Jane stared out the window of the car as it drove through the streets covered in rubble and debris. It was day 15 without her dad. She would never get the image of her next door neighbors sitting on her front steps with solemn expressions on their faces and the windows of her living room smashed in. They took your dad, Jane. We're so sorry, Jane. We'll find somewhere for you to go. Thank god you were at a friend's house.
It should have been her. But while he was alone and scared in a place where people like him were nothing but scum she was being shipped off to a family closer to the countryside. Her neighbor, Mrs. Donna, held onto her hand as her husband drove the car. It felt like they'd been driving for hours upon hours. But it had only been 3. While Jane had been staying at their house they told her she couldn't stay for long. A cousin of theirs was a Nazi. The longer she stayed the more danger she was in. Mrs. Donna wrote to everyone she knew asking if they had a room for a little girl who just lost her father. An old friend from high school, Karen Wheeler, had written back just as they started to lose hope.
"They have a son your age." Mrs. Donna said for the millionth time.
Jane's eyes remained glued out the window. Normally she wouldn't be caught dead in a dress. But Mrs. Donna said it was nice to make a first impression. So she, reluctantly, put on one of the nicer dresses she had from when she used to go to temple. She hadn't been in a few years. Thankfully she hadn't experienced much puberty for a 16 year old girl. The lace collar itched her neck and she worried the dress wouldn't be long enough to keep her covered when she stood up. Though she hadn't developed much she had still gotten taller.
The car pulled to a stop in front of a house three stories high in a neighborhood nicer than she had seen in a while. Sitting on a bench on the porch was a woman with blonde hair and a girl not too much older than herself with dark curly locks. Their conversation stopped short when their eyes landed on the car now parked in front of their house. Jane's stomach was performing a complex circus act inside her. She wanted to go back. No, she wanted her father. Though she didn't know where he was, only that it wasn't nearly as nice as the house she sat in front of, she wished they were together. Instead she would be all by herself in a house full of strangers.
"Are you ready, Jane?" Mrs. Donna asked.
Her fingers gripped the handle of her suitcase and she opened the car doors. The old sneakers she wore stood out against her dress and braided hair, but they were the only shoes she owned. "We have to look our best." She had been told earlier that morning as her hair was tied up. Was she being sent off into hiding or was she going to be married off to this boy her age?
Jane's insides squirmed with nervousness as she approached the mother and daughter. Behind them the house stared down at her and seemed to dare her to come inside. Once you come in you'll never be able to come back out it said. She wanted to yell back that she could do what she wanted but she knew better. Besides, it was right. It wasn't as if she could go to the corner store and get some milk. She was hiding.
"You must be Jane." The blonde woman said once she had reached them. "I'm Karen, and this is my daughter Nancy."
"Hello." She replied. Manners had never been Jane's forte. But without her father around to chastise her she had to be on her best behavior.
Nancy reached for her suitcase and slipped it from her grip. "I'll show you inside."
As she followed her inside she could hear the hushed voice of Mrs. Donna behind her. "She doesn't say much. Quiet young thing."
She wanted to point out that she was only standing a few feet away from her but thought better of it.
Jane tried her best not to stare once she was inside. But all the rooms were so big and well decorated. She was sure her whole house could fit in the living room and dining room alone. As she followed Nancy up the stairs she wondered if she would be locked in her room all day or if she would be able to go around the house as she pleased. She told herself to not get her hopes up. The more she expected the more she opened herself up to being let down.
They went all the way up to the third floor, which was considerably smaller than the other two. Nancy opened the second door down the hall which revealed what looked like a nursery. Though by the boxes of miscellaneous items scattered around the room she guessed it wasn't in use anymore. Before Jane could wonder much about how she would fit in a crib Nancy made her way over to the closet and flipped on the light switch. Jane poked her head in just in time to see her push one of the walls back to reveal a small room with a bed and dresser. Though how they had managed to get in there was a mystery to her. "It's not much, but it's hidden and safe."
Jane stepped into the small room first. Nancy was right, it wasn't much at all. The wallpaper was old and faded and the floorboard creaked under her feet. Next to the bed was a circular window that couldn't have had a diameter more than one foot. The sheets and blankets on the bed didn't match. Other than that the room was empty.
"You'll only have to be in here at night and when there's no one home." Nancy said. She must have read something in Jane's face. "Mom doesn't work so you won't be alone much."
"And we can get you some more things. Like a mirror or a chair." She continued. "And you can always use some of my clothes if you didn't bring enough."
Nancy shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "I can't imagine what this is like." She said. "Must be awful."
Jane wanted to agree. There was no way they could imagine what it was like. Her and her father didn't even go to temple often. That is when they used to go. It was her mother that was the religious one, and she had been dead for years. Jane had no one now. No mother, no father, and the few friends she had made had all been taken away too. All she had were the things she had packed with her. Which, looking down at the suitcase now placed on her new bed, was depressing to say the least. But she couldn't say any of this. Even if she wasn't a quiet girl to begin with she also wasn't the type to dump her problems on others. So she replied with a simple "Yeah."
"Do you like to read?" Nancy asked. She was thankful for the subject change. "You can pick out a few books from the library and bring them up here if you'd like?"
The corners of her lips tugged up. Jane hadn't been able to smile fully since her dad had been taken away but she had come close. Hearing that she's still be able to read despite the fact that she didn't have the room to pack books threatened to break her straight faced streak. "That would be nice." She said.
Jane followed Nancy back out to the nursery and into the hallway. The floor creaked quieter than in the room but still loud enough to hear. Just as they got to the second floor she could hear a car door from outside. Jane wondered with a sinking feeling if her neighbors had left without saying goodbye. Had they been that eager to get rid of her?
"My dad's at work, he'll be home in a little bit." Nancy said as they walked. "Baby Holly's asleep. Mike, my little brother, is here somewhere. How old are you?"
She nodded. "He just turned seventeen a few weeks ago. He's kind of a weird kid."
Jan raised an eyebrow at her. "How so?"
"Well he doesn't have a lot of friends. And he's not big into sports. He's this skinny little thing. More into math and science." Nancy shrugged. "I don't know, he's just weird."
Jane's lips threatened to smile but she forced her face to stay straight. "He sounds like me."
Nancy smiled for her. "Maybe you two will get along."
Once they reached the end of the hall Nancy opened up a set of double doors. Jane had to clench her jaw to keep it from hanging open as she stepped into a library that was bigger than her bedroom at home. Shelves that reached the ceiling lined the walls and were covered in books. In the middle of the room on top of an area rug were two comfortable looking chairs. The only spot that didn't have a shelf was a large window almost twice as tall as she was with a sitting ledge underneath it. She wandered over to the nearest shelf and let her eyes wander over what looked like every Shakespeare play ever written. Jane pulled out a copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream and ran her finger over the spine.
"You like Shakespeare?" Nancy asked as she wandered over towards her
Jane nodded. "The library in our town didn't have many of his plays. But I read all the ones they did have a few times." The library in town probably had less books than the Wheelers did but she felt too embarrassed to say this. Mrs. Donna hadn't mentioned that they were rich. She wished she had known ahead of time so she could have prepared herself mentally.
"I was going to help my mom with lunch." She said, "If you want you can stay here and read and when we're ready to eat I can come up and let you know."
Jane nodded. "Yeah, okay. Thank you."
Her eyes followed Nancy as she walked out of the room and disappeared into the hallway. Despite her love of books and all things reading Jane felt impossibly small inside the room. Especially when she was alone. She walked over to the middle of the room and sat down in one of the chairs. The one that faced the door. She wondered if she would ever be able to relax in a house so different from what she was used to. Not to mention that the house was full of strangers. Nancy and Karen were nice, yes. But she didn't know them. They weren't her dad.
Tears made her throat burn but she quickly sniffled them away and opened the book in her lap. When immersed in the fictional world of the Duke of Athens and the queen of the Amazons it was easy to let her problems fade into the background. Though she wasn't lost enough to forget the itchy collar that constantly annoyed the back of her neck.
Jane was halfway through the first act when she heard creaking floorboards close by. Her head snapped up so fast that pain shot through the back of her neck, but she managed to suppress a wince. Her eyes landed on the boy that stood in the doorway of the library. He was long and lanky, with his clothes hanging off of him and his pants not long enough to cover his ankles. His hair was jet back and hung low enough in his eyes that she figured he needed a haircut. Freckles were scattered across his pale cheeks as if someone had flicked a paintbrush in his direction. He stopped dead in his tracks when her eyes landed on him and she felt her cheeks go warm with embarrassment, as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn't.
"Sorry." He said quickly. "No one's usually in here. I didn't think you were coming until later."
Jane closed the book with her index finger keeping her place. "It's okay." She said, putting her hands on the arm rest and starting to push herself to her feet. "I can leave."
"No, no, you don't have to." He said. "You stay. I was just grabbing something."
She tilted her head back down towards her book but kept her eyes fixed on him as he walked across the room and over to a set of shelves. Jane felt foolish for noticing a cute boy when her father was god knows where and probably scared out of his mind. No one really knew where they took the Jews. There was talk of camps, soldiers who acted like monsters, and barbed wire fences. Jane had once heard a whisper about gas chambers. But no one knew what was true and what was just talk. Guilt ate away at her for eyeing a boy when she could only imagine what was happening to her father and friends.
"Did you ever read this?"
Jane looked up from her book and over at him. She squinted to read the cover he was holding. The Hobbit. "Yeah." She answered. "But I didn't like it much."
"Oh yeah?" he asked before sliding it back onto the shelf. "And why not?"
"It's such a boy's book."
A grin spread across his face. He was even more attractive when she smiled. "Okay, Miss Jane. Then what books do you like?"
The temptation to smile made her face twitch but she did her best to suppress it. She folded down the corner of her page before getting to her feet and walking over to where he stood. Jane could feel his eyes watching her as she scanned the books on display. She hummed and ran her finger over a few of the spines. "Hm… Pygmalion?"
"Higgins is a prick, Eliza is annoying. Next."
Her lips twitched once more but she forced them back into place. "The Picture of Dorian Gray?"
She shot him a halfhearted glare. "You're hard to please." Jane looked back at the shelves and looked for a moment longer. Her eyes lit up at the sight of a very familiar title. "Oh, now we're talking." She said as she hooked her finger over the spine and pulled it out.
"You've got to be kidding me." Mike said when he saw her selection. "Gone with the Wind is such a girl's book."
Jane ignored him and started flipping through the pages. As she did she did her best impression of what she thought Scarlett O'Hara would sound like. "With God as my witness I will never go hungry again!"
Mike rolled his eyes. "Scarlett is a self-absorbed drama queen."
"She kind of reminds me of one of my friends."
"I'm so sorry."
Jane snorted while managing to keep her straight face. She continued flipping the pages until she stopped on a random one. Her eyes landed on another familiar line before she read in a dramatic tone. "They were the eyes of a happy woman, a woman around whom storms might blow without ever ruffling the serene core of her being."
Mike scoffed and grabbed the book from her hands. "No more of that." He said, then shut it and put it back on the shelf where she had taken it from. "I suppose your favorite Shakespeare play is Romeo and Juliet? 'What's in a name? that which we call a rose' and all that crap?"
"Sounds like you've read it."
"Everyone has." He told her. "Doesn't mean I enjoyed it."
Jane rolled her eyes. "Do you like anything?" she asked him. "Because so far you haven't liked any of the books I've suggested."
A thoughtful expression passed over his face as he turned back towards the shelves. His head tilted back as he looked higher and higher up. A small smile tugged at his face before he stood on his toes to reach a book from a shelf more than a few feet above his head. Mike was a good bit taller than her and she found herself jealous that his height gave him access to more books than her. "You'll like this one." He said as he brought it down with him. "Gatsby."
"Everyone like's Gatsby." She said, watching him open the book to a page in the middle.
"' You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.'" He read.
His eyes looked up from the page to meet hers. Under his gaze she felt even more small than she had already. "I bet your family has Gatsby-like parties every weekend with a house like this." she said while doing her best to not sound bitter. She did okay if she said so herself.
"Do you think everyone with a big house has a grand social life?" Not sure how to respond Jane simply shrugged. She had always thought so. "A house like this gets lonely quickly. Just because you have the room to have company doesn't mean you do. Until now."
Jane felt her cheeks getting warm but she ignored it. "I don't think I count."
Mike closed the book and put it back on its spot up above his head. "Sure you do. You're a VIP."
She has to resist the urge to scoff at such a ridiculous statement. "Oh yeah? And why is that?"
"No one ever spends the night here."
He was trying to be nice. To be friendly. But they were worlds different. Jane had only ever imagined a place as grand as the one he woke up in every day. Their paths had crossed after a series of unfortunate events and, had they not happened, he wouldn't have looked her way twice. Would he still talk to her if she hadn't done herself up in her Sunday Best? The thought made her feel bitter towards Mrs. Donna for making her wear the blasted dress. "I'm not a VIP." She said. Her tone came out more sour than she intended it to but she didn't try to correct it. The ghost of her father's voice scolded her in her head for being rude to her host. "I'm just the Jew girl you're hiding in the closet."
Any hint of a smile fell from Mike's face. Though she meant what she said she regretted saying it almost instantly. "That has nothing to do with it."
"Well it doesn't matter." He said. "The world isn't split into Nazi's and Jews. There's people in between."
He was getting annoyed with her and she could tell. Without her father Jane seemed to have developed a talent for annoying people easily and not being able to stop. "And what's the in between then?"
"People who don't believe that people like you deserve to be treated any different."
His words were so genuine that they felt like a punch to the chest. Her feet were suddenly itching to flee the room. Back at school, wearing pants and dressing like all the guys, boys were never intimidating. When she first cut her hair short a few years back they treated her like one of them. But while wearing a dress with her hair past her shoulders and inside an environment totally foreign to her the boy in front of her was just as intimidating as the soldiers that patrolled the streets. His eyes scanned her face and she could only imagine what he saw. "I have to go." She blurted out before taking a few steps back. "I'll see you later."
Jane grabbed her book off of the chair before darting out of the room. She sucked air into her lungs once she was out in the hallway and practically running up the stairs to her new room. For a moment, with him looking at her so intensely, she had been unable to breathe. Everything was new to her. Feeling nervous around a boy was just another new feeling to her.
She didn't stop running until she disappeared into her hidden bedroom. Jane flopped down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. She wanted to leave. She wanted to go back to the way things were before people blamed everything wrong with the country on Jews. Why was her father, someone who had been nothing but nice to everyone he met, being taken away and punished? Or her friends, children, who held no responsibility for anything other than their homework.
She wanted to scream in the face of the Nazi's that they were making a mistake.
But she also didn't want to get shot.