Wilhelmina Zwick sat in the rye field just outside of town, her nose buried down in her journal. She didn’t have many thoughts to write down. Things hadn’t changed too much. The rumor that Germany --- her home --- was going to be diving even further into war was nothing new. The thoughts had buzzed around enough to make the idea more of a distant thought rather then a current worry.
Warm hands linked their way over her eyes. “Guess who?” A hot breath whispered into her ear, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
Mina pulled her face out of the grasp of the warm hands. She couldn’t contain her excitement as she jumped to her feet and embraced the body next to her. “Rolly!”
Her fiancé returned the hug, his body quickly tensing. “I love you so much, Mina. Always remember that.”
Mina couldn’t help but notice his hug lingered longer and tighter than usual. “I love you too. What are you doing sneaking up on me? I thought we were meeting up later.”
Roland Sauer pulled away from her. He looked longingly in her eyes, pushing a strand of her unruly blonde hair out of her face. He backed up a few steps and turned around, eying up something in the distance. “I needed to see you now.”
Ignoring the distance growing in his voice, she closed the space between them and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her head on his back. “I am glad you did come to see me.”
Rolly reached down after only a few moments and grabbed her wrists. He unwrapped her arms from his waist and turned to face her. “Mina…” His eyes were misted over. He looked above her head and blinked away the dampness filling his eyes, swallowing the lump forming in his throat.
“Rolly? What is it?” Mina put a gap between them, allowing herself to fully take in his stance. She held her breath in anticipation.
He streaked a hand through his hair. A sigh escaped his mouth. “Mina, we are attacking Poland.”
Mina’s mouth fell open as she gaped. Forcing her mouth shut, she swallowed. “Are you sure?”
He nodded, avoiding eye contact. He couldn’t look at her. Their future went from being stable to being unstable with the chance of him not surviving. Invading a country meant they’d have a real war on their hands. It meant many casualties for a greater good.
Mina looked down at the ground. She couldn’t fight the disappointment falling upon her face. She fought the tears threatening to fall. She was strong; she couldn’t cry in front of him.
Roland snuck a finger under her chin and pulled her face up to look at him.
Mina couldn’t stop a tear from sliding down her face. Her bright blue eyes echoed her pain of hearing the news.
“Oh, Mina. Do not cry, meine Geliebte.” My love. A tear dripped down his face, echoing her tear.
“I am trying not to.” Her voice quivered as she swallowed the lump that kept trying to form in her throat. “Why do they need you?”
“Mina, do not ask me questions that you know I do not know the answer to.” He released her chin and turned around again, shielding her from seeing his face. “All men sixteen and older are required to go.”
Her eyes widened, realizing why he wasn’t looking at her. “No! They cannot take both of you!”
He turned at the sharpness of her voice. “Mina!”
She didn’t back down. “Papa is not young anymore. They cannot take him too. Momma will not be able to stay strong like me. She is struggling with not being able to work anymore. This will destroy her. They cannot just take him.”
Roland sighed again. “He is young at heart, Mina, and experienced. That is all that matters. Your mother will be all right.”
Mina shook her head in disbelief, her brows knitting tightly together. She was beyond angry. “He has all ready served his time.”
“I do not make the rules, but we are required to follow them. Keep your tongue in check.” His pale, blue eyes radiated his warning. It was cold and just as sharp as her tone had been.
Mina bit her tongue and allowed herself to just breathe. She had to calm down. She had to be rational. “When do you have to go?”
Roland opened his mouth to tell her, shutting it just as quickly. The words weren’t ready to form yet. “You know I love you, Mina. I would not go if I did not have to. It is for our home; our future.”
“Rolly…” She wasn’t sure what to say. She stepped closer and cupped his cheek with her hand, keeping her eyes locked on his. “I know why you are going. You do not have a choice. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love you. Every time I see you you take my breath away. I just do not know what I am going to do without having you here everyday.”
“You keep surviving. Stay alive, Mina.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand down. His other hand cupped the back of her neck as he reached down to kiss her, slowly and deeply. Every emotion he could muster filled that kiss. He didn’t pull back until both of them were breathless. He allowed his forehead to lean against hers. “I came to see you before I have to ship out.”
Mina couldn’t breathe. The words he spoke were too much. She slipped her head under his chin, resting it on his chest. Wrapping her arms around him, she allowed the warmth to fill her up. She couldn’t hold back the tears as her body shuddered from the cries she tried to bite back. “I cannot stay strong. Please do not ask me to.”
Roland bit back his own tears as he rubbed her back and clutched her close to him. He took in the smell of her hair, the shape of her small body, even the way she cried. He had to remember everything. It was the only way he’d be able to remain sane. It was the only way that he’d find his way back home to her.
He swallowed and pulled away from her. He couldn’t do it; he couldn’t say goodbye. He took in one last look at her, her tear-streaked face hitting him deeply. Turning away, he marched off into the arms of an uncertain future, hoping they’d be reunited one day soon.
Mina dropped to her knees. Her arms crossed over her chest, trying to keep her heart from crumbling out of her. The pain was raw and the feel of it bit into her deeply. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision. She could barely see him hurry away from her toward town. She sucked in another toxic breath and pushed herself up to her feet. He wasn’t the only one leaving her.
Barely giving her legs time to steady themselves, she bolted to the right of her fiancé. The rye whipped her legs, but she couldn’t feel the sting. She had to get home. She scurried past the houses that lined a side street. She could hear the wails and feel the crushed spirits as others said their goodbyes to loved ones as well. It wasn’t just her losing someone close others were feeling the same pain, fear, and loneliness. War was a brutal time.
Nearly taking a nosedive, her feet barely had a chance to grip the steps as she climbed to the front door of her home. Throwing herself through the door, she slammed it shut behind her.
“Papa!” She screamed out. The realization that it could be the last time screaming out his name nearly crippled her. Pushing the thought out of her mind, she stood, planted in place, waiting for him to appear.
Her father stepped out of the kitchen. He was wearing his neatly pressed uniform. Pain filled his eyes seeing her.
She shook her head. Her chin quivered uncontrollably as she pushed her body against the front door. She couldn’t let him walk out on them, even if it wasn’t her choice.
“Mina, come here.” He quietly commanded her.
She shook her head again. “Roland has left.”
His shoulders slumped. “Honey, you knew it could come to this.”
“They cannot take you too. Mamma, cannot lose another man in our life.” The words stumbled from her mouth.
“Mina…” He sighed, clearly not liking this any more than anyone else.
“Do not leave us, Papa.” Her shoulders shook with every sob that erupted from deep within her.
He walked up to her, pulling her tightly into a hug. “I do not have a choice, baby girl. You have to stay strong for your mamma.” He pulled her head up to look at him. His hands cupped her cheeks. “Promise me that you will watch out for her. Promise me, Wilhelmina.”
Mina nodded her head. She couldn’t let him down. “I promise, Papa.”
He nodded with a look of satisfaction. His face was just as tear stained as hers. “I love you, Mina.”
Mina’s heart was crumpling. She could barely breathe. “I love you too, Papa!” She hugged him tighter, willing herself not to let go of him. She wasn’t strong enough, however, as he pulled free of her grip and grabbed his bag off of the floor.
He squeezed her shoulder. “Be strong, my precious daughter.”
All Mina could do was nod. She stared at the door as he left. She wasn’t sure how she could handle any of this. Her body felt weak from trying to process the sudden event. A noise sounded behind her. She turned, noticing her mamma just as broken as she was.
“Mamma.” She ran to the woman that had given birth to her and pulled her into a hug. The embrace should have been warm and comforting, but the reality that neither of them may ever see their loved ones again left that warmth icy and cold. That goodbye may very well be their only opportunity to say it ever again.
“Why did you not get called away too, Aldrik?” Mina watched her friend. Aldrik Baumann was tall, his dark hair unusually jet black, and his eyes piercing blue. Most girls swooned over him, but she’d never seen him like that. Sure, she couldn’t doubt that he was handsome, but he was the closest thing to a brother that she had. In fact, he’d been best friend’s with her brother before his untimely passing. A soul taken away far sooner than he should have been.
“I was far too handsome for war.” He winked at her, a perfect smile meeting her gaze.
“Really?” Mina’s eyes widened, uncertain that that was even a possibility. She knew she’d be chided for talking with him. They were in different social classes. Not really meant to associate with each other, but nobody would tell her differently. With nearly everyone meaningful to her gone, he was the one constant outside of her mother.
Aldrik’s laugh was intoxicating, but it left Mina dumbfounded. He lifted a bale of hay, setting it on a pile that he was stacking. “My time will come, Mina. The only reason I am still here is because of my farming expertise.”
“I do not understand.” She didn’t shift her gaze from him, instead waiting for some form of truth to what he was saying.
Grabbing another hay bale, Aldrik tried to explain. “Well, our country has an army. An army has a lot of men fighting within it. Those men need to eat. Eating requires having food. I know how to grow food. It is that simple.”
“I am not dumb.” Mina rolled her eyes. “You could have just said that they held you back because you are a farmer that helps feed them. Trottel!” Her snippy remark lit up her eyes.
“I could have.” He smiled, stacking another bale. “But I did not.” His voice grew starker, almost serious. “Be cautious who you call a jerk, Mina. You know the laws for women are getting stricter. I do not want something happening to you because you ran your mouth.”
“Duly noted.” There was a casualness to her voice. His words held meaning to her, but she couldn’t let him know that they worried her a bit too. She jumped off the already stacked bales that she’d been sitting on. “Why do you not have a woman, Aldrik?”
He glanced back at her, but continued busying himself. “Why do you ask, Mina? In the market for a new man after Roland got scooped up?”
She punched his shoulder, quickly checking to make sure nobody had seen her act of rebellion. “Why would you ask that? I love Rolly. I would never fall for a different man.”
He gave her a warning look for her physical act, but shrugged it off. “What makes you think that I do not have a woman?”
Mina watched him carefully, analyzing his expression and trying to read into his eyes. “Do you? You would not hide something like that from me. Aldrik Baumann!”
A smile worked its way into his face. Slowly and deliberately. A secret that had been in the dark was now coming to the light.
“Do I know her? Who is she?” Mina inched closer to him, waiting for the answers to her questions.
Aldrik gave her a glance, but kept on working.
“Really? You are going to ignore me? This is a big deal! How long have you been seeing this mystery woman? Does anyone else know?” Mina walked around him to stand in his way. She wanted her answers.
“I have to work, Mina.” He crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. He waited for her to move out of his way.
“Ugh, please tell me it is not Idette. She is so annoying.” Mina rolled her eyes. She knew she was being overly bothersome, and probably a bit dramatic, but this kept her mind from the obvious. She didn’t want to think of what her papa and fiancee were dealing with right now. It was distasteful. A pungent thought that kept giving her nightmares.
“What if it would have been Idette? She comes from good bloodlines. I would have been marrying out of class. It would be a good thing.” He snipped at her judgmental comment, grabbing a pitchfork and leaning against it.
Taking a step back, Mina fought the shame heating her cheeks. She ducked her head a moment while grasping at her composure. “This is true.” She said quietly.
“It is not her, Mina.” He pushed passed her with the pitchfork. “It is too dangerous to talk about her anyway.”
That phrase sparked a new interest in Mina. “Oh my goodness! A forbidden romance! Is she of royalty or something?”
It was Aldrik’s turn to roll his eyes. “If she was of royalty, do you really think I would be working this job right now?”
“Probably not.” Mina pushed herself back up on a pile of hay bales. She kicked her foot back and forth, waiting for more details.
“Yeah, probably not.” He shook his head. “I really cannot talk about her. It could put her in danger.”
“Why?” Mina was completely oblivious to what he was talking about. She pulled a piece of hay from the bale and twirled it in between her fingers.
Sighing, Aldrik stopped what he was doing and walked over to her. Standing in front of her, he slowly spoke. “Do you remember that night when a bunch of shops were broken into?”
“Yeah, what about it?” Mina watched him carefully. She wasn’t sure where he was going with any of this. “What does that have to with your girlfriend?”
“It did not happen because people got riled up. Anybody who is different than us — not German — have been being singled out. It has been happening for years, but since this war began it has gotten much worse. Their businesses have been being destroyed. They have been being rounded up and brought to camps. That is why your favorite pastry shop is no longer open for business. That is why the family has mysteriously disappeared.”
“That is only rumors, Aldrik. There is absolutely no way that our people would do that to anyone.” Mina refused to believe him. There was no way that they could be responsible for such atrocities.
“Keep your voice down, Mina. It is not to be talked about.” He hushed her quickly, glancing over his shoulder to make sure there was no one snooping around. He seemed satisfied that they were alone.
“What does this have to do with your woman?” Mina inched her face closer to his. Her eyes were narrowed as she watched him carefully, looking for any spec of untruthfulness.
He swallowed hard, lowering his voice to barely a whisper. “My woman is Charlotte Bernard.”
“The French woman? My oh my, Aldrik. You scoundrel!” She checked her voice to a whisper. “Why are you worried about someone finding out about the two of you?”
He sighed. “She is a French Jew, Mina. She has barely any German in her. They will take her if they find her.”
“Aldrik… Are you hiding her?” Mina swallowed, her eyes wide. She waited expectantly for an answer. If what he said was true, then there was a good chance that he was in a lot of danger too.
He stared back at her. His eyes didn’t betray the truth of what he wasn’t saying. “I love her, Mina. I will not let anything happen to her. If someone finds out then she will be taken away and I do not know what would happen to her.”
Mina sighed, her head hung low as she thought about everything. Only one thought really crossed her mind though. “Show me these camps. Prove it to me, Aldrik.”
His brows rose. “You want me to prove it to you, Mina? My word is all of a sudden not good enough for you?”
“Aldrik…” Mina barely breathed his name before he jumped in again.
“No, Mina. You have to trust me on this. It is dangerous. I cannot bring you to these places.” He shook his head emphatically.
“Have you been there, Aldrik? Or was this just talk from some of the other men you hang around with?” She didn’t hold back. She needed to know if this was true. Perhaps she’d be forced to be a good girl, but if this treachery was happening than there was absolutely no way she could stand behind it.
“Can you just trust me on this, Mina?” The frustration couldn’t be hidden in his voice. He’d answer her questions until the cows came home, but that didn’t change the fact that he’d do everything in his power to keep her out of harm’s way.
“I trust you, but this is something that I need to see for myself. It cannot possibly be as bad as you make it sound.”
“You are right. It is not as bad as I make it sound. It is worse, Mina. The things they are doing to these people are awful. I cannot… I will not put you in danger.” His hands found their way to her shoulders. He held onto her tightly, making sure that she knew the extent of how risky all of this was.
She growled as she pushed herself up and past him. She walked a few feet away before spinning on her heels back to face him. “You deliver food to these camps, do you not?” She was proud of putting two and two together. That had to be how he knew of them.
He eyed her up warily, shaking his head as he saw the ideas forming in her mind. “No, Mina! I will not take you with me. You are crazy!”
“Aldrik, I did not even ask you that!” She shook her head casually, ready to get her way any way she was able to.
“But you are thinking it. I cannot believe that you would want to put yourself in harm’s way like that.” His voice was raised and irritated. He’d set the pitchfork to the side as if worried he might use it for something other than it was intended for.
“I would not be. I would be with you. It would be perfectly safe.” She could see him on the verge of saying no again. She had to change his mind. “I would not ever question you again, Aldrik. Just please take me with you.”
He sighed, finally nodding his head. “You are going to get us both killed.”
She ran over and gave him a hug. She was way more gleeful than she should have been considering the situation. “Thank you! When do we leave?”