A Magical Roleplaying Experience 

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Stories taking place on the continent of Africa and in the region known as the Middle East. Some countries include Egypt, Botswana, Iran, and Turkey.
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 #33271  by Elijah Westfall
 
Location: Iraq • Date: September 2003


In the corner of his minuscule desk, sat a pile of stationary he had yet to use. In the decade he had spent serving his country Elijah had never sent a letter 'home'.

Quill dripped in ink, he took a piece of parchment. Could he consider this as sending a letter home? Could a wife chosen in the haste of a drunken haze be considered as someone who was waiting for him? Was she waiting for him?
Dear
The word remained lonely as Elijah considered the best way to address her. They had awoken next to each other, stranger yet married. Even as they had reconstructed their evening, he had struggled to process that the memories discussed had been his own. She was his wife and yet he did not consider to be his. She was Ottilie. Not a stranger, not his friend. Just Ottilie.
Dear Ottilie,
He finally wrote.
I hope this letter finds you well. It's funny, but the first thing I feel compelled to tell you is that the food here is better than what we ate at that awful breakfast buffet we attended the morning before I left. That coffee tasted worsts than flu potion. I'm still sorry I chose that place by the way. Hope our time apart gave you enough time to forgive me. Though I wouldn't blame you if you hadn't. There were, after all, eggshells in your omelet.

There is so much sand here. I wonder if I'll ever be able to go to the beach without imagining the sand as a monster that gets EVERYWHERE. Oh, but something I appreciate are the sunsets. The othe rnight I swear the sunset had a tint of red that reminded me of your hair. I had never seen the sky so red.
He spent a lot of time wondering if he should add something more. Maybe talk about them, instead of pretending like he was a simple world traveler enjoying the view and despising the sand. Eventually, he chose to end the letter there.
Looking forward to hearing from you,

Elijah W.
 #33350  by Ottilie Grainger
 
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Thursday, October 2, 2003

By the time the soldier's inadvertent wife sat down and actually retrieved her own parchment, quill, and the letter that came through the mail weeks ago, the parchment that bore his words was worn and creased from so many times of being unfolded, folded, unfolded, then folded again. One corner was dog-eared from having been jammed up against a corner inside her drawer. Ottilie ran a hard palm over the wrinkles against the surface of her desk in a half-hearted attempt to flatten them out, but found herself distracted by words that were far from new by now.

It was not that she expected to simply pretend that the other did not exist. He said that he would return for Christmas, so it wasn't ever going to be that anyway, but it was not that she expected to have no contact whatsoever before then. A letter made sense. She just had not expected it.

She wasn't sure why she didn't.

She wasn't sure what to expect, or really, to expect at all.

Except a response was clearly expected, even if his tone was more hopeful than demanding, even if something about him as she knew so far —which was little, if barely at all— suggested that he was not precisely the kind of person to expect anything of her or of anyone. Though, really, there was a fine line between hope and expectation, and that line blurred easily.

Anyway, it was perhaps for the best that he wrote. They had agreed to file for her immigration application when he returned if they, or rather he, had not changed their minds during the time apart. It was better that he did not forget her.

Ottilie crumpled the first parchment on which she started with the American's name, even though it was perfectly good.

And it was better that she did not sound too remote, too... cold.

Dear Elijah,

Better.

The seamstress briefly stared off into the limited airspace between herself and the wall against which her desk was propped. The last time she wrote a letter, the addressee was dead, which was to say that she did not have very much of an opinion as to neither Ottilie's penmanship nor the sophistication of her thoughts.

I am sorry it took me so long to reply. We just came out of fashion week for spring/summer '04, you see. It's also funny that you should mention my hair. Viktoria, our chief designer, has declared cinnabar the colour of the season and it is all I have been seeing in various fabrics in the past three months. I have never been so sick to see my own reflection in the mirror, but if you do not mind it so much, I am attaching a leftover strip of georgette ribbon from the last gown I worked on for the collection.

She paused to glance over his letter, briefly rolling her eyes at the way he had spelt 'omelette'.

These Americans.

That said, I regret to report that the dastardly place is still in full operation. Perhaps when you find what they sent you to find in Iraq, you might smuggle one or two out here for us to put it out of its misery. Otherwise, I think I've mostly forgiven the ill-made decision. Mostly. You must be looking forward to visiting Vegas again if you're that fond of sand. I'll make sure there's only a few pinches in between your bedsheets instead of a few fistfuls.

Would you send a picture of the sunset if you write again? I cannot imagine I'll ever have a reason to travel to that part of the world.

Ottilie.
Last edited by Ottilie Grainger on 10 Dec 2019, 21:04, edited 6 times in total.
 #33372  by Elijah Westfall
 
[thread]Al Qadisiyah, Iraq | October 7th 2003[/thread]

Time had passed and the raggle-taggle of men finally marched as a cohesive unit. While Elijah was not a soldier, he was still one of them.

Time had passed and he had yet to hear from her. While Elijah was her husband, there did not seem to be a them.

He had gotten used to his barrack mates receiving mail while he did not. He had not expected his last night to be any different. He was set to leave upon daybreak. Now that he had been trained to operate within a combat zone, Elijah was to be sent on his mission.

Elijah had not noticed the neat roll of parchment at first. It is only when it had fallen to the ground and he had picked it up that he had seen his name on it. A foolish smile made the left corner of his mouth droop while the other flung upward. He sat on his bottom bunk and unsealed the scroll. A red ribbon fell on his lap. He caught himself before his puppy love instinct made him bring the piece of fabric to his nose. He had forgotten the color of her eyes and her smell, but he had not forgotten about her red hair. Hair as red as this ribbon.

He kept the red strand around his thumb and read her letter.
_________________

The following morning he wrote his response.

[parchment]
Dear Ottilie,
Thank you for reminding me that Vegas is a desert, I now miss the city a little less.

Tell me more about your role in the spring/summer collection. I mean other than being the person who inspired the whole thing! Is she giving your hair credit? At the very least you should get a pay raise. I would love to attend a fashion show at some point, see your work right there on the runway. It'd be such a thrill.

I promise I will do my best to send you a picture of the cinnabar sunset,

Elijah

[/parchment]

The piece of georgette ribbon was in his breast pocket and it would stay there; adjacent to the ring that dangled next to his dog tag.
 #33420  by Ottilie Grainger
 
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Friday, October 10, 2003

Caught in between nonsensical advertisement flyers, Magic Neep coupons, and an untenably voluminous stack of magazine subscriptions addressed to previous tenants, his letter scroll had nearly gotten thrown out before it was ever afforded a glance. It was purely by chance that she had noticed the unfortunately-squashed parchment as she bent to move a few leaflets that instead fluttered to the floor. When she did, however, Ottilie had fished the singular correspondence out so quickly that she dropped it back into the rubbish bin by sheer reflex.

Recomposing herself after retrieving it once again, she did what any good British would do at times of emotional stress—Ottilie brewed herself a nice pot of tea. No sugar, a heartbeat's dash of milk. A pause later, she added another dash, just for good measure.

Then, she sat down and unsealed the scroll.

When she was done with it, the woman sat for a moment before she returned to the bin and sifted through it, brows knitted, as if half expecting for another parchment that might have contained some further message. A post-script, perhaps? There was none. That was all there was.

Almost petulant, the letter joined its previous counterpart in the drawer of her desk.

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

One would have thought that the end of fashion week meant that work would slow down, and it arguably did, but it also meant that the orders were coming in from just about every other American socialite matron, daughter, and daughter's chihuahua who was having a birthday. She absent-mindedly emptied her mailbox on the way into her apartment. Another day, another stack of useless, pointless, mind-boggling assortment of spam mail. A touch disappointingly, there were no letters.

It took a good minute before she realised why.

Hastily, Elijah's wife set about with her stationary to reply. How many days had it been? She mustered the courage to check the postage on his letter—one week.

He probably hadn't forgotten her just yet. Maybe.

Dear Elijah,

I wouldn't dare go so far as to think I am the muse. It would be a great injustice if I am, for I have not in fact been offered a raise. Maybe I should sue. I hear the Americans are very fond of doing so.

My place is in the sewing chambers, which I suppose is where the magic happens in fashion. I believe the saying goes that the designer is the incantation, but the seamstresses are the wandwork, though that might just be our way of persuading ourselves that what we do is worthwhile with so little credit. This season, we have a great deal of embellishing with streeler beads, which shift colours most peculiarly on their own, so it's very important that each one must be arranged to be in just the right place, next to the right complementing bead, so to not upset the gradient. Otherwise, the entire thing must be taken apart down to the singular offending bead and redone. The final product is imaginably elaborate, a dress with a full-fledged mosaic art piece for pattern. Each dress is a folklore of its own, which is the theme.

Fall/winter '04 will take place in February. There will be no streeler beads, and I cannot guarantee a front row seat, but something can probably be done if you happen to be around.

February was an odd time, long enough past New Year and too far from any following holiday. She did not quite remember when he had said his birthday was, which was a little problematic as she did, in fact, remembered him mentioning at least a month that was not February. Anyway, she cannot see any reason he would be given time off of service in that month unless there was a particular holiday.

Which there wasn't. Not really. That one did not count.

She frowned slightly at her own reply. It was longer than she intended. Ideally, the length should match his or only be just slightly lengthier.

I hope you are well and the food has not decreased in quality.

Ottilie.
 #33495  by Elijah Westfall
 
Location: Al Qadisiyah, Iraq • Date: October 30th 2003


Stripped of his dog tag, his wedding ring, and his entire identity Elijah had managed to integrate a group of dissidents. He had not been with them for long but as his daily reports kept disclosing his infructuous searches, it had become clear that his mission was doomed to fail.

The order to retreat back to base, made him wonder if his superiors had come to the same conclusion.

The debriefing had been long, but eventually, he had been excused. Elijah's role had just been drastically changed. He was no longer set to infiltrate dissident cells, Elijah was to become an army scout. As the person who already had regional intelligence, he was to play a main role in the military's reconnaissance.

Feeling as though his superiors were not being straightforward, Elijah wondered why his mission had suddenly changed. Dejected and rather exhausted, he made his way towards his assigned bunk.

a small package containing his personal belongings was waiting for him next to a scroll of parchment.

Location: Ar Rutbah, Iraq • Date: November 5th 2003


Her letter had been with him since the night he had returned to base camp. He had intended on writing a reply in the morning, but a nighttime attack had forced him and his platoon to leave prematurely.

The scroll had joined the little haul of memorabilia he carried on his person. Its corners had crumbled from the dozen times he had read it. He knew it by heart. He wouldn't dare repeat it, but there was so little comfort to be found in the desert, that he had come to find amenity
on the familiar loops in the shape of her letters.

Days had passed when he finally found the time to respond.
Dear Ottilie,
You will be sad to learn that the food quality has decreased drastically.
Elijah looked at the dried ration bag he had was getting ready to prepare.
It's like being back to that dinner all over again, except this time the eggs are bathing in an unidentified liquid. Not to mention the desert providing unsolicited spices. But know that this is a culinary critique, not a complaint. I'm lucky to have meals at all.

It sounds like you are doing meticulous work. I've never really thought about the minutia of fashion. The description of your work is giving me a whole new appreciation for it. Thank you for that.

I'm not sure if I will be around in February, but I certainly hope so. Meanwhile here's the picture I promised.
Elijah took two pictures from one of his multiple pockets. One displayed a burning red sky overlooking golden dunes. The other had been taken seconds later by one of his colleagues. It showed Elijah standing in his uniform, while in the background one could see the flaming sky and glowing sand. The agent hesitated for a moment. Would she care to own a picture of him?
Maybe you can show Viktoria the second picture. Who knows? She might find inspiration from it.

Always a pleasure to hear from you,

Elijah
 #33563  by Ottilie Grainger
 
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Friday, October 24, 2003

The moon was a pale, curved scythe hung over shadowy, roiling mountains when the seamstress finally arrived home from work. Few trees adorned the desert city that had been a safe harbour for the past five years, but autumn still whispered its presence in a brisk, bone-dry breeze at nights. Any other time, it would have made the foreigner wistful for trees with flaming leaves that carpeted brick and cobblestone pavements. Tonight, she did not even spare England a thought as she slid a small key into the lock of her letterbox.

A lonesome leaflet that curtly informed of a water shutdown for maintenance next weekend. The resident left it curled sadly inside, locked her letterbox, then made her way up to her apartment, trying her hardest to keep her steps even. She barely took off her shoes before she was in the narrow bathroom, hooking her thumbs through the fabric and tugging her underwear down.

Nothing.

Not a single spot of red.

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Monday, November 10, 2003

The first wave of nausea came, in well-timed art of mockery, one week after she had surreptitiously slid a blue-and-white box across the pharmacy counter at a Magic Neep's. The cashier—a blue-haired boy with a softly singing neon-pink metal stud in one ear and whom could not possibly be older than a freshly graduated high schooler—had lazily lifted an eyelid to fix a vaguely curious look on her. As she reached to pick it up off the counter to put in her bag, he finally spoke for the first time in their largely silent exchange.

"Good luck," he said glumly, "that's why my girl left me. She said I'd be a shit dad."

The witch said nothing. The following Friday, one of the other seamstresses had opened up a container that held two perfect boiled eggs for her salad and the scent had sent Ottilie to the bathroom at the cafe next door, emptying into the toilet every breakfast cereal flake, drop of tea and water, and two-thirds of her soul. The bloodless blancher in her cheeks was nothing a quick glamour charm cannot fix, but the cause of it was futile even to the strongest of charms. No—that called for darker magic or a healer's work.

Except that was not only her decision to make.

Which was somewhat absurd, given the fact that it was inside her, but that was delving into needless and impractically complicated territory.

The military wife thought of the cashier's remark as she re-read Elijah's letter two evenings after receiving it, the other wonderment as to what had taken his reply so long not less than thrice having crossed her mind. She brushed her thumb across his jaw in one of the two pictures that came with it, strangely fixated by the colour of his skin against the backdrop of a brightly burning sunset that, true to his word, reminded even her of her hair. What kind of father would he be? She did not know him nearly enough to make a judgment that felt in gravity and weight of seriousness like the passing of a sentence. Yet, if she were to have to find an answer, the correct one came frightfully crystalline clear. Elijah Westfall would be ten and twenty-five times the parent that his drunkenly-married stranger wife could never be even if she'd tried with all her heart.

No good parents came to be from not wanting to be a parent in the first place.

Dear Elijah,

Thank you for remembering and taking the time to take the pictures. The sunset is every bit as marvellous as you described. I'm sorry for the fall in culinary quality, but pleased to see that it does not physically reflect on you.

Unlike on her, whose brain had unsolicitedly conjured the image as described and resulted in her having to bolt for the loo. By now she had quite gotten the hang of it, at least. Unlike her fellow women similarly conditioned, she was blessed to have no symptoms of morning sickness and was, for all purposes, completely functional so long as certain food items were not introduced into the room.

Food aside, I would also enjoy hearing about your life when you are not on active duty. Is it true that soldiers dress in their sharpest uniforms and go to town on the weekends to take the local girls to dances, or is that just in the plays? Speaking of uniforms, I also see you've got wind about how fond we females are of a man in a uniform. Well played, Agent Westfall.

I'm afraid Viktoria has not been near short of inspiration as of late. Between approaching deadlines to get in the final designs for Fall/Winter '04 and Senator Nordstrom announcing that she's joining the Secretarial race, our chief designer has been firing on all cylinders. We are also coming up on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, so the time leading up to the festivities is always particularly busy.

Do they give you any time off for the festive season? Do they let you go home or are you expected to celebrate with your fellow comrades at base? I am curious.

She pursed her lips, hesitating momentarily. A small, niggling seed of guilt blossomed like weeds in her chest. Elijah deserved to know. However, she could not begin to imagine the appropriate words to convey such news in writing. And, anyway, Ottilie tried to stampede out the guilt. She could have dealt with this now, before he ever returned, without his ever finding out.

She was doing him a favour.

Ottilie.
 #33730  by Elijah Westfall
 
Location: Al Qadisiyah, Iraq • Date: November 15th 2003


Cinnabar red had given way to other shades. Crimson red, from sunburnt skin, contrasting against the pale dehydrated sheath. Blood red in its many iterations, from fresh wounds to dried blood. And sometimes, mostly when he wondered if what he did mattered, cinnabar red made an appearance.

His duty remained to his country, but she seemed to represent a greater part of it. She, the immigrant, had come to represent the ideals he defended or at the very least she appeased him when he started questioning the intent of his mission. He had someone now. Not quite the home he so desperately desired but at the very least a person to write to.
Dear Ottilie,

I am sure there are times when it is like the plays. Had I been sent to defend an ally country, there might be the possibility to organize or participate in such dances, but we are not here to defend this country.
Not in the way that made a country grateful.
I won't lie, there are opportunities to fraternize, they are rare, but they happen. I've been invited for tea once, they were lovely, though slightly scared. Not everyone is fond of a uniform.

Most of the downtime we have is spent between us. We play cards, soccer (muggles call it football) or other simple games. We have to keep active or else it's too easy to start missing those we left behind.
He did not know how to explain the ways in which he missed her. At times he missed her in a demanding way, he could almost let himself bathe in anger towards their ambiguous relationship. It frustrated him to be far from her and unable to clarify how he felt towards her. But mostly he missed her in the ideal portrait he had sketched in his mind. She had liked him that first night and she would eventually learn to love him. Either way, it was never truly her he missed.
I'm not sure if I will have time during the holidays. I would like to see you if I do. If you don't mind. What do you usually do during the holidays?

I am glad you appreciated the picture. I wouldn't mind one of you if ever you had time to send me one.

Elijah
 #35647  by Ottilie Grainger
 
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada • Date: Monday, December 1, 2003

She spoke too soon on count of her relative luck in the maternity experience. As if to make up for time lost in the early weeks, her list of 'certain food items not to be introduced into the room' had expanded within three weeks to fill up a scroll long enough to line Broadway from end to end. Salad dressing became replaced with croutons, which she now poured over bland greens with a blind eye and a hand that compulsively slipped too often. Yet, strangely still, she noted an incremental increase to the numeric figure on the scales.

Ottilie spent the last two weekends alternating between her bed and the bathroom. The unsuspecting toilet braced itself to go to Hell for bearing witness to a colourful myriad of every single curse word conceivable to human existence. Mostly, they were directed at a particular uniformed almost-stranger. Each time she considered quilling a reply to his latest correspondence, something swallowed up the words and spat out hollowed bones. She found herself growing angry at him.

He, who did not have to subsist on a coerced diet of a rabbit's, or to sneak around the workshop and wrack one's mind in finding excuses to justify the frequent slipping out to the bathrooms, or to wake up nauseous and go to sleep nauseous if sleep would stay at all.

He, who had the luxury of keeping active. (Some absences cannot be forgotten by keeping active, but burned blue and torrid.)

He, who was off frolicking in the sunset somewhere for a purpose more lost than found. Or was it he that she was angry at? His country played at a pointless feud and called it war. They did not know war. Wars were not a choice, but raked in men, women, children, elves and goblins and werewolves as they all clawed tooth and nail at the ground in desperation. Their dramatic reports in the Wireless from Afghanistan and Iraq were no war tales. A war was not a story, but a blank space known to only the dead, where the only words the living dared still utter were their names.

She would not tell him that. It risked giving away too much.

First day back at work after an extended Thanksgiving weekend, Viktoria announced that she had chosen Bali for the seamstresses' bi-annum research trip slated for next spring so that they might learn a thing or two from Balinese textiles. Ottilie kept her head down and her hands busy with a strip of Acromantula web's lace. As an undocumented immigrant, she had not attended any of these trips since her employment. When she arrived home that evening, after a shower and another bout of retching into the toilet, she tucked her bare feet underneath her in her study chair and drew out the pamphlet distributed to each of the girls. She read and re-read the parts where their chief designer had ordered highlighted particular techniques of prada and songkèt. She wondered how quickly the American immigration process might be after filing an application for a spousal visa.

The English woman pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment and reached for her quill for the first time in weeks.

Dear Elijah,

I apologise for the delay in my reply. Last week marked the beginning of peak order season in this industry for reasons you might imagine. I'm afraid the rush will last all the way till the day of Christmas Eve. That said, if you do find yourself at home during the festive season, I would not mind the company. Traditions vary from home to home across the pond, but we do invariably appreciate a midday roast lasting a minimum of four hours. I do warn you these are infinitely difficult to put together for a party of two.

It sounds like your colleagues and you share strong camaraderie. I hope that much has been a point of comfort during Thanksgiving, even if you might not have had ham and turkey.

Happy belated Thanksgiving,

Ottilie.

P.S.: I have no dashing uniform, but I thought you might appreciate a sneak view of my work.

The military wife then reached into her drawer and retrieved a glossy clipping from a spread done on the atelier's latest collection in Witch Weekly U.S.. The photographer that accompanied the interviewer who came to speak to Viktoria had requested to take some pictures of the seamstresses and the workshop. She remembered how her chest had tightened as the older woman flitted an approving hand. Ottilie had surreptitiously tilted her body this way and that way, always finding just the task that kept her out of the immediate lens way of the camera.

Still, when the spread was published, there was one gently moving photograph in which she was featured, albeit not as its focus subject. Her cinnabar hair, even gathered with little fuss at the nape of her long neck, nonetheless struck out unmistakably. For just two heartbeats' time, just enough of her left profile showed as she sat bent over a puffed midnight blue confection of what seemed all at once tulle and smoke. The seamstress's head turned, almost toward the camera, expression thoughtful but otherwise imperceptible. It never quite made it to a proper full-front, instead pivoted the other way as she stood and moved away with her armful of gown to half of a mannequin barely cutting it into the angle, where she remained for several seconds, standing with her back against the camera with flitting hands hard at work. Then, she was gone.

Ottilie slipped that alongside the letter into a pre-stamped envelope and sealed the flap.
 #37067  by Elijah Westfall
 
Location: An empty street • Date: December 24th


In the half-light of the alley the soldier appeared to be small. He could stretch his arms and touch the homes on both sides of him, he could take a few steps and reach the well-lit street yet he felt as though the world could swallow him whole. He had fought for this world and for the people's right to walk its streets without fear. Except the world didn't feel like his anymore and the people's lack of fear didn't come from gratitude, it simply came from ignorance.

On the ground was the shadow of a man. He had spent enough time with his shadow to recognize it as his own, it was with his reflection that he struggled to reconcile. He had the same defined features, even at rest, he appeared to be a wink away from a smile and yet no matter which side he tilted his head he had yet to recognize the man in the uniform.

Anybody would be changed. Wars had been fought before. Soldiers came home in pieces, legs off, eyes gone, not talking. Nobody liked to talk about it. When pressed harder he'd talk about the sand, how it got everywhere and how he could never get rid of it. The memories were sand and he knew he'd never get rid of them.

He looked at the building across the street. He had never sent his last letter. It was in his duffle bag along with his other belongings. He wondered if she had been expecting it.

Like a soldier coming home, he was in his uniform though he knew her home was not his. Bag on his shoulder, garrison cap on his head, Elijah finally crossed the street and made his way towards her. His knock was gentle, almost as if already apologizing for his intrusion.
 #37353  by Ottilie Grainger
 
The door knocked upon belonged to a modest house which—nestled along a winding road amidst a web of others, in itself a strange sight in the desert city of straight, spacious streets—stood out from all the rest. The sand-and-gravel front lawn was as empty as its driveway, and the awnings of its tawny-tiled roof were bare where other homes were silhouetted in twinkling lights of every imaginable colour. So subdued, and quiet, it stood between the others, that any visitor would be forgiven to look around themselves for a plaque reading 'property for sale/rent', but it was only fitting—since its inhabitant had not properly celebrated the holiday since 1996. Indeed, she looked up from the toilet seat, perplexed, almost as if she thought she'd imagined the sound in her own head.

It was too late for whoever it might be. Until this trailing end of this summer, she was impassively sure this Christmas would be no different from the last one, or the one before the last one. In the dependable pattern of seasons came and seasons passed, it was easy to forget that all it took to disturb the stillest of waters was a single pebble, a lone falling leaf, a lilting puff of breath.

Such as, if someone wrote, more than once.

If someone said they would like to see her if they had the time.

And if they asked what she typically did for the holidays.

It was enough that she did think—for a fleeting moment, before her final letter was met with silence—that it may be different this year. That there was—for the first time in years—a tree in the living room, albeit small and modestly decorated, and a little odd without a star or an angel which she could not bring herself to place at its very top. It was enough because it had to be. There was never a promise, therefore none to be broken.

Ottilie's glance glided across the slight but unmistakably raise of her belly in the mirror, perceptible if one looked where one needed to even underneath her silk camisole pyjamas, as she hastily ran her hands under some soapy water in the sink. It was for the best. Elijah Westfall would never need to know loss if he never knew that he had anything to lose to start with. His imposter wife believed this—enough that when his face loomed underneath a green patched cap through the fishbowl spyglass lens in her front door, the possibility of pretending she was not home followed quick to replace the brief and foreign leap of something close to happiness.

She would be affording them an easier way out.

At least, she would be affording herself an easier way out. Ottilie sighed, resigned, as her hand went to the door knob. It was enough passing seconds that he might have left, altogether, anyway. She drew open the door, shivering slightly as the desert winter seeped in.
 #37373  by Elijah Westfall
 
Her world came into view. It was as he remembered, but it felt more like a set for his escapist daydreams than the place where he and his wife had shared their few moments. Before he could let himself drown in his suspicions of impostorship he focused on her.

Her eyes, her figure, her smell, none of those characteristics felt familiar. He would have embraced her if they had. "Cinnabar red," he whispered as he gently reached out for a loose strand of her hair. Until her letter, he had not known the word to best describe her hair. Yet even without a word, that shade had become a shred of reassurance.

He was not home, but he was with her and that would have to suffice.

"Will you celebrate Christmas with me?" The Seamstress's husband asked as if asking for the honor of a ball's last dance.
 #37580  by Ottilie Grainger
 
Ottilie did not know what she had expected Elijah to say, precisely, when she opened the door, but the question should not have came as a surprise either. He had been honest from the very beginning before she could even properly remember—about wanting a family, about wanting to see her during the holidays if he was permitted the time away from service. Still, there was something about the way he asked, as if for her permission, the way he looked at her, and held a lock of her hair as if it were the most precious thing his hands had touched in months.

All of it made something else slip just a degree off-kilter in her chest, and her fingers curled a little tighter around the cool metal of her doorknob, and pooling on her tongue was something that tasted coppery—like rust, like guilt.

He didn't know what it meant to ask.

He didn't know what it meant if she agreed.

Her gaze slid across the pattern on his garrison cap and the uniform robes. She wondered when he had arrived that he did not even make the time to change out of them.

"You're cutting it a little close, but I think you made it just in time," the militaryman's wife answered, as she stepped aside in a wordless invitation.