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5-B Poppy Lane
Cedar Cove, Washington
My dear Winifred,
You've been on my mind all week, and I decided the best thing to do was simply write. I'm much more comfortable with a pen in my hand than sitting at a computer, not that I have one. I do envy you and Clara communicating via the Internet, though. I got a kick out of Clara's e-mail address if that's the correct term. Clara@AppleButterLadies.com. Yours is obviously because of the secret codes you learned during the war. Unfortunately, those computer machines intimidate me. My granddaughter, Ruth, keeps saying they're not as difficult as they seem, but I don't know . . .
You remember my friend Charlotte Jefferson-Rhodes. She, too, has encouraged me to learn. She tried to persuade me to sign up for a computer class at the Senior Center, and I considered it for a time a brief time. But somewhat to Charlotte's chagrin, I decided I'm just too old and set in my ways. I find holding a fountain pen intensely satisfying, old-fashioned or not. I realize my reluctance is a disappointment to you and Clara, and I apologize. I agree it would be a wonderful way for us to keep in touch. The two of you are as dear to me as family. In my heart, you are family. After the war, it was you, and Sam, of course, who showed me that life was still worth living. I'm deeply indebted to you both.
Speaking of the war, I find myself thinking more and more about those years in France. I woke in a cold sweat last night, dreaming of Jean-Claude. I've never spoken to my children about my experiences during the Second World War because I didn't know how to tell them I'd been married before and that I'd loved a man other than their father. As you know so well, Sam was my hero, my second chance at love and life. He saved me, and gave me a reason to live. I'll always be grateful that he brought me to you and Clara. You are the sisters of my heart.
All these years, I've pushed the war memories into the depths of my mind, but now they're here again, unwanted and unyielding, refusing to leave. I'm thinking that perhaps I should write them down for the family to read after I'm gone. As you've so often said, they have a right to know. I'm beginning to agree with you.
Now enough about that! Let me go on to more pleasant subjects. The main one is your birthday. Your 80th! For years you bemoaned the fact that you were younger than Clara and me. I haven't heard you mention that lately. At any rate, your birthday's coming soon and it's the perfect opportunity for the three of us to get together. Winifred, just imagine eighty years. Who would ever have believed we'd live this long? I know I didn't. But then, I always assumed I'd die before Sam. That wasn't to be; God had other plans.
In any event, this is a special birthday and we should celebrate. Traveling isn't as easy for me as it once was, and I suspect it isn't for you, either, so that trip we always talked about the three of us going to Hawaii and Hong Kong is out. But we're not dead yet! I've still got some spring to my step and so do you! However, I doubt either of us could keep up with Clara.
What would you think if I booked us on the passenger ferry up to Victoria, British Columbia? It's spectacular there this time of year. We could stay at the Empress Hotel and tour Butchart Gardens. The hotel is lovely, and their high tea is not to be missed. I've already written Clara and suggested the three of us go there together. How does that sound? I'll wait to hear back from you before I make the hotel reservations.
I wanted to ask your impression of how Clara's doing. Losing one's life mate is devastating. It hurts so terribly, as you and I both know. Although it's been nearly twenty years since Sam died, he's still with me . . . still a part of me. I know you understand what I'm trying to say. Those first few weeks I was numb, and I know Clara probably is, too. I'm thankful her family's close by.
You asked about Ruth. Yes, my granddaughter's still living in Seattle, attending the University of Washington and working toward her master's in education. I was thrilled when I learned that she'd chosen to finish her schooling in Washington State in order to be closer to me. She's very good about staying in touch but can't visit as frequently as we'd both hoped. I'll give her a call next week and see if she can come to Cedar Cove for lunch. Ruth is a delightful child. Grandchildren are indeed a blessing. How fortunate you are to have three granddaughters. Three! Ruth is my only one and I feel especially close to her and she to me.
Do get in touch soon, and let me know if you can manage a trip to Victoria in June. The three of us will have a grand time! And since you're the youngest, Clara and I will expect you to carry the luggage.
Ruth Shelton hurried out of her classroom-management lecture at the University of Washington, where she was completing her master's of education degree. Clutching her books, she dashed across campus, in a rush to get home. By now the mail would have been delivered to her small rental house three blocks from the school.
"Ruth," Lori Dupont called, stopping her in the hallway just outside the door. "There's another antiwar rally this afternoon at"
"Sorry, I've got to run," Ruth said, flying past her friend and feeling more than a little guilty. Other students cleared a path for her; wherever she was headed must have seemed urgent and it was, but only to her. Since Christmas, four months ago, she'd been corresponding with Sergeant Paul Gordon, USMC, who was stationed in Afghanistan. There'd been recent reports of fighting, and she hadn't received a letter or an e-mail from Paul in three days. Three interminable days. Not since they'd initially begun their correspondence had there been such a lapse. Paul usually wrote every day and she did, too. They e-mailed as often as possible. Ruth had strong feelings about the war in Iraq, although her opinions didn't match those of her parents, who endorsed this undeclared war.
Earlier in the school year, Ruth had been part of a protest rally on campus. But no matter what her political views on the subject, she felt it was important to support American troops wherever they might be serving. In an effort to do that, Ruth had voluntarily mailed a Christmas card and letter to a nameless soldier.
Paul Gordon was the young man who'd received that Christmas card, and to Ruth's surprise he'd written her back and enclosed his photograph. Paul was from Seattle and he'd chosen her card because of the Seattle postmark. He'd asked her lots of questions about her history, her family, her interests and closed with a postscript that said he hoped to hear from her again.
When she first got his letter, Ruth had hesitated. She felt she'd done her duty, supported the armed services in a way she was comfortable doing. This man she'd never met was asking her to continue writing him. She wasn't sure she wanted to become that involved. Feeling uncertain, she'd waited a few days before deciding.
During that time, Ruth had read and reread his letter and studied the head shot of the clean-cut handsome marine sergeant in dress uniform. His dark brown eyes had seemed to stare straight through her and directly into her heart. After two days, she answered his letter with a short one of her own and added her e-mail address at the bottom of the page. Ruth had a few concerns she wanted him to address before she could commit herself to beginning this correspondence. Being as straightforward and honest as possible, she explained her strong feelings against the war in Iraq. She felt there was a more legitimate reason for troops to be in Afghanistan and wanted to know his stand. A few days later he e-mailed her. Paul didn't mince words. He told her he believed the United States had done the right thing in entering Iraq and gave his reasons. He left it up to her to decide if she wanted to continue their correspondence. Ruth e-mailed him back and once again listed her objections to the American presence in the Middle East. His response came a day later, suggesting they "agree to disagree." He ended the e-mail with the same question he'd asked her earlier. Would she write him?
At first, Ruth had decided not to. They were diametrically opposed in their political views. But in the end, even recognizing the conflict between their opinions, she did write. Their correspondence started slowly. She enjoyed his wry wit and his unflinching determination to make a difference in the world. His father had fought in Vietnam, he said, and in some ways this war seemed similar the hostile terrain, the unpredictability of the enemy, the unpleasant conditions. For her part, she mentioned that at twenty-five she'd returned to school to obtain her master's of education degree. Then, gradually, without being fully aware of how it had happened, Ruth found herself spending part of every day writing or e-mailing Paul.
After they'd been corresponding regularly for a couple of months, Paul asked for her picture. Eventually she'd mailed him her photograph, but only after she'd had her hair and makeup done at one of those "glamour" studios. Although she wasn't fashion-model beautiful, she considered herself fairly attractive and wanted to look her absolute best for Paul. Already he was becoming important to her. For years, she'd been resigned to the fact that she wasn't much good at relationships. In high school she'd been shy, and while she was an undergraduate, she'd dated a little but tended to be reserved and studious. Her quiet manner didn't seem to appeal to the guys she met. It was only when she stepped in front of a classroom that she truly came out of her shell. She loved teaching, every single aspect of it. In the process, Ruth lost her hesitation and her restraint, and to her astonishment discovered that this enthusiasm had begun to spill over into the rest of her life. Suddenly men started to notice her. She enjoyed the attention who wouldn't? and had dated more in the past few months than in the preceding four years. For the picture, her short brown hair had been styled in loose curls. Her dark-brown eyes were smiling and friendly, which was exactly the impression she hoped to convey. She was a little shocked by the importance of Paul's reaction by her need that he find her attractive.
She waited impatiently for his response. A week later she received an e-mail. Paul seemed to like what he saw in her photograph and they were soon writing and e-mailing back and forth at a feverish pace. A day without some form of communication from Paul felt empty now.
Ruth had never had a long-distance relationship before, and the intensity of her feelings for this man she'd never met took her by surprise. She wasn't a teenager with a schoolgirl crush. Ruth was a mature, responsible adult. Or at least she had been until she slipped a simple Christmas card into the mailbox and got a reply from a handsome marine sergeant named Paul Gordon.
Ruth walked quickly to the tiny rental house she shared with Lynn Blumenthal, then ran up the front steps to the porch. Lynn was eighteen and away from home and family for the first time. The arrangement suited them both, and despite the disparity in their ages and interests, they'd gotten along fairly well. With her heart pounding hard, Ruth forced herself to draw in a deep breath as she started toward the mailbox.
The screen door flew open and Lynn came out. "What are you doing home?" she asked, then shook her head. "Never mind, I already know. You're looking for a letter from soldier boy."
Ruth wasn't going to deny the obvious. "I haven't heard from him in three days."
Lynn rolled her eyes. "I don't understand you."
"I know." Ruth didn't want to get into another detailed discussion with her roommate. Lynn had made her feelings known about this relationship from the first, although as Ruth had gently tried to tell her, it was none of her business. That didn't prevent the younger woman from expressing her views. Lynn said that Ruth was only setting herself up for heartache. A part of Ruth actually agreed, but by the time she realized what was happening, she was emotionally involved with Paul.
"You hardly ever see Clay anymore," Lynn chastised, hands on her hips. "He called and asked about you the other night."
Ruth stared at the small black mailbox. Depending on his assignment duty, Paul didn't always have computer access and sometimes wrote letters instead. "Clay and I are just friends."
"Not according to him."
It was true that they'd been seeing each other a lot following a Halloween party last October. Like her, Clay Matthews was obtaining his master's of education, and they seemed to have a lot in common. But her interest in him had already started to wane before she'd mailed that Christmas card to Paul. The problem was, Clay hadn't noticed.
"I'm sorry he's disappointed."
"Clay is decent and hardworking and I think the way you've treated him the last few months is . . . is terrible." Lynn, who at five foot ten stood a good seven inches taller than Ruth, could be intimidating, especially with her mouth twisted in that grimace of disapproval.
Ruth had tried to let Clay down easily, but it hadn't worked. They'd gone to the library together last Thursday. Unfortunately, that had been a mistake. She'd known it almost right away when Clay pressured her to have coffee with him afterward. It would've been better to end the relationship entirely and forget about staying friends. He was younger, for one thing, and while that hadn't seemed important earlier, it did now. Perhaps it was wrong to compare him to Paul, but Ruth couldn't help it. Measured against Paul, Clay seemed immature, demanding and insecure.
"You said he phoned?" Frowning, she glanced at Lynn.
Lynn nodded. "He wants to know what's going on."