by Stuart Nager©
“Wendy. Close the window. It is freezing in here.”
John was flat on his back, under his sheets and quilt. He had his right arm draped over his eyes. Truth be told, it was his nightshirt that did the draping. John’s arm was across his brow. He had to remind himself to relax, for he was leaving an indent in the lower forehead.
Wendy sat on the padded window bench; knees tucked up tight against her chest. Her arms encircled her legs. The window was ajar, allowing the night winds free entry into the bedroom. Wendy searched the clouds, looking. Praying. Hoping.
The wind whipped up, bursting past the lead paned glass. It sends Wendy’s nightshirt fluttering. Her shoulders lifted, her immaculate posture in place. Wendy tilted her head just so. She knew what he liked.
As did she.
“Arrrrrr, matey!” John used his pirate voice, doing his best to make her laugh. Wendy did not laugh nor smile. Jumping out of bed, John had to untangle himself from the bedsheets. All of the bed coverings wound up on the floor.
“Wendy, it is freezing in here. Shut the window, please.” He looked over at Michael, deep in slumber. His consistent snoring was the proof he was asleep. He could never duplicate that sound when he was faking to stay in bed. Mother saw right through him.
Wendy shushed him.
“You know he won’t wake up. He’s dead to the world right now.”
She shushed him again. John grabbed his quilt from the floor, whipping it over his head and onto his shoulders. So encased, John approached his sister. Wendy was still eyeing the night sky.
John plopped down on the other side of the bench, pulling the blanket even tighter around him. Just as his teeth started to chatter, he realized Wendy was only in her night clothing. Reversing the quilt, he laid one end over his sister.
“Thank you, John,” she whispered, far away from the room. John followed where she was looking. She’d change an angle; he would mirror it. “Darling bookends,” Liza would say if the housemaid was in the room. He smiled at that thought. Wendy noticed him as his smile slowly crept back inside him.
“Wendy. He’s not coming back. He isn’t. Shh. Please hear me out. We’ve had this…this…talk far too often. Fourteen months have passed. No pirates. No Indians. No Tink. No Pe…”
Reaching over, Wendy placed the four fingers of her left hand gently over his mouth.
“Enough, John. Please. I know. I still hope. I still have hope. Every blessed night I have hope. It just,” Wendy stopped, turning her head back to gazing the now unclouded sparkling heavens. “It just hurts, John.”
He nodded his head. What was left to say? They had had this conversation far too many times. It always ended in tears. There were many nights where John tried his best to distract her. The successful evenings were spent making up stories of what battle or mischief he would be embroiled in, smack in the center of it all. She’d laugh at many of his tales. The more outlandish he made them, the more Wendy relaxed. And she’d stop looking out the window.
The less beneficial nights would come, ones where John felt powerless. Wendy, questioning, always the same. “Why doesn’t he return?” John knew there were two unspoken words to that query: “For her.”
Wendy did turn her head back to John. “No stories tonight, please. My insides are so knotted, so heavy. Not tonight, dear John. Not tonight.”
He nodded his head, and the two sat quietly by the window. No one spoke. Michael snored. They both yawned, Wendy insisting John started it. John, naturally, accused Wendy.
“We better get to bed. I don’t wish Mother to be cross with us in the morning.” She stood up, patting her nightwear down into a proper shape. John noticed Wendy’s hesitation before she reached over and closed the window. The sound of the latch fitting in place brought a feathery gasp from her lips. Her arms, as always, crossed over her heart.
John returned to bed. He tossed all the linen quilt back on the bed, diving under it all for warmth. John’s face was warm. He felt an unpleasant tightening in his chest. He should have hugged her, said he’ll always be there for her, that she was the best sister anyone ever had. John only said: “Good night, Wendy,” as she closed the door, tiptoeing down the hallway to her room.
As Wendy made it to her bed, her thoughts swallowed her whole. She thought of the unfairness of growing up. How much Wendy wanted to share the same bedroom with her brothers again. How much she wished she had stayed and not returned home. All swept away by the burning question she held tight: “Why hasn’t Peter returned for me?”
It was just over a month that Wendy overheard “The” conversation. Wendy, supposedly in bed, was walking by Mother’s bedroom. The door was partially open. Peeking in, Mother was sitting at her vanity, Liza behind her, counting out the number of times she ran the brush through Mother’s hair.
Wendy was not pleased that Mother was now calling her “a proper young lady.” She had experienced her first flow, a most embarrassing event. Her bones were achy almost all the time. She started maturing. Wendy’s new clothing, the changes in her body, all of it left her feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Wendy’s deep sadness permeated throughout her.
She knew why Peter did not come for her.
Why he would not come for her, ever again.
Wendy wished she had never eavesdropped.
“100,” Lisa stated, putting the hairbrush down on the table. “Miss Wendy is starting to fill out, mum. She’ll be as beautiful as you. Not that she isn’t a pretty young thing now.”
Mother was silent, staring into the mirror. Wendy was sure Mother would not answer Liza. Just as she began to walk away, Wendy heard Mother say, “I know it is the right thing to do, Liza. It is time that Wendy a room to herself. She is blossoming. It is time for her to grow into being a proper young lady. But.” Mother left that word dangling on its own.
“Yes, but,” Liza agreed. “It will be for the best.”
Mother nodded. “I do pray that this will ease the burden she carries. Wendy needs to let this fantastical story of flying, pirates, faeries…” Mother sighed. “She needs to let it go.”
Wendy moved away from the door.
The next day Wendy was given her room. She sulked alone for the next two days, only leaving her confines for meals that she picked at. The third night, though, she had had enough.
Wendy immediately ran to the bedroom she had shared with her brothers. She threw the door wide open. Her feet glided across the nursery floor until she got up on the window. Kneeling, Wendy opened the windows. She crept to the window frame, her eyes fixated on the dark, laden clouds above. No stars were visible. Rain, though: rain fell ferociously. Wendy became a soaking wet sponge instantly. She kneeled on the pane for a long while.
A noise coming from the doorway startled Wendy out of her fugue. Wendy slightly turned and saw Liza standing in the hallway.
“Wendy Darling,” Liza trumpeted. She stamped her feet as she approached the window seat, not thinking of the boys at all. Upon arrival, Liza shooed Wendy to move away. “Young lady, what has gotten into you? You were not in your room. I knew you would be here. You, young lady, are heading straight to your room: a hot bath and fresh nightshirt. Go on. I’ll be right behind you.”
Wendy, shivering, glanced at her brothers, warmly tucked in. She smiled although her heart was shattering.
When she heard the latch fall into place, she sat on the floor and cried.