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We outgrow love, like other things

by Sophia Jirafe

Classification: Vignette, mostly movie canon with a little bookcanon thrown in. Disclaimer: Characters belong to J.M. Barrie's estate, and probably some Hollywood producers now as well. At any rate, I'm not profiting from this.

Wendy was fifteen when she met Martin. He was a junior clerk three seats down from her father, and was one of the little knot of admirers and protegees he collected after his first promotion. Martin's hair was sleek and dark, pressed and shining like his suits, and his eyeteeth were just the smallest bit crooked, turned inwards. When he smiled there were columns of figures in his eyes, neat and straight and perfectly summed to the last decimal. Wendy soon found that she was the total way, way down at the bottom, counted out in shillings and kisses and years. He danced beautifully, though, and paid charming compliments which had more truth than is usual in a compliment, so that he soon made all the other youths with an interest in Mr. Darling's eldest seem quite tongue-tied and stupid, with no more wit than startled baby birds gaping for food.

Martin asked her to marry him three times before she said yes; once a year on her birthday three years running. Aunt Millicent had told her a lady never accepted a proposal before the age of eighteen, lest she seem too fast. Wendy was surprised that Martin did not know this about ladies, since he knew everything else about proper company and proper manners, but she supposed that perhaps a gentleman must always ask a for a lady's hand three times, lest he seem ungallant.

They were married on the right day in the right church, with the right people in the right clothing smiling at them from all sides, a sea of men in grey morning suits and women in their best blue gowns. The church was full of orange blossoms, small and white and scentless, and their petals mingled with rice on the ground looked like snow, though they were married in June.

It was Mother who found them the little flat in Bloomsbury that served as their bridal home, and it was Father's suggestion to Sir Couch that helped them buy the house a little farther west, nearer to the university. It was Aunt Millicent who suggested the first party, and made up the lists of select guests, and rather less select guests, and wrote the menus in her fine script, still elegant despite the trembling in her hands.

Wendy knew, one day, that she was grown up, because when asked to choose the color of her new drawing room curtains, she said moss green, as it would just match the lovely new parlor set that Mrs. Lynch down the street had ordered.

She found that she did not mind being grown up, once it had happened to her, because there were all sorts of things to keep her occupied. There were the lace cloths for the dining table to have pressed, and the visiting cards to leave at the houses of Martin's colleagues, and the kitchen boiler to look after, since it did make such queer sounds if it got overheated. And later there were the children -- Jane, and George and Henry quite close together, and finally small, frail Lucretia -- who kept her so very occupied that there was no time to remember she too had once been a child.

Wendy still told beautiful stories, though; the sorts of stories that made people listen with a fast-beating heart, a smile on their lips, and a tear in their eye. Wendy's children listened to her stories while laughing and crying at the same time, shouting at the thrilling parts and shivering at the frightening bits, and applauding when the hero or heroine won freedom or fortune, or sometimes, very rarely, fair lady. Wendy never told kisses.

Wendy sometimes thought that she had been born with a certain number of kisses, and that she must be very careful about to whom they were they were given. She thought with chagrin of the many kisses she had given away so freely in her childhood, to her two first brothers, and to the brothers that came later, when now she had four sweet children who needed so many more kisses than she could give them. Martin did not need very many kisses, being so often occupied with the sums in his eyes, but when she had tucked the children into their beds, blankets properly rumpled and dolls and swords tucked into the crannies, it broke her heart to hear them clamoring for one more round of kisses, especially when there was the one kiss she could not give showing so plainly in the righthand corner.

She had thought never to tell them about the boy whose kiss it was, but somehow they knew without the telling. His name crept into the nursery games, first as a passing mention, and soon as a main character, the hero all the children fought to be. Wendy used to sit, on the short winter days, in her small parlor beneath the nursery and listen to the house-shaking thumps on the ceiling as they took it in turns to leap off the tallest bed (George's), flapping their arms for the brief seconds it took to fall onto the pile of bolsters arranged before the hearth.

She had given to Peter only one kiss, and yet it seemed that it had been ever so many more, depleting her small store shockingly. Martin, perhaps, had known this from the start, and never asked for more kisses than she could give, or perhaps it was that he had never needed a wife with more. But the children! How could she have been so selfish as to promise the hidden kiss to a boy who never came again?

He had said he would come; more properly, he had said he would not forget. Wendy did not know the difference between these two things, but she thought with Peter, there might have been such a difference as to keep him in the Neverland forever, never bothering to fly the long cold distances to listen through a shut London window. And he was so quick, and so clever -- her searching eyes might have blinked just at the moment he flew out from behind a building or tree, missing the bright trail he left behind in a dazzle of snow or sunlight.

His kiss was still waiting, though she did not think he would now take it from a common grown-up like herself, a mother who did not remember how to fly. She thought perhaps one of her daughters, their own hidden kisses tucked into the rosebuds of their laughing mouths, might be able to give to him what she could not, but she trembled at the vision of Peter and her children and the wide, wide open window of an empty nursery.

To grow up, then, was this -- to think of things one had done, and the things one wished one had done, and to know that these things could not be changed. She thought of the drawer full of dreams her father had kept closed for so many years, and of how her own drawer had emptied out through the years to just this one thing, to give to Peter again the kiss that was his.

But to kiss a boy! She could not imagine such a thing, nor could she imagine kissing a grown-up Peter, which would not be considerate of Martin's feelings anyhow. Peter as a man in an office with a necktie round his brown throat and a fountain pen in his dirty brown hands made her smile, trying to see Tinker Bell sitting upon an inkstand and pirate gold spilled across a ledger. Peter as a man was as absurd as herself as a girl, which seemed now so very long ago that it was hard to believe it had happened at all.

Her children believed her stories, but not that she had been in them. There was a strange sort of grown-up-ness to them sometimes, a bit of Martin that came out in George's love of stamp collecting, Henry's fear of sword-fighting, Lucretia's facility with sums. Jane she felt was rather more of a child, despite being the eldest, but even in her enraptured gaze there was a bit of watchfulness that felt like someone much older was looking through her brown eyes.

They were still children, though, and in their games she heard strange names and strange places that chilled her mother's heart a little, for they inhabited a land she could no longer enter. The Neverland was very real for them, so real that she felt they could step through the gauze more easily than flying through cold, starry space, and be lost to her forever.

She put them to bed in the way that mothers must, with songs and promises and nightlights and smoothed foreheads, lest the children leave their beds and frightful things come, and gave each their kiss. For George it was upon the hand, for he said he was a man now and must save his kisses for his wife, and for Henry it was on the tip of the nose, as he feared he had catarrh coming on, and for Lucretia it was square on her rosebud lips, like sharing a strawberry. For Jane it was always on her right cheek, over the dimple Wendy said was the mark of a fairy's kiss, and for which Jane was much envied in the nursery.

"Mother," Jane said one night, covering her cheek with a hand before Wendy's lips could touch it. "Did a fairy really kiss my cheek when I was born?"

"Not when you were born, dear, but seven hours later, just as you smiled for the first time," Wendy answered.

"And what does it mean, for a fairy to kiss me?"

"It means that you will always have more kisses to give than those the fairies have not touched, for you are full of love and my own smiling baby."

"And what if I should give all my kisses away? Could I find a fairy to give me more?"

"You must ask the fairies that," Wendy said, feeling with shame that her daughter knew, perhaps, of the missing kisses she should have had.

"Who knows where the fairies live? Does Peter Pan?" Jane asked.

"Of course," said Wendy, leaning down to kiss Jane at last. "Peter Pan knows everything about fairies."

"Does he know everything about kisses?" Jane asked, turning up her cheek.

Wendy looked down at her young daughter, her dark hair so like Martin's, sleek and shining, and the hidden kiss tucked like a secret, or a promise, into the corner of her mouth.

"No-one knows everything about kisses," Wendy said.

Note: Title from the Dickson poem of the same name. Thanks to Anna and Melymbrosia, for suffering through my indecision and terrible suggestions.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Sophia Jirafe

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