Adrian’s Weakness (Adrian #2, Short Story Sophia’s War Series)

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Contains mild spoilers for Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1). Get information on my books in the series with the links below!

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Frankfurt, Germany

September, 1932

A solid wall careened toward him, his stomach lurching at the sensation as he fell. He gave a jolt, catching himself before he hit the tile. Sitting up at his desk, he yawned, rubbing at his eyes as someone laughed.

“Pleasant dreams, Burkhardt?” Rolf asked, picking up his biology book. “Class is over. Are you coming?”

Rolf had been a schoolmate for years, but only at summer camp with the Hitler Youth a few months ago had Adrian become friends with him.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” Adrian muttered.

The classroom was emptying out. He sat there, blinking the water from his eyes before he stood. The last one in the room, he grabbed his book, going out into the hall. Rolf’s cotton white hair was easy to spot.

“Was there an assignment?” Adrian asked, leaning against the locker as Rolf put his book away.

“Just some memorization. And an essay on Darwin’s five theories and their applications to present-day society.” Rolf looked at him. “Do you want me to take your book?”

But Adrian didn’t hear him. Katherina was coming down the hall talking to a friend, her long, fair hair in two braids that draped past the lace collar on her sky blue dress. She wore a green sweater, brown socks pulled up to her knees as she hugged a book to her chest. To his mortification, she noticed him watching her, and he turned away just as she smiled. Rolf became solemn, his icy blue eyes roving between them.

“I took her for ice cream last weekend,” Rolf said. “I should go talk to her.”

“Of course,” Adrian said. “I’ll see you later.”

Adrian strolled down the hall, storing his book in his own locker when Herr Luther came around the corner. Adrian stared at him as he passed, though Luther⎯⎯either preoccupied or with intention⎯⎯never looked at him, walking by Adrian as if he hadn’t been standing there at all.

Rolf was still talking to Katherina. Adrian observed them from his peripheral vision as he headed out of the Gymnasium, squinting from the sun. With a heavy sigh and an unenthusiastic stride, he started for home. There was a meeting today and he needed to be in his uniform; otherwise and he would have stalled by walking along the Main for a while.

Oma was making dinner when he walked in. She was a scrawny older woman, her wiry blonde hair with platinum strands parted down the center of her head, pinned at the nape of her neck. She had been beautiful once⎯⎯just like his mother in the few photos around the house⎯⎯though now there were perpetual, wrinkled bags under her lackluster eyes. She never smiled.

Guten Tag, Oma.”

She barely glanced at him, stirring at the stove. “Dinner will be ready soon. Go wash up.”

“I would, but I’m not staying,” he informed her, walking out of the kitchen.

The faint odor of cigarettes as he entered the hallway caused him to crinkle his nose. He was glad the wall blocked Opa from view in the sitting room. Perhaps he could sneak out before Opa even realized he was there.

He shut the door to his bedroom, taking off his clothes. His black short pants were shorter than when he’d first gotten them, his brown shirt constrictive around his chest and arms. He’d wanted to ask Oma to take him and get a new one⎯⎯or, at least have this one tailored⎯⎯but that meant Oma asking Opa for money to do it. He wasn’t in the best frame of mind to face Opa with equanimity, and therefore, decided to suffer his tight clothes silently for the time being.

He was adjusting the red band with the Hakenkreuz on his long-sleeved arm when his bedroom door banged open. Opa stood in the doorway in his vest, shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows. His gray and white hair was like a horseshoe around the back of his head.

“What’s this about you not staying for dinner?”

Adrian ignored him, tying his shoes. “There’s a meeting with the Hitler Youth⎯⎯like there is every week.”

“Don’t get smart with me, boy. Your Oma caters to your ungrateful skin and you’re not going to walk out on her like this. I don’t care what it’s for, you’re not going back out.”

Adrian breathed out. The last thing he felt like doing was wrangling with him.“I am going, and I will be back tonight when it’s over.”

Opa’s sky blue eyes widened, his scowl becoming more defined. Before Adrian knew it, Opa’s belt was off. Adrian raised his arms as a shield, Opa’s belt coming down on him, strapping his forearms and shoulders.

“I’ll show you! Disrespecting me in my own house!”

Each strike was like a shock, contributing to the electric ball of rage growing inside him. He braced himself, waiting for the next blow, his hand wrapping around the strap and yanking the belt out of Opa’s grasp. Opa’s lips parted as Adrian advanced on him. Despite being a head shorter, he knew he finally had the upper hand as Opa took a step back.

Adrian spoke in a frightening whisper, finger in Opa’s face. “That is the last time you will ever raise your belt to me. And I swear to God, you ever do it again, I’ll tell Karl Althaus that you are trying to keep me away from the Youth. He will tell the appropriate officials, and they will not be pleased.”

Skin burning and tingling where Opa’s belt had come down on him, Adrian brandished the belt at his side, storming down the hallway.

“You think you can threaten me? In my own house?” Opa bellowed, pursuing him. “The only reason I keep you is because of your Oma! I am biding my time until the second you turn 18 and when you do, I won’t feel anything as I throw you out onto the street⎯⎯!”

“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction. The second I turn 18, I’ll already be gone.”

“And when I get the notice that you’ve bled out on some battlefield, I will grieve only for the ground that you defiled with it!”

Adrian trembled in fury, ignoring Oma as she pleaded with him in the kitchen. The belt made a loud crack on the table as Adrian whipped it, knocking a bowl of sauerkraut onto the floor. He slammed the door on his way out.

He was trembling as he trotted down the stairwell, breathing hard through his nostrils, fighting the urge to yell, fighting the urge to pulverize the wall with his fist. Once outside, he turned right instead of left, leaning against the side of the building in the alleyway. It felt like a pent-up ball of energy was surging inside him with nowhere to go. His fists were still clenched along with his teeth, and he rammed his elbow against the brick wall at his back. Opa was already a member of the Party, and had been for years. He found a grain of bitter delight in the thought that he was using Opa’s own allegiance against him, while it was Adrian who wasn’t sure where he stood.

Joining the Hitler Youth had been a better idea than he’d expected. He had done exactly as Luther said, joining the morning after meeting Luther in his office. It did something to him; though he knew it was out of a disingenuous motivation, he signed up, the pride of the Hitler Youth belonging to him as he walked out of the building. He had an uncontaminated lineage, though he felt resentful, knowing half of the proof lay with the father who had abandoned him and his mother. The purity of his coward’s blood was the only thing Adrian could say his father had ever given him.

He had arrived at school later that day, at his locker when Conrad shoved the door closed, flanked by two others.

“Well, if it isn’t Heinrich the Jew-lover,” he smirked. He held up the tattered remains of Adrian’s biology book, the binding missing, pages ripped. “Looking for this?”

He shoved it into Adrian’s chest.

“Guess you’ll be needing a new one,” Conrad said.

“No, this one’s perfect.”

He swung the book full force against Conrad’s jaw, knocking the smile off his face as he tumbled to the floor. Adrian threw the book down.

“And don’t call me ‘Heinrich,’” he warned through his teeth.

Two teachers had had to pull them off of each other after that. Opa had roared and belted him that afternoon after finding out about the fight, as well as for being sent home early, making him go to bed without lunch or dinner.

But the next day, everyone was talking about the fight that Conrad had the bruises to prove had happened, and none of the boys who had beaten Adrian up before would look him in the eye. Luther had even flashed him an approving grin that day as he walked out of class. Neither of them mentioned the execution of his first assignment that evening at their first covert lesson under the guise of a remedial arithmetic session.

Adrian’s extracurricular activities were leaving him exhausted. It was just as Luther had said it would be; after the rigorous sports with the Hitler Youth and Luther challenging him intellectually with the same fervor every night, he struggled to keep up with studying for school, falling asleep in class each day. Some nights, he didn’t study at all, reading a few chapters from his Bible instead and only because he’d promised Luther he would.

There were voices carrying up the street. He opened his eyes, seeing Katherina coming up the sidewalk with her friend. Katherina waved to her, walking into the apartment building across from Adrian’s. His anger seemed to liquefy from the same magic that was holding him spellbound. The moment she was out of sight, the charm broke and he pushed away from the wall, heading down the street.

06.10.14

Taking a couple of connecting trams to Hofhausstraße⎯⎯and getting a bratwurst along the way⎯⎯he walked to the house that accommodated the Hitler Youth. Rolf was already there, and Adrian pulled out a chair at the table to sit next to him. Conrad’s eyes no longer locked on Adrian with the intensity of a German Shepherd seeking the submission of a smaller dog; instead, Conrad regarded him with disinterest, talking and laughing with the boys at the other end of the table.

“You’re awake,” Rolf said, regaining Adrian’s attention.

“Yes.”

Rolf leaned in. “You know, this isn’t for everyone⎯⎯there’s a certain standard that must be attained; survival of the fittest and all.”

“I’m fine,” Adrian said, offended. As if it wasn’t enough to hear from Opa how unworthy, how much of a weakling he was. Though Rolf was his friend, he couldn’t tell him the truth; no one was allowed to know.

Karl Althaus⎯⎯their group leader⎯⎯arrived, preventing the conversation with Rolf from going any further. They said a prayer to Hitler and sang before Karl handed out pamphlets on the importance of the preservation of Aryan bloodlines for them to read and discuss.

Adrian preferred the weekly meetings with reading material and discussions. On the weekends, they did calisthenics, practiced marching and military inspired games and exercises. Usually, Karl and the other leaders would divide them up, putting red or blue bands on their arms to designate which team they belonged to. They would capture each other, ripping off the bands until only one color remained. The game was often aggressive, the boys goaded by Karl and the other leaders. Sometimes, the adrenaline and hard feelings ran so high that there would be brawls. Adrian hated finding himself in the midst of them, but Luther had said that it was critical that he blend in. It was difficult to reconcile with his innate disinclination to cause harm while he was throwing punches with the rest of them.

Before his agreement with Luther, he’d thought he knew who he was, had a general comprehension of what he believed in. But there were aspects to the Hitler Youth he found that he was grateful for; the camaraderie, the admiration he got in his uniform, the confidence he was gaining in his own physical strength. The more time he spent with the boys in his group, the more he thought Luther’s ominous prediction of an imminent war unlike any other was a paranoid conjecture. Sure, the Nazis had a negative outlook on the Jews, but other than that, he found he could exist⎯⎯no, thrive⎯⎯among them even if his own personal opinions didn’t always align with what they taught. It wasn’t detrimental enough that he felt he was compromising the core values he was still certain of.

It was dark outside when they finally left the meeting. He stood, waiting with Rolf as the other boys dispersed on the sidewalk. A black BMW pulled up, the Adler family car. Only Rolf and one other boy’s family had the luxury of a car.

“Want a ride home?” Rolf asked.

It was tempting. It would save him the fare on taking the tram, which meant he could save the money and spend it where he needed it elsewhere without invoking Opa’s wrath.

But Luther had said not to share their private lessons with anyone unless it was the answer to a pointed question. “No. Danke.”

Rolf shrugged, opening the door. “Suit yourself.”

He watched the gleam of the headlights dim as the car drove away before walking in the opposite direction, toward one of the tram lines that headed towards the school.

The school was dark and deserted as always when he arrived. Luther was grading papers at his desk, just as he had been that first night.

He looked up, seeing Adrian in the doorway. “You’re late.”

Adrian closed the door, sitting at one of the desks with a sigh. “The meeting went over. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Let’s not waste any more time,” Luther said, closing a book on his desk. He got up, and Adrian moved to the front of the classroom. “Let’s continue where we left off last night. Tell me about your day, leaving out one detail that you don’t want me to know about.”

Adrian thought back. Falling asleep in class? Opa becoming irate, striking him for missing dinner? The failing grade he received today for not reading the literature assignment?

And then he became still, a subconscious smile on his lips: Katherina.

He applied what Luther had been teaching him; keep as close to the truth as possible, and don’t give too many specifics.

“I fell asleep in my biology class. I met my friend Rolf outside the classroom to ask if there was an assignment.”

Then, he saw her coming down the hall. She was so pretty, and it felt like being punched in the gut to hear how Rolf said they had gone out for ice cream the weekend before.

“Then I went home to change into my uniform. When I got home, Opa was angry and hit me with his belt. I took it from him and told him if he did it again, he would regret it.”

There she was again, coming up the street, waving to her friend as she went into the apartment building.

“Then I took the tram to Hofhausstraße to meet with the Hitler Youth, and after that, I came straight here.”

Luther sat on the edge of his desk, hands draped over the top of his cane. “Why did you fall asleep in biology?”

Adrian shrugged. “I fall asleep in all my classes.”

“That’s not what I asked. You never volunteer information.”

He backtracked. “I was tired.”

“Was there anything else discussed between yourself and Herr Adler?”

“No. Nothing.”

“You gave a slight nod of your head, contradicting your answer. It’s a subtle, physical response that you’re being deceptive. And a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.”

Dammit. He knew that.

“Did you go straight home after school?”

“Yes.”

Luther seemed to think for a moment, his eyes never leaving Adrian. “Why did your grandfather strike you?”

“Because I was missing dinner.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“That, and I spoke back to him.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes.”

“Uninterrupted eye contact is good and the promptness of your replies indicate openness. Your fidgeting, however, makes me think you’re either uncomfortable discussing your grandfather or that you’re being untruthful about something. Keep that in mind.”

“Yes, Herr.”

“Did you go straight to Hofhausstraße after leaving your house?”

He blinked. “Yes.”

“Hesitating to reply, even in the fraction of a second, is symptomatic of deception. What are you lying about?”

He realized he was fidgeting again and had even lowered his gaze in response. He corrected himself. “I was very angry when I left. I waited in the alley for a few minutes to calm down.”

Luther’s eyes narrowed. He wasn’t sure if he’d done something to give away the detail he was still trying to conceal or if Luther was thinking. The rest of the simulated interrogation went easier, since that was the last time he’d seen Katherina today. Luther seemed satisfied.

“And now,” Luther said, “tell me about your day again, but in English.”

Adrian stared at him, shaking his head. “Herr, I don’t…I don’t know enough English to do that.”

Luther lifted his chin. “Try.”

The same exercise followed, delayed simply by Luther supplying words he didn’t know or correcting words he butchered. Then, they repeated it in French. It wasn’t until the Russian interrogation where he began mingling English and French words in that Luther hung his head in exasperation. Adrian felt a mixture of regret and annoyance at Luther’s evident disappointment.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Herr. I’m just tired.”

“That’s enough for tonight, Herr Burkhardt,” Luther said, gathering papers behind his desk. “Tomorrow, I expect you to be better prepared. Here.”

He hobbled around the desk, the two books in his hand threatening to topple Adrian’s already tottering pile of responsibilities.

“One is a book of poems by the English poet, Robert Frost. The other is a novel by the Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin. Read them. Remember the words you don’t understand and we will discuss them.” He handed them to Adrian. “I think it goes without saying that these must be hidden well.”

Adrian nodded. He would put them with his Bible and the collection of works by Heinrich Heine in the hollow underneath the wooden frame of his mattress. He’d had to hide the latter after Opa berated him last year for reading such an “un-German” book.

He felt Luther’s eyes on him. “Your uniform is too small. Why haven’t you gotten a new one?”

Abashed, he read the lettering on the books he was holding. “My Opa…”

Luther seemed to understand. “Go to Frau Hutmacher after school tomorrow. Tell her to put it on my account.”

For some reason, this seemed to embarrass him even further. Books in tow, Adrian started for the door. “Danke. Good night, Herr Luther.”

“Before you go, Adrian, there’s one more matter I wish to mention. I hope you understand the significance, the…risk,” he said, lowering his voice, “of what we are doing. There can be no distractions, nothing that might undermine our objective. We must put our personal desires aside for a greater purpose. We must be careful not to allow lines to blur.”

He didn’t like the way Luther was eyeing him over his glasses, the way he always did when watching Adrian for a reaction. He’d hidden her well; he had never even spoken to Katherina but in passing. There was nothing between them but a couple of casual glances.

And her smile; her shy but sugary white smile.

“Of course, Herr,” Adrian said. He walked out, uncertain about what Luther thought he knew.

It was after midnight when he made it back to his street. He dreaded it, expecting neither Oma nor Opa had gone to bed. After what had happened between him and Opa earlier, it would be as if he’d never left, his departure having been a mere interlude to their fight. He groaned to himself; he still had to read his Bible tonight, too.

The scent of smoke irritated his senses, and for a moment, he feared Opa was outside the building waiting for him. He stopped, taking in his surroundings. It wasn’t Opa; someone was smoking in the alleyway across the street.

Even half-veiled in shadows, he could see Katherina had changed, no longer in her school clothes but in the white button-up, black skirt and tie of the BDM. She was sniffling. He gulped, tucking the books into the back of his short pants as he crossed the street.

She noticed him, wiping at her face as he stood at the entrance to the alley.

“Are…are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered with a smile, though it vanished as she took a drag.

The faint street light illuminated her face, bringing her red dappled cheek to his attention. He left the light, stepping closer to her.

“What happened to your cheek?”

She seemed self-conscious, her eyes flickering at him as she gave an insincere chuckle. “It’s nothing. Really. My father, he…sometimes he drinks a little too much⎯⎯communicates with his hands.”

He leaned on the wall across from her, crossing his arms. “I’m sorry.”

“My father’s a good man,” she said. “It’s just when he drinks.”

He watched her smoke. He wished he could excuse Opa’s behavior in the same way.

“I’m sorry,” she said, holding out her cigarette. “I should have offered.”

Danke, but…no.”

No cigarette would ever touch his lips. He found them repulsive, only because Opa always reeked of them.

The hand holding the cigarette fell to her side, the two of them gazing at each other in the quiet. “What are you doing out so late? It’s not safe. There could be Communists out.”

He grinned at her sarcastic tone. “I could say the same to you.”

Her rejoining smile pleased him. He could hear his heart beating in his ears, finding it difficult to swallow as she stamped out her cigarette, leaning against the wall next to him.

“How puzzling. We’ve lived across the street from each other our entire lives and this is the first time we’ve actually had a conversation.”

Adrian snorted. “I know.”

Sometimes, he would see her through the window, sitting in front of her mirror brushing her hair. Waking up, bracing himself for battle every morning and every evening⎯⎯sometimes even in between⎯⎯made him forget that there was anything else in life; made him feel as if this endeavor to survive Opa’s house was all there would ever be. But watching the careful way Katherina undid each flaxen braid, the gentle way she smoothed her hair with each stroke of her brush, settled his embattled soul. Just looking at her made him feel peaceful, gave him hope that maybe there was more to life than he realized.

She closed in the space between them now, whispering in his ear. “Do you think I’m pretty, Heinrich?”

He turned his head. It was difficult to breathe, feeling her lips hovering over his cheek. He closed his eyes as she kissed him, though he froze.

She chuckled. “Have you never kissed a girl before?”

“I’ve kissed a girl,” he answered quickly. “It’s just…I think Rolf likes you.”

“Rolf’s just a friend. Besides,” she said, “I like you. Do you like me, Heinrich?”

She was so close he could see the black rim around the edges of her sky blue eyes. It was he who kissed her this time. Her arms draped around his neck, he couldn’t help himself, untying the ribbons in her hair. Running his fingers through her golden tresses, she only kissed him harder.

A window snapped open somewhere overhead, startling them both.

“Katherina!” someone rasped. “Get up here! I’ve covered for you long enough.”

“Coming,” she whispered back. She smiled at Adrian. “That’s my brother. I should go.”

He only nodded, incapable of speech.

“My father’s giving a lecture at the university tomorrow evening. He doesn’t usually get back until very late,” she told him. “My mother will be there to watch him, as will my brother. I’ll be staying home⎯⎯I won’t be feeling well. It would be polite of you to come by and check on me.”

With a coy smile, she kissed him, starting up the iron fire escape. He stood by himself with a moony grin in the darkness, even after he’d heard the window close. He was afraid of waking up tomorrow and finding he’d dreamed it all.

Becoming alert to the present, he turned for home. She liked him; she liked him! Just as he kept secrets for Luther, he would keep this secret from Luther; he didn’t have to know. Luther’s misapprehension about the Nazis shouldn’t be reason for him not to be happy.

Especially when, for the first time in his life, he was.

 

~~~~~

Meet some of the characters in Sophia’s War here!

The End of Innocence (#1)

Lies and Allies (#2)

Stalemate (#3)

Hidden Halos (#4)

Veil of Secrets (#5)

Death Knell (#6)

In The Defense of Naive Characters

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Like most people, I always read the good and bad reviews on a book I’m curious about reading, or even books I already love (just because I like to see how other people perceived it), and I’m often taken aback by how hostile some readers are toward naive characters.

Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than a character who just doesn’t learn; a character who, after plenty of opportunities, just doesn’t get it. But why is the general state of innocence so repellent to some?

That’s a conundrum with naive characters because they don’t yet have the capability to make insightful decisions⎯⎯otherwise and they wouldn’t be called ‘naive.’ Their perspective is often fallacious because of their lack of understanding and lack of empathy for the world around them. So how do you, as a writer, redeem these types of characters?

I read an article on K.M. Weiland’s page (if you’re a writer and aren’t already following her blog, do yourself a favor and DO!) that said the number one way to write an unlikeable character is to continually make them oblivious to their own personality, or their circumstances, or other characters, or their environment; they persist in making the same gullible decisions with the same immature thought processes. You can construct a totally rude, jerky, selfish character, but as long as they are aware of who and what they are, the reader is more likely to be sympathetic to them than a character who is good but ignorant.

The way to save your naive character from being reviled is to showcase their ability to change. I personally LOVE when a character starts off ingenuous and over the course of the story, we see their thought processes and reactions to certain events evolve. They may face a considerably traumatic event that alters their perspective, or they may experience a close call that awakens them to all the what-ifs and could-have-beens, catapulting them into a state of self-examination.

Both innocence and experience possess their own kinds of beauty, though. I personally love naive characters, but only if I see them develop and learn over the course of their stories; I value that, I relate to that, I love that. I also love characters that begin damaged and scarred, because we get to watch them discover their own strength and that past mistakes or past shames don’t have to define them; I value that, I relate to that, I love that.

We all come from different points of view as readers, and none of them are necessarily wrong. I just want to plead a case for naive characters. I think a lot of readers dismiss them out of frustration (which is understandable), but sometimes, it’s not about the character; it’s about the way they grow.

So writers, beware: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a naive protagonist. But if you keep your character and their innocence on a pedestal, preventing them from developing over the course of your book, you are inviting readers to remember them for the wrong reason⎯⎯because of how much they hate them.

 

Who is your favorite naive character?

 

Who is your least favorite?

Adrian’s First Assignment (Adrian #1, Short Story Sophia’s War Series)

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This is the first short story in a series of short stories inspired by my WWII series, Sophia’s War. You can find links for more information at the bottom of the page, as well as details on my upcoming free book promotion and sales, starting June 16 – 20, 2015!

*This contains mild spoilers for Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1).

 

——–

Frankfurt, Germany

March, 1932

The sky was turning a dark shade of mulberry, the first stars making their appearance through a cloudy haze. He could hear the chantey of crickets, the grating of their spindly legs bringing in the night. Looking both ways, he crossed the street, elbow tucked into his side. With each limping step, he wheezed, his eyes on the bronze eagle that ornamented the colossal concrete building of the Gymnasium. The taste of metal filled his mouth and he spat, crimson-stained saliva hitting the sidewalk and splattering on his shin. His head was pounding, and he winced from the rusty creak of the iron gate as he entered the school grounds.

The hallways were dark, quiet as the burial chamber of King Tutankhamen. Shoes shuffling against tile, he tried to straighten before grunting, doubling-over from the pain.

A faint light emanated from one of the classrooms just ahead and he hastened toward it. Through his good eye, he could see his arithmetic teacher writing at his desk. He knocked lightly on the door frame.

Herr Luther looked up in curiosity before sobering. He dropped his pen, springing from his desk chair.

“Herr Burkhardt,” he said in surprise.

Adrian still couldn’t stand upright, even for appearance’s sake; it felt as if he’d done an excessive number of calisthenics with his abdominals. Hunched over, arm still pressed against his stomach as if that would make the discomfort stop, Adrian looked around the empty room.

“Is this a bad time, Herr Luther?”

“No. No,” Luther said, coming around to the front of the desk. “What happened to you?”

With a noisy breath, Adrian sunk into one of the desk chairs.

“It doesn’t matter,” he croaked, waiting for his aches to dull. “I can’t go home like this. I’ve lost my books. My shirt is ripped, my clothes are dirty; my Oma will be furious, not to mention…”

Opa would bruise whatever part of him hadn’t been already.

He whipped the ragged black tie from around his neck, throwing it to the floor. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

Adrian couldn’t look him in the eye. Luther came closer, accompanied by his cane. They all joked that Herr Luther must have had a wooden leg, the way it never bent at the knee and thumped as he walked. Only once had Luther referenced it in class, implying it was from a wound he’d sustained during the Great War. Adrian didn’t find it humorous anymore.

“Wait here,” Luther murmured.

Adrian hadn’t moved from his chair, didn’t even look up when Luther returned. Setting a cup of water on the desk, he handed Adrian an aspirin. Adrian swallowed it in a gulp.

“Put this over your eye,” Luther said.

It was a fabric ice pack with a herringbone pattern. Adrian reached for it, wincing as he did so.

Luther’s brow flinched. “Raise your shirt.”

The tails of his collared shirt were already hanging out beneath his vest. Grimacing, Adrian grabbed the hem, pulling it up.

Plum and wine-colored blotches emblazoned his stomach. He lowered the ice pack, surveying it in mutual contempt and awe. Luther was leaning over to get a better look, though he peered at Adrian over his glasses.

“Have you coughed up blood?”

Adrian put the ice pack over his eye. “No.”

“Urinated blood?”

Adrian shook his head. Luther’s lips thinned.

“You’ll be fine. Though it wouldn’t hurt to rest for a couple days.” Luther sighed. “What was it this time?”

Adrian dropped his gaze, embarrassed that Luther knew it had happened before. The luminescent glow of a street light stood out in the black on the other side of the window. His grandparents were probably in a rage. He should have been home long before now.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Adrian muttered.

“Then why did you come to me?”

His eyes fell on the bonbon on Luther’s lapel⎯a Hakenkreuz, the symbol of the Nazi Party. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Hi eyes fell on the pin on Luther’s

“You came here⎯at dinner time, when you should be home eating with your grandparents⎯and you have nothing to say?”

Adrian kept his eyes down, avoiding Luther’s scrutiny.

“This is Herr Pfenning’s doing. Isn’t it?” Luther asked, his voice low. “He and his friends cornered you again⎯because you don’t wear the uniform.”

“It’s not just that,” Adrian mumbled. The ice had begun to make his eye ache and he rested it on his knee. “Today, during biology, Herr Eisenberg called Oskar Stein to the front of the class.” Adrian bit the inside of his lip. “Oskar is Jewish⎯”

“I am familiar with Herr Stein,” Luther said.

Adrian swallowed. “Herr Eisenberg talked about his dark eyes, the hook of his nose, the curls in his black hair; he showed us all the ways Oskar is different from the rest of us⎯how he’s inferior to us. After classes, I was on my way home. Conrad and the others had Oskar in the alley, punching him, cutting his hair. One of them took his biology book and hit him with it. Conrad saw me walking by and told me to join. I asked him, ‘Why? What has he done?’ And he said, ‘He is a Jew!’” Adrian hesitated. “So I walked over and set my books down while Oskar was getting to his feet. Conrad said, ‘Do it, Heinrich. Show us you are a man.’”

Luther folded his arms across his chest. “So what did you do?”

Adrian closed his eyes, exhaling. “I told him I wasn’t going to do that. I picked up Oskar’s things and I gave them to him and told him to go.”

A strange look made a fleeting appearance on Luther’s face, as he knew it would.

Adrian scoffed. “What is wrong with me? Why am I like this? The others, they look at Oskar and they see a Jew. I look at him and I see a schoolmate I’ve known since primary school; I see a boy who once shared his lunch with me when my Opa sent me to school for a week without food. I see Conrad and the others in their uniforms and I know I’m supposed to want to be a part of it, but I don’t; I don’t want to be like them.” He hated the way his eyes stung. “My Opa says I’m just like my father⎯a coward; a coward who will shoot himself in the foot to keep from defending the Fatherland. Tell me what I’m doing wrong, Herr Luther. Tell me what I need to do to change. I don’t want it to be like this anymore.”

He bowed his head, wiping his cheek on his shoulder. Opa only struck him harder if he cried.

It was a moment before Luther spoke.

“It’s true. You aren’t like Herr Pfenning. That is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Look at me,” Adrian shouted, pointing at his swollen eye. “It is a bad thing. I’m tired of always saying the wrong thing. I’m tired of doing the wrong thing. I’m tired of being a disappointment. I’m tired of the way he looks at me.”

“Why does it matter how Conrad looks at you?”

Adrian fidgeted. His black eye was beginning to hurt again and he pressed the ice pack to it. “I wasn’t talking about Conrad.”

He saw it in the way Opa ignored him when he told his grandparents goodbye in the mornings. He saw it in the scowl at the dinner table every evening when he looked up from his school books. He saw it in the way Opa would erupt, taking off his belt when Adrian spilled a drink; when he caught Adrian reading a book for leisure; when he came home with bruises and cuts from losing yet another fight with yet another boy. He’d seen it the one time he’d come home with a reward for having the highest marks in his class:

“I thought you would be proud of me.”

Opa’s light blue eyes blackened. “I will never be proud of you. You killed my daughter. Even your own father didn’t want you. And we’re the ones who got stuck with you.”

Luther bowed his head before looking at him. “We are not what we are born into, Heinrich⎯not if we don’t want to be. We have a choice. That is a God-given right that no one⎯not your grandfather, not Conrad, no one⎯can take away from you. You can choose who you want to be. You’re an exceptional young man in a world that values ignorance and subservience. That is why you don’t fit in; that’s why you feel you don’t belong.”

Adrian stared at him before shaking his head. “Why would any of that make a difference?”

“Right there,” Luther rasped with enthusiasm. “That is why it makes a difference! While everyone else bows with blind obedience, you ask ‘why.’ You have an extraordinary opportunity, Heinrich, to not only help yourself, but to help Germany⎯to help the world.”

The feverishness on his usually stony-faced arithmetic teacher’s face put him ill-at-ease. Adrian set the ice pack on the desktop.

“I should be going,” he said, pushing himself up.

Luther’s hands were out in front of him, as if to stop him. “Wait. Wait, please. Heinrich, what if I told you this didn’t have to be the only path for you? What if I told you there was a way you could blend in, but still be who you want to be? What if there was a way to end your grandfather’s control over you?”

His eye had swollen completely shut now. “And how would I do that?”

The smile on Luther’s lips caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand.

“You fight back.”

Adrian opened his mouth to express his dissent, confused when no words came out. Eyes drawn to the Hakenkreuz fastened to Luther’s jacket lapel again, he sensed a disconnect; unless he was mistaken about what Luther was insinuating, there was a treacherous hint of subversion in his tone. Luther grabbed Adrian’s shoulders.

“I can help you,” Luther whispered. “If you agree, we can help each other. But you have to trust me. You must listen and obey, no matter what. Do you trust me, Heinrich?”

Adrian frowned. “Please don’t call me that. I don’t want to be called that. It was my father’s name.”

Luther released him. “What do you want to be called?”

“Adrian,” he said. “It’s my middle name. But it’s mine.”

Luther took hold of his cane. “Very well. Do you trust me, Adrian?”

Though he felt as if he were trading one life of servitude for another, he gave Luther a hopeful, desperate nod. Luther pat his arm, walking back to his desk.

“It’s time you joined the Hitler Youth,” Luther said, opening one of his desk drawers. “It won’t be long before enrolling is compulsory. It is better to stay one step ahead than wait until you don’t have a choice.”

Adrian felt the color drain from his face. “What?”

Luther peered at him over his glasses as he walked back with a book. “Tomorrow. First thing in the morning, you will join. If you can’t find a place among them, you will make one, but it is imperative you appear as inconspicuous, as unremarkable as possible.”

Adrian shook his head. “But, Herr⎯”

“Trust me,” Luther said, handing him the book. “I will take care of the rest.”

The muscles in his stomach ached as he held the heavy leather-bound book with both hands.

“A Bible?” Adrian asked, skeptical.

“Read it,” Luther said, “every night after your school work. If you think you won’t have time⎯and you won’t have much once you’re in that uniform⎯your school work comes second. You must always read your Bible.”

“My Opa hates when I read.”

“Your grandfather isn’t going to know,” Luther said, though it sounded like an order. “In fact, this will be the last time your grandfather will have any authority over you. Tonight, when you go home, you will tell him you’re taking remedial arithmetic with me in the evenings. Your first lesson will be here tomorrow, after your activities with the youth are done.”

“Remedial…? But I have top marks in the class.”

“Start failing.”

Adrian stared at him.

“Your first assignment under my direction, Herr Burkhardt, is to earn back your respect. The next time I see Conrad Pfenning, he had better have bruises that rival yours.”

Adrian stood motionless. With a befuddled look through his functioning eye at his formerly phlegmatic teacher, he glanced at the Bible, starting for the door.

“Heinrich.”

Adrian clenched his jaw, looking back from the doorway. Luther was watching him.

“Go home knowing that you face your grandfather’s wrath tonight; tomorrow, he will face yours. Tomorrow, Heinrich Burkhardt will become nothing but a nom de guerre. Tomorrow,” Luther said,you will show us all who Adrian Burkhardt is.”

 

—–

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Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1)

Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies (#2)

Sophia’s War: Stalemate (#3)

Sophia’s War: Hidden Halos (#4)

Sophia’s War: Veil of Secrets (#5)

Sophia’s War: Death Knell (#6)

The Art of “Show, Don’t Tell.”

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The whole idea of “Show, don’t tell” was one of the most intimidating concepts for me when I started writing my first novel nine years ago. Now, it excites me; I see it as a challenge. It’s too easy to just say “Mary was angry,” and much less interesting.

What do you envision when you read that? “Mary was angry.”

The throbbing temple?

The clenched fists?

The red face?

Why not just say that instead? It’s those little details that are going to jump out at the reader and paint a picture for them. That’s what makes readers feel like they are in the character’s head, seeing and experiencing emotions and events firsthand.

Show, don't tell!

Show, don’t tell!

And that’s the goal. You want your book to be written in such a way that the reader forgets they are even reading. You want it to play like a movie in their head. The way to do this is with vivid, seamless description.

I am about to break a cardinal rule by using an example from a film rather than a book, but that’s only because this was the first time the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique began to click in my head. It happened while watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Aside from fact that it was not proper etiquette for the time period for a woman’s bare hand to touch a man’s bare hand in such a manner (which I didn’t know until researching glove etiquette for this article), there was something so significant to me about this scene. Watch it here:

From the moment I saw this movie for the first time, I loved this scene, but I wasn’t sure why. Now, as an author, I do. It’s because no one ever says out loud what Darcy and Elizabeth feel for each other. Darcy and Elizabeth don’t even say what they are feeling; we see what they are feeling, the way Elizabeth’s lips part and she stares in surprise upon feeling the bare touch of his hand on hers. She doesn’t yank it away, showing us that she’s not embarrassed or scandalized by it. Even more revealing is the way Darcy turns around, as if he’s not even sparing their physical contact a second thought. In contradiction, though, we see the way he stretches his hand at his side as if in discomfort, conveying to the viewer that he’s feeling an ache he isn’t comfortable experiencing.

There are little tidbits like this throughout the film before they declare their feelings to each other, but this one was always the most striking to me. These little “showing and not telling” moments are stepping stones in a novel or film, a buildup that allows the climax to really pack a punch. This is why Darcy’s proposal to someone he purportedly views with condescension (Elizabeth) doesn’t come out of left field for the viewer. If we weren’t given these little signals beforehand–if the tension wasn’t being built under the surface–the big reveal wouldn’t have such a potent, memorable effect later. If we weren’t already primed for the possibility that Darcy and Elizabeth were falling in love, we would feel nothing when he finally proposes to her. It would just seem implausible.

However, there is a very fine line we authors must walk. Yes, we must drop hints, but we have to be careful not to come right out and say it. It’s okay for the readers or viewers to assume or hope, but we don’t want them to know for certain until we are ready for the big reveal to actually occur. Showing–and not telling–is definitely an art that must be perfected over time.

So it’s okay if you feel you haven’t mastered the skill yet, or if you feel you don’t even understand how to do it properly yet. Just keep trying, and most importantly, keep writing. What I’ve discovered–for myself at least–is that I improve a little and grasp the concept a little better with each sentence, each novel I write.

So don’t give up! We’re in this together! You’re doing great!

sunset skies

For more great articles on the art of “Show, Don’t Tell”, check these out!:

Helping Writers to Become Authors: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell

The Write Practice: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell

Five Incredibly Simple Ways to Help Writers Show and Not Tell