, watched man fall in front of them. For months, he'd thought he'd never walk again, let alone do much else. Still, none of those things had centered around Mary. She was always there, of course, sometimes center stage, sometimes in the peripheral. He'd meant it when he said to her, "I'm so glad we're friends again." Throughout it all, going to war, coming home, injuries, everything, she'd been there, an anchor, a rock, a touchstone, much like the little dog he carried even in his suitcase now. He couldn't imagine her as anything other than strong until he found her on the floor.
That night in January, he'd ached for her. He didn't know what to do or say. He wanted to take her in his arms and rock her in his arms, as if she were a child. But then she'd made it very clear that she didn't want to be touched, least of all by him. Her words had shamed him, how he'd called her cursed, how he'd very much placed the blame for all the mistakes with Lavinia at the feet of both his and Mary's feet, as if they shared them, when they were his alone. That his own words could be used to help drive home Sir Richard's vicious, violent, disgusting actions pained Matthew a great deal. And what could he say? I never thought, I never imagined that anything could ever happen to you. To anyone else but not to you.
She wouldn't see him after that. Not ever. If he came for dinner, they were seated apart. He had a strong feeling that Cousin Violet was her ally in this. He had to speak to her, he had to apologize. He wanted to know that she was alright and then felt stupid for thinking it because of course she wasn't alright. He wanted to plot revenge against Carlise. But she was always out of reach, her eyes shuttered, her body turned away from him. Then one night he came to dinner and Violet read Mary's letter.
He had not listened to Mary's entreaties not to badger Granny. He could not even honor her wishes in that. He'd gone to the Dowager Countess several times, begging, pleading to tell him where she was. Violet could not even pity him, she'd given all her sympathy to Mary. "I can't tell you where she is," Violet snapped finally one day. "Because I do not know."
"Then we must find her! Perhaps she has gone to Sybil or her family in America..." he pleaded.
"Matthew," she hissed. "Do you need me to produce the letter for you? Do you need to see it with your own eyes and read the words with your own lips to understand her wishes? She does not want to be found."
"We could convince her to come back..." he offered pitifully.
"No," Violet stated. "You could not. Weren't you listening? She does not want to be here!"
Oh Matthew, what am I always telling you? You must pay no attention to the things I say.
Finally, on his last visit to Cousin Violet, he raised his voice to her, "If you won't tell me where she is..."
Violet slumped back in her chair and covered her eyes. For the first time her voice was soft. He'd never heard the tone from her before. "My dear boy, I am telling you the truth. I do not know where she is."
"Truly?" he asked. "Then we must try to find her."
"Matthew, do you honestly believe that any feelings you have for her, any attachment or affection you feel for her, is anything compared to what I feel for Mary? Any horror you feel over what you witnessed that night is nothing compared to what I feel. I held her when she was first born. I watched her ride her first pony. I was there at her first ball. I fought for her, over the entail. I saw her love for you and the way she nearly killed herself trying to trap it inside her. Do you understand I am not prone to emotional speeches or sentimentality?" Violet asked him. "But you must understand. You must get it through that thick head of yours undoubtably inherited by your stubborn mother. Sir Richard gave Mary no choice."
"I know that," Matthew insisted.
"So we must allow Mary to make her own choices now," Violet said as kindly as she could, though her patience was wearing thin at this point. She didn't relish talking about feelings all the time. "She chooses to go away. She chooses to stay away. Will you deny her that right?"
Mathew stopped then. He sat. He put his face in his hands. "Then what must we do to Sir Richard? Something must be done. You must see that."
"You are so young," Violet complained. "I would like to kill him myself. I would like to light a fire beneath his boots so he burned slowly. But we will do nothing. Again, it is Mary we must think of. To attack Sir Richard would only result in Sir Richard attacking Mary."
"But the situation is impossible!" Matthew cried.
"Welcome to the world women have been living in for centuries," Violet quipped. "A man does something inappropriate, something you didn't ask for, and you can't speak of it, because if you did, then no other "honorable man" would want you ever again. We have been at the mercy of your sex since the beginning of time." (If only Sybil could have heard her...)
"I want her," Matthew insisted.
"But she doesn't want you," Violet stated. "And besides, I'm not entirely sure you do want her. I've heard it before." Matthew left soon after that, angrier, sorrier, than he had been when he came.
His grief was messy–Lavinia dead and Mary alive somewhere he could not reach. He felt foolish and stupid and dramatic for all that he'd said to Mary at the funeral because...Lavinia was dead and Mary was alive. How could he have missed such vital of a point.
Oh, Matthew! You always make everything so black and white!
He went to Cora next, sure that she would be a softer touch. "Don't you see we must find her?" he repeated his appeals to a more sympathetic audience.
Cora sighed. A part of her was sure Matthew had something to do with Mary leaving. How could he not with all that angst between them constantly? "I agree. But why is this so important to you?"
He couldn't answer. "Please write to your mother and to Sybil and see...tell her I will come to her if..."
In the end, it was Mary's Grandmother's reply, so short, so evasive, with no mention of Mary when that had been the sole purpose of Cora's original letter that convinced Cora something was amiss. Her mother even queerly suggested that she might visit England instead of Cora coming to New York. It is not the best time for you to come here to me. Why don't I come to you? In the end it was the mystery that caught Cora's curiosity and Matthew insisted on traveling with her. "I know that if I could only speak with her..." he said again and again.
Robert wanted nothing to do with the whole situation. In his opinion, two of his daughters had deserted him. Once rejected, he would not reach out again.
Violet quite literally looked down her nose at them. "Mark my words, this is mistake." And once, when Matthew again insisted that "if he could only speak to her" Violet stood as quickly as her age allowed. "This is ridiculous. Why is it that even now no one cares to listen to Mary? She has made her wishes perfectly clear."
The next day, on the streets of New York, Matthew bought a bouquet of a dozen small white daisies with friendly yellow centers. When that seemed inadequate, he bought three dozen and the very happy vendor wrapped them in brown paper for him.
He rang the bell grinning, unsurprised to find Mary opening it herself with Gracie on her hip, but she looked surprised to see him. "Matthew! What are you doing here?"
His smile faltered for a moment. "I thought yesterday we agreed that I..."
The baby was reaching out her little fists to him but Mary did not move out of the doorway. "But I never even gave you a time. I thought you understood that it was only..."
"That you were only being polite?" Matthew asked. "No, I'm afraid I didn't understand that." It was clear she truly was not expecting him. She wore a blouse and skirt but her feet were bare and her hair only braided.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" Gracie chanted, while Mary continued to stand in the doorway.
"Mary," Matthew said a bit exasperated. "We were friends once."
"Were we?" she replied cooly, raising her eyebrow at him, but nonetheless opening the door wide enough for him to enter. "I'm afraid we're in a bit of disarray at the moment. I was about to give Gracie her snack."
"Mmm," Gracie said.
"By all means, continue," he said politely, his earlier enthusiasm gone. It was just like when they first met; he felt two steps behind her, so confused by her deference, the anger beneath the cool, calm surface that was Lady Mary.
He followed Mary to a small nook off the kitchen and away from the formal dining room. It held a table and two chairs and a high chair. "This is Gracie's very special chair," Mary chirped for the benefit of the baby. "And she is going to sit in it like a very big girl and not cry at all."
Gracie peeked over her mother's shoulder at Matthew, as if seeking his opinion. "Yes, it seems to be a wonderful chair for a very good girl." Gracie looked at him a bit skeptically but didn't put up that much of a fuss as Mary strapped her in.
"What are we having?" Matthew asked.
"We are having some apple sauce and a bit of a pear," Mary held the jar up for the baby to see. "Yummy!"
But Gracie wasn't looking at her, she was looking at the Matthew. "Da!" she said pointing.
"She's trying to say that," Mary quickly explained.
Matthew was a bit disappointed to see that the baby was in fact pointing to the flowers and not at him. He chided himself for being so foolish, what did he think, that if Gracie looked at him in some fatherly light Mary may warm up to him somehow? "They're actually for her," Matthew said, now, especially now with Mary peering at him. "I saw them and they looked so cheerful and I thought..." He paused and shoved the flowers at Gracie's mother. "Mary, for God's sake..."
Everything about her softened, her eyes, her lips, her shoulders. "You bought Gracie her first bouquet of flowers," she said softly, petting the little white daisies. "Look Gracie, your first flowers. See how pretty? See how cheerful?" She went around the corner and found vase to fill with water.
"I didn't get them to make you sad," Matthew said.
"Oh!" Mary smiled. "It's not you. It's just that...well, there are so many firsts going on around here lately–first steps, first words..."
"First flowers," Matthew supplied.
"Yes, well I can't help it but sometimes it just makes me a little sad to see all these little firsts because she's growing up so fast and I..." she stopped and took a breath. "Nevermind." And to Gracie she said, "Are we ready for apple sauce?"
So the three of them sat around the little table while the baby ate the apple sauce, only fussing a little when she insisted, "Me!" and tried to take the spoon from Mary. "Sometimes, recently, I let her do it herself," Mary confided to Matthew. "But only when bath time is right after." And then Mary placed the slices of pear she'd cut up in front of the baby which she nibbled on.
It was all so strange and domestic to sit here with a baby between them, Mary going hot and cold towards him, but all sweetness towards Grace. It was much like the day before, all about engaging the baby and nothing personal or important between the two of them.
Gracie very graciously handed a piece of pear to Matthew and he pretended to bite at her fingers around the fruit. She thought this a very fine game and laughed and laughed, feeding him piece after piece. Mary sat, quietly, cutting more pear, every now and then looking between Matthew and the baby and their shared laughter. "You're very good with her," Mary commented.
"Are you surprised?" he asked her kindly, continuing to take pieces of pear from Grace, and sneaking a few into her mouth too.
"No, not surprised just..."
"Just?" he asked.
"You're the only one from...the family...who has met her in person." She met his eye. "I wondered what it would be like." Suddenly he understood what she was not saying. You're the only one who knows exactly how Gracie came to be that's met her in person.
"She's really wonderful," Matthew replied seriously. "A lot less prickly than her mother too."
Mary finally smiled for him and not the baby. "And why are you in New York?" she asked.
"Mo'," Gracie pleaded, lifting her hand to his mouth with a sticky pear and Matthew ate it.
"Wanderlust, I suppose," he explained, continuing to pretend to bite the baby's hand. "I have some friends from the Army who came over here, to live. So to see them. I've been lonely," he admitted, his own words appalling him, the fact that Mary did not comment on them only embarrassing him more. He babbled, "Wanted a bit of excitement. I thought New York might be the place to go, have a holiday. I only was here with your mother once but that was hardly..." He stopped and looked at her. "You were here. She did see you."
"Yes," Mary admitted, using a rag to wipe down the baby's hands. "I was here. She did see me."
"Then why would she tell me that you weren't?" he asked, sitting back in his chair, while Mary readied a bottle filled with water for the baby.
She met his eye. "Because I asked her to lie to you."
"But why?" Matthew blurted.
"Because I didn't want to see you," she said simply, without feeling. "Alright, up we go, my darling," and she lifted the baby out of the chair and into her arms, walking into the sitting room, Matthew following behind, intent on answers. He was momentarily stunned by the picture the two of them made, Mary's dark ahead against her daughter's, the baby so content in her mother's arms.
"Why didn't you want to see me?" he asked and sat across from her.
She began to sway a bit with the baby in her arms. "I'm not going to argue or quarrel with you in front of Gracie."
"But we aren't arguing or quarreling," he said.
"Yes, but if I answer your question and if we keep talking about this, we will. That's how we are, you and I."
We're cursed, you and I.
His words seemed to hang in the air between them.
"Why didn't you want to see me?" he asked again.
Her eyes were on the baby, a soft smile on her face as Grace's eyes began to close. "There were many reasons."
"You're avoiding the question," he accused.
"No, I'm avoiding an argument in front of my daughter." She stood swayed a bit more. "Let me put her in the crib," she said quietly and walked up the stairs. "I'll be back in a moment."
Author's Note: So I, as a reader, love when stories are updated often. I honestly will try to do the best I can here. I am very eager for Matthew and Mary to have this conversation and I hope you are too. Please let me know your thoughts.