By the time they reached the churchyard it was pouring with rain. Georgina scurried into the enclosed side porch of the small neo-Gothic church to tie a scarf over her head. A service had apparently just ended because candles still burned on the altar and the smell of incense lingered in the air. As the worst of the rain eased, they left the shelter of the porch and started towards the lines of gravestones, Georgina leading. Even in the semi-darkness the new, white marble RAF marker stood out in a row of grey, lichen-covered graves.
Abruptly Kit froze. Two people stood side-by-side before the grave already. He knew instantly that they were Don’s parents, Colonel and Mrs Selkirk. Too late he realised that they, naturally, also wanted to honour the anniversary.
Georgina looked up at him, startled by his sudden halt.
“You carry on. I’ll wait in the church until the Selkirks have left.”
Georgina looked toward the grave, only now seeing the older couple. She seemed torn between staying with Kit and continuing. In the moment of her indecision, the Selkirks turned away from the grave and started towards them. Kit instantly retreated into the side porch, leaving Georgina alone outside.
Before she could decide what to do, Colonel Selkirk caught sight of her. “Georgina? Is that you?” He hurried forward, dragging Mrs Selkirk along in his wake. His voice boomed out in the soggy stillness of the churchyard. “We’ve been thinking about you, my dear, and wondering what had become of you.”
While the Selkirks closed the distance, Georgina stood uncertainly before the church with an invisible Kit behind her. The colonel bent to kiss her on both cheeks and Mrs. Selkirk embraced her, remarking with feeling, “We’ve missed you, Georgina, why didn’t you write or ring?”
“I started my apprentice teaching this autumn,” Georgina waffled lamely. “I found it quite overwhelming, much more difficult than I’d expected. I’m afraid I’ve neglected everyone.”
Don’s mother moved in to take Georgina’s hand. “No matter; you’re here now. But why didn’t you tell us you were coming? You know you’re welcome at Ashcroft Park any time.”
“I came at very short notice,” Georgina tried to explain.
“Surely you can cancel your hotel reservation? And if not, at least join us for dinner.” Colonel Selkirk took command, laying his hand on her elbow as though he were going to propel her directly to his car.
“John,” Mrs Selkirk stopped him, “Georgina hasn’t had a chance to visit the grave yet. We can wait in the church while Georgina has a moment alone with Don.”
“Of course, of course.” The colonel realised his mistake, and Kit started looking around for a place to hide.
Georgina intervened. “It’s not necessary for you to wait, Colonel. I’m afraid I really can’t join you this evening.”
“But why ever not?”
“Because I’m here with someone else.” Georgina hesitated only a second before adding, “I’m with Kit.”
“Kit? Kit Moran? That coward!” Selkirk frowned and raised his voice to ask, “Why are you with him?”
Kit had long known the colonel’s opinion of him, yet the words and tone still stung like a whiplash. He recoiled, but Georgina sprang to his defence. “Kit was Don’s best friend, Colonel. And Don did not make friends lightly. That alone should tell you that there is more to Kit than what you think you know. He’s here because he wanted to pay his respects, and —”
“I see, and now he’s afraid to face us,” Selkirk scoffed.
Kit’s blood started to simmer, but Georgina was faster off the mark. She indignantly retorted, “He’s not afraid, Colonel. He is respecting your wishes. You told him you never wanted to see him again.” Kit heard Mrs Selkirk gasp; apparently, her husband had not informed her of what he’d said to their son’s best friend.
Colonel Selkirk retorted, vigorously and unashamed, “And quite right too! Why would any decent person want anything to do with a lily-livered coward?”
“Kit is no coward, Colonel. He’s a good man, and he’s been a wonderful help to me throughout this past year,” Georgina countered.
Mrs Selkirk spoke up, her voice strained with anguish. “We wanted to help too, child. It was just—”
Georgina cut her off in a gentle, reassuring tone, “It’s all right, Mrs Selkirk. I understand. You just couldn’t cope with my hysteria on top of your own grief. I don’t blame you. But when I needed him most, Kit was there for me — despite his own problems, which were so much more serious than mine.”
The colonel snorted derisively. “Problems stemming from his own lack of moral fibre! Still, I suppose he is the kind of man who’s good at drying a young girl’s tears. Doesn’t take courage to do that, does it? But I thought you had more character than to befriend a yellow rat, let alone be seen in public with disgraced scum! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Kit’s anger boiled over and he took a step forward, but Georgina answered before he had left the shelter of the church. “Kit is every bit as good a man as Don! I’m not ashamed to be with him, Colonel!”
“You little hussy!” The colonel hissed at Georgina.
Now Kit’s anger truly erupted, and he stepped out into the open to confront Selkirk face-to-face. “You have no right to insult Georgina, Colonel. Belittle me all you like, but not Georgina.”
Selkirk caught his breath and took a step back. Despite the near darkness, he registered that he was facing an officer — one wearing wings. “What are you doing in that uniform? You’ve been court martialled and demoted to aircraftsman!”
“No. The RAF did not share your assessment of me. I was sent to flight training and I’ll soon go operational as a Lancaster skipper.”
“But — but you were LMF —”
“When I tried to explain things, you wouldn’t stop shouting long enough to listen.”
“I —” The colonel fell silent, too perplexed to know what to say.
“I’m so glad to hear that you weren’t punished, Kit,” Mrs Selkirk gasped out. “I never thought you deserved punishment.” She sounded as if she was close to tears.
Georgina swiftly stepped forward and enclosed the older woman in her arms. “It’s all right. I’m sure Kit understands.”
“Yes,” Kit seconded her, but he maintained his distance.
As the colonel continued to splutter, Mrs Selkirk pulled herself together and drew back from Georgina. “Thank you, dear. I wish you all the best. Both of you,” she addressed the latter remark directly to Kit. Then she turned to her husband. “Take me home, John. I’m not feeling well.”
Kit and Georgina stood without moving or speaking until the Selkirks had returned to their car and driven away. The silence reverberated with all the things they felt yet dared not say. Georgina’s words in his defence both humbled and uplifted Kit. Even if she hadn’t meant everything the way it sounded, he would never forget that she had defended him so vigorously.
But they had come all this way for Don, and the darkness around them was growing even though the rain had paused. “We’d better go to the grave while we can still see it,” Kit suggested. Together they walked through the wet grass to the white RAF marker. It read: Fl/Lt Donald Selkirk, Pilot, 1919-1943, Aged 24.”
Standing at Don’s feet, Kit’s agitation over the exchange with Colonel Selkirk returned. “I’m sorry,” he told his dead friend. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I didn’t want it to happen. I came here hoping to show you that your sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. I wanted to show you that I have made something of myself. I came to promise I will be the skipper you would have continued to be, if only….”
Suddenly Georgina’s hand found his and gripped his fingers fiercely. Tears streamed down her face and her lips trembled. Without hesitation he put his arm around her shoulders and held her closely. He’d never dared do that before, but today he sensed she needed comfort more than she needed to maintain a distance.
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