“Josie?” The question rang softly in the gathering dusk. “Are you awake?”
Josie remained silent, trailing her hands along the grass, only to smile as a sharp elbow gently nudged her side. She turned her head and collided with Danny’s gaze, laughter lurking in the pools of blue. They’d played this game all summer, usually ending in innocent kisses, and Josie grinned expectantly, but Danny merely continued looking at her.
“Danny?” she asked after a minute, her smile fading as he stood up and walked away from the grassy bank on which they’d lain side by side the whole afternoon. Josie lay still, waiting, green eyes trained on the boy standing rigidly by the edge of the creek a mere feet from her. After a few moments, he strode back to lie once again by her side.
“I joined the army,” he said, grabbing her hand but looking at the sky whose daily battle with the descending sun splashed the heavens with violent purples and reds. “I’m leaving for basic training tomorrow.”
“How long have you known this?” She watched his Adam’s apple bob.
“The whole summer…” Josie wrenched her hand from his grip, leapt to her feet and started running home.
“Josie! I didn’t want you to worry!” Danny’s voice trailed behind her, but Josie only ran faster, hoping the speed would dry the tears pouring down her face.
She ignored the rain of pebbles at her window later that night and the trill of the telephone the next morning, shying away from her mother’s glance at the unusual sight of Josie not leaping to answer. When the doorbell rang after breakfast, however, she flew to the door and pulled it open, green eyes clashing with blue.
Danny hauled her to him, sighing with relief and grief as Josie wreathed her arms tightly around his waist and laid her head on his chest. They separated only after the grandfather clock in the hallway struck the quarter hour. Josie grasped Danny’s hand and walked by his side as he crossed the porch, walked the length of the path to the front gate and out onto the street, heading to the bus depot.
She returned alone, eyes red-rimmed but with a small smile tugging at her mouth as she glanced at the opened letter in her hand. The postman delivered another the following day and another the next and the next and the next. Until one day six months later, as February rolled in with blistering winds and snow, the letters stopped.
She knew why even before the call came through and was already putting on her heavy winter coat, hat, and gloves when her mother answered the telephone. She trekked to the Town Hall, uncaring of the snow swirling furiously around her.
On February 15, 1969, Josie died with a stroke of a pen and emerged from the marble building as Josephine Valentine, Mrs. J to her boarders years later.