Prologue: Life & Death
“She’s beautiful James,” I said as she wrapped her small hand around my finger. I couldn’t help but smile at this, it brought back so many memories that happened when James II and Francis were born all those years ago.
“What are you going to name her Polly?” James asked me as he moved his body closer to be so he could see her better in my arms. It took me a minute to process the fact that he asked me what I wanted to name her. Not us, not him, me, he asked what I wanted to name her. We both decided on James and Francis’ names so why would she be any different than her brothers?
“James, why don’t we name her together? Just like we did with James and Francis.” I said as I looked at him, but he didn’t look back at me his eyes were fixed upon her small body.
“Polly I’m not the one who carried our third child for nine months. This should be your choice, not mine. You’re the one who went through all the pain, not me.” Was he really saying these words to me? Yes, I understood that this was our third child and it was my choice to carry another one year after Francis but he should still be part of this. After all, this was his daughter too, not just mine. But nonetheless she still needed a name, an elegant and classic name. After all, she is Harris and we take pride in who we are.
“Lady Elizabeth Harris,” I said and as I said this she yawned in the agreement of her name and this made me smile and James laugh. Yes the name Elizabeth was quite common back in London but that didn’t matter, after all, we’re in Paris now. It doesn’t matter what’s happening back there but it matters what’s happening now.
“I can’t wait to see how our Elizabeth grows into a lady,” James said as there was a knock on the door. I could only assume it was my sister Catherine and her husband Henry and our two little boys who were probably anxious to see their new sibling that we would be taking back to England with us. “Come in,” James said and then the door opened only to reveal a grinning Catherine.
“Is it okay if we come in you two love birds.” She teased as she poked her head through the doorway. I remember when we were still younger children and when James had first started to court me and she would always do this so she could read the letters that he was sending me. I still wish that I could go back to those times before the troubles of the world were upon us both.
Before either one of us could respond to Catherine’s question James and Francis raced to the bed to see Elizabeth. This made everyone laugh as they raced one another to James’ side of the bed. They both tried to look over James’ legs but neither one of them was tall enough yet. As I looked over at them both it made me wonder what Elizbeth would look like in a few years. Would she look more like James and be a mini female version of Francis or would she be a combination of us both and be a mini female James. Then there was a spark of hope that she would look like me, a mini-me. Deep down I hoped that she would look like me but that fate wouldn’t be in my hands.
“Do you want to see your little sister boys?” James asked them and the smile on James II face went away. As James spoke to him that having a sister was a good thing Catherine sat on the other side of me and her husband stood next to her.
“So you’ve finally had a little lady?” Catherine said as she smiled down at small Elizabeth. I remember how excited she was when I first became pregnant with James II and we both thought that I would give birth to a baby girl but in the end, I had a little boy. To answer the question I just smiled and she smiled back at me. “Well, what does little Harris number three have as a name?” She asked and this made me giggle because she called Elizabeth, Harris number three.
“Her name is Elizabeth Harris, do you want to hold her? Henry can hold her too if he wants.” I told her as I handed Elizabeth off to Catherine and she smiled as she held her. I turned over towards James, James II, and Francis and both of them were still both standing next to James. I just wanted to hold them both in my arms but I knew I couldn’t do that because of how big they’ve gotten over the years.
“Mother is it true that we have a baby sister now?” James II asked me as he struggled to look over his father’s legs and the bed. The fact that he was already nine years old amazed me. It had been almost a decade since he was the size of Elizabeth. In a way, this fact hurt because that meant that it was only seven years since the last time I was pregnant and gave birth. It only felt like yesterday when I found out that James and I were expecting our first child together.
“James I know that your father has already told you that you two now have a baby sister and I know that you two are going to love her, you may not now but as time goes on you two will love her to death,” I told them and I felt James’ hand wrap around my hand. I knew that deep down that all three of them would be close to one another despite the age gap between all of them but I knew that once James II and Francis started to court Ladies, Elizabeth would be there to give them advice and same would be done whenever Elizabeth would be courted by a young man, but I also know that they would be much more protective of her by the time that came. I felt a small nudge at my arm and it took me a moment to realize that it was Catherine giving me back Elizabeth. I took her back into my arms and turned back towards James and Francis. “James do you want to help the hold Elizabeth?” I asked James and he took Elizabeth from my arms and got off the bed and went onto the floor, down on their level. As he helped them hold Elizabeth I knew that this was the start of something new.
⧫ ⧫ ⧫
I sat at my desk surrounded by countless papers some were for work and some were letters saying how sorry they were for the loss of Polly. It hurt too much to read all the letters so I stopped opening them weeks ago. They were just reminders to me that I had lost the love of my life and the mother of my children. I had lost the light of my life, the one thing that had always kept me going in life no matter how hard it ended up getting. As I sat in silence I heard my office door open and it only revealed Polly’s sister Catherine. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her so I kept my eyes down on my desk. “James please.” Catherine pleaded to me as she stood in front of my desk. I wanted her to leave but I couldn’t bring myself to do such a thing. Not now and maybe not ever. Not under either one of our conditions. “James we need you. Your children need you.” A pang of hurt went through me as she brought our children. Our children. They weren’t our children. Polly was gone now, they were just my children now. No more our, before she died, I promised her that I would never remarry anyone because I loved her too much to replace her. I made a plan that I would just have her sister Catherine and my mother help me with Elizabeth as she grew. Poor Elizabeth. She’s only three years old and has already lost her mother and I guess at this point, you could say that she has also lost her father now too.
“Catherine I can’t, you know I can’t. I miss her too much you know that. She was in my life for thirteen years and now I’ve lost her.” As I said this I looked up at her and there were tears streaming down her face. I wanted to hug her but I couldn’t bring myself to move. She looked too much like Polly. No not just Polly, her name was Marry but to me she was Polly.
“James, how do you think I feel about losing her? I had her in my life for twenty-seven years and I lost her too. You don’t realize that you’re not the only one who’s been hurt by this. You’re not the only one going through this loss James. I am, our family is, James is, Francis, Elizabeth is. James wake up, we need you, your children need you right now.” She pleaded to me and I wanted to cry. Not here though, I needed to be alone right now. I needed help. I knew that at the least.
“Catherine please help me. I need help, I need help to come back into my children’s lives, will you do that. Will you help me, Catherine?” I said as I felt a tear slip down my face. I wanted to wipe it away but I knew I needed to embrace my grieving so I could move past it in the end.
“Yes, James I will help you. I’ll help you handle James, Francis, and Elizabeth for as long as I need to. I promise to be there for you James for as long as I need to be.” As Catherine said this she was smiling and started to wipe the tears off of her face. I stood up and walked towards her and I hugged her and let her cry into my shoulder. Here we were two people years ago hated each other but now after thirteen years, and becoming in-laws, we finally stopped hating one another.
“Thank you, Catherine, thank you,” I whispered into her ear and this made her cry even more and this made want to hug her even tighter than before and so I did. I just want to be there for the children and my family. James and Francis need a father and Elizabeth need anyone, in general, to fill in the role of a mother. I knew that I especially need to be there for James and Francis because I knew that they would always remember this because they were already twelve and ten and this would stick with them long into their lives. I needed to be there for Elizabeth the most, I need to fill the role of both parents for her. She needed me as much as I need her and I knew exactly where I need to start.