I dedicate this, my first multi-chapter story, to my beta, escapewithstories, who has gone above and beyond over the last several months, helping me turn this shower thought into a coherent story. I cannot thank her enough.

Title is derived from "Echo" by Christina Rossetti.

I hope you all enjoy!


Prologue

April 2, 1964

Jean dreaded the aftermath of a knock at the door. Even after a year of disappointments, she still hoped to open the door to the face she most wanted to see. To give up on hope would be to give up on him, and while she knew from experience that she would eventually feel differently, she refused to rush away from any tether to Lucien.

Most days, Jean was content. She preferred not to aim for happiness, since even her tolerance for disappointment had its limits, but sometimes, sitting at the dinner table surrounded by friends or playing with Amelia in the garden, she felt it. But tonight, Jean was alone. Only Matthew boarded with her at present, and he had taken Alice for her first trip to the pictures. Ever diligent to his unspoken promise to Lucien, Matthew remained dedicated to keeping her safe, physically and emotionally, but Jean refused to be coddled or smothered by his well-intended constant presence.

So, after washing up after a quiet dinner, Jean sat in the den, listening to the band on the wireless and sipping whiskey. Drinking in excess worked so well for Lucien that every now and again she thought she'd see if sipping in moderation helped at all.

She'd just poured her second finger of whiskey when the knock came.

In most of Jean's imaginings, Lucien returned under just these circumstances, on lonesome nights when missing him was unavoidable, with the wireless crackling between tunes, his coping mechanism burning in her throat. On nights like these, she felt closer to the angry person he used to be.

In a flash she was at the door, knowing it wasn't him, but wanting it with all her might.

Even without the alcohol, Jean couldn't have contained her shock when she saw who stood on her doorstep.

"Mei Lin!"

If Lucien had been at the door, Jean would have been less surprised. She and Mei Lin had struck up a regular correspondence after Lucien's disappearance, but they never discussed a visit.

As if she expected a fight, Mei Lin held up both hands. "I'm so sorry to come unannounced, Jean, but I have business of the upmost importance, and its sensitive nature prevented me from writing you first."

Sensitive nature? "Um, no, it's alright. I'm—I'm just surprised to see you." Jean laughed nervously as she stepped aside, further puzzled by the solitary trunk at her visitor's feet. Mei Lin had traveled halfway across the world with no notice, but she apparently didn't plan to stay long. "Please, come in. Can I carry that for you?"

Mei Lin shook her head as she picked up her luggage. "It's not heavy, and I'll just leave it here in the doorway. I thought I would stay at the hotel."

"Nonsense! Of course, you should stay here." Jean closed the door behind Mei Lin and the cab that drove back down the lane. "The guest room is always made up, and it's no imposition." After Mei Lin set her trunk next to the stairs, Jean gestured to the den. "Would you like some tea? Or a sherry? I'm afraid I don't have any shandy."

Mei Lin smiled softly at her host as Jean led the way into the den. "Whatever you're having is perfectly alright."

With a sheepish smile, Jean nodded to the tray of whiskey. "Even whiskey?"

"Especially whiskey."

Their shared amusement broke the tension. Even so, as Jean procured another glass from the cabinet under the window, Mei Lin apologized again. "If the news I bring was not so urgent, I would never have presumed to surprise you like this."

Though she would never say it, Jean thought that nothing Mei Lin said or did could be worse than the last time she surprised her. However abrupt, Mei Lin's presence was more of a comfort this time, perhaps because now they had both loved and lost the same beautiful man.

Clean glass in hand, Jean took a seat next to Mei Lin on the couch. "I won't hear of it. You're always welcome here." Jean hated to think that Mei Lin assumed her right to admittance to this house disappeared with her ex-husband. The slosh of whiskey in the glasses broke the brief silence. "I do hope your family is alright. Does this concern them?" As she handed Mei Lin a glass, the other woman's hand trembled, and she didn't speak again until she had taken two sizeable sips.

"They are quite well, thank you. We are all well—please don't worry." She paused, studying the brown liquid at the bottom of her glass. When she lifted her face to Jean's, her eyes shone. "I come bearing…glad tidings. It isn't often that you travel so immediately for a miracle instead of a tragedy."

Hope fluttered in the pit of Jean's stomach, simultaneously nauseating and invigorating her.

"I have a long and complicated story to tell, and I spent the entire voyage puzzling over how to tell it." Mei Lin bit her lip and shook her head. "And still I have no idea how to start. So forgive me—" Mei Lin reached for Jean's hands and held them both in her lap. "Forgive me for shocking you, and trust me when I promise that this story has a happy ending."