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War
Romance
Extraordinary Season
Writer Frances
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  • G: General Audiences
  • PG: Parental Guidance Suggested
  • PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • R: Restricted
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John, England 1910
Frances
Jun 10, 2018
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25
10 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!LqbVdfm25wEE2V6WTaR4posted on PENANA

The following day, John slipped into the garden after tea. Skirting past the lily pond, he trotted down into the grove of trees where he’d met Maria the previous afternoon. The sluggish, icy trickle of the Dudwell River could be heard faintly beyond the trees. His heart thudding in his throat, he crunched through a pasture of dead grass towards the bare woods.copyright protection25PENANAWZmuHeKEku

With the weather growing chillier, his mother had insisted he wear a coat that day. Truth be told, she was always wary of her children staying out long hours in cold weather. She had already lost his eldest sister, Josephine, to a bout of pneumonia when John was two years old.copyright protection25PENANAy6UJ17Zna4

Despite the photographs of the three of them decorating the walls of their home, John had no physical memory of Josephine. His parents, however, spoke of her as though she were only in the next room. To him, it seemed that their grief was a walk they took every day together, forever mourning their lost child.copyright protection25PENANATPJWLPTE0K

The branches trembled in an errant breeze, the sky above an icy blue that spoke of snowy evenings and killing frosts to come in the next months. He halted at the foot of the old oak tree, the splintered branch that he’d toppled out of the previous day laying half buried in the leaves.copyright protection25PENANAJWK6qrlb6F

“Are you actually thinking of climbing that thing again?”copyright protection25PENANAFFLzpMHoaS

John broke into a smile and turned towards the voice. “Maybe.”copyright protection25PENANAt4Hc0s1T71

Maria gingerly stepped forward. She was wearing her long pants again, but they were khaki brown, and her shoes were made of modest leather. She wore a cable knit red sweater, much like one he might have in his own closet.copyright protection25PENANAEQYpXpRiAY

Though her clothing was less outlandish than the day before, her sudden appearance and impish grin made John feel like he’d fallen into a fairy tale. Perhaps that’s what she was, a daughter of the good people, the mythical first inhabitants of the British Isles whose tales filled their extensive library at Bateman’s along with stories from his father’s birthplace of India. Though he rarely picked up a book unless forced, he had heard enough tales spun by his father next to the fire.copyright protection25PENANAYfDJP3wwrG

“You must have hit your head yesterday if you’re thinking about going back up there.” She crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin in silent challenge.copyright protection25PENANApUK66Ly8FG

John jutted out his jaw, deliciously annoyed by her teasing. The attention was nice. “No. I didn’t. But there are other trees around here good for climbing if you’d like to see them.”copyright protection25PENANAajx8JuxAN8

Maria nodded. “Okay. Sounds good.”copyright protection25PENANAyLocvdf1KH

And that was how the rest of the afternoon was spent, scrambling up oaks and inspecting foxholes for red tailed inhabitants. It was the most fun John had had outside since his sister had decided she was too high and mighty for such games the previous summer.copyright protection25PENANAH9CsgJdPRS

When they parted ways that evening and he went home to Bateman’s, Bird was waiting casually in the garden for him. She fell into step beside him as they walked towards the house in the gray light.copyright protection25PENANAv2c2aVxIwk

“Well?”copyright protection25PENANAR56fiCsxDd

“Well what?” John teased.copyright protection25PENANAflnRNDA1sr

“Was she there today? The strange American girl?”copyright protection25PENANAUXt60E2xny

“Oh yes. She wore trousers again.”copyright protection25PENANASeEZtWBWuf

“When can I meet her?”copyright protection25PENANAaJAxAobaqD

John paused at the door, letting Bird wait a moment before he replied. It had been such a long time since he’d had a carrot to dangle in front of her nose and it was all too enjoyable. “Tomorrow, I suppose. She seemed more at ease today.”copyright protection25PENANACkB6qCLs98

Bird gave a yawn. “Then I guess I could spare a little time to go with you.”copyright protection25PENANA12nG2RCDN6

The next afternoon, Bird was more than ready for their outing. They told their parents that John had found a fox den the previous day and they were going to investigate it. Their father was busy writing at his desk in his study, his usual cloud of smoke filling the room with foggy sunlight. He waved them on to their outing and they tip toed out, avoiding the crumpled, ink stained balls of scratch paper in their path.copyright protection25PENANASYPtvqSHAi

Though usually affectionate, father had been sad of late. Their grandmother had recently passed away and their grandfather was swiftly ailing. Holidays were always spent with family and close friends enjoying parties and skiing trips to Engelberg, Switzerland. This year had been spent somberly at home.copyright protection25PENANAkdCWj2y4vI

Their mother was skeptical, but she soon ceased her questioning at the chance to see her two children playing nicely once again. John knew the sight of him and Bird together would be enough to win her over.copyright protection25PENANAdxLAdNrQqf

As they stopped at the old oak, John removed his glasses and cleaned the smudges from the thick lenses. “How old do you suppose this tree is, Bird?”copyright protection25PENANAWjdMNJcFqN

His sister was silent. He hooked the rims of his spectacles around his ears and turned to find the two girls studying each other. Maria was wearing a pair of pants made from the same rough, blue dungaree material he’d seen her in that first day. These were plain without the butterfly embroideries. In a thick double-breasted coat of bright green and her dark hair pulled up in a thick flounce on the back of her skull, Bird couldn’t stop staring at her. Even the fabric of her clothes seemed unreal, as though it wasn’t made of the same cotton and wool in their own outfits.copyright protection25PENANAYL0AIkDgo9

“Goodness me. You are an odd little thing,” Bird finally breathed.copyright protection25PENANAZCHKcUxELY

“Little? I’m the same size as you.” Maria narrowed her eyes at him. “Who is this, John?”copyright protection25PENANATIi7u5RHLh

John’s heart dropped to his stomach at her offended tone. “I’m sorry, I should have asked you yesterday. This is my sister, Bird.”copyright protection25PENANAvJ3wkLQX2f

“You told her about me?”copyright protection25PENANA72ROM4JkJu

“Only her,” he pressed, holding up his hands as he declared his innocence. “I swear it.”copyright protection25PENANAiCcBKHHBps

Bird cocked her head to the side. “What does it matter if someone else knows about you? Why are you so worried?”copyright protection25PENANATUcWrxIhvL

“Because.” Maria drew a deep breath. “Because I’d get in trouble and I’d never be able to come here again.”copyright protection25PENANAxCNpqAt9Uc

“Our parents won’t mind you playing on our land as long as you don’t destroy anything,” Bird said. “They aren’t bad people.”copyright protection25PENANADcPQOzxvaW

“No. It’s not your parents I’m worried about. It’s my parents. They would freak out if they knew I came here.”copyright protection25PENANAY4Ra0iIJAd

Bird let out a laugh. “You’re right, John. She does speak strangely. Freak out?”copyright protection25PENANAu7PhxfS1pM

“They would have a meltdown,” she tried again.copyright protection25PENANAe2Z3SNDqiO

“Meltdown?” John interjected.copyright protection25PENANAngSerTx9C8

“They would be upset,” Maria burst with an exasperated snarl. “This is getting out of control. I came here because things are hard at home right now with my mom and dad. I needed to get away and I guess I wanted to do something… disobedient. I thought it would make me feel better.”copyright protection25PENANAm6gcoNrgOR

Bird took a step forward, her expression softening with concern. “You mean that by going outside to play, you are being disobedient to your parents? Are they cruel to you?”copyright protection25PENANA32T26MPJc7

“No. No, not going outside in general. Coming here to this place specifically.” Maria sighed. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”copyright protection25PENANAyAnqOPjmYW

The siblings shook their heads in unison.copyright protection25PENANAul3LxryZIn

“You see, my parents are both very smart people. They teach physics at a University and they have lots of projects and books to write. Anyway, they’ve been busy lately, more than usual, and I think it’s because my older brother is gone. They are worried about him so I’ve kind of faded into the background with my little brother, Jake. And I’m worried about my older brother too. Devon is his name. I came here and hoped it would make me feel better.”copyright protection25PENANAQLpKNvwCfJ

Even though a lot of what she said didn’t make sense, there was something about the feeling of her speech that resonated with John. Bird seemed to understand as well. Families were complicated things after all, regardless of their origin.copyright protection25PENANAKNj8e8XyvV

Bird wet her thin lips before she broke the silence that followed. “Where is your brother Devon?”copyright protection25PENANAu0hxLOZjOI

“He is… he’s gone overseas.”copyright protection25PENANAHEt6ohCVUR

“Has it helped?” John tried not to make the hope in his voice obvious. “Being here? Has it made you feel better?”copyright protection25PENANAFEFYMU7KsC

Maria cracked a lopsided smile and nodded, meeting his eyes. “It’s been nice.”copyright protection25PENANAGWCXunMtHA

Bird approached and took her hand. “Well then you don’t need to worry about us spoiling your fun. We all need to escape every once and a while. Our home is lovely, but it can feel a little dreary now and then. Our father is a writer too and he’s often busy, even though he is much more interested in us than other fathers with their children. But we know what it’s like to have parents that are sad sometimes.”copyright protection25PENANAboeFvDW8zR

In a moment’s passing, both girls were blinking back tears. They broke into soggy giggles and embraced, catching John by surprise. He felt a swelling of jealousy, something childlike and entirely beneath him but he couldn’t help it. Maria was his secret friend, not Bird’s. But like with most things, his older sister was sweeping in and taking over. He shoved his hands in his pockets and kicked at a frostbitten mushroom, scowling at the ground.copyright protection25PENANA0evFcizk22

Bird laughed, turning towards him. “Oh no. It seems I’ve ruined my little brother’s outing.”copyright protection25PENANAWIYzGsXsWF

“I don’t care,” he groused miserably.copyright protection25PENANA274hMzUJIt

“Stop it, John. You’re the one who tattled without asking me first,” Maria protested. “You’re the first friend I made here and that’s something special, isn’t it?”copyright protection25PENANAAII6nUpXfs

John shrugged. “I guess.”copyright protection25PENANAZbbYLRrIjn

“Come on,” Maria walked towards him and laid a hand on his elbow. “Let’s show your sister that fox den we found yesterday.”copyright protection25PENANAomusDh2y1K

His eyes traveled up to where her hand rested. Peeking out from under her coat sleeve, the silver chain of a charm bracelet slipped into view. Among the pendants and tokens there was a charm identical to the one in his pocket, a St. Christopher medal. Puckering his brow, he poked the medal. “Where did you get this?”copyright protection25PENANA2BsKIQF7OU

Maria blinked down at her hand. “It was a present from my father when I was born. A St. Christopher's medal. I don’t know why. We’re not even catholic.”copyright protection25PENANAAN6LMSCdAW

Bird pursed her lips into a wry grin. “My brother has a similar one. I suppose that silly old thing really did find you, little brother, the same way Maria did.”copyright protection25PENANABZj6rXnuvp

The three of them played in the forest for the rest of the afternoon. They continued to do so every day of the Christmas holidays. After the dawning of the new year of 1911, John returned to the wood by himself and waited by the old oak tree. Maria Hart did not come back. He repeated the custom in vain hope for three days but only succeeded in coming down with a bad chill. Afterwards, his mother kept him housebound till he was forced to return to school at St. Aubyn’s Preparatory Academy.copyright protection25PENANAey0HjJxYQl

By the end of the spring term, after weeks of English rain and extra Latin studies encouraged by his father, the strange girl in trousers seemed like a dream. He and his sister never spoke of her in their letters, respecting Maria’s wish to remain a secret known only to them. That made Maria feel even more like a spirit that had burned away with the December mist.copyright protection25PENANATq90cWSO9s

That summer, with the approach of his birthday in late August, John prepared for his move to Wellington College to further his education. Though quick witted, he was never the scholar, unlike his father, and had to cram for months in hopes of passing the entrance exam. He made it, much to his relief. The prospect of going even further from his close-knit family was daunting, especially since they traveled broadly most of the year, but something he was ready to experience. Besides, he was certain his father’s regular correspondence would help him feel less isolated.copyright protection25PENANALLr5RT2fny

As he helped pack his steamer trunk into his father’s motor car in the early gold of September, he paused before hopping into the passenger side. Gazing towards the wood, he expected to see a shadowy figure among the tree trunks, watching him as he left her behind. There was nothing but falling leaves and an inquisitive doe.copyright protection25PENANAEC6EjpoQoe

While at Wellington, distracted by his studies, new friends and games of cricket, the memory of Maria Flores-Hart faded till she seemed as distant as his dead sister, Josephine. When he returned to Bateman’s for the Christmas holidays and went traipsing through the wood, bemoaning how dull everything seemed far from his school, he was utterly surprised by the small figure weeping bitterly at the foot of the old oak tree.copyright protection25PENANAchFmiRiaGs

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