The words are barely perceptible over the roaring in Jean’s ears, white hot terror licking up from her toes to her eyes. Tears gather even as she squares her shoulders.
She wouldn’t be a widow again, before even remarrying.
Jean watches the familiar contours of Ballarat as they speed towards the hospital.
Her fist balls and she wonders who she should curse first. Lucien, for being so bloody insistent on getting himself into trouble. The church, for believing her love was a sin. Father Emery, for his sad commiseration. Herself, for waffling for so long over a choice that really wasn’t.
She finds herself twisting her ring, a new and embarrassing habit. She forces her tight hands to open and she stares at her palms.
“Have long love line. But broken. Heartache. Sorrow. Loss. Eventually will be joy.” She was 13 when she visited the carnival fortune-teller, flush with dreams of dashing gentleman and romance. It was against God to seek the future, but she couldn’t resist.
Her lack of resistance would, eventually, get her into trouble again and again.
Lucien is pale but not pallid. His breathing is deep and even and strong.
Jean aches to touch him, to run her lips over the thrum of his pulse.
And then she will pinch him, twisting until he swears never to be foolish again.
The bloody liar.
After everyone has gone, Jean sits beside him and holds Lucien’s hand.
She flips his palm and traces, studying the pale lines, thinking about God and the future and the futility of regret.
“What do you see?” Lucien rumbles.
Jean exhales, and the tight knot in her chest loosens. She’s taken so much for granted to this point. The inevitability of love. His mortality. Time.