In Which Patience Discovers Some Letters
((This scene is a collaboration between the players of Patience Sharrington and James Bullen))
It has been nearly two weeks since the wedding in Bristol. Two weeks since she has been Mrs. James Bullen officially. It still seems unreal to her, and there are still moments when she feels as if she will either wake up from a dream, or he will realize he has made a horrible mistake. But here she is, in his home--/their/--home, after a few days remaining with his family and a very slow trip back to Oakston, and it is all real. The smile still has not fully disappeared from her face, even though she knows it is time to finally unpack and allow herself to settle in. Their trunks are still half packed, as neither of them have had much time to focus on such menial tasks. But with James busy at the school, Patience decides to take it upon herself to at least begin the process. Once she gets started, she finds she is quick to get it done, and soon enough, there is not much left in the trunk besides a few loose papers. She reaches down, intent on discarding them, when the unmistakable curvature of a woman's hand catches her eye.
As she reads the letters, the smile on her face turns to a frown. The page crumples in her hands as she reads it again, then a third and fourth time. Eliza... the very woman he told her he once loved--and she asked him to visit her? How could he do that? "That rat bastard!" she shrieks to no one. She may be Mrs. Bullen now, but her temper will forever be a Sharrington temper. She pushes the trunk over and storms downstairs to the parlor. She grabs a bottle of brandy, knocking over a pile of books, which they have been slowly working through, and swigs heavily as she rereads the letters. Patience hovers by the fire, fully intent on tossing them in and watching them turn to ash--but she stops. She wants this evidence. She wants to see what he says when she shows him she knows.
Bullen has been kept late at the school this evening, though he continually checks his watch. Now that Patience is truly his, in name and every other way, he finds it even harder to be parted from her. Finally, though, he finishes with the last student and puts on his coat and hat to return to Oakston. He walks with purpose, his head down as he whistles slightly looking forward to being in Patience's arms once again. If he could never leave her side again he would. It is past dark by the time he arrives at their door, pushing it open and putting away his hat and coat. "Patience?" He loves to be able to call her name when he arrives, knowing without doubt that she will be there. It is a relief not to have to sneak around any longer. "Patience!" He finally steps into the parlor, and grins as he sees her. "There you are, my love. I am so glad to see you. How was your day?"
The brandy is nearly gone by the time Patience hears Bullen enter the house. She blinks up at him, instead of running into his arms as she might have. "Oh, my day was just delightful, darling. Really." She sets down the bottle with a firm clink and stands, pages still clutched in her hand, before walking slowly towards him. The smile on her face is no longer filled with the bliss of the early days of marriage. Instead, there is something dark, almost expectant. "Did you enjoy your day?"
Bullen blinks repeatedly, confused by the change in Patience's demeanor. His eyes move to the bottle in her hand first, watching as she sets it down before he looks to the papers in her other hand. Still, he doesn't put together that her unsettling smile, her seemingly drunken state, and the letters in her hand could be connected. "My day was as it always is: exhausting." He frowns, his eyes moving to the papers in her hand again, noting how crumpled they seem to be. "Is something wrong, Pay?"
She nods, sucking her teeth a little, trying her damnedest not to let her anger boil over as it typically does. The amount of restraint it is taking is likely due to the warmth of the alcohol. "Why would you think something is wrong?" She tilts her head, her fist clenching around the pages, and she cannot hold back much longer. "How was your dearest Eliza? I assume she is not taking the death of her father too hard." She all but shoves the letters into his chest, pushing herself away from him as she does so, and picking up the bottle.
It is not the first time he has seen her angry, but it is the first time he has seen her /this/ angry. The room practically crackles with it, like the air before lightning strikes. "You smell of brandy, and you look upset. Of course I think something is wrong. What is it, darling?" When she shoves the papers at him, and speaks Eliza's name, Bullen's eyes go wide. What had possessed him to keep those letters, or even to respond to begin with, much less visit Eliza? It could only serve to hurt Patience if she found out, and now she has. "She is /not/ my /dearest/ anything, Pay. Why don't we sit? I am sure you are simply overreacting." He says this, but his gut has sunk to his toes, his guilt settling with it like a stone.
Her thoughts are too jumbled by brandy and anger. Overreacting? How could she be? He and she have been in correspondence, and he said nothing of it. Clearly he has been hiding it for a reason, otherwise he would have told her. "I will not sit," she tells him, her voice clipped. "Tell me, is she as pretty as you remember? Did you enjoy her company before you came back and married me?" She swigs heavily from the bottle, trying to keep herself from throwing it at his head and then clawing his eyes out. "Why did you not tell me you were writing to her?"
Panic rushes over him, flooding him like a tidal wave. He has always promised to be honest with her, but if he is it will only cause her pain. How could he answer her questions at all without doing irreparable damage? "I did /not/ enjoy her company. I would not do that to you." He /did/ allow Eliza to kiss him though, and worse, kissed her back. He finds he cannot look Patience directly in the eye, so he takes the bottle from her and sets it aside. The last thing he needs is for her to become further intoxicated. "I only wrote her the once. That is all. As you can see there is only her two letters, the first one and the last one." Guilt trips down his spine, reminding him that if Patience had seen what he wrote back it would only hurt her that much more. Regret tastes like bile in the back of his throat, his hand finding the bottle again and taking a long drink from it himself.
"How can I be sure? Am I to take your word for it?" She shakes her head, not breaking eye contact with him, though just looking at him makes her more angry. Why would he not just tell her? Certainly she might have understood. "Yes, I see perfectly well how many letters are here, James," she spits. "Believe it or not, I can count." She has so much to say, and none of it is formulating itself into anything except the desire to punch him. She takes a deep breath and shakes her head, trying to quiet her temper. "Why did you not tell me?"
"I..." He sighs, unsure what to say. Finally he finds a chair, sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. Perhaps he should have told her. Told her and not written Eliza back, or at least written her back with Patience's knowledge of it. "I know you can count. I was not trying to insult your intelligence." When she asks her next question though, he lifts his head, an almost pleading look in his eyes. "What in the world could I have said, Patience, that would not have made you angry, or at least caused you pain? I thought to spare you of that."
She throws her hands up in the air and shakes her head. "I do not know!" She thinks she would have preferred him to tell her, then burn the letter and never write the woman back. She folds her arms around herself, feeling the urge to run. Why should she trust him if he would not tell her something as simple as this? "But trust me, this did not spare me anything. I would have much preferred to hear you tell me."
He flinches as she shouts, as if she could somehow hurt him. He would certainly deserve it. Very slowly, as if he could scare her away, Bullen gets to his feet and crosses to her. For a moment, he hesitates, afraid to touch her. But she looks as if she could shatter apart and he cannot allow that to happen. Swallowing hard, he tentatively pulls her to him, hoping to put his arms around her. "I am sorry. Whatever is beyond sorry. I should have told you. And I should never have responded to her or visited her. I ... I suppose I needed closure on that part of my life so I could truly begin this part. The part I /want/."
The moment he moves towards her, she pushes him away, not wanting to be near him right now. She takes a large step back and shakes her head. "That is all fine, but why hide it from me, unless you intended, perhaps to do something else?" At this point, she cannot stop herself from laughing at the irony. Certainly she has been on the other side of this, the one who was writing to some poor woman's husband. This is likely what she deserves.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Bullen turns his back to her, as if staring out the window instead can help him to figure out this terrible mess he's caused. What /did/ he intend by going to Eliza? Certainly not to somehow betray Patience, even if that is what happened. But how else could he have expected things to play out? He should have known by Eliza's letter that she would have some expectations of him if he came to visit. The memory of her mouth on his causes his stomach to sink again. How could he have responded as he did? After a few moments to collect himself, he speaks. "I did not intend anything. But..." He sighs and looks at the floor, his eyes running along the edge of the rug. "Perhaps I should have known that she would try to change my mind. I have been foolish. Truly. But I never meant to hurt you."
He turns from her and she feels even more upset. Though, her anger is turning to a mix of hurt and confusion. This was a mistake. She should never have been allowed to be so happy. "So you did go to meet her then." She does not ask it. Of course, she has gathered as much from the letters. However, questions swim through her mind. Ones she is fairly certain she does not wish to know the answer to. She shakes her head and turns away from him this time. "I am going to stay with Thomas." She is not quite sure she means it, but she knows that it will upset him to say so. Right now she wants to upset him. She wants to hurt him back.
"Yes." The word comes out small. He /feels/ small. As if his guilt has compressed him into an infinitesimally tiny speck not even worthy of Patience and the love she has promised him. He does not deserve to have it, not after making such a terrible choice and then hiding it from her. Does he tell her the rest? Or does he hide it away and hope that she does not find out like she has found out about the rest of it? When she says she is leaving, he turns around quickly, grabbing her by the wrist before he can stop himself. "Don't. /Please/ don't. Stay. I know I have... I have betrayed you. And I cannot even beg your forgiveness because I have not earned it. But please stay."
Part of her is convincing herself that her anger is unfair. She has done terrible things in the past, with men who have been married longer than a week. But she has somehow convinced herself that James is different than everyone else, better than everyone else. Why would she do that? And why is she so disappointed that he went to see another woman--even if nothing happened. She blinks away tears, and curses the child within her, certain that it is why she is near crying. However, she does not pull away when he takes her by the wrist. "Just tell me what happened."
Her tears cause his stomach to turn, his self-loathing enough to make him wish to vomit. How could he have hurt her like this? It was the one thing he had sworn he would never do. Even as much as he wants to take her in his arms, he does not right away. Not after she has asked of him something so seemingly simple. After a moment he nods, letting his hand drop from her wrist. For a few seconds he cannot even think of how to begin. "As you know, I had agreed to see her." He decides it is best not to say her name. He does not even want to /think/ about her, much less talk about her. "And so I went, two days before... well." Unable to speak for a moment, he grabs the bottle off the table and nearly finishes its contents. "I went and she tried to convince me not to marry you. She did everything she could think of, I'm sure..." He trails off, not wishing to share anything beyond that.
She blinks away the tears, convincing herself that she does not need to cry about this. Anger she can deal with, she does not want to allow herself to be hurt by this--even if she is. She pulls her hand back but stands her ground, ready to hear him out. She knows she is not going to like what he has to say. In fact, it would not matter if he had knocked on the door and left with out speaking to her, the intention was there and something about that hurts her. "Everything? And what did you do? Allow her to try to convince you?" she asks, her tone is harsh, accusatory. "Why could you not let your past be in the past? Unless..." She feels that bubble of rage again, replacing the hurt in a wave of defense.
"Not /everything/, I suppose..." He sighs and finishes off the bottle, seeking out another in the cabinet before sinking down in a chair without bothering to find a glass. "But yes, she tried quite a lot. And..." Uncapping the fresh bottle, he takes another drink, hoping to numb his regret. He would rather she was enraged still, not standing there still looking like she might cry. "And I did stop her... just not as soon as I should have. I cannot lie to you, Patience. Hiding this from you was bad enough." The brandy is not working as quickly as he would like, though he takes another few swigs in the hopes that it will soon. "Unless what? Unless I did not want you after all? Patience, I have /fought/ for you. If I did not want you, I could have allowed her to do /everything/. It would have been easy enough. But I did not. Because /you/ are the one I have chosen, not her."
What he says should be a relief. It should make her feel better, but somehow it does not. She feels as if she cannot yet trust him. Even if he does seem to mean what he says. She opens her mouth a few times, trying to figure out precisely what to say. Nothing seems right. She is angry, but feels deflated, the actual desire to break a bottle over his head is gone now. "I just do not understand why you had to see her--and why you did not tell me unless you intended to do something." She shakes her head and looks down.
"I do not /know/ what I intended!" He regrets the volume of his voice as soon as the words leave his mouth. Rather than apologize, though, he takes another long drink. This was exactly what they both needed: to be less than two weeks after their wedding, drunk and shouting at each other. "I... I needed to know. And I could not tell you or you would have begged me not to see her. Perhaps rightly so. I needed to know because what if I did still love her? What if she was the one I was meant to be with and it was all a mistake?" She might not be angry with him anymore, but he is angry with himself, angry that he even cared to know what he might still feel for Eliza, if anything. Angry that he lied to Patience, angry that he allowed Eliza to kiss him, angry that he not only did not stop her but kissed her back. "But you must know that I regret ever answering her to begin with. Much less anything else that came after."
When he speaks, she realizes she is shaking just a little bit. He may regret seeing her, but he did because he was unsure. If he had been so unsure if he still loved that woman, how could he know he does love Patience now? "And what if you found you did still love her James? Were you going to leave me, in my condition? Would you have apologized and sent me on my way?" She is crying now. Hot tears slide down her cheeks and her chin quivers.
It might be the brandy or it might be the anxiety of trying to reassure Patience while still telling her the truth, but Bullen feels mostly numb now. The only sensation left feels like bees in his blood, pulsing through his veins. “I would /never/ have left you, whether you are with child or not. I / do/ love you. More than life. I cannot say what went through my mind to make me wish to see her. It was stupid and careless and selfish. I already knew, I think, that anything I felt for her had faded.” He goes to take another drink but when he sees she is crying in earnest, he rushes to his feet, nearly stumbling. “Pay, I promise, there was never any doubt that I love /you/. I don’t know how to explain it. But I wish I had never even met her now.” This time he does pull her to him, wrapping his arms around her and running a hand over her hair to comfort her. “I know sorry is not enough. I wish I knew something stronger.”
She honestly could not say what she feels. She wants to be sick, but that may be the alcohol or the child. And she wishes she would stop crying but a pile of horrible thoughts are tumbling through her mind. She knows what he says is true. Of course, he would not leave her in such a way. It does not make her feel any better about any of it. She hates this weakness. She hates feeling like she is some jealous wife, when she has been the reason for such a thing more than once in her young life. He hugs her and she pulls back once more. He may be speaking truth, but she is still upset, and she does not wish to be touched. "It's fine," she says, though they both know it is far from fine.
When she pulls away, all he wants is to chase after her, to hold onto her and not let go. Instead, he stands awkwardly, unsure what to do with his hands. He stares at her for a long while before sighing heavily. “I may be a complete fool. I may be stupid. But I am not blind, Patience. I know it is not /fine/. But I do not know how to repair this rift I have caused between us. I have broken your heart I think and I want to vomit with the hate for myself at what I’ve done.” He closes his eyes, gritting his teeth as he racks his brain for an answer. “How do I fix this? What will you do?”
What is she going to do? What can she do? She is pregnant with his child, she had married him, and despite her anger she loves him, and knows he loves her. But she is not ready to forgive this or forget this. "I don't know. It is not as if I have very much of the choice in this matter, James." Patience just feels tired. The brandy and the mix of emotions has left her weak and exhausted. "I am just going to go to bed."
If he felt guilty before, he feels worse now, knowing he has trapped her because of his own carelessness. Without him she would not be with child. With /his/ child. The joy he has been feeling for it is long gone. He nods once, lifting his palms I surrender. “Alright.” He looks around for a moment. ”I will leave you in peace if you would prefer. I can sleep here.” He desperately hopes she will say no and allow him in their bed even though he knows better. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers again.
"Yes. I think that would be preferable." The thought of sleeping alone brings the unmistakable lump of a sob to the back of her throat. She quickly swallows it down. She is not sure she can bear lying next to him. Not right now. "I just need to think. And sleep." She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes, wiping away the tears that are pooling there once more. Perhaps she should not have had so much brandy. It is making her sluggish and uncomfortable. In fact, she is certain she might be sick.
Bullen nods again, finding that his throat is tight — with what? Unshed tears? All he wants is to enclose her in his arms and kiss her head and convince her everything will be alright. But he knows better. Everything may never be fine again and it is all his doing. He has shattered what they have and he is unsure if it can ever be pieced back together. And even if it is, it will always bear the scars of what he’s done and be immeasurably more fragile. He notes that Patience looks very pale, and despite her not wanting him to, he goes to her with a worried frown. “You look unwell. What can I do?”
Patience shakes her head, but she is definitely feeling the effects of overwhelming emotion and drink. She looks around, before slumping onto the settee and putting her head in her hands. "I just need a moment," she tells him, feeling dizzy and ill. This time she does not push him away, feeling overcome by weakness and the need to sit. "I should not have drank so much," she tells him, hoping he will not worry over her. She is not sure she could truly bear it right now.
He watches her, doubt in his eyes. She does not /look/ like only a moment will help. He kneels by her side and sighs. “Will you at least allow me to take you upstairs?” Worry is etched on his face, having replaced the guilt for the time being. Could drinking to such excess harm their child? He prays not, feeling guilty again that his terrible choices have put the baby in danger. And possibly Patience as well for all he knows. “I promise to leave you alone after that. I can even go ask Mrs. Hatch for a room at the school if you would prefer it. Just /please/ let me do /something/.”
She hesitates a moment, then nods. "Yes, perhaps you can help me to bed." She holds her arms out so he might help her up. Her legs feel weak, and she hopes that nothing is wrong, though honestly she believes it is just the entire day weighing on her. "No. Do not be silly. I would hate staying with that cow. Just get me upstairs. Please."
Bullen gives her an uncertain smile and gently lifts her in his arms. She seems no heavier than she did before she became pregnant and he worries if she’s eating enough. As carefully as he can, he ascends the stairs, bringing her to their bedroom and gently depositing her on their bed. He hopes one day she will let him sleep with her in it again. Stepping away, he stands there awkwardly for a moment. “Right, then. Well I suppose I should leave you to sleep. Please shout if you need anything my—“ He stops himself from calling her a pet name and nods once before turning to leave.
After settling onto the bed, she still does not feel entirely well. In fact, she feels as if she is about to cast up her accounts. She breathes steadily through her nose, trying everything to avoid such a thing. She curls up and closes her eyes. "Just go," she tells him, hoping as if that would somehow make her feel better. Somehow she knows it will not.
"Oh, yes of course." He takes one last look at her to be sure she's not too ill to leave alone, before closing the door behind him. Rather than go downstairs, though, he slides down the wall beside the door unable to make himself go any farther away from her. She need not know he waits worriedly outside their room, his guilt still plaguing him as it has all along. When she wakes in the morning -- if she sleeps herself -- she will find him still sitting outside, staring at the wall, not having slept a moment.