Update: This was the original fifth chapter. However, I did some extensive overhauling of the early part of the book during my NaNoWriMo writing marathon. I’m leaving the original sneak peeks up for now, but just be aware what you read here may or may not end up in the final version of the story.
Otherwise, go ahead and jump right in!
– July, 1944 –
For the first day or two after the dance, Lily found her mind less than settled on certain points. Points which she found it awkward to be unsure about. She was slightly distracted, and easily annoyed. Alice brought her a daisy and didn’t ask questions. Ruth alternated between teasing and kissing. Mother prescribed hot tea and said she’d probably stayed up too late, while Frances looked very wise but said little.
After awhile it all wore off though, and by late Wednesday afternoon she was happily anticipating another visit from Paul.
“I think that’s him coming up the street.” Alice stood peering out the bedroom window.
Lily was sitting in front of the mirror, fighting with a couple of unruly curls. “Probably, love. He ought to be here any time now.” she answered around a mouth full of bobby pins.
“Yes. It is him, I can tell for sure now. And oooh, Lily! He’s got roses for you! A whole bouquet of them!”
Lily smiled at her reflection. “What color?”
“Red. Maybe you can wear one of them this evening. Red always looks so nice against your hair.”
“Do you think so?” Lily paused, studying her reflection, a pin halfway into her curls.
“Oh yes!” Alice sighed. “I wish I had dark hair like you!”
“Don’t be silly, love! Red hair is just as pretty as dark.” Lily pulled the pin back out and reached for a ribbon instead.
“Not in the books it isn’t! The princesses always have golden hair or chestnut hair or raven black hair. The redheads don’t get to be princesses. All they ever get are terrible tempers!”
“Oh Alice!” Lily smiled. “You’d make a better princess than me any day. And I’m the one with the temper around here.”
“Sissy’s is worse.”
Lily laughed. “Perhaps. But mine is a close second. You haven’t even got a little one. You’re the sweetest one of us all! How does this ribbon look?”
Alice started to turn from the window and then stopped, a puzzled expression coming over her face as she looked toward the far end of the street.
“What is it?” Lily asked.
“Well, there’s a man coming along on a bicycle, but something’s wrong with it. I can’t tell what from here. No, wait….yes I can! It’s missing a peddle I think!”
“What!” Lily joined her at the window and peered out.
Paul, dressed in a dapper brown suite, was approaching. But farther up the street they could both see an American soldier headed in their direction on a bicycle which, along with a few other things, was also missing it’s left peddle. Undeterred by the curious stares of passersby, its rider came merrily on, peddling with one foot and pushing off on the other side to keep from falling over.
“How funny!” Lily laughed. “I wonder where he got…” her voice suddenly trailed off as she looked harder at the soldier getting steadily nearer. “Oh! Oh my goodness! It’s Freddie!” she suddenly gasped.
Alice looked up in confusion.“Who’s Freddie?”
* * * * *
Fred whistled a cheery scrap of a tune as he slowed his unusual conveyance in front of the house. He’d been to see Joan earlier in the week to settle everything with her (she was surprisingly easily consoled with a note from Jerry), and was quite determined to waste no further time. As he stepped off the bicycle he observed a very well-groomed young man with a bouquet of roses giving him a rather surprised look as he was turning into the alleyway, headed for the Brown’s front door.
Fred smiled brightly and nodded, unabashed. It was a much faster trip from Warton on a bicycle than it was on foot, even with only one peddle. Of course he intended to rig a new one soon, but he’d only just got hold of the bike that afternoon. No time for mechanical transformations!
Fred leaned the bike against the nearest lamp-post, collected a bouquet of fresh wild-flowers from the basket, and briskly started after the rose-carrying gentleman. He reached the Brown’s front step just as the motherly-looking woman who’d opened the door was saying,
“…you’re here to see Lily of course.”
Undeterred, Fred stepped up to the door, grinning broadly. “No kidding? You too?” he said, looking his rival up and down quickly. “Well, this is certainly shaping up to be interesting evening. I bet you’re the one who gave her the necklace, right? Nice roses, by the way. Did you grow them yourself?”
The young man looked at him in surprise. “Actually, my gardener grew them in the greenhouse. And you are…?”
“Oh! Sorry. Forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Fred.” He held out his hand. “What’s yours?”
“Paul Holdsworth.” he shook hands politely, “The seventh.”
“The seventh?” Fred whistled, an impressed look on his face. Then he chuckled. “They must be low on names around here if you have to use the same one that many times in a row, eh?”
Paul blinked, but Mrs. Brown, who’d been standing in the doorway watching the exchange, was obviously hiding a smile as she broke in, “Good evening…Fred, I think you said your name was?”
“Yes ma’am. Fred Overall. From Florida. Are you Lily’s mother?”
“Yes. Is she expecting you?”
“I sort of doubt it, ma’am. But if I give you one of these marigolds, will you let me in anyway?” He put on his most charming smile.
Before she could reply, Lily herself appeared.
“They may both come in, Mum.” She said, smiling even as she looked a bit unsure how to handle the situation. “Good afternoon, Paul. Freddie, I…wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“Yes, we were just talking that.” Fred laughed, handing Mrs. Brown a bright yellow bloom. “That’s why I brought extra flowers. To bribe my way into the house.”
“May I have one too?” a precocious voice inquired. It was Ruth, who had quietly come into the kitchen without being noticed and apparently forgotten to think before she spoke, because every eye in the room was now turned upon her before she could manage to remove her guilty hand from the sugar bowl.
“Ruth Brown!” her mother scolded. “Leave that alone.”
“And don’t ask for other people’s flowers!” Lily added emphatically “Freddie did not bring those for you.”
“Well now that depends.” Fred commented with a comically sober expression. “Miss Ruth, are you going to throw me back out of the house if I don’t bribe you too?”
Ruth, who’d finally gotten her hand out of the sugar, looked thoughtful for a moment, glanced at Lily and her mother, and then replied importantly, “Yes.”
“Ruth!” Lily gasped, half exasperated and half amused.
“Well then, I suppose I’ll have to give you one. Do you like yellow, or purple, or red the best?”
“Alright, here you go.” he handed over another blossom. “I hope you don’t have a very big family, Lily.”
She laughed. “There’s two other sisters at home.”
Fred looked worried. “Maybe a should have brought more flowers!”
“Speaking of flowers,” Paul broke in. “These are for you, Lily.”
“Oh Paul, how lovely!”
“Aren’t they though?” Fred agreed cheerfully. “That gardener of yours sure knows how to pick ’em, Paul. Lily, since the other sisters haven’t appeared and threatened to evict me so far, the rest of these are also for you.” he held out a colorful assortment of spring blooms, adding in a confidential tone, “Of course, they aren’t all the same color, like his are, but I picked them with my own two hands. And,” he lowered his voice to a secretive whisper. “Someone VERY important grew them.”
“Who?” Ruth inquired, in an equally hushed tone.
“God.” Fred answered, and winked at her.
She giggled. “But doesn’t God grows all the flowers?”
Fred shrugged. “You’ll have to discuss that with Paul the Seventh here. He seems to think his gardener is responsible for those roses.”
While Paul was trying to come up with something to say to that, Mrs. Brown stepped in. “Won’t you both have a seat? Lily, the large vase is in that far cupboard. Why don’t you put some water in it for the flowers and set it on the table? Ruth, would you like to put your flower in with Lily’s?”
“No. I want to hold it.”
“Well alright then. Just don’t leave it lying about to wilt on the floor. Would either of you gentlemen care for some tea?”
Both guests replied in the affirmative, and they were soon joined by Lily, who brought the flowers back to the table and sat down, taking a cup of tea herself.
As Fred had predicted, it was an interesting visit. But not at all unpleasant. The entire family somehow ended up in the kitchen, listening to this interesting foreigner telling stories about America. He made little sketches of his home in Florida, showing the house and the garden and the half-wild forests around it. At Ruth’s request, he drew and described alligators in menacing detail, and then had to assure her that they never came indoors. Alice wanted to know if there were still Indians roaming around out there in the wilderness, and he told he’d never come across any, though that didn’t prove anything. Even Paul couldn’t help being fascinated by the stories he told about his childhood. Particularly when he talked about being left home alone for a month to fend for himself with just a 1902 pump 22 Winchester and a dog to keep him company, and then one time actually ran out of ammunition and didn’t know how he was going to get any dinner. Thankfully, a neighbor happened by with some extra bullets!
The evening came to an abrupt end, though, when he suddenly looked up at the clock on the wall and bounded to his feet.
“Goodness! Is it that late? I have to get moving. It’s a long way to Warton on a one-peddled bike!”
“What time are you expected back?” Mrs. Brown inquired.
“Oh I’m not expect back. They don’t even know I left…hopefully.”
“Do you mean to say that you’re AWOL right now?” Lily exclaimed.
“I guess so.” he grinned guiltily.
“What’s AWOL?” Ruth asked.
“It stands for “absent without leave.’” Mrs. Brown explained. “It means he didn’t get permission before going out for the evening.”
“I get in trouble if I do that.” Ruth observed.
“So do I, if they catch me.” Fred laughed. “But they won’t.”
“How do you get in and out without them knowing?” Lily asked.
He smiled mysteriously. “I have my ways.”
Paul stood up and checked his watch. “I should go as well. My aunt will be expecting me back at her house shortly. Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs. Brown. Lily, as always, your smiles are the highlight of my day.” he took her hand and kissed it.
Fred whistled. “So gallant. No wonder she likes you. Lily, I promise someday, if you let me, I’ll do exactly what he just did. But for now,” he reached out and shook her hand, “I’ll settle for the good old fashioned hand-shake and follow my mother’s advice.”
“What advice was that?” Mrs. Brown asked.
“Never try to kiss a girl on your first visit.”
“Not even on the hand?” Frances inquired.
Fred chuckled. “She didn’t specify.”
Ruth was standing at his side, motioning for him to lean down so that she could say something in his ear. He obliged, and she whispered,
“Thank you for the flower.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for letting me stay.” He started to stand up, but she caught his coat and pulled him back down to add, “Um…do you ever have any chocolate bars?”
Fred burst out laughing and put his hand in his pocket. “Do you promise to leave the sugar-bowl alone, at least until next time I visit?”
She nodded, her eyes sparkling.
“Then you may have this.” he handed over the coveted Nestle bar.
Ruth squealed in delight and bounced back to the table.
Fred straightened and looked at Mrs. Brown. “Thank you for letting me in, ma’am, even though no one was expecting me. But Lily,” he turned back to her with a grin, “from now on, expect me.”
Lily smiled and nodded, and her two suitors stepped out together into the alley, Paul closing the door behind them. Fred nodded to him and then moved briskly down the alley to the street. His hand was on the bike handle when Paul’s voice stopped him.
Paul’s tone was quiet but firm. “Just so we’re clear, I intend to marry Lily Brown.”
Fred met his gaze steadily. “Just so we’re clear, so do I.”
A whisper of surprise flickered across Paul’s face in the lamplight, and was gone. His tone did not change as he replied, “I see. Does that make us enemies then?”
“No. Not enemies. Just rivals.”
Paul studied him for a moment. “Friendly rivals?”
Fred smiled and held out his hand. “Friendly rivals.”
They shook hands, and Paul spoke once more. “Well then, may the best man for Lily win.”
Well, what did you think? I always love to here from you if you have a question or a suggestion, or if you know a story about Fred and Lily that I might want to include in this book! Comment below or use my contact page!