Emma Bloom was by no means naïve. She had a sort of burning passion for the truth, despite its harsh and sometimes cruel nature. She didn’t care how much it hurt…she wanted, no, needed the truth. Emma of all people knew that one terrible burn healed faster than multiple small burns. So she made a point of ignoring her own sensitivity and instead focusing on honesty. She could play with fire without fear. There were only two times in which the hurt could not be healed. Both were moments that she wished she could forget, but knew she would always remember. As she lay in her bed, the moon peeking in at her through the curtains, the memories seemed to be branded in her mind’s eye. Even though she was gazing back at the moon, she could not stop remembering…
It was spring of 1932. She was six years old and running alongside her father, trying to catch his big, calloused hand inside her tiny, smooth one. The Paris train station was bustling and the crowd made little Emma nervous. Her father slowed and took her fingers in his, tugging her along down the busy platform. When he reached a car near the front of the train, he stopped, and hesitated before crouching down to Emma’s level.
“I want you to be the brave girl I know you are.”Mr. Bloom said simply after a long pause. Emma tilted her head, her long, reddish curls swaying on her back.
“But where am I going, Papa?” she asked.
“Somewhere where things will be better for you,” her father explained gently. Emma was about to ask for more, but her father continued. “You won’t have to be afraid or have anything to hide. You’ll be happy.”
“But…will I be able to see you? And Simon and Peter?” Emma muttered. She intentionally mentioned only her father and brothers, leaving out her mother. She wasn’t too enthralled with her mother and, even at such a young age, she knew that the feeling was mutual. Looking back, Emma was sure that her mother was the only reason she was sent away. Her father, who was the pepper to her mother’s salt, couldn’t tell her that, of course. When Emma asked about him and her brothers, her father had not said anything. He just looked at her.
And that was the first, and once upon a time, only, memory that burned up her insides. It was his face that had haunted her. He had simply looked at her and, without indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no’, Emma knew that the answer was no. She had stared into his dark, deep eyes, digging up the nasty truth that was buried inside of them. The wrinkles around those eyes had crinkled as he tried to smile reassuringly, but Emma could not miss the tear trickling down his tired face and disappearing into his thick black beard. He had held her head in his hands, pulling her closer to him so that he could gently place his lips on her forehead. Emma didn’t really understand at the time why he had stayed like that for so long, kissing her head like there was no tomorrow. But now she knew that there hadn’t been any tomorrow. He had been saying his last goodbye.
Emma rolled onto her side, forcing the mental photo of her father’s incurable sorrow out of her mind. She couldn’t remember anything about getting on the train or even getting off of the train. All she remembered was that the most important person in her life had let her go. She pushed this thought out of her head as well, trying to keep it from igniting the other pain, the more recent one. It was too late. The most important person had let her go again and there was nothing, nothing she could do about it.
Two years ago this night, Abe Portman, Emma’s one and only, had left her here to fight in the war. When he left, she could almost hear the flames licking up her heart, like the slips of paper that Emma sometimes found herself burning up. She understood why he had left, she knew he felt that he had to do it…but she couldn’t stand but be angry that he had just left her like that. He had left her to rot away in this eternal loop. They kept correspondence, of course, and Abe always said ‘I’ll be back for you soon, bombshell’ or ‘Here’s to us, love. I’ll come back to you’, but it had been two years. There was that truth again. Emma felt it like a punch in the stomach. Abe was not coming back. That didn’t stop her from hoping, but the ache sometimes overrode the dream.
“I have to, Em,” Abe had said, his voice strained. They had been sitting on the beach, Emma in her favorite swimsuit, Abe in his swimming trunks. He held his head in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees.
“Please, Abe…don’t do this.” Emma whispered. She stood a few steps away from him, her body frozen to the spot. Her shadow in the moonlight covered Abe. Emma suddenly fell to her knees in front of him. “You could get hurt, Abe. You could die. I…don’t know what I’d do if you died.”
Abe looked up at her for the first time since he told her his plans. Emma was surprised to see tears pooling in his warm, caramel eyes. He reached out and took her hands in his.
“I know, Emma.” He murmured seriously, stroking circles into her fingers. “But I can’t stay here and…and think about it. What’s being done to my people is…unforgiveable. And I escaped that. But my family, they didn’t. If I don’t do something to avenge them, then that would be even more unforgivable.”
Emma stared at him. His eyes met hers and flash! went Emma’s internal camera. She could see the picture now as she twisted around underneath her sheets, an escapee tear sliding down her cheek. Abe’s smooth, handsome features looked suddenly weary and much older. His dark curls were messy, nearly standing on end as they dried from the swim he and Emma had just taken. The caramel eyes had lost their adventurous sparkle and now held a darkness that had scared Emma. He reached out a hand, his fingers wrinkled from being in the water too long, and cupped her cheek.
“I love you,” Emma had whispered. Abe stared deeply into her eyes, nodding his head ever so slightly.
“I love you too,” he murmured and then he pressed his lips to hers. Emma felt the sweetness in his kiss and tried to respond with all of her emotions. She was proud of him, she was angry at him, she was enchanted, she was hurt, she was…she was in love. When he pulled away, her heart ached and she wished that he would just keep kissing her. But he didn’t. He repeated what he had said before.
“I love you…so much.” He said firmly. “But I have to do this. I have to.”
Emma couldn’t remember what happened after that. She was pretty sure she had put a mental block on everything, except for that one second. She couldn’t help but replay it over and over and over. It hurt like nobody’s business and destroyed everything inside of her, like an uncontrollable forest fire. Her fear for his safety hurt her physically. Perhaps he could somehow get over it, but she didn’t see any way in which she could move on. Time kept going for him, but it had stopped for her.
“I promise, I’ll come back to you.”
Abe had promised that at one point. Emma knew though. She knew deep down…he would never come back. That was the truth of it. She was only biding her time until she had to fully accept it, wondering if it ever would. But Emma was a fighter. The truth was her only power. She would have to embrace it someday. And until then…
The fire would burn and burn.