Jennie Marshall has some hard choices to make.
Does she leave the small town life she resents or stay in the old house she’d been raised in and care for her grieving mother? Staying means no college and giving up all her dreams. It also means keeping the farm going, taking on a job she’d never wanted, and facing the reality of Trisha and Michael getting married and starting a family. Leaving would mean Momma losing the home John Marshall had built for them before he died.
So, of course, she does what a good, responsible daughter should do—gives up her own dreams, determined to carry out her father’s. When the stress of her life becomes almost intolerable, relief in the form of Grayson Jennings arrives. He’s sweet, handsome, and totally in love with her. But Jennie, being as stubborn a Marshall as her father, refuses to see what’s right there in front of her until it’s too late.
It takes yet another tragedy to prove that everything she never knew she wanted was right there Down the Dirt Road.
A little excerpt...
Jennie picked up the box and went to her room where sat on her bed, the bundle of letters in her lap. There were exactly sixty two of them- every single one had a date written in the upper left corner, the earliest one dating back to October when Grayson was in boot camp. All this time she had waited, thinking what a fool she had been believing he would actually write to her. Why hadn’t he sent even one?
And now he was missing in action and she might not ever get the chance to ask him. She turned the stack over in her lap again, studying his handwriting on the front of the top envelope. Much neater than Michael’s but still very masculine.
She really wanted to open one and read it but where to start?
Flipping the pile back over, she pulled the very first one- dated 18 October- out from the stack and opened it, careful not to tear the envelope. A part of her felt like she was invading someone’s privacy, reading secret thoughts in a diary meant only for the writer. But, they were addressed to her. Grayson had written them for her.
Never mind that he had never actually sent them to her.
The first letter was written in black ink on lined notebook paper, the ragged edges from the spiral meticulously removed.
18 October 2001
I know you thought I would never write and honestly, as I sit here in my bunk I wonder if I should. Do you really want to hear from me or am I just setting us both up for heartache? You have gone through so much with the death of your father, I have no right to volunteer for war and then expect you to sit at home and wait for me when there is no guarantee I will even make it him. Of course, if I could survive the first three weeks of boot camp, I suppose I can make it through even the worst enemy prison camp. That was supposed to be a joke. Not very funny was it?
There is something I would like to say Jennie. I am very glad that you came to find me that day I left. The memory of holding you, kissing you even as brief as it was, has helped me through many a lonely night and long day in the field. I don’t know why you came for me, I like to think it is because you are as head over heels in love with me as I have been with you for so many years but I am smart enough to know that’s not it. I guess it really doesn’t matter why, just that you did and now I find I have a reason to make it home alive when all is said and done.
Private Grayson Jennings, United States Army
A single tear drop fell, landing right beside the words yours always, the image of a tiny heart taking shape as the salty water saturated the paper. Her own heart was aching. How could such a letter possibly be meant for her? She grabbed up the envelope, checked the name and address again, just to be sure it really had been for her.
How would she have felt receiving that letter when Grayson was alive and well, knowing he was waiting for her response in an Army barracks somewhere? What would she have said to him as he poured out his heart and soul to her, naming her as his reason for living?
Grabbing a pen and a notebook from her desk, she sat down and pulled out a fresh piece of paper.
I am so glad to finally hear from you. I was beginning to think that I had dreamt our last meeting, so quick that it was. I only wish you had written sooner.
I am a grown woman, about to turn twenty one and no one can make my decisions for me. If I choose to wait for you while you fight the war for our freedom than it is my choice and you have nothing to feel guilty for. I don’t really know why I went after you that day, I only know that I couldn’t bear the thought of you being halfway around the world without my having told you how sorry I was for being pigheaded and stubborn. Did I just describe the same thing twice? That’s how strongly I feel about it! I look forward to the day when I will see you once again, alive and well on my front porch in your cop uniform, your gun slung low on your hip and crooked smile meant only for me.
Reading back over what she had written, Jennie decided that for every one of Grayson’s letters she would write a reply. If she were to be privileged to his private thoughts and feelings then he should be able to share hers. He could read the whole stack when he was found—alive—and sent home with a purple heart and an honorable discharge. Yes, that was what she would do. For every letter he wrote to her she would write a reply.