Author's notes: Just wanted to mention that from here on out, the perspective will be from Rhian. Thanks for reading!
It was about six in the evening; it was the regular time the family sat down for dinner. Carys had made beef stew with crispy potatoes, a favourite among them. People who happened to amble past and could see them through the window would have considered this an ordinary setting. Although to all of them, it didn't feel ordinary.
It was times like this where Rhian felt her father's absence. He had been gone only two days, and yet, it felt like weeks. Her eyes trailed to his place at the table; it was uncomfortably vacant. The teenager studied the other faces at the table instead; for staring at the chair too long made her sadness apparent.
Her mother was still eating. She seemed fully focused on her food. Rhian, in a way, was grateful that she hadn't made a commotion regarding her Dad not being home. It made it easier for all of them when they didn't think about him too much. Rhian's brother, Arwyn, was also eating. Nevertheless, his facial expression hadn't altered for the past forty-eight hours. It was obvious that he was missing his Dad's presence. Lowri was pushing food around her plate absentmindedly; she would have been scolded for doing so usually but it seemed no one really cared.
Rhian remained sitting until her mother and Arwyn had finished before standing up to clear the plates. She did so without asking, for Rhian believed it was only reasonable that she'd help out around the house in exchange for money to buy little treats in the shops in the town centre. Lowri passed her plate to Rhian, looking a bit dismayed at the fact her old sister looked irritated at her for not eating it all.
"You know Lowri; there are people out there who would have savoured what you left on that dinner plate".
"Sorry…" she mumbled, getting up and leaving the room. Rhian presumed that now she'd go play with her dolls. Lowri had a few penny dolls that she treasured, but the jewel of her collection was the doll Nanny Jones bought her. Rhian had never been interested in dolls, but it seemed that older ladies become fanatical when little girls become fascinated with them.
Rhian put the plates in the sink and rinsed them. Arwyn left without a word. In fact, Rhian was unsure she had heard him say anything all evening. It was only when she had begun drying the now spotless plates that Rhian realised her mother had not said anything either, nor moved since she had sat down for dinner. She turned to look at her. Her mum had her head in her hands and was breathing heavily. Rhian rushed to her side.
"Mum, are you alright?" Her mum raised her head to meet Rhian's panic-stricken gaze. She opened her mouth to talk, but shut it again like the words she had to speak were going to burn her lips. "Mum?"
"Get me a cup of water sweetheart". Rhian did as she was told. As she handed her the cup, she became aware that her mother's hand was trembling a little. After a few sips of the refreshing liquid, her Mum was ready to speak.
"You know there is a war coming, don't you Rhian?" That was a simple enough question. The teenager nodded.
"Yeah, of course I do. I never shut up about it". Her mother's eyes gave the expression of laughter at the comment; if that was even possible. However, her mouth stayed a serious straight.
"Well…the government has decided that it'd be ideal if that all children between five and fifteen in large towns should be-" She became inaudible. Rhian became impatient. What could possibly be so bad that she couldn't even say?
"Should be what Mum?"
"They should be taken away to a safer place until the war is over". Instead of a wait being lifted off her mother's shoulders for finally coming out with it, it seemed as it was crushing her now. Rhian's reaction was what mattered. After a few seconds of processing the news, Rhian responded.
"Taken where exactly?"
"I've been told that you, Arwyn and Lowri will be going to Dorset".
"Where is Dorset?"
"It's in England, sweetheart". Rhian pulled out a chair and sat down. She had so many questions; something told her that her mother would be a bit reluctant to answer them.
"Who will I be staying with?" Her mother shrugged her shoulders.
"I wish I could tell you that Rhian, but I honestly don't know. All I've been told is that they'll find you a placement with another household".
This unsettled Rhian a great deal. Stay with total strangers from a different place for an unspecified amount of time?
"Do…do we have to go?" Her mother bit her lip. In fact, they didn't have to go. However, the sheer thought of something happening to them because she didn't send them away in the first place frightened her.
"No" she said truthfully, "But I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you three if I didn't send you away now". Rhian seemed on the verge of tears. Out of instinct, her mother reached for her hands and held them tightly. "You'll be a lot safer away from here. You may even like it there. You might not want to come back!" her mother said with forced reassurance, fighting back the urge to show any negative emotion. Despite Rhian being able to see through her, the teenager took what she was saying positively.
"When are we leaving?"
"Tomorrow". Rhian felt a little overwhelmed for a second. It was extremely short notice, but she didn't want to say anything to upset her Mum. Not when emotions were running high. "Do you want to do your own packing?"
"Yeah, ok". Her mother went to stand up, but she had remembered something. Suddenly, her grip on Rhian's hands was a lot tighter.
"The people I spoke to about this told me something else. They told me that you, Arwyn and Lowri may be split up when they are finding you somewhere to stay. Rhian, you have to promise me that'll you'll all stay together". Rhian gave her mother the first reassuring thing she had received since her father left, a stern gaze and a smile. "Mum, don't worry. I'll look after them, I promise". With one final grasp of Rhian's hands, her mum stood up and let her hand's slip out of her daughter's.
She tucked her chair under the table and made her way out of the room. Rhian presumed she was now going to tell Arwyn and Lowri of this unwanted surprise. Rhian did not follow. She'd rather not be there if the two of them started crying or something. It would only set her off. Instead, she pondered over the concept of what Dorset was like. Her mum had said that children were being moved away from large towns, which meant they'd be going somewhere out in the countryside.
Was Dorset a coastal place? Rhian had only been to the seaside a couple of times, but she remembered the smell of sea water well. It was one of those smells which weren't what you would deem pleasant; it was a smell she deemed enlivening. The smell was almost inspirational, as though as she stood there gazing at the waves, she was suddenly in a story of which a young girl lived near the seaside; a girl who would explore all the hidden mysteries of the shore. The smell was rather different from the taste of sea water, which was undeniably frightful.
Her thoughts ended unexpectedly when she heard a loud shout of protest; Arwyn's shout of protest. Rhian rushed to where the noise came from, the front room.
"I won't be home for when Dad comes back! I'm not going!" the younger boy in front of her shouted, his voice struggling hard to sound firm.
"Hush, Arwyn. Please don't shout, it's late" her mother said, her own voice struggling to sound firm too. She had her arms on his shoulders, holding him steady as he tried to make his arguments. Rhian was amazed to find Lowri on the floor, still playing with her dolls. She appeared as though none of it even bothered her for the slightest. Something about that unnerved Rhian more than it would of witnessing her being upset about it.
"Mum said it'll be nice there though Arwyn, like a holiday for the three of us" she muttered. Arwyn gave Lowri a stare which said "What do you know of anything?" Then he stared straight back at his mum with an angry, but worried, glint in his eye.
"How long are we going for?" he asked, making a great effort not to cry about all this. His dad told him that crying didn't make anything better, it was best to grit your teeth and move on. Arwyn had trouble understanding how his Dad got away with not keeping his own rule, because he had seen his Dad crying on a couple of occasions. He didn't seem to be trying grit his teeth then.
"Until the war is over, honey". Not satisfied with this answer, Arwyn stormed out of the front room and up the stairs. Her mother watched him leave with a look of despair. She hated to hurt his feelings. With a loud exhale, she turned to Lowri.
"Lowri, are you going to take one of your dolls with you?" Rhian's younger sister beamed at the thought of taking one of them on her holiday.
"I'll take Lily-Rose". Rhian couldn't help but smile. Of course, Nanny Jones' gift. That made Rhian realise something.
"Ok darling. Go up to your room and get all Lily-Rose's things together" her mother added. Lowri bounded off to her room. Rhian waited until Lowri was out of ear-shot to speak.
"Mum, are we going to be able to say goodbye to Nanny Jones?"
"Yes, she's coming with us to the train station tomorrow to wave you off". Rhian gave a murmur of acknowledgement to this. She was doubted whether Nanny Jones was going to be emotional about it. She came across to Rhian as a rather understanding but sturdy woman. "Rhian, would you mind helping Lowri pack?"
"No, not at all". The teen made way for the door, giving her Mum a hug before she departed. Rhian clambered up the wooden stairs, which were getting a little worn. She weaved past the bannister and went to the furthest door away from the stairs. Rhian entered, finding Lowri sitting on her bed with the entire contents of her doll's wardrobe tipped out on the bed.
"You decided what dresses to bring for Lily-Rose?" Rhian asked curiously.
"No, not yet" Lowri answered.
She seemed as though she was thinking very thoroughly about the whole thing. While she was sorting out the doll's dresses, Rhian began sorting out Lowri's instead. It'd be a lot simpler for the both of them if she just packed for her little sister. In less than half an hour, Rhian had collected as many of Lowri's clean clothes and toiletries that would fit into her little suitcase as possible. Lowri seemed to have finally decided which dresses to take for Lily-Rose and was now folding them to the best of her ability. Rhian left the room, as she made her way to her own, she peered into Arwyn's.
Her mother was sat on the bed with him. They were having a cuddle. His eyes looked a little sore. He had been crying. Not wanting to disturb them, Rhian crept past and entered her room. Rhian walked towards her bed and then knelt down on the floor. She reached out to pull out her own suitcase. Once she did so, she lifted it onto her bed and undid it. Staring down into the emptiness, she comprehended something. The next time she'd see the suitcase empty…would be in Dorset.