Early April, 1938
“One foot in front of the other. That's right. You can do this.”
Lily encouraged Sybbie as she attempted on her own, with the aid of two canes, to walk herself to the end of the room and back. She was doing wonderfully and Lily did not hesitate to tell her so.
The smile on the girl's face lit up the room as she grew more confident with each step. She stumbled once and Lily, who was standing in front of her facing her as she went, reached out but Sybbie caught herself and kept going. She had been making incredible progress in the past few weeks and everyone was proud of her. Her independence was growing and her attitude was improving with the goals she was meeting.
She was starting to be the outgoing, joyful, fun-loving Sybbie that everyone had known her to be before the accident. The darkness of her face was fading with the only exception being if Anna or Bates happened to walk past her. Anna always smiled and said hello, but Bates would give her a strange look and usually keep going.
Sybbie understood why he would hate her. No one could convince her that he didn't and she accepted that it would be this way. Poor little Emma had lost her arm because of Sybbie's recklessness. Tom and Lily had spoken to her so many times about the accident, and the strange outcome that it had yielded for the entire family, but Sybbie would never give up the guilt that Emma had been so permanently injured from that day. And that her Cousin George had been so badly hurt as well.
Sybbie made her way back to the chair that had been her starting point and Lily helped her sit back down comfortably.
“How do you feel?” Lily leaned down to her and was looking deeply into Sybbie's eyes to see how she was truly feeling.
“It hurts a little, but it's not bad. I did it!” Sybbie's eyes shone with her pride.
“Yes you did. Do you need a tablet or are you fine?” Lily's smile matched Sybbie's.
“I'll be okay. Thank you Lily. I'm so glad you're here. I couldn't do this without you. Even when I'm being difficult you are so kind to me.” Sybbie giggled.
“You're not that bad.” Lily laughed as well. “I once was working with and older man who had an issue, and he liked to take a swing at me when he was mad at me. I'm glad you've never done that, let me tell you.”
Both of them laughed together as Lily made sure Sybbie was comfortable. She handed Sybbie a book and told her when she was finished reading it they could discuss it. Lily was trying to get Sybbie interested in something. Once she was up and about, she would have to make some decisions about what she was going to do with her life. Lily and Tom had spoken at length about it, and they had decided to let Sybbie choose her own path, but she would have to take one eventually. Tom didn't want his daughter to become too spoiled living back at Downton, but he didn't want her to have as much freedom as he had given her in Boston either.
Tom and Lily decided they would encourage Sybbie to do whatever she wished as long as she stayed out of trouble while doing it.
Sybbie took the book and flipped it over in her hands. She smiled back at Lily and thanked her. 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. She didn't have the heart to tell Lily that her father had read this book to her a dozen times when she was younger. She would read it again. Especially when Lily told her it was one of her personal favourites. Sybbie smiled to herself. It was her favourite too. And her dad's.
“I can't wait. Thank you.” Sybbie was grateful. Her smile turned teasing. “Maybe soon I can read it to my little sister.”
Lily blushed and Sybbie noticed. The nurse sat on Sybbie's bed and looked at her ward. Eventually she smiled slightly.
“Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're not even married yet, your father and I.” Lily tried to be serious.
“I know. But it's only a few weeks away and the way you two can't keep your hands off each other it won't take long.” Sybbie grinned at her soon-to-be step-mother.
“And what do you know of all that.” Lily questioned her boldly and watched as Sybbie looked away from her for a moment.
“I know enough. I have no personal experience if that's what you're wondering. But I know things.” The younger girl confided in Lily.
Lily was actually glad that she had volunteered the information. She and Tom had spoken about the man that Sybbie was rumoured to have been seeing back in Boston and Tom wanted to know everything, but he had no idea how to ask his daughter. He had begged Lily to try to get the information out of her, but it had never come up, until now. Lily thought about how relieved Tom would be to find this out.
“Well, I'm sure you know better than to throw away a gift like that.” Lily tried to be maternal to the girl, but it was all so new to her as well.
“I know. But I definitely know where babies come from. And I'm just saying it. I want a baby sister.” Sybbie laughed.
Lily rolled her eyes.
She would never confide it to Sybbie, but the thought of having a child terrified her. After what happened to Sybil, what if something similar happened to her? It would destroy Tom completely and she did not want to be the one responsible for that.
She had witnessed hundreds of babies being born with her time as being a nurse, and most of them had gone off without a hitch. But there was always that chance and because it had already happened to Tom and Sybbie, Lily was afraid of the history repeating.
“We'll cross that bridge when we get there.” Lily stood up, went to Sybbie and leaned down to give the girl a hug. “You did great today. I'm proud of you.”
Sybbie looked so happy.
“Thank you Lily. For everything.” And she meant it.
“If you're alright for a while, I have to go see your Grandmother and Mrs. Bates about a dress fitting. I can send Marigold to be with you, or you can just read. Whichever you like.” Lily approached the door and turned back, waiting for Sybbie's response.
“If you see Marigold, I would love to see her, but if she's busy, I'll be quite alright.” Sybbie held up the book and smiled.
Lily had noticed that a good friendship was starting between the girls. She was happy for them. Marigold had a mouth on her, but she wasn't a bad person. Lily felt pity for her. The young girl just wanted to be noticed by those she loved. Her family. And she had a strange way of getting attention, but Lily saw that Marigold was starting to come out of her shell a bit.
“I will see you for dinner then.” Lily waved her hand in good bye and closed the door quietly behind her as she left.
She went down the hall a bit and noticed that Marigold was lingering around the large room that connected some other hallways of the main floor of the house. She held a sketchbook under her arm and looked like she was lost. Or bored. It was hard to tell.
“Marigold! Hello. How are you this afternoon?” Lily smiled warmly at the girl and greeted her happily when Marigold turned around.
“I'm fine thanks. Is Sybbie asleep?” Marigold's brown curls bounced when she spun around and Lily noticed how pretty her hair looked that day. She told her so and Marigold beamed.
“No. She's just in her room. She would love to see you if you're not up to anything.” Lily noticed that Marigold shifted her sketchbook under her arm. “Have you done any new drawings lately?”
Marigold was quite pleased by Lily asking.
“I have. One of the horses in the pasture. Do you want to see it?” She was sure Lily had no time to see her silly little drawing, she was very busy.
“I would love to.” Lily waited while Marigold opened her book and found the page she desired and held the book up her. She gasped. “This is absolutely beautiful! You have an amazing talent.”
The picture was a perfect likeness of one of the big roans owned by the estate. The shading and the detail were exquisite and Lily was open-mouthed in amazement.
“Do you really think it's good?” Marigold turned the book back towards herself and looked again at the picture with a new sight.
“It's wonderful. You should go show Sybbie. She would love to see it.” Lily wanted to hug the girl, but she wasn't sure yet.
Marigold smiled at her and practically skipped down the hall towards Sybbie's room.
Lily kept going through the house and up the grand staircase towards the room that she had been summoned to appear at when she had some spare time. She knocked gently on the door and listened as Countess Grantham beckoned her in.
Mrs. Bates and Cora were standing over the bed with a billowy white satin dress laid out before them. Lily entered the room and they welcomed her affectionately.
“Oh good, You're here. We need you to try this on, Anna has some final modifications to make and we want to see how it looks on you.” Cora took Lily's arm and led her towards the bed.
Lily was speechless at the beautiful dress that was being made specifically for her. She stared at it, and dared to run her hand across the soft fabric. It felt like heaven on her fingertips.
“It's beautiful. I can't believe you did this for me.” Lily turned towards the two women in her presence and hugged them each in turn with tears in her eyes.
“Oh stop. It's not even finished yet. Now come, take off your dress and we'll see how it looks.” Anna started to help Lily with the buttons on the back of her dress with the practised fingers of a long-time Lady's maid.
They had the wedding dress on her soon and Anna examined it with expert eyes.
“It's close. Just a few tweaks here and there and then we need to finish the beading. Mrs. Carson is coming to help me with that. And with the final preparations. I am completely confident that we'll have it ready in time.” Anna turned Lily towards the long mirror behind her and watched Lily's face as she saw herself for the first time in her wedding gown. Her jaw dropped and Anna just smiled.
Cora approached Lily and put her arm around her waist.
“You are going to be the most beautiful bride. Look at you.” Cora had tears in her eyes. The transformation in Lily was amazing. She had known the girl was pretty, but in the white satin, she looked absolutely gorgeous. Tom was going to be speechless when he saw her.
Anna came behind Lily and twisted her hair up from her neck a bit and held it so Lily could see what she had planned for her hairstyle on the big day that was to compliment the dress.
Lily had tears running down her cheeks. Even she could not deny how beautiful she looked. She turned slightly to see the dress from the side and it fit her so perfectly she was amazed. The satin hung off of her slim hips, flowed across her backside and formed into a long train that splayed out behind her. The sleeveless bodice hugged her form tightly and showed off what could only be described as her flawless pale skin. Anna described how the veil would cover her shoulders and make the dress seem even more elegant.
“Stop with the tears. You're going to stain the satin.” Anna laughed, trying to help Lily get over her shock.
Lily reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I'm so sorry.” She looked apologetically at Anna.
“I was only teasing. But let's get it off you.” Anna accepted Lily's hug. She loved the affectionate tendencies of Tom Branson's fiance. They seemed very well suited for one another and Anna was excited to watch them start their lives together. They both deserved it.
Once Lily was back in her own dress, Cora suggested that Anna could bring some tea up for the two of them. There were still some details that still needed to be finalized for the wedding, and Cora spoke of Mary's desire to be there soon to help them with the preparations. Lily was nervous. She hoped Lady Mary didn't think she was imposing on her family. The eldest daughter of the Countess and the Earl intimidated her just a bit.
“So where would you and Tom like to go on your honeymoon?” Cora's question brought Lily back to the present. Lily blushed.
“I haven't really thought about the honeymoon.” Lily hoped her voice didn't break.
“My dear. I can tell by your red cheeks that you have.” Cora smiled so cheerily that Lily only blushed harder. “If you have any questions, now is the time.”
Cora made her face so passive and intriguing that Lily finally burst out laughing.
“I am a nurse. I know how it all works.” Lily accepted the fact that Cora was determined to have this conversation with her.
“Oh but when you're in love, it's not work. It's only so much fun.”
Lily braced herself for the next words from Cora, but soon was very engaged in the conversation as Cora described to her what an absolute joy marriage can be when you truly love the other person.
For how much Lily loved Tom, she hoped it was true,