“May I ask you something?”
She looked up from the book she had been reading. It had been given to her by her husband – who lay beside her in bed at the moment, having been thoroughly exhausted by a long day crammed with meeting after meeting after meeting (a rare occurrence, though, he promised, a necessary one) – as he had insisted that she would enjoy it. So far he had been correct, and she was reluctant to turn away from the page.
She felt his fingers graze her shoulder as he brushed her hair away to bare her neck. Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, she tried not to shiver. How was it possible to be so sensitive to his touch?
“Did you find the necklace displeasing in some way?”
Necklace? What necklace was he speaking of? She’d never…
The book floated down to her lap as she realized why his voice had been so melancholy.
“Perhaps…I shouldn’t have been so hasty. At the time I was, after all, not quite as acquainted with your preferences.”
“I…” She wrung her hands. Oh, how was she going to tell him without breaking his heart? Any more than she already had, anyway? “I haven’t opened it.” Her words tumbled out as if speaking more quickly would ease the pain. “But I’m sure I would have liked it very much.”
There was complete silence for what seemed the longest time. She stared at the dancing flames in the fireplace. Oh, couldn’t he just say something? Anything? It didn’t matter what, she just couldn’t bear with this silence!
“…Why haven’t you?”
“I’m not sure.” She stammered. “I suppose I just– It didn’t seem appropriate for me to, it was still very early and I didn’t know what your intentions were and I… I was young. I was young, and afraid of what it would mean.”
She wilted. What a horribly ugly silence there was. It pressed on her ears in a most uncomfortable fashion, and she struggled with herself to hide her tears. Truth be told, she had forgotten about the necklace, and happily so. She hadn’t really wanted to think about the burdens and responsibilities of wiving her husband, and it had been so easy to distract herself with him. He just made it so easy. But surely he must feel that she hated him. She had, after all, rejected his gift, hadn’t she? As well as all those thoughts and feelings he had intended to convey with it.
She stiffened when she felt a comforting weight on her shoulders. Her hands falling, she felt his arms close around her; he sighed.
“I too was afraid. Am afraid. But more than that, I do not wish to cause you any pain. Please. If it will ease your suffering, forget of the necklace. It’s not quite so important as you may think. Your happiness is worth much more to me.”
She pulled the blanket up as her feet played with the hot water bottle and its warmth. Truth be told, she was curious now that she remembered. She wondered what lay under that covering and how brilliantly the design that her husband had chosen sparkled. And he’d probably like it too, seeing her wear it. He’d smile, wouldn’t he? Not to mention how it might cheer him up after that terrible day he’d had today.
Throwing aside the duvet, she slipped out of bed. Reaching for his hand, she led him out of his suite and into hers, where she rummaged around until she found the flat box. Sitting before a mirror, she lifted the lid, only to be taken aback by what lay nestled inside.
Diamonds of a size and quantity she had never seen before, even with her high birth, twinkled at her. The light of the single candle could do little justice for the brilliance that shone upon her, and she couldn’t help but stare, mesmerized by the lavishness of the gift.
“They reminded me of your eyes,” he said softly. Unable to find the proper words, she could only look up at him as he leaned forward and liberated the precious stones from their casing. “May I?”
She swept her hair to the side, and soon enough, he had secured the clasp. They were heavier than she had expected, but it was a pleasant sort of weight, like the kind when he embraced her with so much gusto, they couldn’t help but stumble back slightly, or like when he placed his hand on her shoulder and smiled at her through the reflection like he was now.
“Thank you.” She kissed his hand, and he nodded, obviously very pleased and very cheered up. She returned her attention to her reflection. What would the Duchess of Canterbury say? Probably something snide, like “The price does not necessarily guarantee a proportional pay-off.” The Queen Consort would most likely frown out of disapproval for such extravagance, but she didn’t particularly care. Not even the thought of the impending lecture could defile the necklace. Her husband had chosen it for her, and had purchased it for her, and it had been intended by him for her to wear and to show off extravagance. So what if she flaunted a little? If she did, she’d be flaunting something much more precious to her than the value of these stones, and whoever said differently could only have very scarce knowledge on her person, and she could, as her husband had said, very well spend an equal amount of time on something much more interesting, rather than something so worrisome and hurtful and wrong, and be all the more better for it.
As for what that necklace had meant to her… She had been truthful when she had told him that she had been young and afraid. She may still be better, but she was more knowledgeable this time, and she knew that whatever responsibilities awaited her, she would work through with her husband who would, as he had promised, never leave her side. And what could possibly be more valuable than those words?