George waited as the car came to a complete stop before he opened the door and jumped out. The chauffeur was only a second behind him, embarrassed that the future Earl had so inelegantly let himself out of the car.
“Don't worry about it James.” George smiled at his friend when O'Malley protested.
James just shook his head. George really didn't like to do things properly. He had been coached to always open the door for his passengers and George hadn't even given him the opportunity.
There were a number of other cars and delivery trucks parked by the entrance. An entire throng of people were hauling flowers into the house. George smiled as he saw his Grandparents standing by the door looking so completely pleased to see him.
He hurried the last distance and embraced the three of them warmly. They led him into the house, avoiding the bustle of the delivery people coming and going.
Isobel waited by the door for a second and looked behind George.
“Is Lavinia coming later then?” She seemed concerned.
“It's just me Grand-mama. It's George.” He stopped and took her by the hand. He had been warned that her decline had been rapid in the past few months. Sometimes it seemed she didn't know 'when' she was. And George's resemblance to his father had clearly thrown her off.
“Of course. I'm sorry my dear.” She smiled at him. She seemed to snap back to the present. Or she played it very well.
They went into the great hall and George spied his mother speaking with Lily by the stairs. Both women smiled at him greatly when they saw him and came over to greet him. Mary hugged him tightly and his two younger sisters came running at him from the other room. He picked them up, one at a time and spun them around. They were so happy to see their big brother and had been torturing the household all morning with questions about his arrival.
Everyone was so happy with seeing him. And he was very happy to see them too. If felt like he had been away for way too long. The last weeks of his school term had dragged terribly.
He caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of his eye and was thrilled to see his cousin walking towards him using only a cane and her father close behind her in support.
He went to her and hugged her so tightly. It was excellent to see her up and around of her own power and she was looking so well. He was pleased.
Tom walked around them and put his arm around Lily's waist. She turned to look at him adoringly and everyone in their presence felt the deep love between them.
“How are the plans going?” George asked while he grinned at them. He adored Lily. As did everyone.
“We're ready. And anxious. But we have one more thing that needs to be decided.” Tom spoke to him and pulled Lily close to his side.
“What's that?” George asked.
“I want to know if you will be my best man.”
George clapped his hands in joy and immediately agreed. He had never been so honoured by a request in his life. He embraced both Tom and Lily in turn and he noticed the deep looks that passed between them.
Everyone standing there was thrilled. Lily and Mary went back to their conversation by the stairs and Charlotte and Elizabeth ran off somewhere to play. Sybbie joined her Aunt and her father's betrothed in their conversation. The three eldest people bid their pardon as they had matters to discuss in private.
George and Tom wandered off to the drawing room to discuss what Tom what would need of his nephew for the wedding, which was now less than a week away.
“You seem calm.” George laughed at Tom as they each found a seat.
“I am. Your Granny has taken care of all the details. Basically all I have to do is show up.” Tom smiled.
“She is probably loving it. How is Lily fitting in with the family?” George was thirsty after his travels so he stood up to pull the chord that would ring the bell downstairs.
“Everyone is smitten and so kind to her. She's loving it. She told me she feels like a princess with all the treatment she has received. The family has accepted her completely and I don't think they'll let her go now even if she wanted to run away. It's wonderful to see.” Tom crossed one ankle over his other knee and shifted in his seat.
“Even my mother?” George knew she could be difficult when she wanted to be. He had seen her a few weeks previously at a school event, but she hadn't spoken of Lily.
“I know this seems strange... but I think they actually really enjoy each others company. Lily is not afraid to speak her mind when she has to and I think your mother respects that about her. They've been together all morning. I have no idea what they're up to, they stop talking and shoo me away if I go near them.” Tom had the strangest smile on his face. He really did wonder what they could be up to.
“Women.” George winked at his Uncle.
“Speaking of. Any young ladies caught your eye yet?” Tom winked back.
“Not anyone special. It doesn't help that I go to a boys only school.” George laughed. It felt so good to be home. And even he could tell the ambiance of the house was different from so many months ago. Everyone was so happy. And the cheer was palpable.
“You're too young for that anyway. Once you get a girl on your brain everything becomes background. You stop thinking properly. She will take over your life.”
“And that's a bad thing?” George leaned forward. He really wondered.
“Not if she's the right one.” Tom spoke convincingly. “If that's the case, she will take over your brain and your heart. You just have to make sure you spend all your time on the right one. Make sure of that George.” Tom sat back in his chair. He had been blessed enough to find the right one twice. He was a very lucky man.
“How do you know she's the right one?” George was banking on the fountain of information that his uncle was divulging to him.
“You just will. You will be different. Everything will be different. The sky seems bluer. It's hard to explain.” Tom was thoughtful. He couldn't put it into words exactly. “Sometimes, she will just bring you a sandwich and it will taste better than anything you've ever eaten before.”
George laughed. “I could eat a sandwich right now. I'm starved.”
Tom laughed as well. “Of course you are. You're a sixteen year old boy and I swear you've grown two more inches since you were here at Christmas. That reminds me, we need to have you fitted for a new morning suit I think if you're going to be my best man. I'm guessing that your old one won't fit anymore.”
“Oh dear.” George changed his expression so fast that Tom couldn't help but be reminded of his father. “Molesley is going to lose it on me for that.”
They were both still laughing when the old Butler Carson cleared his throat. Neither of them had seen him enter the room and he startled them.
“I'm sorry to interrupt Sir, but you rang?” Carson grinned broadly at seeing the young man of the house.
George stood up and rushed over to greet the older man, Tom stood up as well, what started out as a polite handshake, turned into a warm embrace between the young man and the former Butler.
“Carson! It's so good to see you. I was just hoping for a bite to eat, and something to drink.” George stood near Carson as he spoke. He was nearly level to the old man in height.
“He hasn't eaten in an hour. He's feeling faint.” Tom joked.
“Well, we can't have that now can we.” Carson smiled proudly at the young man. He was looking healthy, with the exception of the red scar on his hairline. Perhaps it would fade more in time. “I'll have one of the maids set you a tray in the dining room post haste Sir.”
Carson stated to head out the door and George muttered loud enough for him to hear,
“Cut it out with that Sir business.”
Carson turned his head slightly and smiled at the young man. He knew it drove George crazy, but he couldn't help himself.
George and Tom both sat back down and tried to remember where they were in their conversation before the welcome interruption.
“There's one thing that you should know specifically George. About women.” Tom leaned forward in his chair.
“What's that?” George wondered.
“They won't all be after you because they love you even though they will say they do. You're a wealthy, handsome young man with position. Some girls will attempt to take advantage of that. So when you find one, make sure she loves you for who you are, not what you have. Be sure in the one you choose to love with all your heart. Because you are special George. You deserve a wonderful girl, and there will be a lot of them who pursue you. Make sure they are honest with you.” Tom hoped what he was attempting to say was making sense.
“I will. Thanks Uncle Tom. How did you know Lily was the right one?” George wanted to know.
“It was the small things at first. She cared about me. And Sybbie. She listened. She noticed small things that I needed. She was kind. And then she smiled.” Tom dramatically rolled his eyes, held his hand over his heart and leaned back. George laughed. “I'm serious. Have you seen her smile? She could light up the sky at midnight with that smile.”
George had known his uncle his entire life and he had never seen the man so obviously happy as he was right now. There were many formerly sad eyes in the house that had a much happier look about them now and George wondered how one special girl could have changed all that. He hoped someday he would find a girl as wonderful as Lily and that she would make him smile like the expression on the face of his uncle.
“You look so happy Uncle. It's great to see. And Sybbie? She looks great too. And walking on her own? The doctors had said it might take a year to recover when she was still in the hospital.” George smiled at his Uncle and Tom was once again taken aback at the resemblance of George to his father.
“That's all Lily. And Sybbie. They've been working double time to get her ready to dance at our wedding.” Tom laughed again. He couldn't wait. Only a few more days.
“Lily is great isn't she.” George knew the answer.
Tom just grinned. “I could not argue that if I tried.”
“I feel like I should be the one giving you advice, being your best man and all. But what can I say? You have found a great one in Lily.” George surmised.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Tom's thoughts were directed at Lily and George's were wondering what kind of future he would have when it came to love.
A small voice came from the doorway and both men turned to see who it was.
“Lena! Hello! How are you?” Tom noticed the huge smile on Lena's face as George stood up to greet her.
Lena greeted the young man and let him know that there was a tray in the dining room for him with some food. He asked if she would like to join him to keep him company while he ate and the girl's face lit up. George turned back to Tom and leaned his head in an unspoken gesture that he could join them if he wanted. Tom politely declined. He wanted to steal Lily away for a few minutes anyway. He had barely seen her all day. George asked if they could continue their conversation later, he was famished. Tom teased him that he better go eat before he grew another inch and couldn't fit inside the house.
Tom walked behind the two youngsters and noticed the stargazed look in Lena's eyes as they walked along. He snickered to himself. It seemed George already had an admirer. Well, when she came of age, she would be a good choice for him. Anna and Bates would raise a fine daughter who would not take advantage of the future Earl of Grantham. From what Tom knew of her, Lena was a very nice girl. Much like her mother. And Bates would not let a future Earl of Grantham hurt his daughter. It would be interesting. Tom made a mental note to keep an eye on that one.
He stopped in a doorway and stared as George and Lena went towards the dining room and watched as Lena obviously had doe eyes but George was completely oblivious and yammered on to the young girl as they went. He hoped he didn't look at Lily the way Lena was looking at George. He smiled to himself. He probably did.
He felt someone creep up behind him and slip their hand into his. The already familiar soft skin and lean, strong fingers of the hand made him smile. He turned around and stared into the dark blue eyes that he dreamed of waking up to every morning. Soon. When he had turned she dropped his hand and wrapped her arms around his waist and looked up at him so lovingly he thought his heart would burst out of his chest.
“I've dodged Lady Mary for approximately ten minutes before she comes looking for me.” Lily smiled and was lost in his eyes.
“What's going on with you two today. You're being so secretive.” Tom kissed her gently on her dimple and he felt her hand snake up under his jacket and rest on his lower back. His skin burned with desire where she touched him even through his shirt. He let out his breath sharply. “Stop that. Or we won't make it to the wedding night.”
“It's a secret. I can't tell you.” She dug her fingers deeper into his flesh and kissed away any sounds that he might have made. “Eight minutes. How are you doing? Everything going as planned?”
“Yes. How are things on your end? Going well?” He kissed her deeply before she could answer immediately.
“Yes.” She barely spewed it out before her lips were occupied again.
She finally had to step back. The intensity between them was becoming too hot to handle. She had never felt that way before in her life. It must be what Cora was talking about when she had described what could be expected when you married someone you truly loved. She was overflowing with feelings at that moment and was completely out of breath. Tom took her hands and the look in his eyes almost ended her purity right there. He leaned close to her gain.
“I love you very much Lillian Becker. I can barely wait until you are my wife.” His fingers entwined with hers and he stood there unable to look away from her. He wrapped her arms around behind her while still holding her hands and held her so close. He swore she must have been able to feel his heartbeat, even though they were still inches apart.
“Well you're going to have to wait Tom Branson. And you have no idea how much I love you. And this entire family. I never in a million years thought I would be joining with a family that accepted me and was so concerned about me. I am the luckiest girl in the world. I am so thankful I don't know how to express it to everyone” She spoke to him as he kissed her neck gently, just beneath her ear and he felt the gooseflesh raise on her.
“Stop that.” She giggled but made no real effort to push him away. “It's only a few more days.”
He bent his neck slightly to kiss her smiling lips again but he was interrupted by someone calling out for Lily. It was Mary. He pulled back, closed his eyes and sighed, but still smiled at the woman in front of him.
“I thought you said ten minutes?” Their eyes sparkled at each other.
“It was a rough guess at best.” She stepped away and dared to kiss him once more quick peck before she stepped forward, completely into the room so Mary could see that she was there.
Tom was still hidden in the hallway as he overheard Mary asking what Lily could possibly be doing. She was needed to come and test some of the food that the cook had ready. Tom listened as Lily stuttered some answer about checking on the flowers and he heard the heeled footsteps of his old friend come closer to him. Mary poked her head around the corner and raised her hand, palm towards him.
“Hello Tom.” Was all she said with a very cheeky smile on her face.
“Hello Mary.” Was all he replied, his hand also raised to her in greeting. He laughed and had to look away.
Mary shook her head. She knew quite well what it was like to be only a few days before one was due to be married to someone they loved madly.
“If you would like to come with us down to the kitchens you are most welcome to. Unless you might need a minute.” She teased him.
“I'm fine thank you.” Tom's face was remarkably flushed as he went to Lily and grabbed her hand to walk together downstairs.
“I can see that.” Mary spoke it mostly to herself, because the couple in front of her were smiling deeply into each others eyes as they went oblivious to anyone else around them.
Only a few more days. Mary was so happy for them. Everything was going to go perfectly. How could it not?