Summer 1918, Copenhagen
Emilia’s heart was heavy as she looked out the window. The sun was shining brightly on the gardens across the street, but she could not venture out to feel its warmth. The officials had announced the city-wide quarantine that afternoon. All Emilia wanted was to be home. She had come to visit her cousin Vicki and cousin-in-law Felix, but she had not intended to be here through all this. The influenza outbreak had come on suddenly, and everyone in the house was uneasy. To make it worse, Felix’s younger brother Micah was there as well, and he and Emilia were not on good terms. Four years ago they had been engaged, but Emilia had broken it off due to her parents' insistence. They had not approved, and she had wanted so much to make them proud. Ever since then Emilia had felt like she had made a terrible mistake that she could never fix, but slowly the pain of losing the man she loved had numbed and life had gone on, as it does. Now they were stuck in the same house together. Micah had come to talk to Felix about the family business, and while he was there an officer had come to tell everyone to stay in the house until further notice. If Micah had left but a few minutes earlier, they would not be in this predicament. Emilia would just have to do her best to avoid him as much as possible. They were certainly snug in Felix and Vicki’s home, along with their four children.
“Dinner will be ready soon, Emi,” Vicki said entering the parlor where she sat.
“Yes, I’ll dress.” Emilia said, her heart dropping again as she realized it was selfish of her to feel sorry for herself about being here when there were so many who were ill, and in far worse situations.
Forgive me, Lord. Emilia sent up a silent pray for the sick.
She left her cousin and started up the stairs. Once in her room, she dressed quickly for dinner, caring very little how she looked. Then she made her way back downstairs for the evening meal.
The children were allowed to eat with the adults, and it made the meal more cheerful. Their sweet faces showed no sign of concern for the things happening without their doors. Emilia smiled as she remembered a time when she too was that carefree. Now everything was different. She had lost the man she loved because of her own foolishness, she thought as she looked across the table at him. His blonde hair fell over his forehead, and his eyes focused on anything but her. She had disappointed her parents, despite trying so hard to please them. One of her father’s colleagues had proposed to her the year before, and though her parents had urged her to accept and she almost had, she had ultimately declined, knowing she could not spend her life with someone she did not love. She had come here to get away from all of that for a time, unknowingly plunging herself into more trouble. At least at home all she had to contend with were her parents, and usually they didn’t even speak to her unless they had to.
Emilia chastised herself again for focusing on her own problems too much.
“Will this change your plans of going to America, Micah?”
Emilia’s head shot up at Vicki’s question, and she couldn’t help but look across the table at Micah.
He cleared his throat and said quietly, “I don’t know yet.”
Micah glanced at Emilia for a moment, and then looked away just as quickly.
Even from that small acknowledgement on his part, she felt her cheeks heat.
Even at almost twenty-five years old, she was still as silly as she had been the first time they met.
And just as in love.
Emilia quickly pushed the thought away. The rest of the meal passed by, and then she and Vicki went into the drawing room with the children.
Though the custom of separating after a meal usually annoyed Emilia, for once she found it a welcome release from the tension that had failed to dissipate over the meal.
“Are you well, Emi? You don’t seem like yourself. Usually you’re so lively and uplifting.”
Emilia looked at her cousin as tears came to her eyes, and Vicki looked back at her knowingly as she realized what was the matter.
“Oh dear,” Vicki said, moving closer to her. “After all this time?”
“Nothing has changed for me.” Emilia said as she began to cry. She couldn’t stop the tears once they had come, and when she heard the men drawing nearer the door, she hurried to the other side of the room and stood in front of the window.
Emilia tried to regain her composure and stop the tears that streamed down her cheeks, but memories of her romance with Micah kept coming to her mind.
She heard his soft voice behind her, and she hurried to wipe her tears away and took a deep breath.
“Emilia, are you alright?” Micah approached her and stood by her side. His face showed concern, and Emilia forced a smile and said, “Yes of course, I was just thinking of all the sick people. I wish there was something I could do for them. I feel so useless stuck inside this house.”
“Your being stuck inside this house is helping. It’s the best way to stop the spread.” Micah offered a small smile, and Emilia couldn’t help but smile back. He had never been unkind to her; even when she had broken both their hearts he had still been cordial. But he had seemed cold, and this was the first bit of warmth she had felt for him in a very long time.
“What is in America?” Emilia knew she should not ask, but she couldn’t help herself. The thought of him being so far away nearly broke her heart, and she was afraid she would start crying again for a moment.
“Father has an old partner there, he offered me a job. I haven’t decided if I will take it yet.”
Emilia wanted to tell him not to go, or to take her with him, but she simply nodded, knowing that nothing she said could change the past.
“Excuse me, Emilia.” Micah walked away, leaving Emilia alone once more.
When the clock struck nine, Emilia bid everyone good night and made her way to her room. Once there, she changed into her nightdress and slid beneath the covers, ready for this day to be over, and hoping she would be able to sleep soon.
Emilia awoke and opened her eyes, finding that it was still dark outside. A soft knocking sounded at her door, and she hurriedly wrapped a shawl around herself and went to the door.
She opened it to find Micah in his dressing gown standing before her.
“Micah! What is the matter?” Emilia searched his eyes as her concern grew. Had something happened?
“I could not sleep, Emilia. I must make you know my feelings for you, and I hope to know yours for me. If you truly do not love me, speak now, but know that my feelings for you never changed. I have always loved you, even after you broke off our engagement. Tell me, give me hope.” Micah took a breath and looked into her eyes.
“I…” tears came to Emilia’s eyes and she whispered, “I never stopped loving you. There has not been a day, not a moment that went by that I didn't regret not marrying you when I had the chance.”
“Let me give you the chance now.”
“I never dared to hope that you could forgive me, that you could love me still.”
Emilia could say no more for the tears of joy that choked her. Micah wiped her cheek with his thumb and said, “Will you marry me, Emilia?”
“Yes,” she said. It was barely a whisper, hardly a breath, but that one word brought her more happiness than any other ever had. That one word meant that she would finally have him, her love.
Micah bent down and kissed her softly, smiling against her lips as he pulled away.
“When?” Micah asked.
“When? As soon as we can. As soon as the quarantine is lifted. Take me away, to America or anywhere.” Emilia took his hands and held them against her heart.
For the rest of the night they talked of their future, whispering promises and plans to each other as the sun rose.
In the morning they walked down the stairs hand in hand to announce their engagement — once again.
This time she would not be swayed. This time she knew the value of Micah’s love, and she would cherish it forever, until the end of her days.