‘Sarah? Sarah, come away from the window.’
Sarah turned, but she was staring back out into the sinking evening before she even caught Ted’s eye.
‘You won’t bring him home any faster by watching for him every minute of the day,’ said Ted, and he suppressed the sigh that expressed all his frustration with his future brother-in-law. ‘Come on, Sarah, come and sit down and try to relax. We don’t get nearly enough time together as it is, and you’ve spent most of it…’
Mooning over that brother of yours, was what he stopped himself from saying, but Sarah seemed to hear him nonetheless. However, she took his point. She sighed, but she did at least come and sit beside him, though he could feel from the tension in her shoulders that she was most certainly not relaxing.
‘My dear love,’ he said, and tried to kiss her, but their lips met for barely moments before she pulled away.
‘No…no, Ted,’ and her arms came across her chest in a gesture that was unmistakeable, and this time he lost his patience and sighed. That wretched young man! He had known there was something wrong from the way Sarah had been that summer, tense and nervy, but he had not known the extent of it until today, when he had seen Tristan at his bloodshot worst, Sarah rise to the disaster at her unhappy best.
‘He’s damned selfish,’ he said, finally uttering the words that he’d pinned to his heart ever since he had arrived that morning, and Sarah drew further from him, as he had known she would.
‘He’s not!’ she protested, and Ted looked her in the eye until she had either to glance away or admit the truth of his words. She did not hold his gaze for long.
‘He’s miserable,’ she said, and the catch in her voice spoke of her own misery, moored alongside Tristan’s like a tugboat beside its barge. ‘He doesn’t know what to do with himself - Susie’s gone, and he won’t tell me why, and I know he loved her…I’ve never seen him in love before, Ted! It breaks my heart to see him so sad, but there’s nothing anyone can do…’
‘Nothing at all,’ said Ted, and he knew he was being curt but he couldn’t stop himself. ‘The sooner he gets over it, the better. We’ve all had broken hearts.’
‘Ted!’ She had drawn right away from him now. ‘I’d have thought you’d be more understanding! After all that happened with Marya…’
‘She was my wife!’ cried Ted. ‘We’d been married seven years, we had a daughter! He’s known her less than a year. How can it possibly be…’
Too late he realised his error and he held his hands out to Sarah, and when he saw the hurt in her eyes he cursed himself for a fool.
‘Sarah, I’m sorry, I…’
‘If less than a year isn’t long enough to love someone,’ she cut across him in a voice that brought winter into the warm room, ‘then why did you ask me to marry you?’
‘Sometimes you know,’ he began, but she shook her head like a terrier that has fastened onto a rat.
‘So it’s your prerogative to love after so little time, but my brother must dust himself off as if nothing has happened? What would you do if it were me, Ted? What would you do, if we parted, and I disappeared for months on end and no-one knew where I had gone? Would you carry on just as normal? Because if so, then I don’t think I really want to…’
But she couldn’t finish, because her face scrunched into tears and he forgot his anger with Tristan and put his arms around her. To his relief, she hugged him back.
‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘I was unfair. Of course one can love after so short a time - of course! But - oh, Sarah, when I see how worried he’s making you…’
‘He’s my brother,’ said Sarah, ‘and he’s been so ill. I…oh, how I wish I could make it better for him!’
‘It’s not your responsibility.’
‘You don’t have brothers or sisters,’ said Sarah, as Ted realised that he had yet again said the wrong thing, ‘so you wouldn’t understand. We might row and complain and be as rude as we like to each other, but I’d do anything to keep him safe, and I know he’d do the same for me. He’s the only family I have - the only close family, anyway - and he’s had such an awful time of it, Ted. I know you’ve suffered too, but you’ve kept your mind intact, and your body - Tristan has neither. Can you imagine what it is to go from being healthy and strong and vital, and then to wake up and find that you can’t breathe properly, and your insides are forever going funny, and every time you have a cold you’re laid out for a month with bronchitis or - worse - pneumonia? And on top of that, to forget who you are, to lose control of your mind? I can’t tell you what it was like when he came home from the War…’
Ted couldn’t imagine. He could only nod, and pat her hand.
‘Don’t distress yourself,’ he said, but it was a futile sentence - how on earth could he expect her not to distress herself over her brother? So he did the next best thing and kissed her again and, this time, she let him.
Author's Chapter Notes:
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