Edgar stirred, rolled over and opened his eyes. His wife’s half of the bed was empty and as he sat up and rubbed away the sleep, he could see daylight glinting through a crack in the heavy curtains. Blinking hard in an effort to wake himself up properly, he reached out and lifted his watch from the nightstand peering at it to check the time. Almost one o’clock.
He was out of bed in a flash, suddenly wide-awake, and began to wrench off his pyjama top. He had it halfway over his head when the bedroom door opened and Evadne came into the room, Henry in her arms.
“Hey, you’re awake! How…”
“Why didn’t you wake me?” Edgar interrupted angrily, finally managing to pull his top off and throwing it onto the floor. “How could you have let me sleep this late? You know I have to get to the hospital – anything could have happened…”
“Edgar, calm down!” Evadne replied, as he began rifling through his top draw to find a clean vest. “Give me some credit! Don’t you think I’d have woken you if anything had happened?
“How would you know whether it has or not, you’re here!” he replied, throwing underpants and socks onto the floor in his rush.
“How do you think? I’ve been telephoning the hospital all morning. There’s no change, and Clare’s taken Elsie in. I let you sleep because you needed to – you’re exhausted. You’re not going to be any use to anyone if you make yourself sick, are you?”
Edgar stopped rifling and stood up, vest in hand. He stared at her for a moment, and then had the grace to look a little shamefaced. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“I know.” Stepping forward, Evadne put her free hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze. “Now, there’s a gentleman here who’d like to spend a half hour or so with his Daddy, if that’s okay with you? He’s not seen a whole lot of you over past couple of weeks.”
Henry was leaning with his head against his mother’s shoulder, pulling at the top of her blouse and staring at his father. Edgar reached out and stroked his fair hair, and Evadne gave him a smile.
“Why don’t you hop back into bed for a while, and I’ll leave Henry with you and go make you a cup of tea. You can go to the hospital this afternoon. Please?”
Edgar stared at her for a second, seeing the concern in her eyes. Then nodding, he reached out and took Henry from her, holding him with one arm as he climbed back under the covers and sat with his back against the headboard. Once he was settled, he shifted Henry in his lap, propping him up with the crook of his arm. He gazed tenderly down at his son for a moment, and then bent to kiss the top of his head.
“How are you, little man? Sorry Daddy’s not been around too much.”
Henry stared up at him, his wide, blue eyes focused on his father’s face, and with a gurgle, he reached up to touch Edgar’s chest, catching his fingers in his chest hair.
“Ow!” Edgar reached down to try and remove his son’s fingers, but the little boy had a tight grip and he held fast. “I suppose I deserve that for neglecting you, do I?”
Evadne laughed and sat down on edge of bed, kissing Henry’s head and leaning forward to prise his fingers away from their catch. She managed to do so easily, much to Edgar’s chagrin, and Henry grabbed hold of her fingers instead, rocking back and forth and making some noises that sounded like he was trying to get out a word.
“Are you trying to say something?” Evadne asked, bending down and looking at him with a grin. “What is it? Tell Mommy what it is.”
Henry stared back at her, squealed loudly then giggled at himself, waving his arms in excitement. Evadne and Edgar laughed, and as Edgar cuddled his son to him, Evvy squeezed his leg and got to her feet. “I’ll just go make the tea, okay? I shan’t be long,” and leaving her husband and son together, she left the room.
She returned fifteen minutes later, a steaming cup of tea in hand.
“Sorry, Lily needed some help with cutting out for her scrapbook.”
Edgar looked up and gave her a smile. “That’s alright, we’ve been catching up with each other’s news, haven’t we, Henry?”
Henry ignored him, sucking his fingers and holding out an arm to his mother. Evadne put the tea down on the nightstand and sat back on the bed, taking hold of the little boy’s hand.
“Hey there, you having fun with Daddy? Are you?”
Edgar grinned as Henry smiled up at his mother, seemingly entranced by her face. “How are they today? Tom and Lily, I mean?”
“They seem okay so far. Lily’s doing craft and Tom’s playing with the chemistry set, so I’m just waiting for him to blow up the house!” Edgar chuckled and she studied his face carefully. “How’re you feeling now?”
Edgar ran his hand down her arm and gave her a smile. “Better. I’ll head in and see him after I’ve finished this and had a bite to eat,” he replied, inclining his head towards his cup of tea, “have another try at talking some sense into him. I’m not giving up on him, Evvy, even if he’s given up on himself.”
“I never thought you would.”
They were interrupted by Henry squealing and they looked down to find him rocking back and forth again, holding tight to the blanket and trying to pull it towards his mouth.
“Aren’t you vocal today?” Evvy asked with a grin. “Here, let me take him while you have your tea – it’ll be all over the place otherwise, the way he’s going,” and putting her hands under his arms, she lifted him up and into her lap.
Edgar picked up his cup of tea and took a sip. “How was Elsie this morning?”
“She’s not too bad. A little fragile, but she’s not giving up either. She said at breakfast that she’s not ready to let him go.”
“Jolly good.” He took another sip and shifted position slightly to make himself more comfortable. “Listen, I think we should offer to help them out – we can call it a loan if he won’t take it any other way. It might take one worry off his mind at least. What do you think?”
“Of course we should. We can do anything you want for them, Edgar, you know that.” Evadne smiled and leaned forward to peck him on the lips. “And I mean anything, even if it means bringing them all to Geneva to live with us for a while if needs be.”
Edgar nodded and squeezed her elbow, then placed his cup back on its saucer. “Right, I should think about getting up and dressed.”
Evadne stood up and heaved Henry up onto her hip. “Come on you, let’s leave your Daddy to get up in peace shall we? We’ll go see if Tom’s blown his room up yet. See you downstairs in a little while,” she added to her husband, and went to walk out of the door.
“Evvy?” She paused and turned to look back at him. “Thank you.”
Evadne smiled at him warmly, then as he got to his feet and made his way towards the bathroom, she and Henry left the room and headed downstairs.
As it turned out, it was late afternoon before Edgar finally made it to the hospital, and Clare was waiting agitatedly outside her brother’s room when he arrived.
“Oh thank goodness! I was beginning to wonder if you were coming.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“Nothing, don’t worry. I just promised I’d try and get home tonight – I haven’t seen the family for a couple of weeks and they’re getting a little fractious, I think.”
Edgar gave her a sympathetic smile. “I know the feeling. We’ve not seen our elder three for a while now either. The girls weren’t too happy when I called them the other night, but it can't be helped just now – I’m not leaving here til I know Paul’s on the mend, and Elsie needs Evvy around at the moment.” Then as Claire returned his smile he added, “Go on, you get going.”
Claire said her thanks and took her leave, and Edgar turned to his friend’s room, just as the door opened and Elsie came out. She smiled in greeting and shut the door gently behind her.
“How is he?” Edgar asked, nodding his head in the direction of the door.
“About the same. He’s not said anything about yesterday and I didn’t want to bring it up, so we’ve been sitting there saying nothing for most of the day.” She looked down at the ground and shuffled her feet. “I thought if I just sat with him he might begin to change his mind - realise I meant it when I said I wasn’t going to leave. He’s letting me hold his hand, so I suppose that’s something.” She looked thoroughly dejected and Edgar reached out to squeeze her shoulder. Giving him another weak smile, she shrugged and shook her head. “I’m going to get a cup of tea. Do you want one?”
“No thanks, I’m alright. I’ll pop in and see him while you’re gone.”
Elsie nodded and checked her watch. “Nurse said we have to leave by five, so we’ve only about half an hour left,” and turning, she walked off in the direction of the stairs.
Edgar watched her go, and the sight of her bowed head and slumped shoulders, so very different to her usual alert and happy demeanour, made him doubly determined to try and get through to his friend. He opened the door tentatively and peered round. Paul looked around to see who was there and glared at him, before turning his head back to stare at the ceiling. Shutting the door behind him, Edgar made his way across to the bed and sat down, folding his arms and stretching out his legs.
They sat in silence for a while, until Paul finally spoke. “I’m surprised you’re here. I thought you’d decided I was pathetic.”
Edgar heaved a sigh and shook his head. “Don’t, Paul, please.”
“Why not? It’s true, isn’t it?”
Edgar said nothing, and a few more minutes passed before Paul eventually turned his head to look at his friend and spoke again. “I really do love her, you know.”
Edgar stared at him. “I know you do.”
“But she's better off without me - she deserves to be taken care of and I can’t do that anymore, I don’t even have a job.”
“Do stop talking rubbish! Think how many people lost limbs in war, for heaven’s sake, and they’ve got themselves jobs now they’re home.”
“Not all of them,” Paul replied stubbornly, “not even half of them, in fact.”
Edgar ignored him. “One chap even flew with no legs at all, remember? What was his name – Douglas Bader, that’s it. If he can do that, then you can get yourself some work behind a desk somewhere.”
Paul gave a wry smile – the first of any sort that Edgar had seen from him since the doctor had broken the news about his leg. “Yes, but the irony is that good old civil service chaps like me don’t get to keep their jobs when it happens to us – I suppose we’re not heroic enough.”
“Yes, I know that but my point is that you can get another job,” Edgar responded, refusing to give up. “It’s not the end of the world, Paul, whatever it feels like right now. You hated that job anyway – at least this has forced you to move on at last! And Evvy and I can make sure you're all taken care of, until you’re able to do so.”
Paul’s expression darkened. “I don’t want your charity.”
“It’s not charity, it’s friendship, you stubborn idiot! It can be a loan if you want, just til you get back on your feet…” Edgar stopped abruptly and cringed as he suddenly realised what he’d said. “Sorry, bad choice of words.”
There was a tense, heavy silence as Paul glared at him, and Edgar was convinced that he had blown it. Then all of a sudden, Paul began to laugh. Edgar stared at him in amazement, and the expression on his friend’s face merely served to make Paul laugh even harder. Edgar chuckled nervously, and then as Paul leant back against his pillow, shaking with laughter, his friend joined in.
As a result, when Elsie returned to the room a few minutes later, she found them both clutching their sides, tears of mirth streaming down their faces. She gaped at the pair of them open-mouthed.
“What’s going on?”
Edgar sat up and wiped the tears from his eyes, and Paul shook his head. Before either of them could reply, however, the door opened again and the nurse came in. Taking in the scene before her, she gave her patient a wide smile.
“Well this is an improvement on yesterday, I must say. I was considering banning you from visiting,” she added, turning her attention to Edgar, who looked rather ashamed of himself.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to be so rude to you.”
“Well, we’ll let it go this time,” she replied amiably. “Now, visiting time is over, so both of you need to leave I’m afraid. I’ll be back to check on you in a few minutes,” and directing her final words to Paul, she bustled out of the room.
Edgar got to his feet and stared down at his friend. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Paul nodded and Edgar stepped back, letting Elsie nearer to the bed. She smiled down at her husband’s face, and then bent to kiss him on the forehead.
“I’ll be in again first thing in the morning, okay? I love you.”
Paul simply turned to look back up at the ceiling again, his expression blank. Elsie’s eyes welled up with tears, and turning on her heel, she pushed past Edgar and left the room.
Edgar shook his head, shooting his friend a look of disappointment, and hurried out after her. Paul lifted his head to look at the door, as it closed behing them, and then lying back on his pillow, he slowly closed his eyes. “I love you too,” he said quietly, as a tear ran down his cheek.