Author's note:

Thank you everyone for reading. Really.

Just to clear the air a little... a number of people commented that the characters are too perfect. They are not. They do have their flaws. The problem is that the story is short and I don't have the space to emphasize too much on their flaws without losing touch with the main content. This was, after all, a college assignment. Not a 40 chapter novel.

Neng :: Thank q, for everything. I appreciate every word and just to ruin the story for you, there will not be an "omigoshly-wahlau-eh-ing ending". (grin) Never thought and never tried to even hint that the ending would be otherwise. This is one of those stories that I made very clear on how it would end. Duh. Love ya to the core. There's no other way of putting it. Now go study.

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Chapter 8 : For All Eternities

Wednesday 7.15 p.m. , Autumn 1918

She held the package in her trembling hands.

Corina broke down and swayed unsteadily.

Lietenant-General Smith had to reach out to prevent her from falling. He guided her to a chair as Anabella remained shell-shocked on the spot.

A package? What is this package doing in my hands? I want William. Not this...this…thing.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I'm afraid I must have heard you wrong. What is this again?" Anabella asked.

The Lieutenant looked at her and then said with much empathy, "This package, my lady, is what we soldiers call 'the last gift'…a part of a fallen soldier which he left behind to console his beloveds. The last gift generally contains the soldier's personal belongings from base camp, which we include once we receive confirmation of his…his..," the Lieutenant paused to search for a suitable word. Then he continued, "…his noble sacrifice."

Anabella stared bewilderedly at the athletic and dark haired Lieutenant. How very much he resembled William when he stepped out of the coach. Anabella drew her eyes away as they began to feel hot with livid tears. She stumbled and planted herself onto a nearby chair and placed the package upon her lap. She began to unwrap it and found a small box lying peacefully inside. She opened the lid and stared blankly into it. Her vision was blinded by her tears. She did not want to open the box. She did not even want the box. So why was it that she held on to it as though she was holding on to William?

"Bella? What is in there?" asked Corina weakly.

Anabella reached in and first pulled out a hat.

His military hat.

Her sobs got louder. Then she reached in again and pulled out a badge.

His General's badge.

Then she continued pulling more and more of his possessions – his pen, his military tie, and so on. Her hand reached in once more and found it empty.

No, it can't be! There has to be more of him.

She reached down right to bottom and felt the base. She touched around, searching for more. Wait. It was not the base. It felt different. She tried to pull it out and within a second, there it laid in her hands was his final letter, or letters, from what she could conclude of its thickness. She tore the envelop open and along she tore her heart. She removed its contents and spread the first letter wide across her lap. Her tears were flowing without any signs of an end and tiny droplets of them smeared a little of the ink on the letters. She quickly wiped her tears away with the back of her hand and focused her entire attention of his fine and neat handwriting.

Belle of my life,

If you are reading this letter, then I would imagine that I have done something to make my country proud and I hope my sacrifice was worth it. I beg for you not to cry as you read this; it was not my intention to bring any more sorrow into your life. I hope I am right to assume that Madame Corina is there with you, as I have something to tell her and it would be of great pleasure if you could read it to her.

Madame Corina,

If God has blessed me with an angel in disguise, that must have been you. I could almost picture you spreading your glorious wings to reach out to those in need, like how you reached out to me. Your faith in me never wavered through my long years in boarding school. I hardly ever saw you but I heard that a bubbly French woman often visited my school to ask about matters concerning me. I got teased, badly, that I had a stepmother, or that I was a bastard from some secret French mistress. I was angry, upset and enraged beyond comprehension. That is why I refused to return to Aspen Manor. Of course, the time came when I had a little more sense in my head to realize the fool I have been; to let a little fury overwhelm my yearning to go home. The only regret I have in my life is not to have come home to you earlier.

By this age, I have little memory on Pops and Mom. I do remember certain details but not everything. I lived most of my life like an unwanted child. I often felt alone and unloved but if anything, it only made me more compassionate towards others. I would never forget the way you called me mon fils, your son. The joy of belonging to somebody was a great feeling, one which I have forgotten for a long, long time.

If in anyway it was possible, you were more of a mother figure to me than anyone else could ever be. The way you silently watched over me and how you never gave up on me no matter what happened. Till this day, I still scold myself for being a thoughtless animal to have raised my voice at you in the Summer of 1917. I am truly sorry and I want you to know that I truly appreciated all that you have done for me.

I am also very sorry that I can no longer be there to take care of you or to steal your mouth-watering cookies. My deepest apology is for breaking your heart, right now… for not coming home as you must have hoped for. You waited for me once years ago and I made you wait again. I am to blame for your disappointment. At least now you do not have to worry for me anymore. Alright, that was a lousy attempt at trying to make you smile. But Madame, your one smile is worth a million lousy attempts. Do not let my passing tamper with your spirit.

Do not wait for me anymore. I am there. I am home now.

J'taime, mère, your only,

William Jeffrey Warrick.

The letter remained in Anabella's hands as she turned and looked at her aunt, whose eyes were already red and swollen by now. Lieutenant-General Smith remained standing, motionless, with his head cast down and his jaw set tight. Anabella wiped another splash of her tears away as she began unfolding the second letter. She took one look at it and lifted her head again. Her hands were trembling viciously.

"I can't do this. I can't!" She cried through her sobs.

Anabella looked at the Lieutenant instead, daring him to speak, as though it was his fault for bringing a package to her, instead of bringing her the General. The Lieutenant's eyes were somehow fixated on the floor, filled with remorse, not knowing how to confront the two ladies who mattered mostto the General he had fully respected and even adored. He lifted his head slowly and found that Anabella had stood up. She began taking small steps towards the window overlooking the back lawn.

"My lady, if it is of any consolation, the General was a very brave man. Everybody in the troop respected him. He was a great leading figure…" the Lieutenant's voice faded off.

If it wasn't for the scorching heartache and her suffocating chest, Anabella would have laughed at the Lieutenant's so-called consolation. Did it matter now that he was brave? When now he is dead?

She sat by the window sill and attempted to read the letter again. It took her a few seconds before the words came into focus.

Belle, my chéri,

I love you. Please wipe those tears away. There was never a time my heart did not break as I watched you weep. I shattered like a broken vase every time I saw pain or fear projecting from those beautiful eyes. Oh, how I wished to weep along and to sometimes tell you that I did not really want to leave at all. I felt like my place in this world was right there next to you and my primary occupation was to be your man; your one source of comfort, peace and love. I apologize to you now that I have failed to come home to be there with you and watch the aspens glow. I know I promised you that I would never leave…and no, Belle, I hadn't left. One thing is for certain, you ran away with my heart and I could have never imagined anyone more suitable to perform that daunting task other than you, my favourite nurse.

I love you. Even till today, I know not what kept me blinded from you for the first few months of your arrival at Aspen Manor. I often felt a sensational touch around my ribs and loving massages on my leg but I thought they were all part of my imagination. The battle in Somme destructed most of the hope I had in life and the images that I saw, the excruciating screams that I heard and the perpetual slices of pain I went through left an eternal scar upon my soul. I was broken, no longer a man of honour, integrity and dignity. It did not seem possible that anything gentle or loving could exist again in my eyes. And then, one morning, I saw you.

I love you. It was you who picked me up and put me back together – piece by piece. It started from your patience and tender caring of my injuries, to your bold slap of awakening and then to the slow process of plastering my tattered soul. There you were, a stunning Goddess before my eyes, walking me through each step of the way. I was an empty field of sand but you brought your seeds of grass to inject meaning into my life. I was an empty night sky but you were the mesmerizing moon that came along and brightened the darkness engulfing me.

I love you. I would of course, leave Aspen Manor and most of my properties in your name and Madame Corina's name. I would truly appreciate it if part of my father's wealth could be donated to shelters and homes every Christmas.

I love you. Oh chéri, never give up on life, or love. You showed me that nothing is impossible and that God always bless us with a ray of light at the end of a dark tunnel. It saddens me so to think that you, my beloved Belle, someone so deserving of happiness, would have to feel any more pain as a result of my actions. Fear not, I would be watching you from above and I pray that you will find peace, contentment and ultimately, love, somewhere, sometime. I will never stop loving you even after my days have passed. You were, are, and will always be my only true love. No other belle could have captured my heart they way you did. No other belle would I have loved the way I loved you.

I love you. If it was up for me to choose, I would kiss all your pain away and grant you the love of a family that you've always wished for. I would even grant you a dozen children… or three dozens, even if that meant taking away my last breath, just to make you happy. Belle, you know I would do anything…give you anything and again, I am sorry that all I can give you now is my words.

I love you. I would never forget the smell of your burgundy hair or the taste of your rosy lips. I would never forget your warm embraces or your sweet smiles or the way your hazel eyes sparkled brighter than the night stars. I would never forget the sound of your enchanting voice or the joy you had shown while dancing in the snow. I would never forget the gentle touch of your delicate hands upon my scarred skin and how it sent the most sensational warmth down my spine. I would never forget the first time you said you loved me, for it made my heart leap a million times higher than any man could reach. I would never forget you, chéri, because I love you.

I miss you too.

Your beloved, for an eternity, for all eternities,

Will.

Anabella's tears had somehow begun to dry. She felt an unexplainable sense of inner peace and warmth. It was as though she could still feel and hear her beloved William through his writing. She unfolded the last piece of paper and was slightly shocked to see a familiar looking shade of silver sparkle before her eyes. She picked it up and looked at the darkening edges which were turning into a glowing shade of red. She looked out the window and saw the same flickering beads of red all around the rows of autumn aspens. Sheheld the single leaf to her heart and read the words which lied beneath.

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Like an angel youwarmed me from the cold,

And held me close while guiding me to cope;

Now that I'm shattered and no longer whole,

May my scattered glitters bring you even more hope.

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Along the gentle stream of water so blue,

The Aspens shimmered, but nay, the beauty was you;

And so there lie our souls, waiting for the cue,

To rejoin once more, our love so pure and true.

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If I should ever need to know what happiness means,

There are the memories of the love we made together;

If by fate I could only see you in my dreams,

Then let the heavens bless me to sleep forever.

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The End


If I could only see you in my dreams, then let me sleep forever.

That is the original line, written by my friend, Yin Yin, an amazing writer herself. We've been using it in essays over the last few years and the credit goes to her for coming up with something as romantic as that. Thank you for letting me borrow that line again... although I didn't exactly ask for your permission. My fault. (wink) Love ya too.