Lena clung to the wedding dress, watching through a blur of tears as Jesse turned to wave goodbye. With one last, tender smile, he was swallowed into a sea of uniformed soldiers. The shadow of war had fallen upon them, and though Jesse had promised he would return for her—he could not say when. Lena wondered if she could endure the uncertainty.
As anxious thoughts flooded her mind, she fought to remember the words Jesse had spoken before leaving.
“Wait for me.” His voice was firm as his embrace. “Prepare for my return. You will adorn yourself with ivory, we will be one, and we will celebrate with a great banquet. Until then, I’ll be fighting for you—and for our people.”
After Jesse’s troop completely disappeared from view, Lena carefully placed the dress in its box. It was Jesse’s gift to her: a promise of his return. She vowed to preserve it until that day. Holding the box close to her heart, she headed down the narrow road that led home—unaware she was being followed.
“You’re beautiful as ever, Magdalena.” The familiar voice startled her. There was only one who called her by that name.
“How did you find me?” She strained to keep her voice from trembling.
“I never lost sight of you.” Niko stepped from the shadows, eyes glowing in the dim moonlight.
Lena’s eyes wandered to the broken cross tattooed on his shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve missed you.”
Before Lena could find the words she was looking for, Niko took her by the arm. “Let’s go somewhere. Have some fun, like old times.”
Lena did not resist. Holding the box loosely at her side, she allowed him to lead her to the pub at the edge of town—where she had spent much of her former life. The lights were dim, and the music drowned her ability to think.
They found a table in a darkened corner, and she absently set the box on the floor beside her. The waiter approached with a selection of drinks. Niko eagerly made his choice, but Lena hesitated.
“C’mon. One drink won’t hurt you.” Niko’s smile was captivating against his tanned skin. He looked to the waiter. “Make that two.”
Soon Lena was lost in the atmosphere. One drink became many; one dance become more. When it was time for the pub to close, someone handed her the box she’d almost forgotten. She didn’t notice the cover was torn and the dress inside, covered with stains. Holding loosely to the box, she followed Niko home.
The rest of the night was a blur. When she awoke the next morning—head throbbing with pain, she remembered the dress. Panic filled her heart as she frantically searched the room. It was gone. Lena fell to her knees.
“Looking for this?” Niko stood in the doorway, holding the stained dress in his hands. “I can’t imagine why. You’re not worthy to wear white. The stains are more appropriate.” Roughly tearing the dress, he threw it at her feet. “I never loved you…and now no one ever will.” And he left her—broken and scarred, on her knees.
Months passed, and Lena scarcely left her house. When she wasn’t sleeping, she was in her garden—staring vacantly at the sea of colors before her. One day in early spring as she was sitting near the lilies, she heard footsteps.
“Jesse?” She avoided his gaze.
“Lena, what’s happened?” Jesse lifted Lena’s chin and searched her eyes.
“The battle is among us. I’ve been here all along, fighting in our own streets. The enemy is after our own people. His army wears the symbol of a broken cross.”
Lena gasped. “You’re too late. He’s already come for me. My dress…it’s stained and torn, and so am I. I am not worthy of your love. For me, there can be no wedding—and no banquet.” Her tears fell softly.
Clouds of sadness fell upon Jesse’s compassionate eyes. “I’ve always been fighting for you, and I will not stop. There will yet be a wedding. And a banquet.”
“But, I’ve ruined my dress…”
“My father is a tailor. He specializes in making all things new. Only, you must be willing to shed your old life and put on the garments he’s prepared for you. Are you willing?”
Lena did not answer, but the silent tears that fell down her scarred cheeks revealed her heart. She was willing.
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