Whatever Will Be, Will Be

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: House of Ghosts
Set in rural America during the mid 20th century, this story centers on the relationship between two childhood friends as they learn the bittersweet meaning of friendship, love, and family.

Submitted: August 02, 2017

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Submitted: August 02, 2017

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Prologue

Blue skies, white clouds and a gentle breeze; it was a fine day to be outside. The city was many kilometres away; there were no shopping malls or skyscrapers or yellow cabs. Instead, there were forests, hills and a field of grass around a small farming community, where a family of seven had gone for their weekend holiday.

Close to the ranch where they were staying, on the top of a short hill shaded by a single tree was a mother holding her newborn babe. A father and his two eldest sons were playing football in the field.

A short distance away, an elderly woman was slowly walking away from the family and heading towards the forest. Following behind her was her third grandson who swatted playfully at the tall grass with a stick.

The old woman had intended to go alone, but the little boy had followed her by his own will. She said that he could go and play with his father and brothers instead, but he insisted on following her. It probably felt like an adventure for the five year old boy, and his parents would never allow him to venture on his own.

There was a narrow path through the forest. Several decades ago, it was clear and much wider, but now it was covered with grass and young saplings were growing along the sides. Within another decade or so, the saplings will become tall trees and the path will be reclaimed by nature. When that happened, the place which the elderly woman sought will be lost forever.

It was a short path, and within a few minutes they entered a small clearing. The old lady looked around with wrinkled eyes, remembering that before this place was much wider as well, but now it was barely big enough to park a car. However, she preferred it like this, because that was how it used to be.

At the end of the clearing was a big oak tree that was different from the rest. It was nearly twenty meters tall and three meters in diameter at the base. Its wide branches were filled with dark green leaves which shaded the entire clearing. The old lady walked towards the tree and looked up at it. It was exactly as she remembered it.

‘Grandma, what is this place?’ The boy asked plainly.

‘This place is my favourite place, dear.’ She answered with a smile as she brushed back a lock of greying hair that used to be dark brown. ‘I have many wonderful memories here.’ The little boy listened quietly. He could not understand every word his grandmother had said, but it was obvious that this place meant a lot to her.

At first the only sounds were the song birds and rustling leaves, and then the old woman began to hum a slow and gentle tune. It wasn’t a modern pop or rock song which the little boy was familiar with.

‘Grandma, what are you singing?’ He asked, curious.

The old woman was surprised and stopped humming. ‘Oh, so sorry my dear, I was just remembering some long ago memories. And without thinking about it, I thought of that song.’ She chuckled lightly. And she smiled as she remembered the first time she was here, where she met him, in their special place.

***

1951

‘Hic! Hic!’ A little girl was sobbing quietly on her knees in a small glen among the dark coloured Dewberries. She was six years old and scared, having lost her way in the woods when she wandered too far from her house. Will she ever return home? And see her family again?

‘Are you alright?’ A child’s voice asked her and she jumped, surprised and embarrassed. Squatting in front of her was a boy who looked about her age, with tanned skin, blond hair and green eyes. He was wearing slacks and a plain cotton shirt. ‘Are you lost?’ Instead of answering, she nodded tearfully. ‘What’s your name?’ He asked.

‘Helen, Helen Cross.’ The girl replied meekly as she quickly wiped her eyes.

His green eyes widened with recognition. ‘Oh, you’re Mr and Mrs Cross’s kid. My mom and dad have a farm close to your place. Come on, I’ll lead you back home.’ With that, he stood up and offered a hand to her. She hesitated before accepting his hand. He pulled her up to her feet.

‘My name’s James, James Raynor. Nice to meet you, neighbour.’ The boy introduced himself with a cheerful grin. That was the first day she met him, in the glen beneath the tree.

***

 ‘James! Our mom and dad said not to go into the woods!’ Helen protested despite following him deeper into the woods. It had been a few weeks since that day, and they had become close friends since.

‘Oh come on, there’s nothing to be scared about.’ James said as he walked onwards with confidence.

‘Daddy says tigers live in the woods…’

‘Pfft, tigers don’t live in America.’ James said dismissively.

‘But what if there is…?’ Helen half asked half whimpered.

James shrugged. ‘If there is, there is. But don’t worry, I’ll protect you.’ He promised.

A few steps later he paused and looked around. Finally, he turned right and continued walking. Sometime later they entered a glen surrounded by many tall trees. James stopped before the large tree in the middle of the glen and nodded as he looked around. ‘Do you remember this place?’ He asked.

Helen looked around, but did not recognize the place. It looked the same as everywhere else in the woods: tall trees, green grass and thick shrubs. She shook her head.

‘It’s where I found you crying when you were lost.’ James told her. ‘Wow, this tree is huge!’ He stepped before the huge tree and had to bend his neck back in order to look up the tall tree, where the thick branches twisted and curled upwards. After looking up there for a few moments, he looked around with interest before turning back to Helen. ‘This place’s cool, let’s make this our place!’

‘Our place?’ Helen asked.

‘Yeah, this is our special place. Only the two of us will know about it!’ James declared. And so it had been ever since.

***

1955

Ten year old Helen looked around the glen and up the oak tree. Where was James? He said to meet him here. But other than the sounds of birds and insects and the rustling of leaves, the place was peaceful.

Everything was green and brown, from the grass to the leaves to the trees. She walked around the oak tree, feeling the rough texture of the bark when a dark figure swung down beside her with a roar. Helen screamed and leapt backwards, tripping over a root and falling on her backside.

‘James!’ She cried indignantly with tears in her eyes as ten year old James giggled playfully as he hung upside down from one of the lower branches. He looked quite comical hanging upside down, blond hair dangling downwards and his red and orange checkered shirt falling to his chest; but she was too upset to realize that. ‘That was not funny!’ She insisted as she got back on her feet and dusted her skirt.

‘You must have jumped three feet in the air!’ James exclaimed as he continued to laugh while she sulked. A few hours later, the prank was forgotten as the two children sat down side by side beneath the oak tree that shaded them from the bright summer glare, talking about anything and everything.

‘James, you should tell the adults that Mark is picking on you.’ Helen urged.

The boy shook his head adamantly. ‘No way, I’m not scared of him; I’ll show him what’s what, the next time he picks on me!’ He declared as he pumped his right arm into the air.

‘Mark’s two years older than you… he’ll beat you up…’ Helen’s said with worry.

James considered her words, and for a moment his resolve faltered, but then he forced himself to be brave. ‘You’ll see, I’ll thump him to the ground if he picks on me again!’

He continued to be bullied for months.

***

‘You can’t beat him, James. He is taller and stronger than you!’ Helen said for the uncounted time as she applied a heat pad on the side of James’s recently bruised cheek. James scowled and muttered something about how he nearly had him, but winced when that caused a stab of pain from his cheek. She sighed. ‘Why are you so stubborn, James?’

The boy considered the question for a bit before answering carefully using one side of his face. ‘Because if I can’t handle a bully, I can’t protect the ones I care for.’ He looked serious as he said that. Helen looked at him as if waiting for him to continue, but he did not.

Helen smiled slightly. This was so James-like, stubborn as a mule. She reached into her school bag and took out a small notebook. She opened the cover, picked up the small item sandwiched between the pages and handed it to James. It was a four leaf clover. ‘I found this last week, mommy said it’s lucky. Take it, maybe you can win if Mark bullies you next time.’

James looked at the tiny flattened plant in her hand for a while before reaching his hand out to accept it. ‘Thanks.’ He simply said with newly gained confidence.

A few days later, James was suspended from school for a week for beating up an older boy. However, from that day onwards, no one else dared to pick on him.

***

1960

‘I want to be a nurse, and try living in the city.’ Helen answered James’ question as they sat opposite each other in the glen. She was wearing a brown skirt and a frilly white blouse. She was reading a novel while James had a comic, when he suddenly asked her what she wanted to do in the future. ‘What about you? Still want to be a cowboy and ride into the Wild West?’ She jested with a grin.

James chuckled at the childhood fantasy before shrugging. ‘I don’t know.’ He answered honestly. ‘A lawyer, maybe… or perhaps a doctor? He mused. He has become quieter since becoming a teen.

Helen laughed; it was a calm and soothing sound. ‘James, if you take classes seriously and get good grades, then maybe. And there’s no way you’ll like it, they are busy jobs and you can’t even keep up with schoolwork.’ She said non-judgmentally. Helen on the other hand had become more confident.

The teenage boy nodded in agreement before sighing. ‘You’ve got it easy, good grades, good manners, good with people. Me? I’m just lazy and good for nothing.’ He indicated himself with a grimace.

‘Don’t say that about yourself.’ Helen insisted as she closed her book and sat upright. ‘You’re ok at sports and your grades are not that terrible. And, you’re good at drawing, very good at it.’ She insisted. ‘I’m sure you’ll find something you want to do, and if you work hard you’ll do well at it.’

***

‘Mary, Lisa, Jane, Cindy?’ Helen called one name after another and each time James shook his head with a grin, clearly enjoying the game of ‘guess who I like’. They were sitting next to each other, but with a good foot between them, in the glen underneath the big oak tree.

This was a common game that teenagers played, but never with the opposite gender since it was still awkward for boys and girls to socialize, yet they were at the age when they were more curious than ever, so nearly everyone had a ‘someone’ they fancied. However, Helen and James had known each other since childhood, and they were intrigued as who the other’s ‘someone’ was.

‘Come on Helen, she is in my science class, has dark hair and blue eyes!’ James reminded her.

Helen mulled over the possible candidates, and finally she had a likely person. ‘Is it Rebecca?’ James didn’t need to answer because his face was quickly turning red. ‘Oh my goodness, Rebecca Anderson!?’ She exclaimed. ‘She’s really pretty, and very popular too.’

‘Oh be quiet already!’ James said and he gently shoved her arm. ‘What about you then?’

Helen was quiet for a while. ‘You’re not going to know.’ She said with a shy grin.

‘Oh come on!’ James exclaimed, ‘At least give me some hints!’

Helen thought about it for a while before answering. ‘He’s a kind guy, and shy, although he can be very stubborn. I think he’s cool, and is really sensitive, although he tries not to show it.’

James smiled. ‘Hah, must be Tom McCarron! He’s popular with loads of the girls.’

‘Yea… I guess he is.’ Helen replied simply.

***

1962

‘To think we’ll be finishing school this year… time really has flown, hasn’t it?’ Helen asked. They were seventeen, nearing the end of their teenage years and close to adulthood. She was sitting a short distance from James beneath the oak tree, which shaded them from the warm afternoon sun.

‘Yea… it really has.’ James agreed. ‘You’ll be going to a nursing college, and I’m taking up an apprenticeship.’ After ninth grade he decided to focus on his drawing skills. He liked buildings, especially tall ones made from concrete, metal and glass like in the city, so he decided to become an architect.

James was tall, muscled and his skin tanned from working on his family’s farm. His blond hair was cut in a mop-top, similar to the Beatles’ whose music was being played every day on the radio. Other than that, he was dressed in a farmer’s slacks and a plain cotton shirt. It was a strange combination of fashion.

Helen was wearing a pair of Lee and a sleeveless blue blouse, the popular trend in attire for young women. However, instead of wearing a headscarf, or lifting, curling, perming or dying her lush brown hair, she simply let it grow pass her shoulders. Due to that, she was nicknamed ‘plain Jane’ in school. Despite that, it was without question that she had grown into a pretty young woman.

It was their senior year, the last year they will be in school. After that, they will become adults. Some will go to college and even university, while most will have to find employment in their hometown or move to the city. However, before that, there was prom at the end of the year, and everyone was excited about prom.

***

‘Tom? No way!’ James exclaimed incredulously.

‘It’s true!’ Helen insisted earnestly, looking equally surprised. ‘He’s always been nice towards me, but I thought he’d invite Daisy or Linda instead!’

Prom was a few months away and the excitement was at its peak, where the bolder boys made their moves while the shyer ones panicked and struggled to gather the courage to ask girls out. In the meantime, other than happily saying yes or awkwardly saying no, the girls try to get their favourite guy’s attention, subtly and sometimes not so subtle.

They chatted about it for a while, and once the surprise was over and they were calmed, she asked tentatively ‘What about you? Have you thought of asking anyone yet?’

James grinned from ear to ear. ‘Better, I’ve asked her and she said yes!’

‘Oh?’ Helen said and turned towards him with surprise and a little shock. ‘Who was it?’

‘Rebecca Anderson!’ James declared triumphantly, as if he had won a gold medal.

‘From ninth grade?’ Helen did not look particularly happy about it. ‘Really? She’s selfish and so full of herself because she’s on the cheerleading team, and thinks she’s better than everyone else.’

‘She’s smoking hot though!’ James exclaimed. ‘And she’s awesome! Did you know her dad’s the boss of a logging company? And she has a driver taking her to school each day!’

‘Fine, whatever, she’s great!’ Helen relented with rolling eyes.

***

1963

It was dark in the woods, but there was plenty of moonlight and the night sky was clear of clouds as James walked through the woods without thinking about where he was going. That didn’t matter, after years exploring the woods, it had become his second home. It was prom night, and he was in the woods in a black suit and a navy blue bow tie. His mind felt both numb and shock at the same time.

Prom hadn’t even begun as the boys and girls gathered in the main hall, looking for their partners (some asking for partners during then) and otherwise chatting with each other. He was looking for his date Rebecca, and when he did, he was shocked. She was arm-in-arm with another guy, who was from the football team.

Her date noticed him gawking at them and he nudged her as he whispered a short sentence. She looked about, noticed him and shrugged before going towards him. She looked dazzling in her sparkling sleeveless red dress and heeled shoes.

‘Hi James…’ She apologized more than greeted. ‘Sorry, but I’m with someone else. You were just so cute so I couldn’t say no then, hope you’ll forgive me?’ She stated more than asked.

He couldn’t remember much after that, other than leaving the hall, taking a cab and heading home. However, once he reached the farm, he couldn’t bear to enter the house and face his parents, so he walked into the forest instead. Before he knew it, he was at the edge of the glen.

His and Helen’s place, that’s what he called it. Merely some open ground with a large tree in the middle, there were dozens of other places like this. Yet this was their place, and so he was surprised when he saw another person there, sitting down at the base of the tree with her back to him. In the dark he couldn’t tell who it was, although he was confident it was a girl. He called out to her.

The girl must have been extremely startled because she jumped, exclaimed, and shot up at the same time. She slowly turned around and he froze, it was Helen. She was wearing a white dress and had ribbons in her hair. She even had a little makeup on, which she usually loathed to put on.

‘James, is that you? What, what are you doing here?’ Helen exclaimed.

‘I’ve been duped.’ James said with a grimace. ‘You were right all along. Rebecca played me for an idiot. She’s with her date, a guy from the football team. But what about you! Why aren’t you at the prom with Tom?’ He demanded, still not quite believing she was here and not at the prom.

Helen was silent for a while. ‘I lied to you James. Tom didn’t ask me to prom.’

‘What…?’ James did not understand. ‘But you look ready for prom!’

‘I bluffed my parents too.’ She admitted. ‘I put on my prom dress and let mom do my hair and makeup. Dad drove me there, and once he left I took a cab back. I was going to wait here until night-time.’

‘Ooh…’ James felt sorry for her, and he felt his own depression diminish. Just being with her always made him feel better. She looked beautiful tonight, simple but beautiful nonetheless. He checked the time on his wristwatch. It was a quarter to seven, so prom would have just started. Without thinking he offered his hand, just like he did almost ten years ago as a child. ‘Would you like to dance?’

‘Here?’ Helen asked incredulously and added ‘Now?’

‘Well, why not? Unless you don’t want to…’ James said, feeling a little awkward now that he thought of what he had said.

Helen smiled excitedly at him and went to accept his hand. ‘Sure, let’s dance.’

They didn’t really know how to dance like in the films or musicals, so they slow danced. Helen placed her left hand on James’s shoulder while he placed his right hand on her lower back. They held each other’s remaining hand at waist level a comfortable distance beside them, and they began to dance slowly. They looked at each other shyly as they danced, their expressions partially hidden in the darkness.

‘You’ve cut your hair.’ Helen commented with a little surprise, referring to his blond hair, which was straight at the front and short at the sides.

‘Oh, yeah, I did. The Beatle style wasn’t cut out for me.’ James said with a sigh.

‘I like this style, it suits you.’ Helen told him honestly.

His blush was hidden by the darkness. ‘Thanks. You look very pretty tonight.’ He replied and immediately hated how he awkwardly he had said it.

‘Thank you.’ Helen said with a genuine smile. As they continued to dance, both of them became more relaxed. Helen then gently laid her head on his shoulder, which made him stiffen for a moment before he forced himself to relax. She had a lovely scent, and he wasn’t sure was it perfume or not. She began to hum a slow, gentle tune, which he recognized but couldn’t remember where he knew it from.

‘What are you singing, Helen?’ He inquired gently.

‘This… is my favourite song.’ She answered simply. She continued humming a little longer before she spoke. ‘Do you remember the boy I described back in ninth grade? The one I liked?’

‘Um… do you mean… Tom?’ James asked, unsure how to respond.

‘No, it wasn’t Tom. Do you remember? I said that he is really kind, but shy, is sensitive, but acts tough, and has always been stubborn.’ Helen described once more. ‘I did not say who that boy was, did I?’

James thought about it and realized she never did. Before he could never guess who it was, but now it was quite obvious. ‘No, you never did say who it was.’ He answered her.

‘It was you, James.’ Helen said quietly. ‘It has always been you.’

They had stopped dancing and Helen looked up at him. Her expression was a mixture of nervousness and fear, of anticipation and uncertainty. James examined her closely and suddenly he realized what she really meant to him.  Since they were always together, he had taken her companionship for granted and never thought of her as more than a friend, until now. And now after what she had said, he realized that his feelings for her were stronger than just friends, much stronger.

Slowly, he bent down and kissed her on the lips, and she reciprocated eagerly. It was their first kiss under the moonlight, beside the tall tree during the prom night of their senior year.

***

1966

‘Where’s your father being transferred to?’ Helen asked tentatively. They were sitting side by side underneath the oak tree, holding hands as they spoke. They were in home attire.

‘San Francisco has the facilities and specialists, so probably there.’ James answered weakly. His father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and there were no hospitals here that could treat him.

‘How much…?’ Helen asked quietly.

James grimaced. ‘Including the transfer, hospital fees, cost of treatment and everything else, it’ll come to around ten thousand dollars.’ Helen gasped at the astonishing figure. ‘Mom wants to sell the farm and move to San Francisco with dad, but he’s having none of it. He’d rather take a progressive bank loan instead and mortgage the farm.’

Helen did not say anything. Like James, she did not think it was wise taking a loan. The interest rates for loans were high, and if the worse comes to worst, the farm will be seized and they won’t get the entire loan. Still, this was James’s family problem, not hers.

This was the mid-sixties; a time of great economic boom, yet unemployment was steadily rising across the country. At the same time, it was the time of the cold war between the democracy and communism. The Korean War had ended not too long ago and the war in Vietnam was rapidly escalating. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and Johnson was the new president.

***

They soon put aside the unpleasant conversation and talked about themselves instead. Helen had graduated from her nursing college and was starting work in a hospital in the city. It was hectic, she said, but very rewarding. James on the other hand was struggling to find a job, since he hadn’t attended college. They always talked about the present and sometimes the past, but never the future since it was so uncertain, with threats of nuclear Armageddon on the horizon.

The relationship between them was unique. They weren’t dating, but neither was interested in seeing other people. Whenever they were free to come home, they would meet here at the glen, and sit down talking from noon till dusk. It was a strange relationship, really, but both of them were comfortable with it. It has been like this since they graduated from secondary school, three years ago.

A few months later when they were together again, James tread on unknown waters by talking about the future. It was simple, he needed a job to support his family, and to do that he needed to attend college, but he didn’t have the money for it. Finally, he finished with ‘I’m enlisting with the marines.’

‘James! The army?’ Helen said with disbelief. She had never thought of James enlisting to join the on-going war against the communist North Vietnamese. He said he had considered taking over the farm and work to pay the loans his family took, but in reality, that was unlikely. His father was still undergoing extensive cancer treatment in San Francisco. His family was soon going to be late in paying their loans, and when that happens, the farm will be seized. ‘Then… James, what’s going to happen to us?’ Helen asked softly as tears began to fall from her eyes.

‘… Whatever will be, will be.’ James answered her as he took her hand and squeezed it tightly.

***

1971

It has been three years since she last heard from James.

Helen was twenty seven now, unmarried and not seeing anyone. Even her parents were becoming worried for her, even though she kept telling them she was fine. She was at the base of the tree in the glen surrounded by little Harbinger of Springs with a large stack of letters beside her. All of them were addressed to her from James. It was a cool spring afternoon and there was no breeze.

Support for fighting the war in Vietnam had gone downhill during the past few years. The peace movement along with immense criticism against imperialism had forced the newly elected President Nixon to steadily reduce the war effort in Vietnam. Thousands of soldiers had returned from the mosquito infested, hot temperate and war torn country, yet she had not heard from James.

For the first few weeks, he told her about boot camp, the food, the camaraderie, and everything else he found interesting. It continued for a few years after he finished basic training and went for further training. However a few months after he finished training and was deployed to the front line, the letters ceased without warning or explanation. At first she believed that the letters were delayed, since he would be writing from halfway across the world. But the days turned to weeks, and when she heard that James’s mother received the MIA notification, she realized that there were no forthcoming letters.

She mourned for months after that, alone in a single two-room apartment half mile from the hospital she worked at. A few months later she tried seeing other men after her friends insisted she at least try, but every time she did she would remember his face.

Instead of seeing the man she was with, she imagined James with her, stubborn, shy but always smiling. She was halfway through the stack of letters when tears began to fall from her eyes. They came less often and with much less intensity now, so she closed her eyes and let them fall and drop onto the yellowed parchment.

‘Helen?’ He heard a familiar voice from far away. Go away, she thought, trying to dismiss his voice in her head. ‘Helen?’ The voice called again, closer and gentler. Opening her eyes, she saw James right in front of her on one knee, uniformed and looking well.

‘James…!’ Helen gasped, not believing it to be true. She reached out for his face with one hand, refusing to blink since she was afraid that he would vanish if she did. She felt his cheek, warm and rough. Flesh and bone, this was no illusion, this was real. She cried his name once more and leapt forward to wrap her arms around him, and began to weep.

James held on to her tightly, his heart heavy with emotion. ‘I’m sorry Helen, so sorry…’ He had been a prisoner of the Viet Kong for several years until the camp was liberated by Special Forces. He was honorably discharged and sent home with full merits.

‘Welcome home, James.’ Helen said when her sobs lessened, and she pulled back to look right at his green eyes that looked so happy.

‘Yeah, I’m home.’ He replied eagerly, his usual cheerful smile on his face.

‘James, please… please don’t leave me again?’ Helen begged.

James smiled warmly. ‘Never’ He promised and leaned down to kiss her.

***

1973

‘I still think it’s wrong that we have to clear this place for our wedding.’ James muttered with a scowl as he paced around the glen with his arms crossed.

Helen sighed at her fiancé’s stubbornness. ‘You were the one who suggested to hold the wedding here in the first place.’ James grumbled something inaudible. ‘Besides, if we don’t clear a path, I think half of our guests wouldn’t be able to find the place!’ Helen added and laughed warmly.

James snickered at that prospect. ‘True. So clear a path here and clear back the trees a bit, for the ceremony.’ He concluded. James had recently finished college and found a full time job with an architecture firm. It didn’t design skyscrapers or shopping malls; it designed parks and gardens instead, which James found surprisingly fun.

They had gone to a wedding planner to organize the ceremony, but James wanted to be in charge of designing the ceremony area. That made it slightly cheaper and also more meaningful for them. The wedding was several months away and they anticipated over a hundred people to turn up, consisting of their family and relatives, friends from school and college, and colleagues from work.

They were approaching thirty soon, their marriage was extremely late for this day and age.

***

It was the ceremony day. A wide path had been cleared from the edge of the forest to the glen and the glen itself was cleared by a bulldozer from a land clearing company. That was a month ago, so now the ground was covered in grass. Chairs were arranged in rows in the middle of the clearing where over a hundred guests were seated, while a raised platform was placed before the lone tall oak tree, where the groom, the best man and the priest waited. James was wearing a fine black suit borrowed from one of his colleagues. His blond hair was cut straight at the front and short at the sides.

At the end of the isle was the bride and her father. Helen was in a simple white wedding dress, nothing frilly, extremely long or translucent as was the popular trend, just a plain white dress. Despite that, she looked beautiful, with lush shoulder length brown hair and a radiant smile.

The ceremony finished an hour later with the priest proclaiming them husband and wife before God and witnessed by the congregation. Wine, champagne and cake were served afterwards, following that their guests began to leave and return to their homes near and far as evening fell.

Later that night, when the chairs and platform had been taken by the wedding planner, James and Helen were sitting beneath the tall tree, leaning against each other. They had changed into casual clothes.

‘I still find it strange to think you’re a Mrs Raynor now.’ James said.

‘Same here.’ Helen agreed. They were going to move into a bigger apartment in the city, closer to both their workplaces. Soon, they would begin their new lives, and that unnerved not only her, but James as well, although he refused to admit it. ‘James, will you be with me all the time?’

James turned and kissed her forehead. ‘Of course I will, forever.’

***

1979

‘James, come on let me help you walk.’ Helen urged as she tried to hold onto James’s other arm as he limped on a crutch down the cleared path into the forest.

‘I’m fine, really!’ He insisted with a cheeky grin as he evaded her reaching arm and held onto her waist instead. His grip was weak and his body felt smaller. He looked much thinner than before.

‘Really James, you are getting more stubborn as you age.’ Helen scolded him light-heartedly, refusing to tear up. They entered the clearing soon afterwards, their special place, beneath that tall tree.

James let go of her and inhaled deeply, breathing in the smell of the forest. ‘This is where it all began, didn’t it, ever since we were kids.’

‘You found me here, crying, because I was lost.’ Helen recalled. ‘And then you said this was our place, our special place. We had our prom dance here as well.’

‘Hah, I remember.’ James said with a smile ‘Under the moonlight, beneath the tree. Man, I wish we could do that now.’ He said sadly.

‘We will, when you get better.’ Helen insisted. Instead of answering, James merely nodded. They remained standing before the tree for a while before Helen spoke. ‘James, we should go soon. You’ve got your doctor’s appointment and I have to fetch George from kindergarten.’

‘Just a few more minutes, please.’ James said softly. Helen complied. He then smiled lightly as he dug into a pocket to pull out his wallet. From it, he took out a small sheet of plastic the size of a small photograph. Laminated within the plastic was the four leaf clover, which looked quite dry and more yellow than green. He passed it to her. ‘You gave this to me when we were kids, remember?’

Helen took it from him, nodded slowly and smiled as she remembered. ‘And after that, you beat up Mark so badly he had to be sent to the clinic, and you were suspended from school.’

James chucked cheerfully. ‘I had it laminated before I was sent to Vietnam. The guys had all sorts of lucky charms: rosaries, necklaces, letters from their wives or girlfriends, anything. I had this all the time, even when I was a P.O.W. It had kept me safe, and brought me home to you.’ This was the first time Helen heard all of this, since James never talked about the war. She tried to hand it back to James, but he shook his head. ‘You hold on to it.’ He said firmly. Helen nodded solemnly and accepted it.

A few minutes passed in silence between them. ‘The doctor says there’s only a small chance of the treatment being successful.’ He said, almost in a whisper.

‘Yeah…’ Helen agreed quietly as tears welled up in her eyes. A few tense moments passed before she asked ‘James… what’s going to happen from now on?’

James was silent. ‘Whatever will be, will be’ He said softly.

Helen moved closer to him to hold his hand. His hand was cool and thin, but his grip was strong.

‘Thank you, for everything.’ He said gratefully.

***

2017

‘Grandma, I found something!’ Her grandson called. He was on the other side of the oak tree.

Elderly Helen steadied herself with one deep breath before walking around the tree slowly and stood beside the boy. Before them was a smooth tombstone, partially covered by fallen leaves and with patches of green moss growing along the corners. ‘Can you read out the tombstone, dear?’ Helen asked, for the words engraved on the stone were small and her eyesight was not as clear as before.

The boy leaned down to eye level with the engraved words. ‘Here lies James Raynor, nineteen forty-two to nineteen eighty. Loving husband and father, he will be missed.’ The boy then looked up at Helen with surprise. ‘Grandma, that’s my name there!’

Helen smiled gently and patted her grandson’s head, whose hair was blond just like his grandfather’s. ‘Yes, James. This is your grandfather, my late husband, who had the same name as you.’ She then turned to the gravestone and spoke to it. ‘Your grandchild, he has your name and hair. There are three more, a girl and two boys. Our son George married a nice girl, called Lily. Everything’s good.’

‘What was he like, grandma?’ Little James asked.

Helen considered the question before answering. ‘He was stubborn, very stubborn, ever since he was a child. He fought as a soldier in Vietnam, was captured as a prisoner for a few years before he managed to come home. He became ill a few years after your father was born. He had cancer, like his father before him, and passed away soon afterwards. He was hardworking and kind, a strong man.’

Little James blinked at her. ‘Will I be like that, grandma? Will I be cool and strong like grandpa?’

Helen chuckled at her grandson’s question and ruffled his hair. ‘Whatever will be, will be, my dear.’ She answered, and her expression lightened as she thought of something. She opened her purse and picked out a small sheet of plastic with a small four leaved clover laminated on it. She showed it to little James. ‘This is a four leaf clover I picked over seventy years ago, it brings good luck.’

Little James regarded the laminated plant closely. ‘Wow, that’s super old!’

‘Yes, it is.’ Helen agreed. ‘I’ve had it close to forty years now, and it has brought me much luck, raising your father, and living to see Peter, Simon, Ruth and you grow up. Would you like to have it?’

‘But… isn’t it yours, grandma?’ Little James asked.

‘No… it belonged to your grandfather, who… who asked me to hold on to it. I think he’d like you to have it.’ She offered it to James, who happily accepted it. ‘Come along now. Let’s go back before your parents get worried.’

They turned and walked away from the clearing, through the narrow path in the forest. As they did, Helen began to hum the same tune as before. This time James listened quietly as he walked beside her. It was a nice song, slow and melodic. Elderly Helen and little James left the forest, leaving the glen, the tall oak tree and the tombstone which it shaded, all behind. A gentle breeze blew across the clearing. The leaves of the tall oak tree rustled gently as if in farewell, and then everything was still once more.

Whatever will be, will be.

 

Author’s endnotes:

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment/review. I make a point of reading and replying to every message. Also, consider shelving/sharing it, as that will help expose my work to more people!

Till next time,

AJLKS


© Copyright 2017 AJLKS. All rights reserved.

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