No, I haven't been in la-la land the last few weeks but I have been wrapping up the first book in a series called Grace's Delima. How can Grace cope with a war going on, forbidding parents, a charismatic but absent husband, and being a pregnant teenage war bride? To top it off she is supposed to leave England and end up in some Canadian wilderness she has never heard of. Here's just a nibble to whet your appetite. It's the first chapter.
Grace staggered: extreme exhaustion caused her to slump against the rail of the ship, Tena-rae. The last few weeks had taken such a heavy toll on her both physically and emotionally. It made her heart ache even worse when arm in arm a group of girls leaned against the rail and crooned “The White Cliffs of Dover" as a tribute to their homeland. When the thick gloomy fog had thinned somewhat, she saw those white chalk cliffs rearing up in their entire splendor next to the choppy ocean. The girls had moved along, still singing, but Vera Lynn’s words floated back to her:
‘There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after tomorrow
When the world is free.’
Like wisps of fog, vestiges of final moments with her mother stained her cheeks.
"Get out of my life! You are a disgrace! You are good for nothing!' Her mother's harsh shriek rang in her ears, crushing her spirit.
Grace's blue-gray eyes burned with unshed tears. Am I good for nothing, she mutely asked the wisps of fog floating by. If I am, then why was I born? If my heart were any heavier, it would sink like a stone in this vast gray expanse of ocean. She hated anyone to see her crying so bit her lip to steady it. The memories of her mother, Mrs. Adderley's, raging voice were harder to still.
"We taught you not to go to the bar! We told you not to get involved with those drunken Canadian soldiers!"
"But it wasn't a bar!" Grace protested. "It was at the community center and most of the soldiers drank very moderately."
It had felt hopeless trying to reason with her mother's rigid back turned towards her, so Grace faced the moisture streaked kitchen window instead. She stared unseeingly into the darkness to hide the teardrops that managed to trickle out between half-closed eyelids then mindlessly swished the dishes that her mother had left for her to do, through the sudsy water.
Grace was a thoughtful, respectful girl, perhaps a little shy, so it was a breathtaking day in her boring life when she and her friend first met those two Canadian soldiers. They, especially the auburn haired one, looked so sharp in their crisp, khaki uniform. She and her school chum, Betsy, had been walking home from school, arms laden with books. The sky had been a bright pretty blue, which was a luxury after so much rain and fog. In a few days, the academy would be close for the summer break, and they were walking along with light, brisk steps.
Then, stepping smartly, two soldiers pivoted around the corner, saluted, and offered to carry their books. Grace had caught her breath and stared. What could have been more flattering than having such incredibly good-looking privates salute them? She still marveled at how easy it had been to chat with those courteous strangers with intriguing Canadian accents.
Grace’s lips curved upwards at the memory. I am normally so reserved, yet I actually bantered and giggled with them even more than Betsy did! It would have astonished the schoolmaster, and probably most of the scholars. Her smile faded, but it did feel like the real me.
Almost without noticing, their feet had carried them far beyond the Adderley's home street. Flustered, she had tried to take her books away from her companion, Randall Sutherland, but he just held on the tighter. "Not unless you come with me to the dance tonight," he teased with an easy grin.
The color drained from Grace's cheeks; she clearly remembered her reaction. A dance? I've never gone to a dance in my life! Dances are wicked! I know that. It was not dancing that tempted Grace, but the opportunity to get to know Randall better. We wouldn't have to dance, would we? Maybe we could just, well... stroll around in the moonlight as they do in storybooks. Alternatively, maybe we could, uh, sit and visit or something.
Looking back, Grace knew that it was then that she felt the first niggling pang of uneasiness, but she had been too busy laughing at Randall and the other private's nonsense to pay much attention. Grace's head lowered, shamefaced. The soldiers had teased and wheedled them, drawing attention to Grace's bouncy curls that were shiny as a raven's wing’.
They praised her petal soft cheeks 'that an angel would envy’ and teased Betsy about the cute uptilt of her freckled nose.
"Two such charming girls should not be allowed to shrivel up 'like dried old apples'," Randall had declared.
Finally, laughingly, Grace had given in, just as Randall un-wrapped a sweet and popped it into her mouth.
"Just this once:" she sputtered, trying to speak sternly but had dissolved into giggles. She resorted to covering her mouth to keep from drooling!
Grace didn't recall where Betsy and the other soldier had wandered off. They had strolled away in a different direction while Grace happily trotted beside a soldier who was chivalrously carrying her books.
They had been strolling for a long time, Grace unconsciously detouring the streets where there was the most severe bomb damage. It had been easy to prattle lightly about many things, and forget the heavy cares of a war going on at least for the moment, then, feeling wonderfully weary; they collapsed on a sheltered bench in a common.
Randall unceremoniously dumped her books on the grass beside him and reached for her in, what struck her as a rather possessive manner, Grace shrank back alarmed, so he quickly released her, but left his arm resting on the backof the bench.
They chatted until Grace saw dusk creeping on and worried about not going directly home after school.
What if the air siren went off? Where would they go? She looked around for an air raid shelter. They were so far from the black, stuccoed cottage she called home. Will my parents be anxious? Grace hoped so but seriously doubted it. She was more concerned about her mother's fury. Even though it was her final year at the secondary school, her mother had many ironclad rules to keep her in line and her father half-heartedly submitted to them. Coming straight home was one of the ordinances. She knew there would be more waiting for her than gentle concern or even a stern reproof for not showing up promptly.
How was I supposed to have gotten out of this difficult situation?
"Oh well, the damage is done," Randall grinned mischievously. "If you're going to get into trouble anyway, you might as well make it worth their while. Why not go out for supper-- I mean High Tea with me? I'll treat you to steak, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding...kidney pie, or whatever your British appetite is craving."
Grace doubted that even the more swish restaurants could offer such swell fare in these hard times but her mouth watered at the prospect after so many months of unwelcome rationing.
"If you will allow me to ring up Mom from the pub you want to take me to," she bargained, “then I’ll go. He nonchalantly agreed.
Thinking back, Grace could easily recall how her face flamed as her mother's strident voice carried over the wire. How many of those patrons heard the dressing-down I got?
The scene that occurred after the dance was one that she would rather blot from her memory. Even though she had hurried to do the dishes left for her, and make amends in other ways, it was impossible to appease them.
The anger! The mistrust! The accusations! Doesn't Mom have any faith in me at all? Why couldn't Dad have said just one word in my favor? I have never defied their wishes before! Had they not taught me to be uncommonly obedient? I even stammered out an apology that I really meant.
It was not well received. What a relief when she was able to slip off to her dreary attic bedroom. After she had washed the dishes, dried, and stacked them in the cupboards, her mother had turned to rail on Dad.
That night Grace felt like her vision cleared since then she became increasingly impatient with her elderly parents' medieval ways.
Abruptly her thoughts switched channels. Oh, I wish Randall's gaiety didn’t come from a bottle, so often. He is a wonderful young man, so charming and well mannered: her doesn’t need drink to boost his morale!
A scene from one of their many times together floated into her memory: "Randall you had one drink, already, must you have another?" she had reached out to touch the cold glass.
"I'm fine, Sweet: no need to worry. I can hold my liquor. This will be the last. You should taste it. It's quite pleasant, in fact." She shuddered in refusal and he didn't pressure her.