Faithfully

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she hugged the man in front of her. Her dark hair tumbled over her forehead and into her eyes as she wrapped her arms around him tightly; breathing in deeply and committing the warm, musky scent that entered her nose to memory. “Promise me that you’ll be back,” she pleaded, tears choking her voice as she pulled away to look into those breathtakingly beautifully dark eyes. The tears doubled over when she didn’t get a reply, and for a fraction of a second, fear filled her.

“Promise me … Tom,” she said, her lower lip trembling as tears stained her pale skin. Tom turned slightly to look at her, his expression completely unreadable under the thick mess of shaggy hair that covered his forehead. The man reached a hand up to push his hair out of his face, his hand sweeping his hair back with a well-practiced ease as he turned a small smile down to the short female in front of him.

“I promise,” the man chuckled as he pressed his lips to her forehead gently, pulling her close and holding her tight against the thick coat he was wearing.

“I’ll be back soon,” he said quietly, heaving the large bag onto his back and pulling away from the petite woman, running a coarse knuckle over her cheekbone before smiling softly and dropping his hand to hold her slimmer one in his. “I’ll be back, Sarah,” he repeated before taking a step back and mock-saluting the woman who smiled weakly at his antics before waving as he stepped onto the carriage, his bag swinging as he waved.

Sarah simply continued waving, until the loaded vehicle was nothing more than a speck of darkness in the dust that billowed about the small village. “Nothing more to see,” she muttered to herself as she re-entered the small house, shutting the door carefully behind her as she looked around the cramped living room. “Absolutely nothing,” she murmured again as she settled behind the small coffee table, reaching under the old cotton to bring out the small tin she’d seen her fiancé push between the cushions.

She twisted the rusty cap, the sound of metal-on-metal making her wince before she raised the bottle to her nose, cringing away from the strong smell of alcohol. A small whine made her turn to see a large, thick-furred dog looking at her, his pink tongue hanging past his lips, and his jaw wide opened wide enough just to see the white, razor-sharp teeth that could have sliced through almost everything.

“What d’you want, boy?” she said, covering the open mouth of the bottle with her thumb as she clicked her tongue softly. The dog padded forward slowly, his breaths warm as he ran his nose along her fingers, licking at the short digits before pushing his nose into her palm. “So you’re hungry?” Sarah said, snorting in laughter as she rose, smoothing out her skirt with her palms before she made her way to the kitchen.

As Sarah felt her way around the small room, her hands ran over a matchbox, which she gripped tightly between her fingers as she lit a match. Her heartbeat fluttered out of control as she lit the small candle; a meagre amount of light filling the small room as she lifted the weighted bowl off the floor. “You really are hungry, aren’t you?” she said, crouching slightly to pluck a can from the shelf, running her free hand through the dog’s thick fur as he sat on the wooden floor-boards.

 

Sarah flicked her dulled gaze to the clock that chimed weakly. Midnight. Perfect, she mused as he rolled the small metal bottle between her hands. Looking up at the clock once more, she took a swig from the bottle, the burn as the alcohol ran down her throat no longer affecting her as much as the pleasant, weightless sensation that filled her mind did. Tom’s smile filled her mind as she tilted her head back, her dark tresses falling to her waist as they fell out of the feeble-looking band that’d held them to her head.

Suddenly, amidst the pleasure that ran through her veins and the buzz that the alcohol seemed to set on her, pain danced through her forehead. The ache ran in hot lines along her skull; igniting behind her eyelids and between her eyebrows as she let her head drop onto the hardwood table. “Gods,” she groaned pitifully as she covered her head, her fingers digging into her scalp as she forced herself not to wrench her hair out by the roots. “Why’d you leave me?” she sobbed mindlessly, tears wetting her cheeks in torrents as they were soaked instantly by the material of her sleeve.

It was only hours later, when she’d run out of tears, and when she’d fallen limp against the table, that she fell unconscious.

 

Tom gasped for breath as he rolled over the dirt, the wire dragging painfully against his abdomen as he whispered for the men behind him to move. Wincing at every movement, he allowed the men to crawl over his back, their weight forcing him down harder and harder on the wire that cut easily through his clothes before making their purchase on his skin.

Only once the last man was across, did he struggle to his knees, shuddering internally at the sight of his own blood smeared over the dark fabric. “Here,” there was a deep voice that shook him out of his reverie as a hand came into view. Shaking slightly, he took it; biting his lip to stop himself from crying out as the cloth rubbed harshly across the shallow wounds that had formed on his skin. “You’ll be fine,” the man said sharply as he thumped Tom firmly on the back before grabbing his upper arm and pulling him under the cover of a large tree as the shriek of an alarm pierced the air.

“Dammit!” the man yelled out as the group was instantly peppered with bullets. Screams filled the air as men fell, and Tom trembled slightly before a palm met his cheek. “Snap out of it kid!” the man yelled hoarsely, ducking under a branch before steeling himself and popping his gun over it. Tom gritted his teeth, sent a silent prayer to the heavens before sliding out of the cover he’d received from the tree.

He yelled himself hoarse as he peppered the white-coated men with bullets, gunning them down relentlessly as he threw himself over a body, ignoring the choking man beneath him until all he could see was smoke. “You’re going to be okay, you hear me?” he said fiercely, putting a firm hand on the man’s shoulder in an attempt to stem the bleeding. Tom’s dark eyes were fixed firmly on the man under him, the bruised abdomen all but forgotten as the medic pushed him aside, the man already extracting the bullet before cleaning the wound and wrapping it tightly with white gauze.

The world seemed to slow, Tom mused as he leaned against the tree, barely catching the bottle of unknown liquid someone tossed him as he tilted his head back. He drank almost savagely from the bottle, the alcohol burning worse that his scratches and scrapes as he swallowed the liquid greedily. “You did good kid,” a vaguely familiar voice said as someone hauled him up before patting him on the shoulder. “We’re heading back,” the voice said again, firmer and slightly more annoyed this time as Tom’s vision cleared.

“Back?” he muttered tiredly, exhaustion weighing his limbs down as the man nodded irritably before gripping Tom’s arm in a death grip and dragging him back the way they’d reached the base. “Get in the van, kid, and shut up,” he hissed as he pushed Tom into the van with a low growl.

The doctor grabbed him just as he tripped over the tip of a boot, the soldier apologising quietly before leaning back against the hot metal, perspiration dribbling down him forehead as he found a nook in the metal just as his eyes slipped shut. “Let’s have a look at this,” the man in front of him said firmly as he pulled the torn shirt apart, shaking his head at the bruising before he reached for an unmarked bottle and a swab of cotton.

Without any warning at all, he poured a generous amount of the rubbing alcohol onto the cotton and pushed it against Tom’s skin. Hissing out at the fiery sensation that erupted over the skin that covered his lower torso, Tom bit his tongue, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth as the doctor simply shrugged and turned away from him. “Find a seat, and keep still,” he said quickly, his lips quirking slightly as he watched Tom wince and rise shakily.

The soldier leaned against the warm metal, his thick hair merely providing a subtle relief from the rough-cut, rock-hard steel that caged the group of fifteen men. Tom allowed his eyes to slip shut slowly, his mind’s eye only seeing the dark-haired woman that he’d left.

 

Sarah smiled weakly to the greasy man in front of her as she carefully counted her coins, pushing the correct amount across the table to him before she grabbed her bags, gathering them in her arms as she left the store, a large sigh leaving her lips before she took a deep breath of fresh air. It had been months, since she’d last received a letter from Tom, but that hadn’t stopped her from writing like she normally would.

The long-furred dog wagged his tail as he followed her out of the store, his beady black eyes peering balefully up at her as she rolled her own eyes down at him. “Of course you smell the meat,” the muttered before continuing the walk back to the small house that was at the edge of town. Her legs ached as did her arms, she groaned at the thought of having to clean the house once she reached it. ‘Why, oh why, didn’t I get a ride?’ she groaned mentally as she rolled her neck, the dog still padding aimlessly behind her as she caught sight of her short, wooden gate.

Sarah almost cried in relief when she set the groceries on the table, her dark eyes brightening as she was relieved of the burden she’d carried for nearly three miles in the afternoon heat that had made her skin prickle. “Where are you boy?” she called, the dog prancing across the house in his haste to reach her as she laughed gaily. “Silly little thing,” she cooed, scratching the creature’s ears as he arched his neck, his entire body relaxing under her touch as she sat on the floor beside it.

Her smile dimmed slightly at the memory of the first time she’d laid eyes on it.

“Darling?” Tom’s voice called through the house as he walked in, his boots trailing mud and grass as Sarah sighed tiredly. “What is it dear?” she said, mentally praying that he’d remembered to take his work-boots off outside their house. “Tom … couldn’t you have taken off your boots outside the house?” she said, pinching the bridge of her nose tiredly with her right hand as her left fell limp against her hip. “I’m sorry, darling, but I wanted to show you something,” he said, his voice turning urgent as he reached forward to grasp her wrist firmly between two of his fingers.

“What is -?” She shrieked out as she was pulled out through the door, a grin forming on his cheeks as he stopped just outside the door, his gaze trailing on a large, soiled box that was edged in mud. “What is that?” Sarah asked; her voice still annoyed as she ran a hand over her eyes, warding away the migraine that was sure to hit her soon.

A soft yelp answered her question, and almost instantly, Sarah could feel the tiredness melt off of her. She flung herself at the box, and completely ignoring the mud that stained her cream-coloured dress, she lifted the furry ball out of it. A smile lifted the edges of her lips as she cradled it against her chest, cooing delightedly at the ball of fur that seemed to suckle on the finger she used to scratch its head gently.

Sarah herself let out a yelp when she felt herself being lifted, only to find herself in Tom’s arms, the man grinning down at her before carrying her back into the house.

Later that night, just as Sarah was clearing away the sad excuse for a dinner they’d eaten, she couldn’t help the rather girlish giggle that slipped past her lips as she caught sight of her fiancé. “Come here boy,” Tom was saying as he crouched in front of the puppy, crawling a few inches backwards as it slid over to him, yelping noisily at the man before rolling over itself as it nuzzled into Tom’s arms.

Sarah lifted her dark eyes from the scene to meets Tom’s, his dark eyes bright with an emotion she hadn’t seen yet. Her smile only widened as he mouthed three words to her, winking gently before he lifted the puppy to bring it to her.

 

There was the barest hint of tears in her eyes as she scratched the dog’s ears, a colourless chuckle leaving her lips as she realised that after all those years of keeping the puppy, and treating it like part of their family, they hadn’t yet given it a name. “Well … we never said that we were the best,” she told the now-sleeping dog who rolled over unconsciously, sub-consciously showing her his pale-skinned belly and flicking his ears as she ran a hand over his bared stomach.

 

Tom gasped weakly as he ran from the explosion, the dust blinding him momentarily as he threw himself at the ground, dust entering his eyes and making him choke as he coughed out to the man beside him. “We’ve got to move!” he yelled out once he could see a barely visible outline of the man who shifted weakly. Tom shook his head violently, clearing it as he scrambled to his feet, the tell-tale beep of a second explosive reaching his ears as he grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him to his feet. Not caring if he’d lost his footing, Tom pulled him to the truck, pushing the man in as he looked around to look for any stragglers.

“Anyone left?” he asked, yelling out the question over the roaring of his blood in his ears. “No one! Let’s go!” the captain yelled as he reached an arm to pull Tom into the truck. “Let’s go!” he yelled out to the driver, curses following the order as yet another explosive hit the ground, the entire vehicle jarring as the men were thrown to one side.

Four months later, Tom calculated, he received a stack of letters, each one meticulously addressed to him in a hand that was painfully familiar. The dates were exactly one week apart, he realised as he flipped through the letters, trying to ignore the fact that the envelopes were getting thinner and thinner, until he reached the last one. ‘The twelfth of November,’ that had been almost three weeks ago.

His heart dropped to his stomach as bile rose in his throat. What had happened? Hadn’t she realised that he hadn’t been able to reply to the letters? Hadn’t she remembered his promises? Despite everything, Tom steeled himself enough to open the first letter. He chuckled as he read through the first few paragraphs, mentally visualising their dog that acted nothing like the rest of his kind.

It was hours later, Tom realised, after which he’d sent an even half-a-dozen men away, telling them that he wasn’t joining them for dinner, opting instead to work his way through the letters that were beginning to sound somewhat depressing. His lower lip was sore from the number of times he’d sunk his teeth into it, and the skin finally broke as he tore through it with his teeth; not even wincing at the pain that ran through his jaw.

“Tom … the sergeant wants to see you … he said it’s urgent,” a man panted out as he held onto the door-frame like his life depended on it as he reeled off the message. “The sergeant?” Tom stood up, wide-eyed at the mention of the foul-mouthed man that had become something a father to all the men in the barracks. “Yup,” that was the only thing that Tom needed as he threw the bundle of letters under his blankets, and breezed past the soldier, thanking him and panting hard as he raced to the man’s office.

“You … wanted to see me sir?” Tom said as his knock was answered. “Son, we’d like to thank you for everything that you’ve done, but we’re going to be letting you go,” the now-familiar man said as he clapped Tom on the shoulder, pushing what looked like a train ticket into his frozen hands. “We sent a letter back home last week,” the man added before shooing the younger man out of his office.

 

Sarah trembled as she read through the letter yet again, confirming and re-confirming the date and time over and over again before she peeked one last time to the clock and pulled her coat over her periwinkle dress. “Come on, boy, daddy’s coming home,” she smiled shortly as the dog wagged his tail and followed her out, sitting patiently on the well-cleaned porch she’d laboured over for the last few weeks as she locked the door quickly before shoving the key into her pocket.

She climbed into the small cart, smiling at the matron-like woman who grinned toothily at her as her dog leaped onto the cart beside her. “Thank you so much for this,” she thanked the woman who simply laughed her words off and snapped the reigns. The cart lurched forward slowly, and Sarah twiddled her thumbs nervously as she looked from the wild grass around her to the dog that seemed content with lying on the well-worn cotton that covered the seats on the wooden cart.

And hour later, Sarah reached the station, the unfamiliar sound of horns, bells and whistles filling the air as she slowed, biting her lip nervously as she drew away from the place. “We’re on time, aren’t we boy?” she muttered, running her hands through the dog’s thick fur before gritting her teeth and approaching a man what was dressed rather impressively, in his well-tailored suit and boots that would make her mirror sob in shame.

“Platform three? Right up this way, ma’am,” the man said, motioning for her to follow as he walked up the stairs, leading a nervous Sarah up to a platform that was filled with women dressed impeccably in their fancy dresses and parasols that probably cost more than her weekly grocery list.

 

Tom glanced around nervously as he stepped off the train, his eyes flicking around as he searched through the sea of unfamiliar faces for the pale-cheeked, dark-haired woman. His bag flew out of his hand as he was bowled over by a large mass of brown fur. A laugh left him as he put both arms around the dog, pushing the overjoyed animal away from him as he reached for his bag over the smooth tiles, tipping his head to the porter that approached him.

“Tom?” the soft voice that spoke his name made the entire world fall still as he froze, not daring to look up lest the perfect illusion was shattered. His breaths were fast and erratic as he stared at the tiles, not even daring to move his head. “Tom …” the voice repeated again, and this time, despite everything that ran through his mind, he looked up.

And in that moment, he saw the world like never before.

Her eyes sparkled like diamonds, and her hair tumbled down her shoulders like a waterfall, the dark, inky blackness untamed and free as her rose-coloured lips pulled into small smile.

He hadn’t even realised that he was on his feet again, but he was, and his arms were around her slim waist before he stopped seeing anything except the woman that was in his arms. He lowered his lips to her cheek, kissing her softly before inhaling deeply at her neck, taking in the familiar scent of her that was somewhat a mixture of roses and oranges.

“Sarah,” he breathed against her skin, his bag already forgotten and a blur, as was the rest of the bustling platform. “I’m so-!” his words were cut by one of her petite fingers sealing his lips as she shook her head slowly, her eyes watering slightly as she looked up at him. “I’m forever yours …” she whispered softly as she removed her finger from his lips, looking deep into his dark eyes as he leaned closer to her.

“Faithfully,”

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