Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer.
Hey, everyone! I just got home from RARE16 in Edinburgh, which was fabulous.
This is my entry for the Twilight Diversity contest, which ended last week. The premise: At least one of the main characters should be from outside the U.S.
It's set in Denmark during the German WWII occupation and some of the story is inspired by real events.
Thank you so much to my beta, Chayasara, for your constant guidance and insight. I always feel so safe with my words in your capable hands. Thank you to my pre-readers, the organizers of the contest, and the other participants.
"I've brought you fresh supplies, Isabella!"
I watch as my younger sister waltzes in the door, unbidden, and places a wicker basket on my table. I barely look at it.
"Thank you, Rose." My voice is monotone.
She's beautiful. Her blonde hair is perfectly styled, and her makeup is flawless. In her new dress she looks just like Lana Turner. I'm shabby-looking next to the splendor that is she, but I don't mind. I wear my pleated skirt and simple white blouse with pride knowing that I bought them with my own money. Dusting some flour off my apron, I grab a cloth to cover the bread dough I was kneading. The silence between us is heavy, and it weighs on me, making me want to cry, scream, and yell, all at the same time. We used to be so close.
"I brought you real cocoa!" she exclaims suddenly, sitting down at my kitchen table as though this is still her home. "Oh, let's have some. Just like Mother used to make!"
I stare at her, doing my best to remember that this is not the sister I grew up with, the sweet, innocent girl who was always at my side. I hate her. I should hate her. Her big blue eyes plead with me. She's so young, only nineteen.
Rose prattles on while I prepare the hot chocolate, my mouth watering at the smell as I mix dark, rich cocoa with sugar from her basket, stirring it with a little water before adding milk.
I'll throw the rest out when she leaves
Only, I know I won't. I'm too afraid to.
"So will you come?"
I look up.
"To my dinner! All of the officers will be there. Goodness, I'm so nervous, but Reichhardt says it will be perfect with me as the hostess. Isn't that sweet?"
"Sweet," I echo.
"So will you come?"
"I'm sorry, I have too much work."
She rolls her eyes at me.
"You're always working. You'll end up an old maid, you know," she teases, inspecting her red nails, the large diamond ring glinting in the light.
Better an old maid than what you are.
"Honestly, there are so many handsome officers in Reichhardt's company. He really wants you to come!"
I can't stop myself.
"Is that an order?"
She pales, clutching her hands in her lap.
"I know you don't like him," she whispers. "But I love him, and he loves me."
She's half right. She does love him. She loves him with starry-eyed, idol-worshipping naiveté. As for him, I don't know. I know that he wants her enough to have married her, but whether or not a man like that is capable of love goes beyond my comprehension.
My heart softens at the sight of her quivering lips, but my resolve doesn't.
"I know you do," I say, pouring the hot liquid into a cup for her.
It now smells sickly-sweet to me, but I make myself a cup anyway for show, and carry both to the table.
"It won't last forever, you know," she says. "The war will soon be over. I won't be here anymore. He's taking me home to his family then."
I merely nod my head. I don't know who will win the war or when it will happen, but I do know that regardless of the outcome, Rose is no longer welcome in this town. People are too afraid to say anything to her face, but they talk about her behind her back, calling her all sorts of names. I'm so thankful that Mother isn't here to see what her youngest has become. If only Father had been spared too. Pain grips my heart. The grief I feel for him is too new, too raw. It's only been three months.
"How can you love a man like him?" I ask, gripping the cup tightly between my hands. "How can you live in that house?"
Rose startles at the tone of my voice, the barely contained anger I can't conceal.
"You're living in Hannah's house!"
"They left. You know that."
"It's not like they went on vacation, Rose!" I shout. "They fled! She was your friend, too, and now you're living in her house, eating from her plates, sleeping in her parents' bed!"
The walls seem to echo my outburst in the silence that follows, and I know I've said too much. I miss Hannah, and I'm so glad she's safe. Our government acted wisely. They saw what happened in the countries around us and warned the Jewish citizens. Most of them were sailed to safety before the Nazis came for them.
"I should go," Rose whispers, standing slowly as she straightens the front of her dress.
I stand too, trying to will my hands to stop shaking. At the door she turns to face me again.
"This is the way it is now."
"I know," I murmur.
"Maybe it's better if you don't come to the dinner party," she adds.
I nod my head.
"But I'll come back next week."
It sounds like a question. I want to say no. I want to tell her I never want to see her again, but I don't, and it's not just because I'm afraid of her husband. Despite everything, I still love my sister, and I wonder if there is anything she could do that would change that.
"All right," I whisper. "I'll see you next week."
She smiles and the next thing I know, she's out the door, leaving me feeling weak and shaken in her wake.
I awaken to the sound of pounding on my kitchen door, and my heart jumps into my throat.
They're here! They've come for me now!
There's no escape. Where would I run to? The pounding continues as I make my way downstairs, turning on the light in the kitchen. It's barely light outside.
I want to be brave, to face them head on and show no fear, but my voice trembles as I reach the door.
"W-Who is it?"
"Isabella, it's me. Open up. Hurry!"
Relief floods through me for a second as I recognize my cousin's voice, only to disappear as quickly as it came. I unlock the door with frantic movements, shivering against the night's cold outside.
"Michael! What's happened?"
He squints against the light behind me.
"Isabella, we need your help."
"We who?" I whisper, drawing my arms around my middle.
He seems to deliberate for a moment before meeting my eyes again.
Feelings of pride as well as apprehension flood through me in equal measure. My cousin has always been brave, so I'm not at all surprised he'd be working against our invaders, but if they catch him . . .
"What do you need?"
His face relaxes with relief.
"Remember the plane crash two weeks ago a few counties over?"
"Well, there was a survivor, an English pilot. We have him now."
Michael draws a deep breath.
"We're getting him out of the country. But . . . it'll take some time, and . . . we need somewhere to hide him until then."
"We don't think they'd come looking here, you see."
"Because of my sister," I whisper.
He spits on the ground.
"Yes," he admits. "But that's not the only reason. Your English is good, and you know about taking care of sick people."
"Nothing some good food and rest won't cure. His shoulder was dislocated, but we managed to put it right again."
He looks straight at me.
"I know what I'm asking here, Isabella. And I won't think any less of you if you say no."
If they catch him here, he'll die. As for me? I don't know. Jail, for certain, maybe even death for harboring their enemy. Their enemy. My friend.
"I'll do it."
"Thank you. We'll get him out as soon as we can. Hopefully, we'll get word to London tomorrow and go from there."
"So, where is he?"
Michael lifts his right arm and points his thumb over his shoulder.
"He's here now?"
"In the back of the truck."
"Well, bring him inside! Jesus, Michael, what if a patrol had stopped you?"
"I think they're all otherwise occupied down at the train station tonight," he chuckles.
"Oh, God. I don't want to know."
"Good. The less you know, the better. I'll go get him."
"Could you turn around while we carry him in?"
"It's better if you don't know who else is involved. It's not that I don't trust you, but it's better—
just in case."
He's right. If I get caught, they'll interrogate me.
"But what about you?" I whisper. "I know you're involved."
"I don't have children. And I don't plan on being taken alive if it comes to that."
He pulls his jacket aside, showing me the end of a gun sticking out of his pants.
"Might even be able to take a few of them with me," he adds with a grin.
"Don't joke about that," I scold. "Your parents would be devastated. I would be devastated."
"I'll be careful. Now, where should we put him?"
Not in Rose's old room. I haven't been able to go in there since the night Father died. I've moved into my parents' room, but it has the largest bed, so it should go to the pilot.
"My parents' bedroom."
I turn my back to the door, and after a few minutes, I hear some commotion behind me, followed by retreating footsteps. After a little while, I sense a few people behind me again and then feel Michael's hand on my shoulder. I turn around to face him.
"Thank you, Isabella," he says sincerely. "I promise, we'll hurry."
"Go now. And be careful, please."
He takes my hand and holds it for a second. "You too."
After he leaves, I lock the door behind him, listening as the truck drives away. My eyes drift to the stairs. There's a stranger in my bed right now. How surreal.
I walk upstairs, tiptoeing into the darkened room. The first thing I notice is a pair of large muddy boots, now staining my clean sheets, and a pair of long legs encased in torn, brown pants. He's wearing a uniform jacket, also dirty and torn. There's a gun strapped to his side, and his left arm is in a sling. His eyes are closed, and he's breathing regularly, snoring a little. I wonder how long he was out there before the Resistance found him. His cheeks look a bit hollow even underneath the heavy scruff on his face. He's young. In his mid-twenties, like me perhaps?
I certainly won't get any more sleep tonight, so I decide to make the most of it. He'll be hungry when he wakes up, and he'll need to be bathed and changed into fresh clothes. Some of his scrapes and scratches look like they could use a good cleaning. Back in the kitchen, I put some water on to boil and start assembling a big breakfast. Then I head back upstairs and take a seat next to the bed, staring at the wounded pilot. I'll have to hide him somewhere else once he's a little better. The barn perhaps? No one would think to look there, surely.
As the sun rises, he begins to stir, mumbling in his sleep. Suddenly, he starts awake, sitting up on the bed, his hand immediately gripping his gun as his eyes dart around the room. He notices me, staring at me with wide eyes, his chest rising and falling rapidly.
"Who are you?" he demands. "Where am I?"
"I'm . . ." I draw a deep breath, trying to find the right words. It's been a while since I spoke English. "I'm Isabella. You're safe here."
"This is my house. I'm on your side. I swear."
His hand unclenches the gun, and he lets out a shuddering exhalation.
"I don't remember being brought here."
"They, uh, they brought you here a few hours ago. You were . . ."
I don't remember the right word.
"Unconscious?" He says.
I smile, nodding.
"Yes, unconscious. I'm to keep you unfound until they can get you out."
"Unfound?" His lips curve upward. "Hidden."
"Hidden. I'm sorry, my English is not . . ."
I shrug, feeling self-conscious, and not just because of my language skills. He's staring at me. I lower my eyes and realize I'm wearing only my nightdress, and my bare arms are showing as well as a good part of my upper chest.
"Don't apologize," he says softly. "I'm being terribly rude."
I look up at him. His eyes are on my face now, thankfully. They're nice eyes. Green.
"I'm Lieutenant Edward Masen, Royal Air Force."
"Isabella Svane, school teacher," I reply. "I used to be, at least."
He nods, closing his eyes for a moment.
"Lie down," I coax. "I'll get breakfast. You're hungry?"
"I can do something about that," I say standing up. "Stay here."
When I come back up carrying a heavy tray, he's moving around the bed, by the looks of it trying to remove his boots using his good arm.
I place the tray on the bedside table and carefully unlace his boots before pulling them off, one at a time. Lieutenant Masen grimaces.
"You shouldn't have to do that. I . . . Christ, I smell. And I made a mess on your bed."
"It's all right."
I fluff the pillows up against the headboard.
I place the tray on his lap, startled at the speed with which he starts shoving food into his mouth, using both of his large hands. He stops mid-bite, looking up at me before swallowing.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles, color spreading across his cheeks. "It wasn't easy finding food out there."
"Nearly two weeks, hiding by day, running at night. I . . . I was sure I'd be caught, killed, made an example of . . . I'd never go home again."
He pauses, his eyes glinting with moisture before he looks down, clearing his throat.
"You're safe now," I whisper, hesitating for a moment before reaching out to touch his hand. "I'll take care of you."
He nods, still not meeting my eyes. I understand that he's embarrassed.
"I'll be right back," I say, leaving the room so he can compose himself.
In the kitchen, I look through Rose's basket and smile as I come across a bag of tea. Armed with a pot, as well as a mug, milk, and sugar I go back upstairs. Lieutenant Masen is eating again, more slowly, and gives me a quick glance as I take my seat next to the bed. I pour him a mug.
"Do you use milk and sugar?"
"Is that real tea? Yes, please!"
He takes a large sip and I'm happy I added plenty of milk so he doesn't burn his mouth.
"My God," he groans. "I didn't think you could get hold of this anymore."
He's right. Tea, coffee, sugar, cocoa and other imported goods are now heavily rationed because of the war and have been since it broke out. Apparently, that doesn't apply to Rose and her husband.
"Thank you so much," he says, smiling at me. "It's like a taste of home before the world went to shit."
"Jesus," he whispers, shaking his head. "I apologize. It's been a long time since I've . . . been around a lady. Please, don't tell your husband. I meant no disrespect, I swear."
"I, uh, I'm not married."
"Oh, I just assumed."
He sweeps his hand through the air, looking around the bedroom.
"This was my parents' room. I use it now."
"Are they . . ."
"They've passed," I whisper.
I nod my head in thanks.
"You should eat before it gets cold. I'll come up to get the tray when you've finished," I tell him, rising from the chair.
"You don't have to go," he says quickly. "Have I offended you?"
"No, I need to start the day. It's my farm now, and there's work to be done, but I'll be back in a little while."
I leave him with his breakfast and tea and dress in my work clothes before heading out. The animals get fed and tended to before I take my breakfast. That was how my parents did it, and that's how I do it. An hour later, I'm back in the kitchen, carrying several bottles of fresh milk and half a dozen eggs. Things may be rationed now, but I'll never starve with such good animals in my care.
After I've washed the smell of the stable off me, I have a quick meal and head back upstairs. Lieutenant Masen sits up straight at the sight of me, a look of distress in his eyes.
"I need the, uh, the outhouse."
"I'm so sorry," I exclaim, rushing to his side to help him out of bed.
He leans heavily on me, but I'm stronger than I look, and we make it to the hallway easily enough.
"It's just here. I have an indoor bathroom," I tell him, unable to keep the pride out of my voice.
"That certainly makes things easier," he chuckles. "I can manage from here. Thank you."
"There's a new toothbrush you can use," I add before I leave him.
While he's occupied, I quickly change the muddy sheet and open the window to let some fresh air in. Looking out over my property, I'm entirely grateful for its somewhat remote location. The main road is more than a kilometer away, at the end of the dirt road, and I can easily see if someone is coming this way. We should be safe out here.
I turn when Lt. Masen comes back into the bedroom, noticing that he's washed his hands and face as well as removed his jacket. His gun is still strapped to his side. He looks as though he's ready to keel over, his body and mind exhausted after his ordeal, and I offer him my shoulder as I help him back into bed.
"Just rest," I tell him, reaching for the tray.
I startle a little when he grabs my hand, and he loosens his hold immediately, stroking it gently instead. His touch creates a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Why are you doing this for me?" he whispers, watching me intently. "Helping me."
"No, they wouldn't."
"It's what's right to do. It's . . . it's what my father would have done."
He nods, leaning back as he slowly releases my hand. I take the tray and walk back downstairs to clean up. I know what I'm doing is incredibly dangerous, but I don't regret it. My parents would be proud of me, of that I'm certain.
I check on Lt. Masen several times throughout the day, each time smiling at the sight of his sleeping form and relaxed facial features. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him out there all alone, never knowing if the next person he meets is an enemy or ally. He must have been so scared. Once dinner is in the oven, I make my way back upstairs with hot water, soap, towels, and some bandages. He's awake this time, and I help him to the bathroom before looking through my parents' closets for something for him to wear. He's tall, just as my father was, so everything should fit quite well. Once he's situated on the bed again I carry the basin over to the nightstand.
"You, uh, need cleaning?"
"I'd say that's an understatement," he chuckles.
I observe him for a moment, trying not to let him see how nervous I am.
"You should . . . remove your shirt."
He glances at me for a moment.
He's able to unbutton it one-handed, but I have to help him take off the shirt, as well as the sling and the gun holster before his undershirt follows. The only thing he keeps on is a leather cord with two discs on it, one red and one green, which rest against the middle of his chest. I swallow hard at the sight of him, quickly turning to the basin where I wring out a rag. He closes his eyes as I begin sweeping it across his face and neck, hesitating for a second before I wash his chest, being mindful of his wounded shoulder.
"Can you sit up?"
I wash his back and under his arms.
"I really do apologize for the way I smell," he says.
"I work in the stable every day."
He lets out a laugh.
"Am I that bad?"
His eyes sparkle with mirth as I look up at him, and I realize how close we're sitting.
"No, I . . . no," I whisper, caught in his gaze.
The look in his eyes changes slowly as his breathing increases. Suddenly, he leans forward, pressing his lips to mine. For a few seconds we're frozen like that. Then, Lt. Masen exhales, bringing his hand up to cup my cheek and kissing me again. My heart sputters in my chest, and I remember how to breathe again. We shouldn't be doing this. A soft groan escapes him as he moves his hand down my neck and strokes my hair before settling it on my lower back where he uses it to pull me closer, pressing me against his naked chest. He feels good—warm and solid and alive. It's been so long since I've felt anything besides grief and worry. Tilting my head, I respond to the gentle nudges of his lips and part mine, letting out an involuntary sigh at the feel of his tongue caressing mine. Tentatively, I kiss him back, dropping the rag in my hands and running them up his arms, noticing how firm and strong they are, how smooth his skin is. I've never touched a man before, and I tremble when he moves his hand from my waist, bringing it up to cup my breast. Gasping, I pull back, breaking the kiss. We shouldn't be doing this. His eyes are large and dark and confused as we stare at each other for a second before I quickly scramble off the bed, grabbing the basin.
"Dinner is almost ready," I mumble, making a beeline for the hallway.
"I'm sorry!" he calls out. "Please, I didn't—"
Right outside the door, I lean against the wall, trying to catch by breath while I listen to Lt. Masen scold himself, using curse words I've never heard before. Why did I let him kiss me?
Why did I stop him?
I still taste him on my lips, on my breath. I liked it, even his wandering hand. Exhaling, I make it downstairs to the kitchen, shaking my head at my own foolishness. I've known this man for less than a day, and he'll be gone soon.
After I've put together a dinner tray, I walk back upstairs, feeling weak and lightheaded. He's sitting up in bed, and I place the tray on the nightstand while I avoid looking directly at him. The moment it's out of my hands, I sense him reaching for me, and I recoil quickly.
"Please, I won't hurt you." He rushes out his words, pulling back.
I finally look at him, seeing nothing threatening or malicious in his expression.
"I'd never . . ." he trails off.
I take a seat on the bed, making sure to keep a bit of distance between us.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
He does look sorry, but he also looks like he wants to kiss me again.
"I didn't mean to . . . to take advantage. You're so beautiful and kind, and . . . I never thought I'd . . . There, um . . ."
He clears his throat.
"There weren't any women at the base, you see. It's been so long since I even saw a girl, a woman, up close. And then you touched me, and I wanted . . . "
He looks down, shaking his head.
"I . . . I do know about loneliness," I whisper. "Wanting . . . closeness."
He raises his head.
"You aren't angry with me?"
"No. You, uh, surprised me."
My cheeks grow warm.
"I shouldn't have . . . pawed at you like that," he says, moving a bit closer.
I don't know that expression, but I guess he's referring to how he touched me during the kiss. I glance at him, feeling shy.
"I've never . . ."
He moves even closer, gently placing his hand on top of mine.
"So, you're not engaged?"
I shake my head, feeling myself getting lost in his eyes again.
"You have a, uh, a steady fellow?"
"You're so sweet . . . brave too . . . kind and beautiful. Why don't you have a fellow?"
"My father died three months ago," I whisper. "My mother the year before that. When she became ill, I gave my resignation and moved back home to take care of her. There was no time for socializing."
"I'm so sorry," he says softly, turning my hand to lace our fingers together.
I nod my head, enjoying the feel of him so close to me.
"Before that I was in school, and no one ever seemed to notice me much when my sister Rose was next to me."
I'm not jealous of Rose, and I know she never meant to take the spotlight, so to speak. People can't help but feel drawn to her vivaciousness and beauty.
"She's the beautiful one," I finish, giving Lt. Masen a quick smile.
"I have trouble believing that."
"You've never even seen her."
"No," he murmurs, leaning in to run the tip of his nose up my neck, "but I've seen you."
I shiver in response when he kisses underneath my ear and across my jaw toward my mouth.
"Do you want me to stop?" he whispers.
He pulls back immediately.
"But only because I want you to eat your dinner," I add, giving him a smile.
He breaks into a grin, giving me a salute.
I stand and lift the tray toward him.
"Are you not eating?" he asks, a look of concern on his handsome face.
"Yes. If you're well enough . . . would you like to join me in the kitchen?"
"I'd like that. I feel much better already."
"Give me a minute." I tilt my head toward the pile on the chair "There's some clothes there you can wear if you want."
Downstairs, I set up dinner for two and then head back up where I help him button his shirt and pants, doing my best not to blush. He leans a bit on my arm on the way down the stairs, but he's definitely getting his strength back.
He sits in my father's chair, and I take my seat across from him, folding my hands.
"Will you say the, uh, the table prayer?" I ask, unable to remember the English term.
"Thanking God before we eat."
"Saying grace. I'll admit it's been a while." He clears his throat. "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen."
I smile at him and quickly stand to serve him.
"You don't have to," he says, as I start loading food onto his plate.
"I don't mind - truly."
I can tell that he's hungry, but he does his best to eat slowly in front of me, complimenting everything he tastes. We don't talk very much, but that's all right. I'd almost gotten used to eating alone. This is better.
"That was amazing." He sighs, patting his flat stomach. "I can't remember the last time I had a meal like that."
"Thank you. My mother taught me how to cook."
He nods, fidgeting a bit.
"Is something wrong?"
"Nah, I took up smoking when I joined, and I ran out of cigarettes days ago. After a delicious meal, well . . . "
"I have some. You're welcome to them."
His face lights up.
I go to one of the cupboards, where I keep most of the things Rose brings me, retrieving the packet. Why she chose to include it, I don't know. Perhaps she thought I'd give it to Michael or his father.
"Here," I say, placing it in front of him.
"Where did you get these?" He looks up at me, eyes narrowed. "They're German."
"Then how? I know you aren't working for them."
"No, of course not. I would never . . ."
Sighing, I take my seat again, watching as he fidgets with the packet, spinning it on the table.
"My sister, Rose, brought me them."
"The supposedly beautiful sister?" he asks, looking a lot less severe.
I laugh through my nose.
"Yes, that's the one. I don't ask her, but she keeps bringing me things."
"I don't know. She feels guilty, I think."
I look at him, drawing a deep breath.
"She's . . . married . . . to one of them—an officer. She's—"
"A traitor," he interrupts.
"A naïve, young girl who falls in love too easily!" I exclaim, standing up. "He . . . seduced her! With gifts, a charming smile, and promises of a fairytale life together. He stole her away from her family! My sister is not a bad person!"
Angrily, I dash away hot tears and grab the nearest plates, wanting to throw them across the room. Naturally, I don't. I settle for banging them around as I start doing the dishes, my back turned to him. I feel him approach me, carrying his own plate and setting it down next to the sink.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs. "I shouldn't have said that."
He lifts his hand, hesitates, and then places it on my shoulder.
"I hate what she's done," I whisper. "But I can't hate her."
I turn my head to look at Lt. Masen.
"It killed our father . . . when she married him. I found him the next morning in Rose's room, kneeling over her bed, cold and pale. And still . . . I can't hate her—even though I probably should. But she didn't do this to hurt anyone. She doesn't share his beliefs. She just fell in love."
I shrug my shoulders helplessly, feeling my eyes well up again. He moves closer, brushing away my tears before palming my cheek.
"Edward. I think we're a bit past formality."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"What were you going to say?"
I look up at him.
"I don't know. Just your name, I think."
He smiles, stroking my cheek.
"Let me help you with the dishes."
We work next to each other. I wash and he dries as well as he can using just one hand, and it doesn't take long before we're done.
"I have to go take care of the animals," I say, drying my hands.
"May I come with you?"
I nod my head, showing him outside. He looks around at the buildings.
"This is much bigger than I thought. How do you manage it all?"
"I just have a few animals now. The fields are all rented out to my family. Look."
I point my finger toward a faint light in the distance.
"My father's brother's family lives there. You've met my cousin Michael."
"Yes, of course. I guess bravery is a family trait."
"We're just doing what's right. Just like you are."
"What's that building?" he asks, nodding his head toward the one with a little light in its windows.
"The barn. I, uh, I actually left the light on for you."
"I had planned on hiding you there, now that you're already better, but . . . "
"But?" he asks softly.
"I like having you in the house with me," I admit. "I don't think it's that much safer in the barn, but if you'd prefer it—"
"I'd like to be in the house with you," he says immediately. "I, uh, I'd rather not be alone."
He smiles, drawing a deep breath.
"It's peaceful out here."
"It is. I can't imagine living in the city again. I mean, I was happy being a teacher, but this is home."
I turn to him.
"Where is home for you?"
"Ketterington in Northamptonshire, I suppose."
"I was born and raised there. But my folks are gone now. Been on my own since I was seventeen."
"I'm so sorry."
He shrugs, but accepts my hand when I reach for his.
"What did you do . . . you know, before the world turned to . . . well, what you said earlier?"
He laughs, giving my hand a squeeze.
"I have terrible language."
"It's all right."
"I worked in a boot factory," he says, grinning at me. "Not exactly glamorous work, but it paid the bills. When the war broke out, I enlisted at RAF Grafton Underwood, just a few kilometers outside town, and I started wearing the boots instead of making them."
He sighs, reaching into his pocket and fishing out the cigarettes.
"I shouldn't take anything of theirs, but . . ."
"You already drank the tea, so . . ."
He chuckles, opening the pack.
"Fair point. Do you smoke?"
"Sometimes, just at parties and such."
"Parties, eh? Tell me about that."
He lights a cigarette and hands it to me before getting one of his own going. I take a careful drag.
"The parties? There isn't that much to tell. It was before the war, of course. I was still in school."
"Did you dance?"
"When someone asked me to."
"I can't imagine you as a wallflower."
"Someone who stands by the wall while everyone else is dancing," he explains.
"Oh." I smile. "Well, I suppose I did dance quite a bit."
"I knew it." He grins at me. "I would have asked you for every dance."
I look down to hide my blush.
"And what about you? Any good parties in Kettering?"
"I wouldn't know."
"I was something of a pipsqueak back then. The RAF made a man out of me." He laughs, flexing his bicep.
"You were small?"
"Tall but skinny. Awkward. Pimply, too."
"I can't imagine."
"A lot can happen in four years."
"It certainly can. It's been almost four years to the day since they came here. Sometimes, I wonder if this war will ever end."
Edward stubs out his cigarette and puts his arm around me.
"It will end one day," he says. "We'll win."
"How do you know?"
"We're better than them."
I look up at him, and he shoots me a cocky grin. I can't help but smile in return.
"I believe you."
"Good." He gives my shoulder a squeeze. "Show me these animals of yours. I've never been on a real farm before. Put me to work."
Now it's my turn to grin.
"We have two cows that need milking, a job for those wandering hands of yours."
Edward's mouth drops open, and his ears turn red. He's still laughing when I lead him into the stable to take care of things before calling it a day. Certainly the strangest day I've ever had, but in some ways also the most wonderful.
Before bed, I take a bath and wash my hair. Most women have shoulder-length hair now, but I've kept mine unfashionably long. During the day I either braid it or pin it, but at night when I let it out, it comes all the way down to my lower back. I spend a long time combing it out until it's almost dry, thinking of when Rose and I used to do each other's hair and how different everything is now. She's a married woman, and I'm her spinster sister who's harboring a sworn enemy of her husband.
I look in on Edward, who's already in bed, sitting up against the headboard.
"Do you need anything?" I ask, doing my best to keep my eyes on his face and not his naked chest.
He holds out his hand.
I approach him slowly, taking his hand in mine, letting him pull me down so I'm sitting on the edge of the bed.
"W-what do you need?"
"You," he whispers. "I need you."
He runs his hand down the length of my hair, watching me. His eyes appear dark in the dimly lit room, and the look in them makes me shiver.
"I know this is . . . completely inappropriate," he murmurs. "I shouldn't . . . and you deserve . . ."
He draws a ragged breath, cradling the back of my neck.
"But all I can think about is kissing you again."
He leans forward, applying gentle pressure to tilt my head before capturing my lips with his. I don't fight his advances. I want this too. His kisses make me feel lightheaded, and before I know it, I'm on my back with him hovering above me.
"Be . . . be careful with your shoulder," I gasp, as his lips trail down my neck, nipping at my sensitive skin.
"Believe me," he pants, "I don't feel any pain right now."
He kisses my mouth again, moaning as I grant him access to mine.
"Stay with me tonight," he pleads, gazing into my eyes.
"W-what will happen?" I stutter, my heart fluttering with nerves.
He caresses my face with a gentle touch, seemingly fascinated by my features.
"You decide. I . . . I don't want you to regret it. We can do whatever you like. I already know I'll like it."
His grin has a hint of shyness to it.
"I don't know. I haven't done . . . anything," I confess.
"Neither have I."
I stare at him, incredulous. He chuckles, hiding his face for a moment.
"It's . . . embarrassing . . . for a lad, you see. Being . . . inexperienced."
"I never would have guessed that you hadn't—"
"It wasn't for lack of trying on my part." He laughs softly. "But . . . pipsqueak, remember?"
"But surely you had . . . opportunities after you became a pilot?" I ask, feeling embarrassed about being so candid. "You're handsome and . . . well, the uniform."
"You like my uniform, eh?" he teases, dipping to run the tip of his nose from my chest to my jaw, inhaling the scent of my soap.
My face is crimson by the time he looks at me again.
"There were some women that you could, er, visit with . . . whenever we had a break from training. But it wasn't . . . it, uh, it cost money to . . ."
"Some of my friends went," he says. "But I didn't want . . . I mean, I wanted, but . . . not like that."
He gives me a shy look.
"I'd like to kiss you and . . . maybe touch you, if you'll let me?"
I'm too nervous to speak, so I nod my head, conscious of the way my heart is hammering in my chest.
"Don't be afraid," he whispers against my lips.
"Can I take this off?" He touches the knot holding my bathrobe closed.
Without the sling, he's a lot more dexterous, and it takes less than a minute before his eyes are roaming over me, dressed only in a white, sleeveless nightgown.
"You're so beautiful."
He stretches out next to me, pushing down the covers with his feet.
I let out a squeak and cover my eyes. He's naked!
"Oh my God," I whisper.
He laughs, taking my hands away from my eyes.
"I'm sorry. Living with men for so long . . . you don't really bother much with modesty. And you didn't provide me with any clean underwear."
"I-I forgot. I didn't realize . . . I feel stupid."
"Hey," he says softly, kissing the backs of my hands, "you are not. I'm a brute, Isabella. You deserve so much better than this."
Disappointment stabs at me.
"Does that mean you don't want to anymore?"
"Hell, no. I just want you to know that in a different time and place, I would have courted you properly, been your steady fellow, and brought you flowers before ever daring to steal a kiss."
"That . . . would have been lovely."
But dreams like that are pointless. This is how the world is now, as Rose said, and maybe this is the only night I'll ever have with Edward. They could come for him tomorrow, and even if that doesn't happen, Michael and the Resistance are working on getting him out of the country. Regardless, he'll be gone soon. The thought makes me sadder than I care to admit to myself. Instead of dwelling on what will never be, I decide to simply enjoy this night.
"Can I touch you too?" I whisper.
"You never have to ask."
I lower my eyes to his body, taking him in. He bathed earlier and dressed his scrapes and cuts himself, and I can tell he's lost some weight, but to my eyes, he's perfect. He sighs as I run my hand across his chest, feeling the slight tickle of hair there before I trace the planes of his abdomen. I hesitate when I reach his navel, moving my hand back and forth instead of going lower.
"Please," Edward exhales, tangling his hand in my hair. "Kiss me."
He lifts my face up, crashing his lips against mine in a searing kiss. I feel his other hand on mine, nudging it lower until I'm where he needs me. In gasped whispers, he teaches me how to touch him, to stroke him, until he cries out, spilling his seed on our joined hands. The whole thing was over so quickly, a fact that seems to embarrass him afterward though I don't fully understand why.
"It's . . . been a while," he says after he's caught his breath and cleaned off our hands. "I'm sorry."
I shake my head, hoping he knows I don't care about that. Then, another thing occurs to me.
"You . . . do this to yourself?"
He looks at me, surprised.
"Well, yes. I gather most men do if . . . if they don't have, er, intercourse."
"Oh. I had no notion."
He rolls toward me, gathering me into his embrace.
"That's because you're a sweet, inexperienced girl. And here I am corrupting you."
Oddly, he looks both embarrassed and proud of the fact. Men are strange.
"I liked it," I whisper. "Touching you, making you . . . feel."
"I liked it too. And now I want to make you feel."
"L-like you? Can women really . . .?"
"I think so. I'd certainly enjoy finding out."
He smiles at me, questioning me with his eyes.
His kisses are slower now, more restrained, and I relax into the mattress enjoying his lips on mine. He strokes my bare arms, my hair, and my back. It feels so wonderful to be touched. I'm not as surprised this time when he makes a pass over my chest, palming my breast before caressing my stomach and then moving back to my hair. He does this several times before I feel him gently tugging on the straps of my nightgown, pulling them down until I'm exposed to him.
"God, you're perfect," he whispers, gently caressing me. "So soft."
He kisses me again, using his fingers to tease my nipples into hard peaks before lowering his head to my chest. I gasp when I feel his mouth on me and then his tongue. My body starts to move on its own, and I can't stop myself from rubbing my thighs together, trying to quell the strange sensation between my legs. I feel his hand on my leg, slowly sliding my nightgown up.
"I want to touch you," he moans.
"Yes. Yes, please."
Running my fingers through his short hair, I let him nudge my legs open and hold onto his shoulders as his fingers slide into my underwear, gently exploring me. His touches are a little fumbling at first, but oh, so good.
"Edward!" I cry out, unable to keep quiet as he focuses on one particular spot.
"Do you like it?"
His voice is hoarse.
He kisses me again, stroking my tongue with his, and then I feel one of his fingers sliding into me, quickly followed by another.
"Fuck," he groans. "You feel so good. God, I want to . . ."
It feels so good I can hardly stand it. Everything. His fingers and how they touch me, his lips on my breasts, his breath on my skin. It builds and builds until it bursts free, and I feel myself clenching around his fingers, calling out words I'm too distracted to even notice. I'm barely aware of Edward pushing my nightgown and underwear down until he lifts my legs to get them all the way off. Now I'm as naked as he is. He crawls up my body, gathering me into his arms, pressing us together. I feel weakened and emotional after so much sensation and can't help but tear up.
"I-I won't," he stutters, palming my cheek. "I just want to feel you."
I nod my head, sniffing a little before I wrap my arms around him and bury my face in the crook of his neck. I calm at the sound of his breathing and the gentle way he strokes my naked back. I feel safe with him.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I'm not upset. It was just . . . a lot."
"Did you like it?"
I nod against him. He lets out a long breath.
"So did I. I never imagined . . . but women definitely can too."
I laugh, nodding again. After a little while, I feel him pulling the covers up around us. I should put my nightgown back on, but I'm too tired to move.
"Isabella . . ."
Warm hands roam across my body, and lips caress my neck and ear as I feel something hard pressed against my backside.
"I want you . . ."
I blush, returning my attention to the eggs I'm frying and not on what happened last night when Edward woke me up after just a few hours of sleep. The surrounding darkness and the veil of sleep around me made me forget my inhibitions, and I arched into his touches like a cat in the sun. I can almost still feel him between my legs, sliding against my wetness from behind, so close to being inside me. I wanted him to in that moment, to take me completely. Instead, he stroked me with his fingers while he thrust between my inner thighs, finishing on me and not in me. In the light of day, I'm happy about that fact, that he cares enough not to get me with child.
I look up, giving Edward a shy smile.
"How long ago have you been up?" he asks.
"Hours," I whisper. "I've already been to the stables."
He reaches out to touch my cheek, making me look up at him.
"Last night. Did I . . . was it . . . ?"
"It was perfect."
He relaxes visibly, his shoulders dropping several centimeters.
"Perfect, huh?" He grins, leaning down to kiss me. "I can live with perfect."
I serve both of us breakfast, smiling the whole time.
"What are you doing today?" he asks in between bites.
"I should go into town. That's what I'd normally do on a Saturday."
"Good idea. Keep to your regular routine."
"Is there anything you need me to do? I'd like to be helpful if I can."
He doesn't have his sling on anymore and is looking well-rested.
"You should stay inside just in case someone comes by," I caution. "But . . . the, uh, the thing where the water comes out of . . ."
"Yes, thank you. The faucet in the bathroom is dripping. Do you know how to repair that? I keep meaning to ask Michael for his help, but I forget. "
"Say no more. I'm your man."
I stare at him as he drinks his tea, talking about nothing in particular while he smiles at me. In another life, he could have been my man.
I ride my bicycle into town just before noon, enjoying the sun and the gentle breeze. On days like these, it's easy to forget there's a war going on. Of course, I'm reminded of the fact the moment I enter town and see the banners everywhere: Red and white with a black menacing symbol in the middle, like a spider that's here to ensnare us and kill us slowly. I get some necessities at the store, like brown thread to mend the tears in Edward's uniform, and share pleasantries with a few people, doing my best to act like it's a normal day before heading back to the town hall where I had parked my bicycle.
I hear them before I see them, calling out to me in German. I pretend not to hear them and walk faster.
"Where are you going?" one of them asks, blocking my path.
"Just home. Please let me pass."
"What's your name?" the other one asks, moving closer to me. "Come have lunch with us."
"No, thank you. I have to get home."
"Where do you live? We'll drive you."
I look at the two of them in their green uniforms with that ugly symbol on their armband. Why any girl would go with them is a mystery to me.
"No, let me pass," I say with a bit more force, trying to push past them.
"Now, now," the first one scolds, putting his hands on me to hold me back. "Perhaps we'll just take you to the barracks with us."
I stomp on the foot of the one who's holding me and push the other one away, using all of my strength. It gives me a thrill when I see him stumble. I may be small, but I'm strong. I crouch slightly as they approach me again, ready to fight if I must.
They stop immediately, recognizing a voice of authority just like a dog recognizes its master.
"Commandant!" they say, saluting him.
"I'll ask you to kindly unhand my sister-in-law."
I manage to get out from between them, standing face to face with my sister's husband. He looks me over, a smirk in place, and I realize he didn't come to my rescue out of concern. This is a demonstration of power. The soldiers are falling over themselves apologizing—not to me, but to their commandant. He dismisses them with a wave, and they quickly walk off.
"Now, what was all that about?" Reichhardt asks.
"I don't know," I mumble, gathering my jacket around me tightly. "I was just going home."
"Rose tells me you can't come to her dinner. That's rather disappointing, I must say."
"I-I have too much work."
"It really is too big of a place for a lone woman," he says. "Perhaps I should send a few men to help you out. We are family, after all."
His smile chills me like ice.
"No, thank you," I reply as courteously as I can. "My father's family helps me. Besides, I'm sure your men have more important tasks to attend to . . . when they aren't accosting women in the street."
He narrows his eyes at me.
"I will have a talk with them about that. There's no need for them to do that. After all, there are plenty of women here who are happy to keep them company."
"Yes, plenty for them to do," he continues. "We're close to finding out who's been blowing up our trains." He clucks his tongue and shakes his head. "How silly to think it would make any sort of difference in the grand scheme of things. It speaks volumes about this peasant country, although . . ."
He moves closer to me, lifting up my chin.
"There are treasures here to be sure."
It takes every ounce of restraint I have not to spit in his face.
"You're almost as pretty as your sister," he muses. "Shame about the eyes, though."
I smile at him.
"They're my father's eyes. He may be gone, but he left the farm to me, so I'll manage it as I see fit, thank you very much."
He releases me with a scowl.
"Give my regards to my sister," I say over my shoulder before walking away as calmly as I can.
I ride home like the devil is chasing me, completely out of breath by the time I reach the farm. Edward finds me in the kitchen, peeling potatoes as though my life depended on it.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
"I hate him!"
"My sister's husband."
"Oh, did you see him?"
I throw a potato into the pot with a lot more force than necessary, and water splashes onto the kitchen counter.
"Yes. He stopped two of his men from . . . from . . . God, I hate them all so much!"
Edward takes me by the shoulders and turns me to face him.
His face is a cloud of emotion, concern and anger mixed together.
"Did they touch you?" he demands.
My anger deflates and I lean on his chest.
"I'm all right. I'm sure one of them will have a sore toe, at least, from where I stomped on him."
"You fought them?"
"Of course I did."
"Of course you did," he says, wrapping his arms around me. "You brave girl."
He pulls back, looking me over.
"What happened with your sister's husband? He didn't touch you, right?"
"Only to make me look up at him so he could insult my eyes."
"So I noticed," he replies with a smile. "Beautiful, too."
"So are yours."
He caresses my cheek.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
I nod my head.
"I know it isn't Christian to feel hatred, but . . . I do, Edward. I really do hate them. My best friend Hannah is Jewish and she had to flee with her family because of them. And I feel as though I've lost Rose too. I just want them to go away."
"I'll fight them for you. Just get me in a plane again."
"Is that what you'll do when you go back home?"
"Of course," he answers immediately. "It's . . . easy to forget it here with you, but . . . the fight's not over."
"I'm scared," I whisper. "Even if Michael and the others get you out safely, you'll still be in harm's way. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Darling," he murmurs, cupping my face. "Don't think of that now. No one knows what will happen. Let's make every moment we're together count."
I can't help but smile at him.
"That sounded a bit like a line to get me back into your bed."
"I heard it the moment I said it," he chuckles. "But . . . did it work?"
I laugh, standing up on my toes to reach for him, and he kisses me until I'm breathless. The rest of the day passes uneventfully, and yet it's filled with wonders. Edward is feeling well and by my side, helping with my everyday chores, both inside and out. We're careful to always keep one eye on the dirt road but otherwise enjoy each other's company. A few times, I catch him looking at me when he thinks I'm not paying attention, and it makes my heart leap in my chest, seeing his desire written all over his face.
That night, we're finishing up dinner when a knock on the kitchen door interrupts our conversation. The smile washes off Edward's face, and he's on his feet immediately, his right hand flying to his side where his gun used to be.
"Hide!" I whisper, trying to remain calm. "Upstairs."
"Isabella, it's me."
My shoulders sag with relief.
"It's my cousin," I say in my normal voice. "Thank God."
Edward lets out a deep breath.
"Michael," I say in greeting, letting him inside.
"Isabella, I come with good news."
He looks over my shoulder, raising his eyebrows. "Oh, he's here. I thought he'd be in the barn or the cellar."
I turn my back to lock the door, hoping he won't notice the reddening of my cheeks. Michael cannot know about Edward and me.
"Would you care for some dinner?" I ask, hoping to distract him.
"Thank you, I already ate," he replies, giving me a warm smile.
He addresses Edward.
"You look . . . well," he manages.
Edward thanks him, and Michael quickly reverts to our native tongue, asking me to translate for him.
"So what's this good news?" I ask.
"We were able to get in contact with London."
"London?" Edward asks eagerly.
"They've made contact," I tell him.
"We'll smuggle him to the capital in a truck and sail him out, just like they did with the Jews," Michael continues.
"When?" I ask, trying not to look affected.
"Two days from now at first light."
"That's . . . wonderful news."
Only two more days and Edward will be gone forever.
"What is he saying?" Edward asks.
I turn to him.
"They're getting you out. First by truck to the capital, and then they'll sail you to safety . . . in two days."
Edward doesn't speak. He merely nods his head, looking somber.
"Be ready to leave at 6 o'clock Monday morning," Michael says. "Hopefully, all of the other traffic to the capital will provide a nice cover for us."
"It's a good plan. I'll make sure he's ready."
Michael smiles proudly.
"Good. I'll be on my way, then."
"Wait!" I say, remembering what happened earlier. "I saw Rose's husband today in town. He said they were close to finding the saboteurs. Please, no more trains, Michael!"
"Why would he say that to you?"
"I don't know," I admit. "It could have been just to boast or to tell me how weak he finds our people, but it frightened me nonetheless. Please, be careful!"
"I will," he promises.
He nods to Edward before leaving. I start clearing the table, unsure of what to say. Edward helps. The silence is deafening.
"Two days," he finally murmurs.
"It's . . . not enough."
I look up at him.
We stare at each other, but there's nothing more either of us can really say, so we go back to cleaning up after dinner, the knowledge of our impending separation like a heavy cloud around us. After the night feeding and locking up, it's still rather early, but both of us gravitate toward the bedroom, heading upstairs even though there's still a bit of light outside. We find solace in each other's arms, touching and kissing until we're too exhausted to stay awake any longer. I sleep poorly that night, images of Edward being shot down in his plane haunting my dreams, and I wake up crying. He shushes me softly, holding me tightly against him until I fall back asleep.
Morning comes all too soon, and while I'd love nothing more than to stay in bed, naked and warm with Edward's arms around me, I know I have my animals waiting for me in the stable. I tell Edward to sleep some more, but he rises with me, helping me with the feeding and milking even though he's just as tired as I am. We eat breakfast in silence, and the rest of the morning we tiptoe around each other, at noon eating a quiet lunch together despite neither of us having any appetite. That afternoon, I ask him to bring down his uniform for me.
"I can't very well send you back, looking like a hobo," I say, trying for cheerfulness, as I start mending the tears.
He sits across from me, watching as I quickly work to restore it as best I can before trying it on at my request.
"There," I say, cutting off a few loose threads. "You're ready to fly again."
"Do you regret it?" he suddenly asks, looking grave.
"It . . . this . . . us. When you cried for me last night . . . it . . ."
He clears his throat.
"I never meant to cause you sorrow," he whispers.
"You haven't. I would do the same all over again."
I blink back the tears in my eyes.
"You've made me feel alive again."
"And you, me. Isabella, I never knew . . . Before, I fought because it was my duty, and it was the right thing to do. But now, I'll fight for you. You deserve to be free. I want you to have everything."
"I only want you," I whisper, looking up at him. "Everything with you. Tonight, I . . . I wanted to ask you if you'd . . . m-make love to me."
Edward swallows audibly.
"Are you sure?"
I nod my head. I can't imagine ever wanting anyone else the way I want Edward. Tonight is our last night together, and I want to remember it forever.
"It would be . . . more than an honor," he replies.
I breathe out, feelings of nervousness and relief coursing through me. For some reason, I feared he'd say no out of some misguided sense of chivalry.
"All right," I say, feeling shy again.
He wraps me up in his arms, a playful twinkle in his eyes.
"Are you sure it's not just because I look so devastatingly handsome in my uniform, you can't resist me?"
I grin at him, happy he's lightened the mood.
"Maybe I just wanted to be the one corrupting you this time."
"Ah, I knew it," he chuckles, kissing my lips. "Please, corrupt me, then. I'm yours."
I open my mouth to make another witty comeback, but it dies on my lips at the sound of the kitchen door opening behind me.
"Isabella, why weren't you at—"
Oh God, no!
"Church," Rose whispers.
I turn in Edward's arms, now staring into the wide blue eyes of my sister. Her gaze darts from me to Edward again and again, her mouth dropping open.
"He's . . . English," she whispers.
There's no denying it. Behind me, Edward is perfectly still, but I feel the tension radiating through him. At the same time as Edward takes his right hand from my waist, reaching for his gun, Rose takes a step backward out the door.
"No!" I cry, not sure which of them I'm speaking to.
Everything stops at that moment. I realize with terrifying certainty that if I don't do something right now, I'll lose them both. If Rose tells her husband about Edward, I will never forgive her. And if Edward harms Rose I will never forgive him. Both of their lives now rest in my hands!
"Rose, please," I beg, stepping out of Edward's embrace, reaching out my hand to her. "Please, don't do this."
She hesitates, staring back and forth between us.
"Please," I whisper, tears welling up in my eyes. "I can't lose him."
"Do you . . . love him?" she asks, looking at him over my shoulder.
"Yes," I whisper, feeling the truth behind my words, deeply in my soul. "I love him."
She takes a step forward, grasping my outstretched hand. Understanding passes between us.
"He won't be here for—"
"No, I don't want to know," she interrupts. "I don't need to know anything else. It's . . . enough."
This is what it comes down to in Rose's universe. Only love could make someone sacrifice everything. She understands that. She lives that. And now I do too.
"Thank you," I say, my voice breaking with tears.
"I have to get ready for my dinner tonight," she says. "All of the officers will be there."
She chews on her bottom lip for a moment.
"And they won't be sending out patrols. The, uh, roads will be open."
I stare at her, overwhelmed with gratitude.
"So, you must be running out of supplies," she says cheerily. "I'll come by next week with some things for you?"
"Thank you," I whisper. "That would be nice. I'll make us hot chocolate."
"See you then."
She gives Edward one more glance and then a polite nod before she leaves, closing the door behind her. I collapse backward into his arms, sobbing.
"What happened?" he asks, turning me around. "Isabella, what just happened?"
"I-I thought I'd lose you both! That she would turn you in or that you would shoot her!"
"No! No, I would never. She's your sister. I could never . . . do that to you."
"N-neither could she," I stutter. "She won't say anything."
"Are you certain? What did you say to her?"
"She asked me if . . . if I . . ."
He wipes my tears away, holding my face between his hands.
"What?" he asks softly.
"If I loved you."
He goes still, staring at me with wide eyes.
"And I said yes."
He startles, but he doesn't let go of me.
"Did you mean it?" he whispers.
I start to nod my head, and then his lips are on mine, giving me the sweetest, most tender kiss I've ever experienced.
"Oh God," he exhales, tucking my head underneath his chin and holding me against his chest. "I love you too."
I wrap my arms around him and allow us these few moments together. But I know what happens next.
"You have to leave now," I tell him, pulling away.
"Rose said . . . the roads will be open tonight. No patrols. It'll be safe."
"N-no. No," he says, shaking his head. "We have tonight. We get tonight."
"No," I whisper, fighting the urge to cry again. "We don't."
"Isabella . . ."
"It's not fair. It's not! But it's the only way you'll get out safely. Tomorrow morning, you could get stopped by a patrol. They'd kill you. They'd kill Michael. It has to be now. It has to be."
He starts to shake his head again, but I stop him.
"You have to get out safely, Edward. If we wait until tomorrow and something happens . . . I'd never forgive myself. I have to know that you're out there somewhere. Otherwise . . . I don't think I can—"
I start to cry again. The thought of a world without Edward in it is simply too much to bear. I need something to hold on to after he leaves, a faint hope that I might see him again one day.
"All right," he murmurs. "All right."
I wipe my eyes, trying to calm myself.
"We have to go to Michael's right away."
Edward nods solemnly.
"I'll get you a backpack for your uniform. You shouldn't wear it until you're . . . out."
I somehow manage to remain stoic and seemingly unaffected at Michael's parents' farm as I quickly explain to him the necessity of leaving as soon as possible. My cousin springs into action, telephoning the person whose truck they were going to use tomorrow morning for the trip to the capital and telling him about the change of plans.
"You should leave before he gets here," Michael tells me, taking my hand in his for a moment.
I nod. We aren't safe yet, and it's best if I know as little as possible.
"I'll go ask my mother for some food for the trip," he says, mercifully leaving Edward and me to say goodbye alone.
We stare at each other, and I try to burn his every feature into my mind so I won't forget what he looks like, all the while wondering if he's doing the same to me.
"This won't be forever," he says, taking a step toward me. "The war will end some day and then . . . "
"Please," I whisper, barely holding back tears. "No promises. Just know . . . I'll be here."
Edward nods, glancing around before pulling me tightly against his body.
"Thank you," he whispers, pressing his lips to my hair. "I'll never forget. Not ever, my beautiful, brave Isabella."
How can I let him go?
"I love you," I tell him, wrapping my arms around his waist for the last time.
Above me, he makes a strange sound in his throat, holding me even tighter.
Please, God, keep him safe!
"G-good-bye Edward," I hiccup as I pull myself out of his embrace, standing up on my toes to kiss him quickly before turning on my heel and running out of the door.
I don't stop until I reach my own house, sprinting up the stairs and launching myself onto the bed where I hug Edward's pillow and wail out in sorrow and despair. Edward is gone.
Many hours later, I'm able to pull myself out of bed, only because I know I'm needed in the stable. The routine of everyday tasks is calming, but as soon as I return to the silence of my house, I'm once more reminded of his departure. How strange that he was only here for such a short time, but already I'd gotten used to having him here with me. I spend the night as well as most of the next day in agony, worrying. Just as I'm about to sit down to dinner, there's a knock on my door.
"Who is it?"
Thank you, God!
The relief I feel is staggering in its intensity. Opening the door to him, I already know his mission was a success, which he confirms as soon as he's inside. Edward was hidden on a fisherman's boat and sailed to safety, taking the same route as Hannah and many of the other Jewish citizens.
"Thank you so much for your help," Michael says, joining me for dinner. "We truly appreciate it."
I think of Edward who will soon be back in England, ready to keep fighting—this time for me, for my freedom.
"I want to do more," I say to my cousin. "I want to help in any way that I can. And don't you dare tell me it's too dangerous."
Michael regards me for a moment before nodding.
"Welcome to the Resistance," he says with a grin.
I exhale, a sense of purpose easing the sorrow I feel for Edward. I have to believe all of this happened for a reason, that I fell in love with him so I could have this opportunity to do good and hopefully make a difference. He called me brave, and that's what I'll be. For him.
In the following months, life returns to normal on the outside. I work on the farm. I socialize a bit with people from town as well as my family, and I receive weekly visits from Rose. We don't talk about Edward or what happened the day she discovered us. In turn, I don't comment on her marriage, and we form a sort of truce, which allows us to still have a relationship of sorts. Secretly, I spend a fair bit of time helping Michael and the Resistance, mostly as a lookout or carrying correspondence for them. The tasks are small but meaningful and greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, trains continue being blown up on a regular basis, and the hostility toward our invaders, as well as the people who work with them, increases drastically. I worry for Rose's safety, hearing stories of the Resistance assassinating traitors in the capital, sometimes on the street in broad daylight. Girls who go with German soldiers are punished and humiliated.
On June 6th, I listen to the BBC reports of British and American troops landing in Normandy, many of them killed on the spot, and for the first time I allow myself to cry, not just for the terrifying possibility of Edward being among them, but for all of those lives lost and the families who will never see their loved ones again. Nearly a year passes like this with reports of both victories and defeats on both sides. I still think about Edward every night before I go to bed, reliving the few precious moments we shared, but I find it increasingly difficult to conjure up his face in my mind and remember how his voice sounded. Still, I don't forget him. I find solace in knowing that if he has died fighting our enemy, the memory of him will live within me on for as long as I'm alive.
On May 4th early in the morning, I wake up to pounding on my door. I expect it to be Michael, but it isn't. It's my sister, dressed only in her nightgown. She's shivering, leaning against her bicycle.
"Rose!" I usher her inside and sit her down at the kitchen table, untying my robe to wrap it around her shoulders. "What on earth are you doing here?"
She stares into space, shaking her head.
"What happened?" I ask. "Are you hurt?"
"H-h-he's . . . gone."
She presses her lips together as her eyes fill with tears.
As I say his name, she begins to shake, rocking back and forth.
"Rose? What do you mean he's gone?"
"He's gone!" she cries. "He left . . . he left me!"
In that moment, I feel torn between sympathy and relief. Sympathy for my sister's grief and relief—complete and utter relief that the man she calls her husband might truly be gone.
"Tell me what happened," I say, sitting down next to her, holding her hands in mine.
"Th-there was a call to the house yesterday. He was needed. But he said he'd be back soon. And I waited. And I waited. But he didn't come back!"
She starts crying in earnest, clutching my hands until they hurt. Still, I let her hold onto me.
"I w-went down to the barracks when I woke up last night. It's . . . empty. Everyone is . . . gone."
"What do you mean? The soldiers are gone?"
She nods her head.
"What does this mean?" I whisper, mostly to myself.
"I don't know," she mumbles. "I-I don't understand. He . . . he wouldn't leave me. He loves me!"
She gives me a pleading look, desperate for me to confirm her statement. But I simply don't know what to tell her.
"I have to go home," she says, standing abruptly. "When he comes back, I want to be here."
"No!" Her voice is hysterical. "He's coming back! He promised me. W-we had plans. A future together!"
"I'll drive you."
She nods, sniffing loudly. We drive in silence through quiet streets. The town is still asleep. I ask Rose if I can come inside with her, but she declines, walking alone down the footpath to the house, her nightgown flowing gently in the wind, making her look like a ghost in the misty gray morning light. I stay outside for a long time, watching the sun come up, hoping she'll come back out, but she doesn't. Finally, I drive back home. That night, I listen to the radio as always, stunned by the message that Germany has capitulated. It's over. It's really over!
Driving into town, I'm greeted by scenes of celebrating in the street. People have torn down their blackout curtains and have placed lit candles in every window of every house. But as I reach Hannah's house, it's dark. I find Rose, quiet and pale next to the radio. On the inside, I'm alight with joy, wanting nothing more than to join everyone in celebration, but my main priority now is taking care of my sister. She kept her promise to me, revealing nothing about Edward, and he was able to escape safely because of that. I stay with her.
The following morning, they come for her, a crowd of townspeople, most of whom I've known my entire life. As I see them approach the house, I grab Rose by the hand, ready to make a run for the back door.
Her voice is surprisingly calm as she escapes my grasp.
"Rose . . ."
"Let them. Don't interfere, please. I don't want you hurt because of what I've done."
I can do nothing but watch as she opens the door to them, and they grab her, marching her toward the town square. I follow behind the crowd at a distance. In the square, they've rounded up a dozen or so young women, all of whom have fraternized with the enemy. I watch silently as they begin, stripping them down to their underwear, taunting and shoving them, calling them Nazi whores. Many of the girls cry and fight back, but not Rose. She stands silent and defeated as they spit on her and yell in her face. The soldiers are gone, so the people take it out on the girls they've left behind, a needed catharsis after five years of oppression, fear, and murder. I force myself to keep her gaze as they bring out the scissors, grabbing fistfuls of her beautiful golden hair, and cut if off in large uneven chunks that scatter to the wind while the crowd cheers. Each of the other girls is punished in similar fashion as the town celebrates in euphoric triumph, tearing down the banners of oppression and dancing in the street. Afterward, I take off my coat and wrap it around my sister. People stare as I lead her to my car, but I don't care. I'm taking her home.
News of my involvement with the Resistance soon becomes public knowledge, and I'm praised at every turn for my courage. Meanwhile, Rose is treated as a social pariah. And all either of us did was fall in love. I have never condoned what Rose did when she married the enemy, but I stand firm in my belief that she didn't do it to hurt anyone. She was naïve and foolish, yes, but I refuse to believe the people who call her a collaborator. She cried just as much as I did when Hannah fled, and I know she doesn't share her husband's hatred. The day after I brought her home, the police show up, wanting to take her into custody for her own protection. I tell them the damage has been done already and ask them to leave us in peace. Thankfully, they comply. In the coming months, Rose doesn't leave the farm at all. She moves back into her old room, helps me with the daily chores, and eats only because I force her to. She covers her head with a scarf at all times, but somehow it only makes her more beautiful, making her face stand out without the distraction of her golden locks.
One day she gets a telegram, informing her that she is now a widow. It offers no explanation of Reichhardt's demise, merely that he is dead. Rose receives the news with stoic silence, handing me her diamond ring and the piece of paper before heading back outside to continue working in her small vegetable garden. She never speaks of him again.
As summer turns to fall, Rose slowly begins to come back to life. She smiles sometimes when we listen to plays on the radio or when I read out loud to us. After I'm offered a part-time teaching position at the local school, I buy her a dog to keep her company, and for the first time since the war ended, I hear her laughing when she plays with it in the yard.
It seems that everyone is coming back to life, and hardly a week goes by without a wedding celebration or an announcement of an engagement or pregnancy. I receive offers of my own, much to my surprise. First, from a young man I went to school with before the war, and second from one of my fellow teachers, an older gentleman who teaches Science. I decline them both politely but without hesitation. While they are both good men and the attention is flattering, the prospect of marriage holds no appeal to me unless it's for love, and I haven't felt that way about anyone besides Edward. It's been more than six months since the war ended, and I have had no word from him. In my mind, I recognize the logical conclusion that he must be dead, but my heart refuses to believe it. I carry the memory of him with me every day as Rose and I prepare to celebrate the upcoming holidays. We decorate the house with homemade garlands and bows, and cook and bake our mother's recipes until the house both looks and smells like Christmas.
On the 22nd of December, we hear a car approaching as we we're cleaning up after dinner.
"That must be Michael," I say, wiping my hands. "He said he might stop by for a visit with his fiancée."
"I'll just be upstairs," Rose says, retreating.
"No, stop." I hold out my hand to her. "Please, stay."
She shakes her head, but I continue despite her refusal.
"It's Christmas. And you're family. If he wants to visit, he'd better get over it. Or he can leave again."
"He'll never forgive me," she whispers. "No one will."
"Yes, they will," I say firmly. "It's time everyone moved on and started thinking of the future instead of the past. This is your house too. Now, please open the door, and ask our cousin inside. I'll find us some treats."
"Thank you," she says softly. "For everything."
Smiling, I caress her cheek before putting some water on for coffee. We are going to have a lovely evening together as a family, and that's final. I shiver lightly as Rose opens the kitchen door behind me.
"It's . . . for you."
"Honestly, Rose," I sigh, walking over to her. "Didn't we just—"
I'm stunned into silence as I stare at two tall figures outside the door. The one on the left steps forward, into the light, and I gaze into a pair of green eyes. I know them. Out of nowhere they're replaced by bursts of bright light and then darkness.
Rose's voice rouses me and coaxes me into consciousness. I blink, shaking my head. Someone is with her. A dark-haired man I've never seen before. Both of them are looking down upon me, and I realize I'm on the couch in the living room.
"Who are you?" I ask.
"Emmett McCarty, ma'am."
He gives me a dimpled smile.
"That's right. Formerly of the US Air Force. I was stationed in Ketterington with Edward."
"Edward!" I sit up, nearly knocking him out of the way. "Where is he?"
"He's upstairs," Rose says. "He . . . needed a little privacy."
I know I should ask what happened, why Mr. McCarty is here with him and so on, but all I can focus on is the fact that Edward is upstairs at this very moment. I hurry off the couch, shooting Rose a quick glance.
"Will you be all right down here?"
She looks at Mr. McCarty for a moment.
"Yes, I'll be all right."
I take two steps at a time, my heart thundering in my chest as I approach my bedroom. It's nearly dark in there, but I see him anyhow, sitting on the edge of my bed, facing away from me.
"This is where we first met."
His voice is deeper, richer than I remember, and I can't help but close my eyes for a moment as it washes over me. It's been so long.
"I remember," I whisper.
"When I first woke up and saw you . . . for a moment I thought I was dead and I was glad . . . because if you were there with me, well, it would have to have been heaven."
"Edward . . ."
His broad shoulders rise and fall as he draws a deep breath.
"You're so beautiful," he says, his voice filled with awe. "After a while I was sure I'd exaggerated it in my mind, but . . . no. You're exactly as I remember you. Perfect."
I approach him slowly; something about him makes me cautious.
Why won't he look at me?
"You thought of me?" I ask.
"Every night. Every day."
I sit down next to him, reaching out to place my hand on his shoulder. He's solid. Real. Alive. I choke back a sob, but he notices, turning around and throwing his arms around me, tucking my head beneath his chin. The dam inside me breaks, and I crumble in his embrace. I've been brave for so long, never allowing myself to grieve for him, always being the strong one. I cry and cry, faintly feeling him lifting me onto his lap. I dig my fingers into the thick fabric of his coat, holding on for dear life. In the quiet of my room, he holds me, letting me fall apart in his arms.
"Y-you're really here," I manage after a while. "You came b-back."
He wipes my face with his sleeve, and I do my best to calm down.
"I never forgot. How could I?" he murmurs. "After everything that happened and the war ending, I wanted to write to you, but . . . I figured the honest thing would be to let you see me and then decide if . . . if you might . . . still . . . Please, Isabella, won't you say something?"
Exhaling deeply, he turns his head.
With a shaking hand, I reach up to caress the fresh scars that run down the side of his face and neck. He shivers lightly at my touch, and I hope I'm not hurting him.
"I'm not the same as I was."
No, he isn't, but it has nothing to do with his face. It's in his eyes. He has seen things. Things that change a person. But so have I.
"I didn't notice," I whisper. "It doesn't matter."
He looks straight at me, lifting up his left hand.
"And this?" he asks, his voice tight.
I bring my palm up to his, linking my five fingers with his three.
"You were already more than capable with the use of just one hand, as far as I remember. With milking cows and . . . other things."
He stares at me, seemingly stunned. Then, the most miraculous thing happens: He breaks into a grin. It's so very familiar, and it's . . . everything. He's still in there, the roguish youth who cursed like a sailor, grabbed my chest, flirted shamelessly, and made me fall desperately in love with him in just two days. I will bring him back to life.
"So, you aren't married?" Edward asks, gazing down upon me.
He leans closer.
I shake my head.
"You have a steady fellow?"
I laugh, feeling truly happy for the first time ever.
"Then it wouldn't be too forward of me to ask for a kiss, would it?"
"No, it wouldn't."
"And after a lot of kisses . . . if I were to ask for your hand?"
"It's yours," I whisper, blinking back the tears in my eyes. "Hand, heart, every part of me. It's yours."
His lips are as soft as I remember, his kisses igniting fire underneath my skin as we cling, rediscovering each other.
"I love you," he says, holding my face between his hands. "Whatever happens next, you decide. We can stay here or go to England or even go with Emmett to America. I don't care as long as we're together."
I have always wanted to go to discover its wonders. And to do so with Edward by my side . . . I could think of nothing more glorious.
"Do we have to decide right away?"
"No. I'll only ask one decision of you tonight."
He scrambles off the bed, helping me up in a sitting position. He kneels down in front of me, his eyes drawn to my chest. I look down, blushing as I realize I'm unbuttoned and nearly exposed, courtesy of his wandering hands.
He grins at me, shaking his head, and I can't help but laugh. I hope he never changes. Reaching into his pocket, he presents me with a ring.
"Marry me?" he whispers, his face a picture of hope and nerves.
Saying yes to hiding Edward for the Resistance turned out to be the best decision I'd ever made. Until now.
British pilots who were shot down over Denmark were often helped by the locals, who hid them from the Nazis until they could get to Sweden, which was a neutral country during the war. This was also where the Jewish citizens fled to. The Danish government received a warning about the Nazis' plans and was able to get most of them sailed to Sweden with the help of brave fishermen from Copenhagen.
The part about the treatment of the girls who went with German soldiers is also true. I think it's pretty obvious from my depiction of it that I don't approve of their punishment, but I can also understand why the people in most occupied countries in Europe reacted as they did after the war was over, and the only ones to take their anger out on were the girls left behind. Everything about rations is also true, although Denmark wasn't nearly as severely affected as some other European countries during WWII.
Anyway, that's enough History lesson for one day. :)
I might write their wedding night at one point (since they got cheated out of their first time) so put the story on alert just in case.
Oh, and Crossing the Lines chapter 28 will be up this weekend.
Thank you for reading!