It’s in his Highland Kiss – Shona Thompson

The manor’s great hall seemed smaller, the hundreds of people who were gathered there, along with the numerous lavish decorations made it appear cramped, overcrowded. The ladies’ skirts, blinding flashes of colour under the candlelight, twirled along with them as they danced, big, bright smiles on their faces that Marion could never hope to have on her own. “Look at them,” her mother said, her tone dripping with contempt, a hint of her former accent that she so fervently tried to suppress making its way through and alerting Marion to the fact that she was angry. She was sitting next to Marion, and had done so the entire night, ensuring that Marion wouldn’t get any strange ideas in her head and join the others in their dance, or laugh along with them. “Dressed in their silks, drinking their weight in wine. They have no shame.” Marion looked down at her own dress, a dull grey with no embellishments, matronly and unattractive. It was all her mother would allow her to wear, and it was somehow the most festive dress that she owned. Across the room, her cousin Mary was enjoying the feast that her parents were throwing for her, a cup of wine in her hand and a smile on her lips. She was dressed in the finest silk, its red colour complementing her pale skin and dark hair. Marion had been told that she could look like her had she only been pretty. Sometimes, she would catch herself getting jealous of Mary, whose parents loved her so dearly and so clearly, and who was so beautiful that she was in everyone’s favour. Her jealousy would eat her up from the inside, bile rising to the back of her throat, wishing that she could be her. And then she would stop herself, not because her mother had taught her that jealousy was a terrible sin and she would go to hell for it. No, she would stop herself because Mary was not only beautiful, but also kind and caring.

She had never been anything but loving to Marion, even when no one else even noticed her. Mary didn’t deserve her jealousy, or her wrath. “And such a lavish feast,” her mother continued. “A waste of gold if you ask me. Your aunt and uncle just love to show their wealth, do they not? Your father and I . we both have gold, and we don’t act like this. It isn’t fit for pious people to behave in such a way. But then again, their family was never pious, wouldn’t you say, Marion?” “Yes, Mother,” Marion said, knowing very well that she had no other choice than to agree with her, at least if she didn’t want her mother to drag her to the nearest room and yell at her until the morning. She had found out the hard way many times in her life that her mother didn’t allow any room for disagreement in their family. Sometimes, Marion couldn’t help but wonder what her father was like before he met her mother, or even what her mother had been like before she met him.

Could they both have been normal people who just happened to bring the worst out of each other? No, surely her mother was never normal, she thought. Marion couldn’t allow herself to think like that, because it would mean that marrying her father and having her was what had turned her mother into the woman that she was now. It was a thought too devastating to bear. “Pay attention, Marion,” her mother said, her voice a low hiss as she spoke. “You are not to become like them, ever, do you hear me? It is not proper to act in such a way.” Marion looked at the people around her, who were all drinking, dancing, and having a good time, and then she turned to look at her mother with a frown. “What are we doing here then, Mother?” she asked. “If you don’t think this is proper, why did we come all the way here for this feast?” “Because your father willed it so,” her mother said through gritted teeth. “Because he thinks it has been too long since we saw this part of the family, and that it would be improper to decline their invitation. And I suppose I agree, no matter how much I dislike the way they decide to spend their money.

It is true . they have invited us here many times throughout the years. It would be rude to refuse to come.” A part of Marion wished that they had left her behind at home. At least, if she had stayed home, then she wouldn’t have to sit and watch everyone else enjoy their night while she could not so much as smile. Smiling was forbidden, her mother had told her that morning. It was too flirtatious, she said; it invited too much attention. “And that Forsythe boy . who does he think he is?” her mother continued, clearly not having yet exhausted her arsenal of insults, as though she had never stopped. “Look at him.

Isn’t he absolutely dreadful?” Marion did look at him, though she did not see what her mother seemed to be seeing. There was nothing dreadful about John Forsythe in her eyes and, judging by the number of women that had gathered around him, all of them laughing and twirling their curls around their fingers as he spoke, no one else found him dreadful either. He was the most handsome, most charming man that Marion had ever met, with his dark hair and blue eyes, and that smile that made Marion stumble over her own words like a fool. And yet, Marion had only spoken to him a handful of times, and even then, it had only been for a short time; she was always too ashamed of her looks and her old, drab dresses to say anything more than a mere greeting to him. Marion didn’t speak to people; she watched them from afar and wondered what it was like to live one’s life. In her twenty-one years of being alive, she had never made any friends, never done anything but sit by her mother’s side in her hand-me-downs. She had never lived. “Excuse me,” Marion said, as she stood from her chair and made her way to the exit, but her mother was quick to follow close behind, weaving her way through the crowd. “Where do you think you’re going?” she asked Marion, her lips pursed into a thin line. “I will not have you wandering around this manor all alone, who knows what you’ll do if I don’t keep my eyes on you!” “I only need some fresh air, Mother,” Marion assured her, giving her a small, hesitant smile.

She had never been good at lying, but her mother had never been good at confronting her in front of other people, and so it wasn’t a surprise to Marion when her mother turned around and left, a huff escaping her lips. Marion watched her walk away for a few moments before she made her way out of the manor. She didn’t stop until she was by the manor walls, away from all the other people who had attended the feast, and for the first time in the entire night, she managed to breathe. I wonder if anyone will know that I’m gone. I wonder if Mother will remember at all in the end. No one ever noticed Marion, after all. She was certain that she could count the people who knew that she was there on the fingers of one hand: her parents, Mary, and Mary’s parents. Such a lonely existence . pitiful, really. Marion walked around the grounds alone, the wind whipping her face and seeping through the sleeves of her dress, but she didn’t even notice; her mind was preoccupied with other things, and the wind was only a small nuisance.

She only stopped when she got to a small river that ran through the manor grounds, and she sat down onto a small boulder, watching the water run by. Marion wondered, as she often did, what it would be like if she was someone else. She wondered how her life would be different if she was one of those girls in the beautiful dresses, if she spent her days dancing with handsome young men and talking to friends, if she had someone to whom she would like to send a letter. She would be happy, she supposed. Every night, she would look forward to the next morning, and every morning she would be happy to be alive. She wasn’t happy to be alive. She hated everything about her life. What kind of life was it if her mother always controlled her, dictating what she could and couldn’t do, what she could and couldn’t eat, what she could and couldn’t wear? What kind of life was it if she was trapped in her chambers for most of her days, having no contact with other people? What kind of life was it if her mother only cared about her when it came to her finding a husband and ridding the rest of their family of her presence? If nobody wants me, why should I live? The water looked tempting. It would be cold, Marion knew, but after a while, it wouldn’t matter. She would only have to fight the urge to get out until her body would be too exhausted to register the temperature of the water, and then she would be gone.

Just like everyone wants. Marion stood, approaching the bank of the river. It looked deep enough to her, at least in the half-light of the moon, and though it wasn’t powerful, she could still swim further away from the bank and hope for the best. Or is it the worst? She toed her shoes off, leaving them by the bank, and then stood on the grass. It always surprised her how much harsher the grass felt compared to the way it looked, and the chill of the ground made her flinch, but nothing stopped her from making her way towards the water. She looked up, seeing the myriad of stars that were scattered along the sky, and for a moment, it gave her pause. She would miss seeing the stars, she thought. She would miss the stars, and the rays of sun warming her skin on a cold day, and the tarts that the head housekeeper liked to make. She would miss the scent of candles when they went out, and the softness of her bed after a long day. Funny how we miss the most mundane things in the end.

She wouldn’t miss her mother, nor would she miss her father. That much Marion knew for certain, and she knew that they wouldn’t miss her either, even though they would be devastated to hear of her death, simply because taking her life would send her to hell, and it would also affect her family’s social standing. To hell with it. What do I care about their social standing? Marion took a deep breath and plunged her foot into the water, which only served to punch the very air she had just breathed right out of her lungs. It was freezing cold, much more so than she had imagined, and for a moment, she thought that it would be better, perhaps, if she found a fire by which she could sit and wait for the feast to be over. But no, she had gone this far, and she wouldn’t hesitate now. She put her other foot in the water, and then began to wade through the river, making her way towards its centre. Soon enough, she couldn’t reach the bottom anymore, and she was floating instead, moving her arms and kicking her legs on instinct. It took several moments for her to convince her limbs to stop moving, and by then, her dress was drenched in water, heavy and inconvenient. Even if she tried to keep afloat, she knew that she wouldn’t manage to do so, not for long.

Marion let her body submerge itself, and then she didn’t fight it when her head fell under the surface of the river. It was dark there, the moonlight too weak to reach the waters, and Marion could hardly see anything around her. Then, her lungs began to protest. She could have never imagined what it felt like to drown, and in that moment, she wished that she had never found out. Her lungs were on fire, a burning in her chest unlike anything she had felt before, but that was hardly the worst pain that came with not breathing. Her head was pounding, the pressure so terrible that she worried her brain would explode before her lungs could fill up with water. If only her mouth would obey her, she thought; if only she could draw in some water and finally drown herself. But she didn’t want to drown. Just when she wanted to die the most, she realised that she’d much rather live. Perhaps her life wasn’t worth living as much as another life, as much as the lives of those people who were dancing in the great hall while she was drowning in the river, but she wanted to live it regardless.

She wanted to watch them, at least, as they went on about their days and their nights, even if it meant that she would never get to do anything herself. Marion began to kick her legs and swing her arms, but she soon realised that she wasn’t moving; at least not upwards. Her dress felt too heavy, soaked through and through with water, and her limbs felt like lead, exhausted as she was from the lack of breath. Even as she began to panic, fear coursing through her veins, her mouth would not open, not even for a moment, an ancient instinct that her body had to keep her alive at all costs. She was going to die there, in the end, she thought. She was going to die there, only twenty-one years old, and a few people would mourn her, but most would not. Then, she would be forgotten, as she tended to be. Marion tried to find some solace in the fact that at least she was ending her life on her own terms. It was the one thing that her mother hadn’t dictated, and she counted that as a victory. Her death was her own, and not even her mother could take that away from her.

She stopped struggling. She stopped trying to reach the surface, and instead allowed the water to push her to the bottom of the river, her skirt billowing around her. She closed her eyes and finally, her lips parted, allowing the water in. The pain stopped. There was nothing but darkness.

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