The Bungalow

A Novel

Sarah Jio - Author

ePub eBook | $9.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101565674 | 320 pages | 27 Dec 2011 | Plume | 18 - AND UP
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A sweeping World War II saga of thwarted love, murder, and a long-lost painting.

In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancÚ, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne's determination to discover the truth about the twin losses-of life, and of love-that have haunted her for seventy years.

Chapter 1

August 1942

“Kitty Morgan, you did not just say that!” I set my goblet of mint iced tea down with enough force to crack the glass. Mother would be happy to know that I hadn’t spoiled her set of Venetian crystal.

“I most certainly did,” she said, smirking victoriously. Kitty, with her heart-shaped face and that head full of wiry, untamable blond ringlets springing out of the hairpins she’d been so meticulous about fastening, hardly provoked anger. But on this subject I held my ground.

“Mr. Gelfman is a married man,” I said in my most disapproving voice.

“James,” she said, elongating his first name for dramatic effect, “is impossibly unhappy. Did you know that his wife disappears for weeks at a time? She doesn’t even tell him where she’s going. She cares more about the cats than she does him.”

I sighed, leaning back into the wooden bench swing that hung from the enormous walnut tree in my parents’ backyard garden. Kitty sat beside me then, just as she had when we were in grade school. I looked up at the tree overhead, its leaves tinged with a touch of yellow, hinting that autumn was imminent. Why must things change? It seemed like only yesterday that Kitty and I were two schoolgirls, walking home arm in arm, setting our books down on the kitchen table and making a dash to the swing, where we’d tell secrets until dinnertime. Now, at twenty-one, we were two grown women on the verge of, well, something—not that either of us could predict what.

“Kitty,” I said, turning to face her. “Don’t you understand?”

“Understand what?” She looked like a rose petal, sitting there in her dress brimming with pink ruffles, with those wild curls that were getting even more unruly in the late-afternoon humidity. I wanted to protect her from Mr. Gelfman, or any other man she intended upon falling in love with, for none would be good enough for my best friend—certainly not the married ones.

I cleared my throat. Does she not know Mr. Gelfman’s reputation? Certainly she remembered the hordes of girls who had fl aunted themselves at him in high school, where he had been Lakeside’s most dashing teacher. Every girl in English Lit had hoped to make eye contact with him as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” crossed his lips. That was all girlish fun, I contended. But had Kitty forgotten about the incident five years ago with Kathleen Mansfield? How could she forget? Kathleen—shy, big breasted, terribly dim-witted—had fallen under Mr. Gelfman’s spell. She hovered near the teachers’ lounge at lunch, and waited for him after school. Everybody wondered about them, especially when one of our girlfriends spotted Kathleen in the park with Mr. Gelfman after dusk. Then, suddenly, Kathleen stopped coming to school. Her older brother said she’d gone to live with her grandmother in Iowa. We all knew the reason why.

I crossed my arms. “Kitty, men like Mr. Gelfman have only one objective, and I think we both know what that is.”

Kitty’s cheeks flushed to a deeper shade of pink. “Anne Calloway! How dare you suggest that James would be anything but—”

“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said. “It’s just that I love you. You’re my best friend, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Kitty kicked her legs despondently as we swung for a few minutes in silence. I reached into the pocket of my dress and privately clutched the letter nestled inside. I’d picked it up at the post office earlier that day and was eager to sneak away to my bedroom to read it. It was from Norah, a friend from nursing school who’d been writing me weekly accounts from the South Pacific, where she’d been serving in the Army Nurse Corps. She and Kitty, both hot-tempered, had a falling out in our final term together, so I chose not to bring up the letters with Kitty. Besides, I couldn’t let on to her how much Norah’s tales of the war and the tropics had captivated me. They read like the pages of a novel—so much so that a part of me dreamt of taking my newly minted nursing degree and joining her there, escaping life at home and the decisions that awaited. And yet, I knew it was just a fanciful idea, a daydream. After all, I could help with the war efforts at home, by volunteering at the civic center or collecting tin cans and assisting with conservation projects. I shook my head at the thought of traipsing off to a war zone in the tropics mere weeks before my wedding. I sighed, grateful I hadn’t uttered a word of it to Kitty.

“You’re just jealous,” Kitty finally said, still smug.

“Nonsense,” I retorted, pushing Norah’s letter deeper into my pocket. The sun, high in the summer sky, caught the diamond ring on my left hand, producing a brilliant sparkle, as arresting as a lighthouse’s beacon on a dark night, reminding me of the unavoidable fact that I was engaged. Bought and paid for. “I’m marrying Gerard in less than a month,” I said. “And I couldn’t be happier.”

Kitty frowned. “Don’t you want to do something else with your life before you”—she paused as if the next few words would be very difficult, very displeasing to say—“before you become Mrs. Gerard Godfrey?”

I shook my head in protest. “Marriage, my dear, is not suicide.”

Kitty looked away from me, her gaze burrowing into a rosebush in the garden. “It might as well be,” she murmured under her breath.

I sighed, leaning back into the swing.

“Sorry,” she whispered, turning back to me. “I just want you to be happy.”

I reached for her hand. “But I will be, Kitty. I wish you’d see that.”

I heard footsteps on the lawn and looked up to fi nd Maxine, our housekeeper, approaching, tray in hand. In heels, she walked steadily across the lawn, requiring only a single hand to bear a laden silver platter. Papa had called her graceful once, and she was. She practically fl oated.

“May I fetch you girls anything?” Maxine asked in her beautiful, heavily accented voice. Her appearance had changed very little since I was a girl. She was petite, with soft features, great big sparkling green eyes, and cheeks that smelled of vanilla. Her hair, now graying slightly, was pulled back into a tidy chignon, never a strand out of place. She wore a white apron, always clean and freshly starched to a remarkable stiffness, cinched tightly around her small waist. Lots of families in the neighborhood had servants, but we were the only household that employed a French housekeeper, a fact Mother was quick to point out at bridge parties.

“We’re fine, Maxine, thank you,” I said, weaving my arm through hers.

“There is something,” Kitty said conspiratorially. “You can convince Anne not to marry Gerard. She doesn’t love him.”

“Is this true, Antoinette?” Maxine asked. I was five years old the day she came to work in our home, and after a quick once-over, she said declaratively, “You do not have the face of an Anne. I shall call you Antoinette.” I had felt very fancy.

“Of course it’s not true,” I said quickly. “Kitty is just in one of her moods.” I gave her a sideways glance of disapproval. “I’m the luckiest girl in Seattle. I’m marrying Gerard Godfrey.”

And I was lucky. Gerard was tall and impossibly handsome, with his strong jaw and dark brown hair and eyes to match. He was quite wealthy, too, not that it mattered to me. Mother, on the other hand, frequently reminded me that at twenty-seven he enjoyed the distinction of being the youngest vice president at First Marine Bank, a title that meant he would come into a fortune when he took over for his father. You’d have to be a foolish woman to turn down a proposal from Gerard Godfrey, and when he asked for my hand, under this very walnut tree, I nodded without a moment’s hesitation.

Mother had been giddy upon hearing the news. She and Mrs. Godfrey had planned the union since I was in infancy, of course. Calloways would marry Godfreys. It was as natural as coffee and cream.

Maxine picked up a pitcher of iced tea and refilled our goblets.

Praise for The Bungalow
"The Bungalow is a story as luscious as its exotic setting. Ms. Jio has crafted a wartime story of passion and friendship, loss and mystery. It's also a story of discovery-discovering one's own heart, and of finding a second chance long after all hope is gone. You'll remember the sparkling water and yellow hibiscus long after the last page is turned, and will want to start searching for your own lost bungalow and the parts of yourself you've long since forgotten."
-Karen White, author of The Beach Trees

Praise for The Violets of March
"Feed the kids before you settle in with journalist Sarah Jio's engrossing first novel, The Violets of March. This mystery- slash-love story will have you racing to the end-cries of 'Mom, I'm hungry!' be damned!"

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