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Elizabeth wondered if she could come back here, if she could find a way to live in this house and make it something that her mother would be proud of. It belonged to her father but he clearly wasn’t using it and she thought about whether there was a way to take it from him. Perhaps if she could prove to the bank that she could afford the home herself and that her father couldn’t be trusted with the property due to his gambling, they would sign it over to her, especially since the home would technically be hers if anything happened to her father. Perhaps that was something Matthew could help her decide. For now, he was pulling her into a hug and he was reassuring her that her mother would be far from disappointed. She could try to make things right and then perhaps she wouldn’t feel so guilty.
After a minute she pulled back from him, not to separate from their embrace but simply to lift her head and look at him when he spoke of her business. [b “I took what I learned from you and made something of myself. Kent is surprisingly more accepting of women in work and business because of the war.”] She sighed at his question, unsure of what to say but she knew that ultimately, it wouldn’t be her rationality that decided what would happen next.
[b “My heart belongs with you, wherever that may be.”]
Matthew shook his head, pulling her into another hug. [b “No.. of course you haven’t. Your father let her down. She would’ve wanted you to start your own business as a woman in this world, Elizabeth. She would’ve wanted the most for you. She wouldn’t want you to stay here forever in misery. I know that.”] Placing another kiss on her head, he finally thought on where she’d ran off to. Kent... it wasn’t all that far away, but it was drastically different. It was more urbanized than their small town. It was probably the reason she found a place there to set up shop. Considering it as he held her, Matthew finally looked down into her eyes.
[b “You never told me what this business is in... despite all of that, are you willing to return here? Kent is so different. Or is that where your heart is set?”] He questioned, but he knew some men would reject a woman running a business. However, women were working now more than ever since the war, and he would always hold her hand through the process. There was one thing holding him to the town, and that was Elaine. Just like Elizabeth promised her mother to look after the home, Matthew promised his first look after his sister. Elizabeth knew that just as well as he went to work putting together some things they could salvage.
That ring around her neck had brought her comfort in the darkest of times. When Matthew was away at war it remained upon her finger most of the time, unless her father happened to be home and then she would hide it from him, not ready to admit that she had fallen in love, knowing he would not have accepted in in the first instance. When she finally worked up the courage to tell him that she was engaged to be married to a wonderful man the moment he returned from war it stayed upon her finger, even after she received the news of his death, right up until the day she had finally agreed to become Andrew’s wife. Then it took up residence upon a necklace that was long enough to make sure that it stayed above her heart always.
She breathed in deeply and when she heard Matthew’s voice she felt at peace again, releasing the jewellery after realising that her knuckles had become white with how tight she had been grasping it. [b “I...I’m alright. I just... I wish I could have kept my promise to my mother. She loved this house and I [i promised] her I would look after it. Just look at it now...I failed her.”] Elizabeth held back the tears that threatened at her eyes as she glanced back towards Matthew.
[b “I am letting her down. I let her down the moment I left.”] She realised then that she hadn’t even answered his question before. [b “Kent...I went to Kent. That’s where my business is now.”]
The toll serious gambling had taken on the house was evident. Matthew remembered several of the more expensive pieces of art or vases that had once hung on the wall but were now missing, all to fulfill an addiction. It was sad truly. Matthew never met the man. He’d never seen him return to Elizabeth after her mother’s passing, and he also never forgave the old man. He didn’t even care if he raised the best thing that had ever happened to him. The man was still a pathetic mess. Matthew squeezes her hand gently, sighing. [b “I think he’s glad I haven’t met him either. I don’t know if I could hold back my temper after all he’s done to you and your family.”]
Matthew was still surveying the room, trying to decide what they could use. If she did not want to live in the miserable place anymore, he should at least sell as much of the furniture or collectibles that she did not want to benefit them rather than go as a waste to gambling. Matthew was about to ask she about a certain vase when he looked down to her, realizing she’d gone quiet. The hand not joined to his had gone to what looked like a necklace around her neck, clutching something.
Matthew watched her a moment then spoke, [b “Are you alright? If you just point to what you want, I don’t mind doing all the work.”] He said, thinking she may not want to venture into her mother’s old room again, understandably. He’d moved Elaine and himself out of their childhood home for the same reason.
Elizabeth didn’t know what to do really but she knew that she couldn’t allow him to walk out of her life again. She had been broken hearted on more than one occasion and she was sure, now more than ever, that he carried and piece of her heart with his and hers was not complete without him by her side. If she had to give up her business and move back, she would but she knew that things wouldn’t be thing simple. Matthew was not like other men and she knew that he would take pride in what she had managed to achieve for herself based on what he has taught her. He would encourage her in any way he could but he was right, now was not the time to think about those things. They couldn’t make hasty decisions stood out on the street outside her former home.
Elizabeth nodded towards him and took hold of his hand, more than willing to accept his help. This would have been the first time he actually set foot inside her home, or what was left of it. As they stepped inside it was clear that her father had continued to gamble, some of their more expensive belongings no longer in their rightful place. She just hoped that her mother’s things remained untouched in her room. Elizabeth couldn’t take anymore heartache.
[b “I don’t understand what happened to him.”] She said as she looked around at the shell of a house, items tossed to the side as though they were worth nothing, to him they were. He needed items that could buy him into the next game or something he could sell to pay off debts. He was a sad excuse for a man. [b “I’m so glad that you never have to meet him.”] She said as she let out a soft sigh, her hand moving to the chain around her neck as she closed her fist around what lay just above her heart: the ring Matthew had given her when he asked her to marry him. She never took it off.
Matthew laughed finally, his smile broadening into that boyish half smirk he was known for. Her light kiss on his nose remained like a feather as she spoke, and his eyes lit up. With his arms still wrapped around her, Matthew then took one of her hands in his, lightly playing with her fingers. Bringing her hand up to his lips, he placed soft kisses all over them. [b “With these beautiful hands, I am not surprised. Tell me where is this business of yours? Perhaps you could move it back here... maybe we could join forces? Think about it. We can open our own storefront in time.”] Matthew spoke, suddenly thinking on all the possibilities.
If anyone had seen their passion from the street, he could care less. Matthew had gone far too long without his girl. The soldier was more gentle with her than he was with almost anyone else and more honest too. [b “You don’t have to live here again. I know so much has happened. I’ll help you find somewhere else...”] He worded, trying to find ways they could continue. [b “We will find a way, beautiful. Don’t worry.”] Pressing a soft kiss on the top of her head, Matthew hugged her a while longer before leading her into the house.
[b “Allow me to help you retrieve the items you wanted inside before we think of anything else.”] Matthew took a look around the place he’d been avoiding. It was empty now. A shell of what it used to be. She needed to move on from this place at least, and he was going to help her do that as much as possible.
It it was up to Elizabeth, she never would have pulled away from that kiss, just wanting to feel his lips on hers for the rest of her life. He had always been so good and pouring him emotion into them and she was glad to see that hadn’t changed. He was holding her close and with every movement of their lips, she felt his love for her and she hoped that he could feel the same from her. She [i needed] him to understand that everything she said was true and that she couldn’t live without him, regardless of the decisions the two of them had made to go their separate ways. She could see now that she had made a mistake and she could tell that he felt the same way because of the way he kissed her.
They remained that way until they needed oxygen. Neither one of them seemed to care for the fact that they were in the middle of the street and that anyone could see their public display of affection. It didn’t matter to her, the whole world could see for all she cared. She wanted everyone to know that she loved this man. When they finally parted they remained close, showing affections in other ways. Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile towards him, eyes trained in his as he promised never to let her go.
[b “You are the only man to ever say such ridiculous things.”] She chuckled slightly and kissed his nose. [b “Where do we go from here Matthew? I...I have a business now...one that you would be so very proud of!”]
He didn’t really hear his name. He felt like he was underwater. It was like all his senses slowed, and he was moving in slow motion. For all he knew, he wouldn’t ever see the woman again. Matthew thought that was the last time Elizabeth would enter his life. But she surprised him... she was always surprising him. Before Matthew could walk out of her life, Elizabeth’s soft hand grabbed onto his, using his momentum to swing herself in front of him. [i “I haven’t moved on. I can’t.”] She spoke, and, before Matthew could say anything, she kissed him. Closing his eyes, Matthew just stopped everything and brought his hand to her hair, pressing his lips back against hers as lovingly as possible. There were no more words he could use. In one move, he brought his arms around her body and drew her closer.
When Elizabeth was near to him, he felt like there was no safer or happier place in the world. Matthew held the kiss as long as possible until their lungs would burst. Pulling back barely, he nudged her nose with his own and leaned his forehead against hers. Chest heaving in the air, Matthew pulled her in as tightly in his embrace as he could. [b “I never want to let you go...”] He whispered and placed another soft kiss on her lips.
Matthew knew they weren’t perfect. Well, he knew [i he] wasn’t perfect. Moving one hand up, he tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and admired her gorgeous face in the light. [b “Has anyone ever told you that you look really hot standing right there?”]
Elizabeth wasn’t saying that she didn’t want to be with him but she felt lost. She couldn’t ask him to leave his business or his sister to be with her, she wouldn’t. She didn’t think he would be willing to leave his town to be with her and there was no way he was going to ask him either, she didn’t have the right to do that. Elizabeth had a business to run now and she sure as hell didn’t want to give that up which put her in a really complicated situation. They were still in love with each other, that much was obvious but they needed to talk about how they could possibly make things work if they were to commit to that love.
Hearing him say that she had moved on pulled at her heart. That was so far from the truth. She hadn’t moved on, she couldn’t. Yes, she had set up her own business and had managed to move into a house with a lovely woman but she hadn’t moved on from him. He still plagued her thoughts every second of the day. That was why she had even bothered starting her own business like his in the first place. If she really concentrated she could feel him behind her, showing her the movements she needed to take or just holding her as though he needed an excuse to be close to her.
Before she knew it he was walking away from her and she felt her heart leaving with him. It couldn’t end like this, she wouldn’t let it. [b “Matthew!”] She would have ran to catch up with him if she needed to. She needed him and she couldn’t let him go. When Elizabeth was close enough she reached out to take his hand and pulled herself in front of him. [b “I haven’t moved on. I can’t.”] With that she kissed him, wanting nothing more than to show him how she had never stopped loving him in the eighteen months that the war had put between them.
Matthew looked at Elizabeth, waiting for her response with baited breath. Again, her lips worded his name, a sound and sight he’d never get used to hearing. The news wasn’t as good as he had hoped. She was still fighting him. She was still stubborn... Matthew felt his spirits falling. Again, his thoughts were confirmed. She wanted to leave this town forever. Elizabeth had had her fill here. She was moving on. Matthew still did not know about her starting her own business. If he had, the former soldier would have felt his heart resting more at ease. If he wasn’t able to hold her in his arms again or be with her, he at least could sleep at night knowing he granted her the skills to make her own life in the way she desired.
Matthew’s heart fell, and his eyes lowered from hers. Suddenly, he felt unsteady on his feet. One hand went to the porch railing that lined the steps up to the door, clutching it before he spoke again, the defeat evident in his deep voice. [b “I understand... You’ve moved on. Of course, you are free to choose how you wish to live your life, Elizabeth.”] Matthew then brought his eyes back to hers, taking in every last little detail on her beautiful face, now lined with some aging marks after all the stress he’d put her through.
[b “If you truly feel as if I speak these words to you out of pure guilt, then perhaps you do not know me at all. Know this... There is not one passing moment I do not regret going to war and not staying here with you. And there is not one passing moment today that I do not think of you. Never think that I do not love you. I know now that I will love you until the end of time.”] He spoke then turned, slowly putting one foot in front of the other. She didn’t want this anymore. He had to respect that. Matthew couldn’t hide a tear from forming then. He may never see her again... But he would accept that hell if it meant she was happy.
It was true that Matthew had proposed to her and gave her a ring but that was before everything had changed, before the war had taken Matthew from her but then brought him back. She had spent the year feeling so emotionally drained that she didn’t know what to feel anymore. She had been so prepared to give up her life to be with Matthew and she had spent so many times planning what their life would be like every day until that telegram arrived; the day everything had changed. Suddenly there was no plan anymore, he was just gone and she remained locked in her room for days. Not even Helen could coax her out of there regardless of how many times she tried. She sat there reading over the very few letters that Matthew had been able to send at the beginning of the war, hoping that she would wake up from her nightmare.
He stepped closer to her then and the familiar scent of him found her. He always smelled so good, mixed with the smell of his workshop. It brought back so many happy memories, memories that she wanted to continue making with him but she didn’t know where the two could go from here. Yet here he stood before her claiming that he still wanted her to be his wife regardless of the fact his words had been so harsh as they had stood in her garden all those months ago.
[b “Matthew, I...”] Words failed her for a moment, not really knowing what to say to him. Was he proposing all over again? [b “I can’t keep living my life knowing that you are here and unhappy but I don’t want you to be saying these things out of guilt. I don’t want that. I can’t have that.”] She wiped at her eyes. [b “This place, it’s not my home anymore. I can’t come back here...”]
Matthew’s heart sank. He had never been so sure of his feelings than in that moment, looking upon her beautiful face, even with tears streaming down it. He had truly changed. Matthew was not the same man she spilled water on when Helen pushed her into him all those months ago. It felt like forever had passed. War happened. Andrew happened. Heartbreak happened. Matthew always thought he was strong enough to always be alone and take care of Elaine. He’d always thought that, until Elizabeth showed him all he was missing. Matthew didn’t know what more to say. His chest tightened like an anaconda was squeezing the life force out of him. What else could he say? No amount of words could truly make her forgive him. His words were harsh when he returned to her admittance that she was engaged due to Andrew’s manipulation. Matthew hadn’t even listened, just acting out of anger and irrationality as he always did. It was starting to look like he was much too late.
Matthew was trying to stay composed as the big, burly, war veteran of a man he was. Inside, however, he was starting to break down. Finally, he found some strength inside to will him to move, his large strides taking him slightly closer to Elizabeth, stopping at the foot of the porch stairs. He didn’t want to scare her off, but she needed to hear him... [b “That’s just it, Elizabeth. I don’t just want you. I need you. How the hell can you stand there and say you don’t know what I want from you? I gave you a ring... I proposed to you. I want to marry you, Elizabeth. I want you to be my wife. How else do you want me to say it? Because I’ll stand here on your porch as long as you want me to, just waiting for the chance to repair things with you. I would wait here until I have no days left.”]
There were things she had planned to do with her day, things she [i needed] to do in order to be rid of this town for ever and in no version of her plans had she predicted that she would have bumped into Matthew. He should have been working in his workshop or even in a pub knowing him but instead he was here, walking along the street where she used to live at the exact moment that she had returned to it so she could merely empty some of the things and bring them to her new life so that she had something of her mother’s to hold on to.
This had put a wrench in her plan and it was certainly causing her more heartache because she had not prepared for this. She had been doing just fine without him but now that she was looking upon his face she didn’t know how she would be able to leave him and pretend like she didn’t have a hole in her heart when she was apart from him.
Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat as her spoke, seemingly admitting that he had made a mistake and that he should have listened to her but it was his final sentence that had her close to tears. [b “I...I don’t know what you want from me Matthew.”] Elizabeth had a business of her own now and she was starting a life somewhere, she wasn’t sure what he was asking of her. [b “I thought you didn’t want me...”]
Matthew still didn’t move. Elizabeth had almost made her way into the safe retreat of her old home before she stopped at his words. They halted her like a stop sign would a car. She was one more step from a life without him. But she turned around. His words struck a nerve. They always seemed to. Matthew and Elizabeth could get to each other like no one else could. Matthew was sure she didn’t want this or him anymore by any means. She just had to say that, and she was Homebound. Elizabeth wasn’t following though. She looked him dead in the eyes, finally letting go of the door handle to turn and face him again.
Tension locked his jaw a moment before he felt that same rush of warmth that her words gave him. She [i never] stopped loving him. [i But she had tried.] Matthew had tried too since the minute she left. He tried to tell himself she was better without him, and she damn well may have been. Matthew was an imperfect man though, and he selfishly wanted her to himself, even if he may not deserve her love.
It wasn’t ended as loving though. It was clear Elizabeth was still angry and hurting from their last encounter. Hell, he was too. He never really got over it. Finally, Matthew spoke, [b “I was wrong. You know that... I’m always wrong. I didn’t listen when you were telling me that Andrew gave you no choice. He blackmailed you into accepting his proposal, and I will forever regret leaving you here with that snake. But, damn Elizabeth, I can’t do this without you. I tried getting over you too. I tried moving on every way possible, but you have me wrapped around your finger. I’ve lost so much... I don’t want to lose you too.”]
Matthew wasn’t even sure she’d listen. She probably wouldn’t. Elizabeth would most likely pass it off as a last minute excuse to try and pull her back. But he meant every word. It was up to her to either turn in the house and slam the door on him, leave the whole town forever, or maybe she’d surprise him. There was no telling what she’d do.
It almost broke her heart all over again to have him this close to her, knowing that he was no longer hers to fall into. She would have given anything to simply drop her hand from the door handle and fall into his arms instead, taking back everything that had passed between them only to restart and try to live their lives together like they had promised before the war had come along to change everything. Elizabeth knew that everything would have been so different if Matthew had never left for war but she would never have asked him to stay to be subjected to the comments of cowardice by those left behind. She had seen what people had done to men who had refused to fight.
Just as she was about to step into why had one been her home, his voice had stopped her once more and she looked towards him as he asked his question. How could he possibly believe that she did not love him? She had told him that she did the moment he had returned from war. It was why she had been so honest about what had come to pass in his absence. He was the one who walked away from this, she just ran from Andrew and gave herself a chance to start over knowing that Matthew didn’t want anything to do with her.
A frown formed upon her face. [b “How could you even say such a thing? I don’t love you...that’s absurd.”] She shook her head and let go of the door to face him. [b “There is nothing in this world that could ever make me stop loving you. Lord knows I have tried. When you were dead and again when you made it perfectly clear how disgusted you were with me when you returned to me.”]
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