Adrian’s Mistake (Adrian #3, Short Story Sophia’s War Series)

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This is part 3 in a short story series I’m doing for my Sophia’s War novel series. This one contains medium spoilers for books 1-6 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

——-

Frankfurt, Germany

April and May, 1933

She smelled like strawberries.

He couldn’t take a breath without breathing in the intoxicating scent of her. Katherina’s arms were around him, the two of them out of sight under the stairwell. He tore his lips away from hers. “I really have to go.”

But her fingers were running through his hair, her lips on his neck, on his jaw. She pulled him close, pressing her body to his, her back against the wall.

“He’s going to yell at me,” Adrian breathed between kisses.

Katherina nibbled at his lip. “Report him.”

“For what?”

“For interfering with your duty to the Fatherland. What we are doing here is of great importance.” She simpered. “I don’t know why you worry so much about your grandfather.”

It wasn’t Opa he was afraid of. It had been a long time since he’d looked at Opa with fear instead of resentment, anyway.

She kissed him, a deep, blood-pumping kiss. “You don’t answer to him anymore. You answer to no one but the Party.”

This was supposed to make him feel better; this was supposed to empower him. Pledging his allegiance to the Party meant Opa had little to no authority over him, especially when what Opa wanted conflicted with Adrian’s commitment to the Hitler Youth. Each day, Adrian found it easier to bypass the once unmistakable boundaries of his own conscience; it was the only way he could get through the meetings with the Hitler Youth without presenting a different opinion, even for argument’s sake. Spurning his own dissent during some of the Nazi discussions allowed him to continue enjoying the military exercises and games with his friends.

And then, there were his clandestine meetings with Luther. Remaining under Luther’s tutelage allowed him to keep learning something since he had stopped putting so much effort into his regular classes. His association with Luther had begun as an act of resisting Nazism—and their activities were becoming increasingly illegal—but somewhere along the way, the zeal for their purpose had begun to slip away from him. Adrian was learning it was possible to straddle the line, able to live in and proclaim fealty to both worlds.

And then there was Katherina. While the Hitler Youth strengthened his body, Luther sharpened his mind—and Katherina made toys of them both.

Her breath was hot in his ear. “There’s a janitor’s closet down the hall that no one ever uses. Come.”

He was late. Luther was going to reprimand him. It wasn’t until she began leading him down the hall that he halted. “Not now. I’m sorry, I don’t have time. Maybe tonight?”

“I told you, I’m leaving tonight. My parents are taking us to the country for the weekend. Heinrich, please. Before I leave?”

He frowned. “Find me as soon as you get back. But I can’t right now. I have to go.”

He could tell she was frustrated. He kissed her cheek. “Heil Hitler.”

“Heil Hitler,” she returned, dispirited as she released his hand.

He shielded his eyes from the sun, stepping out of the building. With an involuntary glance at the windows to the apartment he shared with Oma and Opa across the street, he started down the sidewalk.

Luther was marking papers at his desk when Adrian burst in, out of breath. He clicked his heels from the doorway, raising his arm. “Heil Hitler, Herr—”

“You’re late, Herr Burkhardt,” he said without looking up. “We were to meet at precisely five pm. What time does the clock read?”

Eyeing the large clock on the wall behind Luther’s desk, Adrian shut the door behind him. “Seven after, Herr. My Opa found the books hidden under my bed. He was threatening to throw them into the stove.”

“That, Herr Burkhardt,” Luther said, setting aside the papers as he stood, “is a lie.”

Adrian stared at him, sinking into one of the desk chairs. Luther limped around his desk with his cane. “You never volunteer information. And to tell a convincing falsehood, you have to make eye contact. You are supposed to already know that. Someday, your very life may depend on it.”

Adrian sighed, gritting his teeth. He refrained from looking away in annoyance. Neither Luther nor Karl, his Hitler Youth leader, allowed such displays of exasperation toward authority.

Luther observed him without blinking, leaning on his desk. “A report on your conduct in the Hitler Youth has reached me. I found it troubling. Herr Althaus—your squad leader—says he’s impressed with the progress you’ve made. Apparently, you’ve gone from the bottom rung of the ladder to the very top.”

A smile flickered across Adrian’s lips. He’d been able to tell that Karl was pleased with his prowess in their exercises, his determination and quick thinking when they played football or any sport, for that matter. Lately, he’d even been getting the better of Rolf. It was making Rolf more aggressive, and it probably didn’t help that he was courting Katherina.

Katherina had taken to waiting on the corner for Adrian after his meetings at the Hitler Youth headquarters, when she wasn’t meeting with the BDM. The first time she’d done this, Rolf had thought she was there for him. Adrian hadn’t missed the shock, the affront in Rolf’s expression as she wrapped her arm around Adrian’s, walking down the sidewalk. Rolf became more formal with him at school afterward, though it wasn’t until the next exercise with the Hitler Youth that Rolf’s brewing rage found an outlet. During a scuffle to remove the blue bands off the sleeves of their opposing team, Rolf had punched him in the jaw in the confusion—though they were on the same team—removing Adrian’s red band, thus removing him from the game. One of the younger boys had seen, as Adrian had, that this was deliberate, and Adrian wouldn’t stand for being made to appear weak; there was no place in the Hitler Youth for the weak. He tackled Rolf, the two of them fighting, rolling around on the ground. Suddenly, the focus wasn’t on the exercise anymore as the other boys cheered them on. Karl let it go on for a while before separating them, and they were subsequently punished at the next meeting by scrubbing the entire sidewalk with brushes and a bucket of suds. After that, Rolf seemed to accept that Katherina would never be his, ceding her to Adrian. Their friendship resumed after that.

Luther lifted his chin. “You must be very proud.”

Adrian smiled. “I am.”

He jumped in his seat as Luther slammed his cane down on Adrian’s desk with a heavy thwack. “Have you learned nothing that I have been teaching you? Have you so easily abandoned the whole purpose to these meetings?”

Where he would have cowered before, Adrian straightened in his seat. “I have not. I thought you would be pleased, Herr Luther. Karl says I could very well be Bannführer in a few years.”

Luther raised his head. Adrian had never seen his eyes so wide before. His teacher’s stunned silence enlivened him. “That, I accomplished all on my own, even with the pins your tailor leaves in my uniforms, poking me every time I move. Sometimes, I think she leaves them in just to sabotage me.”

“That’s the first logical assumption to come out of your mouth today,” Luther replied. “Frau Hutmacher does indeed leave in her pins, but only under my instructions.”

Adrian’s brow tightened. “What? Why?”

“Because you are getting far too comfortable in that uniform, Herr Burkhardt,” Luther answered in a menacing whisper. “You are forgetting everything I’ve taught you, forgetting all you were trying to escape before. You think your Opa is bad? He is nothing! There is a war coming—”

“I know that,” Adrian said. Lately he had taken to Karl’s speeches about the might of the German Army over Luther’s sly, deprecating remarks toward Herr Hitler’s plans for Germany. “Karl talks about it all the time; that those of us who fight for Germany will be honored and praised. That someday, we will all be given plots of land when we retake the borders .”

That thought alone appealed to him most; he had nothing, and Oma and Opa would leave him nothing once they were gone.

Luther stared at him. He gripped the handle of his cane with both hands. “Does our great Führer have this land already, Herr Burkhardt? If so, why isn’t he giving it to you now?”

Adrian alone knew Luther only referred to Hitler as ‘our great Führer’ when he was being sarcastic. “No. He doesn’t have the land now.”

Luther’s jaw muscles were bulging. “And it sits well with you that he intends on taking this land from someone else? You can justify taking someone else’s property simply because you want it?”

Adrian wavered. He shrugged. “Karl says it was always ours; that the Russians, the Poles, the Volksdeutsche…they took it from us and it’s our right to get it back.”

“Whose right?”

Adrian swallowed. He’d felt a surge of pride when Karl spoke, but now, regurgitating it back to Luther to justify his feelings, he felt a twinge of guilt. “Those of us with pure blood—Aryan blood. Those of us who bring Hitler glory on the battlefield.”

Luther didn’t move. It startled him when Luther suddenly tucked his cane under his arm, pulling up his pants leg.

Deep scars delved underneath Luther’s gray socks. It looked as if his leg were a lump of clay someone had dropped and then gripped too tightly to pick it back up. His calf was almost completely missing, sunken in like a shriveled peach behind his knee, extending all the way up past his thigh. Adrian hadn’t realized how evident his disgust was in his expression until he met Luther’s gaze.

“Make no mistake, Adrian,” Luther muttered. “There is no glory; there is only this.”

While Adrian was still recovering from the sight, Luther began their lesson, interrogating him about his day first in German, followed by English, French and Russian.

It was dark outside when Luther deemed their lesson over for the night. “We made a contract, Adrian. A verbal one, but one that is based on honor and keeping your word.”

He was still too distracted by the thought of Luther’s maimed leg to feel offended by the implication that he wasn’t. “I’ve kept my word.”

Luther peered at him over his glasses. “You’ve been reading your Bible every night? As I asked you to?”

Adrian blinked. “Most nights.”

Luther gave an admonishing tilt of his head.

“I didn’t think it was as important—”

“It is of absolute importance! The Bible doesn’t change, Adrian. No matter what the condition of the world, the morality of the Bible stays the same. It is of absolute importance in times like this, when what is lawful is not always what is right. It is of absolute importance when the riddle of what is true is in question.”

“I don’t always have time to read it. I have work to do.”

This,” Luther said, closing his eyes, “is your work.”

“I’m tired, Herr Luther. I’m not even trying to fail my classes anymore; I am legitimately failing. Between this and the meetings and my duties with the Hitler Youth, I don’t always have time.”

Luther studied him. As stern and serious as Luther often was, Adrian detected a flicker of dismay in Luther’s countenance. He watched as Luther stood, and he clenched his jaw as Luther pulled yet another book from his desk drawer.

As if he didn’t have enough to read already. Each night he read a chapter of Pushkin, of Frost, of Dumas—in their native tongues—into the early morning hours. He hadn’t even read from his collection of Heinrich Heine’s works lately, as he used to so often. It was only when he wasn’t falling asleep while reading the others that he bothered to read his Bible.

He felt cross as Luther handed him the book, though that irritability evaporated upon seeing it was a history book. “I know how much you love learning. I know it bothers you that you haven’t been able to dedicate time to it anymore. This is for you to read and study as you wish. It’s the ‘old stuff’; the past our beloved Führer deems irrelevant compared to the history he’s making.”

Adrian flipped through the pages. This simple gesture touched him, though he said nothing.

Luther spoke quietly. “I understand how important it is to you to do your very best. I know the idea of being mediocre is detestable to you. Under normal circumstances, that would be admirable—enviable even. I know all that Karl says sounds good, but…you must learn to listen beyond what he is saying to hear the things he’s not saying. I am not asking you to give your second best because I don’t want you to succeed; I’m trying to save you, whether you see that yet or not. Stop being so outstanding at what you do for Karl, Adrian. Someday, you will thank me for the foresight you don’t yet have.”

As hindered as he had felt by Luther’s guidance lately, he felt only gratitude as he looked at the book. Perhaps it was the fact that he respected and trusted Luther that made him want to please him; perhaps it was the fact that he could hear how much Luther believed in what he was saying. It seemed too mawkish to think he wished to obey Luther, in spite of himself, because he could hear the sincere care in Luther’s voice for him. Oma and Opa never spoke to him like that.

Luther sighed. “There is an excellent lesson in Judges sixteen. Read it. Tonight.”

Luther was scrutinizing him as he did during their simulated interrogations. Adrian wondered what he was looking for. The moment he was in the privacy of his bedroom, he found the passage in the Bible, skin prickling as he read about Samson and Delilah.

How did he know? How could he know? If there was one secret Adrian kept well-concealed from Luther, it was Katherina.

He laid his head on his pillow, contemplating it—contemplating her. She hadn’t been detrimental to his work with Luther. Perhaps this was just another unfounded fear of Luther’s; an unnecessary, eccentric precaution. As long as he wasn’t telling Katherina what he was doing, he couldn’t see why he should end the relationship.

In nearly every interrogation session with Luther, it had been Katherina he’d kept as his secret. He’d kept secret the way the kissing had escalated to touching; how the touching had escalated to taking off clothing; how the nakedness had escalated to…

He blinked, rolling over to face the wall. It was going to be a long weekend without her.

The following Tuesday, he stepped out of the Hitler Youth headquarters with Rolf, starting down the street. Just on the corner, he could see Katherina’s silhouette as the Adler family car pulled up next to them.

Rolf opened the door, pulling his gaze away from Katherina. “I take it you don’t need a ride home.”

Adrian shook his head. “No. Thank you.”

Rolf nodded. “See you tomorrow.”

Even in the darkness, Adrian could make out Katherina’s smile. She gripped his face in the dark, kissing him. “Are your grandparents home?”

“They’re always home.”

“I want to be with you,” she whispered in his ear.

He couldn’t go home; he was supposed to meet Luther. “I don’t really have time right now.”

Her fingers locked with his, tugging at his hand as she stepped into the street. “Walk me home. We can stop by the alley—”

He wrenched free of her with a flash of annoyance. “I can’t go home. I have…I have remedial arithmetic and have to meet Herr Luther now.”

“Remedial arithmetic?” She snorted. “Heinrich, please. I haven’t seen you in almost a week.”

He looked around, conscious of the fact that he was going to be late for Luther again. Luther was bound to punish him for it this time. He grabbed her hand. “Come with me.”

She giggled with anticipation. “Where are you taking me?”

He didn’t answer, taking her down the road, paying for her tram ride towards the Gymnasium. The school was deserted as always, Katherina tittering at his side from the thrill of it all. Adrian shushed her, seeing the light spilling out from Luther’s classroom at the other end of the hall. Turning down another hallway, he took her into the library, shutting the door without a sound.

They weaved around tables, trotting down to one of the aisles of books in the back. He could feel the heat of her breath on his neck in the darkness, meeting her lips with his. Lowering onto the floor, the warmth and softness of her body beneath his was beckoning. Unbuckling his belt, he lifted the skirt of her dress.

He put a hand over her mouth as she reacted to him. When it became too difficult to keep himself quiet, too, he sealed her mouth with his own, when someone gripped his shoulders, ripping him off of Katherina.

There was a click, and the bright beam of a flashlight seared through the darkness. Katherina gasped. Adrian covered himself, looking up from the floor, squinting from the light. The light stayed on him for a second before roving over to Katherina, who had gotten to her feet, fumbling to straighten her dress.

“Fräulein Huber,” a familiar voice said. “I should write your parents for this.”

Katherina stared past the light, jaw quivering as her eyes filled with tears.

Luther’s voice was threateningly low. “I should notify the principal. He would move quickly to have you expelled from this school.” The light shook. “Get out.”

Katherina didn’t spare Adrian a second look, stepping over his legs and heading out of the room. Luther lowered the light to his side only when they heard the library door open and close. “Correct yourself, Herr Burkhardt. Then I want you in my office. Now.”

Adrian sat alone in the dark, listening to the door open and close as Luther left. Heart racing, he fixed his clothes, smoothing his hair before leaning on a shelf to steady his breath, to calm himself, to ready himself with explanations his brain was too disorganized to construct.

Luther was leaning against his desk, head down and arms crossed when Adrian entered. He was looking at Adrian over the frame of his glasses.

“Herr Luther, I…I can explain—”

“Sit down.”

Adrian swallowed. With a self-conscious gait, he headed up the aisle, lowering into one of the desk chairs.

Luther was glaring at him. “What were you thinking?”

“I didn’t…it was just…Herr Luther, I wasn’t—”

“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Luther asked roughly.

“Herr Luther, please, it wasn’t—”

“You have taken everything we’ve worked for, everything we are working toward, and spat on it,” he snapped.

“No—”

“I want you to answer a question, Adrian, and believe me, I will know if you’re lying.” Glowering, Luther gripped the desktop. “Are you a Nazi?”

Adrian stared at him, agape. “No…no, Luther, it was just…it was stupid. It was just to relieve some stress.”

Luther raised his head. “As if that excuses what you were doing? You are taking advantage of that girl—”

“No, I’m not. Herr Luther, she likes me. She’s mine.”

“What do you mean, she’s yours?”

“I won her from Rolf and she wants to be with me. She’s mine.”

The sudden red rage on Luther’s face stunned him. He watched as Luther yanked his Bible off his desk, limping without his cane toward him. Adrian threw up his hands to shield himself as Luther struck him with it.

“What are you…what is wrong with you?” Adrian shouted.

“You. Do. Not. Own. That. Girl!” Luther bellowed as he battered him. “She is not a piece of property for you to do with as you please!”

“Luther!”

He landed two more blows before the assault seemed to stop. Adrian peered over his hands, slowly dropping his arms. Despite the attack, Luther looked calm, as if he were merely having a serious discussion. Luther tossed his Bible on his desk, hobbling back. “That is all she is to you; a method for release. She is not like you; she is one of them, indoctrinated with their values. You were supposed to be a thinker, not a follower. You were supposed to resist Nazism—”

“I’m not a Nazi—”

“But you are using the ideology to excuse your behavior! You are using her belief in it as a tactic to take advantage of her. Tell me you’ve at least been using prophylactics.”

Adrian gulped, before shaking his head. Luther bowed his head, rubbing his eyes. It was a moment before Luther spoke again. “And what will happen when you find out she is in the family way? What will you do about the child?”

Adrian stared at him, giving a halfhearted shrug. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. Karl said it was their duty to perpetuate the race; Katherina said it was her duty to bear children. Until now, his responsibility for a child she might carry hadn’t occurred to him. It was her job to be a mother; it was his job to be a soldier.

Arms crossed, Luther was shaking his head. “I am so disappointed in you, Heinrich. Very disappointed.”

That stung. Luther hadn’t called him Heinrich since their first meeting a year ago.

“These skills I’ve been helping you acquire, this position I’ve been preparing you for, is for someone with paramount dedication; for someone with unfaltering focus and the commitment to follow through. I thought that was you. You need to decide who and what you are loyal to, Heinrich. Until then, I see no reason for us to continue.”

Eyes down, Adrian swallowed. “My name’s not Heinrich.”

Luther sat at his desk, straightening the sleeves of his jacket to write. “It’s not Adrian, either. I don’t know who you are. If I was right about you, you know where to find me. If I was wrong, then we part ways here, never to speak of this again. You will be free to go to your stress reliever and start producing Aryan babies for the Reich; to die for your Führer. Either way, keep the Bible. You’re going to need it.”

The silence that followed scalded Adrian. Luther continued writing at his desk as if he were the only person in the room. Even as Adrian stood, Luther didn’t speak, didn’t even look up to tell him goodbye.

Oma was knitting in the living room when he arrived home. Opa was reading the newspaper, though he never looked up from it or his cigarette.

“Heinrich,” Oma said. “You’re home early. Dinner’s on the stove.”

“Danke, Oma. I’m not hungry.” Uninspired, he meandered down the hallway to his room. Locking the door, he sat on the edge of the bed. What was he supposed to do now? Where did he go from here?

Fingers tapping the wooden frame of his bed, he thought of the books underneath it. It had been a long time since he’d had this much time to himself. Ordinarily, he would spend it reading, or…

A light came on across the street. He watched from the dark of his bedroom as Katherina sat at her vanity, unraveling the braids in her long golden hair. The image used to move him, used to make him dream of greater things. Looking at her now, he felt none of that. He wondered how long it had been gone, and what exactly it was that was fueling him now.

She got up, walking over to the window to close the curtain. For a moment, he thought she could see him, freezing as she looked toward his window. He didn’t move, even as she lowered her gaze, closing the curtain until no light leaked out.

He closed his own curtain before changing out of his uniform and getting into bed. He was going to have to think about things; his moral compass had been tampered with, his desires and ambitions rerouted. His ship had stopped using its sails to take him where he wanted, allowing the current to lead him astray, carrying him according to its own whims. So he dropped his anchor for the time being, to reassess who he was becoming and who it was he wanted to be.

*****

Weeks passed. Without the late lessons with Luther, he was going to bed earlier, feeling rested each morning when he awoke. That was perhaps the only thing he was grateful for.

Despite his natural disposition, he stopped being so tenacious in the Hitler Youth, purposely becoming unexceptional. He stopped offering opinions or comments unless asked directly. He no longer strove to outsmart the other boys during their military exercises or outshine them while playing sports. It was a tricky balance, as he feared the repercussions if Karl or any of the other leaders noticed that he was deliberately irresolute during their activities.

Luther went back to regarding Adrian as insignificant as the next student. His gaze never lingered on him—often never even wandered in his direction during lectures—and he never addressed Adrian, even to answer questions. However, Luther’s aloofness was easier to handle than Katherina’s confusion at his own detachment from her.

He had stopped going straight home after school, walking along the Main or visiting the Zoological Garden just to avoid confronting her at home. He’d even snuck out the back of the Hitler Youth headquarters a couple of times, walking in the opposite direction he usually did.

She finally outsmarted him, waiting outside the headquarters when he arrived. She greeted him with a tentative smile. “I can’t help but feel like you’ve been avoiding me.”

When he didn’t deny this, her smile faded. “You have been avoiding me.”

He looked down at the dusty leather of his shoes.

“Is it…?” She looked around, shuffling her feet. “Is it because of what happened in the library?”

She was still so beautiful, and yet her charm had been lost to him for some reason. It made him feel even worse; they’d been together for a long time. He still remembered the first time she’d given herself to him. She’d told him about a conversation she’d had with her mother; how her mother had asked if she and Adrian would marry in a couple years. Though she’d laughed about it, he knew this was to bait him; to hint to him that it was what she herself wanted. Even then, he hadn’t been sure that was what he wanted, but he’d disregarded that, pleasure inundating his principles. In her mind, she was already his, and so she handed her body over to him as a promise of things to come; he took it, never once promising anything in return.

The Nazi doctrine was teaching him that women were for the sole purpose of procreation, yet looking at Katherina now, he saw a person he had consumed; a person who was a casualty of his own selfishness.

“Katherina,” he said, “I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with you…”

He wasn’t sure how to proceed. Her eyes had filled with tears and she took a step back, hugging herself. “What are you…what are you doing?”

“I just…I need to focus on other things right now. I’m sorry.”

She gulped, avoiding his eyes. It was a moment before she spoke again. “Forever?”

“I don’t know,” he answered sincerely.

She sniffled, shoulders slumped as she stood in front of him. Even as she shuddered from her tears, all he could offer was another apology, heading back toward the headquarters.

He resumed the former reading assignments from Luther in his room. As alone as he felt, Frost’s poems were like conversing in front of a warm fire with a friend who understood him. Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter gave the Russians a much more humanistic quality than what he was hearing about in his Hitler Youth meetings. Dumas’ The Three Musketeers transported him to another time and place, giving him an escape from Opa, from Katherina, from Luther, from Herr Hitler. Sometimes, he even read from the history book Luther had given him and his Bible. It became the favorite part of his day, disappearing into his room after school, after the meetings, to read. Now that he had such a sufficient command of three other languages, it excited him, rendering him awestruck to think of how many other books in the world were available to teach him more.

It had been almost two months since his last conversation with Luther. Even when Adrian handed in his assignments, Luther hardly spared him a glance. Adrian lingered by his desk, wishing for something—a thoughtful look, a word—but Luther was already grading papers, having forgotten him. Out in the hallway was no better. Seeing Katherina was always unavoidable. Today, she was talking to a friend, though her smile dwindled upon seeing him and she looked away, turning to her friend as if she hadn’t noticed him at all.

He walked straight home to change into his uniform to be ready for when Rolf and Mena showed up. Opa didn’t even knock as he opened the door to his room. “Why is Rolf Adler here?”

Adrian didn’t look at him, tying his shoes. “There’s an event at the Römer tonight. We are going together.”

“That’s a boy whose father must be proud,” Opa grumbled as he shut the door. Adrian sat up, glaring at the door. At least Luther was proud of him.

He paused at the thought. Or used to be.

Rolf was standing in the kitchen, back straight, chin up with his hands behind his back. Karl had recently promoted him to Obergefolgschaftsführer, the three pins and fine lines decorating the shoulder straps on his uniform indicating his new position. Adrian had begun using Rolf as a landmark, intending to always remain at least one rank below him.

Rolf clicked his heels, raising his hand upon seeing Adrian, giving him the Hitler greeting. Adrian mirrored him.

Mena was already in the car, scooting over as he and Adrian got in. She looked just like her older brother; white hair and icy blue eyes. “Heil Hitler, Adrian.”

He slammed the door shut, looking at her. “Heil Hitler.”

His eyes fell behind her through the window. A soldier in a gray green uniform paced the sidewalk, hands behind his back. He was older than Adrian, and since he was in uniform, Adrian assumed he must have been eighteen or nineteen. The soldier took off his cap as Katherina appeared through the front door in her BDM uniform, beaming. Adrian became aware of a strange sensation—or rather, a lack of one. He felt no sense of loss in seeing her twinkling gaze, directed at the soldier as he accompanied her down the street. He didn’t even feel wounded to see she had moved on to such an older, more appealing man in a Wehrmacht uniform, compared to a boy transitioning from boyhood to manhood in a Hitler Youth uniform.

“Looks like an Oberschütze, judging by his arm patches,” Rolf commented, following Katherina and the soldier as they drove past the couple. He looked at Adrian. “She’ll be sorry one day.”

Adrian gave an appreciative grin in reply, though more than anything, he felt relieved.

“Did Rolf tell you?” Mena asked, leaning forward to look at him. “He passed his exams. He’ll be going to the Napola in Naumburg soon.”

“That’s great,” Adrian said to Rolf.

Mena was looking at him the same way Katherina used to. “Did you take the Napola exam, Adrian?”

He had thought about it. They only accepted the best of the best—but Luther had said to maintain mediocrity, and upon hearing that Rolf was trying to get in, he regarded that as an indicator that he should take a different path. “No. My grades are more appropriate for the Wehrmacht.”

Mena’s smile flickered as Rolf chuckled. “You aim low. The Wehrmacht takes anyone, unless you’re a Jew.”

Adrian rested his arm on the door. “Where are you aiming?”

Rolf smirked. “The SS.”

The chauffeur dropped them off near the Römerberg, Rolf instructing him to pick them up in a few hours at the same place.

“Stay with me,” he heard Rolf tell his sister. “Father said if you leave my side, I’m to take you home straightaway.”

“You are not Father,” Mena retorted, though she got between him and Adrian. Her arm kept brushing against Adrian’s and he stepped aside, just out of contact.

The bright red Nazi flags and banners with the black Hakenkreuz looked spectacular against the beige and gray buildings. Adrian, Rolf and Mena wandered the area until nightfall, as the people around the square seemed to multiply. Some were carrying torches. Voices resounded off the buildings, men, women and children alike singing “Die Fahne Hoch” at the top of their lungs.

“Come on,” Rolf urged, leading the way.

They melded in with the rest of the group, joining the parade. They added their own voices to the chanting and singing, all the way to the square.

There was a huge bonfire up ahead in the town square, encircled by the swarm of people. One of Chopin’s sonatas was being played by an orchestra somewhere nearby. A strange electricity, a billowing power was coursing through the crowd. It seemed to charge their fervor, and in spite of the order of the people, it felt on the edge of a chaotic riot. It made Adrian uneasy.

Mena was standing on her toes. “I can’t see anything.”

Rolf took hold of her arm, pushing through the people in front of them. Adrian brought up the rear. It wasn’t long before they emerged at the front of the crowd. The image caused Adrian to stop dead in his tracks.

A mountain of books was in flames before him, in the center of the ring. Men in the SA, college students, and boys in the Hitler Youth were adding armful after armful of books to the billowing flames, reducing them to cinders. Adrian fought the impulse to run toward the fire, to rescue the blackened books still intact on the edges. They were destroying more than just pieces of wood and paper; it was knowledge going up in flames. It was the ability to empathize that was filling the square with smoke. It was adventure and escape that was reduced to nothing but ash.

The possibility of ever understanding all things different was being wiped out throughout Germany tonight.

Mena and Rolf were a couple people down, their voices blending with the chants of the crowd. Katherina and her soldier were smiling across the burning pile of books as they chanted. More books were thrown into the pile, sending hot, scorching gusts into the crowd as embers floated in the air. Karl had said this night was to rid Germany of all the un-German filth, making it pure again, but all Adrian could think about was Heinrich Heine. His books, too—all of them—had been reduced to nothing but kindling; all but one, hidden in the wooden frame of Adrian’s bed at home. The black letters of Heine’s words blinded him, overpowering the chants that fought for an equal place in his head:

“Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

The sudden unadulterated fear of such a future engulfed him, and he began to run, leaving behind Rolf and Mena, leaving behind Katherina, leaving behind the crowd and their dazzling flags. His lungs narrowed in his chest, heart pounding, feet hammering against the pavement. Stopping only upon reaching the Gymnasium doors, he yanked on the handles only to find them locked this time. Sprinting around the school, he found Herr Luther’s classroom window, peering into a hopeless black pit devoid of all light.

Disheartened, he wondered if Luther was at the square tonight, too. Finding this unlikely, he dashed off down another street. The apartment building was only a few blocks away, and he jogged up the stairwell upon reaching it, banging on the door.

It was a moment before the door thrust open. Luther appeared on the other side without his tie and vest, wearing a scowl that loosened upon seeing Adrian. Adrian still hadn’t caught his breath, the two of them surveying one another.

His voice cracked as he spoke. “I never wanted this. Any of it.”

The door creaked as Luther released his hold on it. “I know.”

He sniffled, looking away to blink away the tears. “I just…I want to do what’s right. More than that…I want to be a good person. But I don’t even know what either of those are anymore.”

Though he avoided Luther’s eyes out of what felt like shame, he could feel Luther studying him. “Do you like photography, Adrian?”

Hearing Luther refer to him by his chosen name, a smile teetered on his lips. “Do you want me to like photography? Because if you want me to like photography, I will like photography.”

This merited a laugh out of Luther. He stepped back, opening the door wider to invite Adrian inside. “I have been thinking. I found something I’d like for you to be the very best at.”

———-

Get more information on the Sophia’s War characters here!

Get started on the series today!

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)

Book Blurb For My New Book

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Blurb for Liebeslied (Love Song) (Captive Heart Trilogy, #1), coming Summer 2016:

Liebeslied (Love Song)

 

Virginia, 1944. The world is at war. Nazism runs rampant in Europe and the American home front is a place of hard work and unflinching patriotism. Ignored by her father, bullied by her mother, overshadowed by her brother, 16-year-old Cassie Wyndham yearns to do her part for the war effort.

But after years of feeling forgotten and neglected, Cassie doubts she has anything of value to offer, especially when her pastor requests volunteers for a new ministry program at the local POW camp. Cassie signs up, despite her fear of the infamous Germans and the ire of her mother.

There, she meets Friedrich Naumann. Funny and kind, she is drawn to him right away. As their friendship blossoms into something more, Cassie and Friedrich struggle to keep their ill-fated romance hidden from the rest of the world. But time is running out, and they know it won’t be long before the war ends and they have to say goodbye…

If their secret courtship isn’t discovered first.

This inspiring, emotionally-charged historical romance will show you what true love is capable of and the sacrifices it sometimes requires.

 

Visit my Captive Heart Pinterest board!:

Less Is Always More.

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Don’t tell anyone. Please. This is a tremendous secret that, as an author, I could be judged harshly for:

I love editing. I love having word limits. I love going through and finding things to cut. To me, it’s like taking an ugly, clumpy blob of clay and cutting and shaping it until it’s something beautiful you can set on a book shelf with pride.

But I didn’t always feel this way. I’m naturally a very detailed person when it comes to verbal or written storytelling. When I first began writing the manuscript for my Sophia’s War series as a newbie writer when I was 19 years old, it was 303,300 words and the sequel was 245,034 words. I remember thinking, “If anyone ever tells me I need to cut my word count, I don’t know what I could possibly cut! Everything I’ve written is absolutely necessary!” That’s a very immature, inexperienced outlook to have.

However, if this is the stance you currently have on your own work, take heart! Give it time! With more writing under your belt (and more reading. Don’t forget the reading!), you’ll come back to that manuscript in a few months or years and you’ll be astounded with how merciless you become. You’ll hack through those excessive words and superfluous details with glee to find the well-groomed story underneath.

I’ve begun taking the approach that if I even think I should cut it, I cut it. (If I’m on the fence about it for any reason, though, I have a document titled “Spares” that I paste these lines or dialogue onto just in case it fits better somewhere else later). Something that helps me is, I read the sentence or dialogue with and without the line or words in question. 99% of the time, it sounds more concise and less contrived without it.

Another thing we have to keep in mind (and something I struggled with for years) is to trust your readers. They aren’t stupid. You don’t have to point out why something is funny or why a character makes certain decisions. That was one of the most liberating things for me to discover as a writer. I felt it improved my writing by a tenfold. There is a way of doing this without making it feel as if you are rushing through or skipping necessary transitions.

So don’t balk at word limits or being unsparing during the editing process. These restrictions can be your best friend, if you let them. To me, these limitations make your editing process more liberating than encumbering.

%22I'm writing a first draft and reminding

What is your opinion on word limits? On cutting sentences or whole paragraphs from your works?

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!

~~~~~

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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iStockphoto

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.”

 

—–

Get more information on the Sophia’s War characters here!

Find out more about my writing philosophy and why I wrote the Sophia’s War series here!

Get the Sophia’s War series for free and reduced prices June 16 – 20, 2015!

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