Bethany House Publishers
"Annie, everyone's staring at us!"
"They've never seen a bride in a cemetery before?"
Annie's gown rustled as she clambered out of the 1946 Chevrolet Suburban, which was polished to a sun-reflecting shine for the occasion. Hitching up her dress, she sailed down a grassy slope past row after row of tablet headstones, her red hair and white wedding gown flapping in the stiff onshore breeze.
Behind her, nineteen-year-old Celia Hanson set the parking brake, threw open the driver's side door, and, fighting the limitations of a bridesmaid's dress, hurried after her.
Celia was right. Everyone was staring at them. A gathering of grievers all dressed in black gawked from in front of the administration building. Without exception they wore black attire and scowls, interpreting Annie's bridal presence as disrespectful.
Three headstone rows away, standing over a World War I marker, two elderly women clutching flowers added their disapproval, tut-tutting loudly enough for Annie to hear.
And in a car that was meandering by, a family of faces pressed against the windows. The mother's jaw hung so low it was comical.
Annie didn't care. Since high school she'd discussed everything with Keith, and having second thoughts about getting married on one's wedding day ranked high on her list of important topics. She had to talk to him.
His headstone was of identical shape to all the others.
"Well, Keith, what do you think? Am I crazy, or what?"
LT US ARMY
"If you ask me, I think you're crazy," Celia said, catching up to her. "But then, I hardly know you."
Annie couldn't help but grin. Celia sounded just like her older sister. In the short time they'd been together, Annie had also noted similarities in the sisters' mannerisms, and at just the right angle she could swear she was looking at Mouse.
"I mean, what's to think about?" Celia cried. "Stan's got the body of a Greek god, he's a blast to be with, and he's a surgeon! What's not to like?"
"He is all that, isn't he?" Annie agreed.
"And he loves you, right?"
"Well, there you go!"
But that was what was so puzzling. Give or take a few minor flaws—like his penchant for garlic and onions, and an overprotective nature that could at times be suffocating—Stan was perfect. Annie enjoyed being with him and could easily see herself growing old with him. And hadn't he waited for her when she told him she needed time to sort things out?
Annie let out a moan of indecision. She thought she had sorted things out. So why had she awakened on her wedding day feeling as though it was all a mistake?
"Wait," Celia said. "You love him, don't you? Tell me you love him."
"I love him."
"Then what's the problem?"
Annie sighed heavily. "There may be someone else."
"It's not because of ..." Celia nodded toward the headstone. "Is it? Because if that's the case ..."
Annie laughed. "No, Keith's place in my heart is secure. It's someone else."
"And you think you're in love with this other man?"
Annie's hands flopped at her sides. "No."
"That's just it! I don't know! I haven't known him long enough to know. But it's not fair to Stan for me to marry him as long as there's a doubt in my mind, is it?"
Annie plopped down onto the grass beside her husband's grave. Grass-stain warnings flashed in her mind. She didn't care. She'd worry about that later.
Celia carefully folded her own dress and sat down next to her.
From atop a ridge at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, the Pacific Ocean stretched before them all the way to the horizon.
"This other man. A former friend of Keith's?"
Annie grinned. "Actually, they were enemies."
Celia stared at her, stunned by a growing realization. "We're talking personal enemy, right? Like a rival?"
"Karl was my enemy, too."
Celia was nearly beside herself. "Wait. Don't tell me you're talking about an ENEMY enemy! I mean, during the war? Annie, tell me you're not saying you're in love with a Nazi!"
"I never said I was in love."
Celia cocked her head. Annie hadn't answered her question.
"And Karl was never a Nazi. He was pretty insistent about that."
Celia threw her head back. "Annie! Are you saying you may have feelings for a German enemy? A member of the Third Reich?"
"The war's over, Celia."
"It's not THAT over!"
From the tone in Celia's voice it was apparent that, like so many other people, she still harbored bitter feelings toward the Germans. Annie couldn't blame her. This was why Annie normally kept these feelings to herself.
They sat in silence for so long that Annie figured Celia didn't want to talk about it anymore.
"Did you meet him at the hospital?" Celia asked.
Annie smiled. Celia was just like her sister, always thinking of her friends.
"No. I met him in Belgium."
"During the war?"
"How ... when ... I mean, wasn't it frowned upon to fraternize with the enemy?"
Annie laughed. "Very much so."
"Then, how did you meet him?"
"He shot Keith."
"Whoa! Annie!" Celia glanced at the headstone. "This is too much! You're telling me, this Karl, he's the one who—"
"Killed my husband."
For a moment, Celia was speechless. But only for a moment. "Did ... did my sister know this Karl?"
Annie hesitated. Maybe now wasn't the best time to get into this.
"How much have your parents told you about Malmedy?" she asked.
"Not much. Whenever I ask, they tell me to wait until I'm older, or they change the subject, or they find something urgent to do like cleaning out the rain gutters."
"It's still hard for some people to talk about the war."
"They keep a picture of her on a table with a candle next to it like she was some kind of saint."
Annie smiled. "Saint Mouse. Marcy would have had fun with that."
"The two of you were close?"
"Closer than sisters. There's something about living with someone for years on death's doorstep that has a way of bringing people together."
Celia plucked a blade of grass and twirled it between her thumb and forefinger. "I still have a hard time believing my sister was over there. What was it like? Maybe if you talk about it ..."
Annie bit her lower lip. Immediately, she regretted it. Now she'd not only have to check for grass stains, she'd have to fix her lipstick as well.
It was peaceful sitting here. Sunny, warm, with a blue vista stretching for as far as the eye could see. A fitting resting place for men whose last living memory was of frozen ground and mud and the mind-numbing thunder of mechanized conflict. The war seemed like a lifetime ago, a different world.
"Are you sure you want to hear this?" she said.
Celia settled in to listen.
Where to begin?
Annie took a deep breath. "Everyone told us it was the perfect time to get married," she said. "They were wrong. They didn't know that Hitler had plans that would ruin our honeymoon."