Update: This was the original sixth 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.
Time for a new chapter of Fred and Lily’s story, everyone! I hope you’re all still having as much fun reading this as I am writing it! If you missed any of the previous chapters, you can find them all here.
Driftwood and Sandpipers
So it began. The age-old contest for a beautiful girl’s heart. And Lily’s heart, passionate and headstrong, was no easy task to win.
Paul’s visits suddenly became more frequent. The hours of travel each way from London seemed to have become immaterial. He was in Lytham every chance he had, bringing flowers and chocolate and a dozen other little luxuries, whisking Lily off to the finest restaurants in the area, to the theater, to concerts and dances. Wooing her as only a wealthy man in love with a poor girl can do.
To watch him, it was easy to think he would win the contest and carry away the prize.
And yet, always there was Freddie. Freddie who usually only brought wild-flowers, and half the time gave his chocolate to Ruth. Freddie who could not afford fancy restaurants or gifts or concerts, but found the everyday world such a delightful place that in the end it didn’t matter. He could make a trip to the market an adventure. It was a good thing he’d warned Lily to expect him, because nothing seemed able to keep him away. Dodging MP’s, barely making curfews, sneaking out and in so often that Jerry started calling him “The Shadow,” he came on his patched-up bicycle, smiling and teasing and charming the entire family. If she tried to put him off he came anyway. If she was busy he talked with her mother or told stories to the girls. If she lost her temper he remained unruffled. In fact, it almost seemed to amuse him. Neither Paul’s obvious monetary advantage nor his prier claims deterred him in the slightest. He simply would not give up.
Lily found herself wondering about it one day, while she stood on the beach watching him tear after a ball that had gotten away from some nearby boys and was headed straight for the water. He stopped it just in time, scattering sea-spray as he scooped it up and turned on his heel with a carefree grin. The boys were upon him in an instant, and for a few moments he was caught up in a wild contest to see which of them would succeed in snatching the ball from him. Laughing, shouting, kicking up sand and ducking this way and that, he dodged about, surrounded by rambunctious youngsters.
Everyone loved Freddie. She was constantly having to share him. There was something in him that drew others to him like a magnet. Children, adults both constantly constantly gravitated toward him, as if a universal instinct told them here was the sort of man the whole world was in need of. The kind of man who would walk through life blessing everyone he touched in some way or another.
Lily’s brow furrowed. Than why, for heavens sake, was he so determined to court her of all people? It wasn’t as if he couldn’t get someone else. Joan would have gladly kept him. Half the other girls in Lytham and St. Annes would take him like a shot, and most of the other half probably would too, if only he had a bit more money. Even Ruth had announced one morning at breakfast that if Lily didn’t want to marry Freddie, she herself would do so “as soon as I’m grown up enough.”
So why me? Lily wondered. Especially when there’s Paul to deal with.
Fred came jogging back just then, with the boys mobbing and hanging on him, begging him to stay and play some more.
“Not now boys.” he laughed. “Miss Lily and I are supposed to be going for a walk.”
There was a disappointed pause, but it only lasted a moment.
“She can play too!” one of the boys offered hopefully. “Why don’t to get her to play?”
“She may do whatever she wants to.” Fred replied, turning to her with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
The lads looked at her pleadingly, but she shook her head. “No thank you, boys. Run along and play now.”
They did, looking very disappointed, and Fred and Lily turned to continue their interrupted stroll.
“You know, I’ve gotten so used to every kid I come across sounding British, I’m starting to wonder if the ones back home will sound strange when I get back there one day.” Fred mused.
Lily smiled but didn’t say much, her mind still turning over her earlier thoughts.
Suddenly Fred stopped and chuckled, pointing toward the shallow ripples of water at the edge of the surf where fat little birds scurried along on toothpick legs. “Look at the sandpipers, Lily! They’re so funny!”
She turned and looked. They were funny to watch. Scuttling along so busily.
“I learned a poem* about those birds, when I was in school.” Fred commented.
“How did it go?”
“Well, my favorite part went, ‘Along the lonely beach we flit, one little sandpiper and I. And fast we gather, bit by bit, the scattered driftwood, bleached and dry.” Fred replied, stooping as he spoke to pick up a piece of driftwood, worn smooth and soft by the sea.
“Mama loves driftwood.” Lily said
“Yes. She likes to burn it and watch the different colors of flames the salt makes.”
“Well then I guess I’ll save this and bring it back for her.” Fred smiled, tucking it under his arm.
They stood there watching the birds another moment or two and then Lily, who had almost worked herself up to coming right out and asking Freddie why he kept pursuing her, turned to find his eyes had shifted away. They were gazing out toward the horizon, over the water rippling in the sunlight. There was a faraway look in his eyes.
She followed his line of sight but saw nothing. Only distant blue ocean melting softly into the sky. “What are you looking at?” She finally asked.
His smile came soft and gentle. “Florida’s out there, Lily. Just on the other side of the water.”
She looked off into the distance, trying to visualize another country out there beyond the waves somewhere. The ocean had always been the boundary of her world. Of course she knew in her head that it did not go on forever. But anything beyond it, especially to the west, sometimes seemed more like legend than reality. “Right out there?”
“Yep. Right out there.”
She stared for another long moment, “I have a hard time imagining that, somehow.”
He chuckled. “Is it that hard to believe I actually came from somewhere? You don’t think I just crawled up out of the seaweed do you?”
She laughed. “Of course not. It’s just…”
“Well, it seems so far away to me. As if it isn’t quite real. Doesn’t it ever seem that way to you?”
He lowered himself to the ground and rested his arms on his knees. She joined him, wiggling her toes into the warm sand as she waiting a bit impatiently for him answer. He’d started rubbing his thumb and fingers together again, a peculiar habit he had when he was thinking.
“Well doesn’t it?” she finally repeated, tired of waiting. “The ocean looks like it goes on forever. It makes me almost feel as if there couldn’t really be anything on the other side of it.”
He turned his head and looked at her, with that half-smile he often wore when she was being impatient. Then he abruptly got up, took two long strides to the edge of the water, bent down, and scooped something up in his hands.
She watched, puzzled, as he came back to her, his hands dripping, too high up for her to see into them from where she sat. Then his was leaning over her, silhouetted against the sun, his shadow cooling her skin.
“Hold out your hands. I want to show you something.” he directed.
“What is it?”
“Just hold your hands out.”
She hesitated, mystified. But as he seemed determined to say nothing else unless she did as he asked, she finally stretched out her hands simply to satisfy her own curiosity.
He reached down and opened his fingers, and she felt a small gush of sun-warmed salt water empty into her cupped palms. Instinctively, she squeezed her hands together more tightly to keep it from draining out, and then leaned over and looked down, expectant.
But other than the water, she didn’t see anything at all.
Fred dropped down beside her again. “What do you think of that?”
“Of what?” she raised her eyes to his, confused.
Lily glanced down once more, but other than the fact that the water was slowly draining by dropfulls into the sand, she didn’t see anything different.
She looked up. “It’s just…water.”
He smiled. “Yes. Exactly.” Then he waved his arm in a wide arch, sweeping over the whole ocean in front of them. “Just like the rest of it. Nothing but water, Lily. Just a whole lot of handfuls of water all piled up together.” His hands closed over hers, pressing them together, letting the rest of the seawater trickling out from between her fingers and drain away into the sand. “And it doesn’t matter how many handfuls there are. It still doesn’t go on forever. Not even for very long, really. I’ve been over it once already, and I’m going to go back over it. Back to Florida one of these days. And maybe…” he paused, his blue eyes holding her gaze, his hands warm and strong around her own. “Maybe someday…you will too.”
After that, Lily didn’t try to ask him why he kept pursuing her. She didn’t have to. She knew.
He’d stopped going with Joan because he didn’t want to marry Joan. He wanted to marry her, Lily Brown, and nobody else. He’d as much as told her so. And she understood him well enough to know that when Fred Overall made up his mind what he wanted, nothing but an act of God was going to change it.
What she didn’t know, with anywhere near so much certainty, was how she felt about that.
So…what’s your favorite chapter so far? And why? The more feedback I get on this project, the better it will be. So don’t be shy! Comment below or get in touch with me through my contact page!
*Note: The version of the Sandpiper poem recorded in this chapter is exactly the way Fred recited it, according to those who knew him. However, it is slightly different than the original version by Celia Thaxter, which can be viewed by clicking the link where the poem is mentioned.