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How she was supposed to explain herself to him was a mystery to her. She wanted nothing more than for their reunion to be different. If he had returned a month before now things would have been so different. She would not be engaged to Andrew and her father’s business would have still be his and even if he lost it, she would not care enough about it to help him. She would have had Matthew. Yet he returned just as she had made a promise to another; a promise that she had no intention of keeping now that her one true love was alive after all this time of thinking that he was not.
It was not long before Matthew started to wrap his arms around her and she felt that familiar hold he had over her begin to surface. Simply being in his arms roused a desire within her that only Matthew could awake. Elizabeth thought that she would never feel this way again and right now she could only hope that it would last forever and that the two of them could simply forget about the world around them. Before the war, she had talked about leaving to be with him and now the thoughts crossed her mind once more and she found herself wondering what the consequences might be if she simply never left home.
It was foolish to think that things could be that easy, no matter how much she wished that it was. She had promised her mother that she would look out for her father and his business while she was gone and so far she had failed on that front. Perhaps that is why she agreed to marry Andrew; because she felt as though she had let her mother down and by doing this she was saving her family’s reputation and her father’s business. It truly was complicated and she had no idea where to start with trying to explain all of this to him.
His voice found her in such soft tones and as he spoke her tears began to subside. Whether that was because Matthew was simply capable of removing her sorrows or whether she had simply ran out of tears to cry, she did not know. Elizabeth breathed in deeply, trying to steady the erratic breathing that had come with the tears and listened carefully to his words. How she wished that none of it mattered but she knew that the moment she told him why things were so complicated he would understand. What she would not give to make it all go away.
After a short silence Matthew pulled back from her so that he could look upon her face and she met his eyes with her own. He still managed to make her heart quicken even after all this time. His touch felt electric against her skin and she closed her eyes momentarily to commit it to her memory. She [I needed] him to understand that she was not happy; that she would not be without him in her life.
[b “I’m engaged...but I do not want to marry another or start a family with someone who is not you. I do not know how to explain this to you. It might anger you or it might change what you think of me. I’m not exactly proud it this.”] She said as she lifted her hand to her cheek and started to wipe away at the tears that were beginning to dry up. [b “When you left, my father started to drink more and gamble. We had lost quite a lot of money and the only things that we had left was our house and his business. Andrew, the man you saw at the wedding, was involved in a game of cards with my father and he had drank so much.”] She stopped for a moment thinking about the moment he came home to tell her that he had lost it all. [b “He ran out of money so decided to raise the stakes with our home and his business and he lost it. Andrews now owns the house and the business and he promised that…he promised that if I married him that we would not lose our home or our livelihood, that he would make sure my father still had a job and that people would assume that he had simply passed the business on rather than lost it in a game of cards. I agreed to protect our family from the shame.”] She shook her head and looked towards Matthew in attempt to gauge how he might be feeling. [b “I do not love him. I do not want to be with him Matthew. I love you.”]
If he’d known the toll it would take, Matthew might never have agreed to go to war in the first place. He’d seen things he couldn’t describe, and he didn’t want to describe them. Matthew still senses the horrid smells, bloody sights, and burning smoke. War was not as romantic as the papers made it out to be with simply printed casualties in black and white as if that was all there was to it. Matthew had thought he was off protecting as many people as possible, but he didn’t know how it would take so much from him. Elizabeth’s tears almost made him wish he could go back in time, but he would not have known the things he did now. The experience shaped him truly in both positive and negative ways. At least now he knew what he’d left behind, and he would never take it for granted again. There was some miracle that allowed his heart to continue beating, so he planned on taking advantage of his second chance.
[i “Oh Matthew this is all such a mess...”] Her words were not encouraging. Why did she still seem so upset? He was back and alive and in front of her. Shouldn’t she be overjoyed? Something was still wrong. Matthew knew her enough to tell that. She was working her words around something. [i But what could it be...] Matthew slowly let go of her hands and pulled his shirt down over his form. His now slightly duller and darker blue eyes found hers as if urging her to come out with what she could not speak. Running his hands through his hair, Matthew recalled the letters. He read every single one in elegant, swooping cursive. But he couldn’t bring himself to write back. He didn’t know what he’d ever say to her... How could he describe where he was or what he’d done or seen? She wouldn’t be able to handle that, and he knew it would only make him want to see her more if he did. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for her anymore. [i Quite the opposite, really.]
Elizabeth kept saying she’d waited, and she grasped his hand tighter. Matthew began to ease in the slightest, but the tension quickly came back in a flood. Her head rested on his chest as her words echoed, [i “However, I do not know how to explain this to you.”] He knew there was something on her mind. Had her father died? Did her father know about them and ban their union? Or had she... No. He would not consider that certain proposition. His Elizabeth would never...
Matthew stroked his hand from her hair to her back as she kept crying, but he did not want to wait to know why she was crying so much of tears that didn’t seem so joyful. [b “What happened when I was gone, Elizabeth?”] He spoke deeply, his eyes as serious as they could be. What in the world was she hiding from him?
His death had clearly been a mistake and she should have been happy to see that the man who held her heart stood before her now very much alive. Elizabeth should have taken the opportunity to embrace him and tell him that everything they had talked about before they left could now play out but she couldn’t. She was promised to another now and she had no idea how things would play out in the end. However, those thoughts still evaded her. With Matthew here, Andres was not on her mind at all.
It was never her intention to make Matthew feel guilty but she could tell by the change in him that was exactly how he was feeling now. Neither of them had intended to get hurt yet they were both stood here bearing wounds that she would not heal so easily. Matthew’s more physical as he showed her his scars, Elizabeth’s more a broken heart. A part of her wish that he had stayed so that she never had to grieve him but she knew that their lives together wouldn’t have started well if she stopped him from doing something that was important to him but seeing the look on his face now suggested that he wished he had never left for war in the first place.
Elizabeth watched through blurry eyes as Matthew finally began to close the distance between them. He was close to her now and his familiar scent began to intoxicate her in the way that it used to. While she remembered his aroma well, her memories were nothing compared to the real thing. If she was thinking about the fact that she was engaged to another man she might have stepped away but she couldn’t bring herself to. She wanted to step closer still, closing whatever distance was left between them but she managed to stop herself from that. His hands came towards hers and delicately placed her hand over his chest.
Elizabeth inhaled deeply and shook her head now, guilt finding her and overtaking her emotions. Anger at being wrongly told of his death subsided into something else and she struggled to find the words that would explain that she was engaged to another man.
[b “Oh Matthew…this is all such a mess.”]She allowed a silence to fall between them for a moment so that she could think of how she might be able to explain what happened. [b “I waited for you Matthew. I wrote so many letters and I thought that you were avoiding me. I thought perhaps that the war had become too much for you and that you thought that you were no longer good enough for me. That’s when they told me…they told me you were dead and my whole world came crashing down around me.”] She shook her head. [b “I waited for you even after I knew that you were dead because, dead or alive, you own my heart Matthew.”] The tears began to fall once more and she reached out to take his hand so that she could have further confirmation that it was him stood before her.
[b “I never moved on Matthew. I could [I never] love someone else because I do not have room for anyone but you. However, I do not know how to explain this to you. Everything is so messed up and my life has been so complicated these last couple of months. I…I don’t know what to do.”] She said as she finally gave in and fell into his arms, resting her head on his chest and crying for as long as it took to get it out of her system. Elizabeth would have some explaining to do when her tears finally subsided but for now she just wanted to let out every emotion she had been feeling since laying eyes upon him again.
Matthew finally pulled away from her lips, his forehead leaning against her own. Somehow, in a convoluted way, all the violence and bloodshed and loss seemed worth it. He had his Elizabeth in his arms, and she would not have to live with the loss of the love of her life before they even got started. His mind was finally finding peace, despite the war he fought both mentally and physically. Every day and hour and second dragged on painfully. War was never designed to be easy. Matthew thought about quitting several times or breaking his own knee just to return home on the injury reserve. Nonetheless, his squad pushed him through, including the fact that with every gunshot, every battle, and every training session got him closer and closer to the people he loved most. Matthew protected her all this time, but she’d saved him. Elizabeth had kept him sane.
But she wouldn’t look at him. Something was wrong. Matthew kept his arms wrapped around her figure, his hands resting on her lower back. Matthew could think of a million different things that could have gone wrong, but he waited on a string for her to admit what was going on. When she finally admitted it, Matthew curses under his breath and then sighed. He hadn’t wanted to show her, but it seemed it was essential now. Reaching down, Matthew pulled up his shirt, revealing the wound on his shoulder. It was a nasty memory. Looking down at Elizabeth then, he recanted what she did not yet know. [b “I was shot when my squadron was caught in a surprise attack during a surveillance mission to take down one of the most fearsome German generals. I don’t remember much after that except waking up in a British hospital, working through rehab, and finding my way back here to you and Elaine and our town.”]
Matthew searched her eyes again then spoke in a low tone, [b “I don’t know where the rest of my squadron is or if they made it out alive, but I knew one thing. I knew I had to find you and see you again before I lost my damn mind.”] He responded then took hold of her hand gently and pulled it to his strong chest, just over his rapidly beating heart. Placing his hand on top of hers to cover it over his heart, he looked down at her again seriously. [b “I’m alive. I’m right here. And I’m not going anywhere.”]
Elizabeth could tell by the look in her eyes that seeing her pain seemed to cut him up. It clearly echoed all the grieving that she had gone through and that she was still going through due to the loss of him. She could hardly believe that he was standing here before her now after being told of his passing. In some ways she found herself feeling angry towards those who informed her of his death. It didn’t seem like something that could easily be mistaken. Someone was dead or alive; there was no in between and miracles didn’t exist so it wasn’t as though he was dead and then came back to life. She supposed that it just proved the effectiveness of those who helped to control the front lines and it made her wonder how they managed to celebrate any success at all if such simple mistakes were being made.
Nothing seemed to matter in that moment because he was here, leaning in to her hand like he had done so many times as though they could just so easily fall back into that routine and in that moment she selfishly forgot about Andrew and that she was engaged to be married to another man. Matthew was here and he was alive. She didn’t care that her neighbours might have seen her leaning into the arms of another man in the moment.
When he looked at her, her heat skipped a beat just like it always had and she still found herself in disbelief. Elizabeth wondered if he had returned home first before coming to see her and found herself to be glad that her friend had regained her brother but as her thoughts began to move away from that Matthew spoke to her. All she could do was nod in reply because he words seemed to get lost once more as he stepped closer to her so that she could feel the heat radiating from him as he took her face in his hands. His hands felt rougher than they had before but that is what war did to a man and she didn’t seem to mind it at all because it was Mathew’s hand. After all this time; she was holding Matthew’s hand.
He tried to explain that he has fought to see her face every day but none of that seemed to matter all that much and once he ran out of words to express his feelings he could not help but lean towards her and press a kiss against her lips. Even as her tears remained streaming down her face they fell into a passionate kiss that told each other just how much they had missed each other and just how much they needed each other. As they kissed she could taste the bitterness of her tears and stepped closer to Matthew as if to treasure the moment until he eventually pulled away.
Their breathing was heavy and she closed her eyes as her head rested upon his forehead. She felt guilty all but instantly but it was not for allowing herself the weakness of his kiss but for breaking her promise to him. It was clear that Matthew knew nothing of her engagement because there was no way he could have known unless he had gone home first and she figured he would be far more angry if he did so she couldn’t allow herself to look at him just yet.
[b “I should apologise. I broke my promise to you Matthew. I am sorry for that. I just thought that no matter how much I wished for this moment to happen, it was just a dream. Your sister was grieving and I had lost everything…”] Elizabeth’s words trailed off after looking at his face. [b “Matthew, Elaine and I were told that you were dead.”]
Matthew stood still, his words uttered into the space between them. He didn’t dare tear his eyes away in fear he might lose her again if he did. Matthew lost all sense of where he was and what had happened to lead to this moment. He wasn’t thinking of the war or Adam or any of his squadron that he had not heard from since the incident. He didn’t think of finding Elaine or rejuvenating the workshop or the town he left behind. Matthew could only focus on Elizabeth and what it meant to finally be here before her again. He was not yet aware that she had been notified that he died in service. Matthew’s heart felt like it would beat out of his chest as Elizabeth trailed her soft, delicate fingers over his skin. Her eyes drank him in as if she thought she never would again, and her fingers caressed his jawline and features as if he were a ghost.
His breathing grew heavier, awaiting more of a response. For the first time since the war, he felt more alive. For the first time since the accident, he felt like he had purpose. Elizabeth’s touch was all that he needed to invigorate everything he pressed down. Elizabeth was who he’d thought of when his eyes closed, and his blood soaked the ground below. Matthew thought that was it. Instead, he was standing before her now in real time and fully alive. He came back like he promised. Matthew leaned into the feel of her fingers trialing over his face and taking in every inch of the man she loved. His eyes trailed down her face, doing just the same. Everything inside him wanted her, and time had only strengthened his feelings.
Shaking his head as she spoke that she thought she lost him to the war, Matthew wrapped his arms tightly around her body and held her to his chest. One arm did not hold as tight of course, but the gesture remained as powerful. [b “I fought every day just to see your face...”] He spoke, tears threatening to come to his eyes as well. [b “Every damn day...”] He repeater, considering that last day he remembered serving. Soon enough, he could not breathe until he kissed her. Bringing his large hands to her face, he leaned down, tilting her chin upwards and pressed a kiss that held boundless amounts of love and passion and urgency in it. He needed her. He needed to feel her skin on his and her lips locked against his own. Matthew was overcome with it all. Finally, he felt as if he was in pure bliss.
For a moment she continued to work on the roses without being alerted to the fact that there was anyone else there with her. When she heard a voice she had expected to turn around to see Andrew. He was always coming out with compliments as if to win her over and pretend that their intended marriage was anything besides a business arrangement. Yet, there was something even more familiar about his voice and for a moment her heart skipped a beat. If she didn’t already know that Matthew was dead, she would have been convinced that it was him.
The man could be made out in the corner of her eye and she noticed that he stood taller than her but the rose bush was doing w good job of concealing any defining features away from her. Elizbeth rolled her eyes knowing that she would have to stop gardening to pay some attention to Andrew even though she couldn’t stand being with him but the second she lifted her head and his eyes locked with hers she froze. Everything around her seemed to slow down except for her heart beat. That quickened, so much that she swore that she could hear the echo of it within her ears. Elizabeth took in the sight of him, searching his face for proof that she wasn't seeing things and that he was truly standing here before her. The shock had parted her lips and stolen her words as she found herself unable to speak. The way he looked at her awakened the butterflies within her stomach and she had no idea how to react. His voice and his stare always made her weak at the knees and even though she wasn't quite sure if she could believe that he was in fact standing before her she wanted to. Her eyes filled with tears as she couldn't control her reaction to seeing him and she pulled a hand up to her face to wipe away the ones that threatened to run down her cheeks. Elizabeth had dreamt of this day but she knew that it was only a dream. After all, the dead were just that and there was no coming back from it but Matthew seemed to defy that and here he was standing before her.
[b “Matthew?" The way she spoke made it sound more like a question and she placed her sheers on the ground as she took a step towards him, nervously raising a hand to his face. His skin was cold but she didn't flinch and she allowed her eyes to close for a second as if searching for the memory of this moment to prove that he was really here and she allowed her eyes to open once more. [b “How is this even possible?"] She asked with confusion. In that moment, she thought nothing of Andrew and the fact that she was engaged to another man and she thought nothing of Elaine who had lost him too. She was overwhelmed with the sight of him that she just wanted to be selfish for a moment. Her lips remained parted in disbelief but she allowed her fingers to travel acorss his face, exploring ever inch of it with her eyes. Every part of her that had died with him seemed to rekindle within her and she had to give herself a moment to allow the emotion to come forward.
[b “I thought I had lost you."] Her voice was a whisper now and without thinking about anyone but them she threw her arms around him and leaned into him, allowing her head to rest upon his chest as tears silently fell from her eyes.
[i No answer.]
Matthew knocked again. The lights were out inside, but it didn’t seem to make him stop or rethink anything. She [i had] to be there. Matthew didn’t consider any other scenario. Elizabeth was going to be inside, waiting for him to return with the same ring on her left hand. He was going to surprise her, and they would never look back again. [b “Come on... I know you’re in there.”] He worded breathlessly, putting a little more force into the knocking. After several unsuccessful attempts, Matthew dejectedly stepped away from the door and descended down the porch steps. Strolling around the house, Matthew made one last sweep before he would go asking Helen or Elaine if he could find either of them. If she was anywhere around the house, he would find her.
It didn’t take long for him to spot his beloved Elizabeth. She was standing in a garden filled with rosebuds and other flowers. She seemed busy, trimming and watering to her heart’s content. He just stood there a moment, taking in her sight. She was as beautiful as ever in her own element. From this angle, he couldn’t tell how much she’d changed if any. Fresh smells of roses and Earth filled his nose as he adjusted his right arm. He’d been shot through his right shoulder, causing his arm to be slightly more stiff now, but it was still functioning. Some would say it was a miracle he even survived. He’d been in the middle of a surprise attack, and he hated that he just blacked out in the midst of it. Matthew hadn’t had the time to send letters out to the rest of his squad, and he certainly couldn’t get the face of that one German soldier out of his mind. But he knew what was going to be his saving grace. [i Elizabeth.]
Finally gathering his thoughts and breath as much as he could, Matthew made the first few heavy steps towards Elizabeth. Entering into the garden, Matthew finally spoke, his arm leaning up against the trellis to the entrance. His muscles were more defined, and his hair wasn’t as long as before. He was clean shaven. [b “Beautiful garden for a beautiful girl.”]
Elizabeth’s heavy heart quickened as he spoke, and she tried to smile at his words as he began to tell her just how he felt about her. She hoped that he knew just how much the same things were true for her. While most girls dreamed of romance, Elizabeth had tried her hardest to avoid it, wanting to focus on becoming her own person because she had been so focused on proving that she did not need a man in her life but now, the exact opposite was true although it was not any man, it was Matthew. It would [I always] be Matthew.
Elizabeth’s eyes closed as he pressed his lips against her forehead and her breath hitched in her throat when he told her that he loved her, simply and with complete honesty.
[“I will wait for you for as long as it takes for you to return to me. Even if this war continues for a decade, I can promise you that my heart will always belong to you Matthew. I love you.”] She said as he pulled her close to him. They remained in each other’s embrace for a few minutes before it really was time for him to leave and she pulled back with hesitation so that she could take him hand and lead him to the door. [b “I feel as though we met far too late. But I would not change anything for the world. I am forever yours, that much I can promise you.”]
Elizabeth avoided reading the papers for months during the war. She knew that the stories of success had to be a lie because if the stories were true the soldiers would already be home by now. It was almost summer and the war was still being fought a full five months longer than they suggested and the patriarchy of people in England was beginning to wear thin as people started to question what they were fighting for yet every day it seemed that more and more young men were signing up to fight, even boys who were barely old enough to be out of school.
Helen had her baby at this point and was one of the lucky few whose husbands didn’t go to war. It wasn’t exactly a choice for him, but businessmen tended to stay and keep the economy going. He just so happened to be a successful one and that meant that he could stay home and watch his child grow up with his wife rather than have to fight on the front lines like Matthew had to. She didn’t exactly resent them for it, but she couldn’t help but feel jealous about this every time she saw them. Most days Helen tried to see Elizabeth, especially since she seemed to be finding it harder to avoid Andrew and she understood how hard it was on her to keep coming up with excuses that would not offend him and she simply couldn’t admit that she was in love with another because her father would surely ask questions that she was not prepared to answer. Eventually when her father was trying to encourage her to marry, she finally told him, showing him the ring and admitted her feelings for Matthew, although he didn’t take things very well at all.
A few more months passed, and it was too much time for Elizabeth to simply accept that Matthew was distracted and therefore could not find the time to write to her. That day did not go the way she had hoped. She was hoping the letter she received that morning was from Matthew, explaining how he had simply been busy. Instead it was a telegram that had informed her that Matthew had been killed in action over a month ago. She stayed in her room for quite some time to go through her first stages of grief.
She cried for days, writing letters to Matthew every day knowing that she would never been able to send them but it was the only thing that helped her through her grief. There was not a day that passed by that she didn’t write to him and she kept the letters safe in a box in her room so that no one would be able to find them. She never thought that she would have to live without her Matthew but somehow, some way she needed to continue with her life.
Days faded into months. Even as the months passed Elizabeth had never quite come to terms with Matthew’s death. To the outside world, she presented herself to be the same Elizabeth she always had been but those closest to her, like Helen, knew just how much the war had changed her. She was not on the front lines fighting for a cause that people had lost faith in, nor had she witnessed the horrors that only those who had experienced it would understand, but she had experienced the loss of war and it had changed her forever. It changed her [I heart] forever. Never again would Elizabeth love another. Not even the man she had recently promised to marry.
A sigh escaped her lips as she adjusted herself in the chair, but she couldn’t quite pull herself away. Perhaps it was because the longer she sat here in her room, the longer she could keep herself away from everyone else. This room was the only sanctuary she had now but she was not sure how much longer she would have this space to call her own. Once she married, she would have to share everything with her husband, including a bedroom and that very thought made her sick to the stomach because that man was not Matthew and she had promised him that she would wait for him. A part of her felt like she was betraying him, even though he was no longer alive to see her break that promise. Helen told her time and time again that he would have wanted her to move on and be happy but this was not what Matthew would have wanted for her. Matthew would have wanted her to find someone who she loved deeply, someone who loved her equally and would have treated her in the way that he would have done but she had not managed to find that and she never would. This marriage was not one based on love, but gain and she had always promised herself that she would [I never] marry for such reasons but her father had managed to trap her in this arrangement and without the hope that she might find love again, she agreed to marry the man she had avoided for so many years; Andrew.
Time for some fresh air. Elizabeth made her way out to the garden to tend to her roses and used the distraction for a while.
Vulnerable positioned on one knee, Matthew asked the most important question of his life. Matthew didn’t think he heard her right when she promised to wait until after the war was over. She had nothing but his vow to hold onto, but she still did anyway? [i Damn, I love this woman...] Matthew wasn’t just saying words though. They had meaning. He knew what he wanted, and he knew what she deserved. She deserved someone to protect her, take care of her, and love her right. Matthew wanted to be her person, no, her [i man.] He wanted to attempt to brave social situations with large crowds with her on his arm. He wanted to create a business for the two of them, and he wanted to satisfy their every need. It was part of the reason he chose to fight anyway. Matthew would spend the time it took away from those he loved most to protect them from ever falling into any harm. He would even give his life for that. Elaine and Elizabeth drove him to do all he did.
At her acceptance, Matthew smiled as his chest tightened, and his own tears began to form. Rubbing her ring finger with the new addition on top, Matthew finally stood and pulled her in tight. His lips caught hers in a lick of passion, love, and promise. Holding the kiss, Matthew took advantage of potentially the last time he’d ever see her. He knew there was a chance he’d lose his life in war. Matthew would have been a fool not to. Elizabeth knew too, but they did not speak of it. He would fight for every breath and every chance to see her again, to kiss her again, to hold her again. As he finally broke from the kiss, Matthew tried to stay strong. He wiped off the tears before they fell and ran his thumb down her jawline. As he looked into her eyes, he memorized every feature of her beautiful face, locking it away into memory, one of his most precious. Bringing her closer, his arms wrapped around her body, Matthew placed a kiss on the top of her head. [b “I will love you until the end of time. Never doubt that.”] Matthew held her until he absolutely had to go. He’d already spoken with Elaine who refused to admit that he would not come back in one piece. She did not want to say goodbye with all the hopes in the world that she would see him again. In that moment, it was just him and Elizabeth.
A carriage drove by, calling for all men to leave and be brought to the borders or training camps. Matthew finally released her from his grasp, hefting his backpack onto his shoulders and headed for the door to the now empty workshop. Glancing backwards to her one last time, Matthew managed a small smile with all the strength he had left. The instant he turned back, his face stayed stoic and stern. He was taken from his home to a training facility where the food was always cold and mushy. Generals and drill sergeants were ruthless, and the workouts were always intense. There were days he thought he could not move on, but he would always picture what he left behind and what he promised.
He’d never forget his first day in battle. Loud shots and explosions could be heard everywhere. Screams and panic filled the air. Smoke stung his eyes. He passed by countless dead or severely injured bodies, some including women and children. Everything blurred together. He shot where others were, followed what they did, took lives of his own... After a while, he got used to it. It didn’t feel like time was moving at all. Bloodshed and violence was something that became a part of his life. His squadron become closer friends than he’d ever had. They fought together, laughed together, and saved each other. Matthew knew everything about them, and they knew everything about him. He told them all about Elaine and Elizabeth and his business and his home... they were soon enough his brothers just not by blood.
[i Until Matthew Moore ceased to exist.]
It was a routine mission. Matthew and the boys from the squadron were tasked with recon to set up the elimination of a German general. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Everything went as planned. Matthew headed off for cover with one of his bunk mates, Adam, both suited up and ready to scout out the path the leader would take. Adam nudged his back and spoke jokingly, [i “You thinking about that girl back home? I know I’m thinking bout mine.”] Matthew just laughed and nodded, [b “Every damn day. So where’s the target coming in from?”]
Adam pointed down an obscure path with his gun. [i “Just down that way. Chris is on sniper duty. Deran and Garett are down that way. We got em covered and surrounded. No way those German bastards are getting anywhere.”] With a nod, Matthew kept a look out. British vehicles rolled in and out. Their weapons were loaded and ready. But something was [i off.] There should have been more back up. There should have been more soldiers on the rooftops. And why was it all so quiet. [b “Check around back Adam...”]
Matthew began as he turned his head over his shoulder to address Adam. He saw the German soldier, but it was too late. Widening his eyes in panic, the German just gave a cold grin and shot. [b “ADAM! GET DOWN!”] Matthew called, trying to hurtle one front of the bullet, but it was too late. It made contact, blood spattering. Hidden Germans came out from everywhere, ambushing them. Matthew managed to somehow shoot the one that hit Adam, but it was the last thing he remembered. As he was trying to hold pressure on Adam’s wound, a sharp, stinging pain ripped through his shoulder.
He’d been shot too. Together, they lay there, the blood seeping out. Everything looked so blurry, so... serene. As he grew weaker, Matthew just closed his eyes. The last thing he saw was Elizabeth.
What he remembered next was awaking in a British hospital, far from the war. He begged to know about his squadron, but they had no real answers. Matthew healed over time, and he regained most function of his arm. As soon as they discharged him and told him his service was terminated due to injury, Matthew caught the next ride back home. [i Finally.] He didn’t really know how much time had passed, but there was something he needed to do first before time started again. Matthew went back to his home, the workshop now dusty and dark. The interior had not changed much, but he saw no sign of Elaine.
Then, he retraced the steps he knew by heart to her home. Matthew felt his heart already beating in his chest at the chance to see her again. It felt like an eternity at war... His footsteps brought him to her door where he slowly climbed the wooden steps and knocked.
Elizabeth didn’t even need his reply to know that he was going to fight. She could see the answer in his eyes and the way he held himself. He would have made this decision before she had read the article. She could tell by the look on his face that this was something he had thought about carefully and knowing him this decision was to protect her and Elaine. It was admirable and she would never be able to hold that against him, knowing that he was an honourable man who would fight for his country and return a hero. Of course, Matthew didn’t care about that but, as long as he returned to his family, to Elizabeth, that much she was sure of. His words only confirmed what she already knew and she felt like her heart was already breaking but she had to be strong.
There was tears running down her cheek but she wasn’t sobbing, she was trying to remain composed. [b “Matthew, I promise I will wait for you. As long as it takes. I love you and I am going to spend my life with you. This war is not going to get in the way of that.”] Then he pulled a ring out of his pocket and her breath caught in her throat, not expecting to have him ask her to marry him but here he was slipped a ring onto her finger. She smiled through her tears then, nodding as he told her he wanted to marry her. [b “And we will. We will be married. Not one day after you return.”]
Within the days that passed, Matthew and Elizabeth grew ever closer. She would sneak out to see him, and he would teach her his ways. He showed her how to run a business. He showed her how to carve wood. He showed her how to be free from any other expectations of her. She showed him love and that opening up to someone else was not a bad thing. She rerouted his whole view on life and what was important. He fell more deeply in love with her every passing moment. It was one day that he was out in town, delivering his finished products that he’d registered for the draft, for the war. Matthew has read all about it in the paper, including the way the Germans treated people. If there was one thing that Matthew was, it was protective. He’d made his decision, but he hid it from Elizabeth. He hadn’t wanted her to worry. When she wasn’t around, he’d packed things he would need when he went to serve.
Britain declared war, and it became all too real. He would be forced from her. Matthew would be torn from the pages of her life like a careless memory. It wasn’t at all how they planned, but he would not change his mind. Matthew would hate himself for not fighting for her and Elaine and the others that were unable to fight themselves. He had to go, and he hoped Elizabeth would understand.
She arrived at his workshop as he was finishing putting up the supplies. He had no intention of continuing it when no one would be able to maintain it for months or years even. Matthew’s eyes locked on hers the instant she burst into the room. There wa da mix of fear and sadness in them, and he knew that she saw the articles in town or saw loved ones hugging as if they’d never see each other again. Elizabeth knew him well enough at that point to know what would be his decision. Matthew gulped, not expecting the sight of her to wrench his heart so much. As she rushed forward and took his hands in hers, Matthew admittedly tried to fight back tears of his own.
[i “You are going to fight.”]
The words were heavy like a ton of bricks were placed in the distance between them. Matthew made eye contact again before bringing her hands to his and placing kisses on them. Finally, he let them go and nodded with a solemn expression on his face. [b “I am...”] He spoke, knowing he did not have to explain his reasoning to her. Matthew’s eyes betrayed how he felt about leaving her, but he’d planned for this moment.
Taking her hands again in his own, Matthew spoke desperately almost, urgently. [b “Wait for me, Elizabeth. Wait for me to return to you...”] With one hand, he reaches into his jacket pocket and removed one shining ring that took a fortune to purchase from the sellings of his last carpentry pieces. Looking into her eyes, Matthew lowered all of his hefty frame onto one knee and slipped the ring onto her ring finger of her left hand, massaging her as he did. [b “I promise... we will be married when I return. Not one day after I come home to you. I love you, and I will always love you.”] He knew it was a lot to ask of her. Hell, he may never return. But he wanted her to be there if he did.
Elizabeth was out one morning when she came across chaos in the streets. She had no doubt in her mind that her worst fears were about to be confirmed. Her eyes darted around the crowds of people, reading the different expressions upon their faces. Some of the men were smiling and laughing, throwing their arms around their comrades. Other men looked worriedly towards the woman in their life. Those women exhibited the same expression she would echo herself when she finally read the article. Elizabeth felt her heart rate quicken as the anticipation built up inside of her. Part of her wished that she had chosen to avoid town that morning.
Elizabeth made her way through the crowd towards the newsstand where she might have been able to get a better view of what the papers were saying. At this point she was sure that she needed to read the headlines to know what happened. She had known the moment she had heard of the Archduke’s assassination that Britain would insert themselves into the affairs of Europe. Germany had been applying pressure to France and she knew that it was only a matter of time before Britain went to their aid. With every footstep she became filled with even more dread.
Reading the headline only made it real. Her throat began to close up and the butterflies in her stomach erupted with anxiety. Her eyes started to scan the page and the mix of excitement and sorrow amongst the crowd suddenly became clear. She was overcome with conflicting emotions, knowing that this could likely force her apart from Matthew.
Soon enough she worked up the courage to run to his workshop, her eyes locking with his the moment she arrived. There was no way he hadn’t heard the news by now. Tears threatened the corner of her eyes and she could barely find the words to talk to him. She allowed the paper to fall to the ground and stepped towards him, taking both of his hands in her own. For a moment she looked down at them and tried to commit the feel of them to her mind. She bit her lip to hold back her tears and allowed her eyes to find his again.
[b “You are going to fight.”] She said simply. It wasn’t really a question because they both knew that it was an unspoken truth that hung between them. Matthew was the kind of man that wanted to protect what was his and he would consider fighting for his country to protect his family and she could not begrudge him for that. It did not mean that she had to like it but she would accept it.
Matthew returned the kiss, but her words lingered in his mind. Did she really mean that? Would she really leave from her fathers protection and wealth just to be with him? If she was telling what truth, it only made him feel that much more inclined to her. Elizabeth’s father was no man. He was a coward and a sorry excuse of a man. As he held her on his lap, Matthew thought up a life they could have together. He thought about waking up to her in his bed and sharing the business. Perhaps kids would be in the picture...
With another kiss pressed to her lips, Matthew spoke softly, [b “It is more than about time you thought of yourself. You’re always so generous with others.”] He spoke, eyeing the wooden locket she was wearing with a smile that played on his lips. [b “So... have you decided work or play yet?”] He questioned teasingly, appreciating his woman’s rebellious streak and declarations.
It wouldn’t be much longer from that day though that the draft was announced. On June 5, 1917, the Selective Service Act drew from its deadly hat, names of men aged 21 to 31 for active, bloody duty. It was in that day that everything broke between Elizabeth and Matthew and the life they had planned. The life that included marriage and kids and growing old together.
It wasn’t that Elizabeth doubted his motivations and it wasn’t as though he had done anything to make her think that but she just wanted to make sure that she hadn’t go things confused and that she was in the same lines as him. He obviously found it a little more difficult to talk about emotions than her and she didn’t know if that was just because he was a man or because he just found it personally quite difficult.
Her eyes never left him once when he spoke and at times her heart ached for him and then when he moved on to their relationship she couldn’t stop her heart from racing as she took in every single word he said, having them echo in her mind every after he had finished talking. This has been what she had wanted; to know how he truly felt.
[b “I do understand and I feel the same way. I could barely sleep last night knowing that you were not close to me. You have taken over every little part of me and I cannot get you out of my head, not that I would want to try in the first place. You have to understand that I am very much in love with you and I have every intention of being with you. I do not care what my father’s opinion is of this. As far as I am concerned he doesn’t get a say. It’s been a long time since I have had a father rather than a business man. It’s about time I put myself first and if I have to, I will run away with you.”] She chuckled a little at her final words and placed a kiss upon his lips.
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