OFF TO WAR
Chapter One (News)
The doorbell rang, disturbing the Thompson family’s lunch. In the dining room, Elizabeth exchanged looks with her parents and brother as their conversation halted. No one gave any indication they expected anyone. All they could do was wait until a servant came to announce whomever it was. Everyone set their silverware down, dabbing at their mouths, each readying him or herself to receive the unexpected visitor. They didn’t have to wait long until the butler appeared at the doorway.
“Mr. John Taylor is here to see Miss Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth’s heart tumbled. The hour was early for his arrival. With John shipping out tomorrow, they had agreed he should spend the day with his parents. And that he and Elizabeth would meet later in the afternoon. Had something happened to cause him to change their plans? Fighting a wave of dread that rose from within her stomach, Elizabeth waited for her mother to excuse her.
“Go ahead,” Abigail motioned for her to follow the butler to the parlor.
Elizabeth stood and fell in step behind the tall man who looked after their home.
The parlor, adjacent to the dining room, lay just a short walk away. But today the hall stretched for miles as Elizabeth anticipated what news John might bring. Stepping through the doorway, Elizabeth found herself unable to catch her breath for a moment. John stood tall and proud in his Union uniform. A question bubbled to the surface, but her emotions overtook her and she could not form it into words.
John nodded to the butler before the man took his leave of them, leaving the door open and positioning himself on the other side as a chaperone. Only then did John speak.
He moved toward her, placing his hands on her arms as if preparing to embrace her. “We’re shipping out tonight, Lizzie.”
She held back, moving a hand across her face in disbelief. “What? But you were supposed to leave tomorrow.”
“I know. But things have been expedited. I was informed this morning that our train leaves tonight.”
It was too much for Elizabeth to take in. The room began to spin. She allowed him to pull her into his embrace, but she couldn’t gather her thoughts even enough to put her arms around him. Tonight? But she wasn’t ready! Her plans were not fully set in place yet…
“I know it’s a little sudden, Lizzie. But we knew this was going to happen. It’s just happening a little sooner is all.” He pulled back to look at her and brushed away the tears she didn’t realize she had shed.
“I…I can’t…” she tried.
“Can’t what, Lizzie?” His voice was soft as he tucked an errant curl behind her ear. The touch of his fingers on her skin felt gentle, soothing.
“I can’t say good-bye.”
He wrapped his arms around her again. This time she clung to him and sobbed. It didn’t seem possible, but he held her even tighter.
“It will be alright,” he soothed.
He leaned back, only far enough to capture her lips with his. When the kiss broke off, he held her to himself again.
“I need you to be strong for me now, Lizzie.”
She wanted to be. Breathing deeply, she attempted to reign in her emotions.
All the while, he continued to rub her arms, her shoulders, pressing kisses to her forehead and her hair.
Why did he have to be so wonderful? Tears threatened to break through again, but she held them back.
Once she calmed, he used his finger to tilt her chin so she looked up at him. “Can you be strong for my parents?”
She knew what he meant. He spoke not only of today, but also if something were to happen to him. “Yes,” she lied.
“I know you can, even if you don’t,” he assured her, cupping her face.
She hung her head, fighting more tears.
“Write to me?” he hooked her chin with his finger so she had to look at him.
“Wait for me?” he asked in the tenderest voice possible.
John’s face broke out in a slow smile at that.
Elizabeth allowed herself to get lost in his eyes. They belonged together. In that moment, she knew…that’s why he wasn’t afraid. He would return to her because he had to.
His lips met hers again in a gentle kiss. She returned his kiss with everything she had, longing to communicate all of her love, all of her hopes and dreams in that one kiss.
When John broke contact, her head spun.
“I must go.” He blinked, moving toward the door, his step wavering. Was the room spinning for him too? “Know that I carry you with me, Lizzie. Always and forever, remember?”
“Always and forever.” She fought down a fresh wave of emotion, refusing to cry in front of him again.
He reached over and pulled her to him for another quick kiss. Then he was gone and she was alone.
Elizabeth fell to the floor in tears, sobbing, truly sorry for her loss. From the depths of her heart rose a determination to see her plan through. If his leaving was accelerated, so was her plan. She had to get things in motion. Wiping at her tears, she got up. There was much to do.