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Will didn't come back the night the argued, not until two in the morning at any rate. Carlotta soon found that any time they disagreed, and sometimes when they didn't, he would disappear to the pub, and come back late smelling like a brewery. He laughed when she told him the dangers of smoking too.

"He'll come around, you know." Fred the bouncer said to her one day, seeing her standing at the edge of the grounds, watching to see if he'd come back.

"I feel like I've lost him even though he's back." Carlotta says, holding back the urge to light up a cigarette after Charlie's warning. "I'm trying not to fight with him, but he keeps smoking in the caravan, and he's drinking an awful lot, and he keeps going on that we should have another baby... I'm sorry, I shouldn't, it's indiscreet."

"He's got the shell shock, lass." Fred says quietly. "Saw it in the Great War."

"What's shell shock?" Carlotta asks, looking over at him.

"Something that happens to soldiers who see a lot of bad things." Fred says. "Watch his hands; he's got the shakes."

"What do I do?" Carlotta asks. "Should I take him to a doctor?"

"Doctors don't know much about it." Fred says. "And he'd probably take offence. Maybe you just need to distract him with good stuff and relax the traditional punishment for drunkenness."

Carlotta smiles slightly. Traditionally, a circus wife would force a drunken husband to sleep under the caravan; something she has threatened but yet to enforce.

"The drinking won't help him."

"No, but the more you argue, the worse that'll get." Fred says. "I'll have a word with him when he's in a good mood if you like?"

"Thanks... he doesn't know you well though, I don't know how he'll take it." Carlotta says.

"Maybe, but... I've had the shell shock." Fred says.

Carlotta looks at him in surprise. Fred has always been a bit of a mystery - he pitched up at the start of the season without being hired, and everyone had assumed he was with someone else. They never really found out his background, except that he wasn't in the war, and he didn't have any circus experience. Great bouncer though, good odd job man, and highly dependable team member.

"Fought in the Great War." Fred continues. "I was only fourteen, but I wanted to do my country proud so I lied about my age. Saw both my brothers die right in front of me..." he swallows hard. "Among other things. I don't really remember getting ill, just that I wasn't thinking right. A lot of that time is a blur now. But one day, I just got so afraid, though there was no attack at the time, I just remember I couldn't stop screaming, and I grabbed a handful of grenades and some guns and barricaded myself in part of the trench..." He glances at Carlotta. "They put me in an institution after that. I lost years."

"Fred... I'm so sorry." Carlotta says. "I had no idea."

"I got better, lass. In the end, they let me out, but I had nowhere to go, so I lived on the street, or tried to get farm work. Not much place in this world for a madman with a small military pension."

"Well, you're one of us now." Carlotta says. "And if it weren't for you, I wouldn't know what Will is behaving so strangely for."

She makes up her mind to be as patient as possible, but she can't help but worry when he once again doesn't come back until the early hours. As he stumbles into bed, they don't exchange a word.

In the morning, she gently pokes his arm, and is surprised when he practically leaps off the bed.


"Gracious, what have you done to yourself?" Carlotta asks, rolling up his sleeve. It's red and inflamed, with black letters.


And then she starts to laugh. She can't help it, she just laughs until she cries. Will cranes his head to look at the tattoo.

"Oh no! What was I thinking?!"

"I assume you meant it to say Molly." Carlotta says, holding her sides. "Oh Will, you are a silly old thing."

Will groans, and then grins; the first proper grin they've had since getting back. Over the other side of the caravan, Molly and Little William have woken and are staring at the adults in surprise.

"Marry me again?" Will says quietly. "Like we planned, in a big church, with all our family there. I was scared that we weren't the same any more and if I asked you again you'd say no."

"Of course I still want you." Carlotta says, stroking his hair gently. "I'm just worried about you. I'll remarry you on one condition."

"What's that?" Will asks, looking worried.

"You'll have to cover up that 'Moley' tattoo down the aisle, even I have my limits."



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Carlotta Francis (nee Brown)

February 2014

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