Christina tossed her suitcase onto the bed, unpacked, and scurried around putting everything back in its place before turning on the radio. It was good to be back. The Glenn Miller Band was playing and her thoughts went to Laurent; the strange feeling she had felt, and stranger yet were his words when he had left for France: “Les jeux sont faits, Christina.” She traced her lips with her fingers, feeling all of those emotions again; his firm, warm mouth pressed against hers as he stole a kiss goodbye on the veranda. She had felt contempt for the overly handsome man, but then this feeling took over, a wayward desire, and it had startled her. She felt at ease with Liam, and it was good to be back with him. Nicolette was close by, and that also gave her comfort, even though mother had forbidden her guardianship.
Liam kept track of Nicolette’s comings and goings. He encouraged her mother to keep her in school and had seen to it that the family had everything they needed. It was wonderful the way he loved and cared for Nicolette, but the ache without her was settling hard, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before she did something desperate to take her back from mother. Liam would resist, but she hoped he would understand. He was stability, his love wrapped around her like her tattered baby blanket, a haven in which she could rest her burdens and feel safe. All she thought of was how much she loved him, everything from the sparkle that lit his eyes to his large square hands, long sturdy leg, and Southern charm. She loved his laughter and silences and even his impatient shrugs. If only he would love her as a woman.
Christina sat on the bed and listened to music. Rays from the moon streamed across her as she lay down, too exhausted to take a bath and put her nightgown on. Soon, Liam would see things with new eyes, she thought. Soon, he would kiss her, and then never minister to her as a child again. Persistence was the key, she thought; just as she had risen above her sorrows and faced life square on. She had taken the worst of fate and conquered it. Surely, he saw the revelation within her spirit. She rolled over, so tired of thinking, and tried to sleep.
The music stopped and a voice broke over the radio: “Germany has attacked Austria!”
Christina sat up and turned the volume dial. It was happening, she thought in disbelief. Just as Laurent said. There would be war, Munich had destined it. All of his plans, to which she listened to half-bored and impatiently, were suddenly clear. France was mobilized, battleships primed and ready at their ports. Christina thought of her father and his nightmares. He had seen war, his parents slaughtered like cattle, and their town burned to the ground. Germans—father had known them well. Power eluded them once, and their defeat had only stung them on to an obsession that went beyond the confines of reality. Power would never elude them again. She sat thinking, wondering, and feeling sick at the helplessness she felt.
Liam picked at his food with his fork and then slid his dinner plate aside. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Someone has to do it!” Christina said desperately. “Mother’s drunk most of the time, and Marcel is no better. What kind of a life is Nicolette going to have? I know you’ve done everything in your power to help, but I won’t have her living with Mother anymore! Believe me, I have thought this through, and it hasn’t come easy. I’ve spent many a sleepless night thinking of a way.”
“But it’s kidnapping! You heard your mother!”
“She won’t find us; we’ll be in Europe. You know how important Nicolette is to me and what I’ve been through. I cannot bear another night lying in bed wondering what she is thinking; if she hurts, if she cries out in her dreams. I hate mother for what she’s done. She’s put Nicolette in harm’s way just to hurt me. Taking her away will certainly be worth my crime!”
“But Europe? Have you gone crazy?”
“When Austria ceded to Germany, my decision was made. I can do something about the war effort and get Nicolette out of the country at the same time. Don’t you see? It will work!”
Liam stood and pounded the table with his fist. “Christina! Europe will be torn to pieces! It’s no place for young girls. Do something about the war effort at home if you must!”
“No!” Christina implored. “It’s not enough!” She felt something desperate tug at her. She believed in her hunches, and the timing was right. Somewhere in the last few days she left her girlhood behind, and Liam could no longer mold her to his liking. She would join the war like her father had and his father before him.
“Destruction, killing, and rape is what you’ll face. I can’t let you do this; but, most of all, I will not let you do it to Nicolette!”
“I’m of legal age, and you have no claim on me. I’m going and will suffer the consequences.”
Liam’s voice trembled when he told her not to go, and his finger pointed and shook at her.
She hadn’t realized until now how desperately she needed to go. “I’ve been in contact with my grandfather, Philippe Petain. He has always been sympathetic with our situation and would do anything to help us. He has already arranged to bring us to Paris. I would be a fool to refuse him.”
Liam sat stunned, not believing the lengths she had gone to plan every detail of her departure from him. “I don’t think I could bear it,” he pleaded.
“I’m going. It’s the only way,” Christina said desperately. Liam’s helpless expression tore at her. “It’s a chance for me to do something with my life, something worthwhile, and most importantly, I will finally have Nicolette. Mother and Marcel will be passed out by nightfall. By morning, we will be long gone. You won’t change my mind!” She thought Liam would see her differently now, independent of him, making a life for Nicolette and herself, growing up. She knew she had hurt him terribly, but the war had changed everything, and she couldn’t shut out the thought that he would have done the very same thing had he been her.
Nicolette wrapped her arms around Liam and said goodbye. He picked her up and kissed her little red cheeks. “I love you, my princess.” His voice broke.
Christina drew forward and hugged him. “Someday, I will make it up to you, all of the pain I’ve caused. I only want a chance to prove myself to you that I am no longer a child with silly dreams and desires. I need to rid myself of the ugly memories: the sounds of sobbing and drunkenness and hatefulness and the way it dragged itself on for much of my life. Please understand, or a part of me will surely die. This isn’t goodbye, only to the memories that will haunt me if I don’t do this. I’ll write you everyday, and when I have made peace with myself and Nicolette is of age to be on her own, I’ll return.”
Liam stared helplessly at Christina, and then at Nicolette. He choked down the barrage of pleas and bargaining he had rehearsed. All he could manage was a simple declaration: “You’ll never know the kind of love I hold for both of you.” His voice broke again. “God speed, my girls.”
The trample of feet up the stairs to the train platform swept them apart. Christina took Nicolette’s hand and weaved her way toward the train. A voice shouted, “All aboard!” The throng of people crowded onto the platform, saluting, shaking hands, and hugging loved ones. Christina and Nicolette entered the rail car and pressed their noses to the window and waved their handkerchiefs. Liam stood on his toes, searching, straining to find their faces. Slowly, the windows passed one by one until the train grew small and soon was gone. He traipsed over to a bench and sat down, trying to comprehend the whirlwind of everything, to choke his anxiety. He clutched at his chest and rolled onto the ground. People in the station moved around him, and he looked up at their faces and struggled to tell them to stop the train, but soon their concerned expressions faded into darkness.