“Tom. You have to stop hovering. You're driving me mad!” Lily shot him a look that truly expressed her annoyance.
In the two weeks since the incident of their homecoming from their honeymoon he had not left her side for more than a few moments here and there. And from a woman who had enjoyed her independence for so many years, it was grinding her nerves just a bit. Not that she didn't love her husband with all of her heart, she truly did, but he was getting under her feet now and other circumstances with her normal hormonal balance were throwing off her normal pleasantness. She was irritated.
She did understand his need and want to protect her, and she loved him more for it, but there would have to come a time he would have to get over his obsession. She rubbed her temples and begged silently for patience with her husband.
“I just don't think you should be trying to dig up the garden by yourself in your condition.” He came to stand beside her and put his arm around her but she shrugged him off and stepped away.
She glanced back at him and saw the hurt look on his face and instantly regretted her actions. Lily knew how scared he had been the night and day she had been missing, she had been scared too. But her emotions were errant lately and she just wanted to lash out right now. Tom, unfortunately was the only one within distance at the moment.
They stood together in the kitchen of their own gorgeous little home. When Tom had shown it to her for the first time the day after she was released from the hospital, she had cried for three hours straight at the thoughtfulness and effort that had gone into her surprise, and then spent the entire night thanking him for it. She loved it so much though in moments she missed her little house in the village. She had never felt so at home anywhere. It was absolutely perfect for the two of them. And eventually the three of them. Her hand went her stomach at the thought and she smiled. Her husband approached her again with a worried look on his face.
“Are you alright? Is the baby alright?” His hand covered hers. Her momentary feelings of maternal warmth vanished.
“I'm fine Tom. You need to leave me alone just for a minute.” She turned away from him and brushed the stack of papers off the table as she stormed past.
He heard the bedroom door slam a few seconds later and he leaned on the counter and sighed. He couldn't remember Sybil acting this way when they were first married and he was at a loss as to what to do. As he stared out the kitchen window he saw a car driving up the lane and he watched as the vehicle pulled up in his drive. He smiled to himself as he saw his daughter and her cousins get out and laugh at something as they waved to O'Malley. The chauffeur pulled around and drove away.
Tom went to the door and opened it as the three teenagers smiled when they saw him. Sybbie gave him an enormous hug which he returned with great affection. George received a hug as well from his Uncle and Marigold just smiled shyly. Tom greeted her as well.
He noticed the girl had some sun on her face and she was actually smiling. What a change in the months she had been at Downton. Her mother had wanted to take her back to Italy after Tom and Lily's wedding and a rather large quarrel had started amongst the Crawley family because of it. It had eventually come down to someone actually asking Marigold’s opinion on the matter, and the young woman had vehemently insisted that she wanted to remain at Downton Abbey. Cora, Sybbie and Mary had been thrilled, but Edith had been less than so.
“How are you Marigold?” Tom made sure he singled her out and he was delighted that she responded with an actual polite answer.
“I'm fine Uncle Tom. Thank you for asking. Aunt Mary took me out riding this morning and it was wonderful.”
“That's wonderful. Mary will have you racing in no time.” Tom told her and Marigold just smiled.
Tom was glad that Mary was taking an interest in the girl. He felt bad for Marigold. The stigma tied to her about the situation of her birth and early years seemed to affect her more than she let on, but the Crawley family loving her in the way they knew best was transforming Edith's daughter. It was a different time now than it was even fifteen years earlier. And Marigold was as much a member of the family as George or Sybbie were. She was loved and the difference in her was noticeable. Not that her own mother and Antonio didn't love her, but Marigold wanted to know her extended family.
“How are Lily and my baby sister doing?” Sybbie looked around the cottage for a sign of her step-mother.
Tom put his finger over his lips.
“She's having a nap I think. Let's go outside and have sit down there and I'll bring us all out some lemonade. How does that sound?” Tom herded his daughter and his niece and nephew out the door and pointed at the lawn furniture set up under a giant apple tree. “You all go sit, and I'll be out shortly.”
As they went out the door Tom overheard George say to Sybbie,
“This family needs another boy. You don't know it will be a girl for sure.” George shoved her playfully and she swatted his shoulder as they went.
“Well I know that I want a sister more, and so it shall be.”
Tom shook his head and laughed at the conversation as they trailed off across the lawn. Sybbie had been thrilled to find out she was to become a big sister and Tom knew she would be a wonderful one at that. He looked forward to the interaction that would occur over the next few years. Even though there would be an age gap between the siblings, he knew they would be close in other ways.
He prepared a tray with a pitcher and some glasses and he pulled some food out of the icebox. He assumed George would be hungry as he always was these days. The boy had to stop growing eventually. Tom thought he must be taller already than his father had been, not surprising after all, there were tall men on both sides of his family. The poor tailor who was altering his clothes constantly must be making a fortune. Tom thought he must check the books for the invoices, just to see for himself.
He paused for a moment before lifting the tray of goodies from the table. He really should go check on Lily. He stopped himself. She needed a moment and he was sure she was fine in the bedroom. He could give her that.
Tom approached the table in the yard and set down the tray. Sybbie stood up to pour them all a cold drink and George dove into the plate of biscuits. Tom swore his nephew had eaten three of them before he had sat down.
Once they were all sitting comfortably with their drinks in their hands, the conversation paused. They all just sat there.
It was George who broke the silence.
“My Grandfather was asking me to remind you that he needs those papers signed before the end of next week. The estate needs to settle the investment documents before the end of the summer and Grandfather was hoping you had done it. He wants to look them over before we have to send them.” George's icy blue eyes looked almost ashamed to be bringing up business so soon after what Tom and Lily had gone through.
Tom hadn't even started on them.
“I can have them by early next week. I've been...preoccupied. Tell him I apologize.” Tom rattled the ice in his glass and looked at the drink. He felt bad he hadn't been doing his job properly but so much had been going on. Well, truthfully not. He was busy following Lily around. Perhaps she was right, he had been hovering lately. He needed to let her be once in awhile and he made a mental note to try.
“I'll let him know. Thanks Uncle. How is Lily doing? We haven't seen much of her lately.” George reached for another biscuit.
“She's adjusting.” And so am I, thought Tom to himself.
“Another thing I wanted to talk to you about was whether Lily could come see my Grandmother. Granny and my mother are with her this afternoon, but they really want Lily to come and see her. To see if there's anything we could do to... make her more comfortable.” George's expression changed so quickly that Tom stared at him.
The poor lad. The woman who had known Matthew his entire life was fading and her memories were fading as well. What George had already dealt with in his young life, and now this. Everyone adored Cousin Isobel and she had become a constant fixture in their lives for so many years now. Distantly for Tom and Sybbie, but they had both still respected her very much.
Tom could only imagine how hard it was on George to watch his Grandmother deteriorate. Lily would surely have some good ideas. It would also be good for her to get out of the house. Perhaps that would settle her nerves and put her in a better humour. And she would be with people who would keep her safe. It would be alright, Tom thought trying to convince himself.
“I think it would be a great idea for Lily to go visit.” Tom spoke after he realized that he had created an awkward silence by his inner thoughts.
George smiled. And so did Sybbie, Tom noticed out of the corner of his eye.
“Do you think she could come this afternoon with Granny and my mother there?” George looked so relieved.
“I'll have to ask her. But I don't see why not if she's feeling up to it.” Tom twisted his mouth in a feigned attempt to make it seem like he would be fine with letting her out of his sight. He would though. And it would probably do both of them very well. “I can go ask her right now. You all wait here, and don't eat me out of house and home. I'm going to have another mouth to feed soon, and you'll eat me into the poorhouse.”
Tom shook his finger at George and they all laughed. As he walked back up to the house, he barely overheard Sybbie say to George,
“Granny said it would work. Lily needs to start getting back into the world, and hopefully she can help you George.”
Tom realized then how sheltered he had been keeping Lily. And others had noticed. No wonder she had snapped at him. He went through the kitchen, the main sitting room and stopped at their bedroom door, knocking lightly before he opened it a few inches. She was laying on the bed with her back to him. He crept up slowly and dared to lay his hand on her hip.
“What do you want Tom?” She was not asleep, but clearly still annoyed with him.
“George wants to know if you would like to go with him to see Cousin Isobel this afternoon. They want your advice on her care and they would all love to see you.” He kept his hand on her and she rolled over to look at him. He noticed she did look tired.
“Are you going as well?” She half-smiled at him.
“No. I was thinking you might like an afternoon away from me.” He leaned down and dared to kiss her gently on the forehead. She sat up looking less angry with him than she had in days.
“Tell him I would love to. Just give me a few minutes to get ready.” She stood up and hugged her husband.
“I will do that. Take your time sweetheart. There's no rush.” He held her close as long as he dared. He kissed her quickly and winked at her before he left the room. She had kissed him back and he was thrilled.
He went back out to the company in the yard and they enjoyed their beverages with pleasant conversation until Lily joined them. She was running out of dresses that fit her well and had taken some time to make sure she was presentable. Her stomach was expanding quickly now and she suspected she was further along than she originally thought. It must have been a better wedding night than she had first imagined. And she had known it was the best night of her life to that point.
George and Tom stood up as she approached the table in the yard, Sybbie stood up as well and gave her step-mother a kiss on each cheek and dared to rub Lily's tiny belly.
“How is my sister?” Sybbie giggled.
“Making me remarkably tired these days, but I assume well. Thank you for asking.” Lily smiled at Sybbie. “And how are you Marigold?”
The girl smiled to be noticed.
“I'm fine thank you.” Marigold stood up and gave Lily a quick hug, much to the delight of the older woman.
They all sat down again and George explained some of the issues with his Grandmother so Lily knew what to expect. Isobel's memories seemed to be strong of her younger years but were faded and scattered of more recent times. And she constantly thought that George was Matthew and fretted over him.
George expressed his sadness at this, but Lily intervened.
“I know this is hard for you George, but you might consider it an opportunity.” She smiled her blue eyes at the George's.
“How do you mean?” His look was confused.
“You could take it as a wonderful opportunity to get to know your father as he was in his younger years. Cousin Isobel would know better than anyone and you could ask her. Keep what memories she has alive, and get to know your father like you would not have known. I know your mother knew him better than anybody in his later years, but your Grandmother knew him better than everyone else his entire life.” Lily smiled again at the young man.
George thought about it. It was an interesting option that he hadn't considered.
“I just don't want to be a lawyer, and she seems determined that I will be.” George now laughed.
Tom laughed as well as memories of Matthew flooded his brain. George was certainly as outspoken as his father had been, but Tom had never considered that George would follow in his career footsteps.
The all turned their heads to the sound of a car pulling up in front of the garden again. O'Malley had returned for his passengers. The group stood up from the table and made their way to the waiting vehicle. O'Malley was waiting beside the open door and Tom was secretly ecstatic that Lily had taken his hand as they walked across their yard. He held her back for just a second and took a chance to kiss her as the others climbed into the car. He felt her smile as his lips touched hers. He glanced up and saw O'Malley looking at him with a slight smile of the secret he and Tom had about the night the baker had been captured. There were few in the village who knew how the baker had come to be found in front of the pub.
“I love you. Be careful.” He whispered it in her ear. She nodded and got into the backseat with the girls. George jumped in the front seat with O'Malley and the car with all of Tom's most valuable possessions drove off leaving a puff of dust in the drive.
He watched it go and tried to control his anxiety. They would be fine. He would be fine.
He decided to take the afternoon and look over some of the papers that were sitting, now messed up after he had picked them up, on their kitchen table. He sat down at the table prepared to concentrate but found he could not. Thoughts of his wife dominated his mind and he could not focus. He decided that perhaps he would go for a walk so he would have an excuse to do nothing but think.
His destination was Downton Abbey and as he walked down the lane it wasn't long before he saw a man with a cane walking towards him. He recognized Bates and once they were within distance to be heard by one another they greeted each other just a little awkwardly.
“How is Lily?” Bates asked after briefly shaking Tom's hand.
“She is doing well. You know she is expecting now right?” Tom told the valet.
“I had heard. Congratulations. Children are such a wonderful addition.” Bates had a faraway look in his eye.
Both men thought of their daughters and knew that was the truth. And they both knew how lucky they were that their daughters were still with them.
“How is Emma doing these days? I haven't seen her in quite some time.” Tom asked.
“She is the strongest little girl that I have ever met. She is thriving despite....” He left the words unspoken. The two men had never really spoken directly after the accident. “There's been something I have been meaning to say to you, but the occasion has never arose.”
Tom looked curious.
“I want to apologize for the accident.” Bates spoke firmly. Tom was shocked. It was not at all what he had expected to hear.
“I'm sorry?” was all Tom was able to spit out.
“I had told Emma and Lena dozens of time to be careful on the roads. If they hadn’t been playing in the middle of the road, Miss Sybbie never would have hit Emma. And the car wouldn't have crashed into that tree.”
Tom was really shocked now.
“I always thought you blamed Sybbie for the accident. She is terrified of you and feels horrible for causing it.”
“It wouldn't have happened if my girls had not been in the middle of the road coming around that bend.” Bates thought for a second. “And perhaps I did blame her at first, well George first, but in time I realized what had happened and I was too ashamed by my behaviour to speak with either of you. Master George and I have made our amends but its been troubling me for some time that I can never repay you for donating your blood to Emma that night. I will forever be in your debt.” Tom could have sworn there was a tear in the eye of the older, often stern, man.
“You owe me nothing. After you caught the baker, we are even. We have no debts between us.” Tom was earnest with his words.
Bates extended his hand to Tom, and the former chauffeur shook it firmly.
“Thank you Bates. Sybbie will be relieved that you aren't out to get her.” A slight chuckle from Tom broke the serious moment.
“I just thought that she despised me, so I have kept my distance. I owe an apology to her as well.”
“No you don't. What happened that day is in the past, we all came together in the end and did what we had to do. Sybbie was driving and Emma was playing on the road. Can we call it a draw? No one was to blame? It was just a horrible accident that happened?”
Bates thought about it.
“I could agree to that. Friends then?” The old valet made no mention of the baker.
The two men cemented their agreement by another handshake and spoke for a few more minutes while standing on the road. Tom eventually bid his pardon by explaining he had to go to the estate for some matters and Bates continued his casual stroll to wherever he had originally been going. Both of them felt better about each other and were glad for the random encounter.
Tom continued on to Downton and found no one there except for staff when he arrived so he turned right back around and went home. The walk did him well though. By the time he reached his and Lily's cottage he felt refreshed and relaxed. His mind had not been dwelling on Lily and whether or not she was safe and he felt the fresh air fill him with energy.
He sat at the kitchen table and managed to get through a rather large stack of the paperwork he had been avoiding until that afternoon. He felt good finally. Better.
He hadn't even realized how much time had passed and he didn't hear a car pull up so he was startled when Lily came in the kitchen door. He watched her as she took off her light summer wrap and hung it on the hook. When she looked at him, he just smiled. She smiled back. They said nothing at first.
Lily went behind him where he sat and rubbed his shoulders, digging her thumbs into the muscles that had been so tense for weeks now. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation. They both spoke at the same time.
“I'm sorry.” And they both laughed.
She leaned her mouth close to his ear and tenderly kissed the skin behind it, knowing how it made him shiver when she breathed on his neck. She kissed him a few more times on the neck and continued to massage his shoulders.
“Have you had dinner yet?” He asked her with his eyes closed, trying to quash the need that was growing in him.
She whispered in his ear, her breath was hot and he visibly shivered to feel it,
“I have not.” Her hands went from his shoulders and she wrapped her arms around his chest from behind and she rested her chin on his shoulder so that their cheeks touched.
“What would you like?” He smelled her perfume and closed his eyes again.
She took her arms away and stood up, he turned his head to see where she was going. She grabbed his hand, pulled him up and he felt himself crashing into her lips. He only hesitated a moment until he was a very willing participant in her actions. She stopped long enough to say one word to him.
She pulled him towards the bedroom with a coy smile. He followed very willingly and as she fumbled with the buttons on his shirt he dared to say to her,
“Is this what happens when you get a chance to miss me?”
“Apparently.” She gave up on the buttons and pulled his shirt over his head and then they were both too lost in each other to say any more.
Life was perfect.