Apologies to Ian McEwan, who wrote a wonderful book, to Christopher Hampton, who wrote the script. Thank you to Joe Wright for his vision, and to Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and the rest of the cast for bringing Joe's vision to life.
Notes: Some images and references are taken from the novel, others from the movie. Some are taken from unused scenes in the script. Some obviously for this work of fan fiction.
This is the final chapter. I can finally reveal the inspiration for this whole thing, an interview with James and Keira about a particular scene. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my story.
1999 Venus Room, Tilney Hotel, dusk
Briony sat by the window overlooking the grounds. The room she occupied she had known as 'Auntie Venus' room' was now dubbed simply the 'Venus Room' and had been decorated in an elegant goddess motif. She wasn't at all surprised that it was the room that had been reserved for her as it was the room with the best view of in the house, over the lake, the driveway, the woods and the hills beyond. It was strange for her to walk the familiar halls to find numbers on the now locked doors. Her old room was number 7.
The infamous fountain was gone. The woods that surrounded the bungalow that once belonged to Grace Turner were still there and the bungalow itself was now a storage shed. Earlier in the day she had seen the hotel grounds keepers in their bright yellow shirts driving their clean white golf carts tending to the golf course and gardens. She couldn't help but remember Robbie dressed in his pale blue work shirts pushing the squeaky wheel barrel.
Sometimes she wondered why she remembered and forgot what she did. She could remember the details of that hot summer afternoon in the summer of 1935 as she lay on the grass near the fountain with her sister Cecilia as she struggled to get into her book Clarissa by Richardson and herself contemplating if writing a play for the arrival of their older brother Leon was the right thing to do, yet she had no recollection of what she had for breakfast. She knew she ate breakfast. Her secretary would have made sure of it. In fact it was probably the same thing she ate the previous morning but could not remember.
A cruel trick of the Gods, she mused. Torture. Revenge. Call it what you will. Take away what she considered her lively hood and treasured the most, but allow her to keep and remember what she wished she could forget or do without.
There was a knock on the door and Briony happily tore herself away from the memories of that fateful afternoon to answer it.
"Happy Birthday, Briony." the red haired young man at the door replied.
"Thank you, Charles," Briony responded taking the arm of the organizer of the party to celebrate both her 77th birthday and release of her 21st novel.
"Are you ready?" the grandson of her cousin Pierrot asked as they left the room.
"Ready as ever." she replied. It would probably be the last gathering she was going to be able to attend. She could already feel her body betraying her, her mind slipping away.
As they descended the grand staircase, Briony took a deep breath hoping to smell something familiar from the past. Instead she got a noseful of new carpet that had been laid over the black and white tiles that made it once impossible to sneak about the lower levels of the house. They had been an acoustic nightmare but she had grown to love it's sound and learned to distinguish the different footfalls of her family. But it was also ugly, she thought. Now that it was gone, she missed it.
They reached the entrance to the library. Briony felt a chill and thought that somebody brushed by her on the way in. But there was only her and Charles there. She shook it off to being nervous. She could hear the hush of those gathered inside. They were relatives, some of which she had not seen in years. She knew it would probably be the last time she would see or remember any of them.
Charles opened the door.
"Happy Birthday!" everyone in the room shouted as Briony entered the room.
She smiled and looked around the room as the guests began to approach her to wish her personal birthday wishes or praise for her writing. Charles stood by her whispering names and identities of those she did not know or those she could no longer recognize. Some faces were familiar, some were not. She could not blame it all on her increasingly diminished facilities. She had not seen some of her relatives in over twenty years. They ranged in age from her older brother Leon's 89 to 3months. There were a gaggle of red-heads in one corner, clearly descendants of her cousins Jackson and Pierrot. In another corner, children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of her brother Leon. Despite his failed marriages, Leon was a dedicated father which was evident by the sight of him now bound to a wheelchair guarded by his two youngest, the twins Robbie and Cecilia.
Briony walked over to her brother. While his body betrayed him over the years his mind was as sharp as ever. His final two children had sacrificed a lot to take care of their father. She had always been a bit apprehensive about being with the twins as they had a strange closeness to their namesakes and Briony had a feeling it was not just because of what their father had told them. Leon had told her about the days after their mother's funeral and how the twins had met their sister and Robbie's ghosts.
Leon reached out and took his sister's hand squeezing it as hard as he could which was not that hard. He smiled. "Happy birthday, Briony."
Briony squeezed her brother's hand in response. "Thank you, Leon. You are looking well."
"Bah." he snorted followed by a chuckle.
Little Cecilia, as she was always known and called by everyone, turned to her aunt. "Aunt Briony, I read your book." she replied.
"My book?" Briony asked with surprise. "Which one?"
"Atonement," Little Cecilia answered. "My ex-girlfriend is a literary critic and received an advance copy. She let me read it first. I've never read any of your novels before."
"And what did you think of it?" she asked nervously. She had a feeling Little Cecilia would be honest with her unlike some of her other family members were and had been over the years.
Little Cecilia smiled. She could tell her aunt was nervous to hear her opinion. "I think that Auntie Cee and Robbie will like the ending you gave them."
Briony was relieved. She never really believed in ghosts or the stories her brother had told her over the years about Robbie and Cecilia's ghosts, but now, looking back, it all made sense now. She didn't want to believe that she was being haunted. She always told herself that it was some kind of a perverted stalker who had somehow managed to enter her flat when she had awakened or returned to her flat to find the bed unmade, clothes strewn all over the floor and/or her neatly stacked papers and notes spread out over the table. It made sense that the messes could have been her sister, haunting her. Cecilia had always been annoyed by her attention to neatness and knew how equally annoyed she was at her own sloppiness. Briony also took notice how Little Cecilia and Little Robbie always spoke of their Auntie Cee and Robbie in a present tense. She also recalled how it was Little Robbie who found the key to Cecilia's locked room at the bottom of the fountain and how he and his twin were laughed hysterically when the clean and immaculate room was opened while everyone just looked in the room in a state of complete shock and disbelief. Perfume bottles were neatly arranged by height and color on the vanity. The drawers were organized and categorized. The clothes were neatly folded or hung and color coordinated. The only evidence that the room had once been occupied by Cecilia was the green halter gown laid out on the bed with the accessories she had worn and an empty pack of cigarettes beside it. An cigarette butt filled ash tray was on the bed stand and the trash can filled with cigarette butts and ashes.
Charles approached her. He smiled at Leon and nodded to the twins. "Briony, the kids are getting restless for the cake but first we have some entertainment arranged. If you would come with me?"
Briony excused herself from her brother and his twins. She turned to follow Charles to the front of the room where a makeshift stage was being set up. She did not see Leon as he reached with a smile as if to reach back and hold an invisible hand on his shoulder.
Tears of joy, laughter and embarrassment filled Briony's eyes as she watched and listened to the young Quincey boy recite
"...be warned! Because Arabella almost learned too late, that before we love we must cogitate!"
The children bowed as the room erupted in applause and cheers in reaction to their flawless performance of "The Trials of Arabella" Leon was laughing and smiling finally getting to see the play that had been written for him. When the applause finally subsided it was replaced by chants for the author and birthday girl.
Briony blushed and stood up before her family. She turned to look at the faces trying desperately not to burst into tears and to somehow seer their faces into her memory. She wondered how long before this day would fade into oblivion. Opening her mouth to speak, she froze and suddenly felt faint. Immediately at her side as she stumbled back Charles and another were there to support her.
She looked again to the back of the room as she was eased into a chair. There in the back of the cheering crowd behind her brother Leon and his twins were two figures. They stood there looking young and radiant, dressed for dinner. A young man with beautiful blue eyes dressed in his best suit and a beautiful young woman in the prime of her life wearing a sparkling diamond bracelet and a green halter neck gown. They looked back at her smirking maliciously.
Briony had to look away. She could not meet their eyes. As the cake was brought out for her she dared to look again but they were gone. Had they actually been there or had she imagined them?
* * * *
Exhausted. That was how she felt. The day had started with an interview beginning the promotion of her 21st and final novel followed by a visit to the War Time Museum where she had done a great deal of her research. She felt that she owed it to Robbie to accurately account his time in the Army. She had also donated her sister's and Robbie's love letters that Grace had given to her before her death. Robbie's mother never forgave her but left the letters to her so that one day she would know just how much she had hurt Robbie and Cecilia and how much they truly cared for one another. That love never faded. She had never gathered the courage to open the bundle and read the letters. Little Cecilia's review "I think Auntie Cee and Robbie will like the ending you gave them" gave her hope. But then there was those faces at the back of the crowd. Again she told herself that she had imagined them.
She was seventy-seven years old and she felt like it. She had never really felt old until now. Atonement, her 21st and final novel. A labour of love, but was it enough?
She felt tired. So very tired. It was time to lay down. Time to rest.
Laughter. Loud hysterical laughter and giggling. Briony opened her eyes but could see nothing. Everything was empty, but the laughter. In a panic she looked around but could see nothing. The laughter and giggling seemed familiar somehow. She looked around. Panic. There was nothing Where was the laughter coming from? Why was it so familiar? Was she going mad?
Two figures emerged before her from the nothing. She stared at them, confused. Why were they laughing at her? One was a World War II soldier by the look of his uniform, pale and unshaven wearing no shoes. The other was a young woman with wavy brown hair wearing a simple green dress.
Briony tired to back away but could not move as the figures moved closer. "Stay away from me!" she cried out weakly.
The young woman laughed harder. "Oh my god, Briony! You should have seen your face!"
The soldier still giggled and held out his hand. "Come with us, Briony. It's time to rest."
Briony stared. She could not believe what was before her. "Cecilia? Robbie?" She felt old again... seventy seven. Her sister was still twenty eight, and Robbie twenty nine. "Why are you here?" she asked suddenly afraid. Were they taunting her?
"We've come for you, silly." Cecilia replied. "Now take Robbie's hand. Mother is waiting."
"Yes, mother. And Grace and Uncle Clem."
Briony wondered why Uncle Clem. She had never met him and heard only stories.
Cecilia took Robbie's extended hand, then held out her own to her sister. "Come, Briony."
Tentatively, Briony took her older sister by the hand not quite ready to be dragged to hell. "Cee?" she replied as they began to walk toward the light that she was sure would soon fade.
"I wanted to say that I'm sorry. I know it's not enough but I am very sorry." Briony replied with conviction.
Robbie smiled. "It's all right, Pal."
Briony felt her heart warm. She had not heard Robbie call her that in years. Perhaps she was not being lead to hell after all. But she still wanted to hear the words. Briony could see three figures in the distance as the nothing began to clear.
"It's time to rest, Briony," her sister replied. "Come back. Come back to us, Briony."
Her sister's tone was just like when they were younger and Cecilia would come to her room to comfort her after she had had a nightmare. Briony felt like a little girl again. "Cecilia?"
Cecilia felt her sister squeeze her hand. "It's all right. I forgive you. Robbie does too. Now come."
Briony could see the figures clearly now. Her mother, Grace Turner, and whom she assumed was her Uncle Clem. Time to rest. Everything had been forgiven but nothing had been lost. She could remember everything.
* * * *
It was Little Cecilia who found her Aunt Briony the next morning in her bed presumably asleep. When she tried to wake her she felt cold. She then noticed a bracelet on the nightstand. She had seen it before, when she was a little girl. Nana had taken it and put it in her jewelry box the day they opened her Auntie Cee's bedroom. It belonged to her Auntie Cee.
She picked it up and smiled.
"Cee?" It was her brother. "Do you need help?"
"No." she replied turning to give her brother the bracelet. "Give this to dad. He'll know what it means."
Little Robbie smiled as her sister pulled the sheet over their aunt's head.