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L.K. Campbell

Author of Contemporary & Historical Fiction

A Different Tune

 

 

Prologue

 

June 5, 1944

England

 

THE TENSION IN THE marshaling area was as thick as the okra gumbo his best buddy liked so much. Scott heard none of the jabber and joking that always took place before practice jumps because this was the real deal. With the weather as clear as a bell, there wouldn’t be any last minute orders to abort the mission this time.

But where is Ed? He’d looked for his buddy earlier and someone said he was with the company clerk, filling out insurance papers. Scott didn’t want to think about insurance papers, and he sure as hell didn’t want to think about getting killed.

Using the skills drummed into his head through countless hours of training, he helped Private Thrupp strap on every weapon and piece of gear he could carry.

“I don’t know how the planes can get off the ground with all of the extra weight we’re carrying.”

“All I need is my M-1 carbine, Sarge,” Thrupp said.

Scott shook his head and took a tin of black camouflage paint out of his pack. He smeared it on Thrupp’s face and then his own. Thrupp seemed too young to be a soldier, even though he was only a few years younger than Scott.

“I’ll be damned. We’re about to go to war, and you’re putting on makeup.”

The sound of Ed’s voice caused a wave of relief to rush over Scott.

“Where the hell have you been? I was looking all over for you. You know I can’t jump out of that damned plane without you right behind me.”

“Sorry I’m a little late, but I had to fill out insurance papers. You know, if I don’t make it home, Mama can be consoled with that extra ten thousand dollars we get for being crazy enough to volunteer for this outfit.”

“You or ten thousand dollars? Tough trade,” Scott said.

Ed tugged aside the heavy parachute strapping to get to his shirt pocket.

“Oh, by the way, you got a piece of mail this morning, and I told Corporal Mitchell I’d give it to you.”

He didn’t have to look at the return address. The familiar pink paper told him all he needed to know. He held it close to his nose to inhale the rose-scented perfume she always doused on the stationery. God, how he loved her. He’d spent many a lonely night on the bunk in his crowded barracks reading her sweet messages and staring at the lovely face in the picture she’d sent.

“Ed, I’ve made up my mind about something. If I live through this thing, I’m going to Florida.”

Ed glared back at him. “Florida? To find some girl you don’t even know except from her letters? What if those ain’t her real pictures she’s been sending you?”

Ever the practical thinker, Ed was, but he didn’t want to hear practical thinking. He wanted Miss Cassie Wright. She’d been his pen pal for a year, chosen for him at random by her high school social studies teacher. Oh, yes, fate had been smiling on him that day.

“Florida,” Scott repeated while tapping the corner of the envelope against Ed’s chest. “You mark my words, buddy. I’ll even invite you down to go fishing with me in the Gulf of Mexico. How about that?”

Ed grunted and shook his head but didn’t make a comment because their lieutenant was giving the order to board the planes.

“When we hit the ground, keep your ass covered, buddy because you’re going to Florida with me,” Scott said.

He stepped up to the large opening behind the wing and gave a thumbs up to his platoon. This was it. No turning back. He took a deep breath to summon his courage and climbed inside the plane with the sweet scent of Cassie’s perfume still lingering in his mind.


 

Chapter 1

 

July 1945

Azucar Beach, Florida

 

“Cassie. You’ve got a telephone call.”

At the sound of her mother’s voice, she jumped from the shrimp trawler onto the dock in one swift move. Her heartbeat quickened. Could it be Scott? No. It’s too soon. It had only been a few weeks since she’d received his last letter.

“Who is it, Mama?”

“Don’t know. An important-sounding gentleman asked for Miss Cassandra Wright.”

She grabbed her father’s faded denim work shirt off the back of a lawn chair and pulled it on over her black, gingham shorts and halter-top. At once, her nostrils were assaulted with the odors of the gulf, but she continued to button up the shirt. Her mother would have a fit if she showed too much skin in front of the busboys.

She sprinted to the back door of her family’s seafood restaurant, and in her excitement let the screen door bang shut behind her. The cook, who was frying fresh-caught Red Snapper, turned and gave her a sharp look.

“Sorry about that, Naomi,” she said and picked up the receiver her mother had left dangling beneath the wall phone. “Hello.”

“Is this Miss Wright?” An unfamiliar male voice asked. He sounded too old to be Scott, and her heart sank.

“This is Cassandra Wright,” she answered.

“Miss Wright, this is Chancellor Beckham of the Bennett Conservatory of Music in Jacksonville. Last year, when you applied to attend our school, I was very impressed with your audition and kept your application on file. Are you still interested?”

Thank goodness, standing next to the refrigerator kept her from falling to the floor. She slumped against it and struggled to catch her breath. She’d dreamed of this moment ever since she’d taken her first piano lesson at age eight.

“Miss Wright? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes I’m here. Of course, I’m still interested.”

“I’ll set up an appointment for you to have another audition and interview with us next week.”

“The restaurant is closed on Mondays,” she said. “Can I come then?”

There was a pause on the line.

“I’m afraid Monday wouldn’t be possible. I have too much scheduled that day. I think Wednesday is the best I can do. I’ll call back with a definite date and time when I’ve spoken with the other faculty members who’ll be interviewing you.”

“Thank you very much, Chancellor Beckham.”

She let the phone slip through her fingers and drop against the wall. Her mind began to race. She needed to pick out a serious, classical piece of music like the ones the faculty at Bennett would want to hear.

Naomi stepped out from behind the stove and came close to her.

“Miss Cassie, are you all right? That wasn’t bad news, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t bad news at all,” she answered and reached down to grab the receiver and place it back in its cradle. “As a matter of fact, it was wonderful news, Naomi. I have another chance to be accepted at the Music Conservatory in Jacksonville.”

“Then why ain’t you jumping up and down, screaming for joy?”

Naomi’s question gave her pause to think. A year ago, she would’ve run through the restaurant and across the street to their house, shouting for joy at the top of her lungs.

“Maybe it’s because I got rejected last year and then had a whole year to get used to the fact that I might never get into Bennett. I haven’t practiced enough. What if I’ve lost it?”

“Nonsense, child. I hear you playing at church. Ain’t nobody can play Old Rugged Cross like you do. Matter-of-fact, I want you to play it for my funeral.”

“Naomi, I don’t want to think about your funeral much less playing for it,” she said and gave her a quick hug.

She unbuttoned her father’s shirt and tossed it across a folding chair near the long counter that ran the length of the side wall.

“And anyway, being able to play hymns won’t get me into Bennett,” she said. “I’m in need of one of your aprons. I have to talk to Mama about this, and I can’t go out into the restaurant wearing Daddy’s old shirt.”

Naomi nodded. “Help yourself.”

She retrieved one of Naomi’s aprons from the hook on the wall, slipped the bib over the head and tied the bottom part around her waist.

“There, that’s better,” she said.

The sound of Artie Shaw’s clarinet tooting out Begin the Beguine, accompanied by the chatter of the regular lunch crowd, filled the small dining room. The choice of music being played on the jukebox could only mean that her friend Trixie Carter was there. Girl talk with Trixie would have to wait. She had to tell her mother about the phone call she’d received.

Surveying the crowd, she spotted her near the front porch entrance, greeting a couple of unfamiliar patrons. Knowing better than to interrupt her mother, she stood by, tapping her sandal-clad foot with the rhythm of the music while her mother ushered the patrons to a small table next to the koi aquarium.

“Cassie,” Trixie called to her from her booth in the far corner near the restrooms. “Come over and join us.”

She shook her head and pointed toward her mother, mouthing the words “in a minute.” Trixie wrinkled up her nose and sank back against the red vinyl seat to continue her conversation with another girlfriend.

Her mother disappeared behind the white, latticework screen that separated the beverage area from the dining room. It’s now or never.

“Mama, do you have a minute?”

“Take these two glasses of iced tea to those customers who just came in,” she said, seeming not to hear Cassie’s question.

“Sure, but then can we talk? I need to tell you about my phone call.”

Her mother’s dark blonde curls bounced around her shoulders when she swung her head in her daughter’s direction.

“Oh yes, that. The phone call wasn’t about your soldier friend, was it?”

She didn’t like the tone of her mother’s voice and pulled herself up straight into a defiant stance.

“Mama, you and Daddy have made your feelings about Scott coming here quite clear, but I don’t want to argue about that again. The phone call had nothing to do with him.”

“Okay. Go deliver the tea before the ice melts, and I’ll meet you in the office.”

 

How could her mother call the cramped room next to the kitchen an office? Yes, it had a small oak desk and filing cabinet and an old Underwood typewriter from the early twenties, but it was more of an oversized closet than an office.

She turned toward the door when she heard the click-clack of her mother’s open-toed pumps on the kitchen’s tile floor.

“Now, what was this phone call all about?” she asked and perched on the corner of the desk.

“The Bennett Conservatory has an opening this fall, and they want me to come back and audition again. So, if you can spare me here, I’ll need lots of extra time to practice between now and next week.”

Her mother’s blue eyes popped open, and her arms flew around Cassie. “Spare you? Oh, honey, whatever you need to do. This is great news.”

Cassie exhaled the breath she’d been holding.

“We’ll put on extra help. We’ll have to find someone to replace you anyway once you go to Jacksonville.” She paused and clapped her hands together as if she couldn’t contain her excitement. “Oh honey, our dream is coming true. I can’t wait for your Daddy to get back from Apalachicola. He’ll be thrilled. Your music has always been such a joy to him.”

Being a daddy’s girl, as her grandma used to say would spoil her for any man who dared to marry her.

“He is going to be happy,” she said. “I wonder if he’ll be able to drive me Jacksonville next Wednesday.”

Her mother hugged her again and this time, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I pity anyone who tries to stop him.”

The laugh they shared was interrupted when she spied the youngest of her three little brothers, standing in the doorway snacking on a hushpuppy he’d swiped from the basket Naomi had filled.

“Matthew, what are you doing over here?” her mother asked and raked her fingers through his wind-tousled brown hair. “I hope you didn’t cross the road by yourself.”

“Course not,” he answered. “I know better, Mama. Aaron came with me. The Western Union man brought a cable for Cassie, and Aaron said that only important news comes from the Western Union man, so we’d better bring it over here.”

He pulled the folded yellow paper from the pocket of his denim dungarees, and Cassie stared at it for a moment before retrieving it from his greasy fingers.

“It’s from that young man, isn’t it?” her mother asked. “I’m telling you, Cassie that there’s something not right about a man who talks of marriage with a girl he’s never met. You only turned eighteen last week, and you don’t need to be thinking about marriage—not with your future waiting for you.”

She put out her hand to take the telegram, but Cassie pulled it away and tucked it into the pocket of the apron. Heading toward the screen door, she said, “As you pointed out, I am eighteen, so that entitles me to read my cable in private.”

“Cassandra Marie Wright, don’t you talk to me in that tone of voice. I don’t care how old you are. I’m still your Mama.”

She ignored her mother’s comment and headed back down the well-worn path that led to the inlet. She plopped down into the grass and tore open the envelope. Her mother’s assumption had been correct. Scott had sent the cable from Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he was waiting to be discharged from the Army. With any luck, the cable read, I’ll be in Azucar Beach by the weekend. Her stomach twisted into a dozen knots. And then what?

Blurb

When former paratrooper Scott Riley returns home from World War II, he has one aim--to meet the girl of his dreams. Cassie Wright has been his pen pal, and his light at the end of the tunnel through most of his war experience. He goes to her hometown on the Gulf Coast of Florida with marriage on his mind only to find that she has other plans for her future.

Category: Fiction,
Historical Romance, 20th Century
Published: 2007
Words: Approx. 46,550
Language: English
ISBN: 9781452385792