The funny thing about drafts are that you are pretty much forced to omit a lot of things things. One of the characters, for instance, is still just called “the Big Guy” and some characters that appeared in the early chapters hasn’t returned yet, at least not with any active roles. I think it’s because, at this early stage, it’s more important to make sure the Main Character’s (MC) arch is competent. They say the MC doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but he does, for now. It would be too much to handle at once, otherwise. I can learn about the secondary characters afterwards and it doesn’t prevent me from changing the plot later on.
They avoided him, Banks noticed, or they tried to befriend him. Those were the choices his comrades made upon hearing about his upcoming date. Those that avoided him, Banks understood, they were green with envy but those that approached him… Did they want something or were they genuinely happy for him? Banks suspected the latter and were very suspicious of them. People he had known would stop talking to him while people who he had never met would approach him. Banks felt very lonely. At least Hjalmar was happy for him, at least, he thought he was. Hjalmar had been a lot more quiet ever since he roughed up Jessy, looking over his shoulder more often. Jessy had become part of the Big Guy’s crew, not that he had any choice now that Hjalmar was at his throat. But Banks suspected there was something else that bothered him.
He hadn’t seen much of James. James didn’t seem to care about anything, which Banks found curious in the sea of people who competed for Lillies attention. Banks played out in his head how the date would go. He would make a good impression, he promised himself. Though, what would her parents think? He wouldn’t be stationed here forever and he was sure they wouldn’t approve. He wished that he could meet her alone again, but that she allowed him the date was good enough and it made his heart race when he thought about it. Perhaps he could even stay here after the war? Maybe he could bring her with him. His imagination ran wild and he suddenly found himself back at the base and was holding a tray of food. He always marvelled how deeply he could disappear into his head. He looked around and almost dropped the tray when Hjalmar laid his hand on Banks shoulder. “There you are,” he said.
He lead him to a seat and forced him to sit down. “Now tell me everything,” he said.
Banks was confused at first, and then sighed. “The news has spread already?”
“I’m always well versed in the happenings around here, Banks… Did you really get a date with her?”
Hjalmar whistled. “Not bad. Didn’t know you had it in you. I always thought you were kind of a wimp.”
Banks looked sadly at him.
“A likeable wimp,” he added.
Banks knew it was true, still, it was a little blunt than he would have liked. “It was the luck of the draw, I suppose. It could’ve happened to anyone, really.”
Hjalmar waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t sell yourself short, Banks. She likes you, obviously. Although, I must say that you are quiet brave.”
“It was nerve-racking, that’s for sure.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that, though I’m sure that was scary too. What I mean is,” he said and looked around. “Making an enemy of half the compound, it takes some balls to do that.”
Banks hadn’t even thought of that and looked around. Some were indeed glancing at him, not in a friendly way. Banks swallowed. Hjalmar laughed and said. “Don’t worry, you can’t be friends with everyone. You are bound to make enemies along the way.”
Banks was about to say something when a couple of guys sat beside him. They wanted to know the conversation he had with the woman and what he had planned for the date. Banks couldn’t tell much because he hadn’t planned anything, only to give a good impression. They didn’t stay long and when they left, Hjalmar raised an eyebrow. “What?” Banks said.
“You could’ve spiced up up a bit. You know what they want to hear.”
“That’s easy for you to say. I’m not good at this stuff, the attention.”
Hjalmar took a swig. “That’s for sure.”
Another group came and Banks tried to tell them something interesting, but he couldn’t lie. It would’ve been easier if the conversation never happened, then he could’ve made up all of it, but now. This group left too, rather quickly. Banks turned again to Hjalmar who gave a crooked smile.
“I’m not like you, alright. I can’t do this,” he said and stood.
“That’s for sure… You’re really going without having anything prepared?”
“What would you have me do? Pick some flowers?” Banks stopped, and immediately realised that was a good idea. Banks saw that Hjalmar noticed. “Fine, I’ll give it some thought.”
“That’s all I ask. Or rather, what most women ask.”
“Are you, you know, experienced with this sort of stuff?”
Hjalmar smiled. “A little. At least I’ve been on a few dates, though they didn’t last long.”
It didn’t surprise him. Hjalmar could be a handful.
“What are you going to say to her parents?”
Banks jumped on the opportunity, this he had been thinking about. “I have actually been thinking about it. But I didn’t come up with anything good… I could promise them I’d stay after the war, though, I’m not sure they would believe that.”
“They won’t keep you out of their sight!”
Banks sulking. It was true and he didn’t know how well he could get to know her with her parents over his shoulder all the time.
“Shin up, at least she likes you enough to meet you.”
“Thanks,” Banks said.
They ate in silence. Only now did Banks notice that they were sitting alone on the table. Even though he was approached from time to time, nobody would sit with him, not daring to exert the wrath from the others, to be ostracised. Only Hjalmar sat with him and Banks was very happy to have him as a friend. As they finished up and went their separate ways, Banks noticed Jessy in the dark. He was walking towards group of people standing the shadows. Banks looked at them and felt their gazes on him that made his skin crawl. He hurried his steps back to the barracks. He didn’t want anything to do with Jessy, or anyone that considered him friend.
The day finally came when he was going to meet Lillie. This morning had been an ordeal. They were messing with him in every way they could think of, hiding his stuff, harassing him, although playfully, in manly sort of way. Punching him in the arm, wishing that the date would fail. Banks didn’t hold any illusions that they were serious. Though they were just in a minority, most of them ignored him completely as if he wasn’t there at all. Banks sighed, Hjalmar had been right after all, he had made enemy of everyone he knew here, more or less. But he was determined not to let that stop him and he dressed up in the best clothes he had, which was army attire. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected he would need civilians clothes on this mission.
As he exited the barracks, a few followed. They followed him to the gates and the group and become larger from other barracks. They kept a distance, throwing comments at him on the way but mostly they talked amongst themselves. If he hadn’t known that they were heading towards the harbour, he would’ve run ahead to loose them. It was just a couple of weeks ago when news spread about a a fisherman that came from the mainland and sold things there. banks would’ve gone there first to see if the fisherman had anything he could buy as a present, but the group made him question that decision. After a while, they veered down the path to the harbour and Banks drew a sigh of relief. Flowers would have to do. He knew nothing of flowers, but they looked fine enough and he hoped she liked them.
Banks saw the house in the distance. It was a large house, he noticed. As he got closer, he saw that it was in worse shape than he imagined. The paint of the walls had come off and the roof was filled with moss and saltwater. Banks imagined the heavy winds and salt water made maintenance on a house difficult, even so, the house had clearly been neglected for some years. He stood by the door and knocked, his heart beating faster. He played in his mind what he would say to her parents and he thanked his mother silently for her proper upbringing. But to his surprise, it was Lillie who opened the door. He had expected there to be a butler or something. She invited him in and he was even more surprised how dark and dusty everything was. She showed him to the parlour where she had made tea and cookies. She didn’t seem nervous at all. She asked politely if the trip here was pleasant and then he asked where her parents were, she couldn’t possibly be living here alone? She said her mother died years ago and that her father is sick in bed on the second floor. He pitied her now, she was truly alone. The others would sure love to hear this but he promised himself that he’d rather die than tell them she was alone. He found himself curious why he felt like this but brushed it aside as they talked. Banks asked how their family ended up on the island. She said that they were immigrants that came centuries ago. They were among the first and took a large portion of the island for themselves. Other people moved in eventually and the island had a thriving fishing industry for a while. But the fish ran out and most people left.
“Why did you stay?”
“I’m not sure why father stayed, but, it was our island so he had a hard time leaving it”
“Ever thought of leaving?”
“I could never leave father, he’d never make it without me.”
“Is he that sick?”
She nodded. “Besides, there’s nothing for me on the mainland.”
He rose suddenly and stared down at her. “That’s not true!” He was amazed she didn’t get startled, she has strong nerves even though she seemed so delicate. He felt that he wanted to take her away from here, he wanted to convince her of all the great things there are on the mainland. He told her of the cities, the forests and the mountains. The different people and food and clothes. There was so much that he couldn’t begin to describe it all.
She watched silently as he described these wondrous things. And he ended with: I’d take you there, if you allow me.”
He offered his hand and she hesitated. “But father…”
“I’ll stay with you until the day he pass away. I promise.”
They stared at one another and even though she had a warm gaze, there was something chilly about her and brought him back to his sense. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was presumptuous of me,” and hurried to the door. “let’s talk again, okay?”
“Okay,” she said and saw him hurry away.
© Christopher Stamfors