Valentine Joe

Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens Read Free Book Online

Book: Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rebecca Stevens
Rose. He would’ve called himself Joe.
    He could have been a boy at her school – slouching along the corridors at school, bag dangling off one shoulder, whacking a friend round the head and running off, laughing at nothing, kicking a football. Not fighting – being killed – in some grown-ups’ war.
    Grandad continued to read: ‘“Although the official age for active service was nineteen, many younger boys lied about their age in order to join up, probably inspired by propaganda campaigns at the time and the belief that war would be an adventure . . .”’
    â€˜But they must’ve known.’ Rose felt angry. ‘The army people, whoever was in charge. How could they not? There’s no way a fifteen-year-old can pass for nineteen.’
    Grandad read on. ‘“It’s thought recruiting officers often turned a blind eye to underage recruits due to the urgent need for men to replace those that had been injured or killed at the Front . . .”’
    â€˜Oh, Grandad . . .’
    Rose felt so furious at the people in the past who had let this happen that she was afraid she might start shouting and screaming and stomping round the cemetery. Either that orburst into tears.
    Grandad put the book away and held out his hand. Rose took it and they stood there in silence, their heads bowed. She swallowed hard, determined not to cry.
    â€˜So you found Uncle George?’ she said. Her voice sounded unnaturally high and cracky.
    Grandad gave himself a little shake. He wasn’t going to cry either. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I did. I said, “Hello, George, mate. You don’t know me, but I know all about you and I’ve come to say goodbye. And thanks.” And I left the rose for him. I think he appreciated it.’
    Rose smiled. The cemetery seemed to come back into focus and she was conscious of the gentle spikes of drizzle on her face and the whoomp whoomp of the turbines across the canal.
    â€˜Come on, Cabbage. Let’s get you back to the hotel. It’ll be getting dark soon.’
    He patted her arm and moved off towards the gate. Rose lingered for a moment at the grave.
    â€˜It’s your day tomorrow,’ she whispered. ‘Valentine Joe.’ She put the yellow flowers with their heart-shaped leaves down next to the teddy bear.
    â€˜Happy birthday,’ she said.

I t was getting dark by the time they got back to the city, and the warm yellow lights from the bars and restaurants looked blurry in the twilight, as if they were shining through gauze. Rose was glad to be back. Her feet hurt from the long walk and her hair had gone all frizzy.
    She left Grandad downstairs in the hotel, telling Muriel about their outing, while she went up to her room. They’d arranged to meet up later for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Rose wasn’t quite sure what it was, but Grandad wanted to go and that was enough for her.
    She opened the door of her room, flumped down on the bed and was starting to take her boots off when something stopped her. The room was bright and cosy with its clean white walls and neat single bed. Everything looked completely normal, just as she’d left it: her suitcase open on the floor, phone charger plugged in by the bed. But there was something else. Rose sat quite still, listening with every part of her body.
    Someone was singing.
    It was a girl’s voice, singing a high, wordless little song, as if she was pottering around tidying up. It was what Mum used to do in the kitchen while she was clearing away the breakfast things on a Sunday.
    Rose got up and opened the door to the tiny shower room that adjoined the bedroom, fitted in neatly under the eaves of the building. There was no one there, of course, she hadn’t expected there to be. But the voice was there, as clear as if its owner was in the room with her. She checked outside on the landing. Nothing.
    And then it stopped.
    It must’ve

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