Scarred Lovers – Lisa Andersen

Alone at the party, Lilla Scower retreated into a corner in which she could feel invisible, in which she didn’t have to endure the curious, judgmental eyes of the London elite. Her hands bunched into fists; her nails dug into her palms. Her breath came quickly and she felt like screaming. She felt like screaming at them all: I am happy as I am! Yes, my face is scarred! But my heart is even more scarred and I don’t want to drag that back up. Leave me alone! But she was already a specter at the party, the daughter of a minor family whose man and woman – Lilla’s mother and father –had long since passed. She would just make things worse if she showed her true feelings about these people. She was only here because of her brother, because of her weak, dying brother. The cough that now threatened Isaac’s life had started harmlessly enough. Lilla had assumed it was the cold winter air, testing him. He was her older brother, a strong man of six and twenty. A cough couldn’t take him. But as winter had turned to spring, and the cough had gotten worse, not better, Lilla knew that something was horribly wrong. She watched from behind a vase almost as tall as her: watched him limp around the party, smiling and laughing, trying his best to appear as his old self. But Lilla could see in the eyes of those he laughed with that they didn’t believe his act. They knew, and the pity and amusement in their faces made her even angrier.

He was a dying man, and they laughed at him. He had begged her, a woman of two and twenty who was resigned to spinsterhood, to attend the party to find a husband. She would have been happy now to ride out life in obscurity, without love. She had tasted the love. It tasted bitter. It had scorched her mouth and left her scarred. Not even paint could mask the crescent-shaped scar that joined to the left side of her mouth. Lilla had given up no trying to hide it. She was lucky, she supposed, that she wasn’t burnt. The fire had come when she and Lord Miles Sawley were lovemaking, when his hands were on her body.

At first, she had thought the heat of the fire, the warming floorboards, had been a product of their passion. She knew it was madness now, but back then her head had been whirring with love, her body alive to the possibility of magic. Now, she scoffed at the idea. It was absurd. But the young Lilla of eighteen summers hadn’t known that. And then the fire had spread. Miles heard a baby crying, upstairs. She could hear the words now. “Perhaps he is trapped!” Miles exclaimed. “I’ll have to go for him.

” “Go, go,” Lilla had said, waving her lover away. “I will make my own way out.” “Very well, my love.” He had pulled on his shirts and britches and fled the room. That was the last time she had ever seen him. Lilla had made to walk out of the door, but then a shard of wood had splintered from the ceiling and cut her face, leaving her scarred. The pain bloomed in her mouth. Her vision turned hazy. Her steps became heavy. She collapsed, smacking her head against the drawers.

When she awoke, she was lying in the street, her breath coming quickly, desperately. But even more desperate was her desire to see Miles, to have him hold her, to have him help her through this tough episode. But he was nowhere to be seen; he had fled. At first, she thought he was dead. But she saw him, in the crowed, moving away from her. She made to call out, but her voice was raspy, and no words came. “Sister.” Lilla started and turned. “You frightened me,” she said. “Is it time to go?” She tried to keep the hope out of her voice.

She would’ve been happy indeed if it was time to go. She had only been here for an hour, but even that was too long in the company of London’s high society. “No,” Isaac said. “But it can be, soon, if you like.” He coughed into his handkerchief. It was a raking, hollow sound, as though at any moment his chest would simply collapse. “Thank you.” Lilla bowed her head as Isaac turned and rejoined the party. She watched from afar and prayed silently that nobody would try and talk to her. The memories had come to her, and with them the desire to be left alone.

It was always that way. When she remembered that day, when she saw Miles’ back, moving away from her, his hands shoving through the crowd, she wanted to sink into the ground, to disappear, to be silent and invisible. He had moved with such meaning; he truly wanted to flee from her. Even now, it hurt, stabbing her in the gut with the pain. Her lover had despised her or pitied her or perhaps had not even loved her so much that he wanted to flee her. A shiver went through her. She made her way around the periphery of the party, wearing the expression of a woman on an errand. The occasional lord or lady would glance at her, but she was beneath their notice and soon they would glance away. She didn’t care. She wanted to be beneath their notice.

She wanted to be beneath everybody’s notice. If she had her way, she would disappear. Nobody noticed when she slipped out of the door and walked down the hallway to the library. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was away from the party. It was good to be alone. Life is so much more peaceful when there aren’t dozens of eyes glancing over you, she thought. She walked up and down the stacks, occasionally studying a book. She picked one up, read the title, and set it aside. She adored libraries. They had a small one at home, but it was nothing like this.

This library must have had at least a thousand books in it. She breathed in the scent of them. It was comforting. Books didn’t judge. Books simply were. She was about to sit down with a novel – she thought she could speed the time to the end of the party if she read – when something shifted in the corner. The library was long and narrow, with just enough space for two high, long rows of shelves and a desk and chair in the middle of the room. But what she had not seen, and what she saw now with a gasp, was a chair in the corner, in the darkness, between the shelf and the wall. She jumped to her feet. “Excuse me,” she said.

“I did not know there was anybody in here.” The man looked like a ghost, a black silhouette sitting alone in the dark. Lilla felt a strong, childlike urge to run. But she fought it. This was most likely some lord who had had the same idea as her and wanted some respite from the party. If she fled, she would look ridiculous. But even so, the urge was there. “You don’t have to apologize, Lilla.” Lilla. She gasped again at the use of her given name.

And there was something familiar about the voice. It was like hearing a voice from her dreams, hearing a voice from the depths of memory. “Who are you?” “You don’t remember me?” The voice sounded tired, like it had expected no less, but still wished that she did. “It is difficult to judge the identity of a man when he is shrouded in darkness,” Lilla said. “Show me your face.” A possibility rose within her mind. It was a mad possibility. It was an absurd possibility. And it was a possibility which filled her with a warring mixture of emotions. Dread and glee and shock and anger danced together within her breasts.

He gripped the edge of the chair until her knuckles turned white. Her mouth was suddenly dry. Time seemed to slow as the man climbed to her feet and stepped into the light. “Miles!” she gasped, and emotions exploded within her. “Lilla,” he muttered, with downcast eyes, like he was ashamed to see her. ***** He should be ashamed, Lilla thought, as anger beat the other emotions back. It was anger unlike anything she had felt before. It was a bone-deep anger. She gripped the edge of the chair so hard now that splinters bit into her palms. It hurt doubly from when she’d clenched her fists earlier, in the party proper, when her nails had bit where the splinters bit now.

It seemed mad to her that less than a half-hour ago she’d been that angry by the very existence of a party. Her anger now was so large it dwarfed even the recollection of that. “You left me!” she spat, only keeping her voice low so the party didn’t stampede in here to witness her rage. “There was a fire. I got this!” She pointed to the scar on her face. “And you left me. I saw you. Maybe you thought I wouldn’t. Maybe you thought I would still be passed out. But no, Miles, I saw you, running from me.

A girl of eighteen summers who’d given you her honor, her life, her everything. And you fled from her.” Miles sighed and slumped into the chair opposite that in which she had sat. “Let me explain,” he whispered. “Explain!” She felt like slapping him across the face. She had never been this full of rage. It was black and abyss-like, eating her insides. It clouded her vision and if she had held a club, she would have battered him across the face with it. “There is nothing to explain! You left me, ran from me. I had no clue – I still have no clue – where you went.

We were to be married.” Miles laid his hands upon the table. He looked at her with an expression of patience. That angered her even more. What right did he have to look at her as though she was an unreasonable child? He was the one who had left. He was the one who had destroyed everything. Crack! The back of the chair snapped in Lilla’s hands. She looked down in shock as the wood of the back clattered to the wooden seat. After a moment, she realized she was holding broken pieces of wood. She dropped them to the seat with the rest of the chair.

“You see how angry you make me,” she said. “Do you see?” “Lilly.” The old lover’s name.A nickname just for him. “Don’t call me that!” He sighed. And then the patience fled from his face. He slowly rose to his feet and leaned forward, placing his fists upon the table. He looked as though he might pounce across at her. Her heart crashed madly in her chest. Tears welled in her eyes.

Only the horror she would feel at crying before him gave her the strength to beat them back. “He hasn’t told you, has he?” Miles growled. His stance told her he was not angry with her, as she had assumed. He looked down at the ground. His anger seemed to turn inward. “Who hasn’t told me what?” she said, still angry but curious now, too. “Your brother,” he said. “He was supposed to tell you.” “Tell me what?” Lilla demanded, her voice quivering. Miles looked into her eyes.

He still had the same sky-blue eyes and the same muscular build. He still had the same strong jaw and the same short, curly brown hair. His face was still kind and strong at the same time. And for a moment Lilla was transported to four years ago, when she would have died for this man. She stamped the feeling away. It was a dangerous feeling. It had scarred her. She could not allow it to scar her again. “I have asked your brother to allow us to marry,” Miles said. “And he said yes.

He said he would talk to you.” Lilla said nothing. She just turned and paced from the room. Events were moving too quickly. Her heart barely had time to feel one way when something else happened to make it feel another. Anger at Miles and anger at Isaac played tug-of-war in her chest. The injustice of it– of all women who are playthings of men – swept over her violently. She hardly cared when innumerable eyes turned upon her when she re-entered the party. She was too angry for that. “Isaac!” she called.

The patrons flinched. She hated them all the more for that; they would judge her because she had raised her voice. They were all so cold and devoid of emotion that a raised voice was like a landmine to their stunted sensibilities. Isaac turned at the sound of his voice. His cheeks bloomed red. Lilla felt a small, malicious glee at that. Good, she thought. Let him feel one tenth of the shock I am feeling right now. “We need to talk.” Her voice was lower now.

Isaac approached and the party resumed its pointless babble. There was nothing in the world more important to these people than the appearance of civility, even when a real drama was happening in the next room, even when hearts were being broken and old wounds were bleeding. Isaac grabbed her elbow. “Is he in the library?” he said. “He is,” Lilla said through gritted teeth. “I don’t like playing chess, brother. You know that about me. By I like far less being used as a chess piece. I want answers.” “And you’ll get them,” Isaac said.

His tone of voice was that of a wrongly accused man. He coughed into his handkerchief, a wracking cough which caused his whole body to spasm. “Please, sister, just come to the library with me.” She couldn’t say no. He looked too pathetic. And he was, after all, her brother. Despite her rage, she loved him. She resented him a little in that moment, too. She knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose, but his illness made it much more difficult to be angry with him. “Fine,” she hissed.

Without waiting to see if he would follow, she turned and walked from the room. ***** “I will be dead soon, sister,” Isaac said. “I will be dead and there will be nothing for you. Nothing.” Isaac had walked into the library, looked at the ruined chair, bent down and brushed away the debris, and then sat upon it. Miles sat opposite, where he had sat when Lilla left. Lilla couldn’t sit. She was too full of energy, too full of pain and shock and a hundred other emotions which she couldn’t identify. She paced up and down, from shelf to shelf, gripping her hands together. “You know as well as I do that Father left us with very little,” Isaac went on.

“What you perhaps do not know is that my physician bills have almost completely exhausted the rest of our income. We are on the brink of destitution, Lilla. When I die, you will be left with nothing. You will be alone and lost.” “Why would you even want this, Miles?” Lilla snapped. “You ran away from me, if you do not remember. You fled through the crowd like you were fleeing a leper.” She couldn’t stop pacing. She felt like a woman about to run a race. She wished she could tear this cumbersome, heavy dress asunder and walk freely.

The library was so small, the walls so close, the dress so constricting. All of it combined made her feel as though she was in a cage. “I love you, Lilla.” He said it matter-of-factly, like it was obvious and she shouldn’t even have needed to ask the question. But it wasn’t obvious, not to her. The only thing that was obvious to her was that he had run away. “Please,” Isaac said. “Let him explain.” He coughed again, leaning forward, his throat sounding like razorblades were being pulled out of him. “There is nothing to explain—” “Please!” Isaac wheezed.

“Just—please.” Lilla sighed and walked around to the side of the table. With an effort, she forced her fists to unclench. The manic energy was still in her body, but she forced her limbs to be still. Her lip trembled and she thought she might shout or cry. Only Isaac’s pitiful appearance stopped her. Her dying brother had asked something of her. What sort of woman would I be if I denied that? “Fine,” she said. “Fine. Explain.

” There was a pause in which the three of them regarded each other, three actors in this private drama, only yards away from an elite party. Then Miles’ forehead creased. She had to resist the old urge to smooth the crease with her thumb, as she had done when they were lovers. Images flitted through her mind: her hands in his hair; his naked body standing at the window, the muscles in his legs and back taut and tense; his lips upon her gloveless hand. She forced the images away. She could not feel tenderness for this man. She would not. She knew where that led. “I went to war, Lilly—Lilla.” Lilly.

Every time he said it she felt a stab of recollection. It was like smelling a flower one associated with a particular poignant childhood memory. Every time one smelt the flower, one invariably conjured up the memory. Lilly was her flower, and Miles was her memory. But she did not want it.Liar, a voice whispered. She pushed the voice and the memory away. She was angry, she told herself. That was all. “I was planning on going over to fight Napoleon in the last month of our courtship.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. I was so in love and we were so young and everything was happening so fast. No, please, let me finish.” Lilla’s fingers tapped the desk. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and then nodded. “Go on, then,” she said.

.

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