The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
Eight months later
Jack had dreaded seeing the farm again, he'd even considered taking the long route into the village to avoid going past it, but in the end a farmer had offered him a lift on the back of his cart and he would have been stupid to turn him down for the sake of nostalgia over his old home.
He'd imagined it would be in a state of disrepair, the vegetable beds they worked so hard on overgrown and the house itself in need of paint and new shingles after the winter. It was the sight of his old home going to ruin that he didn't want to witness, but to his surprise there were no weeds, just neat rows of plantings and the house was is good condition, if anything a little better than when he left it.
As he stared in amazement at the freshly painted door and window frames a young woman with a plump baby girl in her arms came out and gave him a puzzled smile.
"Hello." She smiled. "Can I help you?"
"Sorry, no." He shook his head. "I used to live here, that's all, I didn't know it had new owners."
"Are you one of Nanny's children?" She asked, jiggling the baby and making her giggle.
"Yes, I'm Jack."
"Ah, I've heard about you from your sister, she's very proud of you, you know. Her brother, the solider."
"That's me." He nodded.
"We found some things after we moved in, tucked into the back of the dresser. A box of keepsakes and some letters and photographs, they belonged to Rosa so we passed them along to Jane, we weren't sure what else to do them."
"Rosa?" Jack questioned, he didn't remember a child called Rosa.
"Yes, Rosa, Nanny as you knew her I suppose. I'm afraid I got a bit nosey and read some of the letters, she had quite a life."
"Rosa." He repeated, realising that he'd never known Nanny's true name before, or anything else about her life before the farm for that matter.
"We love the house, it's so cosy, were you happy here?" The woman asked.
"Yes." Jack replied. "Very."
The small kitchen table was laid with cups and saucers with pink rosebuds painted on them and a matching sugar bowl and milk jug. The window was wide open and a summer breeze blew in, ruffling the curtains and bringing with it the scent of a cottage garden in full bloom.
"Do you like being a solider?" Jane asked, pouring him a cup of tea from a pot that completed the set.
"You know, I do." He nodded. After Father Frederick's murder Mother Hardigan had thought it best to get the three of them out of the orphanage as soon as she could. Jack's age had been falsified and the recruiting sergeant had been only too happy to take the big, strong, healthy looking young man away with him. As the girls were still clearly under sixteen, and taking into account the trauma that Jane had suffered, the nun had contacted Father Panton and the girls had been returned to the village. Their former teacher, Miss Osram, had been persuaded to take them in, and Jane had even begun to work at the school, helping out with the younger pupils.
"How are you?" He asked as he added milk to his cup.
"I'm fine." She looked away, one hand going to her hair to wind a strawberry blond strand around her finger. Jack knew better than to push her, he saw no sense in opening up the scars that were so freshly healed.
"Is Miss Osram looking after you well?"
"Yes." Jane smiled. "She says I'll make an excellent teacher one day, she said that I might be able to take over from her when she gets too old ."
"And are the twins behaving themselves?"
"Mostly." She stirred three sugars into her tea. "Mrs Harper knows how to keep them in check."
"I still don't understand why Gary wanted to stay." Jack shook his head.
"Perhaps being in an orphanage isn't bad for everybody." Jane suggested. She had somehow managed to get Father Panton to have the younger boys released too, but Gary had steadfastly refused to go. The Harpers had taken the twins in, at least until a permanent home could be found for them.
"I got a letter from Dana last week." Jane said sipping her tea.
"Where is she now?"
"On the East Island, and you'll never guess what she's doing."
"What's she doing?"
"No Jack, you have to guess." Jane grinned, and he was happy to indulge her. Back in the winter he didn't think he'd ever see her smile again.
"Um...waitressing?" He played it safe.
"No." Jane shook her head.
"She's joined the army too?"
"Don't be silly, girls can't be soldiers, guess again."
"She's become a ballet dancer?" That was the very last thing she could imagine his tomboy sister doing.
"Close." Jane giggled.
"She's become some kind of dancer?" Jack frowned.
"Nope, shall I tell you?"
"Yes, I'm never going to guess."
"She's joined a circus, and she's learning to fly on the trapeze." Jane laughed.
Jack couldn't help laughing too. "Dana's learning to fly? Only she would do that."
"I think she's having the adventure she always wanted." Jane said softly.
On the night of the spring festival, while everyone was busy enjoying themselves Dana had slipped away from the village. Although she had left a letter explaining why she had to go Jane had initially been angry with her sister for leaving her, but in her heart of hearts she'd known that Dana wanted more than village life and that one day she'd go, she just wished it hadn't been so soon.
"I came past the farm on the way out here, I'm so glad that someone is living there, I hated the thought of it falling slowly apart. I met one of the new owners, a woman with a baby."
"That's Gemma, she's really nice, I've been helping to look after the baby while she and her husband get the place straight. It's strange being in the house though, I keep expecting Nanny to come out of the kitchen and scold me for sitting too close to the fire."
"I can imagine." Jack smiled, remembering Jane's habit of sitting on the hearth on cold days.
"Gemma gave me some things of Nanny's that she found. Did you know she was born on the Northern Continent?"
"No." Jack shook his head.
"I'll fetch the them if you'd like to see them."
"I'd love to."
"Jackieee!" Marni came running down the track and threw herself at him hugging him tightly, then stood back and looked up at him. "Jane told me you were here, are you back for good?"
"No." He replied. "Just visiting, I'm shipping out to the Northern Continent in a few days, we were all given leave to visit our families before we left."
"I hate the army." She pouted at him. "They're taking you away again, and they've shaved off your curls too."
"Yeah." He ran his hand over his close cropped head. "That took some getting used to."
"How long are you going to be gone for?"
"I don't know." He looked away. "Where's Sam?" He was surprised that Marni's brother hadn't come with her to meet him.
"He's gone." She said sadly.
"We don't know." Marni shrugged. "Not long after you left the village Father caught him doing something disgusting and awful, I'm not allowed to say what it was. Father took his belt to him and the next morning Sam was gone, I haven't seen him since."
Jack felt his heart sink, he could guess what Sam had been caught doing. Sam's father was never a man to go easy on his son, poor Sam was often beaten for the mildest of things, if he'd been caught in a sexual situation with another man or boy Sam would have most likely been given the beating of his life. "I'm sorry." Was all he could think to say, but he was mostly sorry for Sam.
"I miss him, I wish he'd come back." She sounded close to tears. "But I don't think he will."
"If he ever does tell him hello from me."
"I will." She looked up at him again. "You know, Sam was really upset after you went, he liked you, too much I think. Did he ever..." She stopped and stared at her feet.
"Try to kiss me?" Jack finished her sentence for her.
"He did, didn't he?"
"Marni." Jack put a hand on her shoulder. "We kissed each other. Yes, Sam liked me like that, but I liked him right back."
"But...you're Jack, you're a solider." She protested. "You can't be like that."
"I can and I am." He replied gently.
The pub was in the rougher end of Parnell, but Jack wasn't bothered by that, it would have to be a very desperate person who tried anything with him, and inside it was pleasant and welcoming enough.
"What you having love?" A barmaid with hair too red to be natural asked him.
"A pint of bitter...actually make that two pints...I'm meeting a friend."
"You eighteen?" She quizzed him.
"Yep." He grinned lying.
She pulled the pints and he paid then took them over to a table that had a clear view of the door. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and the place was quite, a pair of old men engrossed in a game of dominoes were the only other drinkers.
Jack sipped his pint as he waited, wondering if he was going to show. Twenty minutes late the pub door opened. "Shithouse!" Fletcher exclaimed loudly, grinning at him. "You made it."
"Fletcher!" The barmaid shouted across the room. "Now I know you ain't eighteen, if you want a drink you're having lemonade."
"C'mon, he already bought me one." Fletcher pleaded, half way to the table.
"All right." She sighed. "Just that one, but if any coppers come in as far as I know you're old enough, got it?"
"And any trouble out of either of you and I'm telling your dad."
"She loves me really." Fletcher said as he sat down. "Long time no see eh? Fuck, what happened to your hair, you lose a fight with a barber?"
"No, just regulation army cut."
"And I thought they gave us bad hair cuts in the orphanage." Fletcher took a drink. "Speaking of which, are you going to tell me exactly what happened? I kind of know most of it, I took Ward out one night got him sloshed and he spilled the beans, that filled in most of the gaps. And by the way, he's as happy as a pig in shit, they found him a job in the kitchens of some fancy hotel, little bribe to help keep his mouth shut, so long as he's sober anyways."
Jack sighed, he knew that Fletcher would want the details, he'd almost not replied to the letter when it had turned up at his barracks addressed to "Jack "Shithouse" Bryce" suggesting that as he was back living with his father who was now out of prison if Jack were ever passing through the city they should meet up, but he liked Fletcher, and more importantly Fletcher had still been in the orphanage after he left.
"Thing is Fletch, I don't really know. I mean I know what I did, but I don't exactly remember doing it. The clearest memory I have is is of sitting on the floor with Mother Hardigan going on about a burglar killing Father Frederick, and all I could think was that she was wrong, because." He looked around the pub to check that no one was listening. "I did it."
"Who'd have thought that the old cow would have come through like that?" Fletcher shook his head. "So was it just you or were any of the others involved?"
"No." Jack felt awkward talking about all of this, but he also knew that Fletcher was one of the last people who would judge him harshly over what happened. "It was just me. Dana saw some of it."
"You did the world a favour." Fletcher fixed him with his dark eyes. "I found something else out recently, it wasn't only Jane, he was the one who knocked Elodie up too."
"Shit." Jack breathed. "That sort of makes sense though, it must have been why she went to his office when she came back after the abortion."
"Yeah, my guess is the bastard got frustrated when his little plaything was taken away and decided to replace her with your sister. Thing is Elodie was willing, or at least had been fucked so many times by strange men she simply didn't care any more, but poor Jane wasn't like that."
Jack nodded. "That all fits, but it still doesn't justify what I did."
"In my book it does."
They sat in silence for a while, until Jack plucked up the courage to say what he'd been wanting to say since Fletcher had joined him. "How's Exit?" He asked as casually as he could.
"All right I think, I ain't seen him since I came home, I've not exactly been wanting to go back there in a hurry. Far as I know the nuns are still trying to find him a job, if you want to write him a letter I can get it to him."
"No, thanks." Jack shook his head, staring down into his beer.
"Why not?" Fletcher asked puzzled. "I know for a fact he misses you."
"You...you didn't see his face, after...you know he was there too don't you?"
"Fletch, he was scared of me. It was like he thought I might do that to him."
"It was shock." Fletcher pointed out. "You wouldn't hurt him, I know that and so does he."
"I don't." Jack rubbed his hand over his shaved head. "I don't remember what I did. What if we had a row, what if he really pissed me off? I might hurt him, or worse, I didn't mean to kill Father Frederick, something took over, I can't promise that it won't happen again."
"That shit of a priest raped your thirteen year old sister, anyone would have lost it under those circumstances. You love Exit, it's completely different."
"I can't risk it and I don't know if I want to." Jack gripped his glass tightly. "I can't bear the idea of looking at him and seeing him afraid of me, or him never wanting to annoy me in case I lost my temper."
"So that's it." Fletcher frowned at him. "You're leaving a person you love and who loves you back?"
"Better that than hurt him."
"You're a fucking idiot."
"Perhaps. I leave for the Northern Continent in two days, and I'm not sure that I'm ever going to come back." Jack confessed. "They need men up there, and I need to get away, I can't see that there's anything left for me here."
"There is if you want there to be."
"Fletch, I'm going."
"All right, I can't stop you, no matter how stupid I think you're being." Fletcher shook his head sadly. "I suppose I'd better give you this." He pulled a handful of notes out of his pocket. "It's only fifty so I still owe you, and if that's not a reason to come back I don't know what is."
"Thanks." Jack took it.
"Last chance, are you sure you don't want to write a letter to Exit?"
"No, but if you do happen to see him tell him goodbye from me, and for what it's worth I love him, I never got around to telling him that."
"You love someone and you're walking away from them." Fletcher blinked at him.
"No." Jack replied. "I'm walking away from him because I love him."
As the ship left Parnell Jack looked not at the city passing him by but firmly upriver to where it eventually joined the sea. He was leaving everything behind, both the good and the bad, and he didn't want to think of anything other than where he was going, the future was the only thing that mattered to him now, or so he told himself.
He was too young to have yet learned that it didn't matter how far you run you can never run from yourself, and too determined to allow himself be turned back by the golden eyes that haunted his dreams at night and his unguarded thoughts during the day.
As the ship finally slipped out of the estuary and into the ocean he felt a sense of relief that now he couldn't return now, even if that was what his heart wanted more than anything.
The story of Jack and Exit isn't truly finished, it's picked up again in my story "Second Exit", and if you're wondering what became of poor Sam the story of what happens to him after he runs away from the village is told in "A Kind of Alchemy".
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