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Everything Was So Much Simpler Back Then...

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Beep. Beep. Beep.

The beeping rings through the hollowed out carcass of the aircraft, punctuated with screams, engine roars, bangs, booms, the endless shouting of the pilot over the intercom, the sobs of the littlest boys and the attempts to stay calm by the largest boys. It’s a cacophony of chaos, and the only thing that one particular boy can do to keep from screaming himself is to focus on the beeping.

But unlike the other boys, Jack Merridew isn’t afraid.

Jack isn’t like the other boys. With his bright red hair and the golden badge set into the black cap of his uniform, he immediately stands out. It isn’t just his appearance which is different, however. The thing about Jack Merridew is that he doesn’t get scared in these situations. Hell, falling into the sea and dying is actually the best possible outcome of this situation.

So why is he trying not to scream?

Crying.

If there’s one thing that Jack hates the most about other people, it’s their tears. They remind him of the years he spent in floods of tears over even the smallest things. How his parents would hit him until he stopped. ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ they told him, ‘And you’re a big boy, aren’t you Jack?

Once he figured out how to stop being a crybaby, the next thing Jack got rid of was his name. He isn’t Jack anymore. Jack is just a weak, little boy with no knowledge of the wider world. He is Merridew. A powerful name, filled with all kinds of implications, hidden under the tempting facade of maturity. It hides his weakness and demands respect.

So he uses that to his advantage and steps out from the aisle, ignoring the air hostess frantically yelling at him to get down. Instead, he stands before his choir and holds up a hand. They glance at him, pairs of eyes in blue, brown, green, and even a rare amber. All hold the same look of absolute terror. But Jack’s light blue eyes hold only contempt for their weakness.

”Choir! I want all of you to stop panicking. Don’t you dare cry! We’ll get out of this just fine. The other half of the plane went down. We’re still here. We’ll land in the sea, and then we can use the seats as rafts and paddle to land. So stop panicking for no reason. You’re being babies, and there’s not a single reason why. Panic when you die. Not today.” It’s rubbish, but the way Jack says it with such certainty causes his choir to believe him. Slowly, carefully, they hold onto the seats in front of them and stay huddled low, pushing their panic aside. The tears fade. Thank God.

Jack quickly joins his choir and continues to block out the sound of the plane. A low rumbling is causing the carcass to shake. He braces himself, holding a seat as they do, and can’t help but gasp as suddenly they lose their altitude and plummet to the ground. He sighs. Takes a breath. Closes his eyes. It really feels like he’s flying now, more-so than when the plane was in the air.

Half of the plane smashes straight into a bath of heat and the brilliant green of trees, skids for several yards and then crashes to a halt.

The other half, the burning half, falls straight into the hungrily awaiting sea and is instantly snapped up by enormous jaw-like waves. The jaws snap shut, and the plane is gone.

*

When Jack wakes up, the first thing he notices is a sharp pain in his lower back. Wincing, he tries to twist to look at it and sees the edges of a huge, dark purple bruise from the corner of his eye. His shirt has ridden up past the bruise, so he yanks it down roughly and staggers to his feet, quickly fixing his choir robe so it hangs around him like a shadowy curtain. His hambone frill is as uncomfortable as sitting on a termite mound, but he doesn’t bother adjusting it, instead turning to see if his choir is there.

They’re not, and Jack becomes painfully aware of how alone he truly is. The sky above him is a brilliant blue, more vivid than any he’s ever seen, and the startling heat and the blinding light of the sun will most definitely give him sunburn if it hasn’t already.

Feeling oddly defeated, he sighs and sits down amongst the creepers and the thorns. All around him are debris and silence, like a strange sort of graveyard from the war. The faint sound of birdsong he’s never heard before reaches his ears, and the sunlight overhead sets a soft, dreamlike feel to the atmosphere. He almost feels at peace here, so far from the screams of the plane, shouts of his parents and harsh words of the teachers when he acts out. He’ll lose position as head boy, lose the choir and lose all the respect he’s spent so many long, tedious years gathering if he’s not careful. They threatened him with that often.

Here, surrounded by the horrible whispers of death and destruction from the war, Jack finds peace for the first time in years.

The peace , however, is not meant to last.

Someone calls his name from far away, and his head snaps up. His choir. Leaping to his feet, Jack hurries over to them, trying not to look too concerned as he reaches them and finds the whole group sitting there, most relatively unharmed.

Now that the peace is broken and his choir is back, Jack knows that there is only one thing he needs to do.

Lead.

*

It’s that same afternoon when he meets Ralph.

Strange, friendly, considerate Ralph who becomes the chief instead of Jack.

He thought that he would mind more when he first lost the vote, but Ralph’s smile and the fact that he let him keep the choir change that.

Over the course of the afternoon, he and Ralph talk a lot. Not as much as he would have liked, but still a lot. Simon, the kindest and most humble boy Jack has ever met, is there too. He clings to Ralph’s side as a chick stands by his mother, yet their closeness and the way he looks up at the blond through that strangely flattering mop of long black hair makes Jack feel funny. He frowns and pushes the feeling aside.

This island is a place where they can have fun until the grown ups come to fetch them. It’s a good island.

And here, with a golden boy with eyes like the sea and his choir of ravens and the endless green of the trees, Jack can forget about that grey world back in England and focus on other things.

But with the sudden flood of emotion coursing through him- shock at suddenly being on an island, leftover anger from the horrible futility of going home, loneliness because no one looks into his eyes and sees the scared, vulnerable boy hiding underneath, and something else he can’t quite name (but he knows that the pang in his chest when Ralph uses his real name for the first time is something to do with it)- he finds himself feeling more uncertain than ever.

He has to blame all that on something, but he’s too young to understand most of the struggles he’s facing right now, and he still isn’t sure what to make of the boy who stole the one thing he had control over in his life (his authority) from right under his nose. So he blames it on the pig. The rush of feeling preventing him from shoving the knife through his neck. Ralph’s judgmental stare (he couldn’t see the fear in the blond’s eyes under his own haze of humiliation) and Simon’s awful look of sympathy when the pig scampers away. All of it must be the cause of these strange new feelings.

So over the next few weeks, Jack puts his heart and soul into hunting. He doesn't want to think about anything else. He can’t think about anything else. Instead, he wanders deep into the forest completely alone and he hunts.

When the fifth piglet rushes away from him in a blur of pink and green, Jack grimaces and decides to pause for a break. He still hasn’t been able to catch anything, so he’ll have to go without lunch for the day. In hindsight, he probably should have brought fruit, but he didn’t. Being hungry is his own fault.

Sitting here in the sunlight on the lonely side of the island, Jack can lean back with his clean knife lying in the grass and daydream a little. He stares at the clouds in a state of unfocused bliss, his mind wandering over to new horizons and even more beautiful skies.

Jack doesn’t get to come out from behind Merridew very much anymore. It’s why he’s begun to crave solitude in the weeks leading up to now. The only time he can ever just exist without worrying about how he comes across to the other boys is when he’s alone. But what Jack fails to see is that everyone else is feeling exactly the same. On an island where everyone deserves to be free, they’re all hiding more than ever.

Eventually Jack’s thoughts drift to Ralph. He wonders how the shelters are going. At first, they had worked on one together with everyone else. It had been fun in a way. Still. They want meat. And the shelters are too crowded, filled with so many chattering people, watching, staring, judging. Jack knows the drill. He’s been raised to carry himself in a specific way so their stares will only hold absolute awe and respect. But people judge. And not every person judges nicely.

He left the shelters after making sure that a lot of people were still working there, slinking off into the forest to stop himself from thinking and focus on meat. Boys aren’t supposed to think. Not like that.

As the shadows slip over the sharp bones of his face and turn his flaming hair green, he feels more lost than ever. Ralph is on the other side of the island. With Simon and Piggy, probably. He really doesn’t like Piggy. Maybe it’s because, in a way, they’re exactly the same.

Both of them have minds far too old for their bodies, and they’ve both gone through things none of the other boys could imagine, because the horrors they’ve experienced aren’t visible on the outside.

It’s the inside which is on fire in them both.

Shaking his head, Jack forces himself to stop. He remembers Ralph’s eyes. The way that even he, their leader, his friend, has failed to find the ordinary boy inside of the chorister.

It hurts, and he doesn’t know why. The frustration of not knowing makes him angry, and he throws his knife into another tree trunk in a blind rage, a scream tearing from his lips and echoing across the canopy of the endless jungle.

Once the red has faded from his vision, Jack retrieves his knife and returns to the jungle. They want meat. He’ll get them some.

*

’We want meat.’ Jack’s internal mantra. Endless, infinite. Lately, the island has felt unusually hostile. It makes him feel sick when he thinks about it. But the nightmares have become even more intense, and the feelings are becoming even more vivid, and somehow even his solitude is no longer peaceful.

He keeps thinking he’s being watched. Always, everywhere, eyes. Every time that pain sears through him he repeats his chant. ’We want meat.’

And then Ralph stabs the knife of reality straight through his heart and twists it.

Hard.

It starts out as a simple conversation. But then he brings up the shelters. And Jack realised that he’s spent so much time running that he didn’t think about them. This mistake is something he needs to cover up. So, as he’s done so often in the past, he goes on the defensive. Takes away embarrassment with anger. He has to be right, or else he’s wrong and he’ll be judged. Mocked. Hated. The threatening tears spew from his mouth as raw, spiteful words. He chants his mantra. He needs to. Ralph can’t win.

But he does win. Because Ralph is right. And suddenly Jack realises that he’s being stupid.

He realises too late.

The next time Ralph looks into his eyes, it’s with a cool apathy which sees straight past Merridew and into the terrified eyes of Jack, the boy who doesn’t have any friends, who has never seen another person since his childhood because Merridew replaced him.

Ralph sees him, and he laughs.

Jack tells himself this. He’s laughing. He hates me. He’s stupid. We need meat. Contrasting thoughts, mixed up feelings, and confusion all throughout.

Furiously he takes them all and forces them into pure rage. This time, his hatred is not aimed towards the pigs. Now there’s someone standing between him and them. Someone who constantly disturbs all of his thoughts and all of his dreams.

Ralph.

He hates Ralph.

*

More days pass, but they feel longer than the weeks before. This time Jack puts all his energy into keeping himself hidden away. He needs to stop feeling. That way he can beat Ralph once and for all.

He starts to wear paint; an actual mask. Merridew in stark colours, red and white and black. Green covers his chest when he finds it, and soon enough his hunters are the same. Every time Ralph goes near him he glares, avoids, leaves. He’s not playing nice anymore. Not with him.

But at night, when the sun is hiding away and Jack finds himself free from Merridew’s violent clutches, he looks over at Ralph on the other side of the shelter and sees the unease in his face. He’s having the same dreams as everyone else. Although he doesn’t cry out like the others, Jack can tell. He actually finds it somewhat amazing that Ralph can just look at other people and almost know them. While all he thinks of nowadays is meat and paint and blood, Ralph actually takes the time to see everyone.

Maybe Jack was wrong. Ralph hasn’t quite seen him yet. But he will. And then-

‘Then what?’ Merridew smirks at him in the gloom, ‘You’ll get married and live happily ever after, Jack? That’s not how life works, idiot. Shut up and go to sleep. We’re hunting tomorrow.’

Jack sighs. He doesn’t want to listen to Merridew anymore. But the boy’s painted face compels him.

This time, the tears do fall. Silently, softly, rolling down his face in the dark. They’re warm and taste salty when they reach his pale, cracked lips and he reaches up with his tongue to wipe them away.

He doesn’t make any move to stop them.

He’s tired.

*

Jack messed up.

He let fire out.

And now Ralph’s eyes contain all of the fury and hatred that his do.

They fight, heated and furious, releasing all of their pent up frustration, humiliation and regret onto each other, smashing the bond between them with each word they spit out. Everyone else looks on, terrified and awed by the passion on the mountaintop.

For the first time, Jack knows for sure that Ralph understands how he feels. Maybe this time, he actually has seen him.

The look in his eyes disagrees. Merridew pushes him forwards, and the fight continues until it dissipates into silence.

Jack sneaks a glance at Ralph while they sit around the campfire singing and telling stories like old times. Suddenly that first rush of emotion he experienced all those weeks ago returns, and his chest feels warmer than the fire could make it.

The bitter realisation that any hope he had of a friendship with Ralph is gone makes him so unbearably hurt that he wonders if he’ll even be able to turn it to rage this time.

*

The Beast.

Littluns whisper His name at night, biguns pretend not to care and the world moves on.

But tonight, at Ralph’s big meeting, He is the main topic for debate.

For the whole meeting so far, Jack has done nothing but whittle some wood and try not to meet Ralph’s gaze. He still feels awful about the fire, and he still hates himself for missing the chance to go home. As much as he hates his parents and his house, Jack finds that he hates the island more. At least back home he understood his feelings. Things made sense.

He misses that.

Merridew keeps telling him that the only way to move forward is to keep the fire burning in his heart. He needs to hate Ralph, because he doesn’t know what it means if he doesn’t.

He takes a deep breath, trying to be as subtle as possible about it. Yes. He hates Ralph. That’s it.

For once, Jack and Merridew are in agreement.

*

Jack is scared.

The Beast has infiltrated even his thoughts as of late, and he hates the crying of the
littluns at night because it reminds him so much of the crash and himself and the fear he feels as well. He doesn’t want to feel the same as them. They could never understand what it’s like to truly be afraid.

But maybe it’s The Beast’s fault that all of this is happening...

‘Of course it is. Are you really that stupid?’ Merridew.
“Shut up.” Jack whispers venomously, his voice sounding like a shout against the backdrop of the night. He doesn’t want to talk to Merridew anymore.

Maybe he’s The Beast.

That’s what Simon said. And it terrifies him so much because he’s starting to believe that Simon’s right.

*

Ralph.

He’s still there, still chief and Jack still hates him. Only now The Beast is real, and their lives on the island are a race for survival unless they can find and kill Him. Soon.

“Jack.” The redhead looks to his left. Roger is standing there, quiet and unassuming. Jack can see the ulterior motives glimmering in the murky depths of his eyes. Roger wants to kill more than he does.

He wonders who hides behind Roger’s eyes. They seem too dark and dismal for anyone to live there. Like the Dead Sea.

No. That’s stupid. He’s stupid. He stops to think. Pauses. Starts again. Responds.

“What.” Taking this as a sign to continue, Roger speaks.

“What are we going to do when we find the Beast?” An odd question. Stupid, even. Jack is thrown off guard and doesn’t know how to respond for a moment, but he does so as soon as an idea comes to him. Lets Merridew take over.

“Kill it of course. That’s what you do with Beasts.” He glances offhandedly at the dark haired boy; takes in the odd foreboding of his appearance. He doesn’t look like the rest of them. If the Beast was anyone, it would probably be him.

“How?” He asks, voice an unrevealing monotone. Jack wishes he could read him as he can with everyone else. Except Ralph, of course.

But he hates Ralph. He doesn’t need to read him to know that those feelings are reciprocated.

“Same way we kill a pig. It’s no different, really.” Jack says nonchalantly with all the air of a true leader. Roger looks at him for a moment, and then draws back to where Maurice and Bill are excitedly chattering without another word. Jack ignores this enigma and goes back to his personal hell. He needs to think.

Merridew tells him otherwise, but he doesn’t care.

*

“Couldn’t let you do it on your own.” He says to Ralph when they get to the other end of the island. They are standing on the ridge of the pink bastion overlooking this unfamiliar side of the island. He half accompanied the blond because Ralph said he couldn’t and he wanted to spite him, and half because it’s the only chance he’ll get to talk to him alone in a long time. Even Jack can tell that, with his broken up mind and maelstrom of unknown feelings and unhinged thoughts.

Ralph doesn’t object, and it’s the most incredible feeling in the world. Not as good as a smile, but the best he’s going to get.

Yet they hate each other.

The pain returns, hitting Jack right in the heart.

He can’t bring himself to become angry this time round.

They reach the top of the castle rock, and Ralph pauses by a trickle of green water. As much as Jack insists that it would be a great place for a fort, he finds that he doesn’t even believe himself anymore.

“Do you remember-“ Ralph starts when they come to a rock not unlike the one they rolled so long ago on the mountain. When Jack hears him say that, those stupid, weak tears nearly return. Perhaps Ralph doesn’t hate him after all?

No. Merridew knows best. And he’s right. Of course Ralph hates him. Why wouldn’t he, after all that’s happened?

The weight of their months on the island sinks in, and Jack speaks quickly to change the subject. There’s no point in remembering the past now. It’s over.

On their way back, the ginger catches the blond staring out at the mountain with a lost, foggy expression in his beautiful blue eyes. No, wait- beautiful isn’t the right word. Or is it? At this point, Jack’s too muddled to even find words for anything. But he wants to say something more.

“What’s the matter?” He tears his eyes from the rock he wanted to roll just moments earlier. Ralph matters more, whether he likes it or not. Ralph looks at him with something akin to surprise on his face, but it’s quickly replaced by a mixture of contempt and exhaustion so familiar to Jack nowadays. When their eyes meet, mutual understanding is reached for just a second before they both look away, emotions catching up to them too fast.

“Why?” Ralph asks. If he’s anything like Jack, and the redhead is fairly certain at this point that he is, then he’s also avoiding the fact that Jack Merridew just showed concern for his wellbeing.

“You were looking-“ Jack tries to find a word for the unfathomable depth to Ralph’s emotions, so familiar to him and yet so incomprehensible at the same time, “-I don’t know how.” He gives up, lamenting his own stupidity. On the island, it’s harder to remember what he’s supposed to say. Merridew has stopped giving him that. Now he only tells him who to hate and how to fight them.

“There’s no signal now. Nothing to show.” Again with the signal. Anger from their old fights flares up within Jack, but it’s more of an amused irritation at an old friend than proper fury. He doesn’t want to fight anymore.

“You’re nuts on the signal.” He says softly, showing affection in the only way he knows how- mild teasing. The exhaustion encircles them, lulling them gently into its unbroken peace before the reality of their situation comes back in to haunt them. Jack hates it so much that he finds himself blaming it on Ralph yet again.

“That’s all we’ve got.”

*

The next few days pass by in a blur. Again, Jack blames everything on Ralph. From the endless chastising, insulting his hunters, insulting him, denying everything he’s forced himself to believe since the first time the peace on the island was broken... Merridew screams at his silent form to get up and get angry because that’s what leaders do.

He feels broken.

And he doesn’t know how to fix himself.

The final straw is when Ralph calls his hunters boys armed with sticks. He didn’t mean anything by it. It was just like all his other insults, really. But it hits Jack too close to home. Because in reality, that’s all he is. A boy holding a stick, pretending to be a man with a gun.

Nothing.

The hatred is too strong. He wonders if it even is hatred at all. It doesn’t feel like it.

“I’m not going to play any longer. Not with you.” He leaps off the platform, hating everyone because no one sided with him in this argument. Him against the world. That’s fine. He always does that anyway, right?

Jack tries to conjure up Merridew from the shadows of his heart, but he’s too weak and too exhausted to do it. The tears freely fall in front of everyone, and he needs to run before they consume him.

“Jack!” Ralph cries out from behind him, a call which gives false hope that something is still there between them.

“No!” He screams, pushing away everything because he’s crazy and he needs to be alone without craziness, without pain, without fear, without Ralph.

He can’t stop the tears as he runs away from his emotions, knowing that he’s making the greatest mistake he’ll ever make but at the same time knowing that he’s powerless to stop it.

The Beast within compels him.

*

“Hunting.” That’s the first thing Merridew says at his first official meeting with most of Ralph’s biguns. Now he’s smart enough to know how everyone else feels, because he felt that way long before they did. He now commands them effortlessly without feeling,
because all his feelings are in Ralph’s hands back at the camp with the fire and the conch, where things are hopeful and rescue is within sight.

These boys know that rescue is futile. So they hide their feelings under masks of paint, and release their inner demons through their hunt.

The next time they kill, it’s euphoric and harrowing at once. Merridew orders Roger to put their kill’s reeking, bloody severed head on a pike for The Beast that none of them believed in. But now, they all believe in Him.

If they didn’t, then who would they blame for everything?

It’s easier to believe a lie than hate yourself for making a mistake.

This unspoken truth between the tribe brings them together, and Merridew is no longer just their leader.

Savagery takes over their instincts, fear pursues them through the night. And the Lord of Fear, the one who has felt all of this for so long and knows fear so well, is not just Merridew. No. Jack Merridew is dead.

The fiery redhead at the head of his tribe is The Chief.

*

There’s a storm on the island.

Rain lashes out and thunder bellows against the violent shrieks of the savages as they dance to fight The Beast, games becoming all too real as their nightmares come true before them. The Chief is in the centre, leading the charge against no one while the littluns scream and flee. He sees Ralph ahead of him, the orange of the fire lighting his face in a pretty mask before the rain extinguishes it completely.

A rustling in the bushes. They turn, and see the silhouette of their nightmares before them. The Chief looks into the wide eyes of himself, terrified and weak, sobbing as he’s beaten viciously for being so small and so tender. The savages look, and see much the same. Another version of them, from the past. Their own Beast. The Chief knows this. He screams out an order against the rain, and they charge.

Scream.

Shout.

Stab.

Squelch.

Slump.

The Beast is dead.

Fear grips every boy in a vicelike hold, and The Chief leads the way back to their camp. He hates to admit it, but he knew by the first flicker of lightning that the boy they just murdered was not The Beast.

Simon, the kindest and most humble boy Jack has ever met.

That night he walks away from Castle Rock to the place he used to sit in so long ago, and sobs until his eyes are raw and everything he’s been feeling over the past few days has washed away with the rain. He hates himself even more for being such a crybaby. That’s not what a Chief should do.

The Chief kills Jack and leaves him in the clearing, swiftly striding back to his tribe in preparation for tomorrow’s hunt.

*

It’s much easier to kill Piggy.

He never liked him from the start.

But The Chief will never forget that final fight with Ralph, where he actually tries to kill him and doesn’t know why. But as soon as his spear makes contact with Ralph’s flesh, he knows that he won’t be able to kill him.

A diagonal gash lies across Ralph’s chest, staining his grey shirt red. It’s fairly deep, but not enough to cause any major damage. He’ll get a pretty scar if he’s lucky. A permanent reminder of why he shouldn’t have forced The Chief to feel weak and stupid constantly.

Yet again, The Chief is plagued with guilt by the fire that night.

Yet again, he forces his tribe to pull themselves together and finally kill The Beast.

Ralph must be The Beast, he’s decided. Only a Beast could make him feel so many things and confuse him to the point of killing one of the closest people to a friend he had. The Chief hates him.

Merridew hates him.

But deep in the clearing, a bloody wound leaving him too weak to stand and too feeble to fight, lies Jack. And Jack, always different to the other two, does not hate Ralph. He never did. And he never will.

So what does he feel for Ralph?

He doesn’t know for sure, but he thinks it might be-

No. Not that. It’s not that.

*

The nightmare finally ends the following day, when Hell meets the island in an awful inferno of both flames and emotion, climaxing in a chase to the beach where they are faced with someone The Chief has never seen before; someone Merridew is immediately wary of; and someone Jack openly cries out of relief upon sight.

“Who’s boss here?” The adult man asks, his jet black moustache being solid proof of his adulthood as the pristine uniform he wears with such pride makes the boys on the beach seem so stupid and feeble in comparison.

“I am.” Ralph says before The Chief can answer, with all the conviction of a true leader.

That’s when The Chief finally realises it.

He isn’t a leader.

He’s no Chief.

Ralph was always the leader. He had sense when Jack didn’t. He controlled himself when Jack couldn’t. And in the end, Merridew deserves all the hate Ralph can give him. In one final desperate charge for leadership, Merridew starts forward.

But someone holds him back.

Jack stares into Merridew’s eyes with cold apathy. He kills him with a look, and he knows that he doesn’t care how many times he is beaten for being weak because he is weak and so is everyone else.

Jack looks at Ralph and he knows the moment he breaks down into tears exactly what that unspoken connection was between them.

And then the pain returns, and Jack accepts it like a tidal wave washing over him.

He broke their friendship. He killed Ralph’s friends. Took his hope. He’s the most awful person in the world, and he knew it the whole time but didn’t do a thing to stop himself.

Finally the tears fall, and Jack lets them. He is weak. And he sobs harder than everyone else, even Ralph, even the littluns, because he’s the worst of all of them.

So what did Jack finally realise back then?

It’s simple really.

He didn’t hate Ralph.

Not at all.

But of course he already knows that.

The thing he realised is what he did feel for Ralph. What he does feel.

Love.

So that’s why he cries, because he’s ruined the life of the person he loves out of spite and confusion and fear, and now there’s no way to fix it because it’s broken beyond repair.

The colours of the island fade into the background, washed away by the emotions experienced by the weak little boy called Jack Merridew as his heart is broken for the first- and last- time.