i. "du sollst immer da sein, mir nah sein wie heut', bis ans Ende der Zeit"
Klara Wäscher had fallen in love with Alfred Ill faster than a "proper young lady" should have. She knew that was what all the older women in town whispered, what her father pretended not to hear on Sundays at church because he didn't know how to raise a daughter on his own.
For all that he had always professed to hate rumours, he'd been obsessed with staying in Güllen's good graces and keeping the "right" company. He’d told her to keep her head down after her mother had died, to not dishonour her memory. Klara had never known how to tell her father that her mother's priority had always been her daughter's happiness.
The fear of how fast she'd fallen was why she hadn't told Alfred "ich liebe dich" until he'd said it. Instead, she'd made him promise to never leave her, had promised "für immer und ewig" right back. He'd said it so easily, had said "ich liebe dich" so easily when they finally did confess their love.
It had always made her both sad and the slightest bit envious how lightly some people could say those words, how simple it was for some people to make promises. She'd always guarded her heart carefully, thinking it was safer that way.
It had worked until Alfred had barreled into her life, a wink and smile tossed across the room after another inane mandatory town hall meeting, and she was, in a word, lost.
They'd met behind school at first, him waiting at the edge of the long-abandoned football field for her to come running the moment class ended every day. He'd given her a pet name one day when she’d been particularly restless, long since ready for summer to start and faster than usual in crossing the empty lot.
"Mein Wildkätzchen," he'd murmured fondly, twirling a lock of her long wavy red hair around his fingers, his other arm slung around her shoulders. She'd practically been dragging him along, headed for the Platz an der Sonne Hütte, but had stopped rather suddenly at his words.
"Mein schwarzer Panther," she'd returned, beaming up at him, admiring his dark hair and thinking of the way he took on the world like it was his to conquer.
In the early days, they'd talked for hours, about everything and nothing. About his dreams for the future, of making it out of Güllen and making it big in the world. About the need she felt to create something that was entirely her own, that couldn’t be taken away from her on a whim.
When summer began, they'd made their way out into the woods, the empty glade their new Lieblingsort. She'd let him kiss her for the first time there, leaned back against the wood of the old Peterschen barn, his lanky frame blocking most of the sun from her eyes as he tilted his face down towards hers and tentatively brought their lips together.
Afterwards, he'd pulled away, a faint blush creeping up both their faces, and she'd tugged him back by the hem of his shirt. Had stood on her toes until she could reach around his neck and hold him. Her hand had briefly cupped his chin and skimmed across the stubble that she couldn't help but love, even if it had scraped her jaw when they kissed.
He'd held her hand tightly as they'd made their wandering way back, his scuffed old work boots clearing a path for them. She'd have barely noticed if the world had ended at that moment; her world had narrowed to the man who'd made her feel more carefree than she had in years.
She was in love a week after that first kiss and the promises they'd made when they finally separated at the edge of the woods.
ii. "du sollst meine Braut sein im schneeweißen Kleid"
He was in love a month after their first kiss, he'd told Klara later. A month of her waiting in the woods each day for him to finish work in the Blumhard shop. A month of moonlit picnic dinners and kisses before they both went back to their houses. Hers one devoid of emotion, his holding a brand of affection that relied on calculating how useful you'd been to the household.
That was why he needed to get out, to become his "own man," away from his father's overbearing presence, he'd told her, eyes full of fire. She'd loved him even more for that, for the way he'd known exactly what he wanted out of life. At that point, she'd still been only half-certain of her future, only certain that he was in it.
Four weeks into summer, five weeks after school let out and they'd shared their first kiss, Alfred had asked her to meet him at their Lieblingsort much earlier than their usual time. She hadn't thought much of it, though she'd known his schedule by heart and was certain he should've been at work then.
She'd made her way into the little clearing, barefoot as always and wearing the new dress she'd just finished making. He'd been there first for once and had seemed uncharacteristically nervous, gazing into the distance and murmuring quietly to himself as his hands played with something she couldn't make out.
Klara had stared at him for a long moment, wanting to memorise how his softened and vulnerable features looked. She'd sighed softly, overwhelmed with how strong her feelings for him had been. Alfred had heard her quiet exhale and thrown her his sunniest smile, the one that made her world stop spinning but made her heart jump in her chest.
"Heirate mich," he'd said then, nearly falling on his face as he got down on one knee and held out a ring. An old family ring, she knew from pictures he'd shown her of various family members wearing it. It had taken her aback for half a second, both the shock that he’d actually proposed and that he'd gotten his family's approval (or so she'd thought at first).
She'd gasped out a "ja," tears filling her eyes, and he'd pulled himself to his feet and swept her into the air. His eyes had filled with a sudden heat and what she could only describe as hunger as he kissed her deeper.
The logical part of her mind had immediately left her when he'd laid her down softly in the moss, the only words left to them the other's name. Afterwards, Alfred had kissed along her jawline, her red curls fanned out over his chest, and whispered quiet nothings about starting a family, about building a home.
Klara had drifted off to sleep as he'd traced patterns on her shoulder, only waking up when the woods fell silent as night settled. She'd pushed at his shoulder until he woke up, grinning sleepily at her. It had taken them nearly an hour to make the short walk back into town, too dazed with love to really focus on anything other than each other.
"Es ist doch noch unser Geheimnis," he'd whispered about halfway back and she'd frowned slightly at him, surprised that he'd gotten the family ring if he didn’t have their approval. He'd kissed away the crease in her brow and promised her they'd tell their families "when the time was right" and she'd been unable to bring herself to argue.
At the edge of the woods, he had slipped the ring onto her finger and pressed a searing kiss onto her lips, both a memory and a promise that kept her smiling until she fell asleep.
iii. "und zu zweit teilen wir jedes Glück, jedes Leid"
Just over a month after Alfred's proposal, a few weeks into her final year of school, Klara had woken up feeling unusually lightheaded and sick to her stomach. She didn't have time to dwell on it, not when her father was snapping at her to get to school so he could leave for work.
It had been impossible to ignore, though, when it had taken her twice as long as usual to walk the short distance across town. When she'd barely made it through the day without passing out or throwing up, barely able to keep her lunch down with all the scents wafting through the courtyard. Those had been her first signs that something was different, that her life was changing.
The second sign and the piece of evidence she couldn't refute had hit her when she realised she'd missed her cycle the month before. It could've been marked up to a summer spent outside in the woods, not stuck in a classroom all day. She'd been fairly sure this had happened over the summer before.
All the signs individually could have meant nothing on their own. She'd always gotten a cold at the start of the school year, after all. But all the little pieces had come together in a way that could only mean one thing.
Klara Wäscher, the girl everyone had laughed at for never having kissed a boy at age sixteen, was pregnant with Alfred Ill's child. Alfred, the most popular boy in his year and "the most promising young man in town," according to anyone who mattered.
She'd told him the next day, feeling uncharacteristically shy as she walked across the main square towards him. He'd shouted with joy (attracting the attention of the older couple exiting the shop nearby) and swung her around before setting her down achingly gently, as if she'd suddenly been made of glass.
They'd agreed this was the perfect time to tell their parents. To finally stop having to sneak around in corners of the schoolyard and hiding in the woods. He'd promised her that they would figure it all out, that he would marry her, and that now all they had to do was tell the world.
There was nothing stopping them from marrying now, from building a family and letting life take them wherever they were meant to go, she had thought. She'd seen it so clearly, them and their little girl (because some instinct had told her they were having a daughter).
He'd had a far-off look in his eye that she had thought meant he was imagining the same. Picturing their future, whatever ups and downs they’d make it through together, as a family. Whatever they would’ve faced together, she’d have considered it a success. She’d always been told that happiness was success.
She’d always known success meant material wealth to him but she’d thought he could achieve that even if he’d married young. Thought that maybe, even if he didn’t get that, he’d be happy staying in Güllen, if she could make it into the home both of them had always wanted.
What she never could have imagined was that Geld schlägt Moral in a one-track mind like his. Like the minds of most people in Güllen, she’d eventually come to realise.
It wasn’t something she could have known at that moment. Not when he had looked at her like she’d hung the stars in the sky, like she was his entire world. Not when the look in his eyes had truly matched the level of passion that had always been in hers. Not when he hadn’t yet shown her who he truly was.
"Für immer und ewig, meine Kläri," he'd whispered into her hair after they had kissed goodbye for the evening, hand resting lightly over her stomach.
iv. "Liebe, sie schenkt uns den herrlichsten Traum"
Her father had taken the news horribly, worse than Klara could've expected. He'd yelled for hours about how angry he was with her, how she should've known better than to end up in this situation. How angry he was at Alfred for doing this to her.
At that, she'd tried to talk him down ("Ich liebe ihn doch!") and he'd lapsed into a stony, cold silence. Not even assuring him that Alfred would marry her, that she had the ring to prove it, had gotten him to look at or speak to her again. The silence in their house had felt heavier than usual that night and she'd barely slept, most of the night spent dreaming of her future with her family.
Alfred had promised to meet her at their Lieblingsort in the woods the next day, both of them less busy than usual on the holiday weekend. Klara had arrived shortly after breakfast, too eager to get out of her house and hopeful he'd take her mind off everything that had gone wrong, that he’d make her feel better and make her father’s wrath seem not so terrifying.
She'd waited for hours, sitting on the old fallen tree until it had started raining, and then hiding in the barn until the light rain had passed. He hadn't shown up by noon and so she'd made her way back into town, taking the long way that would let her go past his house.
She was nearly past, resigned to going back without seeing him, when he darted out from the side door and headed straight for her. When he pulled her into his arms, she couldn't help but cry as he’d murmured into her hair that he'd been kept in all day. That his parents had been working out "what to do," despite the promises they knew he'd made.
Klara hadn’t seen him for nearly two months after that, kept busy with school and ordered not to go anywhere but class and their house by her father. Even if she had been able to get away, something in her had told her that he’d changed, that he wasn’t her Alfred anymore, not since the day he’d broken his promise to meet her.
Almost without her noticing, her morning sickness had disappeared as she neared the end of her first trimester and it had become more obvious that she was pregnant. When her father had noticed, he'd demanded she stay home, still worried about what Güllen thought of them after all this time. It had allowed Alfred to finally stop by one day while she was at home alone, books spread over the kitchen table because she refused to fall behind.
He'd looked distant, almost cold, when he saw her, only the slightest flicker of emotion in his eyes. She'd seen his father hovering outside the door and thought she understood why he wouldn’t come closer until he spoke.
"Ich kann dich nicht heiraten, Klara," he'd said, ice in his voice, and she'd felt her world tilt off its axis. Before she’d even begun to think of an answer, he’d been leaving, his father already several paces away and not waiting.
Alfred had paused for the briefest second in the doorway once his father was out of earshot and turned to look at her, his eyes a fraction warmer. The words that had left his mouth had been ones she would have loved to hear in any other context but had left her feeling even more lost in that moment.
"Ich liebe dich zu sehr, um dich zu heiraten," was the sentence he’d left her with, a single tear running down his face as his words shattered her dream of their future into little pieces.
v. "Liebe kann seh’n, versteh’n und verzeih’n, Liebe sagt ja statt nein"
It didn't make sense, was the conclusion Klara had come to after she'd dried her initial tears over his abrupt break-up. If Alfred truly loved her too much (and she’d still been certain then that he did), he'd have married her. Taken her to the chapel and said "ja," promised her "für immer und ewig" in front of everyone in Güllen.
There was no way to hold him to a spoken promise of marriage, she learned when she went to the courthouse early one morning while her father was hungover and still asleep. The elderly woman working at the desk had taken one look at the ring she was twisting around her finger and her ever-growing baby bump and slid a single sheet of paper over the desk, a sympathetic look in her eye.
"Antrag auf einer Anerkennung der Vaterschaft" were the crisply typed words she’d read when she’d reached the relative privacy of her room and unfolded the paper. It had broken her heart that this was the only way to try to get him back, her erste und einzige wahre Liebe.
The form had been astonishingly simple to fill out, just both their names and the presumed date of birth. She'd filled it out and then left it in her dresser drawer for close to another month before the final spark of hope that Alfred and his family would change their minds had burned out for good.
When she'd taken it back to the courthouse, there had been a gruff young man a few years her senior at the desk, his nameplate a hastily folded piece of paper with "Matthias" scrawled on it. Klara was fairly certain he'd been Alfred's friend but hadn't been able to ask about him. Not when Matthias had shoved her paperwork onto a huge stack and then smirked knowingly at her four-month pregnancy. All she'd been able to do was walk home as fast as possible and wait for whatever came next.
Two weeks after submitting the form, she had gotten her court date, set for two weeks from the date of the letter. Her father had crumpled the envelope in one fist, still not looking at her, and muttered something that sounded like "stubborn girl, just like her mother" on his way out to the bar.
There had been something almost reassuring about being compared to her long-gone mother, a woman who had dedicated her entire life to her family. Maybe there'd been the slightest glimmer of hope that she could fix everything, (re)build the family she'd always wanted, if Alfred would recognise her child.
The day of the trial had been the worst day of her life. Alfred had shown up, one parent on either side, Mathilde Blumhard trailing a few feet behind. If she'd heard the rumours right, they were engaged now, and she hated to think of him flirting at work and turning around right after to find her waiting in the woods.
What she hated more was how easy it was to picture him playing with both hers and Mathilde’s emotions. It had become so clear, mere moments into the trial, that love was a game for him. That he'd say or do whatever it took to get ahead in the world. He’d told her as much all those months ago, but she hadn’t realised until now just how far he’d go, just how deeply his family’s calculations of people’s utility was ingrained into his worldview.
Honest emotion meant nothing to all of them, she’d realised when front desk Matthias and Alfred's best friend Gerhard had stepped forward to testify. They had lied and no one else would see it or believe her because, to them, she was "just a girl" who'd been "unbelievably stupid."
The last thing she’d seen as the gavel fell was Alfred's back disappearing as she’d screamed "Nein! Nein!" into an empty courtroom.
vi. "wenn dir deine Welt zerbricht, baut die Liebe sie neu"
When Klara had managed to refocus on the room around her, it had only taken a second to remember her future here was gone. She’d been certain the whole thing had been rigged, since no one had looked at her for the entire trial, but it hardly mattered.
Not now that her world had been shattered by the man she’d loved and by a single decision that left her utterly alone. She couldn't go back to the house she'd grown up in and she’d never had anywhere else anyways. Nowhere she’d ever felt safe.
Except for the woods and the Peterschen barn. She hadn't been out there since Alfred had proposed but it was the closest place she'd ever had to home and so it was there that she’d gone. Across nearly all of Güllen, not a single person daring eye contact with her.
She'd collapsed against the side of the barn, legs sore, shoes kicked off along the way, dress somehow still mostly clean. It had struck her that this was exactly how she'd looked the day he'd proposed to her, the day this had all started, and that was what had broken the dam holding back her tears.
He'd found her there hours later, tear tracks drying on her cheeks, an oncoming headache pounding in her temples. At a jerk of his thumb, she'd followed him into the barn, "for privacy" he'd said, as if anyone else ever came out this far into the woods.
"Versteh' doch endlich!" he'd pleaded, plying her with all his pretty words about how he couldn't, wouldn't, hold her back from her future. Her future had only ever been him from the moment they'd kissed and it had stung to realise that he’d never understood that.
Without entirely wanting to, she'd started to wonder how much he'd ever meant anything he'd said. If he'd ever actually meant it when he said he loved her, when he said he'd marry her.
"Hast du mich jemals geliebt?" she'd asked, staring at the ground and voice trembling. His shoes had come into view as he'd stepped towards her and she'd noticed how new they were, how they matched Mathilde's father's exactly. That had told her all she'd needed to know about what he wanted out of marrying Mathilde and her stomach had twisted with pity for the other girl.
Alfred had tugged her towards him and Klara had pulled away, unable to bear being so close to him. He'd growled low in his throat as she did and then shoved her away, as if pushing her away physically could do the same to whatever emotions he'd ever felt for her.
She'd been thrown off balance as his hands met her shoulders and had crashed into the ground hard. Her left wrist had twisted at an awkward angle and there'd been a terrible cracking sound from her left leg. What had caused her tears to start yet again, though, was the way her stomach hurt and the fact that she couldn't feel the baby kicking anymore.
"Es war ein Unfall," he'd gasped out, staring down at her as an impossible amount of blood spread over the barn floor. Then she’d seen the brutal calculation happen, watched him decide he could get away with leaving her. He’d gone and she’d been left more alone than ever.
The bleeding had slowed by sunset and she'd forced herself up, forced her broken leg to get her to the train station. She'd gotten on the train, taunts from the people she'd passed resounding in her ears. She'd always known Güllen was cruel, perhaps heartless, but she'd always had someone's love to keep her world intact. Until now.
The only thought left to Klara as the train had sped away was that she would come back one day to settle the score of the scars Güllen had left on her.