Update: This was the original third chapter. However, I did some extensive overhauling of the early part of the book during my NaNoWriMo writing marathon. I’m leaving the original sneak peeks up for now, but just be aware what you read here may or may not end up in the final version of the story.
Hello everyone! I’m back in the blogosphere. It was wonderful to have some time out. It gave me more perspective and helped me get my life back into reasonable schedule. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I might have to make it a habit to take at least one month off out of every year.
Sisters and Sweethearts
– June, 1944 –
“Everyone smells like tea these days.” Lily observed Saturday morning as she dipped a small paintbrush into a cup of that popular beverage. She was sitting on a chair in the bedroom, with one bare leg propped up in front of her as she methodically painting her skin with the dark liquid.
“Not everyone.” Sissy had already finished with that procedure, and was sitting at the mirror expertly rolling up the sides of her hair to frame her face. “Only the women. Men don’t have to worry about pretending they’re wearing stockings. Besides, I know some girls use other things, like gravy or meat drippings instead.”
Lily made a face. “Meat drippings? That’s awful! I think I’d just give up and become a hermit before I’d go out in public smelling like left-over roast-beef!”
“Don’t be so sure, love. If they cut the tea rations too small, we won’t have much extra for painting. Then we’ll probably be using meat-drippings too.”
“Oh no we won’t! Or I won’t, anyway. I’ll just give up drinking tea and save mine for stockings.”
“Lily! Give up drinking tea? Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious. The Americans don’t drink half as much tea as we do, and they survive alright. I don’t see why I couldn’t!”
Sissy shook her head as she reached for her lipstick. “Mother would be appalled at the idea.”
“I’ve still got enough to last awhile, if I’m careful.” Frances paused to put on the lipstick, then reached for a tube of Vaseline and added a coat of that to her lips for some extra shine. “Are you nearly through with painting? I need you to draw the lines on for me.”
“Yes. Almost.” Lily had switched to her other leg by this time. “When you draw mine be sure you do a good job. Paul is coming to visit this afternoon.”
“No he isn’t!” Ruth’s childish voice broke in suddenly as she flung open the door and came bouncing into the room.
“What?” Lily looked up, brush paused in midair.
“Of course he is. Don’t tease, Ruth.” Sissy scolded gently without looking up. “You aren’t the one who knows when Lily’s beau is visiting.”
“I am so!” the baby of the family declared as she jumped onto the bed, giggling. “And he isn’t coming this afternoon!”
“Who told you that?” Lily asked, still holding the dripping paintbrush.
“What?” Frances and Lily both spoke at the same time.
Their sister swung her legs nonchalantly as she perched on the edge of the mattress and grinned at them. “He’s waiting in the kitchen with Mum.”
“Oh my goodness! He’s come early!” Lily started painting again with agitated haste. “Sissy, run down and tell him I’ll be there in a few minutes, will you?”
“I can’t go down yet, love. You haven’t drawn the seam lines on for me.” Frances motioned to the back of her tea-tinted legs.
“He won’t see that if he only looks at you from the front!”
“But I’ll have to turn around in order to leave. I can’t very well come up the stairs backwards.”
“Oh dear! Ruth, go down and tell Paul I can’t come yet, but I’ll be there as soon as I’m able. Hurry!”
Ruth hopped off the bed and skipped out of the room, leaving the door standing wide open so that they could both hear her clattering down the stairs. Lily was reaching over to pushed it closed again, but stopped in frozen horror as her sister’s voice came floating up from the kitchen.
“Lily can’t come down yet, Paul. She has to finish painting her legs!”
“Ruth!!!!” Lily shrieked, almost ready to die of embarrassment. She heard Paul choking with suppressed laughter and trying valiantly to turn it into a cough instead. Then she slammed the door shut and leaned against it, her face flushed with anger and mortification.
“Did—you—hear—what—she—said?” She gasped after a pause, snapping the words out with furious emphasis.
“Yes.” Francis met her sister’s gaze in the mirror, one corner of her mouth twitching suspiciously. “What are we going to do with that child?”
Lily’s eyes flashed. They didn’t call her firecracker for nothing. “If mother doesn’t spank her….I’m going to!”
“No you aren’t.”
“Yes I am!”
“Mother won’t let you.”
“I’m not going to ask permission!”
“Somebody has to teach that child to behave!”
“By the time you could catch her you won’t be angry anymore. Besides, you know you wouldn’t really do it anyway.”
Lilian opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a timid knock on the door and a small voice saying, “Um….Lily?” She looked at Sissy, her eyes still snapping, then spun around and jerked open the door.
Before she could say or do anything else, Ruth’s arms shot out, holding a beautifully wrapped package, and a very rushed sentence came tumbling from her mouth,
Lily hesitated for a moment, taken off guard. Then she grabbed her sister’s wrist and pulled her, package and all, into the bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind them.
“Paul said—” Ruth began again, dancing about nervously at arm’s length.
“I heard you, I heard you!” Lilian let go and took the package, whereupon Ruth went scampering over to watch from the safety of Sissy’s lap.
Curious, Lily slowly peeled back a corner of the wrapping and then stopped, her eyes widening.
“Oh.” her voice was barely above a whisper, but fairly tingling with excitement. Too thrilled to worry about acting grown-up, she seized the paper and tore it off in ragged pieces like a child at Christmas. “Oh! Oh!!! Sissy, look!”
“What is it?” Frances slid Ruth from her lap and came across the room.
“It’s nylons! Twelve whole pairs of nylon stockings!!!”
“Oh Lily!” Sissy gasped.
They had the package open in a moment, their fingers stroking the coveted luxuries and their faces as enraptured as if each pair was a mink coat. After a few moments though, Sissy’s expression changed to one of mild concern.
“Lily, do you think…you ought to keep them?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well…propriety and all that. Some people still say it isn’t proper to accept articles of clothing from a young man you aren’t married or even engaged to. They might think…you know.”
“Oh fiddlesticks!” Lily tossed her dark curls. “I don’t care. My friends all know perfectly well that I wouldn’t do anything like that. And anyone who isn’t my friend can just mind their own business. I’m not giving up the only nylons I’m likely to see before the end of the war just because some old gossip hasn’t got anything better to do than spin scandals out of thin air! Besides, lots of girls who date American soldiers end up wearing nylons. And nobody says anything about that.”
“So you’re going to keep them?” Sissy draped one pair over her hand, admiring how light and airy it was.
“Of course I’m going to keep them!”
“Well then…” Frances hesitated for a long pause, “May a wear a pair tonight? I have a date with Doug.”
“W-e-l-l…” Lily looked from the nylons to her sister’s hopeful face, and back again. “Oh alright. As long as you’re very, very careful with them.”
“Oh thanks, love!” Sissy nearly squealed. “I’ll owe you forever!”
Just then they both looked up to see Ruth standing only a foot or two away, watching with great interest. The moment she realized she’d been spotted, the little girl bolted for the door, but Lily caught her by the ties on the back her her dress and hauled her back.
“And as for you, young lady! How dare you go down there and say something like that to Paul?”
“He didn’t mind.” Ruth wriggled anxiously and looked at Sissy. “He thought it was funny!”
“It’s what I thought that you should be worried about, miss impertinent! How did you even have the gall to come back up here after that?”
“Mother made me.”
“Hmm. Mother must be on my side for once. Well, you’re lucky Paul decided to save you this time. But you’d better not try something like that again, or it may turn out less pleasantly!” she tugged her sister’s pigtail playfully, and Ruth crawled up into her lap and kissed her cheek, then gave her a very mischievous grin.
“No. It won’t.” she replied, with airy confidence.
“Oh really? Why not?”
“Because!” Ruth bounced to the floor and scampered off a few steps, then stopped, just out of reach. “You won’t be able to catch me!”
“You little imp!” Lily lunged after her, laughing, but her sister was out the door and scurrying down the stairs before she even got close. A moment later they heard Paul’s voice in the kitchen again.
“Well! You seem to be all in one piece. I guess that means she liked the present?”
“Yes.” Ruth’s voice replied. “And she says she’s going to keep them. But Sissy said—”
“Ruth Brown!” Frances shouted down the steps.
There was a contemplative pause, as if the possible repercussions were being weighed carefully, and then the childish tone continued with a great show of innocence, “Sissy said she wants to borrow a pair…But I don’t see why she didn’t want me to tell you.”
* * * * *
The morning shadows were shrinking rapidly, creeping closer and closer to the roots of the trees that bordered Lowther Gardens. The trees stood, genteel and well-groomed, overlooking a velvety grass carpet laced with walkways and flowers.
On one of the paths, walking slowly, came a tall, well-dressed young man with a barely discernible limp, and a girl with glossy brown curls that ruffled in the breeze.
“It must be nearly dinnertime.” Lily said, shading her eyes to look up toward the sun.
“Are you hungry?” Paul asked.
“Not yet. But Mum always has dinner ready on time.”
“Well if you aren’t hungry yet, let’s just stay here awhile longer. Then we’ll get something at the cafe.”
Lily hesitated. Eating at a cafe was a rare treat. “But…Mum will probably worry if I don’t come home until the afternoon.”
“Oh no she won’t.” Paul glanced around and spotted a boy tossing a stick for his dog. “Hello there! Come over here young man!” He felt in his pocket as the lad came trotting over to them, pulled out a couple of coins, and then handed over one of them. “Do you know where twenty-five North Clifton street is?”
“Yes sir.” the boy’s blue eyes looked hopefully at the second coin.
“Good. Take a note there for me and give it to Mrs. Brown. Then come straight back with an answer, and I’ll give you this the rest of this money.”
“Yes sir!” the boy grinned.
Paul scribbled a note onto a scrap of paper and handed it over. “If I’m not in the gardens when you get back, I’ll be in the cafe. Just come in and find me.”
The youngster flashed a smile and sprinted off down the lane, his dog bounding beside him.
“There, you see?” Paul turned back to Lily with a grin. “Easily solved. I certainly hope they have good food at that cafe though. I’ve never tried it.”
“Neither have I. It’s brand new.”
“Well, if we don’t like the selection we can go somewhere else.” He stepped off the path and threw himself down in the soft green grass, folding his hands behind his head and looking up at her with a relaxed smile. “Not to change the subject, but you look even prettier than usual with all that blue sky stretched out behind you. Someone should paint your picture like that. Maybe I’ll take up painting one of these days. My sister could give me lessons. If I paid her.”
Lily laughed and shook her head at him as she joined him on the grass. “Your own sister would charge you for lessons?”
“Oh probably. She knows I can afford it. That’s what happens when you can afford things. People make you pay for them!”
“But you can also buy things nobody else can buy. Like nylons, for instance.” Lily glanced down at the pair she was wearing and lowered her voice. “Did you have to get them off the black market?”
Paul plucked a piece of grass carelessly and twirled it between his fingers. “Not that I know of. But I didn’t ask a lot of questions. Dear old Sis gets hers from somewhere, and I just told her I wanted to buy a dozen pairs. I didn’t make detailed inquiries into her sources. Oh! Speaking of buying things, I almost forgot to give you your present!”
“No you didn’t.” she looked at him, very puzzled. “You gave them to me this morning. Or Ruth did, anyway.”
“No, not the nylons. That wasn’t the real present. I’d asked my sister for those awhile ago, but I didn’t know when exactly she’d get them. When I told you I had a present for you, I didn’t even have those yet. I was talking about something else.”
“What is it?”
He sat up and patted several of his pockets until he found a small flat box tied with a ribbon. “This.” he said, holding it out.
She took it, carefully untying the cream-colored bow, then lifting the lid of the box.
It was a necklace. A heart-shaped pendant woven of silver filigree and set with tiny seed pearls, gracing a delicate chain.
“Oh Paul!” she gasped, staring at it where it lay cradled on a black velvet cushion.
“It’s a birthday present.” he commented.
“But…today isn’t my birthday.”
“I know. It’s mine.”
“Well then I’m supposed to give you something!” she could hardly take her eyes from the beautiful thing, even as she spoke “Not the other way around!”
He laughed. “No. I prefer it this way. Besides, when I saw that in a shop last week I just knew you had to have it. It reminded me of you.”
“I don’t know. It just did. May I see how it looks on you?”
“Well of…of course.”.
He took the piece of jewelry from its box and slipped it around her neck so that the pendant lay close to her throat, against the white skin that showed above the neckline of her dress. Then he sat back and looked at it, smiling. “There. I knew it was meant for you.”
She dropped her eyes for a moment, trying to think of something to say. It was the most lovely necklace she’d ever owned, and she was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the gift. She’d never been good at expressing that sort of thing though.
“Thank you, Paul.” was all she could manage.
“Don’t thank me. Just wear it a lot, so I can see how nice it looks.”
“I might wear it to the dance next week. Are you going to come to that?”
“Unfortunately no. I can’t make it this time. But you could wear it anyway and show it off to everyone.”
“I’ll be thinking of you, when I’m wearing it.” her fingers gently brushed the filigree.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Think of me while you’re dancing.” he rested his elbow on one knee and his chin on his fist. “I’d rather not distract you.”
“Yes.” he had a faintly faraway look in his eyes “The first time I ever saw you, you were dancing. I remember just standing there, watching you. How you moved so perfectly with the music. As if nothing else mattered. As if your whole heart was wrapped up in every twirl. That’s what I love about you, Lily. You’re all in. Whatever you’re feeling or doing, your whole heart’s wrapped up in it. I’d never want to change that. I like it that way.” he smiled. “So you just go on dancing, Lily Brown. Don’t you waste time thinking about me.”
What did you think? Do you have any suggestions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! This is not the final draft; there’s going to be a lot more editing. So I want as much advice as I can get. Comment below or get in touch with me through my contact page!