She turns away from the mirror, and I know she is crying. Her back is to me and her head is slightly bowed.
“I know.” It's the most sympathetic thing I can think of, though possibly the most-daft sounding. It's true, however, and we both know it.
My arms come around her. My warrior – still lithe as a birch. Part of me is still in awe at being able to touch her like this, to hold her so close our heart beats merge. She doesn't react.
I sigh. It's still so hard for her to show emotion, any emotion at all, and when she does it takes such a toll on her. I think she is still partly convinced she is a man.
My Oscar...you are no man. You are a woman more courageous and fair than any man...than most men, so much so to the point I feel ashamed – ashamed I'm not more like you, ashamed that I've let you down so many times, ashamed that I'm merely a horse-boy. Even now, after everything, I still feel it the same way you still feel like the Oscar of yore.
I can still feel her uneven breaths passing through me,and I bury my face in her hair, willing her to be comforted somehow. I try to make her see she is not alone.
She stirs, and walks away.
She stops, and silence spreads again across the room.
“How cruel!” her voice is a whisper.
I know better than to say anything. She needs to let it out, and my talking would only give her an excuse not to do so.
“They...first the King...and now...!” she turns around and I see her eyes alight with pain, anger, and indignation. Her face is lightly scarred by tear-trails, and yet her voice is even.
“A child!!! A child! He wasn't even nine years of age André! Not even nine!” She sobs and I am there to catch her before she falls.
“And now...the Queen...”
I kiss her head softly.
“She is no longer the Queen...”
“Come Oscar...Joseph was starting to miss her...and then so were Louis and Philip. She'll be happy, you know she will. For once she'll be happy.”
She trembles in my arms. It is at these moments that I realize just how much pretending to be a man has taken her toll on her. She is the epitome of calmness and logic in most situation, but whenever wounds like this add up she bleeds in silence, and when the silence is broken...I kiss her again. It doesn't matter if the silence breaks. I will continue to protect her, love her and honour her as I always have.
“Come now, Oscar.”
She raises her eyes to me, and it's all I can do not to starting crying myself at the vast pain etched in their depths.
“Come...we will greet her, yes? She will be happy to see you. You two were such good friends.”
“André...we were lucky were we not?”
'Lucky' would not be the first word to come to my mind when thinking about our relationship, but I still nod.
“I...I took too long to see it though.”
“You did no such thing Oscar. You were preoccupied with a rising career and life at Court.”
She makes a face, and I'm glad to see some of the sadness in her eyes disappear.
“Well...maybe you were a little oblivious.”
She bursts out laughing at that.
“We're a pair, the two of us!” she smiles.
“That we are.” I add earnestly.
“I can't imagine...”
“What it would be like to be in love and not be able to be together...”
I grimace. Fersen is still a sore spot for me.
“I only fancied myself in love with him, which is why I can't help but feel so sad for Marie Antoinette.”
I bite my tongue and nod. If Marie Antoinette had had half the gumption of Oscar she would not have allowed her love affair to divide the court, and cause a Revolution.
“But she loved him so wholly...she was wiser than me in that respect.”
“André!” her indignation is evident.
“Look, I'll be honest. She's a nice girl. She is. But she's got nothing on you. Not a thing.”
“She knew she loved Fersen and accepted it. She didn't deny it to the point that she fancied herself in love with someone else.”
“No, she didn't. She did however let that love cloud her judgment, and the country suffered. People suffered.”
“Being the Queen shouldn't mean having to give up happiness.”
“But it does mean one has a responsibility to fulfill. Had you been Queen...”
She is laughing so hard now more tears stream forth.
“Be careful what you say André...it may come true.” she shrewdly alluded to her 'royal proposal' some two years earlier.
“All I'm saying is you fulfilled your responsibility, you acted fairly, and as reasonably as possible in the circumstances.”
“Believing myself to be in love with Fersen can hardly be qualified as reasonable.”
“But it is. Both of you were successful, popular and trusted 'friends' of the Queen. It is only normal to be attracted by such an obviously superior man.”
“Superior to who?”
I don't answer that, because I don't want to – because it still tears at me sometimes that I am...was... only the horse-boy.
“André...” she moves towards me and leans on my chest. It is so rare that she willingly shows affection; my mouth runs dry. She never denies me...but she seldom initiates-sometimes I feel as though I am nothing more than a thief of her kisses, her smiles, her embraces...her love.
“André...” she calls to me again. “My heart did not bleed for Fersen. Nor did I die for him.”
“You died because of a stupid man who was threatened by your skills as a Commander and shot at you, most cowardly, with not one but more than a dozen guns!”
I can feel her shake her head, her hair tickles my nose.
“I was happy then.”
“I...I was happy. The world faded out, and all I could think was that I would see you again.”
“Oscar...you could have gone on, married whom you pleased, had children...a full life in peace, with whomever you chose.”
“But, I couldn't. The man I had chosen was dead...and besides I wouldn't have lived a long life at any rate.”
What? She can't possibly mean...
“Oscar! Do not tell me you would have forfeited your life for my sake!” it comes out much harsher than I want it to.
She wraps her arms around me, pulling me even closer.
“I was dying anyway...the doctor gave me six months at best...but I'm glad I didn't have to wait that long to see you again...I'm glad...I'm so glad...”she murmurs over and over and I can't help the tears that fall. They plop silently in her hair and leave me a trembling man in their wake. For all that happened...all Oscar had achieved...and she would have never had the chance to enjoy it.
“It doesn't matter now Andre. We're together.” She looks up to me and does something most uncharacteristic. She leans up and kisses away the tears. I feel her lips on my face tentative and light like butterfly wings.
“I've always admired your eyes you know...” she smiles. “Take good care of them this time around.”
I nod silently.
How I love this woman! How grateful I am for being allowed to be with her, to breathe the same air she breathes, hold her in my arms while I sleep, and awaken to her face, to hear her sing whenever she thinks she's alone, to feel her hair spreading on my pillow, and be able to kiss her, and look at her...admire her for the amazing being she is.
“I love you too.”
Her words bring me back to reality and fix another grin on my face. I love how well she can read me.
“Come Oscar.” I take her hand and lead her outside. The gate is not far from the house, and the walk is always pleasant.
“Do you think...”
“She'll be the same...?”
She gives me a small smile. Hand in hand we reach the gate. A pair of blue eyes gazes in wonder, and a small squeak denotes their surprise.
“Oscar!!! Oscar...!!!” and just like that the former Queen of France breaks down and cries, looking more like the girl she used to be than when she had first arrived to France. My wife...I know she'll be crying as well. They are no more than mere friends supporting one another-the heavy cast of social status and propriety lies dormant somewhere below on the earth from whence we came and I smile.
You really know what you're doing, don't you mon Dieu?
We are finally free to be who we truly are...in my case it means one special title I prize above anything else. Two words: Oscar's husband.
I step away to give them space and stare at the sky.
To live is to suffer., some say. But not you...non Granny? Not you. A cloud smiles at me with your face and I chuckle.
“Well...you always did say you knew best...I guess I should say ma Dieu.”