High Summer Now - And In 1942

            Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

It's high summer and the heat is on.  Sunshine beats down across the dry grass and filters between the leaves.  It's a somnolent time of year with long afternoons perfect for a little drowsy down time or even a nap.  I wish I had more spare time to slow down with the rest of the world to enjoy the season but I steal my moments when and how I can.   I'm writing and signing new contracts, already ones for 2013 and trying to spend a little extra time with my kids before school starts up again in mid-August.

Now as a lot of readers know I write a wide variety of romance, from sweet to heat, from contemporary to historical.  One of my releases this year, my first full length historical romance, In The Shadow of War takes place, in part, during the summer of 1942.  Here's the blurb and then a scene from the novel, one sharing not just the romance between my hero and heroine but the overall angst and heart ripping sorrows of the time.

Her great-granddaughter wants to know if Bette remembers World War II for a school project and her questions revive old memories….
Small town school teacher Bette Sullivan's life was interrupted when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 but her world changed forever when she met Private Benny Levy, a soldier from the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York stationed at Camp Crowder, the local Army base.
Their attraction is immediate and mutual but as their relationship grows their love and lives are shadowed by World War II. As the future looms uncertain the couple comes together with almost desperate need and a powerful love they hope can weather anything, including the war.

            July unfolded with such overbearing heat no one ventured out unless they had to run an errand, be somewhere, or buy something.  When they gathered on porches or at the post office or on the benches beneath the aged trees on the courthouse lawn everyone swore it’d never been so hot before and blamed the war.  The war changed everything and it became more evident each day. Sugar already required ration coupons to buy and more rationing loomed ahead.  War bond posters could be seen everywhere and radio programs hawked them constantly. Everyone installed heavy drapes, blackout curtains, for the scheduled nights and if someone didn’t cover the window the neighborhood wardens went around chewing out anyone who let a sliver of light show.

            Bette noticed when she ventured downtown the only men around were soldiers from Camp Crowder or were too young to serve or too old to go to war.  She saw a few young married men like Teddy and Floyd, farmers, and she noticed how some people sent cold glares their direction.  Neither spoke of it to her but in mid-July, Teddy joined the Navy. Within a week’s time he took a train for the Great Lakes naval installation and she added another letter to write to her list.  Poor Polly, Teddy’s wife, wailed like a banshee for a full week then announced she wouldn’t stay on the farm alone.  With housing at a premium, Polly rented the farm to a couple from Kansas and she rented a room in town.  Bette also heard the gossip about Evelyn Anderson and her old pal Robbie, how they were engaged.   She congratulated Evelyn when she saw her downtown and dismissed Robbie with a little laugh because his sworn love didn’t last long.  If she didn’t have Benny, maybe she’d cared more, but she didn’t.

            Benny came into town with a pass at least twice a week, once each weekend if he could, but sometimes he didn’t have long to stay.  When they went to the picture show the news reels upset them both, anxious for their distant brothers, so they danced or dined more often than they went to a movie.  Each time they grew closer and she possessed a certainty he loved her, too.  Neither spoke aloud, but Bette knew.

              Aunt Virgie spent many hours at the USO or out at the camp as a Gray Lady helping out in the post hospital.  She read to the sick or injured young men and sometimes wrote letters home for them.  Bette would have volunteered to do the same but the Army wanted matrons, not young women.  She tried to build new lesson plans for the coming school year, but her heart wasn’t in the task.  To pass the long hours when Benny couldn’t come, Bette read her way through the classics again.

            In the last week of July, on a Monday, she finished Robinson Crusoe and decided she’d visit the library to check out another book.  The weatherman predicted highs over a hundred degrees, but Bette walked slow and kept to the shade.  Her thoughts headed out toward Crowder as she wondered what Benny might be doing and when he might call or get a pass.

            Bette emerged from the library into the humid afternoon, Wuthering Heights in one hand, to find Benny standing on the sidewalk in front of an Army jeep parked askew.  He wore dirty fatigues stained with oil and grease.  Her heart danced with a wild joy, but faded as she realized something must be wrong.  Before she could say anything, he rushed over and grasped her by the shoulders with grimy hands.

            “Are you okay?” he demanded, voice hurried and almost hoarse.

            “I’m fine, but you’re not,” Bette said. “What’s the matter, honey?”

            Trouble shadowed his eyes and as he paused to light a Lucky, hands trembling.

            “Something’s wrong,” he said in an awful tone. “I don’t know what but I got a feeling.  Ma gets them like this, some Irish bullshit and I’ve got it a few times before.  It always means someone I love…”

            He cut off the word, dragged hard on the smoke then continued. “It means someone I care about’s in trouble and something terrible’s happening or will.  I came to town to check on you ‘cause I got worried but you’re okay so it’s gotta be Ma or David.  I don’t know what but I know it’s something bad.”

            Alarm flared in Bette like a just struck match even as she caught his brief mention of love.  He’d all but declared he loved her. But she couldn’t rejoice now. Benny’s obvious agitation scared her and she couldn’t help being concerned.  She’d never seen him this way, emotional and upset, so nervous he smoked the Lucky in swift puffs.  Whatever affected him must be powerful, she thought as she tried to offer comfort.

            “Tell me how you feel,” she said. “I don’t understand.”

            In Bette’s quiet world no one but her late Granny Sullivan ever experienced premonitions or odd connections with loved ones.  Granny called it fey and she’d predicted her own death days before in a matter of fact fashion.  Bette never felt such strange stirrings, but she believed Benny even though it terrified her.

            “My nerves are jangling,” he said. “I feel hot, then cold and shaky inside.  Christ, it feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.  Sweetheart, I’m glad it ain’t you and I don’t think its Ma.  I’d call her up to be sure but if everything’s a-okay, I’d scare her to death and it’d cost a fortune.  It’d take too long anyway. I figure its David.”

            Benny lit a fresh smoke from the smoldering butt of the first. “The kid’s out there with his ass hung to the wind in New Guinea flying ancient A24’s.  Half his letters are blacked out so I don’t know how bad it really is, but it sounds like they’re going against Jap Zeros all the time.”

            Bette cupped her hand over his cheek.

            “You’re just tired,” she said. “You’ve been working hard and you don’t get enough sleep.  Maybe you have indigestion or something.  That’s all it is.”

            She didn’t believe it even as she said it and Benny didn’t buy it either.

            “Naw,” he said. “I don’t feel good for sure but it ain’t any of those things.”

            “Come up to the house for a while,” she said. “Get calmed down and have some iced tea or something.”

            Benny shook his head. “I can’t, sweetheart.  I shouldn’t even be here.  I’m supposed to be in the motor pool right now tearing into the engine of a transport truck.  I hauled ass to come check on you and if I don’t get back soon, they’ll list me AWOL and then I’ll be in some deep shit.  I really gotta go.”

            He cursed more than she’d ever heard him, but Bette didn’t care.  She’d heard earthy words before.  Her father and brothers used them often enough, but Benny’s words just demonstrated how upset he was.

            “Can’t you stay just a few minutes?” Bette asked. “I’m worried about you, Benny.”

            “I’ll be fine,” he said. “It’ll pass, it always does, but I’m going to be antsy waiting for the shoe to drop.  I’ll see you in a couple of days, Friday for sure. Sarge promised me a pass. Give me a quick kiss, would you?”

            “Sure,” she said, choking down tears balled tight in her throat.

            Bette put her arms around his neck and kissed him, slow and tender.  She held him close, uncaring his filthy fatigues might stain her dress and they remained locked together for a few sweet moments.  Then he pulled away and brushed her hair out of her face.

            “Bye, Bette.”


            He’d turned toward the jeep but he turned back. “Yeah?”

            “Can you call me later so I know you’re all right?”

            Benny hesitated for just a moment and nodded. “Sure, doll, I will.  Don’t worry, really.”

            Bette wanted to run after him, hold him in her arms again, but she didn’t because she couldn’t.  Instead she swallowed down a sob and nodded, standing still on the sidewalk and watched as he drove away too fast in the jeep.   When it disappeared over the hump of the hill, she let the tears slide down her face and tasted their salt in her mouth.

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