1022 Evergreen Place Page 2

He worried that he wasn’t as good-looking as Rhodes. He wasn’t as smooth, either, but that probably didn’t attract Mary Jo anymore, not after being involved with a player like David. Unlike Rhodes, Mack wasn’t tall, dark and handsome. He was just under six feet and his brown hair had a hint of auburn in it, which accounted for the sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He was an average guy, he supposed. He might work for the fire department, but he doubted anyone would select him for one of those hunk calendars.

Mary Jo, however, was beautiful. He wasn’t surprised that someone like David Rhodes would notice her. Mack had long decided that her beauty was part of the problem; it put her out of his league. He was sure she could have her pick of any man she wanted. All Mack could hope for was that, given enough time, she’d want him.

When he knocked at her front door, Mary Jo immediately opened it, almost as if she’d been waiting for him, although that was unlikely to be the case. Noelle cooed from her seat and waved her arms, and he chose to see that as a greeting just for him.

“How’s my girl?” he asked. He handed Mary Jo the bottle of chilled pinot grigio he’d taken from his fridge, then walked into the living room and reached for the baby. As he lifted her in his arms he grinned at Mary Jo. “I’ve only been away a couple of days and I swear she’s grown two inches.”

“She changes every single day,” Mary Jo said. “I see it, too.”

He tickled Noelle’s chin and she gurgled back, which made him laugh.

“There are those World War II letters,” Mary Jo said, pointing at the coffee table.

Mack looked away from Noelle long enough to glance at the cigar box sitting there. He could tell it was faded and a little shabby. “How many letters were inside?”

“Dozens. It didn’t seem like that many when I found them, but the paper is really thin.”

She’d been enthralled by her discovery. Mack was interested, too—who wouldn’t be? These letters were a direct link to history, a personal connection to some of the most momentous events of the previous century.

“The article I read on the internet called this paper onionskin and it said the letters were referred to as V-mail.” She smiled at that. “I think the V stands for victory.” She sat on the sofa and Mack joined her, still holding the baby. He divided his attention between Mary Jo and Noelle.

“I’ve read them twice. They’re addressed to Miss Joan Manry.”

“I remember.” Mack recalled the recipient’s name, now that she mentioned it, although not the sender’s. He cocked his head but couldn’t read the return address. “Who are they from?”

“His name is Jacob Dennison and he was a major stationed in Europe during the war. Some of his letters have black marks on them, but a lot of them don’t have any at all. I assume those marks were put there by censors. You know, I read that there were over two hundred censorship offices. Their job was to ensure that military personnel didn’t reveal anything sensitive in their letters.” She paused. “Of course, that doesn’t explain why these letters were hidden.”

“I’m sure that had more to do with Joan’s circumstances than Jacob’s,” Mack said wryly.

“Well, even with the black marks, I’ve been able to follow quite a bit. They’re fascinating. I can hardly wait for you to read them.”

Mack nodded, caught up in her excitement.

“Joan worked at the Bremerton shipyard,” Mary Jo went on, “and she lived with her older sister. Elaine—that’s her sister—was married and her husband was somewhere in the South Pacific. I gather Joan met the major at a USO dance and they started writing after he shipped out to England.”

Mack gently bounced the baby, to Noelle’s evident approval. “I’d like to take a look at the letters,” he said.

“Here’s the first one. I put them in chronological order.” She unfolded the letter carefully and handed it to him.

Maj. Jacob Dennison

36354187 Hgs. Co.

Hgs. Cond. 1st

Service Platoon.

U.K. Base APO 413%P>M> N.Y., N.Y.

January 15, 1944

Dear Joan,

How’s my best gal? My only gal! I just got another letter from you. When I was given the envelope and saw the return address it gave me the biggest smile. I read it three times because it made me feel even closer to you. I’m awfully homesick, but I close my eyes and see your face and everything seems better. I think about you a lot; it helps me when I can remember familiar places and people I care about.

Until I joined the Army I’d never left the state of Washington. My mom and dad write me, too. My brother’s in the South Pacific and is seeing a lot of action. Sometimes I wish I’d joined the Marines instead of the Army because I’m eager to do my part to end this war. No one knows when the invasion’s going to happen. Soon, I hope. They have us training day and night. I’m getting to where I’m almost used to leaping out of an airplane. That sounds nuts, doesn’t it? My mother always said I was a daredevil. I guess she was right.

I’m glad you got the Christmas gift I mailed you. Sorry it arrived late. I hope that when Christmas rolls around this year I’ll be with you. I thought about that a lot when I heard Bing Crosby on the radio singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

I don’t know what to say about Elaine. I feel bad that she’s causing you problems. I wish I could figure out what she objects to about me. Would it help if I wrote her a letter? I’ll do whatever you say—anything other than not have you as my girl.

I’ll write more when I can.

Hugs and kisses,


Mack finished the letter and set it aside. He read the next two in quick succession.

“Aren’t these letters wonderful?” Mary Jo was watching his reaction avidly.

Mack had to agree. “Yeah, they are.” He reached for another.

Maj. Jacob Dennison

36354187 Hgs. Co.

Hgs. Cond. 1st

Service Platoon.

U.K. Base APO 413%P>M> N.Y., N.Y.

March 3, 1944

Dear Joan,

How’s my best gal? I got a day pass earlier in the week and went to London and ate fish and chips. They were the most delicious I ever tasted, and that’s saying something, since I was born and raised near Puget Sound. My dad loved to fish and my mom fried up the best trout you can imagine. This fish was different and they served it wrapped up in newspaper. I even took the train to Stratford and got to see one of Shakespeare’s plays. Did you ever see King Lear? I’m not much for that fancy language, but it was a good story and it broke up the monotony. Some of the guys got drunk and didn’t get back to base on time. Don’t get me wrong—I drank my share of brew, but I was smart enough not to overdo it.

Thank you for writing. I can’t tell you how much your letters mean to me. The instant I see 1022 Evergreen Place on the corner of the envelope, my spirits rise. Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you, Joan. You said it’s too soon for me to tell you that, but I know what I feel. It isn’t just being away from home like you suggested, either. This is real. You said you can’t really get to know a person through letters. I think you can. I feel as though I know you, and can you honestly say you don’t know me? When I get home, God willing, I’ll ask you properly, down on one knee, to be my wife.

I’ll write again tomorrow. Write me again, too. I’ll keep in touch as much as I can. It’s lights-out so I’ll sign off for now.

Hugs and kisses,


Mary Jo leaned forward slightly. “Were you able to find out anything about the previous house owner?” she asked. “I want to learn whatever I can about Joan and Jacob.”

Mack had forgotten that he’d volunteered to check with “the landlord”—although it was hardly necessary, since he owned the duplex. He regretted now that he’d lied to Mary Jo about that. He knew she’d be upset at the low rent he was charging her if she realized he was her landlord. She’d feel he was patronizing her or maybe that he expected something in return. Mack suppressed a despairing sigh. He just kept digging himself a deeper hole. One of these days he’d have to tell her the truth—and he would, when the time felt right. Although he wasn’t quite sure how he’d recognize that moment of clarity…

“I did say I’d look into that, didn’t I? I apologize, but I haven’t got to it yet.”

“That’s okay,” she said, accepting his answer easily enough. “Ready to eat?”

He saw that the table was set, with the pot of stew and a plate of biscuits placed in the middle of the table, wine and water glasses by each plate.

“I fed Noelle before you got here,” she told him.

That was his cue to put the baby back in her seat and sit down at the table, which he did. Mary Jo was an excellent cook—as good as his mother, and that was a real compliment. Her own parents died when she was still in high school, and she’d taken over kitchen duties, more out of necessity than desire. Still, she seemed to enjoy cooking and took pride in putting together meals that were nutritious as well as appealing.

He was no slouch in the kitchen, if he did say so himself, but until she’d moved in next door, his meals had been haphazard affairs. Other than when it was his turn at the firehouse, he never really bothered with cooking. He usually relied on frozen microwave dinners or the various fast-food choices available in Cedar Cove. He didn’t make a habit of dropping by unannounced at his parents’, but whenever he did, his mother always insisted he stay for dinner. Mack didn’t often refuse.

“Hey, this is great,” he told Mary Jo after the first bite. And it was. Tender chunks of chicken, fresh vegetables that weren’t cooked to mush, lots of flavorful broth. The biscuits that accompanied it melted in his mouth. “A guy could get used to eating like this,” he said jovially.

Mary Jo didn’t comment.

Oh, boy, he’d done it again. Would he never learn? “I, uh, didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I just wanted you to know the meal’s delicious…. I’m not suggesting anything else.”

Mary Jo carefully set her fork next to her plate. “I was afraid of this.”

“Afraid of what?” He swallowed before he’d finished chewing, and the biscuit nearly stuck in his throat.

“It’s still awkward between us, don’t you think?”

He nodded, grabbing his wineglass and gulping down a mouthful.

“You don’t need to work so hard, Mack.”

He frowned, unsure what she meant.

“We’re friends, right?”

“Friends,” he repeated.

“Good,” she said. She seemed satisfied. “Friends are comfortable with each other. We shouldn’t worry that what we say is going to be taken wrong or out of context.”

He coughed and nodded again.

“Then relax and enjoy yourself. Stop worrying that I’ll be offended, okay?” She sent him a dazzling smile.

“Okay,” he said. This comment was supposed to put him at ease, and yet her words had the opposite effect. Yes, they were friends, but Mack had hoped they would be so much more.

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