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All Over the World

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Harriet found Bredon sitting pretzel fashion with his back against the bedroom chimney stack, right at the very top of Talboys, looking toward Paggleham. He was wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown, but he’d had the sense to put his socks and slippers on before clambering up through the skylight.

“I’m watching for the lights,” he said, unconcerned at being caught where no one had ever thought to tell him he mustn’t go. “Like in the song, you know? Now that we don’t have a blackout anymore.”

Harriet could hardly blame him. The BBC had seen fit to serenade them with Vera Lynn three times since noon, and while she thought the optimism was perhaps premature she’d found herself singing along. She climbed the rest of the way up the steps and situated herself beside her oldest son. The sun was just slipping over the horizon, and the waxing moon was halfway up to the zenith. From this vantage point you could see from Blackden Wood to the roofs of Paggleham, and it only took a glance over your shoulder to find the Ruddles, the Bateson’s place, and the buildings at Datchett’s farm. Nothing like the crowded buildings and broad avenues she remembered from brightly lit nights in the city. “It won’t be like London,” she warned Bredon, remembering when he was still a tiny toddler, cooing with excitement at the moving lights of Piccadilly Circus. “You used to love all the lights there.”

“Did I? I don’t remember.” Bredon wasn’t nine years old yet, but the solemn way he consigned his distant babyhood to lost memory made him seem much older. Still he was limber enough to lean his chin on his knee in a way that Harriet wasn’t sure she could have done even as a child. “It won’t be just the lights though, will it? I mean, if the war really ends. Everything shall change.”

“Not everything,” Harriet said, thinking of the ration books on her desk. “But a lot of things, yes. I don’t expect we’ll go on living here at Talboys, except for holidays.” She would miss being here. The London house was the obvious place to live, but the years they’d been there before the war seemed almost as distant to her as the lights of Piccadilly.

“And I’ll have to go away to school, like Charlie and Molly,” Bredon sighed. “But I have to do that even if the war keeps going.”

He sounded so despondent at the prospect that Harriet scooted closer and put an arm around him. “Do you mind that so much? Your father made some very good friends at school. They’re still his friends, even now.” The ones who had lived through two wars, at least, but she wasn’t going to dwell on that. Not in front of Bredon.

“I have friends here already.” Bredon leaned into her, and she tucked him a bit closer, sharing her warmth. “But I expect I can make some more if I have to.”

Harriet was careful not to smile. “I think you’ll be very good at making friends,” she told him, thinking of how easily his father still acquired acquaintances. “And it will be a much nicer adventure than being sent away because there are bombs dropping on your house.”

“School isn’t an adventure,” he said with the kind of aggrieved patience that children have to use with thickheaded parents. “School is what you have to do between adventures.”

Harriet murmured an acknowledgement, knowing better to attempt that tangle. Let Peter deal with Bredon’s qualms concerning boarding school, if he still had them by the time summer term began. She was just glad that he’d begun school here in the village so he’d have a basis for comparison when he was grown. However often she’d had to consider the consequences of Peter’s position on her children, she still hadn’t quite reconciled herself to all of them.

“Look, Mummy,” Bredon perked up suddenly. “I can see a light in the church!”

“Yes,” she cheered with him, grateful for the distraction. “And look, the Bateson’s have taken down their blackout curtains, and their windows are lit up too.” One by one at first, and then in handfuls and dozens glints of light began to show all around. A glow in the distance was rightly placed to be Great Pagford. And as the twilight deepened into true night bright headlights swept along the road and turned up toward the house below them.

“It’s Father!” Bredon began to squirm out of her hold, and she caught hold of his shirt as he stood up to shout down at the men emerging from the Daimler. “Father! Bunter! Look! We’re up here!”

Peter advanced hastily and peered up at the roof. “Bredon?” he called, and there was more than a little trepidation in his voice.

“Hullo, Peter,” Harriet called down to reassure him. “You’re home early. We didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”

“It’s a much quicker drive when you can see where you’re going,” he replied, much more cheerfully now that he knew Bredon wasn’t alone. “Whatever are you and Bredon doing on the roof? Is the whole family up there?”

“We’ve been watching the lights come on. It’s just the two of us, though. Roger and Paul are still downstairs in bed.” Harriet told him. “Give us a minute and we’ll be right down.”

“By all means,” Peter allowed, “bring the boychild. I did plan to have a midnight tête-à-tête with my wife, but I suppose there are enough bananas for three.”

“Bananas?” Harriet exclaimed and tugged Bredon toward the skylight. She had started down the steps first, but he resisted at the last moment and turned his face up to the sky. “What is it, Bredon?” she asked, wondering what was more important than the treat.

“I was just wondering,” he said, scrunching up his face. “When the lights are very bright, can you still see the stars?” he asked.

“Not as well,” Harriet admitted. “But they’re there, all the same. And you can still see them in places where it is dark at night. Not everywhere has lights.”

He nodded, and then looked down at her and grinned. “Or bananas?”

She smiled back. “Or bananas.”