NP11 – The Emptiest Day: Chapter Eleven

Well, here it is…chapter eleven.  I’m too brain-dead from writing all afternoon to come up with my usual long, rambly intro, which is probably a good thing.  For you guys, at least.  *sigh* There are only two things I can think to say…first, this is a rough draft, and second…don’t forget to check out my self-nominations!  Click here to view them…

[Edit: well, I’ve finally succeeded in un-frying my brains enough to give you my own personal analysis of this chapter.  Pretty much…I thought it was relatively good, but it moved way too fast.  And that’s about the size of it.  I’ve still got some flexibility in length, so this might be a project I tote along on our 10,000 mile road-trip and expand slightly to make the pacing a little better.  Any other negatives I’ll leave to you to flesh out because if I keep going I will find myself on the receiving end of an Indiana-Jones-style defensive weapon, and the receiving end of those don’t feel so good.  *smacks head and mutters to self*  “what was I thinking, buying her a new one?”  *replies to self* “I don’t know, girl, but don’t think it again!”]

Thus far: Elinor got a phone call informing her that Ethan was in a London hospital, alive but wounded.  She and Derek had a meaningful few moments in which Derek sort of took over and rather shyly and awkwardly took on some older brother attributes, helping her to sort through what exactly was wrong and mostly just being strong for her.  Then Rosamund and Elinor talked and decided that Derek and Elinor should leave on the train the next morning for London.  This chapter begins with the train ride.

The Emptiest Day: Chapter Eleven

It was sunny when they buried him, sunny and cold.

She didn’t look at his face because she wanted to remember him big and strong, gentle and scarred, like daddies should be – not the pale, perfect shell that was left behind.

But it was too late.  She would never forget the way the light had slowly intensified in his blue eyes during that last, long, pain-filled night, brighter and brighter until she could not bear to look at it anymore.

In the morning the light was gone and there was only a shell.

David William Poole.

That was the way it was carved on the headstone, but in her heart it was not three words…it was one.

Daddy.

Wearily, Elinor pressed her forehead against the window and watched the world unfold through eyes that sleep had deserted forever.  Blue danced through golden-green and golden-green wove through silent brown.  There were wildflowers growing by the tracks, too – they looked so joyful, even though the rumbling train blurred them into mere webs of color.  And it was sunny outside.

Sunny and cold.

Will I be able to look at his face?

On the opposite seat, Derek shifted out of the corner he had folded himself into and yawned.  “How long have I been asleep?”

He didn’t expect an answer and Elinor was too exhausted to give one.  They watched each other over the vast, three-foot expanse of rattling floorboards for a few lonely minutes until the silence began to grate on Elinor’s nerves.

“Are you hungry?” she asked at last.  “The sandwiches are in that basket.”

Another hour they left behind on the tracks.

He will be pale; much paler than I remember.  He will be thin.  There will be bandages and maybe blood.  He might have…he might have lost an arm or leg.  Or maybe he will be blind.  Or maybe…

But he will still be Ethan.

And I will be strong.  Help me.

Something thumped loudly in her ears and Elinor could not decide if it was her heartbeat or the revolving train wheels.  Whatever it was, it grew slower and louder and more intense, like an incoming wave on the beach, and then there was a long, horrific screech that sounded like the wail of a child.

Derek shook her gently.  “Elinor…it’s time.”

Elinor never could remember afterwards how he did it.  She just knew that somehow Derek got her, the carpet-bag, and the basket out of the train and into a taxi, out of the taxi and up the hospital steps.  He gave their information to a nurse, and she led them rapidly – far too rapidly – down corridor after sterile corridor, past countless bandaged beds and darkened rooms.

“Please keep talking to a minimum.  You have half an hour before visiting hours are over.  Right through that door, sir,” the nurse said before she deserted Derek and Elinor in front of it.

It was white.  White with a white knob.  The whiteness became a whirling vortex, constricting in her chest tighter and tighter until Elinor felt she could not breathe.  She backed away a few steps, her voice bouncing between whisper and cry.  “Wait!  Please wait.  Just for a moment, Derek…”

“There are chairs here; do you want to sit down?”  Her brother glanced down at her nervously, awkwardly.  “You’re…you’re not going to faint on me, are you, Elinor?”

An unexpected smile surfaced above her flooding emotions at Derek’s very boyish panic. “No,” Elinor said, softly.  “No.  I just…just needed to…it’s the first time I’ve seen him in six months and…”  Her voice disintegrated uncertainly.

God.  Your Name is enough.  Whatever I see.  Whatever he is.  Whatever dreams dissolve…Your Name is enough.

Your Name is enough.

“I think I’m all right now,” she murmured.  “Let’s go in.”

Derek pulled the door open, and Elinor stepped across the threshold of all that was precious and imperfect.

There was a row of clean white beds under a row of clean white windows and Elinor’s gaze fastened on the third bed on the right.  It was a thin man, gaunt and pale, with sunken cheeks and deep-set eyes…but those eyes were a brilliant brown ocean, a million tossing miles of pain and love and joy.

A thousand years of time…

“Ethan,” Elinor whispered, “I’m here.”

He didn’t answer and the silence was like a symphony, whispering every word that needed to be said in a tune so beautiful that tears became the harmony.

Easing into a chair next to the bed, Elinor wrapped her fingers around Ethan’s thin hand.  The hard, tight lines on his face smoothed into a blissfully contented smile and Elinor sat and held his hand until the sheets rose and fell in the peaceful rhythm of sleep.

When Derek came in twenty minutes later to tell her that visiting hours were nearly over, Elinor was asleep, too, with her head buried in her arms and Ethan’s hand still in her own.

A melody played quietly, too quietly to hear.  It was a beautiful, haunting tune that lilted and swayed in the wind.  It swept through her soul like a summer storm, and when she turned to catch it, it was gone.  But the tattered threads that remained…they were sweeter than any song on earth.

Elinor let her eyes drift open, wondering vaguely where she was and how she got there and why her sleeve was wet.

“I’m sorry to wake you, El, but the nurse said that we only have a few more minutes.”  Derek’s voice was unwontedly soft.

The nurse…The situation blurred slightly and came into focus.  Ethan…Ethan is here. Elinor sat up slowly so as not to disturb his rest, only to find herself the subject of a brown, point-blank gaze.

“Darling, is that really you?”  Weak and rough, but it was the same low, rolling tone that Elinor remembered.  He brushed his fingers tentatively over her hand.  “I suppose…I suppose it really is.  No other woman in the world would ever have my ring on her finger.”

Yes, Ethan…it really is.  And there is so much that I need to say and so much I need to know but right now I really can only think of one thing.

Thank You, God.  It is beautiful.

So it was Derek who spoke up for them both.  “Ethan…I’m so glad to see you, brother!”

And there were more tears, furtive ones this time, because no one wanted to mar the joy of the moment.

~c. a.

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