"I hate this place."
"I hate that you're such a brat," Danielle said to her little brother.
"Why do we have to go? Ma-mère doesn't even speak English," he whined some more.
"She does, too." She reached over and smacked him just because she could. "You're just too stupid to understand her."
"Dani, don't antagonise your brother," her mom scolded from the front seat of the mini-van.
"They don't even have a Playstation!"
Good God, just shut up! Danielle thought to herself. Before she said anything else that might get her in trouble, she plugged her earbuds in and turned up the volume on her iPod to drown out her sibling's lamentations.
For her part, she loved visiting her grandprarents and great-grandmother. Ma-mère still lived in the same house where she had raised her family after the war (the second one), and Grandma and Grandpa lived a couple of blocks away. Danielle liked it because it was quiet. She liked perusing through her great-grandmother's voluminous library and listening to her stories of France and Germany and England and lands far away.
It also drove her brother bonkers, and that was just an added bonus.
The drive from Charlotte took almost all day when they finally pulled in to Ma-mère's driveway. Danielle thought she was beautiful. Still slender and always immaculately dressed, she was the envy of women two decades younger than her 88 years. She was standing on the porch along with Danielle's grandparents, Ma-mère's daughter and her husband. Her curly white hair glistened in the setting sun. She was fit and spry for her age, but still had to lean on her son-in-law's arm to walk down the steps to greet her grandson and great-grandchildren.
"You've gotten so big!" Danielle stood half a head taller than her great-grandmother, but never minded returning the loving hug she knew was always coming. Ma-mère's spoke perfect English, but she was never going to lose her melodic French accent. Marie's colloquial name literally translated as "my mother", which is what her children called her, and the subsequent two generations just kept using it, even though "Grand- mère" may have been more appropriate. "Come in!"
The seven of them went inside, her father and grandfather retrieving the family's bags. The adults were visiting and her brother was playing with his Nintendo DS when Danielle slipped away to her favourite room at her great-grandmother's house: the library.
Years ago, she had been given free run of the place, except for one glass-enclosed cabinet of antique leather-bound books. On the family's frequent visits, Danielle had read through some of the collection. She liked the history and travel books, and eschewed the romance and fiction novels.
"I see it didn't take you long to find you way here," Ma-mère called from the doorway, a wide smile on your face. Danielle blushed slightly. "Come sit with me, Dani. I have something to show you."
Too big to sit on her great-grandmother's lap, she settled for the next best spot: on the soft couch under a reading lamp. On the coffee table was a box of pictures, a photo album and two small, worn books.
"You have always been interested in my history books, Dani," Ma-mère reached for the photo album. The pictures were discoloured under the yellowed plastic page covers. "I want to show you some history of my own. Your mother tells me you're studying French in school? Good, I have something to help you with that."
She turned the first page and Danielle's eyes grew wide. One of the people in the first picture was clearly her great-grandmother. The other was older, with a full, white beard. They were standing in front of a small stone cottage.
"You were beautiful, Ma-mère," Dani whispered.
"This is me and my father outside our house in France, right before the war." There was a sad, wistful tone to her voice. "You are fifteen now, yes? That's how old I was in this picture."
There were several more of Ma-mère and her family.
"Who is that?" Dani pointed to a very handsome man in an army uniform.
"That is your great-grandfather." The corners of Ma-mère's mouth turned up into a sad smile. "This was in the spring of 1944, right before the Americans and the British came."
"Great-grandfather was a German?" Danielle blurted out. There was no mistaking the distinctive uniform of the Wehrmacht.
"Yes, he was," Ma-mère whispered, a flood of memories overtaking her. "That's why we had to come to America. No one back home wanted us there."
"For many reasons, Dani, many of which I still don't understand." For the first time that she could remember, Danielle saw her great-grandmother frown. There was a flash of anger and hurt in her eyes.
"Do Grandma and Grandpa know?"
"I told them a long time ago, but no one else in the family wanted to talk about it," Ma-mère sighed. "It's the one family secret everyone wanted to go away."
"You loved him." It wasn't really a question.
"Yes, I did. I still do." She flipped back to the end of the album to a family portrait. Ma-mère was seated in the middle along with four children, one of whom was her grandmother. A handsome man sat next to her, but he was not the man in the German army uniform. "After he died, I married again, and I loved this man, too. But not as much as I loved my Christof."
"What happened, Ma-mère?"
Marie didn't say another word. Instead, she handed her wide-eyed great-granddaughter her diary. She wiped a tear from her eyes, took a deep breath and left Danielle on the couch to read through the chapter of their family history that was shrouded in secrecy.
There was very little for the French to be happy about in the summer of 1943. It was the third year of the German occupation, and in all of the villages along the northern coast of France, they were preparing for an invasion by the Americans and the British. The puppet government in Vichy controlled the southern part of the country, but in Marie's village, a German Major was the prevailing authority.
Before the war, it had been a small farming village along the Normandy coast. But with a looming assault from across the English Channel, it was simply another gun battery post along the coast in Hitler's Festung Europa—Fortress Europe—which stretched along the coast from France to Denmark.
Marie never had any problems with the Germans. But then again, she was a pretty young woman who was only fifteen when they arrived to take over the town, and had just turned eighteen when she was pressed into the French Resistance.
For the most part, the Germans who came to the town left the French people alone, as long as they didn't cause trouble. It seemed as if they were trying to be friendly. They paid a fair wage for work and didn't try to humiliate or torture the locals. Of course, when the SS came in, tensions rose, but they were a small, sleepy town that most people just passed through on the way to somewhere else.
Many of the German soldiers who came weren't really German, they were Ostlegionen, conscripts from the eastern front who were supervised by German sergeants and officers. They did a lot of physical labour, but they were also trained to man the guns and mortars that were zeroed in on the beaches in the case of an invasion. Most did not speak French, German or English, and they generally stayed to themselves.
Of the Germans who came, some were elite armoured or parachute regiments, but many had been injured in Africa or Russia, or were otherwise too infirm to fight on the front lines. And then there were men like Christof.
He was the son of a former German Navy Captain from the First War, who also happened to be a prominent Nazi supporter. Like all parents, he wanted to protect his children, so before the war, he arranged for Christof to be given a commission in the Army, and was then subsequently transferred to a staff position. Until he arrived in France, Christof had spent much of his time in Bavaria at a supply depot.
When she first saw him, Marie immediately noticed his handsome blue eyes and charming smile. He was reporting for duty at the major's house, and she knew he was important because he had a driver and a staff assistant. Their eyes met for a second, and he smiled at her, making Marie blush unconsciously.
For just a moment, she considered that if he hadn't been a German, it might be nice for him to call on her some time.
Summer turned to fall and then to winter. The Germans were busy building bomb-proof shelters and gun emplacement for howitzers which would repel the invaders. When their conscripts from the Ukraine weren't enough for a task, they would employ the locals to help, some times on a more compulsory basis than others.
Marie saw Christof a couple more times. Once, he even stopped to talk to her, although she did no more than exchange pleasantries with him. He spoke fluent French and English, with only a slight accent.
Her father's hatred of the Germans was no secret, although he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut around them, lest he "disappear" like some other men in a village a couple of kilometers away. The rivalry between the French and Germans went back for centuries, and it seemed to always spring up every generation or two, whether it was the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War or the First World War, giving new fuel to the fires of hatred, intolerance and misunderstanding.
It wasn't until one night in March of 1944 that Marie learned the lengths her father would go to see the Germans driven from French soil.
She thought they were going over to a neighbour's for dinner. After the meal, her father and the neighbour led her into the basement. When she saw the maps on the wall and the radio in the corner, her pulse raced. When her eyes fell on the rifle butts under a blanket, she found that she wanted to run back to her house as quickly as possible.
"Marie," Sacha began. "We want you to do something for us. But you must do it in secret."
"Papa, what are you talking about? What is going on?"
A dark and sad look crossed her father's eyes. "We are the French Resistance here, Marie. The Americans have asked us for our help when they come to kill all the Germans."
Her blood ran cold when she said the words. "What do you want me to do, Papa?"
"You will not have to shoot or kill anyone," Sacha said gently. He was a little older than her father. Both had fought in the First War. He had been a generous friend of their family for as long as she could remember, and had always been sweet to her. "You do not have to pass messages or build bombs or anything like that."
He paused to exchange a look with her father, who shook his head and turned away.
"That German lieutenant has taken an interest in you," the other man said. "Your father has refused to let him see you. But we think he may be useful."
Sacha took a deep breath before continuing.
"We want you to go out with him. See what he knows. Relay anything to us about what the Germans are doing to get ready for the Americans and the British."
"How will I ... I'm just a ... I don't know anything..." Marie stammered.
"We know," her father took her hand and held it to keep them both from shaking. "We don't want you to be in danger, and you will not be seducing him. But we need to know what the Germans are up to."
"I can't tell you what else we're doing, but you are not the only one keeping any eye on the Germans," Sacha said.
"Won't the others think less of me?" she asked. That much was true. Some of the girls who voluntarily consorted with the Germans were outcast from their families and communities for fraternising with the enemy, even though it often brought favour or extra rations from the occupiers.
"They probably will," Sacha conceded. "But when this is all over, we will tell everyone that you were doing it because we asked you to, not because you are a collaborator."
Marie's head was swimming. She had no inkling that her father was in the Resistance, much less that he would bring his daughter into it, too.
A part of her wondered exactly she would have to do, but another part was secretly thrilled at being given the opportunity to do something—anything—to help end the war with a victory for France.
"Let me think about it," she said softly, and both men nodded.
Her father led her back to their house, where she retreated into her room, even though she had already made up her mind.
"Thank you for having me over tonight," Christof said as they were seated around the table. He was dressed immaculately in the uniform of the Heer, or German Army. The young officer was a couple of years older than Marie, and came to dinner alone.
He was very handsome.
Marie's father had given her no instructions other than to be polite. For his part, he was aloof and a little rude, but that could easily have been taken as the over-bearing patriarch trying to intimidate anyone who came calling on his daughter. Marie remembered him acting the same way when other young men had come to court her.
Her mother was upset, but not obviously so. Marie knew that it was because her father and brother had been killed at the Battle of the Somme. Still, she was the perfect hostess to their guest. Marie did not know if her mother knew that her father was an active partisan.
The four of them made small talk over dinner. There were many uncomfortable silences at the table, but Christof was naturally charming and did not come off as an arrogant officer of a conquering army.
When the meal ended, Marie and Christof were left in the parlour of their small house, her parents retiring to the den, where they could still hear everything that went on, but afforded the young pair some moments alone.
Marie was naturally shy, and if not for the war, probably would have been entertaining courtship offers from several of the young men in her district. As things were, most of the young men were gone, either to work in the cities or to the Army; some were in the Vichy Army and others had left for exile to serve in the Free French Forces.
So at a time in her life when her horomones were in need of some male attention and the only viable prospect seemed to be an enemy officer, Marie found her palms sweating and her pulse racing at the charming smile and boyish good looks of a German.
The couple's night ended with a formal bow from their guest and the promise of a second date at a later time.
As she lay in bed at night, Marie wondered how soft her handsome visitor's lips would feel pressed against hers.
For the next month, Oberleutnant Christof Weber called on her once a week or so. Marie found herself looking forward to his visits. In every case, their date was done by sundown, so that the local curfew was observed, and the lights in her town could be turned out to avoid the attention of the air raids which were coming more and more frequently.
By mid-April, the weather had warmed up and Christof began coming by more frequently. He always asked her father's permission to see her first.
One night, when they could hear bombs falling off in the distance, her father stopped in to her room. "Marie, your mother is going to pack a picnic basket for you and Christof. He has asked to see you tomorrow. See if he will take you to one of the southern fields for lunch."
"Why, Papa?" she dared to ask.
"Don't ask that," he replied, his eyes dark. "Do not ever ask. The less you know, the better off you will be if we are discovered. I will never put you in danger, but you must trust me."
"Of course, Papa," Marie rose and gave her father a hug.
"I love you, mon ange," he said gently. My Angel.
"I love you, too, Papa."
The next day, Christof was delighted to see the meal he though Marie had packed for them. He arrived, driving the army car by himself. When she suggested the location for their lunch, he told her that those fields were not safe for their picnic, but that some others to the west were.
When she returned later that night, she told her father what she had learned. He promptly disappeared into the basement. She wondered why it was important.
What Marie didn't tell him was that after they were done with their lunch, her first kiss had been from a handsome German officer. Nor did she tell him that she had initiated the kiss.
For the next couple of weeks, Christof began to call more often. She felt as if he were talking more freely than before. Marie also found that she looked forward to his visits, something her father sensed and disapproved.
After each date, her father would quiz her on what she had seen and where they had gone. As they were together, Marie found herself observing things she would not have noticed had their courtship occurred during a period of peace.
Soon, she could identify the various armoured tanks and vehicles around town, and Marie made mental notes of where anti-aircraft guns were placed, if only because she knew her father would ask her later.
For his part, Christof seemed eager to point out the machines and weapons of the German Wehrmacht, telling her all about the engineering which went into each piece. She did not ask too many questions for fear of tipping her hand.
As she got to know him, she found that he did not fit the image her father had always painted of Germans. He was sweet and kind, not at all the fanatic Nazi she first imagined. More than anything, he wanted to go back to his parents and his home. He never really wanted to join the Heer or the Kriegsmarine, and he was not politically ambitious. Really, all he wanted out of life was a wife and family, a job in accounting and a full stein of beer.
Marie would not admit to herself, much less her father, that she was not only attracted to Christof, but that she imagined growing old along with him, and bearing his children.
It was on one of their day time dates that she found herself in the chateau where the German officers were staying alone with Christof. The major in charge had returned to Freiburg on leave, and the hauptmann (captain) in charge was inspecting some of the fortifications along the coast. The enlisted soldiers in the house left the officers alone, and the French servants were used to Marie coming and going with Christof, often with a nasty sideways glance at her.
Christof had always been a perfect gentleman, so he was surprised when he found Marie snuggling up to him on the couch.
Neither spoke as their lips met and their hands roamed over one another's bodies.
"What are you doing, Marie?" he mumbled dreamily. "Your father—"
"My father will never know," she silenced him with a kiss.
She let out a surprised gasp when he picked her up and carried her to the bedroom where he was staying. Her pulse raced as he set her down on the bed and locked the door.
Marie tugged at his uniform and her heart began to pound. At first, she thought to reign her feelings in. Yet, over the past couple of months, she found that she genuinely liked Christof. And her body desired him.
His eyes shone with lust.
He was so strong. So handsome. So gentle.
She let him undress her.
Marie cried out when his hands cupped her breasts. He moaned as she stroked his tumescent sex.
Neither were very experienced, but both somehow managed.
Laying back on the bed, Marie spread her legs for her lover.
The head of his cock pressed against her labia, which were swollen with excitement.
She had to bite the pillow to keep from crying out in pain has he thrust roughly through her maidenhead. Both were clumsy and inexpert, but neither cared.
Marie's toes tingled, and the pain turned to pleasure as each gave their virginity to the other.
Their lips met hungrily and she pulled him in to her until she felt her womb flood with his warmth.
Looking up into her lover's eyes, Marie uttered words which she knew she would only cause them grief, yet she meant them from the depths of her soul.
"I love you."
She returned home right on schedule, having managed to clean herself up as best she could. Christof assured her that he would disposed of the blood-stain sheets without anyone knowing and they shared one more kiss before leaving in his car to go back to her house.
In public, they never showed any affection, not even holding hands. But Marie always had a secret smile for Christof.