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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Note from Grandma

Hey everyone. Grandma here to give you yet another short story to cuddle around the fire with. Seeing as we our great country is yet again dealing with another potential war, I figured that this story would suit the mood of the nation. Cold weather is a brewing in and I hope everyone is getting their jackets out and enjoying the colors. Hope you enjoy the next story in Grandmas Fireside story collection.
"Will There Be Peace"?

By Ruth A. Lance





               "Damn it......move, move, move!   Charlie One......Charlie One!  Answer me"! 


          He screamed into the night, began to thrash and flail his arms against the unseen demons that chased him down the corridors of his sleeping mind, and Julie Bell vaulted out of bed and away from her husband.  She had learned a very painful lesson.....long ago......about trying to awaken him when he was in the throes of one of these nightmares.  It was best to leave him alone.  Eventually he would come out of it. 


          She plodded to the kitchen, peering at the clock over the kitchen table.  Three a.m.  She moved to flip the switch that would begin the coffee brewing, with a hand that shook slightly.  There was never any more sleep for her after one of these episodes.   Manny never asked her to stay up with him.  She just knew from experience she would never be able to leave him alone with his memories…to let him suffer by himself.    She had grown used to just automatically having the coffee ready, and to sitting up with him.


          Julie set out the coffee cups and fixings, and thought of their son, Jasen, who would be up and around in another three hours to get ready for school.  She thought it a blue eyed miracle that he was capable of sleeping through the noise when his daddy had one of these attacks.  But he never awakened......was never even aware the next day that anything untoward had occurred the night before.  Sometimes she thought he could sleep through anything!


          A thump from their bedroom told Julie that Manny was awake at last.  She heard his slow footsteps as he made his way down the hallway, and turned to him when he came into the kitchen.  Groggily, he muttered, "hi, babe".  She went to him, gave him a soft kiss on the cheek, told him to sit down and she'd get him a cuppa.  Involuntarily, hers eyes rested briefly on her husband's left arm before she turned away to retrieve the coffee.  She did not believe there was ever going to come a time when the sight of it did not sicken and anger her, all at once.  Such a high price he had paid......such a cold reception he had gotten from his own country, when he returned. 


          She poured his coffee and her own, and placed his before him......kissed his sweaty brow.  He touched her right hand with his own briefly, gave her a weak smile, and began to doctor the inky brew in his cup.  It was going to be another long night.



Chapter 1


          In high school she had been Julie Delaney, and she had met Manny in her senior year.  He was a dashing, handsome young captain of the varsity basketball team, and center forward.  She had been a cheerleader.  Back then life had lain golden before them, like a bright star. 


          Manny had asked her out the first time to go to a dance with him at the school, and she had happily accepted.  Before long they were a twosome, and voted the schools ‘most likely to stay together after school’ couple.  Everyone was right.


          Glibly, almost giddily, their last year in school had spun by, and before they knew it they were wearing their caps and gowns and attending their graduation ceremony.  The year was 1964.  It had been the hay- day years of Richie Valley, Presley, and others like them.  Rock-n-roll was making its mark on the new generation, and predictably driving parent’s nuts!


          Julie had attended her senior prom with Manny, had made the rounds with him to all the graduation parties of their friends,

 and they in turn attending hers and Manny’s.  There had been a huge beach party the week-end following the senior’s graduation, and everybody that was anybody had been there.  They had partied with total abandon well past midnight, Julie....for the first and only time in her life….getting absolutely plastered!  Manny had never left her side, even when she puked her guts out later on.  He had just held her poor, throbbing head, as she was convinced her very innards were going to end up on the ground at her feet!


          It had seemed almost anti-climatic......almost a let down...when things had calmed back down after that last hectic week after graduation.  Julie had found herself at loose ends.  She was still pondering offers from several colleges for scholarships, she being a straight A student.  Yet, not really knowing what decision to make yet, because she loved Manny Bell with all her heart.  Truth be known, she secretly hoped for an engagement ring that Christmas from him.  Knowing that if he asked her to marry she hoped he was going to.....she would forego college in a heartbeat!


          She had tried to tell herself how selfish she was being, because she knew Manny, himself, had been offered a full basketball scholarship from no less than three major universities.

 That is......if the draft didn't get him, first.  The war in Nam had escalated by then, and young men from all walks of life had found a draft notice in their mailboxes.   Several of Manny's pal's had already been given notice, and Julie's nightly prayer was that they would not call Manny up.  The branches of the United States services had not wasted any time in the event of Manny's friends.

A week after their graduation, the hated and dreaded official paper hadn’t come via the post.  So far, at least, Manny had been spared.


          Christmas had of course come around that year, and after sharing in a lovely dinner Julie's mom had put on, Manny had asked Julie to go for a late night stroll with him.  The snow had been falling softly and serenely around them, the street lights making it glisten like a zillion diamonds before their eyes.  With her hand in his, Manny and Julie had walked slowly along, their boots making crunching noises in the crisp night air.  As they reached the park, Manny had swept the snow from one of the benches and they sat down, their breath making puffy plumes of air in the silent night.


          Manny had taken her hand in his, looking into her eyes, and had told her how much he loved her.  Had, in fact, declared his love to her for all eternity.  Then, despite the snow on the ground, he’d gotten down on one knee, and reached into his coat pocket.

 From it he had pulled a small, black box.  Julie's heart had leapt in her chest, as he had popped the lid.  Nestled within the black velvet, a lovely diamond ring winked up at her.  Manny had removed it carefully from its resting place and holding it, and Julie's heart, in his hands, he had asked if she would marry him.


          Tearfully she had told him she would, and had slipped the glove off her left hand.  Almost reverently Manny had slipped the glittering stone into place on her ring finger.  It had been, without a single doubt, the most momentous moment in all of Julie's life.

 Manny had then taken her into his arms tenderly, and kissed her.


          As they rose from their seat on the bench, both growing cold in the night they began to stroll back towards home....Manny shattered the fragile glass bubble of Julie's happiness.  He told her he had something to tell her, and knew she would understand.  That, before they were married, before he could feel right in beginning their lives together, there was something he knew in his heart he had to do.  That was when the man she loved with her whole being.......the only one she knew she could ever love........had dropped the bomb that exploded her world.  Manny told her he had freely enlisted in the Army.  That he would be deployed in two week's time.


          Julie had ranted, begged, raved, even cursed at him.....but he would not be swayed.  Telling her it was his duty as an American, and something he felt he had to do.  They had come to her house by then and he had tried to take her into his arms, but she had rudely shoved him away.  Crying uncontrollably now, Julie had run for her front door, slamming it shut behind her, leaving him standing there in the frigid night air.


          For the next two weeks he had called her every day.  But Julie had refused his calls......refused to speak to him.  The ring he had given her still encircled her finger......she would never take it off!  But her anger at him was so great within her for what he had done.......ripping their whole world apart like this.....she could not find the compassion in her heart to even speak to him.


          The morning he was due to depart, Julie's mother had come into her bedroom where she slept, and had turned on her bedside light, startling her awake.


           Bethann Delaney had tried to keep her mouth shut, telling herself to stay out of this.  But she was fully aware that today was the day that Manny would be shipped out to boot camp, and she was deeply ashamed of her daughter's treatment of him over the last two weeks.  A straight forward woman who usually spoke her mind, Mrs. Delaney did so now, showing no mercy when she berated her daughter for how she had been acting. 


          Kevin Delaney, Julie's father, had been standing silent in her doorway, but the look of contempt on his face cut his daughter to the core of her being.  Yes, Julie had been deeply hurt by it all.  But her heart also told her that her folks were right.  Manny had done what he felt he had to do in all consciousness, and she had made his life a living hell because of it.  At that moment, Julie Delaney's self loathing knew no bounds.


          Tears had been shed on her part, and typical of her parents they had moved to comfort her.  Finally, her mother had suggested that if she were to see Manny off on the deportment train that was scheduled to leave the station at eight o'clock, she had better get a move on!


          When her folks had left, Julie had flown around her room to get ready to leave, telling herself she would not be too late to say goodbye to him!  If she had to break every speed record known to mankind, she would be there!  Glancing briefly at the clock, she had seen she had exactly one hour to departure time.


          Julie's small little compact car had protested mightily as she had pushed it to the limits, and by some miracle she had not been stopped for speeding.  In a sliding skid she had screeched to a halt in the depot's parking lot.  On a flat out run, knocking people rudely aside in her path, Julie had flown towards the departure platform.  She had glanced only once at her watch.......she had exactly ten minutes to go.


          Frantically, her eyes had searched the uniformed men crowding the platform.  Finally she had seen Manny's dark head.

 Shoving through the men clustered around her, not even hearing their remarks aimed at her, Julie had bee lined towards him.

 He had his back to her, when she said breathlessly, "Manny'?


          He had whipped around then, her name on his lips, and had taken her swiftly into his strong arms.  Over and over again he kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes.  Finally, sweetly, his lips had found her own. 


          When he finally came up for air, Julie's cheeks were flushed, and she laid a gentle, loving hand along his face.  "I'm so sorry, Manny", she choked out, tears running down her cheeks.  "Can you ever forgive me"?


          Softly he had looked into her eyes, and said in almost a whisper, "your here, sweetheart, that's all that matters".


          He had pulled her to him again and was kissing her like she was his very life line, when a man's voice had barked out for all the recruits to board the train.  Reluctantly he had let her go, and had suddenly found himself jostled along in the tide of young men preparing to board the train.  His final words to her had been,

"wait for me, Julie"!  Her reply had been lost in the noise around them.  She had watched, crying, as her beloved had climbed aboard that hated train......bound to a hell he, nor she, could even imagine!




Chapter 2



          Manny's first few letters home to her had actually been fairly upbeat, giving her hope.  She would watch the mail carefully, every day, for an envelope that would tell her it was from him.  She would then cloister herself in her room, greedily devouring every word he wrote to her.  His first letter had come exactly two weeks from his departure date, from boot camp.


          Dearest Julie,


 I boot camp!  All my bunk mates agree with me that our drill sergeant is a bastard, but we do as we're told.   We all have learned not to get on his bad side!  A day of taking one of the old goat's 'marches' makes you learn real quick.

 A five mile hike, in full gear, tends to knock the stuffing out of a man pretty fast.  My own experience with this left me with blister's on my feet the size of gulf balls, and aches and pains in places I never knew existed.  I never pushed the envelope with the old man again, let me tell you.


          What passes for food here sucks, but we're told to enjoy it while we can, that it’s worse once we're actually 'out in the field'.

Gee......can't wait!  Which, my company is told is going to be coming up in another two weeks.  Then, it'll be the 'big time', I guess.  Most of us are excited, but kinda scared, too, you know?  It's a weird place to be.


          Well, honey, guess if I'm going to make the mail bag I better close this for now.  Know that I dream of you every night, Julie.

 Your face is in front of me constantly, in everything I do.  When I get out of here, we're gonna have the biggest blow out wedding that little town of ours has ever seen!  Then......look out, baby!

 Cause I'm gonna love your socks off!


Till then, sweetheart, love you.  Manny



          Julie had reread that first letter at least ten times, till she could have recited it by heart.  She had folded it up reverently back into its envelope, storing it in a shoe box she had kept for that purpose.   That very day she had written him back, then rushed out to the post office in their small town to mail it.  Devoutly she had reassured him of her love for him, letting him know she was awaiting his return home.  Each letter from him had gone into the same shoe box, to be kept for the rest of her life.


          She had gotten exactly one other letter from him, before Julie finally received the one she had been dreading with all her heart. 


Dearest Sweetheart,


          Well.....we're here.  We were deployed exactly three days ago to this command post.  Seems, at least so far, this is to be where our company is to be stationed for the duration.  I will try to describe it to you, but I don't think there really are word's for how the living conditions are here.


          For one thing, it rains constantly!  We haven't seen the sun since we got here.  The bugs are as big as house flies, and are as hungry for our blood as a lion is for meat!  No matter how much repellent you slather on yourself, they seem to find an opening in your clothing to nail you. 


          Then, there's the so called food!  It is no exaggeration when I tell you that finding roaches in the food on your tray is common place.  We just pick them out, and eat.  The alternative is you die of starvation.  So, which is worse?  That, or the enemy doing you in?


          I find I'm almost afraid to go to sleep at night.  The Viet Cong are everywhere here.  Its common place, I'm finding, to hear shell explosions.  They sound like their right on your doorstep, but my buddy here, Ryan, tells me they can be as far as five miles away from our camp.  Every time one goes off, it jars me out of the thin sleep I'm capable of.  I'll probably come home to you with severe bags under my eyes, (ha, ha)!


          Listen to me....complaining like an old woman!  I'm sorry, baby.  Just shoot up a few prayers for me that this will all be over soon, okay?  Try not to worry about me.  I'll be home soon, honey.


 Love you with all my heart,



          Julie had gone about her life as best she could.  She had, upon her parents urging, finally accepted enrollment in their local college.  She had adamantly refused to 'go away' to school anywhere, wanting to stay in their local hometown area.  Even then, she lived at home and attended classes during the day.  Evenings she worked as a waitress in one of the local restaurants, to help out with living expenses at home.  She also tucked away a little money every week in a savings account, towards her and Manny's wedding.


          Every single afternoon, returning from school, she'd go immediately to the pile of mail her mother left on the end table in the hallway by the front door.  Every single day, her heart sank when no letter from Manny arrived.  She wrote to him each evening, when she got off her shift at work, even though she was so tired she could have dropped where she stood.  She kept her letters to him upbeat, talking about the small, every day mundane things that happened in her life without him there.  She told him she was going to college, now......taking up Social Work.  That she had elected to remain in their home town.


          "I don't want to be away at school somewhere, in another state, when you finally come home, darling", she had written in this particular letter.  Tears had trickled down her cheeks as she wrote, a few splashing unheeded on the paper. 


          Trying to lighten her mood, she had told him with no uncertain pride that she was pulling all A's, and her profs were very proud of her.  Rumor had gone around that she would be in running for the class valedictorian.  "Wouldn't that be a hoot", she had said, hoping to make him smile when he read it.


          Julie did not tell Manny about a guy by the name of Bradley Renault, who had been pursuing her relentlessly at college.  She had, of course, rebuffed his every advancement......even told him she was engaged to a guy who was in Nam and was not interested in him.  But Bradley was nothing if not persistent, and all too often lately he would sit at her table with her during the lunch period.  He never what you'd call 'pushed' himself on Julie, but he made her uncomfortable, nonetheless.  She refused to examine the reason why too closely.


          It had been a month before Julie received the next letter from Manny.  She had almost given up hope he would write to her again, it had been so long, even though she never ceased sending out a letter every day to him.


          Julie had snatched the letter up off the end table that afternoon, and had bounded up the stairs to her room to read it in private.  Her heart in her throat, she had slit the envelope open with shaking hands, nearly ripping the letter within.  Quickly she tore the single page from its casing, and began to read.  She noticed, with fear, that there was a definite shaky quality to the hand writing.


 My Dearest Darling,


 I am sorry it has taken me so long to answer you.  I have received every one of your letters, and keep them at the bottom of my foot locker, where they'll be safe. 


 Thank you, darling, for writing about home.  I almost feel like I'm there, for awhile, as I read them.  God, how I miss everything back there, but none so much as you, honey.  I love you with all my heart, never forget that!


 It must be nearing spring again there......I can practically hear the birds singing.   Wish I was there to take a long walk with you in the meadow, as we used to do, remember?  If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can almost feel your hand in mine.


 I don't want to have to tell you this, baby, but I know I must. 

 Our unit got a not so nice surprise yesterday, from our C.O.

 Their sending us to the front line, tomorrow morning at first light.

  I'm not going to even pretend to be brave, and tell you I'm not scared, because I am.  They've held us back, until now, but the fighting has escalated up there and casualties on our side have been heavy.  They call the enemy 'Charlie' here, and they are a crafty bunch of bastards!  Every step one of our guys takes could be his last.


 I won't go into it all, sweetheart, it's too gruesome.  Just suffice to say that the stories our C.O. told prepare us for what we're going to face.....well, not one man jack among us didn't have the hairs on the back of his neck standing up, and his guts going to water.


 I'm not trying to frighten you, darling.  I just want to prepare you, if anything should happen to me.  I have instructed the Army to make you my beneficiary, in the event I don't come home.


 I wish to God I didn't have to write this to you, Julie!  I wish with all my heart that I was there with you.....right now......holding you in my arms.  I love you so much, that at times I feel my heart will literally explode inside my chest! 


 Please say some special prayers for me....and my buddies....tonight, sweetheart, before you lay down to sleep.  Pray the Big Guy will be with us tomorrow.  I'll write you again when I can.


 All my love forever and always,



                                                                                                          Crumpling the letter to her heart, Julie had cried her heart out.  And, right then and there, she had gotten down on her knees beside her bed, and had prayed for all she was worth.  She had begged God to bring her Manny home alive to her.  Never, in her young life, had Julie Delaney know such gut wrenching despair!

 Never had the night looked so dark before the dawn.



Chapter 3



          As Julie had made her way across campus to her next class, she noticed that the leaves were beginning to show definite colors of the fall season again.  It had been five months, now, since she had heard from Manny last.  Five very long, lonely months.

And yet steadfastly she had remained faithful to him, rebuking Bradley's overtures towards her, writing Manny every single day......that is, up until the last few weeks.


          Slowly, gradually, she had found herself mailing only two or three letters a week off to him.  She excused herself by telling herself she had final semester exams coming up.....needed to study hard for them.  It was a lie.  Julie could have taken any one of the tests with her eyes closed.  Therefore, she did not allow herself to examine her motives too closely.


          As she had approached the commons area outside the building that held her next class, she was not really surprised when Bradley Renault fell into step beside her.  Cheerily he had asked her to join him for a cup of coffee before class.  She had started to voice her usual decline of his invitation, but something had stopped her today.  A small voice in her head asked her 'what could it hurt?  It was just a cup of coffee!  It wasn't like she was agreeing to run away with the guy'!  To Bradley's total delight, she had agreed.  She had found his smile charming as she walked beside him into the student lounge.  Another voice in her head had asked, 'perhaps a bit too charming'?  She had resolutely ignored it.


          The half hour Julie had spent with Bradley, sipping coffee, talking and laughing with him, seemed to fly by too soon.

 She did, indeed, find him charming, witty, fun to be with.  His total attention had been on her, as they sat together at a window table, the sunlight streaming in to warm them. When at last she had happened to glance at the clock on the wall, she had seen to her horror she had precisely five minutes to make her class.


          Grabbing up their books, Bradley had left with Julie as she had gone on a fast walk back to the building that housed her physiology class.  Outside its doors she had bid him a quick farewell, and gone running up the steps to the double glass doors.  She could feel his eyes on her still, as she disappeared inside.  For the first time since Manny had went away, Julie did not feel the pull to glance down at his ring on her left hand.


          After her class, as was his habit now, Bradley had been awaiting her appearance outside the building when she came out.  As had definitely not been her habit, up till now, Julie did not gently send him on his way with a smile.  Rather, she allowed him to walk with her as she made her way to her next class, the two of them picking up their conversation where they'd left off earlier.

 This was most definitely not lost on Bradley Renault!  Hope soared in his heart, as he leisurely strolled beside Julie.  He thought that......given a little time......she might even consent to go on a date with him.  But he knew that was most likely far into the future.  He contented himself, for now, that she had even agreed to walk with him. 


          When Julie had gotten home that afternoon, checking the mail as usual and finding no letter from Manny, she had simply given a shrug and continued upstairs to her room.   As she entered her bedroom, unbidden, Bradley Renault's face appeared in her mind. 


          As she changed her school clothes for her work uniform, his face did not go away.  Julie allowed herself to critique his looks, in comparison to Manny.  Whereas Manny was darkly handsome, Bradley was fair.  Manny stood about five twelve.....Bradley, around six foot.  Manny's family had worked hard their whole lives for their success......Bradley came from 'old money'.  His future was secure.  If Julie had allowed herself to examine Bradley's situation closely, she most likely would have come to the conclusion that his 'station' in life was what had prevented the draft from taking him to where Manny was now.


          Her absent betrothed tried to come into her mind, but Julie found herself, at that moment at least, shutting that door firmly.

 She would not......could not......examine herself too closely right then.  She only knew one thing, that it had been nine lonely, heartbreaking months since Manny had gone away.

 Since he had voluntarily put himself in danger, against her express wishes.  It was not that she had any intentions of cheating on Manny, but she found the attentions of another male welcome at this point.  Bradley had made her feel special.  And, he was here!  Beside her.  A little innocent flirtation did not mean she was setting out to hurt Manny.  She mentally shoved away any guilt by telling herself she could easily control herself.  Control the whole situation with Bradley.  She just.....quite simply....needed some company.  Besides, who said that he was not giving in to any temptations 'over there'? 


          Julie glanced at the bright diamond that winked at her from her finger, finding herself itching to take it off, but she did not.



          Ever so gradually, Julie had found herself accepting Bradley's invitation's more and more to have coffee or lunch with him.  She reasoned away her acceptance of his overtures in the light that they were perfectly innocent outings.  In full view of the entire student body, and everyone else who cared to look!  She told herself that he was just a 'friend', much as her female friends were on campus.  Julie did not let herself dwell on the fact that she sent Manny, at the most, two letters a week, now.  That they were, in fact, extremely short letters.....more a 'duty' to him, than one lover writing to another.


          It really did not surprise her, then, when she accepted Bradley's invitation to dinner and a movie.  It had been, at this point, eleven months since she had heard from Manny at all.

 Hurt, confused....even angry......she had told Bradley she would be happy to go out with him.  And so, it had begun.


          Their 'affair' had flowed along for two weeks.  Julie's mother and father had not hesitated to voice their objections to what they called her 'unseemly behavior', but she had blithely ignored them.  After all, she was doing nothing wrong, just enjoying the company of one of her friends.  Her folks, however, had not been fooled by her casualness, and yet didn't know how to make their daughter see how wrong she was in running around with this other man when she was engaged to Manny.  Yet, no matter what they said, she went her own way.


          Julie had come home from classes on a Tuesday, and had found her mother waiting for her at the door, a deep frown on her face.  Without a word to her daughter, Bethann had simply thrust a battered, begrimed envelope into Julie's hand, then spun on her heel and gone back to the kitchen.  The letter had been from Manny......the first in almost a year's time.  Finding her heart cold in her chest, Julie had made her way upstairs to her room to read it.  Almost nonchalantly she had slit the envelope, pulling out its contents.


 My Dearest, Dearest Darling,


 You must think I have dropped off the face of the earth by now!

 In so very many ways, I wish I had.  But let me first assure you I have received every single one of your letters, sweetheart.  I can understand, when you did not hear back from me, that you didn't send as many as you used to.  Please believe me, my love, it was nothing I could help.  Let me explain.


 As I write this, Julie, I am lying in a M.A.S.H. unit, in friendly territory.  Or so they tell us.  We've been shelled twice since I've been air lifted here.  Now, I know you’re going to be wondering what I'm talking about.  Please bear with me, sweetheart, as I write this.  It is hard for me.  If it is a little sloppy, you'll understand more as I go along.


 First of all, I have written you every week since the last letter you got from me.  Even though I got yours, for some reason nobody can explain to me mine to you kept coming back here.  Even before everything happened, every letter I sent to you was returned.  I have no explanation, honey.....but, I'm sorry.  Okay?

 I can only pray this one gets to you.


 As to why I'm here in the M.A.S.H. unit, the surgeon's here tell me I'm 'lucky to be alive'.  Imagine that!  I'm lucky!  Hell, I don't blame the doc's here.......they did everything they could. My mind can't wrap around what these guys go through, Julie.  Day in, day out, they do nothing but try their best to patch up the ripped apart bodies that are plopped in front of them.  If there is a hell, Julie, it's this…war…grown men, mindlessly slaughtering each other for a cause that has become dim even in the leader's minds.  The goal… to win, no matter the cost, no matter how many of your own countrymen are lost, just so you win!


 As to what happened to me.   Our unit was, at that point, four months on the front lines.  I've gotta give credit where credit is due, Julie.  None of our guy's gave up.......never once!  With a determination God, Himself, would have admired, we fought with everything in us.


           The day it happened, 'Charlie' caught us off guard.   The area around us was supposed to be 'secured', but from out of nowhere we were under a barrage of motor shell fire, coming in from the distant hills.  Our C.O. was barking orders, like we were ever going to be able to hear him!  Everybody was running for cover.  The guys in our unit were aiming the big guns in return fire, our tanks discharging their loads at the enemy continuously.


 The last thing I remember was seeing the guy next to me actually blown in half, and his torso landing in my lap.  I'll never forget his eyes, Julie.  They just sort of stared up at me in wounded wonder.  As I crouched there, in my fox hole, I realized it was my buddy, Ryan.


 I don't remember anything from that point on, until I woke up here.  The docs told me I had lost my left arm, from the elbow down.  I had taken some shell fragments in my right leg, but they were actually miniscule.  Other than some cuts they had to stitch up, I was okay. 


 'Okay'?  I had held my friend's upper body in my lap, and I'm supposed to be okay?  


 Honey, I'm sorry.  I shouldn't be unloading on you like this.  It's just so good to be able to talk to you, even if it is only by mail.


 I guess I'm going to be coming home to you less of a man than I thought, Julie.  But, nothing that has happened to me here in this hell hole can ever dim by love for you.  I just hope and pray you still feel the same when you see me.   Which will be soon, because the Army is discharging me this week to come home.


 With My Heart In Your Hands,

 Love, Manny


          The letter had been dated the twelfth of October.  Julie's frantic gaze took in her calendar hanging on her wall.  Manny was due home in two days!


          Chastising herself.......hating herself.....Julie had then gone over her last conversation with Bradley earlier that day.  He had asked her to go out with him that night, and she had accepted.

 The few kisses they had shared now burned like a branding iron on her cheating lips.   If someone had painted a scarlet 'S' on her forehead, she could not have felt any worse.


          Immediately, Julie ran to the phone in her room and dialed Bradley's home number.  No answer.  Hanging up, she ran over the possibilities of how to handle this situation she had mired herself in.  'God.....what a fool I've been', she berated herself, even as she looked up the number to the diner where she worked.

 Picking up the phone again, Julie Delaney called in sick for the first time since she had begun working there almost a year ago.

 Then, grabbing up her purse and car keys she ran from her room, down the stairs, and out to her little car parked in the driveway.  She had not said a word to her mother.....had not stopped to explain.


          As Julie backed out of the drive and drove away, Bethann Delaney did something she had never done before.  She went up the stairs and entered her daughter's room, unbidden.  Because something told her that whatever had Julie so upset was in the contents of Manny's recent letter to her, and this was one time that Bethann was bloody well going to snoop!  She had abhorred her daughter's behavior over the last month or so.......running around with this other fellow in college, while poor Manny was over there in Nam fighting for his country.  No, this time she had no qualms for invading Julie's privacy.


          When Bethann Delaney picked up Manny's letter and began to read, a sob tore out of her throat. that wrinkle in time, at least......she found it was entirely possible to still love your own flesh and blood, but intensely dislike them, too.              

          Frantically, Julie searched every place she could think of on campus that Bradley might be.  She found no trace of him.  When she asked around if any of the other students had seen him, she received only negative answers.  Finally she entered the student lounge, retrieved a cup of cocoa from the counter, and sat herself down at a window table.......until she realized it was the same table she and Bradley had first sat down together at.  Abruptly, she stood up and moved to a different one. 


          As she sat sipping the creamy chocolate liquid, Julie yelled at herself mentally once again.  How could she have been so careless?  Hadn't she known full well what Bradley's feelings were for her?  The answer was, of course, that yes, she had.  Using the excuse of how lonely she had been just didn't wash any more, and she knew it.  She had pledged her love and life to Manny Bell, and she had betrayed him.  It was as simple as that.

 She would find Bradley......somehow......before tonight, and cancel her date with him.  Tell him she never wanted to see him again!

 Then, when Manny came home in two days time, she would force herself to find the courage to tell him the truth.  She owed him that much, at the least.  If he wanted nothing more to do with her, and she found herself alone......well, it would be nothing more than she deserved.


          Still stewing in her own misery, she was, therefore, startled badly when she felt someone kiss her cheek.  Jerking her head up, fully expecting to find Bradley standing there smiling at her......and equally prepared to tell him to take a hike......Julie was stunned to see Manny himself standing there, grinning down at her! 


          Quickly, her eyes took him in.  He was in full Army dress uniform, medals pinned to his chest.  With a wrench of her heart, she saw that his left sleeve on his uniform was pinned up at the elbow.  Jerking her eyes away from it, not wanting to embarrass him, she met his eyes.  In a voice that trembled, Manny said softly, "hello, beautiful".


          "Manny", she breathed.  Suddenly, she jumped up out of the chair where she had been sitting and flew into his waiting arms.  His good arm wrapped itself tightly around her waist, pulling her close to him.  Not caring if God and everyone around them saw them, he took her mouth with his own, kissed her long and sweetly.  When at last he pulled away, Julie was horrified to see he was crying!  Sudden guilt pierced her heart.  Had he, somehow, found out already about Bradley?


          Her eyes questioning his, her coward's heart not finding the courage to ask him this question, Julie instead laid a gentle hand along his cheek, and whispered, "Manny”? 


          He had given her a crooked grin and said, "I'm sorry, sweetheart.  I don't want to embarrass you.  It's just....God....there were times I thought I'd never see you again, honey.  To have you in front of hold you in my arms's all I dreamed of, night and day".


          Gently she put her arms around his neck, drew him close.

Her eyes were closed to ward off her own tears as she whispered in his ear, "I'm so thankful your home, Manny.  I missed you so much"!  As he kissed her cheek and held her closer still, Julie happened to open her eyes and look over his shoulder.  Her eyes met Bradley Renault's, dead on.  He gave her a smirk, then turned on his heel and left the lounge.



          Obviously, Julie didn't keep her date with Bradley that night.  She first took Manny home to see her parents, both the Delaney's overjoyed to see him.  Bethann, in her usual blunt style, commiserated with him over the loss of his arm.  Mr. Delaney hissed, "Bethann", to her, but Manny just chuckled and said, "no, it's alright, sir.  I'd really much prefer that people don't feel they have to walk on egg shells around me because of it".  Turning to Julie's mom, he said, "thank you, Mrs. Delaney.  It's been hard adjusting to it, but the docs tell me I can be fitted with a prosthesis soon".


          After spending another hour with the Delaney's, Manny asked if Julie would like to go out to dinner with him.  Happily she accepted, asking him to give her an hour to get ready. 


          When Manny had gone and Julie was in her room choosing what to wear, her mother, without preamble, came in and softly shut the door behind her.  Julie turned quickly around at the sound of the door, and the look on her mother's face was daunting. 


          "Have you bothered to tell him, Julie", her mother asked straight out.


          Feigning ignorance to her mother's question, Julie dropped her eyes to fiddle with the dress in her hands, and asked, "what do you mean"?


          In a voice of steel, Bethann replied, "you know very well what I mean, Julie Ann!  Have you told Manny about the boy you've been seeing in school"?


          Julie's ire was steadily rising now, and she replied with anger in her voice, "that has been kind of hard to do so far, mom, considering he's only been home for three hours and we haven't had two minutes alone together"!


          Bethann's Irish temper had been held in check admirably up till now, but her fair complexion tinged pink and Julie was instantly contrite for how she'd spoken to her mother.  Bethann, however, did not give Julie any space to apologize.


          "Now you listen here, young lady", she began in a firm voice, "there's no call for you to get fresh!  What you've been doing......behind Manny's nothing short of a disgrace!

 He deserves better than that from the woman he asked to marry him, Julie Ann!  And.....whom I might add......happily agreed to!

 The very least you can do now, is tell him the truth"!


          Before Julie could reply, her mother turned on her heel and made for the bedroom door.  She spun to face her daughter one more time, and said, "I'm sorry to say this, Julie, but if Manny never wanted to see you again, it would be nothing more than you had coming to you"!   As Julie stood in stunned silence her mother left the room, her temper making her unable to stop from slamming it shut behind her.


          Julie's lower lip trembled as she stared at her bedroom door, even though her heart told her she had deserved her mom's wrath.  It was just that lately it seemed everyone was ganging up on her.  What, they'd never made a mistake in their lives?  True, hers had been of great magnitude, and she knew that she was going to hurt Manny deeply when she confessed to him about her......what exactly would you call what had happened between them?  You couldn't really call it an affair.....they had never gone beyond a chaste kiss or two.  Alright......a few more than that!  And to call it a 'fling' made it sound so sordid.  Relationship made it sound too long term, like she and Bradley were still together, and friendship really didn't cover it, either. 


          “What does it matter what you call it, Julie", she said aloud to herself.  “It was wrong, as simple as that”!  With a heavy heart, she prepared herself for her evening together with Manny.....quite possibly her last.  She looked down at the sparkling diamond on her finger, and felt like Judas, himself.


Chapter Four


          When Manny came by to pick Julie up around seven, he stayed and talked with her folks for a bit.  Julie allowed herself the luxury of looking him over unobserved, as he was in conversation with her mom and dad. 


          He was dressed again in his civilian clothes, and looked very much as he had before he went into the Army.  But, no......that wasn't strictly true, either.  There was a strange, almost wounded look about his eyes, now, a haunting in their depths.  He looked a bit gaunt, telling Julie he had lost weight while on his tour of duty.  With what he had described their eating conditions as being, she could understand that!  As her eyes traveled over him, she winced once again at the sleeve of his sport jacket pinned up on his left arm.  He now walked with an almost unnoticeable limp in his right leg.  You wouldn't see it easily, unless you were looking for it, but Julie knew him well.  His chances, of course, of ever pursuing a basketball scholarship now blown away like so much chafe on the wind.  So much he had given of little he would ever get back in return.


          Eventually Manny asked Julie if she were ready, telling her he had made reservations at Fredrico’s for eight thirty and if they didn't want to lose their table they better get going.  Part of her wanted so very much to be alone with him again......the other half, however, didn't really want to face the music she knew was coming sooner or later tonight.  Plastering a bright smile on her face she told him yes, she was ready.  She refused to meet her folk's accusing eyes as they went out the door.


          Manny had made their reservations at the swankiest place in town, and Julie was glad she had dressed up.  When they came through the curtained doorway, led by the Hostess, Manny didn't seem aware of the curious, outright stares of other people when they looked at his arm.  Julie, however, was livid on his behalf.

 Did people have nothing better to do than stare?  Manny wasn't a freak!  If they wanted that, let them go to a circus and pay to see a side show!  She found herself glaring at the idiots, staring them down until they looked away, red faced.


          The woman led them to a back table, where the ambiance was dim lighting and a burning candle in the center of the table.

 As Manny seated Julie, then himself, the hostess smiled at them and told them their server would be with them shortly. 


          When Julie looked back from watching the girl depart, she found Manny's eyes on her.  There was no smile on his lips, just a strange, piercing look to his eyes.  She tried for a smile, and asked, "what"?


          From out of left field, he asked her, "care to tell me about it, babe"?


          Feigning ignorance, he had so taken her by surprise with his question, she said lightly, "tell you about what, Manny"?


          An almost injured look came over his face as he gently took her left hand in his right atop the table.  His gaze steady, he said, "we promised we'd always be honest with each other, Julie.  Promised no secrets, remember”?  When she nodded, he continued.  "I.....I know about Bradley Renault, Julie", he finished quietly.  "When were you planning on telling me"?


          Julie's face lost its color, as she stared at him in horror.

 How?  "Manny......I", was all she could squeak out.  Her look implored him to understand without words, but she knew that was foolish.  How could he ever understand that his future bride had run around on him, while he, himself, was putting his very life on the line for his country?  Deep shame made her drop her eyes from his, and a sheen of tears filmed them, because she knew very well she could have written to him....prepared him before hand for what she had done.  Begged his forgiveness, but she had been too cowardly. 


          Manny released her hand, and put his fingers under her chin, making her look up at him again.  "He came to see me today, Julie,  at home.  He told me he was in love with you, and that you felt the same about him.  He let me know, Julie, that he wasn't going to give you up so easily, in his words, 'just because you came back, Bell' ”!  He took her hand once again and said with evident pain in his voice, "all I want to know, honey, is do you love him"?  She jerked back slightly at his question, but he kept her gaze locked to his as he said, "because, if you do, Julie, I really will understand.  He's a whole man, no parts missing.  His family has'll never want for anything.  What I'm trying to say, honey, is I won't stand in your way if he is what you really and truly want.  I'd never do that, Julie.  I've too much pride to try to force a woman to stay with me out of some misguided sense of obligation".


          Julie broke down crying, right where she sat.  Putting her hands to her face she bolted up out of her chair and quite literally ran from the restaurant, nearly knocking an elderly couple off their feet.  She bolted through the door from the restaurant, her feet flying beneath her, even as she heard Manny somewhere behind her pleading for her to stop.  Still, she ran......ran until her breath was gasping in her throat, until her legs finally gave out on her, and her feet entangled themselves, and she went sprawling

 on the ground.  She heard the fabric of her dress rip at the waist, felt the sting when her hands and knees were scrapped.  She welcomed the pain......didn't think anything could ever give her enough hurt to wipe out the shame and humiliation she felt.


          As she lay there on the ground, great heaving sobs escaping her throat, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.  Manny's voice, winded as much as her own, said softly, "Julie?  Are you okay, honey"?


          His concern over her......that he could actually still care...tore her heart from her chest.  When she raised her head, he was kneeling beside her, worry writ across his handsome face.

 Tears streaking unheeded down her face, she reached trembling arms up to him and cried, "Manny"!  Without hesitation, he pulled her up into his embrace with his good arm, holding her shaking form to him as he rocked her, much like a child.  He made quiet shushing sounds, kissing the top of her head.  When she had finally quieted, he helped her to her feet.  When she still kept her eyes cast down, he did not force her to look at him again.


          "I guess I handled that very badly, Julie.  It's just I love you with all my heart, and I only ever want your happiness, honey.  Even", and here his voice caught, "if it means away from me".


          Julie met his beautiful eyes then, looked deeply into them.

 Yes, she found she had been right about the haunted look in them.  She longed to wipe that look reassure him she could never love another man as she did him.  And so, she said to him, "Manny, you’re the only man I've ever loved.  Bradley Renault was a… distraction".  Then, although she knew this was going to hurt him, she determined she would not lie.....would not try to cover up the truth of what she had done.  Casting her eyes down to look at the ground, she said, "I.....we......he did kiss me, Manny….a few times".  She looked back up at him quickly, and saw the pain she had inflicted with her words.  Yet, his eyes never left hers as she went on.  "It meant nothing, Manny!  If he took it to mean more, well, that's his problem.  But, even if", and her voice broke slightly.  She cleared her throat and forced the words out.  "Even if it means you never want to see me again, I'm telling you right now that there will never be anything between Bradley Renault and me".


          He looked deeply into her eyes.......must have seen the truth of her words in their depths, because a crooked grin lifted his mouth, and he said shakily, "does this mean you and I can begin to plan that big 'blow out' wedding"?


          Totally unable to believe the depth of this man's love for her, Julie's eyes filled with tears once again, and throwing herself into his arms, she cried, "oh, Manny.......what did I ever do to deserve you"?





Chapter 5



          "Girl, if you don't get a move on, the shops will be closed"!  Julie smiled at her mother's usual impatience, grabbing up her purse and keys and descending the stairs quickly.


          Today was the day they would be shopping for her wedding dress, and both women were in high spirits.  When Julie came clamoring down the stairs, she was grateful to see the happy light in her mom's eyes.  Gone was the condemning and shameful look she had seen too much of lately.  Linking her arm through her mom's, she laughingly pulled her towards the door.  Bethann, however, stopped her just short of the door, and pulled her daughter into a quick hug, kissing her cheek.  Her eyes told Julie all she needed to know, and with a big smile, Julie opened the door and made a sweeping bow, escorting her mother outside first.  They were both laughing as they made their way to Julie's car.


          Two dress shops and ten dresses later, they had found 'the one'!   When her daughter stepped out of the dressing room, the attendant smiling hugely as she fluffed the skirt here and there, Bethann Delaney's breath caught in her throat.  Her eyes misted as she beheld her only child, looking like someone out of a fairy tale.  She put one hand to her throat, as she stood and slowly circled her daughter, taking in every detail of the gown.


          It was constructed of white satin, the sleeves pushed off the shoulders.  It had a sweetheart neckline, which showed just a hint of cleavage.  The dress fitted closely to the waist, and from there flowed in billowing yards of the same material.  The entire bodice was overlaid with glittering sequins and tiny white pearls, the same pattern studding the entire skirt. A train flowed out behind her, at least three feet in length, with again the sequin and pearl pattern  gracing its entire length and breadth.  The back was cut low, to the small of the waist.  A pert, white satin bow graced the spot where the zipper ended on the top.  It, too, glittered in the lights of the store with the sequins and pearls.  


          "Darling, it’s beautiful", said Mrs. Delaney to her daughter, tears now running unashamedly down her cheeks.


          Julie looked happily at her reflection in the multiple mirrors.

"Do you think so, mom?  Do you think Manny will like it"?


          Bethann sniffed, and said almost gruffly, "well, if he doesn't, he's blind as a bat"!


          That did it!  Julie's case of the jitters left her immediately at her mom's remark, and she cracked up laughing.  Even the salesgirl found herself chuckling.  Giving her mother a happy hug, Julie told the girl they would take the gown, still smiling as she returned to the dressing room to change.


          When she came back out to where her mother sat waiting, Bethann said, "now, what of a head piece, Julie"?


          Groaning, Julie realized their shopping expedition was far from over!  If she knew her mom......and she detail was too small to be over looked.  By the time they left the shop, they not only had the dress and head piece.....but the blue garter, (for something blue), the guest book, the cake knife, the bride and groom toast glasses, Julie's shoes, and, finally, a mother-of-the-bride's dress for Bethann.  Julie refused to let her eyes fall on the check her mother wrote out at the end of it all!


          When the two finally got home that evening, Julie's dad was sitting in the living room, reading the paper.  He smiled at them when they came through the door, leaden down in packages.


          "So", he quipped, "how poor am I, ladies"?


          Smiling at her husband, Bethann said, "you don't want to know, honey, trust me"!


          He chuckled in good humor, then said, "so, does your poor old dad......left here all alone all afternoon.....get to see you model your dress, princess"?


          Laughing gaily, Julie had hurried to kiss his cheek, and assured him he was going to be the first to see it!  She then checked herself with, "well, next to mom, of course".


          As she grabbed up the large boxes that held her dress and head piece, his humorous chuckle followed her up the stairs.


          Julie's mother had trailed her upstairs, and as she carefully changed into her wedding ensemble, her mother did up the zipper, fastening the hook and eye that held the pretty little bow in place at the top of the zipper.  As Bethann carefully placed the elaborate headdress atop her daughter's head, she did something that was so totally uncharacteristic of her, it took Julie by surprise.


          Not meeting Julie's eyes, fussing with the veil here and there, fluffing the skirt of the dress, Bethann Delaney said quietly,

 "I want to tell you I'm sorry, Julie......for the way I spoke to you.

 It was not my place.  It is your life, and you should be free to live it as you so choose".


          "But, momma", Julie said quickly, reverting to the name she had called her mother as a child, "you were right"!  Turning to face her mother, Julie said softly, "I acted like a fool, momma.

 I let my head be turned by a man who was paying 'attention' to me.  I know, now, it was because in my heart I was still so angry at Manny for choosing to go into the service, rather than staying home and marrying me right away".  She let her gaze drop from her mother's, as she finished, "I love Manny, momma.  I don't deserve him.....but I'm going to make him the best wife I can"!


          A soft look came into Julie's mother's eyes, and she put a gentle hand under her daughter's chin, so she would meet her eyes again.  In a soft voice, Bethann said, "I'm more than proud of you, Julie, and I love you with all my heart".


          As her mother hugged her, Julie said in a muffled voice against her shoulder, "I love you, too, momma".

          The chapel bells rang out loudly over their small town the day  Manny Ralph Bell and Julie Ann Delaney were wed.  The sound carried near and far, telling everyone the blessed day had finally arrived.  The month was June, the year 1967.  The weather seemed made especially for them by the Angels in Heaven, so fair was it.  In ones, twos, groups and couples, people filed into the big white church on the corner to witness a marriage many had said would not be.  But, Manny and Julie had gone the gauntlet, proving the doubting Thomas's wrong. 


          In her dressing room, Julie was surrounded by women.  Her mom, of course......but there was also her Maid of Honor, Tiffany, who was her best friend, then her two other bridesmaids, Kathy and Brenda, also friends from school.  Her little five year old neighbor, Cindy, was her flower girl.  As the women helped her dress, giggling when she slipped on the blue garter, she thought of Manny's entourage in his own changing room.  Tommy, his good friend from school, was his Best Man.  His two other groomsmen were Frank and Levi, two other pals.  His ring bearer was his sister's son, Emanuel.  Their wedding colors were deep blue and gray, and her bouquet picked these colors up.  Manny had chosen a white tux, with a gray vest.  The flowers in his lapel would be a deep blue flower with a white rose.


          Now Tiffany had the honor of placing Julie's head piece on her head, and everyone in the room looked on in delight.  She truly was a vision, the long veil trailing to the floor in back, a single filmy shield of the veil covering her face in the front.  The crown of the head piece looked nothing short of royalty, picking up the sequins and pearls from her gown.  Every way she turned, she glittered and shone in the lights.


          Julie's mother came up to her then and, as everyone watched, she took something from folded tissue paper in her hand.  Julie's eyes widened in wonder at what she saw, and then they flew to her mother's face.  Bethann's chin wobbled slightly, as she said in a not so steady voice, "you've never seen these, darling.  I wore them at my wedding to your daddy, and my mother wore them before me, and hers before her.  I've kept them for you, Julie, to wear on your own wedding day.  There yours now, to keep.  Perhaps, one day, your own daughter will wear them".


          Bethann turned Julie to look in the mirror again, and moved around behind her.  Carefully, she draped the necklace in place and fastened it.  Everyone in the room gasped in shock!  For against Julie's breast lay the most exquisite diamond creation Julie had ever seen.  Tiny, winking diamonds ran up the length of the chain to her shoulders.  The center of the piece was a solid cluster of large and small diamonds, with one large one that dangled from the bottom in a perfect tear drop shape.  Bethann then handed Julie the earrings, and she put them on.  They, too, were a cluster of bright diamonds, with a smaller, lone replica of the tear drop dangling from each one.


          Her mom put her arm around Julie's shoulder, gave her a squeeze, kissed her cheek gently.  "This is your 'something old', darling.  Take good care of them".  Julie found she could only nod her head as she met her mother's eyes in the mirror.  If she had tried to speak, she would have broken down.  As it was, her eyes were misting over.


          Tiffany broke the spell.  Giving a sniff, she cleared her throat and said, "although it certainly can't compete with that, Jules", and everyone chuckled.  Grinning, she went on, "but I wanted to give you your something borrowed".


          As Julie turned around to watch her friend, Tiffany moved to her purse lying on a bench in the room.  She extricated a small blue box, and from within its velvet lining she removed a very fine, gold link chain.  From it dangled one single charm, a filigree heart.  As she knelt at Julie's feet, she told her to lift her skirts for a moment and fastened the chain around her right ankle.


          As Julie turned her ankle, admiring the bracelet, Tiffany said, "it was my graduation present from my daddy, Jules.  It means the world to me.  There isn't anybody else I'd allow to borrow it but you".  When her friend stood up again, Julie hugged her warmly and said, "I'll take very good care of it, Tif.  Thank you".


          Thus it was that Julie's heart was full to bursting with the love she felt for the people in that room.  She had to grab the reins of her emotions with both hands, therefore, when the music began that signaled her attendants to begin their walk.  Her heart took a leap in her just a little over an hour, she would become Mrs. Manuel Ralph Bell!


          Julie kissed her mother's cheek and hugged her, as she was first to leave the room.  Her dad's brother, Henry, escorted her mom to her seat at the front of the church.  Then, one by one, her girls met the guy they would walk the aisle with, and made their slow way to the altar to take their places.  Julie had moved out of the room to meet her father, who took her hands in his and told her that, next to her mother, he had never in his life seen a more beautiful bride.  Suddenly, the beginning strains of the well loved 'Wedding March' began to fill the air of the church.  Holding out his left arm to her, her daddy asked, "ready, sweetheart"?

 Her legs trembling, she smiled nervously at him and nodded, slipping her arm through his.


          When they appeared in the doorway, no bride had ever had a more enthusiastic reception.  Ohh's and ahh's came from every side.....even a few 'Wow's'!  Julie blushed prettily at their guests responses, and then her eyes met and held Manny's, waiting for her at the altar.  All the love in the world was apparent in his gaze, and soon everyone else in the large church ceased to exist for Julie but the man she was about to marry.


          She had almost made it to the front on her daddy's arm...was, in fact, only two steps away from Manny....when it happened. 









Chapter 6



          The windows were open to allow a cross breeze of the beautiful summer day.  Suddenly, from what sounded like it was coming from directly underneath one of the windows, an explosion rent the air!  The organist abruptly stopped playing, actually throwing herself off her bench to the floor with a screech.  Guests screamed, and Julie's father pulled her down beside him to the floor.  But, the worst reaction came from Manny, himself.


          Instantly, he had thrown himself down on his stomach on the altar floor, and began screaming out orders to imaginary fellow soldiers.  "It's's Charlie", he yelled, "get down!

 Damn it......get down"!  There was true panic within the church's body of people now, and they began to charge the doorway, practically stampeding in their mindless flight.  All the while, Pastor Sampson was trying to yell over the noise to, “be calm, people!  It's alright! calm”!  No one paid him any heed.


          There was now a crush of bodies against the double doors of the church, and so mindless was their panic that nobody could actually move enough to get out of the doors.  Suddenly Frank was wading in among the guests, forcefully shoving them back, yelling at them to, 'get back!  Damn it, get back!  Stop it, now'! 

 Gradually the panic lessened, and reason came back into the eyes of the people.  They looked around themselves as if stunned, and one little girl was crying in her father's arms.


          When they had quieted except for the mumbled conversation, Levi came forward, shoving a man before him.  He had a tight grip on the man's arms from behind.  Julie had come out the doorway from the front of the church with a now somewhat sheepish looking Manny and her father, and when she saw who Levi held prisoner, she gasped, "Bradley"!


          He said nothing in return, just kept his eyes pinned on Manny.  His look was murderous, his mouth curled into a horrid looking sneer.  Levi spoke up and said, "this jerk off is the one who did it!  Thought it would be real cute to set off a firecracker under one of the windows"!


          "Think what your marrying, Julie", Bradley spat out in contempt.  "Think what you’re life is going to be like!  Any little noise, and Mr. Wonderful here is going to freak"!


          Before anyone could move or say anything in return, Julie quickly covered the distance between her and Bradley.  To everyone's surprise, (and if the truth be told, their delight as well, but none so more than Manny, himself), she drew back and absolutely round housed Bradley in the jaw!  The force of the blow actually snapped his head back, almost hitting Levi behind him.  "Get this creep out of here", she hissed.  Levi said, "you bet, honey.  We've already called the cops.  They'll be here any second".


          Bradley's eyes were still dazed looking as two officers came, took statements, and hauled him away.  Julie looked down at her right was swollen and red, and it hurt like the dickens!

 Manny had come up to her side, and he took the hand and kissed it, then whispered to her, "remind me to never tick you off, beautiful"!


          Julie giggled, and the tension was broken.  Pastor Sampson said jovially, "well......a bit unorthodox, I admit!  But, who's ready to have a wedding"?!


          An hour later, Manny was lifting Julie's veil reverently, and he took her in his arms and kissed her deeply.  Wolf whistles and cat calls went up, and when he finally released her, Julie's face was tinged a becoming pink.  As they turned to finally face their guests, Pastor Sampson could not resist one last crack. 


          "Well", he said happily.  "It took some doing, but may I now have the privilege....finally....of introducing to you, Mr. and Mrs. Manuel Bell"!


          Thunderous clapping and cheers went up from their guests, and Julie noticed her folks were both crying happily.  Manny's own mother was weeping, also, and his father looked suspiciously bright eyed.  As the bride and groom led the procession back down the aisle, Manny squeezed her hand gently and said, "we finally made it, sweetheart!  You’re finally mine, forever"!


          Her face shining radiantly, Julie's smile was just for him.

 'Yes', she thought to herself, 'it's been a long, hard row to hoe,

 but we finally made it'! 





A Final Word




          Thus it was that Julie now sat in her tidy little kitchen with her Manny, at three in the morning, both of them sipping coffee.

 His bouts of these flash back's were fewer now, although he would most likely never be rid of them.  Julie understood......knew that no man who had witnessed the horrors of a war like Nam could ever be expected to come out of it unscathed.  She thanked her God each and every day that He had brought Manny back alive.  Even though he had lost a limb, he was still her Manny, his heart as big as all outdoors. 


          Now she took his good hand in her own, and he raised his eyes questioningly to look at her.  Grinning, she knew that now was the time to spring her 'surprise' on him! 


          "I've got something to tell you........daddy"!  At first he looked puzzled, then realization dawned in his eyes and they lit up like a Christmas tree.  "You mean your......your....", he sputtered, pointing to her stomach.  Laughing, she nodded, and asked, "are you happy, Manny"?


          In answer, he let out a loud whoop and pulled her to her feet, then one armed he twirled her around a couple of times, before setting her gently on her feet again, laughing all the while.

 Finally his eyes softened, and he pulled her to him and kissed her.

 When the kiss had ended, he gazed into her eyes and said, "have I told you lately how very much I love you, Mrs. Bell'?


          Giggling, she said, "only about three times a day.  But, you can never tell me too often, Manny.  I love you, too".