He stayed away for three years. Each term, when his fellow students would pack their trunks and shout their goodbyes, he stayed on. Always finding an excuse to stay. One summer he worked as an assistant for an old doctor who lived in a village not far from the Academy. Another, he found himself inundated with work that he had not managed to complete during term, and had a letter from Master Jeffman himself to say he required the services of one Thomas Norton, if his family would be so kind as to excuse his absence.
Each holiday when John stepped off the train alone, or arrived home alone, or exited a carriage alone, her eyes would lose some spark. Nobody noticed. She was still her energetic, cheerful self.
Nobody thought it odd that Tom did not come back. Not even John. He would cheerfully remark on his friend’s ability to throw himself wholly, completely into his studies. He would detail how well Tom was doing, the praise Tom received from Master Jeffman, praise which any for other boy was hard to come by.
And she smiled when her brother spoke of him. Gracious smile, and then a change of track in conversation.
Until one day, she could not take it any longer.
She sat down, picked up her pen.
I do not know but that I despise December. It is cold. It is grey. Darkness arrives not long after it lifts. When I see the dawn, I see no colour, save for the few days of sunshine we are so blessed to have. Perpetual GLOOM, Tom. Daises on a teacup. The only thing I look forward to in December is John’s much anticipated arrival. We all wait for him at the station, you see, since he writes which day he will be here. Mary waits, too, and your mother. She expects you, even if you have written to tell her you will not be on that train.
We get up early in December, before the dawn struggles its way up our side of the hill. The Lake has finally, finally frozen around the edges. Not enough to skate on – never enough for THAT, but we still dream, Mary and I. She is preparing to set off to new horizons. Come February, she too will be gone and then it will be just me left. She will be an Educated Woman, and I shall be the last remaining farm girl.
I could spend the rest of my life here, Tom. Everyday I love it more. I love the wind blowing over the hills and meadows. I love watching the sun set itself over our lake. I love the rustle in the forest. I love the smell of pine and rose when I fling my windows open in late summer. I love, yes, begrudgingly, I love the frosty mornings of December when every leaf, every twig, every branch, every blade of grass is iced most delicately, the most beautiful handiwork ever seen. I have no desire to take myself off into the world, or throw myself into studies, or teach, or marry a rich man and sail the seas with him. I want to stay here. With my roses. With my beast.
Daises on a teacup, Tom.
Our John tells us you are doing so well. So brilliantly well. He says you will be a doctor so renowned one day that none of us shall ever hear from you again, you shall be wanted all over the world. Is that true? I know my brother, he embellishes a lot. He flourishes one’s positive traits until one becomes faultless in his description. You are not faultless, and I know you are excelling, but I want some grisly detail. I want to hear of the fun things you get up to. I want to know what you do when you are not wearing the tip of your nose away on the grindstone.
P.S. Can we possibly be friends again?