Susan had not cried when she returned from Narnia the final time. Quite apart from being in a public train station, Susan had first been busy with gently pulling Lucy away so Peter and Edmund could catch their train, and then with consoling Lucy as they sat together on their own train to school. Lucy had buried her face in Susan's shoulder as Susan slipped an arm around her, and Susan had said nothing when the cloth grew damp. She had to be strong for Lucy.
Then Lucy was inconsolable when Susan returned from America and the four of them were together once again. Edmund had to tell the story of traveling to Narnia with Cousin Eustace tagging along -- and, at the end, being told it was their last trip. Eustace could return, but they could not.
Lucy was only ten. How was that too old?
And Lucy felt things so deeply. Susan held her close and rocked her, as she met Peter's eyes above Lucy's head. Peter had a hand on Edmund's shoulder, but Edmund's face was turned away.
"Shh, Lucy, shh, it's all right," Susan whispered into Lucy's hair.
Lucy felt things so deeply. How brave she was to let her heart stay so open. How could Susan protect her?
The years went by, first one year, then two. Then three and four. No magic wardrobes, no enchanted paintings, no unexpected calls from a train station. They stayed in England, and grew up.
But they still talked about Narnia. At first, Susan participated. She had as much to say about Narnia as the others, and as many things she missed. But eventually she started leaving the room when the subject wound its way to Narnia. Talking about it didn't change anything. They were still stuck in England.
Impatience began to curl inside her. Her brothers and sister were wasting their lives, wishing to be back in Narnia. Well, Susan would not. She ignored the tinge of betrayal in their eyes as she left the room before they could draw her into their imaginings about Narnia. She would set an example.
Susan did not expect their gratitude -- no one ever liked taking medicine, no matter how good for one it was -- but neither did she expect their anger. And angry Edmund definitely was when he finally confronted her about it.
Susan had not been able to leave this time before Lucy said, "Do you remember our first trip to the Lone Islands?"
And Susan laughed. She couldn't help it. They wanted to ambush her now, to keep her in childhood fantasy? It was ridiculous.
But Edmund said, "What ever is the matter, Susan?" His voice was deadly calm, the tone he used when trying to pick a fight.
Susan should have just walked away, not given in to that tone, but she knew it wouldn't work. If they were determined to have it out, best to get it over with.
"I can't believe you're still talking about Narnia," she said in her big-sister voice, staying where she was. "You need to grow up!"
"Grow up? What has growing up to do with Narnia?" Peter asked.
She could have said, growing up has everything to do with it. After all, didn't Aslan say we were too old? Aslan wanted us to leave Narnia behind -- well, I have. How are the rest of you doing? But she wanted to show them that she had moved on.
So instead she looked at him with pity, and said, "You're eighteen years old, Peter. Aren't you a little too old for our childhood game?"
"What do you mean 'game'?" Lucy asked plaintively. The wide eyes she turned on Susan asked why Susan was doing this to them, why she wouldn't sit there and let them remain children. Lucy's pain had always called to Susan, but coddling her had never helped, not if Lucy still wanted nothing more than to live in the past.
"Lucy dear, you're really too old to keep playing at this," Susan told her, still using her big-sister-knows-best voice. "Shouldn't you all stop pretending? It was a lovely game when we were children, but now the war is over and we're adults."
"Susan, how can you say such a thing!" Lucy exclaimed, rushing over to Susan's side. She put a hand on Susan's arm and looked up into her eyes, but Susan was determined to remain unmoved. "Don't you remember being a queen?" Lucy pleaded.
Yes, Susan remembered. She remembered suitors vying for her hand, patching up Edmund and Peter when they came home from fighting giants, cautioning Lucy back from one impetuous adventure after another because remember, they were queens now. They had an example to set.
Susan forced a laugh again. "I remember that we pretended to be kings and queens. Really, Lucy, it was a game. Have you ever heard of a country with four monarchs?" She turned away from Lucy to look at the mirror, and watched the disbelief in Peter's face, the betrayal on Edmund's. But Edmund had worn that same expression when she'd taken away his Turkish Delight as a child.
"Yes, Narnia!" Edmund said, in the same tone he'd used as a child when threatening a temper tantrum. As if he were the only reasonable person there. It always drove Susan crazy.
He wasn't the only one with a right to be angry.
"Our fairy tale had four monarchs because there were four of us," Susan said sweetly, watching the reasonable tone hit Edmund even harder. Edmund didn't yell when he got angry, but neither did Susan, except rarely. Anyone could get angry. Being gentle and reasonable was more devastating.
"How do you explain how different I am, then?" he challenged. "Do you remember how beastly I used to be?"
Used to be? Edmund had grown a lot better after Narnia, but when thwarted, he could still slide back into pure meanness, where anyone with a different point of view was doing it just to persecute him.
"Yes, of course, the fresh air and being away from that horrible school did wonders for you," Susan replied pointedly.
Think about that, Edmund. Susan quickly applied her lipstick and surveyed her siblings. Think, she wanted to plead with them, if actually begging wouldn't completely undo her point.
We aren't children anymore. The world is more complicated than just black and white. Am I evil because I disagree?
But Edmund was white-faced and speechless, Lucy's eyes were wide and bright, and Peter couldn't even look at her. Frustration and disappointment settled in her chest, and she left the room quickly before she could say something she would regret.
Edmund couldn't leave it alone. He never could, not when he tormented Lucy about the wardrobe, not when he insisted Prince Rabadash was bad news, and not now.
"--Su, remember when the Bears got into Cair Paravel's blackberry thicket and you didn't want to punish them further, that the best punishment was the bellyache they got?"
"--Su, what about the time those three lords from Archenland were fighting over you and you said you couldn't remember when you'd been put up as the prize for a tournament?"
"--Su, remember how Lucy wanted to sail to Galma with just Mr Tumnus and actually made it halfway there without telling anyone? And when you and I finally caught up to her, you just said it was very selfish of her to take all the adventure for herself?"
He wouldn't leave it alone. He just had to keep scraping at Susan's resolve, like if he just poked deep enough, he'd break through a shell and the younger Susan would come spilling out.
"They were lovely games, Edmund, and of course I enjoyed them while they lasted," she told him, "but we can't grow younger. That's not how it works."
"It has nothing to do with age!" he insisted. "It's about belief!"
When she looked at him again, for a moment she saw her younger brother, wanting her to tell him everything would be all right. "Susan," he said. "You can't mean that."
"Ed, it's part of growing up," she replied softly, speaking to that vulnerable part of him. "We have to let go of childish things, no matter how much we loved them."
"Childish! Narnia wasn't childish--"
"Holding onto it is! Look around you, Edmund. Do you see Narnia? Are we still kings and queens? We're not children anymore!"
In a flash, the vulnerability was gone, replaced by an armor sturdier than any he'd merely worn. She could barely see her brother beneath it.
Susan spent as much time as she could away from the house, away from her siblings and their accusing eyes. Why couldn't they see this was for the best? She was making a life of her own here. They had to do the same.
Then Edmund actually issued an ultimatum. "If you don't pull yourself together and stop this nonsense," he said sharply, "I can't speak to you anymore."
"I think that's my line," she replied coldly. "Well, that's fine. I do have friends who aren't threatened by simple disagreement."
"Oh, do any of them actually disagree with you? I never would have thought. Their company must be so stimulating!"
Susan felt her face grow hot with anger. If being gentle and leading by example got her insulted in every aspect of her life, she was done with it. "We are never going back," she hissed, "and there is no point spending all my time pining for it. At least I have a life!"
She spun on her heel and walked away, too angry to listen to anything else Edmund might say.
If they didn't want to listen to her, fine. They didn't have to. But she was done trying to listen to them.
Then came the annual family party at Uncle Charles's house in Harrow. She couldn't get away from her family there. They were always watching her, even when she spoke to Uncle Charles and Aunt Rose and Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta -- Susan shivered. She wanted nothing more than to get away.
Edmund's gaze was angry and betrayed, but Peter and Lucy's desperation wasn't much better. They wanted her to change, all three of them did. They wanted her to give in and be Susan the Gentle, an identity that had been taken from her five years ago when Aslan said she could never return to Narnia.
She was not Susan the Gentle anymore. She was Susan Pevensie, just Susan. She had to make the most of it.
Their mother called them together for the traditional family portrait, lining them up with the boys in the back and girls in the front. As she moved them where she wanted them, her mother whispered, "I don't care if you're quarreling. You'll work it out. Just put it aside for your uncle's party and smile."
Susan didn't look at her siblings. She stared straight ahead at the camera, and her hands clenched into fists in her lap, her nails digging into her palms. She smiled the smile that had made four princes and seven lords fall in love with her while inside she remained unmoved, the smile that touched her face but not her heart.
Three years later, she found the photograph as she went through her parents' attic in the house in Finchley. The attic was mostly organized, but Susan still had to go through it, to decide what she wanted to keep and what she could give away.
Aunt Alberta sat with her, going through boxes on the other side of the room and constantly chatting about what she found. Susan thought about asking her to be quiet, but she looked at Alberta's own reddened eyes and couldn't find the words.
Actually, Aunt Alberta found the photograph. "Susan, dear, look at this," she said. "Wasn't this the last time all four of you were together?" And she held out the photo as Susan, numbly, took it and looked down.
Uncle Charles's party, the same day Edmund had said he would never speak to her again. A promise he had kept. He never did speak to her properly again.
Edmund's jaw was locked, and Lucy's eyes were bright. Susan's fists were clenched, and Peter's knuckles white. Their smiles were court smiles, polite and empty.
Susan looked up, turning the photo over in her lap. Aunt Alberta patted her hand. "Hard to look at the last time you were all so happy together, isn't it? You keep that photo, Susan, dear. Someday you'll want that memory."
Susan's hands curled in her lap until her nails dug into the palms, but she didn't correct Aunt Alberta. It would do no harm to let the belief stand. Susan just had to, once again, find a way to live her life.