Congratulations Raine and L.G.

And he cooks, too!

http://happyeverafter.usatoday.com/2015/12/17/introducing-recipes-from-raines-roost-sweet-potato-and-banana-puree/

L.G. O’Connor was one of the first writers I beta read when I started reading manuscripts for writers I didn’t know. And today is the launch of her character’s monthly columns in USA Today!!! If you enjoy contemporary romance, or urban fantasy romance, I recommend her books wholeheartedly.

 

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REVIEW: Grace Me With Your Presents, by Pippa Franks

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Grace Carter is nearing her 40th birthday and her only daughter has just left for college. She’s unsure about reconnecting with her husband and wrestles with a secret she’s kept since before her marriage. As she’s about to tell her husband her secret, she’s called away to her childhood town to help her aunt recover from a broken hip.

While there, Grace rediscovers things about herself and learns quite a bit about her family and neighbors. Ripe for personal change and growth, Grace evolves quickly and so does her involvement in the little town of Eskton. The secondary characters are richly drawn and have distinct, quirky characteristics. The way that each relationship is explored, and each character revealed, from Grace’s interactions with her college-bound daughter at the very beginning of the book, to her conversations with the drunk vicar, have so much relate-able truth to them. The interactions between Tippy and George are wonderfully written, and I very much enjoyed getting to know Jemima, Grace’s aunt.

I did have some issues with the way the plot developed. In my opinion, there is a good deal of foreshadowing and it becomes fairly heavy-handed at times. I found myself wishing, when I finished the book, that there was less lead up to the big reveal and more exploring its impacts on the characters involved. There is a second surprise that’s very well designed, but I wished it had been explored more. As a U.S. reader, I both enjoyed and was confused by some of the colloquialisms used in the narrative. The language gave the story a flavor that I liked and, since I wasn’t accustomed to some of the words, made me more aware of just how universal the themes in this story really are.

All in all, I enjoyed the book very much and will read other books by this author, but I do feel that a bit more editing in some places, and a bit more exploration in others, would have done this book good.

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Holding onto the Parts that Make Us Human

As close as I’ve seen to my own thoughts. Which are still crystallizing.

challaandhaggis

Hugging a treeWe are overwhelmed. And how could we not be during this time of anger and hatred, terror and fear, doubt and uncertainty? The current state of affairs, when viewed in its entirety, is simply too much to absorb. The forest is so scary as a whole that we’re not seeing the trees. But we need to see the trees.

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The Yellow Stickie: A Love Letter

From my friend Rachel. She always seems to find a way to express my feelings. 😉

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Yellow Stickie2It all began one day some years ago, most likely prompted by my parents taking a look around at the sheer amount of stuff they’d accumulated and trying to figure out how in the hell they would divvy it among their four children in their will. Enter the infamous yellow stickie.

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Cover Reveal: A Falling Friend

With apologies to my colleague E.L Wicker at Lakewater Press for the 24 hour delay, I am thrilled to bring you the cover reveal of A Falling Friend by Susan Pape and Sue Featherstone. This wonderful women’s fiction book is the tale of two friends – one who always seems to make the wrong choices, and the other who’s always there to catch her.

friendsebook

After spending her twenties sailing the globe, making love on fine white sand, and thinking only of today, Teri Meyer returns to Yorkshire—and to studying. That’s when she discovers John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, and poet of all things depraved. What she doesn’t realise is even beyond his grave, his influence over her is extraordinary. To hell with the consequences.

Having gone out on a limb to get old friend Teri a job at the university at which she teaches, it doesn’t take long for Lee Harper to recognise a pattern. Wherever Teri goes, whatever she does, every selfish choice she makes, it’s all setting her up for a nasty fall. But Teri’s not the sort to heed a warning, so Lee has no choice but to stand by and watch. And besides, she has her own life to straighten out.

A clever, raw and hilarious character-driven masterpiece that follows the lives of two friends with the same ambitions, but who have vastly different ways of achieving them.

About the Authors

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Sue Featherstone and Susan Pape are both former newspaper journalists who between them have extensive experience of working in national and regional papers and magazines, and public relations.

More recently they have worked in higher education, teaching journalism to undergraduate and postgraduate students – Sue at Sheffield Hallam and Susan at Leeds Trinity.

The pair, who have been friends for 25 years, have already written two successful journalism text books together – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction.

Sue, who is married with two grown-up daughters, loves reading, writing and exploring the cycle paths near her Yorkshire home. She blogs about books at http://www.pinkbicyclebooks.com. Susan is married and spends her spare time walking and cycling in the Yorkshire Dales and on the east coast, and playing the ukulele.

Sue’s Twitter

Susan’s Twitter

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The grit at the heart of the pearl ~ or the point from which stories grow

A recently discovered old post from a blog o am now following. This post so resonates with me. My story got into my head and was grit. It has the very first layer of nacre, and I’m trying to make more.

Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking

The grit at the heart of the pearl ~ or the point from which stories grow

Writers are often asked a question that can be virtually impossible to answer: “Where do you get your ideas?” as if there’s a kind of
supermarket you can shop at. It’s hard to answer because in some ways ideas come from everywhere; too often writers become blocked not because of a lack of inspiration but a surfeit of it and indecision
about how to bind them together cohesively.

For me ideas are the grit that sneaks into an oyster and causes so much irritation that the poor oyster does its best to cushion and coat the sharp grit so it stops hurting. I’ll come back to the pain of the
oyster later.

Strangers and Pilgrimswas an odd book for me because some of the grit has been lurking in my personal oyster for a…

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After Years of Professional Freelance Writing and Editing…

Stephanie Smith Diamond is the guest blogger today on Jane Bwye’s blog. I had the privilege of reading her manuscript in near final draft and loved it. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your nightstand when it’s released. Review to come when it’s readily available.

Jane Bwye

3980245646_90ae6159e9_o In Kibira forest, Burundi

Stephanie Smith Diamond is an American writer, editor, runner, hiker, traveller, and expat, who has travelled throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa. I have only just met her, and I’m looking forward to reading her book, which seems to have evolved a bit like mine (HERE).

Here is Stephanie’s story…

When I was thirty-two years old I stepped off the plane for the first time in Africa. I’d travelled all over the United States and Europe but now found myself in Bujumbura, Burundi, in the middle of the night, and it was a completely new experience for me. Despite having grown up in places with warm, humid summers, the warmth and humidity shocked me as I walked across the tarmac. The night was pitch black aside from a few orange-glow sodium lights along the runway. Everyone around me spoke French and, while my textbook French should have been…

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After Years of Professional Freelance Writing and Editing…

The guest writer on this blog is a gifted writer, who allowed me to read the manuscript of her soon to be released novel, Mountains Never Meet. I hope you’ll consider adding her book to your nightstand.

 

imageSource: After Years of Professional Freelance Writing and Editing…

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First Person v. Objective POV – Class Exercise

I’ve been wanting to post this. For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been attending a Fiction Writing class every Monday. Each week, we’ve focused on a different element of writing fiction: plot, character, dialog, description, setting, voice and point of view.  (Yes, I know that’s only 7 topics. We didn’t meet on Memorial Day) This post is one of the exercises I did. It’s very different from the story I’m working on, but also helped me to hone my point of view for that story. I’d love to hear what you think.

Reunion – First Person POV

I was standing near the bar with my girls. The girls I’d spent all my time with in high school. The girls who looked to me for approval about what to wear, where to go, even who to date and most of all, who could be in our “in” crowd. It was strange to be there with them after so long and even stranger that we all fell back into the old patterns.

I surveyed the room again and realized that all the little clusters were like mine that way. We had all fallen back into our high school habits so easily. Across the room were “The Stoners” and on the other side of the room were “The Jocks”. Hanging out near the DJ were all “The Creatives” and, of course, near me were “The Popular Girls.” Movement near the door caught my eye, and I saw her walk in.

She and I had squared off in grade school, but the stakes had gone up in high school. Thirty years later, she still bugged me. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of actually making eye contact, though.

“Sharon,” Lori whispered, “Did you see who showed up?” I glared at her.

“Don’t look at her,” I demanded. “She wasn’t one of us then, and she’s not one of us now.”

Kara was studying her perfect manicure from the day spa I’d recommended to her. “Sharon,” she started hesitatingly, “Why do we hate her so much? I don’t remember doing anything to us.” Her voice trailed off as she saw the daggers my eyes threw at her.

With her words, my entire adulthood fell away and I remembered how it began. I glanced over at Debbie and hoped she didn’t notice. I remembered being the new girl on the playground in third grade, when she was better at the sports than I was. I remembered being second to her for academic awards, and I remembered the display cases in the lobby filled with her drawings and pottery. She’d never said a word, but that smug look on her face every time she did something better than me had spoken volumes. I was sure that she took every opportunity possible to make me feel smaller than I was. And I’d sworn that being shorter than her wouldn’t make me less powerful. I would show her. And I had. I glanced over at her again, hoping again that she would be looking away. But this time, she was looking in my direction. I felt all that old resentment boiling up in my perfectly sculpted, tummy-tucked, abdomen. Three kids hadn’t changed how I’d fit my clothes. I felt my acrylic nails bit into my palms as I clenched my fists, and I felt the three-carat diamond with sapphire baguettes that Jay had bribed me with after his latest affair cut into the base of my fingers. I looked over at Kara and smiled a tight smile.

“She didn’t HAVE to do anything. She just was.”

I saw Debbie get up from the table where she had sat down with her friend Lisa. The two of them had been thick as thieves back then, and look at them now…still buddies. I would bet they spoke weekly, at least, all along. She started walking towards me and my girls.

“Keep going,” I thought. “Just get your drink and move on.” But no. She stopped around 5 feet away from me, and brazenly stared me down.

“Let it go, Sharon” she said. I saw the venom in her eyes. She hated me as much as I hated her, it seemed. “I never did anything to deserve being treated like a second-class citizen by you. I shouldn’t have taken it then and I won’t take it now.” I was surprised. This wasn’t the scared girl, I’d been able to cut with a look back then.

“Oh, right.” I said, sarcasm dripping. “Like you weren’t always trying to beat me to the highest grade, or the best score. The only thing you didn’t try to beat me at was cheer, and that was just because you were too big and clumsy.” I looked back at her, hoping my expression was one of boredom and disdain so she couldn’t see how taking second place to an Outsider had galled me.

“You treated me badly then, Sharon”, she said to me, “and if I let you, you’d treat me badly now. You’re a bitter, angry woman. I may never get why you resent me, but you did and your cronies egged you on in your mission to make me feel small.” I looked over to Lori and Kara who looked very uncomfortable at this unexpected confrontation. Debbie walked away.

I looked back to the table where Debbie had sat down with Lisa again, and their friend Corinne had joined them. Envy, jealousy, they rose up inside me almost uncontrollably. I noticed that Lori and Kara had stepped back from me a little bit.

“Kara,” Lori looked away from me, “Do you want to come to the Ladies Room with me?”

Reunion – Objective POV

The reunion was still gathering momentum. Small groups of former classmates, some of the men now balding or grey where they’d once had flowing long 1970’s shag hairstyles. Some of the women’s bodies showed the changes wrought by childbirth or unhappiness and some by untold hours at the gym.

Sharon stood in the corner near the bar, surrounded by several of her old gang. They had staked out a corner of the room, as surely identified as their territory as if they had roped it off.

Occasional girlish giggles burst from their conversation, which might have seemed slightly out-of-place to an untrained observer. These women had gone to great lengths before the party, to show their station in life, with designer clothing, perfectly coiffed hair, nails and makeup, and toned bodies, evidencing hours with their personal trainers.

Around the rest of the room, small clusters connected reconnected and murmured phrases of greeting to one another “Hey, Dan! Great to see you buddy! Been hitting the tennis court much?” “Fran, you look wonderful. You haven’t aged a day. Me? Well, I’m keeping busy with the kids and community activities.” Sharon’s group didn’t move around the room. It was a statement to the rest of the guests. “Come pay us court” they said, wordlessly.

The door opened and Debbie walked in. She was tall and had a commanding presence, with a body that reminded her classmates that she’d been the star on the field hockey team, even if her hips had broadened and her stomach swelled a little with having kids. Her face had the kind of wrinkles caused by living in a sunny, dry climate. Her dress fit slightly imperfectly and her nails had dirt under them. Her once ash-blonde hair now had gold threads from intense sun, and silver threads from age running through it. Some women in the room might have spent $300 or more to have hair that looked like hers. Despite having aged a little over the past thirty years, she was still only of the few people in the room who could be instantly recognized. She gazed around the room, observing the dance of the groups already there, when she saw someone she recognized.

“Lisa!” Debbie exclaimed. “It’s been too long. I was hoping you’d be here. Let’s go catch up.” Lisa and Debbie had been best friends in high school. Separated by distance and direction in their lives, the two moved to a small table to catch up with each other before either started to work the rest of the room. Debbie noticed Sharon glancing at her. Debbie narrowed her eyes, looking back at Sharon for a moment before turning back to Lisa.

“Then David and I separated for a while, so he could get his act together, but we’ve been back together nearly fifteen years now and things are better than ever”, Lisa finished.

“Do you know why she hates me so much?” Debbie asked.

“Not a clue. Maybe she thought you were competition.” Lisa chuckled. “I can’t imagine what she’d compete with you about, though.”

Debbie smiled. “I’m going over there,” she said, “It’s been thirty years. We’re both adults. I’m going to ask her.”

“Well, it’s your choice, but frankly I wouldn’t bother. For pretty much the same reasons you want to.”

Debbie stood up and started walking toward Sharon and her group. As she made her way across the room, her back straightened. To those who had watched her walk down the auditorium aisles at academic awards day in grade school, the posture was familiar. A close observer would never see any anxiety.

Debbie stopped around five feet from Sharon. “Let it go, Sharon.” She said. “I never did anything to deserve being treated like a second-class citizen by you. I shouldn’t have taken it then and I won’t take it now.” Debbie’s voice was quiet and determined. It didn’t tremble or waver.

“Oh, right.” Sharon said, sarcasm dripping. “Like you weren’t always trying to beat me to the highest grade, or the best score. The only thing you didn’t try to beat me at was cheer, and that was just because you were too big and clumsy.” Debbie looked back at her and Sharon turned away to face the bar, as though about to order a drink.

“You treated me badly then, Sharon”, she said to me, “and if I let you, you’d treat me badly now. You’re a bitter, angry woman. I may never get why you resent me, but you did and your cronies egged you on in your mission to make me feel small.” Debbie turned and started walking back toward Lisa, who’d been joined by Corinne during the exchange.

“Did you get what you were looking for?” Lisa asked.

Debbie ’s brow wrinkled a little. She looked like she was thinking it over. “Yes. I think I did.” She replied thoughtfully. “She wouldn’t admit how she’d treated me, but as it turns out, I didn’t want that after all.” Debbie smiled, all the way to her eyes this time, which crinkled at the corners and twinkled with satisfaction. “I wasn’t intimidated anymore. I just don’t recognize her power over me anymore.” She sat back and looked at Corinne. “How have YOU been all these years?”

The glittery group in the corner looked over at the table of friends, sitting closely together sharing their stories. Lori and Kara stepped back from Sharon, just a few inches and looked around at the room awkwardly.

“Kara,” Lori looked away from Sharon, “Do you want to come to the Ladies Room with me?”

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A Bottle of Champagne Redux

On May 4, I was to turn in a written piece for critique by my class. Hmmm, I already have something; it’s fairly polished. I could add a bit more and use that. Hah, way to shortcut several hours of homework. Except. Not.

Five or six hours of additional research, more rewriting, adding bits, creating a few new characters and turning more of the exposition into dialogue, I have Revision #1. Which, now that I’ve gotten comments back, will be updated and expanded to Revision #2 in the coming weeks. One change I’ll definitely be making is to use a lighter hand with the foreshadowing,. I also plan to expand the scene between Helen and Ronnie at the shipyard. I hope you enjoy the work in progress. What do you think of the changes? Do you have suggestions on how to make it stronger? I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Champagne Bottle

It was a warm June evening. Helen came home from work, sat down at the small table in the kitchenette, took her shoes off. It had been non-stop at work since the troops landed in France. She was still sitting, rubbing her feet when the phone rang, the operator asking to put through a call from Mr. Sarth. Helen shook as the call was connected. Ronnie’s parents didn’t call often, usually only when they had news they wanted to share. Only problem was, news could be good or bad. She was still shaking when she hung up the phone. Ronnie was coming home.

The door opened and Margie came in, still wearing her work uniform from the coffee shop.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Margie exclaimed.

Helen looked up, stunned. “He’s coming home. After more than two years, never knowing if I’ll see him again, he’s coming home! That was Ronnie’s pa. They got a telegram. Ronnie’s sailing home on the USS Warrington.” Her eyes were filling, threatening to overflow.

“I might even get to see him for a few minutes. His ship’ll be in the Navy Yard for repairs next month.”

Margie wrapped Helen in a huge bear hug. “Gosh! I sure wish Patty was home to hear this. She’ll be so happy for you, honey. We’ve gotta make a real special dinner to celebrate this weekend.”

Helen told Margie how Mr. Sarth had explained that Ronnie’s orders were for a last tour of duty that would take him to Virginia, Trinidad, and then New York, finally into her arms and their future together. Before he left, Ronnie asked her if she’d wait for him and she told him yes. He was coming back to her. They’d be married; they’d start a family; maybe they’d even move to the country.

***

For the next few weeks she walked on air, when she wasn’t scared that something might happen to him before she saw him again. She could barely believe it. There wasn’t enough money for the fancy wedding she’d dreamed of years before, but as long as she could be with him she didn’t care. She’d been saving money since before he’d been overseas. She was proud of her work for the Coast Guard as a secretary and other than modest rent on her small, shared flat and a budget for groceries, she didn’t have many expenses.

Margie, Patty and she had a regular Wednesday “roomie’s” night, when they did each other’s hair, painted each other’s nails and listed to the radio. They’d met at the AWVS volunteer center, and found so many little things in common, including needing roommates. Now, they were a little family together, sharing their ups and downs, the little successes and failures, tips for hair-dos and how to make a favorite dessert recipe without sugar.

Patty looked over from the little two-burner stove, “When d’ya think that Destroyer will be in the Yards,” she asked? Patty had a high-pitched voice. A little abrasive, with a strong Queens accent. Helen was grateful (and guilty that she was grateful) that Patty was shy and didn’t talk much. Even though Helen loved her to pieces, that voice could get on her nerves.

“He should be there right around the middle of August.” Helen examined her nails. Marge had painted them a new color, Dragon’s Blood from Chen Yu. They’d gotten free trial sizes through the mail. It was a whole lot more vivid than her usual rose or pale pink. It would take some getting used to, she mused to herself. “I’m going to find out when from the OIC at the Station and try to get over to the Navy Yard to see him. Maybe I can bring him something special.”

“Oh,” Margie laughed, “like you’re not special enough?”

Helen had learned typing and steno in high school. Secretarial jobs paid better than the factory jobs many of her friends were taking in Brooklyn and the Battery. So many of the little luxuries weren’t available, and Helen was careful. Maybe she could spend some of her savings on a new Zippo lighter for Ronnie. Maybe even get the one with the Navy insignia on it, if it wasn’t too pricey. He’d written her a while back that the one he’d taken with him got lost.

Helen had been saving since she started working at the beginning of the war. Since she’d taken typing and steno in school, she’d managed to get a job at the Coast Guard harbor boat patrol station on City Island.  After a few passes from the men, they’d come to like and respect her. For her part, she kept a friendly but removed attitude. She didn’t want any of the men getting the wrong idea. Jobs like this were hard to come by, and she didn’t want any trouble. From the tiny apartment on East 71st Street, it could take over an hour to get there. Weekends, she volunteered at the Lenox Hill Settlement House and for the AWVH. She’d learned that staying busy was the best way to keep her mind off the fear of what could happen to Ronnie.

***

For the next few weeks, Helen pestered everyone at the Coast Guard station except for Commander Walsh for word of the USS Warrington, at least as much as she dared to. She asked if they’d receive any wires about its progress back to the U.S. by way of the Panama Canal. July passed, and in August, she found out that the ship had finally arrived in the Navy Yard for repairs.

Helen knocked on OIC Walsh’s door, holding a steaming cup of coffee. “Sir? I know it’s not usual, but could I…” her voice trailed off to nearly a whisper. OIC Walsh was intimidating most times. Helen rarely talked to him, and when she did, it was usually just to say “Yes, Sir.”

“Yes, Miss Dunne?” He didn’t look up from his stack of papers. His broad forehead furrowed and his eyes narrowed as he read whatever critically important paper he had at the top. “Come in. I’m just trying to make sense of my wife’s shopping list. Do you know what Olay Oil is?” Helen tried not to smile too broadly. Maybe OIC Walsh was just an ordinary man after all. Maybe he was like her father might have been if he’d lived.

“Well, Sir, one of the Stewards told me that the Warrington docked at the Navy Yard yesterday. My fiancé is assigned to it. I was, well, I am hoping I can get to the Yard to see him before he ships out again. He wasn’t granted shore leave, you see.”

“Warrington, eh? She’s a Somers-class Destroyer, isn’t she. Being rotated out of service, I heard. I suppose you want a day off? Well, go on, then. Take tomorrow and good luck trying to see him. The Yard is buttoned up tight and if he wasn’t given leave, it’s not likely you’ll even get a glimpse of him.”

“Oh, thank you, Sir! Thank you so much,” Helen realized she was still holding the cup, no longer steaming but still hot. “Here’s your coffee, Sir. And you can get Olay Oil at any druggist.” But OIC Walsh was already back to his papers, his attention taken away by something – perhaps another shopping list, but far more likely the harbor patrols that kept their city safe.

***

She travelled across the Brooklyn Bridge the next day to try to convince someone, anyone, to let her see Ronnie. Just a glimpse of him through the gates or seeing the ship he’d spent so many months on would be enough to know that he was safe and would be home to her soon. Straining to look through the fencing, she thought she saw his familiar, lanky frame walking across the yard toward one of the large buildings. She ran to the gatehouse and frantically pleaded with one of the guards to wave him over.

She blinked, and suddenly, he was standing right in front of her. Their hands wrapped around the chain link fence, their fingers touching. Helen noticed that Ronnie’s fingers were trembling. She guessed hers were, too. For a few moments, they just stared. Then, they walked together; on opposite sides of the fence, neither quite believing the other was there. Every now and then, their hands would twine through the fencing, wrapping together in wordless love and connection. There was so much to say, so much time had passed. They were nearly strangers again. His dark brown eyes took her in. She’d changed, but not too much. She was still the fresh-faced strawberry-blonde that had caught his eye three years earlier at the Jimmy Dorsey show at the pier. Her nose still tipped up just a tiny bit too much at the end, like a ski slope. He wanted to run his pointer down it and then tap the tip, grinning the whole time at some silly joke. Her hair was still a little too curly for the fashion, and flew everywhere in the breeze. All he could imagine was how soft that hair would be, and how good it would smell when they leaned close together for a kiss. He could gaze into those green-eyes forever. And soon, he promised himself, soon he would.

“How did you know we were here?” Ronnie asked.

“I have my sources”, Helen teased.

“I’m just glad you took a chance to come all the way to Brooklyn,” Ronnie said.


“He’s gotten so much more serious,” Helen thought. “I can’t even begin to imagine what he’s been through. I need to be patient with him. Not be too light-hearted too quickly.”

The little time they had with each other passed quickly.

“I’ll only be gone until the end of October,” Ronnie reassured her. “It’s just a quick trip to Trinidad and then home. We’ll stop at Norfolk overnight on the way down the coast. Hey! Why don’t we get married right away when I get back? We can just have a small ceremony at City Hall. My parents, your roomies and your aunt. Hey, know what? My buddies…they told me that the best place to get champagne is Sherry Wines & Spirits on 61st and Madison. That’s not too far from your place, right? Promise me that you’ll go there and get the best bottle of champagne to drink at our wedding.”

Helen left the Yards simultaneously floating on air and desolate that there hadn’t been more time together. She walked the long walk over the bridge back home, her joy at their upcoming reunion tempered with sadness that she’d had so few moments with him before he shipped out again.

***

“Helen, you are marrying such a romantic man!” Margie giggled with a knowing look in her eye. “You know, French champagnes are supposed to – you know, help the wedding night along.”

Patty looked mortified. She was very uncomfortable with any talk of marital relations.

But Margie kept going. “It’s French and it’s fizzy. Makes your head all dizzy and your body just melts.”

Helen raised her eyebrow at this. “Well, I did read about it once in a magazine, but I never tried it myself.”

The thought made Helen smile. Margie could be brash and a little uncouth, but her heart was as big as could be. And for all Patty’s shyness, she was smart and funny. They all fit each other, like puzzle pieces. She’d miss their little household. She wondered what would become of their friendships after she got married.

***

The next weekend, she took a walk over to Sherry Wine and Spirits, like Ronnie had asked. Margie and Patty had ooh-ed and ahh-ed, and Margie had ribbed her mercilessly. It was the place to buy fancy wine.

When she walked into the store the walls were covered in dark wood-paneling, and there was bric-a-brac scattered on the table tops with the wine bottles, making it appear that guests would be arriving for a party at any moment. It felt rich. It even smelled good, perfumed with a subtle, slightly smoky scent. The light was soft and muted, enough to see all the shapes and colors of the bottles, with none of the harshness of a store like the R.H. Macy store on 34th Street that had the bright glare of newness. This store felt and looked like the place to go for the best and the hard-to-find, and it seemed to embrace her. She left with a bottle of their finest. When she got home, she carefully put the boxed bottle into the cupboard. Every day, she promised herself, she would mark off another day passed until Ronnie came home.

The next month passed slowly. She hoped that since they were relatively close by, that she’d get at least one or two letters from him before he came home for good. In early September, she got a letter.

September 8, 1944

“My darling Helen,

I’m posting this to you from the shipyards in Norfolk. I don’t know when I’ll be able to write next. Maybe when we get to Trinidad. I wish I’d been able to take you dancing when I was in New York. I remember how much you love to dance. I hope you haven’t been dancing with any other fellas while I’ve been gone (ha ha).

It’s been real nice being out at sea in peaceful waters, not looking over my shoulder ever second wondering if there’d be some kamikaze appearing in the sky headed straight for us. That can make a guy jumpy, you know, especially if I’d been on an 18 hour shift and needed some sack time. I heard that there were some German U-Boats around, but they didn’t get this far south. Last thing I need on my last trip is to wind up captured by Gerries!

Some of the other guys have been talking about how some new houses are being built out on Long Island, with room for a yard where you could have a little garden for flowers, and maybe a dog. Do you like dogs? I’ve always wanted one, but we couldn’t keep one in our flat in Yorktown.
Well, I guess that’s enough of my going on and on for now. We’ll have loads of time to catch up when I get home.

Your most loving,
Ronnie

That evening, instead of a mark, she drew a little picture of a letter on the champagne bottle, and tucked the letter into the box, under the satin lining.

***

In mid-September, Helen was stranded for a week at the Coast Guard station, owing to a major hurricane that came up the East Coast from south of the Bahamas, wreaking havoc on the New Jersey shore, making landfall on Long Island. Luckily, the station had plenty of provisions, blankets and folding cots, so they were able to stay snug in the harbor patrol office. She was glad Ronnie was safe in the Caribbean now. Every day that passed was a day closer to when she’d see him again. At the end of that week, she marked off the seven days that had passed on the champagne bottle. She wrote a little note to slip into the lining of the box:

September 17, 1944


I think it will only be one more month until Ronnie comes home and we can drink this bottle of champagne. I can’t wait to be his wife, to make a life together. He’s my one true love.

It was a brisk October evening. Helen had come home from work, sat down at the small table in the kitchenette, and taken her shoes off. She was still sitting, rubbing her feet when the phone rang, the operator asking if she could put through a call from Mr. Sarth. Helen shook as the call was connected. Ronnie’s parents didn’t call often, usually only when they had news they wanted to share. Only problem was, news could be good or bad. She was still shaking when she hung up the phone.

1993: The young man pulled into the small gravel parking lot of the antique store in his pickup truck. He’d picked up a few odd boxes from Storage City, left behind in units that hadn’t been paid for. As he dropped the tailgate, something caught his eye: an unopened bottle of 1937 Piper-Heidseick Brut.

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