“Siegfried!” David called, his voice as familiar now as a song from my childhood. Only a day had passed since I’d seen him last, and yet it felt like a week.
As I turned, I caught a glance from one of the other officers, his brow furrowed in disapproval. “Officer Thomas,” I greeted, my tone formal. With a hand on his elbow, I tugged him away from the rest of our company and towards a secluded spot at the edge of the camp. I let go of him as we reached a fallen log similar to the one at the camp where we had met, saying, “You have to remember to be formal around the men,” I told him. “I’m still technically your superior offer.”
“Sorry, I forget that,” David replied, his smile apologetic.
I quirked a smile of my own. “I feel like I should take offense.”
David hurried to backtrack, “It’s not that I don’t respect you, sir, it’s just that I think of you as a friend first, an officer second.” He paused. “That is, if I should. Should I?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, smiling fully now. “Of course that’s what I would prefer. How are you today, David?”
“You didn’t come yesterday,” he replied, not answering the question I’d asked. My notebook lay closed on my lap, and David glanced at it. “Were you busy?”
I nodded. “But not with this,” I said, tapping the book. “I was assigned to patrol.” It was oddly rare for us to be apart in such a small company. From patrols to the trenches, he was always at my side, and I at his.
“You’re never night patrol,” David said. Had so much time passed that words like “never” held meaning for us?
“Someone had to replace Clarion.” At my words, the air thickened. I didn’t meet David’s eyes.
“Oh. Right, I- I forgot.” Had so many been killed that the death of a comrade was easy to forget?
It was the sad way of war. People came and went, and it never seemed real. There was that word again. Never.
David shifted to face me. “Well, listen. I thought we could get our minds off things for a while. Things like… Clarion.”
I looked up at him, his blonde hair getting a little long again. “How do you suggest?”
“You haven’t had a day off since I’ve been here, and neither have I,” David pointed out, as if he’d been there longer than just a few months. “I got permission from the General to take a few hours tomorrow morning. We can borrow a few horses…”
“And go where?” I asked, though I was already on board. My heart felt lighter, the first hint of excitement and anticipation I’d had in months spreading through my veins. To ride out in the morning sun with David at my side, leaving the war behind us for only for a few hours… well, I would never have said no.
David shrugged. “We could head out towards Amiens. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We can go anywhere.”
I smiled a little, not as wide as his grin, but wide enough for me. “Anywhere?”
“Anywhere,” David confirmed, shifting on the log again. He was a little closer to me now. “Anywhere where the sound of gunfire is foreign.”
“I like the sound of that,” I admitted.
“I do too.”
It was true, I was excited. But at the same time, a rush of sadness turned me cold. Looking at the beautiful boy sitting next to me, I had a surging hatred for everyone involved in the war. I hated the powers who started it, and the powers who refused to make peace. I hated the people who ordered us into battle and those who refused to retreat. David was only a year or two out of school; he had no business striving to escape the shattering sound of gunfire.
“The stars are bright today,” David commented, interrupting my thoughts.
I looked up, somewhat surprised by their beauty. It had been a while since I noticed their flickering light in the dark. David couldn’t tear his gaze away. My voice quiet, I agreed, “They are.”
He let out a little contented breath, and I watched him. Somewhere in the distance came the rattling boom of a cannon.
It broke my heart.