Getting his high school diploma was a necessity if Jakob Wilheimer was going to reclaim his life after the war. The last thing he expected was for Meri Parker, an old schoolmate, to be his teacher – or that reclaiming his life, meant saving hers.
In the aftermath of WWII all Jakob Wilheimer wants is to get over his pain, get on with life, and if at all possible, forgive those who've wronged his family -- including himself. But it's hard to do when there are constant reminders. One of them being his former schoolmate, now teacher, Meri Parker -- Miss Port Delamar Pearl, Mayor's daughter, Belle of the town -- Meri Parker.
After enduring the stigma and isolation associated with the internment camp, the awkwardness of going back to school should've been a cake walk. But Jakob didn't expect to find himself inexplicably drawn to Meri. Or to discover that the pain and loneliness of her life surpassed his own. She needed to be rescued from the wretched people seeking to control her life. And more than anything, he needed to be the one to save her.
From No Other
He had decided he'd take his grandmother's advice, be patient until the way was clear.Now, he stood here looking at a car meant to bribe Meri into obedience, and she'd taken it.
He wasn't angry with her. He hurt for her. This car, to her, was the same as Jakob's dad grasping for his hand. It was the only affection her family offered. The difference between the two was that what his dad gave was all he had. It took effort, and it was real. Meri needed something real.
Okay, he was gonna tell her.
Jakob opened the car door and Meri scooted inside. He shut it, then went to the driver's side and got in. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came. Where to begin?
Jakob put the keys in the ignition and started the car.
You have to. The awful sense of desperation twisted his insides again.
He leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes.
What if she doesn't feel the same?
Then you'll know.
And if she does. We can't be--
The engine idled smoothly and Jakob could feel the vibration through the seat. He reached for the keys and the rumbling motor suddenly went silent.
"What's wrong," said Meri.
Jakob looked over at her. Moonlight poured in through the window, haloing her hair, and her widened eyes sparkled in the darkness. She was so beautiful.
"There's something I need to tell you, but I don't know how." He sighed heavily and then whispered. "Crud, I don't even know if I should."
Meri turned her body toward him and scooted against the car door. "It sounds important."
Jakob pressed his lips together. "It's just, if I don't say something, I'm afraid I'll regret it. And things might... change between us."
She shook her head. "Change how?"
"You'll find someone else."
Meri covered her mouth and turned away, hiding her face from him.
Her reaction startled Jakob. It wasn't what he'd expected -- not that he knew what to expect. He had no idea what she was thinking, but he'd started this and he had to finish it -- even if it ended up breaking his heart. With Meri cowering in the seat beside him, that seemed likely.
Get it over with.
Jakob stared straight ahead and forced himself to continue. "I know this is crazy, and we can't do anything about it -- not that you'd even want to." He bit his lip, and then let out a sigh, puffing his cheeks.
"I'm in love with you, Meri. I'm a hundred percent in love with you." He looked over to see if his words made any difference. Meri stayed hunkered down, covering her face with her hands.
His heart toppled from a cliff -- falling... falling... What have I done?
"Meri, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
She didn't move.
"I'm an idiot, okay. A complete fool!" He swallowed away his humiliation, and reached for the keys in the ignition. "I'll take you home, and I won't bother you again."
Her hand covered his as he started to turn the keys. Jakob looked at her and was shocked to see tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Oh, Meri." The pain in her eyes tore at him. "I didn't mean to make you cry." He touched her cheek and gently wiped her tears. They fell faster. Jakob reached with his other hand, cupping her face and tried to catch them as they spilled over the rims of her eyes. Her bottom lip trembled, drawing his gaze as she mouthed the words, 'I love you'.
His heart stilled. She loved him.
Jakob drew her to him and found himself overcome by the feel of her lips beneath his, tasting the saltiness of her tears, inhaling the sweetness of her skin. There was so much that he wanted to tell her, show her... give her. He had no words to express, so he used his kisses to convey all that he dreamed.
She responded with equal passion, telling him what she felt but couldn't say.
When their need for breath overcame their need for each other, they rested their heads together. Meri's tears still flowed, and Jakob stroked her hair.
"What are we going to do, Jakob? I can't be without you."
Jakob kissed her forehead. "It's okay," he said, running his fingers through her hair. "It's gonna be okay. We'll find a way to make this work." He tipped her chin to look into her eyes. "I can't be without you, either."
The night became deafeningly quiet, as if all life had abandoned except his and Meri's. In his heart Jakob understood that the price of being together was to be cut off from everyone else. To keep this secret he must erect a wall. He'd been there before. He could do it again.