This section takes place before Ian and Rene get back on Monday afternoon. I'll have to make it all flow the right way in revisions one day.
On Sunday morning after the ball, Alys Winter woke up weary, achy, and thoroughly dissatisfied with herself. The ache manifested not in her bones but in a restless mental affliction which flared up whenever she considered her evening’s interactions with Malcolm. Things had been strained, and the strange discomfort kept insisting that she was somehow to blame. Melly would have quickly pinpointed the disturbance as pangs of conscience, but that kind of language was foreign to Alys (or anyone brought up in the circles of Carson Winter), and the malady grew acuter for being undiagnosed.
She couldn’t understand him. Malcolm was unusual, she would grant that. He was gentle and solemn and unfailingly courteous. Whenever he disagreed with something she’d said, he criticized ideas, not her personally. He was sweet to his mom and civil to his sisters, and it was the cutest thing ever to see the way he sheltered poor Melly from the big bad world, the innocent leading the innocent. But still, he was a man, and men were men. She was absolutely sure he wasn’t gay, and she was almost positive that he was attracted to her, so why didn’t he show it? There was this layer of formality that she couldn’t seem to budge; he always seemed to want to talk. And his kind of earnest talk was so disconcerting that although she wanted to be near him, she kept squirming away. Serious questions left her feeling unprotected. Alys would far rather have bared her body than her soul.
Her body was what was at stake here. She was waiting for some sign that Malcolm was serious about her. He was trying to go about everything backwards, trying to get her to commit to… She didn’t even know what he wanted her to commit to, but she definitely was not going to have a serious conversation about relationships until he showed that he really wanted her. It was exhausting to try and follow his opaque mental processes, but passion was a universal language. She needed some physical sign that he wasn’t just out to play mind games with her, to trap her into saying something incriminating that he could analyze and reject.
The more she thought about it, however, the more she felt at fault. Alys was a sophisticated woman, wise and discriminating in the ways of a man with a maiden. This undefined point in a relationship was awkward for anyone — goodness knew she herself didn’t like it — and Malcolm in particular was so reserved that without the right opportunity, he might never move on to the next stage. And now that she knew him better, she realized that she’d been putting the wrong kind of pressure on him. How could she have expected a sensitive man like him to respond to her in public, at the ball? She had gone about things too hastily, not giving him the kind of privacy he needed to let himself respond to her. Poor guy: it was likely that he’d barely touched a woman in his life, except his mother, sisters, and Melly, and they didn’t count. Why had she not helped him to be spontaneous? For being in the middle of nowhere, Stillwater seemed to be remarkably crowded. They’d barely had a moment alone except in their drives in Malcolm’s Morgan, and even that would have required the mood-killing formality of moving to the back seat. No, it was up to her to set the stage and remove every obstacle, to give him every chance to show how he felt without the constraint of every eye on the place freezing him back into a strict intellectual posture.
The contradiction of creating a perfectly staged opportunity for a spontaneous headlong dive into passion was not something Alys had considered deeply. Again, Melly would have found words for this kind of tension: “lead us not into temptation”. But that was more language that Alys didn’t comprehend. It would have sounded to her like something Malcolm would say in some attempt to nail her down to some cold moral position. If she could get him to relax enough to make the first move, the progression ought to be fairly simple. There was a way that relationships worked: first you had to establish a base of mutual desire, and once that had been acted on and a connection formed, only then did you move to the stage of discussion. The discussion was where people got hurt, where doubts were raised and insecurities revealed and rejection occurred. You needed that cushion of sexual attraction to soften the blows. Without that physical bond, there wasn’t even any point in talking about Us. There wasn’t even any Us up to that point, just two people and a concept which usually collapsed under the harsh light of interrogation.
And so, after an increasingly restless day of reflecting on the mistakes of the past and the perfections of the future, after casting a practiced eye around the living room of the cottage and testing the comfort of the chintz-covered couch and love seat, she sent an evening text to Malcolm: Ball+too many people= oddness. You+me+drinks at my place= evenness.
2 hours ago