Anchor in the Storm(2)

By: Sarah Sundin

“Read it,” her father said, deep and firm.

She slipped a shaky finger under the lip of the envelope. How could one tiny slip of paper hold the power to change their lives forever?

Lillian scanned it, read it, read it again to make sure she comprehended, her breath chuffing out faster and faster, pushing up a smile. “It’s from Jim.”

“Yes . . . ?” Mom said, her eyes anxious.

“No, Mom. Not from the Navy. From Jim. He’s alive.”

“Oh, hallelujah.” She sagged against the wall, eyes shut, hands clasped under her chin.

Dad grabbed the telegram. “Here you go. ‘Alive and whole. Back in Boston. Thirty-day survivor’s leave. Might come home for Christmas. Might bring Arch.’”

“He’s alive, and he’s coming home.” Mom smiled toward heaven.

“Might come home, he said.” Lillian tugged her old maroon sweater tighter around her.

“He’s bringing Arch,” Dad said. “Such a nice young man.”

“Might bring him.” Lillian hadn’t met Jim’s best friend, Archer Vandenberg, who came with a pedigree as hoity-toity as his name, but she didn’t relish the thought of sharing Christmas with some snooty society boy.

At the base of the stairs, Ed and Charlie sang about the unsinkable Avery boys and danced a bad jig with their too-big feet and their too-long legs and their too-deep voices.

A smile burst onto Lillian’s face. Why was she fussing about Christmas? Jim was alive, and nothing else mattered.

She reached outside to pull the screen door shut. Martin Freeman’s Chevy parked on the driveway, and Lucy opened the car door and dashed up the walk.

Lillian frowned. Lucy never opened a door for herself.

Her identical twin sister’s dark blonde hair bounced around her shoulders as she trotted up to the porch, her hazel eyes round, her face pale and drawn. “Did you hear?”

They must have seen the Western union   car and followed it. Lillian smiled to ease her sister’s fear. “It’s good news. Very—”

“How could you?” Lucy’s face twisted and reddened. “You’ve always been coldhearted, but this—”

“Lucy.” Dad set his voice down like a rock and clamped his hand on Lillian’s shoulder.

At that moment, Lillian’s heart felt anything but cold. “Jim’s alive.” Her tone came out clipped. “I suppose it is coldhearted of me to consider that good news.”

“Lillian.” Dad squeezed her shoulder.

Lucy’s lips parted, and her gaze swam between family members. “Jim . . . he’s alive. Well, that explains . . . but haven’t . . . oh, you aren’t listening to the radio.”

Martin stepped to his wife’s side. “You need to sit down, sweetie.”

“Oh yes. In my condition.” She curved one hand around her belly.

Lillian’s shoulders softened in Dad’s grip. After four years of marriage, Lucy was finally carrying a child into her fourth month of pregnancy. With her emotions in turmoil, outbursts were expected. Still, would an apology be too much to ask for?

Martin guided Lucy to a wing chair as if she were fragile and precious.

Familiar jealousy wormed inside. Men never treated Lillian that way. Since she was already shattered, they gaped at her in shock, then swept her into the corner and walked on past. She would never be precious.

Lillian thrust the door shut and left her self-pity outside in the cold.

“Such news,” Lucy said. “So awful.”

Ed fiddled with the radio knobs, and voices broke through the static, somber and strident.

The Avery family gathered in the living room as words organized into sentences, and sentences clarified into truth. Horrible truth about the tropical land of Hawaii and the naval base at Pearl Harbor and Japanese planes with blood-red spots and American ships in flames. Ships sinking. Lots of ships. Good strong ships. And men killed. Lots of men. Good strong men.

Lillian’s oldest brother, Dan, was on a cruiser somewhere in the Atlantic. The second-oldest brother, Rob, served in San Diego. Jim was back in Boston after surviving a sinking. What would happen to them now?

“We’re at war,” Lucy said with a sob.

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