Twilight sent long shadows across the beach, the uneven sand holding the last glistening warmth of the sun. The waves gently rolled over the shore, as the first star of evening peeked its face through the clouds.
The couple was the last visitors to the beach. They still walked, the young woman's dress gently waving in the wind, and the young man's cap flapping over his dark locks as he held her hand. They almost seemed not to notice the darkening sky, the chilly wind signaling the end of the day.
The woman, clutching her straw hat with one hand and the young man's hand with the other, looked from the sea to the city on the other side. Her face, plump, yet strangely pale that day, stared wistfully out at the ocean.
"I wish you didn't have to go, Edward," she said.
"I wish I didn't either, Marianne," he replied, holding his wife's hand tightly, yet tenderly, as if it was a precious, fragile flower. "But they say the war should be over soon, and I'll be home again and we'll be able to live in our new little house in Concord."
"And fill it with children," she said, smiling, and leaning her head against his shoulder.
"Of course," Edward replied, but then looked down at his wife's face, which seemed very emotional all of a sudden. "What's wrong?"
"I'm going to have a baby, dearest," she whispered. "I didn't want to tell you, not right before you went off to the front, but it's true, and I thought it'd be best that you knew that you were a father before—if—"
"I'm not going to die, Marianne," he said firmly, bending down to kiss away her tears. "I'll come back, I promise you. And—and I'm so glad. I'll be able to come back then, to you, and to the baby."
"I don't want to be alone when it comes...what if..."
"I'll be back before then, I hope, but if not you'll be fine. You're a strong woman, Marianne Willis. That's why I married you."
Marianne nodded, but she didn't feel strong. As the waves crashed onto the Massachusetts shore, she realized her cheeks were not just damp from the saltwater spray. But she did not let her husband see. As he held her by the shore, and the twilight deepened on their last night together, she knew that she would have to be strong.
"Look, Marianne," Edward spoke up, bending down and picking up two objects sparking in the last light of the day. "Sea glass."
His wife looked at the two smooth stones in his large hand, one turquoise, the other emerald green. She smiled through her tears.
"They're beautiful," she said, taking the green one into her fingers. "Take the other to France with you, Edward. It will remind us of each other."
"Of course, dear," Edward said, bending to kiss her, as the sun set. "And you keep yours, and remember not to worry about me at all. It wouldn't be good for you."
"Then you don't worry about me," Marianne laughed, despite her pain.
He nodded, and they headed back up the beach. Marianne kept her eyes on her husband's face as long as she could, memorizing his narrow, flashing dark eyes, his tuft of brown hair falling over his forehead, his easy smile whenever he said something funny. She never wanted to forget.
Marianne did not worry. Every day, she looked at the smooth sea glass, and she thought of her beloved husband serving in the Great War, and she chose not to worry. The letters she received from him were many, once a week, and they helped her keep track of time. That and the growing child inside of her.
Edward's letters were funny, at times, and always happy. She could tell that he was hiding things from her, for war could not be as calm and good-natured as he made it out to be. But it was good to read about the pranks he played on his fellow soldiers, and the banter between the men. She wrote him back the same day she received a letter, always keeping her notes cheerful as well, or teasingly complaining about the baby kicking her or feeling fat or something silly.
Months passed; Marianne waited with a slowly fading hope. The baby was to be born soon, and the war was not over. She dearly wanted Edward to be there, to see his child as a newborn, but it did not seem as if it was to be.
And then, then it happened. The letters stopped coming. Marianne waited a week, wondering whether he had forgotten or it had been delayed. She waited another week. Nothing. And then a third week, finally a month. And then, one night, while she was rocking by the fire, resting her emerald sea glass on her bloated stomach, she heard a knock at the door.
She ran to it, wondering with some lost hope whether Edward would be there, whether perhaps he hadn't written because he was sent home. No, it was only her mother-in-law, who came in and sat her down gingerly in the rocking chair.
"I must tell you something," her mother-in-law said, holding Marianne's hand soothingly. "I've gotten a letter."
Marianne cried, then, as Edward's mother told her of the notice she'd received.
"He's missing in action," she said, as if that was any comfort. "That means they don't know where he is. He could be perfectly fine..."
Marianne knew what missing in action meant. She knew, because it meant that she would never see him again. They never returned. Missing in action was only a kind way of saying that they could not find his body, out on no-man's land probably buried somewhere where a shell had blown dirt all over. Or worse, there was no body left.
Her mother-in-law stayed the night, trying to provide some comfort. Marianne could not eat, nor sleep. She woke up many times, sobbing in the night whenever she remembered that Edward was never coming home to her. She clutched the sea glass in her hand, wondering if on some field a dead man lay with a similar piece, only turquoise, lying in his pocket.
The next day, Marianne felt the first pains of labor. She endured through the morning, and into the afternoon, but by evening her mother-in-law insisted on calling the midwife. Marianne did not very much care anymore, until the baby was born: a plump, dark-haired baby boy that looked so much like his father that both Marianne and Edward's mother cried as he was placed in his mother's arms.
"Edward would have loved him so much," Marianne whispered, pressing her lips to the baby's downy head. "We wanted to have a whole houseful of children. He would have been a wonderful father."
Her mother-in-law could only nod and agree.
Edward's mother left a week after the baby was born, to visit a sister of hers who had just lost her youngest son in France as well. Marianne was almost glad. She loved her mother-in-law, but it was hard to look at her, holding the baby like he was Edward all over again. She even wanted him to be named Edward, but Marianne would have none of it. Edward was her husband's name. So she named the baby Theodore, and affectionately called him Theo.
The two of them lived in the house, while the war went on around them, across the world. Every day, Marianne would hold Theo and look at photograph albums as she fed him, and then show him the piece of sea glass that his father had given her. Days passed, months passed.
One day, while Marianne was up before dawn to feed her son, Theo opened his eyes at her, and they were no longer their baby blue anymore. Marianne realized it had been five months since his birth. She also realized, looking into the dark, piercing gaze of her son, that his eyes were his father's.
"You're going to be a handsome young man some day, Theo," she cooed over him, as he sat in her arms while they rocked in her chair. "Oh yes you will, my boy."
Theo giggled, smiling a bright smile. Suddenly Marianne grew somber, a tear coming to her eye as she saw him give her that same look her husband used to give her when he thought something was funny. Suddenly she saw him, in twenty years, a young man, handsome, full of hopes and dreams. And then, war would come, war would send him to the front, steal his life, steal every last hope he had for love, for a life as an adult. Suddenly Marianne was crying again, sobbing into her son's baby gown. Theo looked at her, almost in shock that his beloved mother was crying. And then he began to wail as well, crying for comfort, as Marianne was crying for her husband, now nothing more than a memory. But finally, turning her attention to her son, she gulped her sobs down and swept him up to her shoulder, cuddling him, making promises, like the promise Edward had made her that he could not keep.
"Don't cry, baby boy," she crooned, bouncing him lightly as she got up to pace the room. "Don't cry, there's nothing to hurt you, nothing to make you sad right now."
She said most of these things to herself, then, and when Theo had settled she laid him down on the floor to sleep, and then collapsed next to him, tears streaming down her face. And then she fell into a troubled sleep.
Marianne saw her husband, standing there on the beach, the twilight casting shadows over his face, making him look weary, sick. The waves crashed behind him, dousing his hair with saltwater. She held out her hands to him.
"Edward," she called, reaching for him, yet clutching baby Theo to her at the same time. He said something back, but suddenly he was in a military uniform, turning to look at a darkening sky. Marianne could hear the thunder of shells, and screams, horrible screams of death.
"Edward, don't go that way," she pleaded, stepping forward, as Theo began to whimper against her. "Don't leave me, don't go!"
"I'll come back," Edward murmured, but his eyes seemed so hollow, as if he was dead already. "I'll come back, I promise."
He paused, only a moment, before lifting in a pale, withered hand a turquoise piece of sea glass. Then he walked away, as Marianne tried to run after him.
"Don't go!" she screamed, gripping her own glass, lifting it high, as if to remind him of his promise. "You cannot go, you cannot!"
But he did, and the darkness enveloped him, until she could see no more. And then she fell to her knees, sobbing again and holding her baby close to her, while looking with fear and fury at the darkness of war.
Marianne awoke, and felt a hard shape in her hand, and then an insistent prodding at her fingers. She saw Theo, who had rolled onto his side and was tugging at her thumb with his plump baby hand. Opening her hand and sitting up, she saw that she clutched the emerald-colored sea glass.
Theo gurgled, his eyes catching the light glinting off the glass at once. Marianne, calming herself with deep breaths, picked him up and smiled a little, letting him hold the piece, though taking care that he didn't put it in his mouth.
"That was your father's, Theo," she said, kissing his head. "Daddy's gift to me. Isn't it pretty? Your daddy always did have an eye for the beautiful in life, always. He would have loved you, because you're so precious and beautiful..."
Suddenly a light knock sounded at the door. Marianne glanced at the early morning light streaming through the front window, and the roses blooming outside in the June air, and she barely withheld a groan. It could not be past seven; why must her mother-in-law visit so early? Undoubtedly, it was some new tidbit of gossip from the city, which her mother-in-law thought humorous but would only bore Marianne. Nevertheless, it would be rude to ignore it, so Marianne hoisted Theo to her hip and went to the door, opening it and expecting to see her mother-in-law with a mouth already running with rumors.
Instead there was a soldier. A pale, sickly, soldier, whose hands over his crutch were thin and scarred and whose uniform seemed ill-fitting. His face was turned to the rosebushes as he leaned on his crutch, and Marianne was almost glad; she did not want him to see how she flinched at the sight of him. It was probably another old veteran begging for money after coming home wounded. But as the man turned, her breath caught.
His hair, under his cap, fell over his forehead in a familiar tuft. His eyes, dark and sharp with life, though duller now, still looked at her with a spark left. And as he grinned, Marianne could hardly keep herself from running at him. But no. It was impossible.
"Who are you," she gasped.
"I'm your husband, Marianne," the man said, still smiling and looking at her as if she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen before. "I'm your Edward."
"No, you're not. You're dead," Marianne murmured, tears coming to her eyes. She was dreaming. She knew it was true. Or else, they'd sent her somebody else, to trick her.
Theo suddenly giggled, and waved his hand towards the man. Something glinted in it, and Marianne realized it was the piece of sea glass, which she had forgotten about (luckily Theo hadn't eaten it). The man, spotting it as soon as she did, suddenly reached into his pocket, fumbling for something. And then, he brought it out: a piece of turquoise sea glass, shining brilliantly in the sun, even though it was worn smoother than ever with many affectionate touches.
Marianne let out a cry and threw her arms around Edward's neck, Theo between them. She nearly knocked Edward over, for he was unsteady, but then she laughed and grabbed his arm, supporting him as she nearly dragged him into the house.
"You didn't recognize me?" he laughed, kissing her tenderly before gazing at Theo as she settled him into a seat. "And who's this little rascal? Taking care of his mother while I'm away?"
"I named him Theodore, because you weren't there, and I thought you were dead the entire time, dearest," Marianne cried, nearly sobbing and laughing at the same time. "Here, hold him, he looks just like you."
Her husband took his son into his arms, and teasingly nudged her with his elbow.
"Thought I was dead?" he asked, as Theo looked from him to his mother confusedly. "When I promised I would come back? I was a little late, I guess, but didn't I come like I said?"
And then he told her of all that had happened, of the days and nights in the trenches, and then that fateful battle, when he was wounded and left in a crater made from a shell for three days. And when he was finally found, nearly dead, it was not even by his own side, but the Germans, who took him prisoner. But he recovered all right, in their prisoners' camp, he said, except for a little limp, and was able to come home as soon as the Americans reached the camp and liberated it.
"They wanted to make me stay longer in the hospital," he said, "but I insisted on coming home. I had to see you, to let you know that I was all right."
Marianna could say nothing, her throat choked with the joy and relief of knowing that her husband lived, that she was not a widow, and Theo was not an orphan. She looked at the green piece of sea glass in her hand, and then her husband's turquoise piece. Then she put them both on the mantel, as a sign of a promise kept, and two hearts reunited.