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She walked out onto the cold street. The snow surrounded her, blanketing the steps she took with another layer of white. It was just dawn: the exact moment when the sun peaks over the rooftops of the houses, just barely lighting up the sky.
She walked down the street and thought about what happened last night. The wind whispered its song in her ear, dancing with the snowflakes around her. She pulled her long, black coat tighter around herself and walked. The streets was only then starting to light up as the sun’s rays flooded in, stretching its fingers to swallow up the darkness until at last the whole world lit up.
The words he said still circled in her mind, cutting into her heart little by little, until she couldn’t breathe. Tears flowed freely out of her eyes and she ignored them. I’m not going to cry. She told herself, I’m not going to cry.
He sat, staring out of the window at the small cottage hotel, nestled on the top of the hill. He had picked this remote and quiet spot in the country side, away from all of the distractions and the constant noise that would remind him of what he was suppose to be doing. But that would prove to be impossible wherever he went. She didn’t come back to the room after last night. He had hurt her and had no way of taking it back.
The wind wrapped around her, as she pulled her coat tighter around herself. She walked to the middle of the pavilion where the large water fountain stood, erect and glistening in the sunlight. Soon this place would be bustling and the day would start again, like it had yesterday and the day before and like it would all the days to come. But the Linda that was here yesterday and the day before would not be the Linda tomorrow and the other days that would come. She refused to go back, she refused to see him. Her phone started vibrating in her pocket, and she knew that it was him. She gripped the phone around her hands and held back the urge to throw it into the fountain. No matter how much she tried, the tears spilled over, blurring her vision.
“Linda, we can’t happen, not right now, in the midst of a war. I can’t give you the life that you want. We can’t have the life that we dream of during all of this.”
“I can come with you. I can help you…”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“You can’t or you won’t?”
“Don’t wait for me; don’t put your life on hold for me. I will set you up with a job here in one of my offices, so don’t worry about money or living expenses.”
“I love you.”
“Love is too unrealistic right now.”
He looked at his watch, it read 8:00. He stood up and called the front desk, “Has Ms. Linda left any messages for me?”
“No, Mr. Leadland. I am sorry.”
“Thank you, if you see her please call me.”
“I will Mr. Leadland.”
He called her cell phone again. Nothing.
After another hour went by, he decided to look for her himself. But the phone rang.
“Mr. Leadland, Ms. Linda just walked in. She was heading towards the café.”
“Thank you. I will be right down.”
Linda chose a seat that purposefully would not be facing the entrance. She knew he would come.
She sat sipping her black coffee, waiting for him.
“Excuse Miss, you seem lonely, may I offer my company?”
Linda looked up and saw a young man with dirty blonde hair, a kind face. Why couldn’t she love men like him? Men who wouldn’t leave her, men who wouldn’t hurt her? Her heart tugged in her chest, the wound was still there, and she didn’t want to think about it.
She smiled at the young man, “I’d be delighted.”
The man sat down and ordered breakfast for the both of them.
“Are you here on vacation, Ms…?”
“Please, call me Linda.”
The man smiled and leaned back on his chair. He looked comfortable, relaxed, like a person without worries, unaware of pain and hurt.
“Linda then, by your English I’m guessing you are from Germany?”
Linda smiled, “My mother was German and my father Jewish.”
The man nodded and smiled again,
“Both my parents were from Germany. Are you staying here long?”
The food had arrived and so had he. She could feel his eyes watching, behind her.
“No, I’m not.”
“Are you here with someone?”
Linda knew he was watching them.
“Excuse me I’m going to go use the restroom.”
“Of course,” the man replied.
Linda stood up and walked towards the restroom area. When she came back and he was sitting across from her.
“I was expecting someone else to be sitting here.”
“Something came up and he left.”
They sat there, silent, facing each other. The café was still empty, except for a few people; it was serene, almost picturesque and contradictory that both of them were sitting here.
“Are you okay?”
She looked away, afraid he had seen the single tear that trickled down her cheek.
“Linda – “
“There’s nothing left to talk about.” She said, cutting him off, picking up the cup of coffee.
“I’m sorry, Linda.” He said quietly.
He left the next morning, leaving a note that said my secretary will give you a call.
She didn’t want to wait to follow the preparations he made for her; she didn’t need him to depend on. She didn’t want to be left at the sidelines, so she entered herself into the war a different way. The news of the war was constant in the basement where groups of women worked each day. The radio was on from the start of the day until the very last station was empty. Most of the women she worked with either had experience during the First World War, or had brothers, sons, husbands, and loved ones fighting in the war. The deaths that were reported were numerous; sometimes it was harder to have the silence surrounding them than the static voice on the radio. Linda quickly immersed herself into the information stacks in this basement, where she and thirty other women sorted, transcribed, passed on and received information. Everyday she would be surrounded by piles of papers and files coming in and out of the cabinets or being filed into the cabinets. She had kept tabs on him in these six months through recognizing his agent name. She wished she could forget him, she wished he would come back; she wished she could see him again. She had lost track of his whereabouts for three months after the warning letter that put him in the line of fire; until the night when she saw with her own eyes, him in front of her.
That night she had finally agreed to go with some of the ladies after their night shift to a club. During this time of war, the place where war could be forgotten was in night clubs like these, music and laughter, the familiar smell of the past, of times before the war. The women, in the arms of their lovers, as they dance to the soft, melodic songs being sung. The lights were dim, but not darkly dim, and looking up Linda saw the wisps of smoke trailing into the air; the smoke that once would’ve irritated her was now a smell she had got used to. She sat watching the couples swaying in each other arms, barely moving their legs. The music suddenly changed to be livelier; and more couples gathered on the dance floor. The doors to the entrance opened and a flood of military suits came in, each with a matching-suited girl next to them.
Linda couldn’t believe her eyes. She stared dumbfounded at him; he was with a girl, who had just made him laugh. She used to make him laugh. The girl brushed his hair in front of his forehead to the side, and he put his arms around her. He hates it when his hair is to the side. They walked side-by-side with arms around each other, both in matching uniforms, both matching in their happiness. Her heart stopped for a short second as the girl dragged him towards the dance floor.
“Excuse me, would you like to dance?”
Linda looked up and saw a young man, a lieutenant from the looks of his uniform.
“No thank you, I don’t mean to dance this evening.” She replied, her eyes almost brimming with tears.
“Linda, go ahead.” Her friend whispered.
But Linda had turned her attention back to him and the girl in his arms. He turned the girl around and his eyes met hers. She quickly looked away and got up.
“Sorry, I have to go. See you all tomorrow.” She said, hastily grabbing her things. She stood up abruptly, almost knocking over her chair.
“Linda, are you okay?” Her friend asked, worried.
“I’m fine. I’m fine –“
“General.” All the men at the table stood up and saluted to the person standing behind her.
“At ease, gentlemen” the voice replied.
Linda’s friend looked at her, confused.
Linda didn’t move. She couldn’t turn around and have her control be compromised.
“Linda?” Her friend asked quietly, trying to make eye contact.
“Gentlemen, would you please excuse us?” He said. She could feel his eyes on him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” she mouthed, patting her hand.
Linda turned and sat down, not facing him directly. He sat down next to her.
“How have you been?”
Linda took out a pack of cigarettes and started to light one. “Not good James.”
“When did you start smoking?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s bad for you.” He said, taking it from her and tapping it out. He looked at her, she didn’t look at him.
“I just got back –“
“You don’t need to explain to me.”
“My plane landed yesterday night.”
Linda looked at him and took out another cigarette to light it.
“James?” The girl he was with stood next to him. She was blonde, she had full lips of red and her cheeks were pink.
“Julia, this is an old friend, Linda.”
“Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
Linda looked at her and stood up. She smiled at Julia. Julia smiled back, her lips of red arched up.
“It’s nice to meet you too. If you will excuse me, I was just on my way out.” Linda said, tapping out the cigarette. She bent down to grab her coat that had fallen to her seat. “Enjoy yourselves.” Without looking at him, Linda walked to the door.
She kept on walking until she was outside and she could breathe.
“Linda!” He grabbed her arm and swung her to face him.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve called.”
“I just love how civilized we are all being. But that’s what you are, civilized, isn’t that right James?” Let go of me. How could you just waltz into a night club like nothing had ever happened?! I don’t want to see you! Just leave me alone!” She sobbed. All the tears that had been locked in all spilled over, her heart ached for him but her mind wanted him to disappear.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself Linda,” he said, holding her at arms length, not too close but not too far.
“No, you want me to stop feeling. You want to me turn cold like you.”
“I don’t expect you to forgive me. I didn’t want it to turn out like this.”
“I just realized how cruel you can be. But you are the expert at playing with people’s hearts…”
“I wanted to tell you, but I wasn’t ready to see you after all this time, I was afraid my heart would waver and I would want to stay here with you…” He trailed off, like he realized he had said something he shouldn’t have. “But I know that’s impossible. You have clearly made a good life for yourself without me here and I have my responsibilities and where I am needed.” He said, hastily like the words were going to run away from him.
“Where. You. Are. Needed…” Linda couldn’t understand what he was saying. She wanted him to stop talking, wanted him to hold her, wanted him to her it wasn’t real, none of it was. She just wanted to forget.
Abruptly, he let go. “Julia and I are getting married,” he whispered, almost too soft to hear, but she heard it. “I wanted to tell you, but then – It was all a mistake… everything.”
“So all this time…”
“I’m sorry Linda.”
Just like that, three simple words, the same three words he had said the first time he broke her heart. Linda stepped back with tears brimming down her, cold-bitten cheeks of red streaks. She looked at him like she didn’t recognize him. Her heart felt like it had been wrenched out of its place for the second time, and then dropped back down unwanted.
She didn’t look at him because if she had she would’ve wanted to scream at him, hit him, make him hurt the way he had made her hurt. But she didn’t say anything. She only felt stupid and numb. He made her feel worthless, and right now she did feel worthless.
She didn’t hear his voice. She didn’t even know this person standing in front of her anymore.
The wind blew past her, as she turned away from him. Tears coursed down and she knew there was no point in trying to keep it in anymore. The wind encircled her and then flew away into the night, taking with it, her love, numbing her heart, dulling the feeling of pain until she couldn’t feel it anymore.