Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Matthew 5:7

Chapter 1

March 1944

The bet that Annalaura has with her cousin Patsy is the reason they’re spending Eddie’s last night at the Lincoln Theater, watching Casablanca for the thirteenth time.

“I hope that’s not a bad omen,” Annalaura said to Eddie earlier, when they were waiting in line.

Eddie made a pffft sound. “I don't believe in omens.”

Regardless, it’s her favorite movie. She dips her hand into the popcorn bag without taking her eyes off the flickering black-and-white images.

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 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.

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. “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 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. “So far we’re three for three.”

“How much?”

She holds up two fingers.

“So I’m the tie-breaker?”

“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?” She and Eddie hadn’t brought the car because of the gasoline rationing.

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 Ilsa 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.

Patsy’s voice rises above Rick’s memory of having drunkenly chased Ilsa out of his life. “Anybody here see Wuthering Heights?”

The lobby reeks of popcorn and the buzz of voices as people line up for the next show. 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 dread of what lies ahead. But for his sake, she’ll keep up her brave front.

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 won’t be as much fun without Eddie. She’ll have to write and give him the stories in detail.

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.

“Then what?”

“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?”

“A couple times.” He smiles at her, his crooked, endearing smile, and she melts again.

They start walking and he hums “As Time Goes By”, delighting her by whirling her, right there on the sidewalk with street lights 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.”


“I won’t. 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 doing 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. She tucks it in the top button hole of her coat.

The air is raw, so they duck inside Whelan’s for a soda and wave at Annalaura’s friend, Millie, seated on a stool behind the counter, bent over a book. 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 all I want is 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. 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 and blinks the tears away, holding her tawny-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 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.” He turns and lets 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 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 an affectionate arm punch, and she retreats behind the counter with her calc book.

Now that they’re 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 can 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 up to then had stayed out of the fray. But then Pearl Harbor, and the horror of it roused the American spirit into defending its own.

Eddie had spent months going through Basic, then Advanced. Now all that’s left is for him to head overseas. There had been a stark dividing line in Annalaura’s life—Before Mommy Died, and After Mommy Died. Now a new one is 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 then 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?”

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.”

“Me too.”

“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. A little later, that’s all. You still want to honeymoon in California, right? Collect a bunch of movie star autographs?”

She nods.

“Right, so keep up on that, going through all those girlie magazines and making 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. Stay busy. It’ll all be okay, you’ll see. Nothing will change.”

But he’s wrong, 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 two years before, at the Lincoln, the 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. You were so happy.”

He checks his watch as he tucks the photograph 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.

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 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. You have to believe that. I’ll say Psalm 91 every day. God’ll watch my back.”

“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 dark 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.”

She nods.

“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 maybe he’s right.

Maybe it will all be okay.



"This is the operator. I have a call for Annalaura Ward from Edward Hennessy.”

“Yes! Please put him through.”

“One moment, please.”

The click of silverware on china halts as her aunt and uncle freeze and stare at her over their dinner plates. Patsy stops with the icebox door open, milk bottle in hand.

Annalaura opens the pantry and strains the short cord from its coiled position on the wall to its full capacity as she enters and shuts the door behind her.


“Eddie! You sound so far away.” Cacophony behind his voice makes her struggle to hear him.

“I’m in Portland.”



“Oh. Gee.” Here it is. She crouches down, staring at the light bleeding through the louvered door, creating stripes across the shelves of canned goods and jars of apple butter. She lays a hand on her stomach. She wills the right words to come, but her mind can’t focus on anything but the smell of meatloaf leaking through the slats.

“This is it, Babe,” he says. “We’re boarding now.”

“Boarding.” She tries to process. Boarding? She holds a finger to her free ear, as if it will quell the hubbub on Eddie’s end.

“A ship, Babe. They’re separating us from the 12th.”

He’s talking too fast, she can’t process. She thought she was prepared for this.

She’s not. “12th? I don’t—”

“I sent you a letter about it but you won’t get it for a few days.” He’s raising his voice over the yelling in the background, many voices competing with one another, the resounding bleat of a ship, a maelstrom of rising and fading noise.

“Where are you going?”

“Can’t say.”

What! “But how will I write—”

Please deposit five cents,” the operator says.

Annalaura waits while Eddie jingles in a nickel. “Look, never mind that,” he says, “I only have a minute. I wanted to say, you know, I love you, Annie.”

“I...” She clutches at the heart on the chain around her neck. “I love you, too.”


“I said I love you, too!”

“Hey, remember—”


“Flamingo, okay?”

She swallows. “Right, flamingo. I’ll remember. Eddie, I’ll—”

“I gotta go, Annie. I’ll write as soon as I can.”

“Okay, but...” The line is already dead. She huddles there inert, holding the receiver in her hand till the operator comes on the line.

“Number, please.”

She rises and opens the door, hangs the receiver back on the wall. Patsy is still standing in front of the open icebox door, and Uncle Curtis isn’t even asking her if she’s trying to cool down the whole house. He and Auntie Etta have stopped eating, holding hands on the table between their plates. They all look at her like three wide-eyed hungry baby owls.

“He’s going to the Pacific,” Annalaura says.

“He said that?” Uncle Curtis asks, because troops are forbidden to reveal their movements, for fear of enemy intercept.

Annalaura shakes her head. “He didn't have to. He's boarding a ship in Portland. If he was heading for Europe, he'd be on the East coast. He's going to fight Japan.”

Annalaura turns to Auntie Etta. “May I be excused? I’m not hungry.” Auntie Etta nods and Annalaura retreats upstairs to the room she shares with her cousin, to envision in solitude all the unimaginable things that could happen to Eddie.