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

Leave a comment

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!

——-

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.

—————-

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!

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

Leave a comment

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)

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

2 Comments

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)

Sneak Peek of Sophia’s War: Veil of Secrets (#5)!

4 Comments

Here’s a sneak peek of the upcoming volume of Sophia’s War (Sophia’s War: Veil of Secrets), coming January 2015! Keep in mind, if you haven’t read Book 4 (Hidden Halos), there will be some spoilers in this excerpt! Thanks, and I hope you all enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sophia sighed, looking up at the sky once they’d finished dessert. She could just make out the stars past the yellow haze that enveloped them. Adrian was gulping down the rest of his Apfelwein as she checked her watch.

“I suppose we should be going back,” Sophia said. “It’s almost eight.”

Adrian came up for air, bringing his glass down on the table harder than he needed to. She laughed.

Some of the people who had been there when they arrived had already left. One couple that had been on the trolley with them had finished eating, drifting around the pond, and a trio of women who’d also ridden with them were getting up to leave. Adrian was laying marks on the table when the hum of a trolley making its way toward the mansion could be heard. The waitresses were starting to pull the empty tables and chairs inside. Another couple stood, heading toward the path to leave.

“Ready?” Adrian asked.

Sophia nodded, picking up her purse and flower from the table.

“I hope you had a good day,” Adrian said, putting his cap on as they trailed after the group heading for the trolley.

“I did,” she replied. “I’m actually not looking forward to going home—for a few reasons,” she said, remembering Diedrich. “I wish we could have come here earlier. I would have liked to have seen the whole park.”

Adrian didn’t speak, though he was right by her side. One of the women ahead of them gave a high-pitched laugh at something.

“It’s so quiet and still out here,” Sophia mentioned, looking out over one of the gardens they’d passed on the way in. “I’m sure it would have been my favorite if…”

Adrian pulled her into him with a motion so graceful that her lips found his as if it had been perfectly planned. They were kissing right on the path where anyone could have seen. She should have been embarrassed; she should have protested. That would have been the respectable thing to do.

“Come with me,” he whispered, his voice rough in her ear.

He had a hold of her hand, pulling her away before she could even gather a response in her head. They weren’t taking the pathways that had already been made, instead stepping over bushes and weaving through flower gardens. The dwarfish tower was becoming clearer in the dark, its medieval archways showing through to the grassy knolls that lay beyond it.

“Won’t someone see us?” she asked through a giggle, noticing the light from the mansion radiating above the trees.

“Probably,” he replied.

The mortification that would come with being caught made her apprehensive, but it wasn’t enough for her to make him stop and turn around. Kissing him had been in the back of her mind all day, but it would have been puerile to mention it, and it required more boldness than she had to initiate it again. Though she wouldn’t have dared to tell him, she felt relieved that he’d finally done it.

Underneath the tower now, they held onto each other the way they had outside the doorway to the clock shop. Anyone could walk up and catch them and she would have no excusable justification. There was nothing suitable about a young, unmarried woman being alone in the dark with a man—even if they were married, it would have been considered uncouth.

His hands were bracing her jaw, the skin on his formerly smooth upper lip and chin scratching her face. He pulled away, resting his forehead against hers. His thumb caressed her cheek, and she closed her eyes, savoring his touch.

“I don’t want to go back yet,” he said. “I want to stay with you a little while longer.”

“Okay,” she said as he kissed her again.

Dreamstime

Dreamstime

They walked around the gardens, finding an open patch of velvety grass underneath the sable sky. Adrian had laid down beside her, keeping the proper distance of a gentleman.

“I like this,” Sophia said. “I haven’t been able to do this in a long time, and I needed it. Sometimes, at home, when I was frustrated or sad, I would go lay out in the field below my parents’ house. I’d pour my heart out to God in the quiet, or just lay there, taking in His stillness in the stars. It made me feel at peace, like my head had been emptied of all the clutter. Lately, I feel like I need Him more than ever. I can’t seem to shake the fear or worry, no matter how much I pray. I wake up and it’s all still there. I know He’s listening. I just don’t understand.”

“Sometimes, I don’t either,” she heard Adrian say, commiserating.

“Tell me about your faith,” she said.

“What about it?”

“Everything,” she said. “You said Luther introduced you to Christianity.”

“I suppose I should have said he’s the one who introduced me to the idea of having a relationship with Christ,” he said. “My grandparents were Christians. They did good things, but they made sure everyone knew about it. They also made it their business to police others’ good deeds, or lack thereof. They weren’t bad people, necessarily, they were just…”

“Misguided?” Sophia offered.

“That’s one way of putting it,” he said. “I went to church with them, repeated all the same prayers, but that was as far as it went for me. I didn’t have much accountability, besides what is considered to be good or bad in general. That wasn’t good enough for Luther. He said that if I was going to work for him, it required utmost dedication, unrelenting focus and a superior comprehension of morality.”

Sophia studied him. “To be a photographer?”

She could hear the smile in his voice. “There’s a little more to it than that, but I suppose, yes. His standards are high.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because when I’m given a task, I’m supposed to accept it without hesitation. When I’m executing that task, it has to be precise. The bible helps me cope, sometimes. It helps keep me focused, finding acceptance and validation in God instead of elsewhere. Luther suggested it as a precaution at first, but I gave my life to Jesus when I was seventeen. Does that mean I haven’t failed on occasion and that Luther hasn’t struck me upside the head with a bible once or twice? No,” he said. Sophia chuckled. “But I do my best.”

“He’s hit you with a bible?”

“Yes. I deserved it, though.”

“What did you do?”

She sensed his sudden reluctance to speak. He gave a nervous laugh under his breath. “Let’s just say it was something bad enough that it could have jeopardized both of us.”

Though her curiosity was killing her, she decided to leave it alone, mindful of the fact that he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Have you ever seen a falling star?” she asked him, after they’d been quiet for too long.

“Yes. A few,” he replied.

Sophia sighed. “I’ve never seen one.”

“You’re joking,” he said, turning his head toward her. “As often as you look at the stars, you’ve never seen one?”

She looked at him, shaking her head.

“Hmm,” he sounded. “Maybe you’ll see one tonight, then. Do you have a favorite star?”

“Three. Orion’s Belt,” she replied. “There’s nothing really special about them. They’re just the first thing I look for when I look up at night.”

“Orion is one of my favorite constellations. His mythology is laced throughout the entire sky.”

Smiling, Sophia adjusted herself, moving a little closer to him. “Show me.”

“Okay,” he said, removing the hand behind his head to point. “There are many myths about Orion. Pictures often depict him as hunting Taurus, the bull, but that’s not entirely true. See that cluster of stars? That’s the Pleiades—or, the Seven Sisters. One myth says that Orion fell in love with the sisters. Zeus didn’t like that, so he picked the sisters up and put them in the sky to separate them from Orion. If Orion is looking at anything up there, it’s not the bull. It’s the Seven Sisters within the constellation.”

“Zeus could, and did, have any woman he wanted. That was selfish,” Sophia said, joking.

“Yes, and poor Orion had no luck with women in the first place. He fell in love with a king’s daughter in one story, and the king blinded him. He got his sight back eventually, but still. And then the next one he fell in love with was Artemis, and she was the one who brought about his demise, though the details vary, depending on who you ask. Some say he wasn’t such a nice guy to her, and she set a Scorpion on him which stung and killed him. Another version is that he bragged to Artemis that he was such a skilled hunter, he could kill any creature on earth, so she set the Scorpion on him and it killed him. That’s why Scorpius rules the summer skies, while Orion rules the winter. He asked to never be in the same sky with the scorpion. They’re always half a world away from each other.”

He lowered his hand, searching for hers.

“How do you know so much?” she asked.

“It’s a bunch of useless information, really,” he said with a sigh. “It’s what a man gets when he reads meaningless books that have nothing to do with what his occupation will be.”

She squeezed his hand, more out of sorrow than anything else. She knew he didn’t really believe that.

“You are full of so much fire to learn and understand everything,” she said with admiration. “You have compassion, and sometimes, I swear it feels like you know what I’m thinking and feeling without me even having to say it. And then something happens, like today, and I see someone else. I heard you laughing with him, Adrian.”

Adrian released her hand, sitting up. She propped herself up on her elbows as he looked away from her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not saying you did something wrong. I just…I don’t know how you do that.”

He seemed distracted, in a stupor of introspection. She wondered if he was contemplating telling her the truth, or if he was ferreting about in his psyche for an exoneration. He cracked a knuckle, shaking his head to himself.

“I turn it off,” he finally replied, looking at her. “Whether it’s for a second, a week, or for months, I turn it off. All of it. Because if anyone knew the truth, it would all be over. When the situation is so dire that we could face an interrogation right now for having this conversation because someone overheard, it’s not worth the risk. I have too much at stake, too much to protect, too many people who would be destroyed because of a single, trivial misstep on my part. I am a war photographer for the Third Reich, Marelda; an inconsequential peon for a propagandist. Not whatever it is you think I am. Not anymore.”

She stared at him in the dark. He blinked away, his voice having been stern. Though it was clear she had no insight to all the things he felt he had to lose, she understood his desperation. The lives of two human beings were fully dependent on her; one slip up, and their lights would be extinguished forever. Though he had no hand in her decision, Diedrich would go out with her—perhaps even Adrian, all because of her association with them. It was a bittersweet truth, and though in a perfect world it was all wrong, in theirs, she had no other choice. Neither did he.

She sat up, cupping his face as she kissed his cheek.

“To them,” she whispered, “you can be Heinrich the photographer. But to me, you are Adrian the historian, the scholar…a man who can still find beauty and goodness in a very dark world.”

He turned his face against hers at her words. Soon, they were kissing just as before. He cradled her, and his arms tightened as she caressed his face.

Flashes, visions of them smiling and laughing, lying in a bed of white flickered in her mind. She watched him touch her bare skin with the kind of casualness that he’d walked through the city with, as if it was something he’d always done. The strength of the senses in her imagination caused chill bumps on her skin in the present; she had been naked—physically, emotionally. It didn’t matter if it was a premonition of what was to come, or a mere reflection of her innermost desires for him. In that moment, she knew she was going to spend the rest of her life with him, no matter how short it might be.

She pulled away from him, overcome with emotion.

“Do you love me?” she whispered looking up at him through tears.

There was a crinkle of concern in his brow. She watched it slacken in the faint light coming from the sky. He swallowed, his nose brushing against her own.

“If I was Orion, and Zeus had put me in the sky, then you would be Pleiades, and I would spend the rest of eternity looking at only you.”

She clung to his neck in response, comprehending the fact that his answer didn’t surprise her. She wondered just how long she had already known.

“Do you love me?” he asked.

“Yes,” she murmured. “I love you very much.”

“What’s wrong, then?” he asked as she battled tears.

“Nothing,” she whispered, kissing him. “Everything’s perfect.”

Playlists and New Character Bios!

Leave a comment

I wanted to share my playlists for those of you who are enjoying Sophia’s story, as well as introduce some new characters on my Character Bio page! Check them out!

Sophia’s War Playlist

Your Next Favorite Book Characters: Sophia’s War

Why You Should Read Sophia’s War

Why I Wrote the Sophia’s War Series and Why You Should Read It

2 Comments

As some of you already know (that is, if you read my article on Harry Potter), I’m a huge J.K. Rowling fan. I consider her one of my greatest inspirations as a writer. I have always been a reader, but the Harry Potter series gave me an experience I’d never really had before. It was my first time reading a book(s) where I didn’t feel like I was a mere observer to someone’s life through a one-way mirror; I felt as if I was there in Harry’s world, being faced with the same challenges and emotions as Harry. I felt like the characters jumped off the pages and into my life in such a way that they were my friends—characters with redemptive qualities and flaws that I treasured. I loved them. I still do.

Another huge inspiration to me is Jane Austen. I love not only the romance of Austen’s novels, but being swept into such a curious time period that was early 18th century England (actually, I love any time period in England). Austen’s heroines are independent and generally selfless and good-natured, while her heroes are handsome (so handsome) and complex. I would gush to myself while reading, eager for when the stubborn heroine would come to her senses and for the hero to come rushing in at the most perfect, exquisitely romantic moment possible. Austen’s twists and turns—the way she makes her heroines as well as her readers think one thing only to discover another—was one of my favorite things about her novels. It’s my favorite thing about any novel, really. When I’m reading, I love being surprised. I love being wrong.

Magic book with bright light coming from its open pages

I didn’t plan on being a writer. From the time I was 4 until I was probably 20, I wanted to be a singer. I’ve sung in too many competitions, events, talent shows and auditions to count. I even made a couple of albums (covers for friends and family) and I’m a songwriter. When I was inspired to write a novel, it never occurred to me that it would evolve into a passion that would consume my life.

It began while I was in college. Since elementary school, World War II has always been an intriguing era to me, though not nearly to the degree it is now. At 19, I got a hankering for a particular kind of romance set during WWII. I can’t even describe to you, really, what it was I was searching for; I just knew I’d know when I found it. I looked in local and chain bookstores. I looked online. I couldn’t find the book I was looking for anywhere, so I thought, “Hey! I know! I’ll write it! If I can’t find it, that means other people can’t find it either! It obviously needs to be written.”

It started out lighthearted enough. I’d never written more than poetry and songs (and a couple of short stories in elementary school). I began researching World War II in depth and contemplating what I wanted my novel to be about—what lessons I wanted to leave with anyone who read it. (Fun Fact: The first storyline I intended on pursuing for Sophia’s War is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what it was to become…probably going to use that original idea in a future novel, though…) I watched and read every single thing I came across that had to do with World War II. If there was paper nearby, I was jotting down ideas and quotes. If I was walking around outside, I was watching scenes play out in my head. The concept for Sophia’s War slowly began to come to fruition in my mind. Daily, I was getting visions of new scenes that propelled the story forward and experiencing all the emotions I wanted to evoke for my readers. Initially, I drew most, if not all, of my inspiration from Rowling and Austen. I wanted to write a novel that made readers feel as if they were standing right next to Sophia, experiencing it all with her. Romance was a must, though it ended up not being the focus, and I wanted to play tricks on people—make them think one thing before turning their worlds upside down with something totally unexpected…

The more I learned about the war, though, and the more I immersed myself in German history, my writing style and writing philosophies began to mature and expand. Though what I gleaned from Rowling and Austen is still a priority to me, I discovered I have a passion to write about “real” characters. I mean “real” as in genuine, not necessarily “alive” (though they are all very much alive to me!) I couldn’t take the light from Austen’s novels and use it in mine; not during a period as dark as 1940s Germany, when millions of people were being systematically murdered, Nazism was running rampant like a cancer throughout Europe, and war was turning good men and virtuous women into people who must do anything to survive.

I am a Christian. Unabashedly. Though one of the novels I have already written (and a couple I have simmering in my mind) could be classified as Christian fiction, most of my work that’s set in WWII is not. Because of my faith, I often write from the perspective of a Christian character, but the fiction itself I do not feel belongs in the Christian genre. I appreciate Christian fiction and feel that it is fulfilling a demand in the industry, however, I have a few issues with a lot of Christian novels I read. They don’t feel “real” to me—genuine. I love seeing God move, even in a novel, but what drives me insane about a lot of Christian novels is that the main character often makes bad decisions only because they are the victim of someone else’s sins. Or, let’s say they haven’t made bad decisions at all; let’s say they are good all the way around. They make almost all the right decisions (oh, besides that ONE time he looked too long at a woman in a bikini or she skipped that woman’s prayer meeting, but she had gotten caught up in a hilarious scene where a series of unfortunate events caused her to be late, so it wasn’t really her fault after all…) The people who don’t know Jesus are often portrayed as stereotypical, or pitiful and ignorant, though they almost always open up to God and you can count on them accompanying the main character to church at the end. You can always point out the Christians in the book and also the non-Christians—clearly. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things, as it is geared toward a certain group of people within the industry (and even a certain group within Christianity, in my opinion), but that’s not really what I wanted people to think about my work. I wanted to be something different.

Wooden cross isolated on white

The truth is, I don’t really know where my work belongs. I’m proud of that, but it’s also a little scary. My characters don’t always make the right decisions. My characters aren’t always principled. Being at war, my characters will find themselves guilty of doing much worse than missing a prayer meeting. Some of my characters get drunk; some of my characters curse. My characters have sex, in and out of wedlock; sometimes by choice, and unfortunately, sometimes not. Some of my characters know God, some of them don’t. Sometimes my Christian characters find themselves far from God because of the choices they’ve made. Even the most moral of my characters will find themselves coming to terms with sins they once thought they were incapable of engaging in BECAUSE THEY ARE IN A WAR. I write them like that because it is what’s real. And I love them for it. All of them.

I love even the most sinister of my characters because I know them inside and out, and without them, the heroes and heroines of my novels would not be the same. (Fun Fact: One day, while musing over this and acknowledging the fact that I have a deep affection for some of my villainous characters, I suddenly realized that’s the way God feels about us. He handcrafted every one of us, chose us for parts in His story. Does that mean I believe God intends for some people to be evil and others to be good? No. It’s like the story of the prodigal son; the righteous son stayed with his Father, tending to the sheep, but there was a great celebration and mercy was shown when the prodigal son returned out of repentance, regardless of his sins).

I write like this because it’s “real”. It’s life. Our life—yours and mine. I don’t write about Christians; I write about people. The reason I said it’s scary not knowing where I belong as a writer is because, as a Christian, I’m afraid my Christian readers might go into my novels with a certain expectation of flowers and butterflies. But we do not live in a Christian world, so it’s unrealistic to me to write about a main character who somehow has an indomitable, constant faith and somehow makes it through life unscathed, or with sins that are mere “surface scratches” instead of wounds that have pierced their very souls. At the other end of the spectrum, I have already experienced the fact that non-Christians will see the Christian influences in my writing and automatically assume that my work is “just another Christian work of fiction,” when it’s not. The Christians in non-Christian works are often portrayed as legalistic, hypocritical and insensitive, so when a Christian character comes along that loves Jesus but is not any of those things, they are disregarded and automatically categorized as “Christian fiction.” Both of these notions, in my opinion, are shortsighted. No, we do not live in a Christian world, but we do not live in a world without compassionate Christians who follow Jesus, either. I have tried to keep my work in that narrow area in between, because I feel that there is a literary void between these two mindsets.

I had an epiphany last year. I was sitting there, dwelling on a scene (in a future series, actually), and I remember stopping for a moment and thinking, “Whoa. That’s disturbing. Someone who isn’t like me—someone who has no interest in even fictionally witnessing a horrendous act of war—isn’t going to understand why I put something like this in here.” I began to pray, because I didn’t want to compromise the truth of the darkness in war, but I didn’t understand how portraying some of these “sins” had any redeeming value. Was it all for entertainment? What was the purpose? Was I going too far?

In the midst of my prayer, it hit me, and this is something I remind myself of often now:

“You have to show them how bad war is so they can see just how great God is.”

We don’t serve a mediocre God. We serve a powerful, awe-inspiring God who has the ability to wipe clean the black on our hearts from things much worse than missed prayer meetings.

I always cringe when I hear a song or read a book where faith in God comes across as corny. God is not schmaltzy and clichéd, and regrettably, it is my opinion that most Christian fiction is. That is not to say that I think all Christian fiction is clichéd. In particular, I find Francine Rivers’ work to be fantastic and a welcome exception to the rule. And I’m not saying that my work is somehow better than anyone else’s just because I have different goals as an author—I respect and admire anyone who pours their tormented, impassioned heart into words. Besides, who am I, but a budding author with a dream and a fiery heart? I suppose all I want is an opportunity to explain my writing philosophy and my purpose in writing so you might see what makes it unique—so it might appeal to you enough to take a chance and dive into Sophia’s world.

Sophia and all the people she meets and builds relationships with have come a long way since I started this journey almost eight years ago. Originally, I wrote it as one giant manuscript before deciding to come back to it and turn it into a series. Though I love the characters and the story, I felt that it was written so poorly (first endeavor to write a novel, remember!) and it was so long that I didn’t think it would ever find its way into readers’ hands. It needed a lot of work, and I’m constantly moving from one project to the next, so I didn’t think I would ever make time to go back to it. It had been five years since I had even looked at Sophia’s War, when one day last year I began to reminisce about the dynamic between Sophia and another character in the series. I suddenly realized the world had to know about them. It didn’t matter how long it took, what other projects I needed to put off or how much work needed to be put into it. It had to be done!

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 6.37.08 AM

So that’s where I am now. I have been improving on the series for the past 8 months. Book 3 in the series, Stalemate, will be released in February and I’m currently in the middle of editing and rewriting scenes in Book 5. There’s still more to come and I can’t wait to relive it all again with Sophia.

Today, I invite you to meet Sophia and the others who bring this story to life. Sophia’s War is a series with vivid characters, romance, suspense and surprises that will draw you in and make you cheer for every small victory and fear what comes next with every step Sophia takes. It’s a perilous adventure that will be on your mind long after you’ve finished reading it.

You never know. It might be just what you’re looking for.

Get started today!

Want to meet the characters in Sophia’s War first?: Your Next Favorite Book Characters

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

Purchase Sophia’s War: Lies and Allies (#2) here!: Lies and Allies