Lunette stared up at the concerned face of the flower delivery boy and pondered if she was dead. Her mind spewed out explanations. Her neck was stiff, her fingers unmoving, so she was a cadaver. She thought back to what had happened just hours before. She saw the ring on Emmeline’s finger and the man that had claimed her as his wife. The agony in her heart had been so piercing that she wouldn’t have blamed herself for wanting a journey to heaven. The figure that stood before her had simply been sent to greet her and show her the fundamentals of the afterlife. The answer was straightforward: she wasn’t alive.
But the dry tears on her cheeks felt very real, as did the aching in her fingertips. Slowly, too, she could hear things, like the muffled noise of an audience clapping, a chorus of violins. Then, unfortunately more distinguishable, the high-pitched tone of the flower boy and the flow of concerned sentences that slipped from his tongue.
“Miss? Are you alright? Why did you sleep here? Did you pass out? Did you hit your head? You most certainly did! There’s blood on the carpet. There’s blood on you! I must fetch a doctor.”
Lunette sat up as best as she could and surveyed her surroundings. She was nestled in the crook of the dressing room’s doorway. She had slept there for quite a while; there was no mistaking that. The knots that lined her spine was evidence enough. Her sluggish brain took in the cuts on her hands, now partially healed. Her eyes drifted to the culprit, a shattered vase laying dismembered in the center of the floor. Petals and stems were strewn around the destruction in a halo of disarray.
Her shoulders shook. She glanced down to see hands there, then the flower boy’s face mere inches from her own.
“You must tell me if you’re alright!”
“You’re lying!” His tone was more like a screech. An accusatory one, but with more worry than ire.
Lunette said nothing. Of course she was lying. Last night, her world had collapsed all around her, and hours later, she was left to stare at the rubble. She could hardly think about the pain in her heart. How could she possibly talk about it?
“Can you stand? If you’re able to walk, I can get you to Mr. Landchire. He dropped in to see one of the morning plays, though those ended nearly five minutes ago. We can find him in the lobby, but only if you hurry!”
“Oh, no, no. There’s....there’s no need for that. I’m fine, really.” She knew that her throat, raw with agony and unused tears, betrayed her anguish. She wasn’t about to have society stare at her like this, no matter if a doctor was downstairs. Her rogue was smudged in numerous places. Her hair was mussed. The bun that had rested so primly at the top of her head last night was now a slanting mess. Her nose felt numb, along with her lips, and she could only imagine how red and puffy her eyes appeared. She couldn’t be seen like this.
And, of course, there was that other reason.
She thought of what Emmeline said, how word of their love would travel in society quicker than any other shred of gossip. Last night, she hadn’t cared. She felt as if she could outrun any glare or whisper. But now it was enough to stall her breath. She’d be frozen by the town’s scowls, humiliated by the hushed words behind her back. She thought of Emmeline, for she was the only thing that calmed her in times of strife. Or, used to. Instead of her beautiful smile she saw Emmeline’s face covered in tears, and her body shielded by him. It was too much to bear. She leaned back against the doorframe, feeling more comatose than ever before.
“We really must hurry.”
Lunette found herself being hauled from the floor by the boy. She wanted to resist, she needed to stay and recuperate. But something told her that being alone wouldn’t help. If she closed her eyes, she’d only see Emmeline.
She was led down the hallway, stumbling at first, but she forced herself to regain her normal, regal gait. Lunette tugged the boy back as soon as they approached the top of the stairs. He halted and looked at her in confusion, but she ignored him. She feverishly rubbed at her cheeks, trying, one last time, to erase the last of the rouge that masked her skin. It only transferred to her hands, mixing grotesquely with the dried blood there. She was tainted with the pains of last night. Marred, forever. Or so it seemed. She twined her locks together in what she hoped was a passable bun, though she knew it appeared unforgivable. She pushed her shoulders back, raised her chin, and straightened her spine, hoping she didn’t leak the shame that was coursing through her veins.
Lunette nodded at the boy and they trekked down the stairs. She could hear the rustle of her train as it slithered down the steps behind her. She was wearing an evening dress, or, more specifically, the final costume in last night’s performance. It was deep crimson, pinched at the waist, with black trim that bordered a line of cream buttons that trailed up to her throat. The sleeves hugged her arms and ended in black lace. A high collar covered her neck. She was instantly grateful for it. It hid the blush that was quickly spreading there. She stood out against the flow of pastel dresses* that bustled just a floor below her, a red slash of shame. As they dismounted from the stairs, those pastel dresses turned to look at her.
It took everything within her not to run.
Her grip tightened on the flower boy’s arm. He hardly seemed to notice. His eyes scanned the crowd for Mr. Landchire, and once he didn’t spot him, he yelled his name. Even more ladies and gentlemen turned toward the pair, and not for the first time, Lunette wished for death.
Lunette spied Mr. Landchire standing at the far side of the lobby, engrossed in conversation with a group of other theatergoers. For a moment, she hoped that the boy hadn’t detected the man, but he toted her along in the man’s direction. They hovered a respectable distance away until he was done talking; Lunette expected she was the reason of his expired conversation.
There was a prolonged silence between them as the man turned his gaze on Lunette.
“How do you do?” she managed to say.
“Me? Oh, I’m faring quite well.”
She could feel him trying hard not to gawk. Staring wasn’t polite, so he was doing the same as everyone in the room: glancing at her once, then averting their gaze to something of far more importance, like a flower pot or one of the paintings dotting the walls. But she could hear their whispers, rising and settling around her like a fog, slowly ebbing away at whatever shred of dignity she still clung to.
Lunette couldn’t find any words, so she looked down at the boy. He glanced toward her, unsure, then said, “I found her in her dressing room. She wouldn’t say why she was there. I...I just thought she should be inspected, sir.”
Wasn’t she being inspected already? Dissected? She was under society's microscope, being picked and probed at by their whispering gossip and side-stares.
“That is worrisome. Thank you for informing me, young man.” He turned toward Lunette, actually looking at her this time. “And what seems to be the issue?”
“I woke up with cuts on my fingers. I’m not sure how, to be honest,” she lied. Perhaps if she tried to ignore what had happened the night before, everything would be solved. Emmeline would still be hers.
“There was an overturned vase in her room, sir,” the flower boy interrupted. “I suspect maybe she passed out and accidentally knocked into it when she fell over?”
One by one, the memories trickled back. Seeing pain on Emmeline’s face, hearing the door burst open, and seeing a grown man recoil from her as if she was actually infected. She bit her lip to stop the hoard.
“Concerning. Do you feel light headed?”
“No.” She had been, ever since last night. But she didn’t want to bother this man. She could hear the lobby quieting down. She was the center of everyone’s indirect attention. On the stage, she thrived for their interest. But now she just wanted to flee.
“She was stumbling when I started leading her down here. She looks quite pale, too. If it’s not too much trouble, I do think you should look at her.”
“Yes, I think so.” He dismissed the flower boy with a nod. “My office is only a few minutes away by carriage. I think it would be in your best interest to join me there,” said Mr. Landchire. His tone left no room for arguing. And she dared not to; speaking out in such a large gathering would only dampen her image further.
Mr. Landchire bid farewell to his throng and gestured for Lunette to follow him outside. She stood in silence as they waited for his carriage to approach, then, after being helped inside, stared at her gloveless hands, nearly iced over by the cold.
The man said nothing to her but engaged in lively conversation with the driver through an open slat behind him, just above his head. She kept to herself, trying to keep her mind as numb as her heart, but decided it was best to be polite as the carriage rolled up to his shop.
“I want to thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“It is my duty to see patients. I will not deny them for any means.”
Lunette followed the man into the building, closed the door, then trailed after him to his office. She sat down on a chair near his desk. A servant arrived a moment later, bearing two cups of water, then left just as quickly. Lunette sat there and tried not to ogle at the needles and instruments that lined the shelves on the walls. Instead, she stared at the floorboards, listening to the doctor leaf through files just a few feet away.
“I know why you’re really here.”
Lunette glanced up.
Mr. Landchire peered at her from the other side of the desk, a pen held loosely in one hand, his eyes trained on her.
“I saw Ms. Browning, or, rather, the soon to be Mrs. Cordwick just the other day.”
“Oh?” She flinched internally at Henry’s last name so casually linked to Emmeline. With a dread that flushed out her anger, she realized the man before her was the ‘specialist’ Emmeline had been praising beforehand.
“What a small world.” Lunette laughed. The humor died short on her tongue.
“She came to me with a confession, and a heavy one at that. She said she had stopped going to church because of it.”
Lunette laced her fingers together. She ignored the pain it caused. “That’s terrible.”
“It is. And I wondered, briefly, what was causing her all of this grief. But she was quick enough to tell me, after a little coaxing. It wasn’t an easy thing to say, and I applaud her for letting the behemoth come free. She said she was in love.”
“Love can cause someone to feel wild things, a whole range of emotions...I’m glad she was able to divulge it.”
“And I too, for she said something that was of high concern to me. She said she was in love. With you.”
It took all of her strength to place the glass down gently on the table. “Peculiar. I suppose she just wasn’t feeling well. She has a fiance that she just adores, you know. Perhaps she was thinking of him instead?”
“She said your name, I’m afraid. But I’m glad she did. If she hadn’t told me of her affliction, I would have never been able to help her recover.”
Lunette pursed her lips. She silently juggled with the shame she felt and the anger she secretly harboured. Her love for Emmeline had been pure and true; why was she the only one that thought so?
“Now, Lunette, I must ask you the same question I asked her.”
She could already feel the query about to ensnare her. But she leveled her gaze and stared it down. “Of course.”
“Do you love her?”
The collar of her dress felt more like a noose. It chaffed her neck as she swallowed. She reached for the glass with as much regality as she could muster, though she could see the drink trembling inside. She caught her reflection in the glass: pale and entirely apprehensive.
“There’s no need to feel scared,” came Mr. Landchire’s voice.
She felt far away; she could barely hear him over the sudden pounding of blood in her ears. Transported to another town, standing in a different continent, away from her troubles and anxiety. Oh, how she wished to be there, in an unknown city with unknown civilians, living without the hounds of society tracing her scent of scandal. The doctor’s words were humorous. How couldn’t she feel scared? Even in this room, closed off from everyone, she could feel them listening in. How many days would it be until her name scorched the daily paper? FORMER STAR OF THE ELPINE THEATER, LUNETTE GOODWIN, ADMITTED TO ASYLUM. CAUSE OF ADMISSION: SEXUAL INVERSION.
Inversion. She was an invert. Her love was twisted from the inside out.
Lunette cleared her throat, and, with effort, set the cup down again. “I did. I did love her.”
“Then you’re saying these feelings just went away, on their own? You’re no longer pining after her?”
The doctor went on with his notes.
You love her still. You never stopped loving her. You never will. The thoughts circled around her mind, distracting her from her throbbing fingers, and from her dignity. Part of her hardly wished to keep the discussion alive. Yet the other half wouldn’t let her bury it. With a deep sigh, she admitted, “I lied, sir. I meant to say...I still love her.”
He set his pen down and looked up. He didn’t look shocked or repulsed, which was what Lunette expected to see. He just stared at her like how Lunette assumed he stared at any of his other patients, with mild interest mixed with concern. “Go on.”
“We met two years ago in the lobby of the theater,” she began. She looked at her lap, unable to bear the weight of the man’s stare. Then she let the past ensnare her.
“It was late one night, early October, I believe, and I was dreadfully tired. So tired that I had forgotten that I had left my reticule sitting on one of the seats in the lounge after talking with some friends. I was about to leave when someone tapped on my shoulder. It was a fellow, oh...I don’t remember his name, but…” She trailed off, realizing her lack of story telling skills were clearly shining through. She had always succeeded at reading words from a script; but when it came to projecting her own tales, her creativity evaporated. She cleared her throat again, knowing Mr. Landchire was somewhat eager to hear the real meat to her story, even though she was dreading it. “He gave me the handbag and I thanked him, yet as I turned to go, a lady he was with complimented me on my performance. I was just starting out back then. I was in the background for the most part, playing mindless roles in the ensemble, so praise was few and far between. You can understand how thankful I was. We introduced ourselves, and before long Ms. Browning was a regular theatergoer.
“I cannot tell you when my feelings toward her turned toward the romantic. I kept it hidden for months. I knew that if she found out, she’d separate herself from me forever.” And she still left, didn’t she? Lunette swiped at her cheek. When had she started crying? “Yet, one day it became too hard to hide. It was the day of one her mother’s insipid quilting parties. We were both quite terrible at crafting anything that required a needle and thread, so she begged me to join her outside. It was terribly cold, but I obliged.” Her skin prickled as she imagined the cold of that winter day. It had been enough to strike through her coat and make her teeth chatter with enough intensity that she had worried they’d be found out by the noise. “I told her such, and the way she laughed just left me with unspeakable joy…” It was a hearty laugh, one that was without restrain or care. One that Lunette had found inexplicability intoxicating.
“And you remember all of this in such vivid clarity?”
Lunette met Mr. Landchire’s narrowed eyes. Was he uncomfortable? She certainly was; her cheeks were morphing from pale to the haze of an evening sun. She had never spoken of her attraction to any other soul. She felt as if her own words were caging her in. Should she stop now? She could be thrown in prison instead of an asylum for speaking in detail of such a horrid topic. Yet, she couldn’t deny that she felt somewhat...free. Liberated. Just slightly, but it was quite wonderful to say her mind about Emmeline for once in her life, even if it was in front of a man that would treat her more as a specimen of cruel fascination than a normal human being.
“I do, sir.” Her lips were dry. She grabbed for the water again. “I told her we’d certainly be found out, as her laughter was so loud!” Lunette smiled, despite herself, despite the unmoving stare of the man before her. She was living in memories, and she took them in gratefully, for the present was in danger of destroying her. “We headed to the garden only to find it frosted over. Seeing this, I told her we should probably head inside; it was pointless to just stand about in the cold. I told her that if we hurried back, we could sneak inside, rid ourselves of the snow, and blend back into the party without having to explain ourselves. But she was determined to have at least some fun that day. When I turned to leave, she hit me with a snowball square in the back.”
The gruffness of Mr. Landchire’s voice pulled her back from the past. She blinked, but nodded. “Unladylike, I know.” But it was that day that Lunette had finally started to see how unrefined Emmeline could be--at least when Lunette was in her company. And that allured her even more. “Soon enough we had started a war in Mrs. Browning’s back yard.” Lunette had felt free that day. As free she had ever felt. Free enough that her mind hadn’t stopped her when she had leaned in to kiss the woman. She couldn’t have helped herself, laying on her back after collapsing from too much laughter, staring up at Emmeline’s slightly concerned but mostly smug expression. Her cheeks were ruddy and snow speckled her tangled hair, and yet Lunette hadn’t seen anything more beautiful. It was wonderful to see a woman so normally sheltered inside society’s rules show a side that wasn’t entirely proper. So when Lunette had raised herself up on her elbows to bring her lips to the woman’s, the fact that Emmeline didn’t pull away was as reassuring as it was thrilling.
“It is obvious to me that you are suffering from something that cannot be cured just by this visit alone. ”
“But, not all hope is lost. We’ll still help you.”
“‘We’ll’?” Lunette glanced around, finding nothing but an audience of dusty medical books. The only other soul she had seen was the waif-like servant that had drifted in just a few minutes before. Certainly Mr. Landchire wasn’t going to rope him in with his affairs.
“There’s a place about an hour out of Bellmore called Westview Estates. I had brought this up to Ms. Browning, but she had something better in mind. A wedding with Mr. Cordwick. I thought it was wonderful.”
“I have no intentions of marrying a man.” The words simply left her without any warning. For a moment, she felt triumph; she had voiced her feelings aloud once more! But the blush that warmed her cheeks silenced that victory.
“I figured you’d say that. That is a pressing issue, but I will gladly work alongside Westfield to make sure your ill feelings are being disposed of. You won’t even have to deal with the trouble of tying the knot.”
“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”
“It wouldn’t trouble me at all. You’re a lost soul, Ms. Goodwin. It’s either this or a jail cell.”
Lunette dipped her head, pursed her lips.
“All I’ll need is a signature. Then I’ll inform Westview, and they’ll arrive at your home in a week’s time.”
“And...and what will Westview do to…’correct’ my illness, sir?”
“I’m afraid I cannot detail what goes on at Westview without their written consent. Now, your signature…”
A half hour later, Lunette crossed the threshold of Mr. Landchire’s office and into the arms of a bitter winter morning. Her hands were bandaged; only a few stitches were needed, much to her appreciation. She tried to hold an aura of optimism about her as she hailed a carriage and headed for home. She was to be cured. Her suffering would end soon and she would be a new woman! One without ridicule, distanced from her past. Yet as she thought more and more on the subject, she couldn’t help the ball of despair that plunged to her stomach. Her veil of elation shifted. Instead of picturing herself in a world dancing with gleeful men, she saw the hallowed faces of women damned like her, gazes empty, perched in the shadows of Westview, terrified of their own peculiarity. Westview wouldn’t be a haven. If it was a place determined to change her very core, how could it be?
She couldn’t go to Westview. But she couldn’t stay in Bellmore. If she did, she’d spend her days dodging hateful glares, at best. She’d have to leave. She’d need refuge. And as her carriage shuttled her down the street and away from Mr. Landchire’s false promises of happiness, she realized that refuge was Sherfield.