Authors: Barbara Bretton
Tags: #World War II, #Women-HomeFront, #Romance
“I don’t want to fight you, Cathy.”
She looked up at him, into those beautiful blue eyes. “Let me go, Johnny,” she said, glancing away. “There’s no future for us.”
She looked so desolate, so sorrowful, that hope leaped to life in Johnny’s battle-scarred heart. She didn’t grieve only for Eddie Martin; she grieved for what they’d lost between them. He knew it in his gut, his bones, his soul, and that knowledge gave him the courage.
“I think there’s a way,” he said, picking a path carefully through a mine field of emotions. “I think we can make it work.”
Her laughter was shrill and high. “The United Nations couldn’t make this work, Johnny. We’re two different people. We’ll never agree on the way to live our lives.”
He grabbed her by the elbows and spun her around, forcing her to meet his eyes.
I love you
, she’d said the night he asked her to marry him.
I’ll love you forever
. It couldn’t be over. He wouldn’t let it be. He drew a deep breath. “There’s one thing we agree on—we can’t be happy without each other.”
“That’s just too bad, isn’t it?” she shot back, the fiery, opinionated woman he loved. “Because we also know we can’t be happy
each other, either.”
“Maybe we can.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Are you going to give me back my job at Wilson?”
She broke away from his grip. For a moment he thought she was going to take a swing at him, but she got a handle on her anger and glared at him instead. “I’m not going to be your secretary, Johnny. I’m not going to be your wife. I’m not going to be your friend.”
“Would you be my partner?”
Her jaw sagged comically. He wanted to laugh, but knew he’d be risking dismemberment if he did. “What?” she said.
“No. I’m not kidding at all.”
“I wouldn’t ask anything less of you, Cathy.”
“I—I don’t understand. If this is some kind of charity, Johnny, so help me, I’ll—”
“Listen, woman.” He grabbed her again and pulled her close. She smelled of softness and flowers. “Don’t give me credit for being charitable. Your dad made a mistake. The company needs you.” He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “Who am I kidding?
Was he crazy or did he see a twinkle in her eyes? “All that paperwork getting you down, Johnny?”
Pride had gotten them into the trouble they were in. It was time to put his pride aside and speak from the heart. “I can’t do the job, Cathy, not all of it. Wilson’ll be in debt up to its eyeballs if I’m the one making the financial decisions.”
She closed her eyes against a wave of hope that flooded through her body.
Forget your idiotic pride
, her heart begged.
Listen to him. This is the man you love, the man you want to spend your life with
“I’m not very good dealing with the workers,” she said, voice low. “If I had to deal with them on a daily basis, I’d end up with an empty factory.”
There, Catherine Anne. That didn’t hurt so much, did it?
He pulled her closer, so close she could feel his breath against her cheek, the warmth of his body.
“Looks like we’re not much good alone, are we?”
She breathed deeply of his scent, then touched his cheek. His skin was smooth; only the slightest scratch of beard rasped against her fingertips. She longed to press her lips against the curve of his jaw, feel his lips against hers.
“Are you sure you can share responsibilities with a
He thrust a hand through his hair. She noticed again the way the last few fingers were rigid, his permanent legacy of war. “Want the truth?”
She nodded. “Nothing less.”
“I want a wife, Cathy. I want kids to carry on my name. I’ve spent most of my life alone. That’s not the way to live. I want a home of my own, a family of my own. But...” This was going to be harder than he’d thought. He struggled for the right words. “But I want you to be happy. I want that glow in your eyes to be there until the day I die, and if that means we work together at Wilson, well, I’ll have to learn to live with it.”
“That’s not exactly a vote of confidence,” she said, although she knew how much the admission had cost him.
“I love you. It’s the best I can do.”
And Catherine was a child of her times. “I want to make a home for you,” she said slowly. “I want children, and grandchildren, and I want to grow old beside you. But there’s a part of me I never knew was there.” She laughed again, but this time her laugh was soft and almost sad. “I’m smart and I’m capable and I can make a difference. No,” she corrected herself, “I
made a difference at the factory, and I deserve a chance to continue what I’ve started.”
“I’m willing to give it a try.”
“People won’t like it,” she said, her heart swelling with emotion. “My father won’t understand.”
“He’ll learn,” said Johnny, reaching inside his pocket. “We all will.”
Neither one understood why such a simple solution would make everyone so uncomfortable, but there it was. In a country trying desperately to return to normal, Catherine and Johnny had discovered that the old roles didn’t fit quite the way they had before. Like it or not, change was in the air, and there were tough times ahead for men and women in love.
He held out his hand to her and in his palm she saw the glitter of her engagement ring.
“I shouldn’t have thrown it at you.”
“I shouldn’t have let you walk out that door.”
“We can make it work,” she said, her voice fierce with love and hope. “We
make it work.”
“I love you, Catherine Wilson.” He slipped the ring on her finger. “That’s one thing that will never change.”
She looked down at the diamond ring, the beautiful symbol of the future they would share together. She wanted to shout her happiness to the world, fling wide her arms and dance for joy that she’d been lucky enough to find love in a dangerous world. But more than anything she wanted Johnny to know just how very much she would always love him.
So there, right in the middle of the street, Catherine raised herself on tiptoe and pressed her lips to Johnny’s ear. “I love you,” she whispered. “Forever and ever.”
And then, in full view of everybody, Johnny kissed the woman he loved.
* * *
Down the block, Dot Wilson and Edna Weaver watched as Johnny swept Catherine into his arms.
“Well, well,” said Edna, dabbing her eyes with the cuffs of her gardening gloves, “What do you think of that, Dot?”
Dot Wilson thought about the war, about love and separation, about second chances and happier days ahead. And then she threw back her head and her laughter floated up into the summer air. “Edna, I’d say it’s about time.”
“Nancy! They’re going to cut the cake.”
Nancy stuck her head back inside the front door. “In a minute, Mom.” The Wilson house was so noisy and smoky and crowded, she could barely hear herself think. Catherine and Johnny had wanted a small and private wedding, but they hadn’t counted on Dot’s indomitable will. Somehow Dot had conjured up a long white dress, Edna Weaver’s red roses, champagne and fifty happy guests waiting to taste the spun-sugar wedding cake and see who would catch the bridal bouquet on that beautiful Saturday in October.
The past two months had been a blur of excitement and upheaval. Japan had surrendered on August 14, and New York City had erupted in ecstasy as the electric sign of the Times Tower flashed the words: “Official—Truman announces Japanese surrender.” By the time V-J Day arrived on September 2, Nancy had already sipped more champagne in two weeks than she had in her entire life.
The war was over. The bloodshed, the sorrow, the years of wondering if life would ever be the same as it was before Pearl Harbor.
Of course, everybody knew the answer to that one. Nothing was the same as it had been. President Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had ushered in a new era of warfare—deadlier, more costly, more frightening than anything a Hollywood scriptwriter had ever imagined.
But nobody on Hansen Street was thinking of such things that Saturday afternoon. Catherine and Johnny had finally taken their vows at St. Mary’s in a beautiful, tearful ceremony, and now the entire neighborhood was gathered at the Wilsons’ for a celebration.
Everyone, that was, except Nancy. Oh, she was happy for Cathy and Johnny. She couldn’t imagine any two people more right for each other than her sister and the handsome young man. It had been a rocky road to the altar, but somehow they had worked things out and their future seemed as bright as the lights of Manhattan.
And she was happy for her parents, too. Her dad still wasn’t the same self-confident man who had marched off to war so long ago, but if the sparkle in her mother’s eyes was any indication, it just didn’t matter. Dot Wilson had her husband back at home and all was right with their world.
Aunt Edna and Uncle Les were in seventh heaven because Mac had come home on furlough—safe and sound—two weeks ago, and he and a date were inside toasting the newlyweds with everyone else.
It seemed there were happy endings all around—for everyone except her.
“Quit feeling sorry for yourself,” she said out loud, hugging herself against the brisk autumn air. “He’ll be here. He promised.”
She glanced down at his high-school ring dangling from a chain around her neck.
I’m going to replace that with a diamond, Nance
, his last letter had said.
The first second I get back to the States
“Things change,” her mother had said, trying to cushion her probable disappointment, “I’m sure the boy meant what he said, honey, but you know that war makes people say and do a lot of things they’d never do otherwise.”
Foolish little Nancy, believing that her pen pal really loved her. Wasn’t that a hoot? Falling in love through the U.S. Mail. That Nancy, always cooking up some damn fool scheme to get attention—
“Nancy!” Her father’s voice this time, louder and more insistent. “Get in here now or else.”
“I’m coming,” she called back. “I’m—”
She stopped, her gaze riveted on a lone figure at the head of the block. Bell-bottom trousers, a jaunty strut, a duffel bag slung over one shoulder.
“Gerry?” She placed her hand on her chest, as if to control the crazy pounding of her heart. “Gerry!”
He stopped in front of the Bellamy house. That wonderful, beloved face lit up with a smile so joyous she would remember it for the rest of her life. He tossed the duffel bag to the ground and opened his arms wide.
Lifting the skirts of her long, pale blue dress, she flew down the steps toward her future.
Watch for Nancy and Gerry’s story,
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bestselling, award-winning author of more than 50 books. She currently has over ten million copies in print worldwide. Her works have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries and she has received starred reviews from both
Barbara cooks, knits, and writes in central New Jersey with her husband.
How to contact Barbara:
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