Nightingale by Susan May Warren

Book: Nightingale by Susan May Warren Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan May Warren
medic.” Esther smiled, glanced again at the picnic tables outside. The woman had taken out the kuchen, wrapped in cloth, and set it in front of her. Esther’s stomach had begun to knot—maybe she should have brought something.
    The guard nodded and gestured to the picnic area. She passed through the doors, outside, and noted the barbed wire fencing in the area.
    She sat down at the table. “I feel like I’m in a prison.”
    The woman glanced at her. “Of course you do.”
    Esther knitted her fingers together, placed them on the table, took a breath, and tried to remember how Peter had described himself. Errol Flynn. She’d seen the movie
Robin Hood
, yes, and Errol Flynn, with his sandy blond hair and square jaw, could be considered handsome, perhaps. She’d forgotten to ask Peter his rank—probably lieutenant, but she supposed, as a doctor, he would possibly be a captain.
    Oh, what was she doing here? She should just get up and run, and…
    The gate squealed open. A scarecrow of a boy, probably no more than nineteen, with a half-beard and a thatch of haymow hair, wearing green pants and a work shirt, entered the gated area. His mother found her feet, grasped his hands. “Carl!”
    Esther stared at his outfit, blood pooling in her feet. She braced her hands on the table. No. It couldn’t… The boy wore a large P painted on one leg, a W on the other. And on his arm, a band. PW.
    Prisoner of War.
    Oh. No. She turned, untangling herself from the bench—
    Flattened Midwestern tones. A tone of surprise that caught her heart. She froze, swallowed.
    If she’d had time to conjure up her visions of a POW, she may have expected an emaciated man, the sort found in the reels from Europe, with sunken, battled eyes, defeat in his voice, his bones like knobs in his puppet body.
    Not this man. Tall, with wide, ropy shoulders, he had the ruddy strength of a farm boy, tanned, with dark blond hair streaked by theJuly sun. And his eyes—blue, so blue that she might have been seeing the ocean for the tumult in it, the way it tugged at her, hungry. He wore the same outfit as the boy—green army pants, the work shirt, the emblems of war on his legs and arms. But he’d rolled up his sleeves, revealing tanned forearms, and she recalled his words,
Another man inside of me could have been a farmer.
His hands, however, the long, lean fingers that reached out to her, were that of a surgeon.
    No. “Peter Hess?”
    He nodded, a smile on his face that bespoke disbelief—a sweet disbelief perhaps, because his blue eyes glistened. “Yes. I am… Peter.” His voice ruckled out of him, as if he’d had to pry it from somewhere deep inside. “You—you came to see me.”
    And then he wiped his cheek, and she knew.
    â€œOh no.” She got up, backed away, her hands around her waist. “No, I didn’t…”
    She shook her head.
    But she banged through the doors—“Esther!”—and through the visitor’s room, out into the hot glaring sun, now burning heat down the back of her soggy dress.
    She held in her hiccupping breath, the edge of tears, all the way down to the end of the driveway. She didn’t look back once, not at the webbing of fence or at the voice that called after her, again, then again.
    No, she stumbled until she found the shadow of the sign for Camp Fort McCoy, sat down in the feeble shade…and wept.


    July 1945
    Markesan, Wisconsin
    Dear Esther,
    I stood there, my eyes disbelieving that you stood before me—you were more beautiful than I imagined with your blond hair in waves, the blue pillbox hat and dress that only matched your eyes. For a long moment I couldn’t breathe, my hopes—and of course worst fears—pressing from my lungs any words that might soften

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