Charles looked up from his place as fourth cello. Actually, all the boys in the orchestra looked up from their music to stare at the new student, much to the annoyance of the maestro, who tapped his baton against his score impatiently.
“Back to rehearsal A, please, musicians!” he demanded. “This Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto is not going to learn itself! I will not be humiliated by Kratkowski again!”
His orders went ignored. The new student was breathtakingly beautiful, with long, gorgeous lashes and the most adorable smile. He seemed to be amused and just a little uncomfortable by the reaction he gained just from following the headmaster around campus. Charles’ stand partner sighed while the cellist behind him let out a strangled noise.
“Isn’t she the most gorgeous thing ever?” he said while the other guy garbled something that sounds suspiciously like “Girls!”
Confused for a moment, Charles looked back at the retinue. “Oh!” he exclaimed, embarrassed. “Right. Are those his sisters?” There are, in fact, girls.
His stand partner shrugged. “Who knows? I called dibs!” he said, turning back to his music.
Charles’ mind whirled as he turned back to his music. He hadn’t even noticed the girls; he’d been so fixated on the new student. Holy shit, am I gay? he wondered.
For the rest of the period, he could barely concentrate. Judging by the maestro’s increasingly bad mood, neither could the rest of his orchestra.
When class let out, he rubbed down his cello and placed it in its case, mind still a muddle of confusion. How could he possibly be gay? He’s liked girls before. He’s had girlfriends before. He likes girls.
He hefted his cello back to his room. He second he opened his door, however, he found that he was pushed out by an unseen force and a decidedly feminine shriek.
“No! You can’t come in yet!” came the voice of the unknown being. Yeah, definitely female. There was a flurry of coughing, and a much deeper voice added, “Sorry. My sister is body shy.” Nervous giggling. “My name is Jem–I mean Jeremiah.”
Charles pressed his forehead to the door. “Uh, hi.” He inwardly cursed himself. He sounded like an utter moron. “Uh, can I come in now?” he asked. More nervous giggling from the inside.
“Uh, yeah, go ahead.” This time it was a girl’s voice, but definitely a different girl’s voice. The door opened and inside were three people, all looking rather hastily put together. Charles stared for a second from the doorway.
“You guys aren’t really related, are you?” he blurted out, only to clasp a hand over his mouth chagrin. “Sorry, that’s really none of my business what you do.”
“No, no, no!” The guy flailed spectacularly in shock. “Ew, oh my god, no!” Oh, he’s so cute when he’s flustered.
“No!” This time it was the second girl who spoke. Huh. She didn’t sound much like the first voice either. Must’ve been a trick of the wood. “No! Neither of us are dating each other! I mean, none of us! I mean–”
“We’re his–his maids!” the first girl said.
“Maids?” Charles said incredulously. Rich? Cute? Maids? “Uh, that’s…great.” He was straight! So why did he feel so relieved that Jeremiah had neither girlfriend nor sister?
Jeremiah stuck his hand out. “Hi. I’m Jeremiah. Sorry for the awkward entrance thing and all, but, uh, hi! I’m your new roommate, good to meet you!”
Charles finally moved from his position in the doorway, shutting it behind him as he put his cello down and shook Jeremiah’s hand. Tingles ran up his arm as their fingers touched. His hand was so small, so soft, like the rest of his features. He wanted to bend down and worship his hand gently. There was something appealing about their differences in height as well. Something about Jeremiah just made him want to gather him up in his arms and hold him close while they spoon-fed each other seahorse dreams and watched documentaries of animals having sex.
“Uh, hey man, you can, let go of my hand now.” Jeremiah extricated his hand with some force from his new roommate’s grip. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Charles replied, sticking his hand, which felt cold and empty, in his pocket. “Uh, so…”
“Hey! We should compare schedules!” Jeremiah blurted, thrusting a crumpled piece of paper into Charles’ chest, simultaneously forcing Charles to step back. His friends (maids?) tittered and sneaked out, whispering behind their hands.
Charles took the paper and unfolded it. “Sorry, man,” he said, sitting on his bed. “I lost my paper a while ago.”
“That’s okay,” Jeremiah said, joining Charles. Charles shifted to give him a little more room. “You can look at mine and tell which ones we have together.” He smiled brightly at Charles.
Charles scanned the paper quickly. “Looks like we have first period Classic Literature, lunch, and orchestra together!” He smiled at Jeremiah. “That’s awesome!” His stomach made little flipping motions, as if there were butterflies trapped inside. “Of course, we also have breakfast and dinner. It’s a boarding school, after all.”
Jeremiah laughed and lay down on Charles’ bed. When he laughed, it was these cute little hiccuping noises that made Charles’ heart melt. Charles mentally slapped himself. Not. Gay, he told himself firmly.
“So…what brings you here?” Charles asked to fill a moment of silence. Jeremiah brought his hands up to cover his face and sat up. He sighed.
“If you don’t want to tell me, that’s totally fine!” Charles amended hastily. “I won’t mind. Sorry for prying!”
Jeremiah’s head jerked up. “No! No! It’s okay! You were bound to ask me sometime! It’s just kind of a long story.”
Charles checked his watch. “Well, you can tell me over dinner. Come on!” He sprang off his bed and grabbed Jeremiah by the wrist, tugging him along.
Sneakily, he ran his thumb across the soft blue veins and tried to ignore the sparks of attraction he felt every time they touched.
Over dinner, Charles was on the receiving end of many glares, especially from some of the openly out guys at his school. Charles couldn’t help but feel superior. Like he was so lucky for being chosen to be the friend of the new, and apparently very wealthy student, judging by the story that Jeremiah was unfolding about his asshole father and equally asshole mother. He couldn’t focus on the majority of the words, too focused on what was making them, namely, the adorably pouty lips and the creamy length of throat that he would love to lavish kisses and marks all over.
“Are you even listening to me?” Jeremiah asked with an amused smirk. “I mean, I know I’m attractive, with my boyishly good looks and air of perceptual dominance, but–”
“What? No!” Charles exclaimed. “No! I’m not! Of course I was listening! Yes! Your parents are assholes and you got the hell out!” He flushed outwardly in embarrassment and cringed inwardly with chagrin. “No, of course!”
For a second, he thought he saw a flash of hurt go through Jeremiah’s eyes, but that couldn’t be possible. They were both straight, after all! But why did it feel like rejection to him as well?
“So,” Jeremiah said, coughing awkwardly into his hand after an equally awkward moment of silence. “Tell me about your story, why you’re hear at this snobby, upper-class prep school.”
Charles launched into his story with enthusiasm, taking any excuse to ignore the blundering mess he’d made two minutes before.
After dinner, they stand at the doorway of their room. For some reason it felt too much like a date. Jeremiah shuffled a little in hesitance. “So…”
“Just get a room already!” a couple of guys from down the hall yelled. “You two are so gay for each other!” It was Charles’ turn to shuffle uncomfortably.
“I’m not–” they both blurted simultaneously.
“I mean, I’m okay with–” Charles began.
“But, I mean, I’m not–it’s totally fine if you are! I mean–” Jeremiah blushed furiously, and Charles would really like to kiss it all away, but that would contradict what he just implied and–
“I’m going to get my medicine now!” Jeremiah said, and practically sprinted down the hall. Charles raked a hand through his hair and exhaled a breath he hadn’t known he was holding in.
“Oh my God,” he muttered. “I am so gay for you.” He unlocked his room and threw himself onto his bed without undressing, groaning loudly into his pillow. “Fuck me with a chainsaw.”
Their first day of classes together went by swimmingly. Jeremiah quickly became a favorite of the teachers with his quick wit and high intelligence. He even managed to impress the maestro, who never caved to anyone, no matter how important or rich they were. Once someone entered his domain, he was under the maestro’s jurisdiction.
“You are a natural on the violin!” he cried, grabbing Jeremiah by the shoulders. “I want you to audition for the solo part of the Concerto! Do you know it?”
“Of course I do, Maestro. It’s a classic,” Jeremiah replied, taken aback by the maestro’s forwardness. The concert master glared at him. Charles couldn’t help but glow with pride for his new friend.
“All right! Violins, auditions are on Friday, and if you want to be soloist, I suggest you come prepared!” the maestro announced. “Dismissed!”
In the clamor to leave, Jeremiah slipped over and grasped Charles by the bicep. “What am I going to do?” he hissed. “I haven’t played that piece in years!”
Charles had to fight the urge to draw Jeremiah underneath his arm and cuddle him in comfort. “It’s okay, Jem. Don’t worry. I’ll help you,” he promised. Jeremiah gave him a grateful look and slipped away. Charles turned his attention back to his cello, cursing himself for not being brave enough to switch teams and just kiss him.
He caught up to Jeremiah in their shared room. “Jem?” his roommate asked with a wry smile. “I’ve never heard anyone call me that. What prompted you?”
Love. Completely inappropriate love for my very heterosexual, very cute roommate. “I dunno. It just slipped out.”
Jeremiah hummed. “Well, I kind of liked it. Charlie.”
Charles tackled Jeremiah with a playful roar. “I’ll teach you to call me Charlie!”
Jeremiah laughed. “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie!” he taunted, staving off Charles’ hands. “Hey!” he practically shrieked when Charles squeezed a nerve in his knee. “Don’t touch me there, you creep!”
A loud banging came from their neighbors. “Oi! Shut up in there, ya big, nasty homos!”
Jeremiah retaliated with a series of equally loud banging. “I could say the same to you, ma’am!”
They collapsed next to each other, laughing until they fell asleep.
Charles woke up first. He’d been in his room long enough to know that he wasn’t in his normal bed. Rather, he was on the opposite bed, previously empty, now filled by an adorable roommate who fit perfectly against his body.
“Holy Mother of fucking God!” he screamed in panic, startling Jeremiah into tumbling off the bed.
“Holy Jesus and the Mary Chain!” Jeremiah exclaimed, patting at his clothing in alarm. “No homo, okay man? No. Homo.”
“No homo,” Charles swore fervently. “No. Homo.”
“Oi! I said shut up!” The annoyed neighbor had apparently also been woken up in the panic. “Fucking gays.”
The rest of their day passed in awkward company, as did the rest of the week. The only real conversation they had was about Jeremiah’s stylistic interpretation of the Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto.
When Friday arrived, Jeremiah was a shaking, blithering mess. “Forget it,” he said on his way down to breakfast with Charles. “Forget it. I’m skipping everything today. I’m going to do nothing but practice until my fingers bleed and then practice some more because I’m never going to beat the concert master otherwise. Hell, I might as well just not show up!” He wrung his hands nervously.
Charles stopped him and grabbed his shoulders, boxing him against the wall of the stairwell. “No,” he said. “You are not going to psych yourself out. Not when we’ve done so much work to put all of this together. You’re going to go to class, and you’re going to do well. You’re going to beat out that snobbish prick and get the soloist’s position. Do you understand me?”
Jeremiah looked up at him with wide eyes. Without warning, he hugged Charles, and kissed him gently on the cheek before releasing him and scampering off. “Thank you!” he called. Charles stood in the stairwell, shocked. He could still feel the lingering pressure on his shoulders and the ghost of a pair of lips on his cheek.
“You’re…welcome,” he said faintly.
He missed breakfast.
His classes passed in a distracted blur. All he could think was “Holy crap! Jem’s not as straight as I thought he was!” and “Holy shit! Maybe I am gay. Bisexual. Jem-sexual.” and “He kissed me! He kissed me! He kissed me!” More than once, a teacher had asked him if he were feeling well, and several of his classmates including Jeremiah asked if he were stoned.
He forced himself back into focus when Jeremiah walked on stage with his violin. He looked so alone and small up there with the rest of the orchestra in the audience. He shot Jeremiah an encouraging smile, which was returned tentatively.
Jeremiah bowed to the audience, which clapped politely, and introduced himself. “My name is Jem–” Charles’ stomach did backflips of joy. The butterflies were hatching. “–and today I will be auditioning for the part of the soloist in the Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto.” He placed his violin on his shoulder and gave the pianist the okay. When it was his time to come in, he flashed Charles a brief but bright smile, did a cocky twirl of his bow, and began.
Charles couldn’t remember much after that. All he could remember was watch as Jeremiah seemed to dance without a partner in a two-person waltz, lonely, and yet very much in love. He watched as Jeremiah’s face relaxed from its pinched and worried state to one of openness and pure, unadulterated joy. He watched for every time he blinked, watch out he long black lashes fanned out as they descended like pair of butterfly wings.
He didn’t watch his Jem play the Butterfly Lovers. He watched him become the Butterfly Lovers.
When Jeremiah ended the audition requirement, Charles was the only one who didn’t give him a standing ovation. He was too busy staring in awe at the boy on the stage who’d stolen his heart.
Weeks passed and suddenly it was Winter Break and time to go home. Their relationship hadn’t progressed much farther. They never talked about that Friday. People continued to congratulate Jeremiah for his win, and even dared to embrace him. Jeremiah always returned their affections graciously, but never made any move to get to know them any more intimately.
“I want you to meet my parents,” Charles said.
Jeremiah looked up from his book. “What? No! You don’t have to! Christmas is a time for family. I don’t want to intrude.” He bit his lip.
“But you wouldn’t be intruding!” Charles insisted.
“No, I can’t. I shouldn’t. I–” Jeremiah was cut off by the ring of his cell phone. He picked it up after it rang twice more. “Hello?” he asked cautiously. “What? No! But–Ma, no! Please don’t make me do this! I–” Charles tried to leave discreetly. “No!” Jeremiah motioned frantically for him to stay. “No, yeah, no, that’s–but Ma!” Charles wished he could hear the other side of the conversation and not just Jeremiah’s struggling, monosyllabic replies. “Okay, fine! Fine! I don’t care! Ruin my life!” He ended the call forcefully and abruptly, burying his face into Charles’ chest. Charles’ arms wrapped around Jeremiah’s smaller frame, cooing gently into his hair.
They stayed in that position for a while, Charles comforting, Jeremiah crying, until Jeremiah sat up and shook Charles’ embrace off. “I have an idea!” he declared, with a determined glint in his eye.
“O-kay,” Charles said cautiously. “What is it?”
“You’re coming home. With me.”
Charles would have been lying if he said he didn’t literally jump for joy.
To Charles, the flight home was strange if not painful. It was weird not to be able to be close to Jeremiah. It was weird that the flight attendants kept stuttering, calling Jeremiah “Mi-Master Jem-Jeremiah.” Mostly, it was weird because Jeremiah was so obviously wealthy enough to have a private Lear jet.
Throughout the flight, Jeremiah hardly even cracked a smile. He sat, ramrod straight, in his seat, silently, eyes focused on the crest rotating on the screen in front of him. His mouth was pressed into a thin line to match the worry line that appeared between his eyebrows. Charles couldn’t help but yearn to pull him into his arms and comfort him, but they kept their distance.
Their conversation was stilted, one-sided. Charles attempted to keep Jeremiah from sinking into a distracted gloom.
Jeremiah refused to make eye contact. He fidgeted with a napkin that a flight attendant had given him along with a club soda. “Charles,” he said abruptly.
“I have something I want to tell you, but you have to swear you won’t tell anyone else.” Jeremiah gazed imploringly at him.
“Of course! No, yeah, of course!” Charles leaned forwardly, hands clasped earnestly between his knees.
Jeremiah continued to fidget with the napkin in his hand. “So…you know how we had that conversation at the beginning of when we met about how I’m not gay?”
“Yeah! Of course I do! I said I didn’t have a problem with it. Why bring it up now?”
Jeremiah flushed and refused to make eye contact. “Well,” he began. The rest of his words faded off into mumbles.
“What? I didn’t catch that.”
“Um, I kind of sort of like you a lot and I know I shouldn’t, but I do and I can’t help but wonder if you feel the same way about me even though you said you were straight!” Jeremiah’s words came out in a rush, like he’d been holding it back for a long time and he couldn’t help but let it out then.
“So what? Does that mean you’re bisexual?” Charles’ heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t help but feel hopeful.
“No! That’s not all.” Jeremiah couldn’t stop blushing. “I–I’m not bisexual!”
“No! Well, not quite,” Jeremiah amended, wringing his hands nervously. He took a deep breath, calming himself down.
“Sort of. I’m a girl.”
Jeremiah’s voice had changed. It was higher now, with a much more natural timbre than his original boyish tones. And suddenly, the first female voice he’d heard that day made sense.
“That was you who didn’t have a shirt on?” he said. The missing pieces were all slotting into place: the soft, pale skin; the huge difference in height; the way he seemed to eat less than even the youngest boys; the gentle curves; the way he disappeared every night for “medicine” and how he never saw him naked in the shower or in their shared room.
“Please! Don’t hate me! It was the only way I could get away from my parents.” Jeremiah’s–Jem’s–Charles didn’t know what to call him–her–anymore. “Please,” she pleaded desperately.
“You made me think I was gay!” Charles said, pointing an accusing finger at her. “You! I don’t even know who you are anymore!”
“I’m still Jeremiah, Charlie, please!” the girl–it all made so much more sense now–in front of him begged. “Just under a different name!”
“What’s your name, then?” Charles sat back, suddenly feeling drained. “Can I still call you Jem?”
“Jemimah. You weren’t too far off with the Jem nickname.” The girl–Jemimah now–let out a nervous laugh. That laugh hadn’t changed. “I made you think you were gay?” she asked, a teasing tilt to her chin.
“Yeah! All year! Do you know what kind of stuff that does to a guy’s head?” Charles rubbed a hand over his forehead. “I can’t believe you! I thought we were friends! You could have told me!”
“Please, Charlie, you have to understand! I couldn’t!” Jemimah leapt over the table and grasped his hands. “If anyone found out, I would have been at risk of being found out! I couldn’t afford to be careless!”
Charles took a deep breath, bringing Jemimah’s hands, which still clasped his, up to his lips. “I don’t blame you, Jem, but you have to imagine the amount of torment you put me through.”
Jemimah crawled into his embrace and put her arms around his neck. “I know, and I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I could see the way you suffered when you looked at me, and I could barely hold myself back from telling you. There were so many times–the stairwell, when we first slept together, all those times in the practice rooms…” She trailed off, biting her lip nervously.
They stared at each other, Charles looking at Jemimah for the first time in a new light, and Jemimah finally doing the one thing she hadn’t dared to do in their time together.
When they later reflected on this moment, neither would be able to remember who made the first move. All they knew was how they felt, their first kiss together, there, on the plane, and later, the desperate kisses they shared after sneaking Charles into her rooms.
All that they knew was that the way they were together was the only way they ever wanted to feel. They were soul mates, mated for life, two earth-bound creatures who had found the other end of their divine connection. They never wanted to part. Time itself meant nothing to them.
But, it wasn’t to be.
The time they had together was fleeting. Soon, Charles had to leave, and the two lovers parted with bittersweet words. He left with a promise written on a piece of paper, messy and smeared by tears. She stayed with nothing but a paper butterfly folded out of a piece of sheet music that they had labored over, spending hours together in the practice rooms.
“I promise you, we will be together again. No matter how far away you are, I will find you, and we will make it storm together.”
Charles returned back to school without Jemimah. He couldn’t help but long to be with her again, but he daren’t let his grades slip. Instead of pining over her, he channeled his energy into work, passing his final exams with flying colors. Some of his classmates viewed his fervor with a type of pity, knowing that the man had essentially lost a lover, though they would never tell him that to his face. It was there, though, in the dark corners where gossip passed from mouth to mouth. Some of them continued to view him with jealousy, certain that there must be a girl or a boy he was working so hard to win the favor of. He ignored them all, keeping to himself and keeping himself occupied. In the next feature piece, a dark and brooding Elgar cello concerto, he was the soloist, the maestro praising his passion and might, a direct counterpoint to the delicacy of the flute. Unwilling to go back to Jemimah without having accomplished something, he won scholarship after scholarship, ultimately being admitted to Columbia University and its prestigious exchange program with Julliard.
The days came and went, as did the weeks, and the months, and finally, spring was upon them along with Spring Break. When he crossed off the final box on his calendar, he knew it was time. He was going to free his butterfly.
He bought the ticket with his own money, giving his parents the excuse that he was staying with a friend over break. On the plane ride, he could barely contain his excitement at going to see Jemimah for the first time in months.
He was buzzed in at the gates, and was halfway to the house when he was tackled by a very excited girl. “Charlie!” she exclaimed, kissing the underside of his jaw. “I’ve missed you so much!”
Charles hugged her back with enthusiasm, feeling his arms slot into her familiar curves, now emphasized by the feminine clothing she wore. “I’ve missed you,” he said, returning her crushing hug with an equally tight one. “I missed you everyday we couldn’t be together, missed the sound of your violin. I l–not even the e-mails we exchanged and the texts we sent were enough.” He hoped to God she didn’t catch his near slip.
She pulled him down for a proper kiss. “Come on,” she said, urging him towards the house. “We have so much to catch up on.”
Suddenly, two maids appeared. “Miss Jemimah, it’s time for your dress fitting,” one said primly, eyeing the young couple with a scrutinizing eye.
“No!” Jemimah exclaimed. “I won’t! Not now! Please, Anna, can’t you reschedule it?” She looked at the maid with pleading eyes.
“‘Fraid not, my dear,” the maid said with pity, separating the two lovers. “The tailor can only be here for so long.”
Charles didn’t understand. What was so bad about a dress fitting that couldn’t wait? Jemimah shot Charles a frightened, nervous look. The maid looked understandingly between the two of them. Putting an arm around her mistress, she murmured quietly, assuming that Charles couldn’t hear, “Does he not know?”
“No!” Jemimah whispered back frantically. “I didn’t know how to tell him!” Charles could tell she was wringing her hands. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach. The second maid looked pityingly at him, taking him arm.
“I’ll lead you up to Jem’s rooms, then,” she said, looking like she wanted to say more but knew that it wasn’t her place to tell. “I expect that you’ll want to have a serious talk later.”
He sat in Jemimah’s room, waiting, thinking of all the possibilities that an important dress fitting could entail. He could only think of one. “Please, dear God, please,” he whispered imploringly at his paper butterfly, now worn and curling from having been unfolded and refolded so many times. “Please, don’t let it be.”
The door opened. Jemimah stood at the opening, looking at him with sad eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said brokenly. “You must have guessed.” She closed the door and moved forward.
Charles didn’t hesitate to gather her back in his arms. “I know. I know, and I wish it weren’t true,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her temple. “I wish I’d gotten here earlier.”
“Shut up,” she told him. “Just shut up.” She buried her face in his chest. “Just. Shut. Up.”
The back of his knees hit the bed, and he fell over with her on top. “Shut up. I knew. I knew for the longest time, and I didn’t tell you. I’m so, so sorry.” He knew she was crying when he felt the wetness seep through his shirt. He could feel his own tears spilling over, rolling down his cheeks, and staining the covers with his sadness.
He felt a pair of lips touch his chest and felt Jemimah crawl upwards to press a proper kiss to his lips. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered into his mouth. “Sorry.”
Their bodies pressed together, aligned in a way that felt natural and good. It was slow, but wonderful, and felt horribly life-affirming, a marriage of two souls that couldn’t be recorded by a piece of paper and a priest alone. In her bed, they ruined each other forever, ripping each other apart and putting each other back together. Outside, it began to rain, a soundtrack to their desperation to remain as close to each other as possible, tangled in a warm ball of love, eternity, and promises to keep.
Later, drowsy, Charles would ask, in a single word, “When?” and Jemimah would look at him with tears unshed in her eyes, looking so small in his arms, and whispered, “Next week. I’m so sorry.”
“Stop apologizing,” he murmured soothingly to her. “It was an arranged marriage. I don’t blame you. Shh.” He stroked her hair, which was still short, though slightly longer since the last time he saw her.
He left early in the morning, sneaking out through the window like an illicit lover. When he’d told Jemimah of this observation, she giggled sadly and replied, “Well, you sort of are.” He blew her a kiss, leaving her with the promise to come back and challenge her fiancé.
She watched him go with sadness in her heart.
He’d left her his butterfly.
Always good on his promises, he came back the next day. He formally met her parents that day, requesting her hand in marriage. When they declined, he demanded that they allow him to fight for her hand. Jemimah’s mother narrowed her eyes. “And if you win? What would that win you? Money? Fame? Blood on your hands?”
“Love,” he said simply. “And the chance to be with the one girl I love.”
Jemimah’s father snorted. “Let the fool do as he pleases, Martha,” he grunted. “It’s his life if he wants to waste it.”
Charles bowed mockingly. “So be it. Tell the bastard that I’ll be waiting for him tomorrow at dawn.” He turned on his heel and left before his resolve could crumble.
Jemimah caught him on the way outside. “Tell me,” she implored him. “Tell me you didn’t tell my parents you were going to challenge Edwin for my hand!”
He gave her a wry smile. “Don’t I always keep my promises?”
“I thought you were kidding!” she exclaimed with increasing pitch. “You idiot!”
He caught her hand before it could hit him. “No, it’s okay, I have a plan,” he said, shushing her. “Don’t worry. I plan on making this out alive.”
“Do you promise me?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, kissing her on her forehead. “I have to go.”
He left her, and she had a horrible feeling that one of them wouldn’t live to see daylight the next day.
The next day, there was a crowd gathered around the two duelers. It was a steely morning, iron grey clouds blocking the sunlight from shining through. “God’s judgement is not with us here today,” one of the older maids murmured. Jemimah shuddered.
The two men circled each other. Their shirtsleeves were rolled up, and Charles’ heart wouldn’t stop pounding. Edwin was tall. Taller than Charles, and about twice as broad, not to mention much older. He threw taunts and spit at Charles, goading him to react first, to display his youth and not his good judgement. “Come on, pretty boy!” he growled. “Show us your gun.”
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Charles threw back. “Come on, old man.”
Edwin gave him a smile that belonged more on a shark than a man. “On the count of three, then,” he said, hand reaching for the holster.
“Three!” Charles had barely drawn his gun when he felt an unusual pain in his chest. Looking down, he saw the blood before he heard the gun go off. Turning his eyes towards the sky, he thought he saw a single butterfly drift across his field of vision. The longer he looked, it turned out to be a leaf. He let out a barely perceptible breath, felt the blood pulsing in his ears, heard Jemimah’s scream. His eyes closed, and his back hit the ground.
Edwin stood, smoking gun in hand, with a triumphant grin on his face. Jemimah’s scream petered out into sobs, wrecked animal sounds that disturbed even her parents. Her clothes became soaked in Charles’ blood as she cried into his neck.
“You promised,” she whispered. “You promised me.”
It began to rain, and the rain mixed with the blood and the tears to stain the ground pink.
The days up until the wedding passed Jemimah in a shellshocked blur. She barely said a word, her only request being that on the day of the wedding they pass by the grave of her dead lover. Though shocked by her blatant mixing of life and death, her parents acquiesced, especially when Edwin agreed, if only to show off how he’d won her in a duel.
She was quiet on the day of the wedding, allowing herself to be tugged and pulled and curled into place by her maids. Her dress was sleek and white, making her almost ghostly in appearance. The veil was a handmade Chantilly lace veil, passed down from her grandmother, edged in red and secured in place by a beautiful crystal butterfly. It was all she could do to not cry when she saw her reflection in the mirror.
It was another steely grey day, filled to the brim with clouds pregnant with water. Occasionally, the sky would rumble ominously, but not a drop of water spilled.
She sat quietly in the limousine, stroking the lilies in her bouquet, trying to find strength in their fragrance. When they passed by Charles’ grave, she ordered the driver to stop.
Leaving the bouquet in the car, she climbed out of the car by herself. She walked to Charles’ grave, a single small tombstone that declared his name, date of birth to date of death, and nothing else. In all her resplendent, white glory, she knelt in the dirt in front of his grave and kissed it gently, laying her hand on his name. “Charles,” she whispered half to herself. “I miss you.”
The sky let out another rumble, and a drop of rain fell on her cheek. Quickly, another joined in, splattering on the back of her hand. Soon, it rained in earnest and she continued to kneel, mud staining the white of her dress as she, too, began to cry with the rain.
She ignored the protests of the driver and his orders to return to the safety of the limousine. She continued to kneel, pouring out the pain and sadness that she felt since he died.
There was a flash of lighting and a roar of thunder. The driver yelled and took cover inside the limousine, the sole witness as the ground opened up and swallowed the butterfly bride. She seemed to give in without protest, head tilted back and eyes watching the sky, hand never leaving the grave of her dead lover. She disappeared into the ground as the lightning struck, and when the roll of thunder cleared the air, there was no evidence of her ever being there except for a single, crystal butterfly.
Later when he would tell the story, no one would believe him. They would laugh and say he was crazy, that she must have killed herself somehow, that he must have been driving a ghost possessed. But he knew that while her body was buried with her lover, their souls had left together.
He’d stayed to wait out the storm, there, by the cemetery. Surprisingly, the storm passed quickly, the rain dwindling after the final roll of thunder. Slowly, the clouds cleared as well, leaving behind no trace except for the moisture. The sun shone, and the birds began to sing again. He looked in the backseat and saw the bouquet the bride had left, and looked at the grave to see the crystal butterfly shining in the sunlight. He climbed out of his seat and took a deep breath, breathing in the fresh, rain-scented air. Lifting his head to the sky, he watched as two monarch butterflies flew across the sky together, dancing with each other as if they had a promise to never leave.
He knew, deep inside in heart, that he’d been witness to a divine wedding of two soul mates, and that he would never forget this day for as long as he lived, knowing that a love like theirs was pure, strong, and would last throughout time, space, and eternity.