Today, I’m continuing the story Keisha Page and I wrote for her blog, The Word Mistress. Our heroes – the Marquis of Aldridge from A Baron for Becky and 1810, and Alex from Rhythm of Love and the 21st century – have found their way to a mysterious inn where the food is excellent and time no longer applies.
Alex’s grasp was firm for a hallucination. And he returned to the slice of fresh bread he’s cut with an enthusiasm Aldridge did not associate with ghosts. “Margate?” he asked, between mouthfuls. “Is that your home?”
“It will be,” Aldridge said, without much enthusiasm. “One of them. I mostly live in London, though.” He smiled, his expression softening. Officially, his London residence was the heir’s wing at Haverford House. But the townhouse he’d purchased for his mistress, Becky, was more of a home to him than anywhere else on the planet. “I’ll be home tomorrow,” he said.
Aldridge hoped this was true; that he’d walk out of here and it would still be 1810. “And do you live in New York, Alex?”
“I’ve been to London a few times. I’m guessing it looks much different now. Cars and pollution, and, oh, all of the new buildings that have been built. I live here, in an apartment in the Bronx. My kids live with their mother, in a house a few miles from my place. At least they’re close enough that I can see them all the time.” Alex dunked his piece of bread in his stew.
The London Aldridge knew had dirt and filth enough; pollution, certainly. Cars? He’d seen a few processions, but perhaps this modern London had more? He focussed on the part of Alex’s statement he could make sense of. The term ‘kids’ clearly meant children. “I also have children who live with their mothers, but I see little of them. You are fortunate to have yours close.”
“I am pretty lucky. My girl, Leslie, wants to move here, but if she does, then her kids’ dad wouldn’t be able to see their kids. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. Not the kids, but the making sure that everyone gets to see each other when they’re supposed to. I don’t know how anyone makes a second marriage work.”
Another statement with outlandish implications. The man had been married to the mother of his children and now wanted to be married again to someone who had children by another man? How outraged Society’s dragons would be to hear Alex refer so casually to second marriages.
“So, Aldridge, how many times have you been married?”
Aldridge ignored the question, still thinking about Alex’s statement. Perhaps his interpretation was wrong. “May I… I do not wish to give offence, so please tell me if I breach courtesy in asking this… may I confirm that I understand correctly? Your children live with their mother. And the woman you would marry lives near the father of her children.
‘But you speak of a second marriage. You are both divorced, then? And all the parties work together so that the children can see their fathers and their mothers?”
“Dude. That is the least offensive thing you could say.” Alex smiled at Aldridge, clearly not offended.
“Yes, Leslie is divorced from her first husband, the father of her children. They both live in Denver. I am divorced from my first wife, who is the mother of my children. She lives near me here. We’re actually required by law to make things work. If Leslie moved the children here without her ex-husband’s permission, a judge could put her in jail. And so far, her husband won’t agree to let her move here.
“Truthfully, I can’t say I blame the guy, but it’s frustrating. Leslie and I… I can’t stand being without her. She lives 1800 miles away, so we only get to see each other every few months. The last time I got to see her, it was only for a couple of days; I was in the middle of a tour, so I couldn’t stay long.”
He held up his brandy snifter to catch the attention of the waitress. She nodded in his direction. He sat the glass down and looked at Aldridge.
“I didn’t realize divorce was common in 1810. Or even legal, I guess.”
“It isn’t common,” Aldridge confirmed. “It requires a Bill in Parliament, which means washing the family’s dirty linen in full view of every gossip in England.”
Not an option for any person of consequence. No decent man would do that to his wife and children, not any respectable woman, either, unless in peril of her life.
“A man can get a divorce and custody of his children if he proves his wife was unfaithful. A woman has to prove extreme cruelty, and even then she might not keep the children. A man might survive the scandal, but a woman? I can only imagine what would drive a woman to such a course.”
He took another slow sip of brandy, saying out loud the doom his father had been enjoining on him all this last visit to Margate.
“I’ll have to marry some day. When I do, it will be for the rest of my life.”
Alex said, “Oh boy. It works much differently now. It’s mostly paperwork. You file papers in court, and if a judge agrees that the division of assets is equitable, then six months later, you’re single again.”
It couldn’t possibly be as easy as that. Could it? Aldridge took another bite of the excellent bread. Alex was still talking.
“I hope it works out forever with Leslie. I love her more than I ever thought I could love someone. When we’re together, I feel like I can conquer the world. Do you have a girlfriend?”
At two score and ten, he was old for a girl, but he’d have to choose one, he supposed. A girl who was a friend? He had largely ignored this year’s crop of debutantes, but it seemed unlikely he’d find a friend in their ranks. How he wished… Well. No point in that. “I envy you, Alex. And I hope it works out for you, too.”
“I’ll marry some women with the right lineage, and for the land or political advantage she offers my family. It doesn’t matter for me… I think I’m not capable of the kind of love you mention. But I feel sorry for the poor lady I marry.” Despite his determination, his mind drifted back to his mistress, and he heard himself saying, “If I could love, I expect I’d be head over heels for Becky, the woman I am going to now. She’s… well, she’s a fine woman. Beautiful, intelligent, kind. I could see spending the rest of my life with Becky.”
If he married his mistress, elevated her to future Duchess of Haverford, the dragons would tear her to pieces. They would never accept her. They would not rest until they had destroyed her and her children with her. He could not subject her to that horror.