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It Started With A Telegram

My great-grandmother had passed, not that it came as a shock to any of us, but it hurt all the same. Nanny Long had battled dementia and heart failure for long enough, so when she went to be with my great-grandfather, I said a silent prayer that her travels were swift and her burden was light on her way up to Heaven—a place I was sure she would go. Nannie was not only the matriarch of our family but also a beloved member of the community.

Even in her frail state, she insisted on dishing up plates at the local homeless shelter, and she wouldn’t miss a weekly game of bingo at the senior center for anything in the world. Still, her last few weeks were difficult, draining her cheeks of their rosy glow and dulling the sparkle in her sea-blue eyes.

Nearly three hundred people paid their respects at her funeral, her procession stretching on for miles. The number of people whose lives she touched was phenomenal. While I would never begrudge them one last moment with their mentor, their friend, their bingo partner—I did find myself wishing the day over as soon as possible. I needed a moment to mourn my grandmother in silence, peace, and quiet—things one could not find among a crowd of hundreds.

That’s how it started, my search for a quiet space in her old home started the whole thing. During her wake, I found myself wandering through the empty rooms of the house, running my finger along the antique chair rail, clacking my heels on the oak floors. The house would have to be sold, despite our wishes. My sister wasn’t in any better a financial state than I was, but it broke our hearts all the same. We spent many summers in our Nanny’s old house, a house I had hoped my own children would play in one day.

Before I knew it, I was in the dusty old attic, rummaging through clothing from a bygone era. Nanny’s beautiful dresses from her days as a young lady in the late forties, after The War, had always been fascinating to me. The War, the stories she would tell about The War. World War II was still fresh in her mind, and with good reason. After all, she met my grandfather during the war, and they married soon after he returned from Germany.

I looked at myself in an old mirror, holding her dresses in front of me. I wondered what life was like for her back then. Her family had been wealthy at the beginning of the war, but by the time it was finished, they were paupers like the rest of the world. Served them right to be honest. The way my grandmother described her father made me wish I could go back in time and smack him.

I put the dresses away and continued to rummage through the items we still hadn’t removed from her house. We saved the attic for last, knowing well the possessions stored there would wreak havoc on our pained hearts. I moved to the far corner, a dusty area I realized I’d never explored before.

Buried deep in the corner was a small box with a rusted hinge, not much larger than a shoebox. I flipped the lid open, expecting to find my grandmother’s collection of antique brooches, but instead found dozens of telegrams. I pulled the yellowed pages from the box, entirely unprepared for the adventure they would soon send me on.

I carefully unfolded the first telegram and read the neatly typed words.

Dear William,

My heart aches to know the pain you endure. My only wish is to hold you once again. Until that day, you’re in my heart.

Love, Alice

I dropped the telegram back into the box and slammed it shut. Nanny—Alice Long—never spoke of anyone named William, but there it was plain as day. Who was William? My great-grandmother met George Long in the summer of 1943, just three weeks before he was drafted to the Army. After a whirlwind romance, she promised her heart to him, and he promised to marry her when he returned.

“I thought I’d find you up here. What are you doing?” Danielle ducked under the rafters, sneezed a few times, then joined me on the floor of the dusty old attic.

“Have you ever seen these before?” I handed my sister the box, and she opened it, revealing the telegrams inside.

“No, I haven’t.” She unfolded the telegram I’d just read, then looked at me with surprise. “Who’s William?”

“I have no idea, but he was obviously someone important. He was someone she once… loved,” I said.

“Oh, Easton, don’t go getting all sappy. It was probably a close friend or maybe a relative we don’t know about. You know how much she loved Grandpa,” she teased. My love of sappy romance novels was always a topic of great taunting in the Long household.

“I’m not, it’s just strange.” I took the telegram from her and looked at the back.

Honolulu, Hawaii

“Whoever he was, he was stationed in Hawaii in…” I glanced at the cancellation date. “…the summer of 1941.”

“I have that friend who works in the National Archives office in D.C. Maybe he can give us a hint?” Danielle said. “Oh, this is like a little mystery.”

A mystery indeed, and one I couldn’t let go. I became obsessed with discovering who William was and why my great-grandmother was sending telegrams to him in Hawaii. My obsession grew with every passing day, yet I couldn’t bring myself to read any more of the telegrams for fear it would ruin my image of my grandparents' marriage, one I idolized.

Then one day, Danielle came to me with a bit of information I couldn’t let go. William Hawkins. His name was William Hawkins, and he’d lived two streets over from my grandmother nearly all his life. He’d joined the Army at eighteen, was sent to Hawaii, and then… he died.

I couldn’t get over his death. It was as if it had just happened, and I’d known him well, but I didn’t know him at all, and he’d died decades before I was even born. But the pull was too strong to ignore, so I did something totally crazy. I needed to make sense of it all. That’s what I told my family, but in truth, I think I needed the time away to put my own life back together.

The loss of my beloved great-grandmother was just the period at the end of a horrific week. I still hadn’t told my sister that I lost my job—cutbacks they said—which was the only one I’d had since I graduated from college. I was already floundering out of my comfort zone when another bomb hit. My boyfriend, my high school sweetheart, broke up with me halfway through me explaining that I lost my job. In all, it was the worst week of my life. Nanny’s passing was the final straw that broke my heart, and I needed an escape. I packed a bag—my destination, the USS Arizona… the final resting place of the man who would change my life forever.

He never met me, but I will forever be indebted to William Hawkins. He gave me something no one else ever had—adventure, excitement, and in the end, love.

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Title and Info

THE TELEGRAM THE SECRET AUTHOR SERIES, BOOK FIVE © 2020 Melissa Padgett (M. J. Padgett) All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication...


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