Annalaura takes a break from missing him by attending a New Year's Eve celebration, and her life is forever altered when she suffers a physical assault. Now, with a broken spirit and an unwanted pregnancy, all she can do is go away. She leaves her life, her family, and Eddie behind. It's better for them that way, isn't it?
Annalaura is left starting her life over, on her own, separated from everything she loves. And she almost thinks she can make it, until she's confronted with Jesus' command to forgive when her attacker resurfaces, looking for absolution. But is it possible to forgive the unforgivable? Annalaura doesn't think so. Instead, she sets out to remake herself and seize the opportunity for revenge.
*Note the subject of sexual assault has been carefully portrayed in a non-graphic way, however discretion is advised if you feel the content may be unsettling.
Release date: March 29, 2021
Print pages: 387
Content advisory: Non-graphic sexual assault
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
There Will Your Heart Be
Susan Marie Graham
Since it’s Eddie’s last night, Annalaura thought their favorite movie would lift his spirits. It’s two-fer Tuesday at the Lincoln Theater, and this week’s featured star is Humphrey Bogart, with the first showing being Casablanca. It’s the thirteenth time they’re seeing it.
“Thirteen,” she whispered to him when they were waiting in line. “I hope that’s not a bad omen.”
She was half-kidding, of course, but Eddie assured her he doesn’t believe in omens.
Now she dips her hand in the popcorn bag without taking her eyes off the flickering black-and-white images.
On the screen, Ilsa is seated at a table in Rick’s Café Américain. She smiles in a way that tells Sam she knows he’s lying when he says he doesn’t remember the song she wants him to play. She hums the tune till he sings and coaxes “As Time Goes By” out of his piano keys. Rick enters and blusters over to confront Sam. Why is he playing a song Rick specifically forbade? Rick’s face shifts in an instant. Rage, then shock. Ilsa! He can’t believe it! His eyes hold hers as grief skims his face, then the mask falls again, the pretense of the hardened, unforgiving, sticks-his-neck-out-for-nobody saloon owner.
“Poor Rick,” Annalaura whispers, like she does every time she sees this picture. Eddie’s fingers dance over hers in the popcorn bag, and she smiles as he hooks her pinky with his. It’s buttery and slimy, but she melts all the same.
Her cousin Patsy’s face pops up between theirs from the row behind, the actors on the screen in a skewed reflection in the lenses of her glasses. “I’m bored. When does he kiss her?”
“Shush!” Their friend Louise says from her seat next to Patsy.
“Shush yourself. It’s not a first run,” Patsy says over her shoulder.
Annalaura rolls her eyes and whispers back. “Just wait.”
Victor Lazlo and Captain Renault join Rick and Ilsa at the table, all of them pretending they’re not uncomfortable that Rick and Ilsa seem to have been well acquainted long before either of them came to Casablanca. Rick reminisces about the first time he met her, how the Germans wore gray and she wore blue.
“You saw Wuthering Heights, didn’t you?” Patsy whispers to Eddie.
“Worst movie ever made.” Eddie puts his feet up on the seat in front of him and flicks some popcorn in his mouth.
Annalaura stifles a smile as Patsy cuffs his shoulder. “Don’t you think the kiss
between Cathy and Heathcliff is more tragic and romantic and heartbreaking than Rick and Ilsa’s?”
“Which one? There’s a lot of kissing in these pictures.”
“Any of them.”
He raises an eyebrow at Annalaura. “We have a bet,” she says.
She holds up two fingers.
“Well?” Patsy reaches over to scoop some popcorn. He raises both hands in surrender and she makes a low clucking sound before slinking back down.
Searchlights scan the outside of the Café while inside Rick is working a bottle of liquor and combing through some painful memories of his and Ilsa’s love affair in Paris years before. Eddie leans over till his breath is warm in Annalaura’s ear. “Wanna go?”
She doesn’t. The brief trip to Casablanca is a welcome distraction. She turns to Patsy, keeping her voice low. “Can you ride with Louise?”
Patsy nods and accepts the popcorn Eddie hands her over the back of his seat. “So you don’t have to eat your own cooking,” he says, and Patsy makes a face at him.
Annalaura and Eddie gather their things and inch their way along the row.
“Hey, Eddie,” Patsy says as they start down the aisle. He turns. “Don’t do anything stupid, promise?”
Louise twists around and offers a cheerless wave.
He salutes them. “Scout’s honor.”
“Shhhh!” someone says from the side of the theater.
Patsy sticks out her tongue in their general direction and settles back in her seat.
Annalaura walks backward, catching the scene at the train station. Rick’s memory of their planned escape from the Nazi occupation of Paris. He’s waiting for her in the pouring rain, agitated, checking his watch, when Sam hands him a note. The note is from Ilsa, telling him she loves him, but she can’t go with him, and he’s to forget her, and the rain smears the letters into a blur before his stricken face.
“Anybody here see Wuthering Heights?” Patsy’s voice rises above that of a very drunk Rick, who has just chased Ilsa out of his life.
Annalaura and Eddie muffle their amusement as they exit.
The lobby reeks of popcorn and the buzz of voices as people line up for the next show or the concession stand. Eddie holds her coat open, and she snuggles in. She waits while he puts on his coat and adjusts his hat. This is the last night he’ll wear civilian clothes for a long time. Annalaura can’t settle on how she feels. Proud, of course, when she sees him in his army duds, mixed with the kind of trepidation that threatens to swell to a robust fear if she thinks about it too long.
Outside the Lincoln Theater, the March wind kicks up, biting at her bare legs, blowing her “victory curls” every which way. She puts her tam on and pulls it down around her ears, and wishes she’d worn stockings instead of the usual socks and loafers. She likes to wear flats next to Eddie, because she’s only a hair shorter than he is.
She pulls on her gloves and looks over the coming attractions posters on the side of the movie house. Double Indemnity, Going My Way, Arsenic and Old Lace. Movies wouldn’t be as much fun without Eddie. She’ll have to write and give him the stories in detail.
As she pulls on her gloves, a furious honking sounds behind them, and they spin around. Eddie’s pal, Buzzy, is driving at a crawl in his ‘35 Nash Ambassador, his head sticking out the window.
“Hey, you chumps! How many times you seen that picture?”
Eddie musters his mediocre Bogart imitation. “Thish many, shhweetheart.” He holds up both hands, displaying ten fingers. Annalaura adds three of her own. “It’s our Casablanca anniversary,” she calls.
Buzzy lets out a long, low whistle. “You headin’ back tomorrow, soldier?”
“Crack of dawn!” Eddie hollers back.
“Shipping out any day now.”
Buzzy whistles again, checks the road, and turns back with a sudden bright smile. “Hey. Want me to take care of your girl while you’re gone?” He wiggles his eyebrows at Annalaura and winks. She giggles. Buzzy is such a dope.
“Nobody takes care of my girl but me!” Eddie yells.
Buzzy slaps his steering wheel with a laugh. “Be square, man!” He gives Eddie a salute and speeds off in a voluminous spurt of exhaust.
“I’m gonna miss that knucklehead,” Eddie says with a sigh.
“How come Buzzy isn’t serving?” Annalaura says, meaning How come you’re putting your life on the line and he’s not?
“He tried. Flat feet.”
“Oh. Too bad you don’t have flat feet.”
She means it to sound like a joke, of course she does, but her tone betrays her. Eddie ignores it, but a frown plays at the corner of his lips. He’d been talking about signing up since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Annalaura bites her lip. She’s been waiting all week to have him to herself, what with his family and friends, everybody wanting to see Eddie, shake his hand, wish him well.
In case he never comes back.
She pastes a smile on. “So did I tell you Charlton Heston got married?”
“Yeah, I think.” He smiles at her, his crooked, endearing smile, and she melts again.
Eddie didn’t want to bring his dad’s car because of the gasoline rationing, so they start walking. He hums “As Time Goes By” and delights her by whirling her right there on the sidewalk with streetlights shining over them in golden halos, as if they’re Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
“See, I wouldn’t be such a superb dancer if I had flat feet,” he says.
“It should be the first thing we do when we win the war and you come home,” she says. “We’ll go to the Meadowbrook and celebrate.” She has to keep thinking forward. Planning for the future shows faith he’ll come back, doesn’t it?
He transitions her into a dramatic tango that makes her giggle. “You should go sometimes,” he says as they pause to catch their breath before they continue walking.
“What, without you?”
“Sure. Get out once in a while. I don’t want you moping around.”
“I won’t mope.”
“Really. I’ll have plenty to do. I’ll have a ton of homework, I’ve got my tutoring
kids, and my volunteer stuff at the canteen.” She’d be busy, all right. She’ll be looking for anything to keep her mind off Eddie. She’d seen enough war movies to know what could happen to him.
They pass a house with red and black ribbons adorning the windows, the Kearny High School colors. The Kardinals are playing Ridgewood this week, one of the better teams in New Jersey. Bare wisteria entwines the picket fence, bordered with winter jasmine and a few struggling, deep-blue violets. Eddie reaches over the fence to pick a sprig of violets and presents it with a flourish to Annalaura.
She smiles at the drops of moisture - her mother would have called them angel tears - sparkling on the petals.
“It matches your eyes,” he says, and her heart lifts. She tucks it in the top buttonhole of her coat.
The rawness of the air inspires them to duck inside Whelan’s for a soda and wave at Annalaura’s friend, Millie, seated on a stool behind the counter. The place is empty, except for Joey Busco and Annette Hansen necking in the back booth, no doubt inspired by “In the Mood” playing on the jukebox.
They pick a booth midway, shed their coats and gloves, and slide in on the same side.
Annalaura rubs her frozen nose as Millie rises with a groan and walks over to them.
“This place is dead tonight, thank God,” she says, leaning a hip against the table, hovering a pencil over her order pad. “You’re the only ones interrupting my calc homework.”
Annalaura laughs. “Sorry. You ready for the test tomorrow?”
She shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. I never pull more than a C.”
“I could tutor you,” Annalaura says for maybe the hundredth time.
“Naw. I complain, but I really only want to make it through the year and get the heck out. Did you guys hear Mount Vesuvius erupted? What a blast. My boss is gonna create a milkshake named after it, so stay tuned. The usual?” Millie says, already scribbling it down.
“Sure,” Eddie tells her, and she sashays away.
“So, say, I have...” he begins.
“Listen, I’ve got...” They speak over one another, laugh, and she motions for him to go first.
“I have something for you.” He reaches into his coat and pulls a small yellow-wrapped package from his pocket and holds it out to her.
“Hey, you said no presents.” He’d told her to forget about any going-away gifts. He wouldn’t be able to take anything with him.
“It’s for your birthday. I won’t be here in June, so…”
She ticks at the paper with her nail and unwraps a small box. “Aw, Eddie,” she says when she holds up a chain with a silver heart. Don’t start bawling.
There’s an etching on the back of the heart. Matthew 6:21. It’s his special verse for her. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“I could be gone a long time,” he says. “It’s so you don’t forget how I feel about you.”
As if she could forget anything about him. Her eyes sting. Crying would be a disaster. Crying would make him feel terrible, then she’d feel guilty, then he’d feel guilty and it would ruin his last night home. She turns her face away and blinks madly, holding her chestnut-colored hair up to let him struggle with the tiny clasp behind her neck.
“It’s a locket,” he says.
“Yeah? What kinda picture should I put inside?”
He laughs. “Whatever you want.”
I want you not to go. She swivels around, fiddles with her purse while she collects herself. “I’ll never take it off,” she promises. “I got you something too. That you can take with you,” she adds at the objection she knows is coming. She withdraws a small box and hands it to him.
He flushes when he unwraps it and holds up a chain with a silver cross. “Gee, that’s swell, Annie.”
“It’s good to have a cross on, in case...” she blurts but doesn’t finish. God. Why did she say that? The cross is in case he’s killed, they’ll know he was a Christian, and they could say a proper prayer. She read an article in the paper advising this, even though Eddie told her to avoid such things, she’ll only worry.
She can tell by the solemness of his face that he knows what she means, but he ignores it, instead turning and letting her hook the chain behind his neck, and the cross clinks against his dog tags.
Millie walks over and leaves a root beer float with two straws on the table. Annalaura averts her misty eyes. A long-time friend, Millie doesn’t remark on it, but respectfully leaves the order ticket on the table marked Paid in Full. Eddie gives her a questioning look.
“My bit for the cause,” she says, and bends to give him a quick hug. “Stay safe, you big lug.”
He gives her a friendly arm punch, and she retreats behind the counter with her calc book.
Now that they were finally alone, after the fanfare of the week; going-away parties, endless photographs and well-wishes from friends, and after her bumbling explanation about the necklace, Annalaura is tongue-tied. What could she say? The entire country had held its breath when Hitler invaded Poland, and watched with restrained anticipation while the rest of the world was dragged, country by country, into the war. President Roosevelt had ordered aid to the Allies but determinedly stayed out of the fray. And then Pearl Harbor, and the horror of it roused the American spirit into defending its own.
Eddie had enlisted, spent months going through Basic, then Advanced. Now all that’s left is for him to head overseas. Annalaura’s life up to this point had been starkly divided - Before Mommy Died, and After Mommy Died. Now she’s sensing a new dividing line poised to force its way forward; Before Eddie Left and After Eddie Left.
They sip at their straws to ignore the gentle awkwardness between them, but in no time, the glass gurgles empty and there is only a heavy silence. Annalaura rests her hand on his thigh and he lays his hand on hers, caressing it with his thumb. His hand is rough - long hours working at the restaurant. She imagines they’ll get rougher still while he’s away.
“Are you scared, Eddie?” She looks at him.
He takes a moment before answering. “It doesn’t feel real enough to be scared.” He leans back against the cushioned seat and looks at her in a way she can’t decipher. “I’ll write you every chance I get, Annie.”
“You can keep me updated on how the Hestons’ marriage is going.”
She gives him a lackluster smile. “Okay, sure.”
“When I get back we’ll get married, like we planned, only a little later, that’s all. You still want to honeymoon in California, right? Collect a bunch of movie star autographs?”
“Right, so keep up on that, looking through all those girlie magazines and make wedding plans.”
She laughs. “They’re bridal magazines, not girlie ones.”
“Right.” He shoots her a sheepish smile. “In the meantime, you graduate and get through college. Just stay busy. It’ll all be okay, you’ll see. Nothing will change.”
She looks at him, because everything had already changed. The whole world had changed.
“Hey, remember this?” Eddie reaches inside his coat. She laughs when he unfolds a photograph of her from over a year before, at the Lincoln, the very first time they saw Casablanca. Hair in a ponytail, hugging a bag of popcorn, pursing her lips at the camera.
“I’m taking it with me,” Eddie says.
“I didn’t have a smitch of makeup on,” she says, frowning. “Maybe we can take a new one, with my hair down.”
“Nope, this is my favorite. Look how happy you were.”
He checks his watch as he tucks it away. “I’ll need to get you home in a little while. Your curfew.”
She shakes her head. Auntie Etta and Uncle Curtis are tough about the rules on a school night, but they’ll give her leeway on Eddie’s last night.
A moment passes. He brushes something off the table that isn’t there. “Listen. I don’t want you to be worrying all the time or anything, okay?”
She sits back and takes the flower from her coat, twirling it, watching the petals blur into one another. Her answer is slow. How can she promise such a thing? They send the boys home for a week before they’re shipped out. Because a lot of them don’t make it home.
“I won’t.” She’s pretty sure he knows she’s lying.
He puts his arm around her and turns her face to his. “Tell me.”
Eddie always says that when he knows she’s not being forthcoming. Her eyes fill and she shakes her head. “It’s just... I always knew where you were, you know? Fort Dix wasn’t so bad, we still could see each other sometimes. Basic in Texas, not so bad, you could still call. But now. Now you’ll be on the other side of the world. Like, who will I spend an hour on the telephone with every night, and how can we discuss the best date to get married, or the color for my bridesmaids' dresses?” She looks down at her hands. The flower lies twisted and broken in her lap. “I’m feeling sorry for myself. Don’t worry about me.”
He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m coming back, Annie. Really. I’ll say Psalm 91 every day. God’ll look out for me.”
“I know,” she says, because He has to. He has to. And she can’t let Eddie doubt it, so she puts on her best smile and pretends it’s okay.
“Pink,” he says.
She stares at him. “What?”
“Pink. You know, that color of that pretty dress you wore to Homecoming?”
“That was flamingo.”
“That’s a color?”
Eddie used to have a cowlick that spilled over his left eye and she would whisk the tawny strands from his brow. That was before his head had been shaved to within a fraction of its life. She reaches up now and runs her finger across his forehead where the cowlick used to be.
He takes her hand and kisses the knuckles. “Keep up with the Dodgers for me, okay, and write me the details?”
“Even when they lose?”
“Listen. When Pee Wee Reese gets back from service, they’ll be back to their old pennant days, you’ll see.”
“Need you to be strong, okay?” A squeeze on her hand.
“You’ll wait for me?”
“Aw, Eddie, of course I will.”
He frowns as he studies her. Eddie has amazing eyes, the striking gray/blue of a stormy sky. When he looks at her, she feels like she’s the most important person in the world. He cocks his head. “Okay?”
She nods. “Okay,” and tries a smile.
He smiles and kisses her. His lips still taste of butter as they brush against hers and she forgets about everything else, about Casablanca and Wuthering Heights, about college, about the hushed murmurings of Joey Busco and Annette Hansen in the back booth, and what color her bridesmaids dresses should be, and all the other things that seemed worth the trouble before now. Now is only Eddie, and his buttery kiss. Then he buries his face in her hair, and they both allow a few tears to fall, and she thinks that maybe he’s right.
Maybe it will all be okay.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...