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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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#6
John, England 1912
Frances
Jun 10, 2018
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5
15 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!JKynuDHnI3jUlc3fUgkRposted on PENANA

"You’ve been acting strangely, brother,” Bird hissed, slumping over the back of the ottoman where John lounged with an issue of Punch magazine.copyright protection5PENANAz0mElIuWTb

“Strange?” He snorted. “What are you talking about?”copyright protection5PENANAtCV2ZpFHNo

“You’ve been staring at that same page for the last ten minutes. I’ve been watching you from across the room. Ever since you returned from a walk in the woods a week ago, you’ve been wandering around like you’re in a dream.”copyright protection5PENANAK6i6jlmdCG

“Now you sound ridiculous. I’ve been much too preoccupied with my mathematics review to be wasting time dreaming.”copyright protection5PENANA4bGrP19kY2

He gave a weak laugh and flipped the page to the next article. He knew he’d been acting odd though, no matter how he tried to deny it. He couldn’t help it. All he could think about was the year 2002, telephones that slipped into pockets, wars with Afghanistan and Maria. Especially Maria.copyright protection5PENANAvrFquFQamE

“Even your governess has complained to mother about your attention span. I heard them whispering this afternoon. Your mind has clearly been elsewhere.” Bird peeked over her shoulder towards the door to make sure their parents were nowhere close. She shoved his shoulder. “Tell me. Something happened out there.”copyright protection5PENANAy7KQe3cAhP

“I don’t know what you’re talking about-”copyright protection5PENANAgm1WNRYWbW

“You saw her, didn’t you?” Bird gave him a persistent pat. “Maria. She was out there.”copyright protection5PENANAZHoE8SjZ2G

“And if she was? I thought you’d written the whole matter off as coincidence.”copyright protection5PENANADBNnr2rECI

Bird straightened her posture, perching her fists on her slim hips and lifting her proud chin. “Ha! I knew it! She came back, our mystery girl in trousers. Well? How is she?”copyright protection5PENANAtS4vPRmOOy

John shifted uncomfortably and sat up, closing the magazine. “Maybe I did.”copyright protection5PENANAKNf9so2Mn5

“And?”copyright protection5PENANAs0Ggo8iPMU

“She wasn’t doing very well, sis.” He rolled up the issue and hit the palm of his hand with it. “It’s her brother.”copyright protection5PENANAxgNBMCt8qh

“Which one?” Bird’s tone went sober at the change in his voice.copyright protection5PENANAHb4XlxlnjJ

“The older one, Devon. He… well, he died.”copyright protection5PENANAsMJ828gkX3

Bird tapped her fingers on the back of the ottoman behind his head. “I’m terribly sorry to hear that.”copyright protection5PENANAfvk376FAf6

“I was too.”copyright protection5PENANARWiWUDtf0N

She moved around the corner into his line of sight, her dark eyebrows drawn low over her eyes. “Are you going to see her again?”copyright protection5PENANAZtzJCCRTWP

John shrugged and rose to his feet, moving towards the hearth in front of him and staring into the flames. “I’m not sure. It’s… complicated.”copyright protection5PENANAWckhfrnV1C

Bird came to stand next to him. He adjusted his spectacles and glanced up at her. Her somber expression shifted to a playful smirk. “Complicated? John, is there something romantic-“copyright protection5PENANA2TzlQtYjJZ

“What?” He demanded, cutting her off. “What are you talking about? She’s my friend and that’s all.”copyright protection5PENANA7ItGr5ijYf

Her smirk melted into a knowing smile that she knew got under his skin. John growled under his breath and moved away, patting his leg with the magazine.copyright protection5PENANA8VstcIUADW

“So. Friends?”copyright protection5PENANAdGQM1Gg000

“Yes, Bird. Friends.”copyright protection5PENANAZ7ItOay7ux

“Well. Friendship is a slippery slope, dear brother.”copyright protection5PENANAmCtP6Fx0gb

“Stop.”copyright protection5PENANAXtROgSuwSu

“Stop what? I’m merely observing. And do you know what I see?”copyright protection5PENANAxSCflqqUxV

“What do you see?” He snarled. The moment he looked at her, he regretted playing into her hands. Bird primly tossed her curls over her shoulder with an impish glance.copyright protection5PENANAsUxVJDBhER

“You start to blush like a school girl when you talk about her.” She shrieked as he grabbed a pillow from the couch and winged it at her smug face. “But no, stop. I really am sorry to hear about her brother.”copyright protection5PENANAsCkjqBcV84

John stalked towards the door. “I don’t want to talk about it.”copyright protection5PENANApFX2Vjsld0

“Can I see her the next time you go?”copyright protection5PENANAgFUOBEscV7

“See who?” Their mother asked sweeping into the room. Both Kipling children gaped at her before regaining their composure. John wet his lips as his mother’s direct and questioning gaze fell on him. “Who have you been seeing, John?”copyright protection5PENANA3oKoHbZT67

“It’s about those dance instructors you’ve employed in the past, mother. We both would like to take some more lessons if possible,” Bird coolly interjected, her expression placid.copyright protection5PENANAYwMVyHf13t

Mum’s eyes darted between them before she sighed, her hands gripping her sewing. “We’ll have to see. Perhaps if I am feeling well enough in the next couple days, I’ll make arrangements.”copyright protection5PENANA1k8V9JACVw

A muted heaviness fell over the three of them as a maid brought in an after-dinner pot of chocolate and biscuits. The tray tinkled as she set it down on a nearby table, Mum thanking her graciously as she left the room.copyright protection5PENANAJZUunBGmvM

Their mother’s health had never been perfect but seemed to be worse in the years following their sister’s sudden death. She was often bed ridden. Carrie Kipling could shift from invalid to commander in chief of their home in two shakes of a lamb’s tail but winter was hardest for her. Especially as they drew closer to the anniversary of Josephine’s death in early March.copyright protection5PENANAutjgpRYES1

“Your father has been working very hard as well since we returned from Switzerland. If you both could be on your best behavior, show extra kindness to him these days, I would appreciate it.” Mum poured herself a tea cup and sipped it, inhaling the rich, sweetness of the steam.copyright protection5PENANA7UlgPu0q7W

“Of course, mother.” John laid a hand on her shoulder.copyright protection5PENANAWRVQljs1GX

His mother patted his fingers and gave a weary smile. “Would you like some, John?”copyright protection5PENANAOaq7rQZpuS

“No, thank you. I think I’ll go up early,” he said, trying to ignore the dull ache at the back of his skull.copyright protection5PENANAqCMMSChT2o

“Of course, dear. Sleep well,” she said, kissing his forehead.copyright protection5PENANAPZfLPB4hCK

“Good night, John,” Bird murmured, her tone subdued as she went to pour herself a cup.copyright protection5PENANAfrVGymwyL1

Even though she could drive him to distraction, his older sister was a good egg. He had to admire how coolly she handled their mother. Only God knew how Carrie Kipling would react to his secret meetings with an odd American girl wearing men’s trousers in the wood. As Maria would say, she would freak out.copyright protection5PENANAqcDdYwQgpT

As he laid in bed that night, gazing at the gramophone he had received as a Christmas present, he thought about Maria’s family. The loss of a child was an event that could destroy a world, his own parents were evidence of this truth. Even his father’s greatest work The Jungle Book, which would stand the test if time according to Maria, was dedicated to Josephine. Father said there were no such things as ghosts but the little girl with the blonde curls, who would always be both older and younger than John, haunted his parents’ eyes even when they were at their happiest.copyright protection5PENANAEfST0Iu507

John shivered and hoped he wasn’t coming down with something. Turning over in his bed, he pulled the covers tight about his ears and forced himself to think about something else as he drifted to sleep. His last thoughts were about the pocket telephone and what the word ‘Nokia’ could possibly mean.copyright protection5PENANAQfyLV77sFT

As luck would have it, John came down with a minor case of the flu the next day. Running a low temperature with aches and sneezing, he lay on the ottoman in the sitting room the next few days reading magazines and half heartedly flipping through his mathematics review. He dreaded the thought of returning to school but it helped that in a few days’ time, he would see Maria again. Hopefully.copyright protection5PENANAt657j4E9k3

Friday dawned chilled and foggy. It had been two weeks exactly since he had seen her. He was no longer feverish, but his mother still fussed over him that morning when he insisted he was well enough for a walk that afternoon.copyright protection5PENANA3YjVSjDnoD

“Mum, I leave this weekend. Would you please make an exception this once? I won’t see Bateman’s again for months,” he begged over their breakfast table.copyright protection5PENANAveT40Pb7hQ

Mother peered up from her marmalade toast, her eyes narrowing as she wiped the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “On a day like today? You’ll make yourself sick again, John. I can’t allow it.”copyright protection5PENANA1LX6Thaxrv

“But mother!”copyright protection5PENANAButUpme3KD

“Carrie, come now. Let the boy wander the grounds for an hour or so this afternoon,” father murmured behind his newspaper, peering up at his wife. She shot him a glare. Rudyard Kipling cleared his throat and offered his son a sympathetic grin before returning to his page.copyright protection5PENANAHfSAjSpv0H

“You’re returning to Wellington in a matter of days. You can’t get worse and miss the first of the term. You have your studies to consider, darling,” Carrie continued, pouring a cup of tea. “You know you do.”copyright protection5PENANAm1tj7nAiU1

John clenched his fists in his lap, crumpling his napkin. He had never hated school more than at that moment. It was almost enough to make him reconsider a career in the army if it meant he could escape into the woods to see Maria as he had promised.copyright protection5PENANANwvhrVEFYo

“Mother,” Bird spoke, demurely spreading butter on a slice of toast. “What if I went with him? We haven’t spent much time together this holiday, other than in Switzerland while we were skiing. It might be pleasant to take a turn about the gardens, just us. I’ll keep an eye on him, I promise.”copyright protection5PENANAiFEafY2Ft3

Mother pursed her lips in the silence, father’s newspaper crinkling as he turned a page. Bird blinked at their mother, her strong eyebrows arched as she patiently waited a reply.copyright protection5PENANAnP4R9ceJu9

Mother sighed. “Very well but wait until after noontime. Hopefully it will have warmed up a little by then.”copyright protection5PENANALiFhz6ceLb

Rudyard tossed his daughter a clandestine wink as he sipped his tea. Bird smirked at her brother once their parents’ attention was turned to an article that father read aloud to the table. John shook his head. Even though he had wanted to see Maria this last time alone, he had to give his sister credit for her tactful intervention.copyright protection5PENANAC4Qhe6fhMI

“Please. Let me go in there alone,” he pleaded with Bird as they crossed the pasture. “I don’t know how she’ll take it.”copyright protection5PENANAlayp1HBfr6

“She’s my friend too.” Bird tucked her fingers inside her gloves. “Besides, I gave mother my solemn word that I would not let you out of my sight. Do you want a make a liar out of your sister?”copyright protection5PENANAoco4uYaHcW

“No,” he grumbled, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I’d rather make mincemeat out of her.”copyright protection5PENANASP1I6gPlxC

Bird laughed brightly at his comment, irritating John even more. “Oh stop your grousing. Without me, you wouldn’t be out here at all.”copyright protection5PENANA4SMCiNkT3L

John shrugged, walking a few paces ahead of her. “I guess.”copyright protection5PENANA0rYowsnG9A

“A little gratitude would be appropriate.”copyright protection5PENANAD1pEKwUASs

“Fine. Thank you, Elsie Kipling.”copyright protection5PENANAcWlYzDMTxP

“That didn’t sound very sincere.”copyright protection5PENANAFyhDXN6kuf

John chose to ignore her as he plunged into the spiny depths of the winter forest. As that day earlier in January, the only sound was the faraway trickle of the Dudwell. He wished they could meet in the summer sometime when it was lovely outside and he could walk Maria down to the little river and show her the water mill, listen to the crickets in the grass as the sun set. She would like that, and he would just like to be with her.copyright protection5PENANAV7hkM2RGDJ

The frozen glen around the old oak tree was empty. He lifted his chin and squashed the fear that she would never come back. If she didn't, he would have to explain it to his snickering sister.copyright protection5PENANA9PGuOf8B9G

“Where is she?”copyright protection5PENANAqOeHscvywZ

“I don’t know,” John snapped, coughing into his fist.copyright protection5PENANAOr66MS9EzM

Bird’s brow furrowed as she came alongside him and pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. He brushed her away irritably. “You feel a little warm.”copyright protection5PENANAnJC4erjn2t

“I’m fine.”copyright protection5PENANA3tiibKuGj1

“What if she doesn’t come and you catch another chill out here? Mother will never forgive me.”copyright protection5PENANAF8tMegFnUe

“I won’t catch a chill.”copyright protection5PENANAaiYMmcdGzg

“Very well.” Bird sighed, settling herself against the tree as the wind whistled through the branches. “A little while longer then.”copyright protection5PENANAaDJsWUdrAw

The clouds never cleared, and a damp cold fell on the forest as the fog thickened. Bird pointedly took out the little watch pinned to her blouse beneath her coat. She lifted it for him to see.copyright protection5PENANAtgEW2TdHg8

“Mother is going to have a fit if we stay out any longer. It’s nearly five.”copyright protection5PENANAWqrUdO6quG

“I know. I have a watch too.” John paced, rubbing his hands together and trying to pretend the heat in his limbs was from the exercise.copyright protection5PENANAGFkq7glkIV

“You’re flushed, John.” Bird rose to her feet and brushed off her skirts. “And it’s getting dark. Come. Let’s get you home.”copyright protection5PENANAQbcv8eolWF

“Please, just one more minute,” John breathed, standing at the edge of the clearing and staring into the space where Maria had vanished two weeks earlier.copyright protection5PENANAuS6VMjJTKe

“John…” Bird’s voice trailed off at the steady thud of light footsteps rushing towards them through the gloom.copyright protection5PENANAArTUR1bclT

John’s heart leaped to his throat as Maria appeared in the mist. Her usually smooth hair was tangled around her shoulders like dark strands of seaweed, damp from the fog. She wore a black sweater and patent leather boots that went mid shin.copyright protection5PENANA8c4kIdz6yv

As she tore frantically into the clearing, John wasn’t sure where to look. She wore the most scandalously short dress he’d ever seen on a girl her age. The flared hem reached just above her knees, her legs covered in thick black stockings.copyright protection5PENANAL3nRZaaJ4U

“John!” she cried, throwing herself against him and wrapping her arms around his torso.copyright protection5PENANAXFmRAdTLqe

John froze, his arms extended out from his sides, any response dried up at her untoward arrival. He tried to remind himself that she was from ninety years in the future, a different time and set of social mores. But he had never been this physically close to a girl who wasn’t related to him.copyright protection5PENANAFyrJT9Wsgv

Bird watched from the tree, her expression gleeful with shocked amusement. “Maria!”copyright protection5PENANAY1zmTyw4hB

Maria untangled herself from him, he had never embraced her back, and wiped her damp eyes with the back of her hand. She raced forward and gave his sister the same treatment, leaving John inexplicably miffed. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Maria hugging his sister the same way.copyright protection5PENANAZfhl7Ry0DY

“Bird,” she cried. “I hoped I would see you again.”copyright protection5PENANAfixG2qQZT6

“I did too. I had to fight my way here, John seemed determined to keep you all to himself,” Bird said, squeezing Maria’s hand as they parted.copyright protection5PENANAvR84d1CK5T

John sniffed, annoyed by Bird’s confession. “We were worried we had missed you.”copyright protection5PENANAm48DpfvYg8

“John was especially concerned,” Bird added.copyright protection5PENANAXvrvctV2sP

“Only because I promised you and I didn’t want you to think me inconstant.”copyright protection5PENANA9XGh2UjEFo

Maria heaved a breath. “I can’t stay long. I sneaked away after a memorial service being held at the University today. There have been so many services for Devon…”copyright protection5PENANAy1tHFTXaSd

“John told me about your brother,” Bird said. “My sympathies for you and your family.”copyright protection5PENANAiPJJkVdgYG

“Thank you.” Maria nodded, peering down at her half-exposed legs that John was still trying to ignore. “I think I may have been followed into the lab by a TA working late so I don’t have much time. But I needed to see you again, the both of you. I couldn’t leave without a word like I did last year.”copyright protection5PENANA57EMpGHIlm

“Where have you been?” Bird asked, blinking at her clothes. “And what on earth are you wearing?”copyright protection5PENANA6ToAB3tzdl

Maria passed a knowing look to John. He squared his shoulders, wiping beads of sweat from his hairline. He was starting to feel feverish again but wasn’t about to go home. “I’ll tell you later, Bird. It’s quite a story.”copyright protection5PENANAMwbwgwruMp

“Did you go back to America?”copyright protection5PENANAaSxOFWunEQ

“Something like that, you see…” Maria stopped talking at the sound of voices mumbling in the distant pasture.copyright protection5PENANAJLK7llaPUo

It was his father and the family chauffeur, Moore. “John! Bird! Your mother is worried sick!”copyright protection5PENANAaHVmdbSFFE

Maria gaped at the Kipling siblings. “Who is that?”copyright protection5PENANA5PxCEdz9Ad

John’s eyes widened in horror. “Our father.”copyright protection5PENANAZkZKrk5C90

With a rabbit quick step, Maria retreated past the tree. “He can’t see me. That’s too much. I don’t know if I’ll mess something up considering who he is in history.”copyright protection5PENANA1kIWGW8yCO

“What are you talking about?” Bird demanded as the footsteps drew closer. “What is she saying, John?”copyright protection5PENANAdHELkiYTry

John wet his lips, shivering under his coat. “It’s difficult to explain.”copyright protection5PENANA7rT7bkrhXB

Maria’s breath hissed through her teeth. “Oh no.”copyright protection5PENANAiZW0VCX4bz

And then she was gone.copyright protection5PENANASphwaBO9vg

She hadn’t run into the woods or hidden behind the oak. Maria Flores-Hart was there and then suddenly gone, her disheveled figure vanishing much like John always imagined happened to fleeing ghosts. Bird let out a wild laugh of disbelief. He was only thankful she had been there to witness it as well otherwise he would have seriously started to question his sanity.copyright protection5PENANAHDIAKUVcbT

“Bird, John! Answer me now!” A shrill note entered their father’s voice.copyright protection5PENANANuSJvOmsTy

“John,” Bird whispered in the haunted stillness. “What just happened?”copyright protection5PENANA2LXjh7U6gq

“Maria had to go home.”copyright protection5PENANAnY36zO0v0c

“Home is where?”copyright protection5PENANApOGiyb7UE0

John turned towards her as father came into view holding a lantern in the darkening twilight, Moore close on his heels. “It’s a long story.”copyright protection5PENANAsGLqZ3yUaP

“Our father is Rudyard Kipling. I’m used to long stories.”copyright protection5PENANAlyOoEodFTd

Father huffed as he stomped into the glen. “And where have you two been? Why didn’t you answer me?”copyright protection5PENANARj1yBzKIuo

Bird’s expression swiftly changed to innocent surprise. “I thought you could hear us! We answered you. Honest, father.”copyright protection5PENANAJX4un3yWYI

“Where have you been?” Father squinted at them and approached his son, pressing his hand to his forehead. “You’re running fever again.”copyright protection5PENANALjhzIVXVBR

“Really?” Bird sighed. “I told you, John. We didn’t have time to look for that fox’s den again this year.”copyright protection5PENANA9tab1MLMvf

Father’s critical glance behind his thick glasses shifted between them. While Bird’s face was as docile as ever, John was sure he would give them away. He swayed on his feet.copyright protection5PENANAaedeJBiixh

“I have to admit, I am feeling a little unwell,” he said and meant it.copyright protection5PENANA1iAiSjeQeP

Father shook his head with a heavy sigh. “Come. Let’s get you to bed. And you, Elsie.” His sister winced at the uncommon use of her given name. “You can explain this whole thing to your mother. I wash my hands of it.”copyright protection5PENANAHoiSzkFk6b

Bird nodded solemnly. He could tell by her mild acceptance that this was a reasonable punishment for the chance to witness what had just occurred with Maria. She fell into step behind their father alongside John and nudged his shoulder.copyright protection5PENANAAgqNv9oOsV

“I’ll explain later,” he said under his breath as they crossed into the gardens. “I’ll write you a letter. It’ll be the safest way.”copyright protection5PENANA5teGL6Z0Xe

Bird jutted out her jaw. “Safe? What is she? A fugitive spirit that broke out of purgatory?”copyright protection5PENANAPEC8xctcwz

John grinned, blinking bleary eyed. “Come now, sis. Purgatory? We’re not even catholic.”copyright protection5PENANAn6QNUmXiap

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