If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
That night Annabelle couldn’t sleep. Her thoughts and memories didn’t allow her to rest for even a second, so she decided to make the best of it. With restless hands she brought up her worn journal. Hours passed as she sat there, by the window, slowly taking in the words she wrote for what seemed like ages ago.
She smiled when she read about her first ball when she had turned thirteen, and she remembered suddenly how bewitching the music had been and how beautiful she had felt. She had flied over the polished marble floor, in the arms of so many of the village’s young men. Young men who these days either fought on a battlefield or lay dead in a cold mass grave somewhere in the north. She swallowed deeply and then continued reading.
She read about when Katherine was born, and somehow managed to push through her sorrow and let a smile adorn her lips. It was all so far away, but still just within reach. For a second she let herself think about how her life would have been, if the war hadn’t come so close. Just for a second though; then she quickly let the memories escape from her mind. She didn’t want to infect her mind with memories of what had never been.
She continued to read about the parties she had attended, the dresses she gotten, the young men she had danced with. When she came to the entry she had written the day John arrived, she struggled against the impulse to close the journal and put it back under her bed. It stung in her eyes and in her heart, when she read about how happy and naive she had been. Now she no longer knew who John was, and for a moment she wondered if she ever had.
The worst part was how he let her go, she realized. She hadn’t thought about it then, but now it came over her like a bomb. John hadn’t come to take goodbye when she left with Alice; he probably hadn’t even known that she had left. Nor had he come after her. After all, it was probably what hurt the most inside her; the thought that he hadn’t looked for her. Because Annabelle knew that true love always found its way back, and he hadn’t found her. He would never quite find her, she understood now; he had never found her.
With both sadness and anger, she quickly browsed through the rest of the words, until she came to a blank page. She quickly wrote down the date, even though she wasn’t sure it was right, and then slowly and gracefully, she wrote another name, a name that never before had been written in the book. With long, cursive letters she wrote Killian.
When morning arrived the next day, Annabelle got up and dressed as usual. She brushed her hair, pinched her cheeks and then smiled to herself. Or tried to smile, rather, as she held the old, rusty silver mirror in front of her face. The smile lasted for about two seconds before it slowly faded away from her lips. But there was nothing to do about it, she realized, so she turned abruptly and walked out through the door.
She walked quickly through the house, with a definite echo resounding behind her steps, and she didn’t say a word. As soon as she found the front door, she opened it and went outside. She walked around the house to the backyard, where so many bodies lay buried. Once there, she found the pile of uniforms that were left, the pile that Alice usually sighed over and didn’t know what to do with. All the soldiers had obviously been buried in their clothes, but some uniforms had for some reason been left behind.
Annabelle bent down and picked up an item; a pale gray uniform jacket, adorned with two lengths of worn gold buttons which reached from the chest down to the end of the jacket. The collar was colored in a soft sky blue color. The cuffs were in the same color as the jacket’s fabric, also gray, and a faint yellow pattern adorned the sleeves. A dark hole lurked where the soldier’s left shoulder had been, and dark red, almost black spots had dyed the fabric. However, it appeared that the jacket, as new, had been very elegant.
Annabelle wished that she would have found her father’s uniform instead of a stranger’s, but there was nothing she could do about when she knew that his uniform had followed him into his grave.
Annabelle folded the jacket and carried it close to her chest, as she reached for a pair of uniform trousers in a similar shade of gray. She took them too, before she decided to go inside.
As evening came creeping, Annabelle was in her room. She wore the uniform she had found earlier that day, and by her waist, close to her stomach, she carried the most important things that she couldn’t leave behind. She kept a dagger there; a very small one given to her by a soldier she cared for while Mrs. Ericsson still had been alive. The handle of the dagger was adorned with carved wood of a kind Annabelle couldn’t name, and the edge was almost too sharp.
A few minutes earlier, she had been holding her little silver mirror and sadly been watching herself, with the dagger pressed against her long, beautiful curls. She had been ready to cut, but something inside her wasn’t yet ready to let go of the girl she had been before the war broke out. The girl she had been just a few years ago, because it was still a part of her that she knew was somewhere deep inside her; buried, but not yet dead. Before she would never even have thought of cutting off all her hair to look like a man, but times had changed and somewhere along the way, a part of her had gotten lost. She didn’t know if it was for the better or worse - that part was gone now, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Now she was about to leave everything behind for a war she never even imagined would happen, and if she were to die, she would at least die as herself. She wouldn’t change herself to someone she wasn’t, not after everything else she had sacrificed.
Sure of herself, she put the dagger back, and let her hair swell freely over her shoulders and back. Once she caught up with whatever remained of the southern army, she assumed that she would have to hide her curls inside the flat, gray hat she would have to wear, but it was time left, so she didn’t care about that yet.
Darkness fell hours before Annabelle finally was ready. She had made sure that a horse was saddled and ready, waiting for her by the meadow. Before she left, though, she felt that she had to say goodbye to Killian, one last time. Because even if she didn’t die in the war, and actually returned, he would probably be gone by the time she came back.
It was with sadness and bitterness in her heart that Annabelle turned her steps towards his room. She knew she wasn’t strong enough for the final goodbye, but she owed it to him.
As she stood outside his room suddenly a tremendous sadness swelled up inside her; memories of all those who had left her. The feeling only got worse when she thought about what she was doing to Killian. She would leave him, just like so many others had left her.
“Killian”, she whispered against the closed door, and knocked lightly on the hard wood. His name on her lips hurt. “It’s me - Annabelle.” She heard heavy steps from behind the door, and a few seconds later, a hoarse “come in.” Annabelle swallowed and then pushed the door open, only to close it quickly after she had gone inside, and thereby stopping the little light that lit up the corridor from coming in. She didn’t want Killian to see the uniform she wore.
“What - what are you doing here this late?” His voice was weak, and Annabelle bit her lip hard to hold back her tears. She did her best to smile, but her sadness took the smile from her lips. She didn’t want to keep the truth away from him, not the last time they were together. He was worth more than that.
“I came to say goodbye,” she whispered, because even if the truth was the best thing to say, it was also what hurt the most. The silence that followed her words was haunting.
“Goodbye? No, Annabelle, stay, stay here - with me.” Slowly she felt tears falling along her cheeks.
“I want to, Killian, you don’t know how much I want to, but I can’t. I’m leaving to join the army. Could you be kind enough to inform Alice tomorrow, because I have no time for it and would rather not disturb her right now.” Killian coughed, and Annabelle heard him try to breath normally.
“No, please. Not the army! Anything, just not the war. They won’t let you, you know that, right? I heard about it when I was there, that they put the women who go to fight in prison, where diseases like tuberculosis and cholera kill them. They are going to kill you! Annabelle, please...” His voice was so weak and fragile that Annabelle got the urge to take him in her arms and rock him until he again fell asleep.
“But I have to. I have no other choice. The war took my father, it took you, and only God knows where my brothers are. I can’t let that happen anymore. I’d rather die.” Annabelle’s voice was on fire, but at the same time like a cool breeze through Killian’s heart.
“The war never took me, Annabelle. I’m here, with you.” He coughed again, and Annabelle saw in her mind how the sheets turned red.
“Don’t you see? It’s the reason you are here now, dying. It took you, just like it took my father, and I did nothing to stop it. It’s my turn now, Killian. You have to let me go.” His warm hand found her cold ones.
“Fine, the war may have taken me, but I will never let it take you. I beg of you... Don’t go there, don’t fight... Don't let the violence change you, too.” Even in this dark hour Annabelle couldn’t help but to smile, even though the smile was broken and sad. He cared about her. She closed her eyes, and for a second she imagined the life they could have had together.
“I’ll live. Think of it as a promise. Wait here for me, and I will return. I promise, Killian. I’m strong enough. I’ll come back.” She could hear him take a deep breath, as if he realized that he wouldn’t be alive when she returned to him.
“But you don’t get to choose.” He suddenly sounded almost bitter. “Whether you live or die. When you’re there, on the battlefield with your rifle loaded and ready, and suddenly you fall down, numb with pain... Nobody is going to help you. You die, surrounded by soldiers and death and explosions, and even though there’s so many people around you, you are alone. You die a lonely soldier, and do you think anyone is going to remember your name? When the battle is over, do you really think anyone is going to care for your body, make you really nice and clean, give you a funeral with beautiful roses? Do you think they will sing for you, place you on a big meadow outside a nice church, all by yourself for the rest of eternity?”
Annabelle didn’t answer. She was sad enough, and she didn’t want to talk anymore. Killian’s words really got to her.
“But at least you’ll get to die on the battlefield. A heroic death worthy of a good soldier.” She wiped her cheeks free from tears.
“No death is heroic”, she whispered and came to think of her father.
“So you say”, he mumbled, and she could hear that he was getting annoyed. “But at the same time, it’s not you who lies in bed all day just waiting for the tuberculosis to kill you. It’s not you who pray for a quick death, a merciful death, but get a slow and painful one.” She couldn’t help but sob.
“I’m sorry for you, Killian, I really am. But this is something I have to do.” Her voice was weak and trembling, but he understood her. And he chose to accept it, too.
“Annabelle”, he said, and now he seemed almost sorry for what he had told her. “If anyone is going to make it, it’s you.” She could hear how he was reaching for something, and the following second something cold was placed in one of her hands. “Wear this, and I promise to wait for you.” She closed her hand slowly.
“Farewell, Killian”, she whispered, and turned her steps toward the door. She didn’t dare to look back at him, because she was afraid that the pain and the sorrow would hurt too much.
In the bright light of the full moon, Annabelle opened her hand to see what Killian had given her. When she saw what it was, it was as if the ground beneath her crumbled.
It was a necklace, a chain in silver with a charm that consisted of a pale blue jewel that looked like the sky on a beautiful summer day. The gemstone was surrounded by small, glittering diamonds. The necklace looked very old, and Annabelle decided to put it on. Then she buttoned her blue collar and sat up on the horse.
The only thing she left behind was the rhythmic sound of the horse’s gallop. In the darkness, she quietly wondered if Alice would miss her and if Killian would keep his promise.