It was the first place he wanted to go to. Cass sat in his Lincoln Continental across from the cafe, a car he purchased just a week ago from the money he got from the war. He opened the glove compartment and a blue box rolled out to the edge. He grabbed it and gently placed it in his coat pocket. He looked at his watch and it was 8:42pm, 18 minutes until 9. The time he sent in his telegram to Charlie. He wrote:
I’ve got to see you, its been so long,
please meet me at our usual place on Mondays,
at 9pm tomorrow night.
He pulled down the mirror of his visor, and looked at himself. He looked good, he thought, considering what he’s been through with war. He ran his fingers through his dark brown curls, and adjusted his new horn rimmed glasses he got from Europe, the latest fashion craze that hasn’t hit America. His tired blue eyes started to water when he thought of how much he missed Charlie. The one woman he thought of to get through a night of gunshots and screams in Germany. Then he was solemn when he thought of why Charlie never wrote him a letter. He shook off the negatives, took a deep breath and got out of the Lincoln and walked towards the cafe doors. He adjusted his army uniform with medals given to him by the Vice President now New President Harry Truman and the Army Officials. He opened the door and the warmth hit his body and made it shiver. The sound of glass, and utensils hitting plates filled the air.
“Well I’ll be darn, its one of ours, welcome home solider,” a cook behind the counter shouted. And the few people in the cafe gave him a welcoming nod.
“Anything you want its on the house”, the cook spurted out with a jolly laugh.
The aroma of coffee and delicious meals hit his nostrils and he felt at ease. He took the table with two chairs in the corner where he and Charlie use to sit at on Monday nights. A pleasant jazz sound was coming from the jukebox, it was new and exciting, that Louis Armstrong was going to be big he thought, and smiled to himself.
“What’ll it be handsome”, a waitress asked. He looked at her name tag, Peggy it read. She was probably in her 30s, with strawberry blonde finger curls, and caring brown eyes. She wasn’t a big sight but was comforting to glance at.
“Peggy, like the singer huh,” he asked.
“Haha, I wish sonny, if I had pipes like Peggy Lee, I wouldn’t be here,” she giggled. “So what will it be honey?”
“Just a cup of good ol’ joe mam.” He replied.
“Coming right up.”
He looked around the cafe and saw another soldier with his wife and kids. They were happy. The look of love were in their eyes, and he wanted it. A few tables down was a elderly man with a newspaper, the headline read, “The War is over. God bless America.” A new song was playing on the jukebox, the one he listened to on the way home from Germany, “When the lights go on again”, by Vaughn Monroe. He sang quietly along.
“When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world
And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above
A kiss won’t mean “goodbye” but “Hello to love
When the lights go on again all over the world
And the ships will sail again all over the world
Then we’ll have time for things like wedding rings and free hearts will sing
When the lights go on again all over the world”
He chuckled to himself. What a perfect song for this occasion he thought. Peggy came back and placed the coffee in front of him. “Enjoy”, she said and walked off to refill the elderly man’s, with the newspaper, cup. He sat, smiling at his coffee cup waiting for Charlie to walk in the front door.
It was the last place Charlie wanted to be. Charlie fought about going or not but decided she would for old time sake. She crossed the street and headed towards the cafe. She stopped to adjust her polka dot dress under her bright red trench coat. She fixed her golden brown hair and let out a deep sigh and looked in the cafe windows. “Just breath”, she whispered to herself.
There he was. Sitting on the far corner of the cafe, just like they use to. He looked happy, and good, a little worn out and ragged but still good. His curls were cut short and made him looked even more handsome than she remembered. His body was lean and fit. And she could see his bright blues, behind those glasses, blue for hope she remembered. Blues that turned into sadness, blues that chose to abandon her 6 years ago. She glanced at her reflection, it was older now, she had a more distinguish frame, her dressed hugged her body, and her face beautifully matured. She took a deep breath, wiped a tear that was forming and opened the cafe door. Cass rose from his seat.
“Hello Charlie.” His voice booming with excitement.
“Please, no one calls me Charlie anymore, its just Charlotte”, she replied.
“Oh okay.” He looked surprised as he went around the small table and pulled her seat out.
She slid her fingers on the chair, pulled it back further, and it scraped the floor. He fidgeted and sat down. He looked at her slender body, as she began to remove her outer coat with her hands. Hands that were covered with velvet red gloves. Such delicate hands he remembered. Her golden brown hair were pin curled and it beautifully framed her face. He realized how much he missed her warmth next to his.
“Your so beautiful Charli-Charlotte.” He exclaimed.
“Thanks” She looked out the window and caught a happy couple holding hands and looked back down at the table. Peggy came and brought a cup of coffee for her. “He ordered it for you earlier, you’ve caught a good one hon.” Peggy smiled at Charlie and then said goodbye to the soldier and his family as they were walking out.
“It has two sugars and no cream, just like you like it.” Cass continued. Charlie thanked him, and took an extra packet of sugar and the cup of cream and poured it into the cup. He looked confused.
“What’s wrong Charlie?” He asked.
“How’s your sister Katherine?”
“Anything new with her?”
“Yeah she just got married”, she glared at him.
“Yeah, unlike some men, Jacob wrote her and asked her to marry her, instead of making her wait, she got what most women want!” Charlie remarked.
“Yeah…” Cass hesitated.
“Yep, a man that loves her.”
“Oh.” Cass took a deep breath before switching the subject. “We should go somewhere.
“I don’t know, Charlie, I just want to spend some time with you.”
“Now, you do Cass, now.” She raised her voice and the the elderly man, the waitress, and the cook looked over at them.
“Settle down will you, what’s the matter?”
“Are you seriously asking that?” She snapped.
“What is it?”
“Really Cass, after the last time we talked, this is not…”
He interrupted her, “Your acting like a wet rag Charlie, just cool it will ya?”
“I just don’t even know why you’d ask me here”, she whispered.
“I..I..” he hesitated.
“Listen Cass, I don’t know why your acting all smog in the noggin, but you left me.”
“No Charlie, I didn’t, I told you to wait.”
“Wait Cass”, she laughed, “I waited in the rain, the snow, and the damn heat, I’ve waited for over 3 years Cass, not even a letter with a simple hello, I was 17 Cass, you broke my heart at 17.
“It wasn’t easy Charlie, I was barely 18 and selected for war, but I wrote you Charlie, I wrote you everyday for 6 years, I sent them to…”
“Sure Cass”, she scoffed, “whatever, I didn’t even get a picture either or get to see you!”
“I was at war Charlie, its not like I cold just say, ‘hey could you stop pointing that gun at me so I can go home and see my lady.”
“Others got to see their men.”
“Your not others.”
“I wish I was.”
Charlie turned and looked out the window and fought back tears. A homeless man, was sitting underneath the light pole, shivering. She looked down back at the table. Cass shifted in his seat and rolled the blue box in his pocket with his fingers. Peggy came to the table with a banana nut muffin, compliments of the cook, she placed the plate down and gave both of them a warm smile and started to clean the table where the elderly man had just left. Charlie started to pick at the muffin with a stirrer.
“Would you stop picking at it with that thing.” Cass blurted out.
“Fine, I’ll just do it with my fingers.”
She pulled off her right glove and started to pull of the left when he notice something on her ring finger.
“CASS, is that you?!!” A booming voice said near the entrance. Cass distracted looked up and saw his old high school buddy Dean. Dean didn‘t go to war, he injured his knee in a football game and was left behind at home. Cass sprang from his seat. “DEAN?”
“When did you get back CASS?”
“A couple of nights ago.” Cass replied in a trembling voice still glancing at Charlie’s ring finger.
Charlie rose from her seat. And Dean placed his arms around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Cass was confused. Dean caught his eyes looking at Charlie’s finger.
“Oh, Cass I would like to introduce you to the now Mrs. Wentworth.” And tightened his grip around Charlie. Cass heart sank to his stomach. “Y-Y-You married Dean?” Cass stammered.
“Just following orders to protect.” He saluted Cass.
“Well, we gotta go Cass, it was great seeing you buddy. I’m going to New York for a week tonight and this pretty little number is taking me to the train stop”, he nudged Cass.
“The best thing to happen Cass, thanks.” He hugged Cass, and lead Charlie out. Charlie looked back and whispered “Bye Cass.”
Cass sank in his seat. He pulled the blue box out and placed it on the table and starred at it. It was late when he left the Cafe. He was the only one left walking on the side streets. He walked with his head cast down, eyes fixed upon the ground. Headlights glared at him when they passed, but he kept walking, with his head gravitating to the ground, he faded into the darkness of the streets. Charlie opened the coffee shop door, and went to the corner table. She saw her red trench coat hanging on the chair and went to grab it. There it was, a blue box on the table. She opened it and there was an beautiful heart shaped engagement ring. She read the little note inside the box and became angry. She grabbed the box and slipped her coat on and stormed home. She headed to the attic where it was. A box address to Cass, with all the things that reminded her of him, his coat, their pictures, trinkets he use to get her. She tossed the ring in the box and kicked it, hard. The shelf above the box shook, and her husband’s box tumbled to the ground.
“Darn.” She wiped the rage filled tears and began to pick up photos and papers. There was a paper bag marked junk tied with a rubber band. She was curious so she placed the photos and papers back in the box and sat while removing the rubber band. There were letters. Old ones, dust covered them, so many letters. She brushed the dust and her heart sank when she read the return address. It was letters from Cass. There was a letter that was from 1939, the year Cass told her that he was going to head to war. She opened it.
“My dearest Charlie,
I know that your angry. I’m sorry. I never meant to leave you here
waiting alone unprotected. So I’ve asked Dean to look over you
while I’m gone. I have to do this, not just because I’m a man,
but because that’s what American men do when they are needed
to serve and protect their country for the ones they love. Someone
like you. And also because I would finally be able to buy you
that house on the hill with blue shutters and a red door. Yes,
Charlie. I’m gonna marry you. Right when I come back from this,
I’m gonna march right up to you and give you your favorite things
and ask you to marry me. Until then, I will write you every week
with stories sealed with love. Tell Dean I’ll kill him if anything
happens to you. Love you Charlie. Forever and ever.
Yours truly. Cass.”
She sat. For hours, lost, and took out the blue box Cass had left, the sound of darkness filled the air. Quiet, loneliness, abandonment, misunderstandings. She sat there staring at the letter and the open boxed that sat right next to the end of her polka dot dress, the dress she last wore when she saw Cass, her eyes muted. She began to weep.