by Kay Em
Disclaimer: The characters, alas, are not mine. They belong to Fox. But once I got the idea, I just had to write it down. For the non-musicians among you,the title means 'Return to the beginning – with passion' and spelling is in English English (not American English), 'cos that's where I am and that's how I write. Constructive feedback and comments welcome. Thanks! email@example.com
From his seat at the fundraising dinner's top table, Charles had a good view of the people taking their places at the other tables. Most of the Boston Symphony players were there, along with spouses or current romantic interest - so it shouldn't really have surprised him to see a very familiar face taking her seat at Table 3.
"You didn't tell me she'd be here," he said to Honoria, who was seated on his left.
"Who...? Oh! Well, of course – I m...mean, she still p...plays second violin, why w...wouldn't she be here?"
The woman Charles was staring at looked up, as though aware of his gaze on her, and as her eyes met his, he saw her mouth form an 'O'. She dropped into the chair her partner was holding ready for her, and looked away from Charles, busying herself unnecessarily with straightening the cutlery in front of her.
"Charles, for Heaven's sake, s...stop staring!" hissed Honoria, "Honestly, it's been three years, and at least h...half-a-dozen women that I know about. I thought you were over her."
Charles bit his lip. "So did I." His mouth felt dry, and he poured himself a glass of water, spilling some of it in the process because he seemed to be unaccountably shaking all of a sudden.
Dammit! How could she still have this effect on him after all this time?
Another glance told him the answer to that. Eloise Morrell was still the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. His stomach gave a little lurch as he watched her laugh, remembering how she used to laugh with him, and how it had felt to kiss that mouth.
"Who's that she's with?" He was barely aware that he'd spoken the question aloud till Honoria answered him.
"Her cousin, George. She's been d...dragging assorted cousins to these things for a c...couple of years now. Ever since she gave Jonathan the heave-ho." She paused. "You r...remember she gave him the push? I wrote you?"
"I remember. I don't know why you thought I'd care." This wasn't doing him any good; he had to find something – anything – else to talk about. Spotting one of the trumpet players at the next table, Charles pretended an interest in the man's family. He could see by the look on Honoria's face that he wasn't fooling her for a moment, but at least she went along with it. All he had to do now was figure out how to steer clear of Eloise for the rest of the evening.
Once the dancing got under way, Charles dutifully took his sister, his mother and then the wife of the Director of Music onto the floor – though at every step he was acutely aware of exactly where the woman in the emerald-green dress was. The music was starting to get to him too, and when the orchestra struck up a Mozart serenade, he had to go outside to get some fresh air. The sun was setting over the harbour, and he strolled to the far end of the terrace, leaned against the wooden balustrade that ran around its edge, and drank in the sheer beauty – and peace - of the view.
He spun around, clutching at the rail behind him for support as he realised who it was.
"Eloise. I was just...uh...going..."
"No you weren't. You only just got out here." She took a step closer and Charles realised the balustrade prevented him from backing away. Not that he really wanted to.
"You've been avoiding me all night," she said, handing him one of the fluted glasses of champagne she was carrying. "Not that I blame you, I guess, but... well, now you're back, we can't avoid each other for ever. Can't we talk at least? Like two grown-up, civilised human beings?"
"I suppose so." Charles took a sip of champagne, and turned back to look over the harbour again as Eloise moved to stand beside him, leaning her elbows on the railing.
"I guess Honoria told you that I broke off my engagement to Jonathan," she said.
"Seems to be something you make a habit of." He knew he shouldn't have been so cutting, but he couldn't help himself.
"I guess I deserved that," she said, her gaze fixed firmly on her champagne glass. "When you joined up and went off to Tokyo, your mother said it was my fault. Was it?"
"I didn't join up. I was drafted."
"And it didn't occur to you to buy your way out of it? Jonathan did."
"Now, why doesn't that surprise me?"
She looked up at him, and he couldn't help but look back. "Did you really go because of me?" she asked.
"Don't flatter yourself," he lied, tearing his gaze away from her questioning hazel eyes.
"I wouldn't, except that I've still got the bruises from where your sister hit me with the Boston Globe," she said, "The one that said 'Captain Winchester leaves for Tokyo' on the Society page."
"You got off lightly," said Charles, unable to suppress his smile, "She was going to hit you with her 'cello, till she decided it wasn't worth wasting a perfectly good Strad on you."
Eloise giggled, and Charles found himself laughing with her – till the moment their eyes locked again.
"You...you'd better go back in, your cousin will be looking for you," he said, quietly.
"No, he won't." This time, it was Eloise who looked away first. "Are you coming to the concert next week?" she asked, changing the subject.
He shook his head. "No. You're playing Mozart."
"But you love Mozart!"
"Not any more. That's why I had to come out just now." He drained his champagne and put the glass down on the rail. "We had some POWs in the camp, the last weeks of the war. Five of the Chinese were musicians and I tried to teach them Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. They played it for me from the back of the truck as they were driven off to a proper POW facility." He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before continuing: "They got blown to pieces. When I hear Mozart, all I see is a dying flautist with his chest ripped open."
"Oh, God! Charles, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..."
She began to cry and he automatically stepped closer. "Don't..."
"But it's all my fault! If I hadn't hurt you so much..." She was fumbling with the clasp of her bag, presumably in search of a handkerchief, and he handed her his. "No wonder you hated me."
"Hated you? I could never hate you! The best I could do was try to forget you. Though I'd cheerfully have shot Jonathan."
She managed a tremulous smile at that, blew her nose and wiped her eyes. "You haven't asked me why I didn't marry him."
"Why should I care?" And why am I pretending I don't? he thought.
"I realised I'd made a mistake," she said, so softly he almost couldn't hear her. "When I heard you'd been posted to Korea, and I realised you could get killed, while Jonathan was snug and safe in his job at the Governor's office..." She shook her head. "I couldn't marry him when I still cared so much about you."
Charles, aching to hold her, distracted himself by pulling a spare hanky from his trouser pocket and gently wiping away the mascara that had run down her face. "Why didn't you write me?"
"I couldn't," she whispered, "I thought you'd blame me for...for being stuck in a war zone thousands of miles from home. I didn't think you'd want to be reminded of me. I thought you'd have found someone... I thought..." She stopped, as Charles tilted her chin up and brushed the handkerchief across her cheek one last time before putting it back in his pocket. "I thought..." she said again, touching Charles' hand, which was still under her chin.
"Don't think," he murmured, leaning down to touch his lips to hers. "Eloise..."
She tasted of champagne and smelled of Spring. Her satin gown rustled as Charles pulled her into his arms, and through the material he could feel the warmth of her body as she pressed against him, her arms sliding around him as she returned his kiss with Interest added.
When Charles finally summoned the willpower to tear his lips from hers, the sun had disappeared over the horizon, along with the last of his defences. "I love you," he murmured, holding her close as she rested her head against his shoulder.
"I love you too," she whispered, "I'm sorry, I don't know why I ever doubted it. I..."
"Shh." He silenced her with another kiss. "It doesn't matter. Not now." He smiled down into her eyes. "What are you doing on Wednesday?"
"Wednesday?" She looked bemused. "Nothing I can't cancel, I guess. Why?"
"Because I want to marry you."
She goggled at him. "On Wednesday? Are you crazy?"
"Yes," he said, "Crazy about you. Marry me."
She fingered the lapels of his dinner jacket as though considering her answer, but her smile told him what he wanted to know. "There won't be time to issue invitations," she said, "So we'd better go back inside and tell everyone."
"Is that a yes?" he grinned.
"Not sure," she teased, "Kiss me again while I think about it."
"Take your time," he murmured, just before his mouth found hers again, "I will..."