Chapter 7 : Letting Go

Wednesday 6.01p.m.

Rays of the day began to fade away. The night sky was due to take over. No visitors had come today. There were no news of returning soldiers and definitely no sightings of a certain handsome young general. She waited at the main hall; the one nearest to the main door. She hustled and bustled all day, without a minute of sitting still. She was anxious yet excited, fearful yet exhilarated.

Corina went up to her again and ask, "Chéri Bella, can you please tell me what is going on?"

Anabella gave a dreamy smile.

"He will be back today, aunt. I know he will."

Corina had not expected that to be the answer. They had been waiting for two weeks already since the announcement of the end the second battle of Marne, which also marked the end of World War One. There were days when they were more hopeful and days they knew would not meant to be but Corina could not see why Anabella thought it would be on this day, today, that the General would come home.

Anabella seemed to read her thoughts.

"I hadn't a nightmare last night, aunt! None at all! I slept like a baby, for once, since he left for Marne!"

"That's very good news Bella but what does that have to do with William's return?

"It is a sign, aunt Corina! A good sign God sent to me to tell me that everything will be alright…that he would return to me."

Corina could see Bella's point of view but being the wiser and more experienced one, Corina kept a straight face; unconvinced that it was a sign of William's return. Corina grasp Anabella firmly by the wrist and sat her down.

"Now, we wouldn't want to get too excited, Bella."

"Why not? Isn't William's return something you anticipate as well?" Anabella challenged.

"Oh believe me chéri, it is. There's nothing more I want to see than him stepping through the door," Corina stated with a sigh. Her eyes somehow shone a glint of pessimism.

"I have learned not to ask for too much, Bella. The higher your hopes, the greater the disappointment."

Bella could see the reflection of pain in her aunt's eyes but could not understand its presence. Being caught up in the moment, neither one of them noticed the trotting hoofs and wooden coach nearing the iron gates of the manor. A servant then came running to them.

"Madame! Madame! A coach! Coming up to the manor!"

There was no need for words. Corina and Anabella both stood up immediately and rushed to the door. They opened it hastily and bumped anxiously down the steps. They held each other tightly with neither of them lifting their eyes off the mobile coach. The coachman halted before the iron gates. Neither one moved. They had not forgotten that they should go open the iron gate for the coach to enter but both were too shock-ridden and their legs felt numb.

The door of the coach flung open. Black leather boots stepped out, followed by the top of a military hat which hid obvious strands of dark wavy hair. Anabella let out a soft gasp. A well-built man in his military uniform alighted and stood before the iron gate. He ran his palm down his military jacket to smoothen it. Anabella and Corina still had not moved. Anabella was stunned and Corina gaped in utter surprise. He took off his hat at the sight of them, pushed the gate back and strode proudly towards them.

Summer 1918

Twinkling stars littered the night sky. The aspens hummed their usual rustlings as their leaves glittered occasionally in sparks of silver. The moon was full and round. The night was silently watching them lie together, curled up as one on a soft blanket laid on the patio, as they breathed in harmony and savoured the sweetness of each others' lips. They spent the whole of last week huddled together and just holding each other without any hint of wanting to let go. William would be leaving for his base camp in London tomorrow morning and they had both agreed to spend the night out here, on the patio, to take in the romantic and memorable night scene.

There would be an occasional sob from Anabella, who found it almost impossible to think of William going back to war. Then, there would be the hushes, consolation and assurance that William perpetually whispered into her ears. Before you knew it, Anabella began to shake uncontrollably again.

"Hush, my chéri. It's okay. I am still here," assured William. "Remember what I told you, Belle? Every nightfall is the beginning of a new dawn."

"Oh, William, I don't want dawn to come. Then you would have to go."

William held her close and kissed the top of her head. He brushed his cheeks against hers and gave her soft pecks across her face.

"I will miss you too, Belle."

"Je t'aime," she whispered amidst her sobs.

William held her chin up and gazed longingly into her wet hazel eyes.


"Yes, Belle?"

"I… I never told you this…but I want you to know."

William nodded, held her tight and waited patiently for her to tell her story.

"I am somewhat like you, Will. Almost… My parents died the night I was born. Aunt Corina is my only relative but she was sold over to England since I was two. I never quite knew what it felt like to have a family. Or to be loved," Anabella told softly.

William drew himself back a little and bored his gaze deep into Anabella's eyes.

Then he began, with much empathy in his voice, "Belle…I didn't know. Why hadn't you told me?"

Anabella gave him a wry smile and looked away. "Well, you never asked."


"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I just… Will… I don't know. You make me feel…different."

William continued looking at her, never shifting his gaze. He sensed there was more to her past then he knew.

Anabella started again, "I never had a home…I didn't belong anywhere…or to anyone. I became a nurse because I was searching for something… just something. When I cared for my patients and tended to them, they looked at me with such gratitude…it made me feel like I mattered. Like I belong."

Anabella leaned against him and nuzzled her head onto his neck.

"They made me feel loved. Sometimes. But there were times when I felt like something was still missing. Like I was still searching…for what I don't know. And when I came here and saw the aspens shimmer, they gave me hope. I felt like I was coming closer to finding it. Then…then…"

William brushed his chin against her silky burgundy hair.

"Then, Belle?"

"Then, I found you. Right here, as I watched the aspens glow to me. Those little glitters of hope took a full form – you."

Anabella shifted her head and looked up so that they met eye to eye. She could tell William was touched by her honest confession and William could see all the love and compassion shining from her.

"I've never felt loved this way before, William. Never. You brought me something I never had. And it pains me so to have to let it go."

William finally understood. Even though he was an orphan, he had his parents for a while. And then he had Corina. He had a family, a home to come back to but Anabella didn't. Anabella had nothing all her life. She grew up with only an aunt who lived thousands of miles away. She survived with her instincts and her big warm heart which yearned to reach out for a feeling she had never felt before. Now that she had finally found him, he was leaving. No wonder she was so desperate to keep him by her side. He finally saw through her usual resolute and optimistic self. He saw the fragile soul crying out to him to keep her safe and loved.

William did not know what else to say. He closed his eyes and murmured, "I'm sorry."

Anabella began to cry again and her body began to shake violently against William's tight embrace. All William could do was repeat his words, "I'm sorry," again and again.

He had a sudden longing to stay there by her side forever and forget all about the military, all about the war. He wanted to hold her and let her know she's alright. He wanted to make sure that she will be loved, forever, just like how she deserved to be loved. He loved her too much to watch her crumble.

With a sudden movement, he held her back and cupped her damp cheeks in his long, lean fingers. Two pairs of wet eyes looked at each other, deep with stirring emotions.

William told her sincerely, "I am sorry."

Anabella held her own hand up and brushed his tears away.

"Oh, Will. Don't be. This was never your fault. I just over-reacted. I'm just being selfish."

"No, I am being selfish. How could I leave you just because I need to prove myself as a General. I am such an idiot. I am so blind!"

"Non. Non. That is not true. You are leading your army. Saving your country. There is nothing selfish there. I know you have to go…and go you will."

Their gaze never left each others. Unspoken words transcended amongst their hearts. For them, words were no longer necessary; they had felt it all in their beating hearts. Anabella managed a smile and mouthed the words "Je t'aime" again. It was all William could do to keep staring at her, holding her. He hadn't the urge to do anything else…not even move. Or breathe, if he could help it. The moment lasted forever.

Anabella tilted her head suddenly and giggled, breaking off the comfortable silence.

"Will, did I ever tell you that you have the most mystifying eyes?" asked Anabella.

William laughed and shook his head, stunned by her complete randomness in the moment. He caught her in another embrace as they both allowed silent tears to fill their eyes again.


"Yes, Will?"

"I love you too."

Morning came before they could say any more goodbyes. William left swiftly for the fear of injecting more pain in Anabella. He paid an emotional visit to Corina and boarded the coach awaiting him in front of the manor. It was hours of train before he finally reached his base camp.

He was only due to report to his duties the next day, thus, he found a quiet and comfortable spot to prepare a soldier's last gift to their loved ones if ever they shall fall during battle. It was not the first time William prepared the 'last gift'. He made a different one for Corina before every battle but fortunately, they were never required to be given to Corina and were returned to him. However, it was the first time William ever felt so emotional in preparing one.

A few hours later, a man a few years older than him came reporting.

"General Warrick, Sir," greeted Lieutenant-General Smith.

"Drop the formalities for today, Smith. I am not officially your General yet."

"Once a General, always a General, Sir."

William managed a laugh. The enthusiasm of his second hand man brought him some sudden adrenalin rush to brave the battle fronts again. He looked at Lieutenant-General Smith's sober expressions and suddenly forgot the ache in his heart. His mind went back to his country.

"What was it you wanted, Lieutenant?"

The lieutenant glanced down at an opened small box by the corner of the room.

"Ah...that. Alright. That would be the one Lieutenant. It is addressed to Ms. Anabella Laurent of Aspen Manor."