[center [font "Calibri" When the Great War broke out there was a surge of patriotism and a rush of men signing up to fight for their country, thinking that the war would be over by Christmas. Four harsh years were taken from those that signed up to fight and for some of the soldiers their time in this world was over; their lives claimed by the horrors of war.]]
[center [font "Calibri" As the war was being fought on the Western Front there were real battles being fought every day back in England. Many women were fighting against the loss of their husbands, fathers and sons and loved ones. It was not uncommon and many banded together to deal with such loss. Still, life had to go on and soon enough the war would be over and those who had lost could work on rebuilding their lives whilst always remember those who had given up theirs.]]
[center [font "Calibri" Elizabeth lost a man whom she loved; a man who had once asked her to marry him but sadly it was the war that broke them apart and one day that dreaded telegram was delivered to her home letting her know that her soul mate had passed early on during the war. She had promised to wait for him until the war was over, but now she knew he would never return to her.]]
[center [font "Calibri" In 1918 a miracle happened and the war came to an end and with the end, came the return of the brave soldiers who had remained to fight for them. Elizabeth hadn’t expected that the man she had once loved would return to her after being pronounced dead but sure enough one day he showed up at her door, ready to give his entire world to her. Yet she seemed sad. It has been a year since she had been told he had died and with not one letter from him how could she had possibly hoped that he was still alive? For when he had returned she had been engaged to another to help with the debt that had been brought upon her family when her father passed.]]
[center [font "Calibri" I am wanting to start at the very beginning of this story. It will begin in 1914 just before the war breaks out. At some point along the line Elizabeth will meet your character, whether that be before the war breaks out or during one of his relief visits home. We can decide that together. I want to follow the story all the way through from them meeting to him returning to her after she had been told that he was dead. Again we can discuss the finer details if you decide to join me. I think after that point we can allow the roleplay to flow however it may.]]
[center [font "Calibri" I would like someone who would be willing to play Elizabeth's love interest. Please PM me to let me know that you are interested and we can discuss the details further. I generally post anything from 300 - 1500 words depending on the level of depth required although I do not require or produce this for every post, especially if there is a conversation taking place. When the time comes, I figured that both of us could have control of Elizabeth's fiance so that we can move the plot along.]]
[center [pic https://orig00.deviantart.net/b0ca/f/2018/004/9/f/c35e_by_burningsxn-dbyw6qk.jpg]]
[center [pic https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/0f/32/92/0f3292a4a124cf8a1d4c43d52ade7c35--thomas-barrow-downton-abbey.jpg]
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How she was supposed to explain herself to him was a mystery to her. She wanted nothing more than for their reunion to be different. If the war had been over a month before now things would have been so different. She would not be engaged to Sebastian and her father’s business would have still be his and even if he lost it, she would not care enough about it to help him. She would have had Jamie. Yet he returned just as she had made a promise to another; a promise that she had no intention of keeping now that her one true love was alive after all this time of thinking that he was not.
It was not long before Jamie started to wrap his arms around her and she felt that familiar hold he had over her begin to surface. Simply being in his arms roused a desire within her that only Jamie could awake. Elizabeth thought that she would never feel this way again and right now she could only hope that it would last forever and that the two of them could simply forget about the world around them. Before the war, she had talked about leaving the town life behind to spend the rest of her days in the countryside with him and now the thoughts crossed her mind once more and she found herself wondering what the consequences might be if she simply never went home. No one knew she was here except for Helen and if she sent word to her about what happened she might have been able to keep her from looking for her.
It was foolish to think that things could be that easy, no matter how much she wished that it was. She had promised her mother that she would look out for her father and his business while she was gone and so far she had failed on that front. Perhaps that is why she agreed to marry Sebastian; because she felt as though she had let her mother down and by doing this she was saving her family’s reputation and her father’s business. It truly was complicated and she had no idea where to start with trying to explain all of this to Jamie.
His voice found her in such soft tones and as he spoke her tears began to subside. Whether that was because Jamie was simply capable of removing her sorrows or whether she had simply ran out of tears to cry, she did not know. Elizabeth breathed in deeply, trying to steady the erratic breathing that had come with the tears and listened carefully to his words. How she wished that none of it mattered but she knew that the moment she told him why things were so complicated he would understand. What she would not give to make it all go away.
After a short silence Jamie pulled back from her so that he could look upon her face and she met his eyes with her own. He still managed to make her heart quicken even after all this time. His touch felt electric against her skin and she closed her eyes momentarily to commit it to her memory as though she may never get the chance to feel his hand against her cheek in such a way. When he spoke is final words she did not even let him finish before she started to shake her head. She [I needed] him to understand that she was not happy; that she would not be without him in her life.
“I do not want to marry another or start a family with someone who is not you. I do not know how to explain this to you. It might anger you or it might change what you think of me. I’m not exactly proud it this.” She said as she lifted her hand to her cheek and started to wipe away at the tears that were beginning to dry up. “Perhaps we should sit down.” Elizabeth gestured towards the table and took his hand, pulling him with her gently. “My mother died a few weeks after you left and when that happened my father started to drink more and gamble. We had lost quite a lot of money and the only things that we had left was our house and his business. Sebastian, the man you saw me with the other day, was involved in a game of cards with my father and he had drank so much.” She stopped for a moment thinking about the moment he came home to tell her that he had lost it all. “He ran out of money so decided to raise the stakes with our home and his business and he lost it. Sebastian now owns the house and the business and he promised that…he promised that if I married him that we would not lose our home or our livelihood, that he would make sure my father still had a job and that people would assume that he had simply passed the business on rather than lost it in a game of cards. I agreed to protect our family from the shame.” She shook her head and looked towards Jamie in attempt to gauge how he might be feeling. “I do not love him. I do not want to be with him Jamie. I love you.”
It was much easier when he was angry. The past week he had been angry at the world and with reason. Guilt, sadness and heartbreak were much harder to deal with, to process, than anger was. It was as though his heart was struggling to beat and his lungs refused to fill with oxygen. Tears filled his eyes and he blinked them away without success. Each word Elizabeth spoke felt like another knife to his stomach. She had waited for him. The only thing he had wished for every day had been that she wait for him, that he could return to her. He silently cursed, how could they have told his family and his love that he had died? It didn’t make sense and yet it had happened.
Her next words were all Jamie needed to hear. She hadn’t fallen for another man and in time things would be able to return to the way they were before the war. Not the same, but they would be together and that was all that mattered. Jamie wrapped his arms around Elizabeth and held her tightly to him. His face pressed against the top of her head, one hand stroking the back of her hair as she cried. Jamie closed his eyes and breathed in, wishing that – despite the crying – she could stay there forever, in his arms where they were safe and together.
Jamie did not pull away as he spoke, instead he softly spoke his words against her hair. “What has happened in the past four years no longer matter, love. I’m alive, you’re here and we’re together. Whatever else the world has thrown at us does not matter.” He believed every word he spoke. What was stopping them now? If she was involved with another man it didn’t matter, she had told him she did not love anyone else. She could break it off and they could pick up where they left off without any resistance.
Jamie pulled back then so that he could see her face. Even after crying she was still the most beautiful and precious thing to him. He moved the hand that had been stroking her hair, in an attempt to soothe her, and cupper her cheek, ignoring the tears.
“Complicated how? I’m sure we can fix whatever it is.” The softness in his voice, the one that had been so present before the war had returned. It seemed that Elizabeth had the power to calm the horrors in his mind just by being close to him. He no longer thought of the blood and death. No thoughts of the other man in her life crossed his mind, it was just Elizabeth and the budding thoughts of their future together.
If she hadn’t have been so upset he might have kissed her then, but Jamie was still aware – even if he wished it wasn’t true – that they had been apart for many years and though once upon a time he would have kissed her so openly, he was unsure of their relationship. Perhaps even more so than the first time he had met her, at least then he had not been so apprehensive to touch her. Jamie sighed softly and brushed her hair back from her face. It was not the reunion they should have had, not the one he had thought of so many times. Yet she was here in his arms and they would fix her problems and finally, after so much time, they would be able to start their life together. If, that was what she still wanted.
Jamie swallowed and tensed his jaw. He had not even thought to ask her if she wanted to still be with him. Sure, she had said she loved no other but that had not been a declaration of love by far. Heat flushed his cheeks and he met her eyes.
“Unless… Unless you are happy with this new man. I just assumed that-” Jamie let his voice trail off for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. His emotions were so out of control. He drew in a deep breath and tried to word his thoughts as carefully as he could.
“I will always be here Elizabeth. You have always and will always own my heart. I will be with no other, even if you decided to get married and have children with another man. I am yours and only yours.”
Perhaps she had no right to feel hurt in this moment. His death had clearly been a mistake and she should have been happy to see that the man who held her heart stood before her now very much alive. Elizabeth should have taken the opportunity to embrace him and tell him that everything they had talked about before they left could now play out but she couldn’t. She was promised to another now and she had no idea how things would play out in the end. However, those thoughts still evaded her. With Jamie here, Sebastian was not on her mind at all and in that moment, she could not think of a reason why Jamie wouldn’t have come home to her if he did still love her.
It was never her intention to make Jamie feel guilty but she could tell by the change in him that was exactly how he was feeling now. Neither of them had intended to get hurt yet they were both stood here bearing wounds that she would not heal so easily. A part of her wish that he had stayed so that she never had to grieve him but she knew that their lives together wouldn’t have started well if she stopped him from doing something that was important to him but seeing the look on his face now suggested that he wished he had never left for war in the first place.
Elizabeth watched through blurry eyes as Jamie finally began to close the distance between them. He was close to her now and his familiar scent began to intoxicate her in the way that it used to. While she remembered his aroma well, her memories were nothing compared to the real thing. If she was thinking about the fact that she was engaged to another man she might have stepped away but she couldn’t bring herself to. She wanted to step closer still, closing whatever distance was left between them but she managed to stop herself from that. His hands came towards her face and delicately brushed away the tears that were falling but she could not seem to calm herself long enough to get them to stop. She had cried over Jamie so many times before now yet this seemed like it would never end.
Elizabeth inhaled deeply as he spoke and her eyebrows were knotted with confusion as he spoke of coming to her. She would have known if he did surely but when he continued to speak the realisation of what happened came crashing down on her. She shook her head now, guilt finding her and overtaking her emotions. Anger subsided into something else and she struggled to find the words that would explain why he had seen her with another man. She swallowed when he spoke again she leaned into the hand that hovered next to her cheek and she closed her eyes.
“Oh Jamie…this is all such a mess.” She allowed a silence to fall between them for a moment so that she could think of how she might be able to explain what happened. “I waited for you Jamie. I wrote so many letters and I thought that you were avoiding me. I thought perhaps that the war had become too much for you and that you thought that you were no longer good enough for me. So…I came here about a year into the war. I wanted answers; I wanted to know why you stopped writing to me and then they told me…they told me you were dead and my whole world came crashing down around me.” She shook her head. “I waited for you even after I knew that you were dead because, dead or alive, you own my heart Jamie.” The tears began to fall once more and she reached out to take his hand so that she could have further confirmation that it was him stood before her.
“I never moved on Jamie. I could [I never] love someone else because I do not have room for anyone but you. However, I do not know how to explain what you saw. Jamie everything is so messed up and my life has been so complicated these last couple of months. I…I don’t know what to do.” She said as she finally gave in and fell into his arms, resting her head on his chest and crying for as long as it took to get it out of her system. Elizabeth would have some explaining to do when her tears finally subsided but for now she just wanted to let out every emotion she had been feeling since laying eyes upon him again.
Jamie had never pictured this in all of this fantasies about their reunion. She wouldn’t look at him and no matter how much he wanted to go to her, to take his face in her hands and make her meet his eyes, he didn’t move. She was feeling just as much as he was and so he stood there, silently whilst she came to terms with him being alive. Jamie could see now, he could see how much it was paining her for him to be alive. Maybe this is why he hadn’t wanted to see her? In case it hurt her more for him to be alive than to be dead.
She looked at him as he spoke and she did not smile at his words. His attempt to lighten the mood had been crushed by more of her tears and Jamie swallowed down the guilt that was now filling his chest and stomach with an uneasy feeling. Only moments ago he had been angry, in part he still was, he was angry she had found happiness with someone else whilst he had been in his own version of hell. However, Elizabeth’s crying was because of him. Because he had left when he should have stayed with her. If he had stayed they would be together, married maybe even have a child. Everything would have been better if he had stayed.
He had gone to war thinking he would earn the respect of her father, find his place in her life and return someone deserving of her love. Instead, he had lost her, lost respect for himself and now deserved her even less. He was such a fool to have believed everything. Looking back on it, it seemed doomed to fail from the moment he left. Even if he had not been declared dead, she would have still met her new man eventually, if not him then someone else, offering her a life much more perfect than the one she had with him.
“Elizabeth, love.” He paused and hesitantly took a few steps towards her. He did not trust himself to touch her but his body seemed to have other ideas. He stopped with enough distance that she could move out of his reach if she wanted to. The woman stood before him was not [I his ]. She belonged to another and he was not going to force his affections on her if they were not wanted.
Jamie reached up and, as if touching the most delicate crystal, brushed her tears from her face. It did not matter that she still cried or that she was now accusing him of breaking his promise. If she needed to be angry at him then he would let her.
“I came to you, It was the first thing I did but-“ Jamie tried to push his own anger from his mind as images of the other male, touching her, looking at her, flashed in his mind. He wanted to shout, to tell her that she had been with someone else, someone who had been holding her and looking at her in a way that had broken what was left of Jamies heart. Instead he sighed softly.
“You are right. I should have approached you but, you were with someone. A man, Elizabeth. He was in your house with you and I panicked. I was scared that my worst fear had come true and you had fallen for another man.”
Jamie ignored his own tears. One hand had withdrawn from her face but the other still hovered by her cheek, scared to touch her as if she were a dream that would break. He shook his head.
“I’ve been gone a long time. I should never have expected you to wait that long Elizabeth, I was silly to believe otherwise.” His hand that hung by his side clenched and unclenched over and over. He wanted to hold her so badly, being this close to her was so painful. Speaking to her was painful.
Her words hung between them in a silence that she thought would never come to an end. He [I had] died yet he stood before her very much alive. If she was not struggling to make this make any sense at all she might have ran to him, taken him in her arms and never let go but she just could not believe that this was true; that he was standing before her in his mother’s kitchen. Her mind raced and her chest ached. She could not make sense of why his mother would not have told her the instant she arrived at the door. She had mourned his death too, did she not deserve to know that he was alive? She wondered how long he had been home and why he had not come to her upon returned home. Perhaps their time apart had made him realise that he did not love her as much as he first thought and that made her heart break even more. Sebastian did not even enter her mind for a second at this point. He did not matter, not as long as Jamie was alive. She forgot he even existed the moment she laid eyes on him.
Elizabeth shook her head repeatedly. “This is not real.” She whispered to herself over and over again, barely loud enough for Jamie to hear her. She forced herself to lean down to pick up the knife just so that she had a moment to compose herself and even distract her from the man who stood before her. The man she thought she had lost. The man who was not making any effort to take her in his arms. Maybe he did fall out of love with her when he left for war all those years ago after all.
Even though she tried to distract herself by picking up the knife, she couldn’t quite draw her eyes away from him. He looked so different now. No doubt hardened by the war that he had endured for the last four years. He looked slightly older but more experienced rather than age and his skin was weathered as though he spent more time outside than he ever had done before. She could see the pain in his eyes and she wanted nothing more than to take it away but she was rooted to the spot. Even when he finally cut the silence with his words, greeting her in the same way that he had always greeted her.
[I “Hello love.”] Such simple words but they made her weak at the knees. Even after all this time he could still make her [I feel] the things he had four years ago. She still fought the urge to go to him and kiss him as though nothing else mattered out of fear that the moment she approached him he would disappear. Normally she would have been grateful that Jamie was trying to make light of the situation as he always did, but on this occasion it seemed to fuel and anger that she didn’t realise was arising within her until now.
She was angry that she had been told that he died when he was so clearly alive. She was angry that she had been forced to grieve for a man who still lived and breathed but most of all, she was angry that she had broken her promise to him because of misinformation. Her tears were no longer threatening her eyes but they were streaming down her cheeks and they showed no sign of stopping, even as Jamie continued to speak.
Elizabeth could not bring herself to smile back at him. While she knew that she had broken her promise to him, she could not have kept a promise to someone who had supposedly died in the war. How was it fair to expect her to wait for a man who was dead? She shook her head now and looked towards him after spending some time avoiding his gaze.
“But you did not come home to me. You are here. You came home but you did not come home to me.” Her tears were not going to subside and she was not sure she knew how to control them. “Why didn’t you come home to me?”
Jamie stood facing the door much longer than he should have. He knew that he should leave, go back outside and pretend the woman who owned his heart was not merely a few steps away. His heart was in overdrive and he could not have moved, either towards her or away from her, if he had tried. Why was she here? It made little sense to him that she would visit his parents, especially when it had been so clear only days ago that she was involved with another man.
Movement in the room forced him out of his thoughts. If Elizabeth were to leave now, she would have to pass him. It would mean seeing him in the state that he was – crying and very dirty. Jamie still didn’t move, subconsciously he wanted to see her. Wanted it more than anything and his body responded to that. When the door opened, his mother walked through. Her words said she had only just realised he was there but there was something in her voice that hinted at mischief. He knew his mother and in the years they had been apart it seemed she had not changed. Her hands were on his back and he was suddenly moving towards the kitchen.
Jamie opened his mouth to protest, to tell his mother that he couldn’t go into the kitchen because of the woman that waited there. The one that had stolen his heart, broken it and yet still held it in her hands. His mother knew his feelings, how he felt about the situation. He had argued with her over seeing Elizabeth and she had made it perfectly clear that the two would have to meet eventually. It just so happened that eventually was sooner than Jamie had anticipated.
Damn Elizabeth for coming here. He was not ready to see her. Despite knowing she had moved on because he had been believed dead, he could not help the anger he felt. He had spent years believing she had stopped loving him, that she had never loved him truly. It would have been easier if the situation had been reversed. At least he could have mourned, welcomed the pain of loneliness knowing that she had still loved him. Four years ago he would have seen the situation differently but he was no longer that man.
His feet hit the kitchen tiles and there she stood. It was a picture he had seen so many times in his head. Her, in his home, playing the part of his wife. It was exactly where she belonged. Her voice filled his ears and he drew in a deep breath, pushing the tears away from his eyes. Her words were so innocent and yet they were the first thing that he had heard in four years from her. When he did not answer she turned to face him. Jamie felt the panic rise and he took a step backwards as if to run, but it was too late. The knife that she had balanced in her hand fell to the floor before Jamie could react. She had seen him.
Any anger he had felt mere moments ago vanished like water in the desert when she looked at him. Tears filled her eyes and her voice held a sadness that he had never wanted to hear. Thoughts raced through his mind. He wanted to go to her, to take her in his arms. He needed to kiss her, to stop her tears and tell her that everything was fine now. He was back and they could be together. But the memories of the man who had stood beside her so protectively flooded his mind and he stayed rooted on the floor as if his feet had become fixed in place on the kitchen tiles.
It felt like an eternity before he could finally speak. The tightness in his chest and throat hadn’t gone but when he opened his mouth, he hoped he was composed enough to not cry.
“Hello love.” He said, forcing a smile onto his face. His voice shook and the pressure on his heart was only growing. “It’s been a while.”
The words were so casual, as though it had been only weeks since they last spoke. He had thought of a million things to say to her when he saw her again, both whilst at war and at home. Yet nothing seemed to fit now. His emotions felt erratic, he was happy she was here, angry she had found love with someone else and sad that she had mourned him. It was almost too much for him.
“I can’t say they didn’t try to kill me a fair few times but I’m not dead.” He kept his voice soft, in typical Jamie fashion, he was trying to make light of the situation. A very difficult thing to do in such a situation as theirs. Jamie ran a hand through his hair and breathed out slowly. Was it possible that she was even more beautiful than he remembered? She looked different, ever so slightly and he would not have noticed if he had not tried to recall her face every time he closed his eyes. Her hair was a little different or maybe it was her eyes? Maybe she was exactly the same and it was him that had changed. Jamie did not doubt that for a moment. He had definitely changed.
“You made me promise to come home to you, love. I wasn’t going to break that promise now, was I?” He said, knowing all too well that she had broken her promise to him.
Elizabeth did not have to wait too long before she saw his mother’s figure moving towards the door. The familiar outline brought a smile to her face. She swallowed whatever fear had arisen in her throat, and she plastered a smile upon her face. As always, his mother seemed quite happy to see her and she had a new aura about her but she would not understand why. At least not yet. They shared an embrace and Elizabeth kissed the woman’s cheek affectionately before she was being invited into the house.
“Is your husband working?” She asked as she started to remove her coat but she decided to keep her gloves on for the time being. It concealed the ring from her and she was not exactly ready to start talking about it just yet, mostly because she feared what the woman would think of her for being engaged when she claimed that she would always love Jamie.
“He’s around somewhere but I am sure that you will see him soon enough. You will stay for lunch won’t you?” She asked. Her tone suggested that it was not exactly a question but more an expectation and Elizabeth could never turn her down anyway. With Sebastian being out of town for a couple of days, there was really no rush for her return to town so she nodded.
“Of course I will stay for lunch. I have nowhere else to be and you know how much I enjoy your cooking.” Even as she spoke, she tried to figure out why Jamie’s mother appeared to smile wider than she ever had before. Her brows rose slightly as she took in her expression and when she placed her coat on a nearby chair, she could not help but laugh. “You seem exultant this morning. Have you had some good news? Is the farm doing well?” Elizabeth spoke as his mother led her into the living room, guiding her to a chair so that the two could converse in comfort.
“Something like that dear.” She was being secretive and Elizabeth could not quite understand why. Usually she was so keen to tell her all about the farm and whatever good news came their way because it meant that they were coping without Jamie. She did not know that Jamie was the reason that she was happy, nor did she tell Elizabeth about Jamie. She understood how hard it must have been for Jamie to return home to find out that his family and his love had been given the news that he was dead but she still did not understand why Jamie was so reluctant to see Elizabeth. In her eyes, the two were made for each other and whatever barriers he seemed to be putting up needed to come down and she would make sure they did.
The two fell into conversation for quite some time, allowing time to pass quickly. “I’ve actually got some news I need to share with you.” Elizabeth said after working up the courage to tell her about Sebastian but she was waving her arms in front of her face and swallowing the final bit of tea in the bottom of her cup.
“If it’s good news you should wait for my husband to join us. I am sure he would be interested in hearing it. Besides, it is almost lunch time and I need to make some food for us all.” The woman started to get out of her seat. She asked Elizabeth to join her in the kitchen, and she obliged happily. One of the things she loved about visiting here was that she had the chance to cook. At home, they had people working in the kitchens and she had come to learn that she enjoyed cooking.
The kitchen was in the opposite direction and she asked Elizabeth to go ahead and get started while she quickly ran an errand. Elizabeth did not know that the errand would result in finding out that Jamie was in fact still alive. When Elizabeth was out of sight, she moved towards the door where Jamie had stood with the intention of going out to the fields to find him but when she opened the door and found him stood there she was by surprise.
“Jamie. How long have you been stood there? Never mind! I need your help in the kitchen. Come on.” She moved around the back of him and started to push him towards the kitchen. When they were close enough she gave him one final shove through the threshold into the room where Elizabeth stood. She had put on an apron and started to heat up the oven as she had learned and was peeling some vegetables. With the layout of the kitchen being the way it was, her back was facing him and she did not know that the person to enter the room was not his mother. She had removed her gloves now and the ring along with it, placing it in a pocket so that it was unseen.
“I’m not sure how many of these you want me to prepare but I’m assuming all of these vegetables need to be peeled.” She said simply as she continued to work but when she heard not reply, she laughed and shook her head before turning around. The moment she did her heart stopped beating. Elizabeth dropped the knife in her hand and the sound of the metal colliding with the floor filled the silence of the room and seemed to echo in her mind. This could not be real. Jamie was dead and there was no possible way that he could be stood before her in this kitchen. Confusion overcame her and displayed itself through the tears that threatened her eyes. Elizabeth shook her head and closed her eyes. She had to be seeing things. There was no other explanation but when she opened her eyes again, his form still stood before her.
“I…” She could not find the words to speak at first. A hundred thoughts swarmed her mind and she could not understand why his mother would not tell her that he was here. That he was alive. “You…you died.” Her voice was barely even a whisper now.
It would have been nice to have said upon returning home to his parents, Jamie's life went back to normal. In essence, it had. He woke every morning in a bed, the same bed he had grown up in, within a room that had once been his solitude. He ate breakfast with his mother and father and listened to them speak about the same things they always had. The rest of the day was spent working in the fields, in the barns or on the house. Dinner was eaten in silence, late after his parents retired to bed and only when he was sure he was exhausted enough to not dream, he would sleep.
It was not the same though. His bedroom felt alien, his bed too soft compared to the ground he slept on for four years. His parents spoke about things that had once interested him as a boy but now irritated him and angered him. They had continued their lives just the same in all the years he had been dancing with death. Working was the only thing that brought peace and Jamie worked harder than he had ever. His muscles ached and his eyes could barely stay open and it was only then that he let himself sleep, fearing every moment that the nightmares would take him.
When he was not thinking of war, Jamie was thinking of Elizabeth. For the first day he had been devastated, angry, upset, and hurt. He had missed her and had never wanted to see her all within a few seconds. Everything changed upon talking to his mother, whilst he had not told her that he had seen Elizabeth with another man, he expressed his fears that he no longer had a place in her world. He told his mother that it would be better she thought him dead so she could move on, be with someone who was good and kind and deserved her. His mother had disagreed strongly, which at the time had seemed to strange. His mother had barely known the girl when he left.
His emotions stayed strong over the following week but working had helped. He had let his mind drift to thoughts of their time together, of her face, her voice. Everything seemed like a dream now and Jamie, though heartbroken and confused, was glad he had met her. If he had not known Elizabeth, had not loved her with such an intensity, his days at war would have been cut short. She had given him hope, even long after her letters had stopped, he had thought back to their short time together and fought on in hopes of seeing her again.
Jamie was sure the heartbreak would never end. It was hard to breathe, hard to eat, everything reminded him of her. As he walked around the farm that morning he couldn’t help but think of her again. The day she had visited him had been one of his happiest memories. Was he foolish to have believed she would one day live there with him? Sometimes he had worried her affections had been made up, that she had not loved him as he thought. It would not have been the first time a lad fell in love for the first time and over assumed the woman’s interests. Thinking that she had not loved him as he had thought was painful and when the thought crossed his mind, he could barely hold back the tears.
Jamie pushed such thoughts from his head as he climbed over the fence leading to the field he was to work on that day. It had rained the previous day which had been a blessing. The ground was soft and made it easy for him to turn. The hours passed and Jamie could have sworn it had only been minutes. He stood straight and pushed his fork into the ground. His body ached and he stretched out his arms and back. Jamie started to make his way back to the house, deciding that he would need to eat something before he carried on working.
He approached the house and slipped off his working boots, not wanting to tread mud through the kitchen, it seemed that despite being a war hero, his mother still did not appreciate that and would hit him with no fear if she caught mud on her floor. His trousers were dirty and he wore a thin vest, having discarded his outer shirt a few hours into working. In simple, Jamie looked like a farm boy.
Pushing open the front door, Jamie paused just inside the threshold. Someone was speaking to his mother. The door was shut and the words could not be made out, yet that voice was so familiar. It was a voice that had filled his dreams and told him to come home every time he had almost given up. Jamie placed a hand on the door and drew in a sharp breath, his breath shaking. Why would she be here? It didn’t make sense for her to be here. Jamie dropped his hand from the door and stepped back. He couldn’t see her. Everything had changed. She had moved on, believed he was dead and moved on.
His gut wrenched and without even having to see her face he knew he was crying. Not because she had found another to love, but because she had believed he broke his promise and was not coming back for her. Jamie didn’t want to think how long she had mourned. He didn’t want to think if she had told her father or Helen. If he could have, he would have believed she had not cried over him. It would make things much easier, he could have been angry at her if she had not mourned him.
Jamie stood there unmoving. He could not go in and see her because he was sure his heart would break for real and maybe he [I would ] die this time. Yet, he could not leave, because, for the first time in forever, the person he had been fighting for was the other side of a door. Not the other side of a stretch of water, but behind a slab of wood so thin that he could hear her voice.
Days faded into months and months into years until eventually the war was declared over. While the streets were filled with those celebrating the end, there were just as many amongst them who were mourning the deaths of their loved ones. Even though Elizabeth was not amongst them, she was in spirit, watching from her bedroom window. Below her, soldiers were embracing their families, fathers were meeting their children for the first time, sisters were greeting brothers and mothers were holding onto their sons. While the sight of it brought a smile to her face she also could not help but allow the sadness to overcome her. She wished that she could be down there with them but the only person she ever cared about had been taken away from this world and while the end of the war was indeed a blessing for the country, it did not bring back Jamie.
Even as the years passed Elizabeth had never quite come to terms with Jamie’s death. To the outside world, she presented herself to be the same Elizabeth she always had been but those closest to her, like Helen, knew just how much the war had changed her. She was not on the front lines fighting for a cause that people had lost faith in, nor had she witnessed the horrors that only those who had experienced it would understand, but she had experienced the loss of war and it had changed her forever. It changed her [I heart] forever. Never again would Elizabeth love another. Not even the man she had recently promised to marry.
A sigh escaped her lips as she adjusted herself in the chair but she couldn’t quite pull herself away. Perhaps it was because the longer she sat here in her room, the longer she could keep herself away from everyone else. She took out a letter from the box that sat on the window pane and she read over the words written upon it. She must have read this letter a million times and even though some of the words had spilled into others due to the tear stains that had distorted the ink, she still knew every single word of it. This was the last letter she had every received from Jamie. Elizabeth had read the letter every day, usually before she set about writing her own. She never stopped writing her letters to Jamie and now hundreds of them had filled boxes upon boxes in her bedroom.
This room was the only sanctuary she had now but she was not sure how much longer she would have this space to call her own. Once she married she would have to share everything with her husband, including a bedroom and that very thought made her sick to the stomach. Not simply because she had never shared a bed with another man, but because that man was not Jamie and she had promised him that she would wait for him. A part of her felt like she was betraying him, even though he was no longer alive to see her break that promise. Helen told her time and time again that he would have wanted her to move on and be happy but this was not what Jamie would have wanted for her. Jamie would have wanted her to find someone who she loved deeply, someone who loved her equally and would have treated her in the way that Jamie would have done but she had not managed to find that and she never would. This marriage was not one based on love, but gain and she had always promised herself that she would [I never] marry for such reasons but her father had managed to trap her in this arrangement and without the hope that she might find love again, she agreed to marry the man she had avoided for so many years; Sebastian.
It was a sobering thought that once upon a time she thought about marriage in such a different way. She had met the one person who finally made her understand; finally made her [i feel.] If she were marrying him that feeling in her stomach would have been much more exciting and welcome. However, her dreams of marrying the man she loved died along with many men who had lost their lives in the war.
“Elizabeth?” The sound of Sebastian’s voice travelled through her locked door and was followed by the rattling of the door handle. “Elizabeth, how many times do I have to tell you that you do not need to lock your bedroom door? We are going to be married in a few weeks, you cannot keep me out forever.” His tone was just as demanding as it always had been around her and it caused her to move swiftly from her seat, moving the box into the wardrobe where she kept her unsent letters before making her way to the door and unlocking it after giving herself a moment to compose herself.
“I’m sorry. I was watching the celebrations at my window and I did not want to be interrupted. Is it not wonderful that our country is no longer losing men?” She asked as she stepped around the door and out into the corridor, knowing that they had somewhere to be. They always did. Now that he owned her father’s business he was attending functions almost every day and he wanted his trophy by his side. He did not even try to hide the fact that that was all she was to him. There was an attraction on his side of the relationship but the affection he felt for her was nothing like that affection she had once shared with Jamie. Sebastian was cold and his affection came from the need to have a woman at his side and Elizabeth was the most beautiful and suitable wife in town and he had finally managed to capture his prize after years of perusing her.
Sebastian leaned forward to press his lips against hers but as he did Elizabeth turned her cheek towards him and smiled. His lips grazed her cheeks and she could almost feel the surprise that he felt when her lips were not found by his own. His annoyance at her actions was apparent but he did not address it then. They were already running late and an argument with her would only make them later. “If only you cared about your own man as much as you do about all those other men dressed up in their soldier’s uniform. You realise that you are supposed to be making me look good in front of potential clients not worse? Really Elizabeth every single time I touch you, you stiffen up as though you are scared of me. They can see that, don’t you understand?” He said as he placed his hand on the small of her back and led her towards the door.
This was not the first time he had tried to have this conversation with her and she was sure that this would not be the last time. It was not as though she could pretend to have feelings for him, nor could she ever develop real ones for a man who had practically blackmailed her into accepting his proposal in the first place. However, she did not exactly want to world to know the [I real] reason why he was now in charge of her father’s company so she would continue to play the part of fiancée and wife if it meant that she could protect the reputation of her family, mostly because her mother would have wanted her to. No one could know, not even Helen.
If Sebastian hadn’t been so close to her when they exited the house and made their way to the car, she might have seen Jamie in the distance but Sebastian was nothing if not protective of her. She was his possession and he would have shielded her from the wondering eyes of another man if he was able to. Even at the function he never left her side, introducing her to different people but allows ensuring that they knew that she was his and his alone. It was a tiring routine really but it was necessary for him.
A week later a car was waiting outside of her home. Sebastian was away on business for a couple of days so she used this as her opportunity to visit Jamie’s parents. Over the years it had become part of her routine to see them, mostly because it made her feel closer to Jamie but also because they had helped her grieve when no one else could do so. No one else had known about Jamie and with Helen being so wrapped up in bringing up her beautiful son, she leaned on them and they all seemed to help each other through what had been such a tough time. She was nervous about seeing them this time, mostly because she had not had the chance to tell them that she would be getting married and she feared that they might be upset with her but his mother had been encouraging her to find love again. Elizabeth made a vow then, not to tell them that she did not love this man. A hundred different scenarios and reactions ran through her head as she was driven out to the countryside and the butterflies in her stomach would not settle at all, not even when she finally reached her destination.
Elizabeth walked along the familiar pathway and looked around the farm as she did. Jamie’s father had hired help when Jamie had passed and she assumed that was who she could see working out in the distance. She was glad he had the help, especially since there was only so much he could do himself now. She painted on a brave face as she approached the door and grasped at her gloved hand as though her life depended on it before finally working up the courage to knock on their door. It had been well over eight weeks since her last visit but having Sebastian in her life was making it more difficult to visit them now. How would she even begin to explain all of this to them?
Stories told by bedsides, horror tales of monsters and evil looked like kittens compared to the acts of violence Jamie witnessed in the following years. War changed people. The statement could not have been truer if it had been spoken by God himself. Jamie could not remember when he had stopped hoping. Perhaps it had been when he realised letters from Elizabeth had not been lost – they were just not coming, or that something had happened to make his parents give up on their son. No word had come to say his parents had passed away, though it was completely possible they had. Communication was rare and letters soon dwindled to none within his regiment. Jamie had thought of Elizabeth every moment his mind was not flooded with thoughts of war. In his head, she had moved on. She was healthy and happy and had found someone who had not been sent away to fight another man’s fight, someone who cared for her and didn’t wake up screaming at night. She had found someone who deserved her and who had not been stained with the blood of countless men.
He did not blame her for ending her letters so suddenly. The war had lasted so much longer than anyone could have imagined and it would have been unfair of him to expect her to wait. Jamie only wished he could have said a proper goodbye those years ago. Instead, like a young lad, he had believed she would wait, that he would have been home for Christmas and everything would have been perfect. Perfect was a fantasy, like the stories his mother had told him of knights in shining armour, they did not exist. Even if she had waited, even if they had continued to write to each other as the years ticked over, Jamie was no longer the man she loved anymore. He was hardened and angry and had done unspeakable things in the name of something he no longer believed in.
Although it had seemed, for so many years, that there was no end in sight, knee deep in dirt and blood, Jamie received the news that they were to return home. Relief should have flooded him and yet he felt nothing but fear. He was returning to a world that had moved on without him. He was returning as a different man.
It would have been easy to get caught up in the celebrations that took place as they returned home. Many of his men had homes to return to, wives and children to see. Those who didn’t, basked in their new status as heroes and accepted the glory they deserved with open arms. Jamie hadn’t realised how difficult it would be to say goodbye to the men who had watched his back, the men who had slept side by side, keeping one another's spirit alive. These were men who had never belonged on the battlefield and yet they had survived, together.
Whilst part of him wanted to remain in the city and join in with the smiling faces around him, there was only one place he wanted to be and as he told the driver where he needed to be, the fear that sat in his stomach grew and only continued to do so with every mile they drove closer.
Returning to Elizabeths hometown was like waking up from a long sleep. A very long sleep. Everything had changed. Jamie felt like a newborn lamb as he walked around the streets, trying to draw on his distant memory of Elizabeth’s house. Though he had written her address countless time over the years in letters never returned, he struggled to make his way there. Would she be happy to see him? It was a question that had been turning in his head with every passing minute. Maybe she had not moved on. There could have been another reason she stopped writing. A shortage of parchment maybe? Jamie shook his head as his feet pushed him forward, towards the house he had last seen when he had said goodbye to the most precious thing in his life. He had loved her so strongly and believed she had felt the same way. Feelings like that didn’t just vanish. Every day that had passed he had hoped with every fibre in his body that she would write and despite the pain, the hurt of her silence, he knew that one look at her face and he would forget everything, forgive her for giving up on him.
The house looked the same. It was though it had been preserved just for this moment. If he closed his eyes he could see her stood there, one hand on the door as she smiled at him. He could feel her hair against his face as he kissed her and hear her words, promises that were broken. Jamie looked down at his clothes and sighed, wishing he had something other than his uniform on. His stubble had grown and he knew his face was tired, scarred and different. As his eyes moved from his attire to Elizabeth’s house, he saw the door begin to open.
Jamie’s heart stopped and his breath caught in his throat as he saw her. His memories of her didn’t do justice. Even from the distance he was at, he could see how beautiful she was. The sunlight caught her hair and Jamie started to walk towards her, moving slowly as if she would vanish, like a dream. Lord, how he had missed her. There had been times he had doubted she was real, nothing more than a fantasy in this head, but as she stood in the same place he had last seen her, he knew that everything about their time together had been as real as the stone beneath his feet, including his feelings and now they engulfed his emotions with full force.
It would all be worth it. The death, the fear, each life taken would all be worth it for her. He had returned home a hero in the eyes of the mindless people who praised their victory. Though he deserved her even less now, after what he had done, he would finally be able to be with her. Jamie’s steps sped up, he could wait no longer. He was done with waiting.
In the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down. Jamie froze, the colour draining from his face as he watched the male exit the house behind Elizabeth. His hand affectionately in hers. It was clear, even to an outsider, that the two were involved. His stance was protective and he kept to her, his body close, as they walked away from the house. Jamie felt sick, the image before him shaking his core with a more painful force than the things he had witnessed at war. In seconds the couple – because that was what they were – were out of site. Jamie didn’t move for what felt like an eternity, earning more than a fair share of strange looks from people passing by.
He had known that she had moved on. The letters, the silence, it all pointed to that and yet he had still wished. Jamie let out a humourless laugh and ran a hand through his dark hair. What had he expected? That she would be sitting by the door, waiting for him to return? Neither of them could have helped it. Neither of them knew he would be gone so long. Surely he knew by now that the world was a cruel place and dreams and wishes were for children. He was certainly not a child anymore.
Elizabeth had moved on, Jamie had changed. They would never have worked anyway… at least, that is what he repeated to himself as he travelled home to his parents.
Jamie pushed the door open hesitantly. He had circled the farm trying to find his father and found nothing tidy fields. The sound of voices crept from the living room and before he even saw his mother, tears started to fill his eyes. It was amazing how quickly you could forget the sound of someone's voice.
“Knock knock.” He said, coming into view. His mother was sat by the fireplace, chatting away to his father. It seemed as though they had not aged in the time he had been gone, they were just as he remembered. His mother dropped the paper she held in her hand and his father shot up from his place opposite her. Jamie had expected them to be surprised but never as much as this, his mother burst into tears, clutching at her chest as though breath escaped her lungs and his father ran to him, throwing his arms around the man in a hug tight enough to break ribs.
“How?” His father started before shaking his head and holding Jamie out at arm's length to look at him. “It does not matter how. I’m glad you’re home, son.”
Jamie's mother came to him next, struggling to stand up as she held him tightly to her. Jamie swallowed back the emotion but it didn’t stop the tears falling. Had the past years really been so difficult on them?
“It’s okay Ma’ I’m here.” He said, wiping her face. His mother shook her head and turned to look at his father with a state of confusion on her face. His father merely shrugged and rubbed his chin.
“Yes, but [I how ] are you here James?” Jamie frowned slightly and rubbed his eyes that now stung with tears and exhaustion.
“It’s over? Surely you are not so isolated here that you have not heard. I passed through town…” Jamie drifted off as his eyes moved over to the mantelpiece. A framed letter and picture next to a candle.
“They told us… They said you had – “ His mother blubbered. “You died.”
Jamie's head spun and for the first time in what felt like forever, he sat down. His father began speaking, explaining how nothing mattered now, he was home, he was safe. It was a miracle, magic, everything would be better. Jamie barely heard him because all he could see was Elizabeth's face.
“She thinks I’m dead.” He choked out, raising his eyes to meet his mother’s as she nodded slowly. Elizabeth thought he had died and so, she had moved on.
Too much time had passed for Elizabeth to simply accept that Jamie was distracted and therefore could not find the time to write to her. She had to do something to put her mind at ease and Helen knew that she had to do something to help her. That is why she arranged for her husband to take her out to the farm that she had visited the year before when she had met Jamie’s parents for the first time. She had not seen them since although she wished that she had kept contact with them and wrote to them. Maybe they could had offered each other some comfort in their shared grief. They must have been missing Jamie as much as her and maybe they might be able to offer some explanation as to why he might have stopped working because at the moment she just thought that he had perhaps lost faith that she would still be waiting for him.
That morning she climbed into the back on the car waiting for her at the end of the street and she told her father that she would be spending the day with Helen and her son and he seemed to accept that as long as she was back in time for their dinner with Sebastian. He was still rather relentless about the matter as time passed. According to her father, enough time had passed since her mother’s passing for her to be over it and she needed to start thinking about her own future. It was becoming much harder for her to avoid him and Sebastian. Helen’s husband turned to her when she closed the door behind her and offered her a smile.
“We will arrive in a few hours. Make yourself comfortable. I think you will start to feel better when you finally get some answers and I’m sure that his letters simply got lost.” He said trying to offer her some comfort and although she did not reply to him, she did smile and nod before looking out of the window and stayed that way for most of the journey using the silence to think.
The day did not go the way she had hoped. She was hoping that she would see his parents and have her worries out to rest. They would tell her that his letters must have simply got lost because they had received their own letters and he was safe. Instead she was greeted by their worried expressions and their deepest apologies. It turned out that they had tried to find one of her letters in hopes of finding her address but they did not know where she lived and they had been unable to send her the news. The news that a telegram had informed them that their Jamie had been killed in action over a month ago. She stayed in their living room for quite some time to go through her first stages of grief with someone who understood the loss that she felt. Tears fell for what felt like hours while she was comforted by the parents she had only met once before yet it felt like she knew them a lot better than she knew her own father now.
She cried for days, writing letters to Jamie every day knowing that she would never been able to send them but it was the only thing that helped her through her grief. There was not a day that passed by over the course of the war that she didn’t write to him and she kept the letters safe in a box in her room so that no one would be able to find them. She never thought that she would have to live without her Jamie but somehow, some way she needed to continue with her life.
Time seemed to pass slower in the infirmary, Jamie could not tell how long he had been there, passing in and out of consciousness. The wound was not infected, which was a blessing. Many men died from an infection. The bullet had been clean, little shrapnel stayed in his body and they didn’t remove it for fear of making things worse. His strength grew each day. They discharged him sooner than he had expected due to needing room for other soldiers, ones with fresh wounds far worse than his own. It did not matter that he was no longer as healthy as he had been, or that he was returning to the front lines of a war he wasn’t sure they could win anymore. Jamie had been waiting for Elizabeth's letters for weeks now and knowing he was returning to his regiment meant they would be waiting for him.
There were no letters. He asked over and over if anything had arrived, his men said fewer and fewer papers were coming to the soldiers now, people had stopped writing. The only explanation was that they had gotten lost. Jamie couldn’t accept that the people back home were giving up hope, he couldn’t accept that Elizabeth had given up on him. That evening he wrote to her, explaining his absence and lack of letters. He didn’t tell her how bad the wound was or that he was not ready to be back on the battlegrounds, he didn’t want to worry her or give her any reason to think he would not be returning.
The letter, sealed with love, was given over. Days turned into weeks and still, nothing came. It did not stop Jamie from writing. No matter where his team went, no matter what horrors they saw, he wrote letters of love, of hope, outlining how he would stop at nothing to return to her. He ended his letters promising it would be soon now, how much longer could they fight?
One evening, soaked to the bone in the rain with stomachs and legs pressed to the ground, Jamie decided to open up to one of the other soldiers. A man who had been with him for a while now.
“The girl, the one I told you about, she’s stopped writing.” Jamie could feel the sadness in his words and knew the man only a breath away from him would feel it too.
“I have no one to write to son, my brothers were sent here to fight but we split up. I’m not sure where they are but I wrote to them a few weeks back. I didn’t get a reply.” Both men know the underlying fear. His brothers were most likely dead, injured or missing.
“I’m sorry.” Jamie whispered and closed his eyes, letting the rain mix with his own tears. At least Elizabeth was alive. She was safe at home, her father protecting her, her friends keeping her spirits up. At least she was alive.
If time had passed slowly in the infirmary, it seemed to stop altogether outside, and as the months wore on, no more letters arrived from Elizabeth, though, one from his mother did, it was dated before he went into the infirmary and for a short while his hopes for a reply from his love was lifted. His mother's letter had been misplaced and yet months later it was here. If only Elizabeths could have arrived too, then he would have a light amongst the darkness that flooded each day. Yet still, no letter came.
“Forget her.” His comrade said as the year drew on. Jamie could not forget her. He could not love her less and he could not believe she had forgotten him. “She’s probably found a fella who isn’t out here fighting for so-called honour”. The idea of Elizabeth finding someone else had been burrowing it’s way in the back of his mind since the moment he almost died. Surely she would have written, just to say she could no longer wait. Elizabeth wasn’t as cruel as to just leave him without so much as a sentence scribbled on paper. Jamie swallowed, his throat tight and stomach churning. He would continue to write to her and soon… soon she would reply.
Elizabeth avoided reading the papers if she could help it. She knew that the stories of success had to be a lie because if it were true the soldiers would already be home by now. It was almost summer and the war was still being fought a full five months longer than they suggested and the patriarchy of people in England was beginning to wear thin as people started to question what they were fighting for yet every day it seemed that more and more young men were signing up to fight, even boys who were barely old enough to be out of school.
Helen had her baby at this point and was one of the lucky few whose husbands didn’t go to war. It wasn’t exactly a choice for him but businessmen tended to stay and keep the economy going. He just so happened to be a successful one and that meant that he could stay home and watch his child grow up with his wife rather than have to fight on the front lines like Jamie had to. She didn’t exactly resent them for it but she couldn’t help but feel jealous about this every time she saw them. Most days Helen tried to see Elizabeth, especially since she seemed to be finding it harder to avoid Sebastian and she understood how hard it was on her to keep coming up with excuses that would not offend him and she simply couldn’t admit that she was in love with another because her father would surely ask questions that she was not prepared to answer.
On this particular day in early June Elizabeth was sat in Helen’s garden with her, talking about how much her son had grown in the last couple of months and how he had already started to settle into a routine that made their lives so much easier. Even though she was hurting a great deal inside she didn’t feel as though she could bring Jamie up when she seemed to be so happy with everything in her life but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t talk about him if she were to bring it up. It just so happened that she did.
“When was the last time you heard from Jamie?” She asked as she placed her son in the cot wicker basket at her feet. He had fallen asleep quickly after being fed and now it seemed they had the time to talk.
“I haven’t heard from him since April. I’m really worried Helen. Even though the letters are less regular than they used to be it’s almost been seven weeks and he has never gone this long without writing to me.” Elizabeth looked tired and genuinely grieved and Helen wanted nothing more than to make her feel better but she was sure that nothing but Jamie’s return could do that. “What if...?”
“Elizabeth.” There was a silence for a moment as she searched her eyes and shook her head. “Do not do this to yourself. His letter could have gotten lost in the mail easily. Perhaps you will receive one soon. You cannot allow yourself to think so negatively. Jamie is alive and he is out there fighting to get home to you and that is exactly what he will do the [i moment] this war is over.
“I know you are probably right but it does not stop me from worrying.” Elizabeth let out a sigh and looked down at her hand that had been absently playing with the other as Helen spoke. It was time to change the subject now because every time she spoke of him her heart grew heavier and came that little bit closer to breaking. “Father lost more money last night. He has played cards almost every night since mother passed away and each time the loss is greater. I am worried about the future of the company. I am worried about our future. What if he loses the business or the house? He could risk the future of our family.” She let out a sigh. “Although I am sure that he does not seem to care about that any more. He simply wants me to marry so that I become someone else’s problem and then he will probably throw everything away. Helen, when did my life become such a mess.”
The following months couldn’t have been prepared for. They had trained the soldiers, young men with no experience to a certain degree and yet the moment they were faced with real war, they all failed in some way. Jamie was no exception. He had passed out in terror, seen his own men, men who slept by his side and shared their water with him, bleed, kill, and scream out in their own madness.
He tried to write. To shield his Elizabeth from the true horrors and yet she was the only person he could open his heart to. It seemed everyone around him was either wounded, his own leg torn to shreds, held together by a pathetic bandage, or dead. The men he had set out with no longer sat by his side. Backs pressed, knees bent, faces smeared with dirt and blood, each man tried to remind himself of what they were fighting for, of the home they would return to. Jamie was no different. In his few moments where fear was not flooding his thoughts, he thought of Elizabeth.
As winter approached the weather was harder to survive than bullets. Jamie saw his fair share of men fall to flooding and cold and yet he no longer flinched. They were to remain in the trenches, stay the line no matter what destruction passed over them. His letters to Elizabeth had become shorter, his time to write to her was becoming rarer and he could no longer find the words to write.
In the first few weeks, he had prayed to return home to her, to be by her side as her mother passed. When Christmas approached the homesickness only got stronger. To not be by her side, missing their first Christmas together to witness the horrors of war, it was more painful than any gunshot. Her letter was kept close to his heart over the winter months, literally. He held it to him as day turned to night and in the occasions, he took it out, grief and love washed over him. It was hard to believe he would return home to her. Watching so many men die, he could not imagine making it through one night to the next, let alone making it home, and yet, he had to think that way. Elizabeths life would continue, each day turned into weeks and months they were apart and Jamie wished deeply that he could be with her, experiencing everything with her.
The winter months turned to spring and Jamie could hardly remember how much time had passed. The men, his men, had higher spirits as the rain ceased but it was short lived. No one looked the same anymore, limbs had been blown off, faces scarred and wounds reopened every day. Where men lay dead, rats would feed. The air no longer smelt right, gassy and filled with death.
The day he almost died was ironically a nice one. He had woken up in high spirits, eaten a small helping of eggs, a luxury. They were to set out before midday and as they walked together, arm to arm, guns slung across their shoulders, one of the men sung under his breath.
If Jamie had seen the man a second sooner he could have moved and yet the sun shone in his eyes, blocking most of the scenery from view. A sniper. Of all the things that could have happened to him. A single shot, though his chest and out the other side. Jamie barely stayed conscious enough to feel his back hit the trodden ground. He didn’t register the warmth of blood that soaked his skin or the searing pain that was burning through his chest. It happened too quickly.
Days passed before he regained consciousness and when he did he was flat on the floor of a makeshift tent. He couldn’t sit up, the pain in his chest too raw. The tent was filled with men, limbless and covered in dried blood. The nurses who had little training were doing their best but Jamie could see how they struggled. His hand flew to his bullet wound, taped and stitched. It would leave a scar. Jamie looked up at the ceiling and let out a feeble laugh. How would he explain this to Elizabeth? Hadn’t he promised to stay safe? He would return home with a hole in his chest that should have killed him. Jamie reached over to his jacket that lay next to him and pulled out her last letter, now stained a crimson red. Although he could hardly make out the words he let his eyes trace over the scribbles, knowing the letter by heart. He would write to her. When he could move his writing arm without throwing up, he would write. Jamie promised himself that much.
Elizabeth couldn’t say much else before Jamie left and after he did, she spent most of the evening and the next day locked away in her room. Of course her father couldn’t quite understand what had gotten into her. He just thought that the fact that a war had broken out affected her a lot more than it should have done. She was a woman and she didn’t need to be worried about such things, especially since it did not affect any of her family members. He would not go to war because his business was too important and the man he was trying to encourage her to court would be staying home too. He would probably never understand, at least not until the day Jamie returned from the war and she could finally make him understand. Her mother understood but she could barely keep her energy up long enough to stay awake for her to talk to her.
The loss of Jamie to the war was not the only loss she suffered in the summer of 1914. A few weeks after Jamie left, her mother passed away. The funeral was a grand event and many people attended although she was unsure about how many attended because they were genuinely sad about her passing or whether they were in attendance because it looked good for their business to show their concern for the person life of colleagues. It was safe to say that Elizabeth was feeling completely numb and isolated. She was alone now and her father seemed to throw himself into his work and spent his evening playing cards and gambling as a way to get through whatever he was feeling.
As the months passed she wrote to Jamie as often as she could, replying to the letters that he sent her. It was the only comfort she had now but Elizabeth was worried that both of them would be completely different people when Jamie returned from war. Elizabeth from the isolation and Jamie for the horrors of war. Perhaps even the tone of letters might have indicated that Elizabeth was in despair without the two people she loved most in this world.
By the time Christmas arrived there were many that were beginning to doubt the fact that the war would be over any time soon even though every had been so confident that their families would be returned to them in time to enjoy their Christmas celebrations together. Her celebrations didn’t exactly feel like celebrations even though he father seemed to have moved on and found a way to be happy. He invited Sebastian to spend the holidays with them and while she hated the pretence she at least tried to make it look like she was enjoying herself to keep her father from asking her more questions. Sebastian himself had also grown relentless these last couple of months, sure that he might be able to win Elizabeth’s heart if he simply persevered but she was careful not to give him the impression that she had the slightest of interest in courting him. Her heart belonged to Jamie and it always would.
On the eve of Christmas she received a letter from Jamie and she was sure that he would have received hers by this point. They had promised to write to each other separately for Christmas so they had something to help them through the holidays apart. It was the strength she needed to help her through the following day with people she wanted to be apart from. Elizabeth read the letter at least three times on Christmas Day, needing his words to offer her comfort when her father forgot to mention her mother in his toast and when he drank too much and suggested that Elizabeth would become a spinster if she did not choose to marry Sebastian soon. He was a good catch and he would make sure that she was set for life, especially when he was gone too.
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