Authors: Jackie Braun
Devin Abernathy secretly dreams of escaping to a simpler time. It’s why she owns a vintage clothing shop, fulfilling her lifelong fantasy of surrounding herself with period style. All she has to do is slip on a garment to be spirited away to a bygone era—in her imagination, anyway. But lately she’s also dreamed at night of a passionate affair with a handsome World War II naval officer named Gregory Prescott, who seems oddly familiar.
Fantasy becomes reality when Devin dons a mysterious estate-sale coat and is suddenly whisked back in time—to New York City in 1945 on V-J Day, where she’s welcoming Gregory home with open arms and ruby-red kisses…. All she wants is to stay in his powerful embrace, but to do so means choosing between his past and her future.
In memory of my dad, Walter Braun, who was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps as a teenager and honorably served his country during World War II.
Table of Contents
“Devin! Devin!” The handsome young man shouted her name, reaching out his hand as he ran alongside the bus she was on. The gap between them widened and his voice grew desperate. “Come back! Please don’t leave!”
She stood and, gripping the edges of the seats to keep her balance, staggered up the aisle of the moving vehicle. It seemed to take forever to reach the front.
“Please, you must stop,” she begged the driver. “I must get off.”
The man merely shook his head. “Next stop is Grand Central. You need to take your seat, ma’am.”
When she looked out the window again, all she saw were cars. The man was gone.
“No! No! No!”
Devin Abernathy shot up on the mattress, gasping for breath. Her throat ached from screaming. She was alone in her apartment, a glance at the clock confirming that it was time to get up for work. But she couldn’t. Not yet. Lying back on the pillow, she covered her face with her hands and wept.
It was already nine o’clock when she arrived to open Yesterday’s Closet, the vintage clothing store she owned in New York’s East Village. Her younger sister was waiting outside, blowing on her bare hands and shuffling her feet to ward off the November chill. Emily was a sophomore at New York University, but she worked at the shop three mornings a week.
Seven years earlier, their parents had died in a car accident on their way home from a New Year’s Eve party. Devin, in college herself at the time, had moved from campus housing to a tiny efficiency apartment in Lower Manhattan to ensure that she and Emily, who had been barely thirteen, were able to stay together. It had been just the two of them ever since.
“I was getting worried,” Emily said.
“Sorry.” Devin unlocked the door and deactivated the alarm. As they walked inside, she added, “I overslept and missed my train.”
Another person might not have thought anything of the excuse. Emily, however, stopped in the process of unwinding the hand-knitted scarf from around her neck. Her expression reflected concern. “Everything okay, Dev?”
“I had the dream again.”
No need to be more specific than that. Her sister knew exactly the dream to which Devin referred. Devin had told her about it often enough. It featured a man, a
handsome man, who seemed achingly familiar, even though Devin couldn’t recall ever meeting him in real life.
It always began with him calling her name. She would turn and spy him a short distance away. As soon as their gazes connected, he would smile and start toward her. The situation was always different. One time they were on opposite sides of a street that had been closed for a parade. Another time she had been seated on a subway train while he stood on the crowded platform. And now the bus.
Regardless of the scenario, the dream appeared to take place during her favorite decade, the 1940s, and it always ended the same. He was never able to reach her before she woke.
The first time Devin had the dream she’d been a senior in college. She’d experienced it a couple more times before graduation, and then off and on ever since. During the past year, however, it had begun recurring more and more frequently.
“That makes three times this month,” Emily remarked.
“What happened this time?”
“Same thing as always. We never got together.” Lost in recollection, Devin frowned. “He seemed more frustrated in this one. As if the situation was…urgent.”
Devin sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“I still say you should undergo hypnosis. Your subconscious is trying to tell you something.”
“Yes. It’s telling me I haven’t had a date in nearly a year.” Devin said it dryly, but in her heart she knew it was more than that. She couldn’t shake the feeling that time was running out. But for what?
Doing her best to push thoughts of both the handsome man and the dream aside, she told her sister, “Come on. I want to get the new inventory catalogued before we open today.”
“An estate sale, right?”
“Of a sort. The elderly owner was recently moved to a hospice facility, and he had no immediate family,” Devin said as they made their way to the back room.
Devin nodded. It was sad.
“You said it was on the Upper East Side.” Emily smacked her lips and grinned. “Ritzy.”
“Exactly. I still can’t believe how lucky I was to spot the sign.”
Devin had been on her way back from another sale in the same neighborhood when, on a whim, she’d taken a detour and had come across the hand-lettered notice out front of a stately looking brownstone.
Walking inside the second-floor apartment had been like walking back in time. Despite a flat-screen television and a few other bows to modern convenience, so much of it was straight out of the middle of the previous century. And when she’d opened the closets, she couldn’t believe her good fortune.
“Wait until you see the gorgeous clothes I scored for next to nothing.” She frowned, remembering.
“What is it, Dev?”
“It was the oddest thing. I felt like I’d been there before.”
“For another estate sale?”
“Maybe,” she said, though she knew that wasn’t the case. She would have recalled the building. Indeed, she’d felt drawn to it, almost as if the detour she’d taken hadn’t been a spontaneous act but a subconscious choice. “The note added to the strangeness.”
“I didn’t tell you?” After Emily shook her head, Devin continued, “When I was paying the woman who was running the sale, she commented on my name. It seems that when they were cleaning out the owner’s personal effects, they came across a secret cubby hole in a desk in one of the rooms and found an old letter addressed to someone named Devin. She thought it was quite a strange coincidence since it’s an uncommon name for a woman.”
“Did she tell you what the letter said?”
“Actually, she gave it to me to read.” The paper had been yellowed with age, the pen strokes faded from a crisp black to an antique brown.
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense!” Emily exclaimed.
Devin shrugged. “It was short and to the point. It started with ‘My Dearest Devin’ and then simply read, ‘Come back to me.’”
Saying the words aloud now, Devin experienced the same shiver of anticipation she had upon first reading them.
“But romantic, too, don’t you think?”
“How was the letter signed?” Emily wanted to know.
“‘Your loving husband, Gregory.’”
Her sister sighed. “I wonder if after that Devin read the letter she came home.”
Devin frowned. That shiver of anticipation turned to trepidation. “I don’t think she ever returned.”
“The lady at the sale told me the envelope had still been sealed when they found it.”
“Oh! That’s so sad.” Emily’s crestfallen expression mirrored the way Devin had felt. “But at least there’s a silver lining.”
“And what might that be?”
Emily spread her arms wide and grinned. “Well, you got all this great vintage stuff for a steal.”
Her sister had a point. Devin pushed thoughts of the note, its author and its intended recipient aside. Their shared name was a coincidence. As for the fact that the letter was worded so similarly to what the man in her dreams always said, well, that was a coincidence, too. What else could it be? Devin was too practical to believe anything else. She glanced at the wall clock. It was nearly quarter after nine. Time to get to work.
“Once everything is catalogued and pressed, I’m going to put some of the nicest pieces on display in the front window. I think they’ll go over big and draw a lot of foot traffic.”
The shop was small, less than seven hundred square feet, most of which Devin had opted to use for sales racks and displays. That meant the back room was minuscule and claustrophobic, especially now that it was filled with new inventory. While Emily started the coffee, Devin began opening the flaps on the first of six large boxes.
She pulled out a dove-gray, 1940s skirt along with a matching jacket that was cinched at the waist and padded at the shoulders.
Emily came over to inspect the garment. “I smell mothballs.” She scrunched up her nose.
“Be thankful for that. It’s why everything is in such excellent condition.” And because they were, they would fetch a decent sum. Devin’s mood began to improve. The shop needed the revenue.
“Ooh, check out this hat,” Emily said. Reaching into the box, she pulled out a small blue derby that was decorated in feathers dyed in a similar shade. She set it on Devin’s head and stepped back. “It’s totally you.”
Devin laughed, even though she agreed. She loved hats, and already had quite a collection of them. Unfortunately, she had few places to wear them.
She picked up the jacket and held it in front of her torso. “Can you imagine wearing an outfit like this to church or out to the movies on a date?”
imagine it? No.” Emily was twenty and lived in jeans. Her appreciation for vintage pieces was limited to accessories, such as scarves, broaches and handbags. “But for some reason, I can imagine you in it.” She whistled between her teeth then. “Women sure were a lot fancier back then.”
was a lot fancier back then.” Devin’s tone turned wistful.
Not for the first time, she felt she’d been born in the wrong era. She was out of step with her own times. Old-fashioned, as her last boyfriend dubbed her. Perhaps she was romanticizing the 1940s, given that the rigid societal norms of the times had allowed for wholesale discrimination based on sex and race. She couldn’t condone either, of course. But the coarseness of the present day was everywhere. In movies and music lyrics. In advertisements that didn’t subtly hint at sex to sell a product, but bombarded the buying public with overt images.
And then there was what passed for women’s fashion. If it didn’t look as if it belonged on a streetwalker, then the fabric had been purposely ripped, frayed or faded. Stand the test of time? Most of these items would be lucky to survive a few turns in the wash cycle.
Nothing these days was intended to last, whether clothing, jobs or marriages. Everything had a shelf life, an expiration date. Meanwhile, Devin, who still mourned her parents and was beginning to wonder if she’d ever find herself in the sort of relationship her mother and father had enjoyed before their untimely deaths, craved permanence. She craved something that could withstand the passage of time.
The man in her dream came to mind in a dizzying rush. She could see him in formal attire, his hair worn short and neat. He was smiling, eyes lit with a mix of emotions so potent it caused her breath to catch.