Liesl slipped out of the side door, making sure her black shoes didn't click too loudly on the marble floor. She'd had enough practice with this. Every time her heart was ticking rapidly with nerves, but she was always careful.
Today has been such an odd day, She thought as she peeked behind her shoulder – just to make sure she hadn't been noticed. An odd day that brought along an odd governess. Liesl had yet to be fond of a single governess – they were either dreadfully stupid, dreadfully old and stern, or dreadfully jumpy and stressed. And the fact that they did everything her father was supposed to do – educate, care for, love his own children – made her hate them all the more… But this new one, Fraulein Maria, didn't seem to fit any of those boxes. She wasn't familiar, and so Liesl was worried. It might take longer to get rid of this one…
Think of happy things, Liesl.She shook her head, brown curls jostling against her shoulders. You don't want him to see you with a frown on your face, do you?
The thought of him – him waiting for her patiently by the white gazebo – instantly brought a smile to her face. Her skin seemed to tingle with warmth, and she set off across the lawn.
These moments, though usually far between, were what she looked forward to. In a household where strict marching was common but not laughter, where Father's icy indifference wasn't even surprising anymore, nights like this were wonderful. It wasn't often Liesl had someone's full attention, and when it was Rolfe's full attention...well, it was very nice indeed.
She reached the clearing in the middle of the grove of trees where the gazebo sat, like a delicate ornamental bird. The space was dappled with silver light and shadows and there, behind a tree, she could see Rolfe waiting.
"Rolfe!" His name, strong and somehow boyish at the same time, burst from her lips.
He looked up, his blue eyes shining. The moonlight turned his blond hair and his skin nearly pure white, and he looked godly and radiant and perfect. He stepped forward and Liesl ran to him and leaped into his arms. He embraced her back, his hold warm and safe.
Rolfe pushed her away slightly. "No, Liesl, we mustn't." Though his words were harsh, his voice was soft and half-hearted. Liesl knew he didn't really mean it. She had figured out by now how to tell when he was really and truly serious about something.
"Why not, silly?" she asked, trying to sound as angelic for him as possible.
His already not very stern expression wavered, and he shifted awkwardly. Liesl loved the way he looked when he was shy. She loved how he looked just about any time.
"I don't know," he said. "It's just that – "
"Isn't that why you're here?" She raised an eyebrow, grinning slightly. She could tell he was a bit scared, but then, she was too. "Waiting for me?"
"Yes, of course," Rolfe answered quickly. The tips of his ears turned red with embarrassment. "I missed you, Liesl."
She smiled, not taking her eyes off of his face. Skin pale as cream, with wheat-blond hair and blue eyes like clouded glass, dense but clear. He was so handsome sometimes she feared she might burst. "You have?" she asked coyly. "How much?"
He chuckled shyly. "So much, I almost thought of sending you a telegram, just so I could deliver it here."
Liesl's heart fluttered at his words. It sounded so romantic, like something a boy in a novel would say. "What a lovely thought!" she gasped, imagining a neat little telegram, sealed with a blue ribbon and with edelweiss attached. Dearest Liesl… "Why don't you?"
"But I'm here!"
She widened her eyes and looked up at his taller form, doing her best to look as pleading as she could. "Please Rolfe. Send me a telegram. I'll start it for you: Dear Liesl."
"Dear Liesl," he repeated. She loved the way her name sounded coming from him, like a delicate, sugary thing on his tongue. "I'd like to be able to tell you how I feel about you, STOP." He said as he paced, looking nervous. Liesl watched in anticipation.
"Unfortunately, this wire is already too expensive. Sincerely, Rolfe." He finished teasingly.
Liesl felt disappointment prick at her. What if he didn't like (love) her as much as she liked (loved) him? But she wasn't about to give up yet. Not in a secluded clearing with a perfect boy, with whom it seemed possible to grab the stars. "Sincerely?" she pouted.
"Cordially," Rolfe's lips twitched in amusement.
"Cordially?" Liesl urged.
"Affectionately," he amended, seemingly too jittery to say what she wanted.
Affectionately, however, was good enough for Liesl, and she impulsively hugged him, burying her face in his well-muscled chest. Her heart swelled in her throat as she suddenly felt his warm breath by her ear.
"Will there be any reply?" he whispered, his voice holding a devilish promise.
Flustered, she pulled back and looked into his blue orbs, her head feeling fuzzy. "Dear Rolfe, STOP." She said softly. "Don't stop! Your Liesl."
Looking up at him, she suddenly wished that they could see each other any time they wished. Although there was something terribly poetic and romantic about having to hide, she wanted more. She wanted to lead him around the city and fall in love amongst stone churches and arching fountains, and not give a single thought to what her overbearing father might say.
"I wish we didn't have to wait until someone sends Father a telegram," Liesl sighed. "How do I know when I'll see you again?"
The skin between Rolfe's eyebrows crinkled, the way it always did when he was thinking. "Well…I could come here by mistake. With a telegram for Colonel Schneider! He's here from Berlin – " His lips clamped shut and a sallow shade suddenly spread across his face. "No one's supposed to know he's here!" His voice dropped to a hiss. "Don't tell your father, now."
Normally Liesl wouldn't have worried too much, but his eyes were darker now, the blue of them like a bruise. "Why not?" she asked hesitantly.
Rolfe swallowed. "Your father's so…Austrian."
She laughed, though there was a hollow ring to it. She knew that patriotism wasn't so rewarded anymore in Austria, but not wanting to talk about such things, she merely said "We're all Austrians!"
"But some people think we ought to be German, and they're very mad at those who don't think so." He replied matter-of-factly. "They're planning to –" Here he stopped, biting his lip. The words hung fragmentary and dark in the air between them, but all he said was "Let's just hope your father doesn't get in trouble."
Liesl felt as if a thread of frost had snaked down her spine. For a while now the Germans had loomed, threatening and maniacal in the distance like a storm. She didn't understand all the details of the situation, cooped up in the villa most of the day, but she'd heard the staff whispering about "Anschluss". Did Rolfe know something? Surely he isn't… no, of course not. He carries telegrams for a living, it's reasonable that he should hear of things. It doesn't mean he works with them. Liesl thought of her father, distant and cold in his fancy suits and trips to the Baroness, and her mouth set in a firm line. No, she wouldn't tell her father, just as Rolfe had asked. Father dear didn't want to hear from her, anyway.
"Don't worry about Father," she replied, bringing another smile to her face. Unpleasant things like annexations and politics didn't belong in her saccharine little world of moon and secrets and Rolfe. "He's a big naval hero. He was even decorated by the Emperor."
"I don't worry about him." He suddenly closed one warm hand over Liesl's. "But I do worry about his daughter."
Every part of her body was humming. He worries, he cares! "Me? Why?"
"Well," he fumbled over his words. She could feel the pulse in his wrist beat against her fingertips. "You're so –"
He laughed, his face turning pink. "Well, you're such a baby!"
Liesl felt disappointment course through her. A baby? That was the last thing she wanted to hear. Here she was, on the cusp of womanhood and childhood, and he was calling her a baby? "I'm sixteen. What's such a baby about that?"
Rolfe smiled tenderly. "You wait, little girl, on an empty stage, for fate to turn the light on. Your life, little girl, is an empty page that men will want to write on." He sang.
"To write on…" she echoed him, still a bit indignant from his "baby" comment. He may be sort of right. My life hasn't quite begun yet, but that's because I haven't yet had the chance, and I am prepared!
"You are sixteen, going on seventeen. Baby, it's time to think. Better beware, be canny and careful. Baby, you're on the brink." Rolfe stood up smartly and patted her shoulder. "You are sixteen going on seventeen, fellows will fall in line. Eager young lads and roués and cads, will offer you food and wine."
Liesl imagined being courted by all these men and smiled. She wondered if that was a flicker of jealousy she saw in his eyes at the thought?
He circled around behind her, grinning mischievously. "Totally unprepared are you to face a world of men."
Liesl looked behind her shoulder and her heart leaped at his sudden nearness. She instinctively leaned forward; there was only Rolfe and the moonlight spilling over the angles of his face, and the steady sound of his breath…
He swallowed and backed away, and the rest of the world rushed back into Liesl's focus. Nervous, are we? She thought, her heart still thudding. I'll get my kiss before the end of the night, Rolfe, just wait and see.
"Timid and shy and scared are you of things beyond your ken." He smiled teasingly and wagged a finger at her. "You need someone older and wiser telling you what to do. I am seventeen going on eighteen…I'll take care of you!" He put a hand to his chest in sincerity.
Liesl laughed and hugged him. She loved that he wanted to protect her, loved the way he made her feel like diaphanous-winged moths fluttered between her lungs; loved the feeling of his arms fitting perfectly around her. Oh, I love you. I want you beside me forever and ever. He spun her around, her gauzy skirt arcing in the air, then he stopped and held a warning finger in front of her face. He was just playing, she knew this. They always tended to run in circles around each other, so she played along. She crossed her arms, pouted. She grinned at the apologetic expression on his face, then tossed her head and started walking in the other direction.
The sky suddenly lit up, and Liesl felt something land on her head. Thunder grumbled and rain hit the bare skin of her arms in sharp splatters. Rolfe grabbed her hand and they ran into the gazebo as the rain began to fall harder and harder. He closed the doors, and she took a shuddering breath. They were alone. Together. Late at night, and they couldn't very well leave with the storm outside. Everything looked beautiful as the moonbeams hit the rivulets of water streaming down the glass walls that protected them. She smelled the clean, fresh, somehow melancholy scent of rain and every nerve in her body tingled.
Rolfe stood in front of the door, and time seemed frozen as Liesl looked at him. His strong chest rose and fell, every sloping angle of his form outlined with light from outside. His firm hands still clutched the door handles, and she saw her own tentative excitement mirrored by his features. The gazebo had become the entire world, and it was just her and Rolfe and the steady, absent pattering of rain.
Liesl was sixteen. She felt as if she were standing on the edge of a precipice high above the ground, gravity tugging on her, the stone beneath her feet steadily crumbling, and yet she was ready to fall. She wanted to know the ways of the world – and she had the feeling her knowledge was about to be expanded.
"I am sixteen going on seventeen. I know that I'm naive. Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet, and willingly I believe." She sang, and he grinned endearingly at her.
"I am sixteen, going on seventeen, innocent as a rose. Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies. What do I know of those?" She smiled at him, hoping to let him know she wasn't quite as naïve as she appeared.
Liesl walked towards him, hands behind her back. "Totally unprepared am I, to face a world of men. Timid and shy and scared am I, of things beyond my ken." She leaned towards him and began climbing her fingers up his shoulder.
Rolfe's face flushed and he turned the other way, but Liesl dashed in front of him and jumped onto the bench. She noted the impressed look on his face and continued to sing.
"I need someone older and wiser telling me what to do." Here she grew a bit shy. "You are seventeen going on eighteen. I'll depend on you."
Rolfe's expression softened with happiness. Liesl leaned forward, confident that this was the moment. Blood hummed to the surface of her skin. She wanted so much to understand the intricacies of love and relationships, and this, this kiss, would be one step closer...
She leaned too far forward and began to fall, the moment broken. But he caught her in his arms, and without even thinking about it, they began to dance. He held her hand as they ran in circles around the gazebo, they twirled and she grew dizzy. The rain dribbled against the glass, seeming to echo their heartbeats. They danced together and then apart, and finally they were sitting at opposite sides of the gazebo, their breathing heavy.
She stared at him.
He stared back.
There they sat, both of them filled with the strange restlessness and ardent desire to grow and explore that belonged to adolescence; for the moment locked together in this world where Liesl didn't have to be constrained in a drab uniform and could instead be a lovely thing of light and air. Never mind their two realities poised on the periphery of their little world, waiting to remind them about the less-than-fairytale things that surrounded only thing that mattered right now was the pull between them; so intimate and thrilling and grown-up, but foreign and disqueiting, too.
Liesl's nerves overtook her then; she felt like each one was yarn unraveling into anxious threads. They stood up, and tentatively danced. Without warning he was right in front of her, their lips close enough that one move would turn into a kiss. She wanted to kiss him so badly, but she was frightened, too. They moved away again, but inevitably found themselves facing each other.
His pulse – or maybe it was her own – was loud in her ears, drowning out even the rain. The world blurred, and suddenly his mouth was over hers, his warm hands on either side of her face. She tasted peppermint on his lips, and her entire mind seemed filled with light, and the world seemed like a dazzling, unrestricted place of wonder and this insanity called love. And all because of him, because the world was him and his mouth and his warmth -
Rolfe pulled back. They stared into each other's eyes – blue meeting blue – and then his face turned scarlet and he ran, out of the gazebo and into the pounding rain. Liesl was impossibly, deliriously happy, and she squealed with joy.
He loves me!
It was one o'clock in the morning, and Rolfe lay in the pitch dark on his bed, feeling sick to his stomach.
He wasn't entirely sure why. He wasn't entirely sure of much of anything. His eyes felt raw. The rain continued to pound against the windows and roof. When he'd been in the gazebo mere hours earlier, it had been a dreamlike, whimsical sound, but it sounded like people slamming their fists on the door, demanding, hunting him down. He imagined people with swastikas on their arms and flashlights in their hands bursting in and shining them into his eyes.
Are you in love with Liesl von Trapp?
I don't know, I don't know, maybe, probably, almost definitely
He rubbed at his eyes and rolled over. What was wrong with him? People aren't supposed to feel this confused after kissing a girl. And that's all I did. I didn't commit any crime.
About half of him was very happy. Half of him was glowing, bursting, because he'd just kissed a girl dressed in pink, a girl who was beautiful no matter where she was, who was beautiful just for him. Kissing her felt as natural as breathing.
But the other half of him was afraid that he'd made a very big mistake, and these two emotions – happy and afraid – clashed against each other so violently it turned into a frantic mess of paranoia.
She was Captain von Trapp's daughter, after all. Captain von Trapp didn't like the Führer, so Rolfe didn't like Captain von Trapp. His superiors had told him not to, and that was all there was to it. Of course, there had been a time when Rolfe didn't like the Führer either, but that was a time that was strangely difficult to recall. Rolfe furrowed his eyebrows; tried to remember. He had only been enlightened for…how many months was it now?
How very odd, that he couldn't think of a time when he hadn't lived for or wanted to die for Adolf Hitler. It was as if he'd carried Germany's truth under his skin for his entire life and it had suddenly awoken.
When he was 15 he had met a boy from Berlin named Gerhard, who was vacationing for several months in Austria. Gerhard was loud, reckless, and fun. The kind of person that gave you a bold, drunken feeling whenever they were around. They'd kept in touch ever since, and some months ago Gerhard had sent him a letter that was going to irreversibly alter Rolfe's life, though he hadn't known it at the time.
You need to come visit me in Berlin next week. I'm sure you could afford to miss school for a few days, and it's been so long since we've seen each other in person. My parents don't mind. Adolf Hitler is going to give a speech and I'd really like for you to come see it. I know a lot of you Austrians are probably a bit skeptical of him, but he's brilliant! He's an utter genius and you have to come. I would like to see you again, and for you to see our Führer!
- Your Friend, Gerhard
Rolfe had never much cared for politics. His mind was too busy with the adolescent troubles of schoolwork, friends, and future, so he decided to go to Berlin not for Hitler, but for Gerhard. Inwardly, he'd groaned at the thought of listening to Germany's leader rant about a country that wasn't his and that he therefore didn't care about. But if Gerhard really wanted him to, he'd manage.
He didn't remember much about his first few days in Berlin, either – he remembered looking down any street and seeing brash red flags with black swastikas in the center, waving merrily from the shops. But the only real parts he remembered of his week with Gerhard in Berlin were the Speech and the aftermath. The Speech that seemed as if it had dragged him out of freezing water he hadn't known he was drowning in, the Speech that made him wish he was a German.
It had been crowded, with maybe hundreds of people there. The room was blanketed in rich red flags that dwarfed even the massive audience; the swastika in their centers strangely hard to look away from. Rolfe had been sitting awkwardly with Gerhard and his 3 friends, whose names he hadn't bothered to remember. They'd all greeted him not with "Hello" but with "Heil Hitler!" and Rolfe didn't really know what to think of it. They hadn't spoken a single word to him since. He was surrounded on all sides by people and by Gerhard, his friend, but he felt alone, out of place. Among them, but not one of them. They'd been waiting for nearly an hour, and at that point, he'd just wanted to return to Gerhard's apartment and sleep.
"Is this ever going to start?" he'd hissed to Gerhard.
"Shut up, would you?" Gerhard had replied. "It'll start soon,"
Rolfe had fidgeted. He'd been annoyed, but his curiosity was growing. There must be something worthwhile about this if so many are willing to wait an hour just to see him talk.
Only a few minutes after Gerhard had reprimanded him, Germany's Führer was announced with a burst of loud, patriotic music. Something in the drums stirred Rolfe's blood, and despite himself, he'd felt excitement starting to flare. Adolf Hitler walked out onto the stage, and the arena suddenly exploded with applause. Rolfe had jumped, startled. Beside him Gerhard was screaming "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!" Rolfe had been puzzled. But Hitler hasn't even said anything yet, he'd thought, clapping to be polite, but staring down the Führer with a critical eye. He doesn't look like anything remarkable. Adolf Hitler had appeared like nothing more than any ordinary man, with brown hair, a small mustache, and an eye color Rolfe couldn't distinguish.
It was the last time Rolfe would ever be able to look at Adolf Hitler and think "ordinary".
The Führer had stood still for about a minute, seeming to judge the audience, to figure out exactly who they were and what they needed to hear. The people had quieted down, and then he began to speak.
Rolfe found that later he couldn't remember many of the exact words Hitler had said, only the emotions that had stirred up in him; the images the Führer's words had painted in the air. He wouldn't be able to find any good way to describe it, but there was something about Germany's leader that was so compelling, so mesmeric he simply couldn't fathom how Hitler could possibly be wrong. Rolfe was enchanted. Suddenly he loved Germany more than his own country. Suddenly he saw so clearly the Jews and the Bolsheviks slinking about in the dark, plotting to suppress Germany and the great Aryan race. How dare they! Rolfe had never been anti-Semitic before, but now his eyes were open, and he saw how they truly were - immoral, cunning, untethered wanderers. It was suddenly so obvious that ethnic Germans were the superior race, and he was amazed that he'd never thought about it before. He saw the world as it would one day be, a world full of promise where everything was bright and clean and moral, and the Aryans had all the space they needed. Thoughts he'd never even thought before suddenly became the undeniable truth – the weaker countries must bow to Germany, the world belonged to the strong, the Jews had to go, Adolf Hitler had been given to the people by God.
Rolfe suddenly felt ashamed of being Austrian. He wished he was German more than just about anything in that moment. The entire audience was mesmerized, caught under a spell by the sheer force of Hitler's emotion and the flaming of his china blue eyes. He was a brilliant, messianic figure, contrasting sharply against the crimson of his flags, words pouring from his mouth in gleaming blazes of beauty and glory that seared the very hearts of the crowd. And when the speech was over, the people rose from their seats as one and applauded, although it was less like applause and more like hysteria. Rolfe had clutched Gerhard's arm and he realized suddenly that he was crying. All around him were faces staring up at the Führer with an almost inhuman adoration, and everybody was screaming at the top of their lungs, and without even making the conscience decision to, Rolfe had begun yelling "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!" He melted into this single, fervent entity of white German faces and right arms stretching, stretching, stretching out to their Führer in a "Heil!" For minutes on end the air burned with the sound of screaming and "Heil Hitler!" soaring through the room like a hymn. Rolfe's throat grew hoarse, but what did that matter?
After they'd left, Rolfe had felt curiously drained, breathless. He heard "Sieg Heil!" with every beat of his heart. Gerhard wanted to go get drinks, and although Rolfe was normally wary of alcohol, he heartily agreed. He felt bold and daring. He wanted to be brave, just like a German soldier ought to be. He hadn't realized it yet, but his heart, mind, and soul were in the palm of Adolf Hitler's hand.
The night was vivid. All of a sudden Gerhard's friends, whose names he didn't even know, seemed like the best people he'd ever met. They swaggered through the streets on their way to the bar, already drunk on patriotism and the Führer's brilliance. They snickered at the yellow stars painted on some unfortunate shops. They all grinned so wide it looked almost gruesome, and at random they might simultaneously shout "Heil Hitler!" and admire how it reverberated throughout the dark Berlin. They practiced marching. They laughed for no reason whatsoever because it seemed that the whole world was laid out just for them.
Rolfe drained several beers in a row, until his head was filled with stars and the streetlights blurred into each other. Gerhard smirked at him.
"I told you. Didn't I tell you it'd be brilliant?"
Rolfe smiled back and raised his bottle.
When he'd returned to Austria, his enthusiasm hadn't died down. At school he excitedly told everything to his friends. He showed them how the Nazis marched and how the Nazis saluted.
The Führer is the soul of Germany.
The Führer says Aryans are the master race.
The Führer says Aryans ought to have more living space.
The Führer says Jews are tainted and unclean.
The Führer says those Jews and Communists are trying to rule the world.
The Führer says -
His friends had cast sideways glances at each other, the edges of their mouths tilting down slightly. "You sure do talk about the Führer a lot nowadays, Rolfe."
Rolfe forgave his friends for not understanding. They'd know the truth in the end, and that was what counted.
For months on end the Nazi Party was all he could think about, but then he met a girl who was sixteen going on seventeen and it wasn't quite the same anymore.
There were two sides to his heart. One was all blood and honor, marching and heiling, red and black and Aryans and superiority and power. The other was moonlight and gazebos, telegrams and laughter, the scent of rain on the air and a girl.
A girl with creamy skin and dark hair, and blue eyes that stared into his so unflinchingly. A girl that was so pretty sometimes it hurt; a girl who was funny and sweet; a girl who looked at him like he was the answer to all her questions. She stood, teetering, on the brink between innocent childhood naivety and complex adult matters. Rolfe had no idea how a girl so small could create such big feelings inside him, feelings that made him want to run away and hold her forever at the same time. He made her head spin and her breath catch and her skin flush, and he loved doing that to her because that is exactly what she did to him.
He loved the way her eyes caught the moonlight, and how when she danced she looked weightless, and the way her brown eyelashes rested against a cheek smooth as a pearl when her eyes were closed.
She'd just looked so lovely in that light, gossamer dress, looking at him like he was the world, and he'd pressed her pink lips to his and forgot everything for just one moment, even the Nazis
and perhaps that's what frightened him the most.
Rolfe twisted uncomfortably in his sheets again. He was being ridiculous. She was just a girl. She may have been Captain von Trapp's daughter, but surely she didn't share her father's views? And if she did, he could always teach her the right thing, couldn't he? Why did he feel so afraid? (A small part of him whispered that if he was involved in something that made him fear terrible punishment after merely kissing a girl, perhaps he should get away from it as soon as possible. He pushed the thought away)
My superiors wouldn't punish me for liking Liesl von Trapp. She's not the same person as her father. He told himself. Why can't I have both Liesl and my position with the Nazis? Liesl deserves the world we're trying to create. The thought brought a smile to Rolfe's face. Yes, that's right. Liesl deserves this. I'm helping to get it for her, and when we do, she and I can be happy – together.
Soothed, he closed his eyes to sleep. Everything will be fine. I'll be fine and Liesl will be fine.
He honestly believed they would be.