38. Unexpected News

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Sarah pulled up to the news stand and hopped off her bicycle, leaning it against a telegraph pole tacked with flyers. She reached up and adjusted her cap and then untied the package from the back of the bike. She squinted through the bright rays of sunlight streaming down from the early afternoon sky.

"Hey there, Sarah!" Mr. Opus called out.

Sarah looked up from her bike and smiled.

Mr. Opus was sitting on a wooden stool behind the counter. Above the rectangular structure, a white sign with black lettering read:

Stanley Opus, Proprietor

Magazines, Cigars, Cigarettes, Candy, Soft Drinks

On the street behind her, automobiles continued to zip past, spouting out big puffs of smoke and fumes. The clamor of car horns blaring, people chattering, kids playing, and dogs barking filled up the noisy South Side of the Black District.

Mr. Opus gave Sarah a wave and a smile. "How you doin' today, pretty lady?" he asked as Sarah came up to the counter. "I see you brought me some sunshine. Let me see a smile. Send some of that sunshine my way!"

"Afternoon, Mr. Opus," Sarah said, smiling. "I have the car mirror you ordered."

She set the brown paper-wrapped package on the counter.

"Thanks so much, darling," he said. "Hold on just a second. Let me get the money from the till."

Sarah looked at the newspapers displayed in front of her, perusing the day's headlines while she waited. She saw the Hester Gazette to her right, prominently displayed.

The headline read "Soldiers of Hester Heading Overseas!" Beneath the bold print there was a face she recognized: Peter Bell, Linda's son. Everyone knew the Bell family for bringing three things to Hester: steel, jobs, and prosperity. Peter wore a smile and an army uniform that looked two sizes too large for him. His buttoned-up shirt was five inches too long, and his military-green pants sagged at his hips.

Sarah's eyes lingered on the photograph for a moment. She wondered how someone so young could put their life on the line and go off to participate in a fight that had nothing to do with America. On the night she met Linda, Sarah overheard her talking about Peter, anxiety etched in every word. Sarah couldn't imagine how these boys managed to quiet their fears long enough to get on those boats and leave their families behind.

A bell gave a jangle as Mr. Opus pressed a lever, and the register drawer popped open.

"Here you are," Mr. Opus said. He shut the cash register with a clang and handed three crisp dollar bills to Sarah.

"Thank you, Mr. Opus." Sarah folded the bills in half and slid them into her front shirt pocket.

"Great. How's your uncle doin' by the way? I haven't seen him down here for quite some time."

"He's doing okay," Sarah said. "He doesn't like to go out much anymore. And lately his hip has been giving him some trouble. Other than that, he's good. He's got more than enough projects around the house to keep him busy."

Mr. Opus nodded. "Good to hear. Your Uncle Albert is a good man. Me and your uncle go back a long way. I try to send him customers every chance I get ..."

As Mr. Opus continued talking, Sarah plastered a smile over the sullen expression that threatened to emerge. She knew her uncle and Mr. Opus went back a long way. Back to their baseball days in Birmingham, Alabama.

Something had happened to Uncle Albert in Birmingham. Something terrible that made him stop playing the game he loved.

On several occasions, Sarah had asked her uncle what had happened. He wouldn't say. And neither would Mr. Opus – an old promise to an old friend that he would never tell a soul. Sarah knew asking him again now would only be futile.

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