Prologue

1916

The letter shook in her hand as the word printed on the paper began to blur from the tears filling her eyes. Her mind tried to digest the words forming sentences that delivered the news that changed her life forever. There were words that stuck out more than others and burned her mind as she closed her eyes, allowing the tears to form a track down her cheeks where they failed to stop. Her chest was tight, as if all the air within her lungs had been squeezed out with every quick breath she took. She felt dizzy as she tried to wrap her head around the news, and she couldn't seem to calm her breathing down. Tommy always seemed to help her when she got this way, and now he was gone.

Part of her understood that this was an outcome of war but there was no way of preparing for something as devastating as this. Tommy had often brought the subject up in conversation but it had always been too painful to think about let alone talk openly about it. She always believed he would come back and they would be able to move away and start a new life together where marriage and children were part of their future. But the plans they had made would remain just that; plans that would never be completed.

Tommy was dead. And he wasn't coming back.

And that was when it hit her like a freight train and the pain and heartbreak overwhelmed her. She cried and cried, broken on the floor, until no more tears fell from her eyes.

She couldn't stay here. Life without Tommy would be unbearable and to live surrounded by other people mourning his loss would be too painful for her to handle. She had loved him with all of her heart, and there was nothing keeping her here. The streets of Birmingham held too many memories that were now excruciating reminder of the man she had lost to the war. It was bittersweet to have lived such a life with Tommy so far, and for him to be taken from her before the next chapter of their life could begin. Tommy had filled her life with so much light that sometimes she had to look away. But her world was dark now, all light and colour draining away with the tears she shed.

Tommy's return had been etched into her mind for some time now, and she had planned to hold him closely, feeling his heart beat against her chest and feel his warm breath on her neck. She had understood that war would most likely change him and she was ready for his return, whether he returned the same Tommy she loved or a slightly different Tommy. Except life was cruel and he wouldn't come back to her.

She thought back to the memories they had shared, and felt her heart ache. She remembered walking hand in hand with him in the middle of the night knowing that his presence was all she needed to feel safe; dancing under the moon in nothing but her night dress; having her first kiss with Tommy on her doorstep; making love by candlelight and experiencing all of him; meeting his eye and seeing a smirk tug at his mouth and feeling the love radiate throughout her body for him. All of that was part of her past now.

She sat at the desk and scrawled ink against paper, putting everything she felt down onto the page as tears mixed with the black ink making it run slightly. She hoped that Polly would understand her reasons for leaving, for she knew just how much Tommy's death would affect her. Her world was falling apart. And so she packed everything that she owned into the small suitcase and slipped the letter under Polly's door.

And with a broken heart, she left the black smoke of Birmingham in her past.