Title of Story; Miles To Go
Word Count; 7234
Type of Edward; World War 2
Category; Young Adult
Story Summary; The story of a young, Jewish boy, in a Nazi-occupied country, trying to find a way to freedom.
Standard Disclaimer; The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
- Miles To Go -
The clouds were heavy and obtrusive, as they laid a blanket of pure darkness over the lands. They kept the flowers from blooming, the trees from growing and the children from getting their much needed exercise.
But there was one plus to the stormy billows above; it made it easier to hide.
My footsteps were gentle on the soft, wet ground, as I slowly made my way across the barren field. Out in the open like this, I constantly feared discovery, but knew that I had to keep going. I couldn't stop now.
Not for anything.
The clothes on my back were ragged and filthy, and my face and hands were covered in grime more than a week old. I hadn't felt the cool sensation of water flowing down my body in what felt like forever and I hadn't slept more than two hours in a row since that damn night. The night that my whole world changed.
And it all started with a knock on the front door.
But the smell doesn't bother me; if anything, it strengthens my resolve to keep going.
To keep hiding, and running, and planning… always planning.
Not for revenge, as most people would perhaps deduce. No, I'm not foolish enough to think that I could ever beat them back, the ones that stole from me. What I am searching for is much simpler, yet very difficult to achieve, as I have come to understand.
How does one go about obtaining the hardest thing of all?
It had been three weeks, and I was still searching. Three weeks since they came and destroyed it all, three weeks since I had looked into my family's eyes and known that I was loved.
Three weeks since their frightened screams had overpowered anything else I had ever heard.
It was an image I would never forget, as they were dragged away, thrown into the back of a black truck and driven off, to be slaughtered elsewhere.
Leaving me with nothing but the memories, the newly borne hatred and the desire to keep my promise.
"Anthony, promise me… promise that, no matter what happens, you will run. You will go far, far away and be safe. For me. For us. Promise me."
"I promise, father."
The words were jumbled inside of my head, as I tried to push back the very last memory I'd had of my loving father; of everything I had lost that night.
But it was impossible.
All there was left to do was try my best to keep my promise, in any and every way that I could. Which is what brought me here, to the fields of a small town in the East.
The town from the rumors; the whispers all around me.
This was where I would find help, I could feel it in my bones.
This was where I would be saved.
-*- MTG -*-
My tired feet ached and the sun was rising in the distance, when I finally began to see signs of actual life. But the thought of people, of breaths and beating hearts, instantly put me on edge.
Where there were people, there were more of them.
The murderers who split apart families.
I had to be cautious; had to do this right, or it would be the last thing I did. And though a small part of me wanted nothing more than to join my family, the promise to my father kept playing over and over, pushing me toward the right thing.
Pushing me forward and into the light.
So to speak.
As the muddy ground dug its way up between my toes, the soles of my shoes all but worn away by now, I clenched my fists into the heavy bark of the large tree I hid behind. I could hear the familiar noises in the distance and I felt a creep touch my spine.
I wanted to throw up, but there was nothing in my stomach.
It was as empty as my heart.
Creeping ever closer, thankful for the rain that had kept all the fallen branches nice and silent, I finally made it to the edge of the forest and prepared to look at the view in front of me. To assess it and ensure that it would continue to keep me as safe as possible.
I promise not to fail, father, I thought, as I threw a glance toward the Heavens.
Then, my eyes fell on the somewhat large building in front of me. I couldn't quite assess what it was, until I heard a loud sound that was only growing more in volume with each passing moment.
And then a barrage of small children came running out of the double doors, gleeful smiles on their faces, chattering excitedly to whoever would listen.
Huh. A school. Not what I had been expecting.
I looked around, as if I would find some sign that this was the wrong place. That I had somehow gotten the directions wrong and was on the opposite side of where I needed to be.
But then I saw the clock tower.
This was the place.
Only when I was sure of my success, did I notice the armed soldiers standing guard at every entrance way; this would not be easy. Not by a long shot.
However, I had never expected it to be.
I stayed crouched behind the large, fir tree for over an hour, watching the people passing in and out of the small school. Both with or without a uniform covering their body. After seeing the third young woman, I realized that I was seeing the teachers and I wondered if any of them knew what was happening, right under their noses.
I doubted the soldiers knew.
I saw a heavy, blonde woman, in her mid-twenties, hair curled to just around her shoulders. There was a skip in her step that didn't quite belong there, considering, but all it did was assuage my fear; she would be a perfect candidate for the one I was looking for, including the secretive glint in her hazel eyes when she nodded to the guards.
But I had to be sure, so I kept watching. Kept letting my eyes rake over the different women who passed through the doors. All ages, all hair colors, all different moods. I could even swear I saw one who appeared to be grateful for the armed soldiers in her midst.
And then my piercing eyes grew wider as she stepped out of the doors and into the sunshine.
Her long, dark brown hair curled slightly at the tips and it shone almost red in the brightness of the day. She was wearing a dreary, grey dress, yet it still seemed to hug her in all of the right places. I wanted nothing more than to run across the grass, just so I could know the color of her eyes.
But the thing that stopped me, that halted my moves, was the only thing on her attire that could remind me of what was going on and it was sewn into the sleeve of her long dress.
That dreaded symbol of why I was here in the first place. The word that sent ice down my spine. The small fabric that starred in all of my worst nightmares, ever since my country became occupied, more than three years ago.
My breaths became shallow as I watched the beautiful, nameless woman nod in the direction of the soldier, before she stepped off the path and out of my sight. As soon as she was gone, I got my sensibility back and pushed the image of her out of my mind.
I had plans to make.
-*- MTG -*-
The night had once more fallen over the land, just as I had spent hours waiting for.
There was no better time than now.
I had spent the remainder of the daylight watching from my spot behind the tree. The mystery woman never passed by again, but a handful of the other teachers did, along with the armed guards. I also saw the only man who wasn't in uniform, along with the disgust in his eyes, when he laid eyes on the SS soldiers.
And that's when I first began my plans.
The only thing that might stand in my way is ironically enough the darkness. Once it became more difficult to see farther than your own hand, even more guards were assigned to the small school, as with every other public place in this forsaken country.
But there was nothing I could do about that; this wasn't a task I could undertake in the bright light of the day. Especially considering the lack of cover, once I left the safety of the wooded forest behind me.
This wasn't young boys playing military for the first time; these were trained men, who believed in what they stood for. I couldn't simply wait around for them to lower their guard, because that would never happen. I couldn't outsmart them, because I was just a boy. All I had going for me, was the practice I had gotten over the past three weeks.
I excelled at hiding.
But that meant finding a place to hide, without being seen before I even arrived.
And that was the tricky part.
I moved away from my familiar tree, passing by the inside of the forest line, as I slowly made my way around the small structure; trying to find a weak point.
My eyes scanned over every inch in the vicinity, each face of the armed soldiers, every nook and cranny, until I felt my vision go double and spin completely out of control.
I reached up to rub my eyes and, as soon as I had my sight back, something caught my attention out of the corner to my left.
It was a man. It was the man. The one from earlier, who had come out of a school, amongst a sea of women and SS guards.
I could see his head poke out through what I had first thought to be nothing more than an air vent in the ground. But I was wrong; it was a secret opening.
Perhaps he wasn't as diligent as he should be; as his eyes gazed out over the land, looking for any kind of trouble, he never spotted me in my hiding place, despite the fact that I could clearly see him. He thought of things as safe and I knew that I would have to be careful, if he agreed to help me. I had to have eyes where he didn't.
Crawling up from the ground after him was a young woman; she couldn't have been more than a year or two older than me. Her dark hair was matted around her face, her eyes puffy from endless tears, yet she had time to look at the man with pure awe and gratitude.
Obviously, it seemed, I needed to give him a chance.
Perhaps he did see me, yet did not count me as a threat.
Which was true, after all.
My next breath caught in my throat, as another woman stepped out from under the hidden opening in the grass. It was her; the woman from earlier, with the flushed, pale skin and chocolate colored hair. The one that was nothing but a lovely mystery wrapped up in delight.
She was on the same side as me.
I felt my very first smile in three weeks try to gain purchase on my face, but I forced it down; now was not the time.
I barely noticed the heavy blonde from earlier come out behind the object of my affection (obsession) as the four people stuck to the shadows, moving through the trees down toward what I guessed was the ocean.
That young girl was about to get exactly what I had spent three weeks searching for; freedom.
One thing I was sure of; I was next.
Getting comfortable behind yet another tree, I waited for them to return, knowing already that there would only be three when that time came. I was not a fool; I knew exactly what was happening and I could almost feel myself salivating at the thought of getting this close.
I refused to let it slip through my fingers; not now.
As I sat and waited, I began to wonder about these people. What had made them decide to risk their very lives for strangers? To do what was right, in a time where that would definitely get someone killed, if you weren't careful.
It was an amazing thing to wonder at, to be sure.
To imagine the kind of past they have, their story, that would make them take these risks. Had they lost someone to the soldiers? Had their family been taken from them, the way that mine had? Or were they just too good to stand by and let innocents suffer for things that could not be controlled?
So lost in thought, I failed to notice the sounds coming from behind me, before it was too late. I felt the cool steel of the rifle pressing against the back of my neck, as I tried to swallow down my fear and figure a way out of this mess.
"Do not speak a word." A voice spoke, with less anger and indignation than I had been expecting. "Stand up."
Slowly, inch by inch, I rose from the muddy ground and stepped away from my tree, out into the open by the back of the school. My steps were short and I was constantly waiting for the soldier to become annoyed with my lack of speed and punish me for it, but nothing happened.
He just kept the cold steel to the back of my neck and directed me forward.
To the hidden entrance I had watched earlier.
"Get inside," he ordered, and I could see him looking all around him, as I gazed through the corner of my eye.
I awkwardly got back down on my knees, constantly aware of the rifle to my back, as I dug around in the grass, looking for the handle that would open the trap-door. Sweat began to drip down my skin, worried about the consequences if I did not find what I was looking for, and soon.
"What is taking so long?" he demanded, his thick, German accent more than visible with his annoyance.
Before I could even begin to consider whether or not I was supposed to response, my hand caught a wooden handle and I hurried to pull it upward. I kept my breath of relief to myself, not wanting to do anything to further antagonize my captor.
So, before he could even order me, again, I crawled down the steps, and suddenly found myself standing in a long hallway. One that obviously led to a safe room under the school.
My hands shook and my already filthy clothing was wetting with my perspiration, but I could not worry about any of that, because the soldier had just joined me.
And then, as the door latched behind him, he did the last thing I expected.
He put down the rifle, wiping his own sweat away with a white handkerchief, before offering me a small smile.
"I am Major Wendelin, but you can call me Alexander," he spoke, apparently unaware of the utter shock on my face. "The others will return soon, we will wait in the kitchen."
I tried not to flinch when he put a hand on my shoulder, but from the way his face fell slightly, I knew that I had not succeeded. I wanted to feel bad, but it was difficult; whenever my eyes fell on that uniform, all I thought of was my family.
And what soldiers like him had done to them.
"I could tell you to relax, but would it do any good?" he asked, rhetorically, as we walked down the hall. "You will feel more at ease around me, when the others return. Then you will know that I mean you no harm."
I didn't nod, or respond, or do anything to show that I heard him, but he didn't seem to be expecting that, either. Instead, we simply continued to walk in silence, as a light slowly began to appear on the other end of the long walk.
Mere minutes later, we stepped into a small room that only held a tiny kitchen, a couple of cots in the corner and a door on the other side. In the middle was a rickety table with three chairs that didn't match each other, or anything else in the room.
It had the feel of being trapped, and yet I didn't feel it that much, despite my companion.
Major Wendelin directed me to one of the chairs, with the wave of a hand, while he sat his rifle up against the wall and stepped closer to the kitchen. My eyes glanced at the weapon, wanting to know that I had a way out, if he should show some different colors suddenly.
However, the fact that he willingly left it so far away from his person did tell me that he may just be telling the truth.
That he may just be out to help, not hurt me.
I sat heavily in one of the chairs, my hands clenched together under the table and my body hunched over, as I watched every move that the soldier made. I refused to take my eyes off of him for even a moment, at least until these others he spoke of returned.
But when he came over to sit across from me, two cups of warm tea in his hands, it became difficult to keep up my staring, now that he was looking back at me. I began to feel even more uncomfortable and was forced to redirect my gaze to just beside his ear.
"Here, drink this. You look like you could use it," he said, pushing one cup toward me.
As ferociously as I hated his kind, he was also right; I was freezing to the core and had been for days. Trying not to appear too grateful, I lifted my hands above the table and grabbed the cup, drinking half of it down immediately and ignoring the burning on my tongue.
All I'd had in the last three weeks, was the water of whatever creek I came across in my travel.
Although it completely silent in the room, I could almost hear the ticking of a clock, as we sat, trying not to stare at each other.
But eventually I could no longer stand it and I just had to ask.
"Why are you doing this?" I croaked out, speaking for the first time in three weeks.
His head snapped up, but there was no anger in his eyes; only surprise. He must have realized that I had a less than pleasant past with his kind and stopped expecting anything from me, while it was just the two of us.
I surprised myself, as well, so I didn't mind his shock.
His eyes were back to staring down into his tea and I was beginning to doubt whether or not he would even answer, when he took in a deep breath and blew it out harshly. "I did not sign up for this, if that is what you think. I was just a young boy who wanted to make a difference.
"At first, I truly believed in the Führer, in his mission. But when the war began, it did not take long for me to see the truth. And that is the problem," he lifted his eyes to me. "Once you are in, you do not leave. Once I realized that, I chose to help those like you, instead. And someday, my penance will come, for the things I did before I changed my view," he sighed, "but when it does, I will take it, knowing I made a difference before it was too late."
I leaned back in my seat, my eyes wide and my mouth slightly gaping; this was definitely not what I had been expecting.
And I knew I could no longer see him as one of them; not anymore.
I would never trust him, I wouldn't go that far. I had been through too much to let my guard down like that. But I could let my harsh hatred slide a little bit, just in case he really did mean the words he was speaking.
Though thinking of them as a well-thought-of lie would remain in my head, for my own health.
He did not appear to be waiting for a response and I was not planning on giving one, so we simply continued to sit in silence, sipping our tea.
And then the hatch opened on the other side of the hall.
Major Wendelin immediately got up out of his seat and grabbed his rifle, telling me to stay put with his eyes. My entire body tensed and I prepared for the worst, as I felt the chair beneath me wobble with the pressure I was putting on it.
My vision turned a crimson red, as an array of scenarios ran through my mind, in full speed. The other soldiers had discovered the hiding place, the others had been discovered by the ocean, the Führer himself was here; I slowly lost my mind to these thoughts, I knew.
Only to discover the relieving truth, as the three rebels from earlier stepped into the small room.
The Major had obviously not mentioned me, as the shock on their faces was proof of. I cleared my throat, wondering if they would demand some kind of story in exchange for giving me my freedom.
But as soon as the shock appeared, it was gone again, and the sole man of the three stepped forward, taking the same chair that the Major had been in before. He crossed his hands atop the table and kind eyes met mine.
In the background I noted the other two women; the blonde was busy making some more tea at the kitchen, while the beautiful brunette seemed to be hiding herself in the dark corner.
"Hello," the man across me spoke and so I turned back to him. "My name is David Holst and I am the Principal here at this school. I also, as you must know by now, help people like you get to safety."
"And where is that?" I choked out, wondering why I did not think of this until now.
Where did freedom reign?
"That would be across the ocean, where the boat will arrive in Sweden."
I nodded slowly, realizing that this should have been obvious to me. After all, our country had always had a good connection with Sweden and it was the only nearby country that had stayed neutral during the war.
"Now, why don't you tell me your name and I will try to explain what will happen?" David asked, his voice never faltering.
I felt, almost immediately, that he was someone I could trust.
I wanted to stay wary, but it was difficult.
Looking around the room, I considered letting go of the one thing I still had left; my identity. The small chance that they were not who they said they were flickered through my mind, but I had to trust someone, right?
Taking a deep breath, I gazed over at the brunette and kept my eyes on her, as I answered.
"I am Anthony Masen, sir." I responded, my inherent manners shining through against my better judgment.
"And how old are you, Anthony?"
"Seventeen, sir," and the moment the words came out, the brunette cowered tighter into her corner.
What an odd woman.
"Alright, Anthony, thank you. I know that could not have been easy for you. Now, you have already met the Major and myself. Let me introduce you to my two lovely assistants," he smiled, waving the women forward.
He began with the blonde. "This is Anita Klausen; she is our math teacher. She will be the one to arrange for the boat and the meeting spot. And this," -he spoke, now directing his hand to the woman I had not been able to forget- "is Isabella Petersen, our talented literature teacher. She will keep you safe until the boat arrives and then escort you to the shore."
"And when will that be, sir?" I asked, forcing my eyes back on David.
But he was not the one who answered.
I heard her clear her throat, before I finally heard her voice. "As we were not expecting you, Mr. Masen, Anita will have to make the arrangements first. Though I do not expect that it will take more than three days, at most."
All I could do was nod in response, gazing into her deep, brown eyes, as a lovely blush began to spread on her face and neck. Why she suddenly felt embarrassed, I could not say, but it was obvious that, for some reason, she did not feel comfortable around me.
I wish I knew why so that I could reassure her in some way.
When I finally forced my eyes away from her beauty, I saw that David had left the table and was whispering with the Major in the corner by the hall. The blonde, Anita, was humming under her breath as she put fresh sheets on one of the cots and Isabella was still fidgeting in the corner.
My throat wouldn't work, but I wanted to ask her to come sit with me. To talk to me. To do anything that showed that she was aware of my existence.
But for the remainder of the night, until I lay my head on the pillow, she stayed in the corner.
-*- MTG -*-
The air is crisp and strong, wind blowing through my hair and ruffling my clothing. My fingers feel the rough bark below my hands, as my thighs clutch tightly around the thick branch. I can feel the pain set into my bones, but I cannot utter a word.
Or they will find me.
The tree is tall, thick branches hiding my presence, as I watch the ants below me. Running into the house I call my home, clutching their weapons and yelling in a language I have never understood.
Hearing the terrified screams of my mother, I almost call out for them to keep their filthy hands off her, but my hand flies up to cover my mouth; I have to keep my promise.
My entire body shakes with fear and grief, tears falling endlessly down my pale cheeks, as I wait for the next image to be burned into my mind; the image of my loving family being dragged out of their humble home.
But that moment doesn't come; instead, I hear strange noises from below me.
Worried that I'm visible here, hidden in the green, I push myself away from the branch and lean back against the trunk. I pull up my hanging legs, clutching my arms tightly around them.
But it's no use.
As soon as I hear the close click of the rifle, I know that I am doomed.
And then a shot rings out.
My head is pounding, as I slowly sit up on the cot. Back aching from a restless sleep, I wipe my tired eyes and glance around the small room.
It's empty except for one person; Isabella.
She is sitting at the table, reading a book, and I know that she has yet to notice that I am awake.
And I don't want her to know.
Quietly, I throw my legs over the edge of the cot and lean my elbows on my knees, watching her. Watching how she bites her bottom lip in concentration. The way her hair falls down to fan around her face, every five minutes, only to be pushed back behind her ear by her hand. How her feet slowly tilt back and forth under the table, seemingly with a mind of their own.
Even now, simply sitting down, reading and not saying a word, she remains the most intriguing person I have ever come across.
And the thought passes through me, that she is nothing like those girls from back home. But then, she isn't a girl at all.
And what could a woman like her ever see or want in a boy like me?
Shaking away such thoughts, I run a hand through my hair and let out a harsh breath. Whether or not I'm attempting to grab her attention, I don't know. I rise from the bed, only to find a batch of clean, freshly washed clothing lying on the ground by the cot.
Only, they are not mine.
"Even after yours were washed, they were falling apart, so David found you something else that he hopes will fit." Isabella spoke, and my head snapped up to catch her watching me.
"Uh, thank you," I say, unsure of what else to do or say at the moment.
She only shakes her head with a small smile, returning her gaze to the pages of her book. I stare for a little while longer, before bending down to grab the clothes and making my way toward the tiny bathroom on the other side of the room.
As I pass Isabella in nothing but my underwear, she once more blushes heavily and I try not to smile. It's nice to know that I have some effect on her, after all.
Closing the door behind me, I stare at the small room, wondering just how I am supposed to put on clothing, when I can barely move in this cramped space.
I will just have to make it work, though.
Ten minutes later I step back outside, pleased, yet surprised, to find Isabella still sitting where I left her. She is no longer reading her book, instead she has two cups of warm tea waiting for me, a soft smile on her face when she turns slightly to invite me to join her.
Sitting across from her is much stranger than I expect; yet it feels so right.
"So, Anthony," she speaks, and I stare up at her, my hands twitching as they wrap around the cup. "What part of the country are you from?" she asks, sipping on her own tea.
I gaze down into the swirling taupe of my drink, trying not to fall apart. To even think of such things makes me feel like a little kid.
But I want to answer her.
"I grew up on a small farm, just a few miles outside of Odense," I say, in barely a whisper, but I know she heard me.
She is looking at me with sympathy and I hate it.
Then, as if suddenly realizing something, her eyes widen. "Did you walk all the way here?"
I didn't understand why she was so shocked. How else was I supposed to get here? "Ehm, yes, I did. I didn't really have any other choice," I continued to whisper, fingernails playing with the cracks in the table.
The tears forming in her eyes made me want to change the subject. "What about you, Ms. Petersen? Where are you from?"
"Call me Isabella, Anthony," she smiled, seemingly understanding my need to stop talking about myself. She let out a deep breath, before she continued. "I grew up in Aarhus, the big city. My father raised me in a small house not far from the main square. It was very nice, though I suspect not as quiet as life on a farm," her smile was kind and inviting, and I couldn't help but smile back.
But I knew I would take away her smile with my next question, I could see it in her eyes. My curiosity just got the better of me. "And where is your father now?"
She grimaced slightly, frowning, but still she answered me. "Well, Anthony, my father was a soldier. He was called into duty as soon as the announcement came and… he died in the first wave. He had gotten older, you know, so he wasn't as fit as his younger comrades."
"I'm sorry, Isabella," It was all I seemed capable of saying in response.
She reached over, placing her hand atop mine on the table. "And I'm sorry for your losses, Anthony," she spoke, never once inquiring as to what happened to them.
I could not have been more grateful for that, or for her, at that moment.
Suddenly she seemed to realize that she was touching me and her hand flew back to her side, as yet another blush formed across her cheeks. I wondered if she often did that, or if I just brought out that reaction in her.
I hoped it was the latter.
Before I could gather up the courage to ask her, footsteps came from down the hallway and David soon joined us in the small room.
"Good morning, Anthony, Isabella," he said, as he grabbed a cup of tea for himself.
"Good morning, David," Isabella replied, getting up from the table, her book in hand. "I should go get started for my classes. I'll see both of you later." She deliberately did not look at me, as she left.
I watched the opening even long after she was gone.
-*- MTG -*-
Though there were no windows in this tiny, claustrophobic space, I seemed to be aware that night had fallen. Perhaps it was the fact that the air had gotten slightly cooler, or maybe it was that Major Wendelin had joined myself, David and Anita, a few minutes ago.
I doubted he dared sneak away in the middle of the day.
I was fidgeting in my chair, trying to read the book that Anita had brought me earlier, but it was difficult. I had not been able to ask David where Isabella was, fearing that he would think it strange, so I was desperate for her to arrive.
However, Anita seemed to notice my edginess.
"She will be here soon," she whispered as she passed me. "She went down to the beach to secure the boat."
"I thought that was what you did?" I asked, also whispering.
She pretended to be folding the bed sheets behind me, as she answered. "Usually, yes, but for some reason Isabella wanted to make absolutely sure that it was done right." When she finished speaking, she turned around and winked at me.
I wondered what that was supposed to mean and felt that I didn't want to know the answer.
Suddenly, the trap door slammed open and the Major was quick to grab his rifle by the wall. But less than twenty seconds later, Isabella rushed through the opening and gazed with wide eyes over all four of us.
"Anthony, come on, we have to go," she said, coming over to stand in front of me.
"Isabella, what is going on?" David asked, concern in his voice.
"I got them to prepare the boat for tonight, but we have to go now if we want to make it out before the guards' next round of patrol."
I was in shock; it wasn't supposed to happen this quickly.
But it wasn't as if I could turn it down, so I let Anita help me pack some food and extra clothing, along with a hat that I would wear as we went down to the beach.
Before I knew it, myself, Isabella and the Major were heading for the ocean.
And even though I had never seen it before, I couldn't even feel excited.
And it wasn't because of fear.
"Isabella," I spoke, in a low voice so the Major a few feet in front of us wouldn't hear. "I don't understand. I thought David said that I'd have three days?"
"Do you not want to go as soon as possible, Anthony?"
I just looked at her, knowing that she was trying to get out of explaining herself. I heard her sigh and toss her hands up into the air, before she turned to look at me.
"Look, I am afraid, alright? There is this connection between us and I have to fight it. Not only are you far too young for me, still a boy, even, but you are also leaving. Going into hiding and we will never see each other again. Please, just accept that."
I looked away from her powerfully bewitching eyes, out across the woods surrounding us and thought of what she said.
She was right.
I had felt that bond the moment I first saw her and it had only continued to grow, as we spent more time together. But this was the exact wrong time to be feeling something so strong, because I would probably never see her again.
The age difference was not something I wanted to go into, though if that had been the only issue, I would have spent the rest of my life trying to convince her that it did not matter to me, and that it shouldn't to her either.
But the fact remained that it wasn't the only problem.
At least I would always keep the memory of her words; that she felt as strongly as I did, which I had not dared hope for.
I saw her nod out of the corner of my eye and knew that she had gotten her answer from my reaction. I was forcing myself to accept it, regardless of how it might hurt.
The rest of the trip was made in silence, with the Major glancing back at us every few minutes, to make sure that we were alright and still behind him like we should be.
Although I had no idea what the ocean air tasted like, or what it felt to be walking on sand, I knew the instant we got closer to our destination.
Because Isabella wrapped her hand around mine.
We stayed connected, until we made it to the edge of the small boat; two men were waiting inside and one of them was dressed much like the Major.
"Anthony," he spoke, pointing to the soldier in the boat. "This is Officer Hannes. He will keep you safe, should you run into any trouble." He then stepped over to talk in low voices with him.
Those introductions over with, Isabella pulled me over to the other man. "Meet Magnus, Anthony," she said, removing her hand from mine, so I could shake the one of the newcomer.
"Hello, sir," I said, trying not to glance at Isabella.
"Boy's got manners, I like that," he grinned and I instantly felt a lot calmer. "But none of that sir business. My name is Magnus and, speaking of names, I've got something for you, boy,"
He handed me a small piece of paper and continued with a few instructions. "Once you memorize this information, you'll throw that into the water, so no one will find it. It holds your new identity."
More excited than me, Isabella leaned over and grabbed the paper.
I turned to her, brows furrowed. "What?"
"That's your new name, Anthony. Or should I say Edward. See?" she said, handing me back the note.
As she said, it had that name on it, along with a new birth date and names of my parents. Dr. Carlisle and Mrs. Esme Cullen. I didn't understand that last part, but Magnus appeared to know what I was thinking.
"We don't usually go into such details, but because of your age, you have to have a place, right? Once you've been in Sweden for a while, we'll get you to England where the Cullen couple have been kind enough to take you in. That's when your new life can really begin, boy."
I was having a hard time swallowing all of this, especially considering how little time I had been given to prepare for this. It had just been thrown at me, several days before I was ready. I had purposely not thought about my escape, because David had said three days, not less than one.
But again, someone sensed my discomfort.
"No one is trying to replace your parents, Anthony," Isabella spoke, laying a hand on my arm. "No one ever will. But this is important. If the SS is looking for an orphan boy called Anthony, then they won't be searching for a boy named Edward who still has both of his parents. You understand, don't you?"
And that was the crux of it… because I did.
I just didn't want to.
"Alright," Magnus said, grabbing back our attention. "Enough of this, we need to get going before dawn arrives. By then, we have to have crossed the border into Swedish waters, or shit will hit the fan. Come on, son, get inside and we're off."
"He'll be right with you, Magnus," Isabella said, before pulling me a few feet away from the boat. "Look at me, Anthony."
I lifted my watery eyes from the sand, overwhelmed with different emotions and not ready to say goodbye. Not that I ever would be.
Her hand came up to lay on my cheek as brown met green.
"I know that this is goodbye, but I also know that it's for the best. What kind of life could you have here? No one can know how long this horrible war will last and I would rather have you safe, but not with me, than the terrible alternative. Okay?"
I nodded, but she repeated the last word, obviously wanting to hear my words. "Okay, Isabella. But you can't stop me from missing you."
She gave a teary laugh. "Understood. Now, let's get you to safety."
Knowing I couldn't put it off any longer, I did the only thing I could think of; I leaned in and laid a gentle kiss on her lips.
Something for her to remember, if she ever found herself thinking of me.
She appeared speechless, as I walked away from her, shook Major Wendelin's hand and got into the small boat.
And as the two men began to row away, I felt like I was leaving my heart on the sandy beach in the distance.
But this was for the best and I knew it. I would get to start over, to continue living, just as I had promised my father. I would always remember the gentle kindness of my mother, the stern, but loving hand of my father and the beautiful spirit of my little sister.
But for them, I would start anew. I would do my best to accept the doctor and his wife as my new parents, to accept their help and their home. And all the while, I would hold one image clear in my head.
Of Isabella Petersen and how she saved my life.
I smiled as we sailed further away.
And then the smile fell away.
Because just as we were sailing out of sight, a dozen armed soldiers came out of the forest and surrounded Isabella and the Major.
And then I could no longer see them.