original upload -27th August 2005
reuploaded - 9th November 2008
Title: To Have and To Hold
Chapter: One - Wendy Rating: PG13
Synopsis: The year is 1910, Wendy Darling is employed in a bookshop, her passions entirely literary. A special book draws her into another world where she finds characters from her childhood very much alive and well, not figments of her imaginations as she'd long supposed. Adventure and peril await the turn of the next page.
Authors Note: After a hiatus of three months, and much prodding from persistant fans (you know who you are), I decided once more to put pinky to keyboard and attempt another foray into the wonderful adventures of these characters. My muse has been rather reticent about the direction of this particular epic, so don't bother asking me what's going to happen, because I have no idea. I can only trust to my muse and hope he/she/it knows what they're doing. Feedback is always appreciated and flames toast my marshmallows, so feel free to email me.
Addendum: (9/11/08)thanks to Lira for pointing out that several "Mr. Bennetts" had been dropped from the text - why, I have no idea, or how....but if you find anything else missing, do let me know.
Wendy Darling danced nimbly out of the way of the dirty water splashed up by the passing wheels of the Stanley steamer car as it puttered its way along Montague Street, heading for Russell Square beyond. She clutched the books more firmly to her chest with one gloved hand while lifting her skirts above the cobbles with the other. A gust of wind buffeted her broad brimmed hat, threatening to rip it from her hat pins as she sought the shelter of a doorway, her fingers fumbling with the key to unlock the bottle glass door, another gust propelling her inward just as rain started to sleet down. Shutting the door behind her with an unladylike use of her bottom, Wendy dropped the books onto the counter and peeled her gloves off before removing her hat from on top of her piled hair. Re-skewering the hat pins amongst the straw, she gathered the hat and gloves together and whisked herself behind the counter to place them in their usual place on one of the shelves below.
Bennetts Book Shop Emporium was slightly off the beaten track for most casual shoppers along Russell Street, but to those seeking the unusual, the rare or the select, Bennetts was much sought out and well patronised for such a small business.
Mr. Bennett Senior was a spare man with a keen intellect and a sharp nose for business. It had been his brother who had been the collector of books, but Senior who put that love of books to good use. With his younger brother traveling the world, acquiring new books and filling orders, the senior made sure that the business thrived with canny investments and discreet advertising among the literati of London.
Turning up the gas lamps to light the dim interior, Wendy reflected on how she found herself staring out of the windows of, what was to her, an Aladdin's cave of treasures.
Wendy had discovered the bounty of Bennetts while on one of her walking tours, her love of the unusual and intriguing leading her off the beaten track and down a side street and into the self-effacing book shop. Here she had been so engrossed in a rare edition, that dinner with her Aunt was forgotten until a cough from recalled her to the time and she had to rush home, the book left behind in her haste. Two days later she was back and Mr. Bennett didn't wait for her to ask but handed the book over the counter to her and indicated with a smile to a rank of comfortable looking chairs ensconced in a corner for the use of patrons. Bestowing a sweet smile on the proprietor Wendy accepted the offer and delved once more between the pages. As the morning progressed there were a steady stream of customers to the shop, a surprise given the overcast day, Wendy's eyes lifting with each opening of the door, her surprised appraisal of the quality of the customers marked only by a lift of one eyebrow before she returned to her book. During a lull, seated himself beside the young lady and waited for her to acknowledge his presence. A long sigh escaped from Wendy's lips as she reached the end of a chapter, her eyes darting up and encountering the smiling gaze of shops owner.
"Oh I'm sorry.....I do promise you I intend to purchase this edition. It's just....." She bit her lip, unconsciously gripping the volume of verse more tightly. "I don't get a chance to just sit and....read, at home, and here its so...." She waved her hand. "Perfect."
Suppressing the urge to smile, threaded his fingers together and rested them across his waistcoat.
"You don't have to explain, young lady. I have found that if one allows a potential customer to fully sample what we have to offer,they are more likely to return again, and again to sample more."
"You are too kind. I do appreciate you giving me the time to delve into this wonderful book. I had been told of this author, and read some installments of his work in old editions of the Strand Magazine at my Aunt's, but to be able to read a complete novel of Doyles'', uninterrupted is just...." Wendy found herself lost for adjectives.
"Perfect?" Mr. Bennett offered, his lean mouth uplifting at the corners in response to Wendy's enthusiasm.
"It is always a pleasure to encounter someone who gets as much pleasure from the printed page as my brother and I do. I am Arnold Bennett Senior and you are...?"
Sitting on the edge of the chair Wendy held out her hand to clasp his. "Wendy Moira Angela Darling....I'm very pleased to make your Acquaintance "
Gravely shaking her hand, 's eyes twinkled as he rose to his feet, drawing Wendy up with him.
"I look forward to seeing you within these book lined walls again soon."
"Oh yes...you will." Wendy fumbled in her reticule for the coin to pay for her book. As deposited the funds and returned her change, he crossed his arms and tapped his chin thoughtfully.
"I don't suppose a young lady of comfortable means is looking for a respectable position of employment close to home?"
Startled Wendy looked up to meet his knowing brown with her surprised blue eyes.
"As if just so happens, I am looking for a situation ."
"And I am in need of someone of intelligence and grace to update our catalogue and help our clientele with their purchases. Do you think you might be the person we're looking for Miss Darling?"
Pressing her book to her blouse, Wendy smiled brightly, once more holding out her hand.
"I think I am the very person, ....when can I start?"
"There will be no objection from your family?"
"Oh my Aunt will have plenty to say, but as she is aware I am looking for a position, it will not come as a surprise, and my parents will just be glad that I'm happy."
"I hope you will be happy here Miss Darling....there will be ample time for you to fit your writing around your duties here."
Looking surprised, Wendy gasped faintly. "How did you know?"
"That you are a writer? You have a callous on your finger and a faint smudge of blue ink on its partner."
Looking down at the offending digits, Wendy laughed. "Worthy of , if I may say so sir."
"All in the details my dear. Now are you able to start tomorrow?"
And so she did, despite misgiving, loudly lamented until she shut her Aunt's front door in that lady's face and set off down the street towards Russell Street.
To work in Bennetts would give her access to material she could use to start her own novel, in three parts, about her own adventures, something she had been working towards for the past six years. Of course, she had not been entirely focused on her writing for that entire time, a great deal had been spent on the business of growing up and becoming as accomplished as her Aunt could make her. Unfortunately her restless spirit hardly lent itself to such mundane skills as embroidery or sewing and her musical talent was sadly lacking despite a sweet singing voice. But despite her perceived short comings, unseen by anyone else, Wendy still kept her ability to weave magic from words, committing her imaginings to paper as often as possible with a view to compiling an anthology of her stories at some later date. Now it seemed that she would be making a positive step towards her goal, and all with little or no effort on her behalf.
Recalling herself to the present, Wendy stared out at the gloomy morning, the rain sending the few brave souls braving the weather to skitter and scramble along the street, their black umbrella's tugged and sent tumbling by the gusty wind as they fought to stay dry. Smiling ruefully at the few passing the door, she resigned herself to an unexciting morning with few customers. had left her in charge for the first time since she's started, that gentleman having to pay a visit to the Museum to discuss a discovery by his brother of an edition of Marcus Aurelius that his brother had unearthed while on his travels. The Museum had already expressed an interest in obtaining the copy and Arnold Bennett had an appointment to discuss delivery with the curator.
That left Wendy with a free morning to indulge in her favourite past-time, delving into the dusty recesses of the book shop and unearthing unseen treasures to wile away the hours. After checking that the door bell was working fine and the lights all burning brightly, Wendy gathered together the books she's borrowed the previous day and started down the long rows of shelves to return them. That task completed she took hold of the movable ladder and scooted it down the length of one shelf until it reached nearly the back of the shop. Carefully placing her booted foot on the bottom rung, she hitched up her skirts and started to climb. The ladder was not overly tall, and was well maintained and steady, but Wendy couldn't help feeling that she almost felt the sway of ship as she climbed the rigging, her eyes closing as she imagined the cry of the gulls and the smell of brine.
So lost in her thoughts it took three goes to get her attention from the customer standing patiently at the bottom of the ladder. On the third polite cough, Wendy jumped in surprise and twisted around, losing her footing in the process. With a cry she found herself falling, only a strong pair of arms stopping her connecting with disaster before both she and her rescuer tumbled headlong to the floor in a flurry of petticoats, hat and umbrella.
After several seconds of inelegant scrambling she managed to disentangle herself from on top of the human mattress that had saved her from serious injury.
"Oh dear...oh I'm so sorry.....are you alright?" Breathlessly she hauled herself up using the ladder and turned to survey the person who had saved her.
"I think I should be asking you that." The man replied getting to his feet and brushing down his top coat while looking for his hat knocked off in the encounter. His hair, usually smoothed back from his face, had been severely ruffled and a light brown lock now hung over his forehead, curling quite raffishly. His attention was currently taken up with straightening his waistcoat and jacket under his overcoat, giving Wendy amply time to peruse his appearance. As she clung to the ladder she pressed a hand to her chest, feeling her heart beating uncomfortably hard, from shock she supposed, although the young man in front of her would have sent any woman's heart beating rapidly. Satisfied that his appearance was not drastically altered, the young man raised his impossibly feminine lashes for such a masculine face, and stared back at her, crinkles forming at the corners of his eyes as he noted her rather fixed attention on his features.
"Do I have a smut on my nose?"
Pulled from her musings, Wendy blinked several times before pushing herself away from the ladder and attempting to right her own disarray.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You were staring so hard I was sure I must have something stuck to my cheek."
Blushing with embarrassment, Wendy dropped her eyes and felt like shrinking into the carpet.
"I'm so sorry....I was startled you see..."
"Yes...I noticed....that was my third cough, my throat was becoming quite hoarse."
Because she was staring at her toes she didn't notice the twinkle in her rescuers eyes, or the tilt to his lips denoting his teasing.
"I can only apologize again Sir...."
"None needed, I assure you. Are you sure you're quite alright, that was a nasty tumble."
Reassured by his softly spoken enquiry, Wendy glanced up and found herself once more gazing into his eyes, their colour neither blue nor green nor any colour she could put a name to.
"I'm quite alright, I thank you.....was there something I could help you with?"
Alarmed to find her voice coming out as a faint squeak, Wendy cleared her throat and tried again, pleased to hear her voice sounding more normal on the second attempt.
She listened to his request for a specific book while he collected his fallen umbrella and sadly crushed hat from the floor. As he stood upright she belatedly realised that he was very tall and broad and seemed to fill up the narrow space between the bookshelves.
"If you care to come this way Sir, I'll find that volume for you."
Careful not to touch him, Wendy whisked herself away, the stranger following behind. The search for what he wanted took them around several of the shelves and once more to the back of the shop, the sound of the rain drumming on the back windows loud in the stillness of the bookshop.
"I'm sure it's around here, mentioned this particular author only last week, and I'm almost positive...." Wendy reached up her arm, raising herself on tip-toe for the requested novel.
"Let me." Without warning Wendy felt the gentleman come up close behind her and reach over her shoulder, his longer arm easily reaching the binding indicated and plucking it from the shelf.
"Oh...er..thank you." Wendy muttered, very conscious of the warmth emanating from the his body, his breath fluttering the hairs that had escaped her loose chignon at the back of her neck.
Turning back to face him she found herself only a hairsbreadth from the front of his coat, her eyes riveted to the large buttons, something stamped on their surface.
"Is that a ship?" She asked, only to gasp in surprise as the gas lamp situated in their aisle suddenly let go a loud pop and went out.
For a stunned moment she stood rigidly still, her heart pounding in her ears, then something brushed across her lips and a faint, drawn out whisper seemed to echo in her ears. "W-e-n-d-y."
Suddenly light flooded the aisle and she saw the man beside the gas-lamp, his back to her.
"It seems to be working now...are you alright?" He asked, turning back towards her from several feet away.
"I didn't feel you move..." Wendy stated, feeling rather dazed, her fingers pressed against her lips, not at all sure of what had just happened.
"No harm done then...can you wrap this for me? It's for a friend."
Suddenly recalled to her job, Wendy took the proffered book with trembling fingers and hastily returned to the front of the shop and behind the counter. Wrapping the book took only a moment, as did the exchange of money, then the man was tucking it inside his coat and preparing to leave.
"I hope your friend enjoys it." Wendy offered, inexplicably wanting to delay the moment he walked out of the shop and out of her life.
Swinging his head around he fixed her with an intent look before smiling widely at her. "I'm sure he will. I enjoyed our little.....adventure. Goodbye."
"Goodbye." Wendy replied, watching as he jammed his creased hat upon his head after slicking back the wayward lock that persistently flopped onto his forehead, then he opened his umbrella and ducked out of the door, the wind catching it and slamming it behind him. Before Wendy could react he was gone, a dark blur through the teeming rain.
The chiming of the clock recalled her to the present and she stared at the time in wonder. It had seemed like hours that the man had been in shop with her, but it had in fact been only minutes. Giving herself a mental shake she banished the image of his handsome face from her mind and tried to concentrate on what she'd been doing before the interruption of her morning.
The rest of the day passed in a desultory fashion with few customers brave enough to venture out in the appalling weather. With the afternoon drawing in, Wendy settled herself to wait for with her journal open on her lap, a pencil poised to add her days observations.
As she marshaled her thought, the handsome stranger of the morning chose that moment to intrude on her musing, not clad in a long dark overcoat this time but as a swashbuckling adventurer, his teeth gleaming whitely as he flashed a wide grin, his brawny arms wielding a cutlass as he slashed his way across the deck towards her, the pirates falling to left and right as he fought his way to her side, freeing her from her bonds with a single slash of his blade. Despite the noise and chaos of the battle around them, Wendy found herself clasped in his arms, his head lowering to cover her lips with his before sweeping her off her feet and carrying her away.
The bell chiming over the door jolted her out of her daydream as effectively as a bucket of cold water.
"Still here, m'dear....it's a wickedly wet afternoon. I'll call you a cab. Can't have you getting drowned, now can we?"
Wendy propelled herself out of the chair as Mr. Bennett shook his soaked umbrella out, the floor quite spotted with water before he plunged it into the umbrella stand, there to form a puddle.
"Anyone interesting come in today?" he asked, raising an eyebrow as Wendy blushed brightly before turning away to find the days ledger to show him.
"Nobody unusual...I'm afraid business was rather slow today."
"Ah...well, never mind. You get yourself ready, I'll go and whistle for a hackney for you."
"Oh but..." Wendy protested but Mr. Bennett was already standing on the shop porch, indicating for someone to come forward. A young boy accepted a coin and dashed away as ducked back inside.
"He won't be long, I'm sure. Jem has often done this service for me, he knows where all the taxi ranks are. Now make sure you secure that pretty hat, we don't want the wind to fly it away, do we."
Submitting to her employers avuncular care, Wendy prepared herself to leave just as the sound of a horse could be heard clopping to a halt outside the shop. With a hurried goodbye, Wendy left Bennetts and gave the driver instructions to take her back to her Aunts.
Once home she endured her Aunt's fussing over her damp hem and muddy half boots, along with a lecture about using public transport.
"Would you rather I walked and got soaked for my morals Aunt?"
"Of course not dear....it's just you never know who's been in the hackney before you."
After slipping on her indoor shoes, Wendy made her way upstairs, carefully unwrapping her journal from its waterproof cover as she entered her bedroom and sat down at her escritoire, opening it to the last page. In disbelief she stared down at the image drawn on the page below a line of her neat writing, the eyes as intent as their owner, daring her to join him even as his mouth seemed to mock her inclination to adventure.
"I didn't even realise what I was doing." Wendy breathed, shutting the book in a hurry before she found herself drifting off into another daydream about a man she was never likely to meet again.
At nearly nineteen Wendy was quite used to her Aunt's importuning her to try harder to attach a husband. Since she had moved in with her Aunt at the tender age of fifteen, Wendy had leant early on that Millicent only had one wish, to see her niece comfortably settled before she attained the age of eighteen. Now that venerable age had passed and Wendy congratulated herself on foiling every attempt on her redoubtable Aunt's behalf to secure Wendy's future.
It was not that she didn't want to get married, or fall in love or any of those things expected of a girl, it was just she wanted to do something other than what was expected. She wanted to write more than she wanted to worry about the latest uncomfortable fashion, or the latest gossip about who had married whom and who was currently on the market for a wife. All that was unimportant to Wendy. She wanted to write and her ambition was to be published before she was twenty.
That no female author had managed such a feat before hardly worried her, she was going to be the first. To that end, her employment by Bennetts was a necessary step along the way, opening the door to opportunities and connections that would see her dreams fulfilled; despite her Aunt's and Parents well meant cautionary warnings about ambitious young ladies that wanted to run before they could walk.
Wendy ignored them all, convinced that if she wished for it hard enough it would happen. Bennetts, for her, was proof that it would.
A week after her day-dream inducing encounter with the unknown, and undoubtedly handsome young man, Wendy had another incident with a customer that caused her many a sleepless night, and not entirely as pleasurably.
It had been a long morning with the fine weather bringing out all those people who had remained indoor the previous week. As she bade the last customer farewell before lunchtime, she saw a long, sleek car pull up outside the shop. was in the back, taking a well earned break, so Wendy was alone when the owner of the car stepped onto the pavement and into the shop. The car door had been opened by a short, rotund individual with a nervous habit of pushing his glasses back up his nose, his coat straining to contain his ample stomach as he stepped back to allow the occupant of the car to exit. The short mans employer, for Wendy assumed he was as much from the little mans obsequious behavior, unwound his long legs from the back seat and gracefully rose to his full height, stepping on to the pavement and pausing to look up at the shop signage for a moment. He was dressed in black from his hat to his shiny boots, his suit obscured by a flowing cloak that he tossed over one shoulder, revealing its red silk lining. In one hand he held a cane with a silver top carved into the shape of a crocodiles head. In the other nothing, the arm held stiffly by his side to hold back the fold of his cloak as he stepped forward.
He entered the shop alone and came to stand in front of the counter, laying the cane down before lifting his left hand to sweep off his hat revealing raven black hair that glinted in the light from the gas lamps. Wendy found herself staring once more into eyes that seemed to mesmerize her, but this time not with romantic notions, but a feeling akin to terror, the mans' pale blue eyes seemingly stripping her where she stood, his sardonic lips curling upwards beneath a neatly trimmed moustache.
"I wonder if you can help me."
As if bored with her, the man's gaze swept past her to encompass the shop's contents and Wendy felt a jerk as if released from the bondage of his perusal.
"I will do my best Sir."
"Of course you will......" He rattled off the names of several authors and Wendy noted them in her book, already sorting in her mind where they would be found on the shelves. With her head down bent she didn't see the man glance back at her, a red gleam flashing in the pale blue as he flexed his gloved hand around the brim of his hat.
"If you care to wait, I will fetch these for you." Wendy suggested, indicating the chairs set out for that purpose.
"As you wish.....I am in a hurry."
"I'll be a quick as I can Sir."
Hurrying away, Wendy ducked down one of the aisles, quickly finding the first three on the list and carrying them back to the counter for the gentleman to peruse which she fetched the rest of his order.
One of his requests was proving elusive and she found herself on her knees tugging at a book that seemed jammed between two others.
"Is there a problem?" The man's voice slid over her, making her shiver as she glanced up to find him standing right beside her, his boots sporting buckles that she hadn't noticed before, the silver fashioned into an ornate representation of a crocodile chasing its tail. The book finally came free and Wendy scrambled to her feet, the man hooking a hand under her arm to assist her while at the same time bringing her flush against his chest, his face mere inches from hers.
"S-S-i-r?" Wendy whispered, her eyes wide as she stared into his, her lips parted as she drew in a panicky breath, overwhelmed by his saturnine good looks and searching stare.
"There's nothing to fear m'dear....I just wanted to see......" His deep voice trailed off, his hand abruptly letting her go so that she fell back against the shelf in surprise.
"See what?" Wendy whispered, his book clutched to her chest like a shield.
But he had already turned away, his cloak swirling about him as he sauntered back to the front of the shop leaving Wendy leaning weakly against the books. Giving herself a mental shake, Wendy followed more slowly and felt rather foolish by the time she had wrapped those books he indicated, handing over the large parcel to the short man with glasses who had entered unnoticed and now stood awaiting his masters' orders.
"Thank you, good day." Was all the dark man said before sweeping out of the shop, his hat once more on his head, his cane tapping against the footpath as he waited impatiently for his minion to catch up and open the car door.
Mr. Bennett, coming up behind Wendy and watching as the car purred out of sight saw her jump when he spoke. "Who was that?"
"Oh...oh nobody...just a man wanting some books."
"You look very pale Wendy, are you sure everything is alright?"
"Yes....yes of course. Would you mind if I go and make myself a cup of tea?"
"Not at all..take your time, you look a little shaken up."
Brushing off her kindly employers concern, Wendy muttered something incoherent and took herself off into the side room that housed a small kitchen and office.
Stirring her tea with a shaking hand, she chided herself for being so easily over set by the man, her mind pondering what he meant when he told her he just wanted to see. But see what?
Writing the incident up in her journal when she was once more safely ensconced in her bedroom, Wendy tried to remember as much detail as possible, but her memory remained vaguely elusive, as if a veil had been thrown over the entire encounter until she wondered if it had happened at all.
When she slept that night she tossed and turned, her dreams haunted by a pair of pale blue eyes that seemed to be forever asking a question and laughing cruelly when she failed to understand or answer.
It was the Monday following the incident with the man in black when Wendy found The Book. She had been looking for a reference book, her search taking her up into the attic where assured her the book was to be found. It was only late morning but the attic was quite dark with no daylight finding a hole in the slates. Carefully she carried a lamp in one hand, together with a box of matches, up the narrow stairs to the small door. Unlocking it she pushed the door open before lighting the lamp and pressing forward. Under the eaves the attic space stretched away into the gloom, several strange shapes causing her to hold the lantern high to identify them. Down one end appeared to be furniture and household bric-a-brac no longer needed, along with old shelving and several leather bound chests. The other end held a series of low shelves draped in cheesecloth to keep out the dust and protect the volumes hidden beneath the folds.
There was plenty of headroom but the blackness of the roof made Wendy bend over regardless of the space, the lantern shedding a circle of light not much further than her footfall beyond her skirts. On reaching the first shelf she carefully pulled back the cover, so as not to create a dust storm. A quick check of the volumes made her replace the corner and move on to the next shelf. This proved the one she was looking for so she pulled the cloth completely off, albeit very carefully, and folded it on the floor. Placing the lamp where it shed it meager light on the spines, she started to work her way down the titles. As her fingers danced over the leather bindings she heard a noise and turned to see what it was. Thinking it a mouse, she was surprised to see a book sitting half out of its place on the shelf. Lifting the lamp she approached the book and reached out to pull it from its place. It appeared stuck and she had to tug to free it, the shelf almost rocking when she did. It was only a slender volume, its leather binding quite dull with dust, the gold lettering on the spine indecipherable with wear. Curious, Wendy opened the book and almost dropped it when the title leapt of the white parchment.
Neverland Awaits You.
As she stared down at those three words staring starkly up at her from the first page, she felt the room start to spin. Closing her eyes she shut the book with a snap and dropped it to the floor, her hand flying to her forehead and pressing, as if to stop the cascade of memory that was flooding into her minds eye.
"You don't exist...it was a dream....it's not possible!"
Drawing in a calming breath, Wendy opened her eyes to find the world hadn't shifted on its axis, that the attic was just as dark and musty as before. Seeing the small book sitting forlornly in the dust, she bent down to pick it up. She didn't open it again, just turned it over in her hand, peering at the front on which there was a design like a medallion or a coin, and at the back, which had another stamp like that made by a ring in hot wax. Her original search forgotten, Wendy gingerly held the book as if expecting it to burst in to flames and carried it to the head of the stairwell after collecting the lamp. Hurrying down the stairs she made up an excuse to Mr. Bennett, who took one look at her white face and sent her home to rest without questioning her further.
Her Aunt was out when she fumbled her way into the house and rushed up the stairs, only the maid noting her arrival as Wendy whisked herself into her bedroom and shut the door. Panting at her precipitous arrival, Wendy threw off her hat and coat, her gloves landing on the heap before throwing herself onto the bed, the book clutched convulsively against her breast.
"What on earth will Mr. Bennett think of me....he must think I've run mad..I have gone mad.....quite mad."
While she waited for her heart to stop pounding, Wendy rolled on to her side and held the book up to look at it closely. It felt warm against her fingers, the leather cover silky and smooth, almost alive. Biting her lip she slowly opened the cover again and saw the title, just as it had been before. Hesitantly she turned the page and saw a colour plate covered by waxed paper. Lifting the concealing sheet she felt her heart thud as she stared at the small but beautifully executed painting of the island of Neverland, every detail as sharp as if painted that day, the colours vibrant as if newly minted.
It was Neverland, her Neverland, Peter's Neverland, Hook's Neverland, the tall peaks, deep valleys, lush forests, azure seas, wide plains, it was all there. Reverently she traced the tip of her finger over the picture, the image seeming to swell and expand until she felt like she was hovering over the island, flying like a seagull over its rocky cliffs and sandy beaches, as light as a feather. A sudden sensation of vertigo made her head swim and her eyes slam shut, the book dropping from her hand to the bedcovers.
As she pressed her fingers to her eyes, memories of her short time spent on that magical island started to flood over her. Of Peter, so young and vibrant, so brash and brave, so arrogant and vulnerable. Of herself, so in love with him, with his world, with her own sense of adventure and invulnerability. It was all so long ago.
Of course she could not really deny it existed, there were her brothers and step-brothers as proof that they had gone somewhere, and come back from somewhere, and there was the pirate booty which had allowed the Darling family to absorb the new arrivals with little strain on the bank balance. But time has a habit of dulling events, of diluting history, or reducing facts to vague remembrances until faces start to blur and details become lost amongst everyday routine and growing up.
She had never really forgotten Peter, but all she could recall with any clarity was impressions of him, his cocky stance, smug smile and sun bleached hair. Of Neverland, she had similar impressions, of running through lush undergrowth, of climbing the rough bark of trees, of flying above the clouds, their cold wisps stroking her face. Her sharpest recollections were of the times aboard the Jolly Roger. The ship smelling of tar and brine, the rigging creaking and swaying, the deck heaving under her bare feet, all these she remembered along with the terror of being at Hook's mercy until Peter arrived and saved them all.
Opening her eyes she picked up the book again and opened it to the coloured plate, the image once more just a painted picture of a fanciful island from someone's imagination.
There's simply no way it could be her painted island, could it?
Turning the page brought her to the page that usually held the information about its printing date and publisher.
All that was listed was a date, nineteen-oh-four, the year Wendy had turned thirteen, the year she met Peter Pan.
Turning the page again, expecting the index, she was surprised to see her own name heading up the first chapter. Was the author someone known to her? Known to her family? As she read the opening paragraph she almost threw the book across the room. It was about her, her life, her family, what she had done after turning away from the window, from Peter.
Horrified that someone appeared to have been spying on her life, Wendy read down to the bottom of the page, reliving her thirteenth year as if it was yesterday, her life exposed on the printed page like a butterfly pinned to a board. Who had written this? How could they know?
She flipped the pages to the end of the book, hoping to find some reference to the author, not bothering to read anything past the first page, but she noted several pages that held colour plates like the one at the front, her curiosity over coming her bewilderment.
Still not quite believing what she'd read, Wendy read the first page again, the words recalling her feeling and hopes even at that tender age, so torn between childhood and adulthood, her body and mind pulling in different directions but always onwards, never allowing her to linger in the past. Almost scared to read more, she turned the page and found herself staring at an image of herself at thirteen.
"Have I really grown up that much?" She whispered to herself, staring at the girl-child on the brink of being a young woman.
Had she ever been that young, that innocent, that beautiful. Unconsciously Wendy lifted a hand to release her hair from its pins, her long locks tumbling down around her face, the tips no longer sun bleached and golden, the colour darker than in the painting. Seeing the rosy lips parted in a sweet smile in her younger self, Wendy touched her own in wonder, knowing and yet still not believing that she had been that girl once as shown in this book that should not exist.
"I wonder, Peter, if you would love me still, would want to take me away to Neverland again......were you ever alive anywhere but in my dreams?"