“You know I have no choice.”
“Yes, I know.”
Virginia’s heart broke as she saw the terror swimming in the boy’s baby blue eyes. They both knew that he wasn’t cut out for war, but Britain needed all the help they could muster at this time, hence why Ralph had been called up. She shuffled closer to him, close enough to smell his familiar scent; it usually made her feel safe during these times in the throes of war, but now it only brought a feeling of panic. Panic that they will be separated today and never see each other again.
Ralph pulled her into a hug as he tried to keep the tears at bay. “I love you,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head over and over again. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” she sobbed.
“Hey, hey...” he hushed her. He held her face in his hands, forcing those beautiful green eyes to look at him. “Don’t cry.” His inner strength was lost. “Please don’t cry.”
Virginia breathed in harshly, bringing her tears to an abrupt end. She had always been the pillar in their relationship, and that couldn’t be any different now. If she felt this scared for the young man in front of her, she could only try and imagine the fear he was trying to hold back. It was her turn to cup his face in her hands. “You are so brave,” she told him softly. “I am so proud to call you my love. I love you so much, and when you come home I can become your wife.” He smiled at that, glancing down to admire his great-grandmother’s ring on her finger. That day had been the happiest day of his life. “We can find a small church like we discussed, and everything will be perfect. Our fathers shall stand merry...our mothers shall weep...” They both laughed before Virginia became serious again. “There’s no need for us to say goodbye,” she told him firmly. “You’ll come back to me when it’s over. I know you will.” She sealed this with a kiss which deepened as she tried to transfer some of her strength to him.
“Have I told you how much I love you, Virginia Elizabeth Stratton?” Ralph breathed when they broke apart.
“Have I told you how much I love you also, Ralph Harold Hamilton?”
A whistle was blown and the other young soldiers started to make their way hastily to the train that awaited them. Virginia saw the panic return in Ralph’s eyes, glassy with tears.
“You’ll come back,” she said firmly. “I believe in you.” She slipped something in his hands and held onto them tight before letting him go. Rucksack hitched high on his shoulder, Ralph only looked back once the train started to move away from the platform. Swallowing around the lump lodged in his throat he waved until he could no longer see Virginia before sitting down in a vacant seat. He opened his other hand which had still been tightly clenched and chuckled wryly when he recognised the item in the centre of his palm. He still remembered the day he met Virginia like it was yesterday.
She looked beautiful, catching his eye instantly through the shop window. Her auburn hair fell over her eyes and she impatiently pushed it back, curling the strand around her ears. It caught fire in the sunshine, crackling silently with various oranges, reds and browns. Her eyes – emeralds sparkling, gleaming, whenever she spoke to a customer. And those lips – full rosebud lips that looked like a soft caress as they moved and smiled.
He suddenly became aware that those eyes were staring intently at him, and that those lips were speaking words to him. He blinked a few times as he snapped out of the apparent trance in the coffee shop, feeling the blush creep up on his cheeks.
She merely smiled as she repeated herself: “What can I get you?”
“Oh...” he stammered. He cringed inwardly as he started stumbling over ums and ahs in his quest to start up a conversation with her. “I’m sorry...ah...”
“It’s not a problem,” she smiled at him patiently. “Would you like some tea?”
“Tea. Tea would be wonderful, please.” That smile again. Ralph forced himself to remove his eyes from hers so that he could sit down at a table. He pulled out of his coat pocket a small pad of paper and a pencil, and before his eyes the girl’s eyes were staring up at him out of the page.
“You’re very good at drawing,” a voice came behind him, causing Ralph to jump. He turned to look up as she set his cup of tea down. “Virginia,” she introduced herself, holding out a hand for him to shake.
“Ralph. And thank you...for the tea as well as the compliment.”
“Enjoy your tea.” She turned to make her way back behind the counter.
“Wait.” She looked back at him. “Here,” Ralph said, ripping out the page in his pad and offering it to her. “You can keep the picture if you want.” Pearly white teeth were shown, and it was as though electricity was flowing in his veins when her hand brushed his when accepting the drawing.
“Thank you,” she said. “That’s very kind of you.”
Virginia waited for the train to go around the back of the church and out of sight before she allowed the tears to fall again. She had never understood the meaning of heartache until now, and she now realised that it was the most painful feeling she had ever experienced. Her mind was already riddled with worry, and she couldn’t stop the images of Ralph lain dead flooding the hippocampus of her brain. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to concentrate on naming the different parts of the brain – as this usually worked in calming her – but the images remained stubborn, causing a heavy sob to escape her lips.
She decided another way; she recalled memories – memories of her time with Ralph, of when they first met, of their first date...
That had been an exhilarating day – their first date. She remembered how Ralph had entered the coffee shop with a single red rose. He later admitted that he had picked it from Mrs Hemmingway’s garden, which he was quick to apologise for. The old woman hadn’t bothered to punish him – she said the thorns had damaged him enough. He had offered her the rose in front of the whole shop, asking her out to carnival that Saturday. She didn’t even hesitate in accepting, giving him her address to pick her up from. They’d had such a wonderful time – eating candy floss, riding the Ferris Wheel, applauding the jugglers. And then it was time to go home.
She was wearing his jacket as she had commented that she was cold. She leaned into his body slightly as they walked, his arm around her, rubbing her arm in an attempt to keep her warm.
“Well,” she sighed, giving him his jacket back, “here we are.”
“Yeah,” he smiled uncomfortably. It was obvious he had never gone on a date before. “Well...erm...I had a really good time.”
“Me too. We should do it again sometime.”
“Yes, we should.” There was a long silence; she could almost hear the cogs whirring in his head.
“Well...if you want, we could go watch a movie some time,” she offered. “There’s a film on called ‘A Face in the Fog’; we could buy tickets for that.”
His ears perked up at that. “You... You like horror movies?”
“Apparently it’s a thriller, but yes,” she laughed. “My friends don’t understand why I never go to the movies with them. It’s because they always want to watch romantic movies like ‘Break of Hearts’ and ‘Alice Adams’. I can’t stand them.” She put her hands in the small pockets stitched to the front of her dress. “Would you be able to pick me up at about 8 on Thursday night?”
“Sure,” Ralph grinned. “Yes, that would be fine.” She gazed into his pale blue eyes, studying the tiny crease under each one that seemed to smile along with his mouth. “Well...erm...goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Ralph.” He stood there unsure, so she rose up on her toes and gave him a small peck on the cheek before going inside.