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The Letter And How He Perceived It
This story is inspired by the loss war can have on people, in one possiblilty of a story.
11 a.m. is the worst time of day. It’s the time of day when all of the students and teachers gather into the Great Hall. It’s the time of day, a period before lunch, when the sun is high in the sky. It’s the time of day the post comes. The students older than us remember a time when the post was fun, when the post meant corresponding with friends from home, or siblings in a different school. Now, nobody wanted to get a letter, because a letter meant death. A letter meant that one more person had died at the hands of the Nazis. It meant someone you cared about was gone, no longer walking this earth. As the postman rides up the driveway to the front gates, you can see him pass a single letter to the Headmistress. The Headmistress turns, and starts walking back inside, leaving the Great Hall’s line of vision. Everybody waits, taking anxious breaths.
“Hey mate?” I whisper to Luke, one of my best friends. When he nods I know he’s listening, “Where’s Leo?”
“James, I thought he was with you.” Luke responds, looking out the rectangular windows that line the top of the ceiling, some clear and some embellished with colored glass, making the floor beneath them glow. I nod, adjusting my glasses. Everyone always counted on me to know where Leo was at all times, and everyone seemed to ignore the fact that we weren’t talking.
The Headmistress enters briskly through the embellished wooden double doors, and she moves swiftly into the Great Hall, her footsteps echoing on the marble floor as she walks through the almost silent room. She positions herself in front of the podium, ready to address the whole school.
We all know how this works by now. It’s been happening everyday, for the past three years. She’ll call someone up, and give them their letter. Then they’ll run, to anywhere, any place in this castle where they can open their letter alone.
“James Williams. James, please come get your letter.”
All eyes turn to me, and it doesn’t quite click that it’s my letter until Luke nudged me in the arm. I get up and start walking toward the Headmistress, but it seems like I’m moving in slow motion. Everything is in slow motion. I haven’t even opened the letter yet, but I have a pretty good idea of who’s name is on the inside. This is my third letter from the war office, and I shouldn’t be surprised that the letter looks exactly the same on the outside. It’s the one name on the inside that counts. I reach the podium, and the Headmistress gently hands me the letter. She smiles sympathetically, and takes my shoulders, turns me around, and gives me a little push. Not enough to move my body, but enough so I get the message. ‘Your standing here like an idiot James. Go to your dorm and open it.’
I can almost hear her voice in my head. “Right. Okay. Walk.” I whisper to myself.
“Come on mate, let’s go upstairs.” I hear Luke whisper to me. He’s slipped his way through the groups of sitting students and to my side. I let him lead me to my dorm.
“Luke? What if it’s Freddie? It can’t be Freddie. I don’t know anyone else at war.” I ask desperately as we walk, and I can hear myself on the verge of tears. Some because he is, was, my best friend, but some because I know Leo won’t even care.
*** time skip back to freshman year ***
“Hey Leo, you think we’ll get a dorm together? You, me, and Luke?” I ask. Sure, it might be the middle of a war, but hopefully we’ll be able to escape it while at school.
“Hopefully mate. What would I do without you guys?” Leo responds.
“As long as you guys actually let me study. Last year was a train wreck. No wait, that’s insulting the trains.” Luke responds sarcastically. At least we hope sarcastically. I look at Leo and he shrugs. Neither of us can ever tell.
*** time skip - one year later ***
“Leo!” I yell across the platform. “Leo, where are you?”
“Right behind you.” Leo says, suddenly behind my back. I let out a little scream and turned around. Luke doesn’t even flinch.
“Leo, when did you acquire this young child? Did you kidnap him?” Luke asks casually, glancing up from his book to look at the kid at Leo’s side, who’s maybe a year younger than us.
“What child? Oh.” Leo sighs as he looks to his side. “Fredrick, I told you to leave me alone.” Leo spits angrily at who I assume is his younger brother. I know very little about Freddie, but from what I do know, I know that the brothers don’t get along. Leo’s parents have German roots, and side with the Nazis. Leo defies them by siding with the Allies. I’ve always had a feeling Fredrick feels the same, but is scared to defy his parents. It’s unfortunate for the brothers, because before I knew Leo and before the war started, I know that they were each other's best friends.
*** Time Skip to about halfway through the school year ***
“Freddie?” I whisper, sneaking down the dark hallway, “Freddie are you down here?”
“Don’t call me Freddie, James.” Freddie pouts.
“Sure thing Freddie. Are you okay? Do you wanna talk?” I ask, finally finding him in the dark corridor. I slid down the brick wall, adjusting my glasses, and settling next to him on the floor. He leans his head against my shoulder, and I feel his tears dripping down onto my jumper. “Freddie?” I whisper more gently.
“Why does Leo have to always do this to me James? Doesn’t he know I’m on his side?” He asks, matching my quiet tone, referring to a nasty fight he had with Leo earlier in the bathroom during dinner.
“I don’t know Freddie. But you know I’m always here for you?” I ask. I feel him nod against my chest.
We sit there for a while, quietly in the dark corridor. Unaware of our friends looking for us. Just comforting each other from the scars the war has created on us.
*** time skip to current time ***
Between the thought that Leo won’t care and the fact that only Freddie used to lead me the way Luke is now, with his arm around my shoulder pushing me down the hall, I ran. I left Luke behind and ran. I hear Lukes empty attempt at telling me to come back, but I have a feeling he knew I wouldn’t make it to the dorm.
I run through the never ending halls of this school, and feel the cool breeze of the Scottish winds whipping my hair through the open windows. I run past the classrooms and toward the library. I stop in front of the intimidating open arch leading into the massive room lined with bookcases and change my mind, turning left.
This time, I am already alone and I don’t take up a run. Instead, I walk toward that hallway. Our hallway. A place neither his friends nor my friends knew about, to protect the fact that we were hanging out. Leo didn’t want me to be friends with Freddie. He claimed Freddie was unworthy of friendship. I didn’t listen.
I walk into the dark corridor and slide down the brick wall, the same way I did a couple years ago to comfort him. I take a deep breath, and tear open the seal of the dreaded letter. I skim the contents before peering at the name on the bottom. The war office makes their letters very brief, as if they know no one wants to read it anyway.
Frederick Arcturus Noir
It was Freddie. Freddie was dead.
I sit there, in that empty hallway for what feels like forever. Luke eventually finds me sitting there, with tears dripping down my cheeks in an almost constant stream. He slides down on the other side of the hallway, facing me.
“Was it him?” Luke asks quietly. His voice breaks the silence of the hallway. I nod, more tears dripping down my face. “Oh, James.” he whispers quietly. He gets up, and walks across the narrow hall. One, two three steps, echoing in this no longer silent space. I stand too, not knowing what else to do. And Luke hugs me. I cry and he hugs me.
Eventually we make our way back to the dorms, and we tell Leo. The shocked look that overcomes his face is filled with anger and grief and regret.
Looking back, I should have known Leo cared more. I should have tried harder to show him the real Freddie. But letters change us, and show us what we could have done differently, even if it is a happy letter from home. They show us things we would never have thought of.
It’s all about how you perceive it.