Before Ever After

Free Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

Book: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto Read Free Book Online
Authors: Samantha Sotto
and he rubbed it clear. Then he saw her. Standing in front of him, beneath the layer of grime and desperation, was his dead comrade’s wife. He nodded, unable to tell her she would not find Stephane.
    The rain was falling harder now. Isabelle searched the drenched faces of the two hundred Communards gathered at the cemetery. Filth and fear made them all look the same and yet glimpses of a familiar eye, ear, or tip of a nose made her throw herself into the arms of a startled stranger. A blast tore her from her quest.
    The Versailles army ripped through the gates and opened fire. The cemetery’s defenders fell into the mud. Bayonets sliced through their clothes and found their flesh.
    Isabelle ran, slipping in the sludge of soil and blood. She tripped over a broken headstone, tumbling against the foot of a carved angel. She glanced up. Its gray face was a blur through the rain in her eyes. It held out its hand. She grasped her answered prayer. It was rougher than she thought marble would be. And warmer. She remembered where she had first felt its touch.
    “Hurry.” The thin boy from the barricade pulled Isabelle to her feet. “This way.”
    They ran hand in hand toward a small mausoleum. Its iron gate hung from its hinges. They crept inside and pulled the gate closed. They huddled behind it, unable to breathe.
    The sound of gunfire swelled. Isabelle held the boy tight, waiting for it to fall on them.
    And then it ebbed.
    Isabelle shuddered in the lull. It was then that she could hear what was really happening outside. Shouts. Scampering. Surrender. And then more shots—deliberate and cold. But even that faded with the rain. The cemetery grew quiet.
    Footsteps nearby broke the silence in the crypt.
    Isabelle and the boy clung to each other, trembling as one.
    “We are safe here.” She pulled the boy closer, pressing him against the child growing inside her. She did not like lying to either of them.
    Wet grass and mud sloshed under the heels of heavy boots.
    Isabelle felt a wet heat flow through her dress, soaking her skin. The boy looked down in embarrassment at the urine on his trousers.
    “It will be all right.” Isabelle reached for his hand. His fingers were clenched around the brick from the barricade. It cut into his palms. She wondered if he had ever let it go. His will to live was stronger than hers. It was her turn to feel ashamed. Tears welled in her eyes and rolled down her face.
    The boy wiped her cheek and looked into her eyes. His smile was back, less shy and more determined. It quivered with the last of his courage. “Do not cry,” he said softly. He gripped the brick tighter. “I … will protect you.”
    Isabelle saw the boy speaking, but it was her father’s voice that she heard coming out of his mouth. She still believed her papa’s words: parents were supposed to keep their children safe. But she was not a child anymore. The boy huddled next to her, however, was. She took her locket and slipped it over his head. Its charms clinked softly, the sound of her faith in the man who had never let her down. “My father gave this to me,” she whispered. “It will keep you safe. I promise. Papa will come. He will save us. You’ll see.”
    The boy clutched the locket and looked up at her. Isabelle had never seen eyes filled with so much trust. She reached out to stroke his cheek. A sharp pain stabbed her womb. She gripped her stomach and screamed. The terror of hearing her voice echo in the mausoleum was almost worse than feeling her thighs grow sticky. Boots trampled nearer, summoned by her cry. She looked down at her skirt and watched it turn crimson. It was a comrade’s blood, she told herself. It had to be. But as it pooled thick and hot beneath her on the floor, she could no longer pretend. Her child, the one she hoped would have Stephane’s smile and her eyes, was gone.
    Isabelle could hear the soldiers searching the crypts nearby; it was only a matter of time before they were discovered. In

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