by Kate Squires
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Paired together as childhood pen pals, Sebastian Vaughn and Julia Bessette grow up writing back and forth. Even though they live worlds apart, their lives intersect in ways that no one could ever imagine.
As young adults, their paths initially cross, when a concerned Sebastian pays heartbroken Julia a surprise visit. The two spend only a few short days together, but the spark is undeniable. However, tragedy comes in all forms, and soon they’re separated.
Fast forward a few years, and fate finds Army Captain Vaughn in a dangerous situation, where he’s forced to go into hiding. Out of desperation and a primal need to be near her, he unintentionally drags Julia into his treacherous world. Feeling responsible, he vows to protect her above all else, but will the cost be too high?
Meanwhile, Julia willingly goes on the run with Sebastian, sacrificing her way of life, and her safety, for the man she hopes is the one. She worries about his rejection, but more so than that, she worries about never again feeling the way she feels when she’s with him.
Can the couple make it out alive? Can they find each other in the process, or will it all be too much to bear?
I’m sobbing uncontrollably. “I. Love. You.” I inhale sharply in between each word. My arms squeeze him a little tighter, knowing it’s the last time they ever will. I’m trying to commit the feel of his body to my memory. I don’t want to let him go, but know I must. It’s with great difficulty that I finally release him. Then, taking his hand in mine, I trace a small heart into his palm, and close his fingers around it. I need him to know he’ll hold my heart forever. I then turn abruptly and walk away, knowing if I look back, I won’t be able to leave…
Twelve years earlier
“All right, class. Today we’ll be doing an experiment in writing,” Mrs. Kearney says as she holds out a stack of papers. The boy next to me sighs loudly and lets his head fall dramatically onto the top of his desk. “Mr. Butler, that will be quite enough of your outbursts,” she says as she plops down a small stack of paperwork next to him. “Take one and pass it down, please.” He looks dismayed as he grabs the stack, but he does as he’s told. I take my papers and pass the rest, skimming through the words as I do. “Now class, this year in sixth grade, I’ve decided to have you write to someone your own age from a different country. You are to adhere to proper letter writing skills, which we learned last quarter. Be polite, ask questions, tell them something about yourself. I would like at least one side of one page filled.”
“Ugh!” Cameron Butler says, exasperated.
Mrs. Kearney shoots Cameron a look that could surely kill someone, and his face suddenly turns repentant, at least until she turns her back. Kelsey’s hand goes up, and Mrs. Kearney gives her permission to speak.
“What country are we writing to?”
“Good question, Kelsey.” Kelsey smiles smugly. “We’ll be writing to children in Germany.” She pulls down a spring loaded map, which is usually hidden at the top of the wall, and points to the small country.
She continues to talk, but I’m not really listening. I stare down at the papers in front of me. I wonder who I’ll get. I wonder what her name will be. Will she know how to read English? Will she write back? In English? My mind conjures images of what such a foreign place might look like.
“Julia?” the teachers says. I immediately sit up straight and look at her. “Pay attention. Please.” She smiles, and I nod.
She goes on to tell us all about some suggested topics, but my mind continues to wander. Maybe I can exchange pictures with her? It’ll be fun to find out if she likes the same music as me. All manner of thoughts race through my brain. The only thing that halts them is Mrs. Kearney passing out the names of our would-be new friends from a foreign land. I’m excited to see the name of the girl I’ll be writing to. She hands me a folded piece of paper, then she winks and smiles at me. My returning grin is wide.
“No trading names. You get who you get. On the count of three, you may look at your pen pal’s name. One…two…three!”
The class is abuzz with mumbles and giggles as my classmates view the names of their letter mates. Most of the girls are excited about who they got. Most of the boys don’t seem to care or even want to do this. I look at my paper, still folded on my desk.
“Who’d you get, Julia?” Megan asks.
I shrug. “I don’t know yet. I haven’t looked.”
“Well, open it up already. I got a girl named Frida,” she says.
“I got Silvia,” says the girl two seats over. “Who’d you get?”
“She hasn’t looked yet,” Megan replies for me.
“Well, look and tell us,” the girl chimes in again.
“Okay. Here it goes,” I say, smiling and slowly unfolding the paper.
“Sebastian,” I mutter, almost too quietly to hear.
“Sebastian? What kind of name is that for a girl?”
“No, dummy. That’s a boy’s name. Julia got a boy,” Megan corrects her.
I slump into my chair. A boy? Really? There must be a mistake.
“Mrs. Kearney?” I raise my hand but don’t wait to be called on. “I think you gave me the wrong piece of paper. Mine has a boy’s name on it.” I walk up to her desk, and show her the name to inspect.
“No. You’ve got the right paper.”
“But, I thought I’d get a girl. All of my friends got girls.”
“I understand you may be disappointed, but there weren’t enough girls’ names to go around, so one of you had to get a boy.”
I bow my head, sadness filling me. I was looking forward to writing and making friends with another girl.
“What on earth do I say to a boy, Mrs. Kearney?”
“Just start out talking about the things around you. Getting started is the hardest part. You might find that once you do, it gets easier.” She pats my shoulder and motions for me to go back to my desk. I return to my seat, defeated. This just went from a fun project to homework. I sigh.
When I walk through the door to my house, I’m met with the wagging tail of my dog, Charlie. I sit in the middle of the foyer, then giggle when he knocks me backwards, onto my butt, and washes my face thoroughly.
“Charlie,” I giggle heartily. “Let me up, boy.” I struggle to escape his affection but manage to get to my feet.
“Hi. How was school, honey?” Mom asks her usual question.
“Fine.” I say as usual. “We got a letter writing assignment today. We have to write to another child from Germany.”
Her eyes light up.
“Really? That sounds like fun. What’s your pen pal’s name?”
I sigh. “Sebastian.”
“Yes,” I say in a monotone voice.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re too happy about that.”
“I was, but that’s when I thought I’d be writing to a girl. Girls like writing, boys don’t. I’ll be lucky to get one letter back.”
“Now, now, Julia,” she gently scolds. “Don’t generalize. Not all girls like to write, and not all boys hate to. Give this boy a chance. He might surprise you,” she says.
“Okay, Mom,” I say, still pouting, as I head up to my bedroom.
I belly flop onto my full sized bed, which is covered in a pink and green patchwork quilt. The plethora of overstuffed, throw pillows fall forward, as the bed moves under my weight, and Chocolate Bunny leans to the right, almost tipping completely over. I reach over and straighten him out then roll onto my back and stare up at the ceiling, contemplating my predicament. What could I possibly have in common with a boy from Germany? I can’t talk about the latest movies. He probably likes stuff like superheroes and GI Joe, which are just…yuck. Our taste in music, most likely, is opposite too. Make up and fashion are out, not that I’m into either one, but I could be, then it would be a problem. I decide to get started on it, just to get it over with. Inside the front drawer of my small white desk, I pull out a blank sheet of paper and begin.
I don’t exactly know what to write to a boy, so forgive me if this sounds stupid.
There. That’s a start.
My name is Julia. I am a sixth grader at Huntington Middle School. That’s in America. But, of course you know that already. See? I’m no good at this. Anyway, how are you? What’s Germany like? Does it snow there? It snows here. Well, not all over America, but where I live, it does. I hope you can read this. I’m writing slowly so you can understand it better. I have a dog named Charlie. Do you have any pets? Oh boy, it’s harder than you think, trying to fill up the front side of a piece of paper. My teacher’s name is Mrs. Kearney. She’s nice, though she’s making us do this, so maybe my first thought about her was wrong. Just kidding she really is nice.
“Julia! Dinner’s ready!” Mom calls out.
I look up at my clock and note I’ve been up here for almost twenty minutes. It’s not so bad if you write whatever comes into your mind.
“Coming Mom!” I respond. I fold the letter once, put it back in my drawer, and hop down the steps. “It smells good Mom. What is it?”
“Spaghetti.” My tongue wets my lips in anticipation. “You seem brighter. What gives?”
“I started writing my letter to Sebastian. Mrs. Kearney was right; starting is the hardest part.” I walk toward the table where Dad is sitting with his newspaper.
“Hi, sweetheart. How was school?” I fill him in, after hugging him fondly.
“That sounds exciting,” he says. I shrug, noncommittally.
I sit in my spot, between them both, and devour my supper. It doesn’t take long before my face is coated with splashes of tomato sauce, as I’ve slurped in every noodle separately. I wipe my mouth with a napkin and pick up my plate.
Dinner was delicious, and I watch as Dad helps Mom load the dishwasher. He wraps his arms around her big, round belly and kisses her cheek. Then, he says something, which I can’t hear, to the baby inside of her, and kisses it too. I giggle, thinking it’s silly to kiss someone’s belly. Mom and Dad say I’ll be a big sister soon. I rinse my plate, like Mom taught me, and run back up to my room. I want to get started on the letter again, since I just thought of another thing to say.
I’m going to be a big sister soon. My mom’s belly is huge. It looks like she swallowed a basketball, or a watermelon. I had spaghetti for dinner. What kinds of food do you eat in Germany? Do you have chocolate? Chocolate is my favorite thing in the world. Well, aside from my chocolate bunny. He’s not really made of chocolate, by the way. He’s just brown and he looks like an Easter bunny you’d get in your Easter basket. That’s why I named him that. Maybe you don’t celebrate Easter. Or Christmas. You’re missing out if you don’t. Those are great holidays. Well, I don’t have much more to say until you write me back, which I hope is soon, so I’m going to stop now. It was nice writing to you!
There, it’s done, and I surprised myself by filling up both sides of the paper. I refold the letter, stuff it into my backpack, and smile. I hope the letter I receive from him isn’t just a bunch of stuff about Legos and plastic army guys.
The next day at school, everyone’s talking about the stuff they wrote to their pen pals. Kelsey brags about the special stationary her mother gave her for the occasion. I roll my eyes. She’s always bragging about something.
“So, what did you write about to…what’s his name again?” Megan asks.
“Sebastian. His name’s Sebastian. And, I just wrote what I was thinking about at the time”
“Like what? Baby stuff?” Cameron chimes in. He’s making faces at me, sticking out his tongue. It’s making me mad.
“Go away, Cameron!” Megan says. “Julia likes lots of cool stuff. But, neither of us like you!” she says, and sticks her tongue out.
“Okay, class. Everyone take out the letters to your pen pals, and pass them up to the front,” Mrs. Kearney says. Everyone does as they’re told, but I hesitate. Did I spell everything correctly? Does it sound okay? Is he going to like it? I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Then, with a pounding heart, I pass it forward then exhale. Now, the waiting begins.
Several weeks go by, and I forget all about the letter. Then, one day, Mrs. Kearney pulls out a large manila envelope from her desk drawer. My eyes are wide with anticipation. Could it be?
“Remember those letters you wrote to your pen pals in Germany? Well, I just got this envelope in the mail yesterday.” She holds it up, and the classroom noises erupt. My classmates chatter excitedly at the prospect of getting a response. “When I call your name, please come forward and collect your letter…Chloe.” Chloe comes forward and takes her letter. “Sam,” she calls out, and he retrieves his. “David…Christine…Maggie.” One by one each of my classmates goes to the front and bounces back to their seat. I’m waiting on pins and needles for my name to be called. “Kelsey.” She struts up to the teacher’s desk.
“Thank you, Mrs. Kearney. I made sure to mention what a great teacher you are for giving us this opportunity.”
“Oh. Well, thank you, Kelsey. Please take your seat now.”
I see quite a few faces of disgust at Kelsey’s remark as I look around the room. She continues calling out names, until there are no more letters to hand out. I look at the cheerful faces of the kids around me as they read their mail, but when I look at my hands, they’re empty. I sigh as my eyes turn glassy. My letter must’ve sounded stupid. Mrs. Kearney walks over to my desk.
“I’m sorry, Julia. I didn’t see one with your name on it. Maybe he didn’t turn it in on time.”
I nod sadly.
“Yes. That must be it.” I try to put on a brave face, which works until I get home. I burst through the door to my house and the tears start. Mom is by my side in an instant. She leads me to the steps and wraps an arm around me as she sits next to me.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she says softly.
“Oh, Mom. The letters came from Germany today, and I didn’t get one. He didn’t write me back. Why didn’t he write back?” I sob into her chest as she runs her fingers through my hair.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe he didn’t get it done in time to send it with the others. Maybe it’ll be in the next batch.”
I sniffle and wipe my tears with the back of my hand.
“What if he just didn’t want to write back?” I look up at her. “What if the thought of writing to a girl made him not want to turn it in?” My head falls back on her chest as I weep. She doesn’t say anything more. I don’t think she knows what to say. We sit like this for a while, but then she has to go back to making dinner, so I climb the stairs to my bedroom, where I sulk and cling to Chocolate Bunny.
I hear the phone ring, then soon hear Dad call my name.
“Julia? Megan’s on the phone for you.”
“Okay Daddy. I’ll be right down,” I say, then I sniffle. Feeling a little less sad, I walk downstairs. “Hello?” I say as I get to the phone.
“You’ll never guess what I heard,” she says, without so much as a greeting.
“It’s gross,” she warns.
“I overheard Cameron telling Matt that he felt bad that you didn’t get a letter back, so he was thinking of giving you his pen pal.”
“I don’t know, but he was serious and being sort of nice about it. Weird huh?”
“Weird and gross.”
“I told you. So, what do you think is going on?”
“I have no idea, but I don’t want anything from him. He’s a jerk,” I say, because he really is.
“I know. He’s always picking on you, and that’s what makes it even weirder.”
“Well, you can tell Cameron, I don’t want his pen pal or anything else he wants to give me. I’m perfectly happy without a stupid pen pal. In fact, I’ll be the only one in class without the extra homework.” I gloat, but I don’t really feel the conviction of my words.
“That’s the spirit!” she says.
I change the subject and never reveal how upset I really am at not hearing back from my foreign traitor.
Days turn into weeks, and my wounded pride feels less painful. Everyone has written a second letter to Germany, but Mrs. Kearney has let me slide. I think she feels bad that I have no one to write to. Cameron has been oddly nice to me lately. He no longer makes fun of me and has gone so far as to stop his friends from doing it too. I still don’t talk to him though—well, only when I have to.
“Hey, Julia. You want to be on my team for dodgeball today at recess?” Cameron asks, as he fidgets in front of me.
“Ugh. No, thanks. I’d rather not,” I say, probably more forcefully than I mean to.
“Fine. I was just asking, that’s all,” he says and walks away in a huff.
“What on earth has gotten into him?” Megan asks. She likes to eavesdrop.
“I have no idea.”
“I overheard Mrs. Kearney earlier today. She said another batch of letters came in from Germany. I also heard her say she’s going to find you something to do while she passes them out.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“She’s going to send you on some kind of errand, so you don’t feel left out again.”
“Oh. Thanks for the warning.”
“That’s why I do what I do,” she says with pride.
“I’m going to start calling you Radar.” We both start to giggle.
“Julia?” Mrs. Kearney calls, as if on cue. “Will you please come up here?”
I smile knowingly at Megan and walk to the front of the classroom.
“Yes, Mrs. Kearney?”
“I wondered if you’d take these supplies to the teacher’s lounge for me, and tell Mr. Kramer I’ll need copies of these.” She hands me a stack of paperwork with a box on top. “Will you do that for me?” She smiles sweetly.
“Sure,” I agree, and take the pile from her.
“Take all the time you need,” she yells as I exit the room.
I could get used to this. I smile inwardly.
I listen to the sound of my shoes striking the cold tile floor as I trundle toward my destination. The hallway is quiet, other than the occasional outburst from a nearby classroom. I’m not even halfway to the lounge when I hear my name.
“Julia! Julia, stop! You got a letter!”
I stop and turn around. There, in the hallway, I see Mrs. Kearney chasing after me, waving an envelope above her head. She reaches me, breathless.
“It’s from Sebastian,” she pants while grinning.
“From Sebastian?” I repeat. I can’t believe it.
“Come back in the classroom. We’re all opening our letters.
In a daze, I walk with her, staring at the letter. When I reenter the room, Megan is grinning from ear to ear.
“You finally got a letter?” I nod excitedly. “Well, open it!”
I begin to carefully tear open the flap at the top of the sealed envelope, taking special care not to rip it apart. I look inside at the lined paper, pull it out then, start to read.
Hi. My name is Sebastian. Our teacher made us do this letter writing junk too. I’m sorry I didn’t get to write you back the first time. I just transferred to this school, and I guess my name was on the class list before I was actually here. Anyway. I know what you mean about not knowing what to say. I’m not into Barbie dolls and make up, and I’m sure you don’t want to hear about sling shots and video games. So…what…can…I…write…to…fill…a…page…?…Hmm… Well, I can tell you I live with my mom and dad on a military base. Oh yeah, don’t worry, I speak perfect English…well, as much as any twelve year old kid can. You see, I’m an American too. My dad is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army. He got stationed over here at an air base, so Mom, Chris, and I had to move. Chris is my annoying little brother. He’s eight. I also speak German pretty good. Want to hear some? Ich spreche Deutsch. That means, I speak German. They say Deutsch here instead of saying German. I don’t know why. Oh, and I like chocolate too. I’m trying to convince my parents to make it a food group, but I don’t think they will. To answer your questions, Germany is a lot like the United States. It has mountains, and trees, and depending on where you are, houses. They look fancier somehow, though. I don’t have any pets, although I used to have a dog. He died. We eat A LOT of potatoes here. But my mom also cooks us American food too. Lastly, I do celebrate Christmas and Easter, and I agree, both holidays are great! Now I have some questions.
- What is your favorite color? Mine is blue.
- What do you think is better: playing in the snow, or at the beach? I like both.
- What’s your middle name?
Well, that’s all I can think of right now. I promise I’ll write every time I get a letter from you, from now on. Auf wiedersehen!
PS. That means goodbye, just in case you were wondering.
Wow. He wrote about as much as I did. He doesn’t sound like the typical boys here in the US. He sort of sounds…nice.
“So, what does it say?” Megan urges.
“Nothing much. He mostly just answered my questions.”
“Can I see?” She reaches out to grab it, but I pull it away just before her hand makes contact.
“Not right now. I think I’ll read it again,” I say to defer her. I just don’t want anyone reading it. It feels like an invasion of privacy or something. I pretend to reread it then, neatly fold it, and place it back in the envelope, tucking the flap inside to secure the contents.
“All right class, please open your textbooks to page 406.”
When I get home, I practically bounce inside the house. Mom notices immediately.
“What on earth happened to you today, to make you so happy?”
“Sebastian wrote me back!” I exclaim.
“That’s wonderful, honey. I’m very happy for you. What did he say?”
I sum up Sebastian’s words for my mom.
“And he said he has a little brother named Chris.”
Her eyes light up as if she remembered something important.
“Speaking of siblings, I was going to wait until Daddy was home, but…” she pauses to keep me guessing. “Your baby brother or sister is coming tomorrow.”
My mouth drops open, and I squeal with delight. Jumping up and down, I hop over to her, and gently hug her and her belly.
“I’m so excited!” I say. “When will I get to meet him or her?”
“Well, Daddy will bring you to the hospital sometime tomorrow evening. When you get home from school, you’ll have to go over to Kelsey’s house for a few hours.”
My shoulders slump.
“Why Kelsey’s?” I whine. “Why can’t I go over Megan’s?”
“Julia, we’ve talked about this before. Kelsey lives across the street and rides the same bus. No one will be at our house to open the door for you, so the only place to go will be Kelsey’s. I know you two don’t always see eye to eye, but it’s only until Daddy gets back. You can manage that, can’t you?”
I roll my eyes. I hate Kelsey. All she ever does is talk about how great she is at everything. She likes to show off. I sigh loudly.
“I guess so,” I pout.
After dinner, I’m excited to write back to Sebastian, so I clean up my plate, and scurry off to my room. I want to respond to his letter while I’m in a good mood.
Kate Squires, Author Contemporary Romance Novels That Kiss, That Promise, I Will Catch You, Tracing Hearts, When Love Breaks, When Love Walks, and On the Edge of Regret