A/N: A Sequel of Sorts to "Hope Deferred."
Beta'd by trustingHim17.
The cry wrung from your spirit's pain
May echo on some far-off plain
And guide a wanderer home again.
~Streams in the Desert
"Come in and have tea."
Susan quietly obeyed the brisk command, spirit aching too deeply to do anything but comply.
"You've been back to the graves?" the capable voice inquired, and Susan looked up into the wrinkled face framed by smooth hair pulled back in a bun.
"Yes, Mrs. Macready."
"You know, young lady, you always appear worse after you go. Perhaps you should stop going." Susan shook her head, the small bit of her stirring at this challenge. This was the one thing her spirit held on to fiercely, now that she knew Narnia was gone.
"Then you better find a way to make such visits helpful." Mrs. Macready handed Susan a white china teacup and sat across from her, sipping from the teacup's identical twin.
Susan knew better than to let the bitterness form her retort, and she swallowed the words springing to her mouth. She temporized, changing the challenging And how am I to do that? to "I have no idea how to do that." An admission, rather than a rebuttal.
Edmund would be proud.
Edmund, do you forgive me? I am trying now.
"Perhaps trying to speak with them, rather than trying to plead with them." Susan looked up sharply at that. The pain begged her to bite back, but the Queen she once had been noted the white, pressed lips, the corners of the mouth dug deeply down, and the eyes that would not look at Susan.
"Are you giving me advice you are trying to take yourself?" she asked quietly, setting her teacup down with a gentle clink.
It was Mrs. Macready's turn to look sharply at her opponent. "That is none of your business, child."
Susan paused. Grief begged for an immediate reaction, anything to lessen or distract from the pain, even rage, and Susan was teaching herself to pause before letting it speak. Peter, I will be master of myself, since I am all the authority that is left.
"Perhaps not," Susan admitted, grace in her voice.
Oh, how grace hurt to give, when she felt as if she had received none.
But her soft words turned away the anger she'd stirred. "I am telling you to do what I cannot," Mrs. Macready admitted. "I went to my son's grave this week."
Susan's eyes widened. She had not known Mrs. Macready had a son. "I am sorry."
"He died in the war." Susan struggled, for a moment, to picture Mrs. Macready as a mother. "I did not know him well," Mrs. Macready said, and Susan set both her hands around her teacup, face open, ready to listen. This, at least, she remembered how to do. "His grandfather promised a full inheritance to my son, after his father died, if he would be sent to the best boarding schools, and spend the holidays at his grandfather's house. They were not fond of me—the second son had no business marrying a housekeeper."
"I am sorry," Susan offered again. How different those words were, when they were not for a fault. Susan truly was sorry, for the pain of a divided or distant family was not one she would wish on any person.
"Our marriage lasted nine months, before a fever took him. Then I gave my son away, thinking it would be better for him." Mrs. Macready set the teacup on a table, looking out the apartment window. "And now I visit his grave, knowing he will never enjoy his inheritance, and ask if he can possibly forgive me for taking away his mother for reasons that proved fruitless." Fruitless. Oh, Lucy, what I traded for your company...I know those regrets.
Mrs. Macready turned to look at Susan, coming back to the present moment. Her eyes regained their alertness, but her briskness remained absent. She did not need it with someone who knew sorrow so well. "I do not know what to say to him when I go."
"And 'I'm sorry' is not enough," Susan added softly.
"No, it is not."
The two sat in silence. Mrs. Macready finally picked up her teacup and brought it to her mouth. "What will you do with your siblings?" she asked finally.
Susan's breath caught; her mind heard the tone and threw itself back into the courts of Narnia, of the broken yet strong who looked for her to lead. She blinked a few times, shoving aside the Fauns, Dwarves, Dryads, and Centaurs to focus on the woman before her. "Trust in who they were," she replied, her voice catching. "And give the hurt the time all the wise people tell me it needs."
"Time has not helped much so far." And there responded the bitterness Susan knew from her own heart.
"I know I have not been very willing to let it." Susan hesitated. "My pastor keeps telling me there is a time to mourn, and pushing past that time too soon does not lead to healing."
Mrs. Macready's mouth twisted, but the curve led to a wry smile rather than a bitter pursed lip. "You are quite wise for one so young." She got to her feet, taking Susan's half-empty teacup and setting it on the counter, her subtle signal for Susan to leave. "You remind me of the Professor," she said quietly, her back to Susan. "He's the only other person I ever mentioned James to."
Susan's eyes filled with tears. "Thank you," she said in a low voice. She took her handkerchief and blotted her eyes, making sure they were clear by the time Mrs. Macready turned around. "Good day, Mrs. Macready."
"Good day, Susan Pevensie," the old woman responded briskly. Susan nodded and left, unaware that the old woman watched her from the window till she walked out of sight. "Take care," she murmured. "May God send you your own peace. He's certainly helping you bring about mine."
At the train station Susan stood alone on the train platform, her handkerchief clutched in her fingers. She still felt like crying, but she would not cry on a public railway—even an empty one.
Well done, a golden Voice echoed in her heart, and she stiffened, eyes going wide.
Well done, my good and faithful daughter.
And the ache in Susan's heart eased, even while her tears began to fall.
None could quarrel with what the Lion declared. She, who once lived poorly, had done well.
There was no greater affirmation.
"Bind up these broken bones;
Mercy bend and bring me back to life—
But not before you show me how to die."
~Audrey Assad, "Show Me"