|"She wasn't beautiful in respect to how society wants one to be. Nay, she was beautiful by herself alone.|
She lacked the tall height of her peers, lacked the outrageous fringes of models in the periodicals, and lacked the imperious glower of her mother.
Instead, she was Ophelia Ravenwood—a tiny, pale-skinned dove with green eyes as vibrant and deep as the sea. Through each passing moment, he took note of the suggestions of her natural beauty—from the way in which her red-brown curls jounced and gleamed, to the arch in which she craned her delicate neck, to the roseate blush that suffused every inch of her at the sound of his teases and jests. She was damned to be loved by few. She was damned to be unloved by many. It was just the way of things.
And yes, how fearful she was! How frail! She was a suggestion of a stroke upon a canvas, transparent and quavering. He often wondered if she was plagued. The shadows ringing her eyes were answer enough. The way in which her eyes twitched about the suffocating crowds, her brows drew when she thought, her fingers trembled when she spoke, her shoulders hunched as she walked all bespoke her calamitous and petrified state. He had nary a thing to say or to do to reverse it. It was as if any attempts to soothe her were fruitless. She was plagued with eternal anxiety, and cared too much of what other people thought; she allowed herself to be led, to be molded, to be deceived. Truly, she craved the praise of others to make herself feel a whisper of completeness.
And late at night when he'd traverse the roof to blink at the sky to see the sky blink back, he pondered how that enigmatic girl felt of him.
Or if she even felt for him at all, for he could never tell."
The lights blaze; my breath withers. The room, half thrown in shadow, causes my heart to leap. My eyes jump across the table, noting the people lined there like soldiers-- four, six, eight, ten of them--my mother resides at the peak of the table. In another whoosh of breath, I clutch the edge of the table as the gaslights whirl and tumble. The glare of the candle catches on the rim of the wineglass, blinding me, pardoning my view of Raife and Violet from across the way.
At my flank, Luke is glancing across the table at my mother; as the chandelier sways and creaks, the light floods my vision again, so brilliant and white that I only catch a glimpse of her nod, her pursed lips and crinkling eyes.
There’s a pause. The noise of the dinner lofts above and swallows the silence.
“Ophelia?” I hear Luke whisper from my left. “Ophelia, there’s something that I must say to you…” His chair grates against the parquet as he slides from the table. He catches my hand, encases it in his own. I can feel the pulse, the rush and recede of blood, from his wrist as he stoops low.
I crane my neck, then my entire torso, so that I’m facing him.
His eyes locked to mine, he begins to lower himself to the floor. He’s kneeling. Before me. Before Raife. Before the entire world.
Instinctively, I rise as my stomach plummets, and it feels as if I’m back on the ship: careening, lurching, not quite there. My hand twitches as I try to lurch away, but Luke’s hand fastens like the suckle of a leech. His brown eyes glisten in the flashing light--a light now that I’m certain only I can comprehend.
“Ophelia,” Luke’s voice strains over my name. He clears his throat, and a certain clarity bounces across his irises. “My Lia. I have witnessed you for the past six years grow from a girl of fragility to a young woman of strength…” his fingers dip into the pocket of his dinner jacket, the ghost of his hand shaking and a little mad. He draws his fist out of the pocket, his right hand never once wavering from my own. “And in you, I have discovered my own urge: to protect, to safeguard, and to heal your wounds.” He unsheathes his grip from mine and cracks open the tiny box. “Ophelia Ravenwood, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
A collective gasp swells the room. I hear chairs shuffle, throats clear, and whispers undulate. “How alarming!” they hiss to one another. “How curious and odd!”
My eyes dart to Raife, whose face is impercitable behind a guise of white light. Violet’s hand snakes around her fiance’s, and their long, unblemished fingers wedge together like a puzzle. So perfect and planned.
I crane my neck toward Luke, whose vacant hand has come up to grip my own as if it’s a life preserver. His eyes clench; my stomach unwinds. The diamond of Luke’s ring, nestled among a square of blue velvet, bursts a million-color flame. As I look upon him, the boy that I’ve known for more than half of my life, the welkin clears and my mind slips into beautiful coherence.
I know what must be done.
The chandelier sways in a slow and rhythmic arc, tossing the light away from Raife. My eyes find his, and a vindictive smile curls across my lips. And while the entire world looks on, I part my mouth to seal my fate. “Yes.”