For the First Time in Forever

CHAPTER ONE – Juliette Scrubb

I was attempting to read Anna Karenina again, leaning against the exterior brick wall of the building currently taking enlistments into His Majesty's Armed Forces, though I was far too amused to really read past the first few lines.

"I'm going to enlist. Why are you over here?"

My lips quirked up into a smirk the moment my cousin Edmund said that, like I knew he would. I'd predicted that he, like a bunch of other idiotic boys who knew nothing about war and what that would mean should they actually be fighting in it, would make that declaration today as his sister Lucy searched through the market for carrots. I was supposed to be looking for the potatoes.

So I ignored his question and went straight for his statement.

"You're not old enough," I pointed out, rather more cheerfully than perhaps I should've, as his age was a sore spot for him.

"Close enough," he grumbled irritably, blinking through the ends of his black hair that poked out from under his cap and covered his eyes, before shoving it to the side. "Besides, I know about wars."

That was when I knew where the conversation could lead, and I may have prodded him towards it. On purpose. So I could tease him mercilessly. Which may have been a bit mean, but we were family – it was in the job description.

I just found it too funny, really, that he was going to try to enlist despite the fact that I knew they wouldn't let him in. I'd lost count of the number of other boys who had been thrown out for trying the exact same thing. But Edmund was too stubborn – and apparently, too eager to charge headlong into life threatening situations – for his own good, and perhaps I may have played on that to get to the conversation I wanted.

"You won't get in," I said firmly, trying and failing to get rid of the smirk on my lips. "Just like every other underage boy who's tried, you're going to be tossed out."

His reply, his voice unreasonably chagrined, was that this time, for him, it would be different.

"Oh," I said, suspiciously innocently, for my skills at manipulation and lying were abysmal at best and I seemed to always manage to incriminate myself by the tone of my voice alone. But for once, Ed did not seem to notice or catch on, instead his mind was undoubtedly preoccupied with his mission ahead. "And why's that?"

And that was when he'd made the dismissive comment about being a king in Narnia again that I had been hoping for. And I prepared myself for all the teasing I could muster, because that, really, was the proper source of my amusement. I found it ridiculously hilarious that he thought he'd be enlisted on the basis that he'd supposedly been a king – and thus, have an understand beyond his years of war – in a completely made up world.

I had caught him and his sister muttering about Narnia enough times that I had finally demanded to know what on earth they were on about. So they'd told me. And I'd laughed. In retrospect, it had be exceedingly rude of me, but I hadn't been able to help myself; there they were, trying to get me to believe in a make-believe world they claimed to have gone to twice before. What did they expect?

Obviously, it was just a game they'd played when they were younger, and not so younger, that they believed in perhaps a little too much for people their age, but I found little harm in it, and so had decided against informing my parents about their lunacy. They were, after all, staying with us, while their two older siblings and parents were in America. And it was just a game.

So when they mentioned to each other, bringing it up in conversation, I couldn't not take the opportunity to tease them for believing in fictional world like it was real and for talking like their stories had actually happened. They took it well, and in return, Ed took every opportunity to tease me for anything he could.

Like I said. Family – it was in the job description.

I opened my mouth to let forth a torrent of teasing when Ed turned on his heel and headed inside. I gaped after him, still leaning against the wall. All that. All that work to steer him into bringing up Narnia, and it had come to nothing. I was severely disappointed, and as I stared at the wooden door, a sort of pang of panic went through my chest.

Sometimes, I thought he was far too eager to engage in warfare than he should.

And what if, what if, he managed to fool them, and he was enlisted? What was I supposed to do then? I couldn't let him go off to war where he could die, where he could experience horrible things. How was I supposed to protect him if he was on another continent? In the few months my cousins had stayed with us, I had become extremely attached to them.

But then, I remembered all the other boys and the panic became expectation as I waited for a dejected and even more irritated Edmund to come stomping out. I picked up the little basket beside me, that had the pumpkin and turnips already bought in there, and started to walk back to the markets to continue searching for those potatoes I was supposed to get.

There were a few uniformed men in the markets, and I blinked when I saw a flash of familiar ash blonde hair – wasn't that the man I'd just seen flirting with a girl outside the building where enlistments were taking place? And here he was, with a different girl, gently brushing his fingers over her cheek as he pushed some of her hair back from her face. I rolled my eyes, turning away.

My stomach gnawed at me, asking for a little food, and I looked around for something I could snack on right now. Just over to my right was an apple stand, the owner beginning to pack everything away because there was only one apple left. I hurried over, going to reach for it when a hand snaked forward and snatched it before I could.

Annoyed that someone would be so rude as to steal the apple from me, when I was so obviously about to grab it, I turned to face the thief, hands on my hips. An absurdly handsome soldier, with startling blue eyes grinned down at me arrogantly. Then I recognized the ash blonde hair. My chin jutted out, as I said in a monotone, "That's my apple."

"Really?" He inquired, raising an eyebrow at me as he reached over and handed to owner the right amount of coins for it. He looked to be only a couple years older than me, and the kind of handsome that knew the looks he got from women as they fawned over him. "And how can that be, when I've just bought it?"

My jaw clenched, my dark green eyes flashing in irritation. "It was obvious I was going to get it and you stole it out from under me."

"Stole it, did I? Well, that wasn't very nice of me, was it?" And now he was being a patronizing jerk. He stood there, in his uniform, looking arrogant as he gave me a cocky grin. "I'll tell you what," he proposed. "I'll give you the apple."

"And what's it going to cost me?" I snapped, because how many times had my father warned me about those arrogant soldier types and what they were really after? I didn't expect him to be just giving me the apple, otherwise he wouldn't have gone to the trouble of snatching it from me. Clearly, there was a reason for it, and that was where this was leading.

"I'll give you the apple on the condition you go to the pictures with me."

"Excuse me?" I folded my arms, staring at him incredulously. He was not the kind of man I had any interest in going to the pictures with; who was neither polite nor respectful towards me and every other woman around here apparently, seeing as he flitted from one to the other like a bee would with flowers. I wrinkled my nose; he seemed to have a suave kind of slipperiness that I bet let him get away with a lot.

"Say yes, then you can get home and start cooking whatever it is you're making with pumpkin and turnips, and before you know it, it'll be Friday and we'll go to the pictures."

I was honestly torn between severe irritation at his brash and smug countenance and a begrudging sort of disgusted fascination at the fact that he was being like that – arrogant and cocky – to me. I had not met a man who could speak to me with an air of chauvinistic rudeness that was at the same time a kind of charming that undoubtedly beguiled most girls.

Clearly, my tone when I'd said excuse me hadn't been hint enough that I was absolutely not interested. So perhaps, I needed to be clearer. "I don't want the apple that much."

I turned to leave because I still had to find potatoes, and I held no desire to spend any more time in the company of that particular soldier. But he blocked my way, stepping out and impeding my progress, still grinning like I was playing some sort of game with him. Maybe he thought that was more probable than the fact that I didn't like him. "Don't be like that. I'm Don Walker, what's your name?"

"Look, I don't know how much clearer I can be. I am not interested in being the next girl foolish enough to be played by you, too stupid to see you're slimy and manipulative and rude. I would say it's been a pleasure meeting you, Don Walker, but it really hasn't been." I said as firmly as I could to end the conversation before I pushed past him. I was actually insulted he thought he could fool me too.

"You'll change your mind," he called after me and I just shook my head at how deluded he was. I mean, when a girl brushed a guy off and walked away, it made it pretty obvious she wasn't interested.

Maybe if I'd only turned away, I could understand his mistake – it could've been taken as coy and flirtatious. But I hadn't. I'd walked away. So he had to be delusional. That was the only conclusion I could come to.

I found the potatoes then, and my cousin Lucy, Edmund's sister, found me just seconds after that, carrying a wooden crate with everything else in it; all the vegetables we'd need to make the soup tonight. But no carrots.

"No carrots?" I asked her dismally. I missed them; we hadn't had carrots for ages.

She was a couple years younger than me, though she had grown a lot in the last few months. Her brown hair had gotten longer and she'd taken to tying a ribbon around her head, tucking the sides her ears. Despite being younger, she was slightly taller. A fact I refused to acknowledge, because it hardly seemed fair that I had to watch all those around me shoot up past me.

"No," she sighed. "Only turnips. Again." Then she glanced over her shoulder at the blonde soldier, Don, who seemed to be throwing glances our way. I sighed, rolling my eyes as she asked, "Who's that?"

My jaw clenched, "Only an obnoxiously rude soldier who doesn't seem capable of comprehending rejection."

"Oh," she frowned, still confused because I hadn't really explained anything. She pushed her bike with one hand, the other with the bow tucked under her arm. She looked back up, seeming to realize that we were down a man. "Juliette, where's Edmund?"

We made it out of the markets then, and just ahead was the building where the enlistments were taking place. I snorted, raising an eyebrow at her and glancing between the building and her, "Where do you think?"

We came to a stop just outside the building, at the little path and gate that would lead up to the large, heavy wooden front doors. She leant her bike – which, now that I thought about it, was actually my bike – against the fence before looking up at me. She sighed, a hand reaching up absentmindedly to push more of her hair behind her ear. "He's not old enough yet."

"I told him that. But when does he listen to me?" It was true. Ed rarely actually listened to me when he got something in his head. He was too stubborn most of the time to be dissuaded. She rolled her eyes and darted up the path to the front door, shoot me a glance and rolling her eyes before she ducked inside to blow Ed's chances of getting in.

And I was left to contemplate why we seemed to always miss the carrots.

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