Chapter One
Invitation Only Grand Farewells

Invitation only grand farewells
Crash the best ones of the best ones

I am upset that Daddy is making me go to the party that the Emersons have organised for their leaving son and his soldier friends on their country estate. He knows very well why I don't like Thomas Emerson, but Daddy said to me yesterday afternoon, "For God's sake, Kate. He's about to leave for a war. At least have the decency to say farewell, or at least attend a party that looks like you're saying farewell."

Now, we are in the automobile on the way to Blackfield, the Emersons' estate. When I was a child, Mummy used to bring me to Blackfield to play. It was at Blackfield where I was first stung by a bee. It was at Blackfield where I first learned to swim. It was at Blackfield where Thomas permanently drove the wedge between us. If I think about it, it seems as if I spent most of my childhood summers at Blackfield.

It is too noisy to talk above the roar of the engine. I squint my eyes and look at the darkening atmosphere around us. I can see the hills and, sometimes, the lights of a village a few miles away. Although I have tried to mentally prepare myself for this evening, my palms are sweat. I swear if you cut me up at this very moment, butterflies will fly out of my stomach.

Blackfield rolls into view, and I take a deep breath. I have not seen Blackfield since that summer, six years ago. Now, as we travel down the familiar avenue lined with pine trees, I can just make out in the distance the lake where the incident happened. They have installed a diving board now. For a moment, I want to run out there and jump off the diving board just to see experience it. But I'm older now; things have changed.

The house is lit up, and as we get out of the automobile, I can hear people inside. There is classical music floating out, whether from a gramophone or from a live string quartet I could not tell. Daddy takes Mummy's hand, and they start up the granite steps in front of me. I am slower in ascending the steps, the dread now building up even more in my heart.

Stop it! I tell myself. Why should you feel embarrassed or guilty? After all, it is his fault that we stopped being friends – if we were friends in the first place. Be tall, be strong. Go in there and show that Thomas Emerson that you are not afraid or ashamed. He should be afraid or ashamed, or both.

When I enter the hall, the crystal chandelier in the ceiling twinkles at me like someone greeting an old friend. The sights are becoming more familiar now. There is that ugly Ming vase that Thomas and I used to laugh at. And the rug that scared me because of its ugly red and green designs, which now just make me laugh. There's the step Thomas slipped on and sprained his left ankle. I see someone familiar approaching me. For a minute, I wonder who it is before realising it is Mrs. Gregory, the house keeper.

"Hello, Mrs. Gregory!" I exclaim. She looks older, softer than the bony middle-aged woman that used to scold Thomas and me out of her kitchen when we wanted to steal bits of bread to feed the ducks they used to keep on the lake. I wonder if the ducks are still there.

"Good evening, Kate!" she says, taking hold of one of my hands. "Why, you have grown into such a beautiful young lady. You look more and more like your mother every day. Master Thomas will be so happy and excited to see you."

"He will?" Her words puzzle me.

Mrs. Gregory must have forgotten about the incident Thomas and I had between us, because she just chatters on like nothing happened. "Yes. The summer after you stopped coming, Thomas was so dejected. He spent hours moping around the house and creating more mischief than you two combined!" Mrs. Gregory laughs, remembering the old times.

"Is that right?" I say, intrigued. "Well, I'll just go find Thomas and greet him myself. Good evening, Mrs. Gregory. It is truly good to see you again."

I turn and walk away, unsure on what I should think. It is strange trying to think of Thomas in a good light. I have spent so long thinking horribly of him that it actually feels odd thinking of him feeling dejected without me. Closing my eyes, I shake my head and go to find myself a drink. Hopefully they have something alcoholic.

At the drinks table, there is a young man in soldier's uniform. He is sipping a whiskey and looks at me as I approach the table. I pick up the punch ladle and say to him, "Do you know if there is alcohol in this?" I find his stare rather unsettling, but I refuse to feel upset.

"I should think so," says the soldier, smiling flirtatiously at me. "Can you not stomach alcohol, Miss…?"

"Coleman," I supply, pouring myself a cup. "On the contrary. Your health, sir." I raise the glass and take a long sip. The soldier watches me in amusement. I see that he is assessing me, and I look him up and down as well.

He is slightly taller than me, with bright red hair and light blue eyes. His skin is so fair it feels a little odd looking at him. Despite his height, he is slightly thick-limbed. However, he does not look like one of those dullards one might associate with thick-limbed people.

"Miss Coleman…," the soldier says thoughtfully. "Are you by any chance Kate Coleman?"

"I am."

He smiled. "Thomas – Thomas Emerson, I assume you know him – told me that I might meet you this evening." He extends his hand. "Corporal Harry Coke. C-O-K-E, but pronounced 'cook'. Like she cooks excellent potatoes."

"Good evening, Corporal Coke," I say, smiling back.

Corporal Harry Coke looks over my shoulder and says, "Well, speak of the devil. Here comes Thomas Emerson himself."

I feel my smile fade as I turn around. Thomas was coming our way. He looks taller than I remember him, his brown hair darker and his eyes larger. He has inherited some of the angular Emerson face, which has been softened by his mother's features. I realise he looks nice – nice is all I will allow him – in his soldier's uniform. I squeeze my fists and prepare myself to be civil to him.

"Good evening, Tom!" cries Corporal Coke.

"Hello, Harry," says Thomas. He does not look like he has noticed me. "Enjoying yourself?"

"I've just met your friend, Miss Kate Coleman," says Corporal Coke, using his glass to gesture towards me. "She's as pretty as you said, Tom."

Thomas now looks at me. "Nonsense, Harry," Thomas says quietly. "I said nothing of the kind."

I lift my chin. I have to will myself to say "Good evening, Thomas." I do not trust myself to speak without thinking first.

"Good evening, Kate," says Thomas softly. "It's been a long time."

Corporal Coke must have sensed something, because he slowly slipped away, leaving Thomas and I staring at each other. I scarcely notice Corporal Coke leaving. I do not know what to say, but I cannot bring myself to leave. As I look into his face, I notice with sudden realisation that Thomas has become handsome over the years.

"No surprise," I finally reply. "You're looking well, Thomas. Good evening."

Randomly grabbing a drink from the table, I turn and leave. I find myself going through the French doors, out into the garden and onto the lawn, where the wet grass makes the hem of my gown damp. Somewhere along the way, I kick off my high heels and walk barefooted to the lake, where it all began.