Joanna Trapp found adventure serving in France as a “Hello Girl” for the Army Signal Corps, but she still mourns her doughboy sweetheart killed in battle. Returning to Hot Springs, Arkansas, she takes a job as a switchboard operator at the Arlington Hotel and quickly discovers that after her experiences overseas, civilian life proves dull. Thomas Ballard still regrets he was medically ineligible to serve in the war and feels inferior to those who did, especially his war-hero brother, Gilbert. When Thomas finds himself attracted to Joanna, he strives to match her adventurous spirit, when all he really wants is to settle down, raise a family, and earn respect as a successful businessman. As romance blossoms, can two such different people learn to accept not only their own but each other's God-created individuality . . . or will love change them both?
About the Author
Myra Johnson is an award-winning author. She and her husband of 42 years proudly claim two beautiful daughters, two fine sons-in-law, precious grandchildren, and a pair of playful pooches. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Learn more about Myra and her books at MyraJohnson.com.
Read an Excerpt
Every Tear a Memory
By Myra Johnson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Myra Johnson
All rights reserved.
October 8, 1919
Jack's letter, still unopened, accused her from atop the dresser. Hard to ignore her name pressed deeply into the vellum in her brother's precise cursive, but Joanna Trapp wasn't in the mood for more depressing news from the home front. Not today.
After securing unruly straw-yellow curls off her face with tortoise-shell combs, she turned from the mirror and glanced at her friend Véronique, snuggled in a narrow bed beneath a faded quilt. No reason to wake the sleepyhead. Joanna had planned all along to face this day alone.
Pulling on a thick wool sweater, she slipped out of the tiny bedroom they'd rented at a local pension and crept down the narrow stairway. Aromas of baking bread, sizzling ham, and buttery eggs wafted from the kitchen, but Joanna had no taste for food. As she stepped through the front door, a brisk breeze whipped strands of hair across her cheeks. She tugged the sweater tighter around her and picked up her pace. Not for the first time she wondered if coming here had been a mistake.
She hadn't been out of the house five minutes before footsteps thumped the hard-packed dirt road behind her.
"You did not wait for me, ma chère."
Véronique's breathless reprimand halted Joanna's steps. She turned with a guilty smile. "You were sleeping so peacefully. I hated to wake you."
Catching up, Véronique linked her arm through Joanna's. "I told you I would be with you today. We go together, oui?"
"Oui. Et merci." Utterly useless to argue with a friend as determined as Véronique. Drawing a bolstering breath, Joanna resumed her purposeful march.
The rolling expanse of the Champagne, pockmarked by grenades and artillery shells, stretched in all directions. Pale sprigs of sprouting winter grass barely concealed the scorched earth. The ruins of stone barns and farmhouses stood like tilting obelisks marking this place of death and devastation.
Joanna and Véronique kept to the road, avoiding the detritus of battle—shell casings, rusting mess kits, rotting boot leathers, sad reminders of the lives lost here. Ahead, the land sloped gently toward Blanc Mont Ridge, where a ragged copse of trees reached skyward. A dusting of autumn-hued leaves adorned skeletal branches but failed to disguise the blackened, disfigured trunks. How long would it take for time and nature to erase the ugliness of war?
Joanna's gaze followed the arcing tree line until she spied the remains of a trench. She stopped suddenly and pressed a hand to her stomach. With her other hand she gripped Véronique's. Three tiny words nearly choked her: "There it is."
Véronique pressed her temple to Joanna's and released a mournful sigh. Together they stood in the road, silence shrouding them, while Joanna envisioned the battle that had raged here one year ago—the cannon fire, machine guns, grenades, and flamethrowers. The screams of the wounded. The pain, the sacrifice, the unflinching patriotism in the face of certain death.
A former "Hello Girl" with the Army Signal Corps, Joanna had come to France seeking adventure. She never expected to fall in love with a soldier, much less envisioned standing only meters away from the spot where he'd died.
Véronique tucked Joanna beneath her arm. "Now you have seen it. We should go back."
"I can't. Not yet." Joanna edged away, the gaping wound of the trench beckoning her.
"You must not leave the road," Véronique warned. "There could still be explosives—"
"I don't care." A fatalistic sense of bravado heated Joanna's chest. Striding toward the trench, she pictured Walter vaulting over the lip in what would be his final charge at the enemy. Did he hear the whistle of the artillery shell rushing toward him? Did he know the moment of impact, count his last breaths, feel his lifeblood draining into the earth?
"Joanna. You must stop." Firm hands clamped her wrists, and Véronique's pleading gaze pinned her to the spot.
The effect was like a cold slap to the face, wrenching Joanna back to the present. She blinked several times and forced her paralyzed lungs to take in air. A tremor snaked down her limbs, but she refused to cry. Tears wouldn't bring Walter back.
Clarity returning, she straightened and attempted a reassuring smile. "I'm all right now. It's just ... harder than I expected."
"And why?" Véronique's eyes held both sympathy and reproach. "Because your sweetheart was killed here. You have never allowed yourself to fully grieve."
"I had a job to do." Once again, Joanna's glance drifted toward the ridge. She stifled a moan. "We all did."
Gently but firmly, Véronique nudged Joanna toward the road. "Perhaps, but one day you will pay the price for holding your grief inside."
Their return to the village of Saint-Étienne seemed endless. By the time they reached the pension, Joanna's steps had grown leaden, her chin drooping ever closer to her chest.
"Ah, you have returned!" Speaking in French, Monsieur Leveque, their rotund innkeeper, met them at the door. "Rather early for long walks, is it not? You must be perishing from hunger. Madame has kept breakfast warm for you, though I daresay the eggs will be hard as stones."
Out of politeness, Joanna followed Véronique to their seats at the rustic trestle table in the dining room and allowed Madame Leveque to serve her an ample portion of eggs and ham. Monsieur had exaggerated, though, for the eggs melted in her mouth like rich cream. No doubt the couple had taken extra pains to treat their only guests well. Not only had the war decimated France's economy, but many villages near the front had been reduced to rubble and now struggled to rebuild. Damage to the Leveques' pension had been significant, evidenced by plaster patches in the ceilings and walls as well as the cracked, mismatched pottery on which Madame Leveque served her delicious meals. When Joanna paid her bill upon their departure, she intended to add a sizable gratuity.
Two cups of coffee later, and with her plate mopped clean with a thick slab of Madame Leveque's crusty bread, Joanna felt a measure of optimism return. She was a survivor, after all—an adventurer—the qualities Walter had admired most. Tears were a waste of time. To continue living life to the fullest would be the best way to honor his memory.
She patted her abdomen as she eased her chair away from the table. "Merci beaucoup, Madame. C'était délicieux—better than the best restaurants in Paris."
The gray-haired matron clapped her hands together. "You will tell your friends, oui? Send them to Saint-Étienne for a lovely stay in the countryside?"
"But of course!" Véronique crumpled her napkin and rose. "Your hospitality is unsurpassed."
On their way upstairs to freshen up, Joanna whispered, "You don't think all those compliments will go to their heads, do you?"
"What of it? We have spread a little joy into their lives." In their room, Véronique plopped onto the bed, her feet dangling over the side. Her mouth stretched open in a gaping yawn. "A long walk, a big breakfast, and I am ready to sleep again!"
Joanna chuckled as she shrugged out of her sweater. "Shall I wake you in time for lunch?"
"Please do." Véronique kicked off her shoes. "Pull the shades, will you?"
"My, but you're bossy." And the best friend Joanna had ever known. She couldn't help being thankful her companion had insisted on coming along on this pilgrimage. Véronique's pragmatism provided the perfect balance of strength and good cheer, exactly what Joanna had needed to survive the past year.
Smiling over her shoulder, she went to the dresser to brush her windblown hair—only to be drawn up short at the sight of her brother's letter. She should never have brought it along, and certainly wouldn't have if the postman had not arrived with the mail at the same moment she and Véronique walked out the door of their Paris flat two days ago. Joanna had stuffed the letter in her handbag, intending to read it once they'd settled into a room at the pension, but then she'd talked herself out of it.
More than once.
Now she'd run out of excuses. A glance at Véronique revealed she'd drifted off to dreamland. Honestly, the girl could sleep hanging from her toes in a rainstorm with a locomotive thundering past. Joanna wished she could nod off half so easily. Unfortunately, she'd been cursed with a brain that didn't know when to shut itself down at the end of a busy day.
And now she knew her mind wouldn't rest until she'd opened Jack's letter and filled herself in on the latest doings back in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Bracing herself for another onslaught of her brother's pleas for her to come home, she sank onto the bed by the window and tore open the envelope.
* * *
Hot Springs, Arkansas
"Of course I'm happy for you, Clare." Thomas Ballard willed his mouth into what he hoped passed for a congratulatory smile and fought to ignore the twinge between his shoulder blades. "You and Elliott have been wanting to start a family ever since the war ended. It's just—"
"I know, sir." The Arlington Hotel's blushing switchboard operator leaned forward and rested one hand on Thomas's desk. "I hate leaving you in a bind just when the busy winter season begins, but I simply wouldn't feel right about continuing to work after I'm ... you know ..." If her plump cheeks turned any redder, she could pass them off as ripe tomatoes.
Thomas suspected his own face had taken on a crimson hue. All this talk of babies and delivery dates made him extremely uncomfortable.
Not to mention envious. Happily married couples surrounded Thomas these days—radiant sweethearts who would probably soon be starting families of their own.
He cleared his throat and forced his attention to the matter at hand. Consulting a calendar, he counted off weeks. "Would you be amenable to staying on through Thanksgiving? I don't see how I can find and train a replacement much before then."
Clare pursed her lips. "I'll be nearly five months along."
"Perhaps you could ..." With flicking fingers, Thomas motioned vaguely toward her attire.
"Wear something loose?" An acquiescent sigh hissed between her clenched teeth. "I suppose, so long as morning sickness doesn't do me in first." As if to prove her point, she covered her mouth to suppress a tiny burp.
Thomas shoved the calendar aside, his own stomach feeling none too steady at the moment. "Let's see how it goes, shall we? I'll place an ad in the paper and hope for a quick response."
Clare thanked him and stood. "I'd best get back to the switchboard before Austin gets too many lines crossed."
As she exited the office, Thomas's telephone rang. Grateful for anything to get his mind off this conversation, he snatched up the earpiece. "Thomas Ballard."
"Oops. Sorry, sir, I meant to ring housekeeping."
At the sound of the desk clerk's flustered tone, Thomas suppressed a chuckle. "It's all right, Austin. Clare's on her way."
"Thank goodness! By the way, your mother telephoned. I told her you were in a meeting."
"Good thinking." No time was a good time to take a call from Evelyn Ballard. "Did she leave a message?"
"She asked me to remind you of your dinner engagement this evening at your brother's."
"Thank you, Austin." Hanging up, Thomas checked his watch. Still another hour before quitting time, but he dare not be late getting home. This dinner engagement was all his mother had talked about for several days. With Gilbert's new bride, Mary, nursing him back to health after he'd been trampled by a horse, Mother had been sending meals out to the farm several times a week. This evening, however, they would deliver dinner in person, complete with Mother's best china, silver, and stemware—a belated wedding celebration since the couple had married in the hospital and had yet to enjoy a proper honeymoon.
The humor in all this was that Thomas's mother rarely set foot in her own kitchen other than to instruct Marguerite concerning the daily menu requests. Still, Mother's display of goodwill toward Gilbert's new bride boded well. Evelyn Ballard had resisted Gilbert's relationship with army nurse Mary McClarney with every ounce of her society-minded, blue-blooded bias.
Nor had Mother been especially kind to Gilbert's German-born housekeeper. After rescuing the widowed and destitute Katrina Frederick from near-starvation, Gilbert had purchased her farm and then graciously provided the woman with permanent living quarters in exchange for both her farming expertise and household management skills. Mrs. Frederick, as Thomas well knew from boyhood days playing with the Frederick children, was an excellent cook and more than capable of tending to Gilbert and Mary's needs. Thus, Thomas could only hope his mother's recent benevolence was in truth an act of atonement.
Thomas's telephone jangled again. Startled out of his thoughts, he lifted the earpiece and muttered a gruff greeting.
"Sorry to bother you again, sir," Austin, the front desk clerk, said. "Jack Trapp is here delivering the order from Kendall Pottery, and he'd like a moment if you're free."
"Certainly. Send him in." Clicking off, Thomas shuffled papers around his desk until he found the Kendall Pottery purchase order. Jack surely wouldn't be expecting a check already. Usually Mr. Kendall billed the hotel at the end of the month.
The office door creaked open and Jack stepped in, smoothing an unruly blond curl off his forehead. "Hope this isn't a bad time."
"Not at all." Thomas stood and reached across the desk to shake Jack's hand. "We aren't late with a payment, are we?"
Puzzlement flickered in Jack's eyes. "No, it's just ..." He released a slow sigh. "I know my grandmother sent a note right after the funeral, but I've been meaning to thank you in person for sending the flowers. Mama would have loved them."
"I wish I could have done more." Remorse formed a knot in Thomas's stomach. Here he'd been worried about staffing issues and invoices while Jack and his little sister grieved the loss of their mother. "How is Lily holding up?"
"Not so good, I'm afraid. Grandmother is at her wit's end." Collapsing into the nearest chair, Jack knotted his hands between his knees and drew a ragged breath. "We knew Mama was tired and despondent—even more so after Dad died last year—but I never thought her health would decline so rapidly." His voice broke, and he looked away with a sniff.
Thomas swallowed hard to see such agony in his friend's face. Coming around the desk, he took the chair next to Jack's and wordlessly patted his shoulder. How did you comfort someone over such a difficult and unanticipated loss? Mrs. Trapp's obituary had tactfully alluded to what her family and closest friends believed: The grieving widow and beloved mother of three has at last escaped the bonds of this earth and found the peace she sought, joining her recently departed husband in the heavenly choir.
Giving Jack a few moments to compose himself, Thomas filled one of the water glasses on the corner of his desk and pressed it into Jack's hands. "Any word from Joanna?"
"Nothing yet, but hard telling when my letter would have reached her."
Thomas furrowed his brow. "You didn't send a telegram?"
"I should have, I know, but how could I tell her in a few short words that our mother died of a broken heart?" Jack's mouth twisted into a grimace, and he blew out a noisy sigh. "Joanna would never have made it home in time for the funeral anyway, and writing it all out in a letter made it easier to break the news."
"But still ... don't you think she'd have wanted to know?"
"You obviously don't know Joanna."
Thomas had to admit he didn't know her well. Joanna had been a year behind him in school, and not particularly sociable. He did remember she'd had a rebellious streak. "So Joanna and your mother didn't get along?"
"They were always at odds." Jack took a sip of water then set the glass on the desk. He rubbed his palms up and down his pant legs. "Mama never could understand why Joanna wanted to go away to college. Then to choose career over family—and this whole business of enlisting with the Signal Corps."
"It had to be hard on your mother, having both you and your sister over in France with the war raging."
"Equally hard on Lily, especially after Dad died. At least I made it home soon after. Lily was only fourteen then, not an age when a girl needs to be burdened with her mother's ..."
Excerpted from Every Tear a Memory by Myra Johnson. Copyright © 2014 Myra Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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