Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.
Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.
Washington, DC November 1943
(Adelia, now a typist for the Washington Post who was helping her boss cover a meeting at the State Department, was stunned to spot Charlie, the soldier from home she has long pined for but whom she thought was off at war.)
I stepped back toward the corridor, my ankle turning in¬ward and causing me to stumble. As I struggled not to fall, I dropped my notebook, which clattered against the marble. Heads turned in my direction, seeming more annoyed than concerned. As the others resumed their conversations, Char¬lie stepped from the group and moved toward me in the hall, his face breaking. “Addie?” His tone was disbelieving. I froze, unable to move or speak as he drew close. He reached out, as if to touch me, but his hand foundered midair before falling to his side again. He leaned in to kiss my cheek and his fa¬miliar scent made the room wobble. I struggled not to turn and meet his lips with my own. “Addie.” There it was in that single word, that voice which cut right through and con-nected with my insides as it had since the first time I heard it. “What are you doing here?” He didn’t know any of it—that I had left Philadelphia, or how I had come to be here. Because he had gone first.
“I’m working for the Post.” I watched his face for any sign of disbelief. But Charlie had never doubted me. “I never
expected you to be in Washington,” I added.
His face flinched slightly as though he had been slapped. “You aren’t pleased to see me.”
“Of course I am. It’s just that I thought you were training.” My words came out too quickly, piling on top of one another.
He fumbled with the hat, neatly folded in his hands. “I was, for almost a year. But now I’m here for some extra briefings.” There was a strange undercurrent to his voice. A year had slipped through our fingers. How was that possible? Once it had seemed unthinkable to keep breathing without Charlie, but somehow the clock had kept ticking.
I tried to imagine his days in between, all of the things he had done and seen since we’d last laid eyes on one another. But my mind was blank.
“Your hair,” he blurted. I raised my hand to my temple, wincing at how tousled I was from the rain. “It’s short.” It was the bob, so different than last time he had seen me. “I mean, I like it.” I couldn’t tell if he was just being kind.
“How’s your family?”
“Holding up as well as can be expected.” He shrugged, helpless but not indifferent. “My folks are in Florida. Mom has thrown herself into the women’s auxiliary.” It sounded so much like Mrs. Connally that I had to smile. “Dad’s Dad.” Guilt at having left them flickered across his face. “It tore them apart, you know.” Yes, I knew only too well. The Connallys lived in a place where their grief would always be as raw as the day it all happened, no matter how much time passed or how far away they moved. “They’re together, but in a sepa¬rate kind of a way. They know now,” he added, and I wanted to ask if he meant about the army, or what had been between us, or both.
The question stuck in my throat. “And the boys?” I asked instead.
“Jack, well, he works at a plant in Port Richmond. He’s taking night classes at Temple, though.” Jack had been the real brain of the boys—he might have gone to an Ivy League school and practiced medicine as he once dreamed, but for money and circumstance. “He hasn’t been called up yet, thank God. Mom couldn’t bear to lose another son.”
I swallowed. “And Liam?”
Charlie stared hard at the floor. “I’m not sure.” But surely his parents knew about Liam’s whereabouts, and whether or not he was okay. Or had they cut ties with him as well? My stomach tugged. I still hated Liam for what he had done, yet I could not help but worry.
Charlie and I watched one another, not speaking. We had talked about everyone, of course, except the one name we could not say. “How long will you be in town?” I asked, not sure what answer I was hoping to hear.
Before Charlie could reply, voices came from the confer¬ence room behind him. He looked over his shoulder. “There’s another meeting. I’m going to have to go.” A knife ripped through me at the idea that he might leave again just as quickly as he had appeared. “Addie, I want to talk to you. Meet me tonight?” he said suddenly. “The Old Ebbitt Grill at seven.” So he did not want our chance reunion to end either.
I peered at him, trying to read the meaning behind his words. Were we merely two old friends, trying to catch up?
No, it was still there, that hungry, yearning look in his eyes I had first seen the night on the dock. He wanted to pick up once more and return to that moment when we had stood on the edge of the world, gazing down at everything that lay be¬fore us. He wanted to make things whole again.
Something licked at my insides then, familiar like a forgot¬ten dream: hope. Even after everything that had happened, Charlie still reached a place in me that made me believe things could be good again.
But something held me back. “I don’t know.” I was sud¬denly angry. Did he really think we could put all of those broken pieces back together and not see the cracks? Doubt thundered beneath my feet like a freight train and the ground began to sway. I had managed to make my way back from the place that nearly killed me and stand despite it all. I could not afford to let him in and risk going there again.
“Please, Addie. I’ll wait for you.” There was a desperation about him I had only seen once before in my life. Before
I could answer, the men spilled forth from the conference room, enveloping Charlie, and we were separated by a sea of suits and uniforms giving off the odor of cologne and cigarette smoke. I had not had the chance to answer.
Our eyes met and locked, his making a silent plea before he slipped from sight.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pam Jenoff is the Quill-nominated internationally bestselling author of The Kommadant’s Girl. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are based on her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.