Invasion and Occupation (Amélie #1, Sophia’s War short story series)

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Contains medium spoilers for Sophia’s War: Death Knell (#6). Links to find out more about my WWII series can be found below!

This is the first short story for the character Amélie Luther. Because of the current events in France, I felt compelled to write about her and her friends and family. I’ve always admired the French spirit and the bravery and sacrifices of ordinary French citizens during WWII. Their courage and contributions to winning the war should not be forgotten. Hope you enjoy!

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to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Paris, France

1940 May – June

“The Germans are coming.”

Mama was yanking open drawers, shoving shirts, knitted socks and satin underthings into suitcases. Moments ago, she’d been cooking in the kitchen, an apron over her pencil skirt. The sleeves of her blouse fluttered with each frantic movement, strands of her silky raven hair loosening from her formerly elegant bun.

Amélie watched from the doorway. They’d heard the advancing popping of gunfire, the whistles and thuds of shells bursting from miles away. She’d seen the tension around Papa’s eyes as he smoked his pipe in the evenings, the trembling of Mama’s hands as she knitted.

“But…the radio said our troops are repelling them.”

She said this more out of hopefulness than conviction. Mama only looked at her, unlocking yet another suitcase. “Where is Henri?”

Remy was purring, rubbing his sleek, smoky fur against Amélie’s calves. Amélie picked him up. “Down the street. He’s playing marbles with the twins.”

“Go get him. Then put on your best shoes and traveling clothes. We’re leaving today.”

“Where are we going? What about Papa?”

“He will follow. We’ll meet him in Tours.” Mama became stern. “Now go. Fetch your brother.”

Shaking, Amélie released Remy, leaving Mama to pack. Out on the sidewalk, her apprehension worsened. The unusual sight of cars loaded down with luggage and other valuables sped past. People were dragging children by the hand, gripping suitcases in the other.

It was really happening; Paris was being overrun.

Heart pounding, she broke into a jog, the urgency of leaving the city fueling her steps. It wasn’t until she reached the corner that someone jumped out from the doorway of the butcher’s shop in front of her.

Amélie gasped, going rigid as she tried not to scream. With dark, amber eyes, Rafael Chevalier stood before her with outstretched arms. “I knew it was only a matter of time before you came running.”

Catching her breath, Amélie soured, shoving him in the chest. “Idiot.”

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Rafael asked, stalking after her.

“To get Henri. We’re leaving the city.” She glanced back at him. “You should be, too.”

“And go where, ma chérie? It’s too late now. For all of us. There is no escape. I will become a jester, and you, some German’s plaything.”

She halted in her tracks, glaring at him. “Never.”

Rafael whistled. “Say it like that and I’ll make you mine. Feisty.”

“And you, Rafael, never taking anything seriously. You are nineteen years old; you should be out there fighting.”

Rafael chuckled. “Still going on about that, are you? Our army is no match for the Germans. It grieves me that you would have me die in vain.”

“I would not have you die, I would have you fight!” she hissed, facing him. “If I was a man, it’s what I would have done. This is our country; this is our home. I wouldn’t have run from them.”

“Like you’re doing now?”

This rendered her speechless. Innocent Henri was in sight, playing with the Leverett twins in the park. Gunfire stitched from somewhere outside the city, echoing through the walls of the buildings. She just wanted to be safe; she wanted Henri safe, but Rafael was right. It was too late for that.

“I’m just a woman, Rafael,” Amélie said.

Rafael was no longer smiling. He backed away. “And I am just one man.”

She watched him turn the corner before remembering her brother. Henri told the Leverett twins he’d see them tomorrow, and Amélie didn’t correct him, accompanying him back home.

It surprised her to find Papa had returned. She’d heard his and Mama’s elevated voices from the hallway. They were arguing in French—the language they had in common—and Mama was crying as Amélie and Henri walked in.

“Twenty-one years, Konrad! Twenty-one years, we have been married!”

“I know this. I have been here.”

“Don’t be clever with me. Not now. Why would you do this?” Mama asked, tears streaming her face. Amélie laid a protective arm over Henri’s shoulders as Mama grabbed a porcelain pitcher, throwing it to the ground. It shattered at her feet. “Why would you do this to me?”

“What’s going on?” Amélie asked.

Papa, with his ash blond hair and perpetually wooden countenance, was unflustered as always, standing across from Mama. Mama had her hand on her chest, gasping for air.

“Ask your father!” Mama shouted, pointing at Papa. “Ask him!”

Where Henri had the dark hair and olive skin of their mother’s Italian heritage, Amélie favored Papa’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed German ancestry. Both Amélie and Henri, however, had inherited their father’s calm demeanor, neither of them ever as excitable as Mama.

Papa looked at Amélie. “I am not leaving to Tours. I am staying here, in Paris.”

Amélie swallowed. The porcelain crunched beneath Mama’s knees as she fell, sobbing.

“Then…” Amélie cleared her throat. “I’m staying here with you.”

Her parents were horrified.

“Are you insane?” Mama shrieked, pulling at her hair. “You can’t stay here! The Germans are right outside the city, mon coeur! Konrad, do something!”

Besides the wrinkles around his eyes, Papa remained even-tempered. “It is not a good idea. You are a beautiful, young girl, Amélie. You have reading the letters your uncle Erik is sending. The Nazis are brutish.”

Her sight became blurry, and her voice trembled, but she wouldn’t budge. “Everyone is running. Everyone is hiding. Whether countryside or coast, the Germans will take it, too. This is my home. I will not run.”

Papa didn’t argue, revealing his opinion only in the downturn of his lips. Mama was a mess, rocking where she sat. “Konrad—”

“She is nineteen,” Papa interrupted Mama. “She’s an adult. And besides, she is right.” He lowered onto the settee. “They will swarm France. In the end, nowhere is safe.”

Papa stared at the ground. Mama was sniveling. Already, Amélie was imagining what horrible things the Germans might do when they found her.

Henri looked between the three of them. “I want to stay and fight the Germans, too.”

“No,” Papa, Amélie and Mama said in unison, though Mama shouted it.

“If I am to go, it will be to save at least one of you!” Mama wept, pushing herself up from the floor. She grabbed Henri by the shoulders, pushing him through the living room. “Come now, Henri. We must get dressed.”

Henri scoffed, digging his heels into the floor. “Papa—”

“Do as your mother says,” Papa said.

They could hear Henri’s protests through the walls, Mama’s overwrought voice overpowering his. Amélie went to the kitchen, coming back with a broom. She swept up the broken pitcher as Papa watched.

“Why are you staying, Papa?” Amélie asked.

He worked for the local newspaper. There wasn’t going to be anyone here to read it.

“I am already being through one war,” Papa answered. “Perhaps I am too wearied to pretend we can avoiding another. The Germans will come. We cannot stopping it. Their blood may flow in my veins, but I am French in spirit. Someone should being here to keep the heart of France beating.”

Sitting beside him, Amélie took his hand. “Then mine will beat alongside yours.”

He concealed her hand with the two of his. She pretended not to see the way he blinked tears from his eyes.

Mama had arranged for the Babineaux family to drive them as far as Orléans. Papa and Amélie went down to help Mama and Henri tie their things to the roof of the car.

Madame Babineaux huffed. “I wish you would have told me your husband and daughter weren’t coming, Lucrezia. We could have packed more things in the car.”

Papa shut the door, leaning in the window. “They are just things, Madame.”

He kissed Mama’s lips and Henri’s head. Then Amélie stood beside him as they watched the Babineauxs’ car pull away. Weeping, Mama had her head out the window; the back of the car was too full to see out of. Handkerchief flapping in the wind, she waved goodbye as the engine faded away.

The streets were still and silent. Artillery fire tapped in the distance, punctuated by the occasional explosion of bombs.

“And now, my girl,” Papa said, turning back to the apartment. “We wait.”

Days passed. Every night, she practiced German with Papa. She was as loyal to her native tongue as she was to her country, but having an understanding of their inevitable conquerers’ language would be an advantage.

Papa went to work, though he was the only one there. Still, they weren’t the only ones who had stayed behind. Salina, the hairdresser, still opened up her salon everyday, though no one came. Guillaume Legrand, the concierge at the hotel a few blocks down, walked up the street every morning and back down in the evenings.

Amélie set to work in an attempt to preserve her virtue. She pried up a plank under her bed, hiding her dresses, her mother’s make-up, and everything else that indicated a woman lived in the apartment. She let out the seams of Henri’s pants, drawing in the seams of a pair of Papa’s, until they fit her own narrow waist. She even bound her breasts. Having found an old newsboy cap on the street, she put it on, tucking her hair underneath it. Maybe the Germans were killing every able-bodied man they crossed as they entered France, but she would die like a man before she’d let them take her as a woman.

“What do you think?” she’d asked Papa, rotating on the spot.

Papa grinned. “Your Mama would have a spell. Nothing at all how a respectable young woman should be looking.”

Food had become scarce. The butcher’s shop and the bakery were closed. The grocer’s shelves had been emptied the same day Mama and Henri had left. For a week, Amélie and Papa stayed fed on a jar of jam and boxes of crackers that Papa rationed between them, along with what was left of the coffee. Once, though, Amélie had come home to find Papa setting a loaf of stale bread and a block of cheese on the table.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“Madame Rousseau. Downstairs.”

Amélie narrowed her eyes. “Madame Rousseau isn’t here.”

“That is right,” Papa said, a mischievous gleam in his eye. “So she will not be needing it.”

Day after day, Parisians trickled back into the city. Cars had broken down. Their money or belongings had been stolen. They’d been turned away at the full to bursting train stations. It was a relief when even the butcher returned, though there was no meat to be found.

And then, one morning, Amélie awoke to the marching of boots.

She pulled on her usual costume, tucking her hair haphazardly under the newsboy cap. Rushing out into the hall, she found Papa in the living room, peering out the window. Though it disturbed her that he would allow himself to be so visible, neither of them spoke as she sidled up to him.

Motorcycles roared. Horses whinnied. Tanks rumbled. All of this, with the rhythmic thumping of boots, filled their motionless town. Cannons rolled in on giant wooden platforms, soldiers in greenish-gray uniforms roosted on top, taking in the beautiful city they had seized. This was Paris; this couldn’t be happening.

Amélie was sniffling, whimpering, holding back tears. Papa put his arm around her.

“Come,” Papa said.

He stepped out onto the sidewalk first, and Amélie followed. There were people watching from the sidewalks; men, women and children alike. One elderly woman did little to disguise her perceptible hate.

“Boche,” she murmured, spitting on the ground.

One man was snuffling, wiping at his cheeks with a handkerchief. One little girl had paused in a game of hopscotch to watch the parade of soldiers before continuing to play. Down the street, a red flag with a swastika unfurled over the balcony of the municipal building.

Something furry brushed by Amélie’s legs and she gasped as the cat darted out into the street. “Remy!”

On impulse, Amélie ran after him, even as her father called out for her. It startled one of the horses as she burst onto the street, the soldier on its back trying to regain control. Amélie clung to Remy, expecting the soldier to pull out his gun in a show of force, but he spurred the horse, trotting around her. Too stupefied to move, her father gripped her arm, pulling her out of the way of a gray armored tank at the last second.

Papa was cursing in undertones, praying in the same breath, though he held her to his chest. Remy struggled between them and Amélie let him go, leaving him to his own fate.

Their daily routines didn’t change with the German occupiers. If anything, life resumed. Though Amélie continued to resist the vulnerability of dresses and skirts, she no longer refrained from looking like a woman in public. Women shopped, fearing little more than enduring gazes from the young Germans in their uniforms. The Germans even brought money, giving the shops business again.

Papa wasn’t the only one working for the newspaper anymore; he was even made head editor, since the former had abandoned his post in the mass exodus from Paris. The baker and the grocer came back. To Papa’s dismay, Mama and Henri came back, too.

“The rails were destroyed,” Mama recounted solemnly. “The Germans told us to return to where we’d come from.”

“At least we will be together,” Papa said, hugging them all.

From the outside, if Amélie looked past the German uniforms, it appeared Paris was the same as it had been before. But there were changes seeping in beneath the surface, transforming the very fabric of the life Amélie had always known. A nightly curfew was enforced. The lights had to be out by a certain time, the windows blocked with heavy blackout curtains. Germans got priority over Parisians.

And every Jew in the city had to document themselves. Those who failed to do so were arrested.

Whether with a woman they passed on the street, or while conducting business with a shopkeeper, the Germans were polite and amiable. It was easy to forget that they were unwelcome occupiers, in those moments. Running an errand for Papa at the photography shop, Amélie had waited in line, witnessing the attractive female clerk be taken in by one of the young soldiers, who was leaning on the counter. “You be good to me, I be good to you. We help each other, see?”

That seemed to be their mentality in general. They behaved like gentleman, as long as their wills and wants weren’t challenged.

The baker had been caught selling bread at twice the price to Germans. In the middle of the day, a surly captain barged in, flanked by soldiers. Customers fled as they proceeded to destroy his bread, dumping bag after bag of flour on the floor. To teach the baker a lesson, the captain had forced him onto the ground, commanding him to lick it up.

Rumors spoke of coercion; of noble French girls resisting German advances, only to be blackmailed by threats against their families. One girl claimed she had been raped—which the senior officers took seriously—but after an investigation, it was determined the girl sought revenge after discovering she wasn’t the soldier’s only lover. No one knew what was true and what wasn’t anymore. Either way, it was undesirable to be caught in the sights of an amorous Boche.

Amélie had done well avoiding this, until one day when coming out of the market.

The first time she’d seen him, he’d been leaning against the wall outside, smoking. She could tell from the brazen way he watched her that he was familiar with her. It chilled her, and she wondered how long he’d been aware of her without her noticing. Pretending she hadn’t seen him, she walked away.

Bonjour,” he’d said, catching up to her. He’d attempted to charm her with a broad smile.  He spoke in slow French. “Uh…my name is Reinhart. What is yours?”

Her grip clenched on the wicker basket she held. “Amélie.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. May I help you to carry that?”

His smile twitched as she yanked the basket away from him. “No. Thank you.”

He’d pestered her all the way to the doorstep of the apartment building she shared with her family. He might have followed her upstairs if it weren’t for Papa having been there waiting for her.

“We saw you coming up the street with him,” Papa murmured next to Mama once they were in the seclusion of the apartment.

Amélie set the basket on the table. “He wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Her parents stared at her as she took out the food; it was the first time she thought Papa had looked afraid.

“Amélie—”

“Papa, don’t worry,” she said. “I can handle it.”

But she wasn’t sure she could. Suddenly, Reinhart was everywhere she went, waiting outside for her while she shopped, loitering outside her apartment building, sitting at her table whenever she stopped at a restaurant. It was a demanding balancing act, making her indifference to him apparent without offending him outright. She knew it wouldn’t be long, however, before he grew frustrated, either forcing her, threatening her, or having her arrested on false charges.

Papa had been at work, Henri at school, and Mama was tidying the apartment. Amélie watched from the window as Reinhart paced the sidewalk all morning, counting down the minutes to noon; he’d told her yesterday he had training exercises. She watched him check his watch before trudging down the street in defeat. The moment he was out of sight, she tucked her hair under her cap and bolted outside.

Though she didn’t run—lest it elicit unwanted attention—she walked at a brisk pace to the hotel on the corner. Guillaume was working at the counter. “Mam’selle—”

“Where is he?”

Guillaume blinked, pointing toward the ceiling. “His usual. But Mam’selle!” he cried as she started up the stairs. “He has company!”

Amélie ignored him, finding the room at the end of the hall. She barged in without even knocking.

The woman in the bed screamed, yanking the sheet up to cover her body. Rafael lay beside her, stirring from the commotion, though upon seeing Amélie he closed his eyes, settling into his pillow.

Amélie looked at the girl. “Get out.”

“Who are you?”

Amélie glowered on her. “Your worst nightmare if you do not get out right now!”

The woman fumbled, looking at Rafael as she buttoned her dress under the sheet. “Tell me she is not your wife.”

“She wishes.”

Amélie stepped out of the way as the woman rushed out. Amélie slammed the door behind her, locking it.

Rafael still didn’t open his eyes. “Jump in, ma chérie. The water’s fine.”

She sat in the wooden chair across the room, her face in her hands. “I’m in trouble, Rafael.”

He became alert at the sound of her distress, sitting up. “What’s wrong?”

She sighed, slumping in the chair. “A soldier. He follows me everywhere. He waits for me, even outside my apartment.”

“Has he tried anything?”

“No,” she answered, detecting a sinister tone in his voice. “Not yet, anyway.”

They sat in silence. Amélie shook her head. “I thought everything was the same, but it’s not. They allow us the appearance of independence and normalcy to keep us controlled. They’re planting their roots here in our soil and we’re just letting them. Why did we let them in, Rafael? Why is no one doing anything?”

She wiped at her cheek. “Papa said a lieutenant has been posted to supervise the newspaper, reading over his shoulder every time he reviews the daily stories. Papa began working there to inform the people. Now it’s all propaganda; lies, exaggerations.”

Rafael was pulling on his pants. “Not all of it.”

Amélie stared at him. “What do you mean?”

Rafael didn’t reply, further disheveling his untidy black hair as he put on his shirt. “What’s his name? The German who’s been following you.”

“Reinhart Pfennig. He’s a corporal.”

Straightening his jacket, Rafael withdrew a cigarette from his pocket, lighting it. Amélie closed her eyes, bowing her head. “I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid…I’m afraid he’s not going to give me a choice soon.”

Rafael tossed his lighter on the nightstand. “Not while I’m here, he’s not.”

Cigarette dangling from his lips, he yanked the cap off her head. “I can’t believe no one’s told you yet how ridiculous you look in that hat.”

Settling it on his own head, he slammed the door shut behind him.

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Like what you read? Meet more of the characters from my Sophia’s War series here!

Check out the novels in my Sophia’s War series here!

Playlist: Shell Shocked (Sophia’s War, #7)

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Here’s the playlist to the seventh and final installment in my Sophia’s War series, Shell Shocked! Hope you enjoy!

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All of Me – John Legend (with Lindsey Stirling)

All Fall Down – OneRepublic

Atlas – Coldplay

Baby Mine – Alison Krauss

Beautiful, Beautiful – Francesca Battistelli

Bleeding Out – Imagine Dragons

The Broken Beautiful – Ellie Holcomb

Broken Together – Casting Crowns

Busted Heart – for KING & COUNTRY

Change – Taylor Swift

Dark Days – Punch Brothers

Devil May Cry – The Weeknd

Diamonds in the Dust – Diane Birch

Dream – The Boxer Rebellion

Elastic Heart – Sia ft. The Weeknd

Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Lorde

Everytime – Britney Spears

Family – Noah Gundersen

Fight the End – Christon

Final Days – Matt Wilcox

Fire and Dynamite – Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

Flightless Bird, American Mouth – Iron and Wine

Found – Christel Alsos

Halt dich an mir fest (Hold On To Me) – Revolverheld ft. Marta Jandová

Heart By Heart – Demi Lovato

Holding On and Letting Go – Ross Copperman

I Could Live With Dying Tonight – Emma Lee

I Don’t Deserve You – Plumb

I Need You – LeAnn Rimes

I Still Believe – Jeremy Camp

In the Stream – S. Carey

Innocence – Avril Lavigne

It Plays On – Diane Birch

It’s You – Michelle Branch

Keep Holding On – Avril Lavigne

Kingdom Come – The Civil Wars

Lights – Josh Ritter

Little House – Amanda Seyfried

Love is Marching – BarlowGirl

Love Remains the Same – Gavin Rosalie

Lullaby – Dixie Chicks

Lullaby – Nickelback

Mirror – Ellie Goulding

More Time – Needtobreathe

Mundscheinsonate (Moonlight Sonata) – Beethoven

My Immortal – Evanescence

Never Say Never – The Fray

Oblivion – Bastille

Only One – Yellowcard

Out of the Woods – Taylor Swift

Place For Us – Mikky Ekko ft. Ammar Malik

Read All About It (pt III) – Emeli Sandé

Recover – Natasha Bedingfield

Say (All I Need) – OneRepublic

Say Anything – Ashley Nite

Set No Sun – UNKLE ft. Elle J and Joel Cadbury

Silhouettes – Of Monsters and Men

Skinny Love – Birdy

Still Holding Out For You – SHeDAISY

Sweet & Wild – Dierks Bentley

There You’ll Be – Faith Hill

Things We Lost in the Fire – Bastille

True North – Jillette Johnson

Turning Pages – Sleeping At Last

Underneath – Jessica Simpson

Walking Blind – Aidan Hawken and Carina Round

What Hurts the Most – Rascal Flatts

Wheel of the World – Carrie Underwood

When I Look At You – Miley Cyrus

Whispers – Dave Baxter

Who Did That To You – John Legend

Who We Are – Imagine Dragons

The Wine We Drink – Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors

With Love – Christina Grimmie

You – Switchfoot

 

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Get Shell Shocked on Amazon here!

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!

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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)

There’s Always a First…

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So…since this is my first night with my new author blog, I figured I should go ahead and say something. Christen it, if you will.

I have been writing (seriously) since 2006, and I feel simultaneously prideful and humble to state that my writing itself has improved dramatically in that span of time. My first novel, A War Worth Fighting, ended at 578 pages. It may not sound like much to an avid reader, but translated into an actual paperback format, that would be OVER A THOUSAND PAGES. I go back and read the original draft and cringe at my monotonous attempts at good descriptions. (I considered posting a sample, but after reading over it, I decided not to, because I just waterboarded myself in the process). Anyway, though I adored the characters, it was such a behemoth of a manuscript, I pretty much archived it, deciding it would be for my own personal reading pleasure, never to torture an unsuspecting victim again…besides my closest friends and family.

While researching for its sequel, I read Nazi Prisoners of War In America by Arnold Krammer (an excellent read). It was in the midst of learning about the life of a Nazi POW that I was inspired to write A Captive Heart (which you can find on Amazon here: (http://www.amazon.com/A-Captive-Heart-Stephanie-Baumgartner/dp/1934449334/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370061117&sr=8-1&keywords=a+captive+heart+stephanie+baumgartner) (There’s more to the development of that series, which I’ll touch on later, but this is the first recollection I have of it materializing in my mind). It kind of snowballed into something I never expected after that, becoming a trilogy. Honestly, I fell in love with Cassie and Friedrich so much that I still go back every once in a while to skim through their most pivotal scenes and relationships in the series just to hold on to some part of them now that their story is over.

So, by the time I finished the trilogy, I had written 5 novels in my unnoticed writing career, and immediately went on a hiatus that only I was aware of, because I had been working straight for 4 years on research and writing (in between getting married, working, moving, etc.), and my brain had become unbelievably muddled and burned out. I decided then to focus only on getting A Captive Heart picked up and published (which I succeeded at…sort of…not really…I’m still hoping to find someone who will love it as much as I do). Anyway, soon, Taylor Swift (one of my biggest muses–I know we would totally be best friends if we ever met 😉 ) came out with her third album, and the moment I heard Enchanted (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3yHJ5YzvfY), I was struck with another idea–a story about an English fighter pilot and an American diplomat’s daughter who meet during the Battle of Britain and fall in love. So I decided it was time to get back to researching yet another facet of the war–the air battles over Britain. I am still continuing to research for this novel, because I feel like there is so much to learn about the culture as well as the history of the period. Anyway, when I was this close ([—-]) to writing it, I felt as if God was leading me to write yet another idea that had been simmering in my mind for years. I just finished His Strength is Made Perfect a few months ago (a story about a 16-year-old who gets pregnant, and the way her church and the town react to the news). I was hoping, after having researched and prepared to write The Diplomat’s Daughter (title will be changing), that I would finally be able to write it, however….

It was then that I realized publishing my first novel(s), the gargantuan A War Worth Fighting and its sequel could help provide me with a platform and a following, especially if I broke it up into a series of smaller novels…which is what I’m in the process of doing now. The first two books of Sophia’s War will be published on Amazon soon as an ebook and traditional paperback, and I couldn’t be more excited!! This is a novel/series that I never expected to see the light of day, but after more editing than I could even describe to you, I feel that it is finally ready to be shared with the world. Thankfully, I’ve had the help of my wonderful editor friend, Lindsey, who has helped mold it into a better read as well.

So that’s where I am now. Six novels later, with one idea still being researched and another being dissected and broken up, I’m preparing to publish once again. I can’t wait to share a new adventure with those who have been keeping up with me and my progress!

Anyway, here’s my end for the night, and here’s to the future! Ultimately, I DREAM of seeing my characters on the big screen some day…but in the meantime, creating them for the rest of your enjoyment will suffice 🙂

BBL, buckaroos…

Steph**

PS: Check out my friend Heather’s Facebook photography page!! She very kindly did a photo shoot inspired by my characters in A Captive Heart! http://www.facebook.com/neverthereyetphotography