A Matter Of Trust by Sherrilyn Polf

It came as a complete surprise—not the actual visit from an uncle she didn’t remember—but the result of his visit. Sighing softly, Dena leaned against the window to watch the soft pink and blue rays pop over the mountain tops, deftly pushing back the darkness.
A Matter Of Trust
A Matter Of Trust by Sherrilyn Polf
July mornings, before the heat of the day sets in, are the best. I can’t believe how my life has turned around. Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamed of faraway places, and California has always been one of those areas. It sounds so exciting, even romantic in a mysterious sense. Surprising enough, she had dreamed of adventure, but she could have come up with this—the real thing. Dena watched the leaves swaying in the early morning breeze as she remembered that day. It was a warm afternoon in late March when the mailman drove into the yard with their mail. He brought a guest. Dena eyed the man getting out of the car. But when her dad hurried over and warmly clasped the man’s hand, welcoming him to their home her interest was caught. Who is this? While continuing to darn one of her socks, she leaned forward in her chair and watched her dad help the man with his suitcase. Dena tilted her head, hoping to hear what they were saying. Dismayed, she strained to hear catching only part of the conversation. “…can’t stay long because I’m on my way to Langley Field in Virginia. Maybe a day or two … want to beat the snow.” “Glad you’re here. Come inside,” her dad said as the two men came to the porch. “Dena, this is your Uncle Walter,” her father said. Dena’s eyebrows furrowed slightly. So he’s related to us. The only time I remember family at our home was when Grandpa Caulter died. That was eleven or twelve years ago. Well, I’m glad he’s here. “Walter, you remember Dena?” he asked. “Hello, Dena.” “You must be about eighteen now? Are you still in school? What are you doing?” “Nineteen. I’ve graduated and have completed an advanced typing course and a one in office practice,” she said proudly. Her dad grinned. “Hmm, my daughter’s age; she’s eighteen. So what are you doing now?” Uncle Walter asked. “Looking for a job, I guess,” she answered, glancing at her dad. She hadn’t thought much about it. Fall was soon enough. She did know she didn’t want to stay on the farm. “Go and tell Mother we have company, girl,” her dad said. Reluctantly, she picked up her darning and hurried into the house. At supper, she learned that Uncle Walter was married to her dad’s sister. They both worked for Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It’s so exciting to meet someone from California. Oh, I wish I could go and see the ocean. What’s more, Uncle Walter’s job sounds so interesting. She listened as Uncle Walter talked about his work with high-wind tunnels. Stanford University, Hughes Aeronautics, and NACA were all collaborating on the project Uncle Walter was working on. While Uncle Walter told her dad about his job, Dena made mental notes. Not totally understanding, she asked, “Uncle Walter, why are you experimenting with high-wind tunnels? What will they do?” Her uncle grinned. He quickly detailed the purpose while she listened carefully. It was so interesting. Another thing she wondered was what NACA stood for. She started to ask but didn’t. Maybe I’ll find out later. “Uncle Walter, do you know Mr. Hughes personally?” she asked. To work for such an important person—a celebrity— as Howard Hughes is incredible. Howard Hughes was in the news often: aviation, Hollywood, Langley Field. Even her dad was impressed with him. After supper, her dad and Uncle Walter went out to the porch. Gosh, I wish Mother would hurry. She’s washing dishes in slow motion. Dena silently mouthed as she picked up a platter to dry. Susan could have stayed and helped. She had tried to bribe her sister into helping with the dishes. But Susan just smiled, saying something about seeing a movie with Grant and Brock before she left for town. Dena shifted from one foot to another all the while eyeing the partially closed door to the porch. She reached for a plate. If Susan had just helped me, I could be out there listening to Uncle Walter … “Dena, stop fidgeting,” her mother spoke firmly, cutting into her thoughts. “Ladies don’t listen to men’s conversations unless they are invited. And I don’t believe your dad asked you to accompany them to the porch.” Dena reddened from her mother’s scolding. Mother always knows what I’m thinking. All the same, when she was sure that her mother wasn’t looking, Dena slipped over to the opened window and pretended to straighten the curtain. She stood perfectly still so she could listen. “… glad Doreen’s doing well,” her dad said. Dena absently rubbed the delicate lace on the curtain. It seemed endless before either man spoke again. “You know, Lawrence,”—Uncle Walter expressed his admiration for Dena’s tenacity in acquiring three certificates in two semesters —“you should send her to Palo Alto to stay with Doreen. She could put her education to much better use at Stanford than anywhere around here, and she would be with family.” Dena bent slightly forward but heard only silence. She peered out of the window, straining to see her dad’s face, but only her silent reflection peered back at her. She leaned closer to the window and listened. After a moment, Uncle Walter continued, “I’m not sure what job is available locally, but she strikes me as a girl suited for more than a rancher’s wife. No offense meant.” “None taken, Walter,” was all her dad said. Dena continued to stand in front of the curtain. The silence was killing her. She wanted to run out and shout, yes, yes! I want to go. But she couldn’t. What if Dad is against Uncle Walter’s suggestion? What if he says no?” Dena’s mind continued to spin. How can I tell Dad how much I really want to go to California? Could this be why I have had this strange and unfamiliar stirring deep within me begging me to give thought to my future? “Dena,” her mother spoke sharply. She turned around to face Mother’s stern look. Scowling, Dena moved back the sink. Soon her dad came in. “Any coffee left, Judith?” her dad asked. After Mother handed him two cups of steaming coffee, Dad smiled his thanks and left. Dena groaned inwardly. Determined to finish so she could leave the kitchen, she picked up another plate and dried it. Sometimes dad’s quiet and laidback manner irritates me. He won’t rush any important or life-changing decision. He always says he needs to pray about it, explore all possibilities, and talk it over with Mother. Picking up the last plate, Dena dried and set it on the stack. I know it will take extra clothes and money for me to live on until I can start making my own; and as productive the farm is it sometimes doesn’t offer money for extra trips. I’m not dumb. But no matter how upset she had been that night her dad had considered the move and now she was leaving for California. A sweet song of a nearby robin interrupted her daydreams. She had often enjoyed the melodious tune of the birds, but on this day the tune seemed extra special. She listened for a moment longer before shaking the memories from her head. Dena stood at the window and watched the wind play in the leaves. Smiling to herself, she glanced down at the yard just below her bedroom window. Streaks of sun moved across the ground. Yes, she loved the crispness and purity of the early mornings before everyone woke up, before the busy world ignored God’s beauty. The morning beauty reminded her that this day was God’s creation, and she would like to think it was just for her. She exhaled softly, causing a smile to stretch across her face. July is a perfect month to go to California. Gosh, who would have known a year ago that I, Dena Caulter, would be going to California to live? But today, July 8, 1939, I am leaving everything I know to explore a new place. Oh, I just want to jump up and down, lean out this window, and scream at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear. Dena walked to her bed and sat down. She looked through several piles of clothing but did nothing. I’ll finish in a little while. Right now, I want to remember my room—every detail. However, her mind returned to Mother’s scolding—“Young ladies do not jump up and down.” Yet, Dena knew she would never forget this day. Of course, the more she weighed the outcome of the events, the more uneasy she became and then that feeling changed to a new one—fear. Her eyes widened at this revelation. She would be lying to herself and to God if she denied this new emotion. But, being realistic helped her. She wasn’t prepared to deal with these new feelings, so she pushed them out of her mind and focused on the many piles of clothes waiting to be packed. All of a sudden, it dawned on her that she hadn’t been talking much to God lately. Maybe that’s the root of my restlessness. Oh gosh, Mother would be hurt if she knew. Embarrassed, Dena lay back on her bed, closed her eyes tightly, and simply whispered, “Thank you, God, for early mornings. Thank you for my trip to California. Amen.” Heaving a soft sigh, Dena stretched as she thought about how her dad always said she was the practical one of his three children. She was his girl; he could always count on her to make the right decisions. Sometime it almost makes me angry to think that my parents can’t understand my need for more than just being prepared for farming and marriage — that I really want a job in town. I guess my sensible side has prepared me for independence and adventure. After all, it can be a great adventure, a new opportunity for me. Her eyes twinkled. Now that I think about it, I have always wanted to go somewhere so I can be on my own. I guess I’ve been ready for this day for a long time. I’m not like Susan. She’s a homebody. She loves cooking, creating, and caring. And she and Grant have always dated. Me? I’m not sure I would know how to act on a date. Besides, I don’t want to date any of the boys around here. “You’re not dressed. Can I help you with anything?” Susan’s chestnut brown pony tail bounced as she popped through the door. “Maybe I can do something to speed up your packing. Dad says you need to hurry.” Dena shook her head. Picking up the last of her socks, she transferred them into a smaller suitcase which sat next to the already bulging larger one. Then with her hands on her hips, she examined the contents. That was everything; it was time to get dressed. Susan sat on the edge of the bed and idly watched her older sister slip a pink traveling suit over a crisp pink cotton petticoat. Dena turned her back before buttoning the bodice. Studying her reflection in the mirror, she admired how her slender frame filled out in all the right spots. She smoothed out any wrinkles, remembering what her mother had said as she had monitored the way her daughter’s clothes fit. Not too tight, not too loose. Ladies should look presentable as well as respectable. Above all, they must always be modest. She examined the sleeveless eyelet sundress and matching jacket with approval. If it rumpled up, she’d still look decent. “That really looks nice on you, but I would prefer blue.” It was almost a compliment. It caused Dena to glance at her sister, who sat touching the blue ribbon streaming from her hair. She indeed wore blue—a blue gauze dress. Susan’s face showed conflicting thoughts before she blurted out, “I really don’t know what is so spectacular about this Mr. Hughes. You act like he’s as important as the President.” “Well, maybe he is. After all, he has his own aeronautics company,” Dena came back. “I think flying is so romantic.” “You know, I don’t ever want to leave Colorado,” Susan spoke in a barely audible voice. “Not even for a visit.” Dena stood staring. What a stupid thing to say. “Then why are you going to California?” Dena asked sharply. She couldn’t resist the snip. For just a moment, Dena regretted her remark. It was only a fleeting minute though. Susan didn’t answer. She just left the room. Tilting the dresser mirror, Dena slowly twirled around one last time. She wouldn’t miss her sister. Not for one minute. With one final look at her image, Dena wondered, why do I have freckles across my nose? She smoothed her left eyebrow. Probably my only asset is my nose and blonde hair, although it's straight. With that Dena patted her shoulder length hair. Leaning forward, frowning, she squinted. I wish my eyes weren’t so green. Dena had spent most of yesterday finishing all of the odds and ends. She stood studying the overloaded suitcase, wondering what she should leave and what she should take. Her dad and Brock had already taken the trunks to the depot the day before. Shifting her weight onto one foot, she thought. I wonder if this is appropriate in California. She held up a pair of pajamas; they dangled to the floor as her fists rested on her hips. Dena wavered, which was unusual for her. Will I like California, my cousins, or my job? After Uncle Walter left, she had hurried to the library to read up on Langley Field, NACA, and Howard Hughes. Although she couldn’t find much, it was vital for her to not be naïve on essential information. She now knew NACA stood for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The library carried only a few national newspapers and no other informing literature. “Hey, Sis, Dad says—Wow!” Brock burst into her room, stopping in his tracks. “You look terrific, Dena. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a dressy dress. This is fancier than your church dresses.” Dena ignored him, dismissing his attempt to be nice. She looked around the room one final time. Picking up her Bible and hairbrush, she slid them into a small, homemade, carry-on bag. Then she tossed her diary and a couple of books into her suitcase. Carefully closing each case, she turned the key and slipped it into her purse. Brock stood just inside the door, leaning against the frame. “Uh, Dad says to hurry so you don’t miss the train; the engineer won’t wait on anyone.” “I think I’m ready,” she said. Nonetheless, she didn’t feel quite as sure as she sounded. She took one last look around her bedroom. Nothing was out of place. Quickly, Brock grabbed up the two suitcases. Both suitcases hit the floor with a thud. “You are such a klutz,” Dena criticized, positioning her hand on her hip. It was hard to look mad when she was so excited. “Boy, these are heavy. What did you pack—the bed?” he teased. She bent over and smoothed the wrinkles from the bedspread. “The bed is still here,” she said curtly, glancing sideways at him. Even though he was two years older, at times he acted younger. Maybe it was the privilege of being the only boy. “I won’t miss your endless teasing.” “Well, I can’t wait to get rid of you and have the house to myself,” he came back. Then Brock quickly slid his free arm around her shoulder and squeezed. “You’ll miss me, and you know it. Who will you have to pester?” She deliberately shrugged off his embrace. Jutting her chin in the air, she screwed up her face into a pucker and gave him the girl look as Brock called it. He hooted. Dena really looked at her brother. His white-blonde hair enhanced his tanned face, giving him a dashing look. His hardened muscles from the constant farm work bulged under his shirt. It’s a wonder girls don’t fall over each other trying to date him. “And I won’t miss your constant nagging.” He smirked, reaching for the second suitcase. With several exaggerated steps, Brock moved toward the stairs. She gathered up the cosmetics case, the small carry-on bag and followed. “I don’t nag, pester, or badger.” “I got you. Ha, ha, ha.” Brock continued taunting as they reached the bottom of the stairs. She hurried ahead of him, reaching the kitchen just as her dad came in from outside. Brock intensified his groan as he followed his sister through the kitchen door. “Do you have everything, dear?” Her mother’s smile didn’t quite reach her mouth. “Yes, I think so, Mother.” Brock groaned again. “Well now, don’t you look spiffy, girl.” With pride her dad slowly looked at her from head to foot. Dena fidgeted, smoothing the front of her jacket. He turned to Susan, smiling. Her sister was his baby and held his heart. Then he smiled tenderly at his wife. “Mother, you keep an eye on my two lovely, young ladies. I don’t want them bothered by any boys on the train,” he softly said. Brock hooted, ducking when Dad playfully cuffed him about the ear. Dad pulled out his new pocket watch. “We had better go. We don’t want to miss the train. It leaves promptly in about two hours, and it’ll take almost an hour for us to get there.” Susan reached for the wicker basket on the table. Ducking her head, Dena snickered as she watched her sister’s eyes widen. The basket was heavier than she realized. It contained fruit, cheese, and carefully wrapped and sealed quart canning jars of water. “Oh, Mother! Do we have to carry food and water like in the old days; this is 1939!” protested Dena, trying not to show her embarrassment. Earlier, her mother said they wouldn’t eat every meal on the train. Then she repeated horror stories she had heard from neighbors and friends, at the ice cream socials and dances that had eaten the food and had become ill. And Mother had said she wasn’t taking sick girls to California for Doreen to nurse, but it hadn’t stopped Dena from protesting. “If you want to go to California, girl,” her dad said sternly, “you will obey your mother’s instructions.” Dena lowered her head and bit the inside of her lower lip as she helped Susan carry the basket to the car, setting it between her parents. I am ungrateful. I know that everyone has sacrificed for this trip, but it’s my trip! I’m the one going to California to live. And why does Dad always call me girl? Their old, dust-covered, black Plymouth was packed with suitcases piled in the trunk and strapped on the roof. She squeezed into the backseat between her siblings. It used to be easier to ride three across the seat, Dena suddenly realized, but now we all have grown up and out, especially Brock. He starts his third year at Colorado University this fall. Hmmm, I wonder if he dates. He never mentions any special girl. As a matter of fact, the only one in the family who has a steady is Susan. Boys don’t interest me. She glanced at Brock, then pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose, giving her girl look. He grinned broadly. Dena turned, ignoring her brother. She looked past him to watch her dad push the screen door shut, making sure it latched, and propping a red brick against it before he walked to the car. He did this each time everyone was going to be gone. It must be a habit from his childhood since she knew the door shut securely. Dad turned the key and pushed the starter button. It took a couple tries before the old car purred. Grinding the gears, he turned the steering wheel and slowly aimed the car down the well-grooved, dusty road. It sped along at fifty-miles-per-hour, causing the countryside to rush by. Dena watched. I’ll not miss the mountain slopes, sage, or scrub bushes. Nor will I miss the ranch or this country life I grew up in. But, I do wonder about my future, starting a new life somewhere on the California coast, living with family I don’t know. No wonder my feelings are like the pendulum on our old grandfather clock. She inhaled before squeezing her lips tightly between her teeth until the tears disappeared. It’s 1939. I am …I am nineteen … I will not cry. Chapter Two The westbound train was already at the depot as Dad eased the car into a parking lane. Dena leaned forward, looking out the window. Steam wheezed intermittingly and loudly next to the platform. Everyone tumbled out of the Plymouth, adding to the confusion of people bustling about the depot. Mesmerized, Dena watched the activity while her dad and brother unloaded the baggage and hurried to check it in. The hustle excited her. She had never ridden on a train. Biting at her lip, Dena saw Susan standing next to Mother wearing that blue gauze dress. “You board at Pier 16. Let’s go,” Dad urged, putting his hand on Mother’s elbow and guiding the small group to their coach. As he handed Mother the tickets and baggage slips, he smiled. “Give Doreen my love, Judith. I would like to see her, but I don’t like leaving the farm. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Dad always refers to home as a farm—Dena frowned—when it’s really a ranch; we run cattle and raise only enough crops to feed the livestock. Her mother’s face glowed while she gently caressed Dad’s cheek. Dena stood perfectly straight, thinking, I would like the closeness my mother and my dad share when I get married, but not now; my first goal is to have a career like Aunt Doreen, then maybe I’ll think about marriage. “Dena, you take care and mind your Aunt Doreen. Don’t forget to say your prayers and read your Bible every day.” Her dad looked directly into her eyes, demanding her total attention as he held her shoulders firmly in his large, calloused hands. He didn’t say much to her about his faith, but he lived it. “Yes, Daddy,” she mumbled. Saying goodbye was harder than she had expected; she wanted to say something more to her father, like Who will spoil me, correct me, and allow me to do things my own way? “Remember girl, you are always welcome here. This is your home,” he continued gruffly, holding her close. She barely nodded. At last, she said scarcely above a whisper, “I love you, Daddy.” Her dad gently kissed her forehead, wiped away a tear before he turned to Susan. Dena boarded the steps and moved to the first window seat where she could watch her dad and brother on the platform. Mother and Susan got on just after her. The train whistle blew. “Susan, why don’t you take the window seat across from Dena,” Mother said. Impatiently, Dena waited for the train to move, and move it did. It lurched forward, almost throwing her onto Susan’s lap. The steam engines pulsated, and the train steadily picked up speed. In a crouched position with her knee on the seat to keep steady, she pressed her nose against the window, watching until she could no longer see the depot or her dad. Dark smoke floated away on the wind. Then Dena plopped down into her seat. She listened to the rhythmic clickety-clack noise. Mother frowned but said nothing. The conductor stopped beside Mother. Taking the tickets from her bag, she checked to see if she had all three before handing them to him. Dena watched as his pudgy fingers punched each ticket. Then he returned Mother and Susan’s tickets. “San Jose? That’s quite a trip for you ladies,” the conductor said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” “How long is the trip?” Susan asked politely. “About thirty-six hours. You’ll stay on this train all the way to where the round house is,” he explained. Oh,” Susan said. Suddenly, she remembered her manners. “Thank you.” He smiled. Round house—what’s a round house? Dena’s brow wrinkled. Not to be outdone by Susan, she quickly asked, “How fast does the train travel?” “Between forty and fifty-miles-per-hour,” the rotund conductor replied while checking the tickets across the aisle. “At each stop, local people get on selling drinks, sandwiches, and desserts. Also, we have a dining car and sleeper cars for a small fee. If you wish to use any of these facilities, just let me know.” Mother thanked him for his thoughtfulness. Grateful that neither Mother nor Susan mentioned their basket, Dena muttered a small prayer. Shortly, the conductor turned back to Mother, leaned over, and spoke in a low voice. “There’s a water closet located at the either end of the coach for your convenience, ladies on the right and men on the left.” Flushing, Mother averted her eyes as she thanked him again. Reddening, Dena carefully released her breath. A group of young men passed by, collectively moving toward the other end of the coach. Cautiously checking them out, she noticed that some wore suits while others were dressed in slacks and short-sleeve shirts with ties loosened at the neck. Two young men tipped their hats and openly admired the girls while another made a remark that caused all of them to laugh. Susan blushed. “They sure are rude,” Dena murmured, turning her attention to the men in uniform that followed the first group but didn’t look to be part of the crowd; they were more respectful and gathered together in twos and threes. Dena wondered why they were in uniform. Is the United States at war? “Girls, you must not visibly acknowledge the young men, not even with a nod or a glance. We don’t know anything about them,” Mother cautioned, looking directly at Dena. “Remember your upbringing and Bible verses. Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows our character, our thoughts, our conduct, and our conversation before we do. If you keep this in mind, then you will not embarrass yourself or others.” Susan nodded absently, but Mother closely watched Dena, fully knowing the pitfalls her oldest daughter would face. Dena’s head respectfully bobbed even though she wished they didn’t have to always talk about scriptures. It annoyed her, especially when in public. Mother pulled out the handiwork she was making for Aunt Doreen. Dena moved her carry-on bag over so she could get more comfortable on the old, bench-style coach seat. The aged leather covering the seat was firm, and the springs were unrelenting. Her stomach rumbled. She sighed, watching out the window as the train squealed to a stop. Passengers got on while others got off, followed by the train continuing swiftly down the track. Brown pastures, rundown towns, lean-to buildings, scraggly looking dogs and equally ragged trees rushed by. They were bent over or sprawled out, forming different shapes that reminded her of people. I wonder what they’re called. “Do you know where we are?” Susan leaned over her sister’s shoulder to peer out. “No, I don’t.” She squirmed to shrug Susan off.“It sure looks different from home. I wonder what people do?” Susan continued, ignoring the shrug. “I don’t know.” Dena answered, softening her tone, “maybe hunting, farming and—” “My, but it’s warm,” Mother said, running the palms of her hands along her skirt. “Where’s my handkerchief?” Susan found a dainty embroidered handkerchief crumpled up on the seat and handed it to her. Much to Dena’s alarm, Mother opened a water jar, wet her handkerchief, and put the cool cloth to her face and neck; that was something you would do on the farm, not in public. Quickly, Dena glanced at the people across the aisle. They didn’t notice. Mother spoke in a tone loud enough for others to hear, “You girls might want to freshen up.” Susan nodded. Amused, Dena watched as her sister patted her face and neck in the same way Mother had. Then she relaxed into her seat and looked bored. She wanted to laugh but didn’t because Mother gave the moistened handkerchief to her. While she carefully dabbed, Dena wondered if she too looked like Mother. No matter how much she wanted to deny the fact, the cool rag felt good. She slipped out of her shoes and propped her feet up on the seat next to Susan. Susan grimaced but didn’t move. She again stared out the window at an approaching platform. Three hours on the train seemed much longer to Dena because of the many stops at small depots taking on and letting people off. This stop offered some excitement. She leaned forward and watched one man punch another in the face, knocking him to the ground. Fascinated, she couldn't take her eyes from the drama as the man leaned over with his nose in the other man’s face. He yelled heated words. Dena blushed. What are they fighting about? Susan leaned forward and put her face next to Dena’s shoulder, watching. Glancing at her sister’s face, Dena watched her eyes widen at the harshly spoken words, causing her to shrink away from the window. The second man hurriedly got up, wiped his nose on his sleeve, and ran for the slow-moving train. Disappointed that he didn’t come into her coach, Dena watched the first man clench and unclench his fists, grow smaller and smaller. “We should eat.” Her mother, who was oblivious of the fight, pulled out wrapped fruit and cheese. “Could Susan and I go to the ladies room first?” Mother nodded, putting the food back in the basket. As soon as they got back, she indicated for them to bow their heads for prayer. Then she handed each girl a pear and a small chunk of cheese. Dena’s face fell. There was no way of hiding their lunch. She looked around the coach section, noting several other travelers munching on food. Removing the wrapping from around the cheese, she took a small bite and turned back to the window. There wasn’t much excitement in sand and sagebrush. Dena squirmed around in her seat, stretched, and then relaxed the best she could. Thinking back to the day her dad told her about the trip to California Dena smiled slightly. It was Father’s Day. They had just given him a new pocket watch. He stood up and tapped on his glass with his spoon. “Thank you all for my new watch. I’ll use it daily and treasure it forever.” Her dad carefully studied her as she looked up at him. Unable to speak, Dena gulped. He smiled at Mother. “Mother and I have decided that she and you girls will take a trip to California to see Aunt Doreen.” Her dad paused. “And if you want, Dena, you may stay for a while with Doreen.” Dena was sure he had forgotten. Not once had he talked about his discussion with Uncle Walter. Not only had her dad remembered, but he had called his sister. And he and Mother prayed. There were many considerations; money for Dena and the trip. Plus the clothes she would need. He finally asked, “Well, girl would you like that?” Her dad’s eyes twinkled as he waited for her answer. “Yes, oh yes, Daddy! I would!” Dena tipped her chair over when she jumped up to hug him. Everyone laughed. She didn’t care. She was going to California. Dena glowed. The train came to a stop, jolting her back to reality. “Dena, you should eat,” Mother quietly admonished her daughter before picking up her handiwork. Squirming in the hard leather seat, Dena picked up her pear and bit into it. Watching her mother’s hands methodically move over her stitching lulled Dena’s mind back to June. Everything that month consisted of buying, making, and sorting but her wardrobe took shape. In a few weeks her mother managed to make all the needed new outfits. It amazed Dena how much her mother accomplished with all the canning too. Mother worried about her and continually hovered over her. She had patiently listened to Mother remind her about her conscience. She knew it was there to help her to make right decisions, not to do something stupid, as Susan aptly put it in her prissy-sissy voice. I can’t wait to be on my own, making my own decisions. Her face brightened at the thought. Susan flourishes on Mother’s attention. But I want my space and the freedom to make my own decisions. That is why I liked working outside with Dad milking cows, feeding chickens, gathering eggs, and working in the garden while Susan helped Mother. Looking around, Dena discreetly studied the other people in her area. Most looked bored or tired. One young mother about her age cradled a small child with rosy cheeks while an older couple sitting across from her helped her with her toddler. Dena was glad she wasn’t a mother of two. Somewhere behind her male voices belted out “I’ll Never Smile Again.” No matter how much she wanted to look, she knew mustn’t. It was one of the popular songs she had heard on the radio. The singing and laughter continued all afternoon. Weary of it all, she watched the day fade into night. The late afternoon hues created shadowy shapes that distorted and quickly disappeared. The weird and wonderful landscaped fascinated her—rocks, sand, and occasional cacti. She watched the sunset disappear, then darkness. Crossing her ankles, Dena tugged at her skirt. The conductor came around, turning up the lanterns. He smiled. She stifled a yawn. It’s going to be a long night. “Mother, do you have …” Mother put her forefinger to her lips stopping her in mid-sentence. Dena glanced at her sister, who was asleep on Mother’s shoulder. Her mother handed her a nearly empty jar. Susan stirred and moaned. “You should get some sleep, dear,” Mother whispered. “We will arrive at San Jose tomorrow evening if the train is on schedule. Somewhere before we arrive in San Jose; we change to Pacific Standard Time. We’ll need our rest.” Dena yawned, huddled into her seat. Funny, how the street lamps highlight different passengers. Are they going to California too? She yawned for a second time and then nodded off into a restless sleep lulled by the train’s continuous clickety-clack beat... *** “Mother, could we go to the dining car for breakfast?” Susan asked in a plaintive voice early the next morning. She watched a group of young men walk by. They smiled and tipped their hats, causing her to become flustered and drop her eyes. Her sister wouldn’t admit it, but she really wanted to be noticed. Dena smirked. How typical of a sixteen-year-old. “Well, only for toast and jam. Maybe coffee,” Mother agreed. “Straighten your dresses and smooth your hair. And, Susan, remember the verse we discussed yesterday.” “Yes, Mother.” Her response was so automatic, Dena had to wonder if Susan really heard or just answered by rote. Presently the conductor came by. “If you wish to leave your things, I can keep your seats for you.” “Thank you.” Mother arranged the bags and hats on the two bench seats. She slid the wicker basket onto the floor, tucking it under the seat. Then Mother accompanied her girls to the water closet. “We are fortunate there’s not a line, but then again, at seven thirty most ladies aren’t up. Dena you go first.” Dena quickly stepped in with Susan following her. Mother waited. Then they reversed places. Susan gazed down the long hallway towards the dining car. “May we escort you to the dining car?” a tall young man with auburn-colored hair and a big smile asked. Dena didn't know where they had come from. A group of young men had gone by earlier. “No, thank you,” she replied, lifting her chin. She hoped she sounded mature. “Then maybe we will see you there.” The young man smiled as he slid by. Dena noted the second young man had neatly clipped, honey-colored hair. He studied her a moment longer, causing her to look at the floor. Yet, she watched him follow his friend down the corridor. Just then Mother stepped out and laid her hand on Susan’s back, encouraging her to follow the young men. *** Stopping just inside the dining car, Dena admired the elegance of the table settings—white linen table clothes, maroon napkins. Her heart fell when she didn’t see a table open. “Table for three, madam?” the maître–d asked. Mother nodded. He ushered them to a small table by a window where she saw the two young men sitting next to her. Dena took the chair across from Mother and Susan. She noticed the second young man wasn’t as loud or boisterous as the rest at the table. In fact, he seemed to sit on the outer edge of their conversations, entering only the discussion occasionally. She wondered what they were talking about. As she looked around the room, he caught her eye and dipped his chin so slightly. She lowered her head. “Mother, Dena’s blushing!” Susan teased. She wanted to turn to see who had made her sister redden. “I’m not blushing, Mother,” Dena said as she reached for her water. “I’m just … uh … hot. It’s really warm in here.” “Yes, it is, dear.” Mother sipped her coffee. Dena understood her mother knew she had not told the whole truth. Susan smirked. “May I take your order, madam?” “Three orders of dry toast with jam and one side order of bacon,” Mother politely said. “Yes, madam.” The waiter scribbled down their order then went to another table. Mother poured two half cups of coffee for her daughters. Frowning, Dena added cream and sugar. She would have liked eggs too. The waiter returned with their breakfast. Mother slipped her hand under the table, clasped each girl’s hand in hers, bowed her head and said a small hushed prayer. After eating a slice of toast, her mother enjoyed her coffee. “This jam is really good,” Dena admitted between bites. She studied the white, arched ceiling graced with gold etchings. Not wanting to look interested in the young man, yet she tried to sneak another look. He grinned and dipped his chin. Coughing, she quickly took another sip of coffee. “What kind do you think it is, Mother? I don’t believe we have this jam at home.” “I would guess it’s a native wild berry or a variation of cherry.” “Well, I really enjoyed breakfast, Mother,” Dena said before she ate the last of her toast. Patting her mouth, Dena peeked over Susan’s shoulder again. Susan shifted ever so slightly to block Dena’s view and stared directly at her sister, daring her to say something. “Are you girls ready?” Mother asked. “I’m glad we came to the dining car,” Dena declared. “Could we … uh… look around? You know, tour the train?” “Maybe later; right now I want to work some more on my needlepoint for Doreen. Did you bring books to read?” Dena’s face fell. Reading is boring when there are new things to explore like checking out the sleeper car or maybe other passenger or club cars. “Will Aunt Doreen be waiting for us when we arrive?” Susan asked as they waited to pay for their breakfast. Dena watched the two young men as they approached. The one with honey-colored hair grinned at something his friend said. “Yes. Your father sent a telegram after our train left, telling her of our arrival time.” “Hi. My name is Jack … Jack Smith … ma’am,” the taller young man said to Mother. “May I walk with you back to the coach?” “Well …” Dena could tell Mother was thinking about saying no. She crossed her fingers behind her back and quickly said a short, selfish prayer. “We’re going back to San Jose to college,” he quickly said, with an air of confidence. “I’ve been in Virginia visiting my family this summer.” “Well … yes. I guess you may,” Mother glanced at the girls. “Thank you, ma’am!” he said, looking directly at Dena. “I’m Clay Brewster,” the other one said. He stood off to one side of Jack. Dena smiled. He was the one who had noticed her in the diner, the one who sat on the outer edge of the group. He jerked his head toward his friend, speaking amiably. “My friend sometimes neglects to introduce me. I’ve been in Virginia working.” Dena smiled warmly. She liked these young men. She must remember their names, letting each syllable roll off of her tongue. Mother linked her arm with Susan’s and moved on, allowing Dena to walk with the two young men, but to her dismay, Mother walked slowly. Her intention was to stay in earshot. “Are you going to San Jose?” Clay asked, looking into her face. His blue eyes glinted. “Actually we are going to Palo Alto. We’re visiting my aunt. Do you go to Stanford University?” “Yes. I’m in my second year. I’m majoring in film,” Jack butted in. Then he jerked his thumb toward Clay. “He’s in his third year … engineering.” “Really,” Dena said. Fancy that. College men. That explained the confidence about them even though they are friendly. She smiled; pleased she had met two college guys. She wondered if she might get the chance to see them again. Sitting down across from Mother and Susan, she sweetly smiled up at the two. “Maybe we can tell you about Stanford later?” Jack asked, politely looking from Dena to her mother. “Maybe later.” Dena said as she looked at her mother, who picked up her needlepoint, dismissing the young men. Again, she turned toward the window. Fancy that, an engineer and a film producer. She wriggled and groaned mostly to herself. Almost three slow-moving days to the west coast spent sitting stiffly in the hard seats made her tired of sitting, tired of riding. She wanted to freshen up, but it wasn’t possible until they reached Aunt Doreen’s. That wouldn’t be until much later tonight. “Mother, could I go to the ladies room?” Dena asked just above a whisper. “Take Susan with you.” It irritated her that Susan had to go everywhere she went. But she bit her tongue. She really needed to use the ladies room. Susan jumped up and followed closely not wanting anyone to step between them. Morning moved into afternoon with lunch being the same as yesterday: cheese and fruit. Dena wanted to go to the dining car again, but Mother said maybe later, which usually meant “no.” Dena tried to read. Loud voices filtered through the coach. “I wonder what those Japs think they’re doing; bombing their own?” someone said loudly. “They aren’t. They’re occupying Hainan and blocking the Britain concession at Tientsin. Roosevelt is renouncing Japanese trade agreement of 1911, while Britain and France recognizes Franco’s government,” another voice spoke with such authority Dena wondered as she listened. Why would the Japanese want to do that? “Well, all I can say is Roosevelt was right in recalling the ambassador in Germany. That’s a mess!” Dismayed, Dena looked back at her book, not seeing the page. However, she noticed that Susan seemed engrossed in her book. “Is your book good, Susan?” she asked, hoping to disturb her sister. “Why yes, it is,” Susan answered. “It’s that new novel, The Yearling. You must read—” “Mother, what time is it?” Dena cut off her sister, clearly ignoring her suggestion. She didn’t know Susan had a new book. Most of their books came from the library. Besides she was bored and maybe she could look behind her. “I’m not sure, dear. Just a minute—let me see,” Mother squinted at the large clock located just above the door at the end of the coach. Dena turned around to look: four thirty p.m. “It’s four thirty, dear,” Mother answered. Dena nodded, seeing the young man sitting between her and the clock. What’s his name? Jack. Yes, it was Jack Smith. She thought that was his last name. He grinned. She half-smiled before dropping her eyes and turning around. Watching, Mother nodded her approval. “It won’t be long. Maybe we can go to the dining car for supper.” “Really, Mother?” the girls spoke in unison. They looked at each other and laughed. Mother continued working on her needlepoint. “The scarf you’re making really looks nice, Mother. I’m sure Aunt Doreen will like it,” Dena said. Susan nodded without really looking. Her eyes barely left her book. Dena stared at the book on her lap. It was her favorite book of poetry, but she couldn’t concentrate. She turned back to the window, squirming slightly. The spring wouldn’t heed, and she was numb from sitting so long. Thirty-six hours felt like an eternity. *** Around five thirty they went to the dining car; it was crowded. Dena looked around the room. She was hoping they would find a good seat. A sandwich sounded good. Dena pulled her lower lip in and ran her tongue back and forth, wetting it. “Come this way, madam.” The maître-d ushered them through the crowded room to a small table near the other end of the dining car—one that Dena hadn’t seen from the entryway. It was perfect. She could readily study the other passengers. Susan watched too. “May I recommend the special: cold meatloaf sandwiches with lemonade and potato chips?” After the waiter, noticed Mother’s puzzled look, he explained, “They’re called potato chips but are really home fries which are thinly cut and fried.” “I think that sounds good, don’t you?” Mother looked at each of the girls. They nodded. Dena was sure the meatloaf wouldn’t be as good as Mother’s. Dena and Susan looked around the dining room until Mother scolded them for being so obvious. Susan giggled when a gentleman who was trying to entertain his lady friend, hit a passing waiter. The waiter’s tray flew out of his hands and onto the floor with a loud clatter. His lady friend wasn’t amused. A few minutes later their meal came. Along with the sandwich, which sported thick slices of homemade oat bread, was the new food called potato chips. Also there was a dilled pickle and cookie. Mother beamed. She reached for and clasped each girl’s hand, bowing her head, and quietly thanked God for their food. Dena quickly picked up her pickle and munched while she observed the crowd. She felt someone watching her. She stiffened her back before turning slightly and glancing to her left. “Uh, Jack’s watching you, Dena,” Susan huskily whispered, picking up half of her sandwich and taking a bite. “How do you know he’s not watching you?” Dena hissed. She detested her sister when she said things like that. She sounded so superior. Unrelenting, each sister transfixed her eye on the other. Mother interrupted in a low but firm tone. “Girls.” “It doesn’t matter if he’s watching me. I love Grant,” Susan came back, sticking out her tongue. Dena made a face. Grant indeed. For as long as she could remember Grant and Susan had been friends, and now they were going steady. It was always Grant. “Girls!” Mother’s firm tone brooked no further discussion. Dena eyed several service men passing by. In fact, she realized, they were everywhere. She leaned over and asked her mother in a low voice, “Are we at war?” “No, dear,” her mother answered. “These young men choose to be in the service. Possibly so they can pay for their education or have a career.” Dena nodded. “Mother, could we take a drink back to our seats? I see other people with refreshments,” Susan asked. Dena shot her a withering look. She too, had considered asking. “Water will be fine. When we reach San Jose, we’ll have time for refreshments before driving on to Palo Alto.” Mother looked from one girl to the other. Dena’s face dropped. Not wanting Mother to see her disappointment she quickly led the way to their seats. Watching her mother put the finishing touches on her needlework and tie off the ends, she considered the elegance in her mother’s stature. Mother had made a special point to quietly thank the waiter for the cookies and press a tip of a few coins into his hand. Dena saw the maître-d’s face light up. *** Dena checked the large clock: six forty-five p.m. It won’t be long now, maybe another hour or two. She gazed out at the landscape, which continued to change. It was so different from Colorado farm country and yet the same. Somewhere the train crossed into California. She continued to look out the window, wanting to see everything there was to see about California before the sun set. The horizon shone in red and orange, followed by purple with blue hues before it disappeared. There were small shrub-like trees scattered in the grass and flat, very flat. “San Jose. Next stop San Jose.” The conductor belted out as he walked through the coach. Dena gasped. How did I miss Los Angeles? It must have been one of those many stops the train made, or maybe the train passed through it while we were in the dining room. The train started braking and slowing. Steam exploded up the side. People gathered up their bags and hurried toward an exit. Finally, the train jolted to a stop. Steam continued to billow up. Dena lost her balance and fell back hard into the seat. Susan covered her mouth. Following their mother, they stopped on the platform and waited while Mother searched for their aunt. Dena scanned the crowd too, but she didn’t see anyone she knew. Chapter Three Slowly opening her eyes, Dena shook her head. She heard birds singing, cars speeding by, and laughter. A faint snore came from the mound next to her. Pushing herself up on her elbow, she saw Susan. Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes and looked around. Where am I? This isn’t my…. Ah! Yes! I’m in California! Dena examined every detail in the room. It was lovely, papered in light pink and dotted with small white flowers. Sitting in front of a large five-drawer chest, she spied her trunk and their suitcases. She laughed out loud. “Susan!” she whispered, shaking her sister by the shoulder. Why she was whispering? “Susan, wake up!” “Mmm.” Susan groaned and covered up her head. “Go away.” No matter, she would explore without old sleepyhead. She hurried to her suitcase and picked out a light green cotton skirt and matching shirt. Swiftly she slid into them and brushed her hair. Finding a pair of summer shoes, she slipped into them and hurried out the door. It slammed. Aunt Doreen had picked them up at the depot in her new 1939 Black Packard Coach. As soon as they arrived at the house, Polly, Aunt Doreen’s cook, had ice cream and ice tea waiting. She was surprised that her cousins weren’t present. Reaching the top of the stairs, Dena started to take two steps at a time. Silently she heard her mother’s voice scolding her, “Ladies never rush down stairs two at a time. Walk.” Scowling, Dena slowed down to a walk before she reached the main floor. She disliked those teachings. Stopping on the lower level, Dena went looking for her mother. Dena hurried toward the opened double-doors where she heard voices. “Oh, there you are, dear,” Mother said warmly. “Good morning, Mother.” Dena smiled at the other woman, who was a smaller version of her dad. “Good morning, Aunt Doreen.” “Would you like some coffee?” Aunt Doreen held the coffee pot. She motioned for Dena to sit. “Yes, please.” “Your mother and I were just planning to go to the department store to find beach apparel. Then perhaps tomorrow we will go to the beach.” “That sounds great.” Dena nodded, looking over the food. “I need to go back to work next week. The university will start preparing for the fall term, and since I’m one of the dean’s secretaries, I need to be there. But we’ll have this week to spend together.” Aunt Doreen continued. “Emily’s working at the university cafeteria this fall. We probably could get Dena a job there too.” “I have a certificate in advanced typing and one in office procedures,” Dena said between bites. “You do? That’s wonderful!” Aunt Doreen turned to Mother, “Judith, you didn’t tell me. Dena can apply for a typing position at the college typing pool. The hours will be better, as well as the pay.” “Did Walter or Lawrence not tell you?” her mother asked. “If they did, I forgot,” Aunt Doreen said, smiling at Dena. “Well, hello, sleepyhead.” Everyone looked toward the door. Susan grinned sheepishly. She wore a pale blue cotton dress and had tied her dark hair back with a blue ribbon. “Would you like some breakfast?” “No cheese or fruit please,” Susan answered. Aunt Doreen looked puzzled. But, Mother and Dena laughed. Mother said, “It’s an inside joke. I’ll tell you later.” “What’s wrong with telling Aunt Doreen now?” Susan asked. Not waiting for an answer, she turned to her aunt, blurting out, “Mother brought fruit and cheese on the train for us to eat as well as jars of water.” “Why, Judith, how clever of you. I’m not sure I would have considered doing that,” her sister-in-law remarked. The girls looked confused. *** Within the hour, the four women were on the bus riding to the business square. Dena didn’t see how far they had gone because was too absorbed in her new surroundings. This was her new home. Susan leaned over looking out. “Oh gosh, Dena, I can’t believe you’ll be living here,” she whispered enviously. “It looks so … so …” “Exciting?” “Yes.” “I know.” For once Dena agreed with Susan. “You must write every day and tell me what you do, who you meet, what you eat and how you like your job—” “Oh you silly goose,” Dena scolded. She knew she would probably miss her sister, but she wouldn’t miss her sister’s constant tagging after her and copying her every action. Suddenly Dena understood she would also be free of her mother’s restricting rules. In a way, it pleased her. Nevertheless, she knew she would need to set rules for herself. “No, I mean it. Promise—you must promise,” Susan hissed in her sister’s ear. “All right. I promise,” Dena answered testily. She fully meant to keep the promise, yet in all reality, she didn’t think she would. “This is our stop, everyone.” Dena and Susan followed the older women off the bus, walking to a bulky brick building which occupied the center of the block before it sprawled out both ways, encompassing almost all of the block. Dena stopped and stared. It was the largest store she had ever seen. She recalled a small ice cream shop tucked in at the corner next to what looked like a barber shop. She hurried to catch up with Susan, who disappeared through the front door. *** “Oh look, Mother,” Susan said excitedly from one of the many racks. “Isn’t this just lovely? Could I get it for school?” She was holding up a blouse and a matching pleated skirt in blue. Dena sighed. Blue. Susan has so much blue she could pass as the sky. Even if blue is her favorite color, can’t she pick another color, like red? “Why can’t you get another color just this once?” Dena asked loud enough for only Susan to hear. Susan stuck her tongue out at her older sister. “We’ll see. Maybe we can come back before we go home. Today we’re looking for beach outfits.” “Oh Mother! Please!” She couldn’t have sounded more demanding if she had stomped her foot. “I’ll think about it,” Mother answered, trying to keep the agitation out of her voice. Susan smiled coyly, found the coveted outfit in her size, in blue and hung on to it. “Susan, let’s look over here,” Dena said, jerking her head in the direction of racks of summer sale items. The four of them moved to the summer sports racks and tables where they rummaged through large stacks of beach wear. Both girls found outfits to their liking and in their size. Susan chose a sapphire blue and white checked beach outfit, while Dena picked out an outfit in a bold maroon with two one-inch-wide navy stripes down one side. Mother checked each item out for sturdiness, and of course the style—not too old-fashioned but definitely modest. Dena watched as some young people enter the store, which seemed lacked modesty. “After all, you are my girls,” she said while scrutinizing each item before buying it. Mother conceded, allowing Susan the school outfit also. It was one less outfit she would have to make before September. “Let’s go for ice cream.” Aunt Doreen grabbed up the purchases and hurried everyone to the corner ice cream parlor. Dena chose butter pecan. She couldn’t tell the difference between a Colorado ice cream cone and a California one. But she absolutely loved the ice cream cone. Eating fast gave her a headache, but her ice cream was melting in the warm weather. Before she knew it, the cone and the afternoon had disappeared. “Whew. We barely made the four-thirty bus.” Aunt Doreen said. “The next bus runs much later—seven-thirty. I like to be home in time for dinner with Stuart and Emily. It’s our family time.” Dena watched her mother nod. That rule was kept at their home too. *** “You girls freshen up. We eat at six,” Aunt Doreen said as she stopped to check the stack of mail lying on the table. “What does freshen up mean in California, Dena?” Susan asked in a low voice as they moved to the stairs. “Surely it involves more than a spit bath with a wet cloth.” “I should hope so.” Giggling, they hurried up to the bedroom. “I guess we can wash up, brush our hair, and maybe change clothes if we want to. Just like at home. Its five thirty now. We don’t really have much time.” Dena said, holding her swimsuit and looking at her sister in the mirror. Susan seemed not to hear. She was too busy admiring her new blue outfit. “I really like our beach outfits, as Aunt Doreen calls them. Am I right? We’re going to the beach tomorrow?” “Yes,” Dena replied, turning from one side to the other looking at her bold maroon swimsuit with the navy stripes. “That will look good on you,” Susan said as she sat on the bed, brushing her hair. She had her new outfit already packed, and her bathing suit lay on the bed. “Yes,” Dena’s eyes sparkled. “It will, won’t it?” “You girls hurry. It’s almost six,” Mother called from below. “Coming,” Dena hastily ran the brush through her hair a couple of times and followed Susan to the dining room. *** The dining room was simple in décor yet elegant. Susan paused then moved to an empty chair next to her mother and across from two young people. “Hello.” The young girl smiled. “I’m Emily. You probably don’t remember me, but I’m glad you’re here. I’m sure we’ll be friends.” How sure of herself she seems, Dena noted mentally, sitting very straight. Glancing at Emily, she softly released her breath. Of course she’s in her own home. I guess I would be too if I were in my home. I’m glad that Emily said we’ll be friends. Dena smiled brightly. She figured that Susan was looking at her hands folded in her lap, something she did when she was nervous. “And this is my big brother Stuart,” Emily continued, making fun of her sibling. Dena stared at the young man. She didn’t mean to, but she realized he’s so like Brock. Even though she didn’t remember Stuart, she knew he was the same age as Brock, while Emily was between Susan and herself. “I believe that’s obvious sis, since I’m the only male here.” He laughed. Then he leaned forward, holding his hands in an L position, thumbs touching forming a three-sided box and studied his two cousins through squinted eyes. “Let me guess. You must be Susan,” he dramatized, moving the three-sided box sideways and then back. Next he turned and closely studied Dena through his double L-shaped box. “And that leaves you to be Dena. I hope you don’t bug or nag like Emily.” “I don’t bug or nag,” Dena and Emily retorted in unison. Everyone laughed. It broke the tension at the table. She glanced at him, meeting his gaze before dropping her eyes. Blushing, she reflected, He’s just as obstinate as Brock. Yet if he wanted to, just like Brock, he could be nice. “How long can you stay, Aunt Judith?” Stuart asked turning to his Aunt. “A couple of weeks I hope,” Mother answered. Yes, Dena thought, so like Brock. Glancing across the table, she noted that Emily ate only salad and meat while Stuart consumed two helpings of everything. Funny, he wasn’t a heavy person. Just the opposite, Stuart was actually thin. Taking Emily’s lead, she ate only salad and meat. Next dessert was served. Dena’s eyes widened at the size of the pieces. She took the smallest medium-sized slice of chocolate cake heaped with a fluffy chocolate frosting. She saw that Emily did the same. And like Emily, didn’t eat over two or three bites—though savoring each bite. “This is absolutely the best chocolate cake ever, but”—Emily sighed and pushed the cake away, patting her mouth with her napkin, and then continued— “I can’t eat another bite.” “Thanks, Sis. I can.” Stuart moved her partially eaten wedge over to his space and devoured it. “You’re such a glutton.” Emily made fun of her brother with a smile to soften her retort. “That’s me,” he admitted, scraping up stray crumbs with his fork. “Stuart, when do you need to enroll?” asked Aunt Doreen, ending the banter between her children. “On the twentieth, I believe.” “I start back to work on the seventeenth. I want to take Judith and the girls for a tour of the college on Wednesday and have Dena apply for a typing position. Can you come?” Rolling her eyes, Dena pushed her half-eaten cake away and laid her napkin over it. She couldn’t eat any more. Susan nodded. “Sure,” he said, eying Dena’s partially eaten slice. “Wait, I have an appointment with my film professor that day.” “Oh.” Aunt Doreen sounded disappointed. “Well then, tomorrow we’re going to the beach. Are you free?” “I am, but I’m not sure I want to be the only guy with all of you women.” He grinned at Dena. Emily elbowed him. “Ouch!” “Let’s see. On the thirteenth,” Aunt Doreen continued, ignoring her son’s remark, “Judith and I have some personal things to do. Emily, could Dena and Susan go to the cafeteria with you until noon?” “Sure.” Emily nodded. “What happens at noon?” Stuart asked, thinking about his stomach already. “We’ll go to the cafeteria for lunch.” She looked directly at her son. “Why don’t you meet us there?” “Okay.” “Now with that settled, shall we go to the garden? The sunset is spectacular.” Dena noticed a spicy smell permeating from the roses and whatever those yellow trumpet-like flowers that were growing on the wall. I will soon learn the names of all of the blossoms because Aunt Doreen loves gardening just like Mother. “How’s Walter?” Mother asked. “Will he be home before I leave next week?” “I’m not sure,” Aunt Doreen said. Her lips tightened into a thin line. Stuart glanced at Emily, which made Dena wonder if something was wrong. “That’s too bad. I wanted to tell him how much Lawrence and I enjoyed his visit last winter.” Mother seemed unaware that Aunt Doreen’s eyes suddenly veiled. “Last winter. Was that in March?” her aunt asked. “Why yes. He was on his way to Virginia I believe. Is he still there?” “Yes, yes.” Aunt Doreen turned to Stuart. “Son, will you please pour lemonade for everyone.” It wasn’t a question but a request. Aunt Doreen had changed the subject graciously, although everyone knew. “Judith, walk with me and see my newest rosebush in the garden.” Aunt Doreen started down the path. Perplexed at what had just happened Dena watched her mother and aunt disappear around a corner. Stuart cleared his throat. “Just so you know Dena, Mother and Dad aren’t getting along right now. Dad will probably stay on the East Coast, and we’ll stay here. Emily and I talk with Dad at least once a week,” Stuart spoke in a matter-of-fact tone that made Dena wonder how many times he had rehearsed it. “Oh, I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say. Pain crossed her face. “Don’t be,” Emily quietly replied. “They fight all the time. At least now, they do talk to each other on the telephone.” “Dad has been in Virginia off and on since 1937. He loves being a major part of the aviation program. You know, not just teaching, but doing it,” Stuart said. “He wants Mother to move to Virginia, but she won’t. I guess her home here gives her security.” “And it’s not that Dad doesn’t love us …he does,” Emily added softly, analyzing her nails. “He has a teaching position here if he wants it. Dad is a great professor.” Susan sat with her hands clasped tightly in her lap, her back straight, silently staring. A tear trickled down her face. Dena knew what she was thinking. She too could not imagine a home without her dad and mother. “I think I’ll go and write some letters,” Susan said. Dena watched her sister disappear into the house. Soon Emily and Stuart followed; Dena took another sip of lemonade, all the while keeping a close eye on her mother and Aunt Doreen, who were studying a pale pink rose. They slowly walked back, talking low enough that Dena could not pick out their words. She sat up as they reached the table. Mother dabbed her eyes. Aunt Doreen looked around concerned. “Where is everyone?” she asked, and then added, “Oh, I hope I didn’t ruin the beautiful evening for everybody.” “Oh no, Aunt Doreen,” Dena said. “Susan wanted to write some letters so she could post them tomorrow before we go to the beach.” Aunt Doreen nodded, somewhat distracted. “Maybe we should turn in too so we’ll be rested for our day tomorrow. After all, we’re not used to the sun and sand.” Dena’s mother drank about half of her lemonade. “Doreen, this is excellent. You must tell me what you do to it to make it taste so good.” The phone rang and Doreen quickly excused herself and went to answer it. “Oh dear, I do believe I opened a can of worms,” Dena’s mother linked arms with her eldest daughter and slowly walked to the stairwell. Dena silently agreed leaning closer as her mother lowered her voice, confiding, “It seems that Doreen wants me to go with her to see a lawyer. I’m not sure I should do that.” Dena pushed open her bedroom door and stepped aside so her mother could see Susan curled up asleep with letters on the nightstand. Mother nodded, and then pecked her eldest daughter on the cheek, “Good night dear.” “Good night, Mother.” Dena closed the door, listened for her mother's door to close. She stood for some time thinking about what Stuart and Emily told her. It was wrong, simply wrong, but she didn’t know what to do. In all of her years, never had she been around people who had family troubles, or at least she didn’t know of any. In her home town, school, and circle of church friends, the only traumatic difficulties, was unwanted pregnancy or death. Never this It must be a California problem. She would ask her mother about it tomorrow, but now she would pray. Chapter Four The beach turned out to be completely different from what Dena had expected. Although it was hot and the water salty, the beach area had stayed totally crowded. But it was also relaxing. Dena loved the breeze in her face, restful laps of waves, and the continuous laughter all around her. Aunt Doreen quickly located an umbrella with some beach chairs near the volleyball nets. Susan and Emily joined in and played several games. Dena preferred to sit with Aunt Doreen and her mother and watch. Their antics made her laugh and the boys’ swim uniforms were bold. She reddened just thinking about their revealing clothes and muscles. The fact that they weren’t appropriately dressed didn’t bother Emily. It must be from living all of her life in California. Yet it is…embarrassing. But she couldn’t take her eyes off of the boys’ flexing muscles while they punched the volleyball. “Are you sure you want this, you know, you’re here and Walter’s there?” her mother asked gently, all the time looking out at the water. Dena pretended not to listen. “Is there another woman, or is it his job?” “It’s his work. He’s consumed with aeronautics. Everything else has become second place.” “Oh.” Dena’s mother sat quietly, thinking. “Still, Doreen, does Walter want this? I guess I don’t understand.” “No.” Again her mother paused. She sipped at her lemonade while she studied the ongoing game. Suddenly her mother’s arms shot up, almost spilling her drink. “Go, Susan. Good shot.” “I guess I’m just plain mad, Judith. Our children have reached the stage where they don’t totally need me, and I always thought Walter and I would spend more time together,” Aunt Doreen continued slowly, then stopped. Sadness in her voice accented the firmness about her mouth. Her mother listened though she said nothing. It was a quality about her mother Dena admired. Aunt Doreen resumed after a moment. “Walter has been back and forth to Virginia since a young engineer wrote to the Engineering Department at Stanford regarding a discrepancy in some type of Tandem Wing formula. The young man expressed concern of future repercussions. Walter was sent to Virginia to investigate the problem. Mr. Hughes wanted to be sure it was correct. Accurate publication is important. That was a little over two years ago.” “Good shot, Emily!” Both her mother and Aunt Doreen shouted. After catching her breath, Aunt Doreen continued. “Now he’s involved with the high-speed tunnel and many problems from last year. This young engineer—I can’t remember his name—works with him. Walter says he’s brilliant. Anyway, Walter loves it there. He wants me to move to Virginia.” “Is it possible for you to go to Virginia?” Mother asked while her eyes watched the surfers challenge an incoming wave. “No. Not really. At least I don’t feel like I can. Judith, maybe it’s selfish of me, but this is my home. I have obligations here. I have my position at the college. Stuart is in his third year and Emily is starting this fall. Now, I want to see Dena settled.” “Okay then, why not hold off until January.” Dena watched her mother gracefully turn her attention back from the water and looking directly at her sister-in-law. “Just see how things progress. Use this time to really talk to each other, get to know each other again on a more personal basis. You know, telephone dates and letters. See if it makes your relationship stronger.” “Mmm. That’s a good suggestion. I still have an appointment with the lawyer on the thirteenth.” “We can go and see what he advises,” her mother said leaning forward, her large eyes level with Aunt Doreen’s. She chose her words carefully. “It’s just that you and Walter have a good marriage. I don’t want you to throw it away because of misunderstandings and petty feelings. I’m sorry, Doreen, but that’s the way I feel. God frowns on broken relationships, and well, frankly so do I.” Mother sat very still as she studied her sister-in-laws face for rejection. Dena watched as Aunt Doreen’s chin jutted suddenly at mother’s blunt statement. She stared at the waves lapping the sand while sipping her lemonade. She couldn’t tell if Aunt Doreen’s eyes had tears. Dena was sure she would have had cried if Mother had talked to her that way. Yet when Aunt Doreen turned and looked at her mother, only fondness showed in her glistening eyes. “Thank you for reminding me. I guess I have been self-centered and a bit prideful. I’ve neglected inviting God into my decisions. Sometimes it is …” Aunt Doreen’s voice trailed off as she laid her hand gently on Mother’s arm. Her mother nodded. Dena hadn’t missed a word of the conversation, and she saw how smart her mother was. She must always remember to invite God into her thoughts and decisions. “Hey, Dena,” Emily called. She looked up just as Emily and Susan ran through the hot sand. “How about playing the next game with us?” “Let’s eat, girls,” Aunt Doreen said while pulling out wrapped sandwiches. “I don’t think so. A dip in the water will be just enough I believe. Besides, I really like being your audience.” Dena said, laughing. Susan plopped down beside her, spraying sand over her legs as she reached for something to eat. “Oops.” Emily merrily apologized for Susan, grabbing one of the colas. “Want one?” “Sure!” Susan spoke up. Dena nodded. Emily pulled out two more colas before she sat on the other side of Dena. “Say, Dena, I know you are starting a new job and everything, but I was wondering if you might like to take a couple of drafting classes with me.” Emily looked at her cousin as she popped off the lid and handed her the bottle. “Well… ” “A typing career is great, but a typing and drafting career is better, much better,” Emily rushed on, wanting to convince her cousin. Taking a bite of her egg sandwich, she chewed for a moment. Besides, it will be fun to study together.” “And you could sign up tomorrow when we go over for the job interview,” Aunt Doreen cut in, pleased with her daughter’s suggestion. “You know that would be an opportunity dear,” her mother said. “Well …” Dena puckered her brow. She hadn’t thought of a career beyond typing. I need time to think over this new idea. I need … well, time with God. Yes, isn’t that just what I had said a few minutes ago? Dena disguised her thoughts by sipping her cola. “Oh there’s another game starting. Come on, Susan." Emily laid down her partially eaten sandwich beside Susan’s crust and turned to Dena, “You sure you don’t want to play?” “No. I’m fine,” She spoke slowly. Her mind whirled. It wasn’t that she couldn’t handle the extra studies and a new job. High school and the advanced typing course had been easy. Dena turned her head to watch the girls knock the ball back over the net. With her eyes closed and head slightly down, she quickly asked God for guidance. “Again tell me exactly what does Walter do in Virginia?” her mother asked. She knew it seemed to be hush-hush for Walter hadn’t said too much when he stopped to visit. “As I understand, he’s in the engineering department, the wind tunnel division, to be specific, as well as overseeing all of the drafting plans and checking all of the formulas and equations. He’s actually at Langley Field in Virginia, just outside of Hampton. He said it’s all connected with Hughes Aeronautics. Mr. Hughes, who is owner and president, is working with the military on this project. And it excites Walter because he’s actually getting to put his education and teaching skills to work.” Dena knew her mother heard the same note of pride in her aunt’s voice, for a flicker of a smile showed in Mother’s eyes, but it didn’t reach her mouth. So Uncle Walter’s job uses drafting. Dena was beginning to like the idea better and better all of the time. “It’s not like Walter doesn’t have a job here. He has a standing teaching position in the engineering department at Stanford. He is tenured you know. I guess maybe he just needed a break,” her aunt continued. Then she smiled warmly at her sister-in-law. “I have a lot to think about, Judith. Thank you.” Giggles and sand spilled over into the conversation as Susan and Emily came up. Another game was over. “The cola really tastes great. Thank you Mother!” Emily picked up her half-empty cola bottle and swirled it, trying to act grown up by imitating a movie star. Then she took another drink before looking around and checking out the new game of volleyball. Dena and Susan watched. Emily saw some boys from high school playing in the game. The sun looked lower in the sky now. She had to shade her eyes to see. How the afternoon had sped by. Maybe it was because the girls enjoyed entertaining her with several more games. “Oh my,” Aunt Doreen said, glancing at her watch. “It’s already time to leave. Where did this day go? We must be leaving if we want to catch the bus and be home in time for dinner.” Putting away the empty wrappers and bottles, Dena and Emily grabbed the ice chest and followed Susan and Mother who were toting a small chest with food. Aunt Doreen carried two blankets, hurrying them so they would get to the bus on time. Dena pushed her large, floppy hat down as the breeze tugged at the brim. Susan had braided her hair. At the house, Susan pushed the door open with her foot and waited for her mother. “Thank you dear.” Her mother smiled as she lugged the small food container. Dena and Emily followed tugging the ice chest. “You have a letter from the Philippines, Ms. Doreen.” Polly said as she met them at the door wiping her hands on her apron. “Oh my,” Aunt Doreen dropped the quilts on the floor and picked up the letter. “It’s from Bill.” Who’s Bill? Dena wondered. Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen only have one boy. Mother continued to the kitchen with the girls following. *** “What time do we need to be at Stanford today, Doreen?” Dena heard her mother asked as she sat down to breakfast. Dena buttered her small stack of pancakes. “Pancakes, bacon, and juice—breakfast can’t get any better than this,” Stuart mumbled as he stuffed a bite into his mouth. “Mmm.” Watching her cousin from across the table eating like an ill-mannered boy, Dena scowled, however she nodded in agreement. The pancakes were good. “We should be leaving here in thirty minutes or so,” Aunt Doreen said. “Good morning you two,” her mother said smiling. “There may be some breakfast left if Stuart hasn’t eaten it all.” The girls glanced at him as he held his fork in the air, motionless. “Aw, Aunt Judith,” Stuart grumbled with affection. He was on his second helping of everything. Dena giggled, putting the last bite of pancakes into her mouth and patting her lips with her napkin. “Mother, Emily said we received a letter from Bill yesterday. What did he have to say?” Stuart asked. “He’s still in the disease ward on the islands. Mmm, let me see … oh yes, he’s now considered a short timer. He has ten months left. Then he’ll be coming home. Isn’t that wonderful?” “Is Bill the one in the navy?” Mother asked. Aunt Doreen nodded. “He’s Phyllis and Tom’s boy,” she added. Aunt Doreen nodded again. So Bill is my cousin; my dad’s nephew, Uncle Tom’s boy. “May I be excused?” Dena asked, rising. “Why yes, dear.” Mother watched her eldest daughter hurry into the hallway. Wanting to take one last look in the mirror, Dena pinched her cheeks and smoothed her long, curly blonde hair. The California humidity curled her hair more than the arid air in Colorado. She wanted to make sure she looked her best for her interview; she then ran her hand down her navy blue skirt, carefully studying the soft white cotton blouse. Gosh, I do look businesslike. “Dena, we should go,” Aunt Doreen called from below, “Don’t forget your typing certificates.” Oh gosh, where’s the envelope with my certificates! Dena gulped, digging around in her bag for the envelope. There it is! With the envelope in one hand and her purse in the other, Dena hurried down the stairs, two at a time. Ladies never take two steps at a time, her mind silently scolded. She stopped so suddenly she almost fell. Dena grabbed the rail. She blushed as she looked around fearing someone read her thoughts. Her mother was waiting on the landing with that knowing look on her face. Dena slowly reddened. The telephone rang just as the four women were leaving. Aunt Doreen picked it up and listened for a moment. “Stuart! It’s for you.” “Thanks, Mother.” A chair scraped across the tile as her cousin got up to answer the telephone. *** “It’s several blocks to Stanford University—more than I want to walk every day. So I’ve gotten us all bus passes,” Aunt Doreen confessed hurrying to the bus stop with everyone trailing after in single file. Dena figured they looked like a mother duck and her ducklings going to the pond. Aunt Doreen seemed to be still considering, still arranging a schedule in her mind when the group boarded the bus. “Emily, are you enrolled, or will you need to enroll on the twentieth when Stuart does?” “I’m enrolled. All freshmen enrolled last spring. Though I do need to confirm that I got into the classes I need. Maybe I can do that today when Dena enrolls.” Then Emily turned to Dena. “You are going to take drafting with me, aren’t you?” “I think so. But only if I can work it out with my job.” She caught her mother’s look of approval and knew she’d made a good choice. “Stanford.” The driver announced at the same time the bus lurched to a stop. Everyone stepped down; they followed Aunt Doreen towards several ivy-laden buildings. “Where’s your building, Aunt Doreen?” Dena asked a bit shriller than she meant to. Her stomach had started to hurt. She was definitely getting nervous. “It’s the large building at the end of the street. One of the nice things about it is we are on a cul-de-sac, which makes it quieter. Even though we have students in and out, the main bustle is elsewhere. Some of the engineering classes meet in that building.” Aunt Doreen pointed at a massive four story building on the right. Dena nodded, watching Emily and Susan whispering and giggling. She sighed. She envied them—no, at this minute she hated them. This sudden thought and the switch of her emotion surprised her causing a pang of guilt. Her stomach ached from it. Again, she sighed. It’s not their problem that I have a test to take. “Here we are. My office is on the second floor. We’ll take the stairs on the right.” Aunt Doreen directed. Dena noticed stairways curving up on each side of the main entrance. “Now I understand how you stay slim, Doreen.” Her mother laughed just as they reached the second floor. Aunt Doreen chuckled, leading the group to the third door on the right. College buildings didn’t look much different from high school...long corridors, walls covered with bulletin boards and posters. Dena caught sight of Aunt Doreen just as she went through the third door on the right. The room was elegantly decorated in a pale mauve, accented with cream and walnut; Mother stopped next to her, nodding her approval. A woman slightly older than Dena stood next to the desk. “Jane, this is Dena. She’ll be testing for the typing position.” Jane was a little taller than she with steel blue eyes and straight brown hair, pulled back and knotted at the neck. She knew it was shoulder length because a few stray strands hung loose around her face. The young women smiled at each other. “We’ll wait in the hallway while you’re taking the short test and having your interview,” Aunt Doreen said. Dena suddenly felt unsure. “Come with me … Dena is it?” Jane smiled, wanting to put her at ease. Following her into another office, Dena’s head bobbed back and forth, taking in everything she could. This must be Jane’s office. Her eyes widened and her cheeks became warm. Did I say that out loud? I hope not! “Doreen mentioned a typing certificate?” They stopped in front of a typing table that was set up for the test. “Yes.” She dug in her purse and pulled out the envelope, handing it to her. “Excellent. Now if you will have a seat, we’ll get started.” Dena sat down and looked at several sheets sitting on the letter stand. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. She hoped that Jane hadn’t heard her. “When you’re ready, we’ll start,” Jane’s soft tone sounded reassuring. She wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt. Jane glanced again at the small table to make sure everything was in proper order, and then she looked at Dena, “Ready?” God, guide me and help my stomach. Dena nodded, muttering silently. “You may start.” With a firm chin, Dena slipped the paper in the typewriter, winding it down the proper distance and quickly checking the margins before her fingers flew across the keys. It was a three-page letter with two columns of numbers on the second page. She sped through the letter. Typing the closing remarks, Dena sat back. Her shoulders dropped, and air wheezed out softly. No mistakes, at least, she hoped there were none. Thank you, God! “Mr. Graves wants to talk to you,” Jane said pleasantly. Dena jumped. She hadn’t heard Jane enter the room. She didn’t think she had ever been so out of control, so unsure of herself. It wasn’t that she couldn’t type the letter, just the fact that it was a timed test. Timed tests bothered her, period. And this, applying for a job, that would affect her whole future. At least her next stop was only two doors away. “Mr. Graves, this is Dena Caulter. She’s here for the typing position.” Jane smiled, handing him her typed test and certificates. “Dena, Mr. Graves.” “Miss Caulter. Have a seat.” He spoke in a pleasant manner, quickly studying her as she sat down. Then he reviewed her test and certificates. “Have you filled out an employment application?” “No.” “Then we’ll do it as I interview you. Jane …” Jane laid the application before him and then disappeared into the outer office. When Mr. Graves finished with the application, he examined her typed test. “I understand that you would like to take a couple of courses?” “Yes. If I can work it in and not endanger my job.” “No problem. Let’s get you enrolled; then we’ll set your work hours according to your class schedules. What classes are you considering?” “Drafting. Emily and I want to take the course together,” she said, not sure how much information Mr. Graves needed. “Yes, I knew Emily was leaning toward drafting, a good choice. Jane, take Miss Caulter down to registration and get her enrolled. Then we’ll set her hours.” “You mean I have the job?” Dena asked. She was surprised at how easy the interview had gone. Of course she had never had a job or an interview before. “Yes, you do.” Mr. Graves laughed. Dazed, Dena followed Jane into the hallway where her mother and Aunt Doreen were waiting. Emily and Susan were looking over the rail watching boys. Susan usually was never too far from their mother. “Doreen, Mr. Graves said to take Dena down and get her enrolled before we set her hours,” Jane spoke amiably to her coworker. “Mr. Graves said Dena’s hours could be set when you come to work on the seventeenth.” “I got the job!” Dena mouthed to her mother. Her eyes danced. She could see that Mother was pleased she would be working with Aunt Doreen. Dena knew it was a blessing from God. The small group followed Aunt Doreen to registration. She checked and double-checked the enrollment cards, making sure that Dena and Emily were in the same classes at the same time and with the same professor. Then she purchased two bus passes. “What about the tuition, Doreen?” Dena heard her mother whisper. A small frown creased her brow. “I’m not sure I brought enough money.” “Don’t worry about it, Judith,” Aunt Doreen assured her. “I’ll take care of it. Since Walter and I work for the university, our children attend tuition free. After—” “I don’t understand,” her mother broke in, half turning from the desk. “There will be no tuition?” “No tuition.” “Thank you.” Her mother stammered as she grabbed Aunt Doreen’s hands. Her face screwed up into a smile. Her eyes glittered Aunt Doreen handed her a handkerchief. Dena’s eyes widened as she glanced at Susan. Mother didn’t have a handkerchief. “With both Walter and I working for the university, the children are tuition free,” Aunt Doreen repeated. “Dena’s considered as one of ours since she’s related and her address is the same as mine. We’ll go back and get Dena’s work schedule set before we go home. I know Don said the day we come in, but I would like to know ahead of time. Wouldn’t you, Dena?” Dena nodded enthusiastically. “Thank you,” her mother murmured once again, her voice shaking. She continued stammering, “What with Brock’s tuition and Dena moving to California, well we knew things would be tight, but we would manage—” Aunt Doreen raised her hand, stopping Mother in mid-sentence, “No. Thank you, Judith, for allowing Walter and me to do something nice for you and Lawrence.” “Before we tour the campus, let's eat,” Aunt Doreen suggested, heading to the cafeteria where Emily worked. “Hey, Emily, when do you work next?” a girl asked as she walked by. “Not until the seventeenth. Had to get enrolled and all of that.” “See you then.” Emily nodded. “Hi, Emily, want to order?” asked another girl. Dena saw her mother’s frown. The girl was chewing gum. It was one of her mother’s cardinal rules: Ladies do not chew gum in public. After a light lunch, Aunt Doreen gave the group the VIP tour of Stanford University. While in the engineering department, Dena spotted one of the young men from the train—Clay she thought his name was. He was at the other end of the room, intently working with another young man. Dena debated whether she should say hello, but decided not to. She didn’t want to look forward. Dena glanced at a bulletin board next to the door as she left. A picture of a distinguished-looking man in aviation clothes stood in front of an airplane. Someone had scribbled H. Hughes in front of the H-1, 1938, on the bottom white border. A news clipping hung beside it: “Hughes broke another record.” “You will have your classes in the next building this semester,” Aunt Doreen said. She pointed to the building that housed English and literature along with freshmen drafting and engineering classes. “Let’s get your work schedule and then we’ll go home,” Aunt Doreen urged. “We can relax in the garden with refreshments.” Their bus pulled up just as they arrived. “Will there be room for us on the bus?” whispered Dena, glancing at the large group of people. Emily nodded, grinning. She grabbed Dena’s arm and guided her through the crowd. Mother, Susan, and Aunt Doreen followed closely. Two strange-looking men purposely bumped into Emily’s shoulder, shoving her into Dena. “Sorry,” the taller one sneered. Emily ignored them. “Emily?” Dena questioned. The icy look on Emily’s face stopped her from pursuing. Dena felt uneasy. She kept glancing at Emily. Emily shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, dismissing the incident. Dena gazed out the smudged window at the passing landscape. It’s hard to believe that I am in California, she beamed. Looking past Mother, she studied the other passengers. The bus had very few seats empty. Nevertheless, the bus ride was almost too short for Dena. Sighing, she just couldn’t see enough. Chapter Five Aunt Doreen stopped at the kitchen door and asked Polly to bring some mint tea to the garden before moving on to the garden. Aunt Doreen opened the freshman packet, which both Emily and Dena had received. Emily and Susan sat on a bench over by the large tree, quietly chatting. “Now we will review the bus routes so you won’t get lost,” Aunt Doreen said, running her finger down the schedule. “On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you will go in with me when I go in to work: bus ten. Your classes are from eight to noon, and then you will come into work in the afternoon.” Aunt Doreen paused, sipping her lemonade before she added, “I will work until five or five thirty most nights. Your two classes, Drafting I and Introduction to Drafting are two-hour long morning classes, three days a week. Tuesday and Thursday you have no classes so you will work from eight to noon with afternoons off, unless classes are otherwise scheduled, such as for tests, field trips, etc. If you go home early, you will ride bus four or sixteen.” Dena nodded, her eyes enlarged. Wow! I have so much to remember. I’ll never be able to learn all that. Maybe I should go back to Colorado. “We’ll practice.” Aunt Doreen smiled. She understood. “Tonight, perhaps you and your mother can go over your packet in more detail.” “I would like that,” her mother said, solemnly nodding. Dena watched her mother. She clasped the large folder next to her chest, holding it tightly. Dena asked, “Why are we riding the buses rather than driving?” “The governor has asked for California to be frugal while the country recoups from the post-war recession as well as the threat of another war.” She paused for a moment. “It has something to do with rubber plantations being seized and tires wearing out. If we don’t heed frugalness, then vouchers will be issued and gas rationed. We have chosen to ride the bus.” Emily nodded. “What do you mean another war?” Mother asked while Dena leaned forward listening closely. She wanted to know, even though, she didn’t like the idea of war. Everything she had ever heard or read about it was ugly. The telephone rang and Emily rushed into the house to answer. “Aunt Judith, it’s for you. It’s Uncle Lawrence.” Mother hurried into the house. Dena looked at Susan questioningly. Why would Dad call in the middle of the day unless …her thoughts trailed off as her mother returned? Her mother looked worried. “Mother?” Dena asked. Her forehead creased. “Susan and I must leave for home as soon as possible.” She glanced at the girls before she looked directly at her sister-in-law. “Lawrence has a crisis; he needs me there.” “My goodness; well, let’s see. We should call the railroad station and see how soon you can return.” “I’ll get our return tickets Doreen,” her mother said. “All ticket times are confirmed at the train depot in San Jose. I’ll call there.” Aunt Doreen said. She looked up the number, dialed, and waited for the ticket office to answer. “You girls go on into the dining room. I’m sure Polly is almost ready with our evening meal. Tell her we’ll come in as soon as possible. This won’t take long. Yes. Yes. I …” Aunt Doreen had dismissed them. Dena and Susan linked arms and trailed after Emily. Sitting in silence, each looked at the other not wanting to speak their dreaded thoughts out loud. “Ready, Miss Emily?” “In a minute, Polly,” she answered softly, waving the food aside. “Let’s wait for Mother.” The cook nodded and left. “It’s settled, Judith,” Aunt Doreen said, putting her arm around her sister-in-law and moving her toward the table. “You and Susan will leave on the fourteenth, day after tomorrow, at ten in the morning. We probably should finish shopping and sightseeing tomorrow. You could pack tomorrow night.” Although Aunt Doreen spoke mainly to her mother and Susan, Dena was glad she didn’t omit her and Emily. Dena nodded, looking at her mother. Mother slowly thought about the information. “Oh, Doreen”—Mother turned to her sister-in-law—”what about the appointment with the lawyer?” “Don’t worry, Judith. I canceled it,” she replied quietly. “You gave me such good advice; I don’t think I will need to see a lawyer. I want to talk to Walter tonight.” “Good, good,” Mother softly said. What shall I do? I really want to stay here in California, yet if something has happened at home, maybe I should go home. Dena opened her mouth but then closed it. “Mother, I don’t—” Dena started, but her mother raised her hand stopping her. “Dear, I’m not sure either. Your dad said there was a crisis that he really needed me to help him straighten out. It’s not like him to talk. We just need to pray.” She took a drink of water closing the subject. “I’m so proud of what you accomplished today,” Mother said, looking affectionately at her eldest daughter. She had moved them to a safer subject. Mother does that so well. I hope I’ll remember to be that elegant. Mother surprised everyone by proposing a toast to Dena’s success. Their glasses tinkled as everyone honored Dena. She beamed. “What did I just miss? A toast to Dena?” Stuart asked as he came in the room and sat next to his sister. “Sorry I’m late, Mother. My professor got intense with my documentary.” “Really? Really?” Emily butted in. And then before anyone else could speak, she asked. “Stuart? What did he say?” He grinned. Intentionally ignoring his sister, he turned his attention to Dena. “So how do you like Stanford so far? Did you get the grand tour? Did you get into the classes you wanted to take? Thank you, Polly.” He flashed a smile when she set his plate before him. Aunt Doreen passed a platter of roast beef, watching her son closely. “Stuart!” “Okay.” He raised his hand in resignation. “He likes the documentary of you. He wants me to enter it in a contest. He—” “What? What on earth are you talking about Stuart?” Aunt Doreen broke into the conversation. Dena stopped eating. This was news to her aunt. “What documentary? What contest?” “Sorry, Mother,” Stuart apologized. After that he chuckled mainly to himself. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure. But my professor is really impressed with it. My document is on Emily at her job. You know, a struggling freshman working her way through school while studying drafting and engineering. It makes her a pioneer in the field.” “I think that’s great. Really,” Dena spoke up happily, yet a bit annoyed that she wasn’t in the documentary. “Emily will be an educated movie star.” “Oh you, I can see we’re going to be friends.” Emily laughed. She held up her glass and saluted her cousin, “To Dena.” “To Dena.” Everyone chorused. Stuart winked at his cousin. Smiling, Dena raised her glass in mock salute hoping to look sophisticated. How exciting it would be to do a documentary; to be a star myself. The telephone rang. Stuart rose and answered it while Polly served the lemon ice cream. “Mother,” he called. “It’s Dad.” Aunt Doreen smiled but made no move to go to the telephone. In fact, she finished her ice cream first. It gave Stuart time to bring his dad up on all his news. Emily’s eyes followed her mother as she disappeared into the hallway. “Mother.” Susan leaned close and whispered. “Mother will we have time to go back to the department store for maybe one more outfit?” “We’ll see,” Mother said wearily. Mother was anxious about what was going on at home, she didn’t want to think about shopping. “Well, I hope you get an outfit in a color other than blue.” Dena said, her eyes glinting. “I beg your pardon,” Susan said, mimicking Mother both in word and tone. It was timely, causing everyone to laugh which broke the tension. Dena relaxed, enjoying the last bite of her ice cream. She loved teasing Susan. “Let’s go to your room and plan our next two days,” Mother spoke softly. Rising, she walked over and put an arm around each girl. “I want to have some time together—just us.” Once upstairs, they each settled in a different area on the bed. It’s just like a slumber party. She almost laughed at her wit except she didn’t really find it funny. Who would want her mother at their slumber party? “Now,” Mother broke into Dena’s thoughts, “I want each of us to think about this moment and about each other, and most of all, about how we—our personalities, our very lives—are so entwined, that no matter where we are, we will still be family.” Dena and Susan sniffled. “I’ll start with a favorite verse of mine, ‘My character, thoughts, conduct, and conversation—’” “Mother, that’s a paraphrase of Psalm 139:1–4,” Dena interrupted. She pursed her lips in a smug fashion, looking directly at her sister. It pleased her that she had recognized the verse before Susan. “Very good, Dena. I wanted to see if you remembered. You are going to be challenged every day. You are in a completely different lifestyle, and I want you to always bear in mind your upbringing,” Mother instructed. Dena nodded soberly. “I like Psalm 46:10: ‘Be still and know that I am God,’” Susan quoted quietly, her eyes on the ceiling. She turned, faced them and grinned openly. Mother chuckled and then laughed. The more they looked at each other, the harder they laughed. They laughed until tears streamed down their faces. “That was a good one, Susan.” Dena wiped her eyes. For once she didn’t care that Susan quipped out a great thought. “That was really good.” Mother nodded. Each sat silent for a few minutes. Dena knew the special moment had been lost. She sighed deeply, not caring who heard. “Mother.” Susan broke the silence. “What can we do for Dad? I’m really worried.” “I know. But what we can do now is pray. Pray for guidance and peace, and a safe trip home, and for a quick answer to the crisis.” “Can anyone come in, or is this a private party?” Aunt Doreen poked her head in. “Come in.” Mother looked at her sister-in-law with pleasure. “Walter is talking to Emily. He says to tell you hello and thanks, Judith.” She sat down at the end of the bed. Mother nodded slowly as her eyes met her sister-in-law’s. Aunt Doreen leaned back against the footboard with her elbows resting on top of the rail biting at her lip. A slight frown formed. “Doreen?” Mother asked. An unspoken question dangled. Dena shuddered from the tension. “He’s also concerned about the impending problem of war,” she continued, emphasizing each word. A scowl knitted her eyebrows together. “What?” Mother leaned forward, touching Aunt Doreen’s arm. She looked directly into her sister-in-law’s face. "What are you talking about? Oh I know there have been some problems in Japan and China, but that surely doesn’t concern us?” “He said President Roosevelt is asking Congress for a considerably large amount of money for the cause. That Britain’s bombing Japan and there’s even talk about activating a selective service act here in the United States.” A tear slipped down Aunt Doreen’s face. What is a selective service act? What does it have to do with war? Her fingers rubbed the palm of the other hand. She hadn’t ever heard of it. “Oh my, oh my.” Mother leaned back, momentarily silent. Then she asked, “Is it a problem with Walter being in Virginia?” “Quite frankly, Judith, I don’t really know. I’m concerned; no, I’m plain worried. Walter says they’re working on jet motors for small airplanes. I believe fighter planes. He wouldn’t say he was working on planes for war but …” “Oh my, oh my,” was all Mother could say. “What about Stuart?” “I don’t think Stuart will be swayed by the romance of war, but then …” Aunt Doreen smiled weakly, clasping and unclasping her hands. “There’s Bill in the Philippines.” Then she sat forward, inspecting her hands for another moment. “I do know Walter will come home for the holidays, and in the meantime, we’re going to work on our problem.” She nodded knowingly. Mother clasped her hands against her cheeks and grinned, forcing her mouth out into a comical expression. Dena ducked her chin to cover her own grin. “I think that news calls for another scoop of that delicious lemon ice cream. What do you say Doreen? Ice cream in the garden,” Mother said, making it a statement and not a question. “Yes …oh, yes.” Aunt Doreen jumped up, almost knocking Susan’s letters off the table. “We do need to celebrate. Dena getting settled in college and a job—” “Come on, girls, or we may not get ice cream,” Mother said urgently. She laughed, all the while pretending to shoo the girls on ahead of her. Susan looked at Dena, arching her eyebrows as she watched their mother disappear down the stairs. The spontaneity that Mother revealed was so out of character. “Don’t take the stairs by two’s, girls,” Mother called back to them. The girls had one arm across their stomach and the other hand over their mouth as they descended to the first floor in an exaggerated lady-like fashion and to the garden. Ice cream tasted great on this hot July night, a perfect ending to an unsettling day, Dena thought, licking the last soft drop from the spoon. And, tomorrow is a new day. *** On the morning Susan and Mother left, Dena stood at the station and watched the train pull away; tears kept her from seeing their faces. Miserable, Dena wiped furiously at her eyes. Only six days ago, she was the one on the train happily waving at her dad and Brock. Now she was the one left behind, waving. She wiped angrily at her nose with one of the embroidered handkerchiefs Mother gave her. Sniffling, she wiped her nose again. Aunt Doreen looped her arm through her niece’s and moved toward the car. “How about you and I go for ice cream?” “It’s ten thirty.” Her aunt always seemed to surprise her. “Allowances can be made. Then let’s go shopping, Monday we work and I feel like a new outfit. How about you?” “Sure.” Dena nodded, still sniffling. *** September 11, 1939, was the first day of her college life. Drafting classes started with a test. Dena was surprised—no, stunned. What did the professors want to know? I guess it won’t matter. I probably flunked the exams. Where’s Emily? Dena hurried into the crowded hallway. Emily stood a few feet away, waiting. “Emily,” she whispered. “What did you think of the exam, and why an exam now—the first day?” “Oh that.” Emily shrugged. “Stuart said it’s normal. The professors want to see which students really want to be in the class and which ones will likely drop out. Don’t worry. Let’s go for a sandwich before you to go to work.” Dena nodded and followed Emily to the cafeteria. Lunch wasn't her main concern, although she knew it was necessary. Her priority was getting her homework done. A general hum in the cafeteria caught her attention. Everyone was talking about the war in the Middle East and how Japan was bombing China. Dena recognized the young men she had met on the train standing a few tables over from Stuart. “Hey, Sis,” Stuart said, smiling. He smiled at Dena before he moved over so they could sit down. He acts just like Brock. He takes care of his sister. Dena bit at her lip to keep from crying. But, her eyes watered up. “You okay?” Stuart asked as he signaled a waitress to take their lunch orders. “Just something in my eye, I think,” she said firmly. He smiled as he causally put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Well, I’m ready to fight those slant-eyed foreigners,” someone boldly stated. Several young people along with the two young men from the train joined the group. They all knew Stuart. Jack and Clay—yes that was their names, she smiled relieved that she remembered. Clay smiled, but Jack only nodded. He had a girl with him. “Did you know that Britain and France declared war on Germany?” another young man asked. What did he mean? She hadn’t heard that. War wasn’t a priority she wanted to think about. “You know, Roosevelt says that the United States will stay neutral. I say what the …” Jack’s lips had formed the word; then he smiled, somewhat embarrassed, and uttered, “Oops. Sorry, ladies. But what does Roosevelt think that will do? War is war. If we need to fight, we’ll fight.” What was wrong with everyone? Why do they think war is so idealistic? She shuddered and glanced at Emily. Dena sat up straight as Stuart spoke. “Well put, Smith.” “You know Congress is talking about passing the Selective Service Act. So far, it’s just that—talk; Congress keeps vetoing it. If passed, it would mean everyone would have to serve for a mandatory two years.” Clay said. He smiled at her. Dena dropped her eyes, staring at her drink. War. The very word makes me sick. Why does it bother me so much? “I probably should be going,” Dena said, standing up and gathering her books. Her sandwich was partially eaten. “See you and Emily at home.” Stuart continued talking to the guys. He acted like he didn’t hear. And yet he finished her sandwich. She continued to think about everything that had been said as she walked to the bus stop. On the bus for home, several passengers argued about their political views on Roosevelt’s decisions. The very idea disturbed her. “Dena stop,” she scolded herself. “War’s real and people die.” “Miss Dena?” Polly called from the kitchen. “Yes.” Dena said, closing the door. “You have a telegram and a letter on the hallway table.” “Thank you.” She picked them up and hurried to her room. The telegram was from Mother. She frowned. What if it’s bad news? Susan’s letter will tell me more than the telegram. But what if Susan’s letter doesn’t tell me everything? What if…Dena let her thoughts trail off... Dropping her books on the bed, she ripped open the envelope and slowly pulled out the telegram. Uncertainty is frightening. Dena firmed up her lips, causing a frown. She wheezed—holding her breath for several moments. She opened the folded paper and read. *** PALO ALTO CA 1939 SEPT 10 P.M. 2:35= DENA CAULTER= 12 EAST ELM STREET= CRISIS OVER= STOP=EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT= STOP=BROCK BACK IN SCHOOL=STOP= MUCH RELIEF=STOP= MOTHER= *** Why was Brock quitting school? Dena quickly tore open the letter and ran her eyes down the page. *** September, 1939 Dear Dena, I’ll try to answer your questions you’ll have after you read Mother’s telegram, but first I want to tell you about school. (I’m writing this at school in study hall rather than doing my homework.) School is harder this year, at least harder than I remember, and I seem to have more homework. Grant asked me to go to the Harvest Ball next week. I’m wearing your blue semi-formal since it’s a formal dance. It fits me perfectly. Mother said it was okay. Have you gone to any college social events—you know, a dance or a ball? Now, back to answering the questions you probably have. Brock felt it was his patriotic duty to serve his country. Of course, Dad and Mother were dead set against the idea. They not only talked him out of it (Dad called it talking some sense into his head), but they went to see the navy recruiter. Brock isn’t talking to either of them right now. Dad mopes around. You know how close they are. Mother wants Brock to come home for Thanksgiving. He hasn’t said he will. It’s a real mess. Can you write to Brock? In case you don’t have his address, it’s: 24800 Rodeo Ct., Apt. 18, Fort Collins, CO. Love, Susan *** Dropping the letter on her lap, Dena sat for a long time. Her mind whirled. So that was the crisis. Brock wanted to sign up for the navy but Dad found out. War had reached their home. Now she understood her dad’s telephone call. Dad would react to his only son considering such a ridiculous action. After all, he was heir of the ranch and third-year agriculture major. She frowned noting. As far as I’m concerned, it was asinine to do such a thing. Brock must not have thought it through. He should have known how their parents would react. Why, even I can figure that out. I’m not sure how I can help Brock with this problem. After all, it’s between Dad and him, not me. I’d like to hear his side of the story. I’ll write him. After answering Susan’s letter, Dena wrote a letter to Brock. She sat cross-legged on her bed with her notebook opened and her drafting text in her hand. Homework was next. Yet she absently chewed on the end of her pencil. She just couldn’t think. Finally with a sigh, she picked up her books and went downstairs to the garden. Maybe I can finish my assignments out here. *** October. Dena stared at the calendar above her desk. It’s October already. She had been in school a month, and loved everything about it. She gazed out the small window in the typing room. Leaves blew across the pane. Some trees weren’t losing their leaves. Dena sighed and slid her unfinished typing into the box before leaving. She stepped into Aunt Doreen’s office. Her aunt looked up and smiled. “Are you leaving?” “Yes.” “I’ll see you at home. Have a nice afternoon.” Aunt Doreen turned back to the stack of papers on her desk. The talk at the Tuesday and Thursday afternoon coffee was mainly about war. But lately the crowd was also discussing the upcoming Fall Fling, a college dance. Several people were already at the table when she arrived. The girls were sitting at one end. “Hi.” Dena pulled out a chair and sat down next to Stuart. Marta and Mary were checking out something. “What are you doing?” “Hi, Dena.” Marta said. Mary nodded as Marta continued, “We’re just admiring my new silk stockings. They’re called nylons. Aren’t they great?” “Really!” Dena spoke in a low hushed tone. She laid her books in the chair by Stuart and stepped over to see Marta’s sheer, shiny legs. “Are they comfortable?” “How do you care for them?” asked Emily. The girls huddled, admiring the stockings. “Hand wash,” Marta answered. “May I feel?” Mary whispered. Marta nodded. Mary mouthed an ‘oh’. They felt silky. “What’s going on, girls?” inquired Stuart, while sliding his arm around Mary’s shoulder. Marta laughed. “They’re looking at my new silk stockings, girl stuff you silly man,” she teased. Stuart looked directly at her, his squinted eyes level with hers. His expression sobered. “May I feel?” “Stuart!” Mary exclaimed. He laughed heartedly, leaning over to peck her on the cheek. Embarrassed, Mary ducked her head. “Everyone’s looking at us!” “Let them,” he said, watching her face redden. He loved teasing Mary. Dena decided she was giving stockings for Christmas presents. And maybe she would buy a pair or two for herself, if they weren’t too expensive. It was nice having spending money. The down side, she had to learn budgeting and managing, something she had never needed to do at home. “Are you and Mary going to the Fall Fling?” Dena asked. Jack came over and stood next to Marta, catching Dena’s question. “Marta and I are going. Why don’t we make it a foursome so Dena and Emily can go?” “Mary?” Stuart asked. She nodded, eyes glowing. “Then it’s settled, Dena. I’ll pick you and Emily up after I pick up Mary.” “Pick up me for what?” Emily asked. “Tell you at home,” Dena called. Emily nodded since she was carrying drinks and chips to the next table. Dena gathered up her books when Stuart and Mary got up. They walked together to the bus stop. After getting home, Dena checked the large stack of mail lying on the small table, picking a letter from Susan and Brock. Aunt Doreen was talking on the telephone when she hurried up to her room. Dropping her books, she tore open Brock’s letter. *** October, 1939 Dear Sis, Sorry I haven’t written sooner. No excuses. Now I’ll answer all of your questions and ask some of my own. I’ve really been busy with my classes and labs. A person wouldn’t think of an agricultural student as having labs, but we do. I have actually been able to treat molds and other crop diseases this year. It’s enjoyable to see all of the book learning come to life. I’m glad to hear that you’re also enjoying college. Dena, I just didn’t consider you for college life. And drafting classes, why did you choose that? I’m impressed. Yes, I’ll go home for Thanksgiving. Dad and Mother are hurting, and it’s partly my fault. Even though I still feel strongly about joining the navy, I’ll respect their wishes, at least until I graduate or we go to war. Are you coming home for Thanksgiving? Susan tells me you and Emily are going to some of the college functions. Do you have a guy to go with? I date, but nobody steady. I want to finish my education before I take on that responsibility. Besides, my girl will have to be a ranch-oriented person and totally enamored with me. My sisters have me spoiled. I guess that makes me sound stuck on myself, which I don’t want to be, so scratch that last remark. We’re having cold weather here. Some snow flurries. You know, coat weather. Do you need coats in California? Write…your only brother, Brock *** A lump formed in her throat as Dena read her brother’s letter. To think he was in Colorado and she was here in California would have been unbelievable a year ago. It surprised her that she missed him. She wiped her eyes with her shirt sleeve before she put his letter back in the envelope and laid it aside. What’s this about us spoiling him? I’m not sure he has that right. She picked up Susan’s letter. Susan seemed happy with everything, especially with the holidays coming up. “Are you coming home?” She sat a long time staring, not really thinking. She had forgotten her homework. “Dena! Where are you?” There was a soft knock. “Dena?” “Come in.” She quickly wiped away her tears. As Emily stepped into the room, she slipped the letters into her notebook for later. She couldn’t believe it was five thirty already. “What was it you wanted to tell me?” Emily eased onto the end of the bed. “Stuart and Mary, and Jack and Marta are going to the dance together,” Dena explained. Taking a deep breath she continued, “Actually, I think we’re meeting Jack and Marta at the dance.” Emily nodded. “Stuart asked you and me to come along with them. Isn’t that wonderful?” “Our very first college dance. The first of many,” Emily whispered. Her eyes glittered. “Oh, Dena, isn’t this just the greatest? I didn’t know college could be such fun.” Dena nodded, and then solemnly asked her cousin, “What do you think we should wear? I didn’t bring any formals.” “I’ll ask Mother,” Emily said, jumping up. “Better yet, let’s ask her now. Come on.” They found her in the dining room just as she set an arrangement on the table. Dena thought the fall flowers in Aunt Doreen’s garden were by far the best. All the flowers in Colorado would be gone by now. “Mother, can we talk?” Aunt Doreen looked up. She was putting the finishing touches to the table. “Who’s coming to dinner?” “Is that the question?” Aunt Doreen laughed. Emily shook her head no. “We need to ask about the Fall Fling. We’ve been invited to go with Mary and Stuart.” “How nice.” Aunt Doreen sounded pleased. She sat down at the table and waited for the girls to do the same. Stuart burst in, late as usual. Aunt Doreen didn’t answer. Instead she asked about their classes, about Dena’s letters, and told them about her day. Everyone talked, sometimes at the same time. Now, it was time for dessert—chocolate cake. Emily asked again about the flowers. “Flowers and chocolate cake, Mother, what is the occasion?” Dena noticed that all of them were studying Aunt Doreen, who smiled mysteriously. She moved her arm in an arc. “Can’t it be that I love all of you?” “Aunt Doreen, does this have something to do with your telephone call this afternoon when I came home?” Dena asked, rather puzzled. “Yes, it does.” “What were you doing home in the middle of the afternoon Mother?” Emily asked. “You’re not ill, are you?” Before Aunt Doreen could answer Emily, Stuart blurted out, “Dad’s coming home!” He looked at his mother for confirmation. She laughed delightedly. Her face affirmed what her eyes gave away in their sparkle. Stuart raised his arm, fist closed, into the air and whooped. The girls giggled. Then everyone talked at once. Dena enjoyed the calamity. “When, Mother?” Emily asked seriously. Dena followed Emily’s lead. She looked at Aunt Doreen too. “I’m really not sure. Your dad didn’t know whether he’s flying or coming by train. It could be as early as next Saturday, or closer to Thanksgiving.” Aunt Doreen went on. “Now, let’s enjoy our delicious chocolate cake, and after that we can talk more in the garden. It’s a beautiful evening.” Stuart started to say something but thought better of it. He ate his cake while eyeing both the girl’s slices. “Dena, I believe you have a larger piece.” “Are we measuring now?” She looked defiantly at her cousin. Stuart just smiled, imitating a measure with his outstretched forefinger and thumb that formed an enlarged C. Greedily he reached for Emily’s partially eaten slice and finished it off. “Stuart, how can you eat so much and not gain a pound?” she asked. Stuart shrugged and smiled around a full mouth. “Dena, did I see you had mail from home?” Aunt Doreen asked, ignoring the ongoing fun. Dena nodded. “Susan said Mother and Dad say hello and Mother promises to write. I received a letter from Brock, too.” “That’s wonderful! I know how much you have wanted to hear from him,” Aunt Doreen replied. She rose from the table, signaling for them to follow her to the garden. “Is everything well with him?” “Yes. He really likes his classes in agriculture. He said he’s getting to experiment with mold.” Dena wasn’t ready to share too much. Conversation bounced back and forth covering several subjects. Dena mainly listened. She liked this time in the garden. She wondered what winter was like in California. “Mother, I’m so happy Dad’s coming home. I need to go and study.” Aunt Doreen tilted her cheek for Stuart’s kiss Almost as an afterthought; Stuart stopped at the door and asked, “How long is Dad going to stay?” “Until January he thought,” she answered. “It seems he needs to do some work here for Mr. Hughes.” “Great.” Stuart left the garden for his room. They heard a resounding yes echo from the hallway. Looking at each other, the girls giggled. Dena knew it was special—especially for all of the family. And she did appreciate it. But she missed home. Tears sprouted. She sat quietly willing them away. She thought she would be able to hide her feelings better. “I really need to study too. I’m not quite ready for midterms,” Emily stated, glancing at Dena before she bent over her mother giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. Aunt Doreen touched her daughter’s face tenderly. Emily stood waiting, causing Dena to wonder why. “Now what was it you girls needed to ask me?” Aunt Doreen asked. “Dena and I need advice about the upcoming dance.” “Oh?” Aunt Doreen spoke, frowning. “Yes, Aunt Doreen. As Emily said before dinner,” Dena spoke up, “we’ve been invited to go to the Fall Fling with Stuart and Mary… and…well, what should we wear? I didn’t bring anything for a dance.” “Is that all?” Aunt Doreen laughed, looking from one girl to the others. College functions aren’t much different from the high school dances. Each girl stood waiting for an answer. “Well, let’s see. It’s not a formal dance. That dance is in the spring semester—in February or March. But the fall dance does call for nice dresses and dress shoes.” “Mother, have you seen the new nylons?” Emily asked anxiously. Just the prospect of wearing nylons made her shiver with excitement. Aunt Doreen shook her head. “Jane was talking about them yesterday, but I wasn’t really listening.” “I…we were wondering if…well…maybe…if we each could have a pair for the dance?” Emily asked. “We’ll see.” Aunt Doreen considered the options for a moment. “The dance is next week, right?” “Two weeks. Midterms are this week and next. The dance officially ends the midterms.” Both girls spoke in unison and then laughed. They frequently thought alike. Dena wondered if it was because they were cousins. “Mmm. How about we go shopping this…she checked her calendar… Friday afternoon? Emily, are you scheduled to work?” Aunt Doreen frowned while she rubbed one hand over the other as if massaging her fingers. “I’m off,” Emily said, nodding. “So it’s set.” Aunt Doreen relaxed, sinking slightly into the plush chair cushion. “Friday after you both get out of class, just come by my office, and we’ll go from there.” “Okay!” Dena was excited about shopping for a new dress. She still had homework. Plus, she really wanted to answer Brock’s letter. So she got up to leave, but first stopped next to Aunt Doreen and said, “I’m really glad that Uncle Walter is coming home for a while.” “So am I. You know I’ve much to do before he arrives.” Aunt Doreen reached up and hugged her. “I need to make a list for me and Polly.” “Don’t forget to put us on that list, Mother.” Emily giggled. Rising, Aunt Doreen shooed her daughter into the house. Dena followed with her hand over her mouth, stifling a giggle. Chapter Six Friday, around eleven in the morning, Dena sat at her window, enjoying the beautiful fall day. It felt like Colorado. The fall mornings—Indian summer as it was called at home— were crisp yet sunny. The sun always won out over the brisk mornings, warming the day up nicely. But she knew from the mornings winter was coming soon. She was glad that midterms were over. Her grades had been posted that morning and she was pleased. Now she was happy just sitting here, enjoying the autumn sun and doing homework for the following week. She looked down at her notebook. The blank sheet said it all. She had two papers due at the end of next week as well as tests on Wednesday. Many called it procrastination. But Mother would have called it laziness. What with her job and college, she stayed active and at times fell into bed really tired from her fast-paced schedule. She smiled when she thought of her shopping trip last week her dress was just— “Dena?” Aunt Doreen called from downstairs. “Are you ready to go downtown?” “Be right down,” Dena answered. Walking to the stairs she frowned wondering why she hadn’t heard from Brock since October. She ached for him to tease her about as much as she wanted to hear her dad call her girl. Surely she would see him at Christmas. I never dreamed I would miss him as I do. He was always such a tease while we were growing up. Dena hurried down the stairs. Aunt Doreen was standing at the entrance discussing the menu with Polly. “I thought we could look for a wrap or maybe some jewelry for you and Emily to wear to the dance tomorrow night. Emily is going to meet us at the store.” Dena nodded. Shopping is just what I need. Later that afternoon, Dena stood before the mirror in her room holding her new dress in front of her. It’s beautiful. Aunt Doreen knows how to shop. Her face glowed with happiness. Along with the dresses, Aunt Doreen had purchased also for each girl black patent shoes and matching clutch purses with rhinestones lining the edge of the latch and two pair of nylon stockings! She also got a small black wrap. It had rhinestones scattered along the edges of the one-inch black patent strip border, which complimented the hem. Aunt Doreen had got them some jewelry too. A single strand of pearls and pearl earrings accented with rhinestones. Each earring was about three inches in length. Dena grinned. The pearls did compliment her dress perfectly and they looked stunning. She modeled one of the earrings. Dena had never seen earrings as nice as these. Laying down the earring, she returned to her studies. Propping her back against the foot of the bed, she sighed. I can’t wait to get dressed. She hugged herself. Her eyes widened. My last dance was my high school prom two years ago. Oh gosh, I’m getting old! Two years! She couldn’t keep her mind on her homework. Then she reached for her only letter from Brock. I’ll write Brock—” “Hey, everyone, Dad’s home!” shouted Stuart from below. Dena hurried to look out her bedroom window, pencil still clutched tightly in her hand. Papers and books scattered across the bed. Evidently Uncle Walter was able to fly home. She watched as he got out of the taxi. Tall and slender, he definitely looked like an older version of Stuart. Stuart and Emily rushed out to help with his bags. Dena’s lower lip trembled. I’m glad Uncle Walter’s home but it makes me miss my mother and dad even more. Sometimes she wondered why she chose California instead of going to Fort Collins, where Brock was. God knew. Slowly she turned away from the window. God—she hadn’t talked to Him for several days. With her mouth turned down, Dena dismissed the thought. Firming up her lower lip she picked up her books and papers. She had some more writing to do before dinner. She looked around for her pencil then realized she still had it in her hand. Brain dead—that’s what I am. Dena nodded at the admission, sighed, and settled down on the bed to work on her thesis. All the notes were ready. She just needed to write. A tear slipped down her cheek and splattered on the blank sheet. She missed her parents, Colorado, Brock, Susan, and yes, even Grant. She wiped her eyes just as a knock sounded at her door. “Dena? It’s Emily. Mother said to remind you that dinner is ready.” “Thanks. I’m coming.” She waited until she heard the steps move away before she heaved another large sigh, got up, and looked in the mirror. No red, puffy eyes. She crossed the hall and rinsed her face and smoothed her hair. Uncle Walter must see me at my best. Dena descended the stairs to the dining room. Laughter floated out to her as she reached the door. Smiling, she walked in. Uncle Walter looked up. “Dena.” He stood up and opened his arms to her. Dena walked over for a hug. “I’m so glad you're here. Stuart and Emily were just telling me that I came home just in time to see you all get dressed up in your new dresses for a dance tomorrow night.” She nodded. Her eyes sparkled. Moving around the table, she sat down next to him. Emily sat on the other side of her dad, and Stuart sat between Dena and his mother. “And tell me,” he continued. “How do you like university life? And drafting?” Dena opened her mouth to speak, but Uncle Walter went on asking. “What made you choose drafting?” Emily and Stuart glanced at their plates, snickering. Uncle Walter looked sternly at his children causing them to laugh harder. Finally, he asked, “What?” “Dear, give Dena a chance to answer.” Aunt Doreen placed her napkin on the table beside her plate. Dena grinned at Uncle Walter. “Oh. Am I talking too much?” He wiped at his mouth. Everyone nodded. His face glowed. “I apologize, Dena. I’m so doggoned happy to be home.” “It’s okay Uncle Walter.” She smiled shyly and gave him a small synopsis of the last few months and how everything had come about. Although Uncle Walter already knew, he listened closely. He wanted his niece to be happy and contented while she was here. He knew it couldn’t be easy for her with the coming holidays. Dena noticed he took a second helping of everything and stayed just as thin as Stuart. Silence dominated. Each person concentrated on eating. Aunt Doreen announced that apple pie and ice cream would be served in the garden on the new patio table. It was such a rare beautiful night. Apple pie with ice cream. Dena ran her tongue over her lips. I love apple pie. And Polly’s apple pie rates right up next to Mother’s. Aunt Doreen passed Dena’s dessert to her, but before she could take a bite, Stuart snatched it. “I believe that’s my dessert. It’s too much for you.” “I don’t think so.” Dena put it back in front of her. In the meantime, Aunt Doreen had passed Dena another dessert. “Look. Now you have two. Yes sir, this one’s the biggest. I’ll take it.” Stuart did the measure sign on each dessert. He immediately plowed into the scoop of ice cream. Everyone watched to see what would happen next for each knew it wasn’t over. “I beg your pardon, but I believe this is mine,” Dena said, grabbing the pie. “You’re nitpicking, Dena.” Stuart picked up her dessert and held it out of her reach. “I’m not,” Dena came back, her lower lip protruding. Everyone laughed. “Okay, okay,” Uncle Walter intervened. “Mother, will you give Dena another dip of ice cream.” “Now, Dad, wait just a minute. Why can’t I have another scoop?” Stuart complained, snatching a spoonful of Dena’s second scoop. Polly brought out more ice cream and Aunt Doreen served everyone another scoop. Stuart cleaned his plate. He eyed Dena’s remaining bits of dessert. She sheltered it with her free hand. Uncle Walter sat back in his chair, watching with amusement. “Gee, I’m just too full.” Emily sighed, putting down her fork. “I’ll take it.” Stuart reached over and plucked up his sister’s unfinished dessert. “Now, Dad, that we’ve all answered your questions, will you answer some of mine?” Uncle Walter leaned forward, “What questions, son?” “Well, I know that most of what you do is probably classified. And I hear some of my engineering friends talking shop. But could you tell us more?” “Just why is what I do so interesting?” He asked as he folded his hands under his chin and rested his elbows on the table. His eyes never left his son’s face. “I’d like permission to do my fall film document on the wind tunnel project; But only if it’s okay, and if you’ll oversee and edit my work.” Uncle Walter sat back and studied his son. His smile seemed relaxed. And yet, his eyes were guarded. He knew the documentary, if done correctly, could be shown at theaters across the United States as a political segment or even incorporated into another segment to inform the nation. Uncle Walter leaned forward, placing his forearms on the table. He sat quietly thinking for a moment. Then he said, “Carl, one of the young engineers stumbled onto a discrepancy in the tandem propeller formula back in 1937. You may even know him.” Stuart and Dena nodded. She remembered him from coffee. He came with Clay. “Well, anyway, he sent a letter voicing his concerns and findings. That’s why I’m at Langley Field in Virginia. Well, the formula has been studied and corrected. Now we can move forward.” Stuart nodded again, eating the last bite of his dessert. Polly brought iced tea to the garden. Dena was glad for the diversion. The garden is so peaceful tonight. The rock wall around it stops the street noise. Fall reminds me of Colorado. Stuart and Uncle Walter talked. Of course Aunt Doreen listened closely. Emily sat idly on the other side of her dad, her arm wrapped around his and her head resting on his shoulder. This left Dena in her own thoughts. She liked being part of the family yet not feeling the need to participate in the conversation. She only listened. “The wind tunnels are for testing the propellers for maximum speed.” Uncle Walter stared at the roses for a moment before continuing. “Because Stanford University is working with Hughes Aeronautics on this project, Langley Field is where we’ll be testing. It has all the needed equipment. Since NACA is also part of the project, I came home to compile the information for the committee to review and prepare to be published.” Dena watched as the last rays of sunlight bathed the roses. Their spicy smell permeated the air. She smiled and took a sip of her tea and made a face. Everyone else drank their tea with a sugar. She liked the bitter taste of tea and coffee. She set the glass aside and listened. “By the way, dear what are our plans for Thanksgiving?” Uncle Walter asked, terminating the conversation about his work. He held up his hand as a signal that he wasn’t done. “I know it’s a month away, but if it’s okay, I’d like to invite two or three of the young men I’ve been working with.” Aunt Doreen nodded. She would start making plans for a larger Thanksgiving dinner and a house full of laughter. Dena caught bits and pieces of the talk as Uncle Walter continued explaining his job and asking questions. Even though he talked frequently with his children, there were things he didn’t know. She would talk to Uncle Walter tomorrow. Tonight was for Emily, Stuart, and Aunt Doreen to catch up. Scooting down into the chair, Dena watched the sparse leaves cling to the branches and sway in the breeze. I really like this time of the evening. Fall is my favorite season. She smiled looking at the multicolored roses. “Dena.” Uncle Walter said. She looked up. “You never did tell me why you chose drafting.” “Emily asked me to take the courses with her,” she answered bluntly. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard an answer quite like that.” He laughed a deep vibrant laugh. You would have thought I’d told the funniest joke possible. Looking at him, she giggled. His laugh was infectious. She hadn’t thought of her answer being relevant, and it did sound somewhat absurd. Emily yawned, walked over, and kissed her mother and dad. Stuart raised his hands to his face in mock protection. Emily ignored him. Dena stood up and excused herself as well. “I’m glad you’re home, Uncle Walter,” she said as she hugged Aunt Doreen. “Dad, I still need an answer,” Stuart spoke assertively. Uncle Walter said he would like to see Stuart’s outline for the film documentation before the dance tomorrow. He would need time to think about it. *** Saturday, October, 1939 Fall Fling It took Dena most of the day to get ready. She felt especially lovely standing just inside the dance hall with Stuart, Mary, and Emily. Gently, she touched the long, dangling earrings. Stuart ushered everyone to a table located near the dance area before going for snacks and drinks. “Look, Emily. Aren’t the decorations just spectacular?” Dena whispered as they sat and watched the crowd. Stuart set a large plate of snacks in front of them before he and Mary left to dance. “And what’s this?” She pointed to a small sandwich. “It’s a cold cucumber sandwich. It’s supposed to be really good.” Emily answered. Cautiously Dena took a crust less cube and bit into it. The band was playing a lively tune. She listened. The band was really good. She sat next to Emily, simply glowing; her foot tapped in perfect beat to the music. “Look at Stuart.” Emily pointed, munching on a small sandwich. “Doesn’t he dance well?” Dena watched Stuart twirl Mary and dip her at just the right times. Stuart stopped to talk to another couple. As Dena watched, a group formed around him and moved collectively—like a school of minnows in a stream—across the room to their table area so they all could sit together. It looks like our neighbor’s table. They had such a big family they used a farmer’s table, probably four feet by ten feet, in the center of their large kitchen. I always remember that when I visited the table was always full. “Hey, it’s Dena, right? Jack. I’m glad to see you.” He spread out his hands on the edge of the table and leaned his face in. His breath smelled of liquor. She stiffened, moving back. “Yes, it is. It’s good to see you tonight.” She smiled warily, turning towards Emily, arching an eyebrow in a questioning look. Emily shrugged, whispering behind her hand, “Jack’s not only being asinine, he’s just plain st—” “And Emily, Stuart’s little sister,” Jack said, cutting her off. “Of course, I recognize you from the documentary.” Marta gently laid her hand on his extended arm. He turned and looked at her adoringly. “This is my best girl, Marta. Marta, Dena.” Jack looked at length at Dena then turned to Marta. “She’s Stuart’s cousin. And this is Stuart’s sister.” Embarrassed Marta smiled at each girl before she whispered something to Jack. He grinned broadly and excused himself with, “Well, we must dance to this beautiful music.” “I think he was a little bombed.” Emily smiled knowingly at Dena. “He forgot that we already know each other.” They giggled. The waiter brought each another cola. “I’m going to be all cola-d out. I think this is my third.” “Just don’t drink so fast. Was that Jack? He sure can’t hold his liquor,” a gentle voice spoke. Turning, the girls saw Mary sitting down next to them. She had a cola in one hand and a small plate of raw vegetables in the other. “Dena, I must tell you again, your dress is gorgeous. Plum looks great on you. And o-o-oh, you do have stockings on!” Dena nodded excitedly. “And, Emily, your dress—I love the forest green. It’s so fall-ish, and it brings out your green eyes. Do you—o-o-oh, you have on stockings too.” They all laughed. Dena wondered where Mary found the word fall-ish. As a writer, she used many unusual words. Maybe Dena should look up the word in the dictionary. She watched Mary as she rubbed her hand across her own stocking-d knee, feeling its silkiness. Although she continued talking to them, her eyes kept going back to Stuart who was talking to some of the engineers in their group. “Emily, has Stuart said any more about the documentary he needs to complete before the end of the semester?” Emily shook her head. “Is it something that needs done directly?” asked Dena. “His deadline for submission is the twelfth.” Mary smiled at them; then her eyes riveted back to Stuart. He was crossing the floor with a huge smile. She smiled back. Several young men walked with him. “Hey.” He sat down beside Mary, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She snuggled ever so subtly against him. “Gosh, how can a man be so lucky to escort the three most beautiful girls to the dance?” Stuart may have said it to all of us, but he has eyes only for Mary. Two young men sat down across the table from Dena and Emily while the others sat at the ends. “More cola miss?” asked the attentive waiter. “No,” Dena answered, “but could I have coffee?” “Of course, miss.” “Good idea, Dena. Make it coffee for all of us,” Stuart said loudly. His hand encompassed all, including the young men. Everyone nodded as the waiter left. She looked up. Clay stood in front of her bowing rather elaborately as he asked her for the next dance. “How are you? Remember we met on the train?” Dena leaned back in his arms and looked him in the eyes. She remembered him vividly. “I was with Jack. I’ve wanted to talk with you but”…his voice trailed off. Sometimes he felt self-conscious. “Yes. I know. You’re studying to be an engineer. I see you in the mornings going to class and sometimes at coffee,” she said, nodding. Clay looked uncomfortable. He said nothing pulling her closer. Dena relaxed allowing him to lead. The music was slow, a waltz she believed, yet she didn’t know the name of it. He quietly gazed at her until she could feel the heat moving up her neck. He twirled her slowly around the floor. “I want to apologize for my absence at the coffees. My work—uh classes have kept me busy,” he said. Dena searched his face, not understanding. “It’s all right,” she replied sweetly, covering up her confusion. “I’ve also been busy with my job and classes.” “You’re in college here? Stuart didn’t tell me. What are you studying?” he asked politely. A slight smile crept from his eyes to his mouth. “Drafting.” Dena realized that Clay was making small talk to learn more about her. Again she reddened slightly. “Really!” He leaned back to better see her face. The music stopped. Neither Dena nor Clay moved. He kept his arm around her waist. “Drafting.” She nodded, her large green eyes gazing steadily into his blue eyes. Why do men think drafting or engineering, is only for males? Almost immediately another tune in a faster tempo began. He swung her around with the beat of the music. Then he dipped her as the music ended. Dena gasped. She had never been dipped. The music started up—another slow dance. He held out his arms. “May I have one more dance?” She walked back into the circle of his arms and moved to the music. He leaned forward in silence and pulled her closer, tightening his arm on her back. Dena laid her head on his shoulder. They danced until the last note faded away. Then they slowly headed back to the table. He’s a good dancer. We dance well together. She glanced sideways at him. She liked his neat hair, his smile, the way his eyes squint when he laughed. She liked everything about him. This revelation came as a surprise. It made her feel nervous. Back at the now vacant table, he pulled out her chair before sitting across from her. He leaned forward, clasped his hands around his cup of coffee as he softly asked. “Why drafting?” He was truly interested. “I find it stimulating, challenging. I like numbers and formulas. I also like drawing and designing,” she explained quietly. By the excited expression on his face, she knew he understood. Dena wanted to know more about Clay. She was no longer aware of anyone else. “Whew.” Clay softly whistled. He admired her gutsy attitude. She knew what she wanted, and she was going after it. He leaned back in his chair, his voice held a serious note. “What do you plan to do with it?” “Work in a drafting department, of course.” Dena hedged. She really hadn’t thought that far ahead. Clay said admiringly. She felt warmth when his laughter enveloped her. It was a feeling that was rather foreign to Dena, yet she liked it. “What’s so funny?” asked Stuart as he, Mary, Emily, and Floyd came off the dance floor. She and Clay were no longer alone. “Dena just said something funny.” He looked at her, his eyes saying how much he appreciated their conversation. “Well I hate to break up a good time, but it’s getting close to midnight and we must get going,” Stuart said as he wrapped Mary’s cape around her shoulders. “Oh.” Clay rose, not taking his eyes off Dena. “I hope I see you again soon.” Dena knew it was heartfelt. She glanced at him and then looked fully into his handsome face and smiled. She said nothing. “You will, Clay. I need to meet with you, and you too, Floyd, as well as Carl, next Wednesday. It has to do with my next film documentation.” Stuart spoke quietly, but his voice was firm. “Sure. Where?” “How about meeting in the cafeteria about two? Will you tell Carl?” Clay nodded, slowly. It was followed by a perplexed look. The cafeteria wasn’t really private or quiet. Stuart must have his reasons. Dena picked up her light wrap and clutch purse and followed the small group into the cool night, looking over her shoulder to see Clay and Floyd walk over to a group of guys. Clay stood to the side watching her leave. A couple of guys eyed him curiously. She would like to believe he was thinking about her. *** On the short walk to the bus stop, Stuart said his coupe wouldn’t hold the four of them. Plus because of the pending war, he thought it would be better if they rode the bus. Dena grimaced at Stuart’s mere mention of war. It had been a perfect evening until he mentioned war. She found nothing funny or romantic about it. All four sat huddled next to each other. Dena stared out the window. Her head was full of thoughts of dancing with Clay. She smiled. Looking at the full moon, she wondered, what do Californians call it at this time of year? At home, it was called a harvest moon—a Colorado harvest moon. She sighed. “This is our stop, ladies,” Stuart spoke quietly. He made sure they stayed close together. Even with a full moon, shadows lurked. As they stepped off the bus, Dena had uneasy feeling she often got, the one where the hair actually stood up on her neck. She shuddered. Looking around, she couldn’t see any reason for her discomfort. “I’ll wait until you two get in the house before I take Mary home,” Stuart said as they neared the house. “Thanks.” Dena felt relieved. She knew Mary lived three houses down. Stuart and Mary had been sweethearts since high school just like Susan and Grant. Hand on the gate, she glanced around once more. She was leery of being out so late. At home, she liked walking at night. She liked hearing the crickets, owls, and seeing small animals scurrying. Suddenly two men leaped out of the shadows. “Hey, Stuie, how come you get to take three beautiful girls to the dance, and we have to go alone? I think you should share at least one with us. How about the pretty brunette?” the taller one slurred. He stood a few feet in front of Stuart with his hands planted on his thin hips and feet set apart. The shorter one laughed. Dena saw a bottle in his hand. Stuart squared his shoulders. He was careful not to show he was afraid. “Yeah. How about it, Stuie? Share this one.” The shorter man groped for Emily with his free hand. She stepped back quickly, sliding her hand behind her back. “Inside,” Stuart hissed at the girls, pushing all three girls into the yard. He yanked the gate shut hard. The clank of the metal echoed. Fighting was not his way, but if he had to he would. “You know this isn’t necessary. We can settle this in an adult manner. Besides, the dance is over.” “Sure. Put ’em up, Stuie boy.” The shorter man lunged forward and took a swing at Stuart. His bottle flew through the air, landing on the curb. The sound of shattered glass caused Dena to shudder and scoot closer to Mary and Emily. The scene was almost unreal— as if she were rooted in a bad movie. She wanted to scream, but no sound came out. The word pray popped into her mind. Dena tried. Words didn’t come. Stuart sidestepped the short man, shoving him to the ground. The short man looked astonished. The taller man laughed at his partner. Dena shuddered at his ugly laugh. Just at that moment, the porch light came on and the door opened. Dena jumped, bumping into Emily and Mary. “Stuart,” boomed a gruff male voice. “Are you okay? I’ve called the police.” A large shadow appeared. “Come on!” the taller man hissed grabbing his buddy’s arm dragging him to his feet. Their heavy footsteps could be heard echoing down the empty street. Mary ran to Stuart. They both stood for a few seconds in the glare of the street light just to be sure the two assailants were gone. “Come on, Mary,” Stuart urged. “Let’s get you home before there’s any more trouble.” She smiled up at him and took his elbow. They walked into the shadows. Only their steps sounded on the pavement. Uncle Walter stepped aside to let Dena and Emily into the house, while he waited for Stuart to return. “Daddy, are the police coming?” “No, I just said that to scare those boys away,” Uncle Walter smiled at his daughter. “You girls go to the parlor. When Stuart returns, we need to talk.” “Come in here and sit down, son.” Uncle Walter ordered as soon as Stuart returned. Stuart sat next to Emily and looked up at his dad. “Do you know those boys?” Uncle Walter studied each face. Dena shook her head no. “No, Dad, I don’t think I do,” Stuart admitted, rubbing his hands together. “I do. I don’t know their names, just their faces,” Emily said in a barely audible voice. Her face paled. “Well?” “They come in the cafeteria every day and tease all of us. No one likes them. The short guy had asked me to the dance, and I turned him down,” she said, looking at her dad. “He got really mad. I guess he doesn’t take rejection well.” “Evidently not.” Uncle Walter’s lips tightened into a thin line. He looked at Emily. “I don’t want you working at the cafeteria anymore. You need to turn in your notice Monday. And I don’t want you or Dena to walk alone.” Emily’s eyes widened and tears welled up. “But Dad, what will I do?” “I’m not implying, Emily, that you have done anything wrong. I’m doing this for your safety.” Then he turned to his wife. “I know that Emily is to start to work at the typing pool after the first of the year, but Doreen, I think we need to see if she can start now, say filing and general office work.” Aunt Doreen nodded slowly. Dena hadn’t notice that she had come into the room. “Well, let’s all go to bed. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” Uncle Walter stood, signaling for everyone else to do the same. Dena walked slowly up the stairs. She wasn’t sure anything was settled. What happened tonight really frightened her. Chapter Seven With November came rain. In fact, it had rained almost nonstop for two weeks. Dena stood in the cafeteria doorway, waiting for Emily. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t brought more winter clothes. It never occurred to her that sunny California would have winter weather. She had stayed cold constantly until Aunt Doreen took her shopping for sweaters, woolen dresses, jumpers, and skirts. And also a medium-weight woolen jacket shoes and boots. She certainly didn’t want to catch cold and be home sick. “I have to go to the library,” Emily said, as she came up beside her. “Do you want to come?” “No, I think I’ll go home. It looks like rain,” Dena shook her head, rubbing her coat for warmth. Emily nodded. The unsavory men who had threatened them the night of the dance hadn’t been seen around. Dena felt better about walking to the bus stop. Looking at the angry afternoon sky, she saw dark clouds hanging low. Rain would come soon. She had forgotten her umbrella. Her mood matched the dreary weather. Light rain splattered on her when she left the cafeteria and headed for the bus stop. The bus bumped and swerved down the road. Dena stared out the window. I wonder what Stuart’s doing his documentary on this semester. He’s been so secretive. Several rain drops splattered against the smudged bus window. To Mary’s dismay, Stuart had scheduled his only shooting of his documentary that weekend, just two weeks before Thanksgiving. “I wished Stuart wouldn’t wait so long. It’s too close to the deadline. What if there’s a re-shoot?” Mary grumbled to Dena one afternoon at coffee. It’s like flying on a Pan American airplane to Europe. You might not get a ticket if you wait too long. I wonder why I thought of that analogy. It’s probably something one of the engineers said. Holding her warm skirt between her thumb and finger, she smiled; at least I’ll have something warm to wear for the filming. Rain splattered on her head as she ran from the bus to the house. She shuddered slightly. The gate clanged loudly as she hurried to the porch. Polly stood in the entry with a large warm towel. “I heard the gate latch. Let me take that wet coat.” “Thank you.” Dena smiled as she blotted her face and wrapped the towel around her dripping hair. Setting her books on the table, she slipped out of her soaking boots. Among the mail were two letters for her. She stuck them on top of her drafting text and headed for the stairs. Polly appeared again, holding a steaming cup. “Thought you would like some hot chocolate Miss Dena.” “Oh Polly, how thoughtful of you—thank you,” Dena babbled, shifting her books from one arm to the other. She took the cup and went up to her room. Carefully setting the hot cup on the night stand, she dropped her books on the bed. She wanted to get out of her wet clothes before she chilled more. Her flannel robe felt good as she hung the dripping clothes over the only chair in her room. After again rubbing her hair, she sat on the bed, huddled in her warm robe. Picking up the steaming cup, Dena cradled it, warming her hands. A satisfied look crossed her face as she sipped the hot liquid. Mmm. I love hot chocolate. It tastes so good, especially on cold rainy days Dena thought. She stroked the outside of the warm cup. It felt so warm on her hands. She smiled contentedly, taking another sip. It warmed her stomach. Mmm. Dena sighed, picking up Brock’s letter. She loved reading his first. They shared the same thoughts. Susan was still in high school. It’s old hat. Everything Susan does, I’ve already experienced. Brock’s letters are more interesting. Susan’s letters were filled with school, Grant, and at times thoughts about what was happening on the farm. Even though Dena loved hearing from her, she appreciated Brocks’ letters more. Maybe another reason is Brock’s older and always writes about college life. *** November, 1939 Dear Sis, I’m writing this letter from my new job. And before you say it, yes, even third-year agricultural students need jobs if they want to eat. I started working at the local veterinarian clinic helping the doctors with their work. Tonight’s fairly quiet. I had a couple of dogs come in that had been in a fight. And I got to help with a cat that had a hairball. I had no idea what a hairball was or what it looked like. Well now I do. I’m pulling some double-shifts. I do enjoy it. I’m meeting some intelligent girls too … *** Girls? Dena frowned at the implication Brock put in that short sentence. *** … and besides, I want the extra time off at Thanksgiving. Sorry we won’t get to see each other at Thanksgiving, but Christmas isn’t long. I figure you might want to shop for my present in California, so maybe I should give you some hints. I could use a good dose of warm weather or maybe a jar of beach sand; or how about a California sweater, but not one of those Stanford things. Midterms: Well, I managed to pass with a fairly good grade average. Of course, I have several more courses than you, plus a thesis on different grain types, and you—just those two pud classes. Wow! You had better get an A in both. Don’t tell me that drafting is hard. My roommate’s an engineer. He says it’s a breeze. Now don’t get me started. You know how it is, once a brother, always a brother. I’ll expect badgering when I see you at Christmas. Actually I’m looking forward to it. See you then. Love, Brock *** Dena gently folded the pages and slid it back into the envelope. Brock was going to be home for Christmas. Good. Her eyes danced. I can’t wait to hear him say ‘you’re badgering’. Suddenly she realized how much she had missed his teasing. Even though he teased her, it was allowed; he was her brother. They were family. She closed her eyes tightly and thanked God for such a terrific brother. She picked up Susan’s letter and read that she was excited about her coming home too. If Dena couldn’t come for Thanksgiving, then she should definitely come for Christmas. Susan said Mother and Dad also were counting the days. Dena sighed. She needed to find out where she had to go to purchase a ticket and how much they cost. She would ask Uncle Walter after Thanksgiving. *** Thanksgiving. She had the whole week off from work and class. All she wanted to do was sleep or rest. She and Emily had talked of going to the beach on Saturday if it didn’t rain or if the wind wasn’t too cool. Stuart and Mary had invited them to the theater, but Emily had made other plans. Dena didn’t know anything about the movie, so she also declined. She really enjoyed the time alone in her room reading something other than textbooks. That’s just what she did on Monday. “Aunt Doreen,” Dena asked on Tuesday, “is there anything I can do to help?” The doorbell rang. Uncle Walter quickly answered it. “Well, let me see…You could check the napkins and make sure all are clean and pressed.” Aunt Doreen smiled as she laid out the good silverware for polishing. “Do you want to go to the movies? Stuart and Mary are going to another one today.” “No.” Dena was sure that Mary and Stuart were just being kind and were relieved she didn’t go. “How many guests are coming?” “Well, let me see.” Aunt Doreen straightened up, placed her palms on her back, and stretched. She was silent for a moment. “I believe six, but then Uncle Walter may have invited several more. He has such a soft heart. No one is alone on holidays if he can help it. Stuart has that same quality.” Dena pulled out the napkins, sat down at the kitchen table. Aunt Doreen sat next to her with the silverware. Then she reached down for a can of polish and rags off the bottom shelf. Uncle Walter came back into the room with mail tucked under his arm, reading a letter. “Doreen, we have a letter from Bill.” “Oh my. I must be getting old.” Aunt Doreen laughed with embarrassment, running her hand across her eyes. “Bending over like that really made me dizzy.” Dena watched her aunt arrange the polish and a rag before she asked, “You say we have a letter from Bill, dear?” Uncle Walter nodded, sitting across from his wife, next to Dena. “What does he say?” she asked looking anxious. “He’s now in Shanghai, China, and is getting a taste of war.” Both women looked at him in surprise. Dena shuddered. War? “What did you say, Walter?” Doreen whispered. She seemed to shrink into the chair. Dena started to reach for her hand, but Aunt Doreen had laid them in her lap. Dena watched her clasp an unclasp them. Susan does that. Her aunt’s eyes were fixed upon the letter that Uncle Walter held. The envelope slipped from his fingers and landed on the table. “Who’s in China?” Stuart asked as he entered the dining room. “Bill says—well let me read it to you. It’ll be easier that way.” Uncle Walter moved into the light. He didn’t want to miss a word. Stuart slipped into the chair next to his mother and laid a hand over hers and squeezed. Dena sat as quiet as settled dust as she watched Aunt Doreen. She stared at Uncle Walter and the worn-looking paper he held. *** Dear Uncle Walter and everyone, I received your letter some time ago after it was forwarded from Canacao. You see where I am now. I’m getting a taste of war. They sent me up here with three other I Corpsman hospital medics and orderlies and along with 102 marines from Cavite, P.I. on sudden orders. That was on the 17th of August. *** Stunned, Dena gasped. She blinked several times. She needed to clear her mind. That was the same time that Brock tried to enlist. *** We came up here on the S.S. President Hoover, which happened to be in Manila at the time. It’s of the dollar line and is a naval reserve ship captained by a naval reserve officer. It was later bombed. (Not while I was aboard.) I’ll have plenty to tell when I finally get back to the U.S. I’ve sure seen a lot, such as countless numbers of air battles. A few weeks ago I saw three Jap planes in formation flying directly over my head here in the international settlement, just as they made their power dives one by one to drop their bombs just over the fighting zone across Soochow Creek, one of which suddenly burst into flames and blew to molecules. It’s believed that it was caused by concussion from a bomb that had just exploded, as it dived too low. There are shells bursting and shrapnel flying around everywhere. These Japs have certainly made a name for themselves. They’ve been pulling off the most dastardly things that were ever known to mankind, such as dropping bombs on poor defenseless non-combatants, including fishermen and refugees trying to get to safety up the river on barges. They even dropped bombs on a herd of cattle in a dairy close around here. They always give an alibi, however, such as it was a mistake or else completely denying it altogether. They’ve sure proved themselves to be the world’s champion liars. *** Uncle Walter paused. The letter was full of information that had only been rumors before. He sadly looked at his wife. Tears trickled down her face. Clearing her throat, she managed to stifle a sigh. “But he was just in the islands. We had a letter not too long ago saying he was a short timer and would be coming home. Remember?” she murmured mainly to herself. Dena considered scooting over by her aunt, but she didn’t. “Shall I continue, dear?” he asked, carefully watching her. She nodded. Dena nodded too, even though she wasn’t asked. She wanted to know. Even though Aunt Doreen’s face was twisted with pain, she also needed to hear. Uncle Walter read on. *** The Chinese are all united this time from rickshaw coolies on up to the very richest of people. The army is better trained and equipped this time than in 1932 and is really giving these cocky Japs a good run for their money. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they actually come out on top. I sure hope so as something should be done to show these Japs that they have no right to grab off chunks of territory that doesn’t belong to them. All the corpsmen attached to the Marines here have to wear marine clothes, and the only way you can tell us from them is by the badges on our sleeves. As we did wear Khakis, we now wear greens. I believe the papers back there in the States are making this war out to be a lot more than it actually is with the big headlines. The LORD only knows how long it will last, but I hope it’s long enough to make Japan go broke. We could defeat them that way, and that is what I’m hoping for. And as it is, they have no credit with any other country and are taxing the life out of their own people, so maybe that very thing will happen. I believe what the Chinese aim to do is to get out of range of their naval guns and artillery, into the rice paddies so they can drag the Japs into their line of communications, and if they could do that, it would be all off for the Japs. *** I believe he meant over rather than off,” Uncle Walter said before he continued. *** I doubt very much that there’ll be any third party involved in it unless those Japs start getting a little too cocky around the settlement. There’s been about a half a dozen British troops shot down by airplanes swooping close and turning on machine guns at them, and just the other day one of our marines was struck in the shoulder by a stray piece of shrapnel. I’ve been dressing the wound myself since he was let out of the hospital. These British troops were members of a branch of the army called Royal Ulster Riflemen and are made up of Orange Irishmen from north Ireland. They are mighty nice fellows. They seem to be very fond of Americans and treat us wonderful as we come in contact with them. They don’t have anything to do with the regular old “limey” troop from England even though they’re a part of the same forces. Oh, say, Uncle Walter, I keep forgetting to tell you that the time has now finally gotten to where I can now consider myself a “short-timer” out here in the Asiatic. In fact, I’m in what is known as the number on draft lined up to return to the United States on the very next transport, which will be the U.S.S. Henderson when she turns around at San Francisco after delivering home this present home-going detail. The Chaumont, which brought the sixth regiment out here to form the second brigade with the fourth regiment, is coming back five days ahead of the Henderson and is then going on around to the East Coast for overhaul while the Henderson is going to turn around and come and get me. So I’ll be back in God’s country once more around April or May. Well, Uncle Walter, I guess I’d better close now, so I wish you would answer this letter right soon as it’ll be your last letter to come out here, and in the meantime I’ll be very careful in trying to dodge these stray bullets as I want to come back to see you all in one piece. With best regards, your Asiatic nephew, Bill *** The room was silent as Dena watched dust motes dance in the afternoon light. She was glad for the diversion to compose her thoughts. No one questioned what Uncle Walter had read. They understood what Bill wrote was real. Dena’s numbed mind raced. The war was real. Pending or not, it was real. Dena would put Cousin Bill in her prayers. Aunt Doreen broke the silence. “We’ll send him a Christmas package. Short-timers need a care package, especially during the holidays.” She sat silent for a few more seconds. Then she continued as if nothing had interrupted the pleasant atmosphere of Thanksgiving. “Tomorrow we’ll decorate. I have a girl who comes and helps me decorate and serve.” Aunt Doreen said. Dena felt sorry for Bill, who wouldn't be with any of his family for the holidays. Uncle Walter rose and slowly went to his study. Stuart followed. “Now where were we? Oh yes, I believe I was going to polish the silverware.” Aunt Doreen said, picking up the rag and dipping it in the cleaning solution. She was silent for what seemed a very long time before she spoke, her eyes glinting, “Having extra help come in is a standing gift from your Uncle. I think he just does it so he doesn’t have to help.” Aunt and niece worked for over an hour. Dena checked all of the napkins, burnt orange in color. There were thirty-six, all pressed and clean. She watched Aunt Doreen polish. She didn’t remember Mother polishing silver. “Would you like something to drink, Aunt Doreen?” “Yes, please. Coffee would be nice.” She smiled briefly at Dena before returning to her polishing. The letter upset everyone with its detailed contents. Dena wondered what had happened in her aunt’s past that had caused her to be so upset each time a letter arrived from Bill. She wished she understood. Chapter Eight Thanksgiving morning, Dena slowly opened her eyes, stretched, and studied her bedroom ceiling. She had never noticed before how it sloped. Not as much as her attic room ceiling at home though. It’s interesting how homes which are built in two different states and two different styles still sported some of the same qualities. Why I’ve never noticed it before is interesting. Maybe taking drafting has made me more aware of angles and lines. She yawned. Shuddering, she pulled the comforter back up around her neck and snuggled down into its warmth. Outside a fierce November wind howled and pummeled at the house. Branches creaked and groaned. Dena looked at her small alarm clock. Six a.m. Six a.m.! Her mind moaned in tune with the wind. Why am I awake when I could be sleeping? Then she heard scurrying down the hallway. Aunt Doreen was starting dinner. She had told Dena and Emily the turkey and ham would go in the ovens around four a.m. I really should get up and help. Instead, she snuggled back down into the warmth of the bed and dozed off. Dena dressed quickly in a woolen, mid-calf jumper and a matching sweater. Then she slipped into warm stockings and shoes. No longer having to jump around to keep her feet warm, she brushed her hair until it shone. Pillows fluffed and comforter pulled wrinkle free, she hurried downstairs. Besides family, the list of guests had grown from six to a possible fifteen. Uncle Walter hired two more women to help in the kitchen and serve. Three long tables stretched through the hallway to accommodate the guests. Three large tables; Wow! Even at home with relatives and friends, Mother never served this many. “A light breakfast and coffee will be served in the kitchen,” Aunt Doreen called to her. “Stuart and Uncle Walter are already in there. Maybe they’ve left something for you.” Dena could smell warm yeast before she entered the kitchen. Today the large airy room seemed small and cramped. On the table sat various types of salads and vegetables and the cabinets were loaded with pies and cakes. Uncle Walter was helping Polly baste the turkey. Stuart amused at seeing his dad in an apron, snickered, “Hey, Dena, do you have a camera?” “Dena, don’t you dare!” Uncle Walter jerked his head around and straightened up all in the same movement. He faced her wielding a large wooden spoon. Drippings flew. Surprised, Dena stepped back. Each time she looked at her uncle and his wild-eyed expression, the harder she laughed. Polly had brought her a hot cup of coffee. Dena could tell she loved holidays. “Have a hot roll, Dena, with some butter and jam.” Stuart pushed a platter weighed down with goodies toward her. “Mmm. This is really good, Polly,” she muttered between bites. “Mmm. What time will everyone arrive?” “Guests start arriving around ten. Dinner is served at one,” Uncle Walter announced as he set his hot mug of coffee across from her. “Then everyone grazes until seven p.m. and usually most are gone by nine.” “Really!” Dena sipped her coffee and said nothing more. If I can’t be at home for Thanksgiving today, there is no other place I would rather be than here. While sipping her hot coffee, she reached up to push back a strand of hair. Dena enjoyed the steam on her face. “Dad,” Stuart said. “Do you think the film clip went well?” It was the way he said it—the tone—that made Uncle Walter take a quick look at his son. Then he glanced at Dena. “Do we need to go to the other room, son?” Stuart nodded. I wonder what that’s about. She watched them disappear into the study. Popping the last bit of muffin into her mouth, Dena stacked her small plate and silverware. After putting on an apron, she carried the dirty dishes to the sink. “How can I help, Polly?” Polly handed her the napkins before turning back to the stove. Dena took them to the dining room, where Aunt Doreen was preparing the tables. She watched her aunt set down a dinner plate then picked it and reset it. I wonder what’s wrong with the plate position. As far as I can see, it’s in the exact same place. Aunt Doreen checked each soup turret with a small salad plate setting under it. Dena placed a neatly folded napkin next to each one. She stood back checking the placement, and then re-adjusted the napkin slightly before checking it. Why I’m doing what Aunt Doreen did. She reddened, looking around to see if anyone noticed. It does look really nice. Only the silverware is missing. One of the hired ladies carefully laid out the polished silverware in their proper places, holding each piece with a soft cloth so not to smudge them. Watching her work, Dena realized how efficient she was; Aunt Doreen had trained her well. After watching for a moment she quickly retreated to the kitchen for her next task. When the doorbell rang, Dena looked up from her work. She checked the clock. It was just before nine. Leaning back in her chair, Dena looked at the door as Uncle Walter went to answer. The bell rang again. “Hello boys. Are you not on Pacific Standard Time yet?” he joshed with the three young men. Boys? Who was here? “Come in. Come in out of the nasty weather.” “Are we too early, Professor Miles?” asked someone in a masculine voice, which sounded familiar to Dena. She turned in her chair to get a better view. Emily hurried through the doorway and grabbed Dena’s arm, pulling her out of the chair. She smiled. Clay. Remembering the closeness they had shared when they worked together in a segment on the film Stuart had produced. It had taken only two retakes to get the segment up to Stuart’s standards. Pleased with the small part she had in the documentary, Dena had hoped she would see Clay again. Now he was here with Carl and Floyd. “You silly goose! You’re acting in a manner that even Susan would declare childish,” she chided herself. She frowned for she was beginning to like Clay more than a friend. That alarmed her. “Doreen,” Uncle Walter called, “you know the boys?” “Hello.” Aunt Doreen smiled. Carl, Clay had told her was his best friend—like a brother. Even though he was two years older, the freckles on his lean face and the shock of sandy colored-hair made him look younger. Floyd, also a friend, was a year behind Clay. His brown curly hair and brown eyes caused girls to take a second look. In fact, they act like the three musketeers. Oh why can I not remember Clay’s last name. I know he’s told me. It’s…uhhh…Brewster. That’s it. Smiling, she turned towards Emily, smoothed her shoulder-length blonde hair, and asked, “How do I look?” Her cousin looked at her with a blank look and shrugged her shoulders, “Okay I guess.” Emily’s like me. Her face gives her away. She can’t tell a lie either. Dena tightened her lips in concentration as she jerked off her apron. Stop this nonsense this minute! Why should I be so nervous? Taking a deep breath, she tried to exhale slowly, but it came out noisily. She marched through the doorway toward Aunt Doreen. “Oh, Dena, come and say hello to the boys.” Uncle Walter said with a wide smile. She nodded, grateful that Stuart had walked into the hallway, giving her a big brotherly grin. “Hey, guys.” Brock would do that too. “Well, I’m glad I came. I didn’t know Dena lived here.” Clay grinned boldly at her. He acted truly glad to see her. Blushing, she nodded. She was flustered—although embarrassed would be a better word. Admitting she liked him and showing it scared her. She wasn’t sure she was ready. Dena quickly turned and bravely smiled at the other two. “I’m glad you all are here.” “Dena, show our guests to the sunroom,” Aunt Doreen directed. “Emily will be there to help.” Dena’s eyes widened. What shall I do? Entertain them? What about Stuart? He knows them better than I do. Besides he’s a guy and can talk guy stuff. She glanced around just in time to see Stuart and Uncle Walter disappear into the study. Did Aunt Doreen say Emily will be there? Where’s Emily anyway?” “Now I understand why you chose drafting,” Clay said when he fell into step beside her. Dena jumped not realizing he was there. She cautiously glanced at him. He smiled unaware that her stomach was doing flip-flops. Uneasiness persisted. She nodded. She raised her chin slightly wondering, where is that tenacity, that persistence, that air of assurance I had on the farm? Right now I feel afraid—afraid of what though? Dena’s mind raced. She felt that she couldn’t get to the sunroom soon enough. The hall seemed to go on and on. Yet when the small group reached the sunroom, everyone chatted pleasantly. Emily was already there, and had some records on the player. Several board games were scattered around. She greeted the young men. Dena caught Emily’s eye when she heard music playing softly in the background. If she remembered right, it was “Jeepers, Creepers.” She moved over beside her cousin. Her face relaxed as she confessed, “I’m sure glad you’re here. I’m not very good at this entertaining thing.” “Sure you are,” Emily said, rolling her eyes. Emily asked Floyd about Langley Field and Virginia. Dena vowed to try making that kind of small talk with Clay. *** Sometime that morning, Mary had come over. She had brought a couple of girls with her. But Dena didn’t know them. After two more young engineers arrived, Clay introduced them as Abe and Martin. Or at least that’s what she thought their names were. She needed to listen closer. Just before noon another young man showed up. “Hey, Jules,” one of the guys said. He nodded and looked around the room. Dena, where’s Stuart?” Mary asked. She peered over Dena’s shoulder, reading the labels on a stack of records Dena was looking through. “I’m not sure,” she answered. “He and Uncle Walter were in the study earlier.” “Mmm. You smell good.” Stuart said as he came up behind Dena and Mary. He kissed Mary’s neck. She giggled. “Are there any good records, Dena?” She nodded and piled records on the record player. Mary picked up a small stack and read the labels. “Hey, Stuart, what do you think about a game of backgammon?” Floyd grinned, flexing his fingers readying himself for a win. “Maybe later,” he answered, jerking his head at the clock on the mantel. “It’s almost one.” Dena glanced at the clock. Her stomach rumbled loudly. Embarrassed, she looked around. But no one was laughing, not at her anyway. “How do we seat everyone?” Dena asked Emily. Emily pointed out small name cards placed just above each plate. Dena noticed she and Emily were seated across from each other with young men on either side. In fact, it was girl, boy, girl, boy, even with the adults at the other end. How clever. Checking further, she saw that Clay sat next to Emily but was across from her. Stuart was on her left and Floyd on her right, just across from Emily. Who was so smart in arranging the seating? “Jane does the seating each year. She’s really good at it,” Emily whispered. Dena glanced at Jane standing at the other end of the room talking to Aunt Doreen and another woman. Jane didn’t have a date. She lived with her parents and seemed contented. Dena wondered if there had ever been somebody special in her life. Suddenly the sun came out. Someone whooped and laughed mentioning a game of lawn bowling in the garden after dinner. Then Dena heard pinging. It was Uncle Walter. “Everyone find your chair, and let’s have a word of prayer so we can get the festivities started.” Dena stepped up to her chair where Stuart pulled it out for her. Her smile spoke her thanks. He wriggled his eyebrows. Next he turned to pull out the chair for Mary. Large platters and bowls lined the tables. Dena had never seen so much food. Surely it couldn’t all be eaten. “I have dibs on your leftovers, Dena.” Stuart grinned reading her expression. She jabbed him. He bent over, feigning pain. Uncle Walter pinged again and cleared his throat. “Dear Father, thank you—” Dena peeked at Clay sitting across from her. She wanted to look at him more closely, to see him praying, to know if he was a godly man. “—in His Son’s holy name, amen.” Silverware clinked as food was spooned onto each plate and then passed to the next person. Dena took small pieces of turkey and ham, a spoonful of candied sweet potatoes, peas, lettuce salad, and a hot roll. There wasn’t room for anything else. And frankly, she didn’t think she could eat more. Besides, there was dessert and plenty of time to graze, as Uncle Walter aptly put it. After a few minutes of eating, conversation sprung up on both ends of the table. The hum sounded like an active beehive. “Did anyone see the World Series on television?” Floyd asked. “Television? Where did you watch television?” Abe asked before stuffing in another bite. He looked like a Native American: dark, straight hair; dark skin; and black eyes. “At a friend’s house,”—Floyd waved his fork in the air—“It was terrific. Somewhat fuzzy but you could still see the game.” Television? Dena looked up right into Clay’s eyes. She had no idea what they were talking about. He smiled and continued eating. “Yeah, the Yankees did it again,” Floyd offered. He was more interested in the game. “I don’t know why Cincinnati couldn’t score. They outplayed the Yankees in every inning,” Stuart said, making sure not to look at Abe. “Please pass the rolls …” “Oh come on, Stuart,” criticized Abe, “That’s just not true.” “On the other hand,” Stuart continued, ignoring Abe, “they did make errors. Both teams had a lot of mistakes.” Dena watched with interest while the men sparred in a playful manner. She knew very little about baseball. Dad and Mother always discussed the teams, and Brock followed the games; but I’ve never cared for them. Even Grant and Susan bet on the games. I like reading. Her eyes traveled down the table past Abe. The young man, Martin, had said nothing. But, he listened closely. Come to think of it, Dena hadn’t heard him say more than hello since he had arrived. “Just admit it.” Abe glared from across the table. Stuart returned the stare and as far as Dena could tell, neither blinked. Abe thumped his forefinger firmly on the table. “Just admit it. The Yankees are the better team. That’s why they won.” Stuart picked up his glass before he slowly looked around at the group. His face sported a blank look. Does he not understand Abe? Only the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. Clay shrugged his shoulders, indicating Abe was on his own. Carl grinned. Stuart then embellished the moment by taking a long drink, setting down his half empty glass, and folding his hands in a prayerful pose just below his chin with his forefingers upon his pursed lips. His eyes stared at the ceiling. Mary looked down at her plate, her lips tightly pressed between her teeth. Dena covered her mouth with her napkin, looking for a second time at Clay. Emily cleared her throat while Monique and Julia began snickering. Abe’s face turned dark red. Stuart clung to the moment, stretching it as long as he dared before he leaned forward with a blank look, almost bumping Abe’s nose. “Now what was the question?” The whole group roared. Wiping her eyes, Dena was sure nothing could top Stuart’s joke. “You kids want to share the joke with us?” Uncle Walter asked. “I don’t think we can, Dad,” Emily replied dabbing her eyes. “It’s one of those … uh … circumstantial moments. You know—never as funny the second time around.” He nodded and turned back to his guests. It was good to see the younger crowd enjoying Thanksgiving. His eyes caught his wife’s gaze and warmly held it for a moment. He was truly glad to be home. Dena took another bite. She noticed how quiet it had become. Everyone was eating. Even Abe enjoyed his meal, although he delighted in giving Stuart the eye. “Did anyone hear the Orson Welles radio production War of the Worlds? I believe it was aired on Halloween.” Jules said, breaking the silence. “It was incredible. Had everyone believing it was the real thing.” “No. But I’ve heard different people talking about it,” Carl answered. “Well, I have a recording of it.” “You have one? How did you manage to get a copy?” Julia asked. “I have my sources.” Jules paused, and then continued, “Maybe if everyone wants to, we could listen to it after dinner.” Several nodded. Dena wasn’t sure she wanted to listen to such. War is war, whether funny or real. I can’t understand why everyone seems so captivated by it. She hated that those, thoughts continued to consume her. Mother always said you should replace a bad thought with a good one. Music would be better, much better. She took another bite of turkey and chewed absently. She must remember to tell Polly how good it tasted. Maybe she should get the recipe. She looked up and noticed that Carl and Stuart had started on their second helpings, or was it their third? She was going to be lucky to finish what was on her plate but when someone passed the hot rolls, she took another one. After all, it was Thanksgiving. All of a sudden her eyes clouded up. She looked down not wanting anyone to see. I hope everyone at home is having a great Thanksgiving. All of the neighbors and the minister and his family would be there. Dad always invited the minister. Everyone is there but me. Stuart causally ran his hand across her back. Looking up at him she hiccupped softly into her napkin. His eyes told her he understood. She quickly glanced across the table at Emily. Emily smiled. So did Clay. Dena flushed. It embarrassed her to think they knew what she was thinking. She dropped her eyes and dabbed them with her napkin, but a tear splattered anyway. I have such good friends. Funny I hadn’t considered them friends until now. Even as this thought comforted her, another tear welled up and dropped. Later Dena sat on the couch in the corner, totally stuffed and lost in a daydream. Only parts of the Orson Welles record filtered through. Many enjoyed the wild tale so much that they listened to it twice before they broke up into small clusters to talk or play games. Some even continued to eat. Casually she watched Stuart and Floyd play a backgammon game—round two, she believed. Mary sat at Stuart’s side laughing and keeping score. Floyd mockingly accused her of being biased. Emily and Julia were chatting, probably about boys. Julia, Emily had said, was a nurse at the naval base hospital. Abe, Jules, Martin, and Monique sat around the radio listening to a news broadcast. Monique is pretty in her own way. What with her red frizzed hair, long nose, narrow face and all. I guess it’s her personality that outweighs everything. She’s really nice. It’s good that the sunroom runs across the backside of the house, allowing room for all the activities. Everyone’s having a great time. Someone put on some different music. She saw that Clay and Carl were standing by the door talking. Dena sighed audibly, blushed, and squirmed around slightly. If I could mold these pillows to my back; maybe I could take a nap. “Is this a private corner, or can anyone join?” Dena looked up into Clay’s face and smiled. Clay sat down across from her in the large, over-stuffed chair, leaned forward and asked, “Do you miss your family during the holidays?” She was so surprised at the question she couldn’t answer. How could he not know—didn’t he see the tears earlier at the table? Clay continued without waiting for an answer. “I miss my parents. They were both killed just a little over two years ago. I was working in Virginia at the time. Some drunk driver hit them not far from the college. They’d been to a party honoring Howard Hughes. Something about a Hollywood script he was sponsoring I believe.” Dena stared at him. He had shared something very private with her. Carl sat down next to her, stretching out his long legs. “Carl and I flew back to California for the funeral and to square up my parents’ affairs. Then we went back to Virginia.” Clay paused a moment or two, staring out the window before he continued, “If it hadn’t been for my work and my friends …” His voice trailed off as he looked at his fingers spread over his thighs. “I’m sorry, Clay.” It sounded so shallow, but it was all she could think to say. “What he’s saying is that he has become somewhat a dud, all work and no play … until you came into his life.” Carl leaned over and poked him in the ribs. “Don’t take him too serious, Dena.” While ignoring Carl, Clay asked, “Do you have brothers and sisters?” “Yes, a brother and a sister. Brock is at Fort Collins, Colorado in college—agriculture—and Susan’s a junior in high school.” “What’s she going to do when she graduates? Is she coming to California too?” Clay’s eyes momentarily met hers. Carl straightened up. “No. She wants to get married to her high school sweetheart. He graduates this spring. He’s a farmer. Actually, Clay, you and Grant, that’s his name, have a lot in common.” “I’m not a farmer and never want to be.” Clay said firmly. Dena couldn’t help herself, she giggled. She understood what he was saying. She too, couldn’t see herself tied to a farm with its long hours and hard work. It took a few seconds before she could continue. “What I mean is Grant’s parents died when he was a freshman. It was during deer season. The authorities think that some kook shot his dad causing him to drive into a ravine. Grant’s mother died from the wreck.” “Man what a lousy deal.” Carl whistled. He leaned forward. “That’s an understatement, Carl.” Clay looked at Dena. His eyes apologized for Carl’s interruption. “What did he do?” “Grant? He’s living with his uncle until he graduates. His uncle moved to Colorado so Grant could stay and finish school. He’s also farming his parents land. I understand he legally inherits everything in May after graduation.” “Did they catch the person responsible?” Carl asked. Dena shook her head no. “Where was Grant at the time of the accident?” Carl continued. “He was at school,” Dena said, sadness creeping into her voice. “He and his dad had planned on going hunting that weekend. It was really hard on Grant. I’m not sure if he’s hunted since.” Clay and Carl sat watching leaves blow around in the garden. Each knew about tragedy and death. “And you, Carl, do you miss home?” she asked. “Home; well now, that depends how you describe home. I have two sisters that I hardly ever see due to geographical locations. We keep in touch by letters. Mom died of pneumonia several years ago. And Dad still lives in the town where I grew up. He never recovered from losing Mom.” Carl settled back into the couch, spreading out his arms like an eagle in flight, and grinned. “My definition of home is wherever I am. I just live for each day.” “That is such an understatement,” Clay said, grinning. “No! I don’t think we should stay out of the war!” spat Abe, his anger apparent. His dark complexion reddened visibly. He was standing near the radio with Jules. Heads turned to see what was going on. No one spoke. He sure has a temper. Her eyes rounded as she watched the argument escalate. She held her breath. “What if it was us instead of Britain or France; they would come to our aid!” “Have you been following the articles in the papers?” Jules questioned, leaning over with his hands pressed flat on the table, glaring at Abe. Both men stood motionless. Neither would back down. Why they look like Bantam roosters! Suddenly Dena sat straight up, an eyebrow shot up in alarm. She watched Abe’s fists clinch and flex open. “I think until the president says we go, or if we choose to enlist, then we shouldn’t argument about it, especially on Thanksgiving. We should be thankful of…of… everything we have,” Stuart said firmly, stepping in between the two men. He didn’t speak of what was on everyone’s mind, or say how close to the truth the guys were. “Anyone want to play lawn bowling?” Emily asked. “The sun has come out, and I believe a fresh air would be good for all of us.” “Come on, we can be a team of three,” Carl said. Clay grabbed her hand, pulling her along. The game became a battle between the guys. She laughed at Floyd’s remark when he said that they tried to “bowl the socks off of their opponent.” Chapter Nine Guests were leaving when Dena and Clay came in from the garden. They were planning on listening to soft music and talking. Stuart stuck his head around the door and hollered, “In the sunroom everyone.” Mary sat next to Dena. Emily, Carl, and Floyd followed her lead with Carl leaning up against the window sill. Clay looked at Dena, puzzled. She shrugged. So much for being alone. He grinned. It was like he had read her thoughts. “I wanted to have a short meeting about my documentary. The film committee chairman told me that they’ve accepted my short film as a finalist. And there’s a possibility it will be released as part of a news reel.” Stuart’s face beamed. “He said it was that professional.” “Stuart that’s great, but is there any national security involved?” Clay inquired. He looked from Carl to Floyd. They nodded. “It’s okay,” Stuart continued. “Dad and my professor have approved the release after gone through all channels. Just don’t be surprised if some of you become overnight stars.” Everyone looked at each other, slowly nodding as it dawned on them the seriousness of Stuart’s statement. Carl and Clay aren’t sure. Neither am I; being in a documentary for a school project is one thing but national recognition is another. Then Dena smiled. Marta will be jealous. After all she’s the actress. Everyone talked at once congratulating Stuart. Then the guests started leaving. Around eight, Carl and Clay left but not before Clay made a date with her for the eleventh say around two in the cafeteria. He wanted to see her again before she went to Colorado. By ten thirty, Dena was propped up on her pillow, full and very tired. She yawned. Or was it tired and full. She giggled and yawned at the same time. She had enjoyed her first California Thanksgiving. She had laughed more than she thought possible. I think that Stuart could do as well as the War of the World producer. All he needs is time and the right breaks. She yawned again and slid down into the warmth of her covers, closing her eyes. She wanted to think about Clay. He’s really a nice friend. Well, maybe more than that. She yawned again. Soon, all thoughts of Clay disappeared. *** December 7, 1939 The day started out with dark clouds hanging low. Dena frowned. Rain again. She had wanted to shop for Christmas presents, but maybe she should just stay home and read. She was beginning to think she preferred snow. She hurried to Aunt Doreen’s office, poking her head in the doorway. “Aunt Doreen.” “Hello, Dena,” her aunt said, looking up. “Come in.” “Just wanted to let you know, that after I check in my text books, lab equipment and enroll for next semester, I think I’ll go home. It looks like rain.” Because of dead week and tests, neither she nor Emily were working. “Are you and Emily enrolling in Intro to Aeronautics and the two Drafting II classes?” She nodded. “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” her aunt asked. Dena shook her head. “Jane and I were talking,” Aunt Doreen continued pleasantly, “and since I can’t and Jane can, she would like to take you shopping. Is that okay with you?” Dena’s eyes lit up. Shopping with Jane would be fun. Aunt Doreen buzzed Jane’s extension. In a few seconds, Jane appeared with her coat. “Jane, take the umbrellas. It looks like rain again,” Aunt Doreen said. “Thank you, Aunt Doreen. I forgot mine this morning,” Dena admitted as Jane picked up the two lying on the chair. “That’s why we have extras here in the coat closet. Always feel free to take one. I gather them up at the house and return them to the office closet every so often. Go.” Aunt Doreen shooed them out the door. As they reached the bus stop, Dena felt sprinkles then drops. She was thankful for the umbrella. “Where are we going?” Dena asked. Rain splattered noisily on the bus window. “It’s a small clothing store in a district dubbed Chinatown. I stumbled upon it a couple of months ago.” Jane smiled. “Chinatown? Where’s that?” “You’ll see,” Jane answered. “Now who do you want to buy gifts for?” “I haven’t bought anything. Well, that’s not true,” Dena murmured. “I’ve bought nylons, but they’re mainly for me.” “Then we’re going to have a wonderful time, rain or no rain. This is our stop.” The rain had quit and the sun shone brightly between the dark clouds. Lingering rain drops on trees, bushes and the benches glistened. Dena followed Jane to the wet boardwalk. I can’t believe I’m here. It looks like another world. She watched people hurrying, all with different-colored umbrellas open to protect them from the intermittent drizzle. They look just like fall leaves swirling in the wind. Toothless old men with beards bowed as they walked by. Children ran everywhere playing in puddles. What an array of tradition and modern styles. She watched a young girl about her age dressed in a bright blue kimono laughing with another girl clad in a skirt and sweater. They disappeared into one of many small stores. Each store specialized in brightly colored items which cluttered the small window space. Carts were scattered around the edge of the boardwalk selling food and drinks. “Come, I want to start with this neat little store. If we don’t find everything we want, we’ll check out some of the other shops,” Jane urged. They moved quickly down the street to a small, narrow alley. By the time Dena caught up, she only found billowing drapes in front of glass doors. Cautiously she stepped through, holding her umbrella in front of her. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. Slowly they adjusted to the dim interior. “Jane?” “Over here,” Jane answered. She turned to see an elderly Chinese woman bowing to her. “Le Chumg, this is my friend Dena. Dena, Le Chumg, who’s also my friend.” Jane smiled and bowed. Dena did likewise. She wondered if the small woman with leathery looking skin understood English. “Missy need presents for family?” Le Chumg asked in a singsong voice. “Yes.” Dena answered as her eyebrows arched. She not only understood English, but she spoke it well. “Come.” Le Chumg said, disappearing through another curtain. Dena followed. She stopped and looked at the array of merchandise. From the outside it looked like such a small shop. Several other shoppers grouped in different areas talking in a foreign tongue. Dena listened, fascinated with the lyrical tones. After about an hour of shopping for family and friends, Dena had picked up all of her gifts: nylon stockings and sweaters or delicately laced blouses to go with the stockings for the ladies. Jane suggested a set of finely embroidered handkerchiefs for Mary. For the men, she had bought a nice shirt or sweater and a pair of leather gloves. Grant would enjoy chocolates and monogrammed handkerchiefs. And for Polly, Dena found a cream apron edged with an eyelet cutout design. Dena inspected her growing pile before she mentally counted her money. What if I don’t have enough? “Everything you have comes to around ten to twelve dollars.” Jane whispered, understanding the expression on Dena’s face. She stared. I can buy a gift for my boss. “What would you suggest I get for Mr. Graves,” Dena asked. “That’s easy. He likes globes and has a magnificent collection. In fact, Le Chumg has ordered some very special globes in for me. Look at this one. It’s illuminated.” “Oh, Jane, it’s beautiful, but I don’t know. I’m not sure,” Dena said. It was Jane’s gift. But the gift was great idea. She had found Jane a book of poetry earlier that day. Jane had told Dena how much she enjoyed poetry when they were all out together. I’m glad I bought it first. Dena studied the globe, debating. “I don’t know. I don’t wish to take your gift away.” “No, I’m buying him this silver globe.” Jane pointed to her gift. Dena bent down and admired the beautifully scrolled silver work on the small globe. “Oh look. Here’s a letter opener that has a glass globe on the handle. It’s exquisite, yet it will fit into your budget,” Jane offered. Dena checked it over, including the price, before she handed it to Le Chumg. The woman bowed when Jane directed Dena to a counter behind them. It was full of boxed chocolates. “Mrs. Graves likes chocolates. Some of her favorites are right over here.” Dena blushed. She hadn’t thought about Mrs. Graves…even though she had come to know her well. Of course she should get her a gift. But can I afford it? I only have twenty-five dollars to spend. Jane helped Dena pick out a box of chocolates. All my gifts are just right. Everything will work out fine. “Le Chumg. Can you wrap these last two gifts for us? The rest Dena will want to wrap.” “Yes, missy.” “Now let’s see, what shall I pick for you?” Jane smiled, guiding Dena to another rack. Stunned, Dena watched Jane pull out several coats, “You know Dena if I could pick a little sister, she would be just like you. I talked to Doreen about what I wanted to do and she agreed.” She laid out several coats for Dena to choose from. “Oh Jane, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t accept this. It…it… it…” she stammered. Tears pricked her eyes. The coats were exquisite. There was no other word for them. “Now Dena, you know you don’t have a warm coat to wear back to Colorado. This brown leather jacket can be very versatile. Look.” Jane held the small, jacket next to Dena’s skirt. She’s a very good salesperson. “It can be worn with this skirt and a couple of other skirts I’ve seen you wear. And I know you have a jumper and one or two dresses it will compliment. “But, it is so… ” “Expensive? No more than what you spent on your other gifts, dear,” she interrupted softly. Dena considered this fact, frowning the whole time. “You know, Dena that’s why I brought you here. You get great merchandise. The price is decent. Why, what you bought for all of your family is a lot less than what you would have paid somewhere else. Now please,” Jane spoke in low tones. Finally she stopped talking and allowed a few minutes for the idea to sink in. Dena was glad for those few moments to compose herself. Jane turned again and offered another jacket for Dena to try on. “Ooooh. It’s a bit snug,” she said. Jane found another size. “Try this. Perfect. Look.” She slowly turned Dena to a mirror. Dena caught her breath. She couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was. She smiled—really smiled. “Then it’s settled. We will take this jacket.” Jane handed it to Le Chumg. Looking around, Dena spied a pair of leather gloves that matched the jacket. “I don’t think…” She looked at her friend and whispered, “I don’t know if I have enough money.” “Trust me. You do.” Jane nodded. “I know you do. In fact, I think you have enough to buy five boxes of chocolates. Ah … yes … wrap these, also, Le Chumg.” When Dena questioned Jane again, she raised her eyebrow knowingly and grinned. “They’re needed. You never know when you may need another Christmas gift.” “Missy very smart,” Le Chumg said in a high voice. She showed a toothless grin. “Missy want five boxes too?” “Yes. And wrap them please.” Jane smiled appreciatively at the small woman. Dena was dazed at the final price. She just couldn’t believe it. She still had money left and even bought more than she had planned for. Le Chumg separated the sacks for her; Mr. and Mrs. Graves in one sack, the chocolates in another and a third sack held gifts for her family. Dena thanked her graciously, sliding into her new coat. “You come again, missy.” Le Chumg said with a toothless grin. Jane looked at her watch as they left the store. They only had been there a little over an hour. Dena looked at the dark clouds still covering the sky. Her mood was much sunnier. She had her Christmas shopping done. “Let’s take our gifts to Mr. Graves, and you can check with Doreen to see if she has left. If not, then you can ride home with her.” Jane chattered merrily. Dena could tell she enjoyed helping others and she knew they would shop together again. Dena didn’t always remember to thank God for friends, but today she did. Jane’s friendship was a true gift. When they stepped off the bus, a sharp wind was blowing off the mountains. If it had come from the ocean, it would be considerably warmer she had learned. Again Dena thanked Jane for her new coat. She caressed the sleeve as she held her arm over the front, parcels and all. It felt good. Jane had bought herself a black and a gray jacket in a different style. Dena ducked into the door just as another strong gust whipped around the office building. She appreciated the warmth of Aunt Doreen’s office. *** “Uncle Don.” Jane poked her head in. He looked up. “May we come in?” “Of course,” Mr. Graves slid his work into a drawer. He was surprised to see all three of his staff. “Merry Christmas,” they said in unison, placing their gifts on his desk. “Oh. You shouldn’t have.” Yet Dena noticed he ripped the paper off her gift first. His face glowed. “Look. It’s a letter opener with a globe worked into the handle. Perfect. I needed another letter opener. My old one fell apart this morning. I’ll keep it here on my desk but not until the next semester. I wouldn’t want it to disappear over the holidays. Thank you, Dena.” “Doreen, what can I say.” he said while he ripped off the paper. Dena giggled as she watched Mr. Graves’ eyes twinkle. He was like a small child. “Will you look at this? Gloves. Doreen, this is wonderful. You know how cold my hands get. Thank you.” Aunt Doreen smiled. “And, what did you get your old uncle?” Jane giggled. “It’s another globe for my set. Thank you.” He came around the desk and gave Jane a kiss on the cheek before he turned to Dena. “You will have to come over some time and see my collection after the holiday.” Dena nodded. Mr. Graves sat back down. “Mr. Graves, here are gifts for Mrs. Graves.” Dena pushed her and Aunt Doreen’s gifts forward. The packages looked almost identical. “Chocolates?” Dena nodded, wondering how he knew. “Mrs. Graves loves chocolates. She’ll be pleased. Thank you. Thank you all.” Dena watched Mr. Graves stack each gift gently in a neat pile. Then he opened his desk drawer and took out three envelopes and walked around to his staff. He handed an envelope to Jane and one to Aunt Doreen. Next he stepped in front of Dena and gently placed an envelope in her hands. “Merry Christmas Dena; Enjoy your time at home.” Her eyes sparkled. She nodded. “My goodness, Dena, we must go, or we’ll miss our bus,” Aunt Doreen spoke suddenly, looking at her watch. “Thank you, Mr. Graves. Merry Christmas,” Dena called following her aunt into the other office. As Aunt Doreen picked up her coat, Dena gathered her packages and they rushed out the door. It’s hard rushing against the bitter cold wind carrying all of these bags. I’m really glad I have this new jacket to keep me warm. Thank you, God, for presents and friends. “I really like the jacket,” Aunt Doreen said. “Jane has good taste. It looks great on you.” Dena nodded. She caressed the sleeve again. It felt soft and was definitely warm. *** “Hello, dear,” Uncle Walter said, smiling at Aunt Doreen. He stood in the middle of the hallway rifling through the mail. A gust of wind scattered pile of letters. Dena watched unable to move as the envelopes floated to the floor. She couldn’t think of another word to describe the wind but blustery. Dropping her parcels, she pulled off her gloves and slid them into her new coat pocket before she stooped down to help Uncle Walter picked up the envelopes. “Dena, you have mail.” He grinned and handed her two letters from the large stack in his hand. Tucking the letters into a parcel, she grabbed up the other packages and started up the stairs. Call it selfish if you want, she pursed her lips. But I like reading my letters in privacy. If someone would have told me last spring I would feel this way I would have emphatically denied it. Time and distance has made the difference. Slowly she slipped out of her new jacket and carefully laid it over the footboard. She took both letters from among the packages and quickly crawled into the middle of the bed, laid Susan’s letter down and opened Brock’s. *** December, 1939 Dear Sis, The countdown to Christmas is on. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but there was a great big hole at our table Thanksgiving with you gone. Now don’t go and get all weepy. Yes, you. Don’t you think I know you? Duh! *** Dena half grinned and sniffled, wiping her eyes on her sweater sleeve at the same time. Ladies always carry handkerchiefs. She pulled out a handkerchief from her pocket, and blew her nose before she continued. *** Seriously, Dena, when are you coming home, and how long can you stay? Let me know so I can get the same time off. I’ll need to pull several double-shifts to allow me the time I want. Have you found my present yet? I think I’ll get you a heavy parka coat—fur lined. What with the “cold, wet rain” I think you “need” it. Don’t you think that would be nice? Mother and Dad are well. Dad was pleased that I came home. Grant and Susan are the same. Say, maybe we can see a movie with just the four of us while we’re at home. Have you seen ‘Gone with the Wind?’ I believe it’ll be playing at the theater through the holidays. Think about it. And don’t forget to buy me something great. Your loving brother, Brock *** Brock could always make her laugh, so why was she crying? And a movie sounded great. Dena hiccupped. She sat for a length of time remembering warm fuzzy thoughts about home, Brock and Susan. Finally she picked up Susan’s letter. *** December, 1939 Dear Dena, I have so much to tell you! First Sally Johnson got married over Thanksgiving. She’s pregnant! Five months! Ralph Johnston is the father. She went from being a Johnson to being a Johnston. Can you imagine that? Ralph is two years older and is in the service—not sure which one. Also, I’ll be graduating this spring with Grant! I have more than enough credits, and Dad said I could. Why hurry? I think Grant’s going to ask me to marry him at Christmas. Shhh—he hasn’t talked to Dad yet. At least, I hope I get a ring; we’ve talked about getting married in the spring. Isn’t that wonderful? Will you be my maid of honor? And do you think Emily will be a bridesmaid? No, I’m not asking Donna. We aren’t speaking. She has other, better friends. So be it. I have Grant. Thanksgiving was great. Lots and lots of people came. Brock was home. I had to “badger” for you. When are you coming home? When are finals? Mother is busy getting ready for Christmas. Said she would write later. Can’t wait to see you and stay up all night talking, just like old times. Love, Susan *** Oh my! Oh my! Dena leaned into the pillow then sat back up just as quickly. Susan’s getting married. Grant and Susan have dated for three and a half or maybe four years now. Of course, they have always been friends; no, they’ve been best friends. They understand each other totally, just as my parents do. Dena bit her lip. Susan is getting married. Oh, I can’t wait to go home! Tears dropped. She wiped them on her sleeve. I guess this is what’s called tears of happiness. “Dena,” Emily’s called. “Dinner’s ready.” “Coming,” she answered, putting her letters and Mr. Graves’ envelope on her dresser. She saw no red or puffy eyes. No one must know how much she missed home. As she entered the dining room, everyone was waiting. Polly came in with dinner. It was one of her favorite meals—roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. “Polly, this is great,” Stuart said. Polly smiled. “Isn’t this Dena’s favorite meal?” Uncle Walter asked Polly; she nodded. Something is going on. Dena leaned back, looking from one grinning face to another. What’s all of this about my special meal? Why is everyone acting so mysterious? “Dena, Polly has fixed your favorite meal tonight because we decided to make this Dena night.” Uncle Walter continued between bites. Then he added with a mischievous tone, “Now let me see. What could dessert be?” Dena frowned as Emily continued with casual chatter. Dena laid her napkin in her lap, glancing from one face to another. Each face had a set expression, like a poker face as her dad called it. No one was telling. “Semester grades are not posted yet, Dena,” Emily finally said, glancing at her dad. Her eyes glinted. She couldn’t wait any longer. “But because we work in the dean’s office—well, here’s yours.” Dena took the envelope. “Open it, dear,” Aunt Doreen said. Dena carefully tore open the edge, unfolded the paper, and scanned down the page. The words seemed to jumble together. She read it again, slower. Highlighted was the A found next to her name for the three classes she had taken. “Dean’s honor roll” followed. She looked up, momentarily speechless. Finally she found her voice. “Did you get your grades?” Dena looked at Emily and Stuart. They both waved their grades. “A’s: Just like you. Honor roll.” Emily beamed. “So we decided to celebrate.” “And we chose you to be the center of the celebration,” Stuart interrupted. “Oh,” Dena managed. She glanced around. Aunt Doreen nodded. Uncle Walter beamed proudly. Now she understood the mystery. “And Dena,” Uncle Walter stood slowly, embellishing the moment. “I know that it’s early for Christmas gifts, but we …well …” He stopped in mid-sentence as he looked at his wife and smiled secretively. Aunt Doreen returned his smile. “We want to give you this little gift. But only if you promise to return.” He handed a small oblong box to her. It had a dark purple bow fluffed to its fullest on top of lavender satin-like paper. It was beautiful. Dena looked up with her large green eyes. Her lip quivered. Return? Did he mean return it? Why? “Open it,” they all said. Emily giggled. As Dena undid the bow and gently pulled at the tape on one end. She carefully opened the package. She didn’t want to tear the paper. As she lifted the lid she saw a ticket, a round-trip ticket to Colorado. It read “December 14, 9:23 a.m., pier 2.” She carefully held it. Tears trickled. The fourteenth was just a few days away. Dena looked at Uncle Walter questioningly. He nodded. “I sent a telegram to your parents yesterday when I purchased the ticket.” Dena got up and walked around to each person, hugging them. Even Stuart allowed her to hug him. Polly dabbed her eyes with her apron. Dena hugged her too. She was so happy she couldn’t speak. Mother and Dad know I’ll be home by the sixteenth. She hugged Uncle Walter again and whispered, “Thank you.” “Dad, I do believe Dena is speechless.” Stuart’s eyes twinkled. He turned to Dena and stated, “Remember, I’m eating mine and your share of butter pecan. Now, Dena, no badgering.” “I don’t badger.” Her eyes sparked. Six days. She happily licked the last of the butter pecan off her spoon. Dena closed her eyes and silently said a small prayer. Thank you, LORD, for my families. Dena knew she was very lucky to be surrounded by this love. Through blurred eyes she smiled at each family member. Tomorrow I’ll slip my wrapped presents under the tree unnoticed for everyone here. “Aw … you didn’t leave me any,” Stuart announced, plaintively looking into her empty ice cream bowl. “Since when did you start liking butter pecan enough for a second helping?” Dena asked. “Since I found out it was your favorite.” he answered, playfully. Emily giggled behind her napkin, pretending to dab the corners of her mouth. “Now who’s badgering.” Dena feigned a fierce look. Everyone laughed. The conversation turned to Christmas and how much each looked forward to it. Dena delighted in the warmth. She would really like to be here when they opened their presents. Then a frown clouded her eyes. Her chin puckered slightly. Maybe we can exchange gifts early. I would really like to be here when they open my gifts. I’ll ask. “Oh my goodness,” Aunt Doreen said, glancing at the mantle clock. “Look at the time.” Dena hurried to her room. She needed to wrap her presents. As she reached her door, Aunt Doreen called from downstairs. “Dena, you forgot your ticket.” Oh my, she made an about-face and ran to the bottom of the stairs. Aunt Doreen handed her the ticket and box. “Thank you. And…uh…could we have my Christmas exchange before I leave?” Dena looked expectantly at her aunt, waiting for her answer. “Why I think that’s a great idea, dear. I should have thought of it.” Aunt Doreen answered. “Now you run on up to your room and get everything ready.” Dena’s eyes glittered with anticipation. She couldn’t wait for each one to open their gifts. Laying the box and ticket on her dresser, she stared at the envelope from Mr. Graves. Dena opened it and removed a Christmas card. Two bills floated to the floor. She read the card: “Merry Christmas,” Mr. Graves. And then she stared at the two twenty dollar bills. Slowly picking them up, she smiled. Chapter Ten December 11, 1939 Dena almost ran to the cafeteria. She pulled her new coat tightly around her. Maybe it’ll keep out the unforgiving wind which bit into her cheeks. Ladies don’t run. She laughed out loud and slowed down to a fast walk. Tears stung her eyes. This nasty wind reminds me of the winter winds in Colorado. Gasping from the cold, I’m glad I don’t have much farther to go. She sidestepped two rough-looking men. Their eyes filled with hate as they looked at her. “Hello.” Clay spoke as she arrived at the table. His eyes expressed his delight as he rose to meet her. Looking over her shoulder she spied the two mean looking men at the door. They followed me. Where do I know them from? The men stopped when they saw Clay. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” Dena said as she held out her hands for him to take. “I’m so glad to see you.” “Me too.” His voice stopped and started like he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say. “I’ve been looking forward to this day—to our coffee time together. I’ve missed them. It’s been too long since Thanksgiving.” Dena flushed with pleasure. “How did you …” they both spoke at the same time. Laughing they sat down. Clay looked into her face, searching for clues. She smiled. He liked her smile. “You go first. How did you do on your finals?” “I passed.” She said, trying not to sound smug. “You did more than pass. You made the dean’s honor roll. I’d say that’s pretty good. Drafting isn’t an easy course.” He was pleased for her. “Thank you.” She blushed. Her embarrassment caused her to stammer. “And you? Did you do well? I understand from Stuart that third year isn’t a breeze either.” “I passed … no honor roll though.” He grinned sheepishly. “Oh. I feel bad.” “Don’t. I should have worked harder. That’s all,” he concluded. “Next semester I’ll do better.” Dena sipped her coffee. She had hardly touched it, and now it was almost cold. “What are you doing for Christmas?” Clay looked away. He didn’t want to think about Christmas, which brought memories of his parents. Then he grinned briefly. “Oh, Carl and I are going to a lodge, will spend a few days skiing and maybe do some hunting. When are you leaving for Colorado?” Clay questioned. He was already thinking about the time she would be gone and how he would miss her. “I leave Thursday the fourteenth and will return on January eighth, I believe.” There’s sadness in his voice. Christmas will be hard. She looked down at her cup in silence; then continued softly, “I have mixed emotions. I’ll be really glad to see my family, but I’ll truly miss my family and friends here. I will miss you.” Dena searched his face for affirmation. Reaching for her hand, he held it while they talked for the better part of an hour. Clay rose and came around the table. “Listen, when you get back, let me know, so we can do this again.” “Oh I would like that.” As they started for the door, Dena noticed the men that had followed her, were still there. One was short, and one was tall. Startled that they were still hanging around, she wondered why she couldn’t remember where she had seen them before. Unsettled, Dena turned to Clay and slid her hand into the crook of his arm, leaning in. "You know, I can see you home,” he offered, glancing over her shoulder at the two formidable-looking men. “That would be nice.” She squeezed his elbow slightly. Suddenly she realized, shuddering, they were the two that fought with Stuart after the dance. “You okay?” Clay asked, sliding his arm around her. Dena snuggled closer. Glancing over his shoulder, she couldn’t see the two men, yet she had an uneasy feeling they were being followed. While on the bus, they discussed airplanes, blueprints, and the success of Stuart’s film document. Clay walked her up to the door. She sighed happily and looked up at him. His gaze reflected her contentment. “Thank you. And, Clay, I’ll see you on January fifteenth at the cafeteria. Say about two?” “Yes, I’ll see you then. Merry Christmas.” He kissed her gently on the lips. His grip on her hands lengthened. He didn’t want to let her go, but finally he released her. “January … I promise. Merry Christmas,” she spoke wistfully. Clay turned quickly and rushed to the bus stop just as another bus pulled up. He waved from the bottom step as the door closed. With her hand in the air, she watched until the bus turned the corner. Now for her presents. Later that afternoon, Dena slipped down to the kitchen. Polly looked up from her work, smiling. “Coffee, Dena?” “Yes. And, Polly, can you sit with me for a moment please?” Dena sat at the small table under the window waiting, hiding the present on her lap. Polly looked around. “Well, yes I can but just for a moment. The rolls are about ready to go into the oven.” Polly poured two cups of coffee and sat down. For a few minutes, Dena chatted about her trip to Colorado. The she asked, “Are you going anywhere for Christmas, Polly?” “I usually go to my son’s house on Christmas Eve Day.” She smiled at the thought. “He and his family always celebrate then. This year my oldest grandson, Garrett, won’t be there. He’s overseas somewhere. He’s in the Marines.” Dena didn’t know Polly had grandchildren or that one was in the service. Dena pulled out the red, wrapped gift box and set it down in front of the cook, “Merry Christmas, Polly.” “Oh, Miss Dena, I have nothing for you,” Polly exclaimed, raising her hands to her cheeks. She gazed for a long moment. “Polly. You’ve already given me a gift—your friendship. Coming here and not knowing anyone … well … it has been so good to know you were looking after me.” She pushed the package closer to Polly, babbling, “Open it.” Polly grinned broadly, showing uneven teeth. She pulled off the tissue and ribbon, and then removed the lid. Lifting out a cream colored apron that was edged with an eyelet cutout design around the border, she stood and held it up to her chest. “Oh. Miss Dena. It’s beautiful. I’ll wear it on Christmas day. Thank you.” At the evening meal Dena sat fidgeting. Everyone’s taking forever. She sighed. She couldn’t wait for them to finish. The whole day has dragged by much slower than I wanted. She sat up straight in her chair. Stuart glanced at her. Dena shrugged reaching for another roll. Christmas is such an exciting time. I’ve got all my presents wrapped, and the ones that go to Colorado are packed. She unconsciously twisted her napkin around her little finger then untwisted it before repeating the procedure, watching. No one was in a hurry to finish their meal, especially Stuart. She was sure he double-chewed everything. Finally he put in the last bite. “Mother, can we be excused?” Emily asked. Dena sighed. “Yes dear,” Aunt Doreen said, chuckling softly. The girls jumped up, almost knocking over their chairs. “You would think they were five-years-old,” Uncle Walter said, sipping his coffee. Dena stopped just inside the sunroom for a moment to admire the tree. It touched the tall ceiling, filled out the corner, before it flowed into the room. Emily plugged in the Christmas lights. Tonight’s packages: her gifts to them and their special presents for her were separated and stacked. Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen came in and sat down together on the small couch. Finally Stuart sauntered in. “Well … what?” he challenged the girls before either could speak. “I’m here. Who’s first?” “You ask that each year,” Emily chided. “You know that Dad always starts. It’s tradition. Stuart made a face at his sister before sitting next to Dena. She watched the gift-opening party explode into mountains of bows and torn wrapping paper, squeals and oh you shouldn’t haves. Everyone laughed and modeled … well almost. Some items weren’t model material. I love my new sweater from Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen. And Stuart bought her expensive cologne making some silly comment about how she wouldn’t smell so bad now at the afternoon coffee get-together. Dena punched him. Emily’s gift was stationary. “I want you to write me while you’re gone. I need to know,” Emily arched her eyebrows in a “you know what I mean” expression. Dena nodded. *** Dena’s train didn’t arrive at the Colorado terminal until late on the twenty-second. A rockslide somewhere near Flagstaff caused the train to sit for nearly three days. Then she had three more days of delays because there were other trains with more pressing schedules. Talk in the coach was the slide was caused from the enormous amount of rain somewhere up in the mountains. Surprised, Dena wondered how could this be possible— it’s winter. Winter in the mountains means snow, not rain? Around eight p.m., the train pulled into the station. Anxiously Dena, with a gloved hand, rubbed off a circle of ice from the frosted window. She strained to see through the small, round spot. The pane fogged over, and it was so dark she could hardly see anything. Even the moonlight couldn’t push back the blackness of night. The only other light came from the depot streetlights that ruled tiny areas before becoming dark again. Determined, Dena continued to rub and peer out. Surely someone is waiting for me. I know it’s late in the evening, and, I’m six days over do. The wheels squealed as the train slowly came to a halt, steam escaped in a loud sigh. With her handbag and carry-on in hand, Dena slowly stepped down onto a small stool that bridged the steps to the depot platform, all the time searching. Spotting her dad and Brock, she waved frantically. As weary as she was, she couldn’t contain her delight. “Dad! Brock!” she hollered. But a shrill whistle blowing and the depot noises drowned out her cry. They didn’t hear her. Dena almost tripped and fell running toward her dad. She was a few feet away when her dad turned and saw her. His arms stretched wide. A huge grin appeared. “Welcome home, girl!” he whispered hoarsely, squeezing her. “Hope you didn’t bring half of California home with you, Sis. We only brought the car.” Brock squeezed her shoulder before he pulled her baggage tickets from her gloved hand and hurried away to get her suitcases. She watched bleary-eyed while Brock’s dark frame disappeared into the shadows. He knew their dad needed time with his girl. She couldn’t wait to talk to her big brother though. Finally her dad released her, held her at arm’s length, and studied her face closely. Unaware that Brock had returned with her luggage, he hugged her again while her brother waited. “Glad you’re here.” Brock pecked her on the cheek. Before he could say more, Dad said quietly, “Let’s go home.” Dena nodded. The men walked closely by her side on the way to the car. The street light illuminated their frames thus lengthening and shortening their connected shadows. She half smiled. It’s like I might get lost again, and they aren’t going to allow that to happen. “Careful girl; it’s mighty slippery today.” Dad took hold of her elbow. “You only brought three suitcases. I really expected more and heavier ones holding a lot of presents for me. You know I’ve been working out. The large animals where I work sometimes can be a pain to move around. Just feel.” Both Dena and Dad laughed, but she obliged and felt his biceps. “No really, feel.” Brock said, flexing his muscles. Dena rolled her eyes but squeezed his arm hard. As they stopped in the last circle of light, Brock made a face of pain before he laughed. She socked him. “Ouch! What was that for?” “That was for being you,” Dena retorted. Until now she hadn’t really grasped how much she had missed her parents, and her family—just how homesick she had been. Brock stowed the suitcases in the backseat. Dena waited until he had finished before she put in her cosmetic case and carry-on bag. Dad and Brock stood waiting. She eyed both men then slid into the front seat. With her eyes dancing, she said, “Let’s go home.” Dad turned the starter over several times before the old Plymouth fired up. He maneuvered the car through the depot traffic and headed down the familiar road. Dena looked at the countryside blanketed in white. Now that they were outside of town and away from the street lights, she could see the half moon, which shone brightly on the snow. Dena smiled to herself, and then sighed. She listened in delight to the continuous drone of the motor in contrast to the silence of the Colorado scenery. She drank in the pristine white snow on the ground, on the trees, and the mountains. She sniffed. Oh, gosh, how I have missed home. “You okay?” Brock handed her his handkerchief. She blew her nose. He continued, “Dad and I have either come to town or called every day to check on the progress of your train. For seven days I’ve withstood this cold just to see if you had arrived yet.” “I love you too, brother.” She smiled and handed him back his handkerchief. He nudged her shoulder with his. She looked up into his face which showed a huge smile. “I knew it. You’re badgering already. You’re needling me and you haven’t been home half an hour,” he teased. Dena pretended to glare. Dad chuckled. “I don’t badger.” She nudged him back firmly. “Here we are, girl,” Dad spoke, looking tenderly at her. “Go in and see your mother. She’s been cooking all of your favorites.” Brock had opened the door and stepped out. Dena slid out after him. They stood together next to the car as the kitchen door flew open. Two silhouettes appeared in the doorway surrounded by the glow of the kitchen light. “Dena! Oh, Dena, I didn’t think you would ever get home! I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you got a lot of rest on the train. I want to talk all night. I have over four months of stuff to tell you that I couldn’t in letters.” Brock groaned, rolled his eyes, and looked up at the stars. Dena grinned at her sister before she hugged her tightly. She swallowed hard. She released Susan, took her hand and squeezed it until the knuckles turned white. All the while she happily gazed at her mother. Everyone faded from Dena’s mind. Mother stayed in the kitchen doorway, dish towel in hand, waiting. She hurried to the house, her hand still clasped tightly around Susan’s, dragging her along. Susan stumbled, trying to keep up. Dena ignored her. She only saw her mother. It had been too long. Finally she released her sister’s hand and ran the last few steps; running into her mother’s waiting arms. “Dena.” Her mother said. Dena’s eyes blurred. She didn’t think anything could feel better than being in her mother’s arms or having her family welcoming her home. Home. Dena slowly inspected the old familiar surroundings. Everything was in place, including the worn rocker which sat in the corner. When she was small, there were many nights her mother rocked and read to her. She was home. “Okay, girl,” her dad softly chided her. “Let’s get into the house. We’re not heating the whole state of Colorado. You know it’s going to snow tomorrow. I can feel it in my bones.” Dena laughed a silly little high-pitched laugh, cut short nearly before it started. She had forgotten about her dad’s predictions. She hadn’t heard that expression since last year. No one in California talked like a rancher. Linking her arm with her mother’s, she moved into the warm kitchen. “Supper’s ready.” Mother said, smiling. “Oh dear, I hope you didn’t eat on the train.” “No, Mother, I waited. I knew I would be here in time.” “Well then, let’s eat. The smell of roast beef has been tantalizing us long enough. And eight thirty is late, even for us farmers,” Dad said while walking to the sink to wash up. It still amazed Dena that he never had considered himself a rancher even though he mainly ran cattle and horses. He only farmed enough to feed his own stock. Dena watched Susan set out mashed potatoes and vegetables while Mother placed the platter of sliced roast beef in the center of the large kitchen table, next to the rolls. Dena loved her mother’s hot rolls. She would probably gain ten pounds over the holiday. Grant was standing by the stove with his hands around the gravy bowl. He had come over for supper also. She smiled. “Dena.” He nodded, pleased to see her. “How are you, Grant?” Dena questioned politely. Susan eased up by his side, removed the gravy bowl, and passed it to Mother. She then slipped her hand into his. His affection was apparent when he smiled down at her. “Fine and you?” he said politely. “Now …” Dena’s face glowed as she realized that Grant was family—almost! At least he had become a fixture in their family. Dena glanced back to the table before she finished answering Grant’s question, “Now I’m just splendid.” “Hey, guys stop jabbering and eat. You know agriculture people get mighty hungry.” Brock broke in, sitting down at the table. He had a mischievous look on his face as he glanced at Dena. “Don’t suppose draftsmen get hungry?” “Yes, Brock, we do. We’re human, you know,” she spit back, trying hard not to smile. “It’s not all numbers, angles, and lines.” “O-o-oh. There you go, aggravating me again. That’s the second time in what, maybe thirty minutes? Right, Dad?” He grinned openly. Her dad raised both arms in a sign of surrender before he folded his large, calloused hands for prayer. Everyone followed his example. “Dear Father, thank you that our whole family is here—Dena is home safe. Thank you for the food and for Mother who prepared it. Amen.” Grant passed the potatoes while Brock put two large pieces of roast beef on his plate. Dena sat back and savored this time with her family. Brock teased Susan while Grant grinned. Dad listened quietly. Silence dominated the next few minutes while everyone enjoyed the special meal. “Dena,” Brock said in a serious tone. “What’s your opinion on Stuart’s documentary?” “Only what I know from my classes.” Her eyes widened. How did they know about the documentary depicting wind tunnels and jet engines being tested? Both Emily and I are featured in the segment working at tables on some blueprints. Slowly a smile brightened her eyes. Clay was also in that segment. “I know he did a superb job on it. What’s exciting is to see how my education can be used. The documentary is a small part in a much larger newsreel released to theaters. It’s to help Roosevelt’s progress to protect and preserve peace.” She looked around the table. All eyes were on her. She shrugged. “Why?” “Grant, Susan, and I saw it at the theater in town the other day,” Brock concluded. He took another bite of meat, chewed for a moment. Dena couldn’t believe it was at the theaters out here. Sure, in New York, Chicago, or even Denver, but not here. It would have been nice to be prepared. Yet Stuart said it could happen. “It was a surprise to see you in the newsreel,” Grant said. “But I thought the whole presentation was good, real good—very informative.” “What are you talking about?” asked her dad before Dena could answer. “What’s this about my girl?” “Stuart is studying film, Dad, and he did this film documentation before I arrived in July. It’s about students working their way through college. It placed very well. So for his fall semester’s documentation he asked Uncle Walter if he could do it on the wind tunnels that Langley Field uses to test jet engines. It’s what Uncle Walter is working with at Langley.” Dena paused, looking at her dad. She wanted him to understand that she hadn’t done anything wrong. “Go on.” “Since Emily and I are studying drafting and blueprinting, he shot us in the blueprint segment.” Dena finished speaking in a soft voice hoping to buffer the boldness of the information. She deliberately didn’t say anything about Clay. “Well then, I guess we’ll all have to go to the theater,” Dad announced. “Mother, would you like to go see a movie with me? By the way, what movie is playing?” Laughter moved around the table. Dena looked from one face to another and smiled. “We can call tomorrow and check, Lawrence.” Dena noticed Mother dabbing her eyes. She claimed it was allergies. Of course everyone knew better. After all, it was December. Call? She glanced around the kitchen. There it was on the wall just behind the outside door. Wow! Her parents had a telephone! Susan hadn’t said a thing about it. “When did you get a telephone?” “In October, I think,” Mother answered, looking at her husband. “Right, Lawrence?” Her parents amazed her. Dad wouldn’t buy a new car, but he would install a telephone. Dena sat back in her chair, munching on a buttered roll. She listened to the chatter. It’s so warm and relaxing. Yes, it felt good to be home. Everyone knew supper was over when her mother started removing dishes. Dena dried the dishes while her mother slowly washed. Susan put away the leftovers, which wasn’t much. The men sat comfortably around the table waiting for Mother to finish. “Dena, shall I take your suitcases up to your room?” Brock asked. “Why, Brock, that would be nice,” Mother answered before Dena could say anything. “Then we can have hot spiced tea in the living room by the tree.” “You know, Grant, I might need your help. Dena tends to pack the bed in her suitcases.” Dena gave him the old girl look, which Brock returned with his I-am-so-afraid look before laughing and disappearing up the stairs. Dena noticed that Grant just watched in amusement, his arm around Susan’s shoulders. Grant didn’t get into their private bantering. “How long can you stay?” Mother asked. Dad looked up from the old rocker. “I leave on January 8. It’ll be 1940. Can you believe it? Well anyway I can stay for three weeks. Classes start the fifteenth. But I need to be back on the twelfth to help Aunt Doreen with spring enrollment,” she added. “Good,” Mother replied. Dena watched a smile cross her mother’s face. She knew her mother was thinking about three weeks filled with pranks, jokes, and just plain kidding around. She was happy to have all of her children home at Christmas time. Tomorrow they would deliver baked goods to their neighbors. Chapter Eleven December 25, 1939, Christmas Day Dena woke to howling wind and branches scraping the roof. She blinked and then rubbed her eyes before peering into the gray dawn light that filtered through the curtain. She had forgotten where she was. A soft snore came from the bed. Raising up on her elbows and leaning over, she stared. Susan. She fell back against the pillow and smiled in pure joy. Home in Colorado. Two days now she had been home. Pulling the warm comforter up to her chin, Dena considered those two days. It had taken six days to get home. Her train ride was mostly comfortable. Fortunately, the old conductor had taken her under his care. He made sure she had had enough blankets and food and that no one bothered her. He told her fondly that she reminded him of his daughter who lived in Boston. Dena appreciated his kindness. At different times, unpleasant men had harassed her. So the old conductor asked two older ladies, who were sisters to sit with her. They had made her feel safe. Plus, it had been nice to have someone to talk to. And talk they did. They both left the train at the stop just before she got off. She gave a box of chocolates to the sisters, thanking each for making her trip comfortable and helping her to pass the time. A second box went to the conductor. She still had three boxes left. Thankfully, at Jane’s urgings, she had brought chocolates. Never know when someone will show up unannounced at Christmas and you don’t have a gift. Chocolates are always appropriate. Dena bravely slid from the warm comforter and pulled on her heavy flannel robe before moving to the window. She pulled her heavy robe tighter and grinned. Snow. Dad predicted correctly. She almost giggled. Christmas morning was perfect for lots of heavy snow. She had no idea what time she and Susan had gone to bed. True to her sister’s word, they had had much catching up to do. It seemed they had talked since she had arrived. To her dismay, it had been three full days of Grant and Grant-related subjects. Yet, she truly loved spending time with her sister, sitting in the middle of their bed, which was tucked under a slanted roof. Something she realized she hadn’t appreciated last year. Now she stood at the end of the bed looking at her sleeping sister and thinking about the unique relationship she hadn’t valued until she had left home. Plopping down on her sister’s side of the bed, Dena said loudly, “Susan! Wake up! It’s snowing!” “Oh great. Grant may have trouble getting here.” Susan propped herself up on her elbow, hair standing out every which way. Dena giggled. The first words out of her mouth were about Grant, and the last words the night before were about her and Grant. Susan fell back against the pillow, covering up her head and plaintively stated, “Well I’m not getting up.” “Your loss.” Dena hurriedly dressed in a beige woolen sweater and a long chocolate brown wool skirt, ankle boots and warm socks. Then she brushed her hair until it glistened before going downstairs. She still could feel the moist, cold air seeping through her woolen clothes. Crossing her arms, she shivered. Dena quickened her steps through the doorway into a well-lit and warm kitchen. “Good morning, dear.” Mother stood at the stove, her face flushed from the heat. The smell of bacon cooking made Dena’s stomach growl. Or maybe it was the turkey. The turkey probably had been in the oven since four or five. “Come and sit here next to the stove and talk to me.” “Where’s Dad.” She stifled a yawn, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “He and Brock are out doing morning chores and making sure everything is buttoned down for the storm which is settling in for a long blow. Grant arrived a few minutes ago and went to help them.” “Grant’s here now?” “Yes.” Mother nodded watching her daughter closely. “Susan said he probably wouldn’t come,” Dena stated, sipping her coffee. She could tell Mother was thinking about what she wanted to say. Slowly she turned and looked at her daughter before picking up her own half-filled cup. “Dena, Grant’s going to ask her to marry him over the holidays. He’s already talked to Dad and me. They’re planning a June-first wedding, so the family can come. And so you can come home early to help with the final wedding preparations.” She paused, before she picked up the large spatula to stir the grated potatoes. “They’ll be living in Grant’s house. It was supposed to be a secret until it happens, but I think everyone knows except you. I wanted you to know.” She looked at her eldest daughter, smiling wistfully before she continued cooking. It’s like she’s talking about a change in the weather. Dena sat watching her mother. Later her mother added, “I’m so glad you’re home, dear.” She got up, hugged her mother in a lopsided way, and poured herself another cup of coffee. Absent-mindedly she watched her mother work over the hot stove. “Think I should let Susan know Grant’s here?” “Probably should.” Mother put a pan of biscuits in the oven as Dena sat down her coffee and walked towards the door. Pausing Dena asked, “What about school?” Even though she already knew the answer, she wanted to know what her mother would say. “Is Susan going to finish high school?” “Yes. She’ll graduate this spring with Grant. She has all of her necessary credits.” “Oh,” Dena said, walking to the bottom of the stairwell. She shivered again as she went up to the bedroom. “Oh go away, Dena,” Susan whined as Dena roughly shook her shoulders. Dena giggled as she continued tormenting her sister. It was fun. “Dena! Leave me alone, I want to sleep!” “Get up, silly. Grant’s here.” “No!” Susan threw off the quilts, and ran to the window. Certain that Dena was kidding, Susan rubbed a small circle on the frosted pane and peered out. She just knew it was a ploy to get her up on such a cold morning, but sure enough, there sat his pickup half covered with snow. She turned back to her sister, eyes wide as she stood in the middle of the floor trying to decide what to do. Susan picked up a pillow and threw it at her older sister. Dena ducked and laughed. Susan stared at her. Dena sat down on the bed giggling. Susan grinned before turning to the closet. She pulled out her red sweater, and floor-length blue wool-blend skirt. “Merry Christmas, Susan,” Dena murmured. Susan looked at her sister—softness creeping around her green eyes. She walked over and put her arms around Dena and whispered, “Merry Christmas. I’m so glad you’re here.” Dena made the bed while she waited. Susan brushed her hair and tied a blue ribbon in it. “How do I look?” Susan asked. Dena stood, her head cocked to one side, finger over her pursed lips. She hoped she looked like their mother. “Well …” Dena’s voice faded. She wasn’t good at lying. Her face always gave her away. “Oh you! Let’s go downstairs.” Susan laughed. Dena followed her sister to the stairs. Grant stood waiting at the bottom, grinning. Dena knew his smile wasn’t for her. He probably didn’t even know she was there. “Merry Christmas sleepyhead,” Grant said. He looked like a kid that had gotten the best piece of candy in the store. Dena hastened by and continued into the kitchen. Mother had just put a large platter of meat on the table and Brock held an equally large plate of sweet rolls. Dena could smell a fresh pot of coffee brewing and spied an oversized bowl of biscuits. “About time you came down. I thought I might have to eat your food and mine,” Brock teased, his face red from the cold wind. Dena stuck out her tongue and then studied her dad, who sat at the end of the table quietly sipping his coffee. He and Mother watched the door to the hallway. Brock appeared oblivious to the undercurrent. If he knew anything, he was covering it up. He poured coffee for himself and Dena a cup before he set the large metal pot at the back of the stove. “Merry Christmas to you too, Brock,” she said softly. She sipped at her cup of hot coffee. “Oh, Grant!” The squeal echoed into the kitchen. Mother smiled and turned back to the stove, pushing pans and moving bowls around. Dena rose and walked to her dad’s side. He looked up with sadness around his watering eyes. “Merry Christmas, Daddy.” “Merry Christmas, girl,” he spoke tenderly, circling his arm around her waist firmly. He pulled her onto his lap and held her tightly. Dena wondered if he thought he might lose her also. She didn’t mind much. She wasn’t going anywhere. As a matter of fact, it felt pretty good. “Well Grant,” Brock called to the couple in the hallway. “Are you two going to come in and eat, or are you going to stand there and stare at each other.” Dena looked at him. Brock had known. She sat in the chair between her dad and Brock. Grant and Susan could sit across from them. For all she knew, this had been planned. Dad reached over and covered her hand. He smiled. Dena laid her other hand over his and gently squeezed. She understood. “In just a minute,” Susan’s singsong voice floated back. “More coffee, Dena?” asked Mother. Dena nodded, holding up her cup. Mother turned, “More coffee, Brock? Lawrence?” “Of course, Mother.” Brock grinned. “Agricultural students, or ‘aggies’ as we're called, live on coffee you know.” “Then I can eat your breakfast?” Dena queried sweetly. “Absolutely not,” Brock sputtered. “Got you, dear brother,” she said with a snicker. There was a giggle on the other side of the doorway. Grant and Susan strolled in with their arms linked. “She said yes!” Grant exclaimed, grinning. Dena couldn’t imagine him thinking Susan wouldn’t say yes. “Let me see, dear,” Mother said, taking Susan’s hand in hers. “It’s beautiful, just beautiful.” She hugged her youngest daughter. “Oh, Momma.” Susan leaned back and whispered, “I’m so happy.” Dena watched her mother agree with a jerk of her head. She turned loose of Susan and went to get the hot coffee pot. Dena understood why her mother couldn’t talk. She had a lump in her throat too. Grant and Susan walked around the table. “Grant I’d like to say welcome to our family. You’ve been a part of it for several years, but now its official … well, almost.” Dad smiled slightly, finishing off his coffee. Dena felt certain her dad’s voice would be shaky, something he didn’t like to show. Susan sat across from Dena and extended her hand showing her sister and brother her diamond. Dena’s eyebrows shot up. She couldn’t believe how large it was. She smiled at her sister again. “Nice rock, Grant. Congratulations.” Brock said. He and Grant completely understood guy language, even if Dena didn’t. “Let’s say grace,” Dad said. “Dear Father, thank you...” Almost before Dad said amen, Brock asked, “What does a fellow have to do to get to eat around here? Besides, I know I have a couple of presents under the tree to open. Just because Susan already has her gift, doesn’t mean I should have to wait. You noticed, Susan, I said gifts.” That caused everyone to laugh. “Don’t forget, Dena, dibs on your leftovers,” Brock countered. “I’ve been dreaming about this since Thanksgiving.” “I don’t think so,” she replied, firmly. “I can’t believe it. Even on Christmas Day, you’re badgering,” he announced. “What does a guy have to do to get some peace around here?” “I don’t pester, badger, or—” cutting herself off in mid-sentence, Dena took a bite of biscuit with jam. Everyone laughed again. Brock hadn’t expected an answer to his lengthy complaint. “Judith, will you pass me another biscuit?” Dad asked as he smiled contentedly at his wife. Dena reached for a sweet roll, wondering if her dad knew how many years he and her mother had been married. Brock finished the last bite of his second helping—or was it his third? Well, all she knew, she was stuffed from two small sweet rolls, biscuit and bacon. Dad pulled out his pocket watch, snapped it open, and studied it. It was the one the family had given him last Father’s Day. I’m amazed he’s still using it. He had loved Grandpa’s, so this one must be really special. “Dishes can wait, Mother. It’s time.” He walked around the table and led her into the living room. The rest of the group followed. She could remember when Susan, Brock and she had rushed to the tree. Now they walked behind Mother and Dad. Amazing what age will do. Dena stopped at the door and stared. A small gasp escaped. The only lights in the room were the Christmas tree lights. It was beautiful. Just like when they were kids—the tree was always beautiful. It seemed to represent magic. I always expected fairies to jump out, but they never did. Even though the snowstorm continued to rage outside, Dena was toasty sitting by the fireplace watching everyone open their gifts. Her dad’s well stoked fire burned brightly. Each one had a place they traditionally sat. Dena’s was at the warm fireplace. Today she gladly sat next to the warmth. Her dad was the first to start opening gifts. It had been that way as long as she remembered. When her dad came to Dena’s gift, he shook it, asked questions—like “will it bite”—until Dena couldn’t stand it any longer. She almost jumped up and opened it herself. Her dad grinned at her as he tore off the paper. Next, Susan and her mother oohed and aahed over the nylon stockings. Brock mimicked them when he opened his presents. “Brock, be serious,” Dena spoke a little sharper than she meant to. Brock ignored her and continued to imitate. “At least you didn’t bring me a Stanford sweater.” He grinned, holding up the steel gray one. He hooted when she gave him the girl look—narrowing her eyes her eyes together and pouted. She hoped it made herself look meaner. Then it was her turn. Dena started with the gift from Brock. “Oh my,” she said, drawing out the drama of the mystery in the box. “Well it’s not a heavy coat.” Brock whooped again. He had given her a lovely pink satin blouse with a matching pink cardigan sweater. Tears pricked her eyes. I love it. Each present held a special sentiment. I don’t think I can remember a better Christmas. Dena smiled slightly after seeing that Susan received a blue blouse and blue sweater. Brock was always safe as long as he bought blue. “Grant.” Dena handed him the gift she had brought for him. Grant always received gifts from everyone as he had each and every year since he had started coming over to see Susan. “Thanks, Dena.” He smiled tearing off the paper. Susan glowed. “I do believe there’s one more gift,” Dad said, grinning. “Where?” the two girls chorused as they looked around. They didn’t see a single box left under the tree, in the corner, or by the fireplace. Dad nodded as Brock and Grant left. The girls turned and faced their dad and spoke simultaneously, “Oh Dad!” Brock and Grant came through the door lugging a large blanket-covered box and set it in front of her mother. Her dad pulled off the blanket and revealed an elegantly hand-carved rocker. Imagine that, Dad had made Mother a beautiful rocker. I forgot how Dad enjoys wood projects. Her mother fussed and fidgeted. Then she sat in it. Her eyes sparkled as she glanced at her eldest daughter. Dena grinned as she watched her mother look up at her dad; reach up and touch his cheek. Dena knew she would never forget this moment, nor would she forget her parents’ obvious love for each other. Susan motioned for Dena, Brock and Grant to follow. They slipped out to the kitchen. Grant made another pot of coffee. Then all four did the dishes and were putting the last pot away when Mother came in making noises about they didn’t need to do dishes. “And Merry Christmas to you, Mother,” they spoke in unison. Grant grinned. Dena studied her mother as she struggled to hold back tears. “Dinner will be at one,” Mother said, dismissing them, “so don't fill up on sweets and confections.” Mother says that exact same thing every year. Dena walked over to the window and looked out. She watched the snow as it blew by in thick swirls. I wonder what the weather is like in California and what Clay is doing today. Three weeks sped by. Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen called New Year’s Eve and wished her parents a happy New Year and exchange family news. “Yes, I’m glad we have a phone too, especially today. We had another snowstorm last night. It’s up to our hips now.” Then he listened intently. “Dena plans to leave here on the eighth. She should reach California the tenth or eleventh. Tell my little sister Happy New Year for me. Good hearing from you, Walter.” Dena listened to her dad talk to Uncle Walter. She was amazed at how much he had said. Dena didn’t remember her dad saying that much to Uncle Walter when he visited last year. *** January 8, 1940 With an open book on her lap, Dena’s forehead wrinkled in thought as she sat on the train daydreaming about home. Her stay had been too short. But knowing she would return in the spring made it easier to leave. After promising Susan she would come home by the end of May, Dena wondered if she could manage that. Sometimes I promise things I’m not sure of. “I say let’s elect him again. He’s led the nation well,” a loud, voice vibrated the coach. Another argument on politics. She frowned, sitting still, listening. She had really never paid much attention to politics, but it seemed to be the only thing that was being talked about. Even the two women sitting across the aisle were discussing the war. She knew that Roosevelt was running for a third term. Her dad, Brock, and Grant had debated the upcoming election while she was home at Christmas. Her dad wasn’t too keen on Roosevelt’s opponent, Wendall somebody. Somehow all of this didn’t matter much. Maybe it should. Politics is almost as bad as war. So why should I concern myself with politics or war talk. Besides, I’m not registered to vote in California, so that ends that. Dena turned back to her book. But, when she tried to read, the words just didn’t make sense. She closed the book, turned to the window and looked at the reflection. Though the uneasiness she felt persisted. I don’t like this feeling it’s almost like fear. I don’t want to feel fearful. Why am I so unsettled—so afraid? “Oh, come on!” The already fervent discussion became more forceful when the speaker slammed something against the seat. “You know if they’re rationing sugar, butter, and bacon in Britain, who says that the United States might not follow and do the same! After all, Germany has invaded and conquered several countries surrounding Britain!” Dena tried not to listen, but that was impossible for voices were just too loud. “It’s the Baltics now. Germany wants the oil they have. They want to rule all of Europe,” another equally fierce voice chimed in. Dena shuddered at the idea. What a rash statement. I doubt anyone would be so foolhardy as to conquer a country for oil. Think of all the lives destroyed. I mustn’t believe everything I hear. Once more, she tried to go back to her book. Instead she closed eyes, but couldn’t shut out the angry, agitated voices from the other end of the coach. She opened her book and stared at the words. She couldn’t concentrate. Her thoughts returned to Colorado and home. My time at home was the best. Maybe it’s because I’ve been away from home, and I have grown to appreciate it. Definitely Brock has grown up… “Then there’s Japan,” someone else interjected in an equally passionate tone. “It seems like Japan wants to conquer the whole European and make it into their empire.” That’s terrible. Why would one country want to rule another country? That would ruin lives I’m glad we don’t have to deal with that. I wonder if Bill believes that. “At least Roosevelt says we’re neutral.” “Neutral!” A third male voice hooted as though he had told a hilarious joke. No one laughed with him. “Neutral!” someone else echoed. The word vibrated in the air. There was a huge pause. Dena glanced at the women sitting across the aisle. They both stared at each other. When he spoke next, his voice trembled. He seemed to be in control of each measured word. “Roosevelt may say that we are staying neutral, but he sure doesn’t act like it.” Needing to see if the speaker was okay, Dena peered over the back of the seat across from her. She couldn’t really see anyone. She leaned back into her seat, closing her eyes and sighed. If she could only close out the world but it wasn’t that easy. She sure hoped she didn’t have to listen to this topic all the way to California. “Man, get it straight, will you? The voice sounded like the first speaker. “That’s it! That is it! I’m ending this discussion, if you want to call it that. I’m not so sure anymore. I’m going to the dining car. I need a drink.” She peeked over the back of the seat again. Several men sat in a large group at the end of the car. Cruel snickers followed him. She didn’t think the trip could be more strained. Tempers do soar, and things can happen. For the third time, Dena opened and closed her book before she settled into the worn leather seat, pushing back slightly, wrinkling her nose in disgust. These seats are so uncomfortable. What was it he said, rationing butter, sugar, and bacon? Closing her eyes, she thought of her mother’s super chocolate cakes and berry pies. Mother had canned several varieties of berries for the holidays. It seemed that her mother and Susan had baked endlessly while she was home. They made all sorts of pies and cakes and fudge, for Christmas gifts for their neighbors and friends. It was hard for her to imagine not having enough sugar or butter. To be rationed, it doesn’t matter what, would be just awful. She frowned, willing herself think about the night the whole family went to the theater. It was the twenty-eighth, a Thursday evening. After an early meal, everyone loaded into the car. Dad hadn’t forgotten. In fact, he had been adamant that he wanted to see the newsreel with his girl in it. Her dad beamed. “It must be really special when a college film committee picked an unknown producer where he gets national exposure. And my girl’s in it.” While standing in line, Dad told everyone he knew, “My girl’s in one of the news reels.” I’ve never heard Dad brag so much. What if it isn’t any good and Dad’s embarrassed by the scene. Dena felt a nervous twisting in her stomach. She fidgeted. Nervous wasn’t the word; terrified was how she felt. At the first of the show, even before the cartoon, the news reels were shown. Seeing the small segment incorporated discreetly into a much larger reel subject, she sighed in relief. The segment featured Emily, Clay, and her studying blueprints. Surprised, that the news reel revealed a powerful message. Stuart had done a great job in a few frames. It was good. Still grinning, her dad didn’t say a word, but she knew he was pleased. The main feature would change, but the same news reel usually played for a month to six weeks. The main feature was the renowned film Gone with the Wind with an unknown actress from Britain. Dena didn’t know much about the movie other than what she had heard. Dena relaxed and watched Scarlett, the main actress. She and the movie were good. Maybe she should read the book. “Are you warm enough, Miss?” the conductor asked. Dena nodded. Mother’s quilt was perfect. Sitting by the window, she idly gazed at her reflection in the pane. She shivered and pulled up the small patchwork quilt Mother insisted she bring with her. At the time, Dena tried to say no, but Mother’s stern look brooked no room for discussion. Now Dena was grateful she had it. The train wheels clickity-clacked down the track. Dena didn’t hear the monotony sound; her thoughts were focused on California and Clay. She didn’t know how many times Clay had been on her mind while she was at home. After seeing Clay in the news reel, she looked forward in seeing him at their coffee date. Date? She still didn’t feel totally comfortable. Dating was new. Friend, yes, but she liked the idea of Clay being more than a friend. So maybe dating was good. Yes, she liked it very much. Realizing the coach had finally become quiet Dena stifled a yawn with the back of her gloved hand, and soon was asleep. The next two days, she slept several hours each day. Gosh I didn’t know how tired I was. Or could it be because I’m bored? I know when people are bored they sleep. After all there’s not much to do and not many passengers to talk to. The scenery is snow and I can only watch so much of that. Tucking her quilt snugly under her chin helped to keep off the chill that filtered through the cracks around the windows. She wasn’t sure what happened to the young men. Maybe they got off at one of the many stops. There were no more outbursts, no more shouting so her day was quieter and definitely more relaxed. “San Jose. Next stop San Jose.” California! Happily she folded the quilt and gathered her things. She hoped someone was waiting. Dena shivered as she stepped down the coach steps on to the small stool. She scanned the crowd. Ah ha! Stuart and Emily stood by the ticket window. Wonderful! She stepped onto the wooden planks and eagerly moved toward them. When Stuart saw her, he grabbed his sister’s arm and hurried over. “Hey, Dena, it’s really good to see you. We hoped you would arrive on time. Here, let me get your luggage.” Stuart said as he snatched her ticket stub out of her hand. “Oh, Dena,” Emily said, hugging her tightly. “I missed you.” “Me too,” Dena said as she straightened. The two girls linked arms and walked to the car. Stuart followed with her suitcases. “Did you have a nice Christmas? Dad said you had snow,” asked Emily. Dena nodded. “Imagine that. Snow,” Emily turned to her brother. “Stuart, can you imagine Christmas with snow?” “No. But then, California usually just gets rain,” he stated. Dena laughed. It was good to be back. They talked and laughed for the twenty-some-odd miles. To think a year ago she had wondered about their friendships. Pulling into the driveway, Dena saw Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen standing in the doorway waving. Dena was glad to be back in California. She knew Colorado was her parents’ home. She would always enjoy going home, but she felt at peace in California. Chapter Twelve January 15, 1940 She woke up in her California bedroom and eyed the slanted ceiling. She had been home four days and actually had gone to work on Friday to help with enrollment. Studying the ceiling she thought: Yes, the Colorado ceiling does have a more dramatic angle. Funny, a year ago I wouldn’t have thought of that, but because of my drafting classes, I’m more aware of angles and lines in detailed ways. Dena stretched at length before she glanced at the window to check the weather. The sun was shining. Good. No more snow. Well, maybe in the mountains but not here on the peninsula. Yawning wide, she slid out of bed. Quickly dressed, combed her hair, and made her bed. Just as she started downstairs, Uncle Walter came out of his study. “Good morning, Dena,” he said warmly. “How about having some coffee with me?” She followed him into the kitchen. Uncle Walter brought two cups of coffee to the table while Polly set on fresh muffins and jam. “You start back to school tomorrow, right?” She nodded, biting into a muffin. “Is your first class Intro to Aeronautics?” “Yes,” Dena answered between bites. “It starts at eight and is a four-hour class because of the lab. It’s on Tuesday and Thursday. I go to work at one.” “Then are you also taking two drafting classes?” “Yes. One is on blueprinting and its application, and the other is Intro to Drafting II. They’re both second-semester classes. Emily said we should take them. The two drafting classes run from eight to noon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I’ll work all afternoons this semester.” “More coffee?” She shook her head no. Uncle Walter refilled his cup as he thoughtfully considered his next statement before he resumed. “Dena, if you find that your studies are more time-consuming than last semester don’t hesitate to take a leave of absence from your job.” Quit my job? I like it too much. Dena blinked almost unable to comprehend what her uncle was saying. Speaking of her job, she glanced at the clock on the wall. She needed to go to the office and finish some typing she had left unfinished on Friday. “Excuse me, Uncle Walter, but I need to go.” She quickly drained her coffee cup and rose to leave. Uncle Walter watched her. She’s typical of young people, always in a hurry. Uncle Walter looked at the front page as Dena removed her coat from the hall closet. She put it on as she raced to the corner bus stop. Several people boarded before she could step on. The ride was short but gave her time to re-think what Uncle Walter had said. Never. I like my work. “I’m so sorry I’m late, Jane.” Dena rushed in, shedding her coat as she spoke. “Frankly, Dena, I didn’t expect you in this morning. It’s still a school holiday.” “I wanted to finish the typing I left Friday. Then I’ll take the rest of the day off,” Dena replied. After all, tomorrow starts a new semester schedule for me. Dena glanced at the clock as she stacked the finished work neatly in the basket. She was to meet Clay at two and it was a little past one now. Clay. She couldn’t wait to see him. Picking up her coat, she stepped into Jane’s office to let her she was leaving. Clay came loping across the street as she left from the building. Smiling, she waited for him. “Hello, Dena,” Clay’s voice lilted softly. His eyes twinkled as he took her elbow and fell in step beside her. “I thought I would walk with you to the cafeteria since I was across the street.” Clay picked a small table in the corner for them to sit. After sitting, he signaled for the waitress and ordered two coffees and two hot roast beef sandwiches. Then Clay asked, “How was your holiday?” “It was really good but traveling home was tiresome. The trip to Colorado took over a week,” she answered. Clay raised his eyebrows. “What happened?” Dena told him about her train experience, detailing the rock slide and describing the two elderly ladies. “They were probably happy to talk to someone other than each other.” He laughed. Giggling, she conceded he might be right. “Oh by the way, have you seen the news reel that has the drafting segment with us in it?” Clay blankly looked at her, shaking his head. “I caught it at the theater in my hometown over the holidays,” she said as she took another bite. Then she smiled. “Imagine that in my hometown theater.” “Why’s that so funny?” Clay prompted, seeing her smile. “Well, for one thing the only segment that was used was the one with you, Emily, and me. You definitely looked professional,” she emphasized, looking at him, consciously biting at her lip. Her feeling for him had changed over the holiday, and she wondered if he felt the same. Dena reddened. She wondered if she should say what she really wanted to say. Dating had never been a strong area in her life. It made her uncomfortable. She never knew what to do or say. He looked closely at her. “Dena, I really missed you. There, now I’ve said it,” Clay stated firmly. “I missed you more than I thought I would.” She nodded. “I hope we—” Clay stopped and looked up. “Is this a private lunch, or is anyone invited?” Startled, Dena wondered how long Carl, Mary, and Stuart had been standing there. Dena smiled brightly. Inwardly though, she hated losing this moment. Clay scooted his chair closer to hers, touching her knee in the process. She shuddered at the closeness. She liked the feeling. “I understand I’m sitting among celebrities.” Carl grinned, as he eased into his chair. “Congratulations everyone, especially to you, Stuart; that news reel was a nice accomplishment in your education; and a good start on your career.” Stuart didn’t say anything. “Say thank you Stuart,” Mary prodded teasing. Everyone laughed. Mary rarely interceded for him. Usually she sat quiet while Stuart controlled the conversation or at least talked. Today he just blushed, and was speechless. Clay guffawed. He actually slapped his knee and hee-hawed. Stuart slowly smiled at the crowd. Carl just grinned. “Okay. Laugh at my expense but mark my words,” he warned. “I’ll get even.” “The exposure you received is great, Stuart. I’m happy for you,” Dena said. “Yes, Mary and I saw the small cut inserted in an important news reel. It really enhanced the segment’s meaning and opened another avenue of thought for the public.” Stuart warmed up as he talked. Mary listened closely. Dena hoped she could be that devoted someday. “Do you have another idea for the spring document?” Carl asked. Dena looked closely. Sometimes it’s hard to know when Carl’s kidding. I believe it’s called dry humor. Stuart will probably keep everyone in suspense for a couple of months. “Hello everyone,” Floyd said as he and Martin stood behind Emily, who evidently came in at the same time. Emily was delighted. “What have we missed?” “Oh, just the public humiliation of Stuart,” Carl said drawling out the detailed scenario before adding, “Now Stuart is getting even by not telling us about his next project.” Dena was surprised that Carl assumed Stuart was so heartless. Stuart’s polite smile was his way to keep everyone wondering. “Say, did you hear that Jack enlisted in the Marines over the holidays?” Floyd asked, pulling out a chair so he could sit next to Emily. “No! You’re kidding aren’t you? Clay’s clipped reply came out loudly. He leaned back in his chair taking a deep breath. Dena wanted to know too. She leaned forward resting her chin on her folded hands, waiting. “No. I heard it down at one of the garages last week,” Floyd said. “I asked the same question of Powers. Remember him … the one who is working along with several others on some new updated airfoils?” Clay and Carl nodded. “I thought he and Marta were getting married this spring,” Mary said. Dena’s eyes widened again I didn’t know that Jack and Marta had planned to marry so early. “The rumor is Marta married someone else over the holidays. In her words,” Carl mimicked, “It will further my acting career. I can always marry for love another time.” Dena and Emily were speechless. “Wow.” Emily whispered, echoing what everyone was thinking. That’s all wrong. Marta’s rash decision probably has ruined three lives. Why, I hope everybody here, including me, is smarter than that. Dena sat twisting at her coat lining, something she hadn’t done since she was in grade school. “What time is your first class tomorrow, Clay?” Martin asked, changing the subject. Dena admired his ability to know what to say and when to say it like Carl and Stuart. “Eight I’m in the same building as you,” Clay said, turning to Dena. “My lab is from eight to noon.” “Am I seeing a pattern here?” Carl chuckled, slapping Clay on the back. “Maybe lunch together on Mondays?” Grinning, Clay turned a little red thinking that Dena could share lunch with him on Mondays. Of course, the whole group would be there. But she smiled sweetly at Clay, letting him know it was okay. “It may be the day of the week we all can get together,” Clay said, defending his motives. “Carl, are you going back to Virginia with Dad? I believe he leaves at the end of the month.” Stuart moved the discussion in another direction. Dena studied Carl’s face. She had wondered about that too. “No, I’m not going until I finish my thesis and get my diploma,” Carl answered, glancing at Clay. “Professor Miles has been after me to get this done so I’ll be a candidate for promotion in the future—you know, all that technical stuff. Besides I’m working as a teacher’s assistant in the aerodynamics lab. It helps pay the rent. And you know what, I just might want to visit with Powers and see how they are coming along.” Clay agreed. Carl hasn’t graduated? Dena thought this over. She assumed he had. I wonder why he hasn’t graduated. Who is Powers? What’s an airfoil? I must look it up in my aeronautics book. I believe there’s a chapter on airfoils. “Guess we should head home. Are you coming, Dena?” Stuart asked. Mary and Emily stood. She nodded. Clay jumped up, and helped her with her coat. She smiled. Stuart grinned, showing his approval. “Talk to you later,” Clay murmured softly. Dena nodded, picking up her purse. Leaving, she heard Clay ask about the status on the airfoils. He had already dismissed her. *** “Hello you three.” Uncle Walter was sorting through the mail as they walked in. His voice faltered; a frown creased his face. “What is it, Dad?” Stuart glanced over his dad’s shoulder, scanning the envelope. “Is it a letter from Bill? Gosh, we haven’t heard from him since November.” Uncle Walter nodded. He went through the door to the kitchen looking for Doreen. They followed wanting to hear what Bill had to say. “We have a letter from Bill, dear,” Uncle Walter said carefully. “Shall I read it?” Aunt Doreen nodded. She was sitting at the small table in the kitchen where Uncle Walter eased into the chair across from her. *** January, 1940 Dear Uncle Walter and everyone, Your Christmas present reached me in fine form. Thanks for the same. I shared the treats with all in the barracks. Thanks from them too. This thing of living in tent-like huts they have us in now in this kind of weather (monsoon) is the “bunk.” But there’s nothing I can do about it. I hear we are moving back on the base in Shanghai next week for a while. Well, I sure hope so. In just eleven more years, which isn’t so long, I could have a nice little place to stay on my pension. As it is, you know I’ve completely given up all hope of ever getting married. I guess it just simply isn’t in the cards. And by the way, Uncle Walter, I think I’m somewhat biased when it comes to women. Aunt Doreen's the best. I guess that’s my problem. I would never be concerned about a person who didn’t worry about me, and as you know, there are a million fish in the sea that have never been caught. Oh yes, about my Japs. Well, Uncle Walter, I don’t know just what you’ll think of me if I tell you this, but I certainly did fall in with some of them in Tsingtao and Shanghai, especially with one certain little beauty in Tsingtao by the name of Kiyoko Nagai. And then after losing track of her, I met another one in a Sukiyaki cafe, who I took to in place of Kiyoko. Her name is Hisako Mori. She isn’t as nice as Kiyoko, however. I had a kimono made for Aunt Mary and Mother. Aunt Mary is very happy with a genuine Japanese kimono. I had two little Japs make one for me and another, which I gave or sent rather to Mother by request of a little old Jap lady that’s nice to everybody she likes. She helped me to find some fine rice parchment drawings that I’ll bring home to you when I’m shipped back to the good ole US of A. Are you going back to Virginia or stay at Stanford? What kind of work are you doing, or is that also top secret? I rather think that Aunt Doreen wishes you would stay put. I hope this letter finds you both in better spirits because of you being home for the holidays. Remember what I said about letting a little thing like work stand in the way. As ever, your “almost returned” Asiatic nephew, Bill *** “He does sound good, don’t you think?” Aunt Doreen’s voice quivered. “I hate it that he’s staying in a tent when it’s raining so. But I’m glad he’s out of all that bombing. We’ll send him another care package with some dry things such as socks and underwear. Walter, what is it?” Uncle Walter frowned. Dena wondered if he knew something he wasn’t saying. Dena watched him as he turned over another letter, inspecting it closely. “Here’s a letter from Phyllis and Tom.” Uncle Walter tore open the end and pulled out one sheet. “My goodness,” Aunt Doreen remarked, “we haven’t heard from them in a while. How long has it been, Walter?” “Mmm, I’m not sure. Did we hear from them last Christmas?” Uncle Walter looked up at Aunt Doreen, waiting for an answer. He opened the folded sheet and scanned the page before reading it out loud. *** January, 1940 Dear Walter and Doreen, Happy New Year! Thanks a lot for the nice stockings and chocolates. Tom enjoyed his gift too. I wonder how you knew what we needed. My last pair of stockings had a hole. I hope you both had a nice Christmas. We had several family members from both sides here to share a twenty-two- pound turkey. I thought I would never see the last of it, but it’s gone now. I enjoyed my visit in California last year. It was a hard trip, but I’m feeling better now. Everyone on my side of the family looked better. I haven’t heard from Bill lately, but it's about time for him to come home. I’ll be glad when he’s done over in that awful place. He sent me a lovely kimono for Christmas. Tom received Jap cigarettes. He won’t touch them. Says they’re Jap cigarettes. Well I must close for now. I’ll write more at a later time. Tom and Phyllis *** “You know I think I’ll stop and see them on my way to Virginia,” Uncle Walter announced, while replacing the letter into the envelope. “They live up around Kansas City, don’t they?” He looked at his wife. She nodded. Dena didn’t think she knew this aunt and uncle. She wondered if they had come to Grandpa’s funeral. As she watched Stuart and Emily leave, she followed. About half way up the stairwell, Dena stopped and watched as Uncle Walter sat down beside Aunt Doreen and cradled her in his arms. Dena didn’t mean to spy on them. It was just that she couldn’t pull herself from the tender moment. “Dena.” Emily knocked lightly then opened the door. Emily looked as if she could cry. Dena put her arm around her shoulder. “What’s wrong?” “I heard today that Julia—you know the nurse who came to Thanksgiving dinner with Mary? Well, she has been sent to Hawaii. And, Monique, the other girl who worked as a secretary for some lawyer? She enlisted and also was sent to Hawaii.” “Wow.” Then, hoping to break the somber mood, Dena spat out, “I wonder if they have a special spot for married actresses.” “Actresses?” Emily questioned warily. She turned and looked Dena directly in the eyes. She wanted to make sure Dena had really said that. “As in … M-a-r-t-a,” Dena answered mischievously, desperately trying to keep a straight face. “What a funny thing to say,” Emily snickered, “but it’s so true.” Then she also laughed. Dena joined her. Stuart walked in without knocking and said, “What’s so hilarious?” “It’s a circumstantial thing, Stuart, not good the second time around,” Dena said between chuckles. “Try me.” “Well …” Dena and Emily tried to explain the image of Marta in Hawaiian jungle boots dodging bullets. Their words came out jumbled and incoherent. Stuart gave up trying to understand the joke and left. Yet he had a pretty good idea what they were saying. And he agreed that it was funny. *** Saturday, February 3, 1940, Dena waited until her Uncle Walter hugged her. Then she ran back to the car. At least now she was out of the wind. Dena watched as Emily and Stuart said their good-byes and hastened to the car. “I don’t think it could get any colder than it is this morning.” Dena said. She then turned to her cousin and asked, “Stuart, where’s Kansas City located?” “It’s on the Missouri River. There’s a Kansas City, Missouri and a Kansas City, Kansas for the town has grown up on both sides of the river,” Stuart explained. She still didn’t understand where it was. That’s why I’m studying drafting: numbers, scales, and lines. Aunt Doreen remained on the platform with Uncle Walter. He sheltered her from the wind with his overcoat. In the six months Dena had been here, she saw the breach in their marriage had healed just like Mother predicted. “See you soon, Walter,” Aunt Doreen whispered in his ear. Uncle Walter rushed to the coach car as the whistle blew. But Aunt Doreen stood planted—wind whipping her coat tail. Stuart pulled up his collar and yanked his hat down before hurrying to his mother’s side. They both waved at Uncle Walter looking out the window. Stuart guided his mother to the car. Emily blew her nose while her mother trembled nervously. Dena bit her lips so not to cry. A tear ran down her cheek. I wish Uncle Walter could stay, but I know how important his work is for our country. By what Uncle Walter had told them, Dena knew he needed to go. That he had waited as long as he could. She knew how intriguing aeronautics was. Every class offered fathoms of information, puzzles, and mysteries. She enjoyed drafting. In fact, she was really good at it. But aeronautics challenged her. Dena could hardly tear herself from the classroom and couldn’t wait to do her homework. I wish I had told Uncle Walter that I understand his passion for his work. Stuart eased the car into the traffic. He’s a good driver. Dena had driven very little. She just had no need for it. She stared out the window watching her breath fog the glass. When she was a kid she always liked writing her name in the fogged area. As the tires hummed down the highway, Dena’s thoughts returned to her favorite subjects—Clay and her college classes, in that order. I haven’t seen Clay or Carl, for a couple of weeks. Carl’s most likely working on his thesis and probably spending a lot of time in the engineering section of the library. And he’s teaching a lab. But Clay has just disappeared. She had looked for him the last two Mondays at the cafeteria, but he hadn’t shown. Maybe next week, she hoped. *** Stopping at the cafeteria door, Dena brightened seeing Clay sitting at the table with several other engineers. He barely noticed her, mumbling a greeting when she slipped in beside him. He looked tired. “Jules and Abe enlisted in the navy last week so they could fly,” Carl flatly stated. “Are you sure they joined the Navy?” Clay asked. Carl nodded. Stunned, Dena stared. She leaned forward. She couldn't believe Jules and Abe would even consider such a thing. They would be in war, and flirting with death. They had always talked against war. I wonder what changed their minds. “Are you sure they joined the Navy?” Clay questioned a second time. “Yes, I’m sure.” Carl answered, nodding. “I heard it directly from Abe. He came in to pick up his engineering gear.” “Are they stupid? Landing airplanes on a carrier ship is dangerous. No. It’s worse. It’s suicidal. Most planes crash and burn. No way to stop them on such a small runway,” Clay growled. Dena shuddered at the vivid picture. She knew Clay wanted to fly. But first he wanted to finish his education. He and Carl talked hours on the what, how and why of building airplanes. He had once told her Carl wanted to build airplanes, but he wanted to both build and fly. “Who crashed and burned?” queried Stuart. He had overheard the end of Clay’s outburst. Mary and Emily had followed him. Emily causally glanced around the group, scowling. “Has anyone seen Floyd or Martin?” Emily looked directly at Carl. He shook his head. Emily sat down by Dena, leaving the next two seats for Mary and Stuart. “Flying is relatively safe,” Clay continued in a quieter tone. “Look at Howard Hughes. He has proved that. He set a record in 1938 when he made a nonstop trip around the world in three days flying the Lockheed 14.” “Three days, nineteen hours, and seventeen minutes.” Floyd said as he plopped down in a chair across from Emily. “He broke all records and others will have a hard time breaking his. Are we talking about Jules and Abe?” Dena watched Martin move around the table to an empty chair next to Clay. Silence followed. All of a sudden, Psalm 139:23 popped into her mind. Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts. Dena squirmed uneasily. Oh my. This has never happened before— what’s the meaning? What am I supposed to do? Maybe she was supposed to be more open to what others were saying. After all, several of her friends and acquaintances were soldiers or related to soldiers. I’ll think more about it later. “You know, if they really wanted to fly, they could go to Britain. The Royal Air Force is training men to fight the Germans right now,” Clay cut in. “At least they wouldn’t be landing on carrier ships.” “They still can die,” Floyd said, scowling. Dena breathed deeply and let it out slowly How can I keep as open mind when I don’t understand the fascination of war and as hard as I try I can’t see the thrill guys see in war?. I hope that I never have to experience war directly. “Come on, Floyd.” Clay’s chin jutted forward firmly. His whole demeanor stiffened. “What’s wrong with RAF other than it’s across the ocean?” “Dena.” Emily faced her and spoke in a low voice. Dena leaned over. “Do you remember Winnie Whaymeier? She came to the dance with Abe?” Dena nodded slowly. “Well she and two other girls joined the WACs and are being deployed next week.” Emily sat still. Her face paled. “What’s WACs?” Dena asked just above a whisper. “Women’s Army Corps. Dena, this whole situation frightens me.” Dena nodded a second time. She couldn’t think. Somewhere across the room someone was playing “Blueberry Hill.” She listened for a moment. The tune was relaxing. “Have you followed the news on the giant cyclotron being built at the University of California? It’s the one for producing mesotrons from atomic nuclei,” Floyd changed the subject. “I know it’s not in our field, but it’s something I feel we should monitor. Why, if the wrong people get the blueprints, the United States could be in big trouble.” What? Dena jolted back to the conversation and looked around the table at the different expressions. What have I missed? “Aw, I don’t think we need to worry about it, Floyd,” Carl said, lowering the strain around the table, his face exhibiting a false smile. “The good old U.S. of A. has everything under control.” “Like the Yankees?” Martin added. Stuart looked intently at Martin as did Dena and just about everyone else at the table. Then collectively laughter prevailed, overriding building stress. “Something that’s newsworthy is the developing of Penicillin as a practical antibiotic,” Martin continued. Dena hadn’t heard anything about that either. “If, and I said if we should go to war, having a good antibiotic would be an asset.” “Oh my, Stuart,” Mary said. “I need to go. I have class in ten minutes.” Stuart rose. Dena and Emily got up too. Only Carl and Clay stayed. They were still talking to Floyd and Martin. Dena wasn’t even sure if Clay knew she’d left. So much for a coffee date. Dena frowned. She raised her chin with determination and followed Emily out the door, never looking back. Chapter Thirteen February 14, 1940 It was Valentine’s Day—a day for sweethearts. Dena sighed. She had hoped Clay would ask her to the Winter Ball coming up on March twenty-third. She didn’t know if she should buy an evening dress, wait or just not attend the dance. Dena couldn’t decide. Actually the dance wasn’t that important. She didn’t know what had kept him away. She just wanted to know what she had done. Aunt Doreen mentioned that the dance was mostly formal though codes weren’t as strict this year. Dena knew Floyd had already asked Emily. Aunt Doreen mentioned Dena should go regardless whether she had a date. It would be nice if I could talk to Emily, but I just can’t. She sat at her desk and idly drew on the ink pad. She couldn’t decide. It surprises me that Clay hasn’t come to coffee in two weeks or so, Dena thought sadly. He was coming on Mondays, and sometimes on other afternoons, but now …the last time we had coffee together, Clay seemed distant. Dena looked forward to their time together and missed seeing him or hearing from him. Suddenly a thought popped into her mind. I wonder if I should go over to the Engineering Building and talk to him. After all we are going together. He did ask me to be his girl. Mother would tell me that ladies don’t chase after men. Sighing, Dena fingered the necklace Clay had given her. She was so preoccupied with her thoughts she didn’t hear Jane enter the room. Why not? Maybe I should go. “Dena.” Dena jerked. She looked up and wondered what Jane needed. “Would you and Emily like to go shopping tomorrow afternoon?” Before she could answer, Jane continued. “Mr. Graves said it was okay to take an afternoon off as personal time.” “Do what?” Emily walked in, dropping her coat on the chair. “Shop for dresses for the dance,” Jane repeated. “I know that you haven’t been to my special store, Emily, I thought that Dena and I could introduce you.” “Great. I would like that. How about you, Dena?” asked Emily, watching her cousin closely. “Okay,” Dena agreed. “I think it would be fun, Jane.” “How about we have a late lunch?” Jane continued with a smile. “Have you ever eaten Chinese?” “I don’t think so,” Dena shook her head. Emily turned to Dena. Her eyes seemed to dance. “Well, I’ll make sure you try traditional Chinese dishes along with the American dishes. It’ll be fun,” Jane declared, disappearing into her office. Her voice floated back to them, “We’ll leave at noon.” Lunch, Dena resolved, had been an experience. She had never eaten Oriental food before. It wasn’t found in her hometown. Jane had ordered many sample dishes along with combination platters so each could taste several foods. Chinese tea was the house specialty. It was Jasmine. Emily sampled everything enthusiastically while Dena hedged. As she bit into an egg roll, she wondered if Bill had eaten Oriental food. She wasn’t sure she could learn to enjoy it as much as Jane and Emily seemed to. It was a California tradition. She had been told to try new and different foods. One thing Dena knew was she liked good old homegrown farm food as beef and potatoes. After lunch Jane steered both girls down a small narrow alley where her favorite store was located. Dena knew where she was going. Even though it had been a few months ago, everything looked familiar. Emily was about to experience a new world just as she had in December. Dena remembered to keep a close eye on Jane. Jane knew where she was going and assumed the girls would follow closely. She quickly disappeared. By the time Dena and Emily turned that corner, only dark billowing curtains were moving. “Where’s Jane?” Emily asked, standing in front of the curtains, uncertain. “Do we go in here?” Dena nodded to both questions, giggling. She led her cousin through the dark curtains. She could feel Emily’s breath on her neck. If she stopped suddenly Emily would bump into her. Dena looked around, slowly allowing her eyes to adjust to the dimness. She hadn’t been in the small store since before Christmas. “Missy, you come.” The small Chinese woman bowed, stepping backwards toward another curtained door. Dena readily followed but Emily paused. “Over here, girls,” Jane called from the far corner. Dena and Emily wandered between different racks. As they walked down the overflowing aisle, Dena kept an eye on Emily. They found Jane raffling through one of several racks of dresses on sale. She had pulled out several dresses of various styles. The girls were amazed that Jane could find just the right dress at an affordable price. Emily and Dena agreed Jane was a good shopper. Dena finally narrowed her decision to three lovely gowns. She ran her fingers over a red satin slender waistline dress. It sported a slim skirt that flared at the bottom, and the neck mimicked that new scalloped look, which scooped down into a V-style just above the bust. Lace delicately edged the neckline, covering all the essential areas. She had also picked a deep green, peplum gown depicting a small scalloped sweetheart neck; cap sleeves, a three-inch ruffle at the waistline; and a long, boxed pleated skirt that accented her dark green eyes and blond hair. The last dress was a black crepe with a low V-neck. It had small cap sleeves, a fitted drop waist, and a floor-length skirt which was softly gathered. The ruche front accented the bust area perfectly. Dena knew this technique was called ruche because of her high school sewing class. I’m surprised I remembered that trivial piece of information. Dena looked at the dress again. “What do you think, Emily?” Dena asked as she modeled the dress. Emily frowned then shrugged her shoulders. She was more interested in selecting the perfect gown for herself. Yet out of good manners, Emily paused and answered. “I don’t know. It’s gorgeous. Hold up another one and let me look.” She wrinkled her forehead. Dena held up each dress. Emily looked closely at each. “Gosh, Dena, I …” Emily said with more hesitation. Then she stopped. “I believe I like the black one best,” Jane said, excitedly. “Really?” Dena held out the dress and looked at it again. “I do. Just a minute,” Jane replied. She riffled through a different rack, and she pulled out a black dress that was styled like the red one. “Here. Hold this one up.” Jane studied Dena for a moment, nodding slowly before looking at Emily, “Emily?” “Yes, yes, that’s the better one of the two.” Emily continued to nod slowly as she ran her hand down the front of the skirt. Dena held it out and gazed at its beauty. Then she searched the tag for her size. It was perfect. “Have you found a dress, Emily?” Jane asked. “I just can’t choose,” she said in a mournful tone. She was holding two different dresses and had a couple laid across the racks. “Well, you know you two are the same size. You could exchange dresses. What with a little rearranging, no one would know.” “That’s a great idea. What do you think, Dena?” Emily asked, her eyes pleading. “Which two shall we get?” The two girls chose, put back, and then picked up the same dresses again. “Jane, what do you think? This one?” Emily asked as she held up a dress. Then she pointed to another lovely frock lying on the rack. Emily kept returning to the same dress. It was nearly the same style as Dena’s only it was a plumb color trimmed with matching lace. “Or that dress over there?” “Dena.” Jane glanced at each girl. “What do you say about the slender plumb-styled dress? Hold it up, Emily.” Dena looked at the beautiful dress. It was silk, and except that the sleeves were a short puffed style; the black crepe and plumb silk were alike. “I like it.” “Then it’s settled,” Jane announced. “Let’s look for a suitable wrap.” “Missy wants fur?” The small woman took the two dresses from the girls. “Yes,” Jane answered, “either fur wraps or maybe exquisite embroidered boleros.” Dena glanced at Emily. Emily eyes widened. Fur? Dena had never owned anything as fine as a fur. “Missy find proper wrap here.” The small Chinese woman smiled broadly, showing her missing teeth. “Thank you, Le Chumg,” Jane said. “Now let’s see. Oh, here’s one. Dena, see if it will look right with your black dress.” Jane had pulled out a small cape-styled fur in dark brown. Dena laid it on her shoulder and turned to look into the mirror which stood on the floor just a few feet away. She let out a small gasp. It was stunning. Emily stood behind her stroking her shoulder. Jane then put an equally sensational black, beaded bolero around the dainty dress before she turned and smiled at Dena. She just couldn’t choose. “You think about it while I help Emily pick something,” Jane proposed. Dena nodded absently as she looked at both wraps. She decided she didn’t have to choose. It was harder than her tests. “Oh, Dena, would you look?” Emily couldn’t choose either. Jane had not only found just the right drape in dark brown but a beautiful cream bolero studded with sequins. “Missy ready?” “Yes Le Chumg. We’ll take everything.” She smiled at the girls. They were astonished. “Oh, Jane, I don’t know,” Dena finally sputtered. Jane waved away her concerns and paid for the merchandise. “Now let’s go see Doreen,” she chattered. Dena raised an eyebrow as Emily looked at her. “What do you think of my little store, Emily?” It’s outstanding.” “Jane?” Dena frowned. “It’s all right, Dena,” Jane interrupted her. Then she went on to re-assure both girls. "Everything was on sale. And since we bought two wraps for each, the second wrap was free. Le Chumg had sent me a sales flyer in a letter a couple of weeks ago. Doreen agreed she couldn’t have dresses made for what these cost.” “But…” Emily started. “Happy Valentine’s Day girls.” Jane raised her hand stopping Emily in mid-sentence and squeezing their necks. Jane was good at giving hugs just at the right time. Dena suspected she had had a lot of practice. The girls left their packages in Aunt Doreen’s office and waited until she came back. “Oh, I didn’t know you were waiting. I’m in a meeting. I’ll bring them home.” Aunt Doreen poked her head around the door. Both girls nodded. Since they had the afternoon off, she could visit with Clay. And Emily wanted to see Floyd. She pulled her coat snuggly around her and shivered. February weather was deceiving, thinking it was warm when the sun was shining. Dena hurried into the building and looked around. Afternoon classes were over, and students came out of all the buildings. She narrowed her eyes, somewhat, studying different groups, but she didn’t see Clay. Dena and Emily rushed to the cafeteria. Her mood was beginning to mimic the weather. “Dena!” a male voice called. Dena turned and saw Carl sprinting to catch up with them. “Hi.” He smiled. “I’m surprised to see you two here. Mind if I walk with you to the cafeteria?” Dena shook her head but looked at Emily to see if she cared. “I don’t mind,” Emily assured them. “How have you been? We haven’t seen you for a while.” “I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I was working on my thesis.” He told them he had his thesis ready for typing and how he was relieved to finally have it finished. “I should have done it before now, but, I guess I’m lazy.” “Probably,” Dena inserted in a teasing tone. “The thesis wasn’t your most prominent priority.” “Yes. That sounds better. It wasn’t my first priority. Research was and is, hands on research in the field.” Carl was silent for the remainder of the walk. Dena felt Carl’s hand firmly on her arm. She stopped just inside the cafeteria door where the wind wouldn’t bother them and curiously looked at Carl. Emily stood to one side watching the crowd. “Dena, about Clay,” Carl spoke softly. “I’m going in,” Emily broke in, “Floyd’s waiting.” Dena nodded dismissing her cousin. She stepped closer to hear Carl above the noise. “He has been struggling this last month. His parents died at the first of February, so the whole month is tough for him. He tends to immerse himself in work like twenty-four/seven in order to forget.” “Oh,” Dena replied, stepping closer. Now she understood. Her heart softened for him. “Because he’s been working around the clock—not eating or sleeping like he should—he loses track of what’s happening. He doesn’t want to remember. It will pass, but… well, it’s been tough.” Dena watched Carl closely. He studied the floor for several moments, struggling to explain something he understood well but wasn’t sure how to share it with her. All the outward signs showed he was worried about Clay and really cared just as she did. “He just wants to get this month over.” Carl glanced up at her ever so briefly. He repeated himself while he gripped her arm. It was important she understood. “What can I do?” Dena asked. Carl faced her with earnestness. “Ask him to the dance. Bring him back to reality.” Startled, Dena was taken back. She had heard the suggestion, but she had never asked a boy to anything. Well, she did ask Brock to a box supper, but he was her brother. That didn’t count. “Ask him, Dena,” Carl spoke quietly. His intentions were well-meant. “Go on in. I’ll come in later.” Dena understood. She looked for Emily, who was sitting with Floyd and Martin, across from Clay. Emily kept glancing at her. Dena knew Emily probably wondered what Carl wanted to talk so secretively about, what he couldn’t say in front of the group. Her shoulder sagged momentarily before she gave a little shrug, hoping to firm her decision. It didn’t. Mustering up what determination she could, she walked slowly into the cafeteria. Clay was sitting with his back to her. Squaring up her shoulders, she walked firmly towards the table. Ask and you shall receive—another one of Mother’s teachings again. Frowning she walked up behind Clay. Carl said I should ask. “Are you kidding? I can’t believe it!” Clay seemed upset. Martin shrugged his shoulders. Dena slid into a chair close to him but not beside him; where she could see his face. Clay glanced at her almost not seeing her yet his eyes flickered recognition and a smile almost made it to his mouth. Not sure how to approach the dance invitation, she carefully waited for the right time. She didn’t want him angry with her too. “No,” Floyd confirmed, seeing Carl coming across the room. “Ask Carl. He knows.” Knows what? Dena looked around. By Emily’s look, she wondered too. “Carl,” Floyd spoke before Carl sat down. “Tell Clay about the letter from Ed.” “Mmm,” Carl uttered, reaching into his vest pocket. “Here I have it. I’ll read the section that Floyd is referring to.” He pulled out a letter and scanned down the page. “Let me see … Here it is: *** At the present time, I’m trying to show margins on the engine mount for model “14” cyclone installation. 1,100 H.P. aren’t very gentle to a steel tube structure under a condition of unsymmetrical H.A.A. with takeoff torque. In my spare moments, I’m analyzing the fuselage for a new tail load condition at 5,620# applied obtained with power on, flaps down, and an acceleration due to gust. Woe is me. If the fuselage holds together under static tests, it’ll be a wonder. The ship has fowler flaps of a questionable design … little nubbins protrude from the trailing edge of the wing. These nubbins form the track on which the flaps ride. If I didn’t know what margins we have on the wing, fuselage, flaps, motor mount, etc, I would say that it’s a wonderful airplane … beautiful …and with all that it takes to make up a real job. Well, maybe it’s okay; anyway … it must be a good design because the margins are really down to bed rock. (M.S. = .001+/- .0005). And I had to fight to get this sketch. Ed. *** “Let me see,” Clay grumbled, taking the letter. “I can’t believe he wrote all of that information and sent it. I would consider it classified information.” “That’s not all,” Carl continued, passing around a second sheet. “He sent me a scaled drawing. Clay took the sheet from Carl and passed back the letter. Carl continued reading. *** Note: Gas tanks are formed by skin and solid ribs, front and rear shear beams and main beam. Hydraulic operated flaps and landing gear. High speed: 265 M.P.H. (300 lbs. of lead in tail when flying empty). Gross weight: 17,000 lbs. *** When the sheet reached Dena and Emily, they both studied each detail with avid interest. Dena noticed that it looked like some of their drafting problems. The letter was interesting, and offered a good diagram. However, she didn’t see anything outstanding about it. So where’s this conversation going? “It looks like Lockheed might have something,” Martin commented slowly. “Do you think Professor Miles needs a copy, Carl?” “Yeah, I’ve already air-mailed copies to him.” Carl responded. “Carl, do you know where Hughes is on their project?” Clay asked, still bothered about the details. She thought with a frown, He personally is very competitive. And everyone wants to produce the first working engine for a small plane, so the pressure is always there. Now might not be a good time to ask him to the dance. “No,” Carl said without hesitation. Then he stopped. Those at the table were silent for several minutes, each person contemplating the issue at hand. “I know the Hughes H-1 engine is being incorporated into present fighter planes. But it has been a working plan for a while.” “Is the engine the same one the Royal Air Force Bristol is using?” Clay asked, taking a drink of coffee. His face had relaxed to some extent. “They used two 920 hp Mercury XV engines.” “The H-1 was powered by a 70 HP Pratt and Whitney radial piston engine, I believe,” Carl answered. Dena tried to listen, but it was becoming harder by the minute. I guess it’s because we haven’t studied this in aeronautics class. She noticed that Emily was glancing around the room. She stifled a yawn. It seemed warmer than usual in the cafeteria. “Is that the twin wasp junior radical piston engine?” Floyd quizzed. Carl nodded. He had said enough on the subject. So he quickly changed the subject. “I plan on going to Virginia Monday after next. My thesis is finished and in the typing pool with instructions to send on to the committee. Any questions can be referred to me in Virginia.” “Really,” Martin exclaimed. “Why?” “I’m needed there,” he responded somewhat guardedly. “Others will fill my assistant teacher spot at the lab.” “Hey,” Floyd said, “how many of you are going to the dance in a week and a half?” A scowl crossed Clay’s face as he glanced at Dena. He had forgotten, yet he said nothing. Dena’s brow puckered. I want to ask. I should ask but I can’t bring myself to. Stuart and Mary were working their way to the table. She feebly smiled at them. “Dena, Emily, are you ready to go?” Stuart asked. Dena nodded, picking up her stuff and followed Emily. She wouldn’t ask Clay to the dance. Not today anyway. *** “Girls, come out here,” Aunt Doreen called after hearing them come in. Both girls went to the sunroom where Aunt Doreen had draped the newly purchased party dresses over the couch for their viewing. “I can’t believe you found such elegant evening wear and saved so much money,” she declared, “I couldn’t have bought material and had dresses made for less. And these fur wraps and boleros … why they’re beautiful.” Dena miserably stroked her black crepe. It was beautiful. Emily modeled her fur wrap. With her new Lauren Bacall hairstyle, Emily looked like she should be an actress and not an aspiring engineer. Both their hairstyles complimented them. Dena laughed at Emily’s capers, and then sneezed. *** Friday morning Dena woke up feeling terrible, and couldn’t breathe well. Then she sneezed and coughed. Oh my goodness, she moaned, I’m getting a cold. The weather has either been cold and windy or rainy. Dena pulled the covers over her head and moaned again. She had to get up and go in. She had a test in her first class. Groaning, Dena willed herself to get dressed, sneezing. You know you always feel better after you get going, dear. Dena paused. Mother had always said that when she or her one of her siblings feigned a stomach ache to avoid a test at school. And most of the time Mother had been right, she reflected, slipping into the ankle-length, brown, wool skirt. A stylish skirt should be shorter. But, she felt the need for her legs to be warm. “I can’t believe how cold it is,” Aunt Doreen commented as Dena sat down at the table. “They say it's one of the coldest winters on record. Coffee, Dena?” Dena nodded as she sneezed into her napkin. “Oh dear, are you catching a cold?” Aunt Doreen asked. “Polly will you bring me the elixir?” Her aunt called to the cook. Turning back to Dena, she smiled. “It’s the best medicine on the shelf and it will help you get better. If we catch it quickly enough, maybe you won’t be too ill.” Emily wrinkled up her nose in distaste. Stuart frowned. “This along with hot tea, toast, and rest will help you get well.” Aunt Doreen said. Polly brought over the bottle of medicine and a spoon then disappeared back into the kitchen. Dena took a tablespoon of the syrup. The bitterness made her want to gag but she didn’t. The elixir burned all the way to her stomach. No wonder her cousins made faces. “I think I’ll go to my first class, Aunt Doreen,” Dena whispered. “I have a test.” “You will come straight home after the test. Emily can bring your assignment from the other class.” Aunt Doreen brooked no rebuttal from her niece. Dena nodded obediently. The test was long and detailed. She was tired when she finished although she didn’t sneeze. Picking up her books, Dena wasn’t sure if not sneezing was good or bad, but she was going home. “See you later,” Emily whispered. Dena nodded, pulling her coat collar up around her ears. Walking toward the bus stop, she felt chilled. And by the time she reached the house, all she wanted was to go to bed. As she closed the door, Dena sneezed. “Miss Dena,” Polly stood with the elixir and a spoon. “You need to take another spoonful before you go up to rest.” Dena sneezed. Polly handed her the bottle and spoon. Wrinkling up her nose, Dena took a spoonful. Her nose wrinkled in distaste as she handed the bottle and spoon back to Polly. Satisfied, Polly left. Spying the letters from home, she picked them up. Dena smiled. She would crawl into bed before reading them. The bed felt good, she sighed, tearing the end off of the envelope that held Brock’s letter. *** February, 1940 Dear Sis, Happy Valentine’s Day. Remember the valentine boxes and all of the silly valentines we used to make for friends? Well here’s one for you. Anne (a coworker and friend) and I sure had fun creating these. She made valentines for her family also. I enjoyed your last letter. And, Dena, I really valued our time at home during Christmas. Like that word … valued? I’m trying to broaden my vocabulary. Of course, most people don’t seem to care if your vocabulary is extensive. They can tell by the tone of your voice how kind you are. Soft voice is the best I’m told. The weather here has been bitterly cold. We’ve had record snowfall, and I’m beginning to think I should have gone to California with you. How are your classes? I’ve some pretty hard classes and labs this semester. Plus work schedule rotations. Not much time for socializing. How about you? I’m looking forward in seeing you at Susan’s wedding. Remember I’m always your valentine…and.… Your best valentine, Brock *** Dena sighed, laying Brock’s letter next to Susan’s. Still holding the homemade valentine with a lace doily and ribbon, she chuckled at his silly sentiment. Absently, she rubbed it between her fingers, remembering. It was the best medicine she could have at this moment. Placing the valentine on top of Brock’s letter, she picked up Susan’s letter, Dena stared at the envelope. Finally she pulled out two pages. *** February, 1940 Dear Dena, I can’t believe the weather. Grant’s had trouble getting over here—let alone getting to school. In fact, school has been closed for a little over a week due to the large amounts of blowing snow and it’ll probably stay closed until the snow plows can open up all the roads. The principal and school board are talking about us making up lost days by going to school on Saturdays next spring. Better that than into June. I can’t imagine having school on my wedding day. Of course if we have too many days out, we might have to go into June. I would rather go longer days and Saturdays than have school in June. I’m so excited. Mother offered her wedding dress. It fits a little snug, but Mother says we can let out the seams. I can’t imagine wearing Mother’s wedding gown. It’s beautiful! I’m not sure what I will do for a veil. Mother said she wore her mother’s. As for your and Emily’s dresses, Mother and I have found the material—a lovely blue taffeta. Your dresses will be long, semi-fitted with a flare just below the knees. You’ll wear white straw hats with large brims trimmed with blue and white flowers and a long blue bow. What do you think? Say you love it, Dena. I so want you and Emily to wear blue. We will get married in the rose garden. It’s beautiful in early summer with all of mother’s prized roses blooming. Not only is it a favorite spot, but Mother said that she and Dad were married there. Isn’t that just perfect? Reverend Tower will marry us. There’ll be cut roses on the tables. Well I guess I should close. I’m babbling. I can't wait for you to come home. Love, Susan P.S. Grant, Mother and Dad say Happy Valentine’s Day *** Dena sighed heavily, sneezing at the same time. She wiped her nose with her handkerchief; then laid Susan’s letter on the night stand with Brock’s. She would answer them later. Crawling under the comforter and pulling it up around her neck, she sighed and closed her eyes. Soon she was asleep. Chapter Fourteen “Hey, sleepyhead.” A voice prodded her awake. Dena moved groggily. She felt stiff and tired, and wanted to pull the covers over her head. But, someone wanted her to wake up. Finally pushing herself up into a sitting position, she yawned and stretched. “Emily, what time is it?” “It’s Saturday morning, a little past nine,” Emily spoke. “You’ve slept over twenty hours. How do you feel?” “Oh my.” Dena sat up straighter. She stretched again, knocking the letters off the night table. “I was just going to rest for a little while.” “Would you like me to bring you some breakfast?” questioned Emily. “Uh … I think I could come down.” Dena stifled another yawn. “If I brought you breakfast,” Emily stated playfully, “I could bring coffee for me and tell you about yesterday’s meeting at the cafeteria.” Dena studied Emily for a moment. “Is it something I need to know or even want to know?” “I believe so. I’ll be back.” Emily hurried out the door before Dena could protest. Minutes later she returned with several slices of toast, orange juice, and two kinds of jam along with a small pot of coffee and the bottle of elixir. “Polly says to take some more syrup. Stuart’s sneezing today so I’m sure he’ll give you a hard time.” Dena munched slowly on a slice of toast. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was until now. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, and then had eaten very little. Emily eyed her impatiently. As Dena sipped her coffee, Emily moved closer. Dena relaxed onto her pillow. “Guess who missed you yesterday?” she asked and then not giving Dena a chance to respond, blurted out, “Well everybody, but mostly Clay.” “Really?” “Uh-huh,” Emily nodded before she paused to take another sip of coffee. Then she continued, “It wouldn’t surprise me if he came tomorrow afternoon.” “What?” Dena’s free hand went to her tangled hair, trying to smooth it out. “Well,” she said in a hushed voice, “he asked me and I suggested that if he decided to come by, to do it Sunday afternoon.” “Oh, Emily, you didn’t.” Dena sounded upset. Emily nodded. “I did.” Dena gazed at her cup, weighing the implications. She had been so annoyed with him last Thursday she might not have talked to him if he had tried to talk to her on Friday. At that moment another one of Mother’s scriptures popped into her thoughts. The LORD is slow to anger … so should I not let anger rule over me also? She probably didn’t remember it correctly—more like paraphrased. It was strange how in the oddest moments scriptures came to her mind. I guess it’s true: train up a child in the way of the LORD, and it will always stay with him. She was sure she hadn’t remembered the quote exactly but knew her dad and mother made sure she was raised well. “You know, Dena, he’ll be in your home field again like at Thanksgiving. That should give you an advantage. I hope you keep that in mind when he shows up,” Emily suggested while relaxing on the end of Dena’s bed. “If he comes,” Dena grumbled. Emily just smiled. Dena studied her face closely. Did she know something? “There she is. There’s the culprit,” a raspy voice came from the partially opened door. Stuart stuck his head in and peered at her. Dena held up the elixir. “No, no don’t even think about asking me in or giving me some of that nasty stuff. You’re contaminated, and you’ve shared already. How? I’m not sure, but you did.” “Then you should be safe if you have a cold,” Dena responded quickly, grinning at him. She wanted to laugh. Stuart looked pathetic. His head disappeared as he sneezed loudly. Slowly he poked his head back in before entering. He wiped his nose with a large, gray handkerchief. Dena was impressed. She had never considered Stuart and handkerchiefs in the same thought. “Is this a private conversation, or can anyone—meaning me—enter in?” Both looked sternly at him as if he had committed a sin. He raised his hands in resignation. “All right, I’ll go under protest mind you, but I will go.” “He doesn’t act sick to me,” Dena stated, firmly spooning elixir for herself. Emily nodded, snickered as she rose, took the empty tray, and turned to leave. “See you later. Mother said to rest today. I’ll be back later.” Dena nodded with a yawn and snuggled down in her bed. Maybe she could answer Brock and Susan’s letters. *** Sunday, February 18, 1940 She woke feeling somewhat better. Even though she could see some frost on the window panes, the sun was shining. It was Sunday. Quickly dressing, she made her bed and straightened everything up before going down for some much needed breakfast. And coffee—lots of coffee. Everyone was there, even sick Stuart. He gave her a big grin. “Guess I can’t eat your breakfast this morning,” he teased between bites. “I think not,” was all she said. Stuart’s feeling much better too. “Well, how about that,” Stuart feigned hurt. “After all I have done for you.” Dena turned to glare at him but thought better of it. “Please pass the toast and bacon, Aunt Doreen.” Dena continued smiling a peculiar little smile which turned up the corners of her mouth slightly. It would make others wonder what she was up to. “What?” Stuart asked, caught completely off guard by her look. Dena just smiled as she took some bacon. Emily and Aunt Doreen watched the drama unfold. Squirming slightly, he repeated, “What?” “After breakfast if you feel like it, Dena, I thought we might spend some time in the kitchen,” Aunt Doreen said, stopping the tension. “I’ve some new patterns and material to show you and Emily.” Dena couldn’t believe the magazine picture Aunt Doreen showed her. There was Lauren Bacall modeling slacks. Slacks! Do I ever like that look! Oh, I’ve worn Brock’s overalls when I was younger, but only on the ranch. I would have never worn overalls to town. ‘It’s not ladylike,’ Mother would say. “If you girls would like a slack and jacket set or only slacks, to wear with sweaters like the styles Miss Bacall is modeling, we can make them. In fact, I had Jane pick up some material. I hope you don’t mind.” “Oh no Aunt Doreen,” Dena whispered. Still tired, she relaxed into her chair. “I don’t mind at all, not at all. What about you, Emily?” Emily shook her head. Her eyes danced. Stuart ambled in and looked. All he could muster was “Wow!” He sat down next to Dena. She completely understood. “You know they’re very practical and warm for the winter months, especially this winter.” Aunt Doreen explained. “Mother may I look at the magazine.” Stuart asked as he touched the uncut velvet. Four pairs of eyes stared at him. Polly grinned. Raising his hands and stepping back, he followed with another, “What?” Dena noticed it seemed to be his favorite word this morning. Maybe it was just becoming a Stuart phrase. “I want to look at them,” he said clarifying his request. Aunt Doreen handed it to him as she pulled out two different patterns. The slacks had pressed pleats in the front. Dena couldn’t help herself. Her stomach jumped with excitement. “Polly said she would help us today. Maybe we can at least get one pair ready for each of you to wear this week.” Aunt Doreen continued pointing out details and pockets. Dena felt the material. It was so soft. She wondered what it was. “It’s called uncut velvet. And it’s supposed to be excellent for this pattern. Corduroy and some wool blends would work too.” Aunt Doreen offered answering Dena’s unspoken question. Dena couldn’t decide on the color or material. “I like the wool blend and the corduroy,” Emily said. “Dena?” Aunt Doreen and Emily were waiting for her to answer. “You would look great in the dark brown stuff, Dena,” Stuart broke in. Everyone looked at him as he continued defensively, “What? It’s the trained eye of a film student.” “Yes, I’ll take the dark brown velvet for slacks and the gray wool blend for a jacket and slacks set if that is okay,” she answered. “Excellent choice,” Stuart asserted seriously laying down the magazine. Then he turned to exit with his little flare of drama. “Guess I’ll leave. I’ll be in my room slaving over my books if anyone needs me.” “Polly, if you’ll measure Dena, I’ll start cutting out Emily’s slacks.” Polly smiled and picked up the tape measure. Dena stood as long as she could. She was tired. Besides, if she was to get her homework done and letters written to Brock and Susan, she needed to go to her room. “Aunt Doreen may I be excused?” “Of course, dear,” she glanced briefly at Dena. “We’ll come up when we’re ready to do a fitting.” *** Around three in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. Sleepily, Dena wondered who it could be— probably Mary. With that she closed her eyes. “Dena.” Aunt Doreen poked her head in. “You have company. Do you feel like visiting?” “Yes,” she answered drowsily. Shortly she heard male voices and Emily’s happy tones from downstairs. She stepped quickly to the mirror. Her navy sweater complimented the navy and green plaid mid-calf skirt. Should she change her clothes and brush her hair before going down? She looked into the mirror for one final check. Walking slowly, wiping her nose, she smiled; she felt good about herself. Dena quickly stepped into the kitchen to see how the sewing projects were coming along. She wiped at her nose again. She just wanted a moment to get herself composed. She needed to know if Clay was in the group. Listening, she heard his voice. "Oh, Aunt Doreen, everything’s looking great,” she said, running her hand over the pair of slacks practically finished. “I can do the handwork if you want.” “Maybe later; right now you have guests.” Aunt Doreen smiled. Dena nodded, rubbing the velvet material between her thumb and forefinger. Now she needed to go to the sunroom. “Hello, Dena,” Clay spoke softly, meeting her in the hallway. “I heard your voice.” The twinkle in his eyes showed his pleasure as he reached for her hands. “Hello.” Dena shuddered slightly. Clay stood for a moment longer holding her hands. “Hey are you two going to stand there or are you coming in here?” Carl called. She smiled up at Clay and walked to the sunroom with him. “Glad to see you are feeling better, Dena.” Carl grinned when they came through the doorway. “Me too,” She answered returning his smile before speaking to the others. Both men watched Dena head toward the corner couch. Clay followed closely. “Please, let’s sit here.” She laid her palm on the cushion next to her, allowing room for Clay. This was the same area where they had sat and talked Thanksgiving. Carl reclined in the overstuffed chair across from her. Again she heard the doorbell. Stuart hurried out. That must be Mary. “How are you feeling?” asked Clay. Carl leaned forward. “I’m better—just tired. Still sniffling but not sneezing. I plan on going to class tomorrow.” “Great. I’ll see you at the cafeteria,” Carl said earnestly. He then moved to where Floyd and Emily were playing a game of dominos. Dena nodded. Turning back to Clay she shifted so she could see him better. She clasped her hands then unclasped them. Finally she looked at him. “Dena.” Clay reached for her hand. He seemed to be struggling for words. “I want to apologize for my behavior.” Clay began again hesitated, got up to look out the window. Dena waited quietly. At last he sat down and continued. “I know Carl has told you February is hard because it’s the month my parents died—but that’s no reason for me to treat you badly.” Dena smiled, dabbed her nose, but said nothing; she understood from being around Grant after his parents died that Clay needed to talk. Not sure she wanted to hear what he was going to tell her, Dena looked down at her hands. Clay paused rubbing his palms on his slacks. He continued barely above a whisper. “Because I was an only child, we did everything together. As I grew older, I wanted independence.” Clay blinked several times to erase the tears brimming up in his eyes. She knew about wanting independence. She felt empathy for him, yet again, she said nothing. This sudden turn in their conversation and the change in her emotion startled her. Sliding her hand down her skirt to smooth out nonexistent wrinkle, I wonder if death affects everyone this way. I don’t remember much about Grandpa Caulter’s funeral. I was maybe eight years old then. Folding her hands around her damp handkerchief in her lap, she then studied in depth how her hands lay folded. What if Clay can’t move forward from his parents’ death? What if he can’t heal? What if he can’t move on from this point in his life? Dena knew no matter what she said or did, she needed to be careful. Raising her eyes, she looked into his face. Tears were slowly trickling down his cheek in an unsteady line. He swiped angrily at them. Reaching over, she touched his forearm and tried to assure him. “It’s all right to cry. Just turn your back to the others; this will only be between us.” Clay carefully considered her soft expression before he turned so his back was square with the rest of room. Still he was unwilling to look at her, although he knew she understood. It gave him strength to continue. Trust in the LORD with all of your heart. Dena recognized the verse. Mother frequently quoted it. She removed her hand slowly from Clay’s arm. Biting at her lip, she said nothing. She sat silent and waited. “I was rebelling that summer, I guess you could say.” Clay paled, taking a deep breath before he went on. She listened intently. It was important to her to listen and identify with him, to learn as much as she could about him. “I got the chance to go to Virginia to work, and I took it against my parents’ wishes …” Clay pressed his lips together. Tears trickled. It had been a long time coming. Dena tightly clasped her hands. Looking out the window, Dena gazed at the roses in the garden, peaceful. “I never saw them alive again,” Clay whispered, staring out the window. She watched a tear trail down his cheek. Although the silence between them wasn’t strained, he sat rooted in the past, remembering for several moments. Dena enjoyed the security she felt in Clay’s presence. Remaining still she waited for him to continue. Finally he turned, looking at her, “You know, you remind me of my mom.” “Is that bad or good?” Dena’s eyes hinted at teasing. She watched a lazy grin rise before she continued, “While we are offering confessions, you remind me of my dad. They say we are attracted to people like our parents. I’m unsure if that’s a fair statement, but I like to think so.” Now dry-eyed, Clay looked at her amused. Peering over his shoulder at the rest of the room, she saw that Carl kept glancing their way. Never had she known a friend so committed. Clay was lucky. “Am I really like your dad?” Clay asked tentatively. “Mmm, I don’t know. Let’s see,” she answered, laying her finger over her pursed lips. “Dad is quieter. He’s absolutely devoted to my mother. He works tirelessly for his family. He loves his work—ranching.” “Wow.” Clay smiled, lacing his fingers with hers. Gently he rubbed his thumbs across the tops, slowly tracing her veins. “Thank you for comparing me with your dad. I consider that an honor. And, Dena, thank you for listening. Will you forgive me?” For what? For being honest? Yet, Dena nodded. “Now for more serious stuff,” Clay said. He held her gaze, causing her to blink. What could be more serious than this? “Dena, will you go to the Winter Ball with me?” he asked in a formal tone. “Oh, Clay!” she whispered, her eyes sparkling. “Yes!” In her mind she thanked God for this time with Clay and for answering her prayer. She so wanted to go to the Winter Ball, and she wanted to hug him; yet they weren’t alone. *** March 5, 1940 Dena felt like she had blown in—the wind was so strong. March was definitely one of the windiest months in the year as far as she was concerned. Even in Colorado, March was windy. An old saying from childhood came to mind: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, then March comes in extremely windy and goes out very mild. Well today proves the saying correct. Shuddering, she shook off the chill. The weather man had said it was unseasonably cool for this time of the year. I can’t wait for him to say warm mild breezes of spring. I’m so ready. With her coat hung in the closet, Dena rifled through the mail. Happily she found two letters, creating a bright warm spot in the afternoon. The longer she was in California, it seemed the more she enjoyed hearing from home. Home meant her siblings for her mother rarely wrote. Hurrying up to her room, she dropped her books in a scattered pile at the foot of the bed before she stretched out, propping herself up on her pillows. It was interesting to her that when she lived at home, her relationship with her brother and sister was just that: people living in the same house which she had to tolerate. Now they weren’t only family, but friends—best friends. Putting Susan’s letter aside, Dena quickly opened the seal on Brock’s envelope. How she missed him and was glad that each day May came closer. She even missed his incessant bantering and joking at her expense. Odd what Dad had said at Christmas, when everyone came home in May, it would be the last time they would be together as a family of five? Dena noticed that Mother had patted her hose with the handkerchief she always had in her apron pocket. I can’t believe I remembered that. Dena unfolded Brock’s letter; she read it a second and third time. It helped her remember what he had written, especially if he had said something significant, like he was coming to California. She grinned at such an absurd thought. *** March, 1940 Dear Sis, Boy is it ever cold here! How I wish for some of that California sunshine. Even though I’ve never been in there, I can just imagine how warm it is. Could you send me a picture of a warm day in California to look at when I’m cold? We have snow over a foot deep in places. Luckily, I’ve not had to deal with it; getting to classes isn’t a breeze, but I have it better than some students. My job is interesting most of the time. I’m not sure I want to be in agriculture in Colorado, when it’s cold as it is today. I think I’d rather be on a ranch in Hawaii with warm beaches and lots of sunshine. Do you think Dad would move the ranch there? Probably not. I know that it would make Dad happy if I stayed in cold Colorado and take over the ranch. How are you doing with your “pud” classes? I still can’t fathom you being interested in aeronautics. There must be a boy involved. Is there? I’ve met a great gal. You would like her. She’s a first year Veterinarian student—a farm girl from Kansas. I must love her. Her name is Anne—a beautiful name, right? I like the way Anne sounds with Brock. I must swear you to secrecy, Dena. I don’t think Mother and Dad could handle another wedding yet. And frankly, I would like to wait until Anne graduates, which will be two years after I do. When is your semester over? Will you come home? Brock *** Dena thought about what Brock had shared with her. It must be serious for him to tell her about his feelings for Anne. She was happy for him. She wasn’t ready to share Clay with her family. Of course, they might find out in June. Someone was sure to mention him. She would pray about it. Dena suddenly stopped. Yes, pray about it. She knew that God would reveal the right time. Bowing her head, she silently asked God for guidance. As far as she was concerned, Clay wasn’t the problem. It was her. With Brock’s news still fresh in her thoughts, she opened her sister’s letter. She wondered if Clay would mind meeting her family; if he would agree to meet them in May. What if I’ve presumed too much? Oh gosh, what should I do? Maybe the best thing would be to ask Clay the next time I see him. She stared at the wall. The idea wasn’t at all foreign. Maybe she would see him before the dance. He stayed busy with his labs so he didn’t always come for coffee. As much as she missed that special time on Mondays with him, she knew it was important for Clay to accomplish his goal, to get all of his classes and labs done so he would make the honor roll. Clay needed his work and his education. She valued that tenacious quality he possessed, the will to follow through whatever he started. Unfolding the sheet of Susan’s letter, she read down the page. *** March, 1940 Dear Dena, Help, please! I have no photographer for my wedding. The local one, Mr. Green, left town suddenly “due to an indiscretion” Mother said. Thankfully, Dad or Grant hadn’t put down a deposit, so no money is lost, but now we have no photographer. Mother suggests we ask Stuart. Do you think he would help me out? Your dresses are beautiful! I can’t wait for you and Emily to come so we can do the final alterations. As you know, Brock is the best man, and Robert Jones, a friend of Grant’s, will be the groomsman. Four-year-old Kay Lewis is my flower girl. She is Samuel and Katherine’s girl. Katherine, you might remember, graduated with Brock. Kay is quite the young lady and takes her part very seriously. Pauley Parker will be the ring bearer. He is three years old and is a second or third cousin on Grant’s side. I don’t know much about Grant’s family. Maybe this wedding will help me at least know the faces and names to the pictures that Grant has shown me. Anyway, Pauley is adorable. He has big brown eyes, blond hair, and is very solemn about everything. You’ll just love him. When will you get here? I need my sister. Love, Susan *** That evening as Dena sat at the table with Aunt Doreen and Emily, they were about to start the meal when Stuart rushed in. “Sorry I’m late Mother,” he apologized. “Mary and I had some last-minute details to take care of before class tomorrow.” Aunt Doreen studied her son. Dena knew it was a mother’s code to love her children unconditionally. As they were having dessert, Dena ventured to voice her question to Stuart, praying for Susan’s sake he would say yes. “Stuart, may I ask a favor?” She looked sideways at him, laying down her fork, and folding her hands in her lap. “Shoot.” Stuart said as he continued eating. “Susan’s asked if you would take the wedding pictures for her and Grant. It seems the local photographer left town suddenly.” “Why, Stuart,” Aunt Doreen broke in. “I think that would be a great chance for you to add to your portfolio.” Stuart laid down his fork, something he rarely did and examined Dena’s face. Dena wondered if he would say no to such an opportunity. At last, he picked up his fork and poked a piece of meat and then holding it in midair, he said, “You may write Susan and tell her that I would be honored. It’ll be my first paid shoot.” “Stuart!” admonished Aunt Doreen. He laughed. “Tell her it’ll be my”—he looked at his mother teasingly— “our wedding gift to her and Grant is it.” Then he inserted his long-awaited bite and chewed slowly before he continued. “By the way, Mother, the reason I was late tonight is my professor has a summer film festival in New York City that he wants me to attend. He said it would be a great way to get extra credits, and get this, Mother, it’ll be especially beneficial for my career.” “Stuart, that’s wonderful. When?” asked Aunt Doreen. Her face glowed with pride. “It starts June tenth. I’ll be gone two months. Mary’s going also. There’s a conference for aspiring writers at the same time.” “Really,” Aunt Doreen continued to listen closely; her brow furrowed slightly. “Yes. Mary has cousins who live nearby her conference. We can stay with them. Mary’s dad arranged the lodgings for us. That’s why I was late.” Aunt Doreen stirred her coffee studying her only son. Stuart scraped his plate. Dena was sure her aunt must be wondering where time had gone as her mother had at Christmas. Her mother talked about the total joy as well as the sadness. It was funny she truly understood what her mother revealed. “I do think it’s a very nice gesture to do the photography for Susan’s wedding. It’s family…” Aunt Doreen’s voice trailed off. She didn’t mention the trip. Dena figured Aunt Doreen decided it was better not to discuss it at that time. “But?” Stuart looked up, puzzled. Aunt Doreen smiled somberly. The telephone rang. She got up to answer it. “Thank you, Stuart,” Dena said earnestly. At this moment her heart felt gratitude as she laid down her napkin. “I’ll write Susan tonight.” “Sure. No problem,” he answered, taking seconds of everything. Then he turned around, “And tell her that I’ll take the negatives to New York City and develop them then drop the pictures off when Mary and I come back in August. That way they won’t get damaged in the mail.” “Oh Stuart.” Dena hugged his neck, turned quickly and hurried to her room. Chapter Fifteen March 23, 1940 Winter Ball Dena had anticipated this night for over a month. It was her first official date with Clay. She hoped she wasn’t reading too much into it. But after their long, intimate talk on Sunday afternoon and several coffee dates, Dena felt closer to Clay. Her forehead wrinkled slightly, and she closed her eyes. Now, she wanted to freeze the memory of tonight forever. But time waited for no one—not even for her. Clay arrived at seven thirty p.m. His eyes lit up and a soft gasp escaped when he saw her coming down the stairs. She wore the black crepe evening dress and carried the small fur cape. Her blonde hair hung softly about her shoulders, haloing her flawless oval face. Her dark green eyes seemed to sparkle. Pausing, halfway down the stairs, she smiled. Clay’s honey-colored hair, which looked almost red in the evening light, accented his black pin-striped suit. It’s funny; I’ve never noticed red in his hair before. “You look stunning. I feel lucky to be your escort,” he murmured into her ear. Dena blushed. “Pictures.” Aunt Doreen stood with a small black box-like camera. “Smile. Emily, I want a picture of you and Floyd.” Clay helped with her wrap and then slid his arm around her waist. “Come on we’ll wait outside. I want you to myself.” “Is that your car?” Dena asked admiring the shiny sedan sitting in the drive. “Yes.” “I didn’t know you had a car.” This surprised her since they always rode the bus. “Actually I have two—a coupe and this one. I inherited them.” He ran his hand over the black fender caressing it. Dena slipped her hand through his arm and squeezed. There are so many things I don’t know about you, like your favorite foods or your favorite color. She looked forward to exploring these mysteries. “I can’t wait to dance with you again,” she said shyly. “Are you guys ready?” Floyd called as he and Emily came around the corner. Clay opened the door for Dena then hurried to his side. It was only a short distance to the dance. It’s like a double date. Floyd and Emily opted to ride with them instead of taking the bus. Clay led the way to the ballroom. They stood watching the activity. The band sounded great, and everyone looked like they were enjoying the music. “Oh, Dena,” Emily whispered. Nodding, she knew what Emily was trying to say. The room, full of young people, looked beautiful. Tinsel, lights and streamers were everywhere. Clay guided her to a table. Floyd and Emily followed closely. Dena looked for Stuart and Mary. They must not be here. We’re the first to arrive. Emily dropped her wrap and clutch on a chair and followed Floyd to the dance floor. “Happy?” Clay nuzzled her neck before pulling out a chair near the end of the table. He sat at the end of the table so he could talk above the noise of the music. “Yes.” Sighing, she watched the crowd sway to the music. “Hello, you two,” Mary said as she and Stuart paused to leave their coats. Then they also moved to the dance floor. A soft sigh escaped as Dena watched. Mary had told her that Stuart enjoyed dancing and she loved dancing with him. Dena wondered if she and Clay were going to dance, yet Clay hung back. “Dena, I think …” Clay started and then stopped. He seemed to need to think. She turned her attention to what he was saying. “I hope you know how I feel about you.” Clay gazed into her eyes. Dena wanted to giggle, but she didn’t want to embarrass Clay. She firmed up her lips together to keep a straight face. “I have thought about you constantly this last month.” Clay paused, struggling to find the right words. She wanted to encourage him, yet she said nothing. “I know you’ve probably wondered about my intentions; well, so have I. Dena. … uh … would you do me the honor of wearing my engineering sigma?” He pulled out a delicate chain and a locket. Dena stared. She wasn’t sure what to say. Gingerly rubbing the locket, he spoke, “Be my girl.” Slowly she nodded. Clay’s face came close to hers when he encircled her neck and clasped the chain. Then his lips brushed her cheek gently. She shuddered, smiling sweetly into his face. She really wanted to be kissed. But they were in public. Darn the public. Darn etiquette and all of that social stuff. Dena couldn’t believe she thought that—Mother would be shocked. She would tell me that’s how a person lands up like the Johnson girl. “Will you dance with me, Dena?” Clay asked softly, holding out his hand. Dena extended her gloved hand. The music stopped as they reached the dance floor but just as quickly another song started. Dena didn’t know the tune. Clay moved her gracefully around the floor until the song ended. While walking back to their table, he whispered, “Penny for your thoughts.” “Mmm.” Dena said, coyly glancing sideways. She wanted to hold onto her memories for a while. Saying no more, she was glad Clay didn’t pursue. Returning to their table, Dena noticed several others. Emily took a seat across from Floyd, listening to his every word. Stuart and Mary sat next to Martin and his date. Dena spoke to him before she and Clay sat down. She looked at the young woman which Martin introduced as Jenny. Dena smiled genially. Looking past Jenny, she saw Carl crossing the room with a girl. He hadn’t left for Virginia—some technicality, Clay had said. Surprised, she glanced at Clay. He nodded. Carl was usually part of the group. Dena checked out the girl. She was a tall, slender brunette with a wide mouth. She was impeccably dressed. Carl introduced his date, Margaret, to everyone. She worked with him at the lab. Was this the technicality? Dena wondered settling back in her chair, eyeing Margaret for a moment before she causally glanced around the table. To her surprise, their intimate group had changed since last fall. Jack, Jules, Abe, Monique and Julie were gone. Now she had new people to learn about. “What do you mean, the Phony War? I don’t believe I’ve heard that term used,” asked Floyd, leaning forward, waiting for an answer. Scowling, she had hoped they could enjoy one dance and evening without war talk. “As I understand,” Stuart spoke, “it’s because Germany has halted bombing to regroup through the winter, but Britain and France are vigilant in watching their enemy.” She listened while continuing to watch the dance. A new song was beginning. But Dena couldn’t remember the name. “Well put, Stuart,” Carl said. “The newspapers want action for their stories. With no action available, they invent some; in this case the Phony War saga.” Dena wondered where Carl found his information. She thought over what he was saying. It made sense and was interesting to know that the immediate issue of war wasn’t the topic instead the newspapers were the subject tonight. Of course, it still was war related. “Shall we dance?” Clay asked, pulling her up and guiding her onto the floor. He slid his arm around her waist and pulled her to him. Dena laid her head on his shoulder. The song was “Blueberry Hill.” Cuddling ever so slightly, she murmured softly. She could really get used to Clay’s arms around her. She snuggled. After several dances, they sat down to catch their breath and have some refreshments. “The only conflict going on now is between the Soviets and Finland,” Floyd was saying as they approached the table. Catching the end portion of the conversation, she glanced at Clay’s face. He listened closely as he inattentively held the chair for her. “I read that the Soviets began occupying Baltic States leading to a confrontation with Finland.” “Yeah,” Martin interjected, “it ended with land concessions to the Soviets on the twelfth. I'm not sure what that solved.” “Carl, how is the Clark Y coming along? Isn’t that why you haven’t gone back to Virginia?” asked Martin. “You know, as much as I want to stay and listen,” Stuart announced, standing up, “My priority this evening is to dance with my lovely date.” “Spoken like a true film producer,” Carl uttered, raising his left eye brow in a knowing manner. Someone laughed. It was almost a Groucho Marx antic. He just lacked the cigar. Chairs scraped as the music started. Most everyone moved to the floor. But Clay scooted closer and took her hand in his. Dena looked at him. What was the Clark Y? Clay had said nothing about it. She would ask later. “Shall we?” Clay silently mouthed, standing up and extending his hand. Everything was exactly right at that time, especially the music, though she wasn’t sure what the name of the tune was. Clay murmured into her ear, “Perfect song, don’t you think? When you wish upon a star—this is our song; it’s absolutely perfect.” Leaning back she looked into his face and smiled. She didn’t speak. Her happiness had overtaken all rational thought. But, I’ll remember this song forever. “You know, I’m so glad my mother insisted that I take dancing lessons when I was ten.” He chuckled, twirling her, and then pulling her into his arms. “Mmm, me too,” she murmured as they floated around the floor. Clay’s lips brushed her cheek. That was the closest she would get to a kiss at the moment. “I take it you like dancing?” Clay’s face was flushed when he looked at her. “Mmm huh.” “Me too, especially dancing with you.” Clay slipped his finger under her chin, lifting her face and smiling directly into her eyes. Then he tightened his arm around her waist. She gasped softly as they swayed with the music. Nestling her head on his shoulder, she flushed from his compliment. “We’ll have to go dancing more often. There are many nice places down town that have great bands.” “I’d like that.” The evening went by too quickly. Dena guessed she knew how Cinderella must have felt. She wasn’t ready to leave the ball, but alas, she had to. Clay took her home around two. He lingered at the front door for a few minutes holding her in his arms, “See you tomorrow?” *** April 19, 1940 As she and Emily hurried against the wind, Dena gripped her books tightly against her chest to help break the bite. She was thankful she had worn her new woolen slacks morning. Even though the sun was shining brightly when they had left the house this morning, the wind warned everyone that it was still winter for at least a few more days. Dark clouds had built up on the horizon. She shuddered. “Brrr! I don’t ever remember an April this cold,” Emily exclaimed. Dena agreed. She paused just inside the cafeteria door, looking around the large room. Their group had congregated on the left side near one of the large fireplaces. Emily moved towards the table. Oh. Clay isn’t here. Dena touched her locket. She tried not to look downcast, but it showed on her face. Since the dance, she and Clay had a steady date on Monday and sometimes on Friday. She looked forward to seeing him. Really she needed to see him. “Hey, beautiful,” a soft voice came from behind them. Dena turned. Clay grinned. “Oh, Clay, I was …” she stammered. “I know. I’ve been working, trying to get all of my credits in order.” He took her books and started toward the table. “But I think about you especially late at night, and I wish I could call, but it wouldn’t be right. I don’t think Professor or Mrs. Miles would appreciate me.” Was he kidding? Dena turned to search his face. No, he meant it. She almost tripped, but Clay caught her by the elbow, steadying her. “Are you okay?” he asked. She nodded, rather sheepish. “Anyway, can I come by and walk you home this afternoon?” This time she did stop. Looking him squarely in the face, she knew he was asking to walk her home in the middle of his classes. He knew what she was thinking, so he assured her in a low voice, “I can skip one lab. I have it done, and Carl can give me any material I need. I want to be with you, to talk to you.” Still she stood rooted. “Sure,” she finally answered. What will Aunt Doreen say? At home, Mother always said that proper girls don’t encourage young men by being alone with them. She would ask Aunt Doreen. By the time they reached the table, Emily had ordered for them. “I ordered,” she said. “I didn’t want us to be late.” “Thank you,” Dena answered. She bit into a warm, melt-in-the-mouth grilled cheese sandwich. She glanced at Clay, raising her eyebrows. She loved grilled cheese sandwiches. They were comfort food. Clay agreed digging into his sandwich. “Why are you having a test this afternoon instead of tomorrow morning?” Clay asked between bites. “We have another one tomorrow. I think this one’s a makeup test.” Clay nodded. “You could try and understand that the British are fighting for their culture, their lifestyle, the only way of life they know or understand.” Dena glanced at the next table, where someone was speaking in a raised, agitated voice. Oh my goodness. Glancing at Clay, she saw he was slowly chewing, listening. “Clay, I must go. See you after the test,” she whispered. “Sure.” He glanced up as Dena and Emily gathered their books. The heated discussion was still going on when the two girls left. “I think I would’ve rather listened to that conversation on the war than to brave this wind. Brrr,” Emily said, tucking her chin into her coat. “I know.” Dena’s teeth chattered. “Emily, save me a seat. I need to go and see Aunt Doreen.” Emily hurried into class as Dena raced across the street. Aunt Doreen looked up from eating her lunch. Dena asked if it was okay if Clay came to the house this afternoon. “I’ll be home. It’s my short day. You may invite Clay home anytime.” Thank you.” Dena felt better as she left. Aunt Doreen watched Dena disappear down the stairs. I’m glad to see Dena happy. Maybe Clay’s the reason. I’ll let Mr. Graves know I’m going home at two. *** Clay waited just inside the door as Dena and Emily came down from their class room. Dena smiled when he reached for her books. Emily hurried out, saying something about needing to go to the library. “Are you ready?” he asked, tucking her books under one arm with his. She nodded, raising an eyebrow at the idea of a boy carrying her books. She had never had a boy do that before. Not even in high school. The bus had arrived, brakes squealing to a stop as they reached the corner. Several people waited to board. Dena and Clay moved forward until they could get on. Both presented their bus passes to the driver who absently nodded for them to take a seat. The bus ride sped by. Dena pulled her leather coat tighter across her chest as they stepped off the bus and hurried to the house. She began to worry about proper dating etiquette. Should they go to the sunroom? She knew she would feel more at ease there than the parlor. Just as they reached the door, it opened. “Come in out of the cold you two,” Aunt Doreen said. Dena noticed Aunt Doreen was holding the mail. “Hello, Clay. It’s nice to see you again.” “Thank you, Mrs. Miles.” He looked delighted that Aunt Doreen had received him into her home. “Dena, you have a couple of letters.” Aunt Doreen’s voice was light and pleasant, as she handed the envelopes to her. “Why don’t you and Clay go to the sunroom? Polly has refreshments ready.” Relieved that the dilemma was solved, she led the way to the back of the house. Clay followed her to the couch in the corner, where she laid the letters next to her. “This is turning into a habit, isn’t it?” Clay said, looking around before settling his eyes on her. What on earth is he talking about? We’ve never been completely alone in the room before. “The corner couch is becoming our couch.” He joked. Dena laughed. What a way of saying it—our couch. “I’ll never look at the couch the same way again.” She said in a kidding tone as she relaxed next to the window. Clay sat in the overstuffed chair. He smiled, looking totally at ease. “How was your class today? The test—was it hard?” he asked, simply wanting to hear her voice. “It was great. The class was great. You know that drawing of the airplane we saw not too long ago from”—she frowned just for a second before the answer came to her—“Ed, I believe his name was. Well, we are studying a similar drawing right now. It was a prototype. It’ll be on the test—the drawing—we’ll be identifying the different areas. We’ll have that test on Monday.” “Really.” Clay leaned forward, and asked, “What did you think about it?” Now she was talking his language. They discussed fuselages, wing spans, and even flying. Clay’s love for flying showed on his face as he talked. “Do you do any flying now, Clay?” she asked. “Or are you taking flying lessons?” “I have a civilian pilot license. Would you like to go up sometime?” Clay’s eyes shone brightly. “Yes, I think I would,” she admitted. “Oh, Dena, you are a girl after my heart.” He reached forward and clasped her hands. She wanted to laugh but was afraid Clay wouldn’t understand. “Refreshments?” asked Polly as she entered. Clay dropped Dena’s hands and rose, somewhat uneasy. Dena smiled. He was such a well-mannered person. More than that, he had class—not rude as some of the men at college. Dena knew his mother would be pleased. She couldn’t imagine a mother not delighted with the accomplishments of her child. She rose and walked over to the small table where Polly set the tray and reached for the pitcher. After filling two glasses, she moved back to the corner and handed Clay his drink. “I’m going to Virginia for the summer. Carl, Floyd and I have jobs there.” “I thought Carl was leaving for Virginia after the ball,” she questioned, sipping on her drink. Clay set his glass aside. “He was, but now he’ll go with us. Whatever the crisis was, he and Professor have it worked out. Sometimes Hughes’ projects are so secretive. Not all of the test models that are being worked on are tested at Hughes. I think this one was one of those situations.” Clay paused then continued, “May I write to you while I’m gone?” “I’d like that.” She said. Clay didn’t know what was going on with Hughes either. Her eyes clouded. Clay would be in Virginia for two months. Stop Dena. Just think about now—the present. Sitting in silence sipping her drink, she realized how comfortable she was—how at ease; sensing Clay’s presence and the warmth it radiated, Dena knew there was no need for talk. If this is what Mother and Dad enjoy in their marriage, I really could come to like it. “You know I’m going to Colorado in May for my sister’s wedding?” “Yes, I heard that from Stuart. He’s shooting the wedding,” Clay replied. She smiled at the thought of the wedding. Suddenly, Dena sat up straight. “Clay, I have an idea! I know it may sound silly, but hear me out. Okay?” Dena’s eyes sparkled. “Uncle Walter’s coming to the wedding. And you, Carl, and Floyd are going to Virginia. Well, do you think maybe you could stop off for the wedding and then return with Uncle Walter to Virginia?” She sat patiently for a few moments allowing the idea to register with Clay. “Whoa, Dena, let me think about it. Naturally I’d need to talk to Carl and Floyd.” Clay’s eyebrows knitted. Dena suddenly felt awkward. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked Clay. What if he backs away? Dena chewed her lower lip. What if Aunt Doreen says no, or Mother and Dad?” “You know it’s just a suggestion, Clay, and a chance to meet my family. Afraid her smile was too much, she sobered, watching him for some sign of acceptance. “Let me think about it and talk to Carl and Floyd,” Clay repeated. He agreed it would be less pressure to meet her family in an informal situation. Also if he was with Carl and Floyd, it would seem more like friendship than a twosome. Even though she wanted to shout her feelings, she wasn’t sure she was ready to tell her family about Clay. Dena didn’t realize that Clay fostered the same doubts, but he delighted in her being near him. “Changing the subject, how about going flying with me? Say, sometime between the first and fifth of May? It should be nice weather for your first flight.” Clay said. “That sounds wonderful. I’ll look forward to it,” she answered. For now she just wanted to be with him. But Clay stood to leave. He took her hands and pulled her into his arms. Before Dena could think, Clay leaned forward only inches from her lips. “Dena, may I kiss you?” he asked softly. Dena closed her eyes and tilted her chin in answer. I didn’t know anything could feel so good. Even though Clay had kissed her before, it wasn’t as heartfelt as this one. She felt like she was floating. Slowly Dena returned his kiss. Too quickly, he pulled away. Smiling sheepishly, he took her hands. “I guess I’d better go.” His eyes held a smoldering look. Dena shuddered slightly—as if a cold breeze had touched her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to understand the meaning behind his look. She walked beside him to the front of the house. “I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch?” he asked simply. “Tomorrow is Saturday.” She grinned. “Really?” He thought for a moment, then asked, “May I come by Sunday afternoon? I really need to work at the lab tomorrow.” She nodded. Happily, he opened the door, leaned over and brushed his lips softly across her cheek, and then closed the door. Dena stood completely still, willing time to do as well. The door opened as Stuart came in. “Dena,” he asked, almost bumping into her. “You okay? I saw Clay at the bus stop.” She nodded and walked back to the sunroom. Now why did I come back here? Her eyes settled on the two letters lying on the couch. She picked them up, along with her books and headed for her room. Thank you, LORD. I’m not thinking properly, am I? Time—that’s what she needed—time to let what just happened, soak in. Clay had actually kissed her! Gently touching her lips, her mouth curved softly at the corners—their first real kiss. Closing the door, she stood with her back against it, dreaming. Her afternoon was absolutely wonderful. Sighing, Dena strolled to the bed. She sat down and picked up Brock’s letter. *** April, 1940 Dear Sis, It’s so good to hear from you. So you’ve been suffering with cold weather too? I still don’t think it can be as cold as it is here. Dad said he and Grant had to buy hay to feed to the cattle. They’ve brought all the animals into the lower pastures so they can get feed to them. I don’t think that I ever recollect a worse winter. Dad says it has been decades, whatever that means. I’m ready for warm weather. Are you having nice days yet? How are your classes? Will you finish this spring? You should finish with two classes if I’m figuring right. I have one more year. So far I’ve passed everything. Finals will be next. You didn’t say who this guy is. I know there’s a guy. I can read it between the lines. I suppose he’s an engineer. Are you serious, or is it just friendship? Big brother wants to know. When will you be in Colorado? I’ll go home the third of May. Although I’ll miss Anne, I can’t wait to see you. Your big brother, Brock *** Dena decided to tell Brock about Clay—but not the rest of her family yet. She opened Susan’s letter. *** April, 1940 Dear Dena, Just seven weeks until my wedding. Oh, Dena, I’m so happy. Mother and I’ve been working on our home (Grant’s and mine) when the weathers been nice. We’re making curtains, slip covers for the furniture, and a new comforter for our bed. It’s blue. Yes, silly, Grant loves blue. Thank you for asking Stuart. It’s a great relief to know he will take our pictures. Who knows, someday when he’s famous, we can proudly say he took our wedding pictures. When are you coming? May twenty-sixth? I had hoped you would be here for Grant’s and my graduation on the sixteenth. Who’s Mary? I’m so glad Aunt Doreen, Uncle Walter, and Emily are coming. Ooh. I think I’m babbling. So much is happening this May and June I seem to be going in circles. I just can’t wait until you get here. I have so much to tell you. Love Susan *** Even though Sunday afternoon seemed to take forever, it came before Dena was ready. She had dressed and re-dressed several times. She had even called Emily to her room for another opinion. Hers seemed to be too critical. Finally she settled on a beige sweater and a chocolate brown mid-calf-length skirt and boots. Emily, what do you think?” Dena twirled slowly, watching Emily. “Well…” Emily deliberated, hesitating momentarily. The doorbell rang. Dena jumped. She wrinkled her nose as she studied the image in the mirror. “I guess it’ll have to do.” Dena dismissed Emily and the mirrored image staring back at her. Relieved, Emily blinked quickly several times. She was glad she didn’t have to give an answer. She trailed Dena downstairs. She didn’t know what all the fuss was about. So what if some of the guys were coming over for a while. Of course Dena knew Emily was almost as glad to see Floyd as she was to see Clay. “Hello Clay, Floyd, Carl, and Margaret.” Aunt Doreen said. “It’s a lovely day? Maybe you could go to the garden.” Carl had brought Margaret? Imagine that. Emily looked at her, rolling her eyes. Dena smiled. She guessed Carl must like her company since he hadn’t gone to Virginia. Yet, he seemed to be seeing a lot of her. She slowly followed Emily down the stairs wondering if Clay would go to the garden. “Hello.” Clay smiled, his eyes focused on Dena. “Carl and Floyd are okay with our coming to the wedding later traveling to Virginia with Professor Miles. We talked to Professor Miles yesterday. And well, he was surprised yet pleased we were all going together. Are you sure it’s okay with your sister?” Clay asked, taking her hand as they walked to the garden area. “Do you think Mrs. Miles will mind if we tag along?” “Will Mrs. Miles mind what?” Aunt Doreen asked, looking up at Dena and Clay. She had gone to the sunroom to read a book after she had welcomed them. “I’ve asked Clay, Carl, and Floyd to stop off and attend Susan’s wedding. They can travel with Uncle Walter and you on to Virginia. Is it okay if they go with us? Mary will be traveling with us, too.” “You’ve talked to Professor Miles?” Aunt Doreen asked. “Yes, ma’am, Carl talked to him yesterday,” he answered. “We’re planning on leaving Friday, May the twenty-fourth, and arrive in Colorado the twenty-sixth, at the latest. I’m buying our tickets no later than the first week of May. You may go with me or purchase your tickets on your own,” Aunt Doreen said in a matter-of-fact tone. She closed her book, stood, then smiled. “It’ll be good to travel together.” “Thank you, ma’am,” Clay replied. Aware that Aunt Doreen had politely dismissed them when she left the room Dena and Clay headed for their corner and sat down. Clay looked serious, wanting to talk privately. He glanced quickly toward the hallway before he spoke softly. “I scheduled flight time for the fourth. I thought we could go flying around ten and then have lunch together at the marina,” he told her. It occurred to him she may need to know what to wear. Not sure how to say it, Clay just blurted out, “I like your dark green slacks if you want to wear them. And you should bring a light jacket.” She had packed the dark green slacks away for the summer. They were a heavy cotton material. But if he really liked them, she would wear them. Besides it had a matching jacket. She had a great looking cream blouse to wear with it. Dena relaxed and smiled. “What?” Clay asked, questioning her smile. Dena didn’t realize how carefully he watched her. She guessed she should be more mindful. She knew it didn’t matter because he really cared about her. Dena shouldn’t have to look at Clay. She could almost hear him grin when he spoke. Finally she looked up directly into his eyes. “Clay, I don’t know if I’ll pass my aeronautics class.” Dena said trying to change the subject, but Clay wouldn’t be put off. He wanted to talk about them. “Do you know how much I enjoyed kissing you the other day?” Clay leaned over and whispered. Dena nodded ever so slightly. She raised her hand to touch his cheek. Instead he took her hand in his. “Don’t … I … I want to …” he said hoarsely, his voice trailing off. He seemed ill at ease with her so near. There was something in the way he spoke that caused her to let him raise her hand to his lips. She closed her eyes, allowing the ripple to flow over her. But when she opened her eyes and spotted Polly coming through the dining room with a tray of refreshments. She removed her hand. “Clay, do you know in July I’ll have been in California for a year?” she said brightly, laying her folded hands in her lap. Her eyes pleaded with him to take the cue. “Refreshments anyone?” Polly placed the tray on a small table. Clay sat back, exhaled rather nervously, all the while not taking his eyes off Dena. He knew now that she had seen the cook enter the room. Carl and the others came in from the garden laughing. Carl must have said something funny. Margaret seemed to hang on his every word. Dena wondered if Carl felt the same or if the relationship was one sided. After having something to eat, Carl said he and Margaret should leave. Dena knew Clay should go too but, she lagged behind permitting Clay to hold her hand while they walked. Clay pulled her into the parlor, put his arms around her and kissed her. No one seemed to miss them. Even if they had, Dena wasn’t sure she would’ve cared. She nearly fell backwards when Clay turned her loose. His kiss had left her limp and unsteady. She felt loved and surprised. She definitely knew she needed time to sort out that new feeling. “See you tomorrow,” he said in a gruff voice. Then he was gone. Chapter Sixteen April 30, 1940 Tuesday It was the last day of her first year of college. Dena had passed both drafting and her first semester of aeronautics. She was glad Clay had kept their Monday dates, but as usual, he couldn’t get free on any other days. Today he was in the lab, so she went home to do her laundry. Boarding the bus, Dena took a seat near the front. Carl had graduated the previous Thursday and even though he had said he wouldn’t go through the ceremonies, he did happily. Aunt Doreen gave a small party for Carl, and the whole gang helped him celebrate. As far as she could tell, Carl enjoyed the attention. She had sat off to the side of the room and watched him josh with everyone meekly taking their kidding. It was a new side of him—humility. Slowly her thoughts shifted to her and Clay’s date. It was only four days until she would go sky bound with him. Dena liked that term sky bound. It was like driving or riding. After everything she had learned about aviation in class, she just knew she would like it. Dena stared out the bus window at the early spring flowers, fidgeting ever so slightly. Even though she looked forward to flying, uneasiness prevailed. Of course, the very best thing about the flying was she would be with Clay. I’m glad classes are over and I won’t have to study until fall. Wow, that sounds far off, but in reality it’s only eight months away. What’ll I do next fall? Sighing, she sat daydreaming about Susan’s upcoming wedding day and going home, and Clay. After getting off the bus, Dena looked around for Emily. She hadn’t seen her since morning. What was it that Emily had said after class? She needed to go to the Library. Are she and Floyd meeting? Emily didn’t need to study since the semester was over. The telephone was ringing as she opened the door. She ran to answer it. But whoever it was had already hung up. She returned to the hallway to check the mail. Clay had told her earlier he had enough credits to graduate the coming December. Why does he want to graduate so quickly? Hoping for a letter from Brock, Dena looked closely at the top envelope. She had seen it somewhere before. She glanced at the return address. It was from Bill. Aunt Doreen would tell them at dinner what Bill had written. Dena gently laid it on top of the stack before checking the next letter. Dena smiled. It was from Brock, and the third from Susan. She rushed up to her room and dropped on her bed and ripped open her brother’s letter. It had been a long day, and she was tired. She first skimmed the letter before she reread the pages more slowly. *** April, 1940 Dear Sis, This is a habit I hope we never break. I’ve truly enjoyed hearing from you on a regular basis. I must admit though, when I received your first letter, I dreaded answering it knowing that I must keep an ongoing correspondence with a sister I thought I knew and didn’t really like. But it has been delightful, especially on my end. And, yes, I knew there had to be a boy, an engineer. Wow. Anne and I had this bet. I won. Anne said that a girl didn’t need a boyfriend to be interested in certain courses. Look at her for example. I said that I knew you and a boy was involved. I won. Anne had to buy me lunch. Seriously, I know you took the course because Emily asked you to. So be it. Anne won too. I took her to lunch. I’m not dumb. You say Clay is coming to the wedding along with some other engineers? No, I won’t embarrass you in front of Mother and Dad. But I’ll check him out, for he must live up to my standards. You know big brother standards. Really, sis, if he’s the one and he’ll make you happy as Grant makes Susan, and then go for it. Only you have to live in Colorado. I never thought distance would make a difference, but it does. I miss my sisters. I’ll see you at the wedding. Your loving brother, Brock *** Dena sat for a long time holding Brock’s letter. She intently stared at the wall seeing nothing. Tears dropped. Her mind was back in her childhood, remembering a different Brock, recalling all the dumb tricks he had pulled on her. Naturally she understood what he meant when he said “not really liking you.” She could count all of the times she felt like she hated him. Dena tucked his current letter in with all the others and closed the small nightstand drawer. She then opened Susan’s. Susan seemed to write no matter how busy she was. *** April, 1940 Dear Dena, I can’t believe I’ll be graduating in two weeks. It’s a day I never thought would come. I’ll no longer be a schoolgirl but a “woman.” Can you believe that? The house is finished down to my clothes. Grant is already staying there. He says it already feels like home because so much of me is there. It just lacks me. Is he not sweet? Who are these male friends you’ve invited to my wedding? Should I be concerned? No, I don’t mind. I’m sure if they are yours and Emily’s friends they are special. Thanks for the warning. Mother said any friend of yours is always welcome. She trusts your good judgment. The church ladies gave Grant and me a wedding shower last week. We received some nice items for our new home. I can’t wait to show you. I only have five weeks left before I become Grant’s wife. Five weeks. I don’t know how people do this waiting thing. That’s why I’m glad that you’ll be here, dear sister. You can keep me sane. I love you. Susan *** A wedding gift—what can I get them? She hadn’t thought about a gift, probably because she hadn’t gone to too many weddings. Maybe she should ask. She decided to go down early for dinner. Maybe she could help set the table and ask Aunt Doreen. As Dena entered the dark room, she heard weeping. Not sure what to do, she stood for a minute. “Aunt Doreen?” Dena spoke softly, switching on the light. “Oh, Dena, forgive me. I’m so silly.” She smiled, covering her eyes to hide her tears. “These are happy tears. Bill’s back in the States.” “Really?” She slipped into the chair. “Where is he?” “At San Diego in some dental school, I think he said.” She wiped her eyes. “I guess I didn’t realize how much his being overseas bothered me.” Dena had known. So did everyone in the household. It showed when each letter arrived and read. Aunt Doreen would get nervous and turn white, among other things. “After we’ve eaten, I’ll read the letter to you,” she spoke in a whisper. “Is Bill a close nephew to you and Uncle Walter? Really, Aunt Doreen, I don’t remember him,” Dena said, hoping she had said it right. “Not really. His family didn’t visit much. The distance made it hard. But, we’ve been able to keep in touch through letters. Walter and my brother, Tom, have stayed close. And well, I think that’s why Bill came to California. He lived with us for six months before he joined the service. I imagine it was natural for him to start writing his uncle. As I said, Bill is my nephew, but he’s closer to Walter. We’ve both grown to love him as our own.” “Oh,” was all Dena said. She did utter a short prayer. Polly came in with the dinnerware and started putting out the place settings. Dena rose to help. Throughout the evening meal, Dena glanced at the crumpled envelope which lay next to Aunt Doreen’s water glass. Stuart eyed the letter also. Emily ignored the letter. It’s funny how we all handle situations differently. Dena studied her cousins then considered her reaction. “Mother, is that a letter from Bill?” Stuart asked. “Yes.” Aunt Doreen picked up Bill’s letter, smiling slightly. “It’s a happy letter. Listen …” *** April 1, 1940 Dear Uncle Walter and all, “Well you see where I am now. San Diego, California. I’m back in the United States for a while. I arrived here last Thursday with sudden orders from the Bureau of Medicine Surgery. They had run short of dental technicians, so they looked up all pharmacist mates with enough time to do etc. up at the hospital at Mare Island and asked us to volunteer to come down here to take the course at the dental clinic, and none of us would volunteer so the Bureau drafted us for the course. Our captain was just as sore about it as we were and even sent back a letter asking to not bother us. And if you knew how the dental corps was looked upon by the general medical service you sure wouldn’t have blamed us for not wanting it. It sure threw us for a loss and has played the devil with my morale. I feel like working for a “kick out.” The course here lasts ten weeks, starting April 20, and when I finish the darn thing the LORD only knows where they’ll transfer me to then. So of course I intend to make a few weekend trips up your way. They tell me it would be useless to try to flunk out because they won’t flunk you. That was what a medical officer up at Mare Island told me to do as a good friendly suggestion. He also told me that the next time he saw me he wanted to see me out of that so and so dental corps. And say, Uncle Walter, if they don’t get my pay accounts down here in time for next pay day, which is the fifteenth, could you loan me about $20.00? But don’t send a cent first unless they do fail to get my pay accounts here by then because if they do I won’t need it. They so often do fail to get your pay accounts to you on time for payday when they transfer you. The news from home is no different. Mother’s condition is about the same. Thank you for going by to see them. Well, you know where to write me now, so please write soon. With best regards, Bill *** “Wow. That is great news, Mother,” Stuart remarked. “Hope he won’t want to visit while we are on the East Coast.” “I need to write him a note.” Aunt Doreen said just as the telephone rang. Stuart answered it. “Mother, it’s Dad,” he called. Aunt Doreen hurried to the hallway. Dena followed. She needed to answer her letters. *** May 4, 1940 “All the book learning would probably be useless without hands on knowledge,” Clay said as he explained the techniques of taking off and landing, but she still wasn’t sure. She tried not to show how fearful she felt. Why did I say I would do this? Dena kept an eye on the ground. It was coming up much too fast. Shutting her eyes, she reminded herself to breathe deep and exhale slowly. She did. And she prayed, The LORD on my side. I will not fear. What can man do unto me? Not really sure where that scripture came from or if she even remembered it correctly, Dena exhaled warily. She considered the after effect of her having to learn scripture as a child. It was assuring. She recalled her Mother had told her that in a time of need scriptures would be automatically remembered. She silently nodded to herself, well, they are. Clay touched the ground and took off again. As they circled high above the field, Dena willed herself to peer out the window. Then she glanced at him. Her eyes sparkled. Why was I ever afraid? She studied the instrument panel and looked at the throttle. The cabin was just like the diagram in her aeronautics class. After a second descent and take off she settled into her seat and looked out her window. The ground wasn’t coming up to meet her as she had expected, but the earth looked like a movie screen with different scenes passing by her window. “Oh” she spoke just above a whisper. “No wonder children easily believe in fantasy—the beauty of the earth with its imposing colors and patchwork quilt pattern. It’s beautiful.” Clay grinned. “And this is getting real close to fantasy or make believe, don’t you think, Dena?” She could only nod too spellbound to speak. She turned and craned her neck to see out the other side. The clouds also amazed her. From the ground looking up they seemed smaller. Up here they enveloped her like a large downy pillow. She sighed. Eyeing her, Clay chuckled before he continued. “You know what I love about flying the most? The freedom.” She agreed. The clouds did make one feel free. Clay pointed out different sights on the ground. She then saw the terminal off in the distance. She looked at Clay. He laughed and circled the runway. She felt a shift in the plane and once again Clay made a perfect landing. Too quickly, their ride was over. Lunch was anti-climactic compared to the flight. Dena ordered the sole and salad. It was delicious. And, the rolls were tasty—but not as good as her mother’s. But nothing could compare to her first flight. She smiled at Clay. He reached across the small table and squeezed her hand. He understood. *** May 28, 1940 Colorado Dena stared out the window watching for her dad. Clay stood just behind her, leaning over her shoulder. The train released steam, jerking to a stop, causing Dena to fall backward. Clay quickly reached out and caught her. He grinned, giving her a quick hug, helping her to regain her balance before turning her around to face him. He reached above her to pull down a bag, allowing his lips to caress her cheek. Blushing, Dena quickly glanced around. No one looked their way. Everyone was getting ready to leave the train. “I’m really glad you’re here,” she murmured. “Me too,” he said, fidgeting. “But, meeting your family frightens me. I think I would rather be in an airplane fighting the Germans.” “Truthfully?” she teased. Clay nodded. “Brock’s the only one who knows anything about you. My parents will assume you’re a friend like Carl and Floyd. And Susan’s in her own world this week.” “As for Stuart,” she went on, “he may have figured it out. Emily I can’t tell. Aunt Doreen knows, although she hasn’t said anything. I’m not sure about Uncle Walter.” Again Clay nodded. His eyes strayed over her shoulder. Dena wasn’t certain if he had heard her or if he believed her. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked, looking into his face. Clay didn’t look all right even though he gave a positive nod. “Hey, are you coming?” Carl asked, grinning. “Need help, old man?” Dena chuckled. Old man indeed; Carl is older by two years. Clay playfully shoved a small suitcase into Carl’s stomach. Carl doubled up and let out an exaggerated groan. The tension in Clay’s face disappeared. When Clay picked up his suitcase, he managed to brush against her arm. Dena backed up to give him room. She knew to an onlooker it would have seemed a natural. Only her eyes gave her away. As they both turned to leave, Clay took hold of her elbow escorting her out. After all, it was the proper thing to do. Carl walked in front of her, and Floyd waited at the end of the car with his suitcase. Stopping at the top of the steps, Dena searched for her dad. She saw Stuart, Mary, and Emily walking just ahead of them. Floyd sauntered over to Emily while Clay and Carl stepped onto the platform and waited. Slowly she followed. She was still trying to locate her dad. “Hey, Dena, what is it with you and train schedules?” Brock teased, hurrying over to hug her. He stepped back, holding her at arm’s length. Dena laughed. Finally he released her and stepped back to check out the two men with her. At that moment, she had some of the most important people around her.“And hello to you too, dear brother.” She took Brock’s hand. “Brock, this is Carl and Clay. Guys, this is my brother.” She grinned happily. She watched Brock and Clay examine each other. It’s like they are sizing each other up for a fight. Dena wasn’t sure she liked the idea of having someone fight over her. “Who are all these people you brought with you?” Brock leaned over and whispered as he squeezed in between Carl and her and slid his arm around her shoulder. “Well, you remember Aunt Doreen?” He nodded. Dena continued to point out the different faces, giving a small tidbit about each. After all, nine people had come with her. He struggled, putting names with faces. As she walked toward the mounds of luggage and Stuart’s photography equipment, Dena was glad that Dad and Grant had brought enough vehicles to carry everything home. Finally they located her dad. Dena squealed and ran into her dad’s hug. Hug he did. “Welcome home, girl,” Dad whispered hoarsely, holding her tightly for a long moment. If I didn’t know better, I would think there are tears in Dad’s eyes. Maybe the tears are in mine, she sighed. I didn’t think I had missed my dad so much. “You okay girl?” Dad asked looking down at her. Dena lowered her eyes nodding. He squeezed her again. She glanced happily over her dad’s shoulder at Clay. “Dad, come. I want you to meet my friends,” she said simply. She guided her dad to two of her visitors. “Dad this is Carl and Clay. They’re engineers who work with Uncle Walter. In fact, they are going with Virginia with Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen after the wedding.” She smiled at Clay. “Carl, Clay, this is my dad, Lawrence Caulter.” Her dad stepped forward and solemnly shook each young man’s hand and cordially welcomed them to Colorado and his home. Next Dena turned her dad’s attention away from Clay, by pointing out Stuart, Emily, Floyd, and Mary who were standing by Aunt Doreen. Dena moved next to Clay as her dad walked over to his sister. Aunt Doreen smiled. “Hello Doreen,” Dena heard her dad say, hugging his sister. “Glad you’re here.” The hubbub kept Dena on her toes as she tried to listen to what everyone was saying. Baggage for Colorado was collected and loaded on the vehicles while Uncle Walter had several trunks and luggage sent on to Virginia with instructions to hold for pick up. Aunt Doreen and Dena had counted her luggage. She didn’t want any of it going to Virginia. Finally her dad said, “Let’s go home.” Happily Dena found herself sitting between her dad and Clay. Her dad asked Clay about his work and said all he knew was what Walter had told him. Smiling, Dena listened to them talk. She kept an eye on the cars in front of her dad’s old truck. It’s like a caravan. *** The next morning, Brock found Dena sitting alone in the garden which was tucked away in a corner hidden from everyone. It’s funny, only Brock would look for me here in my secluded place. She sat in a large arch her dad had constructed for her mother many years before. It held a small table and two chairs. The overgrowth now hid away the small area. It was the perfect hideaway. “Hey, Sis,” he said. “I like your friend Clay. He’s really nice. And so is Carl. Are he and Floyd engineers also? I know that Clay is.” A happy look crossed his face. “You have good friends.” “Thank you.” She smiled, and then she admitted, “I like Clay too, very much.” “Well, you have my approval, you know.” He smiled at his sister. “But Mother and Dad might not agree.” She gave him her special girl look. Brock laughed out loud. “What will everyone do for the next few days?” Dena outlined some activities, “There’s the Royal Gorge, horseback riding, mountain hiking …” “Are you serious? These guys probably don’t even know what a horse is.” Her brother interrupted. It was Dena’s turn to laugh. She considered her brother’s observation silly. Of course they know what a horse is. Wouldn’t they? Brock watched the continuous change in the garden. The ladies of the church came and went with large kettles and bowls laden with food to help their mother feed the growing crowd. Dena hadn’t thought about the food situation until now. But Mother, even with Aunt Doreen and Polly’s help, spent most of her time at the stove. Then Brock spoke solemnly, “You know, within three days, our world will change. Grant will officially become our brother.” “I know.” Dena pulled her brother down to hug his neck. “But we’ll always be family no matter who joins it. A year ago I’m not sure I would have believed it—you know, best friends—family.” Brock nodded. “By the way, your gift to Grant and Susan was super. I don’t think I would’ve thought of matching robes.” Brock smiled. “Aunt Doreen suggested it as personal yet generic gift. What did you get them?” “A month’s worth of dinners at Ryes,” he answered simply. “Anne gave me the idea.” “Why, Brock, how thoughtful—I wouldn’t have considered it.” Dena studied her brother’s face. His insight caused her to pause. “This Anne must be pretty special.” “As special as Clay is to you, I expect.” He flushed at his sister’s compliment. “There’s Mother. Let’s go help her.” Dena said. She and Brock walked over to help set up some chairs. Clay and Carl were busy helping Uncle Walter place benches near the house which would be set up the morning of the wedding. Clay looked up and winked at her. “Did you come to rescue us, Dena?” Carl asked joking. “Gosh, you look so good doing manual labor I’m not sure I would want to break the spell,” Dena answered. “Ouch.” Floyd laughed. “I believe she has you there, Carl.” Uncle Walter said, wiping his brow with a large blue handkerchief. “How about helping us then?” asked Carl. “You are good at arranging furniture.” “Unn-Uh. Can’t.” Feeling rather smug, Dena disappeared into the kitchen but returned immediately with refreshments for everyone. Chapter Seventeen Early the next morning, Brock and Grant gathered everyone for the trip to the Royal Gorge. Dena was glad for the opportunity to have them go. She wanted Clay to see some of the beauty of Colorado—her home. “Dena, are you coming with us?” Clay asked. Dena straightened up from the task she was doing and slipped her hands to her lower back, stretching. “Can’t. I wished I could, but I have to have the final fitting on my dress today.” “Well then, it’s just us guys. See you later, Sis.” Brock chuckled. Turning, he headed for the car. She stood in silence until the last car disappeared. Emily slipped her arm around Dena’s waist, strolling back to the house. “Oh Mother!” Dena could hear a sob in Susan’s voice as she entered the bedroom with Emily at her heels. Susan sat on the bed holding yards of tulle. Dena stood inside the door watching the scene unfold. What’s wrong? Susan’s voice wavered, “Oh, Mother.” “Let’s see how it looks with your hair and dress, dear,” Mother said without blinking. She secured the veil and spread it out over Susan’s shoulders. Dena couldn’t believe how exquisite it looked with their mother’s wedding dress. Aunt Doreen stooped down to straighten the yards of tulle. Then her aunt stepped back and smiled her glassy fixed smile. “Susan, it’s beautiful. It accentuates the dress perfectly. My mother would have loved seeing you wear it,” Aunt Doreen admitted, coming around behind Dena, rearranging the floor-length veil. It’s like at Thanksgiving when Aunt Doreen kept re-setting the dinner plates. Then Aunt Doreen asked, “What do you think, Dena? Emily?” She reached down to smooth out a last wrinkle. Her mother looked at the girls. Her eyes glistened and her mouth quivered at the corners. She was losing her youngest daughter tomorrow. As hard as she tried, Dena couldn’t really understand her mother’s feelings. “It’s lovely,” Emily said. She walked over and touched the delicate material. “And what an honor for you to be the first to wear Grandmother’s wedding veil. I can’t wait until I can wear it.” Standing next to Emily, Dena nodded. Not totally sure she wanted to wear the veil though. “You are lovely, Susan. Not a bride in the whole county could match your beauty.” Sobbing, Susan hugged her sister. Dena pulled back and studied her face, wiping away a stray tear. “See Susan,” Dena said as she turned her sister to look in the floor-length mirror, “not another girl in the whole county.” “Now I believe it’s time for you to get your dresses fitted,” said the seamstress. Dena hadn’t realized anyone else was in the room other than family. She recognized the small gray haired woman to be Mrs. Beleman from up the road. She had always helped Mother with the sewing. “Oh, Betty, I feel badly that you had to wait for us to dab our eyes. Of course, Dena, Emily, try on your dresses.” Mother wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron. Aunt Doreen picked up one of the dresses. “Is this Emily’s dress, Betty?” Mrs. Beleman nodded. Dena unbuttoned her dress and allowed it to drop to the floor in a puddle before she slipped into the second blue taffeta. She had to admit Susan was right. The dresses were striking. Each dress was trimmed with a delicate blue and white tatted lace, which also trimmed the wide brimmed hats that were accented by cascading blue ribbon. The small tatted lace gloves finished off the wedding attire. As Dena looked at her image in the mirror, she was impressed. Though, I didn’t think I would ever be wearing blue. She tried to stay away from blue because it was Susan’s color. “Oh Dena,” Emily whispered. Her mirrored image appeared behind Dena’s likeness. Dena nodded in slight awe. This dress equally matched if not surpassed the elegance of the black dress she wore at the Winter Ball. “Now let me see.” Mrs. Beleman said as she pulled and tugged on the waistline. Dena stood still. She wondered if Clay would like this color on her. Dena looked into the mirror again. It really shows off my dark green eyes and face. She ran her hand down the length of her hair. And my blonde hair shines. Even though Dena was impatient with fittings, the day passed quickly. Dena couldn’t wait for the guys to come back from the Royal Gorge. It was late afternoon before they arrived. She hurried into the yard, glancing quickly around, hoping no one saw how anxious she was. Willing herself to relax, she heaved a sigh. No one was watching. “Look.” Floyd got out of the car, trying to explain something. “Chamberlain has resigned, and Churchill has taken over. Surely Britain will be able to hold her own against Germany.” “I agree,” Carl said. “I heard that the British civilian and naval crafts have rescued the allied soldiers from Belgium. In fact…” “What was the figure, Carl?” Brock broke in. “I know it was huge.” “About four hundred thousand I think,” Carl answered. Floyd emitted a short, low whistle. Dena stopped. Everyone listened intently, including her dad. Clay too, listened. Her lower lip protruded as she grimaced, War talk, always war talk. “Hey, Sis,” Brock called as he ambled over and gave her quick hug. Slightly smiling, she glanced over his shoulder. Clay smiled. “Dinner is ready.” She emphasized each word probably more firmly than she should have. But before turning to walk back to the house, Clay managed to get into step with her. After desserts of various pies and cakes were served, her dad challenged the men to a domino competition. He stated that there were plenty of guys to make it interesting. Glancing at Clay, Dena chuckled. She knew her dad was in his own element. Dominos was his game. “Look out everyone,” Brock declared, amused, “Dad’s the county champion.” Dena raised her eyebrow at Clay, nodding. “I don’t know, Mr. Caulter,” Carl drawled, rubbing his chin. “We college men are really good at numbers.” Dena watched her dad nod in mock solemnity. But, he had that knowing glint in his eyes. The challenge was official. Tables were cleared, and dominos took the place of dishes. Dena hadn’t actually counted how many men were present. Now she noticed there was enough for two teams. Dena dried each plate slowly and carefully, listening. Whoops, moans, and groans came from the living room. She couldn’t see them since the two rooms were built in an L-shape, yet she smiled. Clay had been so afraid of meeting her family. Now, he fit in perfectly. Susan laughed after Emily whispered something to her. Dena wasn’t concerned with girl talk now. She was only thinking about the guys in the other room. She stood at the corner of the kitchen and dining room, watching the game. After all, she admitted to herself, it concerned her that Clay was at the same table with Grant, Stuart, and Dad. Stuart enjoyed the sparring between the others. Mary sat next to him, taking candid pictures of everyone. He didn’t get much a chance to interact since he was constantly taking pictures of Susan’s wedding preparations. Having some time to be with the other men was special for him. She saw his affection as he glanced at Mary. It was mutual, for Mary smiled back before she snapped another picture. “Why don’t you girls take some coffee to the men?” Mother said. Dena turned back to the kitchen. Her mother was watching her intently. She blushed, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. As she picked up a tray filled with coffee cups, Susan picked up the large coffee pot while Emily carried a platter of cookies. She knew there would be plenty of food for weeks to come. So these few cookies wouldn’t be missed. She frowned; she would have to be more careful. Mother may be busy with all of the wedding plans, yet she wouldn’t miss what was going on between Clay and her daughter. Dena smiled as she walked around the corner. She really didn’t want anyone to know. Their relationship was too new. *** Wednesday, May 31 The day before the wedding, the sun was shining, without a single cloud. Dena couldn’t believe Susan’s special day was tomorrow. Then she would be Grant’s wife. She would still be her sister, just in a different way—not like it was when they were children. Dena sighed. Susan would assume a different role. Just as she had started a new life in California, Susan chose to stay in Colorado. She didn’t know for sure about Brock. Of course her dad expected him to come home. Susan’s wedding plans had sped by smoothly. She had learned what to do to put on an event like this wedding or Thanksgiving Day dinner at Aunt Doreen’s. She supposed knowing this would be helpful sometime later. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, Dena retreated to her quiet spot in the arbor. Soon Clay joined her. “You have a great family,” he said. “They remind me of my childhood and my parents.” “I’m glad you like them,” Dena said warmly. “The ranch is beautiful. I didn’t think I could love another area as much as California, but this …” Clay looked across the garden then to the distant mountains. Dena agreed. Her finger traced a large crack in the wood as she waited for Clay to continue. Silently, he sipped at his coffee before he carefully went on. “My parents would have liked it here. You know as much as I—how I have learned not to miss my parents. I suppose I still can’t get over blaming God for what happened. Maybe I don’t want to forget.” Dena’s eyes opened wide. She wasn’t sure she had heard him right. Clay leaned forward, carefully rotating his cup. His forehead wrinkled slightly. He couldn’t decide just how to say what he needed to say. He had come to realize how much Dena was grounded in her faith, and he didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. “How could God create exquisite beauty as this and then allow destruction and trauma to continue daily? How could he allow senseless death and …” Clay fell silent, suddenly looking directly in her eyes. “You know the twenty-third Psalm says, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil,’ but Dena, I do. Ever since my parents’ death, I seem to be acutely aware of evil in the world.” He leaned back and looked at her sadly. Now she understood his past outbreaks, his vehemence toward Germany and the war. What was happening in Europe was evil. It all made sense although she still wondered where he was headed. She had always viewed God as a loving and just God. But she hadn’t experienced death at close range. Looking across the garden to where her dad stood, she couldn’t imagine her life without him or her mother. “Why is that, Clay?” she asked simply. She knew she must be cautious, that she needed to voice and act according to her faith so Clay could see. And so her faith could keep growing. “I don’t really know,” Clay spoke slowly. “I don’t have any idea.” “Clay.” Dena leaned forward slightly, holding his gaze. She wanted him to hear and understand what she said. She silently said a short prayer. She was afraid she might say the wrong thing. Calmly she continued, “I know many of the bad things happen are caused by humans—not God.... We’re given free choice. It’s His grace to us. I don’t always see or understand, but God is in control...and, Clay, I know God is a just God... People who are grounded in their faith will see God working in their lives.” “Do you see him working in your life?” “Yes. Many times this past year,” she answered nodding. And I know scripture says, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ The key in this verse is ‘those that love God.’” She paused, not sure what to say next. Finally she asked, “Clay, do you love God?” “I didn’t say that I don’t believe or that I don’t love God. It’s just …” His voice trailed off carrying a note of indecisiveness. Clay seemed to be looking into a different time. Dena sat quietly waiting, studying him. She softly spoke to him, drawing his attention back to her. “I know you’re still mad at God for your parent’s death,” Dena paused to let it sink in. She laid her hand over his. She knew that she must see where he was in his faith. Frankly, it scared her. “Maybe you need to ask for guidance. God’s waiting for you to ask. Clay, you must trust God so he can heal you …” Dena paused again. She wanted to make sure Clay understood. As a final point, she simply said, “It’s … a matter of trust.” Clay nodded, but he didn’t look at her. He gazed at the mountains. She waited, sipping her cooled coffee. Once again she ventured, “You know Mother quotes Proverbs 3:5–6 to us often. I guess because of it I’ve come to rely on this verse continually. It goes something like this: ‘Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not on thine own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’” Clay sat with a childlike expression, examining her face. All else seemed not to matter. Dena could tell he was thinking about what she had said. She knew that their future—her future with him—depended on the strength of his faith. She couldn’t marry an ungodly man or a godly man who was unsettled. Dena straightened up slowly. Where did that come from? I hadn’t even considered marriage. “A matter of trust,” Clay rolled the four words over his tongue they both sat enjoying each other, assured of each other’s presence, each looking at the distant mountains, thinking about all that was spoken and implied. “Again, I must say the ranch is impressive,” Clay said, closing the subject and breaking the silence. Dena smiled. She knew he needed time to reflect on what she had said. “Yes it is.” She smiled brightly at him. She wanted to say, but I only live here. The ranch belongs to Brock. Dad had always implied that, but she didn’t. “Will Grant and Susan live here?” “No, they’ll live on Grant’s property, which borders our land. Grant will work with Dad and Brock. I guess they’ll more or less combine the two properties.” “What about you?” Clay questioned, eyebrow rising. “Where do you fit in?” “Actually, I don’t think I do. Brock inherits the ranch and Susan will become co-owner of Grant’s ranch,” she spoke slowly, calculatingly. She wasn’t sure how much she wanted to share. Dena wanted this man whom she had become close to, to know her private thoughts. She bit at the edge of her mouth for a moment. Finally, she decided to go for it. “I had to find a way to care for myself. I don’t want to have to rely on Brock.” That’s why I’m taking the drafting classes. I’m too independent to live on my brother’s charity. In a pinch or out of necessity I will, but not on a long-term basis. Besides, I really like aeronautical drafting.” Clay studied her carefully for a long time. She definitely had spunk. Not everyone would go after what they wanted—like her. His smile showed how impressed he was with her. “I shouldn’t have said that.” She frowned, squirming in her chair like a small child in trouble. At last she relaxed, giving him a quick smile which disappeared almost before it started. “It’s just easy to talk to you.” Clay reached for her hand, holding tightly. He then spoke softly and fervently to her, his eyes blazing with passion. It was like a light turned on in Clay’s mind. “Marry me, Dena. I want to take care of you for the rest of your life.” “Clay?” she blurted out, just above a whisper. Her back stiffened slightly. She didn’t want his pity. Yet she knew in her heart she wanted to spend her life with him. “I mean it, Dena,” he continued, “with all of my heart. I guess I’ve known it all along, but I just didn’t realize it until now.” “I … I …,” she sputtered then stopped. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly and closed her mouth. Oh how she wanted to say yes. Her impetuous side told her to throw caution out and say yes while her serious side challenged her to wait. Dena knew though she couldn't marry him, not just yet. She slowly opened her eyes. They held only tenderness for this man who sat across the table from her. “Clay, I so much want to say yes, but … I am asking … I want both of us to take the summer to think about it. We need to really think about what we’ve discussed, and … I …” she spoke slowly in a soft voice, halting in mid-sentence. Her eyes never left his face. “Well, you didn’t say no,” he half-joked. Then he looked sincerely at Dena. “I will ask again.” “Is this a private talk, or can anyone join?” Carl asked. Dena turned her head. She didn’t know anyone was close by. But, Carl always appeared to be around, not that she minded. She completely understood Carl and Clay’s friendship. She just wasn’t sure she wanted Carl to know what they had talked about just yet. “Some of us are going into town for the morning,” Carl said as he leaned against a nearby tree. He looked directly toward Dena. “You want to come?” “I can’t. The final fitting on the dresses are this morning,” she said. “Oh,” the two men voiced disappointment. She watched them walk toward the cars. Stuart and Mary were with them. She was glad Carl was her friend too, they didn’t rival over Clay’s attention. Standing up, she picked up the two cups and headed for the kitchen. Emily came over to walk with her, interrupting her thoughts. “Isn’t it great the guys will be gone for the morning? Maybe we can get the last wedding details finished for Susan.” She gave Dena a quick smile. “When did you become such an expert on everything?” Dena questioned, trying not to grin, but she lost the battle. She was too happy. “Since you have become a bit sappy-eyed over a certain guy,” Emily replied. “Oh!” Dena said. “Does it show that much?” “Uh huh.” Emily giggled, slipping her arm around Dena’s waist. “Come on. Let’s go and try on our dresses.” *** June 1, 1940 Dena woke up to birds singing and a gentle breeze blowing through the gauze curtains. After lazily stretching, she slipped out of bed and went over to the window. People were hurrying around the grounds like squirrels with nuts to hide. Large tables had gifts and food covering them. Someone had sat several vases on for roses from Mother’s garden. How much more perfect could it be for Susan’s wedding? Mother had announced the night before that breakfast would be café style. She stood at the door checking for Clay. Just as she stepped back into the kitchen for coffee and toast, she saw Clay and Carl sitting under one of her favorite large trees. Leisurely walking out to sit with them, Dena smiled. “Good morning.” “Morning,” Clay mumbled in between bites of a cinnamon roll. Carl waved his hand as he drank coffee. Floyd sat down offering his greeting also before digging into pancakes. “Where did you find pancakes, Floyd?” she questioned, staring at the mound of six pancakes smothered in butter and syrup. “Some lady took pity on me and made them,” he responded. “Do you want a bite?” She nodded, looking at Clay. He grinned. Carl laughed. Dena didn’t know why she should worry about their teasing. Friends should always be able to accept each other, no matter what. Soon Emily joined them. She scooted in by Floyd. “Pancakes, Floyd, how did you get pancakes?” Emily asked. Everyone laughed. Emily looked at each one, wondering what she had said that was so funny. “I just asked that very same question,” Dena said. She looked around for Stuart, Grant, and Brock. Oh, there they are with Susan over by the garden. Stuart’s still taking pictures. “Stuart’s sure enjoying doing the photography,” Mary remarked to no one in particular. Dena turned around. Mary was standing just behind her. She heard an element of pride in her friend’s voice. She nodded, her eyes glinting as she faced Mary.“How are you doing?” Dena asked. “It’s been hectic, and I know you really don’t know anyone except, of course, present company.” “I have enjoyed getting to know the different people,” Mary said as she sat down next to Dena. Her face looked peaceful as she pressed on, “Did you know that Mrs. Townsend, the lady standing by your mother, is the county’s historian?” Dena shook her head. “She’s been very helpful to me in a writer’s sense,” Mary continued, munching on a piece of left over toast. Dena stopped and really looked at Mary. Then Mary apologized, “I’m sorry. I’m boring you.” “No,” Dena replied, meaning it. “I feel bad I’ve been tied up and haven’t properly welcomed you to Colorado, to the ranch, and to my home.” “Don’t be.” Mary smiled. “I’m truly enjoying myself. I’m so glad I’ve had this chance to see your home and meet the local people before Stuart and I go to New York.” “Good,” Dena said, ending their conversation. “That makes me feel better.” The more she got to know Mary, the more she liked her. Stuart was a lucky man. “Dena,” Emily said, “we should go. It’s almost eight.” “Oh.” Dena stood up as Stuart came over. He took her place by Mary. Dena waved at everyone then hurried to the house. Mother’s good friend, Wanda was fixing everyone’s hair for the wedding, and her time was scheduled for eight. The wedding was at one thirty. Dena wasn’t sure why Susan had chosen one thirty. She hadn’t asked. *** June 1, 1940 1:30 p.m. Dena stood beside Emily in front of an arch decorated with numerous roses and daisies. She looked stunning in the blue taffeta and white wide-brimmed hat. Still she was nervous. You would think I was the one getting married. She didn’t hear much after the preacher read the customary opening and asked who would give away the bride. Her dad cleared his throat and spoke gruffly, “Her mother and I do.” She almost forgot to take the bouquet from Susan at the proper time. Dena scolded herself for thinking of what her own wedding might be like. She could see Clay. Trying to be discreet, she glanced at him only to find him watching her. Arms crossed in a dramatic way, he was grinning. She blushed then looked at the large yellow rose bush next to her. Mother’s roses were at their best in June, and their strong powdery scent reigned. Dena carefully glanced around the rose garden at the guests. Most of the church people and well—really practically everyone in the town had come to the wedding. Then she looked back at Susan. Her radiant face showed she knew she looked lovely in Mother’s wedding dress and Grandmother Caulter’s veil. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful bride, but then I might be just a bit prejudiced. Even Grant looks happy instead of fearful as most grooms do. Like I would know, Dena scolded herself, like I’ve been to a lot of weddings in my life. Dena smiled as she glanced at Clay. He was listening to the preacher. She too turned her attention back to the preacher as he asked for the rings. Little Pauley stepped forward wide-eyed. His bottom lip quivered. Brock took the rings and laid them in the preacher’s opened Bible but not before slipping Pauley a piece of candy. Pauley’s face lit up. He stood acting important by Brock for the rest of the ceremony. Dena heard the young flower girl sniff. Containing her smile, Dena dropped her chin into her sister’s bouquet. “You may kiss the bride.” Dena looked up. Embarrassed, she couldn’t really say she had heard the ceremony, she glanced once more at Clay, blushing. He grinned broadly at her. Grant and Susan had turned and were facing the congregation. Handing Susan her bouquet, Dena blushed again. Susan smiled although Dena was sure she didn’t see her, which she could clearly understand. “I would like to present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Grant Spencer,” the preacher announced. The recessional music started, and Grant took Susan by the elbow. They walked down to where Dena’s parents sat. Tearfully, Dena watched Susan hug their mother and dad before she and Grant continued over to the refreshment tables. Grant glowed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as happy as he is right now. She stood next to Clay and Carl watching Susan and Grant cut the cake. When the cake arrived that morning, Dena figured her mother and dad would be eating leftover cake for six months. But now she wasn’t sure there would be enough to serve everyone. She laughed, pointing at the children running around with blue mouths. Susan chose blue punch accented with whitened ice adorned with white roses that floated in the bowl. It seemed the whole county had come. Everywhere she looked several groups of guests stood, waiting for the ceremony of throwing the garter, and tossing the bouquet. Stuart called Dena and Emily to come for pictures; Dena moved over by her dad. He smiled. She watched neighbors and friends congratulate the newlyweds. Little Pauley followed Brock everywhere, his white shirt hanging out, candy melting in his hand. Brock was his buddy now. Much later, Susan left to prepare to leave. Dena sobered, then hiccupped. Clay slid his arm around her shoulder smiling down into her tilted face. He mouthed, “I love you.” Dena glowed. Carl broke into their private moment urging them forward, “Come on you guys. Let’s go and get some cake and punch.” “I need to help Susan get ready,” Dena said. “But save me a piece of cake.” She rushed to the house before Clay protested. Dena found Susan standing in the middle of her wedding dress with her veil still cascading around her. Tears streamed. “Hey.” Dena put her arms around her sister. “What’s wrong?” “I … I … I don’t know. I … I guess I’ve waited so long … for this day”—she hiccupped—“and now it’s over. And … I don’t know what”—she blubbered —“I should do now.” Susan sobbed. Dena hugged her sister again. She looked up as Mary handed Susan a handkerchief. Dena’s eyes widened. She didn’t know Mary and Emily had come into the room. Emily stood with her back against the closed door. “Here, Susan,” Dena said in an impish manner while Mary held out the handkerchief to her. She tried to mimic their mother’s voice, “Ladies always carry a handkerchief. Why I’m not sure, but you must always have a handkerchief. Mother says so.” Susan stared at her sister, inhaling. Slowly she giggled as she dabbed the tears. Then she plopped down in the middle of the wedding dress and laughed, tears sliding down her cheeks. “Oh you,” she finally gasped in a low tone. She smoothed out the damp handkerchief and looked at it, “Mother does say that, doesn’t she—always!” Dena nodded. “Now let’s get you ready for that handsome brother-in-law of mine. As patient as Grant is—and he can be as patient as Job—we mustn’t keep him waiting.” Susan nodded. Carefully removing the veil, Dena passed the veil to Emily then offered her hands for Susan to get up. Dena untied the slip at the waist and dropped it to the floor. It fell on the large hoop. Mary had Susan’s new blue suit over her arm while Emily held her hat and gloves. Dena marveled at Susan’s choice—blue. Nevertheless, she should have expected it. She knew that Susan always chose blue. Blue was a constant of her personality. If Susan ever went through a day without blue on, she would probably be ill. She smiled at her wittiness. At last, all three girls stood simultaneously, smoothing Susan’s hair and straightening her wide-brimmed straw hat. Goodness, I’m glad there’s very little wind. Susan’s hat would land up in the next state. Mary helped Susan slip into her shoes, and Emily handed Susan another handkerchief. Susan held up the handkerchief. Her eyes twinkled as if to say, “I have my handkerchief.” They laughed. “Thank you all.” Susan hugged each one gently. “I couldn’t have gotten ready without you.” “Emily, will you and Mary go and tell Grant that Susan’s ready?” Dena asked. The girls nodded. “Have a happy life, my dear friend and sister.” Dena held Susan at arm’s length and wrinkled her nose at her sister and said, “I love you Susan, and remember I’m always here if you need me. No matter where I live, I’m always here for you—always.” She gave Susan another quick hug and helped her straighten her hat. “Now go. Grant’s waiting.” Susan hesitated at the door. She smiled sweetly at her sister. Dena picked up the dress, hoop and slip and gently laid them on the bed. She sighed. After a bit she followed at a distance and watched Grant smiling up at his bride as Stuart snapped pictures. Everyone crowded around the couple wishing them well. Grant tossed the garter to a neighbor boy who grinned openly at the ribbing. Dena watched the bouquet sail through the air, Mary grabbed it. Stuart snapped a picture, saying, “I have it on record.” Everyone laughed. Soon Susan and Grant left with Brock driving them to the railroad station. Where is it that they are going on their honeymoon? Dena’s forehead wrinkled in thought as she stood just outside the kitchen door. She unconsciously wiped away stray tears. “Penny for your thoughts,” a soft murmur came near her ear. She turned to find Clay and Carl standing behind her. “Here’s your cake.” Laughing, Dena took the chocolate cake, visibly relaxing. “And here’s a fork.” Carl grinned handing her a salad fork. “Thanks. I really need this chocolate cake.” She took a bite, savoring the rich texture. “Mmm—chocolate is so good. I’m glad this is over. I’m glad that Grant and Susan are gone. I was trying to think of where they are going for their honeymoon.” “There’s Floyd and Emily. Let’s go over." Carl urged. She nodded. *** Clay managed to spend most of his time with Dena before he left for Virginia. Dena helped her Mother sort through the strange dishes. Clay awkwardly helped. He made a triumphant sound each time he found a home for a lost lid. Dena knew he liked being near her. If matching dishes and pans with their lids meant he could be with her, and then match lids he would. Just as they were finishing, Dena discreetly handed him a small piece of paper where she had scribbled her address and how long she planned to stay in Colorado. Clay looked fondly at her while sliding it into his pocket. Carl gathered up some cold drinks, and they went outside to sit under the large cottonwood again. Dena sat near the end of the table with Clay scooting in beside her. Carl sat at the end and leaned back in an old wooden chair. It’s funny, how we’re like a magnate. Mary sat down next to Emily, followed by Stuart, who brought drinks for the girls and himself. Then, Brock and Floyd came over. Floyd carried a sandwich. He smiled at Dena as he sat down by Emily. “Ham, I love ham sandwiches,” he apologized, licking mustard off of his fingers. “If there’s food around, Floyd will find it,” Clay said. Dena eyed the sandwich. It did look good. What am I thinking? I’m stuffed. Conversation and laughter easily moved around the table. Dena sighed. Who would have imagined, in a hundred years that this many young people would be on my parent’s ranch, sitting under this tree. The tree I grew up under, laughing and playing with my brother and sister? Not only that, but they are all my friends. Stuart took a picture then turned and snapped a candid shot of her and Clay. Clay slipped his hand over hers and squeezed. Happily she glanced at him. He looked pleased. Dena knew he would be leaving that night. And it would be a long two months before she saw him again. She shuddered. Two months. Dena leaned ever so slightly toward him and snuggled into his shoulder. This surprised her. It was what Mary did all the time. “Churchill sure is deploying the U-boats against Germany and their allies,” Floyd offered. Suddenly, the talk turned to the war in Europe. Dena frowned. Not on my last afternoon with all of them and Clay. Clay held her hand tightly. “Yeah, he may deploy them,” Carl interjected. “But that statement is frightening.” “What did he say?” Brock leaned forward. “I guess I missed it.” “Well I read it in the newspaper sometime this past week,” Carl continued. “The newspaper quoted him, ‘The only thing that ever really frightens me during this conflict is the U-boat peril.’” “Peril? Why did he use that word?” Mary asked. Floyd looked at her blankly. “Doesn’t it mean a source of danger?” Brock interrupted softly. Dena looked at her brother. It surprised her that he knew the definition. But then he had grown just as she had. In high school she was sure he wouldn’t have known the definition. She felt uneasy hearing him talk about war. She knew how he felt about the war; war wasn’t glamorous or romantic. It was deadly. “Yes, but it also means hazard, risk, jeopardy, source of danger,” Mary continued. “I consider war to be more—much more—than a source of danger.” “Well said Mary.” Stuart put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. Dena had always admired his devotion. And sometimes, she guessed, she might be just a little envious. Bite your tongue, girl. Dena cautiously looked around for her dad. “You know they are calling the conflict between Germany and Britain the battle of the Atlantic,” Carl said, trying to move the conversation to safer ground. “I don’t understand why the United States is still neutral,” Floyd pointed out, shaking his head. The sandwich had disappeared. “Are you sure we are neutral?” Clay interjected. Looking at Floyd and Carl, Dena’s head whipped around. What did he mean? “Whatever. All I know is the U-boat menace is growing. But it’s accomplishing what Britain had hoped. It's keeping the English Channel open for the merchant ships to get in with troops, food, raw materials, and much needed equipment,” Stuart stated calmly. “Without this trade from us, Great Britain might have been starved out by now.” No food? She had never considered such a radical situation. Rationing would be bad enough. “You kids ready to go to the station? Our train leaves in a couple of hours.” Dena turned and looked at her uncle. She examined his face. It gave away nothing. When exactly did he come up to us? And how much did he hear? The group slowly moved to the house to gather up their belongings and get the gear loaded. Each young guest expressed a thank you to her and her parents. Then each found a place in one of the vehicles. Dena noticed Mother had started dabbing at her eyes. Dad wore a stern frown. She knew he wasn’t mad. It was his way of controlling his feelings. Dena smiled unconvincingly. “What are you smiling about?” Clay asked. Surprised, Dena looked up at him. Clay had been watching her again. Dena liked it, this closeness she felt when Clay was near. She had never had a relationship where both parties became one. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever having a relationship this intense. “I was thinking of you—us. Come,” she spoke in a low voice filled with urgency. Clay readily followed her into the house, into the hallway. She picked up one of her initialed handkerchiefs along with a small book of her favorite poems. It smelled faintly of her perfume. “Clay, I want you to have this. I know it’s corny, but it’ll be two months before…” she stopped in mid-sentence as Clay muffled her words with a kiss. She returned his kiss willingly. When he finally released her, Dena felt faint. “Thanks, I’ll keep this with me always.” Clay took her handkerchief and put it to his nose before he tucked it into his pocket. “Dena, about our talk … I’ll give it a lot of thought while I’m in Virginia … about God and everything.” She hugged him. Tears threatened. “Hey, Clay, where have you disappeared to?” Floyd hollered through the kitchen door, where he stood waiting. “I forgot something in the house,” apologized Clay as he strolled to the car holding the book. Dena followed, sliding in next to her brother. Glancing sideways, Brock smiled. Dena couldn’t remember who was in the backseat. For all she knew, it might have been her mother and dad. Oh! What an awkward idea! The trip to the railroad station was relatively quiet. Three cars and dad’s old truck were being used to haul Stuart’s equipment and the baggage. Plus, it took three other vehicles to carry all the people. Nine people counting Polly would be leaving. She sighed audibly. Clay squeezed her hand firmly. Slyly she looked up at him. He winked. The trip to the station was too short and ended all too quickly, Dena stood on the platform next to Clay where Carl tactfully stood between them and the rest of the group, giving them time. Mother and Dad were talking with Uncle Walter and Aunt Doreen. She turned to Clay. He gazed at her. “Penny for your thoughts,” she said more pertly than she felt. Clay had said that to her at different times over the last few days. He gently touched her cheek and smiled. Dena closed her eyes, sealing it forever in her memory. “See you in August,” Clay whispered. His hand lingered for a moment longer on her cheek. Then his finger traveled down to her lips, where it lingered for a long moment. She nodded. Tears brimmed. Then Clay was gone. She hiccupped. It almost sounded like a sob. Dena felt an arm around her shoulders. She looked up. Brock stood next to her, pretending not to see the tears. Dena watched. “Come on, Sis,” Brock coaxed, leading her to the car. “Let’s go home.” “Home.” Dena slowly nodded her head. After all, tomorrow is a new day. And in August, Clay will be home. Home, in California …

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