Update: This is the original second chapter. However, during my writing marathon for NaNoWriMo, I extensively overhauled the early part of the book. I’ve left the original sneak peeks up for now, since I’m not ready to replace them with the never versions yet, but just be aware that some of this will not be in the final version of the story.
Original post: For those of you who read chapter one of Fred and Lily’s story, and have been waiting for the next installment, here it is! Hope you enjoy it. For any of you who missed chapter one, I’d recommend you go back and read it first.
Chapter two steps back in time a little. Back to the beginning…
Nearly Two Years Earlier…
– June, 1944 –
“Lily! Li-ly!” the girl’s voice called from a distance.
Lilian Brown stopped in her stroll along the seashore and looked back. A playful sea-breeze kept tossing her dark curls around her face as she tried to see where the call had come from. Beside her, her cousin and dear friend Joan shaded her eyes against the sun and looked too.
“That sounded like Alice.” Lily scanned the grassy landscape behind them.
“That’s what I thought. Oh there she is!” Joan pointed toward the white windmill dominating the green. Near the base they could both see eleven-year-old Alice waving to get their attention.
“Yes! What is it?” Lily called back.
“Come home! Mum wants you!” Lily’s sister was cupping her hands around her mouth to make her voice carry farther.
“I don’t know. She just said to fetch you! Besides, it’s nearly teatime!”
“Alright, I’m coming! You go on without me!”
Alice did as she was told, while the two friends turned their steps back toward town.
“So is he handsome?” Lily asked, returning to their interrupted conversation.
“Oh yes. And tall with dark hair. But mostly he’s sweet. You wouldn’t believe how sweet he is. He’s just precious. And so relaxed about everything. Nothing ever seems to upset him.”
Lily smiled mischievously. “Well that’s good. Maybe he’ll be able to put up with you.”
“Oh very funny. I’m not the one whose mother calls her ‘Firecracker,’ if you’ll recall!”
Lily laughed. “Fair enough. But Paul seems to put up with me pretty well.”
“I’ve noticed. He’s quite a catch, Lily. All that money and the connections he has in London! Of course he limps a little. But if he didn’t, he probably would have been drafted already and never been around to meet you while he was visiting his aunt here in the village! Is he coming up to Lytham again soon?”
“Yes, he’ll be on the afternoon train from London tomorrow. He promised to bring me a present, too. But he wouldn’t tell me what it is.”
“He’s always giving you presents.”
“I know. Like you said, he has a good deal of money. Doesn’t this new sweetheart of yours give you any presents?”
“Oh he has. Mostly just flowers though. His family doesn’t have much money. Hardly any, I think. He’s more like…like us.”
“Well, that’s alright. Money isn’t everything. I—wait a minute, where did I put my shoes?” Lily stopped suddenly, looking down at her bare feet in the grass.
“You left them by the windmill, remember? Over there.” Joan pointed.
“Oh yes!” Lily ran to collect her oxfords from the wide circular plateau that surround the windmill, then came hurrying back.
Joan was laughing. “Love, if you don’t pay more attention, you’re going to loose something important one day, like your head! You really ought to try and be a bit more organized.”
“I don’t have time.” Lily protested. “There’s too many other things to think about.” she was hopping on one foot as she put on her shoe over the painted-on stockings most girls were wearing now. “Are you coming home with me, or going back to your house?”
“I’ll come as far as Clifton street, but then I’d better go home. Mum will wonder where I am if I don’t come back for tea. Are you coming to the dance at Lowther Gardens next Saturday?”
“Probably. I invited Paul to come too, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able to.”
“What does that matter? There will still be plenty of men to dance with whether he’s there or not. Especially the Americans! I’m sorry about the war and the Nazis and all that, but I’m glad we get all the soldiers to have dances and parties with! And you’re such a good dancer, they’ll fight over you. Maybe you’ll even find someone you like better than Paul!”
“Well you might you know. I’ve changed my own mind twice already!”
Lily only laughed as the two continued across the green.
* * * * *
The Brown’s home at 25 North Clifton street was sandwiched between the other houses, all nestled together in a neat little row the length of the block. When Lily came into the simple, tidy little kitchen she found her mother pouring hot water from the kettle into the teapot, her older sister Frances setting the table, and the two younger girls sitting in chairs looking quiet and a little anxious. Ruth, the youngest, was still holding the box she took her gas mask to school in. Everyone carried gas-masks these days. The women kept them in purses, but the children carried boxes around. And painted them, too, to make them less scary.
“I didn’t realize how late it had gotten already.” Lily moved a plate of butties onto the well-worn table-cloth. “Alice said you wanted me, Mum. Is everything alright?”
“We’ll find out in a minute or two, love.” Lily’s mother, also named Alice, replied briskly.
Puzzled, Lily glanced at Frances (whom they all called ‘Sissy’).
“A letter came from Robert.” her sister explained briefly.
Now she understood.
With the tea things laid out neatly, the family gathered around the table and sat down in rather strained silence. Before doing anything else, Mrs. Brown bowed her head. Lily and her sisters followed suit.
“Oh, Lord,” their mother spoke “we pray your blessing on this food we are about to partake of. We thank you for providing us with enough to eat. Please bless the troops who have been fighting for so long now. Protect them and give them victory as they defend freedom and justice in this world. Supply their needs and give them courage, and do the same for the soldiers waiting in the prison camps. They need courage too. Give those of us here at home the strength to bear the difficulties we face as we do our best to support the men who are away from us. Thank you for the many blessing you have gifted us with. Amen.”
The girls looked up expectantly, but Mrs. Brown didn’t seem to notice. Without a sign of hurry, she very calmly filled her teacup, added a little cream and sugar, and stirred it gently, then took a sip.
Lily watched her in amazement. Her mother’s perfect calm under almost every situation never ceased to astonish her. “Aren’t you going to read the letter, Mum?” she finally asked.
“Yes. After I’ve had a little tea.” Mrs. Brown handed the sugar and cream to Sissy. “You know everything is better with God and a cup of tea, Lily. Ruth, would you pass me the butties please?”
Lily leaned back in her chair and tried to look relaxed, while beneath the table she was anxiously tapping one foot and clenching her hands together. Tranquility was not her most developed character trait.
At long last, Mrs. Brown set down her teacup and pulled a travel-worn letter from her pocket. It was marked in German and English, and addressed to “Mrs. Christopher Brown and Family.” Her eyes scanned the first few sentences, and the corners of her mouth softened into the hint of a smile. At that welcome sign, the girls all relaxed a little and listened eagerly as she began to read aloud.
Dear Mother and Girls,
Father and I are both doing as well as can be expected. POW camp isn’t a picnic, of course, but then, neither was fighting a war, when we were doing that part. I guess nobody is picnicking at the moment, except maybe the American soldiers stationed there in England. I got the letter from Sissy and Lily. And Joan wrote me one too, awhile back. I guess if anyone in this war is having a nice time, it must be all those lucky Yanks getting to go to dances with my charming sisters and cousins!
I miss you all, and I’m jealous they get to see you and I don’t. When I was home I used to sometimes wish I had a brother instead of a whole houseful of younger sisters, but now that I’ve been away so long I’m pretty certain there couldn’t be anything nicer than having a mother and four sisters to fuss over you. So you must all remember to fuss over me when I get home again. I promise I’ll put up with it much better than I used to.
I’m sure Father misses all of you too, though he doesn’t say much about it. You know how he is.
We got the care packages you sent us a few months ago, and the Red Cross does their best to take care of all the POW’s. So we get along alright. Try not to worry about us. We’re really almost used to this life by now. I guess you can get used to nearly anything after 3 years of it! The few months we actually spent fighting certainly don’t seem like much compared to all the time we’ve been sitting around with hardly anything to do except hope the Allies win.
I suppose the girls must all be getting pretty grown up by now. Why, when I left, Ruth was only 6! It’s hard to picture her as a 9-year-old. Is she doing well in school? I’ve calculated that Alice is nearly 12 by now, and Lily will turn 19 in December. Which of course means Sissy must be getting old enough that it isn’t polite to talk about her age anymore! (I hope she will laugh when she hears that. I miss teasing her in person.)
I pray the war will be over soon. But we will have to wait for God’s good time. Give my love to everyone at home. And girls, help mother as much as you can. You’re lucky to have her there with you. We don’t like to admit it, but I think most of the blokes here would trade about anything for a chance to see their mothers. Take care of her for me.
Mrs. Brown put the letter down on the table, and her hand rested softly over it for a moment, her fingers caressing the closely written page. For a second, Lily thought she caught a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes. But then they were gone.
All the girls were smiling softly, though every letter was bittersweet. It was wonderful to hear from Robert of course, but it was also a reminder of just how far away he was, and just how long it might be before they saw him again. He was a good brother. They realized that more and more the longer he was gone.
“Is there anything from Father?” Alice was the first to speak, after a long silence.
Mrs. Brown shook her head. “Not this time.”
No one had anything to say to that. They’d never admitted it, even to each other, but…nobody missed Christopher Brown very much.
Lily decided to change the subject. “I’ll have to ask Joan what she told Robert in her letter. It must have had a lot about American soldiers and dances in it. I didn’t write much about them.”
“Neither did I.” Sissy smiled. “But knowing Joan, she probably filled half the letter with them.” She paused, then began chuckling as she shook her head. “Too old to talk about my age! Can you believe he actually went to all the trouble to write that in a letter and send it from Germany to England, in the middle of a war, just because he missed teasing me? That’s a brother for you!”
Mrs. Brown smiled. “Now admit it, love. You miss having him here to tease you too.”
“Well…maybe I do.”
Lily’s eyes immediately began to sparkle with mischief. “Really? Would you like me to take over the job for him?”
Her sister raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Not a chance!”
What did you think? Do have any comments or suggestions? I’d love to hear them! Comment below or get in touch with me through my contact page!