11 years later
For a while I carefully kept track of time without Anton. One day, one day and a third, five days, seventeen. But after a while I stopped counting. For one thing, I didn't like the time being an endless stretch of empty spaces - spaces I knew couldn't be filled. Anton had flashed into my life for a brief moment, only to flash back out again.
I jarred out of my daydream to look at my boss, Robert Jasok.
"Please stay with us. We're trying to figure out how to handle the trial going on downtown tomorrow. Now, I want you and Anne to cover the crowd outside. Tom, I want you to be inside while..." While Robert continued to hand out assignments, I looked over at Anne Phoaning. She was known to be an overachiever; I could count on her to absorb all the information we would need later like a dry sponge. I let my mind drift back to my earlier thoughts.
Thinking of Anton again made me reflect on how much my life had changed over the past 11 years. Right after that fateful summer, my life continued as if nothing had ever happened. Father grew more distant while Mother and I continued our battle of wits. Sharon proceeded to excel in everything she did and people adored her. As for me, I stayed about the same for the first few years. After a while my body filled out, though my hair is still the best part about my looks, and most of my classes continued on as usual. But as I grew older I began to become more involved with English class. It helped that Charlene and I had become fast friends. She helped me get a job at the Commercial Appeal after I was done school. It seemed that my love for words and fascination for reporting with exaggeration was perfect for journalism. After that my life took a new direction. I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa more and more. I claimed that it was easier to get to work from there, which was true, but it was more than that. After Ruth left to take care of Robert, who was wounded in a Philadelphia hospital, I felt so alone that if I hadn't left soon I would have gone crazy. The newspaper just gave me good excuse to leave home for good. A few years later I got a job offer from a paper company in New York City, packed my bags, and left town for good. I've seen my parents a couple times over the years, and continue to write my grandparents as well as Charlene. Sharon went on to act in Hollywood; no surprise there. For now I'm content as a journalist who loves her family from afar.
"All right everybody, that's it for now." Once again Robert's booming voice interrupted my thoughts. "You can all go about your own business. But be sure to be here bright and early tomorrow morning. It's going to be a big day. I can feel it!" Everyone shook their heads and laughed. It was a company joke that the boss always predicted an exciting day when he had something interesting up his sleeve. I gathered my papers and headed home for the night. I could think about Robert Jasok's "surprise" later.
Mouschi greeted me as I entered my apartment. When I bought my cat four years ago, I decided to name him after the feline in Anne Frank's Diary. It really helped me feel a connection to the Jewish in Germany. Now he rubbed himself around my legs purring loudly as if saying, "Where have you been all day? I'm hungry!".
"I know, I know. I'm sorry I'm home late but the boss just kept going on and on; he never runs low on energy." I walked into the kitchen and dumped my paperwork onto the table. After making myself a sandwich, I put some food out for Mouschi. As I ate in front of my favorite book, my thoughts once more drifted to Anton. Though I thought of him often enough, he had been on my mind a lot recently. I fiddled with his ring and, for the hundredth time that week, wondered where he might be. Was he safe? Was he happy? Was he alive! After the war, it would have been awkward for a Jewish girl to inquire about an escaped German soldier, so I don't have the faintest idea of what happened to him after that summer night so long ago. He could have returned to his family in Germany after the war ended for all I knew; that would be the sensible thing to do. I often thought of traveling to his home town to find him, or at least a relative who had some information about him. But those were just dreams after all.
With a sigh, I got up and looked at the stack of new reports that had come in that day. After a moment of hesitation, I waved my hand at them and went to bed; work could wait until tomorrow morning.
I awoke with a start. All my senses were on alert. My breath came fast and hard. It was the dream again. The dream that had been haunting me for the past week or so. It began with the roaring of a train over my head. Anton was once again about to run into danger's path. I tried to yell to him and pull him to safety, like it had actually happened that summer afternoon. But he didn't appear to hear me. I was running as fast as I could but didn't seem to get any closer. Then he stepped onto the tracks as the train thundered past. Often I would wake up in a sweat screaming 'No' at the top of my lungs. Mouschi came in and tried to comfort me. After a while my breathing slowed to normal again. I glanced at the clock - 4:57am. Knowing it would be useless to try and claim sleep again, I sighed as I threw back the covers, dragged myself out of bed, and stumbled into the kitchen. I made a pot of coffee, opened a window to refresh the summer heat, and sat down at the table. Mouschi jumped onto the chair next to me and closed his eyes.
"Well I hope you get enough beauty sleep. One of us should." I yawned and tried to rub the sleep from my eyes. "Might as well take a look at these before I try and muster the energy to get dressed." I started to flip through the reports, writing down key facts or points of interest. Eventually I looked up at the clock and decided I should soon get a start on the long process of grooming. One more, I though to myself. I picked up the next report and thought my heart might stop. I couldn't believe my eyes; I blinked to ensure I wasn't seeing things. But there it was in big, bold letters.
Citizens think German Soldiers
Might Be Living Among Us Today
People of New York have seen more and more people
coming in who are suspected to have foreign backgrounds.
Could escaped prisoners of war now be living right next door?
Be ready to report on this topic.
It seems to be your type of research.
My head began to swirl in a whirlwind of thoughts. Could Anton possibly be here in New York City! I leafed through the other facts that had been gathered on the topic, hoping that they would mention names. There were none, and disappointment flooded my body. I stroked the ring and tried to make myself believe that there was hope. But I realized, slowly, that my hopes were in vain. There was no way Anton could have stayed alive, found out where I lived, and traveled here to find me. It was all just wishful thinking. I took a deep breath and tried to come up with a way to tell Robert I couldn't accept this assignment. But what would I say? That I was too emotionally involved because I had helped a German soldier escape from prison when I was twelve years old? No, I shook my head. I would have to just take the assignment and do the best I could without getting in too deep.
Later that day I headed down to Queens with a map in my hand. Funny, here there seem to be too many street signs, I thought to myself as memories of "Silk Stocking Street" flooded my mind. I nearly laughed out loud before I realized I was still hopelessly lost. Once more my eyes searched the paper before me to try and catch the street name given to me earlier that day. After a few minutes I gave up and asked someone in a park nearby; in ten minutes I had reached my destination. I had been to several homes already that day, but without success. They had either been some teenagers making a prank call or an old person who should have been in a nursing home. Robert's notes said that the woman who lived here had reported "strange foreigners" numerous times. Probably just another nervous-wreck. Should I even bother with the interview? With a sigh, I walked up to the doorway; the job had to be done. I refused to admit to myself that this was my last hope at finding Anton, at least this way. Quickly getting my emotions under control, I raised my fist and raped sharply on the door. After a few seconds a young girl opened the door, much to my surprise; I quickly recovered.
"Hello," I said, introducing myself. "My name is Patty Bergen, of the City Report. You called us about some Nazis in your area?"
"Oh yeah! I wrote to your paper a few days ago. Come in, come in! I was just making some lunch." The girl, who appeared to be around 18 or 19 years old, led me into a small kitchen. "My name is Susan by the way, Susan O'Reiley. I live here with my grandmother and father. We're not much of a family, but we get along. Do you want a lemonade? It's fresh." She said this all with such speed that if I hadn't been a fast talker myself, I wouldn't have been able to keep up. As it was it took a minute for all the information to organize itself in my brain.
"Yes, lemonade would be great. Thank you." I sat in a chair and looked around. The place wasn't much, but you could tell Susan and her family tried to keep it as homey as possible.
"Here you go," Susan handed my a glass and started to fan herself. "I put lots of ice in it. Man, are we having a hot summer or what?"
I smiled, "I come from Arkansas. It can get a lot hotter down there during the summer!"
She gazed at me with wide eyes and grinned back. "I don't know how you could stand it; I'm dying already and it's only 85 degrees! I'm telling you, I don't know how those Germans can stand doing all that labor in this sun. I thought it was cooler over there."
"So there are German soldiers here?" I tried not to act too excited. "How do you know they're soldiers and not just immigrants? And what did you mean by 'labor' in the sun? What exactly are they doing around here?"
"Well, I know they're soldiers because they just showed up recently. They were probably waiting until postwar effects died down before they joined everyday folk. Plus, the only other Germans here after the war are normally Jewish." Susan replied. What she said made sense, I thought to myself. "As for the labor comment, it seems that most of them are doing construction work, gardening, and other manual labor."
"Interesting. So, where could I find any of them? Do you know any of them personally, or by name even?" Maybe she knows Anton! But I quickly pushed the thought from my head. What were the chances Susan would have met him out of all the people in the city? I looked up at the girl when I realized she had already started to respond.
"... not too many I know myself. I normally go to work during the day. But I think Grandma had one man work on her garden a week or so ago. She saw him in the park the day before working on some flower beds. You want to know something funny? Grandma said a few of the soldiers speak almost perfect English! I guess they've been here a long time or something."
It was only when I looked down at my hand to write that I realized I was shaking.
"Do you remember that man's name? Or would your grandmother remember?" I attempted to keep my voice even, though I don't know how calm I appeared; Susan gave me a funny look. "If his English is that advanced he would be perfect for an interview!" I said hastily, trying to master my delight.
"Well I know I sure can't remember. I don't think I ever met him face to face. But I'll ask Grandma; she might think of it."
I gave Susan my business card and told her to call me as soon has she had any information. My heart was nearly pounding out of my chest. I don't know how I made it to the door and all the way home; I was experiencing a total out-of-body feeling. Could I really be that close to finding Anton? Was it truly possible that he was right here in the same city!
I spent most of the weekend wandering around local parks. There were many gardeners there, but none knew of Anton. In the back of my mind the rational part of me said I was being ridiculous. But what ever happened to the fairy-tale idea of following your heart? I felt as if I was living in a parallel world; nothing felt real anymore. Why was this happening now? I had moved on and made a fresh start. Yes I thought of Anton often, but I had known nothing could ever come from my dreams. Now all of the sudden I've been thrown this lead that was like a flashlight into a dark old attic. Many things had long since been forgotten. But this small beam of hope is starting to reveal a new confidence.
I went to work on Monday with a different mind. I hadn't thought to find Anton so soon, if I was going to find him at all. But I was more aware of everything around me. As I walked down the street I noticed things I hadn't seen before. Once again Anton had, in a sense, awaken me up. I had become so set in my life that I had forgotten how to simply enjoy it. The idea of Anton coming back had revitalized me. I felt more comfortable with my life; I knew that I wasn't going to find Anton today, or tomorrow, or even next week. But the possibility was there, and I would never stop looking.
A few days later I walked into my office and sat down. There were several notes on my desk, but I didn't have a chance to read them before I heard a knock. I looked up to see Robert standing by my door.
"Is something wrong Robert?" I inquired, "Was my last report not up to your high standards?" I grinned mischievously at him. He grinned back and then shook his head.
"No, the report was fine. But it does have something to do with that."
Now he had my full attention. "What is it? What happened?"
"Nothing's wrong, but your article on escaped German soldiers must have caught a lot of notice. In fact, I had someone come in here earlier today asking about you."
"Were they asking about being interviewed, because I would love to get more information for follow-up reports. You know, there was only one person who gave me anything worthwhile."
"No, you see that's the funny part; the man came in asking about you. He didn't even mention the article until I asked if he information that might help with it. And after that he just kept saying he needed to see you; it was kind of odd."
My head jerked up. "Well, what did he want exactly? And did he leave a way for me to get in touch with him if needed?"
"No, not really. It's a shame we didn't get more information from him, because he looked as if he was German or something. You wouldn't know it though; his English was perfect. But now that I'm thinking about it, he might have said something about working as a gardener."
With that everything fell into place. Susan had said a gardener with perfect English had worked for her grandmother. Then a man who fit that description showed up at my office asking specifically about me. In the instant that all these thoughts came to me, I happened to glance down at the notes on my desk. The first one was from my secretary:
Patty, A girl named Susan O'Reiley called saying she had your
name - Williams. But she wants you to know that it's probably
changed. Its likely he really is German because the other name he went by
"I'm remembering more now. The man also said that if I saw you soon I was to give you this message: 'If P.B. desires to see Anton again, he will be waiting in the train station by the gardens this afternoon. Be it that she doesn't come, he will depart on the 1:00 train and leave her alone forever.' Man did he have a funny way of talking, all proper and fancy like. More like a collage graduate than a gardener."
I had sat as if in a frozen while all this information tried to sort itself out in my brain. It couldn't be possible; it was all to fairy-tale like to be reality. Then, all of the sudden, everything clicked into place - I knew at once what I had to do.
"What time is it? Quick, I need to know right now!" I jumped up from my desk and grabbed my bag.
"Well I think it's around 12:45." Robert looked at me stunned. "What is all this about Patty? Wait, are you the P.B. that man mentioned? What's going on!"
I rushed past him, yelling over my shoulder, "I'll explain later. But I'm going to have a great cover story for you!" With that I raced to the door, feeling the seconds steadily tick past.
Five minutes. The train would leave in five minutes. I dashed into the train station and franticly looked around. What train would Anton be on? Where would he be going? Robert hadn't said and there were six different platforms. I didn't have time to search them all! I glanced up at the list of departing trains - Georgia, no - Pittsburgh or Ohio, no - Jenkinsville! It was leaving at 1:00! Maybe he was going there. I couldn't be sure, but I was my best hope. Platform Four. I turned and rushed towards the stairs.
Four more minutes. Would I make it in time? Anton might have already gotten on the train, thinking I wasn't going to come. I started to run even faster, pushing past all the people who crowded the area.
There it was - Platform Four. But as I ran towards it, a luggage cart tipped over spilling bags all over the place. People came to help pick them up, but now they blocked my way. I looked up at the clock. Two minutes. I sprinted forward and launched myself over the pile. I almost cleared it, falling when my foot caught behind me.
"Are you O.K. miss?" Asked a man, helping me up. "You took quiet a spill there. Try to slow down."
"I'm fine, thank you." I desperately scanned the crowd. Not seeing Anton, I started to run down the platform.
I was almost at the end. Where was he? I couldn't follow him onto the train without a ticket. Fear overrode my thoughts. If I couldn't find him now I would have to take the next train to Jenkinsville. But he could be anywhere after that! I would never find him!
I sat down hard on a bench. It was all too much; I started to cry. Tears silently streamed down my cheeks. When I lost Anton before, it had been hard but I was able to move on. Now, losing him for the second time, it was too much to bear. The dull ache I had pushed to the back of my mind years ago came back in full force. I fingered Anton's ring, letting the light catch it. A beam moved across the floor, settling onto the flowers a man further down the platform held in his hand. His back was turned, and he seemed to be looking for someone. The man looked at the clock, then dropped his head. Slowly, as if regretful, he turned around to pick up his bags.
My heart stopped. There could be no mistaking it. It was Anton.
As he started to walk to the train, my voice and use of limbs came back to me.
"Anton!" I tried to yell, but it came out as a croak. Things seemed to be happening in slow motion as I got up off the bench and stumbled forward. I started to walk, then run, racing as fast as I could in Anton's direction. I yelled again but the train whistle was sounding and he couldn't hear me. My nightmare was coming true before my eyes as I watched Anton start to climb onto the train. I was too far away; I would never reach him in time.
"Anton, please!" I desperately cried out one more time, feeling my heart fall as I slowed down. Then, as if by a miracle, Anton turned around. His eyes caught mine immediately. I could scarcely breath, for fear that he would loose sight of me.
Anton's face looked shocked, as if he too could not believe his eyes. Then he jumped down from the train and raced in my direction. I took off, running faster than I ever had before. When we reached each other we slowed to a stop, each unable to believe that it was real.
"P.B.?" It was the voice I had heard so many times in my dreams. I felt the tears roll down my face. I timidly reached out my hand, making sure that he wasn't an illusion of some sort. Anton reached his hand towards mine. When our hands met, a smile broke out on his face. In his eyes I saw a degree of love greater than any I had ever known. With that Anton swept me up a hug, squeezing me as if he was afraid I would vanish. I hugged back just as hard. When he pulled back, it was only to lean forward to ease his lips over mine. His kiss was just as I remembered, and I felt my legs melt like jelly.
Anton looked at me and smiled. "I didn't know if you'd still remember and want see me again."
"Oh no, Anton!" I pulled myself closer. "You can't imagine how much I've missed you! Every single day I've looked around, hoping to see you walk up to me. I never gave up on you Anton. I knew you would find me again. There's no way I'm letting you go now!"
Anton's smile grew. "I had hoped you'd say that. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
Something in my heart, something which I never knew was there, opened up that day. A kind of peace and contentment flooded every vein in my body. As I looked up into Anton's eyes, so full of love and kindness, I knew right then and there that everything would work out. Yes, I knew that there would be difficult and awkward times ahead of us - I'm not stupid after all. But standing there in Anton's arms, I knew we could face any challenges thrown our way. After all, hope and faith, and love, were on our side.
I smiled back up at Anton. "You're right. Let's go for a walk right now; we have time to catch up later."
Anton looked at me and squeezed my hand. "Till death do us part?"
I squeezed back, feeling more at home than ever before. "Forever and for always."
Overhead I heard the tune of Doris Day's 'I'll Never Stop Loving You'
"Of this I'm more than just sure
My love will last and endure
I'll never, no
I'll never stop loving you ..."