Going Home (Here Lies a Soldier part 8) 

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.

Meredith passed the plate of bacon across the table. “Did you manage to sleep at all, David?”

“Hardly,” David answered, not looking up from the sheet of paper. The truth was, he’d slept just fine, but he’d been so plagued with dreams –vivid dreams– that it felt like he hadn’t slept at all.

Two scenes kept repeating over and over. The first — a simple vignette of Ada and Will walking down a street, Will was pushing a carriage conveying a little girl, dressed in the clothes of the day, her ringlets topped with a bow, and additional bows adorning her little shoes and the frills of her dress.

The second scene was a horror. The smoke of battle, the shriek of mortar fire, explosions all around him, as if he were a soldier right at the front lines. Mud, barbed wire, the smell of death, from the bodies of horses and his fallen comrades. The wounded screaming in pain and terror. David shook his head to clear it.

“Here, listen to this… In one of Freddie’s letters to his mother from his training camp, he writes… ‘I haven’t heard from Will since I’ve arrived. I trust he’s no closer to resolving things than he was when I left. Please pass on my best wishes and hopes that he might be able to join me soon.’ It sounds like Will was having some sort of trouble preventing him from leaving. Would he really be joining his brother in the same unit, though?”

“Yes, friends and brothers were encouraged to enlist together. It was supposed to be better for morale. It backfired when all the boys from the same town would die fighting in the same battles,” Meredith said.

“Or all the boys in the same family,” David added. “Dreadful.”

“But to answer your first question, yes, that sounds like Will had some sort of trouble.” Meredith sighed. “David, eat something before it gets cold.”

“What? Oh, right,” he said, taking the plate from her hands. David nibbled absently on a strip of bacon while continuing to peruse the pages of photocopied letters. The correspondence ended abruptly in the spring of 1915, when Freddie lost his life on Flanders’ fields. David sat back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. “What next, Meri?”

She put down her coffee and dabbed her lips with the napkin. “Fresh air. Let’s go for a walk and think about it. Come up with a plan. I love research, David, but I cannot stand a haphazard approach. We’ll end up running in circles.”

“Alright. Fine.”

They bundled in warm coats, hats and gloves. The weather had once again turned cold, as if it knew it was the longest night – the start of winter.

“What shall we do for Christmas, Cousin?” Meredith asked. “Would you like me to cook you a goose?”

David laughed. “No, don’t be ridiculous! What would you normally do?”

“I’d get takeaway Chinese and spend the day reading,” she answered. “What about you?”

“One of my friends would take pity on me,” he replied. “Which sometimes is even worse than being alone.”

“I know.”

“Anyway,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “Let’s keep it simple.” He hesitated, then said, “I did, however, buy you a gift…”

Meredith stopped short. Putting a hand on his arm, she smiled. “I bought something for you, too. God, I hope you didn’t fuss!”

He grinned. “No, it’s not much… But I think you’ll like it.”

“Wonderful, Cousin.”

“Now, tell me what should we do next?”

She resumed walking. “I think we need to go home, David. We need to visit Turnby, the village where our family lived.”

Survived By a Daughter (Here Lies a Soldier part 7)

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the series and a family tree, here.

The fire, which had offered such comfort from the damp and cold of the deteriorating afternoon, now felt oppressively warm.  David pulled the collar of his shirt, swallowing hard.  He must have read it wrong.  For a second time, he squinted at the scrap of paper Meredith had handed him. An obituary — his great grandmother’s. He reached into the pocket of his shirt for his glasses and read the words again. “Survived by a daughter, Gladys and a son, Hayden…” he murmured.

“Cousin?” Meredith asked gently.

“That can’t be right,” he said, handing the clipping back to her. “Could it be a mistake?”

“Do you really think there’s another Ada Henry Jennings that lived and died at that exact same time, in that exact same place? Besides, why would it be in my Gran’s scrapbook, if it wasn’t your great-grandmother?” she asked. She re-read the clipping for herself. “1918…The influenza?”

He nodded. “Leaving behind a baby —or two, apparently— to grow up without either parent.” He frowned. “According to Dad, the great-greats took Hayden in. They raised him as their own.  But I really don’t know much about his childhood. I was hoping perhaps your Gran’s collection would shed some light on it. But now…”

“We have another mystery on our hands.”

He removed his glasses and set them on the table. Then, after taking a healthy swallow of his tea, he said, “You know what this means, don’t you?”

She nodded. “You might have a great-aunt, second cousins. Relatives closer than me.”

“And,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This… Gladys would have been born before…”

“William and Ada were married,” she finished for him. “How positively scandalous.” She laughed softly. “It happened, you know, even back then.”

“It would have been so hard for them, though.”

“Of course,” she replied. “David, your grandfather, Hayden, never mentioned that he had a sister?”

“He died when I was little. And he didn’t share much with my father.” He paused, took a deep breath. “My father didn’t like talking about it, but I have the impression that he and my grandfather had a… difficult…. relationship.” He sipped again and returned the cup to the table in front of him. “They weren’t on speaking terms when Grandfather died. Dad left home when he was seventeen, joined the army, went to college on the GI Bill and never looked back.”

“But your father never said anything? That he had aunt somewhere?”

David stared at his hands. “No.  He mustn’t have known.  He would have told me.  His mother gave him what little memorabilia Grandfather had saved.  He made sure to pass it on to me.”

“Family was important to him, despite his … difficult relationship with his father?”

“Perhaps, because of it. He always wished for a large family. Mom had a tough pregnancy. They couldn’t have more children after me… He was a good father…” He lifted his hands, let them drop. “I think he really wanted some kind of connection to his own ancestors.  That’s why I started compiling the family history. For my father. I was trying to finish it before my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. It would have been my gift to them.”  He paused, then said quietly, “If they had made it.”

Meredith didn’t say anything. David had told her the story the first time they had met. How his parents had been driving south like they did every winter to their house in Florida. Thomas Jennings had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel and drifted into the path of an oncoming truck. He and his wife Ellen had been killed instantly.

“Anyway,” David sighed. “I can’t understand why there was no mention of this Gladys in William’s letters.”

“And why did they wait to get married?”

David’s eyes widened. “You’re right. Why didn’t they marry as soon as they learned Ada was pregnant? Surely, it would have saved them both a little humiliation.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing in the letters? Something you might have overlooked or not recognized for what it was?”

“We’ll have to look again.” He turned in his seat to face her. “Suddenly, I’m no longer so tired.”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Well, I am. I’m the one who had … um, very little sleep last night.”

“Oh, right. Forgot about that.” He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe we finished that conversation.”

She stood and reached for their teacups. “Just leave it, David. I don’t want to talk about my abysmal love life and my weakness for charming, intellectual assholes.” She continued over her shoulder, “Let’s start dinner and make it an early night. I promise we can spend the entire day working on it, tomorrow. But for now, let’s talk about something else.”

“Fine,” he said following her into the kitchen. “What else would you like to talk about?”

“Well, since we’re on the subject,” she said, grinning wickedly. “You can tell me about your abysmal love life, instead.”

He laughed. “Now, I’m going to need something stronger!”

***

Thanks to some wonderful suggestions in the comments of my post on writing different timelines, I now have the ideas as to how to proceed.  Special thanks to Meritings, Jack Binding and JS Malpas!  

The Right Place (Here Lies a Soldier part 4)

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts in the series and a family tree, here.

David stood at the curb, waiting for Meredith to pick him up. He texted her when he was just about to exit Terminal 5. Heathrow was bustling with other holiday travelers on this last Saturday before Christmas. When she finally pulled up in her VW Golf, he sighed in relief. She looked happy to see him. It was hard to tell what a person was really thinking when the only way you communicated was through e-mail. She laughed at his two large suitcases. “David, how long were you planning to stay? We do have washing machines, you know.”

He reddened. “Sorry. Just didn’t want to be caught unprepared.” He hoisted the suitcases into the hatch, then folded his long legs into the front seat beside her. He grinned sheepishly. “I wasn’t sure about the weather.”

“Well, I suppose that’s wise. The weather’s been all over the place. We went from snow two weeks ago, to feeling like spring today.” She merged into traffic and exited the airport. David kept quiet and let her concentrate on driving. “So, the flight was all right?” she asked, when they’d reached the motorway.

“Yes, fine.”

“Good. Are you hungry?” She glanced over. “Or would you rather just go home and have a rest?”

“No, some lunch would hit the spot. I’d rather just try and stay awake so I can acclimate to the time difference. Is that all right with you?” he asked. She looked a little tired herself. Had she lost weight? Or was he just remembering wrong?

“It’s fine.” She smiled. “We’ll stop at my favorite cafe in town. It’s on the way to my house.”

Meredith asked about his work. He told her things were busy. The company was expanding into Europe. There were plans to open up new facilities next year. He asked her how she’d been spending her break from school. She said she’d been catching up on the reading she’d been missing out on while teaching her classes.

The cafe wasn’t crowded on this last Saturday before the holidays. The students had mostly left for their homes and the town had quieted considerably in their absence. “Let’s sit outside,” Meredith had suggested. “Who knows if we’ll get another chance.” David had agreed.

They perused the menu and David asked, “What do you like? Any suggestions for me?”

She recommended the shepherd’s pie and they each ordered it. She said, “I thought I’d try to make dinner at home tonight. I figured you’d be tired and want to turn in early. You know, rather than go out again.”

“Yes, that sounds perfect. I have so much to show you, too. And I can’t wait to have a look at your grandmother’s scrapbooks and albums.”

They sat across from one another sipping their coffee, in comfortable silence. David smiled, remembering his dream. Meredith raised an eyebrow. “Something funny?”

A sudden gust of wind rushed in, flapping the table cloth and knocking over the centerpiece. Rain began to splatter against the ground and all the diners scrambled for the door. David took Meredith’s arm and pulled her inside, where she leaned against him laughing. “Well, that was unexpected.”

David kept an arm around her and said, “I guess we’ll eat inside.”

“David? Are you all right?” Meredith asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

David laughed. “No. Not a ghost. Just a remarkable sense of deja vu.”

“They say that means you’re in the right place at the right time,” she said.

“Well, I’ve no doubt of that,” he said shaking his head.

It was only a few minutes’ drive to her cottage but rather than go straight home, Meredith followed the coast road. At a convenient place, she pulled over and parked.  They huddled under her umbrella and looked out over the English Channel.  She told him you could see France on a clear day. David inhaled the cool, moist air and sighed contentedly.

That afternoon, when David had unpacked and had a chance to freshen up, he brought a black binder out to Meredith’s small dining table and set it down. She looked up from her book. “What’s this?”

“I photocopied all the letters and cards William sent home. That way I don’t have to keep handling the originals.” He opened to the first one. “Have a look.”

Meredith came over to stand beside him. She looked at the first letter, read the neat handwriting. David’s great-grandfather had been excited, as were many of the young men at that time, to go off to war. He described his training, the friends he was making, how they couldn’t wait to go and liberate “poor little Belgium.” She turned the pages, there were letters, post cards, a few photographs. She too, had a collection of letters from her great-grandfather, William’s brother Frederick. Her gran had saved them, preserved everything in scrapbooks and albums.  Her mother had wanted her to know, if only through his writing, the kind of man her father, Frederick, had been. Meredith looked up at David. He must be exhausted by now.

“David, let’s not get into this tonight. We have two weeks. Sit and relax. I’ll fix you a drink and then start our supper.” She pointed to the sofa. “Go on.”

David watched as Meredith bustled about in the kitchen. She quickly chopped vegetables and grated cheese. He sipped her single malt whisky and savored. Now she whipped eggs in a bowl. “I’m just making omelettes. Hope that’s alright.”

“Yes, perfect.”

A few minutes later she called him to come to the table. The omelettes were delicious, he told her. She blushed and thanked him. She said that she didn’t often get to cook for anyone else and that her skills were limited. He said he thought she did just fine.

He asked what kind music she liked. They liked the same things. She asked what he was reading.  He named a popular American author.  She read historical fiction.  He told her he’d like to see the countryside if she didn’t mind showing him. She said she would be happy to. She asked if he’d like to hike along the coast one day. He said he would. He wanted to spend a day in London, too. She said she’d take him to the British Museum. He thought that sounded wonderful. They finished eating but didn’t leave the table. They kept talking until David finally yawned.

“Well,” Meredith said, rising from the table, “it’s getting late. I’ll clean up the dishes and let you get to bed, if you’d like.”

“Let me help you,” he offered, reaching for the same plate she had. They played tug of war with it until Meredith finally relented, laughing.

“All right, you can wash, I’ll dry and put away. Satisfied?” she asked, grinning.

David had his hands in the soapy water when the doorbell rang. He looked at his cousin, startled. She looked as surprised as he. She glanced at the clock. “I’ve no idea who it could be at this hour,” she said.

David dried his hands and followed her to the door. She opened it and gasped. A tall, lean man about his own age stood leaning against the doorjamb. He was sandy-haired, bearded and handsome in a bookish kind of way. He had also obviously been drinking. “Rob! What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Meri,” he said, slowly smiling. “I missed you. Thought I’d come for a visit.” He looked at David and frowned. “Who’s this?”