WENDY DARLING HATED PETER PAN.
And the longer she stared out at the vacant sky at the cloudy night that seemed to mock her by blocking her view of the stars, the more she knew it was true. She despised him. She loathed him. The part that never wanted to see him again was eclipsing the part of Wendy that could love him.
To Peter, the greatest crime anyone could ever commit was to stop believing.
And that is exactly what Wendy had done; the ultimate betrayal.
“He’s just a figment of my imagination,” they say.
“Nothing but a lunatic,” they tell her.
“Absurd little fantasies by a crazed young girl,” they mutter, thinking she was out of ear-shot.
“I’m Sorry, Peter,” she mumbles. “I must believe; not in you, but in them.”
- x -
[ two weeks ago ]
“No, don’t turn up the light.”
“Why not, Wendy?”
“I.. I’ve left a mess.”
A pungent smell wafted from the small room of Wendy’s home. The candles were all snuffed out, and the Darlings had gone to another socialite party in the heart of London, where the problems of war didn’t seem to bother them. It made sense. They were the wealthy. What did they have to lose from a couple of bombs and air raids? The house was left unattended, except for her.
The boy stood in the doorway, unaware of how bad his charge had gotten.
“Matthew, if you turn up the light, I will never forgive you. I... I-I can’t let you see me like this,” she stammered.
“What haven’t I seen you in?” Matthew cheekily replied, attempting to take an unsuccessful jab at humor. But Wendy wasn’t in the mood for laughter. She never was, in times like these, and Matthew took a cautionary tone, “Wendy, I have to see you, love.”
The putrid smell was tugging at his nose.
“I-I don’t need your help,” she argued.
“-- I had another panic attack.”
Matthew flicked a gas lamp on. The tendrils of light stretched to every inch of the room, brightening up the area, running its path to illuminate the dusty corners that Wendy wanted so desperately to hide.
The nineteen year old boy was repulsed at the sight, his hand flinging to cover his dropping mouth.
Wendy was wrapped in her covers, tangled in her bed sheets, a puddle of vomit in front of her. Her head in her heads, shaking it terribly.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she kept crying. “I’ve done it again.”
“Oh, Wendy,” Matthew breathed, tearing his hand away from his lips, his face falling with exhaustion. “You shouldn’t have.”
Wendy cast her eyes down, trembling. “I didn’t mean to, I just.. I woke up and I had one of those nightmares, and I had no one to turn to. It all spilled out before I could stop it. I’ve become a lot more nauseous than usual.”
Matthew notices the source of Wendy’s terrible shaking: the window was wide open, welcoming in a burst of icy shard of bitter winter air, snow flurries drifting in. “Wendy, you need to shut the window, you’ll catch a cold,” he said firmly, walking over and getting ready close it when Wendy protests.
“No, don’t,” she begged. “Please. Keep the window open.”
“Wendy, I don’t - and never have - understood your obsession with this window--”
“Just keep it open.”
Matthew sighs in defeat. It was pointless to argue with her. “Okay,” he lets his hands fall. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Wendy’s body was limp and fragile, collapsing back into the bed before Matthew had a chance to cradle her in his arms, grabbing a wet dishcloth from the bathroom and wiping the edges of her face, the tip of her chin, her cheeks. Then, he proceeded to turn over the stained sheets, anxious to ignore the smell but desperate to get her fixed. To be whole again.
But it only made what Matthew was about to do much more horrible.
Eventually, he had gotten Wendy into a new nightgown, slipping off her messy one and careful not to touch her in places he shouldn’t have. He kept his eyes averted, but Wendy was in a comatose state during the nights. She didn’t have a clue what was going on, but still, Matthew stuck by her, his stubborness giving in.
It was times like these that Matthew finally noticed her beauty. No, it wasn’t because her hair was pinned up, or she was wearing rouge on her lips. It was because in this moment, the very one they were in, she left the Wendy everyone wanted her to be and became vulnerable. Transparent. See-through, an open book.
It was an honour he would never forget.
When her bed was clear of vomit and Wendy was all pristine, Matthew asked, “Can I get into your bed with you?”
Wendy nodded, her eyes glazed with paralyzed closure, just staring off into the open window, her thoughts unclear. Matthew carefully tucked away his snow-laded coat, hanging it by the golden plated bed pillars and lifting the warm blankets. She scooted a little bit to the left and made room for the boy who always visited when he parents weren’t around. Not for selfish reasons. To be honest, Wendy didn’t know why Matthew, her next door neighbor, had always managed to crawl his way back to her.
She assumed it was just another curious dare. To get close to the lunatic. To trick the girl who was only one step away from the crazy house. But night after night, especially on dark evenings where the house was empty and dark as she, he would somehow know that something was wrong and come over. He would take the key hidden underneath the gas lamp and travel the journey up the stairs to keep her company, to make sure she didn’t do anything hasty.
But what was there for him? She was broken goods, damaged on the way.
His warmth made her feel better, a rare thing, the only thing. His arms reached out for her and they lay on their sides, his chin resting on the crook of where her neck met her shoulders, Wendy’s rampant beating of her heart escalating when she realized that sleep wasn’t safe either; she would be haunted once more. It wasn’t safe.
“Wendy?” Matthew whispered into her skin. Funny, to her, it was spoken in the voice of a certain boy.
“I must tell you something,” his voice tried to keep steady.
He gulped. Wendy started to worry, a silence filling the gap of where Matthew’s words were supposed to be said.
“You’ll hate me for it.”
She sighed in defeat.
“I’ve been called.”
Wendy craned her neck, but fell short of trying to see into his eyes. Never mind. It would only trouble things to see his face. With his arms still clutching her tight, they suddenly felt constricting.
She knew what ‘being called’ meant. For most boys their age, it was an honour, a duty to serve and protect and sacrifice for their country. But for a moment, Wendy allowed herself to be selfish. For Wendy, it meant saying goodbye, possibly for the last time, to her dear old neighbor who had just moved in and who was the first to want to get close to her in ages since she had seen Peter.
And just when she was getting to like him, he leaves. Typical.
“Wendy?” his voice rifles through her hair and he buries his face into it.
“... I didn’t know you enlisted.”
“You know every able bodied man and boy have to enlist,”
“Yes, but you didn’t seem the type,” she admitted, cutting him off because honestly, she wanted to savor the moment instead of wasting it with useless banter.
Matthew takes a deep, long breath, clearly agitated. Or maybe irritated. Possibly both.
“This might be our last night--”
“Shut up, Matthew,” Wendy shook her head, rubbing her face into the pillow they shared. “I would be betraying my country if I said I wanted you to pull out, and I’d be branding you a coward for the rest of your life if I force you to stay, which I cannot do for the sake of you because I... I don’t want you to end up like me.”
“Yes, stuck a reputation that’s nothing like what you are,” she said faintly. For a second, she didn’t think he heard her, because he didn’t respond. Or maybe he was already asleep. She couldn’t crane her neck to check; if she did so, she’d knock his head over and then he’s surely be awake.
But disproving all her specualtions, she heard him whisper,
“I’ll come back, Wendy. The war’s not that bad.”
“You say so. They all say so, until their mothers are clutching white handkerchiefs to their teary eyes because they’re no longer mothers and --”
“Wendy!” he snapped. She never heard him raise his voice at her. Not once.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “You’re just the first person who doesn’t think I’m crazy.”
“Oh no, I do think you’re crazy,” he sniffled, digging into the tresses of her hair much deeper as he savored what was to be the last scent of Wendy Darling he would get to remember. “Just not as crazy as everyone thinks you are.”
Wendy was shocked when a smile crawled onot her face out of nowhere.
“When do you leave?”
So it was their last.
“How long will you be gone?” she managed to utter.
Matthew thought this over, shifting in the bed and causing it to shake a bit. “It’s hard to tell. They want everyone they can possibly find, before the fighting gets worse.”
“Not as bad as the air raids from last year, though, right?”
“No, not that bad, love.”
In the back of her mind, she could feel the moments replaying. A montage of a certain dirty-blonde haired boy dressed from the earth screaming at her, scolding her for thinking of such an appalling ling like love.
“I taught you to fight and to fly! What more could there be?”
“So much more.”
“What? What more is there?” he spat, aggravated.
” -- Love. I have never heard of such a thing.”
“I guess it becomes more clearer when you grow up--”
“Well I will not grow up! You cannot make me, Wendy.”
Snapping back to verity, she blinked as she faded back. “Yes?”
“Good night, Wendy.” Matthew’s grip tightened around her waist, as if desperate to keep her there.
- x -
When she woke in the morning, the spot beside her, indented with the impression of last night’s encounter with her neighbor, was empty. The traces of Matthew still lingering even in the midmorning sun.
Propping herself up on her elbows, she was frightened to think that last night might’ve been just another mirage, another thing her overallusive mind conjured up to make herself feel better; funny, it usually made her feel worse.
The sad thing wasn’t that Matthew had gone. The sad thing was that Wendy knew that he would never come back.
“Just like the others,” she whispered, frowning. Her heart tugged deeper and deeper as it sank at the prospect of seeing Matthew again - only, in a blood-stained military garment lying on a secondhand cot. She tried hard to shake off her demons, her overactive ability to overthink to the point of deeper insanity, but she failed. She almost expected Matthew to come back dead, or worse, never come back at all.
Her faith in people leaving her and somehow returning after making false promises was nonexistent.
- x -
[ one week later ]
Wendy had seen it all from her window.
She had a foreboding feeling that day, and while perched on her trusty blacony with a good book in hand, she saw a solemn mail man carrying a lone post into the next house on over.
She could hear the agitated screams of Matthew’s mother, the horrid wailing that extended from the next house when the letter came. She watched carefully as the mail man walked out of the manor next door with a pale face - Wendy wondered how many times he had carried that kind of note. But her thoughts were sliced in half at the idea because she was suddenly distracted by the cries that wouldn’t stop.
Frozen and paralyzed with the shock that her faith hadn’t lifted her up, she dropped her book, letting it crash to the floor as she crawled into bed, shoving the covers into her face and her mouth as she cried and screamed things no one could hear.
Her body wracked with sobs that shook her, revulsed her, twisted her body into ways she never expected. She regretted not getting to appreciate his hospitality, his warmth. It was true, how he was the only one. Her father had legally wanted to disown her for bringing shame to his good name, and her mother wouldn’t even look at her for fear of facing the fact that she had a deranged daughter .
He was the last one.
Maybe the letter had meant for someone else. Maybe for one of Matthew’s brothers who had died.
Only, Matthew had no brothers.
His father, then. His father must have passed away fighting during the war; Matthew was still alive.
His father had passed even before the war began, she remembered him telling her so.
Matthew is dead.
Wendy was right, all along.
Matthew would not be coming back, for a very long time.
But one person -- rather, fairy -- would.... soon.