It’s been a while since I’ve shared a story I wrote. Part of the reason for this is that most of the short things I write are connected to a collection of characters and stories some friends and I have developed and would require too much explanation to be worth sharing.
This one is also connected to those stories, but it’s an alternate universe (we have a lot of those) and fairly self contained, so while it’s not one of my very favorites, it’s one of the most understandable out of context. And the two main characters happen to both be ones I created.
One last comment before the story: we often draw our story titles from song lyrics, so here is the song I chose for this one if you care to investigate.
“Goodbye, Angela.” Drew Bowers bent to kiss his wife’s cheek, but she swatted him away.
“You know I hate it when you do that in front of your parents,” she hissed.
Oh. He knew. But kissing his wife goodbye when he was going away for a week seemed like the thing to do. “Why do you hate it?” he asked quietly.
“Because it’s…” Angela’s mouth twisted in disgust. “Sappy.”
That stung. But Drew crossed his arms as the hurt unexpectedly dissolved into anger. “There are a lot of women who would be thrilled to have a sappy husband.”
“I am not one of them. Obviously we were wasted on each other.” Angela swished away dramatically.
Drew stared after her, breathing hard in an attempt to control his anger. Eventually he turned to his parents, who were waiting for their turn to say goodbye. He ignored their concerned expressions, though he reflected bitterly that his mother didn’t object when he kissed her cheek.
“Give Earl Harlow and his family our sincerest apologies for not all being able to visit,” said Papa with a wink.
“Sincere. Yes, of course. I will,” Drew replied lightly.
Then he climbed into the carriage and fumed.
Two years. Two years they’d been married. He had been so excited on their wedding day, ready – eager – to love the wife his father had chosen for him, but from the moment they met, Angela had wanted nothing to do with love. He had been kind and affectionate and patient, hoping she would change her mind, but it had made no difference.
Maybe it was time to give up.
He could probably learn to be cold and distant. That was not the sort of person he wanted to be, but life might be easier for both of them if he was not constantly trying to give Angela something she did not want.
Cold and distant. Starting as soon as he got home. Fine.
“We didn’t expect you home until tomorrow, sir,” said the butler as he let Drew into the house.
“Last minute change of plans. To be honest, I was bored and decided to make my excuses and come home.”
“Shall I inform your parents?”
“No, no, don’t disturb them. It’s too late for that. I’ll see them in the morning. Thank you, Harold.”
Drew headed for his bedroom, but his steps slowed as his ears caught music coming from the library. Angela. It had to be. But… Well, he knew she was a skilled harpist, but he had never heard anyone play quite like this.
For a moment, Drew leaned against the wall outside the room, eyes closed, listening. The music was achingly sad – slow and precise and delicate. To distract himself from the lump forming in his throat, Drew shifted so he could see into the room. But though it was indeed Angela who sat with her small harp on her lap, it was not the Angela he knew.
Her shoulders were relaxed. Her fingers caressed the strings tenderly. There were tears on the cheek he could see in partial profile.
She was capable of crying?
Drew couldn’t stop watching. Despite the tears, Angela appeared more content than he had ever seen her. This was not the woman who scoffed at his every attempt to have a relationship.
There was a person beneath all her ice.
Before he knew it was fading, Drew’s resolve to be cold and distant had vanished. There had to be some way to melt through that ice. He wanted to start this instant – slip up behind her, kiss her neck, tell her how beautifully she played and how beautiful she was when she let her guard down…
But it wouldn’t work. If the experience of the last two years could be trusted at all, he knew she would stiffen and her defenses would instantly be back up, probably more so than usual since he would be intruding on something he was obviously not meant to witness. Drew didn’t want that. So instead of entering the room, he left to go to bed. He would find a way to start tomorrow.
An hour later, Drew lay on his back, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. He could hear the familiar sounds of Angela getting ready for bed in the room next door, but that just made him think of watching her playing her harp, which was not helping him relax.
The noises quieted for a moment. And then…
Drew sat up.
Was she crying?
Several minutes of listening convinced Drew that he was right, and he impulsively stood and cracked opened the door between their rooms. A candle still burned on a small table, but Angela was sprawled face down on the bed, sobbing.
The crying earlier might have been because of the music. This was different. Drew couldn’t ignore it.
Angela must not have heard him come in, because when he sat down on the bed, she started up with a small squeal that Drew couldn’t help finding amusing. “It’s me,” he said quickly.
She plopped her face back into her pillow. “Go away,” she mumbled.
“You are not supposed to be home yet. Go away.”
“I left early. And I’m not going away. You may not like the arrangement, but I am your husband, which means it’s my job to take care of you. Since you’re crying like this, obviously something needs taken care of, but I can’t do that until I know what’s wrong. So tell me.”
There was a very long pause. Drew lay down with one arm beneath his head, watched Angela’s still form in the candlelight, and waited.
At last she spoke, reluctantly: “I hate my life.”
Well. He had asked for it. “What do you hate about it?”
“I am so bored.”
“You’re sobbing because you’re bored?”
Another long pause. Then: “Partly.”
So probably not. But at least she had told him something. “What would make you less bored?” When Angela didn’t answer, Drew started, “Do you want…” Then he stopped talking, realizing he had no idea where he’d been going with that sentence.
“I want…” Angela suddenly turned to face him. “I want to learn. About… everything, I suppose, at least until I find something specific I want to study.”
Drew blinked at that. “Well, to start with, our library is notoriously extensive.”
“I am allowed to use it?”
“Allowed? Of course you’re allowed. Why wouldn’t you be?”
“My father did not allow me to use his library. He said girls should not read too much. I assumed…” Angela trailed off, looking faintly embarrassed, something else Drew had never expected from her.
Still, he had to laugh. “I’m pretty sure my sister has read every book in that room. As has my mother. Please, help yourself. Though frankly, I’m kind of surprised not being allowed stopped you.”
“I would not say it stopped me. It made me study in secret, but there was only so much clandestine reading I could find time for. I did it here, too,” she admitted.
“Well, you don’t have to do it secretly anymore. Read to your heart’s content. Will that help?”
“Good.” Drew hesitated, then said, “While we’re confessing things, I suppose I should tell you that I saw you playing your harp earlier tonight.”
Angela stiffened. “No one was supposed to see that.”
“I know. That’s why I didn’t interrupt. But Angela… what I heard was incredible. Why don’t you play like that more often?”
Instead of answering, she said coldly, “I do not understand you.”
“What do you mean?” Drew asked.
“You left a week ago angry with me. Now you are offering me books to read and praising my music. Why?”
“Do you actually want that answer?”
“When I left last week, I decided that enough was enough. I’d been nice for two years and it hadn’t made any difference in the way you acted. But you looked completely different tonight when I saw you alone with your music. It reminded me that there is a person in there.” Drew gently tapped Angela’s forehead. “There has to be some way to bring her out.”
Angela stared at him. Then she rolled onto her back, covering her eyes with one arm. “Please go away now,” she said wearily.
“All right.” Before he left, Drew leaned over and kissed her neck as he had wanted to earlier. “Thank you for telling me.”
“What are you reading?” Drew leaned on the back of Angela’s chair and peered over her shoulder at the book in her lap.
“Aristotle,” she replied distractedly.
Drew gave a shudder that was only partly teasing. “I don’t know how you follow that stuff.”
She looked up at him. “It is fascinating.”
Before Drew could respond, his mother entered the room, saying as she sat down beside Papa, “Angela, I’ve been craving music all day. Could you play your harp for us all tonight?”
Angela stiffened. “I think she’s pretty involved in her book, Mama,” said Drew.
“Oh, never mind, then. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please, continue reading.”
But when it became obvious Lady Bowers’ comment had been a request, not an order, Angela relaxed. “I do not mind playing,”she said, putting down her book and reaching for the harp that sat near her chair.
Drew watched as she thoughtfully ran her fingers over the strings. She had seemed slightly more content in the past few months – and had seemed to hate him slightly less. When they were first married, she would never have played with him leaning on her chair like this.
Suddenly she glanced up at him, and Drew wondered if she was going to shoo him away after all. But she didn’t. Instead, she bent her head back over the harp and began to pluck the strings in earnest.
It took a moment, but Drew recognized the tune. It was the song he had caught her playing the night he came home early.
He held his breath, not wanting to do anything that might make her stop. She seemed nervous at first – even fumbling a note – but before long she melted into the music, though she didn’t cry this time.
There was an awed hush when the music ended. “That was exquisite,” Mama said at last. Papa agreed, but Drew couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“Thank you,” said Angela politely, putting down the harp; Drew was close enough to see that her hands were suddenly trembling. She stood. “I am tired. If you will excuse me, I think I will retire now.” She disappeared before anyone could reply.
Drew wanted to chase after her and ask what that had been about, but he suspected that would be pushing his luck.
That night, Drew was almost asleep when the door connecting his room to Angela’s opened and she stepped in. “I need to talk to you,” she said.
Drew slowly pushed himself up. “All right,” he said groggily.
She perched on the edge of the bed, hands folded primly in her lap. “I do not hate you anymore,” she announced.
Drew wasn’t sure whether to laugh or kiss her. He settled on raising his eyebrows and saying hopefully, “Oh?”
“I mean…” Angela looked down at her hands. “The day you talked about how you had been nice to me but it had not made any difference, it made me think. You were not entirely correct. I did hate you at the beginning. I thought you were flippant and annoying. But I hated the situation first, and it would not have mattered what my husband was like. I still think you are annoying sometimes, but it has been a long time since I actually hated you.”
Drew was awake by now, staring at Angela with wide eyes.
“But you were right that it had not changed the way I treated you,” she continued. “That was not fair. I apologize.
“And I have realized that… Since I no longer hate you, perhaps I do not need to hate the situation either. Maybe it would be better to behave like the person inside me, as you said.”
“That’s what the music tonight was about,” Drew realized.
“Yes.” Angela met Drew’s eyes for the first time, and he leaned toward her as she continued. “I do not know if I love you because I have no idea how that would feel. But I think I would like to try to learn.”
Drew reached up and cradled Angela’s face in his hand. After a moment, she tilted her head into his touch. “I would like that, too,” he told her.