Disclaimer 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, Romola Garai and the rest of the cast for bringing Joe's vision to life.
Thank you for your reviews and feedback. I hope to make this story enjoyable. I prefer to write it on paper then type it up and don't care much for typing, which is one of the reasons for my updating delays. And I can always revise what I have written to reflect your reviews and hopes of how you wish the story will progress. I still do not know how I am going to end this… ?
All rights to those who own them. I claim nothing.
A "What if...?" Story. "What if Robbie made it home?
Love Never Dies
Chapter 12: Life
Sister Drummond and Sister Tallis sat in the office discussing their schedule and how best to proceed was sure to be another hectic night with the German Luftwaffe bombing the city. Sister Drummond would be working a double shift and Sister Tallis would turn in for the evening, and wake for an overnight shift, then take over in the morning. They had Nurse Bennet coming on for the second night shift and Lieutenant Garfield.
Air raid sirens cut their conversation short and they rushed to the ward floor. With the injured civilians in the ward, just the sound of the sirens could cause them to panic. Any kind of loud noises could set off the soldiers. It would only be a matter of time before the sounds of artillery fire and exploding bombs would be heard.
Upon arriving the Ward Sisters found the ward in a state of panic. Sister Tallis immediately began to bark orders in order to make some sanity of the chaos. The nurses seemed to be harder to motivate than usual. Both women seemed to dread what was to come as the sound of the raging war could be heard closer than ever before. Many of the soldiers who were not yet fit for duty but capable of doing some tasks volunteered to help.
A nearby explosion followed quickly by another shook the building. The Luftwaffe was attacking. There was another shaking the building even harder. The sound of the explosion was even louder than before. The soldier working alongside Sister Tallis looked up.
"That was close." He responded just as an explosion shook the building hard enough to cause several nurses including Sister Tallis to lose their balance who fell into the arms of Lieutenant Garfield.
"That was too close." He whispered into Sister Tallis' ear before setting her on her feet.
The lights flickered for a moment as two more bombs shook the building and the sound of the anti-aircraft guns filled the air.
Everyone in the ward froze as the bombs and guns faded into the distance. The ward settled into a quite panic. Some began to sob.
A piercing scream from one of the nurses caused everyone to look in the general direction from which it came. A severely wounded and bloodied doctor hobbled into the ward. Sister Tallis was among a crowd of nurses who rushed to the doctor's aid.
The doctor turned to the Ward Sister. "The…North Wing… They hit the North Wing." He managed to reply before passing out.
Sister Tallis turned to the nurse who was closest to him holding him as he collapsed. The young nurse shook her head. Sister Tallis turned to Sister Drummond who had just arrived at the scene. She did not have to say a word. Sister Drummond began to bark orders out to the ward to prepare for the injured. Lieutenant Garfield took charge of the soldiers who were willing to lend a hand. It was going to be a long night.
Entering the dorms to get some rest, Sister Tallis followed the sounds of the sobs. She had seen several of the nurses' break down and leave the ward without permission, the reality of what their job involved had hit them hard. Some of the victims they had known. They had worked with the doctors and nurses. Tonight they were no longer nameless faces; they were colleagues, and sometimes even friends.
She took a seat next to them on the bed on which they were sitting.
"Sister Tallis!" One of them replied. "I'm, we are so sorry for leaving the ward without permission. Please don't discipline us."
"I'm not here to discipline you. None of you will be written up for your actions tonight." Sister Tallis replied. "Tonight has been difficult for us all. I was about to turn in for the evening. My current condition requires that I do get some rest. I have to be up to run things in the morning when I heard the sobbing."
Another nurse turned to the Ward Sister happy for a change in subject. "Ward Sister, you're pregnant aren't you? There have been rumors." she asked hoping that she was not out of line to ask. "I'm sorry if I'm out of line for asking."
Sister Tallis noticed the smile as the nurse asked her the question. "No, Nurse Banks. It's all right. Yes, I am pregnant. Three months. And its Jane am I correct?"
"Your given name."
"Oh, yes. Jane Banks. I'm surprised you know it." Nurse Banks replied.
"I do make it a point to know all of your names. I'm really not as cold hearted as my reputation here dictates. I don't like to have to adhere to the cold militaristic Nightingale method, but at times I must."
Jane smiled. "May I ask your name Sister Tallis?"
"You may. My name is Cecilia."
"Oh such a lovely name!" another nurse replied. "I must remember that. Maybe I'll name a daughter Cecilia."
Sister Tallis chuckled looking at the nurse's name badge. "Nurse R. Sayre. Rose."
The nurse smiled. "You do know our names! I prefer Rosie."
"I told you I don't like the 'Nightingale method'. I would call you all by your names if Sister Drummond were not such an advocate. I think she would write me up for being so lackadaisical about the rules if I were not the nurse that I am. Probably why I was assigned to a maternity ward. But even there some of the Ward Sisters were so impersonal." She replied. "One couldn't allow even a few more minutes for a father who was calming his wife after one of their twins had died."
"Twins! Do you want twins, Sister Tallis?" Jane asked.
"Heavens no!" Sister Tallis responded with a chuckle. "Too much trouble. Two at once. I have twin nephews and the two of them are monsters. Although that may be due to the complete lack of discipline they received from their mother and their guardians. Still, I don't think I could handle twins. I'm only three months along and I can feel the strain of this pregnancy. While not frail, I am thin and I think I will burst by my ninth month if I am carrying twins. While we are here talking, you may all call me Cecilia."
The third nurse sitting with them sobbed. "How do you do it, Sister—I mean, Cecilia?" she replied through her tears. "How can you just go on the way you do after seeing all that death?"
"Nurse Frances Almond-Smith." Cecilia replied. "You must. It's not easy. There are nights that I cannot sleep because of what I have witnessed. But I try not to dwell on it. Tomorrow is another day. It may be better it may be worse. Try to focus on something positive. If you have any problems, come to me. My door is always open."
Rosie laughed. "That's not what Fiona says."
Cecilia turned to Rosie. "Fiona? Fiona Maguire?"
"Fiona is an idiot." She replied. "I don't care if you tell her that. She's my sister's friend and honestly, I don't know why my little sister would befriend such a dreamer like her, no concept of reality… or perhaps that is exactly why. Briony once thought like that, living in her own fantasies. She got a harsh taste of reality when she betrayed me and took away my happiness."
"By accusing Robbie of raping your cousin." Jane replied. "How do you know he wasn't guilty?"
Cecilia glared at the young nurse. "I am not here to talk about my personal life like that. Don't accuse me of being foolish because I am in love with him. I know he is not guilty because of what happened that day."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything. Fiona said that she tried to talk to you. You said that she could talk to her but when she did you screamed at her and practically threw her out of the office."
"She said that?" Cecilia asked. "It's partially true. I did yell at her, rather harshly. Her timing was awful. We had received a letter from the Bristol Prison a few days earlier that stated that they would be coming to pick up Robbie to take him to the prison. The Army had given Private Turner an honorable discharge because they felt his battle with septicemia weakened him and he was no longer fit for duty, so he was being sent back to prison. I had yet to break the news to him. I didn't tend to him or speak to him at all that day, and he was due to be taken away the following morning, our anniversary of sorts. That was the condition I was in when she burst into the office demanding to talk to me."
Nurse Almond-Smith looked at Cecilia. "Private Turner. I remember him. He asked me to bring him some tea once. No milk, just two sugars."
"Yes, that would be him." Cecilia smiled.
"And he had the most beautiful blue eyes."
Rosie laughed. "He did, didn't he, Frankie?" she responded. "Oh, Cecilia, I hope your baby has his blue eyes."
Frankie sighed. "How can you be separated from the man you love like that and still find the will to live? It's hard enough to be separated from one's family. How do you go on; all those innocent victims, all your pain? How can you stand it? It's just not fair!"
"I could merely say that 'this is life' or 'this is war' but I won't. I'm sure you've heard it all before and it doesn't help. I'm sure you all have been told that many times by your superiors. I know I certainly have. It is difficult. It's not going to get any easier. Don't ever think that it will or you will lose your compassion for those who are counting on to help them. Robbie is my reason for life. That is why I must go on. That is why I do not care for the 'Nightingale Method'. I want to get to know those who I treat, just enough to help them through the night or ease their minds so that they can move on to the next life. I cannot begin to count how many nights I've cried myself to sleep thinking of Robbie or how many times I've woken up to a wet pillow from my tears from my dreams of him. I wake up at times feeling warm and comforted knowing that he loves me." Cecilia replied. "Everyone has a different way of dealing with the pain. I can't tell you how to deal with it. You have to find your own way. What you see on the ward floor is not always what you will see off duty or even behind closed doors."
"I wonder what Sister Drummond is like." Jane asked not really expecting an answer.
"Marjorie Drummond is not at all the stiff by the book Ward Sister you are used to." Cecilia replied.
"Really? How did you meet her, become friends with her?"
"We were probationers together. She was ahead of me in training. We were dorm mates. We bonded over something personal and it is not my business to share that with you. I was there for her as a friend, someone to talk to and share her feelings. She remained here while I was transferred to a maternity ward when our training was complete. When I'd heard that she had been promoted to Ward Sister in charge of training new recruits and thought how appropriate."
Another nurse had entered the room and chuckled. "You must have been more than just dorm mates from all the rumors that lingered."
Rosie, Jane and Frankie turned to see who it was. Sister Tallis only had to look passed the trio of nurses toward the door.
"Tell me, Nurse Fiona Maguire, are you that starved for attention that you must perpetuate your desire to be the center of attention by continuing to spread rumors about me? Are you jealous perhaps of the possibility of me getting sexual satisfaction while you are not? If it is sexual satisfaction that you need, Nurse Maguire, then I am sure I can find a soldier willing to satisfy you or if you prefer the satisfaction of a female I do know of a few nurses who would be willing as well. Normally I condone such behavior and severely discipline those I find guilty of such offenses but I am willing to make an exception for you."
The three nurses tried desperately not to laugh. Fiona flushed bright red.
Frankie laughed at Cecilia. "Are you always like this?" she giggled.
Cecilia laughed. "No!" She responded blushing. "I am usually very shy, but confident. I do have a stubborn streak though. You might not like me outside of the ward."
"Or like you even less!" Jane replied with a chuckle.
Cecilia shook her head. "Am I really that awful?"
"Oh no! I was just kidding, honest." Jane replied defending herself. "At first, I admitted I hated you. I thought you worse than Sister Drummond because you were constantly on the ward floor during your watch. But we soon realized that it wasn't because you were keeping an eye on us to catch us in the act of doing something wrong and be ready to pounce, but to jump in and give us a hand. Some of us have seen a few Head Nurses and Ward Sisters come and go, but we have never seen one work the way you do."
"We like you!" Rose replied.
"Speak for yourselves." Fiona responded. "I for one will be happy to see her go."
Frankie looked sadly at Cecilia. "You're leaving?" she asked.
"Not yet. But it's being discussed." Cecilia replied. "For now, I'm going to be doing more of the office work while Sister Drummond is going to be taking on my role. My pregnancy is going to limit my ability to work, and then as time goes by become very obvious. It's probably not the best professionally to walk about looking like that."
The trio laughed.
"Now at the risk of sounding like an unfeeling bitch, if the three of you are ready to return to duty, I am sure they can use your help out there."
Rose was the first to rise. "You promised us we wouldn't get a write up, Sister Tallis!"
"I did. Don't worry. If the three of you don't feel up to working then I will understand. But I will not tolerate laziness. If I find out that any of you three are slacking off duty due to laziness tonight, I will write you up for that." She replied. "If any of the nurses or Sister Drummond give you a hard time about leaving your posts, tell them to come and talk to me in the morning. Do not argue with them."
Jane stood up and followed Rose out of the ward. Frankie remained on the bed. Cecilia could tell she was still a bit shaken up.
"Sister Tallis, is it possible to perhaps call my father? I'm sure he's worried. He's a doctor at the Royal Mardsen Hospital in Chelsea." Frankie asked.
"I'm afraid I can't allow that. If I allow you a personal call I will have to allow one for everyone. However, I can call the hospital to leave a message. I should give a to call my family to inform them that I'm all right. My father works for the Defense Ministry so I can get away with calling him even when he is at home. What is your father's name?"
Frankie smiled. "It's easy to remember. Frank. Doctor Frank Almond-Smith." She giggled. "I was named after him. I was either going to be Franklin or Frances. And I've always been called 'Frankie'. Thank you very much, Sister Tallis. If you don't mind, I really don't want to return to the ward. Seeing all those injured doctors and nurses is a little bit hard. I can't help think that it could have been my father's hospital that was hit and that he could be among the injured… or worse."
"Understood." Sister Tallis replied. "Get some rest. I expect you to be ready for duty in the morning."
Sister Tallis stood up and walked out of the dorm room leaving Fiona glaring at her.
After dinner everyone gathered in the drawing room for cocktails. Jack excused apologizing that he had some business to attend to. The bombings were spreading and the war was growing. Emily knew her husband would not be able to sleep and let him go. He was also never the social type, preferring to sit in his library and read.
"Do you drink, Briony?" Emily asked as Leon handed her a glass of white wine.
Briony shook her head. "No, ma'am." She replied by habit. "I mean Mother." She corrected.
"That's good. Do you smoke? Your sister smokes far too much." Emily replied.
"I don't smoke either." Briony replied. "Cecilia says she's cut back a bit. She can't afford cigarettes as much as she used to."
Leon handed Briony a glass of tonic water with a twist of lime. "So, what's it like working with Cecilia?" He asked. "I just can't picture her as a nurse."
"Actually she's quite a good nurse." Briony answered. "As for working with her, it's just like working with anyone else. Sometimes it is hard to believe that Ward Sister Tallis is my sister Cecilia. Many of the doctors like her. The St Thomas director has even offered to allow her to continue classes after the war and possibly sponsor her through medical school if she's still interested."
Leon laughed. "Medical school? Is this director aware of her third at Cambridge? She didn't even study medicine. She studied literature, wasting her time reading books there when she could have just as easily read father's collections in our library. How hard could that have been? How the hell does she expect to get through medical school?" Leon snorted. "The only reason she's even a nurse is because Robbie wanted to go to medical school. I can't believe the old man was willing to pay for that! I never would have figured our stubborn sister would throw her life away for some low life commoner. She had so much going for her if she had only waited for a proposal from Paul. At least Lola had the sense to accept."
"Cecilia is doing quite well for herself, Leon." Briony replied. "She's living on her own doing what she enjoys. You don't see her at work every day like I do. She really enjoys nursing. She wouldn't have gotten promoted to the rank of Ward Sister if she didn't and didn't truly enjoy what she does. Getting a promotion doesn't come easy. If anyone threw their life away, it was me. I wanted to become a writer. My dream was to follow you and Cecilia to Cambridge and immerse myself in literature and learn from the masters. I threw it all away because of my guilt of what I had done to Robbie and Cecilia and followed Cecilia into nursing, not as some heroic act to help serve my country. I'm miserable and I'm a terrible nurse."
Emily turned to her daughter. "Come now. It can't be all that bad. I'm sure you are a wonderful nurse."
"No, I'm not. I've gotten many write ups from Sister Drummond. And even Cecilia laughed at me telling me how terrible I am. The only reason I'm probably still there is because we are so badly needed right now. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn't have lasted the first week!"
"If you are so miserable, why don't you come home?" Emily replied. "I am so worried for you and Cecilia as well. I don't want anything to happen to the two of you."
"I want to be close to Cecilia. She is just beginning to accept me as her sister again. And now with a baby on the way, I want to be there for her."
"All the more reason for you as well as Cecilia to come home!" she replied. "With the bombings in London, I fear for your safety. How are things in Lambeth?"
"We are fine." Briony replied. "No need to worry. We can hear the Army guns and the German planes fly overhead. Sometimes we can hear bombs exploding in the distance."
All was quiet as the gathered family could hear the air raid sirens from the nearby town sound.
Just then a panicked Jack burst into the drawing room and turned to his youngest daughter. "Briony, does Cecilia work in the North Wing? Please tell me the two of you do not work in the North Wing and that Cecilia has no business being there."
"No, we are in the South Wing, and I don't think Cecilia would have business there." Briony responded with confusion. "Why do you ask?"
"The Germans have bombed St Thomas Hospital. They hit the North Wing."
Briony felt guilty that she was at home, while her sister and the other nurses were at the hospital having to deal with what she was sure was pure chaos. She looked to her mother who had begun to cry. She felt sad and wanted to comfort her mother but did not know how to or what to say. She realized how little emotion she felt, how little her sadness seemed to affect her. Was there something wrong with her? Why was it so hard for her to care and understand the feelings of those around her? She was beginning to grasp why her actions five years ago had angered her sister so much.
No one felt like leaving the drawing room. They all remained. No one said a word. What could they say? Cecilia had only made the one visit in June to start making amends and if it not for Betty and Grace encouraging her to speak to the family, they never would have known she had come for a visit. Leon paced the room. It only added to the tension. Finally Emily cracked.
"Leon! Sit down. Stop pacing. You are going to wear out the floor." Emily replied.
Leon continued to pace. He only stopped for a moment to pour himself another drink.
It was nearly 2am when Betty entered the Drawing Room. All eyes turned to her.
"Mr. Tallis," Betty responded, "Jack, I just got off the phone with Cecilia. She said she couldn't talk but she wanted to call and let us know that she was all right. She said she was off to get some rest and sends her love."
A huge weight was lifted for those in the room.
Jack stood up. "Well, I think we should follow Cecilia's lead and get some rest." He turned to Briony. "Don't you leave tomorrow? Would you like a ride to the hospital? I plan on leaving early. I am sure there will be much for me to do at the Ministry."
"Well, I was actually planning on taking the bus into town. I don't have to be back until late afternoon. But I will ride with you. I'm sure an extra body will be much appreciated."
It was nearly 10am when Sister Drummond had had enough felt as though she was too tired to work. The bombing of the North Wing had affected everyone. Even Sister Tallis had lasted until 2am. As she entered the office she noticed her pregnant Ward Sister asleep on the hide-away. She wanted to waken her but didn't have the heart.
The phone rang and Sister Tallis didn't even stir. She must have been really tired. Sister Drummond forgot about her fatigue and walked to the desk to answer the phone. "Ward Four. Sister Drummond speaking." She responded.
"Hello? This is Robbie Turner. Is Sister Tallis available?" the polite male voice on the other end asked.
"Oh my goodness! Robbie? Yes. Hold the line, please." Sister Drummond responded with surprise.
She rushed over to the hide-away and shook Sister Tallis awake. "Cecilia, wake up."
Sister Tallis opened her eyes. "Marjorie. Do you need the bed?" she asked groggily.
"Yes, but I didn't wake you for that. The telephone is for you." She replied not giving away who was on the phone.
Cecilia stretched and got up. Still half asleep, she answered the phone. "Sister Tallis speaking, how may I assist you?" she responded.
"Ward Sister, my tummy hurts." The voice on the other end responded. "I think I ate something funny."
"Robbie?" Cecilia exclaimed not quite believing her ears. "Is that you, darling?"
"I love you, Cee." Robbie replied with a chuckle. "They told me I could call a family member so I asked if it could be my fiancé. I can't talk long but I just wanted to hear your voice."
"I love you. I wish I could see you." Cecilia replied. "I have news."
"News? Is everything, everyone all right?" Robbie asked with concern.
"Everything, everyone is all right. It's about me, about us." Cecilia replied. "I really want to tell you in person and see your face, but I don't know when that will be. I'm carrying our child, Robbie. I'm pregnant."
"I'm going to be a dad!" Robbie replied happily.
"Yes, darling." Cecilia chuckled.
"Did you tell my mother?"
"Briony should have told them. She went on holiday, and I gave her permission to tell the family. I hope you don't mind. She was awfully excited to be becoming an aunt. And I don't know I will next have leave."
"I understand." Robbie replied. "I got a letter from your father. I wrote him back telling him my part of what happened that night. I guess he's trying to follow up on where the twins went that night?"
"Yes, he is. We are trying to locate the twins but Lola had them sent away to boarding school and won't even tell her Aunt which one or where."
"Do you think Marshall knows that you are trying to prove me innocent?" Robbie asked.
"I'm not sure. If he does I'm blaming Leon." Cecilia replied. "But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about happier things. I'm learning how to make your favorite breakfast."
"Pancakes and oatmeal?" Robbie asked. "Are you going to cook for me when I get out?"
"I'm going to try." Cecilia replied. "Don't get your hopes up. I'm afraid all I can make at the moment are crispy egg wafers and glue."
Robbie giggled. "I have faith, Cee, that by the time I do get out you will have perfected them. I look forward to trying them." Robbie sighed. "I'm afraid my time is up. Tell my mother I love her. I love you, Cecilia."
"I love you, Robbie. I'll wait for you. Come back to me."
The line was disconnected. Cecilia started to cry. It had felt so good to hear Robbie's voice again, to talk to him if even for a short time. She sat down behind the desk and looked at the work schedule. The ward was in good hands at the moment. Head Nurse Bennet would be starting her second shift. Not that she doubted the ward wouldn't be. Sister Drummond would not have left it any other way. She wiped her tears and decided that she would wash up and change into a fresh uniform. Then breakfast was in order.
There was a knock on the door. Cecilia sighed. So much for breakfast, she thought.
"Come in," Sister Tallis responded.
The door opened and Sister Tallis was surprised to see her sister.
"Briony, what are you doing here?" she asked. "I didn't expect you until later this afternoon."
"I rode up with father. I figured you could use an extra body." Briony replied. "Thank you for calling the house, Cee. I know it was probably not within regulations."
"It wasn't. I figured since father was a member of the Defense Ministry I can get away with it if called on it. I know it was late. I hope I didn't wake anyone." Cecilia replied. "I also promised to call the Royal Mardsen Hospital in Chelsea for Nurse Almond-Smith. Do you know her?"
"I'm not sure if Betty was asleep, but none of us moved from the drawing room after father came in to inform us that the hospital was hit." She replied. "I don't think I know Nurse Almond-Smith. I'm sure it was a rough night."
Cecilia pointed to Sister Drummond asleep in the hide-away.
Briony snickered. "Oh dear. Cee, please don't tell Sister Drummond that I laughed at her."
"I won't." Cecilia chuckled. "And under the circumstances, I don't think she would be too angry. Besides, you came back from your holiday early, after a crisis. Are you prepared to work a shift? I can make sure you work only one so you can rest up before your scheduled shift."
"Have you been crying? Is everything all right?" Briony asked with concern ignoring the Ward Sister's question.
Cecilia smiled. "Happy tears." She replied. "Robbie called."
"What?" Briony exclaimed. "So you got to talk to him?"
"For a little bit, yes. I got to tell him about our baby."
"Oh, Cee, that's wonderful!"
"Marjorie woke me to tell me the telephone was for me. When I answered he said 'Ward Sister, my tummy hurts. I think I ate something funny.' He used to say that all the time when we were little and he'd get a tummy ache." Cecilia giggled. "The poor guy. He was always getting tummy aches. Sometimes it would from eating too much or sometimes it was from eating something he shouldn't have. When we used to play together, me, Robbie and Leon, I used to make mud pies. I would 'feed' them to Robbie and Leon. I think Robbie actually ate them!"
"He what?" Briony laughed.
"I don't know whether it was from stupidity, or he was just that nice. I prefer to think that he was nice." Cecilia replied. "One time, I backed a batch of cookies, a bit of Betty's help. I baked the cookies before with a lot of her help, and she thought I would be all right on my own. I wasn't. They ended up with too much salt, too much ginger, and I burned them. I gave a couple for Robbie to try, and he gobbled them up. He got sick."
Briony laughed harder. "And he actually wants to marry you and have you cook for him? Is he insane?"
"It's just his nature, I suppose. He has always been the good natured fellow. Don't get him wrong, Briony. He's not naïve. He wouldn't eat mud pies and burned cookies from just anyone." Cecilia laughed. "When I attended the local Grammar with Leon and Robbie before I was accepted to Rodean, there was a girl there who liked Robbie. She made him a mud pie that was much prettier than any I've ever made for him. He refused to eat it."
"I could see Robbie being liked by everyone." Briony replied. "I can see why you like him so much."
Cecilia sighed. "Sometimes I feel as though I don't deserve him."
"Cee, don't say that! The two of you were meant for each other!" Briony exclaimed.
"When we were younger, it didn't matter that I was the 'master's daughter' and he 'the servant's son'. We were just Robbie and Cecilia. Leon was the first to play the class thing. I remember him telling me that I shouldn't play with Robbie anymore. I remember crying and asking him why. I ran to father and told him what Leon said. He told me to ignore my brother and do whatever I wanted. There might be a time where I should no longer play with Robbie and would no longer want to but now was not that time." Cecilia replied. "I had no idea what he meant at the time. I was just happy to be able to ignore my big brother and his bossiness and play with my best friend."
"Robbie still is your best friend, isn't he, Cee."
"Maybe he is." She replied. "I suppose that's why even my snobbishness at Cambridge couldn't break our bond. All those years away, at Rodean, changed me. I became a 'class snob' like Leon. Something changed again at Cambridge. I wanted to talk to Robbie, hang out with him. But I couldn't and I didn't understand why. One was because he was 'our housekeeper's son' and I questioned myself why that had to matter. The other was that I was scared to death of him. Not him exactly, per se but how I was beginning to feel and I had no idea how he felt, so I just ignored him. That is why I feel as though I don't deserve him."
"No! Don't say that. Don't ever think that!" Briony replied. "You are a much better person than you were then, than you were five years ago. You deserve to be happy! You didn't do anything wrong. I did! And I curse myself every day for denying you of that."
"Thank you." Cecilia replied. "Shakespeare wrote in 'Hamlet' 'above all this to thine own self be true'. I never really understood what the bard meant until five years ago. I wasted so much time at Cambridge. If I had told him how I felt, we might be married. Promise me, Briony that you will be true to yourself. Don't let anyone, or society tell you how you should live and who you should love. If I had done that, Robbie and I might have come back from Cambridge engaged rather than estranged."
"And everything that happened that day might never have happened." Briony added.
Cecilia shook her head. "No. No, that's not what I meant. You still could have seen something happening between Robbie and I that you did not understand. Things still could have happened the way they did. This isn't about me, Briony. It's about you." she replied. "While I regret the decisions I made at Cambridge, I cannot change the past. They have molded me into the woman I am today. I am enjoying the life I have. Do you understand what I am trying to say?"
"I think so." Briony admitted as she tried to grasp just what her sister wanted her to understand.
"I don't want you to blame yourself, Briony." Cecilia replied. "Paul Marshall is Leon's friend. He could have been at the house for many different reasons. If not that hot summer day, then another." Cecilia shuddered at the thought that the reason Marshall had been invited was to propose to her. "I've gone through many scenarios of what could have happened, how things could have been different, how things could have been changed. I've blamed just about everybody for what happened, even Robbie. What happened that day, Briony, was not just your fault."
Briony was surprised at what she was hearing. "You really blamed Robbie?"
"Yes, Briony, I have. I have blamed myself, Danny, mother, Grace... everyone at one time or another. That is why I can honestly say that I love you. You are my sister. I can accept that and love you despite my hating you for what you did to me and Robbie by your lies. Or did you lie? You may have seen what you thought you saw and whether or not it was not what was truly happening from your point of view it was the truth. But in the end I know why you did what you did. You saw something, and you were only trying to protect me, like I had done for you many times in the past."
"Thank you." Briony replied.
"You're welcome." Cecilia replied giving her body a long stretch. "Now, I think I need a bath, and some food. If you are up to it, I'm sure they can use some help in the ward. I've given you a bit to think about. If you want to rest before your shift later, get some rest. If not, get dressed and tell Nurse Bennet you will work one shift now and then return for your scheduled shift."