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Live, Love, Lose - 20. Chapter 20

Hey!

So there is a change of point of view in this chapter and there will be another in some of the other chapter because of what is going to happen. Things are just starting to get downhill...

Robert was peacefully sitting in his armchair with his newspaper in both hands when there was a knock on the door.

“I will get it.”

He folded the paper carefully and put it down on the table before making his way towards the door.

He liked reading it in the morning after he had just bought it and then rereading it after work. It was a habit he had developed as a young adult.

Once he opened the door he was greeted by a young man whom he had never seen before. He had grey eyes and light brown hair, smooth and well-defined facial features that were the symbol of youth. Something he had lost many, many years earlier.

“Good evening. I’m sorry to disturb you…”

“It’s fine. You are not disturbing us at all.”

The young man stared at him as if he were examining him thoroughly.

“Are you…Mr. Hopkins...?” He asked a bit hesitantly.

“Yes, I am. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

He seemed to be quite embarrassed. Only then did he pay close attention to his clothes. He was wearing the British army uniform. And he could say that he was only a private with just a simple look at it. It was not exactly the same one as so many men had worn during WW1. But Robert started breathing unevenly at the mere sight of it. This could not mean anything good if he was there…

“I’m afraid you can’t…” he sighed before proceeding. “Let me get straight to the point. Nathan Edwards was killed during the evacuation of Dunkirk. We couldn’t do anything to save him….”

An all too familiar feeling started invading both Robert’s stomach and chest. A feeling that never really left him.

“I’d rather you be the one who tells his friend, George, about it. I don’t think he needs to know all the details…”

He was even more horrified as he was now thinking specifically about George. The death of a young man alone was already terrible enough like that.

“No, I don't think so either.”

Both men remained speechless for a little while. There was nothing more to be said anyway.

The young man eventually cleared his throat, having Robert look back at him.

“I should go now. My family’s waiting for me.”

Robert nodded at that.

“I hope they know how lucky they are to have you back.”

The young man remained mum for a few more moments, looking unsure as to what he should answer to this.

“I think they do.”

A tiny part of Robert was at least happy and relieved that he was part of the many young men that had managed to make it back home.

He gave him a very tiny, sad smile.

“What is your name?”

“Oh, right, I’m sorry…you’ve just had me realise that I forgot to introduce myself…that’s the first thing I should’ve done.”

“That's alright,” he assured him. “You were too overwhelmed by emotion and too focused on that terrible piece of news to think about good manners. That’s totally understandable.”

The young man nodded.

“My name’s James. James Edgar Sherwood.”

Robert nodded as an acknowledgement.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, James.”

“You too, Sir. If you’ll excuse me now,” he nodded at him as a farewell. “Have a good evening, even if…it seems like an inappropriate thing to say in such circumstances…”

Robert smiled at him once again, the same kind of smile as earlier.

“It’s still a better thing to say than ‘Sorry’.”

His silence seemed to mean that he agreed.

“I cannot deny that you’re right.”

Robert smiled again, but it wasn’t so sad a smile that time. He found the lad somewhat endearing.

“Have a good evening too. And a good family reunion.”

James looked a bit surprised by his response. He most likely had expected him to say something completely different.

“Thank you.”

The smile he offered him was warm, sincere. He could tell from the look in his eyes that he could not wait to see them again. How natural.

Robert returned his smile before James turned away and left.

He let his back fall against the door as the temporary happiness he had been feeling for the boy quickly left his mind. He inhaled sharply before he sighed. He couldn’t delay the moment when he had to tell George.

There was no appropriate time for such a thing. There was no good or soft way of breaking the news of someone’s death. It was crude, just like the moment of the death itself. Just like the bloody reality of war…

The person doesn’t want to die, and neither do the relatives or close friends want to hear about it. Yet, it just cannot remain untold. They need to hear it, as much as they do not wish to.

He removed his back from the door and took a few steps in the direction of the staircase. But as much as he knew he had to go up, his legs would not move. He remained frozen in his spot, staring at the wall blankly. His chest and stomach were aching in acute pain.

As much as he knew he had to accept reality just as he had learnt to in the past, he could not. He did not want George to be hurt. His heart and reason were at war. And for now, his heart was getting the upper hand. Would his reason be stronger in the end? He had to wait to discover it.

He gripped the wooden banister and squeezed it as hard as he could, as if he wanted to prevent himself from falling, from falling into some dark, bottomless abyss.

He tried to regulate his breathing; but even though he should be used to this kind of thing by that time, it was quite hard for him to do so. He remained motionless for about five minutes, maybe more. He wasn’t exactly sure.

“Robert,” he heard his wife call from the long hall. “What is happening? Who was it at the door?” She questioned as she was getting nearer and nearer.

He glanced at her once she was next to him.

“Robert…are you alright?” She was definitely worried.

Robert sighed again before he turned his head to look at her.

“George’s best friend was killed at war, while they were evacuating the Dunkirk zone.”

Of course, as he had foreseen, she looked totally both horrified and upset. She brought her hands to her face as her mouth fell agape.

The silence was like a dagger over their heads. If they broke it, they would be hurt. At last, he resigned himself to go upstairs. He knocked on the door and waited to be allowed to enter the room.

He found Carl and George playing chess. He was quite delighted to see that Carl enjoyed the game, but it only lasted for a brief moment. He could not be distracted by something positive.

“Boys, could you come down, please? There is something we need to talk about.”

The two young men stared at him with curious eyes, as expected.

“We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Oh well, he had not exactly expected this kind of reaction on George’s part. He should not have worded it this way… Well, at the same time he hadn’t expected himself to tell this kind of thing…

“No, no,” he let out a small awkward laugh, “I know you haven’t.”

And now he didn’t know how to word his next sentence.

“This is not about you two. But this is still very important. Everyone is concerned.”

What a smart way of distorting the truth…

Both boys exchanged a look.

“May we at least finish our game? Or is it so important that it can't wait?”

Robert was trying his very best to keep a neutral composure because he knew if he showed them how he was really feeling that George would figure it out.

“Yes, of course. Take your time. It can wait for a few more minutes.”

This was just a bit of delay, not that much.

“Okay.”

He swiftly turned around and exited the room to go back downstairs. His son was with his wife and as he had just taken the last step of the stairs, they were staring at him with sorrowful eyes.

“I could not tell him.”

There was this unmistakable look of compassion in Margaret’s eyes, the one that said: “I know how hard it is, and that’s alright.”

Paul licked his lips as he glanced down.

He was feeling like he was acting a bit out of cowardice. He passed his wife and son to end up right in the middle of the hall.

“Dad…”

Deep down he had always had a feeling that this was bound to happen. He should have helped George brace up for this. But he preferred not to talk about it at all with him, as if naively he had thought that there was a little bit of hope that his friend would have come back home safe.

But George was hardly twenty. He was not supposed to know the cruel reality and consequences of war. Things had never been meant to turn out this way.

His wife put a comforting hand on his shoulder. He knew it was hers without even looking at her.

He could already picture how George was going to break up, the pain on his face, a pain that hurts so much that it makes you feel as though you have just been stabbed.

He squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt that the image would fade away. But it only made it worse actually. He turned away so he could have a look at both his wife and son. She embraced him tightly, giving all the love she had got in her. But he knew this could never be enough to make him feel better.

The light cracking of the steps caught his attention. He turned his head, alert as his wife let go of him.

Soon enough, both Carl and George were down. He guessed very easily that the looks on their faces gave away a bit of the sad reality.

“What’s going on?” George asked, looking obviously confused as to why they had been asked to come down.

He was feeling like his heart was being stabbed mercilessly. He licked his lips nervously, his mouth had gone completely dry by that time. Margaret took his hand in hers and squeezed it, silently saying: “You can do it.”

“Why are you all looking like this?”

He could feel that George was started to get a bit anxious. The mere thought of George breaking down left him speechless. Yet his mind was screaming at him: “You’re familiar with this particular stuff!”

But George just was not anybody. He wasn’t a comrade, a friend-

“Why won’t you say anything? I thought we needed to talk.”

The frustration was growing as the sound of his voice was getting louder.

He could not delay this any longer; waiting without being told was some kind of torture that could be even worse than the news itself in some cases.

“I’m sorry, George. Nathan will never make it home.”

George was mum as if his brain were simply having a hard time to take in the sudden piece of news. But there was nothing more normal and understandable than this kind of reaction.

He did not even try to say anything to comfort him. Soothing words were only cold comfort.

The room was dead silent for minutes, at least five minutes. No one seemed to be comfortable either to try to say anything.

“You must be kidding.”

Bang. A brutal pang in his chest. The tone in his voice was enough to make this. This was the first step to breaking down. And now he had to put the boot in to make him accept reality as it was.

“No,” he trailed off, trying not to show his own vulnerable side. “He’s dead. He died before he could get on the boat to go back home. You…you will never see him again.”

It was best if he did not because seeing someone that close to you dying or dead was absolutely the worst thing that could ever exist.

This another long moment of silence became unbearable. Sometimes this kind of silence was more awful than seeing someone breaking down. He could clearly see that this would take much more than what he had said to accept it. Yet, he did not insist for the time being.

Eventually, George started shaking his head almost frenetically, in small but rapid gestures.

“No…no…no…no….”

He could feel this was starting to get really bad…but there was not really anything he could do to prevent this…

“George…"

“You’re lying! He can’t have died! D'ya hear me?! He can’t!!!” He snapped. This was the second step, still a part of denial.

Of course, he could never be angry with him for it. Yet, he was angry with himself for not being able to do anything to help.

“Please, calm down.”

What a weak way of trying to make the situation better…

The look George had in his eyes could have made anyone flinch in fear, and Robert was more worried for him than he had ever been before.

“You’re asking me to calm down…” His tone was dangerously low and threatening. “Then you should’ve never talked to me about such things in the first place!”

It hurt to see him like this. It really did. The strong pain in his chest and stomach would not stop.

“Listen…I know it’s the first time you’ve been experiencing the loss-”

“Don’t. Don’t. Just don’t say anything else. I haven’t lost him. I’m telling you he’s not dead.”

“George…” Paul began but hadn't got time to say anything else.

“Paul, please stay out of it, will you? Your father can handle this.” Margaret stopped him, only with good intentions in mind.

“You knew that it was very likely to happen. And I’m sure you thought about it once you didn’t hear from him anymore.”

Realisation was slowly starting to make its way to his brain. He could see it in his eyes, the way they became shifty said it all. He could also see it in the way his body stiffened.

“But hearing the word from someone else’s mouth makes it real.”

It seemed that he was starting to have trouble breathing. He was close to breaking down now. The feeling in Robert’s chest and stomach was becoming worse and worse; it was even attacking his lungs now. The sadistic silence, there it was again. Silence to remember the dead, yet that just ended up killing them for good, not just physically.

George’s eyes were starting to get glossy. He bit and chewed on his lips as if he would scream if he did not.

“He…”

Another pang of pain, as if he were being stabbed once again.

George did not need much more before completely falling apart. It was obvious.

“He promised…he promised me he’d come back…”

He was clearly trying as hard as possible to choke back his tears.

Robert did not need to look at his reflection in a mirror to guess he looked totally desperate, almost on the verge of tears himself.

George ran upstairs before he could shed a single tear.

“George…wait!”

Margaret was about to go after him, but he held her back.

“I think it’s better if we leave him alone. Not everyone deals with grief and mourning the same way. Some people prefer to have someone by their side to comfort them while others would rather be alone to pour out their feelings far from prying eyes.”

Neither did his wife or his son make any comment about it.

And that was it. The war had struck again. Making another victim amongst so many others. And it had only started a few months earlier…

There are no winners in a war, only victims. That’s what he had learnt the hard way.

“Are you staying with us for dinner?”

“Yes. That’s what I’d planned.”

Robert was too caught in his feeling of emptiness to pay any attention to his surroundings anymore. He was not quite sure for how long he remained standing there, staring into space. Perhaps five minutes or more again. But he knew he had to get a grip on himself eventually. Acting like a ghost did not solve anything.

He noticed both Margaret and Paul were gone, leaving him with only Carl.

Only then did he realise what he had done, that he had been here all along…

“I’m sorry you had to see that…”

But his words were only met with silence.

He opened his mouth again to talk, and try to explain to him what had just happened, but he inferred words were useless. As Paul had already said it himself, he was not stupid.

“Let us go to the living room, shall we?”

Well, there's nothing much I can say any longer...

But I hope you still enjoy the story so far :)

Take care ❤️

Copyright © 2021 LittleCherryBlossom26; All Rights Reserved.
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Once again the hollowness of war strikes at hearts, minds and souls. First at the victim of senseless slaughter, Nathan. Second would have been Nathan's mum, family and sadly his little brother who brought the letter for George, obviously before they had their lives shattered when the learnt of Nathan's death at Dunkirk. 

Finally striking at his best friend (and "The love that dare not speak its name"), George. 

For George and all who feel gutted by having a loved one torn away from you, but all the worse when you can not grieve for them publicly.

💔

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What an amazing chapter! You made these characters come alive powerfully by letting me feel the emotions. I could feel the pain, sadness, compassion, fear and anger of each and everyone of the people in this chapter.  Your rapid growth as a story teller is evident in this chapter of the person consequences of war. Bravo!:hug:

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