Drama Romance American


Written by Lavinia M. Hughes

1994: PROVINCETOWN, MASSACHUSETTS. Ecstatic at not having to bundle up in three layers of clothing, Stephanie hopped in her car and headed for Route 6 in Provincetown from her home in Truro, the neighboring town. She didn’t mind observing the 45 mph speed limit as it gave her time to see the beauty of the first day of spring on Cape Cod. Her car dashboard told her the temperature was 60°F. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was a cloudless, clear blue. She rolled down the windows and inhaled the heady, newly moist scent of the Atlantic.

              There were signs of seasonal businesses planning to open. Owners were painting their buildings, parking lots were being re-paved, and food vendors’ trucks were on the road getting ready to stock up the restaurants for the summer crowds. This was Stephanie’s favorite time of year when all things were new and young and full of hope like she used to be. Hey, I’m only 40. I’m not that old yet, she told herself.

              She pulled into her parking space and went inside using the separate office entrance. Her boss, a semi-retired lawyer working out of his expansive home, was cranky but he paid well. Yeah, he pays well for me to take his abuse, thought Stephanie, cringing just a bit at the busy day ahead.

              “Stephanie! Nice of you to join us!” Jerry Fuller thundered at her.

              “I’m early, Jerry. There was no traffic to speak of,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. “But, you know, Jerry, that will all change in a few days when the restaurants open up for the season. There are already signs of it.”

              “Yeah, whatever. Did you draft up that Motion to Withdraw yet? I just cannot represent anyone from that troublemaking Westgate clan. I don’t know how I got stuck with it.”

              “You were assigned it as a public defender, Jerry. You know how it works.”

              “Well, it doesn’t work for me! Draft up the motion and I’ll sign it. See if the judge will go for it. “

              She got settled in at her desk and gazed out the window at a sweeping view of the hill on which the house sat. It extended to Provincetown Harbor before it gave way to Cape Cod Bay, the inner body of water on the Cape Cod peninsula. Mr. Fuller’s home office was on the water and faced the dramatic curve of the land, like a fishhook, always fascinating to her. Long Point Lighthouse graced the tip of the Wood End peninsula, fishing boats sailed out of the harbor on their daily journeys, pleasure boats zipped around even at this early hour, whale watch ships sat at anchor awaiting the season’s first tourists, and a commuter boat to Boston came in on the early run. The Atlantic sparkled.

              “Jerry, what a beautiful day. It’s finally spring!” she said.

              “Ugh. So what? Got that motion typed yet?”

              “Yes, here it is,” as she handed it to him for his signature. Stephanie looked forward to the half-hour ride down Route 6 to deliver it to the Orleans District Court. She hoped the judge would allow his motion. Stephanie was not in the mood for Jerry’s yelling today. Somehow, she thought to herself, he’s done all right financially. Look at this house. She had looked up the property value of it and knew that it was valued at $4 Million, not just because it was a big house with a two-acre lot—rare for Provincetown—but because it was in Provincetown, which was incorporated as a town around 1714, but the Nauset Indians had lived there long before then. There was precious little land to be developed.

              “Stephanie! I’m out of checks! Can you get some from the closet? I have to pay these damn bills . . . I can’t believe it’s another month gone by. The greedy jackals want my pound of flesh again . . .” he yelled from his office.

              “Yes, I’ll bring them right in.”

              Stephanie went to the supply closet and made a mental note to clean it out and organize it as part of her annual spring-cleaning ritual. There were boxes and papers and stacks of random materials scattered everywhere. This offended her sense of order. Finally, she spied the checks on the top shelf. Being only 5’2” she got the step stool and grabbed the box of checks. As she grabbed them, another box wedged next to it came tumbling down.

              She saw to her dismay that it was filled with old pictures which scattered all over the floor. She stooped down to look at the pictures and noticed a familiar face. There was Jerry in a formal U.S. Navy uniform standing next to a woman in a U.S. Navy uniform. The writing on the back of the picture said Jerry and Leyla, 1944, San Diego, CA. There were a few other pictures with it as well. Many were navy-related pictures, again with Jerry and Leyla at what looked like formal Navy functions. Several were obviously of him and Leyla when they were off duty, standing on a boardwalk. He was in crisp slacks and polo shirt, she was in a flowing summer dress and he had his arms around her as they smiled at the camera. Both must have been about 20 years old. They looked like they were in love. Stephanie was transfixed by these photos as she couldn’t imagine the curmudgeonly Jerry as anything but a sour, cranky old man.

              “Stephanie! Where are my checks? Did you go to the factory to get them or what?”

              “Coming!” and she shoved the pictures onto a low shelf and brought the checks in to him.

              Trying to be upbeat, she asked “So, Jerry, do you have plans for the weekend? Looks like everything is opening up for the season. There are some great restaurants and I hear there’s a new art gallery on Commercial Street.”

              “Bah. What do I care?”

              Stephanie ignored his usual dismissal of anything positive and went back to her desk. Just as she sat down she heard the doorbell ring. She went to answer it and was pleased to see their attractive 60-year old neighbor, Miss Eldredge, standing at the door holding out a plate of molasses cookies.

              “Hello, dear, I did some baking this afternoon and thought you and Jerry might be getting a mite peckish.”

              “Oh, Miss Eldredge, the smell is fantastic. It reminds me of Sturbridge Village. How kind. Come in.”

              Jerry came out when he heard them and seemed actually interested in both inspecting the baked cookies and Miss Eldredge.

              “Miss Eldredge!

              “Priscilla, please call me Priscilla.”

              “Priscilla! How did you know I was hungry?” obviously ignoring the fact that Stephanie might also be hungry. “Come in, come in.” He led her to the conference room where he uncharacteristically fetched her a cup of coffee, got one for himself, and they sat down to commiserate over their snack.

              Stephanie left to drive to the courthouse. She cruised down the highway and decided to stop in at one of the fish & chips restaurants and treat herself to lunch. The familiar scent of the fresh fish being fried was, to her, one of the signs of spring in this resort area where, in a few places, there were views of the Atlantic Ocean from both sides of the road.

              When she came back from her extended lunch errand, she was surprised to see Jerry and Priscilla still talking in the conference room. He was actually smiling, a rare thing for Jerry. Stephanie thought she could see some of the handsome sailor he once was in his smile.

              The next day, Stephanie came in and tackled the usual pile on her desk. She couldn’t help thinking back to the photos she found in the closet. She decided to get them and ask Jerry about them. Stephanie just couldn’t imagine there was a time when Jerry was a young up-and-comer, in love with a beautiful woman. She got the photos and brought them in to Jerry’s office.

              “Jerry. I found these in the supply closet, thrown in a pile. I have to ask you. What’s your story?”

              He turned red, looked taken aback by her question and didn’t answer her. He stared off into the distance. 

              “Jerry, why don’t we take our lunch onto the patio? Tell me about her and your naval adventures. My dad was in the service during WWII and had some pretty good stories. And of course, some weren’t so good . . .”

              They went out onto the patio and settled down with their lunches.

              “Jerry, look. The crocuses are up! They’re my favorite,” said Stephanie.

              “Well, Stephanie, I know you love spring, but it has sad memories for me. Yes, the crocuses are beautiful. My gardener does a great job. But all right, I’ll tell you my story.”

              In 1944, I was stationed in San Diego. I met Leyla, who was a WAVE at the time. That’s what they called ladies in the Navy. They did shoreside duties to free up the male sailors for more challenging duties at sea and abroad. Of course, it’s all different now. Women can just join the military and do most things men do. Anyway, our paths crossed regularly and we started dating. We fell in love after just a month. We went everywhere together when we weren’t on duty.

              Then I was shipped out to Fiji as the war progressed. I wrote to her regularly and I know the censors edited our letters, crossing out certain things so as not to give away our positions. I never got a letter back from her, though. It broke my heart, as we had discussed getting married. When I finally came back to San Diego after the war was over a year later in the spring of 1945, I tried to find her. She wasn’t in San Diego. I knew she was from Iowa, so I got on a train, figuring I had to head back east to get home to Massachusetts anyway, so I could stop in Iowa. I got off the train in Des Moines and took a cab to her house, which was actually a farm. I looked forward to seeing her because I missed her so much. She answered the door and it was obvious she was pregnant. I hadn’t seen her in a year, so I knew it wasn’t mine. She looked sad, guilty, and shocked all at the same time.

              “Jerry! I thought you were dead! I heard that your ship was attacked . . .” Leyla said, not sounding like she really believed it.

              “Well, it was shelled, but the damage was minor. I can see you’ve moved on,” I told her.

              “I married my childhood sweetheart; we’ll run my dad’s farm together,” she said.

              “Stephanie, I don’t know if you’ve ever had your heart broken, but it really is like someone stabbed you in the heart. She seemed far away, resolved to life working on a farm, and not the lively woman with a future ahead of her that I had met a year ago. Maybe it was just my idea of her, but that’s how I remember her. She kinda just dismissed me and didn't seem too broken up about it.”

              “Oh, Jerry, that is sad. We always like to think someone returns our affection.”

              “And, as I told you, it was spring. As I left her farm, I saw the crocuses and daffodils and tulips starting to come up with all their promise of life and color and beauty. Their happy existence seemed to mock me. Anyway, I’m getting sappy now. But that’s my explanation of why spring doesn’t excite me too much.”

              “Well, Jerry, just like the seasons, life goes on. If I were you, I’d stop feeling sorry for myself—yes, I can talk to you that frankly—and go give that Priscilla a call. She’s into you, you know.”

              “No, she’s just being polite,” said Jerry.

              “You men are idiots. For a guy with a military background, a law degree, and financial acumen, you’re not too observant. Believe me, women don’t bring your favorite cookies over and hang around unless they’re into you.”

              He looked pensive. “Stephanie, how did she know those were my favorite cookies?”

              “I think maybe a little birdie told her,” said Stephanie, smiling at Jerry, and for once he smiled back.

# END #

March 26, 2021 17:39

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