Edward Cole was a typical sixteen year old country boy. He was a little tall for his build; his red hair never quite tidy over a permanently serious face. He was awkward and he felt awkward. Parts of his body were growing faster than others which made him feel uncomfortable, so he fidgeted. However, he never fidgeted around Sarah Bealen. Sarah was now almost fifteen, and a very beautiful young woman. Edward liked her lots; he just hated being reminded of the fact. They had attended Arles infant’s school together and shared the walk to and from school, including the daily lift between Graigne and Ballickmoyler. When they were old enough to go to ‘real’ school, Edward went to De La Salle, while Sarah attended the Presentation Convent School in the town centre. Without discussing it, they both arranged a route that allowed them to continue walking together. This morning was a Saturday, and his mother had him sitting at the kitchen table, explaining that as their father had accepted a job in England, the family would all be moving there with him. Edward fidgeted again, despite his mother’s objections. “What about Sarah?” he asked.
“You’ll have to tell her, Edward. She’s been your best friend all last year and you have got to say goodbye. Imagine if it was the other way around, and she left without visiting you! You’d be in a right tizzy and no mistake. Now you go over there immediately after lunch, because you have to be back here by 3 O’clock at the latest.” So it was that Edward found himself, still fidgeting, outside Sarah Bealen’s family home on Barrack Street. He saw the problem clearly enough. He did not want to say goodbye to Sarah, because he liked her; he liked her lots and last Christmas they had kissed. Now his family were immigrating to England and he would never see her again. Life was so unfair. He was going to walk around the block when the door suddenly opened and Sarah’s two brothers ran out. Paul, the older one shouted over his shoulder, “Sarah, your boyfriend’s here!” They went running with peals of laughter towards Tullow Street, as Sarah appeared.
“Don’t mind them, Ed. They’re jealous, is all.” She was wearing her farm clothes and smelt of peaches. Edward liked peaches. She linked her arm in his and let the door close behind her. “So, where are you taking me today? Can we go to the river; it’s mild enough.” They started walking, but Edward was very distracted by the conversation they were going to have. She let him be, happy just to be strolling through Carlow town like an old married couple. “Hey, let’s go to the castle,” she said, and went running ahead of him. When he did not run after her she stopped and stood facing him. “Out with it, Ed. You have the head of a bullock on you today! What is up with you, for goodness sake?”
“We’re leaving,” he blurted, not being able to think of any way to sweeten the news. He pulled off his cap, switching it from one hand to the other.
“What do you mean?” asked Sarah, gobsmacked and legs akimbo. “What do you mean ‘leaving’?”
Then Edward let it all flow out. His father had got a job in a glass works in Stourbridge, in the English Midlands. How he would get to be educated in a Public School, while his mother would even have domestic help with the household chores. He did not want to go, and had pleaded to be sent to boarding school here, but they would not hear of it. By the time he had finished, he was sobbing and Sarah was hugging him.
“It’s okay, Ed. We’ll get through this; you’ll see.” She was a tower of common sense, thought Edward as she continued, “Sure it’s not like the old days. There is the postal service now, and we can find people with telephones too, for special occasions. It’s a terrible shame all the same, when I think of all the English girls you’ll be chasing.” She watched him as she said that and, when he did not instantly deny it; she pushed him onto the grass at the base of Carlow castle. “You just watch it, Edward Cole. Anyone comes sniffing around your wellies will have to answer to me.” She fell down beside him, as he supported himself on his elbows.
“Oh my gosh, Sarah. There’s only you, you must know that? I haven’t even thought of another girl for the last year.” They entwined their fingers. “You’re the only one for me, Sarah Bealen.” They were lying side by side, with their combined hands trust upwards, when Edward moved them to draw a heart shape on the sky above their heads. Sarah started crying and, realising the seriousness of what Edward had said, turned to face him. “Kiss me, Ed. Kiss me like it’s for the last time ever.” He leaned in, not shyly, be with as much love and emotion as one kiss could hold. They kissed for a long time; each too scared to be the first to break it. Eventually, it was Edward that moved his lips back half an inch from her’s. “I love you, Sarah. Somewhere, somehow we’ll get together again. I promise you that, and don’t worry about the English girls, when I’m here kissing the Carlow Princess.” They kissed again and then he helped her to her feet. They walked slowly back to her house overtly, as lovers did.
“You’ll come in to tell my parents all about it, Ed.”
“I can’t, Sarah. I’m running late already.” said Edward. He took her face in his hands and kissed her softly. “I love you Sarah Bealen and I always will. We’ll be together again, you’ll see. I’ll write as often as I can. Go now, before I cry.” He gave her a watery smile and let her go. She took off the little ring that her Aunt Gertie had given her last Christmas and handed it to Edward.
“This will keep you mine,” she said. “You will only have to return it to me when you come back, and I’ll be yours again, you’ll see.” She turned into the hallway and shut the front door, with him on the outside. As he walked away, from Sarah; from Carlow and from Ireland, he realised that Sarah had never said “I love you” back to him.
SIX YEARS LATER
To be continued