It was December 31, 1944 in New York. Clara was in the Canteen, a glass of Coke sat on the table in front of her. She was wearing the same dress she wore when she and Larry met. As she watched the couples danced, she remembered his parting words before he got on the train. “Wait for me at the Canteen on New Year’s Eve. I will be there before midnight.” This was last year.
She glanced at the clock. It was 11:15p.m. Soon Larry will be here, she thought, with a smile. Her heart skipped a beat. She had waited all year to see him. Now it was just a matter of minutes.
Just then a man in uniform came over to her table. “Miss Clara Brown?”
She glanced up at him, startled. “Yes?” she said warily.
He held out an envelope. “My name is Private James Smith. A friend of mine asked me to give you this letter.”
Clara looked at the letter but didn’t take it. “A friend?” she murmured, looking up into the soldier’s face. Then, it dawned on her. “Do you mean…?”
“Yes, Larry told me where to find you. He said you would be waiting here for him. He asked me to give you this letter.”
Clara still didn’t take the letter. “Why did he write me a letter?” she asked. “Isn’t he coming?”
The officer didn’t answer right away. He placed the letter on the table next to her Coke. Then said, “Happy New Year” before he excused himself and walked away.
Clara watched his retreating back until he disappeared among the crowd. Then, she stared at the letter. “Why did he write me a letter?” she wondered again. For a long moment she hesitated, before picking it up. She turned it over. There was no return address. Her name was written clearly at the front. Clara. She opened it, a mixture of emotions surged through her.
“Darling Clara”. Her heart warmed at the endearment. Her eyes lingered on those two words before they moved to the first line. “If you received this letter, it means that I didn’t make it.” He’s dead. Her face turned white, her hands began to shake and her breath caught in her throat. He’s not coming because he’s dead. Oh, God, why? Why Larry?
Tears spilled down her cheeks and dropped on the page. The realization that she was never going to see him again hit her like a ton of bricks. The music which had seemed so sweet a few moments ago was grating and she wanted to run of out there but her legs were shaking. She sat there clutching the letter. All I have of him is this letter.
She opened the crumpled page and spread it out on the table. She smoothed the creases, wiping away the tears before they fell. “Don’t be sad, Clara. Just think about the good times we had. Hold on to the memories. That’s what I did when I was in my barracks. I remembered the first time we met. You were sitting at the table sipping a Coke when I walked in. Our eyes met. You gave me the sweetest smile I have ever seen. It gave me the courage to walk over to your table and ask you if I could join you. For some reason, you said yes. Maybe you felt sorry for a poor slob like me or maybe it was the uniform. Whatever the reason, I was very thankful. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting there with the prettiest girl in the establishment.
“We just opened up to each other. We spoke all night. It was hard saying goodbye to you on the doorstep but my heart danced with joy when you said that you would let me take you out for dinner the next night. That was a night to remember. After dinner at Patsy’s Restaurant we went dancing. We made plans to see each other again but that night I got my orders. I was looking forward to seeing your lovely smile again. But it was not meant to be. Don’t be angry with God. I thanked Him everyday for meeting you. You and I will see each other again. Until then, take care of yourself. Remember only the good times. Love, Larry.”
Clara finished reading the letter just as it turned midnight and the patrons began to sing Auld Lang Syne. It was January 1, 1945.
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