"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent."
–Winston Churchill, Fulton, Missouri
March 5, 1946
"There is no doubt that Mr. Churchill's speech is a call to war with the Soviet Union."
–Josef Stalin, PRAVDA
March 13, 1946
* * *
Candlelight made odd shapes on the pure white tablecloth, flickering patterns of light and dark. Cameron stared at the fluttering hues, transfixed. She tried to keep her gaze averted from the empty chair across the table from her, but there was nowhere else to rest her eyes, nowhere that didn't make her heart clench as if a fist had grasped it.
But she and Alex had promised each other they would do this, would perform this ritual that now seemed both silly and poignant. For that reason she had requested the hotel's best china, silver, and crystal for two settings. A young man had delivered the things and assisted in setting the table. He'd given her a little wink, assuming she was arranging for a romantic rendezvous. He was still grinning when, just a half hour ago, he'd wheeled in a cart with an elegant meal for two. The boy was no more than eighteen or nineteen, blond and fresh faced. He could have been one of Hitler's Youth, for all Cameron knew. By his appearance you could not have discerned that barely a year previously his country had suffered a devastating military defeat. He looked more like a kid wanting a bit of fun. Cameron tipped him well so that he could take his girl to dinner and a movie. There ought to be at least one romantic interlude for someone that night.
It would not be here in room 214 of the Schmidt Hotel in Nuremburg, Germany. Cameron had known even as the meal cart had been delivered that she would have no appetite for the roasted beef, au gratin potatoes, and sautéed carrots. It was all purely symbolic, as were the candlelight and the elegant place settings. This was how she and Alex had imagined they would spend the first anniversary of their marriage had they actually been together. Alex had predicted they might not be able to do so in a physical sense, but it might take the sting out of the separation if they could arrange a spiritual connection of sorts. In the few letters they had exchanged, thanks to Robert Wood at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, who had been acting as a conduit for the illicit communication, Alex and Cameron had even arranged the time of their meal. Because Cameron had known by then she'd be in Germany, they had chosen seven o'clock in the evening Berlin time, which would be nine o'clock in Moscow.
At this very moment in Moscow Alex would be sitting at a table, probably in his small apartment, with candlelight and as fine a meal as he could manage in a country that had not yet recovered from wartime shortages. What was on their plates did not matter, whether it be borscht and bread or chateaubriand. Alex was there also staring across a table at an empty place setting.
Were they simply gluttons for punishment? Was this the most morbid ritual ever devised?
Tears welled up in Cameron's eyes. Oh, how she hated to cry! And she'd always had little sympathy for people who felt sorry for themselves. But she couldn't easily shake off her melancholy. She'd known on her wedding day that they were entering into a seemingly impossible situation. She'dknown, but on some level she hadn't truly believed. She remembered what she had told Alex when she had proposed to him....
"Alex, there is a power in the marriage bond. I know it! A deep spiritual power but also another kind of power, one that I know in my heart will bring us back together in the future."
Now she realized that when she had used the word future, she'd been thinking weeks or months. Not a year ... and counting! They had both been so full of hope back then, such that they had eschewed the idea of running away together and forcing Alex to become a fugitive, a deserter from the army with a death sentence on his head. Looking back, she wondered if the risk might not have been worth it. The world was big, with many hiding places. But neither of them was built for hiding, and Alex had tried running away once from his troubles in America, and he knew from experience that running solved nothing.
Besides, running and hiding seemed to discount their faith in God's care. Cameron needed to believe that God was exercising control over their lives. Perhaps if she'd been in charge, she would have done things differently, but she had to believe that God's way was better, no matter what it appeared on the surface.
With stoic determination she lifted the silver lid from the serving platter. The fragrance of beef in a rich wine sauce rose to her nose. She'd been in Germany long enough since the war's end to know better than to waste food, regardless of her melancholy. For that reason, symbolism aside, she'd requested a small portion of food. She spooned the beef, then some potatoes and carrots onto her plate. She left the one across from her empty. She thought of Alex as she took a bite of the meat, of their first meeting in the Moscow bomb shelter, how Cameron had convinced him to go with her to the roof of the building to see what was going on during the bombing. He'd thought she was crazy. She smiled. He probably considered most of her antics after that crazy, as well. Still, he'd fallen in love with her. And she had probably first begun to fall in love with him there on the roof, when she had compared him with her friend and sometime lover Johnny Shanahan and had perceived a depth in Alex, a many-layered character that had been lacking in Johnny and so many other men of her acquaintance.
She attempted to conjure a picture of Alex in her mind, his tall strong form, his light wavy hair, and those incredible blue eyes. But the image in her head was blurry. The eyes that reflected emotion like a pool reflects a crisp, clear summer's day were ... dull.
Both panic and anger twisted inside her. It wasn't fair that she had only a fading image to comfort her.
"No, I wasn't going to go in that direction!" she reminded herself.
She jumped up and went to the bedside table, where she found the Bible her mother had given her before she left the States for this German assignment. Tucked within the pages of Psalms were the photos her friend Edna had taken at her wedding. They were black and white and small, except for one that she'd had one of the Journal's photographers enlarge. Her heart actually skipped a beat as she gazed at the happy couple standing before the altar of the Lutheran church in the German village where she and Alex had married. In the background bomb damage could be seen --- a stained-glass window partially destroyed and a corner of the roof open to sunlight. But that was no more discordant than the couple themselves holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes. They were hardly dressed for a wedding --- Cameron in her Army fatigues, and Alex in ill-fitting secondhand clothes bought from some of the villagers.
In a moment of uncharacteristic sentimentality, Cameron kissed the tip of her finger and touched Alex's image in the photo.
"I love you, Alex," she murmured.
And, in an odd way she could not explain, she felt certain he was at that very moment saying the very same thing.
I love you, Camrushka ... the silent expression traveled to her over the nearly one thousand miles that separated them.
Alex had been right. This ritual was a good thing. But please, God, she prayed, this isn't how I want to spend our second anniversary!
Excerpted from HOMEWARD MY HEART (Daughters of Fortune, Book 4) © Copyright 2004 by Judith Pella. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House Publishers. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.