Update: This was the original fourth 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.
Well, here I am again. I’m not exactly sure how I managed to not write a single blog post since I posted the last sneak peek, but somehow, between not having time, and not having much inspiration, I managed to neglect this blog for over a month! Don’t worry though, I haven’t given up writing! I’ve been working on my most important project: Fred and Lily’s story!
So here’s chapter four. It’s a special chapter, for reasons you’ll understand when you read it. If you missed the first three chapters, you might want to look at those first. But don’t forget to come back and read this one afterwards!
….P.S. If you want to hear the song “Begin the Beguine” you can click on any place it is mentioned (except the chapter title) and it will open a separate tab with the Youtube version of the song so that you can continue reading while listening to that in the background (once you skip the add of course!). I listened to it myself while I was writing the chapter!
Begin the Beguine
– June, 1944 –
“You going to the dance tonight, Fred?” A sandy-haired soldier leaned against the nearest barrack wall as he watched his friend sketching a cartoon.
“Yep.” Fred’s pencil deftly created a pair of wide, dark eyes in the face he’d just finished outlining.
“That pretty little Brit you’re dating gonna be there?”
“Is that cartoon for her?”
“Well, if she likes it I’ll let her have it.”
“Hmm.” the soldier leaned over for a closer look. “That’s nice. Self-portrait?”
Fred chuckled. “Very funny, Jerry. It’s a dog. And you know it.”
“Oh yeah,” Jerry squinted. “I must have been looking at it upside-down.”
Fred shook his head and rolled his eyes. “It kind of looks like Teddy, actually.”
“Our pet alligator.”
Fred laughed. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding! He’s our dog of course. People who live in Florida don’t have pet alligators. Only the tourists are crazy enough to buy those.”
“Oh.” Jerry sat down on his own bunk and started polishing his shoes. After a few moments he looked up again.“Hey Fred, what do you think you’ll do after the war’s over?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay in mechanical stuff. Except I think I prefer automobiles to airplanes.”
“You’ve worked on automobiles?”
“Sure. I had to build my own, when I decided I wanted one. It’s a lot cheaper that way.”
“How much cheaper?”
“Well,” Fred stopped sketching and tried to calculate. “The frame was an old ford. I bought that out of the neighbor’s yard for two bucks.”
“But of course it needed a lot of work. I begged and bartered for the parts to build the engine, and for some new tires, because the old ones were dry-rotted. I had it running like a top before I was old enough to have a license.”
“What about a new paint job? Wasn’t it rusty?”
“Yeah, I painted it myself. But I never was too careful about the finish. I used to let the girls scratch their names on it.”
“The girls? As in plural? Must have been a pretty popular guy, huh?”
Fred shrugged and smiled a little. “I guess so. I wasn’t very pretty, but they always seemed to like me. Johnnie and Bobby-Sue especially. Johnnie would scratch a line through Bobby-Sue’s and write her own name, and then the next time Bobby-Sue was around she’d scratch out Johnnie’s and write hers again.”
“Where you sweet on either of them?”
“Just Johnnie. Everybody thought we were going to get married for awhile there.”
“Well,” his tone softened a little “after I’d been away for awhile I realized I didn’t love her the way she loved me. So when I went home on leave…I told her.”
“I guess that was before you started dating the British gal?”
“Of course.” Fred sounded mildly surprised. “I wouldn’t have started dating someone else while I was still writing letters to Johnnie.”
“Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t. You aren’t that type of guy. But hey, you mind if I have a dance with your girl tonight? She looks like a pretty good dancer. She even makes you look good! And we all know that’s takes some talent.” Jerry grinned.
Fred’s lips twitched a little. “Well, under ordinary circumstances I might say no, but since it’s you asking, I guess it’s alright.”
“Thanks! How come I get special treatment? Just because we’re pals?”
“Nope.” Fred’s eyes twinkled with merriment. “Just because with that face, I won’t have to worry about you stealing her!”
“I told you I was sketching Teddy, but that’s only because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings by saying it’s really a picture of you!”
Jerry threw the polishing cloth at him.
* * * * *
The Lowther Garden Pavilion was already filled with light and soldiers and local young people when Joan and Lily arrived together that evening. The band was warming up, playing little scraps of tunes and getting their instruments harmonized. Laughter and chatter filled the air as American G.I.’s mingled among the British ladies, handing out wit, compliments, and charming smiles with as much ease as if the entire war had been orchestrated to facilitate social events.
Lily stepped through the door just behind her cousin. Her eyes swept the room, not really looking for anything in particular, just taking in the atmosphere. The lights, the music, the animated conversation. And then, suddenly, something caught her gaze. Caught it and held it.
It was a pair of blue eyes looking back at her. Not staring really. Only looking. They belonged to a soldier standing over near the band, talking to several girls and two fellow G.I.’s. Or at least, they were taking to him. He didn’t really seem to be listening anymore as he stood there looking across the room at her. And his own mouth was still. Quite still, that is, until he saw that she was looking back.
And then he smiled.
“Oh!” Joan’s voice broke into Lily’s mind so suddenly that she almost started. “There he is! I told you’d he’d be here before us. Come on. I’ll introduce you. He’s just the sweetest thing.”
Lily found herself caught by the wrist and pulled through the room full of people, loosing track of the blue-eyed soldier in the crowd and only vaguely wondering what Joan’s new sweetheart looked like. She hadn’t seen the direction Joan was pointing when she spotted him, and now they were in the thick of the party, winding their way around uniform-clad soldiers and girls wearing knee-length dresses and lipstick, their hair rolled up around their faces and decorated with bows and flowers.
“There you are!” Joan was saying suddenly, making her look up. “I’d like to introduce you to my cousin! Lily, this is Fred Overall. Freddie, this is Lily Brown.”
There he was.
The blue-eyed solider.
Lily smiled and greeted him automatically, but her mind was trying to make sense of the situation. So this was Freddie. But Freddie belonged to Joan. Had he really been looking at Joan then, and not at her, when they came in together? It hadn’t seemed that way…
The band was starting up the first song, and young people were pairing off with dance partners. One of the soldiers who’d been talking to Fred was suddenly introducing himself to Joan.
“Good evening! My name’s Jerry. My pal Fred here gave me permission to dance with you tonight. So would you care to?”
“I didn’t say you could have the first dance!” Fred pointed out, rather mildly.
“You didn’t specify.” Jerry grinned. “Miss Joan?”
Joan had never turned down a dance partner in her life. She smiled, curtsied, and went with him to the dance floor.
Lily and Fred were left alone, looking at one another. The music came singing out of the nearby instruments and pulled at Lily, begging her to dance.
“That’s “Begin the Beguine” they’re playing, isn’t it?” Fred looked over at the band.
“Yes. Do you know that song?” Lily asked.
“I love it.” he smiled.
“So do I.”
“Well, I’ll tell you upfront I’m not the world’s greatest dancer. But…would you take a chance on me anyway?” he held out his hand.
* * * * *
Before Joan and Lily came in, Fred had been enjoying a friendly argument with Jerry over whether Georgia or Florida would be a better destination if the girls they were talking to ever decided to visit the United States. At the same time he was keeping a view of the doorway, watching for Joan’s arrival. So he saw her right away when she came in, beaming, and greeted a good half of the people near the doorway as if they were all her closest friends.
But it was the sight of the girl standing behind her that made him suddenly forget the comparison he was about to make between muddy red clay and sandy beaches.
It wasn’t because of how she was dressed, for with the exception of a beautiful necklace that shone silvery-white near her throat, her attire was much like every other girl’s in the room. Simple, streamlined, a picture of life defined by ration cards.
And it wasn’t the way the light shone, bouncing and playful in her dark curls, or the almost impish smile that toyed with her lips, or the spark of impassioned life that danced behind her eyes. No. It was none of those things. Though they all made a pleasing picture. It was something else. Something he couldn’t quite put a finger on. Something that drew his gaze to her like a magnet, and made him secretly glad when Jerry so brazenly stole Joan’s first dance.
Something that, at first, he could not understand.
But when they danced “Begin the Beguine” together that night, his arm circling her waist as they drifted across the floor, the other couples floating past, indistinct, weaving their surroundings into into a gliding, swaying tapestry of motion, the musing jazz swelling and singing around them as they twirled, he looked down into the those bright eyes sparkling up at him.
And suddenly, he just…knew.
* * * * *
When Lily made it home from the dance that night, Frances was sitting up in bed, reading a ladies magazine with the blackout curtains pulled tight.
“Hello, Sissy.” Lily said quietly, walking over and sitting down in front of the mirror to take the pins out of her hair. The two younger girls were already asleep on the other side of the room.
Frances half-frowned without looking up and started to repeat her frequent request not to be called “Sissy” anymore, but then changed her mind. “Hello. Did you have a nice time at the dance?”
Lily’s tone had an oddly unsettled sound. Hearing it, Frances glanced up at her sister in the mirror, but Lily was intent on her own reflection and apparently didn’t notice.
After studying her for a moment, Frances went back to the magazine. “Paul didn’t turn up at the last minute, did he?”
Again that strange tone, almost like a faint thread of confusion.
“Did you meet any nice young men?”
“Oh, there were lots of nice young men there.” Lily replied vaguely. She came over to the bed, unfastened Paul’s necklace and set it gently on the night-stand, then began unbuttoning her dress.
Frances turned the page.“I suppose Joan had a nice time too?”
“You know Joan. She always has a nice time at parties.”
“Did you get to meet her new beau? I can’t remember his name.”
“Freddie—I mean Fred.” the muffled reply came from inside the dress Lily was pulling over her head. “Yes. I met him.”
“Did you dance with him at all? Is he good at it?”
“Yes, I danced with him.” The unsettled note grew suddenly stronger.
Frances raised her eyes from the magazine for a split second, then dropped them again. “Well?”
“Well what?” Lily didn’t look in her direction.
“I asked you if he was any good at it.”
“Oh. Um, I suppose he was alright.”
Frances kept her eyes studiously fixed on the page, but they weren’t reading anything anymore. “Was it a fast dance or a slow dance?”
“Was what a fast dance or a slow dance?” Lily was putting away her shoes and stockings.
“The one you danced with Fred.”
“Well,” Lily tone was studiously careless. “we danced a few different ones.”
“How many is a few?” Sissy was inconspicuously watching over the top of the magazine.
“I didn’t count them exactly.” Lily sat down on her mattress and picked up Paul’s necklace, watching the way it glimmered in the lamp-light.
Frances pressed her lips together for a moment, stifling a smile. “Then could you at least give me a rough estimate?”
“Oh…maybe six or seven.” Lily’s finger softly traced the filigree, her face flushing a little.
Sissy slowly lowered the magazine to her lap and gave her sister a very long look. “Six or seven? How many did he dance with Joan?”
“You know how Joan is, Sissy. She’ll dance with everyone in the room if she can manage it.”
“How many, Lil?”
Lily kept her eyes fixed on the necklace in her palm as if she thought it might have plans to take flight. “Well…two. That I saw.”
“Two?” Frances repeated, raising her eyebrows.
Lily glanced up at her and then away again immediately, giving only a tiny nod for answer.
Sissy stared silently for a moment longer, then picked the magazine up again and cleared her throat. “Well.” she commented cryptically from behind the pages.
And that was all she said.
* * * * *
In the barracks, Fred was sitting on the edge of his bunk, his mind only half listening to Jerry’s voice rumbling on about his plans for when he got back to the States again.
“I’m going to have the biggest trucking company in the south, Fred. I’ll base it in Atlanta, but we’ll carry things all over the country. Jerry’s Trucking Company. I can see it painted on those big eighteen-wheelers right now. If you ever want a mechanic job working on trucks, you just call me up and I’ll find a spot for you. I’ll need a good mechanic on staff, I’m sure…”
That was all Fred heard, because just then someone began whistling softly. Whistling one of the songs Fred had danced with Lily that night. And in an instant he was back in the pavilion, trying to make conversation without loosing count of the steps, wishing he could move as effortlessly as his partner.
“That’s a beautiful necklace, Miss Lily.”
“You may just call me Lily if you’d like.”
“Thanks. You can call me anything you want. Except late-for-dinner, of course. That’s always the exception.”
She laughed a little, her eyes twinkling at him.
“Is that a family heirloom?”
“Oh no. It’s brand new. My beau gave it to me.”
“Oh. Is he here tonight?”
“No. He couldn’t make it up from London. Business, I think.”
“What sort of business is he in?”
“Quite a few, if you count the ones he manages for his father as well as the ones he owns.”
“Sounds like a pretty rich guy.”
“Yes, I suppose he is. His family—”
“Fred! You aren’t listening!” Jerry’s voice broke in suddenly. Very loud and rough it sounded, cutting off the memory of Lily’s clean British accent that way.
“No. I guess I wasn’t.” Fred blinked. “Sorry. What did you say?”
Jerry was sitting across from him, on his own bunk, studying Fred’s face. “What were you thinking so hard about? I knew you weren’t listening because I started telling you how my cousin accidentally dyed her hair purple, and you just sat there staring with that look on your face like somebody had socked you in the stomach, and rubbing those fingers like you were trying to start a fire with them. Something wrong?”
Fred ran his hand through his hair. “I’m just trying to figure out a problem, that’s all.”
“Does this problem have to something to do with the dance tonight?”
“Because you started looking like that right after Ed started whistling that dance music.”
Fred gave him half a smile and didn’t say anything.
“It’s nothing you need to worry about.”
“Oh.” his friend said in a knowing tone. “It’s about a girl, isn’t it?”
“Have you considered minding your own business?”
“Not lately.” Jerry grinned.
Fred shook his head in mild exasperation. “I’m just wondering how’s the best way to convince an English girl to give up a rich English man and marry a poor American soldier who wants to take her to live on the other side of the Atlantic.”
Jerry looked slightly puzzled. “Why? Does Joan have a rich English guy after her?”
“Never mind, Jerry. Forget it. Go to sleep.”
Fred lay down on his bunk and pulled the blankets up, rolling over so that his face was hidden from sight. There was a long pause, and then,
“Does this mean I can have Joan?”
Though his friend tried a couple more times, Fred refused to say another word on the subject that night. Very soon the lights went out, leaving darkness and silence to ease over the barracks as the soldiers dropped off into slumber.
* * * * *
Not very far away, in the little house at 25 North Clifton Street, a certain young woman lay fast asleep with a silver necklace cradled in her hand, and the notes of “Begin the Beguine” drifting softly through her dreams.
I told you it was special!
Well, what did you think? Any questions, comments or suggestions? I’d love to hear about them! Comment below or use my contact page.
And I’ll try to blog again before next month! Maybe a post about why I keep forgetting to post….