Ever wonder why Lucas Rathbone and Clara Jenkins are hopelessly devoted to each other?
Well, this flashback scene from my upcoming book, The Ghost Who Wasn't Dead, shows the precise moment when their friendship changed into something more...
The February following the end of the Great War, the then fourteen-year-old Lucas and his mother were living with Mrs Jenkins and her children until better weather returned, the reduced families pooling resources to ensure they all stayed warm and well fed over the winter months.
He was “home” with Clara, then aged twelve, the house empty except for the two of them. Her brother Charlie had returned to the boarding school where he was a scholarship boy, Henry worked late at his new job at the police station, and their mothers were at choir practice, everyone keeping busy in their own way. The fire burned low in the grate as Lucas sprawled on the sofa with a library book, and Clara sat on the hearthrug, sketching a sprig of winter foliage by firelight.
It was warm, comfortable, and peaceful – until the quiet sob.
Lucas looked up in alarm to find Clara with silent tears rolling down her cheeks and dripping onto her sketchbook, hand trembling as she forced herself to continue with her drawing.
‘What’s wrong?’ he said, the book thudding onto the floor as he darted to her side. He knelt and went to place a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she flung herself into his arms instead, giving way to whatever unknown sorrow consumed her.
He put his arms around her awkwardly, not really knowing how to help but trying to soothe his best friend’s little sister anyway.
But when he finally deciphered the broken sentences, he pulled her into a tight hug, as though that could squeeze the pieces of her heart back together.
Today would have been his birthday.
How could he have forgotten? Ezra Jenkins, beloved father and husband, brave soldier, casualty of war, should have celebrated his birthday today, just as he should have celebrated Christmas a few weeks ago, his daughter’s birthday a month before that, and Henry’s fifteenth the previous September.
The telegram in July ended everything.
Lucas held Clara for as long as she needed him to, the hot tears she’d stoically held back for months now scalding his skin. He added his own tears, not only for his friend’s sorrow and the loss of a man who had loved Lucas like his own child, but for Jim Rathbone, who vanished in the chaos of the trenches.
Of course, he always hoped Dad would come home one day, though logic told him this was impossible. However, because he still believed Jim was out there somewhere, even though it was the tiniest pinprick of hope, Lucas hadn’t cried for his dad.
But Clara’s sorrow made him realise that he, too, had lost his father. Before he knew it, he was sobbing with her, their miserable duet filling the small living room. They clung to each other as their young hearts shattered, the pieces tumbling together so that, when they picked them up, both would unwittingly find fragments of the others’ mixed in with their own.
Eventually, the tears turned into dry sobs, which became a sad hiccoughing noise, and then a sombre, almost shy silence settled on them. Lucas held her for a while longer, just to be sure she was all right – and, perhaps, to make sure he was all right as well.
‘Better?’ he asked, when he trusted himself to speak again.
‘Better,’ she confirmed shakily, looking up at him with red ringed eyes and a forced smile. ‘Oh, maybe I’m not,’ she whispered as the silent tears started again, and he hugged her a little tighter. ‘But I will be.’
There was nothing he could say that’d help, really, but he murmured meaningless words of comfort anyway, vaguely wondering what this new, strange feeling was, the one that felt like sunshine breaking through the storm grey clouds and made him want to let nothing hurt this delicate soul ever again.
‘I’ve tried so hard,’ she sobbed, losing control of her misery again. ‘I’ve been brave for, for, for, Mum, and Henry, and, and Charlie – poor Charlie — and, and, and I’ve tried not to make it harder for them, and, and —’
‘Shush, shush,’ murmured Lucas, rocking her gently and kissing the top of her head, like his mum did when he was upset. ‘It’s all right, you don’t have to be brave for me. You’re allowed to be sad, you know.’
‘I know,’ she moaned into his shirt. ‘But Daddy wouldn’t want me to cry, and he certainly wouldn’t want me to cry in front of Mum. She misses him so much.’
‘We all do,’ said Lucas softly, a lump rising in his throat again. ‘But if you ever feel sad and don’t want to be brave, or upset your mum or brothers, come to me and we’ll be sad together. All right? No feeling like this on your own. Promise me.’
She nodded, sending yet more tears onto his shirt. ‘I promise,’ she whispered. ‘Thank you.’
‘Of course,’ he said, with one last squeeze before releasing her. He gave her a watery smile as he tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. ‘Now, let’s wash our faces and get tidied up before your mum gets home. We don’t want her to worry, do we?’
And if you managed to read that with a dry eye, you're doing better than me!
Tomorrow I have something a little less heart-wrenching, though no less emotional. Come back then to find out what ;)
Love, Saff xx