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How will I ever face her? Outside the window she could see all the way down Sugar Maple Road. Straight as a ruler's edge, the solid, redbrick houses with their squat, second-story roofs, redbrick steps, and square, stubby front porches lined the street. A dark-haired boy rode by on a shiny blue bicycle tooting its horn. Did you find anything?

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A moment of silence. Then the voice again, crackling with impatience. She carried the box with her to the rocker, for it would be disrespectful to sit on Amelia's fine lace bedspread. Under a linen handkerchief and a tan leather-covered address book with blank pages were three letters with a North Carolina post office box return address.

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Grace wiped the perspiration from her upper lip. Her reading glasses hung about her neck on a grosgrain ribbon. Grace slipped them on and one by one, according to their dates, opened and read the letters. I hope this letter finds you well and that you will forgive my intrusion into your life.

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For the past year I have been researching my family's genealogy, searching not only for roots but for relatives. I myself am the last of my line, the Furrior line that is, an old man, bereft of children, who has outlived his family. I enclose a genealogical tree to illustrate the connection between us. You will see that we had a great-great-grandfather, William Austin Furrior, in common.

Apparently our great-grandfathers went their separate ways and rarely communicated with one another after emigrating from France to America in the s. I am taking the liberty of enclosing a snapshot of myself that was taken recently. I look forward to hearing from you, to sharing our family histories. It would be good to reconnect our two families through a friendship. I would appreciate having a photograph of you. The distinguished white-bearded man in the photo reminded Grace of pictures she had seen of General Robert E. Lee, only this man sat, not tall and proud on a horse as the general was often depicted, but tall and somber in a wheelchair.

It is my hope that your holiday season was joyful and healthy. Receiving your letter blessed my Christmas and the New Year. Amelia is a lovely name.

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Thank you for writing and thank you for the picture. Your lovely smile reminds me of my dear wife, Eleanor, whom I lost eight years ago to cancer, a dreadful end for a kind and gentle lady. I sigh and agree with you that when we are young freedom is everything and time moves too slowly. Growing old is another matter; it is then that time dashes by and old friends and family matter most. I regret that my health makes it impossible for me to travel to see you and that you are unable to visit me in North Carolina.

But it will be a pleasure to correspond with you, perhaps chat on the phone, and catch up on each other's lives. His letter went on for several pages and included a story of a big game hunting expedition to Africa in the s on which he had accompanied his father.

He wrote of their guide's vigor and enthusiasm and how the man, a retired veterinarian, had inspired and later encouraged him to become a veterinarian. Grace studied the photo of Arthur Furrior. Amelia, she knew, was sixty-seven. This man looked many years her senior. She picked up the third letter, dated February 2, , five months ago, just after Amelia had come to live with them.

It was a pleasure to receive your letter. Thank you for telling me about your life. I admire the good and important work you and your husband did with the Red Cross. You have seen more of the world than I have, and I've had a wanderlust all my life. Not only do we share a love of travel, but we share a love of music as well. Music has been my solace in troubled times. Having been raised in Iowa, I have always longed to live near water, to go to sleep listening to the sound of the surf.

How fortunate you were to be able to spend summers on the Rhode Island coast. My health is deteriorating rapidly and soon I may be confined to bed. Not a happy prospect. Like my father, I am a man who thrives out-of-doors, and in my chair I can at least sit under my oak trees and feed the squirrels and birds. But confined to my bed? I don't know, cousin. I don't know. But for this I am grateful, that my research led me to you, my own flesh and blood, my cousin. Your letters have brightened my life and made me happy.

Thank you. You have given me, in my advanced years, a family. I remain faithfully,. Grace felt a tug at her heart.

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The handwriting had changed with each letter, becoming more shaky, reflecting Arthur Furrior's failing health. A small rectangle of paper folded and tucked into the envelope caught her eye — a cable dated June 19, Grace slipped the letters and Arthur's picture into a deep pocket in her shirtwaist dress just as the doorknob turned.

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  • She willed her trembling hands to be still. The letters were so personal that she could not bear to think of Olive snickering over them. This is the last box. I've looked everywhere. Then she pulled herself up, turned, and combed the room with her eyes, seeking telltale signs of her intrusion. Satisfied that there were none, she tucked her arm through Olive's, who guided her into the hallway and closed Amelia's bedroom door behind them.

    Grace's room was the largest of the three upstairs bedrooms, close to the bathroom she shared with Amelia. A bright room with a southern exposure, it had been painted a drab beige with faded, rust-colored curtains. Grace had transformed the room: painted the walls a pale shell-pink and placed a six-by-nine emerald-colored rug alongside her bed.

    Revitalizing an old chaise longue had been accomplished with a soft rose-and-white-striped cover, and she had hung new bright flowered chintz curtains. Olive had helped her shove the chaise longue to the low wide window that, like Amelia's window, overlooked Sugar Maple Road. And books, books everywhere, including treasured volumes that had nourished her imagination, her soul as a young woman: Homer's Odyssey, an account of Schliemann's unearthing of ancient Troy, Lord Carnarvon's and Howard Carter's chronicle of their discovery and excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

    Bringing her hand to her chest, Grace moved it slowly around and around as one might rub a baby's tummy. Reaching the chaise, she eased herself down, pulled a small bottle of nitroglycerin pills from her pocket, and slipped two of the tiny tablets beneath her tongue. It was a relief when the pressure in her chest eased. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and reminded herself that Olive and Hannah were waiting downstairs. Just another minute.

    A car horn sounded below, jolting her, and she stared about as if surprised to find herself in this room in this house. Below her window on Sugar Maple Road, two young women strolled by chatting, toting shopping bags.

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